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Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

Hollywood Hokum
'Once Upon a Time . . .' continues Tarantino's decline as a writer and director, although the principal weakness of his latest film is a rambling screenplay which develops neither story nor characters. Set in LA at the time of the notorious Manson Family murders, the relationship between fading alcoholic TV star Rick, and his long-time stunt double Cliff takes center stage. Unfortunately the pair share a commonplace connection, neither man has much personality and their exchanges never hint at the electricity between Vincent and Jules in 'Pulp Fiction', or Louis and Ordell in 'Jackie Brown'.

The movie looks decent enough, but oodles of time is wasted venerating the trashy TV shows and films of that period. There are two interminable episodes where Rick delivers some routine over-acting as a villainous cowboy in a formulaic TV pilot, intercut with Sharon Tate visiting a cinema to watch a spoof spy movie in which she had a minor role. More than a hundred minutes are spent on a procession of similarly inconsequential set pieces which do little more than provide background. Eventually, the ghostly apparition of an actual story emerges after Cliff gives one of Manson's underage hippie runaways a ride to the derelict movie ranch where the 'Family' were residing. The ensuing confrontation shows the potential of Tarantino's idea - but he loses the plot again in order to pay homage to spaghetti westerns.

Voice-overs laboriously explain the narrative gaps until the 'action' finally arrives at an absurd climax which gives Tarantino yet another opportunity to show off his chops as a director of theatrical violence. He gives reality a fairy tale tweak in this last act, but overall the chief impression is of self-indulgence and superficiality.

Todos lo saben

Everybody Knows Details are Crucial
The films of Asghar Farhadi are renowned for being intense suspenseful dramas, but it would be an exaggeration to describe them as thrillers. 'Everybody Knows' plunges into this popular genre as 40-something Laura returns to her native Spain for a younger sister's wedding, accompanied by her teenage daughter Irene. During the festivities, Irene is drugged and abducted, with the abductors leaving evidence they were behind a previous kidnapping where the victim had been killed.

Messages soon arrive demanding a ransom and warning Laura against informing the police. Laura's family decide to handle matters themselves, but they respond with confused disarray as old secrets, suspicions, jealousies and resentments are exposed. The first secret to emerge is that the reputed wealth of Laura's husband is a mirage, so the panicked clan must search for an alternative source to satisfy the kidnappers' requirements. An outsider wavers over supplying the necessary cash, but strangely none of Laura's extended family volunteers to make any contribution to ensure Irene's safe return.

Farhadi's direction of the complex interactions between the family members is up to his usual high standard. At the end, rather than neatly wrapping things up, he makes the sophisticated choice to leave his audience speculating how the fallout will affect his characters' future lives. Unfortunately he also makes a glaring omission which undermines the film's credibility - the police remain conspicuous by their absence even after the crisis has reached its conclusion, despite a serious crime having occurred.

John & Yoko: Above Us Only Sky

Imagine a Co-dependent Ego-trip
Reaction to this routine documentary probably depends on how much a viewer admires this famous couple. The film relates how an art gallery encounter between a tormented pop idol and an obscure conceptual artist subsequently resulted in a celebrity romance and music album. Various witnesses and participants are filmed delivering their recollections of this epic moment in popular culture, with most of their contributions expressing breathless admiration of John's song 'Imagine', as if this were the first time a songwriter had lamented mankind's divisions and the folly of war.

There's also plenty of archival footage depicting the pair's early relationship, with Yoko's creepy gazes at her paramour remaining the most vivid impression. To the detached eye it looks more like compulsive co-dependency than immortal love affair, but others might disagree. Yoko is described as an important artist, although cynics might raise an eyebrow over her haste to sideline this vocation in order to piggyback onto John's rock career. The interviewees speak of the couple's songs, sleep-ins, demos and press conference proclamations as world-changing events, but nobody took their antics very seriously - much as the art world has ignored Yoko's lightweight artistic conceits.

Manbiki kazoku

The Delusions of Shoplifters
Although 'Shoplifters' has the look of social realism, it's actually far closer to a fairy tale. The movie depicts a collective of social outcasts living in cramped quarters on the fringes of Tokyo, who survive by engaging in casual labor, petty crime and sex work. One cold night they take in the abused child of a neighboring couple and subsequently adopt her into their merry band.

After this development, the gang starts to consider itself a real family. Held together by an elderly matriarch, they carry on with their haphazard lifestyle, but the action moves slowly and there isn't much by way character development to compensate for the gelatinous flow of the narrative. The dysfunctional clan lives in unrealistic harmony and survive a major upset, but when one of their shoplifting capers goes wrong, the house of cards comes tumbling down. Secrets from previous lives are revealed, and the group's connecting threads become fragile as loyalties are stretched by the changing situation. 'Shoplifters' has won some prestigious awards and got nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, but unfortunately it doesn't live up to its big reputation. At the end of the day it's clear why the Academy voters preferred 'Roma'.

The Edge of Seventeen

On the Edge of Merit
'The Edge of Seventeen' throws an intense dilemma at high school misfit Nadine, when her popular older brother Darian begins dating BFF Krista. Nadine's customary smouldering resentment is fanned into a white-hot blaze of jealousy, and the resulting turmoil propels her into greater isolation, as she makes a difficult situation worse through needless conflicts and unwise choices. The film has an original slant, but dilutes much of its potential by repeatedly making conventional rom-com choices in search of easy laughs and tear-jerking.

The acting is above average for this kind of project, but Nadine's relationships with both Krista and Darian are given perfunctory treatment, and the main narrative arc is utterly predictable, along with the various sub-plots. The script could have exercised more self-restraint at climactic moments, while the direction could have used more flair when depicting Nadine's everyday life. At the end of the day, the final product seems like a lost opportunity for a decent idea.


Puzzling out the Game of Life
Living in provincial Connecticut, married to an auto mechanic with two grown sons, Agnes resembles a church mouse, suppressing her own aspirations in order to maintain an ordered household. On the surface, she appears to be a devoted wife and mother, but timidity and low self-esteem have disconnected her from family, friends and herself. A jigsaw puzzle birthday gift leads to Agnes learning she possesses a hidden talent for piecing together these games of fragmented images - and this discovery opens the door to new experiences which force her to question how she's living her life.

Agnes' journey doesn't follow a smooth or conventional path as she struggles to liberate herself from self-inflicted shackles as well as those imposed by others. Kelly McDonald shows her usual excellence, range and subtlety in the lead role, with the script and direction complementing her talents nicely. Although the story's action takes place on a small stage, the characters' are confronted with major issues and upheavals before Agnes is able to figure out what she really wants, and begin the process of realizing it.

The Kindergarten Teacher

Nurturing a Kindergarten Wunderkind
Due to the excellence of its acting, direction and screenplay, 'The Kindergarten Teacher' is frequently uncomfortable to watch. It tells the story of Lisa, who has become constrained by the routine of her job, frustrated with her grouchy teenage kids and bored by an overweight husband. In response, she has enrolled in an adult education poetry writing program to broaden her experience of life. Unfortunately Lisa has little talent herself - and when she overhears one of her young pupils Jimmy composing a short poem, she presents it to her class teacher as her own work. When he expresses admiration for its strong imagery, she decides it's her duty to foster Jimmy's gift, which leads her into dangerous territory after she runs into parental opposition.

It's easy to see the film as a metaphor how yearning for truth and beauty can turn an ordinary person into an outcast, as Lisa's encouragement of Jimmy swiftly bypasses appropriate behavior and becomes obsessive. One of the film's crucial exchanges occurs when Lisa's poetry teacher reprimands her for being a dillettante, failing to see how she's willing to sacrifice everything for the art she loves, while he uses poetry as a means to seduce his students. At its conclusion, poetry has certainly broadened Lisa's experience of life, but not in a way she might have wished or anticipated.

A Simple Favor

A Simple-minded Farce
The trailer for this mish-mash of a movie promises a sophisticated black comedy, but within 15 minutes all hope for that kind of experience is extinguished by the sit-com level antics of the two main characters. This opening act presents a nerdy suburban single mom befriended by a condescending femme fatale, who promptly disappears in suspicious circumstances. The unraveling of the mystery becomes increasingly ludicrous and unbelievable, with director Feig relying more and more on his comedy background rather than attempting to create tension. Unfortunately, as the dramatic potential dissolves into camp farce, all the comedic gambits also fall flat. After some formulaic twists and turns, both plot and characters have been revealed as soap opera material long before the story arrives at its slapstick climax.

White Boy Rick

Dumb Boy Rick
The interminable morality tale of 'White Boy Rick' grinds on for almost two miserable hours describing how the teenage son of a fly-by-night gun dealer becomes a bad boy in Detroit's criminal underworld. Throughout the film, fuzziness around crucial plot elements creates the strong suspicion inconvenient facts have been omitted to create a more sympathetic narrative, as is the case with most 'based-on-true-story' sagas. The script doesn't provide much background to explain Rick's acceptance into a gang of black drug dealers, nor does it reveal much detail about his role as an informant for some dubious FBI detectives. Even after Rick starts his own dealing operation, the story consistently portrays him as an innocent adrift in an ocean of sharks.

The dysfunctional relationship between Rick and his father occupies center stage, but is given similarly shallow treatment. The rest of the characters come and go like bit players, scarcely more important than extras, making it impossible to care about any of these lowlifes as they eke out their dismal existence in perpetually freezing Motor City. The film's best moment comes with the arrival of the end titles.


Annihilation of a Decent Idea
A meteorite strikes a lighthouse on the southeastern US coast and a mysterious 'Shimmer Zone' begins expanding from the impact point. The government keeps the event a secret and sends military units into the area, but none of these personnel ever return. After about a year, the special forces husband of an ex-Army biologist called Lena suddenly shows up at their home, remembering little of the previous twelve months and immediately falling seriously ill.

After this 15 minute prologue, Lena joins the next all-female expedition. The five women enter the zone, witness disturbing events and discover their communications devices no longer work. Rather than return to base and report these discoveries, they push on, arguing among themselves and making more foolish decisions until they resemble dim-witted teenagers in a slasher pic. The military and scientific background becomes increasingly unbelievable as routine action sequences and some uninspired CGI overwhelm the film's grown-up possibilities.

Many sci-fi fans will recall JG Ballard conceived the original idea of an expanding zone where the laws of nature are transformed. By comparison to Ballard's 1966 novel 'The Crystal World', Garland's movie version of Jeff VanderMeer's copycat concept is a conventional adventure yarn spiced up with some sci-fi mumbo-jumbo. 'Annihilation' ends up as inconsequential as Garland's 2007 'Sunshine' screenplay - and after 'Ex Machina', it's a major disappointment.

The Girlfriend Experience

Seduction and Disappointment
The excellent Season 1 (7/10*) of 'The Girlfriend Experience' related how a law student ventured into high-end prostitution while interning at a big-city legal firm in order to pay the bills and increase her living standards . Riley Keogh's portrayal of the main character Christine won a Golden Globe nomination, as her understated performance depicted the psychological cost of pretending affection to entitled executives while selling them her body. The scripts for each episode remained focused on the escort work throughout, with Keogh's micro-expressions betraying inner conflicts and guarded emotions as Christine subtly adjusted her persona to please various clients, lovers and employers. The series revealed how prostitution affected her personal life and law career, and ultimately derailed both.

By contrast, Season 2 (-1/10*) lost almost all meaningful connection with the call-girl theme as it followed three different protagonists in two separate narratives. In the first, an escort named Anna embarked on an obsessive lesbian love affair with a sociopathic financial-political operator called Erika. In the second, former escort Bria got marooned in witness protection limbo as she awaited the trial of her gangster husband. The characters failed to generate any sympathy, the plots were neither believable nor interesting, and subtlety was entirely absent.

Loving Vincent

Impressionist Noir
The final days of Vincent Van Gogh could have been the subject of an intriguing movie, but 'Loving Vincent' throws away most of its potential by using a gimmicky pseudo-Impressionist animation technique. The film's screenplay invents the clever device of sending a young man called Armand to deliver a mislaid letter from the deceased artist to his brother Theo. When Armand discovers Theo has also died, his attempts at postal delivery mutate into a private eye investigation focused on the mysterious circumstances surrounding Vincent's death from a gunshot wound.

Armand's inquiries reveal a sympathetic side to the troubled and obsessive artist, and they begin moving into mildly suspenseful territory as Vincent's former associates contradict each other over details of his last hours. Unfortunately the distracting animation of Van Gogh's painting style undermines the narrative's serious turn, since it can't convey a character's nuanced expressions to the same extent as an actor. In the end Armand's fishing expedition doesn't net any big catches - and eventually it becomes tiresome to watch a conveyor belt of third-rate Van Gogh copies being produced at 12 frames per second.

Blade Runner 2049

A Pedestrian Labyrinth
There's no disputing 'Blade Runner 2049' looks good - the vast decaying LA megalopolis, its futuristic interiors and surrounding desert wasteland are all portrayed with beautiful cinematography - but unfortunately the narrative arc doesn't match up to the scenery. This sequel starts off on a familiar note - just like detective Rick Deckard in the original movie, a replicant police officer called 'K' is tasked with tracking down and terminating unreliable earlier models.

During the introductory operation focused on one of his targets, K comes across evidence of the birth of a replicant child - and after getting debriefed, he's reassigned to find this offspring. K's new mission obliges him to do a lot of zigzagging around the dystopian landscape in his flying police cruiser. He asks awkward questions and delves into the archives of various institutions. This detective work seems unnecessarily opaque and long-winded, even though it's punctuated by some sporadic violence. Occasionally K stops by his cramped apartment where he carries on an unsatisfying love affair with his hologram girlfriend. It becomes increasingly difficult to connect emotionally or intellectually with K's investigations, as the clues eventually lead to a damp cliffhanger climax. The lasting impression - despite the film's visual impact, blockbuster budget and continuing references to the Theseus myth - is that it's all rather underwhelming.

American Made

American Mess
It's naive to expect anything close to the truth from 'based-on-true-story' projects, but it shouldn't be unreasonable to hope for content and coherence. 'American Made' plays like a movie trailer throughout its two-hour length, stirring together the standard ingredients of 1980s cocaine smuggling sagas like 'Blow'. The story boils down to a procession of mustachioed Colombian cartel bosses, DEA agents and drug-courier aviators hauling cocaine, firearms and bags of cash around jungle landing strips, hotel lobbies and small town banks in the ugly fashions of the day.

Tom Cruise portrays pilot protagonist Barry Seal as an easygoing coke-smuggling, gun-running, Caddy-driving adventurer. His self-deprecating charm and aerial dare-devilry are supposed to hold the film together, but both charisma and exploits seem stale. After the CIA persuade Seal to aid their anti-communist follies in Central America, this sophomoric operator fends off the various suspicions and demands of his dumb blonde wife, crooked associates and two-faced CIA handlers. The script never bothers to develop any of these stock characters as the story unfolds with the depth of a music video. At the conclusion, there's little reason to believe a word of it, or care what happens to any of the participants.


From Eden to Armageddon in 2 Hours
Darren Aronofsky invariably churns out simple-minded hogwash when he attempts to impress audiences with his intellectual virility. From the opening scene of 'Mother', he cranks the Pomposity dial up to 11 as a young woman wakes alone in the bedroom of an isolated country house. Her husband is absent, so she wanders about in an agitated state searching for him. Once he's been found, their wooden conversation reveals he's a poet with writer's block. Later that day, a stranger knocks at the door, and the poet invites him to stay overnight after he learns the man is a fan of his work. The next morning, the visitor's wife arrives from nowhere - and before too long, the two house-guests are joined by their pair of bickering sons.

These six characters proceed to act out a fatuous re-telling of the Genesis myth depicting the antics of God, Nature, Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel. With acting, direction and screen-writing at the level of amateur dramatics, Aronofsky presents God as a vain, deceitful, impotent older man, Nature as his whiny trophy wife, the Creation as their residence and the rest of human history as an out-of-control house party. After Noah's flood is symbolized by some drunken vandalism, burst pipes and a soggy kitchen, mankind's sorry tale grinds on into the 20th century. Eventually it arrives at Aronofsky's puerile imagining of Armageddon, which comes not a moment too soon.

Tulip Fever

Tulip Flu
'Tulip Fever' transforms a promising idea into Dutch farce as its script heaps unnecessary complications onto a tale of marital infidelity in 17th century Amsterdam. The film opens with beautiful penniless Sophia being married off to a wealthy middle-aged merchant who desires a male heir. After three years have passed and no child has appeared, the merchant commissions a double portrait of himself and his young wife for posterity.

When Sophia unwisely falls for the debt-laden artist, everything seems nicely set up for some intense domestic double-dealing, but director Chadwick drowns the narrative in a torrent of subplots. While Sophia cavorts with the artist in his garret, her maid has been dallying with a fishmonger in the scullery. Before too long, the lovers of both mistress and servant are speculating in Holland's tulip-mania bubble to improve their fortunes and romantic prospects. Meanwhile, the two women hatch an implausible plan to deal with their own problems. As the scheming becomes increasingly absurd, the story falls apart and the actors lose faith in their characters. Long before the end, most of the audience will have joined them, as the resolution to all the financial intrigues and amorous chicanery turns the final act into slapstick melodrama.

The Big Sick

Comic Placebo for Serious Issues
Like most comedies, 'The Big Sick' is powder-puff drama spiced up with some humorous moments. Its plot tells how a Pakistani-American stand-up comedian falls in love with a blonde psychology student after she heckles him during one of his stage shows. They live together contentedly for a while, until she discovers his family are pressing him to choose a Muslim bride for a traditional arranged marriage. She breaks up with him, but soon afterward falls seriously ill. While keeping vigil at her hospital bedside, he meets her parents, and the majority of the film depicts how the three of them confront their cultural differences.

The characters and story possess some authenticity, but the film never escapes the clutches of light comedy despite the strong emotional content. The actors deliver respectable performances, but their efforts can't lift the material above the level of a routine sit-com. Ken Loach's 'A Fond Kiss' explored similar territory in a far more memorable manner.

Beatriz at Dinner

Dinner Party from Hell
In 'Beatriz at Dinner', Mike White sets up his favorite predicament where an outsider is thrust into an encounter with mismatched companions. His heroine Beatriz is a cash-strapped, alternative health practitioner whose car breaks down at the luxurious residence of a wealthy client, stranding her in a gated ghetto of privilege. Beatriz' employer offers her a bed for the night, and invites her to join a dinner party being held to celebrate a successful business deal with a rapacious property developer.

Having assembled his antagonistic ingredients, White seems short of ideas how to cook them up into a tasty feast. Beneath her know-it-all, holistic healer facade, Beatriz is depressed, isolated and unstable - and may also be a total fraud. Her exchanges with the condescending capitalists dismantle her mask of serenity and amplify her alienation - but black comedy spiced up with excruciating awkwardness and a disturbing undercurrent doesn't really provide full satisfaction. The actors do what they can, but ultimately they're let down by the film's shallow arc. As the evening nears its conclusion, despite having several other options on the table, White serves up a dessert course which is histrionic, unbelievable and out of character.

Their Finest

Marooned in Mediocrity
'Their Finest' is neither fish nor fowl, never making up its mind whether it wants to be a satirical comedy, love story or feminist tract. In more skillful hands, perhaps it could have been all of these, but director Scherfig steers a muddled course from the beginning, and the project remains marooned in the doldrums throughout the proceedings.

The story tells how a British production team and film crew make a wartime movie about the Dunkirk evacuation which is intended to raise domestic spirits and impress Americans. As far as the comedic aspect is concerned, there are some scattered breezes of ho-hum humor, but they aren't sufficient to raise the entertainment barometer above the level of a mildly sophisticated sit-com. Meanwhile, the romantic element seems like a tacked-on afterthought, along with the sub-plot of female empowerment. Arterton, Nighy and the rest of the cast do their best with the material, but they are always fighting a losing battle against the soporific screenplay and dull direction.

Alien: Covenant

Gore and Boredom in Space
By now, most movie fans will be familiar with the obligatory arc of an 'Alien' screenplay - a group of bungling space travelers encounter a vicious bloodthirsty alien who will dispatch most of them to gruesome deaths. In the old days, a resourceful female would battle the beast, but now the heroines are reduced to sniveling and screaming at it. 'Covenant' might be an improvement after the debacle of 'Prometheus', but it demonstrates yet again the creative bankruptcy of the 'Alien' series.

The new film won't disappoint those with basement-level expectations. Its characters are slightly less irritating and better developed than the collection of nincompoops floundering around in the underground labyrinth of 'Prometheus - but the latest batch of victims make equally foolish choices whenever they're presented with a decision. Besides repeating plot ideas, the franchise now shamelessly recycles scenes and characters. Among many other old tropes, "Covenant' revisits the treacherous android routine, and summons up another violent storm to isolate the unfortunate astronauts. The crew's grisly deaths come thick and fast, leaving little time to create the tension which made the original film so exceptional. Director Scott has lost any feel for this element as he hurries from one messy demise to the next, creating a conveyor belt of violence, panic and bloody entrails. The tale's major twist, which is also its feeble attempt at a deep philosophical idea, is just a pompous interlude before the mayhem resumes. When it's all over, the chief impression is of carnage and tedium.

Personal Shopper

Shopping for Belief
'Personal Shopper' begins with a young medium called Maureen checking out the country house of her recently deceased twin brother for malevolent spirits. After this opening sequence, she returns to Paris where she works as personal shopper for a spoiled socialite called Kyra. Maureen has the same heart condition which killed her sibling, and despite extra-sensory perception, the loss of her twin has left her with anxiety and weakened faith in an afterlife. Maureen endures humiliation from Kyra and separation from her ex-patriot boyfriend because she believes the city where her brother had died is the most likely location for a visitation from the spirit world.

For a while the story proceeds at a leisurely pace with few of the usual melodramas of a ghost story. Tension gathers slowly with a background sense of unease until Maureen starts receiving ominous text messages on her cellphone from an unknown source. This development increases the film's pace and danger, while also pushing it into another genre. 'Personal Shopper' doesn't achieve greatness, but it does deliver a fairly sophisticated narrative, with a nice performance from Kristen Stewart and a satisfyingly ambiguous ending.

The Promise

Love amid Genocide
A love triangle set against the backdrop of the Armenian genocide in Turkey should deliver an intense experience, but 'The Promise' can't let go of its agenda as a propaganda exercise, which dilutes the dramatic effect. The lovers are Mickael, Chris and Ana - an Armenian medical student, an American journalist and a Franco-Armenian dance teacher, and the trio soon develop a tangled relationship. Their paths cross in Istanbul as Turkey enters the 1st World War, and the two males with crucial professions start competing for the favors of the party-loving Parisian.

The story skims over both political and amorous aspects as the action zigzags across Turkey. The screenplay consistently portrays the Armenians as noble and courageous, while the Turks are mostly depicted as bullies and murderers. It addresses the issues behind the genocide only superficially when a Turkish official dismisses the Armenian community as a cancer within the nation. The romantic intrigues are given similarly shallow treatment, as Ana flits from one man to the other and back again, shedding a few tears on the way. The Armenian holocaust and the suffering of its victims deserve something far better than this lightweight melodrama.

Out of the Furnace

Out of the Corn Factory
'Out of the Furnace' shows how fine acting can temporarily conceal serious shortcomings in a film. For about twenty minutes, Christian Bale's performance suggests this tale of brotherly love and Rust Belt revenge might have somewhere to go, but the story slides swiftly into cliché and sentimentality. The introduction depicts steelworker Russell slaving at the mill, tending his dying dad and murmuring sweet nothings into his girlfriend's ear. Meanwhile his unstable Iraq-vet sibling Rodney drinks, fights and gambles himself deeper into trouble and debt. The brothers act out their relationship with good-guy Russell constantly bailing out bad-boy Rodney, as a troop of low-life villains and blue collar stalwarts wait in the wings for their cues.

By the time Russell's saintly selflessness has cost him his sweetheart and a stretch in the slammer, this formulaic film has lost all credibility. While the long-suffering hero is locked up in the joint, Rodney gets out of his depth with some toothless meth-dealing hillbillies - and after Russell is released, he finds himself obliged to settle scores with the rural racketeers. After that set-up, any fool with Final Draft on his laptop could write the last half of this stale potboiler.

Phoenix Forgotten

The Blair Witch Copycat Project
In the literary world, plagiarism can end a career - in the movie industry, it's just another way to fleece the public. The makers of 'Phoenix Forgotten' show off their cynicism and creative bankruptcy by churning out an anemic Sci-Fi version of 'The Blair Witch Project' without offering a single moment of originality.

In this lifeless re-tread, three teenagers disappear when they go hunting for UFOs after some lights are seen in the Arizona skies. Twenty years later, a documentary film-maker discovers a video tape which suggests what happened to them. The Blair Witch copycatting is shameless - a trio of high-schoolers are substituted for three college students - invisible ETs in the Southwest desert stand in for an unseen poltergeist in rural Maryland - spooky aliens moan in the darkness instead of a malevolent backwoods spook. Apart from these minor variations, the two films' plots and climaxes are uncannily similar as both threesomes get lost, bicker and panic in identical fashion. The second-rate script, third-rate acting, fourth-rate direction and fifth-rate shaky camera fakery of 'Phoenix Forgotten' are all inferior imitations of the original. The movie runs for 80 minutes, but feels a lot longer - and should be avoided at all costs.


Life as a Poem
'Paterson' doesn't have a complicated plot - it simply observes a week in the work and leisure time of a NJ bus driver called Paterson who lives in the town of Paterson and writes poems as a hobby. Paterson's daily routine has few variations - he rises early, eats breakfast and walks through sunny streets to the bus garage. During the day he drives around the city, listening to passengers' exchanges, before returning home. After eating dinner with his wife Laura, he walks her dog to a local bar and engages in low-key conversations with the owner and other patrons.

Much of the credit for the film's success goes to the two lead actors, who portray a contrasting couple in a sweetly balanced relationship. Laura provides the love and magic in Paterson's life with her quirky passions for black-and-white interior design, cupcakes, music and his poetry. In return, he supplies patience, support and devotion. The minimalist narrative has the flavor of a Zen-like visual poem, an impression which is confirmed by Paterson's encounter with a Japanese poet near the end. The film reflects a tendency in contemporary poetry to focus on mundane details, which accumulate to produce an artful tapestry. Somehow these basic ingredients result in a satisfying flavorful dish.

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