movieswithgreg

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Reviews

Exterminate All the Brutes
(2021)

Visually beautiful, artfully creative, hard-hitting alternative telling of modern civilization
This new 2021 documentary series, by an Oscar-nominated african-american filmmaker, is a breath of fresh air that re-tells the history of modern western civilization from a point of view where white european views are not the default view of history. It does it more gently than the hostile reviews suggest. It focuses mostly on imperialist europe, the US, and africa, with generous helpings of south america included.

It's not close to a straight documentary. It's highly dramatized, with hollywood star Josh Hartness portraying the nameless "heavy" representing the white european or white american oppressor, whether the oppressed be africans in the belgian congo, or native americans in the US.

It liberally and tastefully sews popular lyrical music throughout, not trying to match time periods between the music and its visual subject matter, other than to match the lyrical messages of the songs to the scene.

The filmmaker also interweaves snippets of his own personal journey from childhood to adulthood, and how his life and educational experiences in colonial africa then modern africa and the US, shaped his political, social and economic sensibilities. In doing so, he's not shy to declare his sympathies for leftist interpretations of history.

This project is heavy on graphics, maps, photos, historical film stock, animation, and modern depictions, with a lot of live-action "docudrama" or re-creation of events.

From beginning to end, the filmmaker's voice narrates, providing somber, almost somnambulent rhythms.

In both tone and appearance, this reminds me heavily of the european documentary series "Apocalypse: WWI." There is zero attempt at humor. There is no self-deprecation, no attempts to lighten the mood.

This should be required viewing in high school history whenever post-renaissance european and american history is taught. Unfortunately, in our day and age, this project immediately gets attacked by "deniers" of white privilege.

The Captive
(2014)

Reminder why it's so risky to let one person control a film's creation
Since this was both written and directed by the same person who has a reputation for insisting on creative control, this is mostly the result of one person's vision. And that vision is in desperate need of outside input. That's because left on its own, it's another case of "whatever's in the filmmaker's head, did NOT migrate to the outside in order to get on the screen and into our heads."

This desperately needs to be re-edited for more clarity and continuity. I could follow the needless time-hopping well enough; that's not the problem. The problem is the holes in the plot, and the needless scenes that muddle the story. It's one thing to time-hop the story back and forth if it helps tell it. But it's another thing to time-hop scenes and plot points when it does not help, and just clutters up what could have perhaps been a good story into something mediocre.

If anyone calls this movie pointless, I would not blame them one bit.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
(1970)

Oddly slow
I love the Sherlock franchise from the 1940s to the 80s tv series to the Robert Downey ones to the Cumberbatch BBC tv series (love that one), but this 70s take is not one of my faves. It's oddly slow. I say "oddly" because there's lots of movement and antics and dialogue, but the scenes are overlong (good lord, will the russian scenes ever end?), and the plot is slow. Clearly, the creatives here wanted that style of cluttered visuals and leisurely plotting, but leisurely plotting isn't part of the Sherlock canon, is it?

And then there's Watson's character. Again, it's clearly a creative decision to make him so prone to hysterics and slapstick, but this movie overdoes it, and overdoes it a bit too overtly.

As for Sherlock's character, he falls within the general parameters of what we envision. Props, costuming, and art direction are wonderfully detailed, and fulfiilling in their Victorian splendor.

I saved the best for last: this version FINALLY puts the LGBT aspects forward. It's a running joke that Holmes and Watson have some kind of relationship that's more romantically fulfilling than is normally depicted, but it's more like a coquettish monty python gag, than anything remotely approaching lurid. It's almost "cute" to see how the filmmakers try to tease the joke into the dialogue, as if they're nuns trying to be naughty.

Nochnoy dozor
(2004)

Great idea, poorly told.
This movie is a terrific example of a movie with a good concept, poorly written and poorly directed/edited. It's got some good imagery, but it squanders it with a narrative that's got poor continuity, poor pacing, and is muddled and unclear, but not in that good art way that makes you think.

Lilies of the Field
(1963)

How do you review such an endearing classic?
I won't gush. I saw this in theaters as a kid. It's a simple story, low budget but excellent black and white cinematography. It's got a few implausible plot moments, but they're easy to overlook (like why do nuns surrounded by mexican-ams in AZ who they minister to, not speak even basic Spanish). If it came out today, it would definitely be Hallmarky. It's got boatloads of heart without tons of words. It's got a barebones plot. It's got straightforward, though fetching, desert locations.

It's not quite a bible story, but it's got no shortage of christian values contained therein. Namely, the sin of Pride. The virtue of Belief, the power of Prayer. Sure, it's utterly unrealistic that 1960 Arizona would be so unquestioningly accepting of an itinerant lone young black man, but many of the most endearing stories are fantasies, aren't they?

All that said, if someone wrote that story today, I wonder if the movie could or would have been made. It would come off as corny, I fear.

Riding Shotgun
(1954)

Standard color Western of the 1950s, except for the tasty Noir accents.
This is pretty much another over-lit, clothes-too-clean, shot-in-los-angeles-hills backlot, cookie-cutter color Western of the 1950s. EXCEPT -- it has some tasty fun stylings, like the Noir-ish narration of Scott's character, with some gunfighting tactics and decision-making revelations rarely found in Westerns, but not unusual in police procedurals and noir of the 50s. Also nifty -- the airtime given to Mexicans and their cantina beyond the usual cliché. And a little richer character detail than usual for this genre.

It's not a movie to go out of your way to see or rent; it's not some form of cinematic gold. But under the rules of its genre, it's above average. The acting isn't above-average, but the dialogue is one notch above. Not two notches. Just one notch, but that's still a good thing.

The Rental
(2020)

Slow on slow, pointless on pointless
I get it. This is dave franco's first project, writing it, directing it, with actors who were probably his friends helping him out for a weekend of shooting. Franco wanted the writing/directing/producing credit, and he got it, and it will hopefully lead to better things, like it did his older brother.

But that doesn't mean I could recommend it.

This starts out slow, unfolds slow, ends slow. It lacks tension, and really lacks pacing. The plot points are soft. Now ok, let's say he's trying to make something that's more subtle than the usual throwaway mystery thriller fare. In that, he succeeded. But we don't care about the characters, and it's just not written well enough. The directing, on the other hand, is good.

I tried to figure if he was homaging something. If he was, it was I Know What You Did Last Summer, albeit a less campy take. He probably grew up watching that as a kid. Otherwise, I didn't spot movie in-jokes or easter eggs. It all comes off as pretty straightforward stuff. There's a bit of a reveal at the end, but it leaves you going "ok, and? "

True History of the Kelly Gang
(2019)

Like the Brad Pitt Jesse James movie, but less.
This has a similar look and feel to the Jesse James movie with the absurdly long title, starring Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, except it's much duller, and even lower budgeted. Much lower budgeted. It's most definitely an art film, almost a student film. Nick Hoult and Russell Crowe as bit parts, are the best part of this. And Essie Davis, of the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries, is almost unercognizable in this, and does a dandy acting job. This movie isn't worth watching.

The Shooting
(1966)

Pointless low budget existential indie, that people struggle to like in order to feel smarter about themselves.
This is another of the genre of 1960s-mid-70s low budget, experimental, existential westerns and road movies that were common at the time. It's the kind of film that people grasp at and struggle to say it's cool, in order to feel more cool about themselves. In that way, movies like this are mirrors that reveal self-esteem issues. It's perfectly ok to say this movie is a waste of your money and time, and that it bored you to tears. You might even be a better person for it. Be bold with your bad self.

Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw
(1976)

Typical 70s American International anti-establishment caper
This is just another of a popular drive-in genre of the 1970s -- low-budget anti-establishment anti-hero outlaw drama by American International studios, known for cheapo horror and outlaw biker flicks. It's known for cheesy dialogue, forced plot situations, flimsy acting, and obligatory nudity and illegal drgu use.

Painting with John
(2021)

Did Lurie lose a bet?
This is Lurie doing My Dinner With Andre without Andre if dinner lasted only 20 minutes. It's jazz-cool, it's word-jazz, it's hauntingly self-promoting of his 2D art, as if his agent or gallery connection said "John, we gotta find a way to drive up your prices on your pieces."

Annihilation
(2018)

Too smart for me.
If I didn't read the notes on imdb, I wouldn't understand what this movie was about. Even without comprehending it, it's still interesting and thoughtful, and not dumb nor exploitive.

But just because a movie spurs coffeehouse discussion afterward, doesn't mean it's a good movie. It means it's a thought-provoking movie, but not necessarily a good one. After all, how many "WTF?s" are sufficient to add up to something good? Ex Machina was a better, as well as more comprehensible, movie.

First Cow
(2019)

Good luck trying to milk enjoyment from this udderly glacial marxist Western.
The other reviews are right -- this is painfully, sometimes excruciatingly slow. When slow is done right, it glues your attention to the screen. When it's not done so well, it makes you question your self-respect in watching this to the end.

It's painfully realistic, like 1820s poor people in the new West would be. It's quiet, like it would be. It's low on words, like it would be. It's a socio-economic moral play, done so gently that no yolks could possibly be broken. It's unusually claustrophobic for a Western, with scarce wide shots we like to see in Westerns. It is, after all, apparently shot entirely in a regional park on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon.

The acting and actors are top notch. So there is that. And that sound you begin to hear will be your heart thumping inside your chest. Not because you'll be excited, but because everything else will be so crypt-quiet that it will make a normal heart beat sound like bongo night at Brando's crib circa 1954..

The Last Laugh
(2020)

Depends what you compare it to.
This is very much like a student film with a decent budget -- for a student film. So if you judge it on that basis, it's ok. If you judge it by other horror films you'll see in a theater, it's dismal.

First, the acting, driven by the director's creative choices, feels forced and inappropriately "dramatic." People are peeved for no reason, angry without cause, emotional without motivation, shake their heads in disbelief and/or disapproval far more than real people would, and just generally behaving inappropriately for the situation. In other words, its actors are directed like they were in a hotel porno. This is done partially to justify their subsequent victimization at the hands of a serial killer, since this is not a teen movie, hence the filmmakers can't use sexual promiscuity as the setup for the murders.

This thriller also lacks an essential item for serial murder flicks -- tautness. The pacing isn't tight, isn't compact. It's sloppy and diversionary, and because of that, it struggles to hold our interest, partly because it keeps releasing its hold on our attention, and partly because we stop caring about the characters nor their welfare, and we even stop believing there's a phantom lurking about this opera.

Maybe this director/writer is using these films to build his resume of "watch how many trick camera shots I can do to prove I deserve more investors for the horror projects I wish I could make?"

Mope
(2019)

like a student film.
Think 'student film.' That's the key to figuring this out. A showcase for low budget filmmakers and actors, with a message about the destructiveness of mental health problems and the elusive attempts to surmount them with hope and effort.

The Dead Don't Die
(2019)

Too little.
I'm a jarmusch fan, especially Night On Earth and Ghostdog. But this? Too little. Too muted. Too dry. Too.....dull. Sure, it has some nice touches, like Swinton's character, but it's just not written strongly enough; the actors don't have enough to work with. Then there's the grotesque, whispered breaking of the fourth wall. It's not funny, it's not effective. This movie is so downplayed, that Jarmusch seemed bored with making it, as if he was forced to make it according to some contract obligation.

It's not a waste of time; it's not horrible. But please don't pay to see it.

A Cure for Wellness
(2016)

Muddled mess.
This medical horror is beautifully filmed. But the story, plotting, writing, is a mess. It's murky, confusing, inconsequential. It takes forever to get to the more shocking parts, as well as the point, and until then, it takes you for an overlong ride in slow motion. That journey is not worth the price.

First Love
(1977)

Had to put myself back in the 70s as a young man
I just caught this late night on TCM. I'd probably seen it 30-40 years earlier, but forgot it. My first thought -- this is like an after-school special for the over-18 set. I could tell it would be soft, and corny and talky, and a type of young romance that mostly appealed only to youth of that era. Then I "remembered" I was in college in that era. So I turned on the 70s Wayback Time Machine and tried to remember how I would watch this if I were 20. That's when I realized that this "fit" for a middle-class college kid of those days, who was still trying to figure out romance in a sexual context. I don't remember, but I bet this was hailed as soft-core porn by Playboy, since -- OMG -- Susan Dey's breasts were displayed, and not too briefly, and not in a non-sexual way. The same Susan Dey we all knew from the Partridge Family. Yowza. But old me looking at young Susan Dey? The thrill is long gone. I'm thinking "why were all of us boys so crazy about her?"

Writing-wise, I bet this was inspired by the wildly successful Love Story, another collegiate troubled romance in soft focus and long teary camera shots. It was only six or seven years earlier, and it was still being talked about in the popular culture when this movie released. This was, after all, the age of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the Joy of Sex, Looking For Mr. Goodbar, and all those other now-quaint social commentaries and racy cultural takes.

This movie's ok. It's not bad. It's tame-lame by modern standards, but hell -- it's over 40 years old. Like me.

The Haunting
(1963)

I don't get it.
This didn't scare me as a kid, and it doesn't scare me now. It strikes me as melodramatic. I like the cinematography, and the actors were up to snuff, but it just didn't send me. And yes, I do get scared by some films.

Dark Relic
(2010)

Such a promising premise, with such a mediocre execution.
The acting was find. The CGI was just horrible. It needed another 10-20 million for budget.

Escape Route
(1952)

How did George Raft become so popular?
I've seen Raft in many movies, and just don't get why people liked him so much. His acting is wooden, not just here, but in many roles. He's not particularly handsome nor charismatic. But whatever.

I like this movie because it's what we yanks consider a hollywood genre, but set and shot in the UK. It's refreshing to see a procedural done in another country. Similar, but different. And plenty of on location and street shots, not just endless soundstages. The camerawork even has a few imaginative moments.

But it's not special in any other way. I'm pretty good with british acting names and faces, and I don't recognize one here. It's rare that I recognize only one performer in a movie, in this case, Raft. I didn't previously know Sally Gray. I found it hard not to watch her. To me she looks much more american than british for that time period.

This could be a good movie for an update, a remake. It's got good bones.

International Falls
(2019)

Nice movie, in an adult way.
This is a nice movie. Not as in like 'puppy nice.' But as in pleasant, even warm. It's human, it's a bit smart, it's low budget without announcing it's cheap, and its shooting style is out of some "good cheap indie character films" instruction book, and I actually mean that as a compliment.

If you're looking for a quietly funny, low-key character revelation with no explosions, car chases, capes, try this one out.

One misgiving: they were needlessly cloying about the stereotypical Fargo accent and speech thing. That was too easy, way too cliched, and a little bit insulting, and I don't even come from there.

Three Christs
(2017)

Don't expect much, and you'll get more.
This is a slice from the Cuckoo's Nest genre, with a real-world spin from the psychiatrists' point of view. This is a very acty movie, something that looks directly lifted from the stage, but I don't know if it was. The script is not particularly heart-felt, so it does little to manipulate you, so that's a blessing. The downside of that is that there's less emotional payoff at the end. The writing just doesn't make me want to care for the patients.

The script does try to flesh out various aspects of the characters' lives, and it starts down that road, then stops. Is it excessive editing? Lack of money? The acting is good enough, certainly.

Bottomline: this inoffensive film started with ambitions, then almost seems to abandon them halfway through the third act.

The Fortune
(1975)

The genuine Ishtar.
Remember all those horrible things they said about Ishtar? Not funny? Awkward? Poor chemistry between actors? Doesn't resonate? They were talking about this movie. Compared to this, Ishtar was a comedy classic. It tried to capitalize on the 1930s nostalgia craze that was big at the time -- The Sting, Chinatown, Paper Moon, etc. And it's another great example of how a great cast and director, do not necessarily make a good movie. It's hard to believe that the same Mike Nichols who directed Jack Nicholson in Carnal Knowledge the year earlier, was the same Mike Nichols who directed Nicholson in this misfire of a movie.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
(2020)

Boring, not entertaining, juvenile.
No one over age 14 should like this. But some will nevertheless. It's just plotless action that's not even realistic nor exciting nor interesting. But there's lots of bright colors and bright lights. It barely qualifies as female empowerment fare, either. Another example of how the comics-movie universe has poisoned hollywood's ability to judge what's worth investing in. What a waste of money that could have been spent on something of entertainment value to people over 18.

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