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The Good Place (2016– )
8/10
the moral the merrier
17 October 2019
"The Good Place" addresses what it means to be a good person, with a self-absorbed jerk (Kristen Bell) accidentally sent to heaven and trying to learn how to be a good person so as not to get caught. Every episode adds a new challenge. The cast has a lot of fun with the roles of various people affected by the arrival of this sociopath. Having just binge-watched the first season, I like what I see. I recommend it.
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5/10
always be yourself
16 October 2019
I didn't go into this new version of "The Addams Family" expecting anything profound. I figured that it was some nice silly entertainment (with an obviously spooky bent) and I was right. Much like how the live-action versions addressed the fact that the Addamses were seen as weird for being different but were a perfectly decent family, this one features them resisting pressure from a developer/reality star who wants to create a monoculture (and has a thing for both surveillance and over-the-top hairdos).

Nothing special, but enjoyable.
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5/10
Ham and Ex get their day
15 October 2019
Before Warner Bros. animation had truly found its way, it made a series of shorts that tended to show its upcoming stars pulling all sorts of gags. "The Fire Alarm" is an example, with Ham and Ex pulling a series of pranks while their uncle Beans is supposed to be watching them for the day. The best part is what they do with the fire truck. Otherwise it's nothing significant. Porky was just getting started around this time, while Daffy and Bugs were yet to debut.
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7/10
go glam or go home
13 October 2019
I first learned of Todd Haynes with the release of his 2002 drama "Far from Heaven", starring Julianne Moore as a 1950s housewife who develops a relationship with her African-American gardener after discovering her husband kissing a man. It turned out that Haynes had been making movies for some years by that point, including 1998's "Velvet Goldmine". This Academy Award-nominated spectacle is a look at the glam rock era, with Christian Bale as a reporter trying to find out what became of a glam star from the early '70s. This movie has it all: drug use, orgies, sexual fluidity, and everything else that was characteristic of the era.

It's not a masterpiece, but damned if the cast members don't put their all into the roles. I recommend it, but mind you, this is NOT a fluffy, "Almost Famous"-style look at '70s music; there are some shocking things here.
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10/10
Mark Medoff, RIP
12 October 2019
A few years ago I went to a session in a government building where they showed us "Children of a Lesser God". Unfortunately, we got less than halfway through, so I was only able to get the basic gist. Then a few months ago, Mark Medoff (who wrote the play on which the movie's based) died. I figured that I might as well watch the movie in his memory. It's one impressive piece of work. William Hurt's role as the teacher is a bit like the sort of role that Robin Williams occasionally played in dramas (the new person who comes in with his own ideas about how to do things, much to the chagrin of his superiors). But the bulk of the praise should go to Marlee Matlin, whose Oscar-winning role as the janitor makes her the only deaf person to have won an Academy Award, at least in an acting role (I don't know if any deaf people have won in non-acting fields).

It's truly a fine movie. It's a real pity that Randa Haines hasn't directed more movies (I suspect that they're not comfortable letting a woman direct). Moreover, the movie makes one understand the challenges faced by people with disabilities, whether physical or mental. If you ask me, sign language should be required so that deaf and mute people aren't so isolated.
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10/10
When will we learn our lesson?
11 October 2019
The most famous Vietnam-related production of 1979 was "Apocalypse Now", but there was also the documentary "The War at Home", focusing on the anti-war movement in Madison, Wisconsin. You've probably seen ample of footage from the era showing students protesting and police attacking them; lots of that here. It also shows the Kent State shootings, which radicalized a number of people. Allen Ginsberg even describes the FBI's COINTELPRO, whose aim was breaking the political movements sweeping the country.

Watching the documentary, it was impossible not to draw parallels to the present day. I bet that in 1979, people authentically thought that there would never again be any wars. I wish!

Definitely worth seeing. Others that I recommend are "Hearts and Minds" and "The Weather Underground".
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Better Than Us (2018–2019)
9/10
let's hope that every country can make a Netflix series
10 October 2019
So far we've gotten some fine Netflix series in the form of "Stranger Things", "Dark" and "Glow". Now we have "Luchshe, chem lyudi" (literally "Better than People" but translated as "Better than Us"). This depiction of a future where robots serve humans with several other storylines going on is one for the ages. I hope to see more like this.
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The Deep (1977)
7/10
Let me just put it thusly: Jacqueline Bisset's wet shirt has the same effect as Ursula Andress's bikini
8 October 2019
From "Jaws" author Peter Benchley we get another look at danger in the ocean. "The Deep" involves a treasure hunt off the coast of Bermuda that runs into trouble. When there's treasure out there, certain people will do anything for it.

But seriously folks, does anyone remember the movie for anything other than Jacqueline Bisset's wet shirt? Bisset herself admitted that it seemed like people only talked about that diaphanous article of clothing and what was underneath. It's a real pity that she isn't considered as much of a babe as the era's other glamorous actresses.

So yes, Nick Nolte is the tough guy, Robert Shaw is the brave sailor, and there are other characters, but everyone knows that it's Jacqueline Bisset who makes the movie what it is. Enjoyable enough just for that, but for everything else also. Fun one.
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9/10
find what you need
7 October 2019
I haven't seen any Claire Denis movies before now, but "Un beau soleil intérieur" ("Let the Sunshine In" in English) is a good start. Juliette Binoche plays a woman searching for true love among a number of men. All of them have their issues, and she presses on. I interpret it to mean that you'll never find the perfect match, so you'll have to settle for what fits you most appropriately.

Worth the time.
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7/10
Neepha looks like Jeannie
6 October 2019
Dr. Seuss continued creating magical stories with "Pontoffel Pock, Where Are You". When I was little, my favorite part was of course the mishap at the beginning, with Pontoffel sending the pickle factory haywire. Of course, nowadays I realize that the special is all about wanting to get away from the rat race. And who else to depict the outcome other than the man behind the Cat in the Hat, the Grinch and the Lorax?

And then there's Neepha Pheepha. Her look appears to be based on the titular character on "I Dream of Jeannie" (probably just a coincidence, but still, how can you not love the sight of her?). My point is that every person should get a chance to see this. Definitely worth your while.
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The Hoober-Bloob Highway (1975 TV Movie)
7/10
Dr. Seuss looks at life's challenges
5 October 2019
Dr. Seuss used many of his books to address political issues: resistance to authoritarianism (The Cat in the Hat), discrimination (The Sneetches), commercialism (How the Grinch Stole Christmas), the environment (The Lorax) and the arms buildup (The Butter Battle Book). "The Hoober-Bloob Highway" isn't based on one of his books, but retains his style of humor. It addresses the challenges that one will face in the modern world. Of course, it does all this through the use of music, impressive animation, and cool anapestic pentameter.

It's not Dr. Seuss's greatest production, but still quite fun. I haven't seen any of the 21st century adaptations of Seuss's work, and I don't have any desire to (in fact, after seeing the live-action "Cat in the Hat", his widow refused to allow any more live-action movies based on his books).
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10/10
this is only the second time that I've ever heard German spoken in a Wim Wenders movie
4 October 2019
Wim Wenders was one of the leaders of New German Cinema in the 1970s (along with Werner Herzog and Rainer Werner Fassbinder), revitalizing the country's film industry. Among his notable works since then are "Paris, Texas" and "Buena Vista Social Club" (in my opinion, his all-time best is "Until the End of the World"). One of his early efforts was 1974's "Alice in den Städten", about a writer forced to become the guardian of a girl. It was the first entry in Wenders's Road Trilogy. The movie addresses topics such as the assault on our lives by nonstop commercialism. Apparently, Wenders saw "Paper Moon" right before he began production and was concerned that this movie would be too similar, but noted director Sam Fuller convinced to press on with it. All in all, the result was one fine piece of work. The black-and-white cinematography really gives a feeling of bleakness and desolation (fitting for the plot).

As for the first time that I heard German in a Wenders movie, that was "The American Friend".
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10/10
luck be a dysfunctional family today
1 October 2019
Ah, Beverly Hills. That neighborhood widely viewed as the domain of rich Angelenos. Most people would never imagine a working class family inhabiting the area, but that's just what Tamara Jenkins's "Slums of Beverly Hills" portrays. Natasha Lyonne - more recently famous as the time-trapped protagonist of "Russian Doll" - plays the daughter of a penniless nomadic family in 1976 Beverly Hills. The movie's got everything: sexuality, drugs, the era's music and attire, and hilariously shocking scenes (some involving forks), and some references to Charles Manson. There a reason why the '90s were the golden age of offbeat movies.

Basically, it's an addition to the pantheon of great movies about quirky/dysfunctional families. With the presence of Lyonne, as well as Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei, Jessica Walter, Carl Reiner and Rita Moreno, you know that you're in for something impressive. I hope to see more of Tamara Jenkins's movies.
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Claire's Knee (1970)
10/10
it took me all these years to see another Rohmer movie
28 September 2019
The first Éric Rohmer movie that I saw was "The Marquise of O...", which I watched because I had read the novel in a German literature course in college. I've finally gotten around to watching another one. "Le genou de Claire" ("Claire's Knee" in English) is part of his morality series, focusing on married (or about to get married) men tempted by other women. John Wakeman called these movies "subtle psychological investigations about what characters think about their behavior than about their behavior itself". In this case, career diplomat Jérôme (Jean-Claude Brialy) finds himself attracted to the daughter of an old friend.

It's a slow-moving film, but deliberately so. It takes time for the characters to develop. It adds up to a profound, intellectually stimulating story. While slow-moving, it turns out interesting (which is more than anyone can say for the empty, pointless movies that Terrence Malick has turned out in the 21st century).

Definitely one that I recommend.
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Mirai (2018)
10/10
I need to see more of the Japanese animated features
24 September 2019
Mamoru Hosoda's Academy Award-nominated "Mirai no Mirai" (called "Mirai" in English) addresses topics such as jealousy and maturation, showing a boy's frustration with his family after the birth of a baby sister, only to have some experiences reminding him of his family's past and future.

This is the first Hosoda movie that I've seen, and I'd now like to see more of them. In addition to focusing on the tension that arises in this one household, he also manages to incorporate Japan's history into the story, as well as childhood fears of the outside world. It all adds up to a movie full of youthful ebullience that still addresses serious topics. Definitely one that I recommend.
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9/10
Sondra Locke, RIP
21 September 2019
I had read about "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" some years ago and had been hoping to see it. Sondra Locke's death earlier this year gave me even more of an incentive to, and I've finally gotten around to it. This is an impressive movie, with Alan Arkin playing a deaf-mute who moves in with a family in small-town Georgia and develops a relationship with the daughter (Locke). Sure enough, a number of tense situations arise in the town.

Although US cinema was branching out more at the time, this movie is more low-key. Just a few days ago I saw another adaptation of a Carson McCullers novel, "Reflections of a Golden Eye". They both present stories of tension. It's more subtle here, but you'll know it when you see it. There's also a scene that makes clear that there was less consciousness about safety back then.

Anyway, it's one that I recommend. No surprise that both Arkin and Locke received Oscar nods for their roles. Also starring are Cicely Tyson, Percy Rodriguez and Stacy Keach.

I wonder how that music would sound on a ukulele.
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8/10
Marlon and Liz get John Huston's muted-color southern treatment
18 September 2019
Marlon Brando's career may have been in a rut at the time, but he got a fine role in John Huston's "Reflections in a Golden Eye". I had never heard of Carson McCullers or her works when I started watching it, but I'm now eager to read her works. This tale of sexual tension and repressed homosexuality on a military base in the 1940s has it all (and I don't just mean a certain scene of Elizabeth Taylor). These are some of the most intense performances that you'll ever see, and the movie features what must've been some of the most extreme scenes allowed on screen at the time.

Definitely worth your time.
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The Family (2019– )
5/10
the absolute center of power
16 September 2019
Occasionally in discussions of the government, we hear claims that there's an entity behind the government controlling everything, a deep state if you will. Regardless of such a claim's veracity, there's yet another entity controlling things in DC. Located on C Street is an organization known as The Fellowship. Methodist clergyman Abraham Vereide founded it in response to the progressive movements of the 1930s, having met with Seattle's business leaders (thereby sowing the seeds of the alliance between religion and corporations). The Fellowship, also known as The Family, has not only befriended politicians and hosted the National Prayer Breakfast attended by every president since Eisenhower, but has also formed alliances with brutal dictators worldwide.

The Netflix miniseries "The Family" is an OK documentary, not great. It didn't do the greatest job tying everything together, and spent a lot of time interviewing people and inserting footage. But we can hope that the story of this sinister organization reaches the entire country.
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5/10
I'd heard of Shirley Jackson, but not this novel
15 September 2019
I knew about Shirley Jackson from the 1963 adaptation of her novel "The Haunting of Hill House" (as well as the infamous 1999 adaptation). I had never known about her "We Have Always Lived in the Castle", now adapted as this movie. The novel apparently is about the ostracism of anyone viewed as "the other". I guess that the movie is about that. It's certainly an oddball one. Slow-moving, more than anything.
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1/10
simultaneously one of the most significant movies and probably the most racist one ever
13 September 2019
As James Loewen put it in "Lies My Teacher Told Me", "The Birth of a Nation" is probably the most racist major movie of all time. It partly holds historical significance due to having been Hollywood's first epic, but it's hard to look beyond the hagiography while watching it. No surprise that the Klan rose to prominence for the second time following the release, and ended up dominating the state governments of many southern states, as well as Indiana, Oklahoma, and Oregon, with African-Americans getting lynched as far north as Duluth, Minnesota.

I guess that we simply have to understand the historical context.
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Sweet Sioux (1937)
5/10
I wonder if one of the scenes inspired a scene in "Blazing Saddles"
12 September 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Yes, like pretty much every depiction of American Indians, Friz Freleng's "Sweet Sioux" contains a lot of racist imagery. If you get beyond that, it's got some funny stuff, with the Indians acting out typical stuff that appeared in 1930s entertainment.

One particular scene caught my eye. During the climax, an Indian coach speaks Yiddish while prepping a friend! This notably happened in a scene in Mel Brooks's "Blazing Saddles". I suppose that the whole point of comedy is to be as out there as possible. I'll guess that the people in the middle of the US were surprised to hear that dialogue, if they picked up on it at all.

So basically, it's enjoyable once you get past the racial material.
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7/10
pivot western
11 September 2019
By 1966, westerns were changing. The rise of the spaghetti western had introduced a grittier image of the old west than people had seen in John Wayne's movies. "The Professionals" still has traces of the old-style westerns - namely in the casting of Jack Palance as a Mexican - but leans more towards the new direction that the genre was taking. It was especially surprising to see a Hollywood western wherein two of the white protagonists fought under Pancho Villa's command, since the US was used to seeing Villa not as a principled revolutionary but rather as a wild bandit.

Richard Brooks's movie is not a masterpiece to the degree of "Once Upon a Time in the West", "Little Big Man" or "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" (which showed how the conglomerates in the old west had no qualms about crushing anyone who stood up to them), but it's certainly an impressive piece of work: the acting, direction, cinematography, editing and score all added up to some fun. And besides, how can you not admire the sight of Claudia Cardinale?
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7/10
on hop of the world
10 September 2019
Once again, Sylvester tries to catch baby kangaroo Hippety Hopper, with embarrassing results (for him, that is). Robert McKimson's "Too Hop to Handle" features Sylvester Jr. making a pipe with the aim of attracting mice, only to attract the marsupial. It wasn't until now that I realized that the younger cat's voice sounds like a cross between Daffy and Porky. Then again, Mel Blanc COULD do any voice imaginable.

It's an enjoyable, if not that significant short.
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GLOW (2017– )
10/10
a world of the '80s
9 September 2019
This year I've been watching a number of shows set in the 1980s: Stranger Things, Dark, Pose and GLOW*. This last one is a fictionalized account of a wrestling show from the era. Since I didn't grow up in the era, I don't know of the wrestling show, but GLOW is a fine show even if you don't know about wrestling. The characters, their personas, and their personal lives are something to behold. Definitely see it.

*Part of Jordan Peele's "Us" also takes place in the '80s.
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Us (II) (2019)
8/10
the '80s continue to return
8 September 2019
Having addressed racial issues in "Get Out", Jordan Peele now addresses class issues in "Us". No accident that he used the '80s - the era of greed - as the reference point. Just like in "Stranger Things", "Glow", "Pose" and "Dark", the decade of slasher movies and the Rubik's Cube won't go away.

Fine movie. I'm eager to see Peele's next movie, as well as Lupita Nyong'o's next one.
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