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Benjamin (II) (2019)
1/10
Terrible
24 April 2019
There's a good cast in this Redbox exclusive "comedy" but the movie itself was really awful, in my opinion. It tries to be shocking but all we get is a mean-spirited, crude, and cringe inducing film, as family and friends gather for an intervention for the youngest clan member Benjamin's (Max Burkholder) suspected drug use. Well, I don't have to tell you, things will not go according to plan. The only glimmer of humor came from David Hull as the character Robby.

Overall, I couldn't wait for this one to be over. I might add it's positive that Redbox is bringing out their own films but future efforts have to be better than this one.
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The Last Resort (I) (2018)
9/10
Compelling Documentary
24 April 2019
Before there were the "in-crowds" and Art Deco hotels of today on Miami Beach there was a thriving social community of predominately Jewish seniors living there, dating back to post WW2 and stretching through the decades till 1980. This compelling documentary, directed by Dennis Scholl and Kareem Tabsch, focuses on 2 photographers of that period, Andy Sweet and Gary Monroe, whose photos and film clips vividly brought to life that era.

Although times were idyllic then for the MIami Beach residents, unfortunately things would deteriorate with the Mariel boatlift of 1980, the cocaine wars, the McDuffie riots, and soaring rents, leaving the elderly residents terribly isolated, lonely, and fearful. Also tragedy would strike one of the photographers as well.

This film brought back loads of memories to me as I lived in the South Beach area right towards the tail end of the senior community's heyday. All in all, I found this documentary to be exceptional and was extremely well presented.
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Hal (2018)
7/10
The Brilliance & Irreverence of Hal Ashby
21 April 2019
Hal Ashby, who died in 1988 at the age of 59, was a most brilliant and irreverent film director and editor. In the 1970's he brought such classic movies to the screen as "Harold and Maude", "The Last Detail" (one of my favorite films), "Shampoo", "Coming Home" and the biting satire "Being There".

This documentary on his life and work, directed by Amy Scott, making her feature debut, illustrates Ashby's passion for film, starting as an editor (winning an Oscar in that category) and then going on to directing, initially under the mentoring of the acclaimed Canadian director Norman Jewison. The doc outlines Ashby's continual clashes with studio executives and how that combined with a shift away from films with a social message in the 80's would help exacerbate his decline.

Sorry to say, but some technical issues in the doc somewhat hampered my enjoyment of the movie. When Ashby's voice recordings came onto the screen the subtitles became extremely small or were annoyingly shown in lettering from the top to bottom. Combined with poor sound quality, it was difficult for me to catch all that was being said. To note also, there's plenty of raw language throughout for those concerned about same.

Overall, it was great to re-visit some of the brilliance of Hal Ashby, and movie buffs should enjoy this visit down memory lane, despite the sadness and tragic parts of his life.
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7/10
Feel-Good Tale From Hallmark
18 April 2019
My local library offered up this DVD, originally a 2017 Hallmark TV movie. I'll readily admit it's not normal fare for me but I wanted to give it a try.

As one might expect it's sweet, poignant, predictable, and a little quirky. Alison Sweeney is very charismatic as Ellen, a NYC lawyer who travels to the small town of Beacon, Maine to deliver a mysterious letter from her recently deceased grandmother (Shirley Jones).

While trying to take photos from a rickety pier, Ellen falls into the water and is rescued by the dashing local Roy, who just happens to be the great nephew of the addressee of the letter. Marc Blucas ably portrays Roy and the chemistry between Ellen and Roy is believable. Oops! The complication is that Ellen has just been proposed to by Hayden (Kavan Smith), an aspiring politician.

With wonderful cinematography, I did get a good sense that I was in a small town in Maine. No regrets from me that I escaped for a while into this feel-good tale from Hallmark.
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2/10
Very Funny--If I Were 10-Years-Old!
17 April 2019
An occasional laugh in this crude, silly, and at times, intentionally repulsive spoof. I've enjoyed watching Ferrell and Reilly in many a movie and would have liked this one a lot more if I was still in grammar school.
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6/10
Film's Heart is in the Right Place
13 April 2019
Although this film's heart is in the right place and its intentions are worthy, the movie itself never really came together emotionally for me till its closing minutes. It's central theme is based on the experiences of a driven career lawyer who has shunned family and friends and has instead chosen a lonely and isolative lifestyle.

The woman Li Yu Ran (Gwei Lum-Mei), who after visiting her mother's graveside is killed in a horrific road accident. However, arriving at The Terminal of Fate, she learns her death has been a clerical error on their part, so if she wants to get back her life she'll have to briefly replace a mother of two who has just passed away.

Of course, in doing so she'll learn some most valuable life's lessons as a temporary wife and mother. This all sounds like the basis of a really solid fantasy tale, yet there were too many plot elements that went unexplained, and somehow, as mentioned, the movie just didn't congeal emotionally till its final twenty minutes or so.

Overall, I would say there was a better movie in here that never really got told effectively.
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The Mule (2018)
8/10
Eastwood & Cooper Are Superb Here
10 April 2019
Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper, backed by an all-star supporting cast, are superb here in this powerful drama, based on a New York Times Magazine article by Sam Dolnick. Yes, it's methodically paced and, at times, some of the plot elements seem too non-believable. But, overall, I found the movie to be very suspenseful and I remained highly interested into how this was all going to turn out. Eastwood ably directs the film with a taut script by Nick Schenk.
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Murdoch Mysteries: Home for the Holidays (2017)
Season 11, Episode 0
5/10
Very Disappointed
4 April 2019
I'm a big fan of the Murdoch Mysteries series, having seen all the episodes available on DVD to this date. However, I'm sorry to say I was very disappointed in this Christmas TV special.

If you're expecting uplifting holiday fare,then you may very well not like the first two-thirds of this film. I just found it to be quite mean-spirited and filled with unpleasant dialog and dark elements like dogs dying, racism, swindlers, and murder. It's only in the final third of the movie that there are some reversals and a more positive turn of events.

Overall, certainly not what I was expecting but I won't be discouraged from watching the next series when it comes out.
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8/10
The Magnetism of Maria Callas
3 April 2019
In one part of this documentary on the life and career of Maria Callas, she is returning to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House, in NYC, after a 7 year absence and a TV reporter is interviewing some of Callas' devoted fans who have been sleeping in line all night to be able to purchase tickets. One enthusiastic young man says that she is just magnetic on stage and has the greatest singing voice of the century. After viewing this film I would agree with him on both counts.

The doc, directed by Tom Volf, is a tribute to the complex and highly intelligent Callas, and much of the movie is told through her own words, vintage film clips, and some parts of her mesmerizing onstage performances. I'll readily admit I'm not a follower of opera but when Callas sang and acted onstage it was truly incredible with her range and charisma.

There's also, once she reached superstar status, the constant invasion of her privacy by the paparazzi (of course, decades before social media) , only heightened when she began a long relationship with the billionaire Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. Even more so when he left her to marry Jackie Kennedy, only to return to Callas before his death.

Overall, although the doc is perhaps overly long at just under 2 hours, I just found Callas' persona and life story to be quite fascinating.
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Asher (II) (2018)
5/10
Perhaps a Rainy Night Watch
2 April 2019
This film, at times, goes in directions you don't expect it to, which is a positive. However, some of the plot elements here just get too ridiculous for my tastes.

Ron Perlman excels in roles like these, where he portrays Asher a long-time hit-man in deteriorating health and part of a cadre of Jewish assassins in Brooklyn. His on-screen chemistry with the talented actress Famke Janssen works quite well here.

Overall, if you don't mind all the expected violence, this can perhaps be a fairly decent rainy night watch, as I see it.
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Guilty Men (2016)
7/10
Slow -Burn Colombian Drama That's Well Presented
30 March 2019
Set in a rural town of Colombia in 2005, this is a deliberately paced but well presented drama, written and directed by Ivan D. Gaona, who's making his feature debut here.

It opens with a mysterious murder on a dark isolated road as a group of men meet a possible paramilitary member, after which a large amount of cash is confiscated by the men, which will lead to all kinds of intrigue and repercussions. This comes at a time in Colombia where a peace accord had been struck , whereby the paramilitary groups have agree to disarm to the government.

Amidst all this, there are various subplots involving two men vying for the affections of the same woman, who, as it turns out, is pregnant and about to marry one of them. There's also a number of unsolved thefts occurring of both crops and animals from local farms. Additionally, bloody corpses keep showing up in the area. Finally, in a quirky way there'll be much discussion about music cassettes and the love songs on them.

They'll be some twists in the plot as well, all leading to a violent showdown. If you're expecting all the pieces to fit together neatly here, you'll be disappointed, I believe. Or if you only want constant action, then this is not your film. But if you have the patience to stay with a slowly unfolding drama, then you may very well like this one.

To note: English subtitles are quite small, so I had to play the DVD on 2x zoom.
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8/10
This Film Has Something to Say But It's Not an Easy Watch
28 March 2019
Set in a Chinese seaside resort city, this powerful film has a lot to say but it is not an easy watch and may break your heart at times. The movie is most ably directed by Vivian Qu, and it's only her second feature film.

Fifteen-year-old Mia (Qi Wen) is an employee at a hotel on the beach and one night witnesses, a possible sexual assault on two 12-year-old girls by a local Commissioner in one of the rooms there. What will follow will expose a corrupt and even inhumane system more intent on protecting the powerful than anything else. I might note here that Shi Ke adds much to the film as Ms Hao, a lawyer who tries to help bring justice to the victims and expose what happened on that night.

The movie has its share of rather bizarre and quirky elements, such as an enormous replica in the middle of the beach of Marilyn Monroe's famous scene in the film "The Seven Year Itch" when her skirt was blown upward on a subway grating.

Overall a powerful and important movie for those viewers who can stay with it, despite some very difficult scenes I will look forward to seeing what director Qu will bring to the screen next.
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Razzia (2017)
5/10
Lost in the Narrative
26 March 2019
Unfortunately, I got lost in the narrative of this Moroccan film, with its rather confusing flashbacks and numerous characters and themes. The movie directed by Nabil Ayouch and co-written by Ayouch and Maryam Touzani (who also stars in the film), centers on how 5 main characters try to find their own paths amidst the upheavals going on in their country regarding a more modern nation vs. the pushback of those who want a stricter religious state.

I might also say the English subtitles here were quite small and I had to watch pretty much the entire movie in zoom mode, which didn't make for the greatest viewing experience.

Overall, although there are genuine moments in the movie with its characters longing for a freer life, the film itself never really congealed into as much of a powerful drama as it might have, as I see it.
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The Quake (2018)
6/10
Very Slow Build-Up But the Final Third of the Movie Saves it Somewhat
20 March 2019
This Norwegian movie is a follow up to the 2015 disaster film "The Wave". Kristoffer Joner is back as geologist Kristian Eikjord , some three years after a tsunami disaster in Geiranger, Norway claimed 248 lives and for which he was considered a hero for saving many people.

However, Kristian is suffering from severe trauma and depression, directly related to that disaster. He has even separated himself from his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) and his two children.

Kristian, via a colleague's death, begins to realize there could be another disaster, a major earthquake, about to strike Oslo. As other reviewers have mentioned, the build-up to the disaster is extremely slow and is filled with lots of melodrama and overacting.

It's only in the final third of the movie that things pick up dramatically with some high tension and truly horrific scenes worthy of a disaster flick. Overall, if one can have the patience to stick with this movie I believe it's worth a watch.
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London Fields (2018)
1/10
Disastrous
13 March 2019
An extremely bizarre, dark, and nonsensical noir. Unless you are fixated to see the sultry and erotic Amber Heard vamping it up or an unrecognizable Jim Sturgess in a completely over-the-top portrayal I can see no reason to view this flick. Is it any wonder Johnny Depp, in a peripheral role, wanted to remain uncredited? I would say stay as far away as humanly possible and avoid this disaster of a movie.
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The Wife (I) (2017)
8/10
Close is Simply Mesmerizing on Screen
1 March 2019
Methodically paced but an intense and complicated drama, where Glenn Close is just mesmerizing on screen. As other reviewers have noted, it's highly disappointing she did not win the Best Actress Oscar.

Jonathan Pryce and Christian Slater are also excellent in their roles, and Annie Starke (Close's real life daughter) stood out in her supporting role as the young Close character. Most able direction by Swedish director Bjorn L. Runge and superb writing of the screenplay by Jane Anderson, adapted from the novel of Meg Wolitzer.
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7/10
Film Has Its Flaws But These Four Grand Dames Make it All a Pleasure
28 February 2019
Four grand Dames of England, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright, and Eileen Atkins get together and reminisce at Plowright's country home. I would say the wonderful archival film snippets of some of their performances on stage and screen would be enough for the price of admission here. But we get a lot more than that as these superb actresses talk about their surprising self-doubts, anxieties before they perform, aging, marriages, reviewers, and swap inside stories of their interactions with fellow performers and directors.

I felt this documentary got off to a rather disjointed start but went more smoothly as it progressed. Some of the humor made me laugh out loud such as when Dench had to call the paramedics for a bee sting on her backside. Her description was hilarious of the very young EMT tech who asked her if she had a carer (in America would be a home aide) which made her furious and she told him to "f-off".

Overall, this film had its awkward moments and the technique of the talented director Roger Michell asking the four women from the wings to comment on a new topic didn't work very well, in my opinion. But just to sit in and eavesdrop on this get-together of four master artists was a real pleasure.
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8/10
Worth the Watch
25 February 2019
I picked up this DVD at my local library, as it's originally a National Geographic film which runs about 47 minutes. It has no subtitles but I was able to access them through the closed caption option on my remote.

In this documentary, James Cameron the writer and director of the iconic 1997 movie "Titanic" (which is probably by favorite film of all-time) looks back, now 20 years after the premiere of the movie, to see what he got right or wrong re the technical aspects of the production.

Rather amazing to see the detailed work Cameron put into "Titanic" to make it as realistic as possible. No wonder it came across as such a masterpiece.

In this doc, he examines how exactly the H.M.S. Titanic may have sank, the question of whether additional lifeboats would have made a difference, and how exact were his sets in the movie. In 1985, oceanographer Robert Ballard found the wreckage of the ship and Cameron, using a submersible, examined the wreckage in detail. Rather creepy to hear that human bones dissolve at those depths while articles such as boots and shoes, treated with tannic acid remained intact.

Cameron admits that in trying to get at the exact technicalities of the disaster, he can lose sight of the human loss (nearly 1500 passengers and crew died-with about 700 rescued) and the cost to families over generations. He interviews some surviving relatives of that fateful night in 1912, who share their thoughts and memories of their loved ones.

Overall, an interesting re-examination of the Titanic sinking, interspersed with movie clips and interviews. Worth the watch for sure, in my opinion.
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9/10
Remarkable & Little Known True Story
24 February 2019
With running time at about 55 minutes, the documentary is quite remarkable and is a little known true story. To note, there were no subtitles on my DVD copy.

In the mid to late 1930's as Hitler's scourge against the Jewish people raged in Germany and Europe, the window to get out and emigrate became narrower and narrower. While other nations, including America, showed little to no enthusiasm to take in Jewish or other refugees, the Philippines led by President Manuel Quezon became one of the few to offer help. They had been a colony of the United States, but in 1935 became a semi-independent commonwealth, with a promise of independence in 10 years.

Amazingly enough, the idea to help the Jewish refugees was hatched at a regular poker game attended by President Quezon, then Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower, the newly appointed High Commissioner to the country Paul V. McNutt, and the Frieder Brothers, the owners of the largest tobacco export company on the island.

Although their efforts were often opposed by various forces, including the U.S. State Dept. and powerful figures in the Philippines, the poker playing buddies' plans began to take root and 1,300 Jewish refugees were re-settled on the island, with plans for thousands more. Unfortunately, the brutal occupation of the Philippines by Japan put an end to any further rescue program.

This is a taut and riveting film, directed by Russell C. Hodge and Cynthia-Scott Johnson, with a most able narration by Liev Schreiber. Overall, with its eyewitness accounts and archival footage this doc educated me on a part of WWII and the Holocaust that I had no knowledge of beforehand.
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Souvenir (I) (2016)
6/10
Watching Huppert on Screen is Always a Pleasure---But......
21 February 2019
It's always a pleasure to watch Isabelle Huppert on screen and take the cinematic risks she does. Here she portrays Laura, a noted singer some thirty years before. But after the breakup with her husband and manager (Johan Leysen) she has chosen to isolate herself and work a humdrum job at a pate factory.

Along comes Jean, a new employee at the factory, who recognizes her right away mainly because his father is a big fan. Kevin Azais ably portrays Jean a boxer and some 40 years her junior. There is an instant attraction between the two and a May-December romance will blossom.

Jean begins to push Laura to make a comeback, whereby he will be her manager. Things will get complicated when Laura turns to her ex-husband for help.

As I see it, this is a rather simple and sweet story but it never really rings completely true. Having Laura as a torch singer was the right choice, mainly because Huppert's voice is pleasing but not particularly strong.

Overall, the movie, directed by Belgian filmmaker Bavo Defurne, is watchable thanks to the amazing Huppert, but I could never really buy completely into its characters.
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9/10
Fascinating Yet Little Known True Story
21 February 2019
Part of the PBS series American Experience this documentary runs about 54 minutes in length. It tells the little known but fascinating true story of the brilliant inventor, scientist , and businessman Alfred Loomis, who, along with other dedicated scientists, played a key role in the Allied victory in WW II.

Loomis would go on to set up a secret lab named Tudor House in Tuxedo Park, N.Y., as part of his huge mansion there. It was at Tudor House that scientists from all over the world came to contribute to various projects. The foundations for what has become known as ultrasound technology were laid there. But the most important discovery was shortwave radar technology, vitally needed by the Allies to counter the Nazi threats as WW II raged.

The film also touches on Loomis' difficult upbringing which would later contribute to his lack of sensitivity and emotional support for his own family, even making heinous decisions regarding his own wife Ellen. He, throughout his life, did things his way and although that would lead to great successes in some areas it would also mean failures in others.

Overall, I knew nothing of this important true story and I thought the movie, ably directed by Rob Rapley and narrated by Campbell Scott, covered a lot of ground in a short period of time. Just one of the better docs I've seen this year.
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5/10
Incredible Talent But Doc Gets Too Repetitive
19 February 2019
The incredible talent of fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez is on full display in this documentary on his work and life. However, I just found the film itself to be too repetitive with its non-stop praise of Lopez and his flamboyant and whirlwind life style.

Set mostly in the 60's and 70's, Lopez, once his talent was recognized, became a noted illustrator in many of the top fashion publications of the day. The movie spends a great deal of time on his magnetic charisma and how he discovered many a top model and incorporated them into what became known as Antonio's Girls.

The doc also focuses on the vast number of relationships he had, mostly but not all gay, and his seemingly never ending fantasy land of a lifestyle. You'll recognize many a name of those that were in his so-called "posse" at one time or another.

All in all, I'll readily admit I know very little about the players in the fashion world, so it was interesting to see a spotlight on the most talented Lopez and the role he played in that world in those years. But, I wish the film had toned down its repetitiveness so that I didn't feel my neck was on a swivel trying to follow it all.

For those viewers concerned: there's loads of upper female nudity throughout. Plus, there were subtitles available on my DVD copy.
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Still (VIII) (2018)
5/10
Intriguing But Too Muddled
18 February 2019
The good news is that this fantasy tale has originality, decent acting, and some intrigue. The bad news, as I see it, is that it just leaves way too much unexplained for the viewer as it jumps from one plot element to another. It's only at the very end that we get some kind of a grasp on what the heck has been going on. Feature debut for writer and director Takashi Doscher
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Hillbilly (II) (2018)
8/10
Very Well Presented Documentary
15 February 2019
This is a very well presented documentary, directed by Ashley York and Sally Rubin. York also narrates the film and appears regularly throughout its filming.

York was born and raised in Eastern Kentucky, notably Meathouse Holler, and left the area when she was 18-years-old to attend the University of Kentucky. Now living in Los Angeles, she is returning to Appalachia to interview family, friends, and area residents for the movie.

The main focus of the doc is to try and counter the terrible stereotypes that, over many generations, have portrayed hillbillies from Appalachia. The media, including movies television, and print have fostered the concepts that hillbillies are dangerous, threatening, lazy, talk funny etc. etc. etc.

The filmmakers here try and counter these stereotypes and show how complicated the area can be, with its long history of exploitation by coal and mining companies. Also, the interviews with all types of Appalachians illustrate how they are just like many other Americans, with their own proud culture, music, and heritage.

The movie had added interest for me as it was being filmed right during the 2016 Presidential election race. It gave good insight into why some Kentuckians voted for Trump and why some voters went for Clinton. Trump drew large and enthusiastic crowds there and he considered that area a strong base of his.

Overall, this doc was well edited and had a lot to say and interspersed film clips (the one with Dolly Parton and Dabney Coleman in "9 to 5" was unforgettable) interviews, and historical pieces seamlessly.

To note, there were no subtitles on my DVD copy, but I was able to access them through my remote closed captions option.
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6/10
Cerebral Documentary
12 February 2019
This cerebral and technical documentary will make you use your brain cells, and probably could have used better editing as it runs nearly 2 hours in length. It focuses on the very important contributions of physicist Raemer Schreiber, who played a vital role in the building of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico, and went on to also contribute greatly to scientific projects post WW II, such as nuclear rockets and the hydrogen bomb.

Schreiber was one of the few physicists in the world who had the wherewithal to actually construct an atomic bomb piece by piece. In WW II, as America raced against the Nazis to build the bomb, Schreiber was entrusted to accompany the Plutonium core of the Fat Man bomb to Tinian Island, in the Marianas, which would eventually be the second atomic bomb dropped, this one on Nagasaki, Japan.

Rather fascinating to watch the film and stills of the social events at Los Alamos, for the workers on the Manhattan Project, to relieve their stress. But also quite interesting to note that with each unit sworn to its own secrecy they couldn't discuss any "day at the office" details among each other.

I particularly liked the contributions in the movie from Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Rhodes, who not only is an expert on this subject but has a way of transcribing very technical details into language a layman can understand.

Overall, I certainly learned some new info in this doc but it's not for everyone, as I see it. However for those who like to expand their horizons and, as mentioned, use the old cranium there are rewards to be found here.
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