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If Robin Wright were not in this movie, and also directing it, it would not get the sparse favorable attention it has received. As many others have pointed out, it is painfully slow. But worse, the story is stupid. For instance, why didn't Wright's character think to cover the broken window after the first few cold nights? Why didn't she figure out by trial and error how to saw and chop wood? Any novice camper would quickly develop some skills. If it was a recent personal tragedy that drove her into the wilderness, it would seem reasonable that she would either learn the necessary skills quickly or leave (I know she didn't have a car, but desperation compels us to find solutions). I don't think the intent was to depict Wright's character as suicidal, but the audience has a choice: she was either suicidal or just plain stupid.
The Mauritanian (2021)
Needed to be made
Excellent. Great acting. Great script. This is a movie that needed to be made. I have seen Tahar Rahim in the 2009 French film "A Prophet." He is an incredibly convincing actor.
Noir with meaning
This is an extraordinary film with remarkable acting by all, fantastic directing, and some of the best camera work I've seen, almost documentary in style. Yes, the story is dark. Yes, it is NOT told in the typical TV crime drama style with a perfectly sequential passage of time. Yes, you have to pay attention.
It is a crime story, a romance, and a parent-child disputational drama. It is about decisions people make and what they must accept, years later, about the consequences of those earlier decisions.
If you didn't get it the first time, try watching it again.
Motherless Brooklyn (2019)
A bit of history with your film noir
It's film noir with a bit of real history. This story is set in the 1950s when the real Robert Moses was ramming through "urban renewal" projects in New York City. He wiped out the Bronx with a freeway and threatened to run another freeway through Greenwich Village. He was opposed effectively by Jane Jacobs, a vocal non-elected amateur opponent who lived in Greenwich Village. Both Jacobs and Moses are now deceased, but their personalities have realistic roles in the movie under other names. It is interesting, probably realistic, that Moses is not portrayed as corrupt, but as someone who really loved power. "Motherless Brooklyn" is a fictional story set in a real world. It emulates the black and white crime films that appeared in the fifties, films such as "The Maltese Falcon", but with a twist. The hero has Tourette's syndrome. The book was a best seller, and the movie is remarkable. Ed Norton wrote the screenplay, also directed, and played the lead. The story is a bit complicated, but that's the noir part.
Blue Iguana (2018)
The low ratings for this film are inexplicable. The plot is a bit convoluted, and for those who are accustomed to a simple, straight-forward, Hollywood crime flick, the story might be too complicated. It is funny. The characters are all interesting, original, and varied. The acting is top-notch. And the humor is rich and quirky. There is even a touch of romance. If you don't like British accents or plots that demand attention, this is not your movie. If you are looking for something that is a shade better than "Oceans 11", you're going to love it.
Will the real Charlie Kaufman please stand up
This wandered through the differences between the imagined twin brother of Charlie Kaufman and the other version, the one actually named Charlie Kaufman. There is even a brief disparaging remark early in the film about "multiple personalities". As loose as the script is, it still works most of the time -- until the ending. It is inserted so abruptly and is so unrelated to what came before that I suspect they gave up on Charlie and hired a hack to provide a Hollywood "money" ending. I know some fans will say the ending was intended to look like a movie and that it constituted irony. That's too much of a concession. If you like Charlie Kaufman, as I do, stick with "Synechdoche, New York," which he also directed and which is truly a masterpiece.
a fairy tale
Watching Andrey Zvyagintsev's film "The Return" can be a confounding experience. Any attempts to regard it as either a thriller or an analysis of family relations (both of which have been suggested in the trailer and in other reviews) are doomed. This is not a conventional story and does not follow the usual expectations. Several key plot points are unresolved, which is not what we expect from stories that are intended to replicate real life. Thrillers routinely stretch credibility, but when they become too unbelievable they lose their audience.
"The Return" is best regarded as a fairy tale, in which credibility and resolution of any plot points is not an issue. We never learn where the missing father was for 12 years. We do not know why his wife and her mother are obviously uneasy about his return but then allow him the next day to take the kids away for a journey of no specified destination or duration. Is he really their father? We and the boys are never totally convinced. We never are told what the purpose of his trip was, although it is suggested (but never resolved) that it was something nefarious. We see him meeting with strangers but are never told who they were or what transpired. We watch him digging up a box from an isolated location but never learn why he does it or what the box contained. In a conventional story those significant elements would not be raised and then left unresolved, but in a fairy tale they add to the texture. There is no question that this is an enthralling fable of two boys struggling to relate to a father-figure who can be at times arbitrary and at other times reasonable, but never affectionate. It is as much his story as it is that of the boys.
Finally, it is a visual triumph. The cinematography and choice of locations are by themselves worth the price of admission. And again, the images contribute to the fairy tale atmosphere in a way that more contemporary and realistic scenes could not have matched.
The Art of Self-Defense (2019)
Mean and cynical
I watched this film because I thought from the trailer it might be humorous. It was not. It was mean and cynical and endorsed spite as an answer to personal failure. Trump would probably enjoy it. The acting was good and the cast fit their roles well, but the script itself was a loser.
True Detective (2014)
season 3: a masterpiece
I liked season 1, but thought the ending was a bit too clever, too contrived. Season 2 was forgettable. Season 3 was a masterpiece. It spans 3 time periods: the initial incident in the 1980s that leads to a police investigation; the middle period, 10 years later, when the investigation is reopened; and the final period, when the surviving characters have all aged. The characters all work for and against each other throughout the story, some of them weak or compromised, some of them driven. The acting is all the best it could be, the characters all credible, their reactions, doubts, fears, suspicions all real. It's a lame comparison, but this is like Game of Thrones without dragons and fitted into modern times. Unlike Game of Thrones, the ending of season 3 was smart and not predictable. No cliches here.
A word of caution -- the story can be difficult to follow because it jumps back and forth through the three time periods. It helps to watch with someone else for confirmation of what you think you heard or saw. The producers prudently gave us appearance clues. The main character has a bushy Afro in the earliest period, a closely trimmed cut in the middle period, and gray hair in the final period.
Thanks to Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey for producing and starring in the first season and then producing two more seasons, the last being one of the best series ever produced for television.
Werk ohne Autor (2018)
A tale for today
"Never Look Away" is essentially a film about three characters: a young artist, based on the life of Gerhard Richter, his wife, and his wife's father, a former Nazi who worked as a doctor committed to "purifying" the German race. So with the focus held so tightly on just three characters, it may seem surprising that it takes three hours to tell the story. But this film never left the feeling that too much was being told. It is a masterpiece of ideal personal relationships set against a background of truly evil and destructive behavior.
The story begins with the artist as a young boy in the care of his devoted but slightly strange aunt. We follow the artist into young adulthood and into a marriage that faces unique challenges. He carries with him his aunt's plea to "never look away."
While this tale begins at the onset of the Nazi era, much of what is presented is relevant to our contemporary world, though those political parallels are not drawn explicitly in the film.
Released in 2018, this film was honored with many award nominations and a few wins. Because of subtitles and a length of three hours, "Never Look Away" did not lend itself well to American tastes or to wide theatrical distribution. It is available on DVD or streaming and should not be missed.
Out of the Furnace (2013)
I wondered why I had never heard of "Out of the Furnace", released seven years ago, now carrying a 6.8 rating on IMDb, and featuring a stellar cast. Maybe my expectations were too high. I realized too late that it was a stereotypical story, a cowboy western, good guy versus bad guy. Worse than that -- it never settled on which of the several stories it tossed out to us that it wanted to follow to the finish. It could have been a story about a town suffering under the impending closure of the steel mill, or a family torn apart by one son's personal suffering, or the broken romance of the other son. Instead, it chose the cliché route, a dark, dreary tale with a predictable ending that it approached at the speed of a baby's crawl. I'm a fan of Woody Harrelson, but he was given a cardboard character to portray, and most of the other big names also had abbreviated roles they never got to develop. With all that talent it could have been so much better.
Only two seasons? Obviously not simple enough for most viewers. And not enough plot cliches. I watched every episode of the two seasons and never felt cheated or regarded as too dumb to follow the story. However, if you're looking for science-fiction, this is not it. The parallel worlds element is kept in the background. These episodes were character driven and shined with excellent acting and great scripts -- a lot about relationships, who we think we are, and how others see us. I have always been a J.K. Simmons fan, but I've never seen him so good. And the rest of the cast deserve equal praise for what they delivered. Yes, it could get a little confusing at times, but nobody I know nodded off through any of it.
Ocean's Eight (2018)
The low scores for this film are difficult to understand. Complaints that it lacks the charm and luster of the previous male casts don't ring true. The plot was clever, had plenty of gimmicks, and overall it demanded that the viewer pay attention. I suspect that some of the same viewers who gave this film one or two stars probably gave much higher marks to the latest super hero flick. None of these stories (complicated heists, super heroes, Harry Potter fantasies) are realistic, but we don't want them to be. I hope it was not something as gross as plain old misogyny that brought scores down. Good cast. Good acting. Story well told.
It Had to Be You (2015)
Interesting characters. Great acting. Great story. Real people in real situations. And a liberal dose of disappointment, misunderstanding, and love. What more could you want? Probably advisable to have a box of Kleenex handy.
Game Night (2018)
It's not a mystery -- the plot and resolution were evident from the first few minutes. And it's not a comedy. The actors walk through their parts with little spirit, except for Rachel McAdams who seemed determined to make the best of it. Classic Hollywood formula nonsense. There are much better scripts and directors out there. It's too bad that the movie business is stuck in the corporate rut of making movies based on the personal connections of the people in control.
Great story & acting by the entire cast. I don't understand the low ratings from some viewers unless they have some kind of personal hangups about father-child relationships. The humor mixed with pathos was perfectly delivered, just like real life. The lesson: nothing / nobody is ever perfect or all that we want it to be. We learn to adjust...
Monsters and Men (2018)
There are no stereotyped villains or good guys in this film, only different people reacting in different ways to the same event, which we never actually see. In that it resembles what we usually learn from what we regard as "news." This film is seriously under-rated and is one of the most realistic cop films I've ever seen.
Love After Love (2017)
I saw that Metacritic gave it a much higher score and I really like Chris O'Dowd, but I found this film pretentious and embarrassingly disconnected from reality. Drippingly self-indulgent. My wife and I gave it up after 20 minutes. I would not want to know these characters.
Beats Star Wars: the Last Jedi
Way better than the last Star Wars and most other sci-fi films. Very imaginative, plus a lot of fun and action. Contrary to a few other opinions, I thought the actors fit the roles and did a great job. ALL of the characters, including the digital, behaved like real people, not just mechanically following a formula derived from preceding films. If you don't like the on-screen characters, that doesn't mean the acting was bad. Maybe it's just a reflection of your discomfort in seeing certain roles portrayed. There is a modest element of romance, which always makes some viewers uncomfortable in a shooting and chasing film. Bottom line: this movie is seriously under-rated.
The Florida Project (2017)
Remarkably over-rated. Willem Defoe is great, but there is no story and there is nothing funny about the irresponsible adult characters or their feral kids. This is almost a documentary, but it fails as a feature film.
The Prisoner (2009)
Kafka meets Camus
If you've read the other reviews you know this is not a remake of the original TV series of The Prisoner. This is much smarter, more obscure, certainly more existential. Not so much about trying to escape from an externally imposed imprisonment as a study of reality and self-delusion. This is not a straight-forward linear plot, but one that challenges the viewer. It's a wonder that it ever got made for television.
That's the substance of my views, but I'll add that the acting is stellar, the cinematography is haunting, and the crisp directing and editing demand that the viewer pay attention and make an effort to sort things out, which some viewers may resent.
The wide range of viewer scores for this six-episode series produce an average score of 6.3 (in November 2015), which is meaningless. Those who liked this series loved it and those who didn't like it, for whatever reasons, hated it. There are not many opinions in between the best and the worst, so the average of 6.3 only indicates that slightly more people loved it than hated it.
The Signal (2014)
Great but not for everyone
"The Signal" is more horror film than sci-fi. It's about three people trapped in a threatening environment they do not understand. It is also about reality, and how our concept of it can easily be shaken by unexpected circumstances that are inconsistent with our past experiences and perceptions. In the early portion of the film there is a brief reference to Philip Dick, the master of reality tales, and to his book "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," which became the basis for the film "Blade Runner." Later references capture some of the mystique of "The Matrix" and also an often overlooked film from 1997, "The Cube."
Comments posted here about "The Signal" seem to be sharply divided: viewers seem to either hate it or love it. The displeasure is easy to understand. Those who expected a sci-fi story with a lot of techno-gadgets and special effects are likely to be disappointed. The same applies to those who are uncomfortable with the concept of victimization, a common basis for horror films and a key element in "The Signal." But those who like to read Philip Dick or who enjoyed "The Cube" will find much to admire in this film, a low budget effort with a smart script.
good acting, nice camera work, lousy story
I need to say that no specific plot details are revealed in this review, but some general observations suggest some plot points. If you haven't seen this movie, this review might spoil it for you, but I'm not recommending that you do see it.
Birdman is an unfortunate mix. I'm a fan of Michael Keaton, so I came to this film with a bit of a bias in his favor. I am pleased to say that I thought his acting was superb. Also, the camera work was interesting, though not original. The continuously moving camera coupled with creative editing and CG work gave the impression of one continuous shot. That also suggested a degree of reality -- seeing events as they happened -- which ultimately was not supported by the story. This movie fails completely in its inability to present itself either as reality or as fantasy. It also fails by creating a protagonist who serves no apparent purpose in the story except to cause us to feel sorry for him.
Keaton plays a former actor in super hero movies who is despondent about becoming too old to maintain that role, which apparently has become indistinguishable from his self-image. While despondence is a great dramatic hook, we usually expect a good story to present us with despair that arises over something that would matter to most of us, for instance a runner who loses the use of his legs, an architect who goes blind, an employee who gets fired. It's troubling that many viewers can identify with a man whose despair arises from his self-image as an aging super hero. While we don't usually hold films to the standards of the best classical dramas, those Greek and Shakespearean plays set some guidelines that have worked for centuries now in providing solid entertainment. Those guidelines are nowhere evident in Birdman.
Although we see traces of fantasy throughout the film in Keaton's delusions, we are led to believe they are simply his personal hallucinations, particularly since no one else ever sees them. That casts the film in the role of a reality tale. However, in the final few minutes we are presented with a fantasy scene that is witnessed by someone else, suggesting that we have been duped and that the reality of all that preceded those final moments is in question. That's not good story telling; it's only confusion and audience manipulation.
This film contains two major gimmicks that were clearly intended to let some viewers think they were seeing something smart and clever, while actually they were only experiencing dishonest writing. Norman Rockwell once said if a magazine cover he was painting wasn't working, he'd add a dog. If it still wasn't working he'd put a bandage on the dog's foot. Here we got the dog and the bandage. One of those gimmicks is the ending described above. The other preceded it and involved Keaton doing something while on stage that served no useful purpose in the story except to provide some suspense, until the inevitable moment finally arrived.
I have no argument with morality plays and with pure fantasy. Maleficent is a recent example. That story used fantasy to convey some views about human relationships. There was no confusion between fantasy and reality, and the story was driven by a need to resolve a wrong, a resolution which occurred predictably but in a satisfying manner at the end. Birdman doesn't even come close.
The Zero Theorem (2013)
probably Gilliam's best ever
Nietzsche would have loved this movie. It is probably Gilliam's best work, again casting the "corporation" as the villain, much as he did in Brazil. It is about a man searching for his purpose in a world full of distractions. Those are, of course, the same that our contemporary culture produces: pervasive surveillance, addictive computerized gadgets, porn, intrusive advertising, to name a few. The humor and satire are brilliant, and a second viewing might be necessary to catch all the satirical stuff going on in the background. Love and personal connection are raised as a possible answer to the question about purpose. The main character's struggle with that issue cements the plot into something that is not just preachy and philosophical. The acting is uniformly great and all of the main characters, played by Christoph Waltz, Gwendoline Christi, David Thewlis, and Lucas Hedges, are a delight to watch. The same can be said about the smaller parts filled by Tilda Swinton and Matt Damon. But if you're not into big questions that seem to be without answers -- things like the meaning of life -- it might be better to stay home and watch reruns of The Budapest Hotel.
Under the Skin (2013)
Great or boring?
Most audiences love this film for its subtlety and its allegorical tale – a vision of human life through the eyes of an outsider. A few viewers found it boring. Here's a suggested analysis of that breakdown:
LOVED IT: It's a blessing that there is very little dialog in this film, and what exists is basically non-essential small talk, such as "Are you okay?" For an American, some of the Scottish accents were so thick that I could barely make out the words, but it didn't matter because the dialog was largely inconsequential and could be understood to convey elemental feelings and attitudes, even if the exact words were obscure. Also, the plot does not depend on dialog. More about that follows. The regard of the main character, Scarlett Johansson, changes dramatically as she encounters ordinary people of all sorts, the young, the old, the aggressive, the timid. Eventually she ends up looking at herself in a mirror.
BORING: This film is not for action-thriller addicts. There are no explosions, no space ships, no shooting. Whatever violence exists is the kind found in real life. Except for the ending, this might have been a movie about a serial killer who makes some profound self-discoveries. This film is also not for those who do not like subtlety and prefer to have the dialog tell them what is going on, much like the usual stuff on television, which has so much talk that you could close your eyes and usually still follow the story. No one on the screen ever says that Scarlett Johansson is an alien. If you didn't know that (and who doesn't?) from all of the publicity, you might be surprised by the ending. Likewise, there are no alien artifacts of any kind, no special weapons. The black pools seen in trailers might be pure metaphor and would just as well have fit a movie about a serial killer. So, if you want everything explained, this is not your movie.
As some one who thought this movie was great, I will add that it invites the viewer to consider his own vision of his place in humanity, what we are, how we behave alone or with others. Can that be boring?