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(2020)

The inevitable jealous AI robot.
The visuals are exotic and make you wonder if it is set on a distant planet but no, it is set in a remote Japanese location but actually filmed in Hungary.

Through the most of the movie, set roughly 30 years into the future, we see Theo James as George Almore, after losing his wife in a horrific automobile accident, working alone on a project to produce a human-like robot. The various forms take on characteristics, and voice, of his wife who he still gets to talk to via an "archive" contraption. One robot get jealous, version #2, and almost sabotages the entire effort.

This is an interesting movie to watch for those of us who enjoy this theme, with certain similarities to "Ex Machina". We naturally wonder where all this will lead and the last 10 to 15 minutes flips everything on its side, giving a resolution that I didn't see coming. And to me it is a more interesting resolution.

I watched it on Amazon streaming movies, my wife skipped.

SPOILERS FOLLOW - As we watch the story unfold we take it for face value, however we eventually find out that his wife didn't die in the accident, George was the one who died and all we were seeing was his own final and fading dreams as his wife accesses him via the "archive."

Bayou Blue
(2011)

Serial killer in the SE Louisiana bayous.
I was attracted to this film because as a kid growing up in S. Louisiana I often heard my dad refer to Bayou Blue but really never knew what or where it was. Now I know, it became the epicenter of a 9-year murder spree by serial killer Ronald Dominique, a short fat homosexual man that few would ever suspect. Many of the victims were found discarded near where I lived and worked in the 1980s.

This documentary is striking because there are no actors, it features families of victims and law enforcement, and the words of Ronald Dominique himself describing the crimes. Curiously also one near victim that managed to escape. Dominique lured men to rape them, he killed them because he feared getting caught and going to jail.

What the film lacks is a clear narrative, it never really introduces and summarizes what the whole 1 hour 17 minute presentation is about. We gradually put most of the pieces together but looking up a news article on Dominique is necessary to understand the whole story.

While the death penalty could have been in play prosecutors allowed him to plea bargain for several life sentences at Angola State Penitentiary, saying that's what the families wanted, so he could spend a long time suffering and reflecting on his crimes. But some of the families interviewed said they would have preferred his execution.

This is not a pleasant subject, in fact it is nauseating. For me it is made so much more so because the images of places and people are so familiar to me. However I am glad I came across it, on Amazon streaming films.

Tusen ganger god natt
(2013)

Female wartime photographer with a family back in Ireland.
This is a realistic fictional story of a woman who is a noted photographer who specializes in war zones. While it is fiction it draws greatly from the experiences writer-director Poppe had as a photograpaher back in the 1980s.

Juliette Binoche is the key character, Rebecca. As the movie opens she is on assignment in a Muslim territory and is photographing the preparations of a woman to be a suicide bomber. It immediately begs the question whether a journalist has any obligation to try to stop such carnage. It isn't specifically raised in this movie but the last scene causes her to think deeply about it.

Wounded and back home recovering her husband essentially gives her an ultimatum, give up her dangerous assignments and be a wife and mother to their two daughters or don't come back next time. Which she decides to do but the lure of conflict zones is hard to give up completely and another questionable travel assignment begins.

It is a good human interest story, Binoche is great in the role. My wife and I watched it streaming on the Kanopy site via our public library's subscription.

Nocturne
(2020)

Pianist rivalry between fraternal twin high school sisters.
In the general sense a "nocturne" is a musical composition that is inspired by, or evocative of, the night. In this story it is more aligned with the "darkness" of a musician selling one's soul to the Devil to gain something otherwise out of their reach.

Twin sisters have been pianists since they were little girls. Viv has turned out the more talented one, with a scholarship to Juilliard, while Juliet is always a step behind in her shadow. But Juliet wants more and when she finds the notebook of a fellow student, a violinist who jumped to her death recently, it sets her and her sister on a much different journey.

While I don't often watch horror movies, or movies with an occult theme, I found this one to be suitable interesting and entertaining. On Amazon streaming, from the Blumhouse Production company that specializes in making TV movies.

Shirley
(2020)

Fictional story based on real author Shirley Jackson.
"Shirley" takes place soon after the publication of Jackson's piece of short fiction, "The Lottery", published in 1948. While both the novel and film adaptation of "Shirley" document aspects of the writer's life, the central narrative of Rose and Fred Nemser, a couple who moves into the writer's Bennington home, is completely fictional.

Elisabeth Moss who also was a producer stars as Shirley Jackson, rude, crude and inappropriate most times but successful as an author of horror stories. I can't say I really enjoyed this movie, Shirley and her husband were not very nice people. But Moss does a wonderful job in the role and it is good to know something about her life.

I watched it at home on DVD from my public library, my wife skipped.

The VVitch: A New-England Folktale
(2015)

The 17th century New England Puritan family and a witch.
This isn't a particularly memorable movie but it is well made and an interesting viewing. The first-time filmmaker was wary of witches as a young boy and this naturally took him in this direction. Much research was done and some of the dialog in the movie was taken verbatim from accounts of what went on back in that period. This is what it may be like if you believe witches are real.

It is a Puritan family in the 1600s that becomes disenchanted with the compound they are in and strike out to find a new home. They do but strange things start to happen and continue. The main character is the teen daughter played by Anya Taylor-Joy, a teenager during filming, as Thomasin. This was actually her very first role in a movie and she is very good.

I watched it at home on DVD from my public library, my wife skipped, movies with a witch are not her bag.

Gretel & Hansel
(2020)

One version of the ancient story of the young sister and brother and the witch.
The usual title of these stories is "Hansel and Gretel" but here it is purposely reversed, according to director Oz Perkins (son of Anthony Perkins), as a reference to it being primarily Gretel's story, her coming of age, protecting her brother, and getting the best of the witch.

I first became a Sophia Lillis fan for her role as Nancy Drew in the 2019 movie, here she is 16-yr-old Gretel, forced to go into the forest as a famine strikes. She needs to care for her younger brother and find a job and food.

Honestly the movie drags a lot and that takes away from its entertainment value. In the end it pretty well follows the traditional story but updated and changed for modern sensibilities.

A moderately interesting take on the ancient story, I was mostly entertained. I watched it at home on DVD from my public library, my wife skipped.

Dial a Prayer
(2015)

A redemption story with a few quirks.
The story is not told exactly linearly, we see snippets of flashbacks that eventually all add up to what happened in the backstory of Cora.

Brittany Snow is 26-yr-old Cora and the first scenes has her showing up for an assignment with the local Detroit "Dial A Prayer" hotline. Everyone else there is happy and enthusiastic but it is clear she would rather be just about anywhere else. But she had gotten into some pretty serious trouble and her high powered lawyer dad managed to get her to do restitution by working the prayer hotlines.

William H. Macy is always good and here he is good as Bill, the leader of the prayer office. The story arc is Cora figuring out that her life up to that point, and the friends she hung out with, might not be the best trajectory and she has to figure out a better path.

The movie works because Brittany Snow is so good and authentic in the role of Cora. I found it on Youtube streaming free movies (with a few ads thrown in). I found it worthwhile viewing.

The Kindness of Strangers
(2019)

My wife and I enjoyed this story, set mostly in New York City.
The core story is about a young mother of two boys, married to an abusive policeman. They live outside the city and as the movie starts Zoe Kazan as Clara is driving into the city with the boys, her explanation is they are taking a short vacation.

In reality she is getting away from her abusive husband, desperate for a way out and to a better life for her and the boys. In the process things happen and her survival depends on the kindness of strangers. A nurse who leads a self-help group, workers at a soup kitchen, a manager of a Russian restaurant, and assorted others.

The success of the movie depends on how Zoe Kazan carries her part and she carries it well. Good movie for anyone who has an interest in human relations.

We watched it on Amazon movies via ROKU streaming.

Marrowbone
(2017)

Not a ghost story, an interesting family drama, escaping from abuse.
The family featured are from England, the husband is an evil person, they flee to the USA for safety and to claim an inherited property, which includes a rather large homestead in bad need of maintenance. (Actually filmed in Spain.)

The mother is sick and before she dies tells the kids to keep it a secret, bury her in the garden, all stay together until the oldest, George MacKay as Jack, turns to a legal age to be the head of the family.

This is not a straightforward story, it is clear from the start that strange things are going on but only hints at what. When it all comes together during the last 30 minutes or so we see two parallel stories, one in real time and one some months earlier, that explains exactly what happened.

The movie also has Anya Taylor-Joy as Allie who works in the local town's public library, she and Jack become friends then much more. I enjoy movies she is in, she is a good actress and has such interesting, exotic looks.

Interesting movie but you have to pay attention to everything. I found it on the Kanopy site via my public library subscription, I streamed it via ROKU. My wife skipped.

Between Earth and Sky
(2018)

Makes a case for just always telling the truth. Moderately interesting.
This is only a moderately interesting movie with accomplished actors. Set in New York but filmed in Canada, it is a snowy day and the dad is giving a ride to his teen daughter and her school friend when the friend insists that he pull over, she has to pee so bad she is about to wet his back seat. We eventually figure out it wasn't a random spot, she had intentions.

The story only works if the dad fails to do what any reasonable adult would do - call 9-1-1 and get help. Instead he and ultimately his lawyer ex wife begin an elaborate set of lies to "protect" their daughter. It escalates to a devastating point until at the end the whole ruse comes to light.

It is interesting from a "what would you do" perspective but in the end just a moderately interesting movie that is just barely over 90 minutes.

My wife and I watched it on Amazon streaming movies.

Yes, God, Yes
(2019)

Semi-autobiographical movie.
The writer/director Karen Maine went to a Catholic school in Iowa and made this movie based on her own experiences there in the 11th grade. I didn't attend a Catholic school but grew up being taught Catechism by Priests and Nuns so I can identify with a lot of it.

The movie points out a truth about religious education in general, the use of fear to try to motivate teenagers to stay on the straight and narrow. Watch porn and you'll go to hell. Masturbate and you'll go to hell. Lose your virginity and you'll go to hell. The problem with that approach is eventually kids get to a point where they realize what is going on and all that goes for naught.

Yet somehow most of us grow up to be good, moral people. And that is sort of the punchline of this story.

I watched it at home on DVD from my public library, my wife skipped.

The Art of Racing in the Rain
(2019)

Kevin Costner has gone to the dogs.
Good movie. It really is about a dog from puppy to very old age and reincarnation. But it is also about a race car driver. Kevin Costner voices the dog, Enzo, named for Mr Ferrari. We already were fans of Milo Ventimiglia from his role in the TV series "This is Us" and he is really good as the racer, Denny. It also involves family and sickness, and grandparents who want to be controlling.

Overall a very nice movie, we watched it at home on DVD from our public library. The "making of" extra is very interesting.

The Magnificent Seven
(2016)

A remake with some significant changes.
This is a well made movie but the script contains a bit more modern type of subtle humor. This is a US frontier town in the 1870s and a greedy and powerful man wants it for the gold and other resources. He kills a few townspeople and says he will be back, giving them time to pack up and leave. Meanwhile a great ethnic mix of renowned fighters, totaling seven in all, decide to take the townspeople, mostly pacifists, under their wings. They teach them how to fight and they build explosive traps.

The outcome is predictable, it is an entertaining movie with good actors. I watched it at home on DVD from my public library.

Hardcore Henry
(2015)

Nope! Not my kind of movie.
I looked up this movie because of Haley Bennett who I recently saw in a more recent movie. I found the DVD at my public library and went into it not knowing anything about it.

It is made by a Russian filmmaker and much of it is shot in Moscow. That is all good. It uses a mostly novel technique of presenting the movie from the point of view of the protagonist, we never see his face, the camera represents his eyes, what he sees.

So I settled in and watched 40 minutes of chases and mayhem, action with gory and bloody scenes. Overkill, to be punny. For the rest of the movie I used fast-forward here and there, pausing to understand some of the dialog. The biggest issue I had was the lack of story, the lack of indication of what was going on, just overloaded with action. Not my kind of movie.

Capone
(2020)

Capone, childlike, in his last years.
This movie has a very low IMDb rating mainly because many viewers wanted this to be a different movie, perhaps one of Al Capone's whole life. But it isn't, it focuses on the very last year or so when he was at his Florida mansion, his mind mostly childlike, his memory poor, his health failing, and his phobias in full display.

Al Capone's life of crime is pretty well known by anyone who pays attention, and his imprisonment was for tax evasion, that was the only easy way to get a conviction. But in prison his mental faculties were progressively eroded by neurosyphilis, something he never recovered from.

No one really knows what was going on in Capone's head during his last year or so but this script if nothing else shows the chaos that surely must have been present. Towards that goal, to show that this career criminal had a hell on Earth towards the end, it is a well-made movie. I watched it streaming on the Kanopy site via my public library's subscription.

Although set in Florida it was filmed in Louisiana, mostly Covington, New Orleans, and surrounding areas.

The Hallelujah Trail
(1965)

Can't risk a cold winter in Denver without whiskey!
This is just a silly western comedy with singing, lots of humor, and no real violence. I say silly but it is also entertaining if you are in the mood. There is one big shootout in the desert among four different groups but when the smoke cleared, no one was seriously injured!

It is the fall of 1867 and certain indicators, plus a man called Oracle, point to a colder, snowier winter than usual and the bars have few whiskey bottles left. So they hatch a grand plan, they will hire a company to transport 600 barrels of whiskey in a 40-wagon train. (When we finally see the barrels some of them are pretty small, like 5 to 10 gallons.)

The difficulty is there are rivals for the whiskey, including a band of peaceful Native Americans (they call Indians) who end up wanting 20 of the wagons of whiskey, and even more dangerous a band of women who want to abolish booze and trash all the barrels before they arrive in Denver.

Burt Lancaster is featured as Col. Thaddeus Gearhart of the Cavalry, his main nemesis is Lee Remick as Cora Templeton Massingale who leads the temperance league. Naturally they butt heads but in the end we know what will happen between them, it is the time-tested romantic story arc.

This is made the old fashioned way, starting with a 4-minute musical overture with a blank screen, plus an intermission half-way, and ending with a 4-minute overture. On the DVD from my public library the overall running time is 2 hours and 35 minutes.

The Omen
(1976)

"The child is not human. Make no mistake."
I hunted down this movie for Lee remick who was so good in her short lifetime. As a bonus I got Gregory Peck too. She was about 40, he was about 60 when this movie was filmed.

It has become a horror classic of sorts, Gregory Peck is Robert, US Ambassador to England and Lee Remick is his wife Katherine. As the movie opens she is giving birth but Robert is told that the baby died during childbirth but luckily there is a baby boy whose mother died during childbirth. So the fix is easy, Robert and Katherine will take the orphaned boy as their own and Katherine doesn't even need to know about the switch.

This is a genuine horror movie but of its 1:50 running time most of the really good stuff happens during the last 30 minutes or so. I can see why it was so controversial in 1976.

I found it on DVD from my public library.

Apocalypto
(2006)

Disclaimer: No Jaguars were harmed in making this movie. But maybe a few monkeys to feed the crew.
I was immediately disappointed, the movie is in full color and yet it was set in the 1500s Mayan territory, I know they had not invented color cinematography yet, it should have been in black and white.

Add to that the spoken Mayan language of the characters had English subtitles, I don't think that is authentic, how would the Mayans have known the English language in the 16th century?

The movie focuses on Rudy Youngblood as Jaguar Paw, with a young son and a wife who is pregnant. When their small forest village is raided at night to capture women for slaves and men for sacrifices, Rudy hides his family in a deep pit and vows to return to save them. So that is really what the whole story is about, can Jaguar Paw escape and save his family? I enjoyed the last approximate one-third of the movie the most, the extended chase through the forest.

The movie is loaded with graphic violence, and according to experts on Mayan culture not particularly authentic, but hey, it is a movie for entertainment. One reviewer called it a "Game of Thrones" for the Mayans.

There's even a scene from "Field of Dreams", where several men run into a cornfield to try to disappear. Plus a line from "Midnight Cowboy", as in "Hey, I'm walking here" as a Mayan escapes a falling tree.

Overall a very mixed bag, I'm glad I watched it, on Amazon streaming movies, but frankly it is mediocre.

Marriage Story
(2019)

Sadly too realistic depiction of a family going through divorce.
Surely this must have drawn heavily from writer/director Baumbach's own experiences. He was married to Jennifer Jason Leigh and they have one son, plus before they divorced in 2013 he began a relationship with Greta Gerwig in 2011. So he probably lived much of what is depicted here.

The two principals, Adam Driver as Brooklyn stage director Charlie Barber and Scarlett Johansson as actress Nicole Barber, are superb in their roles. While it seemed like they were happily married for 10-odd years, with an 8-yr-old son, Nicole began to more and more feel that her own desires were being ignored while as a married couple they always did what Charlie wanted. When she gets an opportunity to take a TV role in Los Angeles she also decides that it is the right time for the two of them to split up. Charlie is blindsided.

It is often a hard story to watch because even to the end it is clear that, in spite of the required animosities during divorce proceedings, Nicole and Charlie have a bond and care deeply for each other.

My wife and I (both having gone through divorces of our own years ago) watched this on DVD from our public library.

Swallow
(2019)

Simple, attractive girl marries into Psychologically incestuous family.
On the plus side this is a well-made movie and the location on the Hudson River above NYC is very picturesque. For me the main reason to enjoy this movie is the performance of Haley Bennett as the afflicted young wife, Hunter. She is really good in the role.

There is a malady called "pica" and if you look it up you'll find all those things depicted in this story, eating ice, swallowing metallic objects, eating paper, eating dirt, etc. The story attempts to tie Hunter's behavior to aspects of her birth and upbringing, and includes some sessions with a therapist, but the sum of its parts is muddled. We see the story arc but it does not tie up neatly into a whole story.

Hunter's new husband is the son of a very wealthy family and he himself is head of a corporation. The whole family, son, dad, mom, treat Hunter as a curiosity, a mystery to be solved, dictating what she should do, even forcing her to have a male nurse follow her at home 24/7 to make sure she quits swallowing things that might yet again send her to the hospital.

Naturally she reaches a breaking point and has to get out of the situation, but where does she go from there?

A moderately interesting movie, I watched it at home on DVD from my public library, my wife skipped.

The Song of Names
(2019)

Very nice tribute to Jewish Holocaust victims and survivors.
This is a fictional story but is built on the realities of the 1940s when Jews in Poland were persecuted and many murdered by the Nazis. The title of the movie is a reference to a way to remember the dead until they could all be written down. They created a Song of Names and in this story is said to take 5 days to sing completely.

The story spans about 1939 to about 1986. It starts with a young boy (David), a violin prodigy, who is placed with a British family in London to be able to study violin while his family return to Poland. He and the family's young son (Martin) eventually become almost like brothers.

In 1951 when the boys are in their early 20s, and David is set up for a concert, he doesn't show up with no clue what happened. Then 35 years later Martin is judging a musical competition and sees a young violinist with a mannerism just like David's, that sparks his search for David.

The reasons are complex and Martin eventually learns what happened. It is a good story that ultimately relies on strong family and friendship bonds.

Good movie, my wife and I watched it at home on BluRay from our public library.

Waiting for the Barbarians
(2019)

We see who the real Barbarians are here.
After seeing this movie I am not sure what to make of it. If there is some specific lesson to learn then it escapes me. It is a fictional time and place but the "refined" people seem very much like the British who, over the past centuries, established remote outposts and viewed themselves as superior rulers over the common indigenous peoples. The "barbarians" here appear to be Mongolians, and the landscape looks like Mongolia, but it was filmed in Morocco.

At the walled village the Magistrate (Mark Rylance) has orchestrated a peaceful coexistence with the local nomads. But a high ranking police (Johnny Depp) comes over with his own men to investigate and quell what they expect to be an invasion. His method is torture, get a lie, torture more, get a different lie, until he judges that he gets the truth. A barbaric approach.

A few other things happen but as we approach the end of the story it seems the real Barbarians are not the ones we first thought they were.

I watched it on DVD from my Public library, there were no extras on the "making of", my wife skipped.

The High Note
(2020)

Big time recording artist scene, I enjoyed it more than I though I would.
The nominal first billing goes to Dakota Johnson who is 20-something Maggie Sherwoode, growing up in the music scene she now has what seemed like her dream job, as personal assistant to one of her favorite singers in the Los Angeles area. But her musical bones want more, she has a knack for producing and wants to move in that direction. But the establishment is a difficult wall.

The performer is 40-something Tracee Ellis Ross as popular singer 40-something Grace Davis. She is usually nice to Maggie but as a prima donna can go off on her here and there. Grace is getting pressure from her long-time manager to take a resident gig in Las Vegas, singing all her old popular songs every day, but she still enjoys touring. Plus she is writing again and wants to record new stuff. Will she ever agree to hire Maggie as her producer?

Of note the actress is the real-life daughter of the great Diana Ross of the Supremes. This is a good movie devoted to relationships and with some good music thrown in. My wife and I watched it on DVD from our public library.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer
(2017)

Modern take on a Greek myth.
I went into watching this with no background and it is strange from the start, the stilted dialog and unusual responses characters often give. The title threw me until I read later that one version of the Greek myth requires the killing of a sacred deer to get the gods to help.

I watched this until the end and was NOT satisfied with its conclusion. A teenager whose dad died on the operating table seems required to take revenge on the doctor's family and that means killing one of them, as they first become paralyzed then their eyes bleed. The only way this could have any reality in today's world is if the teenager has some sort of supernatural powers. And in fact there is a scene where the doctor's wife (Kidman) kisses the bloody feet of the tied-up teenager in their basement, presumably to suggest the biblical story of Jesus' feet being washed by a prostitute.

So, while the movie is well-made in most respects, and the actors are good, I did NOT find this movie satisfying. Maybe if I were a fan of Greek mythology it would come across better. I found it very interesting, just not very good.

On BluRay from my public library, my wife skipped.

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