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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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6/10
Mixed Bag
5 June 2019
A mixed bag here for me. Although the two lead actors Rose Reid and Caleb Castille are appealing and the movie's heart is in the right place, there was just too much stereotyping and sermonizing for my tastes. Plus, the filmmakers seemed to want to check off every "required" box for indies with its tragedies and rather forced dramatic elements.

At least the horses and cinematography were beautiful and I'm glad some of the nastiness was put aside for an uplifting but predictable ending.
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The Kid (II) (2019)
5/10
Top-Notch Cast But Missed Dramatic Opportunities
4 June 2019
Very slow paced Western that seemed to miss many opportunities for dramatic effect. Thus it came across to me as rather a slog until its engrossing finale.

The cast is first-rate with Hawke and DeHaan leading the way. But as other reviewers have mentioned the virtually unrecognizable Chris Pratt, in certainly a different kind of role for him, was excellent. If you're expecting to see a lot of Vincent D'Onofrio he has a very minor role but he did direct the movie.

All in all, I felt there was a better film that could have emerged here than the one that was presented to the viewer.
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The Last Race (2018)
7/10
Brought Back Memories
2 June 2019
This documentary on Riverhead Raceway, on Long Island, N.Y., brought back memories to me of going to Freeport Raceway on Long Island (one of 40 active stock car tracks at the time) as a kid with my family for a night of racing and excitement.

Alas, Riverhead is the only remaining track of its kind in the area and seemingly barely hanging on, with its aging but dedicated owners Barbara and Jim Cromarty, and land developers on all sides of the track impatiently waiting for them to sell so they can develop another strip mall or parking lot on the valuable land.

This is not your typical doc, with its emphasis on the atmospherics of the stock car venue and the often quirky drivers and characters who keep it running. The film often seems disjointed, as it skips from one scene to another seemingly randomly. Thus, it will most likely turn off some viewers who expect a more traditional and orderly movie.

Overall, I found this doc to illustrate a slice of Americana that's still active but that more often than not will fade from our history.

Look for raw language throughout with the film being only about 1 hr. and 15 mins. in length.
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The Sower (2017)
6/10
Subtle Drama With Fine Understated Performances
1 June 2019
Set in the mid-19th century in a remote French farming village, the men of the small community are swept up and arrested by the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte. He has pulled off a coup in the nation and dissolved their Second Republic, only to soon declare himself Emperor.

Thus the women of the village are left to fend for themselves not knowing the fate of their loved ones. They'll undergo a collaborative effort to harvest the fields, care for the animals, and make necessary repairs when needed.

They'll also decide that if a man does wander through their community they will share him equally including the bedroom. But when a handsome and mysterious man named Jean (Alban Lenoir), claiming to be a traveling blacksmith, does pass through, the women will do their best to have him stay.

The young Violette (Pauline Burlet) will be tasked to look after Jean. She's the only person left in the town who can read and since Jean can also read it will help form a bond between them. Also, they'll be physical attraction as well all leading to a relationship.

However, Violette will soon feel the pressure of the other women wanting to participate in their pact of sharing Jean. I won't write spoilers as to what happens thereafter or if some or all of the village's men eventually return.

Overall, this is a deliberately paced movie with subtle, not "knock you off your seat", drama. The fine performances of the leads Burlet and Lenoir are understated and effective. Part of the power of the film is how the women must cooperate and collaborate to survive. But this is the type of slow paced and subtle movie that will not appeal to everyone, especially those seeking an action flick.
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5/10
What We've Come to Expect From Seagal
28 May 2019
Not extremely different than many of the Steven Seagal movies we've seen in recent years, as it's filled with loads of cliched and wooden dialogue, violence-some of which is brutal at times, and some plot elements that just make little sense.

Here, Seagal portrays CIA Agent Jake Alexander whose team goes rogue after one of their agents is killed in a raid and the CIA powers-that-be want them to stand down instead of exacting revenge. Jake's team will be after the Camorra Mafia Don Gino Orsetti, whose mob is dealing in the lucrative black market of human organ theft.

Overall, the movie is what we've come to expect from Seagal in recent years
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7/10
Uplifting
27 May 2019
This documentary, directed by Lisa Downs, focuses on the tumultuous life of Sam J. Jones, who starred in the 1980 sci-fi film "Flash Gordon", which has become a cult classic over the years. The movie recounts Jones' tragic early life, his on-set clashes with the iconic producer Dino De Laurentiis during the filming of "Flash", his fall into obscurity, and then his most remarkable transformation into the man he is today.

At first, this doc came across to me as quite disjointed jumping from one topic to another, with quick interview clips from those that worked with Jones on the set of "Flash Gordon" in many varied capacities, to devoted fans, as well as his family and friends. Also, there's loads of behind-the-scenes insights into the 1980 movie. However as the film progressed and Jones' entire remarkable story unfolded I found it to be a most uplifting and inspiring true tale.

Note: There were no subtitles available on my DVD copy.
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6/10
Intriguing
22 May 2019
Certainly intriguing enough to keep me engrossed throughout and it kept me guessing. But some of the plot elements were nonsensical and the ending seemed more convoluted than it needed to be. Good debut for the writer and director Henry Dunham.
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Trading Paint (2019)
6/10
Somewhat Better Than I Anticipated
22 May 2019
After seeing the terrible reviews from the pro critics I was expecting the very worst here. However, the movie turned out to be somewhat better than I anticipated. Yes, it's cliched, corny, and predictable but it's watchable and I've certainly seen worse.

Travolta is at least better here than in the last film I saw him in "Speed Kills", where it seemed like his face was frozen throughout. Shania Twain just lights up the screen whenever she appears, and Rosabell Laurenti Sellers, Michael Madsen, and Kevin Dunn add well to the mix here.

Overall, this movie is not going to win any awards but it's light entertainment and can be uplifting at times/
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7/10
Will Appeal to a Certain Slice of Cinephile
20 May 2019
Would certainly imagine this French film, written and directed by Jean Paul Civeyrac, will only appeal to a certain slice of cinephile. At nearly two and a half hours in length and beautifully shot in black and white, the movie follows the journey of Etienne (Andranic Manet) as he leaves his girlfriend and family behind in Lyon to travel to attend film school in Paris.

The film is heavily dialogue driven and, at times, can seem pretentious or intellectually moralizing but there's plenty of interesting discussions as well on movies, literature, and the human condition. It was engaging enough for me to want to see what would happen to the young protagonist as he grappled with relationships, career, and his own self doubts.

Overall, as mentioned, the movie will not appeal to everyone but for those that like these types of French films that make your brain cells work, I believe there are some rewards to be found here.
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Nina (II) (2018)
3/10
No Emotional Connection to the Characters
19 May 2019
This Polish drama centers on Nina and Wojtek's (Julia Kijowska and Andrzej Konopka) desperate attempt to find a surrogate mother for their baby. After Nina accidentally backs into a high school students car, they seem to think they might finally have found the right woman. Eliza Rycembel portrays the student Magda, who is gay and highly impulsive.

However, things will soon go "off the rails", and without writing too many spoilers I'll just say they'll all eventually go down a rather dark and twisted road. I could never connect emotionally with any of these characters, and the filmmakers just seemed to be trying to shock with constant nudity and lesbian sex scenes rather than character development.

Overall, this movie just didn't work for me on any level and i was glad when it was over.
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Blaze (2018)
3/10
Did I Watch a Different Movie?
18 May 2019
Maybe I watched a different movie than many of the pro critics who gave rave reviews to this biopic of singer/songwriter Blaze Foley. I'm a country music fan, so this isn't to question Foley's songwriting genius. But I just felt this icily paced and drawn out film did virtually nothing to illustrate to me how his songs ended up being recorded by some of the legends of country music.

On the positive side, Alia Shawkat was excellent in the role of Sybil Rosen, the ever supportive former wife of Foley's and on whose memoir the movie is based. Also, I thought Charlie Sexton gave a strong perfomance as Foley's friend and fellow musician Townes Van Zandt.

Overall, a disappointment from the most talented Ethan Hawke, who directed and co-wrote the biopic.
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Dead Ant (2017)
5/10
Has Its Moments
16 May 2019
This horror comedy spoof has its moments with some laughs and chuckles along the way. But, to me, the positives were not consistent enough to rate any higher.

There's a good cast here, as the nearing has-been status metal band Sonic Grave and their manager (Tom Arnold) are traveling to Coachella---oops! make that the Nochella Festival (as they couldn't get booked into the big one). Stopping to buy some hallucinatory peyote from a local Native American with the hopes of creating some new songs, they're warned to not even slightly desecrate the land or living things in the area or there will be terrible consequences for them. Well, I don't have to tell you that soon they'll be battling and running from giant killer ants as the consequences.

All in all, this film, written and directed by Ron Carlson, offers some eroticism from young lithesome bodies, some gruesome horror scenes, and, as mentioned, some shock value laughs but I would say the 5.0 rating on this site is about right.
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4/10
Mixed Bag Here
16 May 2019
I didn't know what to expect from this indie with the strange title, which I found at my local library. There's a mixed bag here, as I see it, with some of the dark absurd humor working effectively while more often than not it's too awkward, even annoying at times, and falls quite flat.

Paul Lieberstein, who has extensive TV credentials such as The Office, stars here and makes his big screen debut as writer and director as well. I thought the best parts of this movie were his interplay with the fine actress Rosemarie DeWitt.

Overall. there were some things to like here but not enough to sustain an enjoyable film, but I would be interested to see what else Lieberstein brings to the screen.

To note: there were no subtitles on my DVD copy but I was able to access them through the closed caption option on my remote.
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4/10
Relentlessly Bleak
15 May 2019
The acting here is first-rate and the cinematography and sets are superb, making you feel like you're right there in the small town of Garlow, in 1849. But this slow-burn Western is one of the bleakest movies I've seen in quite a while. John Cusack stands out in his portrayal of the despicable psycho Dutch Albert.

Overall, although this film received rather glowing reviews from pro critics, I just found it way too relentlessly grim for my tastes.
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Backdraft II (2019 Video)
6/10
Not Great But I've Seen Worse
15 May 2019
Haven't seen the original 1991 film, but from what I've read this one does not compare well with it. Some of the actors, such as Donald Sutherland and William Baldwin, do return here.

Joe Anderson stars as Sean McCaffrey, the hard-boiled, loner, and dedicated arson investigator, whose father (Kurt Russell) was the lead actor in the 1991 movie. He will be reluctantly partnered with the young Maggie Rening (Alisha Bailey).

Together, they will investigate a blast at a townhouse on Halloween night that killed 5 youngsters. Although the politicians want the case to be closed as an accident, Sean and Maggie will quickly realize that the explosion was meant to happen. Their investigation will lead them to a possible case of nefarious international arms sales.

Look for scientific jargon that will make your head spin, some plot elements that are ridiculous but some good action scenes as well. and some brief but gruesome scenes of charred human bodies. Also, look for a terrific performance by Sutherland, who has a rather small but important role as a deranged and jailed arsonist.

All in all, this is not a great film but, in my opinion, it's watchable and I certainly have seen worse movies.
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7/10
Harrowing & Perilous True Story
9 May 2019
Well presented docudrama centering on the true stories of 4 German Jews who made a decision to try and hide in Berlin from the Nazis, during WW 2, rather than be deported to the camps. The film not only depicts the day to day perilous journeys of these hunted persons, but depicts and highlights the German people who helped and hid Jews which put their own lives and those of their families at risk. The docudrama also has excellent vintage clips of Berlin at that time and offers a most poignant ending.
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