MarieGabrielle

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Reviews

The Defiant Ones
(1958)

Solid performances, reflecting small town America
John "Joker" Jackson (Tony Curtis), and Noah Cullen (excellent portrayal by Sidney Poitier), have escaped from prison and are shackled together. The story, well directed by message film director Stanley Kramer (see also the excellent "Ship of Fools", as well as his masterpiece "On The Beach" with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner).

At any rate, the film has some good scenes, they are in the brush and swamps of Georgia, trying to escape a pack of bloodhounds, and the Sheriff well portrayed by Theodore Bikel The fact that the way Poitier is treated , simply because he is black, is a time warp as when a woman offers the refugees food, but first asks Curtis if she "should give the other guy some as well". Tony Curtis is good in the role of a desperate malcontent, his accent a bit too NY but his acting usually overcomes this. He is angry at society, that he wants to be a "success". The dated phrase "Charlie Potatoes", humorously shows us the society of 1950's America and its values of what success means. Money, at any cost.

The sheriff;s bounty hunter assistant has several bloodhounds and Dobermans "I hope you treat them dogs as go as your grandma" cracks Bikel. The dogs and how they are cared for (better than minorities and the poor) is a point of reference.

Bikel as sheriff has a run in with Lon Chaney Jr., a man who lets the prisoners free from a town lynch mob. The seething anger and hypocrisies of small town America are well manifested here. Racism, ignorance, bigotry.

This film was made in 1958, an important message. 10/0

The Quiet American
(2002)

Beautifully filmed...relevant post 911
This film requires more than one view to pick up subtleties in the stories. The parallel story of a British reporter, Thomas Fowler, brilliantly portrayed by Michael Caine, his mistress Phuong (Do Thi Ha Yen), and her predicament, as well the overall quagmire that was Indo-China, American interference, and later Vietnam.

It is filmed with illusory, tropical backdrops to a scene of hundreds of recently murdered citizens, noted "probably killed by just another faction" by a fellow war correspondent of Fowler's.

The sets are realistic without being overwrought (i.e. Platoon). The story has a soft side to Caine's character and his love for Phuong, and the desires of an older man to find final happiness, in a sense. He remarks to Brendan Fraser (Alden Pyle, a US intelligence agent, posing as a physician treating Trychoma), that if he were to lose Phuong it would be the end of his life. The problem is his British wife is Catholic and refuses divorce. This would not be a very valid reason these days.

Caine is excellent, giving a voice over finessed view of war torn Vietnam, the tragedies of staged bombings, and his impressions of what "the story behind the story" here is.

The visuals are trans formative, and we see a new dictator, General The (secretly being funded by US ), who interviews with Fowler about his visions for a "new Vietnam" Neither the French Colonialists nor the Communists can "fix " it. So what then?.

It is nice that this is left as an open ended question leaving the audience to have to THINK. Graham Greene is an excellent author and one must read the book which this film encapsulates. Highly recommended. 10/10.

Synanon
(1965)

Stumbled upon this film during research
regarding Manson era, S. California and the drug issue.

Suffice to say, this film is an interesting squib on the socio-political era of the late 1960's. While it offers no answers it gives the audience a glimpse into the times.

Look for Jay Sebring (1969 victim of the Manson/Tex Watson murders), as well as Stella Stevens as a junkie in rehabilitation, she looks quite well put together. The actor portraying Zanke Albo, who is involved with Stevens is quite good as a heroin addict.

Eartha Kitt looks lovely, is convincing as a drug addict at the end of the line, living at "Synanon", in Santa Monica California headquarters.

The true story of Synanon itself has a very interesting back-story, apparently the founder Dieterich (well portrayed by an aging Edmond O'Brien) at one point had raised millions. Initially if one researches, the group had helped addicts, but later became a cult without good purpose.

This film is often shown on satellite via Universal or MGM and I rate it a 9 because it is very interesting to those of us interested in 1960's American culture.

Also, I will not call it "counter" culture because research into the political era shows how very divided this country was, and indeed, still is. Similar issues and divisiveness exist, even to this day.

VERY interesting 9/10.

Freeway Killer
(2010)

worth it for true crime die hards...
It is interesting to see Leet in the principal role of Freeway killer William Bonin, who apparently was an extremely disturbed individual who also teamed up with young boys he either picked up hitchhiking, or at local parties in the area of Southern Los Angeles.

The product of a pedophile grandfather and alcoholic mother (we only see a glimpse of his mother, a psychological wreck for certain). Yet none of the back-story of Bonin can explicate the heinous acts of kidnapping and torture he put his victims through, in real life.

There is also an odd scene where his friend "Vern" is dressed as wizard, into the occult and Tarot cards, and helps host parties to attract young boys. (Reminiscent of John Wayne Gacy, Des Plaines Illinois serial killer).

Actor Michael Rooker (from JFK film), is excellent as the detective who finally trails the killer, there is an especially good scene at a local newsstand, while Bonin is salivating over the headlines and murders, Rooker is observing him casually. Then Bonin suddenly turns to him to try and out him as a detective.

If you like this type film you may also be interested in "The Hillside Stranglers" with Billy Zane and Dennis Farina as the killers (actually a good true crime story due for a re-make). As well as the Gacy film with Brian Dennehy, in the lead role as John Wayne Gacy.

The story is based on facts, and a cautionary tale for random young people who will just trust any stranger. This story shows,no matter how friendly a sociopath may seem, they are chameleons, and capable of anything. You may also like criminologist author Michael Schecter's book "Serial Killers" . truly surreal and horrifying.

8/10

An American Crime
(2007)

Keener is excellent, as is Ellen Page...
As victim Sylvia Likens, Ellen Page (a young newcomer here) is very believable. Catherine Keener is excellent (as she usually is) in the understated performance here of a monster. In reality, Gertrude Baniszewski was apparently an untreated sociopath who had many children, lived in Indiana, and had neighbors who "heard nothing" despite abuse and nefarious screaming at her downtrodden home.

It is filmed realistically, and brutally. Having researched a few true crime cases, I would be interested to see the Director here address the Sharon Tate murders. We know Americans have been lied to by THAT particular story.

With the cinematography, he clearly has a true feel for the brutality and starkness of what these crimes reflect about an average, lower class community in America. Keener is excellent as Gertrude/"Gerty", a woman who has a passel of children, an ex husband who was a deadbeat, and clearly has several psychological problems.

The audience will see James DiFranco as her young lover (actually he was two years younger than her daughter Paula)

The true crime behind this film is telling and horrific. Everyone who has a social conscience should watch this film, to see the plausible deniability and denial that exists in America, regarding true crime, even today. 10/10.

Flores Raras
(2013)

Gloria Pires as Lota De Macedo Soares...
Lovely. A story here that is not overshadowed by the relationships, politics, or agenda. It is, simply beautifully filmed, the beaches of Rio De Janeiro, the beautiful home Lota has deigned in part to accommodate her new lover, poet Elizabeth Bishop, completely played by Miranda Otto.

Otto is at once restrained yet yearning, a Vassar graduate visiting her friend, who initially is puzzled (and indeed overwhelmed) by the beauty and passion of South America.

She plays the American New England spinster type well, without a stereotype here. We can feel she wants, and NEEDS to break free from societal restraints.

The filming of the rain forests, the owls at night, the visuals are incredible. Lota Soares was politically connected and designed the park near Carioca beach, the title infers, reaching for the moon has so may more connotations for each woman.

What is most refreshing is the way this film is written, sensitive to the issues each woman experiences, it is an individual and a private journey.

The actress portraying Carlotta Soares is affecting and sad, and Miranda Otto is quite believable as Bishop. The story is beautiful and sad, and the scenery of Brazil is not to be missed, simply beautiful, and beautifully filmed. 10/10

A Walk on the Moon
(1999)

very nicely done...captures the times
This film is the basic story of 1969, Marty and Pearl Kantrowitz a couple who married young and have two children, on vacation in upstate NY. Anything north of the city is "upstate" and they take vacation near the well known "Nevele" and Concord Hotels, only at a more down at heel bungalow campground.

The atmosphere of the Catskills bungalow and the rather tacky but fun atmosphere is realistic. Tovah Feldshuh as Lillian is excellent, she realizes something is amiss with Pearl and lets her son know, calling him in Brooklyn.

The Moon walk itself is secondary to the actual story of America in the turbulent 1960's, Woodstock, and social unrest, but the story is not heavy handed.

Nor is it a complete miss like the faint hearted "1969" film with Robert Downey Jr., which attempts to address the same time period in America, and misses the point. Entirely.

Pearl Kantrowitz, well portrayed by Diane Lane feels something is missing, she has married too young, and subsequently meets Walker Jerome, a hippie who is known as the "Blouse man" (announced over the intercom by Julie Kavner's unmistakable voice ), when he brings his bus of clothing and jewelry to the camp site. Viggo Mortensen as Walker Jerome, is believable as a young man who eventually gets involved with Pearl, hoping for more.

The story rings true because it is simple, but believable and even sad. The affair with him, the ultimate fact that she realizes her life is passing by, but she does love her husband and children as well. and its time to say good bye to lofty dreams. There is a decent soundtrack including Joni Mitchell, and many other gems from that era. Liev Schreiber as Marty Kantrowitz is sympathetic and funny, attempting to dance to Jimi Hendrix at the end of the film.

The story is memorable without cheap sentiment, and a rare thing we see from Hollywood deserves praise. It is not a cheap romantic comedy with over the top actors, just a believable vignette which will touch you as the audience.

During the credits I noticed it was produced by Dustin Hoffman as well as Tony Goldwyn. Well done. 9/10.

Hollywoodland
(2006)

well written, and Adrien Brody is excellent....
This story may attract an audience which even may have no interest in George Reeves himself, or the "Superman" series, a faded far away time. But it also a story of deceptions, corruption, mendacity and of course murder.

Diane Lane as the former showgirl, Toni Mannix, happens upon young actor George Reeves (Ben Affleck) at a Hollywood party. She becomes involved with him and apparently as older woman feels she has a few good years left, so wants to keep Reeves as her ego boost. A "kept" man, she buys him a house in Benedict Canyon which her husband (who has his own mistress and dalliances) gladly pays for to keep her occupied.

Lane has been in some rather mediocre films lately, so deserves credit for this realistic role of Toni Mannix. Eddie Mannix is well portrayed by Bob Hoskins. Eddie Mannix himself, if you read his biography was the right arm of Louis B. Mayer, MGM and its enforcement of the golden years of the studio. It makes for an interesting read as well.

Indeed, the actual factual story is about Eddie Mannix, his VP position at MGM and the role of Howard Strickland as "the fixer" in the times when MGM studios ruled Hollywood with an iron fist. They also ruled actors, their careers, and possibly (if one has read of the murder mystery of Jean Harlow's husband, Paul Bern) have had involvement in many cover-ups.

Adrien Brody as the outside observer, almost reminds one of Nick Carraway in "The Great Gatsby" (referring to Fitzgerald's book, not the recent abysmal commercial movie with Leonardo di Caprio).

We see him as he attempts to speak to Toni Mannix about the Reeves murder and she is a silhouette, saying "he was shot" but revealing nothing further about Reeves' death. As a sometime private investigator, Louis Simo is an outsider trying to piece the puzzle together.

Reeves died an evening when there ere three other people present . His sometime girlfriend Lenore Lemmon (Robin Tunney is believable, but a bit over the top as a cheap NY hustler), writer Robert Condon and another woman, who all subsequently stated that Reeves simply shot himself directly in the head as a result of long term depression over his career. There were however, gunshots in the floor as well, which LAPD never explained. At the scene of the murder also were found Catholic mass cards, which some have suggested were left by Toni Mannix, who in her life mourned Reeves' death and never re-married after her husband, Eddie Mannix died.

The story is very good, and while I am not a fan of Ben Affleck, he does have the cadence here of George Reeves, a rather bygone era of "movie star" ambitions which for Reeves himself were never achieved in his life. Thee is a sense of tawdriness and disdain Reeves himself felt for the Hollywood "system" and the character he portrayed on TV just to try get a film career going, which actually never materialized for him.

The back story with Reeves' mother (excellent cameo by Lois Smith as Helen Bessalo), is also relevant. There is a tragic story to the upbringing of George Reeves and what depressions and failures he may have had in his life as well as the abandonment of his father in real life. His mother also apparently lied to him about his father and reasons he left.

And it is indeed, THIS aspect of the mystery, which helps the story to meld as something more than just a has been celebrity and tawdry Hollywood. We see Adrien Brody as he watches his estranged son, a young boy with a new stepfather, and how his young son idolized "Superman" ( a rather silly series at best, but it clearly had an impact on children of that time). As Louis Simo, he is in a state of flux, drinking, resenting his choice to feed off of the seaminess of his job, but who still in the end tries to do the right thing and mend his relationship with his young son. He relates to Reeves' tragic death in a very personal way, seeing that this may be his final chance as well.

After seeing this film again on TMC I hope to see Adrien Brody in more suspense and drama. He clearly offers many layers to the audience and has much more to offer in the way of his talent for drama and subtlety. Even though the character of Louis Simo is on the periphery, the story works because we empathize and see the world of Hollywood through his eyes, and not some ephemeral filter with which plastic Hollywood is often shown to the masses.

The Hollywood of the MGM "golden" days" was not so golden on its underbelly, and the hypocrisy of it and how people view it is addressed in the story here. It does not come off as a cheap parody however, unlike the TV we see today which is indeed pure trash.

9/10.

Den skaldede frisør
(2012)

Good job by Brosnan...well written
I normally do not like the typical American romantic trite comedy, which is cartoon-ish, unrealistic, and reads like a Hallmark card.

This film is, happily, none of those. It is a very well-written story about several characters converging, The wife with cancer, older, whose daughter is to be married in Italy. The character Brosnan plays is an unavailable father (whose son turns out to be gay and not wanting marriage, in the end). Her husband is also a loser who cheats, and yet wants her back in the end, just for his convenience.

There are a few annoying characters such as the frivolous actress portraying "Benedicta", a former sister in law who continues to pursue Brosnan, who lost his wife and has been a widower.

It is not a straight comedy, there are some very good scenes such as mother and daughter talking about marriage, how things don't always work out, and generally how life can throw us curve balls when we least expect it.

The end is positive and hopeful, and while I am not a fan I thought Pierce Brosnan was very good in this type role and had some depth we don't normally see. Highly Recommended. 8/10

Frances
(1982)

Excellent performance by Lange
This film is a stand out performance by Jessica Lange, who at this point in time appears in some films as the neurotic mother(as in "Prozac nation"), which covers the issue of clinical depression in a rather convoluted manner.

This film details actress Frances Farmer's life, early success, stage and screen, her contempt for Hollywood superficiality and the eventual downward spiral f her career, as well as her sanity.

The scenes with esteemed NY playwright Clifford Odets are interesting, well portrayed by Jeffrey DeMunn. Lange looks lovely, fragile yet tough, a defiant and independent spirit, especially considering this was the era of 1930's and 1940's.

Her mother is well-portrayed by the rather schizoid Kim Stanley ("Séance for Wet Afternoon'). Ms. Stanley portrays a narcissistic, controlling and even malevolent force in Frances' life.

When Frances tires of Hollywood facade and "glamour", she states to her mother she just wants to live her own life, quietly, and rejects Hollywood. This seemed to be the mechanism which enraged her mother, and eventually causes her to have Frances committed to the Western Asylum in Washington State.

Many books have been written (although the supposed lobotomy issue has been debunked), but clearly Frances underwent insulin and other barbaric treatments while committed to the barbaric asylum. Lange is very believable here, disheveled, angry, but also edgy and raw. And not necessarily "in the wrong" despite American society and it treatment of emotionally disturbed inmates at the time.

In a disturbing scene with psychiatrist, "Dr. Symington" it is evident at the time that railroading patients into involuntary commitment was all too commonplace. Frances may have been a common bipolar patient who would have responded to talk therapy, but this was never given a chance. Indeed, she was never given a chance.

The book "Will There Really be a Morning?" is also a good reference for those interested in delving into Frances Farmer's biography. While some have mentioned this film doesn't accurately portray the story, I think overall the audience gets a clear sense of the despair, longing and passion which were interwoven in Miss Farmer's life, and Jessica Lange does an excellent portrayal here. Highly recommended. 9/10.

Behind the Candelabra
(2013)

wow...worth watching for Douglas
Michael Douglas deserves credit for his part in this rather bizarre supposed documentary. Other than passing factoids and news blurbs, I am not familiar with Liberace, other than the obvious media stories and a few appearances he had on Johnny Carson back in the day.

Liberace's sometime friend, Scott Thorson, while in real life is apparently a sordid character (We ARE in Hollywood, no one gets a free lunch). Anyway while Damon can be annoying in 'wholesome' type characters, he does okay here. Although I believe that for real facts one may want to research more.

At any rate the lifestyle of Liberace is explored, the sumptuous, over the top decor, the dogs, the hangers on, the users, the creepy plastic surgeon (well played by a nearly unrecognizable Rob Lowe).

Michael Douglas and his visual effects are quite stunning: the make up here is on the mark. It is something you may find yourself re-watching in disbelief. His effeminate characteristics are also similar to Liberace, the relationship with his mother, and how he actually was relieved once she passed away.

Douglas really does seem to be the bilious, blatant and attention seeking persona of Liberace, quite a contrast in performance to Wall street raider Gordon Gecko. Here Douglas transforms into a caricature, believable, humorous, or creepy at times.

The pastiche here probably doesn't follow reality, and clearly Liberace had many unsavory experiences, and so the tales we hear now may not all be true. The film makes Thorson a sympathetic jilted boy toy, but perhaps the real story is quite different. He certainly overcame the relationship quick enough to sue the Estate of Liberace for six figures.

Audiences not interested in this subject matte may be surprised, and Douglas' performance alone is well worth watching. 8/10.

James Dean
(1976)

Interesting film...
Written from the perspective of Dean's long term friend Bast (well portrayed by Robert Brandon), this film as some good quirks and sub- texts to it.

Actor Stephen McHattie does have the affect and appearance of Dean in some instances, he portrays the early start of James Dean as a somewhat transient and alienated life. Living in NYC and finally getting accepted to the prestigious Actors Studio, but living with a big name actor, who is just someone he owes a debt to, and to "pay the piper" as he tells his friend.

The section regarding Dean's earlier family life could have been better explicated, but the audience does see his Hollywood relationships, including some decent cameos by Brooke Adams and Meg Foster (as Liz "Dizzy" Sheridan, who appeared in "Rebel Without a Cause"), and now plays Seinfeld's mother (credited as Liz Sheridan).

Overall worth seeing , but better to rent a DVD or purchase it, for the true researcher into Dean's checkered history. This film shown on MAVTV channel in US is terribly edited, and MAVTV is not a good viewing experience, at all. 8/10.

The Member of the Wedding
(1952)

American south and its discontents...
Carson McCullers wrote short stories on oddities and anomalies in the south and its culture. This film gives us hints of the schizophrenic nature of the south, which indeed still exists today.

The character of Frankie Addams is,without a doubt, disjointed and at times over the top. But she is at the awkward age of 14, and believes the world is revolving around her mini-drama and imagined victim-hood. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Janice and Jarvis (Frankie's older brother, headed to Camp Lejeune for boot camp and the war) are getting married, and this is a pivotal point in Frankies life. It seems nothing is good enough. Frankie is a reject in the neighborhood "treehouse club" and she is jealous (at first) of piano player Mary Littlejohn, who is more attractive to the boys of the neighborhood.

Ethel Waters and the subtext of Honey Brown, his trouble with local police, and the general prejudice of the south is touched upon.

Granted while Julie Harris is shrill and a bit annoying, it actually points to the fact that indeed her "problems" matter little in the grand scheme of things, in fact "The Wedding" itself is almost a minor aberration, when we look at the state of American culture during this era, segregation and the suffocating, alienating sense of it.

Ms. Waters sings in the film , it adds a touch of melancholy as we continue the narrative to its conclusion.Brandon De Wilde, as young Jon Henry also gives a sense of antagonism, and that "something is not quite right".

If you can get past Harris, the story itself tells of a niche in American history which no one seems to acknowledge, even at the present time. Recommended reading as well. 8/10.

Bugsy
(1991)

worth watching again- despite hype
A good film, while not classic, engages the viewer and makes them care about the characters. Today in 2013, we see VERY little of this. Upon re-watching Bugsy this past weekend (although it already has hundreds of reviews) It is worth my noting that its more than watchable, has some notable performances (Annette Bening looks lovely, although the accent is a bit off). Beatty while some trite family scenes and mistress vs. family man theme are utilized, is good.

I avoid all big blockbuster films because: story is what matters. (Maybe not to the demographic that watches trash reality TV) but, I prefer a good film noir with real actors. "Bugsy" delivers an engaging narrative, and plus we have Ben Kingsley as Meyer Lansky (excellent understated performance).

Harvey Kietel, Joe Mantegna, and Elliot Gould also as some of the members of Bugsy's "employees". The sets (especially of Beverly Hills home of Virginia Hill) are lush and interesting. The desert , and the scene of Ben Siegel's (Bugsy's) epiphany that casinos in Las Vegas could be a goldmine for the Mafia and its interests. Of note (and humorous) is Meyer Lansky (Kingsley) intoning that "what Ben is telling us is the desert is a good place to trap people into spending their money"...truer words about speculation and profit motive never spoken!.

Bening looks lovely as Mistress Virginia Hill, a Chicago mob accessory who had deep roots in the organization, if you read her true biography. Intriguing character for certain. Miss Bening is an excellent actress, she assumes the role without the awkward false performances we see in some other bit part actors (Bebe Neuwirth for example, is miscast as Countess Difrasso, and lacks authenticity. Most TV regulars do, in a big film which requires sublime performance, they seem cartoon like and ruin the scene.

Will not spoil the outcome, suffice to say there is adequate suspense, decent performances and an overall narrative that keeps the audience engaged.

Warren Beatty himself engenders some empathy for the character of Bugsy (no easy feat), and while he uses looks to accomplish the persona, it still works. Highly recommended. 8/10.

Blue Valentine
(2010)

Blue, sad Valentine...
Well done, and nuanced the story is. Ryan Gosling and Miceelle Williams portray a disaffected couple. They have a six year old daughter named Frankie, the one thing initially that seems to keep them together.

Gosling portrays a man who , works as a mover, their neighborhood looks something like Staten Island (not upscale, not the worst) Their family of origin is rather absent, disinterested.

Williams always gives a good performance and does not disappoint.

She recites the names of US Presidents, proving she has good memory, she wants to attend medical school she says (This is before marriage and child puts an end to her aspirations).

The undercurrent is really, a ballad for a lost America. Indeed the scenes evoke a sort of blue, pallid environment. The world they live in is not promising. Gosling's wardrobe is notably lackluster and tattered, at the end of the film he is wearing an America eagle, a sign of faded glory.

The film makes you sad, not merely for the marriage that eventually dissipates, but also because it portrays a common story, young couple, just trying to endure daily life, and it becomes impossible.

Good performances in a rather sporadic, but interesting message film. Recommended.

Biutiful
(2010)

Disturbing, and stark...
This film has many aspects to it and requires more than one viewing. It has several layers, including a theme of redemption through Uxbal's children, Ana and Mateo.

Uxbal basically earns a living through the underground of Barcelona, and provides cheap labor and street merchants.He is also diagnosed with prostate cancer, in late stage.

His estranged wife Mirambra is bipolar and works as a sometime massage girl, her lifestyle is disjointed and confused.

The streets of the city are frenetic and colorful, appalling yet beautiful. The contrasts here are shown through his caring for the children . Mateo a 6 year old and his sister Ana, the actress portraying Ana deserves mention, she is especially sad and effective, played by Hanaa Boachio.

Overall, the photography bespeaks of a lost world, lost people trying to do the best they can to survive. Uxbal tries to help Chineses illegals by purchasing heaters for the warehouse, but a tragedy occurs. His soul is besieged with guilt, also knowing as he tells his fortune teller friend that he will leave is children behind in a hostile world, he does not expect the universe to "take care" of them.

The photography of the city at night especially is beautiful, flocks of birds taking off from the bridge, the steel and cold of the city, a mother walking her newborn in a carriage. There are also some redemptive scenes wherein he helps Ige, the wife of a Senegalese merchant who was arrested, to stay in his apartment with her newborn baby.

There is a good story here, excellent performance by Javier Bardem who manages to get empathy although his character is unsavory in this film. The city and its environs as a backdrop add to the narrative, plus evocative and disturbing photography. Highly recommended.

Message in a Bottle
(1999)

Not a fan of Sparks and predictable romance, but...
This is a well done romance genre that you may even be able to watch with a spouse or boyfriend. "The Notebook" was far too sentimental and trite. But this film has some good visuals, an unusual (if far-fetched) premise. And solid performances by Robin Wright, Kevin Costner as Garrett Blake, and Paul Newman in a cameo role as Dodge Blake, Garret's cantankerous father.

Primarily Teresa Osborne is divorced, lonely, and on vacation finds a bottle with a love letter "Dear Katherine" The letter is a "mea culpa", an apology to a true love.

Osborne works for the Chicago Tribune, and returns from vacation, motivated to create a story and research the true origins of the bottle and who actually sent this to whom. Yes, this requires suspension of disbelief. At any rate, the region is traced to an Outer Banks, NC location.

The visuals, ocean and sense of loss are used repeatedly, beautiful and invoke a sense of longing and loss. Teresa at first meets Garret Osborne's father Dodge. He is humorous at times, drinks beer and tell his son (Garrett, who has been mourning the death of Katherine) that he needs to get on with his life.

Garret Blake, who has spent an inordinate of time in mourning for his wife, is the author of the letter. Teresa tries to engage him in more conversation about his deceased wife. Eventually as this is a romance, she and Garret develop an intimacy. It is visual, candles, ocean and rain. But nicely done and not overly talky or trite.

I will not spoil the ending as there is a twist to the ending in this story. It is an interesting story, and not overly mired in sentimentality. 8/10.

The Tree of Life
(2011)

Beautifully filmed...has the director's musical stamp on it as well
To begin, Director Terrence Malick films the scenes and juxtaposes images. At times there is an incongruity. There are interesting visuals of a forest, the beginning of time, and references to biological and biochemical interactions.

The story itself, Mr. O'Brien (Brad Pitt) as an ordinary working man in Waco, Texas in the 1950's with three sons to raise. His wife, portrayed by Chastain, does a good portrayal here of the mother, at times oppressed, at times happy and joyful just to have her children, especially when Dad is away trying to get his creative patents (which never come to fruition).

The authentic era of the 1950's is re-visited here, with elaborate music score and visuals. We see the mother hanging laundry outside on the clothesline. We see a small town where people dress formally just to go to the general store, and war veterans returning from World War II. We see the children playing in a seemingly idyllic American town, running under sprinklers, playing with dogs, chasing after a city truck spraying DDT randomly.

There is a sadness to the family story. Jack the oldest has ongoing conflicts with his father, and at first is consumed with anger for being disciplined. A father who is rigidly following the dogma of an "American Dream" in some sense.

Brad Pitt is believable in this role. Understated, but a strict religious man who believes God will provide as long as you go to work everyday and are a 'good man'. However even his 10 year old son sees the hypocrisy. The father may take them to church and explain the preacher's interpretations of Job and biblical references of material loss. Yet at the same time he drives the boys through well-to-do areas, coaching them on how they must succeed, and be hardened to 'get ahead' in America.

There are many nuances to the film, it needs to be viewed more than once, and granted the underlying themes are subtle.

The ending has visuals with references to, opening doors, entering gates of consciousness. As "adult Jack" Sean Penn is the embodiment of a boy's journey to himself.

The music is Brahms, and tells the unveiling of one boy's life, with references to incipient life itself at the start of the film.

This is not a film for the myopic, or any wanting concrete answers. It simply is about the reality of life, in that we are only human, a part of creation, but cannot presume to know what God wants. Or even what we ourselves sometimes want or need, until we have gone through the journey.

Highly recommended. 10/10.

Tenderness
(2009)

well written...and not predictable
Russell Crowe as a detective who is living somewhat in limbo. He has an instinct Eric Komenko, a juvenile who killed his parents may kill again. So he follows him through a void of nameless suburbs in upstate New York.

The character of Lori, a disaffected teen who tags along with Eric. At first we aren't aware of her psychological motivation.

There is a connection Lori has to Eric, the actress portraying Lori is particularly affecting, she likes Eric, but he is interested in Maria, a girl he met in prison. Lori is a tragic figure, trapped and insecure. Wanting "out" but not sure how to change her life.

Eric is in his own way trapped from his past actions.

And Russell Crowe is very realistic here,an older retired detective, his wife is critically ill and this is sort of a final mission he feels he should complete.

The film is a bit slow but psychologically interesting. Crowe is out of character, and does well here as an 'everyman' trying to accomplish one possibly meaningful thing in his dead-end career.

Mysterious and ephemeral ending, but recommended.

From Hell
(2001)

Engaging, dark, and will keep your attention...
Johnny Depp, as Inspector Abberline has the daunting task of finding Jack the Ripper, who has killed five or more females who live in the impoverished Whitechapel District of London in 1885.

Victorian England is believably well-constructed here. The film evinces the streets, dark and dank 'doss houses', and the wretched lives on the East End of Whitechapel. It's not glamorized, it was a slum (I have visited London and Mitre Square, while now surrounded by business and banks, is indeed a sad parking area,and a tourist sign still demarcates the victim who was found there.

There are several theories hinted at here, Sir William Gull (excellently portrayed by Ian Holm) the physician to Queen Victoria and her grandson, who was afflicted with a social disease. Sir William was an experienced surgeon and also a Freemason. The Masonic Lodge plays into theories here as well, as the area where several female victims were found mutilated was close by.

However, there are other theories also.

The visuals of this film are noteworthy. The red sky and Westminter Chapel, the cold brutality of winters in an era of workhouses and little options for the impoverished.

While not a solution to the mystery (we may never have one), Depp , Holm and the performance of Heather Graham as Irish street walker and victim "Mary Kelly" is worth watching. You will get a feel for the era.

Sir Ian Holm, as he teaches an anatomy class and states : "the heart is a stubborn muscle, like mahogany, it is almost impossible to burn", as we see the visual in his mind of throwing a victims heart into the boiling kettle in his fireplace.

It is a pastiche of events, but does give one a sense of the murders, and what life must have felt like for those who were not born into royalty in Victorian England. Highly recommended. 10/10.

Burn After Reading
(2008)

Perfect antidote for voter fatigue and disillusion:
This is one of the few political satire/comedies I feel are worthy of recommendation. The characters are shallow, believable, and an amusing depiction of what probably does go on in D.C. in subtler forms. Maybe not so subtle, considering this is an election year.

It starts out with Clooney as a Department of Treasury lackey, his marriage is failing and he utilizes online dating for a distraction. Frances McDormand is excellent as usual, as Linda Litsky, a shallow health club employee who wants plastic surgery to better her dating prospects. She and Chad (Brad Pitt) come across a CD which seems to have national security information, so she and Chad decide to try and sell this to the Russian Embassy.

John Malkovich is the CIA operative who loses his job, loses his wife (Tilda Swinton) and subsequently has a breakdown. His scene when trying to get into his Georgetown brownstone after his ex-wife locks him out is classic.

Coen Brothers farce here covers it all. J.K. Simmons has a cameo as the head of the CIA, and his deadpan portrayal of indifference and cynicism is dead on.

Worth watching a few times, highly recommended. Clever and sardonic, an accurate portrayal of deception, politics and narcissism, which American audiences in particular may appreciate. Well done. 10/10.

The Hunter
(2011)

Introspective...
As mentioned , this film is centered around a mercenary in search of a Tasmanian tiger which has a physiological toxin that is valued by a pharmaceutical multinational corporation, Red Leaf (Good vs. Evil) Pretty basic premise, but yet the story is well told in a subtle manner. Sam Neill and Frances O'Connor as locals in the Australian mountains and terrain. The cinematography is moving, beautiful and harsh at the same time.

Willem Dafoe is very good as the mercenary, he stays with O'Connor and her two children, she has previously lost her husband under mysterious circumstances.

As mentioned, this is not an action, or heavy dialog film. Yet it still has cadence and draws in the viewer. The footage of the Tasmanian tiger is intriguing.

Think Hemingway type story, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro". There are some very good moments in the film, and Dafoe gives a believable performance. The conclusion is interesting also, there is a bitter sadness to it. Recommended. 9/10.

The Kids Are All Right
(2010)

Alternative but not trite...give it a chance
I had recently watched the Directors Cut wherein Lisa Cholodenko discusses the mosaic of family and how she wanted to present a personal story that is relevant to many. I liked her film "Laurel Canyon" and so decided to give this a chance, it has been buried with other blockbuster films in 2010, but this film is worth a second look.

Basically Annette Bening is Nic, and Jules (Julianne Moore) is her wife. They had Joni, their daughter through artificial insemination. Mi Kiawolska is good here as Joni, understated and not high drama, she just wants to meet her "biological" dad. The actor playing Laser, the son is good in a small scene where Ruffalo mentions he doesn't like his friend, then Laser realizes his friend is abusive to a stray dog.Laser drops the friend as a result.

Mark Ruffalo is the biological donor. He plays the role of a somewhat disaffected but successful restaurant owner, he becomes attached to Joni as he realizes one thing in his life missing: basic family.

There are some humorous scenes with Jules (Moore) and Ruffalo as they become sexually attracted. She is unfaithful to "Nic" and Annette Bening is very good in this role, a counterpoint to roles I have seen her play in the past. Her look and cadence is believable, she is simply a life partner to Jules who wants to keep the family together. There are sensitive, real moments of caring, even in her non-verbal acting here. I was surprised at how good it was.

Please don't dismiss this film as just another trendy indie film. It has some very nice moments to it, and is a human story everyone who has ever loved anyone in a difficult marriage, or relationship can understand.

Of particular note, is the performance by Ruffalo (insensitive but trying to change in middle age). When his sometime bed partner wants to spend some time hooking up he finally says: ..."I don't want to be another 50 year old man just doing, you know" ...and the dialog rings true.

Also Moore, as a somewhat airy, but loving person who wants to do something for a career in "landscape design" but ultimately falls into more of a passive role, as Bening (Nic) is the breadwinner.

It is a good film, and not predictable or trite and saccharine. Recommended. 10/10.

Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: JonBenét and the City of Boulder
(2000)

JonBenet would have been 22...
This year, sad to reflect on this.

This film is convoluted and protracted, as a few other critics have mentioned. While a few good performances are presented (Ann-Margret, as Nedra, Patsy Ramsey's mother) and Marge Helgenberger as narcissistic and erratic Patsy Ramsey. Also Kris Kristoffersen is interesting, but portrays detective Lou Smit, who has sided with the Ramseys and offered no other possible explanations, and there were many.

So many people had keys to that house. A Christmas party in 1996 with over 50 people in their Colorado home.

I wanted to like this film as the case even today is intriguing and labyrinthine. But the film diverges onto sub-plots (some unnecessary, the audience knows tabloid reporters will sell their own grandmother for a headline). Ken Howard portrays the D.A., Alex Hunter and yet we do not see Harold Haddon, the defense attorney and the defense side here, and the machinations of the American legal system, the control over Bolder Police Department, and the possible obstructions to justice and obfuscations created by the defense.

By now we in the U.S. have seen many bungled and sad cases like this with "baffled" police and powerful District Attorneys, as well as corrupt defense attorneys. Sad that JonBenet herself may never see justice (the parents motives have been questionable), and new facts may not come to light.

A highly recommended book on this case is recommended: Steve Thomas wrote a few investigative theories, and also Jeffrey Scott Shapiro. Worth looking into for those interested in facts and true crime investigations. A curiosity piece as a movie, but in my opinion the audience today is more savvy and deserves some answers. 5/10.

Incendiary
(2008)

It's not that bad...
This film has been maligned because the director previously directed a "Bridget Jones" movie. Yes, those movies were shallow, but this film "Incendiary" has a few decent points, and Michelle Williams is worth watching.

Basically a neglected housewife who's son and husband are in a soccer match in Chelsea when an act of terrorism is committed. The daily life scenes as we see her apartment and her husbands UN-glamorous job as a bomb prevention specialist are realistic. The beach scenes with her little boy are relate-able without being overly dramatic.

The "letter to Osama" suggested by a hospital nurse is a ridiculous statement to say to a grieving mother who has lost her son and husband. Especially in a random act of terrorism. No doubt anyone who has lost a loved one will agree with this. The grief Michelle Williams emotes is believable here, she is alienated and dissociated from the world around her.

Yes the scene with the stuffed rabbit is a ploy we have seen, but it is believable. A person in this situation is not going to sit in group therapy and want to share all the pain and horror they have just witnessed. The pain is at first internalized and sometimes hidden from the outside world.

The Ewan McGregor character, who has an affair with the grieving mother at the time the incident occurs, seems to be added in at the last minute and extraneous. Other than driving her to the scene of the bombing and visiting her once at the hospital he does not seem to contribute very much to the overall story.

The visuals are very good, the gritty streets of London and the building she lives in, versus the Welllington building of the upper class.

The story itself is worth watching and Michelle Williams gives a sympathetic and nice understated performance here. Don't discount this film. Recommended. 8/10.

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