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The Witches (2020)
it was what I expected
I knew that there was no way that Robert Zemeckis's version of Roald Dahl's book would equal Nicolas Roeg's version. The setting in 1960s Alabama should've made for a broader focus on racial issues.
Nevertheless, you gotta love Anne Hathaway's performance as the Grand High Witch, talking like Natasha on "Rocky and Bullwinkle".
Basically, if you expect nonstop silliness from this version of "The Witches", you won't be disappointed. I do hope that Zemeckis's next movie is something more along the lines of his first movies, though.
River's Edge (1986)
there are times when you wonder how anyone could get out of this situation
"River's Edge" has many such situations. The movie is an overall look at the disaffected youth of the 1980s. The body offers a window into the dismal lives of this group of friends. Don't get me wrong, there are healthy relationships, but throughout the movie I kept thinking "Something ugly is gonna happen."
One of the most notable things about the movie is an early appearance of Keanu Reeves. His character goes through some intense things. It's one of those movies that truly marks its era. Definitely see it. Tim Hunter focused again on alienation with the 1993 drama "The Saint of Fort Washington", about some homeless men in New York.
PS: Joshua John Miller (Tim) is the son of Jason Miller (Father Karras in "The Exorcist").
emotions are there
Several years ago, a friend of my family wrote a book about repressed memories. I never did read the book - it's not my field of study - but a good look at the topic is Joachim Trier's disturbing "Thelma". The protagonist is a college girl in Norway. Coming from a religious family, college is Thelma's first real exposure to the outside world. But things take a different turn when Thelma befriends a girl. You see, not only did some shocking things happen in Thelma's childhood, but she's no ordinary girl.
The cinematography gives the movie a dark, depressing look. Quite a different impression of Scandinavia than we're used to. It's one of the supreme ironies that Scandinavia - always thought of as the part of the world with the highest quality of life - turns out these intense, disturbing movies. Which is not to dis the movie. It's a fine piece of work. The performances, cinematography, and music make this one movie that I recommend to everyone. It probably won't change your life, but it's sure to surprise you. I hope to see more of Joachim Trier's movies, and I hope that Eili Harboe continues to act.
The Danish Girl (2015)
ironically, Eddie Redmayne most recently defended J. K. Rowling
When "The Danish Girl" got released, I read about it focused on a transgender woman. It wasn't until watching it and reading the background that I learned that Lili Elbe was in fact a real person. As expected, the movie drew controversy for casting a cisgender person as the transgender woman. Even so, I found Eddie Redmayne's performance effective, as well as Alicia Vikander in her Oscar-winning role.
More recently, a tragic irony has arisen. Eddie Redmayne defended J. K. Rowling, who has made a series of transphobic comments lately. Seriously, why'd he have to do that?
Call Me Kuchu (2012)
religion is destructive
Uganda's attempt to pass a bill calling for the death penalty for LGBT people drew international condemnation and eventually failed, but still made the country inhospitable for LGBT people. "Call Me Kuchu" looks at the bill and how it affected Uganda's LGBT community. Some shocking stuff here. The evangelical Christians who go to Africa and push these draconian laws need to face prosecution.
Lovecraft Country (2020)
the ugly past awaits your future
I suspect that while "Lovecraft Country" was getting filmed, they didn't suspect that it would become even more significant due to the protests that swept the country in the wake of George Floyd's murder. But even putting that aside, it's one of the most intense shows out there (and this is coming from someone who's seen "Game of Thrones" and "American Horror Story"). Like the recent "Watchmen", it depicts the Tulsa Massacre, wherein a white mob razed the black neighborhood in the Oklahoma town in 1921. There are a number of other instances of racism portrayed, all in a fantasy-horror context. Not like anything that you've ever seen, but you should see it. Be aware that you're in for a shock, though.
Ahlat Agaci (2018)
Do you want to become your parents?
Occasionally, movies focus on a person who worries that they're becoming their parents, in the sense of doing the things that were once considered uncool. Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Ahlat Agaci" addresses this, but goes so deep into it that it's almost as if you have to see the movie ahead of time to understand it (a catch-22). The movie gives an unflattering portrayal of modern Turkey, with the protagonist moving from one unpleasant sight to another, finally confronting his parents.
I don't know that I would call it a masterpiece, but still worth seeing.
the law of unintended consequences
I interpreted André Téchiné's "Impardonnables" ("Unforgivable" in English) as a look at how even the best intentions can go awry. The protagonist's relations with people result in some unpleasant things. Sometimes you just can't control what happens.
In addition, we get some neat shots of Venice's canals. I'd like to go there eventually.
Elena Undone (2010)
sorry, but this is no "Carol"
The previous reviewer called Nicole Conn's "Elena Undone" the ideal lesbian movie. Totally wrong. Todd Haynes's "Carol" (based on Patricia Highsmith's "Price of Salt") is. It has a deep plot. Practically nothing happens in this movie. Total waste of time.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Roald Dahl + Wes Anderson = something cool
I read Roald Dahl's "Fantastic Mr. Fox" in third grade. Even as a cinephile all the way back then, I hadn't thought about a screen adaptation of that book. Well, king of quirky cinema Wes Anderson brought it to the screen. I didn't manage to see it when it got released in 2009, but I've now gotten around to it. Quite an experience. George Clooney voices the calculating vulpine who organizes the other wild animals after some farmers try to kill him. Also starring is Meryl Streep as his wife, and Anderson regulars Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Willem Dafoe in other roles.
The movie very much has the feel of a Wes Anderson movie, with the centered scenes and stark colors. There's a reason why I've liked every one of Anderson's movies.* I'll be eager to see his upcoming movie "The French Dispatch" (whose release the coronavirus has delayed).
I should note that this flick isn't an exact adaptation of Dahl's book. There are some changes along the way (namely the ending; I guess that the movie's ending looks more conducive to the 21st century). Even so, it's a fine piece of work with all the humor that one would expect in a Wes Anderson movie. I recommend it.
*By contrast, I haven't liked anything that Terrence Malick has done in the 21st century. Does that loser even bother writing scripts? Easily the most overrated director of all time.
time to get commited
Everyone knows Nurse Ratched. The strict disciplinarian who runs the mental institution in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is synonymous with draconian authority. But we never knew her back story...until now.
Ryan Murphy revolutionized TV with "Glee" and "American Horror Story", and brought a new dimension to Netflix with the miniseries "Pose" and "Hollywood". Now he gives us a look at Ratched's early years, exploring how she became the cold, sadistic monster that we know.
This show has some intense stuff: the interactions between people, the harsh "treatments", and a number of unpleasant histories. Sarah Paulson's done a great job in every production in which I've seen her, including this one. We also get fine performances from Judy Davis, Finn Wittrock, Jon Jon Briones, Sharon Stone, and the rest.
Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis (2008)
if you learn the language, you will go far
Dany Boon's "Bienvenue chez les ch'tis" ("Welcome to the Sticks" in English) reminded me of "My Cousin Vinny" and "Doc Martin", with a big-city person coming to a small town and having trouble understanding the mores. In this case, a man from southern France gets sent to a small town in the north and having trouble with their accents (to say the least). While there are a lot of challenges for the guy to overcome, he's just as foreign to the townspeople.
In addition to the humor, the movie also looks at the stereotypes that people can have of those from certain regions (i.e., in the US, northerners tend to view southerners as ignorant yahoos). It's not the greatest French movie that I've ever seen, but it does a good job addressing the prejudices that the people throughout France have of each other. You just know that the French have countless stereotypes of foreigners. I recommend it.
Mad Dog and Glory (1993)
Who would've ever guessed that while "Groundhog Day" was in the theaters, this got released?
I remember seeing "Groundhog Day" in the theater, and outside in the hall seeing an poster for "Mad Dog and Glory". I noticed that it also starred Bill Murray, whom I had just seen in "Groundhog Day". I only now got around to seeing it. The mafia stuff is pretty routine, but the performances of Robert DeNiro, Uma Thurman and Bill Murray bolster it ever step of the way. Not that I would expect otherwise. I recommend it.
Who would've guessed that the guy who said "Somebody blows their nose and now you want to keep it?" would not only star in this, but also in "Cradle Will Rock", "Lost in Translation", "Get Low" and every Wes Anderson movie from 1998 onward? Bill Murray is nothing if not versatile.
it's a strange existence in working-class Montreal
"Léolo" was the last of two movies directed by Jean-Claude Lauzon before he died in a plane crash, and so far the only one that I've seen. The protagonist is a working-class boy in Montreal (presumably in the '50s or early '60s) who remains detached from his family and general surroundings. He has a fantasy story about his siring, and feels attracted to a neighbor girl. Not to mention that in the process, he does some questionable things.
This is one of those movies that tests your attention span. There were scenes where I wasn't sure if what I was seeing was real or just in the boy's imagination. All in all, it could be a double-viewing with "My Life as a Dog" or any other movie about a child who doesn't fit in with the surrounding world. It's not a masterpiece, but I would like to see Lauzon's other movie. Worth seeing.
Tacones lejanos (1991)
Over the past forty years, Pedro Almodóvar has been a leading figure in Spanish cinema. His movies frequently address relationships and lingering problems in Spain. A key element in his works is the complex female characters. One example of his movies is 1991's "Tacones lejanos" ("High Heels" in English), about the relationship between a news broadcaster and her mother, a torch singer whom she hasn't seen in years. Some shocking things are coming.
The English title might make it sound like "The Devil Wears Prada", but it's nothing like that. The Spanish title evokes the strained relationship between the two women. In addition to them, every character has something to add to the story.
I recommend this, as I have every Almodóvar movie that I've seen (I haven't seen every one). The characters' profundity is a sharp contrast to the cardboard cutouts in Michael Bay movies. Moreover, it's good to see female characters who aren't just wives and moms.
Ah fei zing zyun (1990)
relationships in old Hong Kong
I don't recall having seen any of Wong Kar-wai's movies before now, so I suppose that his "A fei zing zyun" ("Days of Being Wild" in English) is an OK place to start. It focuses on a playboy in 1960 Hong Kong and his relationships while he tries to find out the identity of his birth mother. Much of the movie takes place in dark settings, making Hong Kong look like a seedy place, far different from the image that we usually get of it. This is one movie that really tests your attention span.
I guess that I can't fully assess this movie without having seen the rest of Wong's movies. Even so, it's a profound, thought-provoking look at the characters and their interactions with each other. Often when I watch these movies, I wonder if I've missed certain cultural nuances. Whether or not I have, I still recommend it, just as long as you remember that you really gotta pay attention here.
Ernest et Célestine (2012)
a new friendship
Since we in the United States are so used to seeing animated features only from our country, it's always refreshing to see ones from outside the US. An example is the Oscar-nominated "Ernest et Célestine", about a friendship between a bear and a mouse. Both come from societies afraid of the other, and reports of their actions spawn anger among the "normal" citizens. Very much a look at our own society. Animated features are often a good way to address our world's problems, and I recommend this one.
The English dub has the voices of Forest Whitaker, Mackenzie Foy (Clara in "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms"), Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman and Jeffrey Wright.
I didn't know that "The Barbarian Invasions" was a sequel
Some years ago I saw "The Barbarian Invasions", about a get-together for a terminally ill man. It turns out that it was a sequel to Denys Arcand's 1986 movie "Le déclin de l'empire américain" ("The Decline of the American Empire" in English). This Oscar nominee features a get-together where the characters talk profoundly about sex, as well as the tendency to fulfill self-gratification over the greater good.
The movie could be a double feature with "The Sessions" for its frank, serious discussions of intercourse. To be certain, there's a gay man concerned about STDs, as this was during the height of the AIDS crisis. What caught my eye was the mention that the US empire was on its decline; we're even more so now, one might even say free fall (it hasn't helped that two of our three presidents in the past twenty years have been willfully ignorant yahoos).
Anyway, this movie makes me want to see more movies from Denys Arcand. If you want nonstop explosions and car chases, this won't be for you. If you want a deep, earnest look at relationships, then you owe it to yourself to watch this.
The Boys in the Band (2020)
Sheldon finally gets to meet Spock
Mart Crowley met Natalie Wood on the set of "Splendor in the Grass" and they became friends. During the years when they worked together, he used his free time to write a play about the homophobia that gays internalized in the years before the Stonewall Uprising. With funds provided by Wood (a friend of Hollywood's gay community), Crowley debuted "The Boys in the Band" in 1968, taking the title from a line in the 1954 version of "A Star Is Born". (full disclosure: I've never seen the play)
The play got revived in 2018 for the 50th anniversary, marking the first time that it had played on Broadway. The cast included Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto and Matt Bomer, with direction from Joe Mantello and produced by Ryan Murphy. And so now, they've brought it to Netflix. What a show! Everything about this movie is perfect. Obviously a lot of things have changed for the gay community since 1968, but it remains as important as ever to understand the self-hate that they had back then. Definitely see it.
Since Jim Parsons co-stars with Zachary Quinto, I like to think that means that Sheldon Cooper has gotten to meet Mr. Spock.
right after Wilford Brimley died, I happened to see two of his movies back-to-back
Wilford Brimley died a few weeks ago, and so a few nights ago I watched "Country" (in which Brimley co-starred) in his memory. After that I watched "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins", and lo and behold, it also had Brimley!
It's the sort of movie that does whatever it wants, no matter how ridiculous. And boy is there some fun stuff here! The unpleasant part is of course that they cast Joel Grey as a Korean man; even though this was in 1985, how is it STILL acceptable to cast white people in non-white roles in the 21st century?
Aside from that, it's an enjoyable movie. I wish that Fred Ward got more lead roles.
Wilford Brimley, RIP
I first read about Richard Pearce's "Country" in a chronicle of the twentieth century; the look at 1984 in film mentioned it (as well as "Ghostbusters", "Beverly Hills Cop" and "This Is Spinal Tap"). I had been hoping to see it for a long time. Wilford Brimley's recent death gave me an extra incentive to do so, so I've finally seen it. More than anything, the movie addresses the hardships faced by family farms in the era of agribusiness. Reagan - the number one ally of agribusiness - called the movie "a blatant propaganda message against our agri programs", while Congress had Jessica Lange (nominated for an Oscar for this movie) testify about family farms.
It's a fine movie, if not a masterpiece. Another thing that should get addressed is food miles (how far food travels from the farm to the market). In the meantime, I do recommend the movie.
Scared Straight! (1978)
the harshest reality
Arnold Shapiro's Oscar- and Emmy-winning "Scared Straight!" depicts some young delinquents getting taken to a New Jersey prison, where some inmates harangue them in the hope of stopping them from a life of crime. The documentary is like a brick in the face. Part of the purpose is for the inmates to remind the youths what it feels like to be victims (i.e., by taking away their shoes), but also to remind them of the horror of living in a prison.
The documentary marked the first time that profanity had appeared on many networks. If you ask me, this is the sort of documentary that should get shown at least once a year, especially now that the US has over two million people in jail, most of them black and Latino.
The edition that I saw featured interviews with the youths and inmates years after the documentary got made to see what became of them; despite some problems with the law, most of them managed to become family people.
All in all, definitely see this.
Padre padrone (1977)
I finally get to hear Sardinian spoken
First, I should admit that until now I had never seen any movie by the Taviani brothers or heard of Gavino Ledda. This made "Padre padrone" even more of a treat. There's a stark contrast in the harshness inflicted by Ledda's father (who expects the boy to continue the family tradition) and Ledda's goal. As a person who takes an interest in foreign languages, I enjoyed hearing Sardinian spoken; I like hearing languages that we don't often get to hear.
Overall, this could be a double-viewing with "The Great Santini" or "This Boy's Life" (maybe a triple-viewing with all three). It's a wonder some people made it out of their childhoods without remaining completely damaged. All in all, a fine piece of work.
Kimmy and friends have an interactive adventure
The year after the original series ended, Kimmy and her friends are back in an interactive special. "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs the Reverend" depicts her about to get married when she discovers that the reverend has another bunker full of mole women. So, she and Titus set out on an adventure to find it; let's just say that Titus is probably the first flamboyant black guy to do some of what he does here! Meanwhile, Kimmy's aloof employer Jacqueline and gentrification-hating landlady Lillian have their own adventure.
It's an interactive special, so there are several different plots that it can take. I watched it twice. It's not any sort of masterpiece, but enjoyable enough for the brief runtime.
I'd like to see a special depicting "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt", "Six Feet Under", "The Big Bang Theory", "Modern Family", "American Horror Story" and "Stranger Things" all taking place in the same universe.
the end of an era in front of and behind the camera
Before his death at 29, Hank Williams revolutionized country music. Many of his songs dealt with sorrow and heartbreak. David Acomba's "Hank Williams: The Show He Never Gave" depicts Williams in the back seat of a car imagining performing in a small restaurant. He talks with the people in the restaurant, both the customers and the employees, and makes sure to give everyone a great time. Back in the car, he wonders how much longer he'll survive.
Obviously this movie depicts the end of an era. Since filming started on December 8, 1980 (the day of John Lennon's murder), it was also the end of an era behind the camera. What a world. I wonder what path Hank Williams's or John Lennon's music would've taken had either one lived longer.
Worth seeing, hypothetical though it is.