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A Dark Song (2016)
8/10
Excellent occult film--definitely worth checking out!
9 February 2019
I stumbled on this film through a recommendation from an acquaintance. This film was described as a very realistic representation of an occult ritual. I don't know if that is true but as an outsider it surely was very believable. I am surprised at the low rating on imdb. Definitely recommend watching--this film is a slow build with twists, turns and surprises. It will stay with you long after the credits roll. If you like Nineth Gate you will probably love this!
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4/10
Maybe if you've been under a rock the last decade or so
26 January 2019
I saw this movie opening night in the theater. There were 5 people in the theater besides myself. The lack of an audience in a city with a population of 500K was surprising. However, after watching the film the lack of public interest was no longer a surprise. About 90 minutes into the film I was VERY ready for it to be over. It is LONG, way too LONG. Over 2 hours of mostly clips, many of which are of such poor resolution they have no business being shown on the big screen. As for the content, first impression was the film was BORING. Unless you've been under a rock the last decade or so, you know everything that is presented in the film already. Second, the film was cognitively disjointed. It jumps from the Trump election, to the Flint water crisis, to the Parkland Shooting, etc. with none of it seeming to have a real logical connection. Having just seen it again on Amazon Prime (for free), I think while the film is a bit less incongruous, it's still just a rehash of headlines. There is no special insight that is offered by Moore save maybe instilling fear that totalitarianism is on the horizon. In light of the gov't shutdown/fed worker hostage crisis this does not seem such a farfetched fear as it appeared this pass summer. So do I recommend the film? Well if you have Amazon Prime--sure, see it. It costs you nothing. There are some good bits--such as the shoutout to Fahrenheit 9/11 at the beginning. But I would not recommend paying to see this film unless you've been under a rock the last decade and wish to exit and rejoin civilization.
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5/10
TNG Episode
5 February 2018
Well, about 30 minutes in and you realize why Paramount decided to release via Netflix. I don't think anyone who loved cloverfield will be particularly taken by this film. And to those people who felt cloverfield lane was a bait and switch, they will really feel betrayed by this film. The acting in this film is respectable. The effects, set and the like are fine. But the dull plot is not overcome by having a single character to care about.
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Lady Bird (2017)
4/10
Another hyped independent film
21 January 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Saw this film in Sac at the Tower Theater. The hook for this film was twofold: 1) an opportunity to see Sac on the big screen, and 2) an opportunity to see Laurie Metcalf in a great performance.

The film did not disappoint on either--it was very kewl to Sac sites on the big screen and it was fun to be the only one to laugh in the theater when the main character quibbed that Sac was the Midwest of California--SO TRUE!!! I said the exact same thing within days of moving here from the bay area.

Also, Laurie Metcalf was great in the film. She is a gem so under utilized in hollow wood. 10 stars to her in this film--spot on all the way.

So that was the good. The bad was rather simple---TMI. This film is in definite need of a good editor. Much too long and much of the content is the extraneous blow by blow recounting of the main character's senior year in high school. We see EVERYTHING--from thanksgiving, christmas, prom, drama club, math class, drivers ed, virginity maintained, virginity lost, the whole shebang blow by blow.

If the strained relationship between the mother and daughter in this film was the main plot, it gets lost in the weeds of mundane day to day teen angst. Maybe I am too old to find such triviality interesting or deep. And its not something one can ignore because this movie tries really hard to make white american teen angst seem deep from the opening credits to the closing credits.

Which brings us to the finale of the film, where we see a resolution in the main character on her perspective of her hometown and mother. It occurs within a few days after getting exactly what she wants and experiencing alcohol poisoning. If that scenario had some deep insight intertwined, I missed it.

Some questions arise from the excessive details in the film--why was the film set in 2002? This seems just one of many pointless yet specific details in the film (a film that is adamantly claimed not to be autobiographical by the writer/director). Beyond being able to have the iraq war news playing in the background and attributing the father's joblessness and depression to an IT slump that coincided (but did it really--I don't recall that sector being significantly impacted in particular after 911), it seems a weird pointless detail in the film.

Another pointless detail--Why did we see the drama coach's visit to the psych hospital? Adds more questions than answers to his ease with winning the crying exercise. It doesn't add to the Laurie character, as we already have seen her empathetic qualities at work with the gift to the coworker and banter with store clerks about baby pictures. And the Saoirse character NEVER would have known about this turn of events due to patient confidentiality. So...point?

Yet another pointless detail---BFF (classic caricature) crush on the math teacher meeting his pregnant wife. Are we to think she believed she had a shot with this guy or something?

There is so much in this film that could have been cut and left room for more detail to explore the tense relationship between the mother and daughter in this film. An opportunity lost.

The film teases at being something that could have been great--like another Terms of Endearment. But it fails miserably. Also, if this film is to be held up as an example of the contribution of female film screenwriters and directors to the industry, then we need to keep looking. This is nothing more than navelgazing passed off as deep introspection.

Three word review: Wait for Netflix.
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7/10
I enjoyed, ENJOYED this film
7 January 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Disclaimer: Al Gore holds a special place in my heart--I was in N. Carolina during his first bid for president when he championed climate change as an issue in 1988. Also, he's also the only politician I can say I have shaken hands with, back in 1996. He's the only politician I would and will have ever gone out of my way to see in person and it was a thrill. So if you are a Gore basher, move along.

I enjoyed this movie. I mean I ENJOYED this movie. It made me smile, many times. You may say thats an odd reaction to the destruction but I am one of the few who is long past bemoaning the course we have set for ourselves as a species. It is what it is.

I admire Al Gore's tenacity. I envy his hope. I envy his faith in the system and in people. And I enjoyed his angry rants. Wish there was more of this in the first film--it may have helped fuel the flame when it was needed most, and cowed the trolls and predators in the only language they understand.

I am not angry he continues to carry these things forward into the twilight of our collective path. He knows what he wants to save (do you?) and he will continue to fight for it. Good on him.

However, to be honest the film adds nothing to the discussion. Every scientific fact stated in this film was WIDELY known and accepted in 2006 when the first AIT film came out. But, given more than a decade has passed, things have shifted by an order of magnitude or so, so now we get to see it from the perspective of a rearview mirror.

I am glad there was a lot of focus on the ocean in this iteration. Climate change activists are so doggedly focused on humans and fossil fuels, they have been completely oblivious to the slow death of the one thing that maintained this biosphere and the climate in which the biosphere we know and love has evolved. Twenty years ago I would regularly argue this point with greenie granola activist types, until I realized we had reach a point in time where this issue was yet another moot point. That aside, its nice to see this truth in full living color on the screen.

We also get something else in full living color--the complete and utter commitment of our "leaders" and more importantly the elite, to this collective trajectory. When the bible says greed is the root of evil, it clearly wasn't a metaphorical statement. We will now all pay for that collective "sin".

If you are clueless, you won't see this film. You are the type to deny what has been knocking you repeatedly between the eyes for years because it would mean you would have to relinquish some dogma planted in your head as a child. As Rhett Butler once said, "Well, far be it from me to question the teachings of childhood." I leave you to the inevitable crash and burn.

If you are in the know, this film will not do much in terms of enlightening you, or motivating you, unless you fantasize about cornering the market on renewables or some such thing.

All in all, this film is beautiful. You will see things you have only read about up until now. You can relish the carnage and anticipate the further unfolding that we face. Upon leaving the film, you can take with you the feeling that you have borne witness to the great unraveling. Its a spectacle that doesn't get much airtime and for that alone it makes this film worth seeing.
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The Dinner (I) (2017)
3/10
"That's Racist"
11 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This film starts out pretty interesting, gets lost in the weeds and then pulls out an open ending to make it seem....ahh...Deep?

Rather than bother retelling the plot or lauding performances I will just identify why I didn't like this film.

The main reason being, there is no protagonist an audience can identify with. The protagonist doesn't have to be a good guy, there are great films with really awful people as the protagonist such as Good Fellas. But there has to be a hook that keeps you in the seat along for the ride of the protagonist through the plot. This doesn't exist in this film.

In this film you have the character Paul put forward as a protagonist but he becomes creepier and crazier as the story unfolds. This character development or reveal reaches a crescendo about 1/2 to 2/3s of the way into the film when he's become so repugnant one is looking for someone else to align one's point of view with to continue being engaged with the film.

Unfortunately, there isn't much to choose from in the form of major characters as they are all such horrid self absorbed self righteous people who all have a serious vicious streak in them you can barely tolerate it when they speak anymore while on screen. I found myself saying, "did s/he really just say that" quite a few times while watching this. YUCK. A$$holes the lot of em.

The other unforgivable in this film is the ending--I don't really care what these a$$holes decided to do in the end about the evil spawn they brought into the world, but not being clear whether an obviously racist aSS murdered his nephew by bludgeoning him to death with a rock is NOT a cliffhanger. That's just racist. That loose end deserved to be tied up out of decency to the way in which the film allows for 2 hours the cretin Paul character to tap dance around the fact he was blatantly a racist pig concerning his nephew which was just an extension of his frustration with his life as a teacher in a minority dominated school.

three word review: YUCK, skip it.
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A Ghost Story (2017)
8/10
Letting Go of the Immortal Beloved
9 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I will not rehash the plot as others here have. Rather I will just share my thoughts on what I think the film is exploring, whether it did so well and what I think of the filmmaker's point of view. If not interested, skip this review.

First, this is not a straightforward film. Its not something we are used to seeing in terms of what its title implies, its not something we are used to seeing in terms of grief nor is it something we have seen before in terms of love or love lost.

What the film explores is attachment. In this case, attachment to one's (lost) love and perhaps a place. On the latter, I think that is incidental as I think the attachment to the place in this film is intertwined with the love the main character has for his wife.

In the film, the main character eschews the hereafter to remain with his beloved. When she eventually moves on, the character remains, seemingly attached to the place he once lived. However, its fairly clear the attachment to the place is merely there because of his desire to know the last message his beloved left behind in their home together. Immediately upon having that question answered, the main character can let go.

Its really an intriguing exploration of attachment and I truly enjoyed the superficial story presented. However, upon giving the film more thought, I find the film's themes unsettling.

First unsettling aspect to the film: the "speech". It occurs about midway and I presume it is put there to clue the audience in on the filmmaker's thoughts embedded into the film.

As I listened to this narcissistic speech, I found myself repeatedly asking "yeah, so, your point?" This man prattles on regarding the insignificance of all that we preoccupy ourselves with during this short carousel ride around the sun we call life. When contemplating the vastness of time and space and the smallness of a human life in that context, he is fixated on the notion of the desire of an individual to have a legacy. In particular, he seems to think this a big motive for great works of art. If not for the glory of god, then this character believes legacy is the point to art and presumably life.

A big turn off to me--seems very narcissistic to spend your time slaving away working on and worrying about what will remain of oneself in the eons that are to come after your death. So this speech is the weakest part of the film and almost made me tune out and disregard the film as a whole.

However, its when I began exploring this line of thought a bit more deeply, that a more awful aspect about the film was revealed. And that is the film's take on the other more commonly believed point to life--love.

The film shows that holding on, even to the things/people we love, can cause one to be trapped or at least suffer greatly. It also shows, through the story of the neighbor ghost, that one can even hold on long after one has forgotten what or who one is holding on to. And perhaps the most bittersweet part of the film, is it shows that letting go is inevitable and how long that takes is up to us.

Okay, that covers the overt thoughts that comprise the movie.

You could leave it there. The letting go theme is heartwarming and seems enlightened I suppose. Entire religions are centered around this notion afterall.

However, reflecting on this film further while writing this review I found another perhaps covert thought in this film that is much more unsettling than the overt messages. I say covert because I am not sure this aspect of the film is intentional.

When the time loop overlaps we learn something else: that his beloved did not share in his deep attachment. With the second ghost appearing in the film when the time loop overlaps, I thought for a moment that his beloved had returned in death to join him. But this is not the case. Her absence from the story says something rather disheartening. Her absence means only one thing--she in death moved on leaving him behind. He was alone in his love and attachment. That is probably the saddest part of the story and makes the entire film a rather grim, nihilistic exercise.
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10/10
Documentary filmmaking at its finest
17 September 2017
I saw this movie a few years back at UC Berkeley and am sad to see it has been little noticed. It is one of the best documentaries I've ever seen and I hope people find it and see it.

The camera work and music draw you in and you are truly immersed in the experience of this place and the people. When I think on this film I feel as if I am inside the film, immersed and bearing witness to the story that unfolds.

This is an environmental film but it is not a preachy film. Silence and juxtaposition are used in such a precise manner so that the film communicates volumes more than words. In fact I think words would only detract from the message in this film.

I relish the subtlety used in this film, so much is conveyed by contrast and astute observation.

A must see. Powerful stuff.
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Gravity (2013)
4/10
see it once for the FX
16 September 2017
Meh. Okay, I went into this after hearing all the raves as to how realistic this movie was about being in space. Well, special effects are great but they do not make a good movie. Too many plot holes and scientific flaws to really forgive.

On the microscale, the zero gravity stuff is pretty accurate (except of course Bullocks perfect hair ) and the views of earth are stunning, but the basic physics and mechanics of re-entry and the improbable ending on a planet that is 75% water....and dozens more physics flaws (you can read about elsewhere if interested) that taken as a whole make the plot so ludicrous it insults your intelligence.

I mean, it starts from the get go when Stone refuses to stop what she is doing and get to safety---err, ohhtayy, sounds plausible for a well educated but novice astronaut.

And then the ending. And why does every action movie have to have a happy ending.

If you watch it and pretend that after Matt Kowalsky reappears, that Dr Stone is actually dying and hallucinating, then the plot thereafter is tolerable. Otherwise, I would put this in the same category as Avatar. See it once for the effects and check your brain at the door. Oh and Hollywood, please stop hiring actresses who have botoxed themselves so much that they resemble elves from LOTR. The odd somewhat inhuman facial contortions are truly disturbing when viewed on the big screen.
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The Red Pill (2016)
4/10
Worth a gander, hold the slack jawed acceptance
18 June 2017
If you can wade past the misleading statistics and personal anecdotes, this film does discuss a worthwhile topic and offer a few moments of insight. However, it uses a seriously FLAWED and misdirected movement as the vehicle.

In short, I think the discussions with the feminist talking heads and Erin Pizzey were the most valuable portions of the film.

Those moments aside, this movie is guilty of focusing on the pixels rather the whole image.

Pixels. Granted there are areas where men are at a disadvantage, such as family court. Yet, the case made in the film is weak. Aside from custody rates (which notice how the key qualifying term "physical" is not used in the film), there are no stats used in this portion of the case in the film. Perhaps that's because the vast majority of custody decisions are made by the adults involved independently or with a mediator and only 5% of the cases are decided by a court trial. Or perhaps no stats were used in this portion of the film because the vast majority of custody decisions are for joint custody with it mutually agreed upon that mom has physical custody.

Pixel. Power in procreation decisions. Women have more power here says the film/MRA. Okay, but we are talking about adults engaging in adult activities in most cases correct? As such, isn't it time to grow up and recognize that there are consequences to the choices we make? And isn't becoming an adult involve the recognition that some choices have consequences which one cannot escape the fallout. The one nearly universal choice that has permanent consequences is the creation of life. If made in a drunken stupor, made in a flash of lust or made with a human that lacks integrity, there are consequences. The question becomes, is it society's job to clean up after the mess or do the parties need to adult up and move forward putting something other than themself as the priority? MRA advocate for society to sort it out. Some may hear "1984" on the wind as they make their case....

Another Pixel. Men are at a disadvantage with social services to support them when they are victims of abuse, violent crime, etc. Probably the most sound argument in the film. The cry out for equality in support services needs to be heeded. I suspect it will with the legitimization of same sex marriages. The system is behind the curve, as it always is. Yet, this lack of support existing today does not necessarily legitimize the case for MRA types. Rather, again likely illustrates the impact of the underlying root cause. The big picture--something the film never explores.

More Random Pixels: war deaths, dangerous jobs, circumcision, etc. On these issues, the film seriously entertains the blame game played by MRA advocates.

However, root causes again. Are women the perpetrators who force men into military service, dangerous work, shorter lives, successful suicide attempts, misguided chivalry, circumcision, etc.

To drive home the analogy of this review one last time: failure to explore the root causes of these things is the equivalent of focusing on the pixels of a painting such as the one by Georges Seurat, rather than the image it creates. This film seems to consciously choose to ignore the big picture. The film systematically Ignores the context of all the issues it raises. Rather, it twists it all into a navel gazing experience of a recently repented "feminist".

The movie never questions why MRA types focus significant energy on tearing down feminism. In fact the film creates a platform for MRA adherents to specifically blame feminists. Much time is given to their opinions on the unfair laws in family matters. However are the family court laws truly unfair or are they just arcane? I mean things have changed dramatically since the start of the boom in divorce and women returning to work. But have the laws adapted accordingly?

And the omissions in the film, fairly egregious. If you are going to explore MRA, then lets take a good look at it. The one omission I find quite disturbing is the Santa Barbara mass shooting. After all, this film was made in 2015 or so and that shooting generated the largest media attention MRA adherents have ever received by the general populace. If you take a look at that incident, the bible verse Matthew 7:16 comes to mind.

Its sad that this film is so bad because there is a crisis in masculinity as defined in western culture. And there are groups that are working to raise these issues which deserve support and attention. Efforts like the Good Men Project, Toxic Masculinity, Men Can Stop Rape. And the films Good Boy and American Male....

No cause that has yet to correctly identify their enemy should be allowed to enjoy credibility because they have latched onto a few slivers of truth. If that was the case, then the white supremacists should deserve the same treatment in a film.
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9/10
powerful medicine
27 April 2017
Unlike all the other reviews here, I am not a fan of the author upon whose work this film is based. My discovery of this film follows a different path. I had learned about the movie after learning online that it was having its first screening in Bemidji, which is old stomping grounds for me and apparently that of the author.

Honestly, I was not familiar with Kent Nerburn, and even if I had learned of him while living in Bemidji for nearly a decade working with the tribes in that state, I doubt I would have ever picked up one of his books to read. I really don't like reading books about Native Americans written by white authors. I prefer a Native American voice to tell their own stories and have enjoyed the work of the numerous Native authors over the years.

Anyway, after checking out the trailer I was intrigued and leaped at the opportunity to help support a private screening of the film locally. So, sans expectations or foreknowledge of what the film was about, my impressions of the film follow.

The story has all the wonderful qualities you'd expect in a Native American story-- humor, trickster antics, a journey, the pain, racism and healing. What I didn't expect was how powerful this film would be for me.

The performances are spot on in this film and as others have said here, Dave Bald Eagle is a powerful presence on screen. He embodies all the best qualities of our elders and I felt the entire theater riveted to his presence on screen, hanging on his words and giggling at his playful teasing and tricks.

Sweeney also does a fine job in the film without going Kevin Costner on us--honestly portraying the trepidation, confusion, guilt and blundering white people experience working with native peoples.

But in the end, its the film's the story that drives these great performances. Of course, since its a Lakota story, we end up at Wounded Knee. But the journey to that place, that singularity in the history of this continent, is fresh and raw. And the purpose of that journey is powerful medicine that is very relevant to us today.

Driving home and thinking on the film I realized what the name of the film (and book) referred to. And I realized that the film carries a powerful message to us out here who are not 'walking the rez road'.

If you haven't seen this film, get out and find this film. And make sure to see it with other people in a theater--that experience enriches the message(s) of this story all the more.
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13th (2016)
5/10
too much room for improvement
25 March 2017
I am a member of the target demographic who would be predicted to be sympathetic and supportive of this film. I really was looking forward to this film and upon seeing it pop on netflix immediately sat down to watch it. The film does a great job of laying out the political landscape that led to where we are on this issue and all the stripes of the political players who made this reality we find ourselves in today. It also does a great job regarding the cultural landscape and historical context that led us to where we are on this issue. The history of slavery, racism, KKK and civil rights movement is covered very well and captured powerfully in images that are difficult to look at. But there are some serious omissions that should have been addressed and its not a oversite that can easily be dismissed. Specifically, 1) If you are going to bring the drug war into this discussion, you should include an examination as to why poor neighborhoods and regions are saturated with these substances. If you don't, you allow the naysayers to run to easy cover under the shelter of "law and order" which only takes a few breathes before one starts blaming the imprisoned for getting caught up in the systematic net that was set up and created by design. 2) If you are going to compare statistics or numbers, you need to make damn sure you are comparing apples to apples and not using them willy nilly. If you don't, you look like at worst a propagandist and at best, just plain stupid. This issue is pivotal to the culture we find ourselves in as Americans today. There is no room for slapdash half measures to raise public awareness that we are slowly but surely moving towards a military state. A process during which the populace is taking it all in stride, swallowing the trigger language whole and behaving like frogs in a pot of water being slowly heated on the stove. The filmmakers could have done better and should have done better as it would not required much effort or much more research. They did not serve the issue well with this film and that is frankly tragic.
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8/10
Nostalgia at its best
5 March 2017
I am rather disappointed by all the negative and meh reviews about this film so I am chiming in with my two cents, for what its worth.

Chris Pine was the hook that drew me into this selection when it popped up on Netflix. The movie starts with a romance that is refreshing in that the woman who captures the heart of the lead is rather pushy and a bit more assertive than we'd expect for the time period. It was a neat twist and I rather enjoyed watching Chris Pine's character tangle and be entranced by such a woman.

After the love angle is squared away, the story turns to the heroic true story of Bernie Webber. Which, upon checking further into that story, I found it is definitely a tale worth telling and surprisingly the film doesn't stray too far from the facts.

The film is a mixture of The Perfect Storm and Hacksaw Ridge. The perfect storm angle is that there are two tankers in distress during a big winter storm at the same time. The report of the foundering of one tanker is mistaken for the other. With all resources aimed at saving the first of the two tankers, the rescue of the crew of the second is left to Bernie Webber and the single remaining too small coast guard ship in the marina.

The Hacksaw Ridge angle is that there is something so real about the people in this film--a real humanity to them. Also, there is a mixture of dignity, humility, strength and integrity in all of the characters and its not something I've seen in a film or on the page in a very long time.

For me film was very nostalgic. Bernie Webber , as played by Chris Pine, reminded me of my father in many ways as well as all the men I knew and admired as a small girl. The story reminds of a time when people did the things they did simply because it was the right thing to do and did these wondrous things with humility and a quiet strength.

Best scene....Webber's hands shaking upon taking the helm to try and return to shore.

For these reasons alone, its a film worth seeing.
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The Lobster (2015)
6/10
A puzzle that may or may not be worth figuring out
20 February 2017
As everyone has clearly stated this film is weird.

I was not familiar with the film when it popped up on Amazon. I checked it out solely because I enjoy Rachel Weiss....how bad could it be?

Bad isn't the word for this film. Rather, confused. I think you spend the majority of the time during the initial watching trying to figure out WHY the heck the things you are watching are happening. Its a strange world and about 2/3s of the film feels like like watching a puzzle slowly take shape.

When you finally figure out the why, things get even odder. The motivations of the main characters become something of a complete mystery--why do they return to the hotel to torment their former 'friends'? Why do they feel the need to venture to town? Why does the lead character feel he must make the choice he faces in the mirror? Its a weird turn for someone who appears to have come to reject the rules of both communities represented in the film.

I guess the big theme the film wrangles with is how society forces a narrative on our lives and how people brainwash themselves to fit into those stories. An interesting twist is how whether one choose the mainstream story or the rebel/alternative story, either one requires an individual to brainwash and contort themself into an psychological pretzel.

The commentary about relationships embedded in the film is rather chilling but rings a bit true. Altbeit its a bit much to think of a world where being single is the most aberrant thing a person could opt for.

Perhaps a second watching may help with puzzling the whys out, but its a rather slow movie and I have yet to devote the time and attention to trying to sort out the subtle themes. I am not sure I will take a stab at it again, but its a curious enough film that I am tempted.
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3/10
PPV TedTalk
4 February 2017
This is essentially a pay per view ted talk with very poor sound quality. Can it really be referred to as a movie--even if you ignore the sound quality (e.g. obvious dubbed voice over), given its only just over an hour? That is the equivalent of an HBO special. Someone must have changed the definition of film or something although Itunes categorized it as a TV show so I am not alone in my confusion.

As for the content, Moore as usual is an engaging speaker, even if you don't agree with the words escaping his mouth his schtick catches and holds your attention. In this iteration, he employs some rather tired anecdotes to poke fun at liberals, conservatives, millennials, boomers, Latin Americans, muslims etc. in an effort to build some common ground. Judging from the audience shots, it doesn't seem to work with many other than the choir . The expressions of some of the audience members is downright chilling at times. One star for capturing the audience's response fairly honestly throughout the performance.

If you want a political analysis--Per usual, Moore ignores the facts and plays to the emotions in an effort to bolster the neoliberals over the finish line in the presidential election. The tone essentially morphs into a Clinton love letter. He rehashes some of the commentary in Sicko for this film to paint clinton as a victim and fighter.

Forget that there hasn't been a hawkish policy that clinton hasn't embraced, a trickle down deregulation policy that she hasn't supported, ignore the fit she had when confronted by code pink in 2003 about her support for the iraq war, that she was the signatory on the alberta clipper in 2009 while in the state department. Nope, forget all the behavior we've witnessed in the past which clearly indicates over the years since Wellesley, she has become a cynical, power hungry, self serving woman who has long since forgotten why she ever entered public life. Nope, Moore pleads that we cling to the hope she may be a Trojan horse. A proverbial St. Francis biding time.

The entire tone of the movie is more akin to the Obama marketing scheme without the finesse and eye catching artwork.

I am still puzzling over why there is a nuclear warhead on the stage. Are we to fear Trump's finger on the trigger or is it there to convince us Clinton has the huztpah to use it.....

ETA: save ur dough & watch it on U tube or better yet watch Moore in Talks at Google from jan. 2016 because he pretty much says everything in that interview that he does in this film.
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Whiplash (2014)
7/10
Disturbing but definitely worth seeing.
2 February 2017
No synopsis of the film, just a summary of impressions.

Some films stay with you for various reasons. After seeing this film a few days ago, I find that it is sitting in my head, just in the background where my subconscious continues to toy with it. Frankly it is a disturbing film with powerhouse performances by JK Simmons and Miles Teller. Worth seeing but be prepared for some unsettling content.

There are lots of reviews that discuss the plausibility of a man like Fletcher existing in academia today or if one can really drum until your hands bleed.

I don't think either issue matters from a thematic point of view of the film. Both of these aspects of the film could be attributed to dramatic license to convey a deeper meaning. This is how I approached this film while watching it and in this review.

This does not mean I believe that the Fletcher character is implausible in real life. In fact, I don't think that this character is much of a dramatic stretch. Its pretty typical to see coaches and teachers in the arts bully their students. Growing up in a backwater midwest town I recall having a music teacher who employed tactics like Fletcher-- He threw temper tantrums for similar triggers as seen in this movie and tossed his baton, chair and music stand from time to time. One time I remember he even grabbed a student by the neck (a drummer in fact) and pushed him against the wall. Ahh, the good ole days of education in middle American. Anyway, suffice to say I think that this type of teacher or coach is a plausible reality.

The scenes of Andrew pushing himself to and beyond the his limits are a bit unbelievable with the blood and wounds and all. Implausible yes, but I think this was an intentional device to convey a deeper meaning so that no one could miss it. All of these scenes are effective in conveying the one big theme in this film---only pain creates great art.

This theme seems to prevail in the arts and there is much evidence to support it if you look at the biographies of the great painters, novelists, etc. Pain is a great motivator to inspire and change human behavior. I think that this idea rather romanticizes the suffering that many great artists experienced during their lifetimes . And perhaps this idea seems ingrained in the arts because its such an effective sales pitch for these artists work postmortem. Anyway, whether or not pain is necessary for great art will probably be debated for eons to come. This theme in the movie was not that interesting to me. I guess I should note that the film does take a position on this issue, coming down firmly on the side that pain is necessary to bring out artistic greatness.

Okay, so the big obvious theme of the movie did not intrigue me. Yet, there is something that intrigued me about this film, something I found very unsettling and set me about writing this review. This film offers a rather realistic portrayal of the systematic abuse employed by someone who fits the profile of a sociopath or narcissist fairly well.

Support for this conclusion: Fletcher manipulates his students and Teller's character in particular from the very first scene. He puts Teller's character Andrew through a cycle of idealization and devaluation again and again. He gas lights Andrew again and again. He systematically uses triangulation to manipulate Andrew. These are the tactics of a textbook narcissist.

In this same vein, Andrew is the perfect victim. We see him lose each and every personal boundary, including one that would induce him to care for his own survival after being seriously injured in a car accident.

Why does Andrew do this? Its all an effort to receive approval from Fletcher. Andrew is the perfect victim in this film. And his path in the film takes him to the place where many victims end up when tangling with this type of human being.

In the finale where Fletcher sets up Andrew for the ultimate humiliation for the sole purpose of vengeance, I found this to be one of the most chilling things I've seen on screen in a long while. For me, the film should have ended right there as this is what can happen when you tangle with a narcissist.

The film continues after this scene. We see a wild performance and Andrew seems to get what he has sought from Fletcher from the very beginning of the film. It feels a bit like a tacked on scene, like something that was forced on the story--a typical Hollywood feel good ending that was probably added to make the project more palatable to a test audience or producers. Given the nature of the characters as portrayed in this film, the ending would not end up in feel good land. Rather, it would likely end up as the Casey character mentioned in the film---Fletcher's prodigy who eventually hung himself.
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Silence (I) (2016)
6/10
Silence: how catholic colonialism failed or how japan protected its culture
30 January 2017
I am a huge Scorsese fan and while not every film he has made is a favorite of mine, my most favorited movies are directed by him. He is a brilliant director and not much more needs to be said about that.

This film caught my eye for two reasons: Scorsese and Japan. And it delivers in the sense of showing the beauty of Japan, the culture in the 17th century and ample emotionally intense scenes and unforgettable images. Japan is lush and green as I remember it. The sound of cicadas takes me back to summer along the Tama River. The film is like being there again in many ways.

Unfortunately, the subject matter was not my cup of tea and no matter how much I wanted to engage with the film I just couldn't get past the subject which seems utter madness to me to be told from this perspective of the suffering and crisis of faith of the missionaries. It seemed a rather overblown effort to create parallels with the Christ--as if these missionaries were white Jesus' coming to save Japan. From what exactly I'm not sure as everything suffered by the poor as portrayed in the film is identical to the suffering of peasants in europe at this time.

I did enjoy the philosophical debates that ensued between the padre Rodrigues and the elites (esp. inquisitor and converted priest ferreira) who hold him prisoner. Probably the highlight of the film.

But these discussions weren't enough to forget the irritating aspects of the film. For example, the narration grates very quickly. Its just a monologue of romanticism for religious fanaticism. I wish the film had heeded its title rather than add this aspect to the film. I think the content, if necessary to the plot, could have been conveyed in another way.

So the movie is basically a two hour plus illustration of the utter waste of human life and suffering over the course of history all in the name of religion and fictional tales of yore. Its not a pleasant experience to watch and the questions raised by the film are not ones I personally wish to ponder as I have left that psychological crutch behind long ago.

One thing that kept running through my mind during the film: if the Native Americans, who were also facing catholic colonialism during this period of history, had done what the Japanese did when they found western culture polluting their own, they might still have their languages, lands and ways of life.

Maybe if you're religious this would be pleasant to watch, but for me it was a long long film that tangled with concepts that were not of much interest to me.

One thing I found rather offensive was the dedication at the end of the film to the Japanese Christians. I remember meeting a few Japanese Christians while living in Japan. I found it rather intriguing that the Japanese in general viewed these believers with some level of--suspicion? I am not sure how else to characterize it but clearly their beliefs were not accepted and viewed as strange. Even with witnessing this, I still don't think a dedication like that is appropriate. It is basically characterizing the Japanese Christians as long suffering victims. The fact is, if Japan had not done what it did, it would have lost its culture and been overrun by colonialists like Hong Kong and other Asian cities. It may have been harsh but I think it was a wise choice to keep the European colonialist marauders at the beach head. And the tactics used as shown in this film were brilliant. If there is any doubt about that, just look at what happened to the indigenous peoples around the world who did not or could not make that same choice.
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Passengers (I) (2016)
7/10
Romancing the vastness of space
27 January 2017
I dislike reviews that summarize the plot or discuss the plot unless the latter is done to support an opinion. So, I will not do this in this review. Here are my thoughts and impressions.

This film that was a very pleasant surprise. I had no expectations and enjoyed seeing the two actors (Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence) in a genre film and role I hadn't seen them in before. My only previous experience of seeing these two on the screen previously were 5 year engagement (which I LOVE) and hunger games (meh, its okay).

These two are great in this film. There is a great chemistry and given the romantic turn this film takes, it works.

The plot is great too--I like how the film explores the nature of space travel and the realistic challenges that it creates in the life of mere mortal humans. I also enjoyed seeing these characters grapple with some very serious predicaments that forced some decisions that could be viewed as selfish and suddenly turns to be completely unselfish.

This film is not a run of the mill film--it has some great ideas and perhaps even themes (if you give it some thought) that are explored exceptionally well.
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Arrival (II) (2016)
9/10
Don't hesitate--see this movie
27 January 2017
I knew nothing about this film aside that involved aliens per the poster and trailer. I ended up seeing this movie for one reason (well two actually) only--the leads in the film. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are fast becoming my favorite performers of their generation. They are--surprising. Surprising in depth, surprising in how relate-able they are, surprising in how normal yet attractive they are.. and there are no disappointments here. They deliver......okay, enough with fawning over the leads.

So the film--if you liked (or loved) Contact, you will LOVE LOVE LOVE this film. The story was clearly something that would appeal to me--I love a good scifi film and its my favorite genre. But this movie sidesteps the flaw that tends to grate on your nerves in the film (and book) Contact---the foibles of humanity coming to the surface when faced with contact with an EBE. Its not ignored in the film, its just a minor plot point rather than the point. Which is just fine with me because the main plot is fantastic.

If you are into the Aliens/Prometheus version of scifi they you will probably be disappointed. No action, no scary space monsters picking off humans, no gore and no murder mayhem. In fact, after watching this film only one word seemed to capture it in my head. SMART. Its just a smart movie. The plot is really creative and I left the film feeling just like I did when I was a kid after seeing a good scifi film---I just wished that what I had just seen was really true.

I will be seeing this movie again--its that good.
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6/10
"fell flat; felt flat"
16 January 2017
I read and heard some hype about this film so it was on my radar to see. I had watched a number of reviews online, including those with spoilers, so I was pretty primed with some preconceived notions when I ended up in the theater to see this film. Perhaps this is was my downfall --I had expectations which I have found over the course of my life is rarely a good thing and never a good thing in film.

So if you haven't seen it elsewhere, there was a lot of talk about the performances in this film. So right of the bat I want to say I didn't see anything noteworthy in Affleck's performance or that of Michelle Williams. Affleck seems very disconnected and there is nothing that happens in the film that turns his character into someone you can relate or empathize with. If realistic is your thing, then Affleck is very realistic, but it would be a realistic portrayal of someone on Prozac. I am not sure there is much talent in that. I did not see indications of much more hinted at in his performance--no signs of something brewing in deeper waters. I saw disconnection. As my movie companion said as we walked out of the theater--it fell flat, affleck felt flat.

The same goes for Williams for different reasons. -In a scene where she is quite emotional it doesn't resonate. The pitch of her emotional outburst seemed out of place given the context of what we had seen of her earlier in the film. In fact it almost seems out of character this outburst of emotion but I wouldn't go that far given the history of this person in the film. While intellectually it seems a rationale, emotionally its jarring because we've seen this person functioning fairly normally and for all intents and purposes appears to have moved one. So, what should be a powerful arch in the story feels a bit out of place, out of character and I frankly found myself reacting much as the Affleck character did to this confession. So Williams performance falls flat as well, albeit for different reasons.

One character I want to give a shout out to is the nephew. I read/heard a lot about the nephew in this movie--nothing was flattering. However, I found this character to be the most human and relate-able of all the cast. His story arch and Hedges performance was very real and engaging.

So, enough of the nitty gritty. General impressions. The movie from beginning to end feels odd--as if the main characters are disconnected from the events in an unnatural way, as if they were all heavily medicated and not engaged in what was going on. Even in the most traumatic moments, they seemed disconnected and strangely flat and inauthentic. In fact if I was to characterize this movie's tone it had a Fargo like quality but lacked the humor. On this note in particular my theater experience was odd--a packed house that on occasion a large portion of the moviegoers would burst out laughing. I and my companion sat in silence. For my part, I just wasn't sure it was meant to be funny.

The cinematography was spot on but, the soundtrack--it is SO HORRIBLE it literally ruins the film experience time and again. Again and again there is this ODD instrumental music that seems off relative to what is going on up on the screen. It seems so out of sync emotionally that its distracting. When it began to be a pattern I started to wonder if it was intentional and some sort of humor device--it was that disconcerting.

I can't say 'don't see this movie' but I can say, don't go out of your way to see this movie. I wouldn't necessarily skip seeing this film, but there is no reason to rush to any theater. I think I would have preferred seeing this on netflix or something. And perhaps I would have been better served by knowing nothing about the film before seeing it.

Edited to add--if you want to see a good Casey Affleck performance, he is pretty awesome in The Finest Hours.
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French Kiss (1995)
10/10
All time favorite movie
30 December 2016
I love rom coms and its pretty hard for me to be critical of any film in this genre as it is quintessential escapism and who can reject that after a tough week at work!

But this film stands out for me--lines from this movie pop into my head again and again. The soundtrack is wonderful and it too pops into my head again and again. I mean, I have found myself singing Ryans version of I love Paris to myself many times when Paris come up as subject or film location.

The chemistry between Ryan and Kline is evident and is a joy to watch. I have always enjoyed Ryan and Kline, but Kline was never a leading man type for me until this film. Yum--he is perfect even with his imperfect french accent. And lastly, hands down, this film has the all time best ever screen kiss at the end. I often watch the entire film just to enjoy seeing that kiss....sigh. Gets me every time. One fun memory I have is watching this film with a bunch of roomies some years ago and the joy of realizing I was not alone in my appreciation of that kiss.

Even though the love story is a bit much (I mean what sane woman would give a guy of questionable character with whom she has no relationship to speak of her entire life savings) but I am a romantic so I opt to just go with it in this film. Its a small flaw in a most perfect banquet of rom com fun.
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9/10
unsettling walk through the past
20 December 2016
I really didn't know what this film was about and hadn't heard about it before watching it. I was just hunting for something to watch on Netflix and here was this film. Within the first minute or so of the film I was mildly surprised to see "white earth reservation" appear on the screen and I was hooked.

It was a difficult movie to watch--to see what goes on behind some closed doors-- things you sense, things you just sorta know because you've lived or bore witness to somewhat similar circumstances yourself at one time in life.

The places in the film are old stomping grounds for me--been to every place and tribal building shown in this film. When viewed through a camera lens the film captures the subtle beauty of this part of the world. It also captures the isolation.

There is a pine point on every reservation I have ever been to, including my own village of origin. Its tough to look at, it may even be shocking if you've never seen it before.

I don't think showing what goes on behind some of the closed doors in neighborhoods like Pine Point is shaming or a reflection of the whole. What you see is real and I like that there is no pontificating or forced narrative driving the film. You just see a truth. A truth that has to be addressed if things are to change.

This problem of drugs and the cycle of addiction is not exclusive to AI communities. I could take you to neighborhoods in Bemidji, Cloquet etc. where the same story is playing out in predominantly white neighborhoods. It may be the government housing that makes it easier to pinpoint and centralize on reservations.

There is a difference though--the reason for the cycle in AI communities has different roots. You glimpse some of the root causes and the pain that creates this cycle in the film. You also glimpse how intractable it is The film doesn't really offer answers. You simply get an opportunity to come to know some of those who live and grow up in this pattern.

The lack of a message or arc to the film is unsettling. You want it to mean something or resolve in some way. For me, I guess if I wanted to find a message in the film, perhaps its the title.

Perhaps those who break the cycle will eventually lead the way out of this pattern. I hope so--for both those who shared their lives in the film and for AI communities as a whole.

Definitely worth seeing.
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3/10
Nothing new here
4 July 2016
Warning: Spoilers
There is almost nothing in this movie that couldn't have been said or filmed over 20 years ago. Not one bit of the science presented or the signs or symptoms is newsworthy. Its a retread of everything we knew in 1988 when this issue took center stage in American politics. And the fact is, it has all been said and printed and published over and over again. Fox adds nothing to this discussion.

So, if you're interested in witnessing another latecomer come to grips with the dire predicament we are in as species by espousing his undying love for solar panels and social justice causes and pinning the entire thing on consumerism even though the record is very clear that this issue has been in the works for well over a century long before the advent of madison avenue, then I guess this may be a worthwhile hour plus spent of your very short life. However, for me, I don't find the navelgazing of latecomer hipster activist all that riveting or enlightening. In fact, it's rather annoying to be preached to by someone who decides to do a climate change movie by galavanting about the globe. Its even less appealing to hear this from someone who in 2010 put out a movie discussing fracking and never once could be bothered to mention how long this had been going on in the USA or why. You know the root causes. Spoiler--Fox does the exact same thing in this film too, ignores root causes.
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Steve Jobs (2015)
8/10
Looks at the character of the man rather than a biopic
21 February 2016
When I heard about this movie being filmed around town, I wondered how on earth another pic about Jobs got the green light. I mean, wasn't there just a Jobs film featuring Ashton Kutcher. Yuu got that film on top of others like "The man in the machine", "Lost Interview" etc. and way before that, my person favorite "Pirates of Silicon Valley". Frankly, was there anything more to say about this man?

I almost passed up this film but I am so glad that I didn't. This film explores the character of Jobs. It's not about chronological events and achievements of this man and it doesn't even pretend to be. It's a three act play that fictionalizes three events that are sort of turning points in Jobs career. This movie is what is so fantastic about fiction over other film forms. When done well in its most artistic form, fiction is able to capture the emotional truths rather than objective truths contained in a series of events. Leave the objective truths to its appropriate artisans--the territory of documentaries and docudramas. Fiction, when done well, can get to the root and this film does just that. This film is fiction at its best--great writing, great performances, great staging that keeps a largely verbal film feeling tense and driven throughout.

At the most superficial viewing, the film seems to tangle with the bizarre biographical element of this man's life--his relationship with his daughter. Even if you are only slightly familiar with the story of Jobs, this aspect of the story just doesn't make sense. Its weird and it betrays an aspect of the character of this man that too many biographers/reporters/filmmakers seemed rather eager to gloss over whenever you read or watch anything about this man.

This film is not interested in glossing over anything--the use of recurring characters carried throughout this film is a great vehicle that shows what it's like to have tangled with a person like Jobs, who by the end of the film you cannot come away with anything other than the impression that this man was basically a highly sociopathic/ narcissistic person. There are repeated references by Jobs and by others as him being a god...The mixture of love and hate the people around him feel. The loyalty to the vision that some misplace into loyalty to the man and how that man uses that loyalty to paint these close friends and colleagues again and again into ethical corners and repeated states of cognitive dissonance. Having the same characters recur, you see the damage wrought in in their lives by a relationship with such a person is a life long experience. Whether its being erased from the history of your work like Woz or like Scully, who years later refers to still receiving death threats for being the man who dared to 'fire Jobs'.

Whether these type of humans like Jobs are made by circumstance or born, the film alludes to both and neither and in the end shows that it doesn't really matter. If you are caught inside the 'reality bending zone' that surrounds them, as so aptly described by Winslet's character Joanna Hoffman, its a roller-coaster and the fall out is the same.

This movie captures the emotional damage, it shows the groupies, sycophants and enablers that surround them. It shows the opportunism and manipulation wielded by such a person. It shows how in the end these type of people are usually their own worst enemy.

One of my favorite moments in the film--Woz blasts Jobs backstage with the 'what do you do' attack before the launch of Next and says--"That's what men do"...and minutes later in the film Jobs goes on in a rant to Scully and uses the exact same words used by Woz--"Because that's what men do". Classic behavior of a narcissistic person--appropriation. A pattern of behavior that is the entire reason the naysayers dislike Jobs.

Its no surprise that those who worked with Jobs claim the movie shows someone they didn't know or recognize. Such people never see behind the mask of these type of humans. Valuable sources of supply never see behind the mask. The mask only slips in the presence of the fodder--the 'pawns' on the chessboard--underlings, waiters, etc. who will never be heard and if heard, never believed. And the movie also shows the other group who glimpse behind the mask-- those who were emotionally close and will never be believed because they will be categorized as having an ax to grind.

This movie is worth the time and attention demanded by such a dialogue intense film. Its worth watching more than once actually. To me this movie is bigger than Jobs, the flawed computer marketing genius. It deserves attention because there is a serious problem in this country with lifting these type of people to such heights of reverence in society when in actuality they are the great destroyers of what most people pretend to really value and these people use those values against you to serve their own selfish needs. As the screenwriter Sorkin pointed out..."If you've got a factory full of children in China assembling phones for 17 cents an hour, you've got a lot of nerve calling someone else opportunistic".
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2/10
the OMG my mother had sex movie
20 February 2016
An hour and half of watching two grumpy children bicker and basically grumble the entire time they are dealing with the task of cleaning out their recently dead mothers home. The plot climax (sorry about the pun) is the discovery of some explicit pics of their deceased mother on their mothers computer. This 'revelation' is followed by more grumbling mixed with mortification that the mother had the audacity to have sex. No character development. No context for any of the characters grumpy demeanors beyond (perhaps) the death of the mother (although they don't seem too broken up about it), and the one sibling having resentment over having to care for the mother before her passing. If this is what passes for meaningful life experiences in the lives of hipsters we are all doomed. In a way, its like a really twisted, shallow version of The Big Chill (which was somewhat shallow too).
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