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Iceland's stunning entry into scandi-noir.
Ok. I admit it. I started watching this because I'm missing the volcano at Geldingaladur, which has gone sort of dormant after more than 6 months of checking on it every single day. Sometimes twice.


This is a really nice bit of moody, impressionistic sotto voce thriller, made extra claustrophobic and menacing via the multi-tonal greys of ice, sea, ash, and clouds, plus the ever-present low frequency sub-soundtrack of the constantly erupting volcano. It hooks you in with naked, ash and mud slathered impossibilities, and keeps you there with that tantalizing promise of questions answered (oh so slowly) and long-standing issues resolved (also oh so slowly). Isolation contributes to the ominous turns of events -- and I love how any time someone has to drive anywhere, it's almost like what roads still exist are ephemeral and shifting, like tidal sand bars or dunes.

There are other reviewers that complain that it's slow. Ever watched the agonizingly slow advance of a 10 meter thick layer of clinker with red hot lava beneath pushing it slowly over houses and roads? It's that kind of slow. Dreadful and mesmerizing.

Hotel Splendide

Intensely strange, oddly engaging
What an odd movie to pop up on my list of recommendation on Prime. The cast is excellent (I'll watch anything with Daniel Craig), but the ensemble is amazing. The precis presented by Prime is incorrect -- the young woman returning to the monstrosity that is the Hotel Splendide is the former lover, not the sister, of the chef, and this change turned what I thought might be a quirky comedy into a rather dark but still lively exploration of what happens when the dead refuse to die. The atmosphere of this film is somewhere between Grand Budapest Hotel and Amalie -- I definitely feel the shades of Jeunot and Caro flitting about -- but the revolution which occurs is quintessentially British -- low key, strange, and ultimately enlightening.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Surprisingly entertaining
I'm over sixty, and generally don't care for characters with no redeeming virtues (my dislike of Watchmen and The Boys is never-ending), so I didn't really expect to connect with Harley Quinn, who is one psychotic charnel house of emotional upheaval. But (surprise surprise) I did -- and found a soft spot within myself for the prickly and over-dramatic Huntress, the hard-drinking cop, and the collaborator-like Black Canary. OK, I even liked the sleazy kid. Like. Not pity (although all of them engendered pity in some way). I liked them. And appreciated the quirky drive of the narrative, and didn't even mind the occasional timeline jumps that took me unawares. The tacky clothing didn't bug me. The black lipstick didn't bug me. The omg over the top accent didn't even bug me. And I was jammin' to the hip-hop hard-driving rap soundtrack, even though I normally dislike rap (hip hop's not terrible. mostly). Even the violence and gore was somewhat entertaining, especially when directed at those who deserved it most. All in all -- a fun ride. Almost a chick flick. A psychotic, hyper-violent chick flick. FUN!


soooo much gore
I'm normally not strictly against gore -- loved the opening scene of Lake Placid where the guy is bitten in half -- love the blood splashing artistically in Conan the Barbarian -- love the ludicrous social commentary and accompanying blood-letting in RoboCop. However, this has soooo much gore -- like Event Horizon, it's egregious and unnecessary. The one kudo I can give is the nice little plot twist in re Hellboy's origins. And I like the Alice character, as well as the addition of a very unpleasant Baba Yaga. This may be a version closer to the original Dark Horse comics, but I miss Del Toro's chill touch and the solid empathy of Perlman's Hellboy. The new Hellboy still seems familiar enough, but the plot path of the film was soaked in crimson, obscuring what otherwise would have been a good story.

El ministerio del tiempo

Clever, sometimes sharp, always watchable
Actually, it hooked me the moment I saw the excellent production values -- even though great writing (think the early Dr. Who) can transcend cheap sets and props, a beautiful, well thought out and deeply detailed setting can only enhance the good. This is good. I love the way the writers use the bare minimum of back story to really delineate the characters, and leave the iffy parts of the premise pretty much up to us as to how we wish to explain them. They just plunk us down in the world and let 'er rip. Nice! The little flourishes are great, too, though probably wasted on most Americans. I have read the Alatriste series of books, so the moment Julian snarked "Why is Alatriste here?", my jaw dropped and I laughed myself off the couch. Those references are pure gold, as are the other occasional pokes at the vagaries of bureacracy, governmental austerity programs, football fanatics, and cultural idiosyncracies. This is a clever, clever show!

Figaro Pho

quirky. very, very quirky
In the world of CGI animated series, this one stands out for several reasons: 1. fantastically detailed scenery. OMG, somebody else please notice that his wind-up record player also shows films!. Lots of sinuous curves and oddly-placed angles, with texture and color and pattern judiciously placed to convey discomfort, occasional riot and rumpus, and delighted surprise. 2. really clever sequences, especially those involving the mailman or anything to do with heights or depths. 3. a refusal to talk down to the kiddies. if they don't get the subtleties, they'll enjoy the raucous carnage. 4. a lack of fear when addressing not only scary things, but also gross things -- all topics are sorted through the very, very quirky process and come out as comedy. It might even get the kids thinking about fear. Don't be surprised if they ask questions afterward.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

delightful complexity
Whoa, what a tsunami of detailed information, half-seen side attractions, and really elegant special effects! I'm going to have to see this one several times, I think, before I've gleaned a comprehensive understanding of the depth of this world.

First off -- Scamander's suitcase (which is the reason I put a spoiler warning on this, in case someone would rather see the film without knowing anything at all). When I get this on DVD, I'll probably watch this section over and over -- looking in the corners, trying to peer off-screen. It's a cornucopia of sensory overload -- part sideshow, part impromptu zoo, and wholly engaging. I definitely empathize with the hapless pastry chef, Kowalski, as he staggers into unimaginable vistas and through canvas apertures that turn out to be dimensional engineering portals of which even the Time Lords of Gallifry would be envious.

Next: Scamader's mating display on the ice in Central Park. It was really, really hard to stop laughing at that one -- I was strongly reminded of the ostrich scene in The Gods Must Be Crazy II. So DANG funny, and visceral -- Scamander is the ultimate crypto- zoologist/magicanimalian behaviorist!

Engaging minor characters, a plethora of detail, and the big realization at the end that made me slap my forehead (well, DUH, of COURSE!) -- there's really not a single place in the movie that made it difficult for me to suspend disbelief. Fantastic fun!

Om Shanti Om

So much fun
I'm an American, and have not seen very many Bollywood films -- Three Idiots, Saariwaya, and one or two others in passing -- but I know a spoof when I see it. This movie was a romp -- overdone theatrics, over-the-top musical numbers, and lots of wink-wink-nudge-nudge allusions. Actually, I probably missed most of those -- but I got enough of them to keep smiling all the way through. Nicely plotted, plenty of really good catch-lines, and warm-hearted at the core. I especially like the end credits, where crew members and the usually faceless support people did a kind of 'red carpet' appearance, to the applause and cheers of the mob. Great bit at the very end, where the director/writer got out of the tuk-tuk for her moment, and everybody was .... well, no spoilers here. Just watch the film. Well worth your time.

Jupiter Ascending

incredibly strong storyline
Wow. Tsunami of clank -- one of the few science fiction offerings of late where the technology wow factor is off the scale. Gravity vector surfing boots? Spacesuit in a box? invisible shielding -- OK, that's been done before, but rarely on the scale or with the slickness of this film. Fabulous CGI -- well worth the additional tweaking that went on.

It could have been one hot mess -- involved story lines, gigantic milieu to offer and explain, tangled corporate information, complex familial relationships. But the Wachowskis deliver it all up with laser focus, and you never get so snowed in by characters or situations that you lose your way. From the seemingly simple beginning to the equally seemingly simple ending, you are kept to a logical course that allows you to accept some very complex details without a hiccup. The plot line is so focused that the audience accepts willingly the vast implications of the bigger picture.

This was a fun, fun, fun movie -- slick, great chemistry between the cast members, fabulous special effects which never overshadow the heart and soul of the humans at the center of everything.


Liked the message
For those wanting a 'genuine' mythology Hercules; this is not the movie for you. For those wanting a dark and realistic take on Hercules; this is not really the movie for you. For those hoping for popcorn fare, a little gory for a ten year old but just about right for a 13 or 14 year old, for those hoping for solid acting performances, well-choreographed fight scenes, and pretty high production values, then this is your show. And it's got a strong positive message that even those put off by the occasional splash of blood, the fleeting glimpse of bare female bottom, or the single comic use of the 'F' word would agree is something the American public occasionally needs to hear. Is it sort of formulaic? Yeah. So what? There are plenty of formulaic movies that have risen above stereotype into archetype. This isn't one of them, but it was worth the price of admission and the time spent. I'm glad Johnson got this movie done, and glad that I watched it.

America: Imagine the World Without Her

shame. on. you
Poorly written. Poorly researched. Abysmal production values. Obvious propaganda. But what really, really enraged me was the head-wagging going on in the 100% white, middle-aged audience around me. How can so many people my age swallow this claptrap? Did something happen to their brains once they reached 45 or so that made them forget the vigorous, forward-thinking, terminally optimistic country that came through two world wars, the Civil Rights upheavals and Vietnam without rending itself to pieces? Is it fear of death that has somehow taken away their willingness to participate in our great, complex country? More importantly, is a multi-racial president all it takes to transform what used to be the progressive, 'can-do' people of my generation (yes, most of the yoiks in the audience were people my age) and turn them into xenophobic crybabies moaning 'waaa, I don't recognize my country any more!'? Lord, people, grow up! Our country is indeed exceptional, and is still exceptional, and the only danger we face is the danger of rolling up into a flag-draped ball of righteous fear and indignation because America right now is a whole lot more complex and diverse than you remember it from your childhood. (Um, it's actually always been more diverse. You were a child, then, and children don't see the big picture, you know). This film is appalling. And the audiences that love it need to get a grip and stop trying to hold back the future.

Doc Martin and the Legend of the Cloutie

just as funny the second time around
We got hooked on Doc Martin when the first two seasons were offered on Netflix -- love the Cornish landscape and love the slightly scruffy and very quirky denizens of this corner of England. Imagine my surprise when I found out that there were two films previous to the series, and finally sat down to watch them. The first was really cute -- it was nice to see the Doctor not so crusty and more human than he is in the series, but the second one absolutely cracked me up. Nicely plotted, so many subtle digs at stereotypical Londoners, but not so stereotypical that they were trite. Loved the magical moments, and the last scene just ties everything up in a big bow -- I fell off the couch laughing, happy to leave the Doc with things perfectly in order (for Cornwall). A very feel-good movie, and well worth watching twice.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

magical, thought-provoking, very, very watchable
I can understand how most people view this film within the context of Hurricane Katrina. But even as a former denizen of the Gulf coast who sat out Alicia, Claudette, Allen, Rita, and Ike, I view this film in a much, much larger context. It goes beyond stereotype and into archetype -- the denizens of the Bathtub aren't poor drunks at the mercy of the environment, they are The People of the world they inhabit. Hushpuppy doesn't have a drunk father, she has a Father, with many of the faults and strengths of the immortal epic heroes -- anger, pride, genuine love and concern. Hushpuppy herself isn't just a little girl, she is The Child -- the purveyor of a magic which is real, intimately connected with her world, imaginatively linked with All Things. The outside world is a place of Things and Machines, of paperwork and rules -- and is never actually named, you see, because that would diminish it. Everything in this film exists within the realm of archetype, and if you watch it with that in mind, its multiple messages take on cosmic significance. Beautifully shot, beautifully acted -- it's going to take a few more days for the entire thing to completely sink in. Outstanding!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Captures the tone
Although I've read all three of the books (structurally, they're really 3 installments of one big honking novel), I haven't seen the Swedish movies. Forget about the books. Forget about the other movies. On its own, this adaptation does manage to capture the general tone and resonance of the novels, and it does this with admirable brevity and to-the-bone editing. There is a bleakness in the novels that is nicely encapsulated by the exterior and interior backgrounds. Snow. The sterility of Martin Vanger's modern house on the hill. The cool patina of years on the old cottage's walls, furniture, and stonework. The camera dwells on Lizbeth Salander's inexpressive face and you can almost hear her complex gears spinning away. The lighting director in this film is a genius -- and so is the cinematographer -- emotions are relayed in light and shadow so well, and the camera angles nudge our tensions without being overt about it. It's not perfect, of course. No movie version of a well-plotted novel ever is. But it strives to do the story justice, and manages to accomplish its task.


One of the better Hamlets
No matter how many times I see Hamlet (and I've seen it a LOT), I always seem to be in directorial mode, mostly to the detriment of what I'm watching. This is one of only two Hamlets where I was capable of actually watching the PLAY, rather than the director's mistakes. Tennant's very tense and tightly-wound Prince exhibits a pain and obtusion almost excruciating to watch. The contemporary gloss (LOVED those black interiors, shiny floors, endless reaches of doors and columns and the infinite dark starkness) doesn't feel superficial and does not distract at all from the text, unless you're one of those Renaissance Purists. Patrick Stewart's Claudius was slick, smooth, menacing, and (oddly enough), almost touchingly revealing. This production's Queen Gertrude had that haggard, 'wanna be young' angst seen in so many truly beautiful women once they hit fifty -- and I liked that she seemed to age as the battalions of misfortune kept coming in waves. Most importantly, I liked that the director allowed the TEXT to take center stage, rather than some radical new interpretational agenda. For once, a director that allows the audience to draw their own conclusions.

Be Kind Rewind

Subtle, sweet, and LOL, shake-your-head strange
I'm not usually a fan of Jack Black, even though I know darn well that he's actually a fine actor when he's not playing something outrageously stereotypical, but he snuck up on me in this one, as did Mos Def. Nice ensemble cast -- engaging, non-Hollywood dialog, strange happenings that, nonetheless, sucker you in so that you just go ahead and buy into the odd little plot premises. Most importantly, these characters, despite their strangeness, are more recognizably human than a whole lot of film characters. They might live next door, or in the next town, or just down the street. Not smart, particularly. Not always attractive. Just Human. Loved the cleverness of these shoestring budget movie makers (as a director of HS theater, I've been there and done that on stage) Finally, loved, loved, loved what this film says about how Americans are always buying into their own mythology -- or creating it out of whole cloth (or cardboard) when the facts are inconvenient.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

thank you thank you Del Toro
What a wonderful display of this director's talents -- love love love all the clockworks in this movie; if imagination is a machine, Del Toro's is an incredibly complex, Goldbergesque windup of gargantuan size. How nice, too, to have such a wonderful ensemble of characters -- Hellboy himself is one helluva scene-stopper, but he in no way overpowers any of the others. They feed on each other -- and every single one of them is fully formed and three dimensional -- even the dimensionless gaseous ectoplasm. The movieworld universe has been immeasurably enriched! Hellboy originally was visually stunning, but Del Toro really has surpassed himself. He's even managed to surpass his own work in Pan's Labyrinth. Amazing. Simply Amazing.

3:10 to Yuma

Instant classic
Just when you think nothing else can be done with this ancient genre, along comes something like this! A simple, simple story, told straightforwardly, with grace and no sentimentality at all -- completely astounding, spot-on psychological portrayals by the main actors, and sure-handed technical expertise from both director and cinematographer. I can't say enough about the beauty of Crowe's and Bale's performances -- these two are gems, surrounded by solid gold supporting actors who managed to exude pure character from every line. Though I'm not really a big fan of westerns, there are a few which I have placed in the pantheon of 'must-see' movies -- The Outlaw Josey Wales, There Was a Crooked Man, True Grit, The Cowboys, Unforgiven, and now 3:10 to Yuma. I rank this an instant classic.


evocative imagery, impeccable comic timing
Only one director could take a futzy little guy like Jamel Debbouze, pair him with an uber-goddess, set both of them down somewhere timeless like Paris, film them in black and white, and come up with both pathos and comedy in equal measures. It's gotten to the point where I'll watch anything Besson does, just because I know that it will be like nothing I've ever seen before. Angel*A is a fascinating exercise in both film artistry (oh, lord, misty Paris, Paris lights at night, the Alexander III bridge, Notre Dame!) and very sophisticated comic timing (check out the pinpoint accuracy of Besson's instincts during the police station scene!). This movie was so engaging, so unique, so beautiful to look at that my husband didn't even realize that it was in black and white until we watched the 'making of' feature after the film. Magnifique!

Doctor Who: Blink
Episode 10, Season 3

Chilling, clever, utterly amazing
As a long-time Dr. Who fan, I'm always on the lookout for episodes that would make good 'introductory' pieces to use for showcasing this character and this series to people who might be unfamiliar with it. 'Blink' is one of those episodes -- one of the best of the new series, and a fantastic 'stand-alone' that pretty much sums up both the intricacies of the time lord world and the abilities of the Doctor. Top chills (I will never be able to visit a sculpture gallery or an old graveyard again without thinking about it!), top logic and story progression (that's funny, seeing how the entire premise rests on a supremely illogical bit of time-loop), and absolutely the funniest reference to time lord technology ever made (I'll let you discover that one). I notice that most of the comments have been made by people from the UK -- be aware, world, that the Doctor is the pinnacle of great science fiction TV in America as well!

El laberinto del fauno

Lush, lurid, and very, very beautiful
I simply cannot rave enough about this film. Thank you, del Toro, for bringing us such a multi-layered, beautiful story set like a fire opal against the stark matrix of civil warfare. An instant dark fairy-tale classic for a complex modern world; villains whose motives we comprehend, yet cannot condone, classic nythic formulae served up ice-cold, just as the brother's Grimm would have it, and startlingly inventive visual effects to enhance and enlarge the film's fantastic characters. And all of this balancing on a razor's edge of reality. I'm still trying to think up ways to use it in my English honors class. I set this one right up there with 'Cite des enfants perdues" and -- creative story-telling and visual imagery some of the best I've ever seen. Quite simply, 'Pan's Labyrinth Kudos and more kudos for this highly original work! In many ways, the film itself is a labyrinth: a new surprise around every odd bend.


creepy hero -- what an anomaly!
Although the idea of the anti-hero is old as Homer, 'Dexter' brings something tangy and interesting to the table -- a creepy serial killer with, get this, a CODE of sorts. He does despicable things to despicable people, and while you can't really LIKE the guy, you begin to understand him. Chilling! Top notch cast -- I really like the fact that while Dexter's facade seems perfect, there are still those around him (and not necessarily those who've known him longest) who just don't buy it. Simultaneously conflicted and driven by his sick darkness, the main character has got to be one of the most repulsive to ever hit the small screen, and also one of the most engaging. Can't wait for season 2, now that one of the big mysteries of season 1 has come to some sort of conclusion. If Showtime messes it up and passes on a second season, I'd still buy the DVD of season 1, just to creep myself out with Dexter's unsettling world.


fascinating, infuriating, fundamental entertainment
From the very first image in the opening credits, you can't take your eyes from the screen -- it's that much 'alive' and immediate. Like the frescoed Gorgon later on in the credits, this place has a disconcerting way of seeming to live beyond its two-dimensional plane of television existence. You get caught up in the moments, beckoned into the time by the costumes, the light, the depth of the directors' vision. This is primo TV -- none of the usual stinting on detail so prevalent on other shows. You also get caught up in the characters, much like other people get caught up in the minutae of soap opera characters, only better, of course. These characters are infuriatingly like ourselves (though I might draw a thick, thick line between Atia's behavior and my own). Week by week, they pull us into their lives and we cannot help but cheer their triumphs, gasp at their misfortunes, grit our teeth in sympathy with their pain, shake our heads at their indomitability. Finally, Rome is entertainment at its most fundamental -- art imitating a life gone by which is known to us primarily by art -- a moebius circle of events well known that is, nevertheless, forever fresh. Kudos to HBO and BBC for underwriting this stupendous production!

Lady in the Water

an open letter to the director
Sir, Thank you. Thank you for reinforcing the idea that the world is a far more complex place than we think it might be. Thank you for nudging our psyches with the suspicion and the hope that our place and our role in the universe is not only uncertain, but may actually be of vital importance. This movie celebrates the implication that somewhere, lurking just beneath the surface of the mundane, there is immense magic waiting for its moment. Thank you for encouraging us to suspend disbelief and sustain a deeply resonant innocence. Thank you for offering us the illogical logic of dreams, and for clarifying these paradoxes in such beautiful cinematography. The critics have been calling this a terribly self-indulgent film, and it is. Thank you for indulging us, the dreamers of dreams.

The Libertine

A debauched, hypnotic-eyed rascal leans into the flickering light and proclaims that we're not going to like him. I was immediately hooked. As his short, wasted, pointlessly outrageous life unravels over the next two or so hours, I find that I DON'T like him very much, nor his long-suffering friends, nor his women (the whores, the whore wanna-be's, and the whore-wife), nor his opportunistic man-servant, nor his mother, nor his cold rapscallion of a king. None of them are likable in the least, even though I understand them, am outraged by their actions, am amused by their foibles and mistakes, am repulsed by their squalor, their self-centeredness, and their mistaken attraction for the beast of a man in their midst - John Wilmot. And yet, even though I don't like him and will never like him, I found myself attuned to him in the end. Depp gives a masterful performance here. Masterful.

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