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Captain Marvel

Underused Larson makes the best of what she has.
To begin, I am not a diehard Marvel Universe viewer. I will go when the characters seem interesting, and the niche Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel seemed like a good prelude to Avengers: Endgame.

We begin by seeing "Vers" on planet Haula, where they are embroiled in a war with the Skrulls. Little does Vers know that she is being played, and that the Kree are the aggressors in this fight. She has immense powers but lacks focus. How did she get here? We find out with a nice origin story where she falls from space onto...a Blockbuster Video, incinerating a "True Lies" mockup poster. This segment is one of the strongest, as it affords part of the audience a good dose of nostalgia and introduces Fury (Nick, but call him Fury...) played by a quite palatable Samuel L. Jackson. The Skrulls arrive, and they can morph anyone's appearance, which leads to a hilarious train fight.

Moving on, we find out that Carol Danvers' ("Vers" origin) was a test pilot for a faster-than-light prototyle that Mar-Vell (her pilot trainer on Earth) was testing to save the Skrulls. In between is a lot of treachery, some amusing cat scenes and some fine interaction with her co-pilot of then Rambeau.

It holds together well, but works best when Brie is given some nice one-liners or is a fish out of water on Earth. Hopefully we see a bit more of Captain Marvel in the future, because her powers are quite simply on a galactic scale, and she feels like she needs a much, much larger endgame to shine.

The Shape of Water

Love, like water, has a mutable shape.
The Shape of Water is Guillermo del Toro's latest epic. We follow Eliza (Sally Hawkins), a mute cleaning assistant and her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) as they work deep within a military facility in Cold War United States. Of interest in this facility is "The Asset", an amphibian creature of deep intelligence and equally deep ferocity. Its captor, Strickland, is an unfeeling sadist who cannot love but can control and torment. He simply wants a promotion from his military superiors and tortures The Asset at every turn.

Thankfully for the Asset, he is discovered by Eliza, who befriends him and helps him escape to her apartment space, which she shares with Giles, an advertising cartoonist who is falling behind the times, as photography is taking over at present. Giles and Eliza communicate well and he helps her store our amphibian friend, and ultimately befriend and save it. The Shape of Water offers much beyond the story, however. It is a visual treat, the interior of the mysterious facility rendered with a remarkable sterility, Giles' apartment comfortable and replete with a bachelor's sundries. References to Soviet spies abound, and one is in fact an integral part of the story.

See the Shape of Water for its brilliant acting, fine special effects and perhaps even to regain hope for love between differences.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Gripping, humorous exploration of grief and score-settlement.
2017 has been a banner year for movies, from Dunkirk to the outré "mother!" to this movie to...Oscar voters will have their work cut out for them. "Three Billboards..." should get a nod for Best Picture, Best Actor (MacDormand), Best Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell) and so on. Enough about the awards though, this film simply delivers.

It delivers a gut punch from the moment you empathize with Mildred (MacDormand) and her unending grief over losing her daughter in a heinous manner and the local constabulary's inability (or is it unwillingness?) to solve the case. Ebbing is a small town, everyone is comfortable. The deputy, played to an intolerant "T" by Sam Rockwell, throws his weight around and no one says much because the police has an overlarge presence here. Mildred rents three signs outside an access road to town with provocative slogans, one of them calling attention to the crime, the others aiming full-force at Sheriff Willoughby (Harrelson). Willoughby is dying of cancer, and the town rallies around him, rather than the angry and grieving mother. This division sets the stage for some great repartee, as Mildred takes everyone down, from the sheriff to the town pastor to the deputy to various locals.

We come to a moment where closure might be expected, but instead it's just another loose end that gets pursued by Mildred and the deputy. "Three Billboards" drowns us in pathos, chokes us in anger and helps us understands the dynamics of small town America. See it now before the buzz creates lineups.


Nerve-wracking dissertation on military washout.
Dunkirk pulls few punches while bringing us a clean look at a disastrous military event. We find Tom (Fionn Whitehead), Alex (Harry Styles) and a handful of other young men trapped on the sea while Germans mercilessly pound the surf, bombard their position and decimate their ranks. Dozens of them piled into freighters, buffeted by waves and hope and despair, and few of them will ever return to their homes.

Tension is ratcheted up by the incessant ticking of a watch, reminding us there are scant hours left before the next outbound ship or strike. The Germans are seldom seen; we hear of them planning, we seem them in planes in glorious dogfights with the Brits and we know they are the hammer that will drop, inexorably and mercilessly, on the assembled masses below. The aerial fight sequences are masterfully shot, with bullets ripping the air and the planes painstakingly recreated to give us a real idea of those sequences.

One of the few downsides of the movie lies in its limited character development. We see the effects and results of war, but little is known about the featured soldiers outside of their current projects and a bit on their families. We see their prejudices emerge when they have to make choices on how can leave or enter their holds, however, and those moments are enrapturing.

Dunkirk scores high as a war movie. To miss it is to miss story writ large, even if that story has dire consequences for all involved.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Taking a life means breaking a life.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer leads you into a clinical, despairing spiral of revenge, dark humour and banality, releasing you only at the very end with an inhuman conclusion.

We open with open-heart surgery gone awry, then two doctors discussing their watches as they throw away their bloodied gloves. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is the heart surgeon in question, who befriends the darkly enticing Martin, a local youth. We're not sure who Martin is, but it becomes clear he has a stake in Steven's family, including his ophthalmologist wife Anna and especially their children Bob and Kim.

Martin and Steven meet frequently, and as Martin is entering adolescence he has all sorts of questions on adulthood. Kim, herself, is blooming and falls for the quirky Martin, before her brother Bob is struck by lower-body paralysis. Kim meets the same fate. What's going on? It seems to be psychological, but we get a dark hint as Kim is said to have delivered a great lecture on the myth of Iphigenia, and this myth is made life.

Steven, being incurably logical and earth-based, cannot fathom that the fates are involved in a spiral of revenge that will force him to make an unearthly choice. How he arrives to that choice and the ensuing back and forth between he, Martin and his family are fine moments to watch and absorb. Especially funny is a conversation between Kim and Bob about Bob's possessions, which will leave some in stitches.

Highly recommended for those looking for that dark, cold movie that can work your cockles. General Anaesthesia never looked so different as well.


Allegorical, jarring and bound to be divisive.
Paramount Pictures deserves to be panned (and roundly) for advertising this as some sort of home invasion horror flick, as it is nothing of the sort. Our showing here in Gloucester had a sparse crowd of about 70 or so people, which works out to its poor box office returns.

The film itself is a huge religious and environmental allegory. Javier Bardem is "Him", the creative force stalled and wed to "Mother", the world gifted to him and currently barren, as she has to fuel his creation through inspiration. Him needs outside inspiration as well, and this is where Man begets Woman, and so on. It comes off as slightly pretentious, but it does work. We move through early biblical works and side warnings about humans lacking care for the environment, and then sashay into various commentaries about fame, fandom overrunning celebrities, people in general being callous and selfish and so on.

"mother!' takes a hard turn in its last segment, but you have been warned when Mother says she is going to "prepare for the Apocalypse", and that's what you get, in all its horror, violence, selfishness and degradation. Eventually Mother (Earth, Nature), is pushed to her limits and burns the whole area down, only to be rebuilt.

I gave this film a 7 for its use of sound (no music anywhere, just ambient sounds and natural sounds) and Bardem playing the creative, selfish force to a tee. Lawrence is an observant force, trying to preserve herself and ultimately vengeful when people destroy everything carelessly. The final sequence is absolutely incredible, covering everything from Abu Ghraib to refugees to riots to wars to dark religiosity and so on.

That said, this is NOT a movie that should have been released to the masses, but instead given a small, art house release. It was mislabelled and there is simply too much going on here to serve as popcorn fodder. On this point, I often felt as I was the only EATING popcorn from my high perch in the theater, and the sound was intrusive on the surroundings. Yes, really. See this movie with an open mind, bear in mind its intense religious allegories and go from there.

Ghost in the Shell

"This is Major..." fun, at the very least.
It was always going to be impossible for Sanders et. al to pay homage to the Ghost in the Shell property as it deserved. I won't touch on the controversy surrounding casting except to say that the movie would have been enhanced with someone closer to source, but Scarlett Johansson more than acquits herself in the role.

Ghost in the Shell (henceforth GITS) acquits itself well as a cyberpunk foray, quite well as an action movie and loses pace and points as far as the plot and dialogue. We find Mira Killian (I missed the pun here, perhaps due to overfatigue) being reconstructed under the guidance of Juliette Binoche, empathetic and classy as always, in Hanka Corporation's labs. She's going to be ultimate killing machine, and her reconstruction reminds of Terminator, with steel fusing flesh. Johansson dialogues in a kind of sleepy monotone with a few inflections for sarcasm, humour and pathos along the way. The skintight bodysuit flatters her while simultaneously rending Major sexless in areas. (As an aside, the film might well pass the Bechtel test as Major has no relationship with any males and has her own goals she pursues.) As the story progresses, we find much to like about our heroine, but yearn to find out more about her though processes.

Visually, GITS is gob-smacking. The cityscape reminds of Blade Runner and definitely has that great, gritty, cyberpunk feel that makes up for some rather choppy dialogue and plot pacing. The whole "Am I the first? How real am I?" is a little trite at this point, and Johansson pulled that off MUCH better in "Her", where she essentially a voice box. Favourites from the anime are here and do well to support Major. GITS's greatest flaw is in not offering Johasson, Asbaek and company some more depth. "Beat" Takeno is quite fine as the Section 9 head though.

The film deals with the "Motoko Kusanagi Issue" in a bit of a weird, circuitous way that satisfies while leaving the door open in sequels for Johansson to adopt the name if she wishes. The scenes with her parent are fine, if a little uneasy because of the obvious racial overtones. The battle scenes are quite efficient, but the spider-tank one had deeper layers in the previous incarnations, which have gone missing here, sadly.

Overall, see this as a good popcorn movie with dazzling visuals and an adequate performance from Ms. Johansson. Do not expect a faithful rendition of GTIS, but do look out for a fine transference of the "swamp fight" that could go down as an iconic sequence.

7.5/10, mostly for the sights and sounds, losing a good two points for plot pacing and dialogue/script.


Twisty, windy and slightly unfulfilling.
I came across this movie in a friend's film stash. The title had me thinking this was about Syria...but na, it's about oil conglomerates, American hegemony in the Middle East and the disintegration of various people and families.

Syriana involves the redemption of an old CIA agent (an unrecognizable George Clooney as Bob), the merger of two oil companies trying to exploit tensions in the Middle East for their companies benefit and...family drama? Sibling rivalry plays a role as the two sons of a fading emir vie for the throne, so to speak. Matt Damon's family is falling apart at the scenes as he loses a son in a swimming mishap, then prefers the power rush of wheeling and dealing to the more serene one of taking care of a homestead. Lawyers bicker over other items. I counted no less than six or seven threads here: Bob's story is one, Matt Damon's character's is another, the Emir's family struggles, Hezbollah activities in Lebanon, another father-son oil worker subplot, and a lawyer compromising his principles along the way.

Syriana is a fine movie, a grandiose movie, but ultimately it fails to make you empathize (or even despise) anyone in particular. This is its greatest failing, as cutting out a few of the subplots would have made it much easier to watch. We get what the director is trying to say, but we simply are too exhausted to put it together when it all comes down to a few final moments. Sadly, this takes a movie that could have been excellent to simply become above average.

The House of Yes

Twisted family fun!
Parker Posey absolutely shines in this incestuous tale of family and relationship rivalry. "Jackie O" Parker lives in her own dream world, a world where she is the spitting image of the former First Lady. Her mother cannot say no to her and her half-brother tries to keep a distance while helping her with her medication.

All three live in a "white house", but one person has escaped the troubled island. His name? Marty. His relationship? He's Jackie's twin brother and was born with his penis in Jackie's hand. The two recreate Jack Kennedy's assassination and have since their teens. When Marty and his fiancée Lesly (Tori Spelling) come home for a fateful Thanksgiving dinner, it all starts to unravel. Drowining in duplicity, Lesly tries to stand up to the mother (Geneviève Bujold in a fantastic turn) but allowing herself to be seduced by Anthony (the half-brother) merely engulfs her into the house of lies.

Not enough can be said about Ms. Posey's acting here. It may be her best role, though I've seen only a handful of her films so will let the critics judge. Everything shines here though. The house, the actors, the moods, the absolutely warped humour and the dialogue is trenchant to say the least.

See this film if the topic matter doesn't off-put you and if you're a fan of dark, REALLY dark, humour.

La double vie de Véronique

Splendid double life expertly explored.
It had been a bear finding a properly subtitled version of this film, until the wonders of YouTube finally helped our cause. Irène Jacob's immeasurably understated grace and beauty permeate this film, from the first moments in Krakow where she elevates her voice to angelic proportions, to the second half where she tries to connect with herself in another way.

Quickly put, we see two aspects of the same life and experience. Weronika in Poland, a radiant singer with little training but an apparent divine gift, enjoying life with full vigour and finally reaching the dream of become a stage presence, only to be seized from our world by the maker above. It seems unjust, but perhaps she had an inkling of trouble when she spotted her double on a bus slightly before, a jarring experience that nonetheless made her keep her focus.

On the other side, in France, we find Véronique, who suddenly abandons singing to teach music to children. She finds herself intrigued by a puppeteer who strikes a cord within her with his marionette show, and slowly comes the realization that she is half of a now incomplete whole.

Kieslowsky's brilliance shines in this movie. As we'll see later in his seminal Three Colors, he uses closeups of mundane items to represent stages of reflection or worry. In "Bleu" it is a sugar cube dissolving in Julie's coffee while here we see a teabag immersing itself, emptying its flavour in hot water and thus ridding itself of its duties. Kryztof also perfectly captures Poland in revolutionary moments and the imperilled safety of one individual.

Weronika goes from the ecstasy of singing to that of physical ardour to apotheosis whilst her French counterpart regresses from singing to teaching to fleeing to finding, and finally understanding. Jacob is near perfect here, hitting all the right emotive notes. Her almost radiant happiness as she sings hymns at the start, during a torrential downpour, is an unforgettable moment. Her grief at finding herself in the final scenes is also palpable, a bravura performance for the actress.

A fine film, deep in starting blocks for other movies from this director, The Double Life of Véronique is a must for anyone who has led more than one life or feels connected to others.

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

A fine reboot of the Star Wars franchise.
When it comes to the Star Wars franchise, it's vital to take a step back to see what has been delivered to us. In this case, it's fine swashbuckler with some minor flaws. The temptation here (and I have fallen into it) is to see the characters as transpositions of the original. Rey is Luke, Finn is Han, Kylo is a budding Vader and so on.

The Force Awakens loses nothing of the original trilogy's grandiose scale. Jakku is a desert planet in the vein of Tatooine, the First Order is a reboot of the Empire, sharing its original goals of galactic domination and there are the same cheeky references to the original series as well. Fans that are enamoured with the Star Wars galaxy will be let down as the film has its flaws. Han Solo dies an inglorious death at the hands of his son, but we have the pleasure of seeing Rey grow from a scavenger to a budding Jedi Knight. Finn is a little harder to corner here. He has some great lines but could have used some expository depth outside of "Hey, I'm a former trooper and I'm getting the hell out!" but that will surely come in the rest of the new trilogy.

TFA rewards fans of the original series by showing us Han, Leia, Chewie, C3PO, R2 and finally Luke in a final moment that has all of the mentor-student tableau we've seen before. There isn't a lot of CGI here weighing down the movie, and that aids it a great deal. Should we have expected more? Perhaps. We are left with a tantalizing possible future though. The young padawan ready to face more threats, the unwilling hero trying to find his space, torches being passed from past heroes to new ones. It's by no means perfect, but it's a fine two hours of entertainment, heroism and worth a look or two. If Abrams tightens up the script a little in the next movies, we'll have a great run here as well.

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Perfect monotony with a surprising twist.
Rare is it that a movie is so true to life that it crosses the line into "cinéma vérité", or rather reality movies. Jeanne Dielman (...) offers a perfect example of this phenomenon. Its namesake is a widow raising her young son, Sylvain. We see her go through her routine, implacably and relentlessly. She wakes up, makes coffee, prepares supper, takes care of another woman's child for a short time and breaks the drudgery by selling herself for a short time in the mid-day before her son returns from school.

The camera stays in focus on Jeanne and her environment throughout the whole affair. Rarely do we see her out of her apartment and even more rarely do we hear her speak. The silence is nearly oppressive, filled with household noises and street noises but naught else. However, the keen observer will notice subtle differences during the second of three days presented in the film. After she takes her second caller, her behaviour changes, coming to a head on the morning of the third day. Is the milk at fault, is it the coffee or is it her? We find out only mid-day through, when we peek into the otherwise shut door that hid her encounters with her callers.

Intertwined in all of this is her relationship with Sylvain, who reads during supper and speaks of sex in such a manner that is telling to us as we know what Jeanne does, but he does not. "I'd never sleep with a man I would not love if I were a woman." "But you are not a woman..." and there we have the power of truth exposing the lie, as her words about her former husband belie her current state.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is masterful, rewarding your attention and challenging you to pay attention to every detail as only then will your concentration be rewarded. The film clocks in at three hours and some, each hour being a day in Jeanne's life. Not an easy film to watch, but a must-see nonetheless.


Suffering until the breaking point.
Mouchette is a young girl living in an indeterminate village in France. Her mother is dying, her younger sibling needs constant care and her father is an abusive drunk. Her life consists of going to school, where she will never fit in because of her one piece of clothing and taciturn behaviour, and then going home through the fields next to the school.

Mouchette's expressions tell all you need to know. She speaks perhaps a dozen words throughout the film but you feel her joy as she is allowed to play bumper cars at the carnival, to her frustration after her father refuses her any more amusement, to her fear and agony as she falls victim to a man she thought she could trust. In an environment where the church and patriarchy hang above any woman's head, this is not an easy life by far.

The film reaches its zenith when Mouchette has to hide from a heavy rainstorm on the way back home. She loses one of her galoshes and a poacher named Arsène (who splendidly recreates an epileptic seizure), takes her to his cabin to warm her and speak to her about his fight with the gamekeeper. The price for his help is enormous and breaks the young girl beyond repair. She tries to speak to her mother about it, but mother is dying. Her father and brother mistrust her. When her mother dies, finally the neighborhood shows a little compassion, but this turns to judgment and even a gift of new clothing cannot reconcile her to her peers.

The final scene is epochal, with Mouchette rolling around in the grass (apparently pleasurably) before we see she is trying to reach a certain area, to tragic results.

Mouchette is suffering, isolation and a small dash of hope, and a must see film.

The Burning Dead

Lava zombies unite!
When abominations meet addle-minded, you obtain this piece of superlative schlock cinema. I'll get to the obvious flaws in basic physics in a bit, but suffice to say that if you are looking for a chilling horror movie, well, The Exorcist, The Shining, Spoorloos are all on that shelf.

Our story begins as we see a cannibal in a top hat feasting on some fresh intestines, ostensibly with his former wife. Apparently the inhabitants were trapped here, under the majestic and august auspices of a dormant volcano, and ran out of food. The year is 1846. Fast forward a century and some years and we see the low-budget (with some heart) cast of characters. Everyone is in a panic because the old volcano is about to erupt again, but they have much to tell us.

Mindy Roberts (Monique Plante), her daughter Nicole Roberts (Nicole Cummins) and Nicole's boyfriend Ryan Jacobs (Kevin Norman) are all moving out of the area with the help of affable Sheriff Denton (Thomas Downey). Thus comes exposition about the family unit and the estrangement of Mindy and her father Old Ben. Old Ben is stubborn and addicted to the Internet through his tablet. Meanwhile the top geologists in the area Dr. Stevens (Kyle T. Heffner) and his assistant Eve Jones (Julia Lehman) are discussing volcanoes, which brings me to my short (and obviously inadequate) physics foray: Lava can reach between 800 and 1200 degrees Celsius. The human body erupts into flames at around 800 and 1000 degrees Celsius. By this back of the napkin math we see that the Zombies could not exist! Not only that, but I have yet to hear of a volcano spewing green, purple, red smoke or magma as cruise missiles onto nearby buildings.

That's the least of this film's issues, however, as the citizens of the area really should have all died ages ago. The sheriff runs around in circles, the protagonists abandon their cars instead of leaving town, the clouds of volcanic ash are barely acknowledged. It's a horrible mess of plot holes, schlocky effects and tugs at the heartstrings.

That said, the hilarity of some scenes makes up for the overall lack of cohesion. The magma cruise missile, the overacting from the zombies, the stupidity of the rangers all give us an entertaining hour or so of B-grade cinema. I haven't even gone into the absolutely brutal and explotivie "blogger/photographer" at the start, who thought taking off her top would be the best idea when about to be engulfed in flames.

See only if you are willing to park your brain for an hour or so.

The Country Girl

Bravura performances by Crosby, Kelly and Holden keep the show alive!
"The Country Girl" throws Grace Kelly in as the overextended wife of an alcoholic theater has-been trying to get on track. Unfairly castigated for her youth and appearance here, Kelly delivers a satisfying emotional performance as Frankie Elgin's wife, frustrated, betrayed, angry and unable to overcome her husband's fatal weakness, the bottle. Bing Crosby stuns as the drunk theatre has-been, and it is telling when you see him sing off-key or poorly, only to follow it up with immersion into a declining man's psyche, blaming anyone but himself for his foibles. Holden is the hard-edged theatre director who knows he can draw a performance out of Elgin but fights against Elgin's habits and Elgin's wife, whom he sees as little more than a nuisance.

Our drama is sourced back to an early performance by Frank where we see a recognizable Grace Kelly, dressed to the nines and watching with their son. Frank has to pose next to a poster and his son runs into traffic, to predictable results. Frank blames himself and drinks himself deep, attempting suicide and turning on his wife. When offered a part in a play, he makes it a two week stint, convincing himself he'll fail and he can walk out. Only Georgie's insistence that he carry it through seems him finally emerge somewhat whole in the end. It isn't without trouble, however, as he relapses several times and Holden moves onto Georgie after an animated discussion in their office.

Much has been made about Grace Kelly's being too beautiful, refined, young for Georgie's role. Here, the viewer must simply suspend disbelief a little. Kelly was in her early 20's when she filmed this, but she has been married for 10 years in the film. We're meant to think she is in her mid-30s and she pulls this off to a good degree. Very dressed down, tired looking and frustrated, she personifies the harrowed wife of a man she loves but can't save. Grace no doubt drew from her own personal experience here from her early days in New York at the Barbizon, much to her credit she keeps her character real and her Oscar was well-deserved.

A great film on the perils on alcoholism, its consequences and simply as a look into some different roles for Hollywood greats.


Grandiose period piece leaves one breathless.
Camille is set in the late 1800's where the inimitable Greta Garbo plays French courtesan Marguerite Gautier (the "Camille" of the title refers to the camelias, or Marguerite flowers she adores) fighting to stave off debts and suitors while she fights an encroaching tuberculosis.

The settings are grand, from the opera house to the palatial estates to the country villa flanked by a castle owned by the omnipresent Baron, the man Marguerite years for while loving the much younger Armand. It is Armand who seeks to marry Marguerite, to make her "an honest woman", if you'll forgive my expression, but she understands life much more than he. She knows it is fruitless, that he cannot keep her expenses or interest more than fleetingly. They meet almost accidentally when he goes to her opera loge, where she mistakes him for he Baron. When the Baron arrives, she sends him off for frosted chestnuts, and he never returns as he sees her with his rival.

The film spends much time in between Marguerite's debts, her seduction of both men and her quasi-avoidance of friends Olympe and Prudence, who are vulgar pleasure-seekers in their own right. You know this will not end wall, as Garbo always seemed to lose her movie relationships, but it is hard to take your eyes off her classic figure, or to deafen yourself to her accent as she toys with her entourage. The end is tragic, as she dies in the arms of Armand, the man with whom she consented to a country life, but the moment is filmed with dignity and panache.

See if only to see...Garbo talk! She had been in non-talkies previously and made a great leap here.

Gone with the Wind

An all-time great, Civil War and all.
It's rare for a movie to earn a 10 in these quarters, but the scope and breadth of Gone With the Wind earn it top marks in virtually every category.

Vivian Leigh shines as the selfish, spoiled Scarlett O'Hara and Clark Gable is her perfect foil as the suave and dangerous Rhett Butler. Our story begins in 1861 on the O'Hara farm, where Scarlett pines for Ashley, who is about to marry her cousin Melanie. She loves Ashley and is indifferent to her cousin. Wanting to be the centre of attention, Vivian heads to the Twelve Oaks barbecue where she throws men away as so many kerchiefs. She eventually confronts Ashley in the library and he rebuffs her, to her anger and to Rhett Butler's unending amusement. Rhett had been hiding behind a couch and starts his dance of seduction with Scarlett.

As the movie progresses, we see Georgia embroiled in the progressing Civil War. Atlanta burns (impressively!) and the homestead of Tara is razed and barely able to produce the food necessary for its subsistence. The carpetbaggers take over, Scarlett is forced to sell the mill and to seek Rhett for money to pay the usurious taxes. Meanwhile, Melanie has a child, Ashley dodges more advances from Scarlett and Scarlett's emotionless marriage to a suitor prior ends as he is killed in action.

It all leads to a climax where Scarlett and Rhett wed, their wills clash and he kidnaps their daughter, their poor daughter who dies riding a horse sidesaddle, and their next child is stillborn after Rhett and Scarlett argue on the stairs of Tara. Rhett's famous line: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!" resonates his frustration and we see a broken but ultimately self-delusional and hopeful Scarlett looking forward to tomorrow.

All that said, the treatment of African American slaves is polished to a grotesque degree and at least merits some consideration. They are all shown as happy and servile and Ashley and others referencing them as "Darkies" does the movie a disservice, even if it may have been more accurate than the other portrayals.

All said though, this is an epic romance and one that stands the test of time.


A harrowing journey of self-discovery.
To any prospective viewers of "Wild", be aware it is essentially a very literal woman against nature story. A rewarding one by all means, but the other characters are peripheral.

Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed, a woman whose marriage is disintegrating, who is losing her mother and sadly, herself to a life of selfish decisions and quick living. Eventually she has enough and decides to hike the Pacific Trail on her own. Realistically enough, we see her with an overloaded knapsack to start, which gets lighter as her own personal load gets lighter as well.

Cheryl spends night after night in the desert, near rivers, trying to survive on her meal rations and wits. She is unnerved by the sounds, the sights, the remoteness of it all. Our protagonist finds she is not alone though as she meets a few men along the way, some of whom are predatory, others helpful and others plain goofy (the author of the Hitchhiker's Magazine is one of the latter). Thanfully she survives and gains the title of "Queen of the PCT" for her undaunted efforts.

The movie ends as we see Cheryl finally arrive at her destination after meeting a mother and son escorting a llama. She looks wistfully at the path travelled, uncertainly at the path ahead and our movie closes on us. We've learned much from her though. That she could survive without her husband and friends, that she could overcome mental and physical anguish and more improtantly, that her life is hers.

A bravura performance by Ms. Witherspoon that made her quite worthy of an Oscar nom.

The Devil Wears Prada

Kinetic romp through the fashion industry delivers!
If you like fashion, if you like women (and/or men) dressing up in the best fashions, then see this movie. If you'd like a hilarious, quick-paced romp then listen and watch closely as the movie is full of twists and turns.

Andi Sachs (Anne Hathaway) is a struggling writer that gets hired to Runway magazine by the "Dragon Lady" herself, Miranda Priestley. Miranda wants her Starbucks piping hot, her clothes iron, her calls fielded, her needs and whims attended to, much to the dismay of Emily, Andi's co-worker trying to juggle Andi and Miranda. Merryl Streep is fantastic in this one; you can see she relishes being an acerbic fashion broker and you can spot the slightest hint of a smile on her face as she sends Andi on yet another fool's errand.

Sandwiched between the world of high fashion and the demands of Runway is Andi's relationship with longtime flame Nate, who starts losing patience with playing second fiddle to Runway. We see more evidence of the demands as very few in the office are married or in a relationship. Miranda is married, with two daughters, but she becomes divorced late in the movie. Andi loses her relationship with Nate, has a fling with Thomas (an editor and fashion guru) which disintegrates quickly. Quite simply, no one has time for sitting down and talking, life is too quick.

Outside of the bravura acting from all involved, we get some excellent shots of Paris, New York and various fashion galas. It's almost a blur but ends in a brisk two hours or so. A fair warning though, the ending is fairly contrived but does not deter from the overall feel of the movie.

To Catch a Thief

Two of the best in in a kinetic adventure!
Cary Grant (my favourite leading man) and Grace Kelly (my favourite leading woman, perhaps tied with Katharine Hepburn), make a fantastic foil to each other in this Monaco set piece.

Grant plays a retired cat burglar and veteran of World War II who has been framed by the local constabulary for a copycat's crimes. They are, of course, convinced HE did it, but he knows he is innocent (and retired) so he finagles a stratagem with an insurance broker to lure the thief into a trap. We are never sure of the real culprit's identity. Is it John Robie (Cary Grant, The Cat) in a moment of dissociative personality? Is it the captivating and ethereal Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly), whose mother has her own collection of jewels, leading Robie astray? It is someone offscreen? Many are the possible culprits, including a slew of Robie's former squad mates working in a nearby restaurant.

The movie's pacing is brisk. We're by now quite used to Cary Grant as the dashing cad, it is almost a caricature by now, but he tones it down here as he plays opposite Kelly, who suspects him of being The Cat and Brigitte Auber as Danielle Foussard, daughter of one of his restaurateur friends, love interest and foil. If we did not know Cary Grant had turned down a role as 007, he might as well have been in the role in this film.

Great scenes include Kelly barrelling down the Monaco countryside with a sweaty-palmed Grant in the passenger seat, the kiss she steals from Robie before turning in, and a beach tiff between Auber and Grant that plays quite well. The finale, set in a costume ball, will leave you breathless as Grace Kelly looks delicious in a bouffant gold gown and Robie as her black valet...or is he? While not at the level of North by Northwest or Rear Window, Hitchcock pulls, dare I say it, a rom com thriller that is worth several watches. Scenery, suspense, screen legends Bravo for To Catch a Thief!

Sex Drive

Puerile teen romcom has its moments...but few and far between.
Our Film Fridays group veered away from the classics for "Sex Drive" and, while not overly enthused with the result, were somewhat pleased to find some humour therein.

The story revolves around young Ian (Josh Zuckerman) who gets embroiled with an internet hottie named Ms. Tasty in order to lose his virginity. Follow a bunch of sight-gags revolving around penises, breasts, flatulence, the Ahmish and James Marsden's over the top homophobic big brother to Ian.

Ian, his pal Lance and Ian's beloved Felicia hitch Rex's (James Marsden) GTO to head to Knoxville. Along the way they encounter the movie's sole saving grace in Seth Green, who gets some genuine chuckles as the sarcasm-addicted Ahmish car repairman who saves the day for the group. The movie is quite uneven, however, going from a buddy movie to exploring teen longing to unnecessary gross out humour, leaving its message (Tell your crush that you love them and go from there) behind in some forced scenes.

Hard to give this movie more than an average rating as the messages of friendship and longing have been explored much better in other movies. The cast isn't exactly crowd-friendly either. Zuckerman does fine as the overwhelmed teen but Clark Duke as Lance is as unlikeable as you can get in a precocious teen. Amanda Crew (along with most women in the movie) is a decoration, adding to the misogynistic overlay of the film.

See only if in the same age group or if nothing else is on.

An Affair to Remember

An uneven Affair that leaves one wanting.
Our Classic Film Fridays reconvened after a vacation layoff and we have been doing Cary Grant movies of late. Fans of the legendary screen presence will not be disappointed as he is his usual bounder self, devouring the screen even when implausibly playing the righteous son or the converted future husband to Ms. Kerr's Ms. McKay.

The film starts quite well, with news agencies around the world telling us that international playboy Nicky Ferrante is finally getting married to a rich wife. He is currently on a cruise back to America by detour of France. We see Ferrante's dashing womanizing quite early as he flirts nonstop with a variety of youngish women while rebuffing the more senior passengers on the ship. Eventually, Nicky meets Terry and they understand they both have partners on the mainland but...a fortuitous stop in France to meet Nicky's grandmother pushes them together, at almost cliché speed.

Problems arise here as we can believe Ferrante's dashing cad could be stricken by Terry McKay's humble but forthright countenance, but the push to marriage by the grandmother seems forced. They arrange for a meeting at the Empire State Building in a few months to see if they still love each other and...Terry gets run over by a car on the way there, leaving Nicky waiting until the wee hours. At this point the film takes a sad turn toward the maudlin and heart-tugging. We see Terry in the hospital, her legs broken. We see Terry teaching disadvantaged youth and, sadly, we hear said disadvantaged youth sing in an effort to add unneeded levity and heart to the equation. Meanwhile, Ferrante nad his fiancée are on T.V. Terry's husband suspects everything. We move on...

The ending was decent enough, they finally catch up and admit they are attracted to each other before parting with a gift from Nicky and the discovery an oil of his grandmother and Vicky that Nicky had painted from memory.

No more than a 6 out of 10 for this one folks. Grant is much better in North by Northwest or Bringing Up Baby or His Gal Friday and Kerr? I can't speak on her career but she gave a good performance and her singing inspired. Not a great film, but see it if you are a completionist.

North by Northwest

A rollicking, mind bending thriller!
Cary Grant is Roger Thornhill, an ad exec that gets kidnapped and then...mayhem ensues. Was he kidnapped? Was he drunk? Whom did he allegedly assassinate? What the blue blazes is going on anyway? Everything develops so swiftly in North by Northwest that you'll want to pay attention to everything, from facial expressions to rooms to the various actors and settings as if you stray for a moment, you may well lose touch as the lovely Eva Marie Saint nearly does at the end.

Right, back to Roger. He gets in a car, goes to a meeting, excuses himself to make a phone call and is abducted and taken to an estate, where he's accused of being someone else. He protests (vainly) and is then forced to drink down until drunkenness and nearly run off a cliff before taking the wheel itself; at this point one starts wondering if Grant would have done a passable 007, but I digress...

Thornhill spends the rest of the movie on the lam, running from the police after being mistaken for an assassin at the United Nations and mistaken for an CIA decoy as well. It all comes to a head when he meets the lovely (and treacherous)Eva Marie Saint as Eve, who is also more than she appears. We find out the whole thing circles around the slippery van Demme and...a finale at Mount Rushmore that will leave you holding your breath and hoping the best for our protagonists while secretly wishing for the worst, just to see if Hitchcock would go there.

North by Northwest languished in the pile of classics we go through on Fridays until we had a yearning for a Cary Grant flick. This is much more though; it is a movie that makes your brain come alive, leads you to self-doubt while having the adrenaline pump through you, especially in the fields of Dakota. Simply a brilliant film, even when Thornhill starts catching on about halfway through the movie. Watch for Alfred Hitchcock's inevitable cameo at the start of the movie. This time you can't miss him and nor should you miss this movie.

A View to a Kill

A convoluted, nearly un-Bond like mess.
Our little Friday Night Movies group has been going through the Bond movies lately. I had fond memories of this but I am sad to say A View to a Kill does not stand the test of time.

Many of the 007 staples are absent. No gadget-filled car, replaced by a Rolls Royce. Tanya Roberts as Stacy Sutton (a geologist) barely holds the line of credibility. Given that Geologists aren't exactly millionaires and often work unknown and unnoticed, you wonder how many would turn down a five million dollar cheque.

The film is a sprawling mess. Max Zorin (nice turn by Walken) wants to destroy Silicon Valley to push his own computer agenda, but he's part of a German super-soldier program and heralding a horse steroid program while being tracked by a Russian spy (Zorin is Russian?) and May Day is his amazon in the bodyguard role. Jenni Flex gets a passing giggle as a horse trainer and so do a few other things, but overall the film never has the staying power of other Bond titles. You feel Bond is too old to be cavorting with Roberts and that this is a swan song of sorts.

Now, A View to a Kill has its moments. May Day dispatching a reluctant investor from the blimp is great, as is the final showdown over the Golden Gate Bridge. Walken's slimy psychosis is passable. Overall though this is a stale Bond movie, showing itself badly in need of a reboot with some fresh ideas and actors. See this to complete your James Bond collection, but don't put it at the front of the list.

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Lighthearted and fun and...ooooh, that black dress!
Breakfast at Tiffany's will never break new ground on the nature of humans, the inner workings of society or the human spirit but if you are looking for a zany and somewhat irreverent movie this just might be for you.

To begin, the titular black dress that has become Audrey Hepburn's trademark is seen in full at the very beginning of the film as our heroine (Holly Golightly) steps out of a cab quite early and has a coffee and pastry staring in at Tiffany's with those Manhattan sunglasses. Quite the sight and Hepburn makes this movie her own then and there.

Our story progresses as Holly meets Paul Varjak (George Peppard) (or is it Fred?) and both come to realize they are opposite faces of the same coin. Holly gets $50 commissions for visits to the "powder room" and Paul is a kept man by 2E (Patricia Neal in a deliciously vulturous turn) for slightly better wages. Following are wild parties (the massive party in Holly's apartment, where she almost burns a guest's hat with her cigarette holder, is unforgettable) some painful appearances by Mickey Rooney in yellowface and stereotypical "Asian" mannerisms and a decent appearance by Buddy Ebsen as Doc Golightly, Holly's "husband" from Texas.

We see friendship develop between Varjak and Golightly but she can't return his increasing affection as she's a social climber and never meant to be a loving partner...or so we think until the end.

Fun movie and "Cat" is worth the price of admission on its own.

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