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Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker

Traditional, and a tear jerker. Being kleenex
I really don't get the critics. Before seeing the film I poured through the reviews. My expectations were low. This was to be a patchwork of compromises. But as I watched the film today, those criticisms just had no connection. What I saw instead was a beautiful, well-paced story that pulled at the heart strings, a glowing work that honors Star Wars and all the original and current characters. This is certainly one of the finest of all the Star Wars films.

Luchshe, chem lyudi

30% clever, 15% brilliant, 55% incredibly contrived and stupid. SciFi Soap Opera
Spoiler Alert *****

This is a story in the near future. One leading high tech company is in the business of making human shaped mechanioids, including a line of sex bots that line the office of the president. The scoundrel president has a new toy from China, a beautiful new robot that turns out to be programmed without the Asimov laws, and a completely alternate purpose. But this robot has the capacity to learn to think and feel more closely to human thought and emotion. And unlike most of the human characters, an ability to bond, to act selflessly, and to remain loyal.

Every episode deals with an action packed list of violent events that throw the main characters into peril largely unnecessarily, and almost arbitrarily. It begins with corruption in the company; a killer robot among the sex bots; a cover - up ; mafia-style murderers who work for the president solving most problems with a secret scheme and a gun; the grieving president's wife who wants to destroy her husband's career because he took their deceased son years ago to the wrong doctor ; secret plans to create false protestors who end up becoming real terrorists; the terrorist leader's younger sister falls in love with the protagonist surgeon's son; the corporate mafia boss decides to kill the terrorist leader by shooting him in the shoulder then burying him in the yard under dirt when he has outgrown his usefulness ; this fails and the terrorist claws his way out of the soil to wreak new mishief; a backstory showing the surgeon was unable to save the evil corporate president's little boy years earlier, and so causing the end of the surgeon's career, setting the stage for future tension, etc.

The story begins when, after accidentally murdering a factory worker, the super beautiful fembot wanders past all the security and out into the city to befriend a little girl and her dysfunctional and unlikable family. This happens because her father, the deadbeat and discredited surgeon mentioned above, habitually leaves his toddler alone for hours of the day while he pursues more important matters. We are supposed to grow sympathetic somehow with him. The robot adopts the family, but it is evident that nothing the robot can do will save this family from its own stupid choices, episode after episode. And I would add the stupid choices of the script writers. The writers contrive situations as motivation for their characters to make these stupid choices, but the characters have few realistic bonds with each other.

The series is also disturbingly sexist while trying to pretend it is progressive. Most of the protagonists and antagonists with power are male, and females have lesser roles. All the major characters are white.

Every episode throws our non - heroes into peril, with their primary motus operandi to keep it a secret and try to solve the problem on their own by breaking several laws, entangling themselves predictably deeper into the quicksand: And as the other family members or associates discover this, their futile efforts to help. All in all it is a quiksand scenario when the plot degrades hopelessly into farce, only to pull themselves out by incredible events that defy odds, as incredible as the character's stupid choices, leading to new choices so they can be entangled on new stupidities as a cliffhanger for the next episode.

The British series Humans was on a whole other, higher level than this show. But, as long as you don't watch too much at a time, it has its moments.

The title sequence at the beginning also towers above the show itself on quality. The acting is good to excellent.


Listen to Me Marlon

A man for all seasons in a beautifully produced homage
To listen to Brando tell his own story, amids exceptional cinematography is a sheer pleasure.

His life was epic in many ways. A great talent, hardworking, sincere, with a sentiment and ethic to help humanity, and yet filled with the problems of human failings and terrible family tragedy.

But his life remains, it seems to me, a full and triumphant one on several counts. First, that through it all he kept working, that he was confident he could contribute through his art in ways that would lighten others' burdens even amidst his own immeasurable losses. He carried this to his death.

Second, that he died alone is not actually a tragedy, to me, because as we mature we become more introspective and we naturally gravitate to solitude, which becomes a great source of life, love, comfort and insight. He had the Luxury to introspect, and his recorded observations are themselves a great contribution to understanding art, its function, and how to find a way through life's vagaries to keep on making that art.

And third, that he left a body of artwork that reflects a genius in his profession and a standard by which others have grown and learned and added much to helping others through their art. His good work and right actions serve as a model through time, as the writings of a great philosopher. And his shortcomings only accentuate the value of the towering contributions of what he got right both as the greatest actor of the last century, as an activist, and a social philosopher reflecting on life's lessons and Hollywood's trappings learned first hand.

The Man in the High Castle

Season 3: Uneven, sensationalist and gaudy but with touching points
S3 uneven, sensationalist and gaudy but the high points are magnificent and tearjerking. Editing, directing and some of the writing is uneven and weak. What was epic in season 1 and 2 has become merely episodic in season 3. Lurid sex and drug scenes that actually have nothing to do with the story and character development lines have been layered in like anime fan service. I think they may have missed one category of sexual orientation, but I'm hard pressed to think of it.

Point blank shots to the head with the expected blood splatter seems to be meeting a higher set quota of some sort every episode.

Sex and violence have been ramped up perhaps to cover a weak story, poor directing and aimless editing. But had they just continued the development of these characters they would not need so many of these devices which burden the story and destroy momentum.

Hey Producers, we were rooting for these characters. Did you forget that?

The actors shine however. They are phonomenal and provide the real continuity and depth to this story. Technically the story is brilliant but there really are bad story choices and the script dialogue is unusually thin this season. However, the actors are given substantial latitude and time in their scenes, and they raise the level of the show consistently.

But in addition to the added sex and violence, folded in for effect like a grind house film but without any humor, the story choices just seem arbitrary. And that seriously undermines both character and story development.

The destruction of the liberty bell and the status of liberty were spectacle that ate up story development. And angered me. I get that read the idea but if you really respected liberty, you would find a way to protect her. Don't dismantle the very platform upon which you, as film makers, are standing.

This may be Ridley Scott's influence as his films now seem more sensationalist and scenic than substantial. He seems to have a blind spot for developing his characters so they grow from their experiences.

One example is the relationship between Juliana and Joe. We grew to love them both and throughout season 1 and 2 we were rooting for them. To turn Joe into an unredeemable monster is just cruel on the part of the filmmakers. Joe's torture might have brought him closer in spirit to his Jewish brethren. Imagine Joe beginning to learn Torah so that he could join Frank. Or just in a moment of utter dispair, falling to his knees in prayer to Jesus, as Frank does to his newly adopted God.

This would be no less honorable than giving honor to other alternate life styles.

Frank's murder also seemed forced. With all that inspector Kido had been exposed to, he could just as easily develop more compassion. But instead the filmmakers just make him nastier and nastier.

This is really the major flaw in the story telling. The filmmakers want us to be more sympathetic to all sorts of different lifestyles. But rather than show how some of the fascists learn to become a little more compassionate, or at least more conflicted and less willing to pull the trigger the filmmakers demonize even the characters that had our sympathy and who could have helped, or in earlier episodes actually did help the cause.

If you are going to show a relationship between two women show some respect for these women as whole human beings. What we see is the men's view of lesbianism and women. Not a relationship between two career women who find themselves in a nightmare world of fascism.

Then there is the fight between two housewives.

This is clearly from a guy's perspective. There was no utility to the story from this nor was it directed well.

Convesely, every scene with a reunion or a parting kiss, where the characters know they are in danger and may never see each other again is absolutely going to require a box of Kleenex to watch. When the trade minister apologizes for exposing his new friend to danger, and now must leave, their kiss was so poignant. That was several Kleenexes for me!

When in the one moment we truly see Mr. Smith's vulnerability, when he buries his face in his dead son's old shirt and inhales, I burst out in tears. It was completely unexpected, but anchors every action he takes. Every father will get it.

As always the scenic photography and backgrounds are just amazing and wonderful. So many shots are incredible constructions with elegant design, composition and color.

My biggest complaint about season three is that things are worse off than season 1.there really isn't much progress.

Lost in Space

Addictive sci-fi adventure about the best and worst in human nature
Like all great science fiction, this action adventure series is a hopeful and cautionary allegory about how technology can save us and how it can kill us depending on the character of the people who use it. How in the midst of pursuing a better life, we drag the old life with us.

Parker Posey's Dr. Smith is a method actor's triumph. A borderline personality disorder giving herself power over the people around her by the sheer seductive charisma of understanding and kindness. She enables the pain of others into harmful misdeeds. Her performance is so painfully real. We've known this Dr. Smith all our lives. So familiar in an evil we see in our everyday lives. And she is the glue that keeps us watching. We can't wait for her to get what's coming to her. But just when we think justice will be served, she slips through with her silver tongue. Just when we think she might finally have a shred of morality she stabs her new friends in the back when they are most vulnerable, when lives are at stake. Just when you think she will take full advantage of others in the most vulnerable and dangerous situations, she sacrifices her own hope and uses all she gained to save the others. It is a remarkable unpredictable, and entirely realistic portrayal of a person who has found a way to function for all the wrong reasons but who maintains their own hopes also for a better life and a better world. The show, with very good actors all around, lives on that amazing, addictive, if painful to watch, performance.

Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi

Good but not Great. One last chance to get it right
As with the Star Trek films JJ. Abrams has a few blind spots amidst all that storytelling genius. And it seems that Rian Johnson shares a couple of them. Result? Action heavy, depth light. They both operate on a formula that says, offer action first, then explain who the characters are later, or at best try to explain them in snappy one-liners. It doesn't always work. It's much better to care about the characters before putting them into danger. It makes the danger real and draws the viewer into the action. But when filmmakers just show you spectacular action before you know you know, connect with, or care about the characters, then it's just CGI spectacle, never real. And not impactful. The latter happens too often here

In the original Star Wars we take time to learn who Luke is, and this puts him front and center, and grounded as the lead while the rest of the film's characters and stories revolve around him.

Abrams took a similar approach with Rey in the first film successfully. We had a chance to learn about her in several non-action moments that came early enough in the film to nail the whole story together.

Now, after so many decades, we return to Luke. Luke has been the underpinning for ALL Star Wars films. He is the running lead. The Prequels, while ostensibly about Darth Vader, are really about Luke's father. Every Star Wars film is a reference to Luke Skywalker.

Every swing of a light Saber by every character in every Star Wars film is a reference to Luke's first swing in the presence of his masterm: hope and joy, his, the model of good vs evil for the entire series. Every light Saber battle has Luke, George and Mark's signature on it. Not only those in the films, but every imaginary light Saber battle played out by every child and young adult for the last forty years.

Regardless of Luke, George and Mark's own shortcomings, this spirit rang through. And still rings through despite many flawed but well intended efforts to capture lightening in a bottle once more.

It is appropriate that the entire first film of this latest trilogy would base its plot on finding Luke. We have waited thirty years for this. It was right.

And while the Last Jedi returns the character of Luke embittered, ultimately, he is restored, with Spirit intact, and revived by the end, the martyr he was always destined to be.

They got the general idea right. But we needed more exposition. Not the story around Luke's failure to train an ambitious and emotional Kylo, which was serviceable, if stretching credibility.

We needed the story before that. And in a sequence of shots lasting more than three minutes.

Luke is more powerful as a spirit, and if the film makers are right, they will emphasize this.

Just as Mark Hamill became a fine actor able to handle the full weight of his task in Return of the Jedi, he has only gotten better, more layered, deeper. His character needs more time and interaction with several of the film's characters moving forward.

Afterall, what did his success in Return of the Jedi accomplish? That is entirely absent. We need to see that all that fighting led to at least something like peace for a little while. Otherwise hope is just a commercial commodity of politicians without basis.

Star Wars is fundamentally, and in its strongest telling, Luke's story.

JJ., please remember this.

As for the films best moments, they are at the end. When Luke kisses Leia, we also see Mark kissing Carrie, and all four know it is for the last time. It is heart wrenching . Carrie's failing health is evident in both of these last films, and her portrayal, her crowning achievement.

I'm surprised they did not let her pass in the scene her ship is destroyed. But with so many battles the authors will find a way.

You could see her visibly struggling to maintain herself on film and this added perfect dynamic tension to the role. She sacrifices herself for the sake of the story, the fans, and message. That deserves memorializing in the next film.

Blade Runner 2049

Beatifully crafted, remarkable acting and director but the plot turns hack
To watch Ryan Gosling 's hapless cop, literally a victim of circumstance, gradually climb from hopeless to hope, after passing through various stages of awakening, only to have to sacrifice it all, is the most painful and difficult plot aspect of this film. And the only worthy and lasting part of this movie. His performance is so layered, and he has captured the pathos of the everyman so perfectly, that at least an oscar nod is warranted.

This is a new story in the Blade Runner universe, even darker than the first.

The visuals are technically eye popping but much blander with less visual depth than the original. And they are so derivative from video games and other recent Sci Fi films. The buildings in the original Blade Runner were all lit. Here they are just dark and gray or orange tombs, more cg model than realistic renderings.

And the bad guys are just comic book one dimensional bad guys. The evil megalomaniac is just lex Luther in a Jesus mask. His murderous body gaurd who cries before killing is completely devoid of purpose or depth. When she cries "I'm the best one!" at the end we are like "yah, brilliant dialogue.."

Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling keep whatever life this film has going.

Still, there's only so much cynicism, senseless violence and poor dialogue a viewer can take, even a huge fan of the original.

Ghost in the Shell

Pretty good, and worth watching, just not a classic like the anime

Scarlet Johansson, Juliette Binoche and company do a nice job bringing the story to life. Special effects were great. My complaint is the cinematography and direction. First, any good cinematographer knows that if you put too much crap in one moving shot the entire scene becomes two dimensional, blurry and distant regardless of how sharp the images are. Second, you put pauses into a film for reflection, and to allow the viewer to enter the film themselves, and to befriend the characters. You put in small moments of humanity. You build a pace and momentum and real moments. This film had zero. Third, treat the camera also as a character in the film, not a flying spy cam. That's how great films pull audiences in as participants, like the original, like Blade Runner, like Star Wars. Fourth, those huge giant size holograms of people made the city look tiny instead of immense, like people were standing in the midst of a cluttered toy model city. You shrank the city that was supposed to be immense, oppressive, but humane into a tiny trash filled dump site. What were you guys thinking? These were fatal cinematic choices. Next, use of color to highlight the city was entirely absent. Where are the brightly colored advertising posters? Where was all the Japanese writing on holographic billboards? So many missing elements. Where was the cool high tech dashboard on the car? Even the shelling sequence at the beginning was visually dull and gray. The tech was fantastic. Cinematography and lighting zip. Missing, missing. And lighting? Where was the dark and light high contrast film noir of the original? Where were the stark and painful lighting contrasts between inside and outside? Between character and background?

Absent. Dull. The characters and background all blended together destroying any hope of dramatic contrast. Where was the darkness of night during the day? The deep shadows, and the light of understanding piercing through the night? Lighting of the battle tank sequence was a mess and a blur.

Why does a Dutch masters painting have greater depth, contrast and seem three dimensional and lifelike compared to a photograph? The cinematographers missed that class. And a few others.


Tomorrowland is still tomorrow

The premise of the film is the dilemma that when optimism becomes unpopular, problems go unsolved. And they become a self-fulfilling future of unsolvable proportions.

Is that a pandemic issue? I think the folks at Apple, Google, Tesla Motors and IBM might beg to differ.

It wasn't so for Walt or WED Engineering. Nothing stopped Kennedy from promising a man on the moon or America from achieving it. Nothing stopped Steve Jobs or Stephen Hawking. And nothing stopped Walt from bringing the Monorail to America.

WED Engineering, who designed most of the futuristic exhibits at the 1964 World's fair. Predicting the future of technology with spot on vision. Nothing to do with movies. Everything to do with future technology and the humanitarian use of it.

The vision of Tomorrowland given to Casey, via the pin, is the most wonderful thing about this film. And it is jaw dropping, stunning, and awe inspiring. I nearly cried when I saw those shots. Fabulous.

I watched it again yesterday and now, months later, I really see the basic flaws in the rest of the film.

They stem from plot and directorial decisions.

First, all efforts at character development are set aside in the interest of action and moving to the goal of getting to Tomorrowland. Our expectations are climbing with each quick cut scene, each lost moment.

Second, unfortunately, the actual Tomorrowland we finally arrive at is a little post-apocalyptic itself. Big letdown to everyone. Who made that decision?

Third, related to the issue above, putting the film's villain into the role of leader behind Tomorrowland! Don't get me wrong, Hugh Laurie is a great villain, and his speech is really incredible and hits right on target. But he cannot be the power behind Tomorrowland. Disney was the power behind WED Engineering. So where is our Shangri-La Abbott, where is our Obi Wan with words to inspire?

Fourth, the film tries to show what happens when we lose our love for progress and our faith in it. But it doesn't walk the talk. No one but Casey actually believes anything can be done differently. Walker begins to believe, but is unsure. Not exactly a confident older brother.

A better writer would have made sure Casey had allies who understood, supported, and had the wisdom and strength to do so. Allies who, although on the sidelines, were rooting for her. It takes a village, and that is part of the solution to the problem the film poses for society: Mentors.

There is no Obi Wan Kenobi in this film. Casey's dad is compassionate, but largely useless. So, where is her role model? And where is the audience's? If she is the only person on planet earth who can solve this problem, that's not inspiring, it's scary. Again, bad story choices.

Fifth, if you hold up a glowing image of utopia, don't dismantle it and expect anyone to believe in it. When we discover that Tomorrowland is largely a sham, it destroys the entire motivation of the film to get there.

If you show a shiny diamond, don't turn it into cheap glass and expect anyone to find that an inspiration.

Sixth, the movie claims to be inspiring, but Casey never reaches her goal. She never takes that trip on the Rocketship so close to her.

While that is reality for some, many people do get to do what they love.

A better film would have had a different ending.

In fact, Mr. Bird, if you are out there, here is my humble submission for the final scene in the "Director's Cut" that can, singlehandedly turn around the missteps of this film and turn it into the classic it almost is.

Proposed "Final Scene":

When we see the field of new candidates for Tomorrowland, we hear Casey's voice, a little older, completing the narrative:

"And so that's how it began. Sometimes you have to take a step back and start over. Sometimes one generation gets stuck and can't complete the dream, and it's left to us to do it..."

The scene fades into the Tomorrowland we saw originally: bright and bustling. A monorail like tram opens and several pilots exit, walk down to their rocket, laughing and talking. A slightly older Casey is among them, outfitted and ready for flight.

We see them from behind walking up to their mighty gleaming ship on a perfect cloudless day.

Cut to the flight cabin. Casey and her colleagues are talking, making jokes, strapping themselves in.

Just before Casey pulls down her visor, she breaks the forth wall and looks directly into the camera, smiles and says..

"See you tomorrow.."

She pulls the visor down.

Cut to the rocket blasting loudly into the sky, and following it into the stars, and into the dark night of just stars, and fade to black.

Then, the final credit music but here the only visuals are blue line draft plans for the vehicles and buildings of the film's Tomorrowland, each fades to the actual, final reality: Plan to reality, over and over again, including storyboard scenes...

Then a shot of Walt Disney in the Disneyland Monorail..

Fade to Disney standing proudly before a huge topographic map of the Epcot "flower" and fade to black..

THEN credits...

Saving Mr. Banks

An excellent film on many levels
Saving Mr. Banks, about the dynamics behind the making of the film Mary Poppins, is Hollywood at its best: people with hardships in their past overcome them through their collaborative art; something creative, sweet, perhaps syrupy, but always honest, and with integrity.

It was a wonderful choice to pick the co-author and consummate actress of Nanny McPhee, Emma Thompson, for the role of Travers.

We see the hardships in Walt's own past, that of Mrs. Travers, and a couple of other key characters: one of the song writers injured in the war, and the limo chauffeur who loves his handicapped daughter (this film's unseen Tiny Tim). And all of these Snow White Dwarf characters, innocent and childlike, except Mrs. Travers, carry this syrupy hope and optimism. The same that her father carried...which may have led to his death. Or was it the one thing carrying him as long as it could? In grief over losing him, she has written a beautiful book, but herself become a living Ebenezer Scrooge.

In this American version of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", Walt Disney is the living Ghost of Christmas Present.

Walt reveals that he knows the perfunctory and scrooge practicality of Mrs. Travers belies such dreamy hopes she herself carries, and always has since childhood, writing about a magical savior nanny who flies in on the wind and an umbrella. Walt later discovers Mary Poppins is all about her lost relationship with her deeply beloved father, and Walt works subtly to reconnect her to the very childlike nature of her father whose death she has still not come to terms with. He tells her that this film, Mary Poppins, will be a way for her to come to terms with honor.

Mrs. Travers discovers that Disney is indeed integrating these truths seamlessly, and has done so all along. We are all children, after all, and our happiness depends upon remembering and honoring that.

He is far from fluff. There is more gravitas in that ride on the merry go round than Mrs. Travers understands at the time.

And then she realizes that everyone on this project, even the secretary bringing a feast of syrupy and colorful sweets every day into the office, everyone who works for Disney is in the same boat she is, finding meaning and expression by turning personal difficulty into a positive creation. And that self-knowledge, that personal wisdom makes the folks at Disney able to accomplish miracles while showing remarkable tolerance and encouragement to each other.

Disney was not all slapstick cartoons, talking animals and smiles. A year before releasing Mary Poppins, in 1963, Disney released The Three Lives of Tomasina, a film that touches on death, mysticism, spirituality, re- birth and the love between father and daughter that in grief can become a neurosis. Disney always had deeper intent and content. Same with Darby o'Gill released by Disney in 1959. Even Bambi and Dumbo, dealing with abandonment, death, and the difficulties of grief and separation, the emotional wounds of being orphaned. And 20,000 leagues Under the Sea in 1954. The portrayal of a genius captain's murderous rampage; self- destructive insanity and his obsession with his lost wife honored Edgar Allen Poe as much or more than Jules Verne. These films are nothing close to Mrs. Travers' prejudice about Mr. Disney's work. It was Mrs. Travers' superficial view that was mistaken. And that was the product of her own self- denial.

Mrs. Travers, while watching Mary Poppins, cries at points, but she also still cringes at others. She is still Mrs. Travers. We see the genius of Disney: his work reflects the best of very different professionals, and a deeper spirituality.

Hanks does a nice, layered job. He portrays Disney the savvy business leader and manager. But there is still much more to tell.

An entire film could be made of Walt's role leading the way to the Monorail, an engineering feat unprecedented in America and only faintly recognized, for it remains too far ahead of its time. Walt had his own engineers at the Burbank studios design most of it, successfully, working with a basic concept from Sweden, fighting the clock to meet deadlines. He turned a concept into an actual reality through brilliant engineering and leadership. The first monorail in America.

Walt was far more than a film maker. City planners today use Disneyland and Walt Disney World as a model for the ideal urban community. Walt didn't plan these places as theme parks. His entire vision was to use them as living models of ideal communities. Visiting either park was to be a subtle education, and has proved to be so.

One day that film will contrast Walt walking as an eight year old boy through the snow at his father's command with the adult Walt obsessed with innovations in public transportation, the ergonomics of technology, and the design of Utopian communities.

Steve Jobs, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg all from California, are childhood students of and adult contributors to Disney's vision.

And of coarse, the better known struggles to get Snow White to screen, and Fantasia, both requiring incredible personal risks, technical genius, leadership, sentiment and teamwork. An entire motion picture could be made of either of these remarkable personal and professional journeys of achievement.

I will never forget, as a seven year old boy visiting the Monsanto Home of the Future at Disneyland in 1964, designed largely by Disney and his own crew of engineers. Sitting on the coffee table, without being mentioned by the tour guide, was a wireless picture phone in a small flat rectangular shape, probably three inches by five inches, looking just like today's smart phone. Spooky.

We are all still trying to live up to Walt's vision, each in our own way.

The Tree of Life

A beautiful, lyrical classic poem, not an action flick.
What a beautiful and wonderful film this is!

But as I read the reviews, it is clear they have missed a great deal.

The story is simple and told mostly through imagery. Relationships between the characters take place in how they look at each other, the expressions on their faces. Terence Malick has done a masterful job. His ability to capture the inner depths of children, the joys and difficulties of their lives, is stunning, and to show how deeply those bonds between father and son, mother and child, brother and brother...really go, well beyond the fragility of this life. Indeed, the entire creation's culmination is in the love between brother and brother, father and son, mother and son, wife and husband....And in loss these culminate in the ultimate connection...prayer.

Comparisons to Kubrick and to Robert Wise's Star Trek the Movie are appropriate except that here Malick adds the human soul and compassion at a level well beyond Kubrick, though attempted in Star Trek. This film has an even more beautiful sentiment. And Malick has gotten the soul of his actors on film. Brad Pitt does a masterful job, so understated and meaningful. He gives the other actors the center stage, constantly puts them in the center, especially the children. What a generous and fine actor he is!

...but his performance thunders with truth when he whispers in prayer to God 'I'm ashamed I wasted time caring about foolish things when so much beauty was going on around me.....I am nothing.'

The story begins with a very successful and hardworking architect (Penn) who, in a brief conversation with his own father on the phone, reveals his grief over a lost brother from years ago. That grief has become part of who he is, how he carries himself, how we works, walks and even looks. Then we are taken back to scenes of their life as children growing up, and the deep love of both of their parents, however flawed each was. Mom, a little naive and child like herself; Dad, a bit harsh, but deeply in love with his kids.

Finally, the architect has an epiphany, a vision of heaven, where angels bring us to the ones we have lost for reunion, and finally, help each of us let go, and ourselves take that walk beyond. The man awakens from his vision, looking around the modern world with surprise, and a small grin. He understands.

It's just that simple. There is just a deeper spiritual layer as well. We see the stunning creation come into being, as we hear the silent prayers and thoughts of the lead characters...Why am I here? And why did he die? And the wonderful conclusion of the creation shots are the baby brothers each laying upon their mothers chest sleeping soundly: The purpose is that simple: this entire creation exists to bring us to that very moment of prayer!

In one sequence we see a dinosaur showing compassion on another injured dinosaur, and if you look closely, you will see that it takes place on the same river the boys play together on later in the film, in their family filled with compassion. The hardships of their life lead them to humility, and that to prayer. That is the purpose of the creation.

Never on film has that connection been made to strongly and so beautifully, so stunningly, if silently.

People who know little of prayer will have no comprehension of what they are watching or hearing. But this film isn't for them.


German Expressionism meets Ghost In The Shell
Wow! Let me say it again. Wow! Must see this film.

There isn't a frame in the film, a moment of dialog or music that is anything less than a sheer joy to behold.

Joe Wright and Company have woven together a simple fairy tale, wrapped it around a coming of age story of a young innocent girl, with all the bizarre twists and bloodshed we expect in modern action films.

Like Tron Legacy, John Carter of Mars, Lawrence of Arabia and Metropolis, you can only enjoy the sheer genius of directing, cinematography, production values and writing if you suspend disbelief in the real world and go for belief in the characters. And they are wonderfully portrayed.

This is an adventure! A beautiful story! And a lesson in the harshness of the real world.

It is a poem, a love-story, a Christmas gift.

Like the beauty of visiting a national park, you have to sit quietly and let it unfold on its own classic lines.

At times you think you are watching a story about a little girl from the 1960's, or a story from the 1700's filmed in the 1960's.

But no, it's actually a story about today, shot through the sentiment of German expressionism.

Is it Little Red Riding Hood? Snow White? The Accursed Huntsman? Jason Bourne in Wonderland? Or Ghost In the Shell?

Hanna tells her father that he didn't prepare her for the real world. But when she takes that final shot, just as she did with the deer in the beginning, we understand that she is fully prepared for the real world...Because she did believe in wonder, and the magic of mastery.

What other movie can make a dangerous stroll through the seedier parts of Berlin look like a walk through a fantasy world?

An amazing achievement, way outside of current genre. Something new, and yet something classic.

And the film is set up for a sequel, which we wait for with the Hanna's child-like wonder.

John Carter

An Epic Legend Edgar Rice Burroughs would be very very proud of
This film is remarkable on so very many levels. Yes, the trailers suggest modest expectations, but the film sweeps you along from start to finish. The depth of the characters, and the pathos of their lives, the brutal but pragmatic and honorable Tharks, the romance between Carter and Dejah Thoris, the beautiful Keith Thompson style machines, the steam- punk Victorian ships, and the epic battles all combine to create a wonderful and sweeping saga.

Where Avatar painted in beautiful but broad colors and shock value, using cartoon bad guys and innocent nature-good guys, leading to horrible violence and violent vengeance; where Star Wars had camp and deeply rooted philosophy; John Carter of Mars tells a remarkable and very human tale of the emergence of a leader and the salvation of two cultures. I have read reviews trying to compare this film to Avatar and Star Wars, and you can see elements. But those comparisons are entirely wrong and misguided. You might as well compare Saturday morning cartoons with Shakespeare. If you have read the Barsoom series, you see elements of John Carter in these other tales, but only weakly reflected. In John Carter you get the full treatment. There is no holding back. The violence is very very bloody, just like the book. Today, in today's cinema, the story can be told just as Edgar Rice Burroughs did, without apology, with nobility.

The characters are much more finely drawn, especially Tars Tarkas and Sola. Their story is deeply moving, but so is the romance between Carter and Thoris. The photography, the scenery and the pacing reflect the work of David Lean in Lawrence of Arabia. Stanton is truly the heir to David Lean, and we are very excited to see the films he will be making in the years ahead.

This is the Lawrence of Arabia of fantasy sci-fi, and that is a fair comparison.

John Carter is an instant classic, to be watched over and over again, enjoyed, discussed and remembered. A true historical landmark in bringing a mature and wonderful epic human saga into the sci-fi fantasy genre.

Puss in Boots

Beautiful and fun
A fine, fun adventure for kids and their parents. I saw it in old-fashioned 2D and a couple of scenes knocked my socks off. First and foremost, the acting was superb. Antonio Banderas is a remarkable voice actor. His acting, and his comedic timing, combined with one incredible scene have made the film forever memorable.

And that scene is the scene when the magic bean stalk grows. There are only a very few motion picture sequences in the history of cinema that are so beautiful, amazing and filled with spirit they touch you down to the toes. I was awe struck.

We remember such cinematic and artistic genius in scenes from Gone With the Wind, Citizen Kane, Lawrence of Arabia, Bambi, 2001's light show sequence and a very few other films that have gone on to become classics.

The only film in the last five years that had such a stunning shot was in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, when we are flown onto the workshop floor where whole planets are being made. The scene pulls you in with such artistry and beauty that your jaw drops and you realize you are seeing something truly magical and wondrous.

That is the best way to describe the scene in Puss In Boots when the main characters are caught up into the sky and playing among the clouds in that most remarkable sequence as the beanstalk shoots upward in graceful vines exploding lyrically with life. It is sure to become a part of motion picture legend, as legendary as the scene in Bambi when winter first arrives and Bambi and his friends play in the snow and on the ice; or the scene in Star Wars where we are whisked into hyperspace for the very first time, or the Millennium Falcon is pulled into the death star.

The whole film is just great. But this is the greatest moment and nails the entire film as a contender for becoming a classic.

Bee Season

Poor Treatment of Its Material
This film, about a disconnected family and members pursuing spirituality each in their own way, introduces the viewer to many interesting ideas, plot twists, and spiritual potentials but fails each idea it promises to unveil.

Unfortunately, the characters themselves have been written as one dimensional, unsympathetic, disenchanted, even frustrating. Their nearly total non-communication with each other is only exacerbated by the poor dialog they do share in very few moments.

The pacing is ponderous. These are visual vignettes, but no actual relationships or personal progress develops.

We really don't know at the end of the film who these people are, and most importantly, we are happy to leave them to their own imprisonment and disinterest.

If the Mother is excited about her pursuits, we see nearly none of it. If the son is excited about his conversion, we see none of it at all. If the daughter is excited about the spelling Bee, we see none of it.

Even the pain of the family's tragedy is buried so completely that we can easily mistake it for extremely bad acting. But an actor must have a script, and here there is none.

As for the spirituality, no responsible father would ever dabble in Kabbalah or prana without proper guidance, and to do so with one's own daughter is nothing short of reckless endangerment.

But again, we don't really know who the father actually is, and in most scenes he seems pleasant enough.

The film winds up as a "poser" of spiritual notions, presenting things that reflect a very superficial understanding, and no actual experience with its subject matter - neither in family dynamics, character development or spirituality.

Yet, the source material is an interesting juxtaposition of ideas that could have been legitimately explored by real characters.

Fortunately, that film has already been made a few times by writers and directors who actually knew something of legitimate spiritual experience and succeeded entirely in bringing it to the screen: The Razor's Edge(original version) with George Marshall, Gene Tierney and Tyrone Power; or Frank Kapra's Lost Horizon, or Douglas Trumbull's Brainstorm.


Tron: Disturbing, intense and phenomenal
First, this film is disturbing. It is pretending to be a Disney film, but it is Frankenstein, Metropolis, the Fly, AI and a Clockwork Orange, the Testament of Dr. Mabuse, Forbidden Planet and Blade Runner. It incorporates highly developed elements of German Expressionism, and film noir.

As each of these earlier films crossed lines of comfort and morality with technical brilliance, so TRON Legacy does as well. You could say it is in the best traditions of science fiction - the utopia gone terribly wrong, the misguided benefactor who inadvertently destroys all he loves; the many lost lives of the innocent and the greater loss of humanity.

The story, actually, is loosely based on King Lear, whose misguided loyalties and values lead to his estrangement from those who love him and ultimately, to his own isolation, and finally, to his own destruction. It is, in truth, a tragedy wrapped in the trappings of a cool action sci-fi flick.

This is way beyond the traditional Disney fare. And the film does not cop out on taking the story to it's inevitable and honest, if painful and self-destructive conclusion.

Like Blade Runner, it is a commentary on the ease with which human slavery emerges out of misguided ideals. It shows the tragedy of being confronted by our flaws in the heart-breaking loss of innocence of our own progeny.

And as with those films, and unlike traditional Disney, the loss of humanity is not entirely recovered by the end of the film. What is recovered is done too late to save the fallen king. And at the destruction of countless innocents.

And it is violent. When one main character is enjoying himself frolicking and laughing about while others around are being murdered, torn to pieces, dismembered, we are reminded of A Clockwork Orange. It is no less violent than that film.

I was a little concerned while watching it how my kids would react.

They also were a little rattled at the end: "Dad, it was sad!" they said, but they also hoped for a sequel. They want Kevin Flynn somehow to be restored. That was a lot for me to take, as a father.

And I wanted CLU to be restored and reconciled with his creator. I wait with hope for the sequel. But should you tamper with what is a perfect balance?

I think Jeff Bridges gave too good a performance, too intense, in both roles, and he draws us in entirely too completely. The humor in this movie does not protect us.

You could say that he has mastered his craft, and I will give him that. But must we be so saddened and rattled by what happens to father, son, and creature?

Just as Jeff Bridges gives us two very remarkable performances - wisdom, balance, and impetuous aggression.

The ending was much more heartbreaking than uplifting.

Like Casablanca, or Karlov's Frankenstein, there are sacrifices filled with pathos. The creature's final admission is heartbreaking, and inevitable. While the film shows you the evil creature at the beginning, dark and brooding, somehow in stages they make you understand him, sympathize with him even as his plans for great destruction are growing. His defeat is the tragic loss of a noble idea gone terribly wrong. Though he must be defeated, it is with great pain.

Only a consummate actor like Bridges could have pulled this off to a level of Shakespearean depth. It was moving to tears. The Creator actually has two sons and must reconcile with both. But that reconciliation is only a moment, and like Frankenstein, both the idealistic but misguided creator and his creation are destroyed.

The metaphor is also a biblical allegory, like the first, but much deeper this time, again, as with the best sc-fi films, like The Day the Earth Stood Still or 2001.

When a film leaves you with that much emotion and depth, then it has succeeded. Unless you cannot handle that. You can be angry at this film, saddened by it, upset, but give it time. Don't complain about that. That was the point. This is what good literature does. It makes you wonder why you feel this way, and in the days ahead you begin to understand that you have come to love the characters and are grieving their losses.

This isn't Iron Man. This isn't an Arnold Schwarzeneggar or Bruce Willis / Tom Cruise / Sylvester Stalllon film. There are no pure and all powerful heros here.

You feel more sorry for CLU at the end than for Sam. The protagonist has made tragic choices in the name of sincere progress. And everyone around him has paid the price.

The film-makers did this without our permission. They said it would be fun and visually stunning, but they were feeding us something deeper along the way.

Those of us who take film seriously were given a great gift. This film is a triumph of film making.

To see a film which is disturbing, packaged in a slick, neo-German, film noir style with characters whose self-effacing humility and humor is gilded with their self-destructive behavior may be off-putting to some younger film goers.

But to those of us well versed in the literature and the cinomatographic ethos, this film works on so many levels, it is consummate.

It gets under your skin. That isn't a bad thing.

You will leave the theater moved and disturbed, but give it time and you will begin to understand something quite wonderful.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Mummy Meets Gort
First let me say that this film is, on its own, very watchable, and if you liked the original 'The Day The Earth Stood Still' you will also like this film: a fine "you should also see" B film.

In its construction it pays homage to the X-Files, War of The Worlds, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (which also payed homage to the original 'Day the Earth Stood Still') and the Andromeda Strain.

I think it's a little unfair to compare this to the original, since that film was and is a masterwork, a classic, probably one of the top 50 films ever made.

SPOILER PARAGRAPH 1 - WARNING But here we have another movie: A being left here 70 years ago now reports the result of his study: humanity will not turn back its destruction of the earth. So few planets can support life, that the decision is made, remove samples of all the animals, then raze the earth of all human beings and destroy the surface in order to repopulate and rebuild the earth later. But How can you respect the earth and not the strange and messy beauty of all its races?

SPOILER PARAGRAPH - WARNING In the original film, the decision was NOT made to destroy the earth, but to put in place a system of security and justice which would be triggered, not immediately on a global scale, but through the use of robots surgically as needed, based on human behavior. That film, in many ways, is much more sophisticated in its message and in the implied technology, than this film, which creates a black and white decision - destroy the human race now or not.

The problem with this script line is that it is not the line the film starts with. At first, Klatu wants to speak to all the world's leaders. That is the only justification for landing his craft right in the middle of New York City, and he states as much.

Clearly he is starting out with a plan to provide humanity with a way out. But as his intentions are frustrated, Klatu changes his mind for the worse in choosing to destroy the Earth. That decision weakens the entire flow of the film, makes Klatu's judgment fairly plastic and immature, and greatly demeans the ethic of the aliens. In the first film, the aliens deliver a message, a warning, but the decision is left to humankind. In this film, the decision is made by the aliens, making them no better than intellectual huns, taking what they want as spoils (the species they abscond with) and destroying everything else.

The original film's protagonist never varied from his purpose, nor his conviction that as badly as he was treated, the human race will always have the decision - it will never be taken from them. They will now be responsible for the consequences, that is all. The original Klatu had an ethic much higher, much more sophisticated than this remake. I fear it is the filmmakers themselves who did not truly understand what the original film was about nor this ethic Wise and North communicated so remarkably in the poetry of science fiction. Robert Wise has always attempted to do so in all of his fine films: 'Day the Earth Stood Still', 'Andromeda Strain', and 'Star Trek - the Motion Picture', even 'The Sound of Music'.

SPOILER PARAGRAPH The remake bends the story line to pursue an Apocalyptic theme, and a more personal vision. Klatu is not much different than the rest of us after all. He can change his mind, he can be very wrong, and he can also learn on the brink of a disaster. And that is why he decides to save humanity.

SPOILER PARAGRAPH Klatu brings an Apocalyptic swarm of locusts to destroy the world. Using the Mummy films' special particle effects for scenes of destruction was not terribly impressive, if only because we have seen that very effect so very often over the last ten years. However, it makes Klatu look like the Mummy unleashing his sand storm - a very bad visual association, and the director should have spotted it. In the original, Klatu's ship was light, gleaming, and he was a mixture of threat and enlightenment. Gort was the same - not a dark weapon of death, but a servant to preserve peace. Here, both spaceship and robot are dark, veiled.

SPOILER PARAGRAPH 5 In a way Klatu's initial decision is an indictment on his own race. Do they have no sophisticated means of helping a younger race mature? Must they kill their own young? If we have failed, so has he.

This is where the film becomes less interesting. Klatu offers no higher morality, and no way to get there. In the original, Lt Cmdr. John Carpenter (monogrammed initials JC - in reference to another carpenter - Jesus Christ) sacrifices himself to deliver a message of higher ethics and behavior - Earth is about to join the interplanetary neighborhood and must enter it as a brotherhood.

Films like the original are rare - daring to enlighten and entertain. But at least in this remake you are not spending two hours as you might in much recent film: watching the degradation of human beings. For that alone, the film is worth your time.

The Chronicles of Riddick

Instant Classic
Just saw this film on TV. Didn't watch it in the theaters because the trailers looked like another hackneyed version of Dune, Pitch Black gone awry on an overblown budget. Boy was I wrong. The marketing on this film was sadly misleading.

What a fine Science Fiction, a fine motion picture in the classic sense of great entertainment and morality play. The story borrows from the John Carter of Mars series ("You keep what you kill..."), Shakespeare, Greek Drama (Eadipus), Spartacus, and Rambo. Edgar Rice Burroughs was a true artist of literature, his prose poetic in the midst of bloody battles that even today would warrant an "x" rating. This film reflects the best of that tradition. It respects its audience by working every detail with such great care and effort that we as the audience feel we have been given a gift.

Although these are two completely different science fiction films, I haven't had that feeling of artistic integrity since Star Wars episode 4, back in '77.

The film shows the transformation of a disenfranchised warrior into a great hero. Special effects are of the highest caliber. Writing, direction and acting all superb. There are familiar trends through the film, but weaved in a new tale which is totally engaging. Nice touches of humor and fine direction keep this believable. The parts that are silly are so on purpose. If you are a little older you will laugh at the "back of the bus" references, and the classic Greek drama told with all the best histrionics.

It seems that the antagonist could only be played by Vin Diesel. We would also like to see him work his remarkable dramatic talents in murder mystery as well. He is the rightful heir to Humphrey Bogart, as Harrison Ford was to Gary Cooper. Bogey in Casablanca has Vin all over it: funny, cynical, but in the end, courageous, and completely believable.

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