RJBurke1942

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Nelyubov
(2017)

Where we see humanity for its worst
For dramatic realism about humanity, society and politics, I need look no further than Andrey Zvyagintsev, the director of this devastating, disheartening examination of what happens to a 12-year-old boy who exists - not lives - in a loveless home.

In this story, we're dealing with a divorce-in-progress couple with a young son. The couple actively hate each other; both parents expect the other to have the boy to look after; and both parents are now also involved with another lover. The ex-husband has already got his new partner pregnant. The ex-wife now has a much older and mature man who can look after her. The boy, unwanted and unloved, stays in his room mostly, often gazing out to a playing field in front of the apartment block. Both parents, in contrast, spend more time gazing at their cell phones.

And so, while listening to the vitriolic abuse between his parents and as they argue about where he should live, we see the lad in his bedroom, in the dark, bent over, sobbing uncontrollably....

Next morning, before both parents leave for work, the boy has his breakfast and then rushes off - to school, presumably - and disappears from view. For the next 30 minutes or so of screen time, we follow those parents in their daily drudge, duties, bickering ... and their sexual adventures with new partners. Two days later, they both realise they haven't seen the boy at all.

The remainder of the story details all the necessary aspects of trying to find a missing person, searching everywhere - informative, didactic and pedestrian in its presentation, but necessarily and deliberately done slowly by the director, for emotional and dramatic impact.

Most of the family characters are uniformly repulsive. Officials from various institutions and agencies are ... studiously official, taking nothing for granted, giving nothing gratuitously. All actors range from sufficient to exceptional, particularly the divorcing couple, and other members of the families involved. The dialog for these encounters is real, starkly revealing and truly effective.

The bleak white winter scenery is a perfect metaphor for the coldness of the parents towards their son - now somewhere out in a killer cold and presumably trying to survive.

From my perspective, the ending is inevitable, but I'll let you find out for yourself. To that end, take particular note of a brief scene, at the boy's school, at the 1h: 47 min mark. And note also, towards the end, a snowboarding gathering, at the playing field, with many children engrossed in having winter fun.

I've now seen all of Zvyagintsev's major works, all of which carry a message of some sort. With the power and presentation of this story, Loveless is arguably his most emotional message so far.

So, it's certainly not a movie for everybody. And while this movie is not Zvyagintsev's best - I think it's just too horrific for that - it's still a story to watch if you have even passing thoughts about the plight of homeless children in your city. Globally, an estimated 100 million children are homeless.

Finally, the occasional sound track is truly discordant, so much so I muted it at the start and while credits rolled at the end. It is just noise, imo; and, just maybe, a metaphor for the misery endured by the young boy in his noisy, discordant hell-home.

Highly recommended. Nine out of ten.

Ahlat Agaci
(2018)

Where we watch a graduate come to terms with Life
Directed by the award-winning Nuri Bilge Ceylan (aka NBC), this story centers upon a young graduate, Sinan (Dogu Demirkol) returning to his home town to get financing from somebody - anybody - to publish his newly completed novel. Like most young people, Sinan wants success. But he's not exactly tolerant of people, treating his mother and sister with indifference, his father - a primary school teacher - with contempt for his addictive gambling, others with thinly-veiled antagonism. His wish to be published is a wild dream, of course, like many budding writers looking for recognition. However, this movie is not just a story about getting published....

The opening scene, through a glass darkly, shows Sinan inside a cafe, sitting and drinking tea, with the vista he's brooding upon reflected, for the viewer, in the glass-covered front. It's a cleverly unsettling scene because it shows the real overlaid with the unreal as though one. So, as we continue to watch this story unfold, that metaphor is further developed with Sinan meandering his way around town, on rural roads and tracks, through forests, glades etc. - giving himself a lot of time to ponder his options, his choices, his wants. And all the while, indulging himself in a number of real or totally imaginary encounters with - in no particular order - his parents, his sister, old friends, a local businessman who sells sand, young friends, one of his old flames, a well-known local writer, the town mayor, a couple of local imams, his maternal and paternal grandparents, and a few others with whom he is familiar.

Life is full of banalities and choices, some important. But most important are things that truly matter, whether real or imaginary. So, just as we day-dream from time to time as we wrestle with our own problems and plans, here also we are watching Sinan doing the same as he moves about the area. Because, in a number of his encounters, what he does or says is simply impossible, highly improbable or totally ridiculous. Fortunately, there are clues along the way to help the viewer to discriminate and decide which is which. Perhaps. Meaning this exquisitely visual exposition requires the viewer's keen attention to detail, throughout.

On the other hand, unlike some of NBC's prior movies - e.g. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (2011), Winter Sleep (2014) - this story doesn't have the same dramatic punch with which we are familiar, when a narrative is finally resolved. Instead, it explores truths that are universal and that cannot be denied, especially when Sinan finally realizes what's most important for him to choose. And even though, with his final shocking day-dream, a future possibility he imagines for himself is not something anyone would wish for.

Dogu Demirkol, a relative newcomer as Sinan, is in almost every scene; and his portrayal of an egocentric, combatively arrogant young man is simply superb. That said, the rest of the cast acquit themselves equally well, in my opinion. And, naturally, the setting and production are up to the usual NBC standard.

Highly recommended for all young and old adults. Nine out of ten.

Donnie Darko
(2001)

Where we discover nothing is ever as it seems...
As humans, we're probably the only animal capable of contemplating our own mortality. Many say or think that, at the point of death, your whole life --- maybe only a part? --flashes before your eyes. And who knows what you really see, anyway..?

That's what this movie is all about: it provides a glimpse of what might have been going on inside Donnie's head in the brief few seconds before he dies when a 747 engine drops though the roof of his parents' house and lands on top of him. So, all that you see from the start of this movie until near the end is simply Donnie's (Jake Gyllenhaal) last thoughts for this earth. Very near the start of the story, Donnie has a vision, meeting a strange figure called Frank who tells him that his world is coming to an end. That's a clue that Donnie's dying but I didn't cotton onto that until much later in the plot...

This narrative structure has been done at least once before that I know of: Jacob's Ladder (1990) had the story of a Vietnam soldier dying on an operating table. That story was again the soldier's weird thoughts before he succumbed to his wounds. If you haven't seen it, it is worth the time; but, it's quite a scary movie for some.

I'd seen Gyllenhaal, for the first time, not so long ago in Jarhead (2005) a movie I didn't like but was much impressed by his acting. So, that's one of the reasons I saw this one: his intensity is once again at the forefront of all the characters in Donnie Darko.

At another level, this movie is also partly about the American Dream and the lies that support it: there's the dream psychology coach Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze), and what a ham he is, and very cunning to boot because he's got a nasty, dirty little secret; there's the idealistic English teacher Karen Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore) who's trying to open the students' minds to the delights of language - and gets more than she bargained for; there's the phys-ed coach Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant) who wants her girls to win a national dancing competition, and will stop at nothing to get it; there's school principal Cole (David Moreland) who wants nothing more than peace, quiet, and all the metaphorical garbage kept out of public view; and finally there's Donnie's family, (see cast list), jaded, all mixed up, almost brain dead, and resigned to la dolce vita, or what passes for that each good morning, America.

As Donnie, we learn from the story what might have happened had he lived, and as the final tune and final scenes play, what still might happen. Those final scenes are out of kilter with the whole thrust of the story (much like Jacob's Ladder, where the viewer knows what happens after the soldier dies - a narrative inconsistency) because Donnie's dead and the whole thing was his thoughts anyway. However, directors must cater for the viewer, tie up loose ends, and hope that nobody notices... But, heck, in a fantasy dressed up as science fiction, anything can happen, right?

I really enjoyed this movie: good performances, snappy dialog, very effective cinematography, and quite funny in parts. Recommended. Eight out of ten.

Der siebente Kontinent
(1989)

Where consumerism is finally vanquished?
Having seen most of Michael Haneke's filmic efforts, I was eager to finally see his debut movie which is listed as 'drama'. Based upon a true incident, from what I've read, this outing is certainly dramatic; and it is also truly horrific.

Cleanliness is next to godliness, as the saying goes. Beginning in 1987, with the opening moving scene, we are inside a car inside a carwash, at a snail's pace: water, soap, brushes all intermingled with the interminable machine noise drowning any attempt at conversation between the occupants: the Schober family, Anna (Birgtit Doll), Georg (Dieter Berner) and Evi (Leni Tanzer), as we learn.

And so, as the car - gleaming clean, refreshed, sparkling - finally exits, it passes a billboard advertising Australia, the seventh continent, as a welcoming place to live in, and displays perhaps a typical beach scene in that country. Only ... it isn't typical at all: in fact, it's a fantasy beach, a dream beach that cannot possibly exist. Careful examination of that photo will tell you why....

So Australia is a symbol used by Haneke as a counterpoint to the mundane daily existence and routine of the Schober family: a dream country to which they wish to emigrate, or so it seems. The Schober nuclear family is middle class, with an average suburban residence, an average Ford for commuting, in an average part of any Austrian city; Evi is in school, and both parents are suitably employed. The trio is having a moderately "good life", despite some issues with Evi's school and the parents' work, if not yet la dolce vita in another country.

For most of this story, we stay with the family at home, at work, at shopping, at relatives, with others, at doctors etc., etc.; and, for much of that time, seeing only a face, or hand, or back, or feet - almost never a full figure, even in bed when the parents have sex - tiredly, listlessly, dutifully. Cinematic minimalism at its best - or worst, depending upon your point of view; and there is no music soundtrack.

Until, one day in 1989, Georg and Anna resign from their jobs and withdraw all their cash; he sells the car, goes shopping for a variety of hardware and tools, and has a great mass of food delivered to their address. Which, incidentally, we actually see for the first time: a chain-link-fenced, nondescript, off-white house on a dull average street in a dismally dull suburb - treeless, narrow, uninspiring. They tell all who ask that they're on their way to Australia....

Over the final thirty minutes, however, you can find out exactly what they do and where they go - in exquisite, harrowing detail.

Recommended for adults only. Eight out of ten.

December 30, 2019.

Izgnanie
(2007)

Where we learn that truth is always so subjective.
The construction of this story is complex. And just as we viewers are uncertain about chronology and place as we watch, the main characters are wracked with emotional uncertainty from the start, as we soon discover.

Basically, this story is about a continuing romance between Vera (Maria Bonnevie), a deeply religious believer and Alex (Konstantin Lavronenko), a man who pays only lip service to religiosity. It's also a drama about wayward brothers, Alex and Mark (Aleksandr Baluev) and their questionable personal tactics in business and elsewhere. It's also about family and relationships, often troubled with communication issues between members.

But it's ultimately and tragically about a failure to communicate between husband and wife.

At fade in, we see a car coming fast down a rural slope, heading towards the solitary tree in our foreground, on the far side of the dirt road. A ploughed field sits on the near side of the road, ready for planting. The car swiftly passes our view, to appear again, heading directly for us, now on a rural blacktop. Again, it passes furiously fast and then, with a superbly innovative jump cut, we next see the car in the industrial section of a major city, speeding on the slick, dark road to screech to a halt as a train passes across our vision. In the car, the driver is wounded in his blood-soaked left arm....

It's Mark in the car, who finally stops to enter a house with Alex waiting at the door. Inside, Alex assists Mark by removing a bullet and providing the materials to dress the wound. After which they both sleep.

We next see Alex, Vera and a son, Kir (Maksim Shibayev), and daughter, Eva (Yekaterina Kulkina), on a train bound for the country to take possession of the family house left to Alex by his father. The parents don't talk much; he and the children sleep, while she watches her husband. At the house, they plan to stay, perhaps for the rest of their lives. The house is swept, food is cooked, things are unpacked, they settle in. Vera, though, is obviously troubled and soon she informs Alex that she is pregnant. Before Alex can respond in any manner, she adds a shocking rider, quote: "It's not yours!" There's a ghost of a smile on her lips as she finishes speaking, and looks away into the distance.

So, what does she mean? Alex is speechless, dumbfounded, totally silent - except for his eyes, which speak volumes.

Over the next two hours, we watch Alex as he attempts to come to terms with Vera's admission and claim. He walks away, into the sparse forest and hills. He talks to Mark. He takes the kids out to a neighbor's place. He talks again with Vera, now angrily. He hits her. He sends the kids to a different relative's place. He wants to understand: but he can't. Even this viewer is somewhat puzzled by her words....

Eventually Vera's deeply personal meaning is fully revealed, but only after the tragedy of the miscommunication and subsequent misunderstanding is fully played out to its ironic denouement. The ending - the real end of this story - mirrors the beginning with the same car, same dirt road, same rural setting. But now, there's a fundamental uplifting difference....

The production is exquisite in detail; the director (Andrey Zvyagintsev) again shows his virtuosity with imagery, photography and directing; the acting, especially by the children, is flawless; like The Return (2003), dialogue is sparse but entirely effective; and the sound track, from Arvo Pärt, is suitably sonorous and moody.

Give this effort eight of ten. Recommended for teens and up.

January 7, 2020.

Der siebente Kontinent
(1989)

Where consumerism is finally vanquished?
Having seen most of Michael Haneke's filmic efforts, I was eager to finally see his debut movie which is listed as 'drama'. Based upon a true incident, from what I've read, this outing is certainly dramatic; and it is also truly horrific.

Cleanliness is next to godliness, as the saying goes. Beginning in 1987, with the opening moving scene, we are inside a car inside a carwash, at a snail's pace: water, soap, brushes all intermingled with the interminable machine noise drowning any attempt at conversation between the occupants: the Schober family, Anna (Birgtit Doll), Georg (Dieter Berner) and Evi (Leni Tanzer), as we learn.

And so, as the car - gleaming clean, refreshed, sparkling - finally exits, it passes a billboard advertising Australia, the seventh continent, as a welcoming place to live in, and displays perhaps a typical beach scene in that country. Only ... it isn't typical at all: in fact, it's a fantasy beach, a dream beach that cannot possibly exist. Careful examination of that photo will tell you why....

So Australia is a symbol used by Haneke as a counterpoint to the mundane daily existence and routine of the Schober family: a dream country to which they wish to emigrate, or so it seems. The Schober nuclear family is middle class, with an average suburban residence, an average Ford for commuting, in an average part of any Austrian city; Evi is in school, and both parents are suitably employed. The trio is having a moderately "good life", despite some issues with Evi's school and the parents' work, if not yet la dolce vita in another country.

For most of this story, we stay with the family at home, at work, at shopping, at relatives, with others, at doctors etc., etc.; and, for much of that time, seeing only a face, or hand, or back, or feet - almost never a full figure, even in bed when the parents have sex - tiredly, listlessly, dutifully. Cinematic minimalism at its best - or worst, depending upon your point of view; and there is no music soundtrack.

Until, one day in 1989, Georg and Anna resign from their jobs and withdraw all their cash; he sells the car, goes shopping for a variety of hardware and tools, and has a great mass of food delivered to their address. Which, incidentally, we actually see for the first time: a chain-link-fenced, nondescript, off-white house on a dull average street in a dismally dull suburb - treeless, narrow, uninspiring. They tell all who ask that they're on their way to Australia....

Over the final thirty minutes, however, you can find out exactly what they do and where they go - in exquisite, harrowing detail.

Recommended for adults only. Eight out of ten.

December 30, 2019.

Destroyer
(2018)

Being the last working day of a cop on the job
The singular aspect of this story is not the acting, although that's superbly professional, especially from Nicole Kidman as Erin Bell, undercover FBI agent. It's not the actual story, being a standard crime drama about a gang of bank robbers with Bell and her partner, Chris (Sebastian Stan), as infiltrators to bring the gang to justice. It's not any part of the cinematography, editing, special effects etc. And while it's more than ably directed by Karyn Kusama, it's not even that....

It's the structure that's the standout for this effort, with its interleaved ellipses of different times in her past, which focuses upon Erin mostly, Chris - also her lover, and Erin's daughter, Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn).

The opening scene has Erin sitting in her car, waiting. We don't know why. Maybe it's morning, maybe not. She's watching, in her rear vision, skate boarders fooling around behind her. Erin looks like death warmed over. A 211 call comes over her radio. She acknowledges, gets out. We see her approaching one of the city's canals where a body lies; two cops, yellow tape, already there. There is a short exchange of words we hear, but cannot comprehend, fully. We next see Erin in her auto, skate boarders still active, Erin still waiting....

And from there onwards ... we're inside Erin's head while she sits, grimacing, recalling the details of how and why she's waiting, delving into her 17 year past, to pull all the pieces together of how she and Chris got into the murderous gang of bank robbers; the dangers they faced; the love that developed between them; the shock and sadness for Erin when Shelby became involved with shady characters; the mistakes Erin and Chris made while undercover; the disappearance of Silas (Toby Kebbell), the sadistic gang leader, and his recent re-emergence; and finally the last, brutal bank robbery which brings Erin full circle to finish the job she and Chris began all those years ago.

Destroyer is downbeat almost to the last frame: there's not a shred of light relief in the entire two hours. And, while there are those who find the structure problematic, it's nowhere near as confusing as other movies with similar structures. For example, it doesn't have the bizarre nature and artistic flare of Mulholland Drive (2001); likewise, Jacob's Ladder (1990), where we 'see' inside a dying soldier's last thoughts; and Destroyer lacks the visceral, bloody horror of You Were Never Really Here (2017). Obviously, though, the movie demands your attention to sort out Erin's disjointed thoughts as she tries to make amends for all her faults and transgressions. In doing so, she brings the narrative - her story - to a fitting end; and to a delicious, unexpected revelation.

Hence, it's an engrossing story, with Kidman in every scene and almost every frame. Throughout, a suitable soundtrack adds the desired dramatic and emotional affects and effects. And Nicole Kidman is utterly terrific, categorically.

Recommended for adults only. Give this one eight out of ten.

October 2nd, 2019.

Lebenszeichen
(1968)

Where real life needs forceful expression to live!
Having seen and appreciated all of Werner Herzog's fictional works prior to seeing this, I looked forward to finally seeing his first, full commercial feature.

This is a short story about a trio of men, and one woman, who are brought together on the Greek island of Kos, near Turkey, during the Second World War. One of the men is wounded soldier Stroszek (Brogle), a recent arrival at Kos. Shortly after he has recovered, he's allowed to marry a local Greek woman Nora (Zacharoppoulou), and both settle down to living in a small house within a 14th century bastion, part of which has a Greek ammunition depot. With them are two other soldiers; and all three men are assigned to guard the depot which contains tons of explosives and ammunition, the latter however being unsuitable for German weapons.

We see all the above, with quick cuts and voice-over narration by Herzog, in the few minutes after the grand opening scene, accompanied by the theme music (from Stavros Xarhakos) permeating most of the story. It's hot on this island of Kos, even German guards faint in the heat. The sun is blinding; the heat palpably visible on sweaty faces. Nothing much even moves.

Now Stroszek, we learn, is a misfit, a romantic, and an adventurer. Guarding the depot is a joke: there is only one entrance to the whole fort and that stays locked all the time. Balding Meinhard (Reichmann) busies himself with practical matters: building a cockroach trap, fishing, pondering the nature of oil, and other trivialities. Younger Becker (Ungern-Sternberg) is more academic, translating ancient texts carved into and around the whole fortress. All of them begin repainting doors etc., even though that's quite unnecessary. And all of them begin making fireworks from materials found in the depot. Various locals (a wandering gypsy king, a virtuoso piano player, children playing) provide Stroszk with some distraction and interest; still, he just mopes about with Nora, the boredom and inactivity becoming more oppressive for him. In desperation one day, he asks the Captain (Stumpf) if he can go out on patrol across the island.

So, with Meinhard accompanying, the two set out, eventually reaching a spot in the mountains where they come upon a seemingly unending panoply of quickly spinning windmills, the sight of which causes Stroszek to snap: wildly, he shows his quixotic side by shooting at them until Meinhard stops him. Shortly after, while having a meal together, Stroszek finds out that Meinhard reported the shooting incident to the Captain.

Stroszek goes berserk, smashing table, chairs and chasing the two men and Nora around the fortress with his rifle, shooting towards them but not actually hurting anybody. While they exit the castle, he then runs about the battlements screaming at everybody and the world in general, threatening to shoot anybody who tries to enter and also threatening to blow up the explosives depot. Because Stroszek has a plan....

So also the Captain, who orders three assault teams of army veterans to scale the walls and subdue the deranged man. As the teams begin their operation, so does Stroszek start his. While the sun sets, and with his white flag proudly fluttering at top of pole, he begins a grandly, magnificently ineffective effort, the like of which we'll never see again.

This movie, like others (Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo, Fata Morgana et al) from Herzog, is simply unforgettable. Heightened by the hauntingly elegiac theme that infuses the sound track, this is for me, one of the saddest movies I've seen. (As an aside, while savoring that music, I realized that, in Lynch's Wild at Heart, one of its instrumentals - Wicked Game - bears an uncanny similarity to the theme here.)

The only fault - if it is - with this production is the speed and jerkiness of the many and frequent cuts throughout the film. But, hey, only a small handheld camera was used throughout....

Give this nine out of ten, for sure. Recommended for all.

August 26, 2019

Maliglutit
(2016)

Where a deadly quest heats up across the frozen north
While noting that this movie has been rightly compared, in concept, to The Searchers (1956), here it's the frozen landscape, instead of the arid hot badlands of John Ford's classic, that forms the forbidding setting.

For much of the 94 minutes of viewing time, we are on, or running with, dog sleds across the frozen tundra: three Inuit men have kidnapped the wife and daughter of an Inuit man; they also killed the grandmother. Together with his son, the two set of in a quest to rescue the women and render swift justice to the miscreants.

The vista passing, and on the horizon, is almost hypnotic. But, there's no sleeping on this journey. Just relentless silence mostly, and punctuated only by the imperative calls of "Hey! Hey!" to keep the dogs moving; and with harsh cloudy breathing as the men work furiously to catch the murderers. Occasionally, they stop to feed the dogs and themselves with frozen meat.

Suspense quickly builds as they find the murderers' tracks as next day dawns. Hours later, the searchers stop while the father creeps to the top of a small hill to search with his telescope. He sees evidence of the bad guys and speeds up the pace. We later see, from the murderers' perspective, that they are now aware they are being followed. So, the gang leader sets up a trap....

The suspense now racks up even more, as you might expect, while the two good guys approach. So now, I must leave it up to you to see the brutal end, and who survives.

Apart from the opening act in the family's igloo, with the three bad guys as guests, the story moves quickly, literally and figuratively. There's nothing false about the setting, the people and the culture, all of which provides an almost semi-documentary aspect to this tale. Indeed, it was knowing the setting which attracted me most, going in: how difficult is it to make a dramatic movie in such frigid conditions, I wondered? I wasn't disappointed.

Highly recommended. Nine out of ten.

August 18, 2019

The Wife
(2017)

In which a hackneyed story is dressed up for a not so noble prize.
This movie is well produced, well acted, well photographed and edited, and well directed; as you would expect from the information about it, as supplied here.

Unfortunately, the story's banality is saved from summary ridicule by me, only because of the offered carrot: the Nobel Prize Ceremony. But the plot is so predictable, there are no surprises, in my opinion. None. At. All.

In short: the story is of a married couple (Close, Pryce), both of whom are writers. They have a rebellious son (Irons) - also a budding writer - and a dutiful daughter, who is pregnant and close to term. The husband is a literary professor of high standing; the wife was one of his literature students before they married. In the first few minutes, we learn the husband will be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. We also soon learn that the husband is a womanizer from way back: it's how they got married in the first place, again as you quickly learn.

The three travel to Stockholm for the Nobel ceremony. While there, the wife meets a literary hack (Slater) - a biographer - who wants permission to write the husband's biography and suggests there is a dramatic revelation in the offing. Subsequently, the wife evades the issue and the man. The Nobel ceremony is held, the husband gets the medal, there is a emotionally dramatic confrontation between the husband and wife back at the hotel, followed by the equally dramatic denouement. End of story.

I leave you to discover the nature of that climax. So, watch and listen carefully for the clues.

Without knowing the other nominees for that year's Academy Award, I can't comment upon Glenn Close's nomination for Best Actress; suffice to say she did a good job in a clichéd, boring story. Jonathon Pryce and the rest of the cast were suitably professional.

Candidly, if you're interested, as I was, in finding out a bit about the Nobel Prize Awards Ceremony, then this outing is actually worth your time. Hence, recommended only for those so interested.

Five out of ten. Barely.

August 13, 2019

Twin Peaks
(2017)

Where Twin Peaks again intrigues, entertains and puzzles.
The first two series ended with a cliff-hanger, of sorts, leaving this viewer, and others, still confounded to some extent. Hence, I expected series 3 to pick up from that point, more or less. Not so, as becomes abundantly clear from the get-go. In fact, the only real connection with the previous two series are some of the characters everybody knows plus the overarching mystique of Laura Palmer and her death.

While many viewers will be pleased to see old/young faces again, the outstanding feature of this narrative is the introduction of many new faces whose presence intertwines with some of those stock characters of Series 1 and 2. Moreover, viewers should not be surprised, once again, to be the recipients of David Lynch's innovative and fantastic plot for this story; nor, I suggest, with his most outlandish - literally and figuratively - story ever, in my sixty year watching experience, to grace a TV screen.

For this review, though, it's counter-productive to discuss the narrative in much detail. Apart from the complexity, such a recounting would inevitably reveal multiple spoilers. Hence, to try to provide some clarity about the whole experience, I'll briefly summarize my thoughts about what Lynch is trying to achieve....

From an overarching perspective, Lynch's narrative combines sci-fi and surreal mystical fantasy; outer space and other dimensions; atomic bombs; mundane lives in Twin Peaks and other locales; gay Las Vegas gangsters and two garrulous, greedy, feral assassins; a screaming lost madman; FBI agents, good Dale Cooper and his bad doppelganger; insurance agents, prison guards, bad cops and good cops; a young cop with a killer green - yes, green - punch; other young punks of various kinds and criminal gangs; another grossly ferocious assassin, a caravan park manager, and other miscellaneous characters in this passing parade of small town America. And, of course, the inevitable mounting toll of mostly mangled bodies.

Many of those new characters directly affect the quest which forms the core of this series: Finding Agent Cooper. Some have only an indirect influence. Still others have nothing at all to do with it. However, not one character, in my opinion, is superfluous to the whole production. Because, not only do viewers get to watch favorite characters again, it also provided Lynch another opportunity to indulge in outrageous satire, sight gags in almost every episode, good and bad puns, and some of the most droll jokes I've ever seen or heard on a TV show.

One of those comedy scenes is in Part 12, between Lynch and Miguel Ferrer where, both standing and facing each other deadpan, they gaze steadily and silently into each other's eyes, for a total of seventy long seconds, after Lynch makes two dumb jokes, with both actors obviously making sure they didn't collapse laughing (or maybe they did, and had to do a retake). That scene, and many others, are all deliciously delightful.

And finally, when I first heard about the possibility of a Series 3, I reckoned that Lynch -and Mark Frost - had the ideal opportunity to continue with Twin Peaks, almost ad infinitum. And make a much bigger bundle, naturally. Well, as I noted at the start of this review, the previous series ended with a cliff-hanger. So, it's not giving anything away to tell you that this series is similar. But, I'll leave you to feel your jaw drop, as mine did. Enjoy.

Apart from some gross violence occasionally, this I recommend for young and old adults alike. Give it ten out of ten - for ingenuity, imagination and innovation.

Devil's Doorway
(1950)

Where we see the American west for what it truly was
There are westerns ... and then there are real westerns.

Devil's Doorway, with Robert Taylor in the lead role, is a significant and important member of the latter; but one which was "shelved" after the film was finished, as being too contentious, even - in modern terms - politically incorrect for public consumption in the 1950s. Just as a contrast, another real western - The Gunfighter with Gregory Peck, also in 1950 - in which a gun is used once only and in a cowardly manner, was critically received as an excellent example of the realities underpinning the life, and particularly death, of most gunfighters. Devil's Doorway was essentially 'buried' for years; Gunfighter was nominated for an Oscar. Go figure....

Well, Devil's Doorway shows a different, unsavory and more horrible truth: the extent to which native Americans were subject to a multitude of racist and prejudicial actions which should have had no foothold in the land of the free and home of the brave - no pun intended.

And so ... Lance Poole (Taylor) returns from the Civil War as Sergeant-Major, and with a Congressional Medal of Honor. War-weary, he wants peace, as do the Shoshone people to whom he has returned, on their traditional communal land. There, Poole wants to develop and operate a cattle ranch for the common good of his tribe.

In opposition to that goal, Poole encounters racial criticism and anger soon after he rides into Medicine Bow, and joins his old friend and local Marshall Carmody (Edgar Buchanan) in a drink at the bar. There, veiled verbal threats from lawyer Coolan (Louis Calhern, at his evil worst) are followed by a physical fight with Coolan's toady, Stapleton (James Millican), who gets badly beaten by Poole. Thereafter, the situation for Poole and his tribe gradually spirals out of control as Coolan and the duped townsfolk set about the process to wrest away, by force, the Shoshone tribal land, to sell to hordes of white homesteaders, sheep farmers and others.

Help from a local lawyer, Orrie Masters (Paula Raymond) fails to stop the inevitable final battle for the land. So as to avoid spoiling the story, I'll leave you to savor that, so to speak, for yourself. Rest assured you will see an innovative battle, the like of which is truly unique in American westerns; and will never be used again, in my opinion. Because, not only was it a stoke of genius by writer, Guy Trosper, and director, Anthony Mann; but also for the exquisite, tragic irony of how that battle plays out - a must-see for all fans of westerns.

The acting by the lead players is certainly up to par. At first, I thought Taylor an odd choice in the role of native American. However, considering his general acting style from other movies, he definitely captured the somber, calm appearance and attitude of native Americans. Special mention, though, for Louis Calhern who again shows the devilish nature of evil so well and so adroitly. And all backed up by Marshall Thompson as a sheep farmer, the always-affable Edgar Buchanan, often-bad guy James Millican, and many others, resulted in a thoroughly informative, entertaining and thoughtful 84 minutes.

Recommended for all. Nine out of ten for this very special and highly significant western.

Zimna wojna
(2018)

Where indecision in love leaves much to be desired.
After reading the reports and hype about this movie, I knew I had to see it.

I'm glad I did, because the mise en scène of the entire story is so evocative of the 1940s and 1950s, I felt almost transported to those long-gone days, especially with the 4:3 ratio which formed all of my viewing space in those days.

That all said, the movie is still somewhat disappointing. The love story is just not sufficiently interesting for me to develop any real liking of the main characters; I really did not care about either of them. The episodic nature of the narrative is somewhat jarring, and marred by relatively long cuts to a black screen before the next 'episode' begins. And the story of an on-again, off-again romance is, well, just ordinary to the point of banality, almost.

On the plus side, the acting is, by and large, excellent. Camera work is up to par - despite my above comment about long cuts. The local music is interesting, to a point; background music quite fitting. Overall, the director Pawlikowski did a good job. This is the second movie of his I've seen, the first being Ida (2013) which I admire much more.

Overall, I'm happy to say I'm glad I did see this movie, to the extent of recommending it for adults, despite its flaws for me. But which allows for only a five out of ten as my rating.

Ta'm e guilass
(1997)

Where we contemplate suicide from a totally different perspective
Although I've seen many movies from other Iranian and Middle Eastern directors, this is the first I've watched from the late director, Abbas Kiarostami. And like some of those others - Nuri Ceylan from Turkey comes to mind - Kiarostami, in this story, exclusively concentrates on questions about the human condition. Specifically, it's about the self-destructive urge by one man. And it is here that Kiarostami inverts the whole idea of helping those who contemplate suicide.

Suicide, in itself, is a ready and obvious turn-off for many viewers, probably. And coupled with the apparent treacle-like pace of the narrative and the repetitive scenes of a lone man, Badii (Homayoun Ershadi), driving in and around hills outside Tehran, this story gives a whole new dimension to the idea of going over the same ground, again and again, to prove a point. And all the while we, as viewer, are inside the auto for most of this movie, up close and very personal....

But to avoid seeing this movie would be a big mistake, in my opinion.

I say that simply because the idea of suicide has probably occurred to most people, including myself, at some time in their lives. Whether that idea was part of Kiarostami's motivation for making this movie, we will never know, of course. I dare say it occurred to him, though.

At the first frame, we're in Baddii's well-worn Range Rover as he drives, his face set, his gaze wandering here and there, searching for a likely assistant for his plan to kill himself. In sequence, he stops a variety of men - a seminarian, a young soldier, a security guard; each man and Badii converse about his need to have somebody help him to suicide, Badii describing what a helper must do. Each time, Baddi has no success until, with a blindingly quick jump-cut, an old man, Bagheri (Abdolrahman Bagheri) is in the car, a helper who finally agrees to abide by Badii's wishes.

So, after taking Bagheri to close where he lives, Badii drives off, content that he has secured a deal; rapidly, however, he drives back in a fluster, as doubts creep into his mind. Frantically, he walks around the area until he finds the old man Bagheri to seek further assurance he will indeed help Badii next morning. Somewhat annoyed, the old man again gives his solemn promise. And stalks off.

Slowly then, Badii returns to his home/apartment, makes his final preparations, makes a point of turning off all the lights as he leaves, locks the door, leaves his car, and then takes a taxi back to the cherry tree, he had previously selected, at which he will terminate his life during the night, and as thunderstorms - a much-overused trope perhaps - begin.

It is there, then, that I will leave you to find out why Bagheri decided to help, and about Badii's fate that night. And about an absolutely unexpected ending.

It's a bleak story, but one that is played out in too many ways by thousands every day, more or less in every country on the planet, probably. Perhaps then, Kiarostami is urging us to think upon that more often as we all traverse our own daily ups and downs - and especially in relation to those who are nearest. Once seen, this is not a movie to forget.

Recommended for all, except toddlers obviously. Give it eight out of ten.

The Last Movie
(1971)

Where satire in and about movies meets an existential end....
Is it merely coincidence that this, The Last Movie, was released in the same year as The Last Picture Show?

The two movies are not just poles apart from the narrative perspective. The former, under review here, is an episodic, disjointed, confused and confusing series of vignettes about the making of a western, quasi-documentary style, if you will. And followed by reflections (and even occasional white-on-black SCENE DELETED frames within the continuing story) by Kansas (Dennis Hopper), about making the movie and its effects upon the local populace; and finishing up with a personal search by Kansas for ... gold, literally and figuratively. This movie was awarded Best Film at Venice in 1971.

The latter you probably know of and have perhaps seen. At the 1972 Academy Awards, it won two Oscars for Best Supporting Actress (Cloris Leachman) and Best Supporting Actor (Ben Johnson); and was nominated for six other Oscars.

The interesting aspects of TLM are: the picturesque setting in the Peruvian mountains; the strong cast of well known actors - Hopper, Peter Fonda, Don Gordon, Dean Stockwell, Russ Tamblyn, Julie Adams, an aging Rod Cameron, and even Kris Kristofferson in his first - very brief - screen appearance; the Peruvian locals who performed with studied, calm impassiveness; and the sound track containing various ballads and typical Peruvian music.

On the other hand, the plot - i.e., the sequence of events - is somewhat haphazard, to put it kindly. Although, as with all good narratives, the end actually begins and - almost - ends the story. In my opinion, the first part, about the final shootout of the western, is a sly satire of that genre, in a number of ways: the action scenes by the outlaws and others are ridiculously over-the-top; Sam Fuller (a real director of movies) is delightfully camp in the role of director; and the presence of a wanna-be local man as 'director' with local 'assistants' performing an outrageous parody of a filming crew must be seen to be fully appreciated. That is a brilliant touch by the screen writers and is sufficient, alone, for me to recommend this movie.

The story and movie fails, however, after the western movie is wrapped - in the first 20 minutes or so. After that, Kansas remains in the area and gets involved with the local talent, and other Americans, looking out for just a 'good time' with the usual feminine delights. And also, where he gets involved in a wild goose chase to find gold in them there hills and mountains. So, I'll leave it to you to find out exactly what happens to Kansas.

It's not a movie that can compare to The Last Picture Show, as I said. But it's still worth seeing as an example of the type of fakery that invades all our lives as we traverse our own existential search for identity, reality and security. Here, though, I think Dennis Hopper also succeeded in displaying much that is stupid, unsavory and false about the movie business.

So, see it if you can. Give it seven out of ten - mainly for Hopper's performance and his moxie for making the movie, in the first place. But, with graphic male and female nudity a few times, for adults only.

A Quiet Place
(2018)

Where silence is shown, once again, to be golden
No doubt, you've read the brief story summary on the title page. So, there's no real need for me to repeat what you already know about the basics, the actors and so on.

What's intriguing, though, about this production is that the cast and crew artfully managed to keep the big holes in the narrative out of most viewer's focus, so to speak. They did that, I think, by generating truly effective suspense which, obviously, keeps viewers on edge for perhaps half the time or more. Fortunately the mundane gaps - that is, relatively ordinary family matters and daily interaction - are just enough to maintain interest; until the next danger point.

The most obvious narrative hole is the fundamental premise: the necessity to maintain utter silence at all times to ensure safety. When I read about this movie a year ago, I soon thought that it would be smart to have constant sound of some type radiating out to mask noise generated by the humans. Well, I'll let you discover what this resourceful family actually did.

Another aspect that disappointed me is the use of sign language only for most of the movie. The reason for it's use is clearly obvious; but, for those who are not much familiar with that facility, it would have been helpful to have some form of subtitles.

Suffice to say, despite those and other faults, this movie still held my interest, if for no other reason than to savor the special effects.

There's another interesting aspect about this movie: from a financial perspective, it has already outperformed Avatar (2009) concerning ROI. Avatar has returned 12 times its investment to producers. This recent effort has managed a better ratio: for a 17 million price, the global gross is now 332 million - 19 times the investment.

Is this a better movie? No, for many reasons. However, if you have a couple of hours free, see how you react to the suspense in this one. Enjoy.

Recommended. But, not for kiddies. Six out of ten for this one.

May 19, 2019

Phantom Thread
(2017)

Where we relearn about the only way to a man's heart
Is this a true romance? Is it even a story about true love?

Well ... written, produced and directed by P.T. Anderson, it's about a high class dress maker, Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) in 1950s London, a middle-aged bachelor wedded to his work, an artist who regards women as simply dress-hangers for his art, a perfectionist who brooks no interruptions - the sound of toast being buttered noisily is enough to bring a pained expression to his face - and a lost soul who, apparently, cannot love any woman except his long-dead mother; and about whom, incidentally, he still hallucinates. In other words, he too-often displays the temperament of a peevish, demanding child who will not be questioned, opposed or criticized. Could we expect anything less from a severely introverted, incurable bachelor who is surrounded by women only, in his daily work life?

But, it's also the story about a ruthless, determined young woman, Alma (Krieps), who, when opportunity arises, takes the necessary time to break through this perfectionist's emotional wall to achieve what she thinks will be her version of The Sweet Life. For her, that is, and her compliant lover ... or husband. Crucially, this story opens with Alma relating to a doctor her trials and worries concerning her relationship with Woodcock, and as though she is talking of the past....

And so ... by sheer coincidence our perfectionist is taking a break from work at a rural seaside resort where, in a quaint restaurant, he is served by Alma, a waitress (the name traditionally means 'nourishment' or 'soul'). There is a spark between them - he is intrigued. Enough to cause Woodcock, in turn, to later take Alma to dinner at another restaurant; and then to his nearby residence - where he insists upon using her as model to design and make a dress ... for her to wear.

From that point onwards, the plot - and Alma's occasional voice-over - continues with the strengthening of that mutual attraction - followed by the gradual disruption caused by Alma's presence at his London business; the displeasure evinced by Woodcock's sister, Cyril, a spinster whom he calls 'my old so-and-so' (Lesley Manville in a low key, but riveting performance); the inevitable attempts by Alma to gain more of Woodcock's attention; her desire to go dancing, his arrogant rejection of such frivolity; the mutual frostiness that begins to cool their ardor for each other; and so on, with other peccadilloes, little by little, until....

One morning, Alma decides to use - and reuse - the only technique she thinks will help to ensure his need for her. Exactly what she does, I must leave for you to discover writer/director Anderson's ironic and macabre resolution for Alma.

On balance, I think there are three ways this story can be interpreted: first, as an allegory about the creative process, and the difficulty of sharing that creativity with others, especially those emotionally close; or second, simply as a male-female power play in an industry where creativity was, at that time, largely dominated by men; or finally, as a man simply with a mother fixation, who discovers, at last, a suitable woman as mother-surrogate, and wife.

Writers usually choose names carefully for the main players in a story, often as a metaphor for character. So, I'm confident P. T. Anderson followed that principle when he wrote the script. Hence, if I were to chose, I'd select the last option as the most relevant interpretation for this dressed up (no pun intended) account of a thoroughly unlikable, neutered man who, fortuitously, will achieve the happiness - such as it is - he so thoroughly deserves.

But it's not everybody's movie: there are long silent scenes with long looks between each other; scenes of the two simply walking together; and, of course, many scenes of the women workers doing their work. What's entirely missing, of course, is sex....

Naturally, the overall standard of production, the flawless acting, the directing, the setting, the photography and editing, the music (a tad too loud for me at times) - they all combine to give the viewer the very best in entertainment about the ties that bind. And why they do.

Recommended for all adults. Eight out of ten for this sumptuous production.

Phantom Thread
(2017)

Where we relearn about the only way to a man's heart
Is this a true romance? Is it even a story about true love?

Well ... written, produced and directed by P.T. Anderson, it's about a high class dress maker, Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) in 1950s London, a middle-aged bachelor wedded to his work, an artist who regards women as simply dress-hangers for his art, a perfectionist who brooks no interruptions - the sound of toast being buttered noisily is enough to bring a pained expression to his face - and a lost soul who, apparently, cannot love any woman except his long-dead mother; and about whom, incidentally, he still hallucinates. In other words, he too-often displays the temperament of a peevish, demanding child who will not be questioned, opposed or criticized. Could we expect anything less from a severely introverted, incurable bachelor who is surrounded by women only, in his daily work life?

But, it's also the story about a ruthless, determined young woman, Alma (Krieps), who, when opportunity arises, takes the necessary time to break through this perfectionist's emotional wall to achieve what she thinks will be her version of The Sweet Life. For her, that is, and her compliant lover ... or husband. Crucially, this story opens with Alma relating to a doctor her trials and worries concerning her relationship with Woodcock, and as though she is talking of the past....

And so ... by sheer coincidence our perfectionist is taking a break from work at a rural seaside resort where, in a quaint restaurant, he is served by Alma, a waitress (the name traditionally means 'nourishment' or 'soul'). There is a spark between them - he is intrigued. Enough to cause Woodcock, in turn, to later take Alma to dinner at another restaurant; and then to his nearby residence - where he insists upon using her as model to design and make a dress ... for her to wear.

From that point onwards, the plot - and Alma's occasional voice-over - continues with the strengthening of that mutual attraction - followed by the gradual disruption caused by Alma's presence at his London business; the displeasure evinced by Woodcock's sister, Cyril, a spinster whom he calls 'my old so-and-so' (Lesley Manville in a low key, but riveting performance); the inevitable attempts by Alma to gain more of Woodcock's attention; her desire to go dancing, his arrogant rejection of such frivolity; the mutual frostiness that begins to cool their ardor for each other; and so on, with other peccadilloes, little by little, until....

One morning, Alma decides to use - and reuse - the only technique she thinks will help to ensure his need for her. Exactly what she does, I must leave for you to discover writer/director Anderson's ironic and macabre resolution for Alma.

On balance, I think there are three ways this story can be interpreted: first, as an allegory about the creative process, and the difficulty of sharing that creativity with others, especially those emotionally close; or second, simply as a male-female power play in an industry where creativity was, at that time, largely dominated by men; or finally, as a man simply with a mother fixation, who discovers, at last, a suitable woman as mother-surrogate, and wife.

Writers usually choose names carefully for the main players in a story, often as a metaphor for character. So, I'm confident P. T. Anderson followed that principle when he wrote the script. Hence, if I were to chose, I'd select the last option as the most relevant interpretation for this dressed up (no pun intended) account of a thoroughly unlikable, neutered man who, fortuitously, will achieve the happiness - such as it is - he so thoroughly deserves.

But it's not everybody's movie: there are long silent scenes with long looks between each other; scenes of the two simply walking together; and, of course, many scenes of the women workers doing their work. What's entirely missing, of course, is sex....

Naturally, the overall standard of production, the flawless acting, the directing, the setting, the photography and editing, the music (a tad too loud for me at times) - they all combine to give the viewer the very best in entertainment about the ties that bind. And why they do.

Recommended for all adults. Eight out of ten for this sumptuous production.

No Country for Old Men
(2007)

Where we learn why some young folk just don't know their limitations....
There are probably no film-makers to match the Coen brothers with regard to the crime/thriller genre. From the seminal Blood Simple (1984), on to Miller's Crossing (1990), thence to the chilling Fargo (1996) and now, finally, what must be viewed as a masterpiece of cinematography, editing and storytelling. They've done quirky comedies and dramas along the way, but, for my money, nobody beats these brothers when it comes to thrillers that are also horrific.

A good story is a prime requirement, of course: score ten-for-ten, straight up. Then the characters: down-to-earth Texans and Mexicans, tough as nails, the good and the horrifically bad. They're all there in a cast that meshes beautifully to produce a relentless pursuit across the flat, almost featureless, quasi-moonscape of the Texas deserts and low-down border towns.

As the fade-in begins, there is the voice-over by Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) as the camera pans across the ochre plains and rocky outcrops, and you might think how appropriate the title is. You're right, but it's more than that, of course, being a metaphor for the times: a society almost ruined by drug-running, incessant murders and killings, and the mindless pursuit of money. This is the over-arching theme with which the Coens ring out the tragedy that unfolds as Sheriff Bell tries to catch up with Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) who's got two million dollars of dirty money that the bad guys are trying to find.

In a few words, here's the basic story: Moss finds two million at the site of a drug gang battle in the Texas desert. He takes the money and runs. Unknown to him, a sociopathic hit man, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is hot on his trail to recover the money and kill Moss. At the same time, Sheriff Bell is hot on the trail of Chigurh, who's left a series of dead victims along the highways and byways. So, Moss sends his wife, Carla (Kelly Macdonald), away to El Paso (with her mother) for safety reasons, and so that he can contend with the killer on his trail. And, none of them know that members of the Mexican drug gang are following Carla, hoping she'll eventually lead them to Moss.

Essentially, however, it's a story about the contest between Moss and Chigurh: the former, a Vietnam vet who trained to kill; the latter, one of society's nightmares who simply kills - on a whim, on the toss of a coin, and on principle. Bardem's performance is calmly devastating: never raising his voice, never displaying anger, never showing mercy. And professional to his very core. The most disturbing scene is his encounter, early in the plot, with an old clerk at a country gas station who inadvertently annoys Chigurh with an inane but innocuous question. Watching and hearing that exchange of words reveals everything you don't want to know about Chigurh and his penchant for killing.

So, while the basic story (drug gangs, gun battles, innocent victims, good guy-bad guy) has been done before, many times, it's the character driven nature of this story that makes it into a riveting thriller, helped along by the Coen brothers' expertise with camera, script, editing and sound. On that last point, this film is noteworthy with the almost complete absence of a musical score, an aspect that heightened the suspense - because, as the viewer, you're able to hear more easily the far-off sound of ominous steps in a corridor, characters breathing, the snick of a gun being cocked, and so on.

Most stories in film and literature end unambiguously. However, the final scenes between Bell, Ellis (Barry Corbin), the old-time deputy, and Bell's wife, Loretta (Tess Harper) seem to be completely at odds with the main narrative, to the extent that some viewers have been annoyed/infuriated with the apparent lack of closure, according to some reports I've seen. I'll say this much: from one perspective, there's a nod to the ending of Point Blank (1967); from another perspective, one must remember that stories are constructed and, therefore, are open to interpretation by the viewer. I have an interpretation that brings full closure for me. It's up to you to develop yours.

Thoroughly recommended, but for adults only. Has gruesome, bloody violence and a killer (Chigurh) with the kinkiest weapon yet put to film. Like I said, ten out of ten.

June, 2007.

Spider
(2007)

Where we learn about dreaded, and dreadful, consequences.
Like most movie-goers, I've seen Joel Edgerton in many movies but not so with Nash Edgerton, his brother. So, it's refreshing to see Nash again, even in such a short story.

And what a story! Young man and young woman (Jack and Jill - what a giggle), having had a tiff of some sort, are driving around Sydney suburbs. Jack's trying to make amends; Jill's ignoring him. He turns on the music; she kills it. She's driving, he's trying to regain her interest - and perhaps trust - again. The traffic is quick and thick. She's keeping her eyes on the road. Small talk from him gets nowhere....

Got the picture?

Suddenly, Jill rolls the car into a gas station. She's out quickly and starts pumping. Jack gets out, enters the nearby shop, up to the counter and starts picking out goodies for his girl, the usual stuff: flowers, card, chocolate - and one item you don't quite get a good look at, except it's black.

Jack's back in the car first. He places flowers all over the seat and dashboard, hangs up the card on the rear-view, places some yummy chocs near the steering wheel, and puts something up behind the sun-visor. Jill gets in, throws flowers out the window, gets the car going, joins the traffic. She ignores him and the chocolates; and drives. He puts another chocolate on the dashboard. And another. She snatches one up. He holds one in his fingers, extends it. Now, a ghost of a smile which turns to a grin, as she tries to get it from his fingers. She laughs aloud; he joins in.

And then ... Jill somehow brushes against the sun-visor, the black thing - we see a large rubber fake spider - falls onto her lap, she screams, barely misses a head-on collision with another car, screeches to a stop, scrambles out as Jack's desperately trying to soothe her fears, she backs away and....

Then Jack learns the price we all can pay when self-inflicted, unintended consequences fall into place. The dramatic irony is exquisite and concurrently comedic. I'm sure, were he alive today, Honoré de Balzac would approve. Regardless of what you think, I recommend you see this little beauty to find out what really happens.

I never accord a ten out of ten for anything, although I was tempted; but this is definitely nine. And I recommend it for all (except young kiddies, of course).

5th October, 2018

You Were Never Really Here
(2017)

A tormented veteran on a rampage to render justice?
Having been quite impressed by Lynne Ramsay's directorial effort with We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011), I watched this movie recently, expecting an equally stimulating viewing experience. I wasn't disappointed.

While there have been many movies - too many to list - about mentally disturbed war veterans, this is the first one, I'm aware of, which bucks the trend: this veteran is, apparently, a hired killer, a hit man. And he doesn't use a gun; he just beats them to pulp with a ball-peen hammer. So, he's an equalizer for sure, and then some.

But wait - this veteran has heart: his specialty is rescuing young women and girls from the depraved clutches of parents, families, pimps, drug and girl traffickers, you name 'em. It's all the same to Joe (Phoenix), a relentless killing machine in the flesh - unflinching, phlegmatic, unstoppable.

Except in his dreams, which are nightmares every time they flash across the screen: war scenes, images of an abused boy (probably young Joe), an angry male (Joe's dad?) with a hammer, and many more, are intermittently repeated as Joe goes about his 'business'. It's all he can do, sometimes, to block them out, to get on with the job today: a daughter, Nina (Samsonov) of a powerful politician, is prisoner to a drug and pimp boss in the city. Joe is hired to get her out; and this time, he's ordered to hurt the bad guys bad ... real bad.

Joe gets to the pimp's dive, quickly and brutally dispatches two security bozos, finds Nina, carries her out without any further resistance, takes her to his "safe house" - a quiet hotel. Next thing we see are two hit men - dressed up as NY cops - behind the janitor at the door, blood spatters all over Joe from the janitor, one killer grabs Nina while the other attacks Joe in a fight to the death....

From that point on, the story then becomes an exercise in deciding what's really going on. Were those men real cops? Is Joe marked for a hit, and why? Who set Joe up? Why has his employer been hit also? And where is Nina? Most of all, a while later, why has his aging mother, for Pete's sake, with whom he's lived for years, been savagely shot through the eyeball? The horror and uncertainty just keeps getting worse, reminding this viewer of some David Lynch movies with their dense plotting and false trails. Add to that are some plot points that just don't add up, being impossible or illogical, especially for a hired killer like Joe. So, just where does reality start or even end in this outing?

I can tell you, I was puzzled to the very last scene between Joe and Nina in a coffee shop. That seemed to offer a solution. Still uncertain, I decided to search through some of the reviews here and, eventually, I read one which confirmed my comparison with Lynch and provided additional insights to resolve, for me, the whole story. So, most of the foregoing you've just read is not the real story (although it is a compelling fantasy that can suck you in).

To get to the nitty-gritty, and if you've already seen the movie, read the analysis by FrostyChud (FC) who rates the movie at 7. If you haven't seen YWNRH yet, be aware FC reveals everything, categorically; and I reckon it's the only solution that makes sense.

Overall, it's clear Ramsay is developing into a director of real note. But, I think she has a way to go before she catches up to David Lynch. And while I think the editing in this movie is somewhat abrupt, and the spoken dialog often muffled and/or inaudible (but obviously both deliberate techniques for this story), it's still worth a solid seven out of ten.

Recommended for mature adults only. And I look forward to more from Ms Lynne Ramsay.

April 29th, 2018

The Killing of a Sacred Deer
(2017)

In which we're reminded we always pay for our sins, one way or another.
The average viewer - in which I count myself - would probably be unaware, initially, that this story has its genesis in Greek mythology: to wit, the killing of Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon, shortly before the Greeks set sail for the long siege at Troy. Agamemnon accidentally killed a sacred deer belonging to the goddess, Artemis. Hence, her revenge upon poor Iphigenia, and Agamemnon.

Transported to a modern setting, we meet the perfect family: dad Steven (Farrell), mom Anna (Kidman), daughter Kim (Cassidy), son Bob (Suljic), all firmly ensconced in The American Dream, in Any City in The Land of the Free. Dad is special, though: he's a leader in heart surgery, much respected, much applauded - indeed, part of the very elite of the city, and much in demand for his skills. From that perspective, a modern analog for Agamemnon of old.

Except dad has a secret: despite positive proof, we soon learn he probably killed a patient while operating - because he'd been drinking. But, dad and mom have tucked that away into deep recesses of their minds; although, at least one other - a friend - has suspicions. Well, sometimes, one can make a bad call, right? ... Won't happen again, okay....

But when the son, Martin (Keoghan), of the dead patient inveigles himself into dad's good family life, things gradually start to go pear-shaped. Unhappily for dad, he soon discovers he's not as free as he'd like to be: Martin, believing dad Steven killed his father on the operating table, wants a reckoning. In the worst possible way: Steven must kill one his own family as retribution. And Martin makes dad an offer he just can't refuse, even though he'd like to, desperately. Agamemnon, I can tell you, got a better deal.

The remainder of the story I'll leave you to watch, if you wish, as the family loses control emotionally, physically and criminally. It's worth your time. But only to savor, if you can, dad's performance when, and how, he makes and carries out his decision about which of his beautiful dears he'll kill: Bob, Kim or Anna. Calling it simply bizarre just does not cut it: because unexpected, high camp comedy rarely comes calling in a serious movie billed as drama, mystery, thriller. And its presence, overwhelming the death scene, couldn't possibly have been unintentional. Hence, for me, the drama of the Greek myth was also brutally gutted and murdered. Oh, well, too bad. But, y'know, it could have been an excellent story....

The acting, setting, directing and so on, are all uniformly up to scratch, as you would expect, given the experience of Farrell, Kidman and others. Although, Farrell's mostly phlegmatic persona as Steve is almost, at times, a rerun of that as David in The Lobster (2015). Finally, I particularly disliked the often discordant soundtrack - just noise, actually - used annoyingly in a failed attempt to exemplify ... confusion? uncertainty? fear? dread? doom? ... within dad's affected family. Hitchcockian, this movie is not. Complete silence, I think, would have been much more effective for dramatic tension.

So, I'll let you decide whether we really needed to see a mangled Greek myth as a lesson about justice denied; and yet served.

As for myself, I give this one five, barely, out of ten.

April 28th, 2018

Suburbicon
(2017)

Where nobody is ever safe, even in America
At around 6am, while taking my morning walks, I sometimes remind myself of the probability that, on every street, there is likely to be a psychopath, a common criminal - or, just possibly, a true sociopath - asleep; or having breakfast or ... doing other things, as I walk by....

Those thoughts flashed back while the opening narrator for the commercial about Suburbicon went through his saccharine spiel. Aah, suburban perfection, I thought: so here comes another real treat for me, once again from the Coen brothers. And, one with a real sting, as I soon discovered.

There are three intertwined stories in this delicious allegorical satire. First, we are introduced to the newly-arrived Mayers, a black family (father, mother, son) that has the sheer, cheeky audacity to make a home in this mid-1950s white bastion that is Suburbicon; nearby white neighbors regard them with displeasure, if not blatant, deadly hostility on this bright sunny morning. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Later, that evening, and situated behind the Mayers' house, we then meet the Lodges: father (Damon), mother (Moore), son (Jupe), twin sister-in-law (Moore, in dual role) in their home ... now under siege from two low-life types, one of whom proceeds to grotesquely murder mother while the rest of the family is chloroformed to insensibility.

The third story concerns the sons of the two families who, earlier in the day, got together to play baseball and cement a friendship.

How's that for the first 15 minutes?

Questions, of course, abound within each of us, no? But we must be patient. Because we soon learn that Damon (as Gardner Lodge) is a corporate hack who slowly reveals his evil persona beneath his blandly benign exterior as the perfect husband (now widower) of Rose (Julianne Moore), the wheel-chaired, murdered wife, father to Nicky (Noah Jupe), and brother-in-law to twin sister Margaret (also Julianne Moore) - for whom, just quietly, he has the hots....

Rather than spoil the rest of the story for you, let me instead compare and contrast the thematic issues the Coen brothers have cleverly and superbly intertwined.

So ... just as the innocent Mayer family becomes increasingly under siege from usually good-natured, law-abiding thugs posing as good-natured, law-abiding neighbors, so also the hypocritical Lodge is subjected to a continuous mental and physical siege from the low-lifes posing as good-natured, law-abiding citizens. The first war is public, for all to see and cheer on, and horrific; the latter war is secret, hidden, and horrific. Implicitly, both are part of the on-going fabric of daily life in Suburbicon.

Still, as the story progresses, the two sons continue to foster their friendship, despite the gathering storms of trouble.

Perhaps a few days later, Rose's funeral is done, and the local crowd at the Mayers is now a threatening mob. The local police are barely able to keep the mob at bay, although damage to the house is worsening. Simultaneously, pressure on Lodge is mounting; especially now, with the arrival of a good-natured, law-abiding insurance investigator (Oscar Isaac as Bud Cooper) who, darn it, just wants to clear up a few things about the death of Lodge's wife. So, things are truly getting worse for Lodge, and the low-lifes are still hounding him.

By nightfall, it's a full-on race riot all around the Mayer house. The cops are overwhelmed. Windows and doors break, the crowd is shrieking, the Mayers are crouching behind walls and furniture, fearful for their lives and loves. Behind that public chaos, the hidden chaos at the Lodge house - barely 50 yards away from all that noise - is quietly worse, much worse: bloody, ghastly murders are committed, the body count increases, until only one survivor sees the rising sun.

Before reaching that point, though, you might be entertained, but probably sickened as I was, to witness the utterly lowest form of deal ever offered to a son by his father.

Humor is infrequent, as you might expect; of the little droll, dark and parody there is, take particular note of Hightower's (Jack Conley) and Lodge's exchange about religion. Truly, subtly superb.

Now ... recall: the American suburb, as cultural icon across the whole continental United States, is different in different cities, yet all the same in many ways, is it not? Currently therein, are 325 million stories in over 20,000 cities. This story of Lodge has been just one of them, albeit circa mid-1950s.

The acting is flawless; with that from Noah Jupe (Nicky) simply outstanding, especially with so many close-ups. I saw no faults with Clooney's direction and editing (the latter with Stephen Mirrione). And the Coen brothers have again shown us why, in my opinion, they have few peers regarding screen writing.

And, because I was not at all disappointed, in any way, as the closing credits rolled, this story and movie is a ten for me, no question, one of the very few tens I have ever allocated.

Recommended for all (but not kiddies, of course).

April 24, 2018

Gun Crazy
(1950)

Where we learn that some dreams are always nightmares
At a time when gangster movies, thrillers and film noir were very popular - think Cagney, Bogart, Donlevy, Mitchum, Powell, Ryan, Raft et al - director Joseph Lewis and screen writer Dalton Trumbo, collaborated on a movie which casts a couple of ostensibly ordinary citizens, and not criminals, (Dall and Cummins) as two people with a special talent: both crack shots with guns. Nothing too unusual about that, though, because guns have always been a factor in American culture.

Incidentally, it would be later that same year that Hollywood would release Annie Get Your Gun with Betty Hutton and Howard Keel - and also both crack shots with guns - in an upbeat musical-comedy biopic about Annie Oakley, full colour, big budget ($3.8 million) family type Saturday afternoon matinee, reinforcing all the positive aspects of American Individualism and the American Dream. And presenting guns as cute toys with which you too could do some darn good tricks; that is, if you work hard enough to achieve your own particular goals in life.

No such dream with this offering and a budget of less than one-tenth of Annie, however. In this outing, Dall (Bart) is swept off his feet by a woman who brags about having killed a man already. Was that true in this fiction? Probably, because later in the plot, Cummins (Annie) has no compunction about shooting anybody, even a person cowering on the floor. Dall, who still can't forget about a chicken he killed when only seven, is completely under her spell, driven, and driving across USA, to murderous excess to satisfy and justify his lust for Annie and her pathological dreams of wealth; and how to get it all - violently. In effect, she's the boss, no question.

In crisp black-and-white, we're with both all the way, right to the bitter end - sometimes in the back seat of their car, voyeuristically listening, watching, seeing what they see - and knowing what the poor saps don't, or won't face: the cops will get 'em, in the end, for sure. Though it would spoil that end for you, for me to say anymore.

Trumbo's script (assisted by MacKinlay Kantor) is appropriately effective, detailing the manner in which a person's skill set can be subverted and manipulated, by another, into socially self-destructive behaviour. Cinematography by long-time expert Russell Harlan (Red River, The Thing from Another World, Blackboard Jungle, Lust for Life, too many to list...) is - no pun intended - picture perfect, in my opinion. And direction by Lewis is faultless to this viewer's eyes as we take in this devastating critique of a key aspect of American culture.

I'd seen Dall only twice before, in Rope (1948), in which I think he was, chillingly, much more effective as an actor; on the other hand, his continuous self-effacing attitude, as not-so-smart Bart, fit the bill for this story; the other time I saw Dall was in Spartacus (1960), but didn't recognize him. Had not seen Peggy Cummins, before or since; one thing's for sure, though - she was no one-trick pony; and made a beautiful, ice-cold killer.

One can speculate whether Arthur Penn watched this classic movie prior to directing Bonnie and Clyde (1967), there being so many thematic and plot similarities between both stories. The one question, though, still unanswered for me is: was it only simple coincidence that Annie Get Your Gun was released only six months after Gun Crazy? Hey, both movies have heroines called Annie, after all; and perfect counterpoints for the American Good and the American Bad.

By the way, I liked Annie Get Your Gun; Gun Crazy, however, is the better story and movie, I think.

Recommended for all suitable ages. At only 87 minutes, it's definitely worth your time to see another true American classic. And a solid eight out of ten movie.

April 6, 2018

Hyper Evolution: Rise of the Robots
(2017)

Where we are exposed to a facile discourse in robotics
Coming from a career in computers that started in 1965, I can certainly claim a full appreciation and broad knowledge of computers and software (i.e. computers programs). All computers manufactured by humanity are machines. And only when the machine is energized and loaded with software can it perform any useful work; otherwise, they are all just expensive junk. That truly needs to be said, and understood, before proceeding with my brief review of this doco....

After watching both episodes, I'm of the opinion that the two words that sum up the entire presentation are: sociopolitical propaganda. Moreover, the targeted audience is, in all probability, only preteens and adolescents. Let me explain why.

First, the title is explicitly misleading. By using the term 'evolution', there is the strong suggestion that humanoid robots are developing in a manner analogous to human evolution. That is categorically incorrect, of course; as even this doco demonstrates, seemingly ingenuously.

But, worse comes: throughout this effort, both presenters - and others - constantly use the terms 'he' and 'she' when discussing humanoid robots; as though it's already acceptable to imbue a software-driven machine with a gender-biased attribute. For example, the famous Atlas from Boston Robotics is referred to as 'he'; Valkyrie, from NASA, is accorded the feminine gender. Obviously, neither is accurate: both are electromechanical machines with no sexual or gender attributes - other than what's in somebody's mind (and no - we won't go there, here).

Sure, humans have a puerile propensity for naming machines. Sure, the pronouns slip out easily, but for young minds watching, it's not only confusing: in this context, It's. Also. Dead. Wrong.

But wait: still even worse comes. Later in the presentation, there is talk about 'machine personality'; about 'robot consciousness'; even about feeling "sorry for her" when Valkyrie makes an error. Viewed objectively, there is never a need to "feel sorry" for a machine malfunction - only for the effect upon real humans when such occurs. How do you fancy, perhaps one day, asking your Genius TV how it feels about changing channels - and it responds: "I'm sorry, Dave, I can't do that!"?

The nadir, however, in this execrable, visual and verbal discourse arrives when we're told that "we must have a relationship with robots"; that after experiencing "Jack", the self-driving (so-called) Audi on a German autobahn, the smiling presenter is pleased to say: "The more I use, the more I trust!"; and that we must continue with robotic development until robots "understand themselves". Excuse me?

Granted, both presenters are careful to mention the machine based aspects of robots, and the many problems inherent in the development of these machines. Unfortunately, much of that cautionary patina is effectively drowned by the almost unqualified exuberance by one presenter, who should have known better, in my opinion; the other presenter was, over all, more cautious about this entire creeping revolution. For which, your teens and adolescents should be truly thankful - if they watch it. In sum, though, I don't recommend wasting two hours of your life when considering the many factual errors and implicit or explicit endorsements for near blind acceptance of Robotic Things To Come.

But, I give it two out of ten for having the audacious chutzpah to produce it.

March 25, 2018

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