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You Belong to Me (2014)
Somewhat Disappointing And Lacking Depth
This turned out not to be what I was expecting. From its description I thought this was a dramatized version of an incident that happened in the 1950's, but it turned out to be a documentary about the incident. It tells the story of a back woman named Ruby McCollum, who killed her family doctor who had been sexually abusing her. As a documentary I thought it was a bit dry, probably because I had no real personal connection to the story and had never heard of Ruby McCollum before I watched this. Its description over-hypes this a bit. There's a reference to former jurors being "haunted" by the case, but really only one former juror (and an alternate juror at that) was featured as far as I can remember and while he certainly remembered the case he also didn't seem "haunted" by it. The nature of the relationship between Ruby and the doctor wasn't entirely clear - was it abuse or was it consensual, and there wasn't a sufficiently in depth consideration of whether consent would even have been possible between two people who were in very different positions. Ruby was - relatively speaking - a well to do black woman, although her money came from her husband's gambling operations, while the doctor had powerful political friends and a potentially promising political career. To be honest a lot of the story seemed rather muddled, although one point that was made disturbingly clear was that in the South during the Jim Crow era (which lasted up until the 1960's) black women had no power vis a vis white men. If a white man wanted a black woman, he could take her without consequences even if she was married. The powerlessness of black women (and of black men) was made starkly clear. Still, with that strong point aside, I found this to be rather disappointing and somewhat lacking in real depth. (4/10)
The Virgin Suicides (1999)
Dark, Dismal And Depressing
If you're ever in the mood for some light-hearted entertainment - most definitely do not watch "The Virgin Suicides." This is perhaps the darkest, most dismal and most depressing movie I've ever seen. It opens with the 13 year old youngest daughter of the Lisbon family attempting to commit suicide and it ends a couple of hours later with all five of the Lisbon daughters having committed suicide. In between, we get a glimpse of their life as a part of this Lisbon family - with an overbearing, over-protective super-religious mother (Kathleen Turner) and a somewhat more understanding but kind of wimpy father (James Woods) who won't stand up to his wife to try to give the girls some freedom. (This is certainly a critique of hyper-religiosity.) Finally fed up with their situation, the girls become increasingly rebellious, start to hang out with a group of boys as best they can when mom isn't watching, and it all leads up to that tragic ending. I have to admit - I didn't like this movie. I can take a dark and depressing movie but this one seemed to have very little point. We knew where it was going - it's clearly stated in the movie's description - but there was nothing in particular that seemed to be compelling about the journey. Thank goodness this wasn't a true story! That's about the best I can say for it.
Well ... there were some redeeming qualities I suppose. Turner and Woods actually did pretty well with their roles and - even though this is fiction - the movie did bring out a bit of an emotional reaction in me. Fictional or not, I started to feel sorry for these girls as the movie went on - perhaps because I knew exactly where this was heading - and I wanted someone to rescue them, even knowing that wish was in vain. So it's not as if this was a complete disaster. It was just a movie I didn't like, and I found watching it to be a truly bleak experience. (3/10)
The Final Days (1989)
The Unravelling Of A Presidency
With the impeachment of a president very much on the horizon as I write this, it was interesting to go back to the Nixon presidency with this movie. Many years ago I read the book of the same name by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. It recounted, as you would guess from the title, the last, pathetic days of the Nixon presidency - and it did so in great detail. The movie, as you might expect, is less detailed than the book. It tends to move the story forward quickly through the use of short narrations offered by various characters and highlights only certain incidents, but it still offers a compelling portrait of Nixon, his family and his officials in the White House as they desperately seek ways to avoid the inevitable ending to the administration.
Lane Smith was superb in the role of Nixon and without doubt was the highlight of the movie. To me (and, admittedly I was only 11 when Nixon resigned, so my "memories" of him are largely from historical news footage) he really did become Nixon. The portrayal was eerie and fascinating - and even sympathetic. Yes, I started to feel sorry for Nixon as I watched this. He was such a complex man, and he had a sense of sadness looming over him - he was paranoid and isolated and introverted, and yet at the same time he was drawn to public life and had a seemingly desperate need to be liked and admired; to be popular. And yet in spite of being perhaps the most visible person in the world, he seems to have spent so much of his life and even his presidency alone. The impression I got from this movie (not an unfair impression from what I've learned about the man over the years) was that his only real confidante - the person to whom he was closest and who was most desperately loyal to him - was his daughter Julie. Otherwise, he kept even those closest to him (including his wife Pat and daughter Tricia) at a distance. Nixon comes across as a tragic figure in this, and at times, with its focus on Nixon's personality and with Watergate closing in on him, this movie is actually very heavy. I appreciated (about halfway through) the truly funny scenes between Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev, as the Soviet leader takes Nixon on a hair-raising car ride with a Lincoln Continental the U.S. president had gifted him with. That lightened things up a bit.
It was interesting watching Nixon's White House officials (especially Chief of Staff Alexander Haig, who was admirable portrayed by David Ogden Stiers) try to hold things together just to keep the government functioning with some sort of cohesion, and Nixon's lawyers are shown becoming increasingly frustrated as the impossibility of their task of defending him becomes increasingly clear. Viewers should be aware that this is really a study of Nixon the man rather than the Watergate scandal. There's actually very little about Watergate itself - just about the aftermath and the desperate attempts to find some way to get Nixon off the hook for his actions and decisions. For those with an interest in Nixon as a man and in the end of his presidency, this is a movie that should be watched. (7/10)
Wish Man (2019)
A Rambling Movie About A Worthy Subject
I would agree that the story of how the Make A Wish Foundation got started is worth telling. Unfortunately, I'd say that it's worth telling a lot better than it was told in this movie. Yes, this is a tug at your heart strings type of story. It shares the life story of Frank Shankwitz - an Arizona highway patrol officer with a troubled upbringing whose work brings him into contact with a young boy dying of leukemia - which ultimately motivates him to start the charity that has now become a behemoth. I suspect that people like this movie not because it's a great movie but because it tugs at the heart strings and tells the story of the start of a charity that no one could possibly have an issue with.Unfortunately, the truth is that I found the movie rambling - constantly cutting back to Frank's childhood, with a mother who didn't seem to care about him and who took him away from his father, with whom he didn't reunite until the events of this movie. I suppose that losing his father was a traumatic childhood memory for him - but it really seemed to have little to do with the basic point of the movie and, to me, it came across as filler - an excuse ultimately to introduce another opportunity to wring some tears out of the eyes of viewers. "Wish Man" never seemed to establish any real flow, and it was burdened by performances that I found less than stellar. Kudos to Frank Shankwitz, though, for starting what is surely one of the finest charities in the world. (3/10)
The King (2019)
Well Put Together But Full Of Historical Inaccuracies
As the movie opens, young Prince Hal (Timothée Chalamet) - the first son of King Henry IV of England - has left behind royal life and adopted his infamous "wayward" life. But soon thereafter his father's illness and eventual death brings him back to the court and ultimately puts him on the throne as King Henry V, immediately plunged into the complicated politics of the 15th century English court, with a desire to set right some of his father's wrongs, to establish the legitimacy of his reign and to achieve some of what his father had been unable to achieve - primarily to successfully claim the throne of France.
Basically, the movie is well done technically. The sets and costumes give an authetic 15th century atmosphere, and the climactic Battle of Agincourt, in which the English (led by young Henry, by now King) defeated a much larger French army, is extremely well choreographed and it does accurately depict the use of the English longbow, which was in fact a much superior weapon to the cross bow used by the French, the use of which played a key role in the real Battle of Agincourt.) Having said that, the movie is also riddled with historical inaccuracies that are too numerous to recount here. Rather than being based on the historical record, "The King" is largely based on the relevant plays of William Shakespeare, which produces one of the greatest (because it was so central to the story) of the historical inaccuracies - the front and centre presence of Sir John Falstaff - who never existed, but was a fictional chartacter created by The Bard. So, if you're looking for a history lesson, you won't find it here except perhaps in very broad brushstrokes. Nor will you find a recounting of Shakespeare. This is more of a mish mash of some of Shakespeare's work, combined with a bit of history and a lot of historical licence.
It's a tough slog at times to get through. I found it far too long at almost two and a half hours and there were times when it felt as though I could have skipped lengthy parts of this and not really missed very much of consequence. However the performances were good, and while I think it's a bit over-rated, I certainly wouldn't call this a bad movie, especially for those with an interest in the medieval era. (5/10)
Time Trap (2017)
A Decent Premise Burdened By Weak Execution
I thought the premise of "Time Trap" was decent. A group of young people (ranging from a couple of pre-teens to some university graduate students) go off on a search for a professor who's gone missing. In their search they come across a mysterious cave where they believe the professor has gone to explore, and once inside they discover they're trapped and that time is passing at a different rate inside the cave than outside. While time for them (inside) is normal, they realize that constantly shifting light patterns they see are actually the rising and setting of the sun and that time outside the cave is passing at an incredibly rapid pace. Inside, they discover an assortment of people who've come into the cave from different time periods - from "cavemen" to a futuristic type. I have to give credit to those who developed the basic story. It was mysterious and intriguing. I liked it.
The performances in this were inconsistent - fair at best. The cast was a definite "B" list of actors at best. It's interesting to me - and perhaps it says something - that most of those who were in leading roles in this haven't really done much of note since. As intriguing as the story was there were also some inconsistencies that bugged me a bit. If time was moving faster outside the cave than inside, then why didn't Furby age (even die, for that matter - because a lot of time would have passed for him relative to the others) during the time that he was outside while the others were inside? I also thought this movie ended rather too abruptly. More often than not I think writers try to milk a story and make it go on for too long. In this case, I thought a few extra minutes might have been productive. Without giving anything away - what kind of world did those in the cave finally emerge into? The comment was made that "we're pretty big news here" or words to that effect. I would have liked to have learned just a wee bit more about where and to whom they were pretty big news. I don't think there's enough to this to warrant a sequel - but tying up that loose end with maybe another 15 minutes would have been positive.
So, essentially, I thought there was a positive premise and a half decent story with some mystery involved. But it failed a little bit in its execution. (5/10)
The Hateful Eight (2015)
What A Truly Awful Movie
Count me among those who really, really disliked this movie. In general, I've had extreme reactions to Quentin Tarantino's work. Either I've really loved it, or ... well .. I really haven't. "The Hateful Eight" definitely counts among the latter group. I suppose one should give credit for the title at least. "The Hateful Eight" sums up my feelings about the characters perfectly. There's not a single one among them who I like; not a single one I would trust to look after a nickel for me. But they're also really not amusing or interesting. There's just nothing appealing about any of them. Which means that you get stuck sitting through almost 3 excruciating hours with them. At one point it seemed this movie had gone on forever, but then I checked and discovered there was still almost an hour to go. My Lord, it was painful. It does eventually seem to establish some sort of direction or purpose relatively late when we start dealing with the murder mystery - but in all honesty by the time that happened I was struggling to stay awake and just waiting for the torutre to end. It was truly a painful experience watching this. (1/10)
This Seemed Like Two Movies Slapped Together Into One With Little Thought
As historical figures go, Reinhard Heydrich is one of the more grotesque and yet compelling figures, even by the horrendous standards of Nazi Germany. Widely seen as the architect of the "Final Solution" - the plan to rid Europe of Jews via the Holocaust - there is interest in his background. How did he get to be who he became? And he's the only figure of significance within the upper echelons of the Nazi hierarchy to be assassinated - which makes the plot against him a compelling one. This movie is known under various titles, apparently depending on what country you live in. In Canada, the title is "Killing Heydrich" - and so I anticipated a film about the assassination itself and the assassins. What I ended up seeing was in a way two movies rolled into one, and pasted together rather awkwardly I thought.
The first half of the movie is largely biographical. It's the part of the movie that tries to give us a taste of who Heydrich was as a person and how he evolved into the monster he became. Heydrich had been too young to fight in World War I, so the movie opens with him as a Naval officer in the Weimar Republic's Navy. What we get from that point on is a series of vignettes essentially, detailing his expulsion from the Navy, his marriage, his introduction to the Nazi Party and his rise within it, culminating in his appointment as Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia (what had been Czechoslovakia before the Nazi occupation of the country.) That gave a taste of Heydrich's life, although no more than that. It was, indeed, a series of vignettes that offered little in the way of depth to the man and that didn't really explain him. Certainly, though, it portrayed him in a way that would spark interest in exploring him further, so I'd say that first part of the movie was reasonably well done. The shift to the plot to assassinate him, however, wasn't smoothe. All of a sudden with almost no transition the focus of the movie was on the two Czech assassins sent from London to kill him. Heydrich virtually disappeared from sight. And this part of the story didn't grab me - which was a real failure, since the title under which I watched it seemed to suggest that this would be the whole point of the movie. But it was actually rather dull and not well fleshed out at all.
So, yes, there were really two movies here - either one of which might have made a worthwhile film, but both of which ended up seeming to be lacking in depth and which just seemed slapped together with very little thought. (4/10)
Population 436 (2006)
It's OK, But There's Really Not Enough To The Story To Carry A Movie
For a movie that was obviously pretty low-budget, "Population 436" is OK, and I suppose you have to give a little bit of love to a movie that offers up a bureaucrat as the hero! The hero is Kady (Jeremy Sisto) - a census taker who goes to Rockwell Falls to investigate a strange thing that's been noticed. For over a century, the population of Rockwell Falls has always been recorded in the census as 436. Not 435 or 437, but always 436. How is that possible? The premise was intriguing enough to pique my curiosity, and I'm somewhat familiar with Sisto so I decided to watch. Yes, the basic mystery is a good premise to pull the viewer in to the story, and Sisto's performance was fine. The basic problem, though, is that there's not really that much suspense to the story. You kind of figure out where the movie is going right from the start. Rockwell Falls is mysterious from the beginning - the reaction from those from whom Kady asks for directions to the town establishes that - and once he arrives he finds that it's portrayed by its citizens as an idyllic place - the perfect place to live. So perfect in fact that no one should ever want to leave. So no one does! There's a weird religious sounding element to the town - there's constant talk of "union with the divine" - and there's also a problem in town as we discover that some residents are afflicted with what's simply called "the fever." But, as I said, what there isn't enough of is any real fear or suspense, just because the whole thing is too obvious - and that's a problem for a movie that is billed as a "horror" flick. Um. Not really. There's just not enough story to this to carry an actual movie - even a straight to DVD movie. This might have made a decent episode of a half-hour suspense TV show (many have mentioned it's "Twilight Zone" feel) but as a movie it's lacking. (4/10)
It's A Good Movie But At The Same Time Not One I Particularly Enjoyed Watching
"Freaks" is actually a very well made movie with a truly interesting story - and yet, at the same time, it's a very difficult and uncomfortable movie to watch. It's set mostly among the so-called "sideshow freaks" of an early 20th century circus, and it focuses primarily on the relationship between Hans (a "little person" - who would have been called a midget at the time this movie was made) and Cleopatra - a physically "normal" and beautiful trapeze artist. The movie opens effectively with an unrevealed mystery about Cleopatra and then becomes a flashback to expain what happened. Hans becomes enamoured with Cleopatra and essentially ditches his diminutive girfriend to marry her - except that Cleopatra has no interest in Hans at all - but does have an interest in the rather large inheritance that's his. She has comtempt for the other sideshow "performers" and she tries to poison Hans to get at his money. But once she's found out, the "freaks" take their revenge on her for her attitude and actions.
So it is a decent story. It's a completely voyeuristic movie, letting viewers into a world they would rarely if ever see. There are a lot of uncomfortable questions that get raised. What happens when the "Siamese twins" get married? How do they ... well ... with their own husbands, but still together, with it being obviously portrayed that each could feel what the other was feeling at any given time? What about the half man-half woman? The face was half man and half woman, but what about ... well ... everything else? I didn't really like thinking about these things, but at the same time I couldn't help it. This made it into the theatres because it was pre-code, although I understand that it was still very heavily edited to make it acceptable for viewing - making me wonder what was cut out? So, yes, watching this is a really uncomfortable experience, and the ending was a bit of a mystery. We see the beautiful Cleopatra's fate (but there's no real explanation of how she became what she became - from what I understand much of the explanation was among the scenes that were cut.) The actual ending of the movie was a later addition to lighten it up a bit with a happier ending.
There is a lot to like about this movie. I could appreciate the sense of close-knit community (and even family) that the "freaks" felt for one another, which led to them taking their revenge on Cleopatra for her outrages against not only Hans but all of them. I could appreciate the decent performances that were given by people who really did work in carnival sideshows (and it does provoke the thought - which many have argued - that as distasteful as the whole environment is to modern sensibilities, in the context of that day these sideshows actually gave people with disabilities an opportunity to at least make a living and have a degree of independence rather than being shut away in institutions.)
The movie was considered a failure in 1932 and pretty much destroyed the career of director Tod Browning (who just the year before had directed Bela Lugosi in "Dracula.") It was also the last signficant role for Olga Baclanova (who played Cleopatra) although that had more to do with her difficulty adjusting to talkies after a busy silent film career than with her involvement with "Freaks." Like "Dracula" this movie is usually categorized as a horror movie, but it really isn't. To be honest I'm not quite sure how to categorize it, but "horror" it isn't. The reviews of that day that I've come across are troubling because they reject the movie not because of its exploitive nature but because they seem to feel that such "human oddities" simply shouldn't be seen on screen. It's a very different kind of movie from a very different time. I can't bring myself to say that it's enjoyable - but it is worth watching. (6/10)
In the Shadow of the Moon (2019)
Not At All What I Was Expecting
This certainly took a turn that I wasn't expecting. I thought it would be a pretty straightforward movie about the search for a serial killer - the twists in it being that the serial killer was a female (unusual) and that the murders she commits happen every nine years (a strange cycle.) I watched it largely because one of the stars was Michael C. Hall - whose work I generally enjoy - but he wasn't really a particularly central character as it turned out. The lead was Boyd Holbrook (with whom I wasn't particularly familiar) as Officer Lockhart, who becomes obsessed with trying to figure out these murders.
I have to confess that as the first murders were being investigated (involving puncture wounds on the necks of the victims) I began to think that this was going to unexpectedly turn out to be a vampire movie, but the real "twist" in the movie turns out to be time travel - so it does eventually have something of a sci-fi (rather than horror) twist to it. The murderer is travelling backward through time killing people in order to prevent a future tragedy. So it's dealing with the old ethical dilemma of "If you could go back in time would you kill Hitler as a baby in his crib? Or his parents before he was born? Or his grandparents before they were born?" There are other twists that eventually get revealed, but I'll leave them for those who choose to view the movie to discover.
The time travel element was a successful twist. It made the story more intriguing than it otherwise might have been. Having said that, I thought it was a middling sort of movie. Some are complaining about the supposed political agenda behind it. I just thought the story was insufficient to carry the movie and by about the halfway point I was losing interest in what was happening on the screen. I give this some credit for turning out to be not at all what I was expecting it to be, but that alone isn't enough to really save it. (5/10)
Straightforward And Gritty, But To Me It Missed The Mark Just A Bit
Director Christopher Nolan offers the viewer a pretty straightforward re-telling of the evacuation of British soldiers from the French port of Dunkirk in May of 1940, as the Germans encircled the town. The story is told from a strictly British perspective. Although we see some German planes involved in battles with RAF fighters as far as I can recall there isn't a single glimpse of a German soldier anywhere. Nolan then tells the story from three perspectives within that British perspective: on the land, on the sea and in the air. The land focuses on the solders awaiting rescue, the sea focuses mostly on the small private boats that made such a huge contribution to the effort (focusing on one boat in particular) and the air focuses on the battle by a small number of RAF pilots to protect their compatriots beneath against German planes. That structure was a bit confusing at first (especially as it was captioned on screen) but the story makes sense and that odd narrative structure is only a brief distraction.
There's not really a main character involved in this. The point seems to have been to portray the breadth of the Dunkirk evacuation at the expense of character depth. There's also no one moment that seems truly central, which means that the movie strikes you in the end of not really having built up to anything (aside from the actual evacuation, which admittedly is the most important thing.) But in some respects that made this movie seem at times less of a drama and more of a docu-drama if that makes any sense. The story-telling was a little bit lacking. I did appreciate that while the heroism of the British soldiers was front and centre, there was no shying away from a few more negative portrayals - shell-shocked soldiers, soldiers who just didn't want to fight anymore, soldiers who wouldn't even help their French allies. In that sense, this had a somewhat gritty feel, as befits a war movie.
It's not a bad movie. To me, it just missed the mark a little bit in terms of what I was expecting. (6/10)
A Bold Title For A Muddled Story
Nicole Kidman was ... OK. She was all right as LAPD Detective Erin Bell, and the makeup people have to be given special credit because Kidman is hardly recognizable in the "present" scenes (she's more recognizable in the flashback scenes.) Bell is a traumatized cop - traumatized by an incident 20 years ago when she and a partner were undercover, infiltrating a gang, and the whole operation went tragically wrong. In the present Bell's a run down, worn out looking alcoholic detective (and one does wonder how she kept her job all those years.) Then she discovers that the leader of the gang she had infiltrated is back, and she sets out on a quest for personal revenge against him.
The story had potential, but I honestly felt that the potential was largely wasted. I understood the basic plot - it's not really that difficult - but I did find this pretty muddled in how the story was told. Flashbacks are the in thing now, I know (to the point of being somewhat too cliche) and this movie also used the increasingly tired device of starting at a particular point that the story then had to go back to work up to. I also thought the whole story of Erin's relationship with her teenaged daughter was extraneous. I suppose it served to point out that the trauma Erin suffered long ago had totally warped her personal life as well as her professional life, but, to me at least, it added little of importance except a subplot I didn't particularly care about and it just added to the somewhat poor pacing of the film.
It's not a disaster - but to be honest I was hoping for somewhat better. (3/10)
Given The Ending It's Kind Of Embarrassing That I Enjoyed This For So Long
The most truly embarrassing thing about watching "Eli" is that I actually enjoyed it for about three quarters of its runtime. It held my attention. It was a decent horror/thriller kind of movie with a strange doctor and supernatural twist that seemed to be building to something pretty interesting. Rose and Paul are the parents of Eli. Eli has some type of strange disease that prevents him from going into the outside world unless he's wearing a suit to shield every inch of his body from the environment. They take him to Dr. Horn, who has developed some sort of a treatment for Eli's condition. But Dr. Horn doesn't seem to be exactly what she portrays herself as. Horn and the house in which she provides her "treatments" become the centre of the mystery, as Eli starts seeing strange, ghostly figures (real or hallucinations?) and the treatments seem to make him worse rather than better.
It was all adding up to a good and interesting thriller with some decent enough shocks thrown in - and then came the last quarter of the movie or so, when this simply took on completely unexpected (not to mention silly, ridiculous, and foolish) religious angle that turned it into little more than yet another ho-hum "spawn of Satan" movie. I suppose in some ways it deserves credit for not telegraphing that right from the start, but I just felt kind of let down when the story took such a weird and unexpected turn.
I'd have to say that the performances also were a bit of a letdown. Not horrible, but no one's performance really stood out to me either, and I'd have to say that aside from Lili Taylor (who played Dr. Horn) I really didn't recognize any of the lead actors in this. All in all, this turned out to be a big disappointment. (3/10)
Standard Disaster Movie, But Well Done
I'll grant that there's nothing particularly original to be found here. It's a fairly typical disaster movie - most notable, to me, for being a Norwegian movie with English subtitles. It follows the same basic storyline as any other disaster movie. It starts with a very long exploration of characters and it attempts to build some tension. So we become aware of the earlier quake that struck a small town in northern Norway and that left geologist Kristian scarred. There's then the disaster itself - the earthquake, which (as always) is only briefly portrayed. Then there's the aftermath, which largely revoles around Kristian trying to save his family. Standard. But I'll agree that it's a well done movie, with some great special effects and pretty decent performances all around.
Norwegian actor Kristoffer Joner was good as Kristian, who struggles to be believed when he starts to become convinced that a major quake is about to strike Oslo. I was a little uncertain about why every new scene seemed to have to begin with a note about how far from Downtown Oslo the scene was taking place. Why was that considered important? And I did appreciate that it was not an entirely happy ending - without giving anything away, not everyone survives who you expect to survive.
Still, it's a disaster movie. But I do appreciate a movie that teaches me something I didn't know before watching it. I wasn't aware that earthquakes (small ones) happen fairly frequently in Oslo and area, and this movie introduced me to the 1904 Oslo earthquake. The end of the movie plays on those things and makes note of the possibility of another major earthquake striking. All things considered I thought that - while a fairly standard entry on to the list of disater movies - this was well done and watchable. (7/10)
Bleak Yet Inspiring
It's not every movie that can manage to feel bleak and hopeless, and yet at the same time be inspiring and beautiful - but "Arctic" pulls off that difficult and unusual combination superbly. It's a very simple story, and the basic plot has been done before. Mads Mikkelsen plays the lone survivor of a plane crash in the Arctic. He's set up the shell of the plane as a makeshift survival camp, he fishes and he eats them raw, and he falls asleep and wakes up and does it again. I have to confess that the beginning of the movie was a bit of a weak point for me. It started too abruptly. There was no introduction to the character Mikkelsen was playing, no explanation of how long he had been in this situation. The movie simply opens - and he's just there. I would have liked a little bit more information than that. But Mikkelsen's portrayal of this character did draw me into the story. There's little in it that's particularly exciting - it's just the very real and raw struggle of this man to survive; it's a testimony to the human will to survive even seemingly impossible situations. The movie picks up a bit of a spark with the introduction of a second character - a young woman who survives the crash of what I assume was a helicopter sent to rescue Overgard (Mikkelsen's character's name.) She's badly injured, and Overgard becomes her nurse and companion, desperately trying to keep her alive, and finally deciding that he needs to try to hike out of this situation, dragging the young woman on a sled behind him.
The rugged barrenness of the Arctic landscape (this was filmed in Iceland) is beautiful and haunting - and it definitely adds to the hopeless feeling of the movie. Mikkelsen does a good job as Overgard. For a movie with very little dialogue between the only two characters, I thought there was a wonderful sense of that mysterious thing called chemistry between Mikkelsen and Icelandic actress Maria Thelma as the woman Overgard commits to saving. You can catch elements of other movies that influenced this story. I had thoughts of both "Alive" and "127 Hours" as I watched this. You can add pretty much any other survival type movie you can think of. So this isn't particularly original or unique, and I have to confess that a part of me really didn't want to like this for some reason. And yet it drew me in. It kept my attention. I wanted to see how this was going to end up. Mikkelsen's character - sacrificing so much and caring so much about the life of this young woman - was, indeed, inspiring.
As the beginning of the movie was rather abrupt, so too was the end of the movie. The ending was too sudden, and we learned nothing of the ultimate fate of the two characters. I've also seen so-called "survivalists" criticizing the decisions Overgard made - but not everyone is a survivalist. Perhaps Overgard simply wasn't, and made the best decisions he could in the face of impossible circumstances for which he wasn't really prepared. This is a good movie. I'd rate it as a 7/10.
All Saints (2017)
A Solid And Inspiratonal Movie
In spite of the fact that I, myself, am a pastor, I'm not generally enamoured of Christian movies. They're too formulaic and entirely predictable to be truly interesting. But this movie did pique my curiosity. First, because it was a true story about a real church and a real pastor facing a real challenge that's so familiar to many churches today. Second, because it didn't sound as if it was a hard-sell evangelical type of story (it is, after all, about an Episcopalian Church - hardly a hotbed of fundamentalism) but was rather about the real journey of one congregation to redefine its purpose. All Saints was a small and struggling Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee that was slated to close because it could no longer afford its mortgage. Then, suddenly, a large group of refugees from Myanmar - who happened to be Anglican - moved to the community and started attending the church. Together with the pastor, Michael Spurlock (who was newly ordained and had been assigned to All Saints for the sole purpose of guiding them to their end - a sort of pastoral palliative care for a dying congregation), the newcomers transform the church by creating a farm on its property, and using the produce to both feed the refugee population and to produce income for the church, giving the congregation new life and convincing the ecclesiastical powers that be to keep it open as a mission church.
The story isn't exactly an "exciting" one - but it's very faithful and faith-filled. Not in a fundamentalist sense, but in the sense of a diverse group of faithful Christians who work together to find a way to make a difference, and who feel themselves led by God to a new way of being "church." It's a pleasant and inspiring movie to watch. It's not hard-sell Christian. Among those who contribute to the farm are Buddhists and even "nothings" (presumably atheists) along with long time congregational members and members of a presumably evangelical mega-church nearby. But this particular church and its mission drew together all of these folk who in the normal course of things might never have known each other or worked together.
I thought the cast - particularly John Corbett and Cara Buono as Pastor Michael Surlock and his wife Aimee and also Nelson Lee as Ye Win (who was the leader of the refugee population) - were strong, and the story resonated with me and should resonate with anyone concerned about the plight of the church in so many places today and who are looking for a sign that the faith still matters and the church still makes a difference. This movie accomplished that. Well done. 7/10
Knowing Some Of The History Would Be Helpful To A Viewer
I'd say right off that in order to really appreciate this movie a person needs to have more familiarity with the Eighty Years War and the Battle of Haarlem that the movie depicts than I have. The battle of Haarlem was a siege of that Dutch city by the Spaniards in the winter-spring 1572-1573, with the events of the Protestant Reformation and the accompanying religious tensions very much in the picture. The movie is really a celebration of Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselaer, a widow who arganized the women of Haarlem into a fighting force to battle the Spanish troops. In the movie, Kenau was played by a Dutch actress named Monic Hendrickx, who was convincing enough in the role. The sets were authentic and the battle scenes were quite convincing. But being entirely unfamiliar with Dutch history, much of the historical material admittedly went over my head. And I was surprised to discover, in doing some reading about Kenau after watching this, that there are some who even doubt that she ever existed and believe her entire life to be the stuff of mythology.
It's a well done movie - but having some background in Dutch history and the historical setting of the story would be helpful to a viewer. (6/10)
The Limehouse Golem (2016)
Interesting But Not Really Engrossing
I'd have to call this movie intriguing rather than engrossing. The story is reasonably interesting. It focuses on the investigation into a series of Jack the Ripper-style murders in Victorian London in the 1880's committed by a killer who was known as The Limestone Golem. Alongside that investigation is the story (and trial) of a young woman and music hall actress named Elizabeth (Olivia Cooke) accused of poisoning her husband. Inspector Kildare of Scotland Yard (played by Bill Nighy) is assigned to investigate the Golem murders and also becomes involved with Elizabeth's case as he begins to think that her deceased husband might have been the Golem.
What I found most intriguing about this movie was the way in which actual historical figures of the time were woven into the plot. Dan Leno (Douglas Booth) was in fact a very famous British actor of the day; George Gissing (Margan Watkins) was a British novelist of the day and Karl Marx (Henry Goodman) really did live in London at the time. Leno, Gissing and Marx all became suspects in the Golem murders. I thought the fictional story managed to incorporate them into the plot very well and very believably. The performances were good. The setting of the movie seemed authentic. There was a Victorian feel to this movie in both the sets and the dialogue, and it was interesting to get a bit of the taste of what it migt have been like behind the scenes of a London music hall of that era. All that was well done.
The story, however, seemed somewhat choppy to me. I wasn't taken with the flow of the movie; it seemed inconsistent from beginning to end. At times it also seemed as if a little bit too much effort was being put in to trying to keep the viewer guessing, but the end result (for me) was times of confusion over the story more than anything. The "twist" in the plot as the murderer was finally revealed took me by surprise (which I appreciated) but then the movie went on for a little bit too long. Once the twist was revealed I was ready for the story itself to come to an end, and I thought the last few scenes (once the identity of the Golem had been revealed) were superfluous.
It was an interesting movie, even if it was a little bit uneven. Overall, I'd say it deserves a 6/10.
It Lacks Any Real Depth
I want to say first that I thought that Jeremy Renner (who played serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer) was very good in the role. He had the right "feel" to him. He captured the always difficult portrayal of someone who seems fairly normal in every day life (Dahmer had a job in a chocolate factory) but who underneath it all is a monster. Renner made this movie worth watching. And yet, Renner's good performance aside, this was still a disappointing movie.
To me, it lacked any real coherence. There was no structure to the plot. I could appreciate Renner's performance while at the same time realizing that I learned surprisingly little of importance about the character he was playing. A movie about a serial killer becomes exploitative unless there's some real attempt to understand the serial killer; to get inside his mind; to comprehend how the serial killer ended up being a serial killer. "Dahmer" lacked any of that. It focussed, as I recall, on Dahmer's interactions with three of his victims. But that was it. We didn't really get a sense of the breadth of his crimes; we didn't really get a sense of who he really was. There's a sense of him leading a troubled home life with his parents; a hint at a religious upbringing that seemed to have a major and negative impact on him. But there was no real depth to any of this. I appreciated that it wasn't especially graphic. But I would have liked to have learned a lot more about Dahmer and what made him tick. Any of that was sadly missing. (3/10)
Terms of Endearment (1983)
Great Cast And A Solid Story
IN one sense "Terms Of Endearment" is a typical melodrama that revolves around family dynamics - mostly disfunctional family dynamics - that turns into a bit of a tear jerker in its closing scenes. It revolves mostly around the relationship between Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) and Emma (Debra Winger) - a mother and daughter with a sometimes tense but always loving relationship characterized from the beginning of the film (when Emma was shown as a baby) by Aurora's over-protectiveness of her daughter. That over-protectiveness hangs over Emma throughout her life, extending finally into her own marriage. MacLaine and Winger both put on superb performances. And whle the story is melodramatic, it's better than your typical soapy movie. The characters are interesting. It really is fascinating to watch Aurora's evolution after she falls for her astronaut neighbour (played by Jack Nicholson) and suddenly starts to find some fun in her life, and some meaning beyond simply being Emma's mother. The supporting cast (with people like Jeff Daniels and Danny DeVito and John Lithgow) are strong, and the transformation of the movie into a tear jerker toward the end is actually handled very well and is very moving.
What I most liked about this picture was that, in its own way, it was a believable movie. I found that I could relate to the characters and situations. This was a multiple Oscar winner - for Best Picture and for James Brooks as Best Director, as well as wins for MacLain and Nicholson for their performances. They were all well deserved. (8/10)
Graphic And Tense; A Good Depiction Of A War Zone
It's hard to find the right words to describe this film. Gritty. Realistic. Sombre. Tense. All of them fit as a good description. The strength of this movie is that it seems to offer a very accurate portrayal of life in a war zone. The story is about a British unit who find themselves hopelessly stuck in a mine field in Afghanistan in 2006. Several are wounded (the wounds are graphically depicted) and they have no way of knowing where the rest of the mines are or how many there are Theyre stuck; they can't move. All they can do is wait for a helicopter evacuation that seems to take an eternity to arrive. The tension of the mine field is easily felt, and it's a superb contrast to the opening of the movie, that deals with a great deal of character development and seems t make the point that, for the most part, life in a war zone is pretty boring. There's really nothing much happening for this unit; there's really very little for them to do. That probably sums up an average day in many or most war zones. But the sudden shift into a crisis was startling and well presented. As the wounded soldiers lie on the ground, tended by an overwhelmed medic, we listen as they prepare to die - asking for final words to be passed on to their families and coming to terms with the end approaching.
Everything in this is very well portrayed. War is certainly not glorified in this. It's either dull or nauseatingly bloody. I've never been to war, but I've had the chance in my life to know a lot of veterans, and I think they'd probably agree with the way war is presented here. It's quite a well done account of a true story, although it's probably not for those who are squeamish about the sight of blood or severed limbs - of which there are many. (7/10)
From the Earth to the Moon (1958)
Some Interesting Reflections But A Weak Story And A Cheap Look
There are some things (more philosophical points than anything having to do with the actual production of the movie) that I liked about this film. The opening scenes were thought-provoking and disturbing. They depicted a group of arms merchants sitting around a table lamenting that with the end of the America Civil War their profits were down. This calm and matter of fact and very practical approach to warfare strikes me as something arms manufacturers of every place and age would share. The group was gathered to hear a proposal from industrialist/scientist Victor Barbicane (Joseph Cotten) about a new type of explosive he had invented and a proposal that the explosive could be used to launch a rocket to the moon - in 1868! Since there was potential profit involved (and because countries all over the world would want to buy the explosive to protect themselves from each other) they all signed on to the project. That, of course, was a prophetic reference to the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) - a phrase which was coined several years after this movie's release. And Barbicane's new explosive is obviously intended to remind people of the atomic bomb. So there's a combination of typical 50's sci-fi with the paranoia that existed at the time about the bomb. There was some interesting enough material to reflect on.
Unfortunately ... yes, there's an "unfortunately." The actual story is about as dry as can be. It plods along with very little happening that's really all that interesting. The special effects are virtually non-existent - which is especially noticeable once the rocket takes off with Barbicane and some associates aboard. Somehow the rocket has gravity and the shots of the rocket are cheap looking - as is the very bare bones interior of the ship. I also wondered why they were worried that the rocket would heat up and burn as it landed on the moon? There's no atmosphere on the moon. There's nothing to heat it up? The ending of the story was very abrupt and seemed to leave an awful lot hanging. And there was one historical anomaly that puzzled me. As I understand the story it's set in 1868. But when Barbicane is asked to meet with the president, it's obvious that the president is Ulysses Grant. But Grant became president in 1869. In 1868 the president was Andrew Johnson. Although I don't recall a specific date being mentioned in the movie - but most of what I've read about the movie says that it's set in 1868. That puzzled me.
Personally, I thought that even as 50's sci-fi (which is full of cheap and cheesy movies) goes, this was one of the weaker examples I've seen. (4/10)
22 July (2018)
Mass shootings in the United States are fairly common now, to the point at which we're almost innoculated against being shocked by them. But when they happen elsewhere - especially in a normally peaceful country like Norway - there is a shock value, and I can remember the shock felt on July 22, 2011 when Anders Breivik murdered 77 people and injured over 200 with a combination of a bomb blast outside government buildings in Oslo and then a shooting rampage on an island that killed dozens of teenagers on a youth retreat. Breivik was a far-right extremist, violently opposed to non-white immigration and refugees and multiculturalism. He didn't snap. He carefully and meticulously planned the attacks and then methodically carried them out. The movie combines his story with the stories of the victims (and one victim - Viljar and his family - in particular) and focuses mostly on Brieivik's trial for the crime.
The actual attacks are not the focus of the movie. They're fairly quickly portrayed in the first half hour or so of the movie. But be warned - although the attacks are portrayed fairly quickly, they're quite graphic and it is truly disturbing to see this young man coldly hunting down teenagers to kill. The legal proceedings were interesting. Not being Norwegian, it was a good introduction to how the system works in Norway. Like in any other country, there's the immedoate angst about the fact that even the most heinous perpetrators of crime have rights that have to be granted, often to the discomfort of the victims. The performances were superb. Jonas Strand Gravli portrayed Viljas, as he struggles to recover from his trauma - which was both mental and physical, and Anders Danielsen Len was eerily good as Breivik. An actor named Ola Furuseth played the Norwegian prime minister. It wasn't a huge role, but it was a good portrayal of a leader trying to determine why something like this would have happened on his watch.
This is both a disturbing movie (as it depicts the attacks) and a hopeful movie, as the victims start to overcome their trauma and eventually as Viljas confronts Breivik in the courtroom. Its rating here is - to me - surprisingly low. I started writing this thinking I would give it an 8 or maybe a 9, and the more I reflect on it the more I realize that I can't really come up with anything of substance that would cause me to mark it down at all. Which leaves me with - 10/10!
A Hologram for the King (2016)
A Solid Enough Performance From Tom Hanks In One Of His Weaker Movies
Basically what this movie offers is exactly what you're expecting to get when you decide to watch it: a very solid performance from Tom Hanks, who always offers a very solid performance. What doesn't get offered in this movie, though, is any truly compelling story. Hanks plays salesman Alan Clay. Clay is down on his luck. His career is going nowhere fast, except possibly downhill, and his personal life is a mess. He gets a chance to right himself when he's asked to go to Saudi Arabia by his company to sell some sort of holographic teleconferencing system to the Kingdom in a new city being built by the king as an economic hub.
This is meant, I think, to be a comedy. And at times it is mildly amusing. Clay has to deal with the culture shock that is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and with a whole lot of insane bureaucratic red tape and various Saudi officials who don't really seem all that interested in doing anything for him or even meeting with him. Meanwhile, Clay's accompanied by his driver Yousef, who also manages to inject a little bit of humour. But there's not enough humour, and it's interspersed with a lot of pretty heavy stuff - a growth Clay has on his back, the related medical problem, the ongoing drama of his troubled relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, his declining career. It's as if every now and then, just as the story is starting to feel just a little bit light and fun, a decision was made to not let it be too much fun. The introduction of the romance between Clay and the female Saudi doctor also seemed off to me; it really didn't fit the story at all. It was awkward. And regardless of Hanks' solid performance, I felt nothing for his character. How this would ultimately turn out for Clay really didn't interest me - and since that's really what the story is all about, it was a major weakness.
It's a decent enough performance from Hanks - and it provides a glimpse of Saudi culture and a sense of what it must be like as a westerner to travel there (but unlike some movies set in foreign countries it gave me no desire whatsoever to actually visit Saudi Arabia.) But at the same time I'd have to say that it's one of Hanks' weaker movies. (5/10)