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Late Night

Probably not arty enough for critics, but I loved it
The first thing I noticed about this movie was that it is truly an ensemble piece, despite Emma Thompson and John Lithgow. A lot of characters get to shine, and they do. This alone is rare in a movie nowadays.

Do I care about late night talk show hosts? No. Couldn't care less. Except after 10 minutes of this movie, I did. I cared about ALL the characters. That's an impressive feat to pull off. Several movies I've seen this year were loved by the critics--but after putting in two hours, I couldn't care less if the characters lived or died. In this one, I cared.

Next, welcome back linear story! No skipping around in time. There's a beginning, a middle, and an end. Critics seem to hate that. I love it.

An essential for me is whimsy, or oddity, or something new that makes me laugh. Other reviewers are right: the story itself is a cliche. But they miss the point, which is "What has the writer (Mindy) done with that cliche to make it fresh?" And the answer is, "A lot." The dialog itself was clever and unexpected. The situations were clever. The twists were clever. See where this is going? It's a clever movie.

The Souvenir

Warning: Do NOT see!
My wife and I see about 80-90 movies (in theaters--not DVD or TV) every year. We go to film festivals. And "The Souvenir" is easily in my top 5 Worst Movies EVER.

This is one of those stream-of-life movies that have no point and pretend they are "deep" or "artistic" when they are simply devoid of any meaning or artistic pretense. Nothing happens (although, some reviewers kept expecting something to too...we were all disappointed).

The group of people I saw the movie with couldn't even agree on what happened: When did the girl meet the guy? Did she love him? Who was giving her the money--her mother or her grandmother? Did she even have a grandmother? Did the girl have two floors in her apartment? Or were those scenes supposed to be in her mother's apartment? And who on earth was the nude guy who hopped into bed with her ¾ of the way through??? You get the idea--even the most banal facts were obscured.

And the girl....when the guy says "Loan (ha ha) me £10, I'll be back in an hour..." Where does she think he's going? To do his laundry? And then she examines the inside of his arm and says, "Oh, look, you hurt yourself!" Track marks, sweetie. Track marks.

Plot? 0 Drama? 0 Interesting characters? 0 Coherence? 0 This is simply not worth anyone's time. Certainly not the interminable two hours it takes to watch it.

The Etruscan Smile

Great Story Well Told
We saw this at the Palm Springs Film Festival in Jan. 2019. Our question after seeing a movie is always "Could this can been improved?" In this case, the answer is a firm "No." It's pretty much perfect within the bounds of what it set out to do. It tells a realistic story in a straightforward way (no time shifting! Hurray!). It held our attention throughout--no looking at watches. It's pretty much Brian Cox's movie since he is in every scene, and he does a great job. He had to learn Gaelic to play the part, and as far as I can see did a fantastic job.

Is it a comedy or a drama? Both. Certainly the comedic angle is almost always there, but there are touches (esp. the scenes with Rosanna Arquette) where it gets fairly serious and has a serious message. But it never hits you over the head with sentimentality or its "message." The director seems to have found a perfect middle ground. This seems to be getting rarer, so congratulations are in order.

Finally, it reminded me of a 2016 Finnish movie, "The Grump," which also featured a older man who lived in the countryside who visits his son in the big city (Helsinki, in this case). He is technologically inept, leading to several hilarious scenes, and he interferes in his daughter-in-law's business. It was more of a pure comedy than "Etruscan Smile." Curiously, neither Brian Cox nor the director were aware of the Finnish movie.

Ladies in Black

Delightful and uplifting
Angourie Rice...I remember seeing her in "The Good Guys" with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, where she played Ryan's daughter. I remember leaving that movie wondering "Who is that girl?". She stole the movie. Here she is again, this time as the star, and she is absolutely delightful.

We saw this at the Palm Springs Film Festival in mid-January 2019, and Bruce Beresford and some of the actors were there. I also see that many years ago Bruce Beresford wrote the introduction to an edition of the novel ("Women in Black") the movie is based on. And, as he said after the movie, this is a project that's been on his mind for a long time.

If you are sick of movies with a message that hits you over the head, explosions, movies that look like a video game, violence, etc. then this is the movie for you. "Sweet" is the adjective that best describes it, and as far as I'm concerned, that's high praise. There were enough sub-plots to keep the action moving and hold your attention. There was no temptation to look at my watch.


Very Confusing...who WERE those guys???
My wife and I saw this at the Palm Springs Film Festival in mid-January.

Yes, Nicole Kidman goes against type and plays a down-and-out policewoman. Good for her. Now that Nicole's got it out of her system, let's go back to roles she can play better. And Tatiana Maslany shows up and gives an inspired scene. Of course.

HOWEVER....The movie shifts mercilessly between the present and 17 years before. Just as you figure out (if you're lucky) what's going on in the segment you're watching, poof, you shift times. Nicole is the focus, which is fine, and it's easy enough to keep track of her despite the time shifting. But the men....was it my imagination, or did they all have beards? Some guys (I'm guessing here, since I couldn't keep them straight) showed up in just one segment in one time period; others seemed to show up in a past and then a present segment. Every time the movie shifted times, it plopped you down in a new situation, so you had to figure out who was who and what was going on. Frankly, this was beyond my feeble abilities. I couldn't keep either the plot or the men straight.

The director, Karyn Kusama, was at the screening. (I had never heard of her before, nor had I ever seen any of her other movies.) I asked her about the time shifting, the confusion, and who all the guys were. She said she sympathized ("poor feeble-minded idiot...") but stuck to her "vision." She talked about a "rhythm" of the past vs. present segments. As chance would have it, she was standing outside the theatre afterwards, and I expanded on my question: How 80% of my attention was spent trying to figure out which guy was which, and how the time shifting made it all unnecessarily confusing. I suggested (not very tactfully, I admit) that she made the movie for film school students, not the general public. Her answer to that was revealing: "If you watched it two or three times, you would see the richness...." Excuse me!! Hello!! who watches a movie two-three times and analyzes all the details? The general public or film school students? She confirmed my point.

Was I alone in my confusion? After she answered my question in the Q&A, the guy behind me tapped me on my shoulder and said, "You're right." In line for another movie the next morning, there was a group of six people who had seen "Destroyer" the night before. I simply asked "What did you think of the movie?" They all thought it was confusing. And a few days later, I met a very famous and experienced actress (no names, I don't want to get her in trouble) and asked her if she had seen "Destroyer." She had. "What did you think of it?" I asked. "It was very confusing," she said. I rest my case.

Now another thing that bothered me was Nicole saying "Silas is back." Unless I'm more confused than I realize, I think she says that BEFORE she gets a dyed bank note in the mail from Silas. So HOW does she know he's back??? It that a mistake in continuity???

I'm left wondering why they didn't show this to two separate focus groups: First, the movie as is, with constant time shifting. Then a second version that is linear--it starts at the beginning and goes to the end. No time shifting. In my opinion, a linear movie would have just as much suspense, but eliminate all the confusion. Why don't studios do that? Because they're making movies for film school students?

Bulbul Can Sing

Pretty but pointless: Where's the story?
I love Bollywood movies, and I am very interested in India. So of course I had to see this at the Toronto Inter. Film Festival in September.

I think the director was very sincere, and the movie was beautifully filmed, and it certainly gave an idea of village life in Assam.

Now I realized all along that this was not going to be a Bollywood movie, and that's fine. But a basic story might be nice. Without a story, a movie is just some pretty pictures strung together. Everyday scenes of village life are NOT a story. It goes nowhere, but of course you keep expecting it to. Then it ends. And you say "What???"

However it struck me that it was (to a non-Indian) sort of an out-of-fashion anthropological study. It was very much like those programs in the 1950s (yes, I remember the 1950s) that advertised "Now we are going to show you how the headhunters of Borneo live! Thrill to the savagery of the natives!" etc. Now I know that Indians, despite constant talk of "harmony and amity," are very class conscious, and, frankly, racist. They refer disparagingly to "the tribal areas"--i.e., Assam. This MAY have been a sincere attempt to sympathetically portray a struggling teenage girl in Assam. But it didn't come across that way to me, and I suspect other non-Indians would have the same reaction. It came across as a "let's go look at the backward natives" sort of movie. It actually made me uncomfortable to watch. A shame, because I don't really believe the director was trying for this effect. But it does show how different cultural groups can see the same movie and come away with totally opposing points of view.

Life Itself

Best movie of the 23 we saw at TIFF
We just returned from the Toronto Inter. Film Festival. We saw 23 movies, and my wife and I agree this was the best we saw.

Ignore the critics. They say things like "It's just like X," or "He borrowed this from Y," or "It's too unrealistic." Nonsense. Who cares?

If you are looking for an engrossing story, this is it. The four-segment format is great, because it keeps you wondering "What has this segment got to do with what the previous segment was about?" And you quickly find out. But you never know where it's going--the end is unpredictable, but thoroughly possible.

Granted, there are those who have never run into a coincidence in their lives. I feel sorry for those people. I know in my own life I have been surrounded by coincidences: at a recent conference I idly began chatting to a guy in front of me. We had shared the same thesis advisor! When I lived in Saudi Arabia, who moved in next door? A junior h.s. classmate of my wife's--he had moved away in junior high and she had not heard anything about him until 25 years later he popped up 10,000 miles away as her next door neighbor. Every time we go to Europe we bump into people we know. Coincidences--even extremely improbable ones--are part of life. If you accept this, this is the movie for you.

Great performances by a variety of actors. And the end....everyone in the theater was sniffling, and it wasn't because they had colds. It touched each and every one of us, and in the end, isn't that what a movie should do? I think so.

Quién te cantará

Pretentious and incomprehensible
We saw this at the Toronto Inter. Film Festival Sept. 12. The director, Carlos Vermut, was there for a Q&A afterwards. I chose this movie because I had seen Najwa Nimri in a movie several years ago, and I thought she was good.

The first 80% of the movie proceeds logically. Lily, a famous Spanish singer, has been found unconscious on the beach in front of her house (what happened we never find out). When she regains consciousness, she has lost her memory. This is a problem because after 10 years of seclusion, she is about to go on another concert tour. She needs the money. He long-time manager and friend has a problem: how to get Lily to be able to sing her old songs in the same way when she doesn't remember anything about them. An intriguing premise.

Meanwhile, in the same town, Violetta, a single mother, is a karaoke singer who specializes in singing Lily's songs. Lily's manager happens to catch Violetta's act, and she hire Violetta to come and give Lily daily lessons on "how to be Lily." Violetta has to teach Lily how to sing her own songs, how to move on stage, etc.

As a side plot, Violetta has an obnoxious daughter who keeps demanding things: money for a new smart phone, etc. When her mother doesn't give her what she wants, she destroys things in the house and then gets a knife and threatens to commit suicide unless her mother gives her what she wants. Violetta has been sword to silence about her tutoring Lily, but of curse her daughter wonders where she keeps disappearing to. The daughter follows her and discovers what's going on. The daughter sees this as a way to get rich: tabloid articles, talk shows, perhaps a book, etc. Violetta of course is devastated since she has admired Lily all her life and just wants to help her. (How this relates to the rest of the movie is completely beyond me. Maybe it doesn't. Maybe it's all a red herring.)

So far, so good. But in the last 20% or so of the film, all sorts of things happen at such a rapid pace the audience can't really keep track. None of the things (a long list of incongruous and incomprehensible things) is backed up by details in the previous 80% of the movie. In fact, most of them CONTRADICT things that have been established earlier. Just as an example, Lily reveals that she didn't write any of her songs herself--her mother did. Her mother was an aspiring singer, but then pregnancy derailed her plans and she drifted into drug use. What happened to the amnesia? ???? Lily fires the long-time (10+ years) agent and friend in a snap decision. Not believable from what we have been told in the first 80% of the move. And on and on. Each scene introduces totally new information, often contradicting what we know from the first 80% of the movie.

At the "end" (yes, " ") of the movie, everyone around us was saying "What was that about? Did you understand it?" And no, we did NOT understand it AT ALL. The first questions to the director (and's his baby completely) were techie movie buff questions about the music, etc. Finally question #5 came: "I didn't understand this movie at all. What was it about?" Some of the audience clapped. Director: "I'm not going to answer that question. It's up to you to figure it out." Scattered boos. A lot of people (including me) walked out at that point.

Now I have seen more than my share of French movies that leave you hanging: "Will the main character do X or Y?" That's fine. I can deal with that. You can use the clues in the rest of the movie to build a case for either X or Y. But, to make an analogy, this was like a murder mystery where at the end you discover the person you thought was dead wasn't dead at all, some unknown character was dead, and the murderer was someone who didn't even appear in the movie until the end. And nothing had anything to do with the rest of the movie. In other words, total nonsense.

To me, this shows utter contempt for the audience. You do not make a movie to entertain yourself or show how clever you are (that's called pretentiousness). You make a movie to entertain people, and maybe make them think. This did neither, and it did it in a spectacularly misguided way.

The Child in Time

WTF? A big nothing burger.
OK, I admit I wanted to watch this because of Kelly MacDonald, who I think is incredibly sexy. Other than a few closeups of her face, that's it for her.

This movie lost me from the beginning, then spun me around in circles just to make sure I didn't find my way out. Great....we're shifting time you spend five minutes figuring out if this scene is before, after, during, in another dimension...??? NO chemistry between Cumberbatch and MacDonald. Sad.

A lot of red herrings. The book about the boy named Fish....?? The new romance with the committee chick....? Why did Kelly disappear "I have to go away...."? (Just pregnancy? Why disappear? This isn't the 1900s...) The mysterious toss-off line the insane friend tells him---something along the lines of "I've done something really bad, you'll find out later..." What? Who knows? It's just one false lead after another, and of course none make any sense. If it makes any sense to you, you're a better man than I am.

Where did it really go, in the end? I don't know, I really don't. Is this about some sort of mysticism or reincarnation? How could Cumberbatch appear as a boy to his pregnant mother? Who is the boy who appears then disappears on the subway? Cumberbatch? His friend? His imagination? No one of significance? Is the new baby a "replacement" for the lost girl? Is it the lost girl? God knows. the business about the PM and the report....what report? The report on the eduction system? Does anyone care? They don't seem to.

What a mess. Where's the continuity girl when you need her?

Lady Bird

Best movie of the year, by far
I love Greta Gerwig. I admit it. As far as I can see, her movie roles are all a version of herself, which is utterly charming. So obviously I had to go see this.

Yet ANOTHER coming of age film? Yes and no. Yes, the same subject matter. No, not the same approach. It's like saying Lord of the Rings was a movie about talking trees. Greta, who both wrote and directed the movie, sustained the high level throughout. How often do you see this? Usually the first 10-15 minutes are funny, then they run out of ideas. But Greta kept the ideas coming, and the result was (to me anyway) a completely new take on a high school girl coming of age.

For one thing, I was laughing out loud every few minutes. I won't give away the best lines, but they were all fresh and unexpected. Let's just say that the football coach as director of the school play was inspired. But so was the mother. And the father. And the friends. And the boy friends. It was all just brilliant. Time and time again Greta was faced with yet another trite situation that she made fresh and funny. And the acting--except for the lead character, we had journeyman actors. But they all did a great job. Not too little, not over the top. Just right. And Saoirse not only made herself LOOK like Greta (same smile....) she SOUNDED like Greta. A friend we saw the movie with was convinced Greta was playing herself in the movie. We had to convince her it wasn't. Whether this was intentional or not I don't know, but in either case Saorirse did an outstanding job.

The OA

Why the unnecessary weirdness?
I've been following Brit ever since an article about her appeared in the alumni magazine years ago. Yes, we both went to the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown. I've also seen her live, and I must say she is even more beautiful than on the screen.

And yes, we all know at this point she writes her own movies (which I've seen and liked), and that they are "quirky" to say the least. But they were internally consistent up until this.

First, in what way or sense can she possibly be "The Original Angel"? Makes no sense.

Second, OK, we are all dying to make a movie about multi-dimensional multiverses. Sure. Why not? But is this the way to do it? with all the mumbo jumbo, captive guinea pigs, mad scientist, etc.? Way too many distractions. Keep the story simple.

Third, Brit is gorgeous. That's a given. But not to the other characters in the move--they all ignore her beauty. Sorry, that's just not realistic, esp. from h.s. boys. Acknowledge the fact you are dazzling. It's OK, we all know it!

So we'll see where this goes in season two, but I'm betting it will be disappointing. Brit needs to find a physicist to collaborate with, or else go the other direction and write about religion / moral choices. But not this New Age mishmash of the two. This is NOT what she learned at Georgetown!

Lipstick Under My Burkha

Excellent message -- deserves to be seen by everyone
My usual disclaimer: I am not Indian. I live near Washington DC. My wife and I have been watching Bollywood movies for over 10 years, and we see probably 20+ a year, + DVDs. I subscribe to Filmfare.

We've noticed a trend in Bollywood--a good trend. Women are shown as more independent and powerful. This is good! The director Maneesh Sharma is a great example of this -- all his movies feature strong, independent women. I met Maneesh several years ago, and he seemed like a great guy.

But there are still movies like Badrinath Ki Dulhania that are painful to watch. It made me cringe throughout at the treatment of women. It was an embarrassment to the Indian film industry, and in terms the director might understand, it brought shame upon him and the entire cast (see below).

So Lipstick under My Burkha was a welcome addition to feminist movies. The Indian censor board had the good sense to approve it, even if it was after an appeal. We saw it yesterday at the DC Film Festival, and the screening was almost sold out -- and Indians were a small minority of the audience.

The movie makes two points I completely agree with. I suspect some people will say that I am culturally biased, etc. etc. but I think this goes beyond that. There are certain things that are simply right and other things that are simply wrong. It doesn't matter what your culture is or where you come from. And things that might have been acceptable in 1300 or 1850 or even 1950 are not acceptable today. They should be condemned.

First, shame. The male characters in the movie use the word "shame" a lot -- "You will bring shame upon the family," etc. No one -- NO ONE -- can bring shame on you except you yourself. If you don't believe this, you need to wake up and change.

Second, human rights. I'm going to be shamelessly (joke) culturally bound and quote from that nice 18th century Enlightenment document, the US Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

They key idea here is that "rights" are NOT given to you by the government, a king, or your husband. They are given to you by God. And they are "unalienable" = they can't be changed or taken away -- by anyone, for any reason. So when a husband talks about "allowing" his wife to work or parents talk about "finding a husband" for their daughter, they are violating human rights. Again, if you don't believe this, you need to wake up and change.

The movie itself has an interwoven plot. Four women of different ages live in a "manzil" or block of buildings in Bhopal. A college student wears a burkha ordinarily, but changes into a T-shirt and jeans every day as soon as she gets to her college. Because she's been repressed so much, she has fantasies about boys. Because she is so inexperienced, she is vulnerable. She comes very close to disaster. The second woman is a wife and mother of three boys. Her husband works in Saudi Arabia and only comes home a few times a year. Somehow he is stupid enough to think that all the children are his. His wife works, secretly, for a department store as a saleswoman, and she is very good at her job. Her husband has a mistress, and the wife discovers this and confronts the mistress. The husband's reaction: "Why are you trying to embarrass me?" Again, let me repeat: his own actions should embarrass him. Not something his wife does. But he doesn't understand this. A third women is "modern" and fairly independent, but she is about to be married to a man she doesn't like. He wants her to live the rest of her life at home with his large family. That's her idea of Hell. She has a boyfriend, and together they try to earn money by photographing weddings. Eventually the finance finds out about the boyfriend, and again the idea that she has "shamed" him comes up. She walks away. Good for her! The fourth woman is a 52-year-old widow who lives with relatives in the manzil that she (they?) own. She reads racy romance novels and has fantasies about a young swimming coach. She gets up enough nerve to take swimming lessons from him, and after several unsuccessful attempts she gets him to have phone sex with her--but of course he doesn't know who she is. Eventually she is exposed, her family throws her into the street, and of course they say that she has "shamed" them.

What makes it a good movie, apart from the social message, is that each character is described in enough detail that you feel that you know them. They are not just stock characters, as in many movies: "the widow," "the slut," etc. The acting is first rate. And there are spots of humor scattered along the way. It's not all doom and gloom. It should be required watching -- and not just in India.

Badrinath Ki Dulhania

You don't love someone who puts you in the boot of a car
You can call me culturally biased if you like, but I cringed all the way through this. I understand the positive message the director said he was trying to send, but this is not the way to do it.

How can you love someone who threatens to kill you and puts you in the boot of his car to take you back to India to kill you there? And the constant fighting...? I simply couldn't put all that out of my mind. And the weighing of a pregnant woman? This may be an old custom, but it certainly treats the woman like an object. And the idea that a woman can't make choices because her father is going to run her life....sorry, it just makes me sick. Just the portrayal of these idea--even it's to criticize them--was too much for me. Sorry.

Leaving that aside, there was no real plot, the first half was much better than the second half, and the "humorous" sidekick was just an annoying distraction. What plot there was was simply a repeat of hundreds of other Hindi films. Not a good effort.

On the other hand, Alia is radiant, and I look forward to seeing more of her.

Silent Nights

Misguided idiocy
This is just sad, but it seems to be what's happening nowadays.

A Danish girl works at the Salvation Army as a volunteer to help black African refugees. One of them supports himself (?) by collecting empty cans to turn in at local stores. He's turned away from the shelter when it's full. Instead of accepting it, he yell's "F... you" at the volunteers. We see him again the next day, when he's at least smart enough to come a bit early to get a place. He smiles at the Danish girl, she smiles back...she befriends him. Meanwhile we see him making periodic calls to his family in Ghana, where a woman (later we learn it's his wife) keeps urging him to send money home. He can't, of course.

Well, things move along. Before you know it he's helping the Danish girl at the shelter. Now he knows where the cash is kept and where the key is. So he steals the money (which is money to be spent on the other refugees, remember). The girl confronts him after seeing the CCTV footage. He says it was for his father's operation (a lie). She forgives him. Then she lets him move in with her. She offers to marry him so he can stay in Denmark. Then one day when he's taking a shower, his phone rings. She answers, and it's a woman, who hangs up. Then she looks at photos on the phone (this part doesn't hang together, since he had his original phone stolen- -so where did he get the photos? the cloud???) and clearly he's married with three children. She confronts him and tosses him out.

It's over, right? Not at all. She hunts him down and tells him he'd be better off in Ghana. He agrees, but doesn't have the money to fly back, and besides that there is the shame of arriving back a failure without money. He can't do it. So she gives him 50,000 kroner (she got 35,000 from her mother when she died). Before this she has explained she has had a hard life too-- which you can see she did. She's far from rich. So he goes home to his family, and she discovers she's pregnant with his child. She's overjoyed.

Now this get political. I can see where very, very, very liberal people would say, "Oh, she's a saint, she helped the poor guy." But the "poor guy" abandoned his family in Ghana, doesn't appear to be looking for a job, stole money from the shelter, lied about why he did it, took advantage of the girl by living with her and having sex with her, and of course was happy to take her 50,000.

Excuse me, she's an idiot. Worse than an idiot. (Why worse? Because she's now given a wonderful example to other refugees: lie, steal, abandon your family, screw the local women. She has put other women who don't feel as magnanimous as she does in danger. Good work!) But astoundingly you can look up similar stories (real) online of German, Swedish, and Finnish women who have "felt sorry" for refugees, taken them into their homes/apartments, and then--shocker!!--were surprised when the refugees raped them. At the trials ALL of these women said they felt guilty because the poor refugees couldn't help themselves, and the women felt obligated to help them, including offering their bodies. Poor Europe.

Paradies: Liebe

Slutty European Women as Sex Tourists in Kenya
I watched this for a very particular reason: last year I began researching conversions to Islam among Westerners. I found that 75% are women between 15-24. That seemed a bit odd to me...then I read a French report on Islamic extremists--most were, surprisingly, women converts! Then I began thinking about cults...the Manson Family...mostly women...Branch Davidians....mostly women....and so on. Then there is the phenomenon of the kidnapped girls, some of whom had the freedom to run away but refused to do so (Elizabeth Smart, et al.). While watching "Beatles: Eight Days a Week," which is mainly about the concerts the Beatles gave, it struck me that virtually the entire audience was young girls, all hysterical. Why???? Then, when thinking one day about Obama's mother (married a Kenyan student when she was very young, then married an Indonesian), I stumbled across this sub-culture of women who search out exotic locales for sex tourism. It's not a new phenomenon, but I'm not sure when it began-- "Heading South," about female sex tourism is supposedly set in 1979. "Bezness as Usual" is set in Tunisia in present day--but it concerns what happened almost 30 years ago--so c. 1986 or so. "Paradise: Love" is present day, so 2012. I am curious when this phenomenon began--when women as well as men began taking sex holidays. Maybe the sexual revolution of the 1960s unleashed something??? What's up with all these women? If anyone has a clue, please answer in FAQ comments.

As for "exploitation," it is not an easy issue. Clearly the power is in the hands of the European/American women. They have the money, they have passports to leave when they're ready, and they seem to be relatively safe. One movie said something like "Tourists don't die." The beach boys on the other hand know exactly what they're getting into. Yeah, you could say they "don't have a choice" but as Sartre said, "There is always a choice." And they do have power too--the women get emotionally attached to them; they never, ever get emotionally attached to the women--even if they marry them. They manipulate the women, as "Paradise: Love" shows so well. The hero of this particular movie is Joseph (or something like that) the bartender. At the end of the movie he says he "wants" to have sex with her but "is not used to" doing such things. In the end, his reluctance gets him kicked out of the room. But he is the moral force, such as it is, of the movie.

If this is the face that the West presents in these countries, it's no wonder the West is hated and despised. But the women--in all these movies--don't give a second's thought to that. It's all about them personally, and the larger picture is not even on the horizon.

This is a good movie in the sense that it at least tries to take a stab at explaining the women's motivations. A second movie, Dutch, 2016, is "Benzess as Usual," where the son of one of these vacation idylls returns to meet his father. In this case, it's Tunisia. But exactly the same thing is going on--older women using younger, poor men for sex. And, as hinted at in "Headed South" in this case the beach boy is taken to the Netherlands and then Switzerland (by different women!). He marries both, but of course it ends badly. A third movie in this genre is "Heading South." In this case, it's French and American women in Haiti. (But it happens throughout the Caribbean, esp. Jamaica). The location changes, the story is the same. There are also numerous youtube videos on this theme. And then of course there are books like "The White Masai" about a young (!) Swiss woman who marries a Masai--and not an educated, Westernized one, but a native from a village living in a mud hut. It's beyond bizarre. She is "shocked" when things don't work out. I am simply speechless.

Vers le sud

Sex Tourism for Women
I watched this for a very particular reason: last year I began researching conversions to Islam among Westerners. I found that 75% are women between 15-24. That seemed a bit odd to me...then I read a French report on Islamic extremists--most were, surprisingly, women converts! Then I began thinking about cults...the Manson Family...mostly women...Branch Davidians....mostly women....and so on. Then there is the phenomenon of the kidnapped girls, some of whom had the freedom to run away but refused to do so (Elizabeth Smart, et al.). While watching "Beatles: Eight Days a Week," which is mainly about the concerts the Beatles gave, it struck me that virtually the entire audience was young girls, all hysterical. Why???? Then, when thinking one day about Obama's mother (married a Kenyan student when she was very young, then married an Indonesian), I stumbled across this sub-culture of women who search out exotic locales for sex tourism. It's not a new phenomenon, but I'm not sure when it began-- "Heading South" is supposedly set in 1979. Maybe the sexual revolution of the 1960s unleashed something???

This is a good movie in the sense that it at least tries to take a stab at explaining the women's motivations. A second movie, Dutch, 2016, is "Benzess as Usual," where the son of one of these vacation idylls returns to meet his father. In this case, it's Tunisia. But exactly the same thing is going on--older women using younger, poor men for sex. And, as hinted at in "Headed South" in this case the beach boy is taken to the Netherlands and then Switzerland (by different women!). He marries both, but of course it ends badly. A third movie in this genre is "Paradise Love." In this case, it's German women on the beaches of Mombasa. The location changes, the story is the same. There are also numerous youtube videos on this theme. And then of course there are books like "The White Masai" about a young (!) Swiss woman who marries a Masai--and not an educated, Westernized one, but a native from a village living in a mud hut. It's beyond bizarre.

Little Men

What on earth was this about? And whatever it was, does there need to be a movie about it?
I'll give it an extra point for the acting, so it gets a 2 instead of a 1.

Just before the final couple minutes of the movie, the screen goes black, and I leaned over and said to my wife "If this is the end, I want my money back." Well, it had a little epilogue, but that simply served to put the nail in the coffin.

Many say this movie was from the boys' point of view. No. It wasn't. A lot of the action centers on them, but they are almost always interacting with teachers, parents, other students, etc. and there is nothing that indicates the boys' point of view is being given. That's pure pretentious fantasy.

Since we are subjected to several scenes from "The Seagull," where Greg K. is playing an actor in the play, we might expect some relevance to the action in the movie. Maybe I'm just not smart enough, but it drew a blank for me. I even looked up "The Seagull" in Wikipedia to see if I missed something. Nope. Nothing.

Similarly, Greg K. gives a little father-son talk at the end of the movie. You would think this would also sum up the point of the movie. He gave some long story about a childhood acquaintance who wanted to be a dancer but keep practicing so hard she was constantly injured and never became a dancer at all. The moral of his story--as he explicitly said--was that you achieve success not by hard work, but by knowing when to pull back and simply go with what you've got. Great. Nice moral. But...what did it have to do with the movie I just saw? Nothing.

Then we've got the main conflict in the movie: the dressmaker who occupies the store had a great relationship (sexual? maybe, but there's no real hint of that) with Greg K's father, who never raised the rent in eight years. Greg and his sister inherit the building; Greg and his family move into his father's old apartment, and Greg and his sister want to raise the rent on the dressmaker. They justify this by saying "the neighborhood is changing" and, as with many families, although Greg's family has gotten an apartment to live in, the sister wants her share of the inheritance. (Now you'd think that the obvious way to solve this is to do what most people do: buy the sister out. In other words, instead of a "free" apartment, Greg K. should be paying his sister a monthly "rent" until she has gotten her half of the inheritance. But no, that seems not to have occurred to anyone. And of course Greg had been paying rent before, so....) The dressmaker simply doesn't have enough money. And by the end of the movie, she's gone. Probably to some Booklyn sweatshop to end her days in misery. Terrific.

Throughout the movies we are told about Greg's faults: he doesn't contribute enough money to household expenses--although his wife doesn't seem to mind. He has a hard time making friends. Yup, that's pretty clear from his relationship with the dressmaker. But how all this fits together and how it makes sense of the movie is a mystery.

The boys become friends quickly. They seem to part just as quickly at the end. Is this what the movie is trying (unsuccessfully) to say? That friendship is fleeting? That it's rare? Who knows.

To me, a movie should start at point A, go to point B, and along the way you should have some internally logical action. Here we have a movie that starts at point A--the death of the father-- but then meanders all over the place. None of the action is fantastic, it's all logically possible, but it's random. There's no discernible point to it all.

So if you like movie that ramble all over the place and make you leave the theater saying "What was that all about?" this is the movie for you.


One of the funniest movies in years
I admit it: I am a Julie Delpy fan. I think she's a genius. This movie proves it.

The movie begins with a Julie-Delpy-like barrage of witty talk. (Much like Woody Allen.) Throw in a tuna fish, and you've got a good introduction to what's coming.

Throughout the movie she throws in little mini-jokes: some verbal, some visual. If you blink, you missed one. For me, they're the best part of the movie. And for me, this is where she shows her genius: it's relatively easy to come up with some extended routine--lots of movie do that. But to see the latent humor in an everyday action and to make you laugh with a word, a gesture, or an expression, that's amazing and rare.

I'm not sure that we need to look for involved psychological analysis here. There may be an opinion about the younger generation, or children, but that's not what this is about. It's about love, and how to find and keep it. And along the way, yes, it's extreme. If it weren't, it would be boring. This is anything but boring.

And unlike many movies lately, it has an ending. Extra points for that.

The Promise

Excellent movie--romance, action, it has it all
I also saw this in Toronto during the film festival. The director and main actors (except Christian Bale) were present and answered questions.

The first question was the Turkish reaction--you can see that for yourselves: 84,000 ratings (low!) on IMDb BEFORE the premier of the film! Magic, right? Clearly the Turks are organized and out to sabotage this movie. 84,000 ratings don't appear without some organization, so I assume some government interference. Not very subtle.

Like Dr. Zhivago (to which the director gladly admitted similarities), it is a love triangle set amid WW I. In this case, our hero is from a small town in eastern Turkey, an Armenian. He's about to leave for medical school in Istanbul, and gets engaged to another Armenian woman. Her dowry gives him the money necessary to pay for medical school. He befriends a Turk whose father is in the upper echelons of government, and he falls in love with another Armenian woman he meets at his uncle's house, where he is staying. His uncle is a rich merchant, and the woman is the nanny. But she is also having an affair with Christian Bale, who plays an American war correspondent.

The Ottomans begin rounding up Armenians after they enter the war, sending the men to work battalions to construct railways and exiling the old men, women, and children to Syria. Our hero escapes and goes back to his native town, which so far has avoided problems. His parents want him to marry his fiancée, and he's in no position to say no, so he does, despite his love for the other woman, who is now supposedly out of the picture. But of course she comes back, along with Christian Bale. His wife is killed along with other villagers, and he flees to another village. They decide to fight rather than trek across the desert to Aleppo, where the Ottomans want to exile them. This leads to the famous siege of Musa Dagh, the rescue by a French fleet, and the drowning of the girl as they are about to reach the French battleship.

So basically that's the story. It's plausible, well acted, and serves as an emotional entry to the horrors unfolding around them. As in Dr. Zhivago, the love story is necessary to tell the story-- otherwise you would have something like a boring fictionalized documentary. The historical facts seem accurate, despite our Turkish friends' protests. It's well worth your time and money.


Is there a point, and should we care???
We had seen the same director's "Eden" two years ago, and frankly, if we had noticed that she directed this, we would have given it a miss. We saw it at the Toronto Film Festival.

Like "Eden," this is one of those movies that simply shows a person's life over some period of time. There is no moral, no point to the story (as far as I can see), very little humor (Isabelle Huppert was at the screening and said she tried to inject a bit of humor with her acting), and more than a bit pretentious (the director seemed to be in love with the final scene, although it left me cold).

I have a feeling this was, like "Eden," fairly autobiographical. The director's parents were both philosophy teachers, and I would have liked them to have commented on the movie--was this really about them? Is the director simply making a movie in the same way other people might talk about their parents to a therapist? I don't know.

My objection is that nothing much happens--either in terms of plot or in terms of involvement in the movie. Yes, her husband leaves her for another woman. Yes, she likes her former student, but there is not much passion in either situation. She doesn't seem to care, and neither did I. There are occasional long quotations from philosophers, and maybe this would have made everything more comprehensible, but the quotations were quite long, and hard to follow with subtitles. Even so, you shouldn't need a quotation to make sense of a movie.

Le ciel attendra

French Girls Become Jihadis
I just saw this at the Toronto Film Festival, where the director and two stars also talked about the movie.

They apparently started shooting this movie (bad choice of words) a day or two after the Bataclan attack. This gives it added relevance and inspired the actresses in their performances.

Let me preface the review by saying that I have studied Arabic for nine years, have a near-PhD in Islamic Studies, have taught at universities in Saudi Arabia and Egypt for seven years, and for the last two yeas have been immersed in the world of Da'ish and Islamic terrorism. In other words, I know something (!) about the subject.

The director was spot on. Every nuance was absolutely true. There is nothing that could be improved on. If you want a movie to explain why girls (including French girls who are converts) turn into Jihadis, this is THE movie. The director spent months doing research, including talking with girls who had been radicalized, the families, and an Arab de-programmer (Dounia Bouzar) who plays herself in the movie. The research paid off--this will be THE definitive movie on the subject.

The story follows two girls. One has an Arab father and a French mother. She was raised Muslim. The other girl is simply a 15-year-old French girl who is filled with radical ideas. She is groomed by online recruiters, and soon she is an Islamic extremist who leaves for Syria to join her "family." Chilling.

It also follows the parents of the girls, and their guilt and depression. Where did they fail??? And, in fact, they DID fail. Esp. in the case of the French girl, the mother didn't see the signs, because what it led to was unthinkable. But it happened, as it does happen to hundreds of girls.

Apparently the Minister of Education in France has seen the movie twice. Every politician in the West should watch this movie. As well as all high school teachers, parents, and high school students. And if you have any curiosity about the subject at all, this is the best movie out there.

If you spend time on youtube, you will find literally thousands of extremists and Jihadi videos. The opposite point of view is almost completely absent. There are about six pathetic State Dept. videos that are laughable. There are very good (and funny) videos by the evangelical David Woods. But that's it. Mainstream churches--including Catholics--have abandoned the field of battle to the Islamists. There is not even an attempt at apologetics. This makes this movie even more special since it is almost unique.

Even if it weren't acted well, it would be essential watching. But the actresses are brilliant, the story is dramatic and captivating, and leaving the subject material aside, it is a suspenseful and dramatic movie. So on every level it succeeds. This is one of the best movies I have seen in many years (and I see over 75 movies in theaters every year). I can't praise it enough.


boring, unfocused, just plain bad
I saw this today at the Toronto Film Festival. The director spent a year and a half on this? Are you kidding?

If the following makes for fascinating filmmaking in your opinion, this is the movie for you:

-a woman making a bed

-a boy looking at a bird in a tree

-2 boys carving faces in cactuses

-5-6 brief shots of a radio DJ playing songs

-a woman getting a sonogram

-a boy getting an eye exam

-and much more of the same!!!!

It took real inspiration to take a topic with built-in drama and turn it into a mish-mash of pretentious "artistic" nothing. Virtually nothing on the refugees, and no interviews with them at all. The only moving part was the shot of the dead refugees in the hold of the boat. Other than that, it is empty of both content and emotion.

This is, sadly, one of the worst movies I have ever seen and a colossal waste of two hours.

The Nice Guys

Another great American film with no American stars
So we have the quintessential LA crime drama, starring two Australians and a this point, why don't we just admit that whole 1776 thing was just a fit of temper?

Here's a riddle: Who is 15 and steals every scene from Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling? A: Angourie Rice. Who? Yeah, the kid who plays Ryan's daughter. Yet another Australian with a perfect American accent, this time only 15 years old. To say that she is perfect in the role is to understate things wildly. Unless she self-destructs, I think we're getting a preview of the premier actress of the next 20-30 years.

As for the plot, it's a throwaway, so no point in wasting brain cells on it. But the interplay between Crowe and Gosling--and yes, also Rice--is excellent. They left the door open for a sequel, and as long as Rice is along for the ride, I'm in.

Darbareye Elly

Stupid people lying…is this entertainment?
I believe that in ancient Persia telling the truth was the central virtue. Obviously Iran has come a long way since then.

I thought this came out in 2015, since that's when it hit theaters in the US, but I see it's 2009. Why a 6-year wait? Because the director's other two films, "Separation" (which I loved) and "The Past" (liked, but not loved) came out later, and someone is looking for a big payday?

Let me talk about the press conference at the Berlin Film Festival, which is on the DVD, first. Farhadi, the director, acted like a politician--he didn't answer one question directly or truthfully. Not only was he evasive, he even gave answers that had nothing to do with the questions. When the actresses were asked directly if Farhadi "imposed his vision" on them, they sucked up big time and talked about how collaborative it all was. Right. I need to sell them a bridge. There were no fewer than three questions about the film having a "problem" in Iran. What the problem was is never discussed. The director denied there was "a problem." I can see why he directed a movie where everyone lies! He wouldn't know the truth if he fell over it.

At one point the director talks about trying to make the movie "universal." Really? Constant lying? Treating women like dogs? That's not universal. And the first scene--some slot with something being put in at intervals. "What the hell is that?" I said to myself. In the Q&A in the press conference, Farhadi explained it was an alms box that travelers put money in before a trip to ask for a safe trip, and yes, there was some dialog about Elly putting money in an alms box, but I never connected it to the opening scene. How can it be "universal" if the opening scene is a strictly Iranian custom that no one else knows about????

Also, I see that Golshifteh Farahani ("Sepidah") was exiled (i.e., threatened with bodily harm) from Iran in 2012 and now lives in Paris. She's going to be in the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean, so obviously it's hurt her career… (more sarcasm). Good for her.

OK, now the movie. You know those horror movies where all the people do really, really stupid things? And you yell at the screen, "Don't go into that room!" That's exactly what happens here. Everyone--yes, everyone--tells lies constantly. Why? Is this some sort of metaphor for Iran? A country where you have to lie constantly to get along? I don't know. The woman are treated like crap: "Get the salt." "Get the tea." "Watch the children." "Clean the house." At least in the subtitles there are no "Pleases" or "Thank yous." Then there's the scene where Amir throws his wife Sepideh to the ground and starts beating her. Charming. And then when thing start to go wrong, everyone blames everyone else in an infinite chain. Lovely. Gosh, I want these people as my friends!! (more sarcasm.) Then they talk about the "honor" of Elly…what, because she bundled up in a ton of clothes and went for a day at the seaside with friends? And of course the women plunge into the ocean with all their clothes on. They would drown in less than a minute--the wet clothes would drag them down. Then there were the multitude of "holes" in the movie--they're covered on the message board threads, so I won't list them all, but there were lots and lots. Stuff that didn't make sense, stuff that had no meaning but just "happened" to be in the shot. This is supposed to be "art"--everything's supposed to be there for a reason. Again, see the message boards. And if you notice, at the end of the movie all the adults are in the house discussing what to do, what their next lie should be, etc., and where are the children who almost drowned the previous day? Oh, they're playing in the ocean. What kind of parents ARE these? The final scene: everyone trying to push the car that's stuck in the sand. This does sum up the movie--why pull the car out with the 4-wheel drive vehicle or jack up the rear wheels and put something under them? No, that's too easy. Let's all push. Dumb and dumber.

I will say the acting was excellent. However, they deserve to be in a better movie.

Getting Straight

No wonder I don't want to remember the 60s
I was overseas in 1970 when this came out, so I missed it. When I got the DVD, my wife, who had seen it in 1970, said "That's awful, you won't like it." But I persevered.

When I got the movie, I thought "Early Candace Bergen, Elliott Gould, Harrison" No.

It sounds like everyone (yes! everyone!) is reading their lines for the first time, not acting. In other words, don't expect actual acting. Candace, either through bad makeup or bad color restoration, looks orange--I expect she is supposed to look suntanned. She doesn't. The script sounds like a way way off Broadway drama, with all sorts of speeches and clichés. The protest and riot scenes are more like Keystone Kops than 1970s reality. Too many people are smiling, and protests--according to the movie--are just to turn chicks on. There is no exploration of why all this is going on--which I thought surprising. Maybe they thought in 1970 it didn't need explanation. Who knows. But nothing. Poor Candace, and by inference, all women, comes across as just a vapid piece of meat who wants to get married. Pre-women's lib indeed. I bet Candace would slit her throat if she watched this now. I was surprised to see "suck" used in its current meaning in 1970. Otherwise, not much--if anything--to gain in watching this. If you want to re-live the era, watch "Woodstock" or other documentaries.

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