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Knuckleball (II) (2018)
6/10
Nasty Little Horror Tale
17 August 2019
One of these horror films that if one looks too closely at some of the preposterous plot elements it could be a turn off. Instead, I recommend just going with the flow and getting caught up in the most bizarre,bloody, and outrageous happenings on screen.

To me, it reminded me of a B-movie wannabe of the classic horror tale "The Shining". Director Michael Peterson and writer Kevin Cockle do not shy away from many grim and dark twists and turns

Certainly kept me guessing how this would all turn out, and on the whole the movie proved to be a nasty little horror tale.
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7/10
Better Than I Anticipated
14 August 2019
As a Hallmark TV movie, I thought this one had a decent edge to it, and the chemistry between the two leads Lacy Chabert, as Tess, and Brennan Elliott, as Lt. Logan O'Connor, worked quite well. I'm a big crossword puzzle fan, so the inclusion of them into a murder mystery heightened my interest.

Yes, some of the dialogue was trite and the ending was a little lame, but it's always fun trying to decide who the killer is. Overall, the film was somewhat better than I anticipated.
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Trial by Fire (I) (2018)
7/10
Dern & O'Connell Carry This Slow Paced But Intense Drama
14 August 2019
Laura Dern and Jack O'Connell give excellent performances here in this deliberately paced intense drama based on a true story. The movie has its agenda, but, overall, I felt the positives outweighed the negatives.

Dern portrays Elizabeth Gilbert, a playwright who gets personally involved in the case of Cameron Todd Willingham (O'Connell) who was convicted and sentenced to death for setting fire to his home, in Texas, which killed his 3 young daughters. Dern begins to uncover evidence that the whole trial may have been a set-up. Look for a real shocker right near the end of the movie.
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7/10
Detailed & Concise Look at Lennon's Early Years
6 August 2019
I've seen a number of documentaries and movies on the Beatles and in particular John Lennon, but I would say this doc was the most detailed and concise exploration of Lennon's early years, from childhood to the beginning of the Beatles.

The film covers Lennon's early years, in Liverpool, during WWll, to his extremely unsettled family life in his formative years, to his personality in school, and eventually his venturing into writing, poetry, illustration, and, of course music. All of this would lead to the shaping of Lennon's uniqueness and unquestioned charisma.

I found it fascinating how we got a vivid account of the first time Lennon met Paul McCartney, through a mutual friend, and how McCartney, and later George Harrison were incorporated into Lennon's first band The Quarrymen.

For me, my enjoyment of the movie was marred somewhat by the lack of subtitles and with the thick British accents it was difficult for me to make everything out. Overall though, this doc, directed by Roger Appleton, is a most interesting look at the early years of John Lennon, whose genius and talent I've respected since I was a teenager.
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Fast Color (2018)
7/10
Offers a Fresh & Original Take on the Superpowers Theme
1 August 2019
This slowly unfolding dystopian film offers a fresh and original take on the superpowers theme. But you'll need patience, as this is more of a quiet and cerebral film than the usual action laced type movie in this genre.

Fine performances here from Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Lorraine Toussaint as two women who have been gifted with the supernatural abilities, as part of a generational line of women in their family. But in a world which has has no rainfall for 8 years and is dying out, and where Federal Agents fear what these abilities can do, there may be no safe place for them.

Although I thought some of the elements here were nonsensical, once it all started coming together I found it quite engaging and interesting, and, as mentioned, offered a different slant on this type of movie.
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El Chicano (2018)
3/10
Slow Moving & Violent Revenge Tale That Becomes Quite Forgettable
1 August 2019
Very slow moving, violent, and dark revenge tale which I found rather soulless and forgettable. Not my cup of tea. Can't recommend.
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Orphan Horse (2018)
8/10
Indie is Predictable But a Beautiful Movie
28 July 2019
Yes, this indie plays on your "heart-strings" and is predictable, but I thought it was a beautiful film. The two leads here Jon Voight and Alexa Nisenson are superb in their roles, and the supporting cast is excellent as well.

Voight portrays Ben a curmudgeonly and aging man who has endured much tragedy in his life, but has maintained an affinity for his two horses which he keeps on his deteriorating ranch. Nisenson plays Shelly, an orphan who has just run away from an abusive foster family, and shares with Ben a love for horses.

The chemistry between the two works well, and soon Shelly will also bond with the horse she named Orphan on Ben's ranch. Meanwhile, a search by the police and social services continues to try and find the missing girl.

If you look past the cliches and just go with the flow of this movie you may find it as I did, most enjoyable and heart-rending. I'd say keep a box of tissues handy for the final 20 minutes or so.

To note: there were no subtitles on my DVD copy.
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7/10
Very Cerebral Documentary
27 July 2019
This very cerebral documentary centers on the concept that society today is hurtling towards its own destruction, mainly through the systematic plundering of the Earth's resources. The filmmakers, among other "out of the box" thinkers who are interviewed here, believe that the current system cannot be fixed at this point, and that a revolutionary new system must take its place if people are to survive on this planet.

Nathanael Coste, a doc filmmaker, and Marc de la Menardiere, a global water salesman, had been childhood friends but had not seen each other for a decade. Now, they get together to travel the globe looking for answers as to what may prevent this eventual demise of Earth if things continue on their present course.

Without getting into all the details and theories of the film, I will say that Nathanael and Marc believe that to reverse the obscene child mortality rate in the world, the loss of enormous amounts of wildlife species, the desecration and pollution of our environment, and the terribly unequal distribution of wealth, it will take a complete change of human consciousness to do so.

Although the movie shows us this is taking place already in many places, in order to really radically change our world, it will take a complete change in people's belief systems to the point where greed and constant consumerism are replaced by the concept that if we are to survive on this planet we must realize. like Buddhism, that we are all connected and one.

As I see it, the world cannot continue on its present path but it will take the realization that we are on the brink of destruction for us to change, or,as one thinker stated in the doc, we will be heading for a totalitarian oligarchy which will make all the decisions for us, as cold-blooded as that sounds In other words, we will be forced to change or perish.

All in all, I picked up this DVD at my local library, which was apparently distributed in 2015. But now 4 years later the same problems, if not worse, still exist and are even accelerating. If you have patience and are interested in getting your brain cells active, then you may find some very interesting concepts here, as I did.
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4/10
Misses the Mark
26 July 2019
Rather a slog for the first hour and a half but it comes together somewhat in the final 15 minutes. Too little--too late, as I see it. Juliette Lewis, as usual, brings lots of life to the screen in her role. Overall, the plot and the characters here are too disjointed and not developed enough to have the dramatic impact it might have had.

To note: there were no subtitles available on my DVD copy.
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Teen Spirit (2018)
8/10
Mesmerizing Performance by Fanning Here
21 July 2019
Another mesmerizing performance by Elle Fanning, as she portrays 17-year-old Violet Valenski, an aspiring singer living with her mother on a farm on the Isle of Wight, UK. Fine performances by Zlatko Butic and Agnieska Grochhowska add much to the film as well.

I see many reviewers disliked the movie, but I found it to be a good combination of strong acting, dramatic tension, music, and even some well placed humor. Yes, the film can be formulaic, at times, but overall I thought it was well worth the watch.

The most solid actor Max Minghella makes his feature film directorial debut here as well as adding his second screenplay, after the powerful "The 9th Life of Louis Drax".
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Family (III) (2018)
6/10
Some Laughs in This Quirky and Predictable Comedy
17 July 2019
Some laughs here, as well as some rough spots, in this quirky and predictable comedy starring Taylor Schilling. She is excellent in her portrayal of Kate, a completely self-absorbed workaholic, employed as a Senior V.P. for a New Jersey hedge fund.

Kate is asked by her brother to watch over her 11-year-old niece Maddie (Bryn Vale) for one night while they place his mother-in-law in hospice care. Of course, I don't have to tell you things will not go according to plan and they'll be plenty of misadventures and lessons to be learned along the way.

In addition to Vale's fine performance, Kate McKinnon and Brian Tyree Henry add well to the mix here in supporting roles. All in all, I did get some laughs at times, and I would say this movie was a decent feature debut for writer and director Laura Steinel.
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7/10
Intense & Complicated Iranian Drama
14 July 2019
This is an intense and complicated Iranian drama starring Amir Aghaee as Dr. Kaveh Nariman, who one night driving on the highway accidentally hits a family of four riding on a motor scooter. As details emerge from all parties involved, the consequences of this incident will become enormous.

The movie, directed by Vahid Jalilvand, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Ali Zarnegar, kept me engaged and interested throughout. Aside from Aghaee, look for fine performances from Hediyeh Tehrani, Navid Mohammadzadeh, and Zakieh Behbahani.

Overall, this is a powerful film with loads of realism. I did think the surprise ending was somewhat implausible but for those that like intense foreign films, this one may very well be to your liking.
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Styx (I) (2018)
7/10
Suspenseful With Superb Cinematography But Offers Only an Ambiguous Finale
9 July 2019
Susanne Wolff gives a fine performance here as Rake, an emergency room doctor who sets off alone onto the sea, on her sailing yacht, to head towards the isolated Ascension Island, in the South Atlantic. Ascension contains a natural jungle planned and fostered by Charles Darwin. I thought the cinematography here was truly superb from the startling opening scenes and throughout the film.

When Rake comes across a trawler in emergency distress and containing numerous African migrants, she will be faced with the dilemma of her humanitarian desire to help vs. the policies and procedures of governments and their politics. It's a worldwide crisis with no easy answers, and viewers will most likely come down on both sides of the equation.

Overall, I thought the movie maintained a good air of suspense throughout but I was definitely not thrilled with the most ambiguous ending. To note, English subtitles were only available when German was spoken, which was rarely, but I was able to obtain them from my closed caption option on my remote.
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Shadow Wolves (2019)
3/10
Can't Recommend
6 July 2019
B-movie type film marked by stilted dialogue and cliched plot elements.

A terrorist leader, dying of a terminal illness, seeks revenge against a group of Native American trackers. During one of the Gulf Wars, the trackers had led the U.S. military to the home of the terrorist and subsequently a drone strike wiped out his family.

The trackers are now patrolling the U.S./Mexican border to try and stop the passage of drugs, human trafficking, and possible terrorist weapons. They are secretly being funded by a former fellow soldier who is now a Colonel with the NSA.

Overall, can't recommend this one.
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The Heiresses (2018)
6/10
Icily Paced Paraguayan Film
3 July 2019
This is an icily paced Paraguayan film, which will probably appeal only to those viewers who have enough patience to allow an intricate drama to slowly unfurl

Chela (Ana Brun) and Chiquita (Margarita Irun) have been in a 30 year long lesbian relationship. But now with Chiquita possibly facing jail time for "fraud" they find their financial situation is precarious and have begun to sell some of their valuable possessions, most of which they have inherited.

When Chiquita is finally remanded to prison, we are witness to Chela's slow transformation from a depressed and introverted woman. She begins to earn some cash by offering her Mercedes for lifts to her neighbors, even though she doesn't have a driver's license.

Eventually, she will meet the younger and vivacious Agny (Ana Ivanova) who will stir up some long buried passion in Chela, as well as loads of anxiety. The changes in Chela are slow and subtle and Brun gives a superb and understated performance here. I was shocked to see that this is her first film, but then I read she has had extensive stage experience.

Overall, loads of realism in this movie that, as mentioned, you'll need a ton of patience to enjoy its subtleties . So if you need lots of action or don't like dialogue driven slow-paced movies then you may be better off passing on this one.

To note: the English subtitles here are quite small.
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Hotel Mumbai (2018)
3/10
Brutally Disturbing
30 June 2019
This is a dramatization of the horrific terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, in Mumbai in 2008, (one of 12 sites attacked on that day). In my opinion, there is way too much emphasis on the constant brutal cold blooded killings of innocent men and women throughout the movie, only occasionally relieved by the heroism of those living the nightmare inside the hotel.

For those viewers that like constant close range mass indiscriminate slaughter and bloodshed then maybe this is your movie. But there's enough depressing events going on in the world on a daily basis, so I personally don't need 2 hours more of this.

Overall, look for strong performances by Dev Patel, Jason Isaacs, and Anupam Kher but this film was far too disturbing for me.
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Us (2019)
2/10
Loved "Get Out" But "Us" is Just Dumb
23 June 2019
Well, with over 2100 user reviews as of this date, I might as well add my 2 cents. I absolutely loved Peele's "Get Out", but I thought "Us" was one of the dumbest movies I've seen in a long time. With all the hype and glowing pro critic reviews this was a huge disappointment, to say the least.
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8/10
A Truly Good Man
21 June 2019
This documentary on the late actor Paul Walker really gave me some very good insights into the type of man he was. He was forever struggling with the phoniness and constraints of Hollywood, but realized it was a necessary evil to allow him the freedom to do what he really loved when he wasn't working.

What stood out for me in this doc was Walker's generosity and wanting to help not only his own family but help anywhere he could be of service, like his traveling to devastated Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Additionally, he was hands-on active in the conservation of animals like the Great White shark.

All in all, only knowing Walker from his screen performances, I am glad I got to discover what a terrific human being he was in so many ways. With his tragic accident in 2013, the world did indeed suffer a major loss.
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5/10
Not My Cup of Tea
19 June 2019
I saw that this documentary received very high praise from pro critics, but it's not my cup of tea. From what I read, the young director RaMell Ross , making his feature debut, shot 1300 hours of footage over 5 years and was looking more in this presentation to be poetic and lyrical rather than offer a cohesive storyline.

As Ross depicts day-to-day life in a small predominately African-American town in Alabama, there are certainly some striking images here One segment of the movie is just completely sad and shocking. But the film was just too disjointed and fragmented to appeal to me on the whole.
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One October (2017)
9/10
Fascinating
16 June 2019
I found this documentary at my local library and I'm glad I did. At only 56 mins. in length and directed by Rachel Shuman, this is a fascinating film combined with spectacular cinematography of New York City.

Shot in October of 2008, as the Great Recession was sweeping across the world and the Presidential Election between Barack Obama and John McCain was looming, WFMU radio host Clay Pigeon took to the streets to get a feel of what people were thinking and feeling at that time.

The editing of the doc, also by Shuman, was very effective as each interviewee had lots of engaging and, at times, humorous things to say about their lives and current events, as well as an underlying theme of the film of the gentrification and loss of neighborhoods in the city. These interviews are combined with colorful and haunting scenes of parades, parks, ceremonies, and just everyday street scenes.

Overall, I would highly recommend this brief and engaging film.
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8/10
Dedication & Honesty
14 June 2019
This documentary, directed by Joe Stephenson, centers on the life and career of the acclaimed British actor Sir Ian McKellen. Much of the film is McKellen sitting and being interviewed and describing in his own words the path of his fascinating life, enhanced, of course, by recreations, vintage film clips, and photos.

Those 2 words, dedication and honesty, help describe some of McKellen's persona. I say dedication because, in the movie, McKellen states that he feels he must, as he appears on stage, be in the best physical and mental shape for that night, so that an audience member who has spent all day working can get the best performance possible. Re honesty, McKellen came across to me as just that speaking from the gut as to how he viewed the people and events in his life.

Early on he realized he was gay, and when he attended Cambridge, on a partial drama scholarship, he began to meet other gay men and also began to have relationships. At 49 years of age, McKellen, as AIDS reared its ugly head across the world, "came out" and became an activist for gay rights, speaking out and raising money as well.

Overall, I found this documentary engrossing as McKellen spun his life story and can easily recommend it.
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The Heretic (2018)
8/10
Gets the Brain Cells Working
10 June 2019
This documentary, directed by Andrew Morgan, focuses on Rob Bell, the former pastor and founder (along with his wife Kristen) of the Michigan Mars Hill megachurch, but who now is an author, freelance writer, and nationwide speaker.

Bell believes that so much of organized religion today has become corrupted and needs to be torn down. Today, he states, religion and spirituality needs to be inclusive not exclusive, and that so much of what goes on in Jesus' name is actually anti-Christ in its energy and direction.

In his New York Times bestselling book "Love Wins" Bell challenged the belief that sinners would burn in Hell for eternity and felt this concept enabled the established Churches to control their congregants with fear. In his 2017 book "What is the Bible" he again challenges many long held tenets of the Church. A good portion of the film shows Bell speaking to large and enthusiastic crowds at his book signings or other venues, often inserting well placed and effective humor.

Naturally, his popularity and platforms have made the religious conservatives and evangelicals quite upset and they have denounced his writings and words, labeling him a heretic of the Christian Church

The doc is quite brief running only about 1 hr. and 12 mins. in length, and I would say it you want to get the old brain cells cranked up this film can offer some very interesting concepts and at the very least things to "chew on".
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8/10
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
9 June 2019
This documentary centers on the life and career of the acclaimed photographer Garry Winogrand, who passed away in 1984 at the age of 56. When he died, he left thousands of rolls of undeveloped film. and in subsequent years there have been a number of posthumous showings of his work.

Known as a "street photographer" his incredibly striking photos were the heart of this movie for me. Obviously, Winogrand has an amazing eye for capturing all types of people and there just seemed to be a story behind nearly every photo that I would have loved to know what the backstory was for each one.

The film itself, directed by Sasha Waters Freyer, follows pretty much the standard doc formula with some personal history of Winogard, archival film clips, and interviews with family, friends, and contemporaries.

Overall, Winogrand's photographic genius is clearly on display here, and for those that like this type of film I can easily recommend it.

To note: The subtitles available on my DVD copy were only offered when Winogrand himself was being interviewed or lecturing. Otherwise, I had to use the closed caption option on my remote to obtain them.
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7/10
Born For the Ballet Stage
6 June 2019
This documentary focuses on the life and career of the world renowned Brazilian ballet dancer Marcelo Gomes.

The movie will trace Gomes instinctively knowing, when very young, that he belonged in ballet class, and although he was the only boy there and bullied because of it, he did not waver. You can see his amazing talent at a very young age on vintage film clips that are shown. Gomes would come to the United States, as a 13-years-old, to further his studies in Florida, eventually signing with the American Ballet Theater, where he remained for the next 20 years.

There are also sections devoted to his returning to Brazil to visit with his family, his coming out as gay, his unselfishness when in partnership with a ballerina, and his realistic and honest feelings about what the future may hold for him as his body begins to show the inevitable signs of aging.

Certain parts of the doc remained unclear like exactly why Gomes' father would continually disappoint him by cancelling or not showing up for some of his major performances, citing personal issues. Also, I read in several articles and on Wiki that Gomes resigned from the ABT in late 2017 amidst a charge of sexual misconduct, which apparently was alleged to have occurred some 8 years before. However, I could find nothing further on this issue.

Overall, Marcelo Gomes' dedication to ballet, his incredible talent, and his genuineness and unselfishness on stage come bursting through in this movie.

To note, there were no subtitles on my DVD copy when English is spoken, but I was able to access them through the closed caption option on my remote. However, when other languages are spoken, which is fairly often, there are subtitles but they're quite small in size.
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9/10
Sweeping Saga
5 June 2019
The highly acclaimed French filmmaker Agnes Varda, who recently passed at the age of 90, wrote and directed this sweeping saga. It centers on the friendship of Pauline (Valerie Mairesse) and Suzanne (Therese Liotard) over the course of two decades the 1960's and 70's.

The two women will occasionally meet over the years but a lot of their communication will be by postcard. They're both active feminists and willing to help other women with pregnancies and actions to take against what they consider to be oppressive abortion laws, giving the film relevance in today's times.

Overall, I just found this movie to be bristling with vitality, but presented in a low-key style, as the two women grapple with relationships, families, and life itself. The acting by Mairesse and Liotard, and the supporting cast, is natural and their characters believable, in my opinion. For those viewers that enjoy sweeping foreign films there's a lot to like here.
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