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Scream VI

the Big Apple gets a big surprise
The first movie in the series not to feature Sid moves the action to New York, where a new set of killers are targeting the protagonists. "Scream VI" centers Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega), showing them in college (as Sid was in the second movie). Once again, there are rules about what happens in this type of horror flick.

I've liked every entry in the franchise, including this one. Not just the kills, but the callbacks to the preceding movies. And of course, it's neat seeing which people they cast in some of the minor roles. It's not the best movie in the franchise, but still one that you're bound to love.

With the Scream movies and "Wednesday", Jenna Ortega has become one of the undeniable scream queens of the 2020s.

The Elephant Whisperers

The winner of Best Documentary Short Film at the 95th Academy Awards focuses on a group of indigenous people in India, and how they care for elephants. "The Elephant Whisperers" is never preachy. What we learn from it is that by staying connected to wildlife, we understand ourselves better. Kartiki Gonsalves has done a fine job showing a culture that we in the west don't usually get to see (how many people in the western countries have ever even heard of Tamil, much less heard it spoken?).

Most importantly, the documentary shows us what life is like for the pachyderms who roam rural India. It can be a tough life for them, but they press on.

Definitely see it.

The Lost Daughter

Olivia Colman gets intense
I learned of Olivia Colman when she played Queen Anne in "The Favorite" (and won an Oscar for the role). I later saw her on "Broadchurch", as well as seasons three and four of "The Crown". She also provided one of the voices in "The Mitchells vs. The Machines".

But now we have Ms. Colman in an intense role. She plays a woman on vacation in Greece whose stay is overshadowed by memories of the daughters whom she abandoned. "The Lost Daughter" both casts doubt on the supposed happiness of family life, and the presumed pleasantness of tourism, with the protagonist's mental state deteriorating as the movie progresses. Jessie Buckley as the protagonist's younger self is equally intense, almost as much as her character in "I'm Thinking of Ending Things".

Maggie Gyllenhaal's directorial debut is a fine one. I wouldn't call it a masterpiece - and it certainly won't be for everyone - but it's not a movie that you're likely to forget any time soon. Both Colman and Buckley received Academy Award nominations for their roles, with excellent support coming from Ed Harris, Dakota Johnson, Dagmara Dominczyk (Karolina on "Succession"), Paul Mescal and Peter Sarsgaard.

Anonyma - Eine Frau in Berlin

war screws everyone up
The basic point of Max Färberböck's "Anonyma - Eine Frau in Berlin" ("A Woman in Berlin" in English) is that all sides will end up doing evil things in wartime. Nazi Germany had just carried out one of the most massive genocides in history, and then the occupying Soviet troops raped a slew of women in Berlin. The movie is based on a book that drew so much controversy that the author remained unknown for decades. So, the movie's protagonist remains nameless. She is one of numerous women taken advantage of by the Red Army as World War II is coming to an end in Europe. No telling how often rape has gotten used as a weapon of war throughout history.

The combination of rape and wartime horror make this one intense movie, but that only confirms it as a masterpiece. It's not a movie that you'll forget easily.

Bian cheng san xia

Quentin Tarantino's possible inspiration
I read about how, before he became a director, Quentin Tarantino was a video store clerk and saw a number of martial arts movies. I don't know whether or not he saw any Shaw Brothers movies, but their "Bian cheng san xia" ("The Magnificent Trio" in English) looks as if it could've easily been the inspiration for "Kill Bill". As with a number of martial arts movies, the plot is secondary to the action. Here we get lots of sword fighting, bloodletting, destruction, and even flying (so could it have also inspired "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon"?). This story of a man taking on corruption in old China has everything that a fan of martial arts movies could want. It's a pity that the Shaw Brothers' movies aren't that well known in the west. Some truly cool stuff here.

The Flight of the Phoenix

Benghazi became important later
Undeniably, "The Flight of the Phoenix" is a real tour-de-force. From the moment the plane crashes, practically every scene keeps you on the edge of your seat. They keep it realistic by showing the characters looking pockmarked as the movie progresses. As he did in "The Dirty Dozen" two years later, Robert Aldrich knew how to keep audiences interested (even though this movie flopped). Jimmy Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch, Hardy Krüger, Ian Bannen (in an Academy Award-nominated role), Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy and Gabriele Tinti give it their all.

So here's something else. They're flying over Libya, and they mention Benghazi. You may have heard about Benghazi more recently when a US ambassador got killed there in a terrorist attack. It probably wasn't a good idea to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi (although he was nothing to celebrate, having bent over backwards to assist in the US's extraordinary rendition program in the 2000s). As a joke, people would sometimes pretend to confuse the city with Ben Gazzara.

Anyway, it's an enjoyable movie. The cast had every reason to be proud of it.

PS: Barrie Chase had a number of supporting roles over the years, including Sylvester's (Dick Shawn) girlfriend in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World".

The Pleasure Seekers

How much did people outside Spain know about the country at the time?
If the goal of "The Pleasure Seekers" is fun, then they achieved it. Ann-Margret, Carol Lynley and Pamela Tiffin play a group of young women living life to the fullest and seeking out relationships in Madrid. Damned if they don't look fine in those outfits (some of which must've been risque for the era).

But then there's the elephant in the room. Franco - aka the man who's still dead - was in power at the time. Probably not as repressive as he was when he first came to power, but still no democrat. Therefore, I wonder how much the average person outside Spain knew about Spain at the time, and whether or not they knew about Franco's autocratic rule.

Hard to know. On its own, the movie is certainly enjoyable. I wonder if the cast members got to know anyone in Spain during production, and if so, did they stay in contact; it would be neat if an old lady in Toledo can announce herself as Ann-Margret's decades-long friend.

Dear Evan Hansen

I saw it on stage just a few days ago
I noticed that "Dear Evan Hansen" would be appearing on stage, so I decided to see that production before watching the movie adaptation. One of the major criticisms of the movie was the casting of Ben Platt, who at 27 was too old to play a high school student (and it was seen as an act of nepotism). There was also the issue that they cut two of the songs from the original production and created a new one. Yet another criticism that I read was less about the movie than about the about the plot itself: according to this criticism, the movie exposed the problems with the original production (I don't remember the whole review).

Anyway, having seen the movie, I can say that the cast does a fine job in their roles, and it's a well-directed movie. I guess that the major problem was the awkward transition from stage to screen. Does this mean that a person who's never seen a stage production can enjoy the movie? I don't know. What I can say is that it has good intentions, but still comes out questionable.

The Oscars

drag harms no one
I should start by noting that of all the nominees in all categories for this year, I've only seen "The Banshees of Inisherin", "Causeway", "Everything Everywhere All at Once", "The Fabelmans", "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story", "Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio" and "Le pupille".

It was inevitable that this Oscars ceremony was going to reference last year's infamous slap. I also liked Jimmy Kimmel's dig at Scientology, and Elizabeth Banks's skit with the Cocaine Bear. One thing that I found weird was Morgan Freeman's shaved head; he looks better with hair.

Since I've only been watching the Oscars since 1995, I can't say which ceremony was considered the best ever, but I liked this one. Obviously it was impressive to see two winners of East Asian descent - one of whom was a refugee - but Daniel Scheinert made an important point (in an obvious swipe at anti-LGBT legislation) by noting that drag harms no one. Another good thing was that the anti-war "All Quiet on the Western Front" took home more awards than the militaristic "Top Gun: Maverick" (which I have no desire to ever see).

All in all, I liked it. To be certain, Malala Yousafzai responded perfectly to Kimmel's silly question.


a change for things
A doyen of New Hollywood in the late '60s and early '70s (Goodbye Columbus, Diary of a Mad Housewife, Portnoy's Complaint, Westworld), Richard Benjamin turned to directing in the '80s. Despite the title and poster, his "Mermaids" is not a fantasy. It stars Cher as a mom who moves her daughters (Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci in her film debut) to small town Massachusetts in the early '60s. It's an interesting movie if not a great one. Ryder's character proves to be the most dynamic, namely with her interests in Catholicism and a bus driver.

Lighthearted without being mushy, and managing to have some intense scenes, it's worth seeing. Since it stars Cher, Bob Hoskins, Winona Ryder and Christian Ricci, we can say that it has a witch of Eastwick, Eddie Valiant, Joyce Byers and Wednesday Addams.

The Cardinal

a thirty-year question of faith
I've often heard "The Cardinal" described as one of Otto Preminger's most important movies. I've only now gotten around to seeing it. Like "A Nun's Story", it focuses on the protagonist's role in the Catholic Church in the context of their era. Anyway, this movie casts Tom Tryon (who later left acting and wrote the horror novel "The Other") as the son of an Irish family who becomes a priest in the early twentieth century. His tenure and his ascension in the Church get affected by the Church's role in geopolitical forces of the 1920s and 1930s, namely Nazi Germany's takeover of Austria.

Preminger notably took on the blacklist by hiring Dalton Trumbo to write the "Exodus" screenplay. While that was no doubt a risky move, quite a bit of the content in this movie looks even riskier. It not only addresses racism, but also abortion (still a taboo topic at the time). I haven't read anything about the Catholic Church's response to the movie - if any - but I suspect that they weren't too comfortable with it, even though the future Pope Benedict XVI acted as the Vatican's liaison officer for the movie.

All in all, I wouldn't call it a masterpiece, but it's worth seeing. The rest of the cast includes Carol Lynley, Romy Schneider, Ossie Davis, John Saxon, John Huston, Burgess Meredith and Raf Vallone.

Vive le tour

biking across France
One of Louis Malle's early efforts is this short documentary chronicling the Tour de France. "Vive le tour" is a pretty straightforward documentary, showing the cyclists traveling down the road throughout the tournament with varying degrees of luck. It'll probably be mainly of interest to those who wish to see every one of Malle's movies (his more famous works include "Atlantic City", "My Dinner with Andre" and "Au revoir les enfants").

Basically, it's no masterpiece but it offers an in-depth look at a sporting event that we in the US only loosely understand. Available on YouTube.

I bet most people never predicted that the man behind these shorts would get married to the daughter of a famous ventriloquist.

The Ballad of Cable Hogue

Stella Stevens (and David Warner and L. Q. Jones), RIP
David Warner and L. Q. Jones both died last July, and Stella Stevens died last month, so I decided to watch this movie starring all of them. "The Ballad of Cable Hogue" is one of the many revisionist westerns that got released in the late '60s and early '70s. Jason Robards plays a man left for dead in the desert, only to discover water. Plenty of surprises follow. Knowing that Sam Peckinpah is best remembered for "The Wild Bunch" (the first western to feature graphic violence), it will probably be a surprise to viewers that he followed it up with a lighthearted comedy. It's not laugh-out-loud funny the way that a Mel Brooks movie is. The humor mainly derives from the awkwardness of the situations. I should note that there's a shot or two of Stella Stevens that lots of guys had no doubt been waiting years to see. She was a babe, there's no doubt about that.

So, while it's no masterpiece, it's still an enjoyable flick, if a little bit behind its time. Also starring are Strother Martin (of "we got a failure to communicate" fame) and Slim Pickens (best known for riding the bomb).

Le pupille

a striving
Among the Academy Award nominees each year, the live action shorts are probably some of the least seen, especially when there's a Hollywood movie where Tom Cruise narrowly avoids all danger. A real pity, because "Le pupille" ("The Pupils" in English) is one that everybody should see. Alice Rohrwacher's short depicts a Catholic boarding school in WWII-era Italy. The nuns try to keep the girls in line, but there's a girl itching to rebel.

It's appropriate that Rohrwacher's short is nominated in the same year as "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio", also set in fascist Italy. Both movies depict a desire to reject a strictly enforced order. Above all, this short reminds us that kids are often smarter than we give them credit for. I haven't seen the rest of the nominees for Best Live Action Short, but I'd say that this one would be fully justified in winning. Definitely check it out if you get a chance.

August: Osage County

once you're family, you don't escape
I should start by noting that I've never seen the play on which "August: Osage County" is based. That said, I interpreted the movie as having the same basic point as "Hillbilly Elegy": when you come from a screwed-up family, you never escape the drama. There have been a number of movies depicting reunions that open old wounds, but I'd say that the performances in this movie make it special. The characters played by Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper make you feel as if you're walking on eggshells. It's not the greatest movie of any of the cast members, but the intensity makes it one that you have to see. Not surprisingly, both Streep and Roberts received Academy Award nominations for their roles. The rest of the cast includes Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch and Abigail Breslin.

Queen Bees

the age of innocence
On the one hand, it's interesting to see a movie where the protagonists are elderly women. That's the last thing that you expect to see amid Hollywood's rampant sexism and ageism, least of all in an era when they want to churn out nothing but superhero movies. On the other hand, Michael Lembeck's "Queen Bees" is too treacly in some parts to be a completely enjoyable movie. Maybe it couldn't be anything else; would we take seriously a movie in which elderly women go around kicking ass?

If nothing else, it's tolerable for its short run. With a cast that includes Ellen Burstyn, James Caan (in his final role during his lifetime), Ann-Margret, Jane Curtin and Christopher Lloyd, we can say that the movie stars the possessed girl's mom, Sonny Corleone, Tommy's mom, Prymaat Conehead and Doc Brown/Judge Doom/Uncle Fester.


open wide
One of the many movies about someone who turns out to have disturbing eating habits casts Daisy Edgar-Jones as a young woman looking for a boyfriend. She hooks up with a man, only to discover something ugly.

"Fresh" won't be for everyone. It's not the sort of movie that you should try to analyze or anything. I guess that you could call it the sort of movie that you watch if you're in for something shocking. It's certainly got some nasty scenes, but I didn't find it disgusting.

Aside from Edgar-Jones, the cast includes Sebastian Stan (Jeff Gillooly in "I, Tonya") and Andrea Bang (Janet on "Kim's Convenience").

Major League

Chris Chesser, RIP
Chris Chesser recently died, so I decided to watch this movie that he produced. I had heard about David S. Ward's "Major League" for years but have only now gotten around to seeing it. It makes no pretense about being silly, depicting a group of misfits assembled to try and restore a baseball team's former glory. I will say that a lot of the stuff here wouldn't be considered acceptable nowadays. In addition to having a team called the Indians - complete with one of the most offensive logos of all time - the movie also depicts the protagonist shadowing a woman and trying to get her to hook up with him; I believe that's called stalking.

Aside from that, it's a funny movie. In addition to Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Wesley Snipes and Rene Russo, watch for a young Dennis Haysbert as the voodoo-practicing Cuban.

Little Women

everything that can be
Undeniably, Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" is one of the great entries in US literature. I've never read it, only seen movie adaptations. The first one that I saw was Jane Campion's 1994 movie. I later saw Greta Gerwig's 2019 movie. I've now seen Mervyn LeRoy's 1949 movie, which won an Academy Award for Color Production Design. As with the others that I've seen, this movie's strengths outweigh its weaknesses. Since you most likely know the story, I'll say that June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor, Janet Leigh and Margaret O'Brien put on some of the most splendid performances as Jo, Amy, Meg and Beth. Some of the lines come across as a little silly - I'm sure that the Hays Code forced them to change certain things - but there's no denying the effort that everyone put into their roles. Even with the limited resources of the 1940s, they managed to give one the feeling of 1860s New England. And seriously, did Janet Leigh ever look more radiant than she does in that pink gown?

The point is that this is one of the all-time classics. Every film buff should watch this movie at least once (and I do recommend the 1994 and 2019 versions).

Stromboli (Terra di Dio)

Woody Guthrie's likely inspiration
I learned of the island of Stromboli from the song "Ingrid Bergman". Woody Guthrie wrote the song, expounding on his admiration of the actress, and how he wanted to get slinky with her on the aforementioned island. Billy Bragg put it to music, as he did with a number of Guthrie's other unpublished songs (including a decidedly unflattering one about Fred Trump, who owned the apartment in which Guthrie lived).

Anyway, Roberto Rossellini's "Stromboli" casts Bergman as Lithuanian refugee Karin, who marries an Italian fisherman, only to get disillusioned with life on the island where he lives. What I liked about the movie was how it contrasted Karin's values and those of the town where the fisherman lives. One of the most effective scenes was when the fisherman sicced a ferret on a rabbit - considering it a cute little game - horrifying Karin. The movie was good in that sense, but it seems like it could've had more substance otherwise. Maybe I'm underestimating the movie, since it's an example of Italian neorealism, but I just didn't find it as solid as Fellini's movies. Worth seeing, if only once.

I wonder if Arlo Guthrie has any memory of his dad's interactions with the Trumps.

The Enforcer

noir shift
Film noir was a well established genre by 1951. This makes "The Enforcer" especially interesting. Bretaigne Windust's movie is basically a shift from typical noir to modern police procedural; whereas noir tended to depict a lot of corruption, this movie makes the authorities look honest. I understand that the movie is based on investigations into an organized crime ring known as Murder Inc. Sign of the times, I guess.

As expected, Humphrey Bogart puts on an intense performance as a district attorney trying to bring down the crime ring. He has excellent support from Ted de Corsia, Everett Sloane and Zero Mostel. While it's no film noir, it still has some shocking scenes. Not the best movie but tolerable.

Since it's a Warner Bros movie but not released on DVD by Warner Bros, I assume that the copyright ran out. I wonder which Bugs, Daffy or Porky cartoon got shown before it in the theater.

Cocaine Bear

Stranger Things' cultural savoir-faire + a willingness to be outlandish = one cool movie
If you hear that the actress who played Effie in the Hunger Games movies has directed a flick in which a forest animal goes on a coked-up rampage, you'll probably think that there's some sort of joke going around. Well fear not. Elizabeth Banks's "Cocaine Bear" knows exactly what kind of movie it is and then some. In addition to the plot - loosely based on a real incident - we get some references to '80s pop culture (as well as the era's drug scare).

And of course there's the cast. In addition to the CGI ursine star, we have Keri Russell, Brooklynn Prince (of "The Florida Project"), Margo Martindale, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, O'Shea Jackson Jr (Ice Cube's son), and Ray Liotta in his final role. Basically, this is one movie that you're bound to enjoy. This plus the miniseries "Black Bird" jointly constituted an outstanding end to Ray Liotta's career.

In conclusion, the odds were definitely in Elizabeth Banks's favor!

False Positive

pregnancy is a hardcore topic
John Lee's "False Positive" is the latest pregnancy-themed horror flick. The, well, positive is that the entire cast puts on fine performances. Ilana Glazer, Justin Theroux, Pierce Brosnan, Gretchen Mol and the rest play their roles effectively. The negative is that the movie is a bland cliche. Not predictable, but still relies on too many tropes that we've seen before. I can take the gross stuff, but not the trite stuff. Personally, my favorite pregnancy-themed horror flick is the 1974 TV movie "The Stranger Within", starring Barbara Eden and George Grizzard.

I guess that if there's nothing else to watch, it's okay. Just don't make this flick your first choice.

Black Bird

Ray Liotta, RIP
Ray Liotta died last year, while this miniseries was running, in fact. I finally got around to watching it. What a story. Having never heard of Larry Hall before watching it made "Black Bird" all the more gripping. Like Dennis Lehane's "Mystic River" (turned into a movie by Clint Eastwood), it's about the evil that people can do.

All in all, this is one of the best - and most intense - miniseries that I've seen. Apple TV has given us some amazing work with this, along with "For All Mankind", "Severance" and "The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey". Definitely a fine end to Ray Liotta's career, with excellent performances also from Taron Egerton, Paul Walter Hauser, Sepideh Moafi and Greg Kinnear.

Don't Bother to Knock

Sugar Kowalczyk meets Mrs. Robinson meets Mr. Howell
What do you picture when you think of Marilyn Monroe. No doubt you think of the twentieth century's supreme beauty, always playing sweet, benevolent characters who wouldn't harm a fly.

Well you're in for a surprise with Roy Ward Baker's "Don't Bother to Knock". This movie casts cinema's most famous blonde as a babysitter with an unpleasant backstory that she can't fully shake. Trust me, Monroe's character does some things that you will never see coming.

It's not a great movie, but an interesting one. Accompanying Monroe onscreen are Richard Widmark as a pilot who suddenly figures into her life, and a young Anne Bancroft as a lounge singer (one of her songs later got sung by Robin Williams's character in "The Fisher King"). Also appearing are Jim Backus, Elisha Cook Jr (an occasional co-star of Vincent Price's movies) and Verna Felton (a voice actress for Disney's animated features, such as the Fairy Godmother in "Cinderella").

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