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Brian Banks (2018)
8/10
Powerful Drama
15 November 2019
Powerful and intense drama, based on a true story. Aldis Hodge and Greg Kinnear lead the way here but the supporting cast are excellent as well.

Hodge portrays Brian Banks, a promising football star who was falsely accused of rape and kidnapping when he was 16-years-old. He will spend years trying to clear his name and regain his life, with the help of the California Innocence Project, as well as his supporters.

At times, the movie seems to veer into contrivances, but, overall, I found it to be a heartfelt and moving film, well acted and presented.
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The Weekend (IV) (2018)
4/10
Awkward
13 November 2019
Stand-up comedian Zadie (Sasheer Zamata) travels to her parents rural Bed & Breakfast where her ex-boyfriend Bradford (Tone Bell) will be there with his girlfriend of two years Margo (DeWanda Wise). They'll be joined by a guest at the hotel Aubrey (Y'lan Noel), who has just learned his long time live-in partner has broken up with him.

Thus, the movie, written and directed by Stella Meghie, will focus on the interpersonal relations between the guests over one weekend. Unfortunately, I just found the dialogue here to be awkward, strained, and, at times, mean-spirited and I was not able to connect with most of the characters.

Overall, the actors here all have good screen presence and I liked the eclectic soundtrack, but, for me, it was just not very entertaining.
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Luce (2019)
7/10
Thought Provoking Drama Which Can Be Frustrating At Times
7 November 2019
Strong cast in this thought provoking, layered, and complicated drama. But one will needs patience , as the film very slowly unfolds its story. Some issues in the movie remained unresolved which can be frustrating and the dialogue, at times, feels like it's from the stage (which it is: from the play of J.C. Lee). However overall, the air of tension and suspense throughout kept me engaged as to how this was going to turn out, and combined with the solid acting made it worth a watch.
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8/10
Irreverent Spoof is Quite Funny
6 November 2019
I found this most irreverent spoof to be quite funny, as it takes pot-shots at just about everything, rather daring in this age of political correctness. It's a sequel to the 2002 film "Undercover Brother" (which I did not see).

The plot, of course, is ridiculous, as Undercover Brother (Michael Jai White) his younger brother Lionel (Vince Swann) and Chief Honey (Laila Odom), try to lead the BROTHERHOOD to stop the racism of the Man (Barry Bostwick) and later his son Manson (Steven Lee Johnson) from eliminating minorities in the world.

Overall, not a movie I would expect to like, but I find myself laughing out loud through most of it.
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8/10
Found It Interesting
5 November 2019
I'll readily admit I knew very little about the digital currency Bitcoin before picking up this documentary, directed by David Foox, at my local library.

I believe the film offers a basic look at Bitcoin's history, how it works, its past scandals and associations with the dark web, but also its future as its technology and uses today are now linked to a number of major corporations around the globe.

For those like myself that know little about this digital currency but like to learn new things, I can easily recommend this doc. Looks like there's a Part 2 "Integration and Regulation" scheduled for release which should be a good addition to what was left open or not covered in Part 1.
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6/10
Not Everything Works in This Indie But With Its Poignancy & Quirkiness It Kept Me Engaged
2 November 2019
Four young women, who all had extremely difficult childhoods and grew up in a foster home, are summoned to northern Minnesota at festival time, for the reading of the will of their former "group mother".

Rachel Hendrix stars as Lyle, who oversees a travel blog and writes poetry but is looking to move on from her humdrum life and has a major interview lined up for the following week. She also has Mr. Robot (voice of Harold Perrineau) as her traveling companion, and per social media is supposed to be passed on to another person of her choosing.

Aurora Perrineau co-stars as Addison, who is not happy with her myriad of low-paying jobs, one of which is a tour guide on a sightseeing boat on Lake Superior. Since all four women have to be present for the reading of the will and Addison has initially refused to join them, Lyle will travel to meet Addison and try to persuade her to return.

As they will eventually travel together on the road, it will, of course spark memories of their time at the group home, which included a tragedy involving the youngest of the residents there. I won't go into more detail to prevent writing spoilers.

This movie throws a heck of a lot into its mix, some of which is more successful than others. It has some fresh and original ideas, some fantasies and legends, quirky humor, poignancy at times, as well as an edginess and even a lot of sadness mixed in. Some elements were somewhat confusing and not entirely explained but most of the plot did gel together especially towards the end.

Overall, a most decent feature debut from writer and director Daniel Stine (who also has a role in the film) and I'd be interested to see what he next brings to the screen. The acting, especially from Hendrix and Perrineau, is quite strong, and although, as mentioned not everything works here, there was enough in this indie to keep me interested and engaged throughout.
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1/10
Intended Black Comedy is Just Abysmal
31 October 2019
This intended black comedy is just abysmal and horribly bad and I would avoid it like the plague.

Demi Moore portrays an imperious company owner leading some of her employees on a team building effort into the caves of New Mexico. But after a cave-in, the team must contend with a lack of food and water, eventually resorting to cannibalism to survive.

I can't even find the words to describe how awful this movie is, but I would say it's certainly one of the worst I've seen in years. I'm a Demi Moore fan and am actually saddened to see that she took the lead role here in this crapola. If you're expecting to see a lot of Ed Helms, he's only in the first 15 minutes of the movie.

Had to use closed captions to get subtitles here. Plenty of raw language throughout as well as many sexual references.
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6/10
Doc Too Laid Back & Surfacy
18 October 2019
Wish this documentary on the complicated life of Leonard Cohen and his lifelong relationship (in varying forms over the years) with Marianne Ihlen had delved a little deeper and wasn't so surfacy. I did get a sense of who Leonard Cohen was but not a sense of how he transferred his poetic genius from his mind into his music or poetry, and how exactly Ihlen inspired him for some of his most celebrated songs.

Overall, I did learn quite a lot about Cohen's life here, but felt the documentary was too laid back, even lackluster at times, and failed to bring the vividness of it all together cohesively.
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Nancy (2018)
8/10
Intriguing & Haunting Psychological "Thriller"
7 October 2019
This indie is an intriguing and haunting psychological "thriller", but not a thriller in the ordinary use of the term. There's just a constant air of melancholic uncertainty, so you just don't know which way the film is going to go.

The most talented Andrea Riseborough gives a terrific performance here as the introverted and depressive Nancy who's possibly a victim of abuse. She's been taking care of her ailing and carping mother (Ann Dowd), who has Parkinson's. Nancy is an aspiring writer, suffering through many rejection letters from publishers, while trying to earn money in temp jobs.

When her mother passes from a stroke, Nancy sees a TV news story about the 30th anniversary of the disappearance of a 5-year-old girl from a shopping mall. When see sees an age progression picture of what the girl would look like today, it bears a striking resemblance to her. Add to that, the fact that Nancy cannot find her birth certificate in any files at home.

She calls the parents of the missing girl and sets up a meeting with them, after sending them a photo of herself on her cell phone. The father (Steve Buscemi) is a psychologist and skeptical whether Nancy is their daughter, while the mother (J. Smith Cameron) is more accepting and open to the possibility. Both Buscemi and Smith Cameron are superb in their roles here.

I won't go into more details or write spoilers, but I'll say I was very engrossed as to which way this movie was going to go.

Overall, not the easiest film to watch because of its constant melancholic tone, but the fine acting from a most solid cast and its suspenseful atmospherics drew me in and kept me there. An excellent feature film debut from Christina Choe, who wrote and directed the indie.
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7/10
The Tumultuous Life of John DeLorean
3 October 2019
Combination of documentary and docudrama (with Alec Baldwin portraying DeLorean in the re-enactments), depicting the tumultuous life of John DeLorean.

The enigmatic and chameleon-like persona of DeLorean comes through on the screen as he moves from GM rising star, to establishing his own auto company featuring the DeLorean (forever etched in history in the classic film "Back to the Future"), which would have plans to mass produce the sports car in Northern Ireland.

We also see, when his company was under severe financial distress how DeLorean turned to raising quick cash with an illicit drug deal. However, the deal became part of an FBI sting, leading to his arrest and one of the most watched trials of the twentieth century.

The movie will also take the time to illustrate the effects of DeLorean's checkered life on his family and later the cost to himself as well. All in all, I thought the film was a well documented and interesting look a man who will forever hold a place in American history.
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Driven (I) (2018)
7/10
Not a Great Movie But Engaging Enough For a Watch
2 October 2019
If nothing else, the colorful clothes, cars, music, and hairstyles of the '70's and '80's are a hoot here. The film can get muddled and disjointed with its flashbacks, but I felt there was enough here to keep me engaged and it does end strongly. Inspired by true events, I remember seeing the FBI tapes involving John DeLorean on the national news as this story did have a national impact.

All in all, not a great movie as I see it, but engaging enough for a watch.
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Half Brothers (IV) (2016)
2/10
Don't Waste Your Time
28 September 2019
Two half-brothers David (Derek Dean) and Trinis (Matthew Smiley) arrive with their wives Stefanie (Nadine Vinzens) and Ciara (Alicia Gerrad) at the scenic town of Saas-Fee, in the Swiss Alps.

The interactions among the four will be the crux of the film. There isn't a lot of character development here, but they'll be lots of political and social agendas expressed. There's also an air of sexual tension throughout, and it can break into some very crude and explicit sexual encounters as well, some of which are infused by the use of hallucinogenic drugs.

Sorry to say, poor writing, unlikable characters, and a plot that seems to go nowhere all add up to a movie that isn't worth your time, as I see it. One positive, is that the cinematography of the Swiss Alps is spectacular.
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5/10
Awkward Yet Intriguing at Times
27 September 2019
After viewing prolific and acclaimed South Korean director Sang-soo Hong's "The Day After", I went into my local library's film catalog and chose to see this one. As I've read one of the director's characteristics is to have awkward dialogue, and this movie filled that bill.

For me, the awkwardness can be annoying at times, but it also can be quite intriguing. Set at the Cannes Film Festival, the plot elements slowly unfold and come together as the film progresses. But I never really felt I completely understood it all.

The acting is most solid, and throwing the great actress Isabelle Huppert into the mix can never hurt. Always fascinating to watch her on screen.

All in all, I wish I could say I enjoyed it all but I felt the film did have its intriguing and engaging moments
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6/10
Has Its Moments
25 September 2019
A methodically paced quiet French drama with some quirky and subtle humor throughout. Eric Cantona stars here as Ulysses, an artist who has stopped painting, left his family, and has chosen to live alone in a large rural manor that is his family's home. Manal Issa co-stars as Mona, a young woman who's an art student and who is so inspired by Ulysses' work she seeks him out in his woodsy hideaway to try and become his assistant.

Ulysses, though, has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and has decided his new mission will be to seek forgiveness from his family before he passes. A bond forms between Ulysses and Mona and she agrees to travel with him as he seeks out his estranged family.

I thought this low-key movie had its moments of poignancy and humor amidst the tragic circumstances, but some parts of the film, in my opinion, don't work and sort of veer off into arthouse pretentiousness. Overall, a mixed bag for me, but for those that like this type of quirky French film there are some rewards here to be found.
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6/10
Slow Burn Initially But Final Thirty Minutes Offer Twists & Turns
25 September 2019
Apparently I am better off not to have seen the 2006 Spike Lee original for comparisons sake, so that I did not know where this plot was going. Initially, a slow burn with confusing and convoluted plot elements, but in the final 30 minutes, things picked up considerably with a number of twists and turns that I thought were pretty clever.

Overall, the final parts of the movie made it a fairly decent watch for me, although I still was confused about a few of the plot machinations After the initial credits, there's a scene that helps explain it even more, so I'd say look for that.
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5/10
Acting and Settings Are Natural But Culture of Those Times a Real Turn-Off
22 September 2019
The acting here is natural and powerful and the sets are so well constructed that you actually feel like you're in late 19th century Vietnam. But I really struggled to connect in a positive way with the culture of those times.

The film, written and directed by Ash Mayfair who is making her feature debut, contains extremely striking realism amidst very slow pacing. The thought of an innocent 14-year-old girl May (Nguyen Phuong Tra My) being subjugated into an arranged marriage with a wealthy landowner, and to fulfill his sexual desires (some quite kinky) along with two other wives was a turn-off for me.

May's main role will be to produce a male heir, as the other two wives have failed to do so thus far. She also will awaken to the fact that she is attracted to other women and try to figure out if her own desires can be fulfilled. Without writing any spoilers let's just say that the circumstances of her existence in that environment will lend itself to a possible tragic finale.

All in all, the beauty of the characters and the settings could not overcome for me the starkness and negativity of the themes here and it was just not an enjoyable watch.
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My Son (2017)
6/10
Not Your Typical Vigilante Movie
19 September 2019
Not your typical vigilante revenge film with its deliberate pacing. But the tension does grow as the movie progresses and I certainly wanted to know how this was all going to turn out. Unfortunately, not all of the plot elements are thoroughly explained either adding to the film's detriment.

Guillaume Canet stars as Julien, who gets a call from his ex-wife (Melanie Laurent) that their 7-year-old son has mysteriously disappeared from a 4 day long nature camp. The impulsive and emotional Julien will try and use home videos to get clues as to what actually happened. Eventually, he will go full vigilante and do whatever he deems necessary to locate his son.

Certainly not the best revenge thriller I've ever seen, but there was enough here in this French drama to keep me engaged.
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The Day After (2017)
5/10
Mixed Bag
18 September 2019
It took me awhile to put together what was going on here with what came across to me as a convoluted film opening. But as this South Korean movie, written and directed by Hong Sang-soo, progressed it came more and more into focus.

Other reviewers have described the plot elements, so I'll say the film, on the whole, was a mixed bag for me. Dialogue driven with only a few characters throughout and beautifully shot in black and white, the movie could be amusing and quite engaging at times, but then could lapse into overwrought melodrama and philosophical babble as well.

All in all, as mentioned, mixed feelings for me here but I did find its poignant final minutes enhanced the film and brought it all together well.
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7/10
The Dedicated Artisans of Pipe Making
14 September 2019
I'm not a pipe smoker and the only two pipe smokers that come to mind are Sherlock Holmes and General Douglas MacArthur. Yet, I found this quiet documentary, directed by Chad Terpstra, to be quite informative and interesting.

It mostly centers on the world renowned pipe maker Lee von Erck, an artisan whose dedication and devotion to pipe making comes through loud and clear during the film. Von Erck, whose personality is quite engaging, works alone in his shop in Northern Michigan and reflects on the influence his father had on him, and as this doc goes on it will be a recurrent theme of other master pipe makers whose father's greatly influenced them in their craft.

We'll meet "Mimmo", based out of Taggia, Italy, who is not only a pipe maker but has become a specialist in cutting briar wood, from the white heath tree there, and is the main supplier to von Erck. He also has become a friend to him. Additionally, Mimmo's wife Karin and their children add a congenial atmosphere when they're on screen.

As mentioned, they'll be visits with other noted pipe makers around the globe, and it's easy to pick up how important it is for them to maintain the traditions of excellent craftsmanship handed down from their fathers. Also, there's a segment re the Native American tribes in North America, considered to be the originators of the pipe, and who have used it for centuries for ceremonial purposes.

There is no mention of the dangers to one's health by smoking a pipe in the film. Also, English subtitles are only available in certain segments in the doc and they have very small lettering. I was able to obtain additional subtitles through my closed caption option.

Overall, knowing nothing about pipe making when I began this film, I was able to get a good sense of how it's done, and how important a craft it is for these global artisans.
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5/10
Has Its Moments
13 September 2019
As I see it, this dark comedy has its moments but never really gels into a substantial watch. Grant Rosenmeyer portrays Alan, a teacher and record collector. who is just emerging from a long prison stretch. When he's informed by an attorney (Jon Lovitz-who has only a minor role here) that there's a storage locker of old records available for his perusal, Alan will soon board a bus and head down that way.

On the bus, he'll meet a young lady (Chelsea Tavares) and Alan will recount to her an amazing tale of a extremely valuable record that may be in the collection he's heading for. But he'll also relay the info that the record may be cursed as to anyone that associates with it and why.

Also, Alan will have to contend with a rival collector (Ronald L. Conner) who also is just out of prison and is aiming for the same prize. Twenty years before, they tried to steal or manipulate an elderly woman (Anna Maria Horsford) out of possession of the record I might note Horsford is a hoot here in here portrayal of Mrs. Walker.

Overall, I thought some things worked better than others here, so a mixed bag. But the movie, in my opinion, could have used some sharper comedic moments.

To note: there were no subtitles available on my DVD copy.
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5/10
Couldn't Really Care About the Characters Here
12 September 2019
You're asking a lot of your audience to have any empathy for or connect with characters that are terribly deceitful. Such is the case here with 2 of the 3 main characters, Lauren (Sarah Kolasky) and David (Richard Clarkin).

Lauren is seemingly in a rather amiable 5 year relationship with Tom (Daniel Bierne). You can see a few bumps in the road there, such as Lauren's frustration with Tom being unable to find employment as a urban planner, and some differences in their sexual appetites

However, when David is appointed as Lauren's new boss, it will rekindle a brief but passionate affair they had years ago. David is an egotistical and manipulative jerk, but that doesn't stop Lauren from encouraging their new steamy affair, with nary a thought about the consequences. Of course, they'll be a price to pay for all concerned.

Look for a number of erotic and explicit scenes, as well as nudity and coarse language. To note also, English subtitles are quite small.

Overall, the acting is strong enough to make the characters believable here but, as mentioned, I couldn't really care about them and that doesn't make for a very enjoyable viewing.
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Being Frank (2018)
8/10
Quite Clever & Funny
11 September 2019
I thought this movie was quite clever and funny. Logan Miller portrays Philip, a teenager who decides on spring break to deceive his parents and head up to the lakeside Starling Festival with his best friend.

However, upon arrival, he will get the shock pf his life when he discovers his father (Jim Gaffigan) has a complete second family. Of course, from there things will get very, very complicated.

All in all, this type of movie is not easy to get all the pieces to fit together. But I thought director Amanda Bailey and writer Glen Lakin did well here to get the elements to gel nicely. Although the movie can be sad and cutting at times, I did find myself laughing a lot and I really enjoyed the film.
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7/10
Behind-the Scenes Look at an Important Time and World Leader
9 September 2019
Mikhail Gorbachev was one of the most important world leaders of the 20th century. In this film, the acclaimed documentarian and co-director Werner Herzog interviews Gorbachev and we get a good inside look literally behind what was known as the Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union.

When Gorbachev became the youngest leader in Soviet history, he saw that their system had virtually broken down. Through implementation of his programs of Perestroika and Glasnost, Gorbachev tried to modernize the commerce of his nation as well as implement some democratic principles there.

Although, his tenure as President was cut short, in 1991, by a coup led by Boris Yeltsin, Gorbachev's reforms were influential in beginning nuclear arms reduction working with Pres. Ronald Reagan, the reunification of Germany, and more freedoms to the Soviet bloc nations of that time.

Aside from the interview with the then 87-year-old Gorbachev, which not only gave the viewer a good behind-the-scenes look at those times and highlighted his intelligence and sense of humor, the doc is also filled with vintage film clips many of which I had never seen before.

Overall, not for those looking for an action flick, but geared for those viewers who like history. To note, English subtitles were only available using my closed caption option, and when Russian was spoken the subtitles were quite small.
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6/10
Layered & Oddball Documentary
8 September 2019
This layered and oddball documentary mainly centers on George Van Tassel. He was a former aeronautical engineer, who devoted himself to building, in the California desert, what is known as the Integratron, a machine 18 years in the making. Van Tassel believed he could extend the lives of humans by some 20 to 50 years in the Integratron by alternating their DNA molecules by utilizing an electrostatic generator.

But that's just a part of this story. Just as he was ready to try out the Integratron , Van Tassel died in a motel of a heart attack, under what some consider suspicious circumstances, with his notes and plans disappearing. The film, directed by Jonathan Berman, will go in many different directions. There's Van Tassel's public declarations of contact and conversations with aliens, who were the ones he claimed that gave him the formula for his time machine.

This was post WW 2 and there was plenty of paranoia about Communists, or even Fascists, trying to take over the U.S. government, and with suspicions raised by Van Tassel's neighbors the FBI opened a file on him and his operations. There was also a rather secretive and large military base in the vicinity near the Integratron.

They'll also be plenty of quirky interviewees in the doc some of who recount first hand those times, while others want to continue his work. Even Eric Burdon (Yes, The Animals musical group) has something to say here.

Overall, this film may be quite scattered in trying to coalesce all these themes, but I found it rather engaging and weird on the whole.
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7/10
Intriguing Documentary
8 September 2019
I'll be honest and admit I had never heard of Italian author Elena Ferrante (a pseudonym) nor read any of her novels. This brief documentary, only 1 hr. and 14 min. focuses on her 4 books known as the Neapolitan Novels, which have become a global sensation, with sales of over 10 million copies in more than 50 countries.

Of course, it is highly intriguing that Ferrante has kept complete anonymity over many years and no one has been able to conclusively prove who she is. She has refused to promote her novels in any way, nor has she given interviews to the media. Ferrante has published La Frantumaglia, which is a work of essays, letters, and written interviews that give some insight into her thinking and perspectives.

Despite not having read her works, I still found the film to be quite interesting, even fascinating at times. I love movies but, as a rule, I'm not a fiction reader, but this doc sure sparked my interest enough to perhaps, at least, try the first novel and see how I like it.

I think the criticisms of reviewers that the movie is too one-sided in praise of Ferrante and offers virtually no counters to all the enthusiasm of the interviewees is valid. However, I still found the doc quite engrossing and I like learning about things that I was not aware of beforehand.
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