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The Father (2020)
Brilliant structure plus an amazing performance by Hopkins
All I knew when I started watching this movie was it was about an old-man whose mind was failing, and I was expecting a standard drama on the subject, affecting and serious, powered by Hopkin's inexhaustible talent. Hopkins is what I expected, brilliant as an irascible and increasingly confused old man. His final moments are brutal and brilliant. The rest of the cast is excellent as well. But the film itself is not a straightforward drama, but something much more remarkable.
*********** SPOILERS BELOW ****************** What is remarkably about this film is how it takes you into Hopkins failing mind. The first scene is a straightforward one of a cantankerous, independent old man interacting with his exhausted daughter. But in the next scene, there are weird shifts and disorienting moments. That's when you realize we are experiencing reality, for the most part, as Hopkins is experiencing it. Settings and faces change, time loops in on itself. It's often unclear if we are re-experiencing a moment or reaching a new one.
The timeline is an unsolvable puzzle. There are contradictions that can't be resolved. It's unclear is everything we see happened, and almost certain it didn't happen in the way we're shown. Hopkins is unmoored, and as he declines, you see his increasing caution as he begins to realize that he's been wrong so often that he needs to be careful in what he says. But then he's often not careful because he is who he is.
This is from a play, but unlike most movies from plays, I wouldn't have guessed that. It's opened up beautifully, as Hopkins drifts from one location to another, never quite sure where he is. I'd be very curious to know how this was originally staged.
The playwright directed this, and I am really curious what he'll do next. This is a truly remarkable, must-see film.
Couldn't get into it
I watched the first episode of this series and simply wasn't drawn in. Omar Sy has presence, but nothing else particularly stands out. The caper felt like something I've seen a million times, although the reveal wasn't bad.
I should say that I'm not really big on caper films (except Sneakers, which was great). So if you just *love* caper films maybe this will really grab you. And a lot of the reviewers seem to love Sy, who I've seen a couple of times but don't have a strong opinion of.
But I was bored for most of the episode and don't plan to watch any more.
Nourish the Beast (1974)
I so want to see this again
I was 15 when I saw this quirky little play and only remember a few things from it (a soliloquy involving an unconscious delivery guy and the explanation for the title), but I remember thinking it was hilarious and brilliant; one of the best plays I ever saw on PBS (along with The Lady's not for Burning, Norman Conquests, and Steambath).
Would I like it if I saw it today? Sadly, there's no way to know. I have searched the internet and this seems to be a movie that does not exist in any form here (although it appears some actors use a monologue from it in auditions).
Anyway, 15-year-old me loved this.
ABC Stage 67: Evening Primrose (1966)
Twilight Zone: The Musical
There's some serious talent involved in this little musical, with a script by James Goldman, performances by Tony Perkins and Charmian Carr, and - and this is the reason this thing is still talked about - 4 songs by Steven Sondheim.
The show rolls out like an episode of Twilight Zone, as a man decides to live in a department store and discovers there's a whole bunch of people already living there and no one can leave or the "dark men" will be called. Occasionally someone starts singing.
Sondheim, right between Funny Thing and Company, composed some really good songs for this, like I Remember Sky, which I was familiar with from a Jody Collins LP. They are classic Sondheim, clever, original, and catchy.
The script is a mixed bag. There are some nice individual scenes but it doesn't make a lot of sense, isn't weird enough for that not to matter, and goes *exactly* where you thought it was going 15 minutes in. In other words, it's like a Serling-original Twilight Zone, not a Matheson.
The direction is ... indifferent. There's no sense that the director has any particular vision for the show. It has elements of horror but never feels like a horror show. The characters feel underdeveloped. Sure, it's short, but *something* needed to be done with it, and the director just blocks the scenes and hopes for the best.
The end is predictable and unsatisfying, which is always a terrible combination.
Interesting curio, watch it or don't.
Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)
interesting historic events given a distanced, uninvolving treatment
I'm definitely in the minority here, but this movie about the events leading up to the government assassination of a black leader never really clicked with me.
One issue is practical; I found it difficult to understand what certain characters were saying. This was particularly true of Daniel Kaluuya. From the video at the end I think Kaluuya does a good job of speaking in Hampton's voice, but as Jennifer Jason Leigh's long ago performance as Dorothy Parker showed us, emulating the voice of someone who is difficult to understand can really hurt a movie.
I also - and I think this is only partly because of the tricky accent - didn't really understand Hampton. Sure, he's a noble guy who wants to help people and feels the violence of systemic racism and terror must be answered with violence if necessary, but where did this come from? What was the process and circumstances that brought him here. It's not that I don't understand what was going on in general, but the movie doesn't really work to create a context.
Bill O'Neal is also hard to get. This is true of the real man, but it makes for a movie in which the two main characters are enigmas and the only one supplying real heart and humanity is Dominique Fishback as his wife. It would have been a better movie if she had been the focal point rather than O'Neal.
In the same way, the movie doesn't really give a solid context for the Black Panthers, which comes across as a weird mix of school, soup kitchen, and army. Were they about self defense or violent revolution? Which was more important to them, the guns or the schools?
Perhaps there aren't clear answers. Perhaps the Black Panthers didn't have a coherent philosophy and Hampton never explained himself. But I just couldn't connect with the movie, and was often bored by it, although it improved as it went along.
I can't recommend it and don't understand how it got nominated for an Oscar, but as I say, I'm clearly in the minority.
Le tout nouveau testament (2015)
quirky and fascinating
I saw Jaco Van Dormael's Toto le Heros 30 years ago, thought it was brilliant, and then inexplicably never say any of Van Dormael's movies until just now, when I watched the absolutely wonderful Brand New Testament.
This crazy movie features a sadistic God who created people to make them miserable and spends all his time coming up with rules to make life worse. He lives in Brussels with a cowed wife and a young, antagonistic daughter. The latter, named Ea, decides to continue her brother Jesus' good works by going to Earth and gathering a few disciples.
I loved this movie from the first scenes of a naked, weirdly censored Adam wandering through a deserted, modern-day Brussels. The movie is crazily imaginative, as Ea cultivates a succession of oddballs, changing their lives in strange ways. The movie tackles intriguing philosophical questions like, how would we live life if we new the date we would die, while simultaneously hitting fantastical elements like exploring a romance between a woman and a great ape.
When I read reviews I was really shocked so many people didn't care for it, or thought it was just alright, but I admit this is very different so I guess that makes sense. For me, this is exactly the kind of movie I enjoy, and between this and Toto I've realized that I must seek out everything by Dormael immediately (there's surprisingly little).
Highly recommended to those who appreciate something that's funny and smart and original and out there.
The Prophet (2014)
Doesn't entirely work
Kahlil Gibran's book The Prophet was an engaging mix of poetry, spirituality and philosophy musing upon subjects including love, food, and death. It's quite lovely.
While the book has no story or characters, someone decided to try and turn it into a movie. The basic premise is a young, mute girl and her mother meet an imprisoned philosopher the state is afraid of and travel a little with him. Along the way, he muses on subjects like love and food and death.
The framing story, done by the folks behind is very engaging, with likable characters and a simple but appealing story. The problem is the musings, each a Gibran poems animated by a different animator and either read by Liam Neeson (perfect voice for it) or turned into a pop song.
I hated most of these. The animation is rarely interesting enough to stand on its own, and because there are tons of pauses to let the animation breath, Gibran's words are unfocussed and lack their melodic rhythms. Also the songs are pretty dreadful.
The end result is an hour of entertaining drama broken up by tedious little animation of poems that stand better on their own.
Some people seem to have really enjoyed this, but I can't recommend it. Or at least, not unless you fast forward through all the poetry.
good at the weirdness, bad at the people
Debris is an X-Files/Fringe type of series in which a couple of agents investigate a series of strange events caused by the remnants of an extraterrestrial ship.
The stories are all effectively intriguing and spooky, involving reanimated corpses, people trapped in other planes of existence, and DNA-rewriting rain storms. (So far every episode has had an agent say something like "I've never seen *this* before," which would be a great thing to do in a parody of shows like this.)
The series has a surprisingly strong interest in emotion - the debris seems to actually react to things like love and memory and the agents talk a lot more about their feelings than something like the X-Files.
What makes this extra weird is the series is emotionally distanced. The agents are uninteresting people with no chemistry and it's really hard to care about them as people. Also, the delving into emotions is often tediously maudlin; episode 4 had long, sincere chunks that were unwatchable.
I'm still watching the series, though, because, as I say, the plots are intriguing and these elements are well done. But this show desperately needs someone interesting to move in.
been there, done that
Maybe I'm spoiled by really creative superhero series like WandaVision and Legion and Watchmen, but I found the mediocrity of this more than I could deal with. It's got some decent action near the beginning, but it just feels like everything I've seen before in countless superhero shows. Then there's a kind of lying-to-your-therapist sequence which is vaguely cute and yet once again is just what you'd expect it to be.
Honestly I don't think I even made it to the end of the first episode. It's just all so *done*.
I wish it were better, because apparently it deals with race in a way that's aggravating a lot of fragile white people and I always like to support that sort of thing, but why watch this when I can just re-watch WandaVision?
Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021)
interesting, overlong, unnecessary
A lot of people hated 2017's Justice League, a movie started by Zack Snyder then taken over and revamped by Joss Whedon. And many of these people were desperate to see Snyder's original vision, and clamored so loudly that it actually happened.
I was not clamoring for this movie. First off, I'm one of the few people who enjoyed the 2017 movie, Second, Snyder had just come off of the execrable Batman vs. Superman so I wasn't that optimistic that his vision would be better than Whedon's.
Justice League is, for me, a considerable step up from BvS but a step down from the 2017 version, mainly because it's overlong with many sluggish sections.
Snyder has a unique approach to superheroes. Instead of showing them as people with extraordinary powers, he sees them as modern gods. His Justice League is like some Ray Harryhausen movie about Zeus. Only he takes this all much more seriously than your typical Zeus movie, and some of JL is hugely pretentious. And because Snyder feels he's making this big, important, Wagnerian drama, he will drag scenes out because he's enamored by the mood he thinks he's creating.
At the same time, the guy really knows his way around an action scene. Wonder Woman taking on terrorists early on is phenomenal. The Flash saving a woman from a car crash is exciting and funny. The final huge battle is long and intense.
None of this excuses the 4-hour length. Fully an hour of this movie could be trimmed out by removing pregnant pauses and scenes that just drag on too long. The best moments are as good as anything in Snyder's Man of Steel, but there are too many places where I was rolling my eyes and wishing Snyder was a little less in love with Snyder's vision.
Ultimately, I liked this movie, but not as much as I liked the 2017 version. But I probably would have liked this as much if it were an hour shorter. The story's interesting, Snyder's approach to superheroes is unique, the visuals are striking, the performances are excellent, and the special effects are solid. And that weird coda in the desert really does sell the sequels Snyder will probably never get to make.
It's worth watching, although I watched it in chunks and think I would rate it lower if forced to watch the whole thing at once.
I watched several episodes of this because I'd heard "When They Cry" was a great anime series and I actually didn't realize that this wasn't that show but a remake. And I was really confused because what I saw was so bad and I thought, how could this be a classic?
I watched three episodes before I realized my mistake, then watched the original, which is notably better. While the first two episodes of this remake are all cutesy games and banter with almost none of the mystery and horror, the original got going by episode 2, and the card game in episode one was genuinely entertaining, unlike the more elaborate games of this sequel.
One of the big annoyances of this series is the nails-on-chalkboard voices of the girls. They are all painfully cutesy. In the original there was more variety, with Rena's cutsiness balanced out by Mion's dryer delivery. I wondered if it was just bad dubbing so I watched one episode with subtitles but they did the same thing in Japan.
The animation is also more straightforward and less wild, and I found that rather dull and conventional.
I will say that the third episode was mainly horror/mystery and was much better than the first two, but no way I could keep listening to those squeaky voices.
Even though I didn't ultimately *love* the original, which is intriguing and compelling but a bit too intense in places for me, it is certainly much better than this one.
Higurashi no naku koro ni (2006)
intriguing, original and engrossing, but too much for me
When They Cry has is remarkably constructed, putting the same characters through a shifting story arc for much of the first season, then changing the perspective in a way that explains some, but not all, of the mysteries.
The series focusses on a group of high school students. It starts off as a cutesy, manic show in which they play games and act silly and then there's strange stories and creepy characters and murders and then ... it starts over, but different.
This made me concerned that the series was going to be like Lost and overload me with unanswered mysteries, but online research suggested that answer were coming, so I kept watching and found it all pretty interesting.
What stopped me watching was the second-to-last story cycle of season one. I like my horror tingly and pretty mild, and When They Cry got *intense!* It freaked me out. Which for some will be a recommendation, but even though I've heard the final story cycle is less intense, I don't think I'll watch it.
I did a bunch of more research to find out what was going on, and it seems there are answers and it sounds like they do make sense. And if I would get all the answers at the end of season 1 I might watch the last episodes, but apparently you just get some answers and have to watch the next season to really understand what's happening, so what's the point?
Anyway, if you're less squeamish than I am and like very dark horror (much darker than, say Death Note, which I really liked) then you should definitely check this out.
Mr & Mrs Murder (2013)
I just watched a little of the first episode, and it was just the most ordinary thing. The couple's banter was bland and conventional, everything about it felt like it had been done a million times before.
Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)
cute, amusing, well meaning, and forgetable
I enjoyed Raya and the Last Dragon, which follows a young woman's attempt to return life and dragons to a desolated world. The animation is pretty, Awkwafina is terrific as a genial dragon, the story is well paced. there are some cool action bits, and there's a nice kumbaya resolution that balances out the copious swordplay (swords have replaced crowns as the number one Disney Princess accessory).
But even though I saw it yesterday, the movie is already fading from my memory. Nothing really stands out. Nothing is particularly surprising. It follows a well-worn path with well honed skill.
I would recommend this, but if you don't watch it you haven't missed anything all that special. But it's cute.
The Croods: A New Age (2020)
I don't remember anything about the first Croods movie, but I do recall it was funny. The same is true of this one. It's pretty funny for the first third, extremely funny and clever in the middle third, and pretty funny but exciting in the final third, so all-in-all it's very satisfying.
Always at The Carlyle (2018)
Oh wow, celebrities stay in this hotel! Squee!
A friend of a friend recommended this, and I have no idea why because what I saw was wretched. It was basically people talking about what a swell hotel the Carlyle is and how celebrities love it and a few celebrities telling bland anecdotes about other celebrities and I can't imagine who would find this interesting.
I looked up the director, Matthew Miele, and it looks like he's got a nice in poorly-reviewed documentaries about Manhattan businesses. Based on Carlyle I suspect they're all long-form commercials for their subjects. Ugh.
Don't waste your time.
Watchable but what a let-down
Deb Cox, who created the wonderful Miss Fisher, also created this sequel that suggests, as did the Miss Fisher movie Crypt of Tears, that Deb Cox has no interest in making anything like Miss Fisher again. Like Crypt of Tears, Ms. Fisher is more adventure than mystery.
Set in the mod 60s, this is about the original Fisher's niece, who winds up getting involved in her aunt's circle of adventuresses and, like her aunt, takes to detective work.
Ms. Peregrine Fisher is an oddity. In the first episode she seems to be a hapless idiot, but then she impresses her aunt's friends with remarkable derring-do. This forms the basis of the series, in which Peregrine is half idiot and half brilliant detective.
The background players are similarly weak. Her beau is less interesting, her main confidant is less interesting. Characters are formed with less care and exhibit little development through the first season (one season was enough, although I know it continued on for a second).
While Ms. Fisher lacks the charms of its predecessor, it does share that series weakness; terrible plotting and a virtual inability to build a decent mystery. Plot holes are a staple of both series.
Deb Cox clearly does not want to make a show like Miss Fisher. She should quit trying to con that show's fans into watching these weird offshoots.
Song of the Sea (2014)
Gorgeous and charming
This lovely story tells of a girl who can become a seal and her brother's attempts to help her. It's magical, visually stunning, and one of the most charming non-Miyazaki cartoons I've seen. It's easily the best of Cartoon Saloon's Irish folktale trilogy (I'd almost rate this a 9, but not quite), and is full of ingenious and lovely moments.
Superman and Lois (2021)
tedious CW family drama with a little superhero stuff around the edges
Call me crazy, but I have always liked superhero series primarily for, you know, the superhero part. Yes, the angst and wit and personal drama all add to the appeal, but still, when I think Superman, I don't think "harried dad moves his angsty/non-angsty sons to a small town to reconnect with them."
Superman and Louis is a family drama. Not a good, original family drama, like Gilmore Girls, but a rote one that seems to see its supernatural elements as just more fodder for drama.
Superman is portrayed by the surprisingly slender Tyler Hoechlin, who has a perpetual look of a middle-aged dad suffering from constipation, with Grimm's Elizabeth Tulloch as a Louis Lane who seems to have stomach problems of her own. The sons are stock jock and troubled teen tropes who fight but ultimately have each others backs.
Every once in a while in the first episode (which will be the only one I watch) there's a little superhero stuff. None of it is particularly exciting; like everything else in the series it feels like something you've seen a thousand years before.
One last note. Several of the most hostile reviews of this series have describes its failings as a result of "SWJ wokeness." This proves that many people no longer have any working definition of these phrases beyond "stuff I don't like." This isn't woke at all. I don't object to wokeness, I'm just saying, the flaws of the series aren't due to some sort of attempt at pushing progressive social concepts. It's just an attempt to make a typical CW family drama out of a superhero series. Which is not even a new thing. This is just like people who use "fake news" to refer to factual information they don't like. I really hate it when people use words with an actual definition as mindless curse words.
Anyway, if you like CW family dramas, well, maybe you'll like this. If you're looking for a superhero series, look elsewhere.
stars pretty good, gets really good
I approached this movie with trepidation, as I had found the first of Cartoon Saloon's trilogy of Irish mythology films, Secret of Kells overrated - pretty but a structural mess.
WolfWalkers is considerably better. The story involves a young girl, her father, and some mystical forest wolf people. The plot is straightforward and while Kells was an odd stew of Christianity and paganism, WolfWalkers has a clearly pagan vs. Christianity theme that makes more sense.
The first half of the movie is cute but unexceptional, reasonably pretty but not stunning, outside of the fantastic, every flowing wolfpack and a wolf-girl's wild hair. But by the halfway point the story gets pretty intense and the animation becomes increasingly magical.
I'd give the first half of this movie a 7 and the second half an 8, so I'm on the fence about what to rate the whole thing. I would say it's worth seeing, and I enjoyed it enough that I'll have to check out the other film in the trilogy, Song of the Sea.
The New King of Comedy (2019)
All of Chow's flaws with none of his strengths
Chow reimagines his dumb but very funny movie King of Comedy, in this case making it a young female movie extra whose dreams of success are dashed at every turn.
Chow's always been a bit of a mixed bag. He had a couple of terrific ones, like Shaolin Soccer and King of Comedy, but his movies are generally an awkward mix of hilarious comedy, cringily cruel slapstick, and maudlin stupidity. And New King of Comedy only has the latter two.
If you edited this down to only the funny bits, you've got maybe a 10-minute movie. Even of that 10 minutes, the only part that really offers what one expects from a Chow comedy is a single scene of a faked haunting.
Outside of that, you have the protagonist Rumeng going through pure hell in pursuit of a career. It's really painful to watch.
This is the worst movie I've ever seen from Chow, and I saw CJ7. There is no reason to watch this.
A surprisingly smart take on a tough topic
Zoey has been a pretty mindless, escapist show, so it's weird how seriously it's gone and taken racism. It's not just that it's grabbed a hot topic - the world is full of "very special episodes" - but that it put real thought into this episode.
I was really impressed by Zoey's disastrous attempt to get a conversation going, which turned into a series of white people explain how not racist they are. It was smart because it very nicely portrays the complexity of the dynamics, in which even sincere attempt to help can be tone deaf.
This episode made some people really mad, and it seems to be in part because of that scene. I don't believe, as naysayers would have it, that the episode is saying white people can do nothing to help. It's saying white people need to listen and learn and absorb information rather then just run all gung-ho to whatever solution they feel in their ignorance is a good one.
I will say that while I any review that goes on about the evils of wokeness is dumb, people who say they just want an escapist show and didn't sign up for this have a point. No one signed up for consciousness raising from Zoey. But that's part of why it's so powerful; it's pushing the message on people who are burying their heads in the sand. So I say, bravo!
Don't be scared to watch this, though. Outside of addressing racism, this is pretty much a typical episode of Zoey. Fun musical numbers and general fluffiness. This show hasn't suddenly turned into Dear White People.
But I am curious to see if, as the writers claim, they are going to stick with this topic and not let it die as a "very special episode." Very curious to see what comes next.
Save the Supers (2012)
Cute little web series
After watching the excellent web series Legend of Neil I wanted to check out something else from Sandeep Parikh, and this was his next creation.
It's a cute little thing about a group of peculiar superheroes dealing with budget cuts and misadventures.
While Neil was a fully-fledged and plotted series, Supers is far more episodic. It's got some good performances (I particularly like Mandell Maughan as a burned-out Wonder Woman knock-off) and there are some clever ideas and funny jokes, but there's no center to it. It's a bunch of jokes, some very funny, some less so, but 7 minisodes felt like quite enough.
Still, it's cute and it's free, so can't call it a bad deal.
worth watching even if you have no interest in Spears
This documentary looks at Britney Spears life through the frame of her father's control over her through a conservativeship as well as through the media's obsessive coverage. It gives an overview of what happens and suggests that Spears is probably competent to handle her own affairs.
Some user reviews call this exploitative, but I don't know what they want. If you make a documentary about how Britney wound up without control over her own life you kind of have to show that story, which includes some extraordinary moments. They do put those moments in context, and I don't know what that's not enough. The documentary does a good job of showing how Spears had to deal with a lifetime of obnoxiousness and intrusiveness from the press, most of which comes off poorly.
One thing the documentary doesn't explore, but that is weird, is the nature of fandom, where people will devote a huge chunk of their life to trying to help a rich famous person. I'm not saying Spears doesn't need help, but I'm pretty sure there are people worse off who need an obsessed band of do-gooders raising awareness more than she does. But then, I don't get the worship of Spears specifically nor the worship of celebrity in general.
grim and well done
I have somewhat mixed feelings about this show. The first episode was perplexing, throwing a lot of stuff at the viewer with little explanation, but I was impressed by the way it all was made to make sense in the last 10 minutes. Still, I wasn't that interested in watching more and only did so because my girlfriend wanted to.
The rest of the series is less fancy in the plotting, telling a fairly straightforward story of how a psychopath gang leader's (a great, disturbing performance by Jeff Daniels) obsessive hunt for a renegade gang member intersects with the lives of a town almost entirely populated by women.
The cast is good and the story moves well, although some of it feels extraneous and the last episode is a mess (I describe many of its defects in my user review of that episode, if you're curious).
If the finale were better I would give this a 7, but even then the darkness and violence can be a bit much. I wouldn't really recommend it, but my girlfriend would.