steiner-sam

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Reviews

The Lincoln Lawyer
(2022)

If you like Michael Connelly, you'll like this series
It's a legal drama set in modern times that follows a murder trial in Los Angeles.

Mickey Haller (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) is a brilliant but quirky lawyer who has been out of practice for over a year because of an accident and subsequent addiction to painkillers. He feels guilty about a man he encouraged to take a plea bargain, Jésus Menendez (Saul Huezo), even though Haller thought he was innocent. Then a lawyer friend, Jerry Vincent, is murdered and leaves his practice to Haller. This gets Haller back in the game, mainly since it includes a high-profile case of a gaming software magnate, Trevor Elliott (Christopher Gorham), accused of murdering his wife and her lover.

We also encounter Haller's first wife, Maggie McPherson (Neve Campbell), who is an Assistant District Attorney pursuing a human trafficker, Angelo Soto (Reggie Lee). Haller and McPherson still have feelings for each other and share a daughter, Hayley (Krista Warner). Haller's secretary, Lorna Crain (Becki Newton), is his former second wife and current secretary. She is in a relationship with Cisco (Angus Sampson), who is Haller's investigator. Finally, Izzy Letts (Jazz Raycole) is a destitute client paying Haller by serving as his driver of the Lincoln automobiles in which he does much of his work.

The series slowly unfolds the twists and turns in Haller's murder case and McPherson's efforts to get a key witness against Soto. Various subplots leave room for the series to continue, though the Elliott and Soto cases do come to some resolution by the last episode.

The series does make some significant changes from Connelly's novel. Haller's half-brother, Harry Bosch, is changed to an African-American detective. His driver is transformed from a man to a woman with her own drug problem, the villains' names are altered, and the profession of Haller's client is changed from movie magnate to software entrepreneur. The language and settings are also updated.

I love Michael Connelly's novels because their complexity unfolds at a good pace, and the plot surprises usually make sense upon reflection. This series is a good representation of Connelly's approach, though I'm sorry Harry Bosch disappeared. However, the lead actors were all believable, which speaks well of Kelley's organization.

Ivanovo detstvo
(1962)

The film is relatively primitive, with interesting cinematography
It's a war story set chiefly on the German-Russian front during World War II, with final scenes from Berlin, Germany, at the war's end.

Ivan Bondarov (Nikolai Burlyayev) is a 12-year-old orphan who has spied on the Germans who occupied his side of a river, reporting to the Russian military on the other side. His family has been killed by the Germans, but we get dreamlike flashbacks of happier days that mainly include his mother (Irma Raush).

The Russian soldiers he relates are primarily Lt. Galtsev (Evgeny Zharikov), Captain Kholin (Valentin Zubkov), and Lt. Colonel Gryaznov (Nikolai Grinko). There is not much "action," the story focuses on the relationship between Ivan and the Russian soldiers and their desire to get him away from the front by sending him to a military school. Ivan wants to join the extra-military partisans that are fighting the Germans.

At the film's end, we learn Ivan's fate as we see the climax of Russia's victorious occupation of Berlin.

The film is relatively primitive, with many shadows and closeups that focus on feelings. The cinematography is actually quite interesting, albeit repetitive. It's Tarkovsky's first commercial film and apparently his most financially successful. The storyline is more straightforward than in some of his later works.

Peace by Chocolate
(2021)

The movie was better than I expected
It's a cross-cultural immigration drama set in 2016 in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. It follows a Syrian refugee family landing in a town of 4,000 in rural Nova Scotia and shows the internal family struggles as well as cross-cultural experiences in the community.

Tareq Hadhad (Ayham Abou Ammar) is the son who immigrates to Canada first. He was a Syrian medical student before his family fled to Lebanon because of the war. Tareq speaks good English. The rest of the family speaks no English. His father, Issam (Hatem Ali), had run a specialty chocolate factory with 50 employees before the war, but the factory was bombed in 2012. Issam and Shahnaz (Yara Sabri), Tareq's mother, are soon to follow. Tareq's sister, Alaa (Najlaa Al Khamri), cannot come for a while because her husband has stayed in Syria. After her husband is killed in the war, Alaa also joins the family in Antigonish.

The film follows some of the acculturation issues (snow and cold in winter) and the sponsorship of the family by a local church, especially an accountant named Frank (Mark Camacho). Tareq desperately wants to get into a Canadian medical school against his father's wishes. His father feels illiterate if his son does not stay close to the family. From a small beginning, we see the Peace by Chocolate business grow with a settled outcome by the end.

The movie was better than I expected. At a cynical level, it's a 90-minute advertisement for Peace by Chocolate and the Sobey's grocery chain that became an early supporter. (And the theater where I watched it sold Peace by Chocolate bars at the refreshment counter.) Some critics have also complained about the positive references to the Liberal Party's immigration policy and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

But the film also shows the tension between a father loyal to Syrian culture and a son wanting to pursue an independent future. It's also clear that not all Antigonish residents welcomed the newcomers. The film could have been more open about the latter issue and perhaps revealed more negative scenes of the cross-cultural experience. But it clearly is aimed at a family-friendly audience and portrays an ultimately positive immigration experience. It's a good mixture of humor and tension.

Leap of Faith
(1992)

The gospel music is great; the screenplay isn't
It's a satirical drama set around 1990 in rural Kansas. It follows a four-day stay of a tent evangelist in a town of 22,000 after their caravan breaks down on the way to Topeka, Kansas.

Jonas Nightengale (Steve Martin) is the shyster prosperity gospel evangelist, added by his manager, Jane Larson (Debra Winger), musical director, Hoover (Meat Loaf), and other assistants who include Matt (Philip Seymour Hoffman). When one of their trucks breaks down, they set up their tent in Rustwater, Kansas, while waiting for the parts to arrive.

Local sheriff Will Braverman (Liam Neeson) is suspicious of Nightengale, especially because the area is in the midst of drought and has over 25% unemployment. The pretty waitress in the local diner that Nightengale fancies, Marva (Lolita Davidovich), is also wary because her younger brother, Boyd (Lukas Haas), was severely injured in an accident that killed their parents. When Boyd had earlier been taken to a faith healer, the preacher blamed Boyd's "lack of faith" for his failure to be cured.

The movie rushes along, allowing Braverman and Larson to develop a romance and for Nightengale to face some of the harm and chaos he has created. We see how Nightengale and Larson manipulate the crowd until Nightengale confronts a cure he cannot explain.

This is an interesting concept that doesn't work very well. The gospel music is the best part of the film. Steve Martin's lines sometimes sound authentic and other times like lousy writing. The plot is not believable, being squeezed into four days, and the ending takes a twist that doesn't fit the rest of the movie.

The Master
(2012)

The acting warrants a good rating, but the story is occasionally tedious
It's a psychological drama set primarily in various spots in the United States -- New York, Philadelphia, and Arizona -- from 1945 to the early 1950s. It follows a World War II Navy veteran with severe psychological issues who becomes closely engaged with the leader of a pseudo-scientific cult known as "The Cause."

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a severely-damaged alcoholic sailor. His erratic and sometimes violent behavior is an issue from the film's beginning. He briefly falls in love with 16-year-old Doris Solstad (Madisen Beaty) but soon departs for a sea job and doesn't return for seven years. After several crises, he stows away on a boat operated by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of "The Cause," though Dodd's wife, Peggy (Amy Adams), seems more stable than Lancaster. The Dodd children, Elizabeth (Ambyr Childers) and Val (Jesse Plemons), have mixed views of their parents' mission.

The film's focus is the relationship between Quell and Lancaster Dodd. Dodd seems obsessed with Quell and tries to cure Quell's demons several times. However, it seems to be a case of one damaged personality unable to help another damaged personality. The ending is realistic but unfulfilling.

Hoffman is an outstanding character actor, and I think he is superb as a highly educated cult leader (he claims both a Ph. D. and M. D.) who, in the words of his son, is "making it up as he goes along." Phoenix seems so borderline psychotic during much of the film that it's not clear how the relationship between Quell and Dodd lasted as long as it did. Amy Adams is great as the backbone of the operation. Laura Dern has a nice turn as a true believer who finally becomes disenchanted.

The quality of the acting warrants a good rating, but the story is occasionally tedious with overly-long sequences. It could have been 20 minutes shorter with better editing.

Operation Mincemeat
(2021)

A dud filled with clichéd dialogue and stiff wooden performances
It's a British World War II war movie set in 1943 in London in the counter-espionage service. It's based on characters involved in the British deception of the Germans on whether the Allies would invade Sicily or Greece.

Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen) head the effort to plant deceptive information on a dead body disguised as a military officer that it wants to reach German military ears. Hester Leggett (Penelope Wilton) is the stalwart secretarial assistant, and Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald) is the attractive younger secretary who catches Montagu's eye after his wife and family are of the safety of the United States. One of the younger officers who narrates the plot is Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn).

The film follows the stolid efforts to plant the body with its evidence off of Spain's coastline and follows the journey of the false information. In the background is the "romance" of Montagu and Leslie and the suspicions that Montagu's brother, Ivor, is a Russian spy.

I like a good spy movie; I love films based on John le Carré novels. Unfortunately, "Operation Mincemeat" is a dud. It's filled with clichéd dialogue and stiff wooden performances by Firth and Macfadyen. Penelope Wilton plays a total stereotype. Montagu and Leslie's romantic "tension" isn't believable and doesn't help the plot. I'm glad I couldn't schedule myself a couple of weeks ago to see it in the theater.

The Deer Hunter
(1978)

One of the most emotionally-wrenching movies I've ever seen
It's a Vietnam War buddy movie that theoretically ranges from 1968 to 1975 and is located in a small western Pennsylvania river town and Vietnam. It follows three Russian-heritage steelworkers who leave for the war in 1968 after one of them gets married. Three other guys from the friendship group stay home.

Mike Vronsky (Robert De Niro) is the alpha character of the group. He owns an old Cadillac and lives with his best friend, Nick Chevotarevich (Christopher Walken), in a slightly expanded mobile home. They both fancy Linda Prior (Meryl Streep), a local grocery clerk. Steve Pushkov (John Savage) is the third guy leaving for Vietnam; it will be the Monday following his marriage to Angela (Rutanya Alda).

The three guys who stay home are Stan (John Cazale), Axel Axelrod (Chuck Aspegren), and bar owner John Welsh (George Dzundza).

The movie's first third introduces the characters at Steve and Angela's wedding and a hunting trip the five guys not getting married take the last weekend. The middle deals with their experience in Vietnam, which is traumatic and devastating for all of them, especially Steve and Nick. The last part deals with Mike's re-entry to U. S. civilization and his efforts to "save" Steve and Nick.

The craziness of the Vietnam War is illustrated through multiple occurrences of Russian Roulette at incredibly crucial times. For me, the film is about the devastation of personality in wartime. Unfortunately, the timelines of the movie are not accurate as Angela's child is not old enough in the film at the time of the fall of Saigon. I've also always been bothered by the snow-topped mountains that don't exist in southwestern Pennsylvania. I noticed an Ohio Route 7 highway sign near the film's beginning. The movie was partly made in southeastern Ohio, and I lived near or on Route 7 for my first 18 years.

But for all of that, this is one of the most emotionally-wrenching movies I've ever seen. I was haunted by the Russian Roulette scenes for a long time the first time I saw this film, which would have been about 10 years after I came to Canada. There is no hope, only resignation, at the film's end. And the sad "God bless America" song at the end echoes a prayer that country needs even more today.

Strasti po Andreyu
(1966)

A period piece without long-term merit
It's sort of a biopic of Andrei Rublev, the icon painter from early 15th century Russia, but focuses more on vignettes of ordinary life in the medieval era. The version I watched was the shorter three-hour film publicly released in France, not the longer 3 1/2 hour version that Soviet authorities forced Tarkovsky to edit.

The prologue shows an early attempt to fly a hot air balloon. Some of the imagery is repeated in the eighth vignette.

The eight vignettes primarily feature Andrei Rublev (Anatoly Solonitsyn), often with his associate monks or apprentices. The two other monks are Kirill (Ivan Lapikov) and Daniil Chyomy (Nikolai Grinko). Rublev's mentor, Theophanes the Greek (Nikolai Sergeyev), also appears in three vignettes. A jester (Rolan Bykov) appears in the first and last vignettes, and a female holy fool, Durochka (Irma Raush), appears in the last several vignettes.

There is no coherent storyline, and the film covers 25 years, beginning in 1400 C. E. It starts with the three monks leaving the Andronikov Monastery and sheltering with some peasants in a storm. Then we meet Theophanes, who invites Rublev to work with him, to the dismay of Kirill and Daniil. Next, there is a discussion between Rublev and Theophanes and glimpses of a Passion Play, followed by an encounter with pagan forest people.

We then see Rublev's struggles with the point of his craft, the destruction of much of his work, and his vow of silence after killing a man to protect Durochka.

The last and most extended vignette (40 minutes) focuses on the construction of a bell by the son of a bellmaker. Boriska (Nikolai Burlyayev) crucially intersects with Rublev at the end, but this vignette is the most coherent in the film.

An epilogue shows some of Rublev's icons in color, though the rest of the film is black and white.

There were interesting scenes and a good introduction to Soviet-era cinematography, but I found much of the story disjointed and hard to follow. In truth, I had to watch it twice to get through it. It strikes me as a period piece without long-term merit.

The Silence of the Lambs
(1991)

This is scary movie at its best
It's a psychological thriller set in 1990 primarily in Quantico, Virginia, and the hill country of West Virginia and southeast Ohio. It follows a young student at the FBI academy at Quantico who becomes involved in a graphic serial killer case.

Clarice Starling (Masha Skorobogatov/Jodie Foster) is the FBI trainee at Quantico. She's a young single woman; her mother died when she was very young. Her father was a town marshall who was killed in a botched robbery when she was 10 years old. She spent two months on a western ranch with relatives, but ran away because of the screams of lambs who were being slaughtered. She was then raised in an orphanage; we're not sure how she got to the FBI Academy. She is whip smart and honest to a fault.

She is called by Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) of the FBI's profiling unit to help in the search for Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), a serial killer of young woman. The FBI seeks the assistance of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a former psychiatrist who is himself a dangerous serial killer who cannibalizes his victims. Lecter is in a high security psychiatric facility run by a cruel, self-promoting psychiatrist, Frederick Chilton (Anthony Heald).

The movie follows Clarice's interaction with Lecter, gives us a few flashbacks to Clarice's relationship with her father, Buffalo Bill's kidnapping of his latest victim, Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith), the escape of Hannibel Lecter, and the final conclusion between Clarice and Buffalo Bill.

"Silence of the Lambs" is a very high level of movie craft. Various editing techniques spring surprises on us as we see the FBI follow false leads. Likewise, Lecter's escape is very cleverly portrayed. The concluding pursuit of Buffalo Bill by Clarice is brilliantly paced and portrayed. Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins deserved the Academy Awards that they won, as did Director Demme. There is electricity in the relationship between Foster and Hopkins. "Silence of the Lambs" also won Best Picture. Although some viewers will not like the graphic violence at some points, this is scary movie at its best.

25th Hour
(2002)

An extraordinary story that is artfully presented
It's a dramatic buddy movie set in post-9/11 New York City. It follows the last day before a man convicted of drug dealing goes to prison for seven years.

Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) is a 31-yaar-old guy of Irish descent who's been dealing drugs since the age of 14. He's a dealer for the Russian Mafia locally headed by Uncle Nikolai (Levan Uchaneishvili). Uncle Nikolai's protection for Monty comes through Kostya Novotny (Tony Siragusa), a huge Ukrainian man. Monty has had two best friends since childhood. One is Jacob Elinsky (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an introverted high school English teacher from a wealthy Jewish family. He has a fascination for a 17-year-old girl, Mary (Anna Paquin), in one of his classes. The other is Frank Slaugherty (Barry Pepper), also of Irish background, who is a high-rolling financial player who lives next to Ground Zero. Monty's live-in girlfriend is Naturelle Riviera (Rosario Dawson), whose older sister has been in Monty's class in the private school to which they both had scholarships. Monty's widowed father, James (Brian Cox), is a retired fireman who now runs a bar.

The film explores Monty's thoughts as he contemplates what could happen to a younger attractive man in prison and wonders who set him up for his arrest by the Drug Enforcement Agency. It's obvious he was set up since the agents knew exactly where the money and drugs were hidden in his apartment. Through flashbacks, we learn how Monty and Naturelle met and the circumstances of his arrest and brief interrogation. The film also shows how his two friends think Monty will experience prison and whether they will be there for him in seven years.

There are two fascinating interludes in the film. In the first Monty rants about everyone and everything he hates in New York City, ending up with himself. In the second, he imagines an alternate ending of escaping to "The West" and building a new life for himself.

By the end, we do learn who set Monty up.

This is an extraordinary story that is artfully presented while being easy to follow. The direction, cinematography, and music fit together seamlessly. The four primary actors are all excellent. I've always been a Philip Seymour Hoffman fan, and he nailed his role of a guy with a compressed personality. Norton, Pepper, and Dawson had easier characterizations to fit, though Norton's rant was excellent.

The Northman
(2022)

A sumptuously filmed story that begins with a lot of confusion and incomprehension
It's a Viking revenge film that begins in 895 of the Common Era. It follows a medieval Scandinavian legend that is also the source of Shakespeare's "Hamlet."

Amleth (Oscar Novak/Alexander Skarsgård) is a Viking prince who sees his father, King Aurvandill War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) killed by his uncle, Fjölnir the Brotherless (Claes Bang). His father has prepared him to seek revenge if his own blood is spilled. Amleth escapes and grows to manhood.

Amleth becomes a beserker (Norse warriors who take on the spirit of animals) for a time. He then seeks to follow his uncle, who has escaped to Iceland after being displaced by a Danish king. He poses as a slave while going to his uncle's settlement. On the way, he meets a beautiful slave woman, Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy), who becomes his accomplice. Amleth learns that his mother, Queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman) is now Fjoinir's wife. Fjoinir has an older son, Thorir the Proud (Gustav Lindh) and a son with Gudrun named Gunnar (Elliott Rose).

The movie then follows Amleth's bloody revenge, exacerbated when he learns his mother was complicit in his father's death. The story is interpreted through the pre-Christian Scandinavian legend, though Christians are suspected as a source of violence at one point.

This is an expensive and sumptuously filmed story that begins with a lot of confusion and incomprehension for persons unfamiliar with the legend. The latter half of the film is much easier to follow. I actually suspect could have been improved with another 20-30 minutes of orientation at the beginning. The characters' accents are also thick, and subtitles are randomly provided during some non-English conversations, but there are other places subtitles would have significantly helped. The film is very violent, but that was to be expected given the plot.

Trois couleurs: Rouge
(1994)

A film about relationships
It's a personal drama about the intersection of three lives in Geneva, Switzerland, in the early 1990s. The three primary characters don't know each other at the film's beginning.

Valentine Dussaut (Irène Jacob) is a student and model, and we see her in a modeling session at the beginning of the film. Auguste Bruner (Jean-Pierre Lorit), a law student, lives near Valentine, and they sometimes show up in the same shot but don't see each other. While distractedly driving one day, Valentine accidentally hits a dog. The dog, Rita, is injured but not killed. Her collar says she belongs to Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant), but Joseph tells her to take the dog to a vet if she wants.

After the dog is treated and better, it leads Valentine back to Joseph's house. She learns he is a retired judge and that he is eavesdropping on his neighbors' telephone calls. Valentine makes a profound impact on Joseph, who then confesses his activity. Meanwhile, Auguste, who has passed an exam to become a judge, learns that his girlfriend, Karin (Frederique Feder), has been unfaithful.

The film then follows the relationship of Joseph and Valentine and the ultimate meeting of Auguste and Valentine in extraordinary circumstances.

This is a film about relationships. One of Kieslowski's gifts is showing more significant concepts in tiny shots, like blowing over a glass of water during a storm. His use of color in the trilogy is remarkable throughout. And the way that Valentine and Auguste pass unknowingly in shots is so well done. Unfortunately, I was a bit tired when watching the film and had trouble following it carefully.

Borgen
(2010)

Entertaining, but not the "West Wing" in quality
It follows the life of a female leader of a small centrist party who becomes the statsminister (Prime Minister) of Denmark. There are 10 episodes in each season.

Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is the highly skilled leader of the Moderate Party. Her husband, Philip (Mikael Birkkjær) is a university professor. She also has a young teenage daughter, Laura (Freja Riemann) and a much younger son, Magnus (Emil Poulsen). Her communications chief (spindoktor) is Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbæk), an ethically challenged man with a grim childhood that we learn about. At the series beginning he's in a relationship with a newsreader from TV1, Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen). Katrine's boss at the TV station is Torben Friis (Søren Malling).

Through the series we see political bargaining and the impact of political life on family life. Denmark has about eight political parties, so the opportunities (and need) for wheeling and dealing to maintain a majority are plentiful. We also see the efforts of the older-style TV station to stay ahead of a glitzier rival, TV2. There is also a sensationalist newspaper run by former politician, Michael Laugesen (Peter Mygind).

For me this was entertaining, if a little wobbly in believability from time to time. It is not the "West Wing" in quality, but it has the virtue of not posing as a major world power.

Sophie's Choice
(1982)

Powerfully performed drama by Streep and Kline
It's a psychological drama set primarily in 1947 in Brooklyn, New York. There are flashbacks to 1938 Kraków, Poland, and the Auschwitz death camp in 1943. The film tells the story of three people who live in a Brooklyn boarding house immediately after World War II.

Stingo (Peter MacNicol) is a 22-year-old writer from the southern U. S. seeking to write his first novel. Upstairs at the boarding house run by Yetta Zimmerman (Rita Karin) live Nathan Landau (Kevin Kline) and Sophie Zawistowski (Meryl Streep). Nathan is an American Jew who purports to work as a biologist at Pfizer. Sophie is a Polish Catholic survivor of Auschwitz who learned as a young married woman that her father was fiercely anti-Semitic. Soon after her lover, who was connected to the Polish underground, was arrested, Sophie and her two children were also arrested in 1943. Sophie's survival is not explained, though, for a time, she is a typist for the camp's commandant, Rudolf Höss (Günther Maria Halmer). We learn that her daughter died at Auschwitz; her son's fate is ultimately unknown.

The film follows the lives of these three troubled people. Nathan ranges from loving interaction with Sophie and Stingo to virulent anger, especially against Sophie, who he accuses of infidelity. Sophie is committed to Nathan but is deeply affected by her personal history during the war. Stingo is smitten with them both, especially Sophie, even though she is 10 years older than he is. The film unfolds with tragedy seemingly inevitable. We learn the source of the title near the movie's end.

This is a powerfully performed drama, especially by Streep and Kline. Unfortunately, Peter MacNicol's Southern accent sometimes seems a bit much, and he appears less perceptive about the realities around him than an aspiring novelist should be. Nevertheless, this is a superb rendition of a complex novel.

Hotel Artemis
(2018)

Entertaining most of the way through, but then tries to be an action movie
It's a tongue-in-cheek near-future crime story set in 2028 Los Angeles. Apparently, the government has been privatized. The water supply has been privatized, and a private police force is trying to control the rioting response to the water privatization.

Amid the chaos is the Hotel Artemis. This is one of a series of "dark" hospital hotels to serve criminals who have been injured and are "members" of the hospital hotels. They agree that there will be no weapons and no killing of other guests at the hotel. It's been run for the past 22 years by a "nurse" who suffers from agoraphobia and has not left the hotel in years.

The film opens with a botched bank robbery led by Sherman (Sterling K. Brown) and his brother, Lev (Brian Tyree Henry). They find their way to Hotel Artemis, run by Jean Thomas, known as The Nurse (Jodie Foster), and her assistant, Everest (Dave Bautista). We then meet other recuperating residents of the hotel, including a paid assassin, Nice (Sofie Boutella), and an arms dealer, Acapulco (Charlie Day). The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum), who owns the hotel, is also on his way.

A complex plot puts hotel guests at odds with each other, and slowly the violence escalates despite the best efforts of The Nurse. And The Nurse discovers that one of the guests is responsible for the death of her son, Beau, many years earlier. In the end, there is chaos that only a few escape.

The film was entertaining most of the way through. The wordplay was sly, and the unfolding plot is engaging. Then it made the mistake of turning into an action movie that destroyed the clever story that had been established. That's unfortunate because I'm a big Jodie Foster fan, and it felt like a role ultimately wasted.

Still, it gets 7 of 10 for the first 75 minutes.

The Third Man
(1949)

Genuinely classic film noir
It's classic film noir set ca. 1948 in Vienna, Austria. It covers about two weeks in the life of a mediocre American novelist invited to Vienna by a childhood friend he hasn't seen for 10 years to write for a medical charity.

Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), who writes popular Westerns, arrives in Vienna to learn that his friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), has just been killed in a traffic accident. He arrives at the cemetery in time for the ceremony in which most of the primary characters are present. These include Lime's girlfriend, Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli), a Czech woman using a false passport to avoid being forced behind the Iron Curtain. British army officers include Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) and Sergeant Paine (Bernard Lee). Shady associates of Harry Lime include "Baron" Kurtz (Ernst Deutsch) and Dr. Winkel (Erich Ponto).

The film then follows Martins' efforts to ascertain what really happened, the black market activity in which Lime was engaged, and whether Lime actually died. It becomes clear that Lime is not as Martins remembers. It's also clear that Martins is falling in love with Anna Schmidt. Even the final climax remains ambiguous, as it's unclear exactly how Harry Lime died and who killed him.

This is genuinely classic film noir. The cinematography is marvelous. Anton Karas plays the zither in an unforgettable musical score. The pace and timing of the film are excellent. The film is one hour and 45 minutes long. Orson Welles doesn't even show up until the last 45 minutes and doesn't speak until the last 30 minutes. Joseph Cotton and Alida Valli are excellent. Trevor Howard and Bernard Lee are stereotypical British officers.

The movie is great fun and preaches little, except that Russians are not really to be trusted.

Owning Mahowny
(2003)

A relatively thin story filmed on a small budget; it shows
It's an embezzlement caper set in the early 1980s in Toronto, Canada, and Atlantic City, New Jersey. The film is based on an actual embezzlement case in Toronto in 1982.

Dan Mahowny (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a newly-promoted assistant bank manager. He's moving in with his girlfriend, Belinda (Minnie Driver), who works at the same branch. Dan is dowdy, drives an old car, and has a gambling problem. Belinda thinks it's limited to going to the racetrack from time to time, but Dan owes over $10,000 to his bookie, Frank Perlin (Maury Chaykin).

After Dan is threatened by Frank, Dan conjures up ways to bilk the bank out of money through "borrowing" from loan accounts and setting up false accounts. His compulsion increases, and soon he's gambling in Atlantic City, where he's hosted by the slimy casino manager, Victor Foss (John Hurt). Dan dances away from trouble for a long time, but eventually, consequences ensue.

This is a relatively thin story filmed on a small budget. Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favorite actors, and he fits the role physically, but the script gave his character no personality. There's no natural chemistry with Minnie Driver, and the other primary characters simply fit stereotypes. I was pretty disappointed and can't understand why Roger Ebert liked it so much. It's merely a surrender-to-compulsion flick.

My Life Without Me
(2003)

Sarah Polley gives a powerful character performance in a film with a weak script
It's a drama about death set around 2000 somewhere on the lower mainland in British Columbia. It follows the last months of a young woman's life who has just been told she has incurable cancer.

Ann (Sarah Polley) is 23 years old and had her first child at 17 and her second child at 19. She's married to Don (Scott Speedman), the only boy she's ever slept with. They live in a mobile home behind the house of her mother (Deborah Harry). Her father (Alfred Molina) has been in prison for 10 years for an undisclosed crime. Ann works as a night cleaner at a local university; Don has been unemployed but is getting a job installing swimming pools. Despite the hard times, they appear to have a good marriage.

Ann thinks she's pregnant again but learns she has ovarian cancer that has metastasized. She decides on the spot not to tell anyone but makes a list of everything she wants to do in her remaining two or three months. These bucket-list items include making tapes for her daughters to play as they grow up, identifying a new wife for Don and mother for her daughters, and experiencing love with someone other than her husband. These latter goals ultimately involve Lee (Mark Ruffalo) and Nurse Ann (Leonor Watling).

This movie has a split personality. Sarah Polley gives a powerful character performance in a film with a weak script and awkward editing. Polley is believable even though the story is more soap opera than anything else. However, it falls apart when the viewer realizes the protagonist denies everyone in her life the opportunity to say goodbye because she wants to spare them sitting for days in a hospital.

All My Puny Sorrows
(2021)

A brilliantly sad movie with depth and humor
It's a modern drama based in East Village and Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Toronto, Ontario, about two sisters, one of whom is suicidal. It's an adaptation of Miriam Toews' 2014 novel of the same title.

In the movie's opening, we see the suicide of the two sisters' father, Jake Von Riesen (Donal Logue). We are introduced to Elf (Gabrielle Jennings/Sarah Gadon), an accomplished concert pianist who suffers from deep depression. She is married to Nic (Aly Mawji), a loving and devoted husband. Her sister, Yoli (Marin Almasi/Alison Pill), was a wild child who left a marriage after 16 years. She's in a loveless relationship with an uptight lawyer, Alex Finbar (Michael Musi), and has a bright but mouthy teenage daughter, Nora (Amybeth McNulty). Yoli is a novelist that has experienced limited success and won't tell anyone about her latest manuscript. And then there is Lottie, Elf's and Yoli's mother (Mare Winningham), who is a plain-spoken realist still rooted in her conservative Mennonite community.

The film primarily follows the relationship of the two sisters within the larger family structure, with flashbacks to earlier times that include their father. Throughout the film, Yoli struggles to extract hope from her sister, but Elf has too often seen hope in the morning transition to despair in the afternoon. Finally, the resolution has truth and reality etched within it.

This is a brilliantly sad movie. The humor that helps Yoli (and Miriam Toews) survive all that life throws at her is well embodied in the film. Lottie survives with less humor but a more profound sense of a reality that can leave the pain behind. Lottie's character seems unrealistic, but all I've heard about the "real" Lottie suggests the portrayal was accurate.

I really liked the novel when I read it; my only question about the film is whether viewers unfamiliar with the book might find the storyline somewhat confusing.

Wild Things
(1998)

A parody of neo-noir
It took a while to figure out what to make of this film. I finally decided it was a parody, because if taken straight it was case of bad script, bad editing, and poor acting.

Finally seeing Bill Murray as the crooked lawyer had it all make sense as tongue-in-cheek.

Except I don't think that was intended.

Trois couleurs: Blanc
(1994)

A tongue-in-cheek drama
It's a dark comedy set in the early 1990s in Paris and Warsaw that follows the hard times of a prize-winning Polish hairdresser divorced by his beautiful young Parisienne wife.

After an opening scene following a large suitcase on an airport conveyer belt, Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) shows up in a Paris court to hear the divorce case brought against him by Dominique (Julie Delpy) on the basis that their marriage was not consummated. He is then humiliated multiple times by Dominique.

The film then follows his financial collapse, his efforts to smuggle himself back to Poland with the help of a wealthy newfound friend, Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos), and his finding himself in a dump with two francs to his name. He is taken in by his brother, Jurek (Jerzy Stuhr), who is a less accomplished hairdresser and begins his resurrection. Finally, he becomes a wealthy entrepreneur in the import-export business through several improbable breaks.

After making one last effort to reach out to Dominique, Karol seeks revenge. However, he is highly ambivalent about his actions by the end of the film.

I'd call this a tongue-in-cheek drama which reduces some of the drama. Zamachowski is a Polish everyman overwhelmed by his French ex-wife until he improbably bounces back. There's little reality to the storyline, but viewers will resonate with the varying emotions displayed by Karol throughout. I didn't find it quite as engaging as "Three Colours: Blue," the first film in the trilogy.

Marlene
(2020)

A "nice" film that could have been much more dramatically portrayed
It's a "based on a true story" biopic set in Canada from 1959 to 2007 following the efforts to seek the exoneration of Steven Truscott from his conviction as a 14-year-old for the murder of Lynne Harper. The film is from the perspective of Marlene Truscott, Steven's wife.

The film begins with a re-creation of 12-year-old Lynne Harper (Summer McBrien)'s murder. It shows her bicycle ride with 14-year-old Steven Truscott (Dempsey Bryk/Greg Bryk). Although he protests his innocence, he is convicted of murder as an adult and sentenced to death by hanging. However, his sentence is commuted, and questions begin to be raised about the evidence used at trial and the ignored evidence. Marlene (Julia Sarah Stone/Kristin Booth) lived in Southern Ontario and became obsessed with the case in 1967 after reading a book about the case by Isabel LeBourdais (Maxim Roy).

Steven and Marlene meet after he is released on parole in 1970. Steven is forced to move to Vancouver under a false name but maintains contact with Marlene, who also moved to Vancouver for other reasons. Their romantic relationship and subsequent marriage follow.

The film then follows Marlene's efforts to find new evidence and refute first-trial assumptions, especially in cooperation with journalists from the CBC's "Fifth Estate." Their lawyer, James Lochyer (Dave Trimble), plods along with pessimistic advice from time to time. It takes 48 years, but the case is finally resolved in 2007.

This is a "nice" film about a significant legal case that could have been much more dramatically portrayed. Kristin Booth's character dominates the film, but the potential of her performance is hampered by a cliché-ridden script. Greg Bryk portrays Steven Truscott as a passive and colorless victim. The use of flashbacks is sometimes creative, and interesting legal issues surfaced that begged for expansion. I think Anne-Marie MacDonald's 2003 novel, "The Way the Crow Flies," holds greater potential for a movie.

The Passion of the Christ
(2004)

The emphasis on blood results in a narrow, totally inadequate theological message
It's a graphic, conservative Catholic portrayal of the last day in the life of Jesus of Nazareth from the perspective of Mel Gibson. It's set around 30 Common Era in Jerusalem.

The film begins in gloomy Gethsemane with Jesus (Jim Caviezel) at prayer. Here, the only hints of his doubt appear as he struggles with Satan (Rosalinda Celentano). The film then follows his arrest, his appearance before the High Priest (Mattia Sbragia) and before Pontius Pilot (Hristo Naumov Shopov), with extended torture scenes along the way. The slow path to Golgotha and the crucifixion make up the last portion of the film. All along his journey, Jesus is followed by his mother, Mary (Maia Morgenstern), Mary Magdalene (Monica Bellucci), and John (Christo Jivkov), who is implied to be his brother. Also lurking in the crowd throughout is Satan. There are occasional flashbacks to earlier points in Jesus' ministry. The last minute of the film shows the Resurrection.

The primary point of Gibson's film seems to be the literal blood of Jesus. Torture scenes are lengthy and graphic. The soldiers and the crowds are constantly mocking. Many story points are based on the Biblical narrative, but there is much that is extra-Biblical.

"The Passion of the Christ" is compelling but exhausting. The actors are superficial icons and speak only in Aramaic and Latin (it has English subtitles throughout). The story is carried by the spectacle and the blood. From my perspective, the emphasis on blood results in a narrow, totally inadequate theological message.

The Last Temptation of Christ
(1988)

In 2022 having a Northern European and Brit play Jesus and Pilot seems odd
It's a psychological biopic focused on the internal struggles of Jesus of Nazareth as he faces the demands of his Father to be crucified. Conservative Christianity immediately attacked the film when it came out.

The film opens with Jesus (Willem Dafoe) the carpenter manufacturing and transporting crosses for the occupying Romans. His childhood friend, Judas Iscariot (Harvey Keitel) accuses Jesus of being a collaborator instead of using his gifts to bring about the Messiah. Jesus already has a conflicted relationship with Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey), a close friend who is a sex worker.

The film then generally follows Jesus as outlined in the Gospels, but explores his uncertainties and self-doubt about his role. Judas constantly pushes him in a more political direction, but Jesus recognizes this is not what God wants. What God wants is love. We also see some of the miracles, such as turning water into wine. We meet various disciples, but only Peter (Victor Argo) stands out.

The entrance to Jerusalem and the rapid change from adulation to condemnation is creatively shown. The interrogation by Pontius Pilate (David Bowie) is more of a curiosity.

The crucifixion and the vision he has as he faces his last temptation have especially driven the controversy about the film. The "alternative" life he considers with the help of a guardian angel (Juliette Caton) includes marriage and a family. In the end, Jesus willingly returns to the cross.

The movie is well-done, but might be confusing for viewers not familiar with the Biblical narrative. The musical score by Peter Gabriel is very satisfying. In 2022 having a Northern European and Brit play Jesus and Pilot seems odd, especially when the guardian angel has a British accent. Harvey Keitel was a better fit as Judas.

Eastern Promises
(2007)

An excellent Mafia storyline
It's a Russian Mafia story set in the 2000s in London, England. It follows the encounter of a midwife of Russian descent with the London chapter of the Russian Mafia.

The movie opens with a bloody murder in a barbershop that we later learn was ordered by the local "godfather's" son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel), without his father's permission. We learn the victim was a "made man" in the Russian Mafia with Chechen friends who will seek vengeance. Kirill is a drunk and dangerously impulsive in behavior. His father, Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), owns a high-class Russian restaurant as a front. He is measured and coldly controlling and could have been Vito Corleone. Their driver/fixer is Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), a very observant and manipulative man.

Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts) is the midwife who helps save the baby of a young teenager, Tatiana (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse/Tatiana Maslany), who dies in childbirth. Anna finds a diary in Tatiana's clothing and takes it home, hoping to track down the family for the baby. Anna has recently left a relationship and suffered a miscarriage, increasing her desire to save the baby. With the help of her uncle, Stepan (Jerzy Skolimowski), she gets the diary translated and realizes Tatiana's connection to the local Russian Mafia.

The film unfolds the story over several months as Anna engages with Semyon and especially with Nikolai, who sometimes seems to rebuff her and sometimes comes to her aid. His motives are unclear until the end, and even then, his ultimate goals are unclear.

"Eastern Promises" has an excellent Mafia storyline, though some of the logic in the resolution is a bit suspect. I'm not sure Semyon's fate is so easily addressed, and I'm baffled at how quickly Nikolai manages to rise in the organization. And Stepan's fate seems improbable.

It is vastly superior to "A History of Violence" by Cronenberg, which also featured Viggo Mortensen.

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