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A few reviews . . (film or TV) — Page 37

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The Impossible - 2012 - 6/10

“Based on actual events"
Vacationing family tries to stay together after being hammered by tsunami in Thailand.
No syrup or sugar coat on this one.
Just the struggles to survive, stay alive, find help.
Naomi Watts, Ewan MacGregor as leads are dependable as ever, actors playing kids are fine.
Lush scenery, great effects (helped by a robust sound mix), harrowing scenes.
Must see for vacation seekers who envision sandcastles, cool waves, and endless Sangria.

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Sky Sharks - 2020 - 5/10

Passenger airlines are under attack from a school of airborne sharks – well equipped with explosive weapons – being ridden by and under the control of Nazis – zombie Nazis.
Iron Sky fans, this is the film to watch, not the IS sequel.
Of course this is over the top nuts. It is also extraordinarily gory, with gratuitous buxom shtupping.
There is a collapsing Third Reich backstory, and an inspired explanation as to why the baddies had been quiet for 80 years. (The global warming thaw!)
Live action bloodlust mixed with CGI and graphic novel panels.

I must confess I enjoyed this nonsense.

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Side By Side - 2012 - 7/10

Documentary hosted by Keanu Reeves.
He interviewed dozens of directors, cinematographers, editors, color designers, etc . . . about the ongoing transition from old technology to new.
From photo chemical film to digital. And the impact on movies, as we see them.
Many can’t wait to iron out the flaws and drawbacks with the new.
Others were wistful about the loss of “magic” as part of the artistry disappearing, replaced by technology.
Highly engaging for film buffs.

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Murder In Provins - 2019 - 5/10
AKA - La Malediction de Provins

During the reenactment of a medieval hand to hand duel, someone attempts a killing for real.
The target is the director / star / tyrant / sexual predator / all-around jerk.
French police investigate.
Despite catacombs (not sure how realistic) and castle exteriors (shrouded in mist), this could be any episode of “Midsomer Murders,” “Murder She Wrote,” shoot, this could be a Hallmark Mystery.
Why? Because the two cops assigned to solve the case are divorced from each other.
Will they get back together?
The couple have the chemistry of a sack of beets, the script is lame and derivative.
Mediocre across the board. For insomniacs, this oughta work.

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Cult Of The Cobra - 1955 - 5/10

Guilty, childhood pleasure here.
Six postwar GI’s do the turista thing in Asia (India) before shipping home.
They hear of the secretive Cult Of The Cobra, lamias who can transform from human to snake.
For $100.00, the men can view the forbidden ceremony. But - - - NO PHOTOS !!
Their guide repeats several times. No photos! No photos!
Guess what happens? Ha ha ha.
Afterward, the now-Stateside ex-GI’s worry about toxic snake bites.
B-film has acceptable curse premise, snooze inducing love angle (sorry, Marshall Thompson is no romantic hunk), yet boasts a slew of future television “faces.”
Within ten years, their shows included “The F.B.I.,” “The Big Valley,” “Daktari,” “Maverick,” “The Fugitive.”

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The Matrimony - 2007 - 6/10
AKA - 心中有鬼

For many, title is dead giveaway.
Matrimony = Horror film.
Ghost story set in 1930’s Shanghai.
New wife receives orders from her chronically depressed husband: DO NOT venture into a locked room …
Quicker than she can say, “This door is creaky," she channels her inner Pandora.
Lush sets, understated acting, definitely a mood piece, but an old fashioned ghost story.
Main problem is ham fisted sound mix, with music and effects cranked to the max during spooky moments.
Otherwise, decent “Ooooo story.”

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13 Minutes - 2015 - 7/10
AKA - Elser

Dramatization of a World War II footnote.
The 1939 assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler that missed by 13 minutes.
Musician, factory worker, seducer, Georg Elser, decides Adolf is putting fellow Germans on a path to ruination.
He devises a powerful bomb with clockwork timer and places it inside the Munich Bürgerbräukeller.
Single-handedly.
The Gestapo disbelieve and intensify interrogations.
Well acted, and cannily arranged chronology maintain interest throughout.
Nagging questions notwithstanding, a strong drama with passing relevance to current events.

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Zero Focus - 1961 - 6/10
AKA - Zero no Shôten //ゼロの焦点

After their honeymoon, Kenichi heads off on a business trip and tells his wife he will soon return.
Only he disappears.
After failed investigations, she boards a northbound train northwards, in search of her missing husband.
A cracking pace propels the first half of this film. A pile of jump cuts, hold on!
The pace noticeably slows, however, before long exposition sections snuff the energy.
Other have likened this to Hitchcock, but it lacks the tension.
Seen with the 2009 remake, a couple of plot puzzles are clarified.

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Silver Linings Playbook - 2012 - 5/10

Mainstream film I resisted, but was eventually overruled against.
Grieving, dysfunctional widow meets mental case who doesn’t like taking his meds.
Parents are noisy, loud and street spectacles.
In a nutshell, white trash. (Yeah, that ain’t PC.)
When these types are your neighbors, you shun them.
When they are your coworkers, they are generally bosses, and you hate them.
Yet, when a movie is made about them, everyone hollers, “Masterpiece!” and it gets a load of Oscar nods.

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House Of 1000 Dolls - 1967 - 5/10
AKA - La Casa de Las Mil Muñecas

Stunning beauties are being kidnapped by white slavery ring.
Key to this is a smooth magician (Vincent Price) and his wise assistant.
Meanwhile, police close in, as do private investigators, lonely boyfriends …
Good looking film (AIP), but lacks oomph. The “slaves” do little but fidget in negligees.
The story is older than dirt. In fact, Traffic In Souls did this better in 1913.
However … the audio commentary is tremendously entertaining.
David(s) Del Valle and Decoteau discuss Price, George Nader, scandals from Confidential magazine, and story after story of Harry Alan Towers who produced over 100 films, and the tricks and shenanigans associated with him.
The commentary is better, far better, than the film.

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Les Témoins - 2015 - 7/10
AKA - Witnesses

Absorbing French thriller of unearthed corpses, a serial killer, and a wolf.
Parties unknown break into model homes and arrange corpses as family units.
Most of the deceased were freshly dug, a few freshly slain.
Those draw police involvement.
One cop in particular, a famous investigator, comes out of retirement as clues are meant for him.
Not as dark as Scandinavian Noir, but full of surprises and bracing coastal scenery.
Despite a couple of bungles in the final episode, a shrewd interlocking puzzler.

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I know this seems to have become the Vultural review thread, but I too enjoy writing short reviews and this is the proper place for them. I watched Sorry to Bother You a few days ago, written and directed by a communist activist - and you can tell. Boots Riley made a biting satire that’s funny most of the time, disturbing some of the time, and enjoyably weird all of the time. The story follows likeable working man Cassius Green, as he lands a job as a telemarketer, and miraculously climbs up the corporate ladder with his apparent natural talent. The film seems to start off grounded in reality, but as Cassius gets richer, it gets more and more surreal as he is estranged from his own identity (shown cleverly by the hilariously fake ‘white voice’ that he puts on for customers). Many have criticised the film for going off the rails in its final act, with a new dystopian/sci-fi element added. However, I thought it was simply an extension of the film’s theme, that valuing people by their labour value only can de-humanise them (hint hint) and alienate them from themselves; besides, it’s an all-too-effective way of warning viewers about the profit motive spiralling out of control in a capitalist society. The third act freaked me out though - horror elements are brought in, and the music is particularly great at adapting to the sudden change of genre.

For all its absurd satire and ‘what if’ concepts, as with all great dystopias, Sorry to Bother You is the logical next step of an existing political system. But I’m already a democratic socialist, so I didn’t need convincing - my main takeaway from this film was, don’t do drugs or you might turn into a horse. It’s mad.

“Remember, the Force will be with you. Always.”

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 (Edited)

I also rewatched Wong Kar-Wai’s 1994 film Chungking Express (a more accurate translation of the Chinese title is Chungking Jungle, apparently) and enjoyed it even more than on my first watch. It’s an odd but lovable film, bursting with fresh energy and spontaneity - partly because Kar-Wai pieced several script ideas together to make it and shot it when he was on a production break from another movie. Chungking Express is neatly divided into two halves, around 40 minutes each: one following Hong Kong cop #223 as he copes with a breakup, and spends a night with a mysterious woman in sunglasses, who (unbeknownst to him) is a drug dealer fearing for her life, the other follows Hong Kong cop #663 as he copes with HIS breakup, while a free-spirited young woman named Faye falls for him and attempts to improve his life - but without his knowing. The neon colours of the film make for a surreal but vibrantly beautiful experience, and it offers a considered commentary on love and life, one which still feels relevant in today’s world.

I found it interesting how Chungking Express plays with genre also. Although the second love story is pure eccentric rom-com, the first toys with the criminal underworld and night life in a city quite a bit. It’s no full-on crime drama though, and the memorable stretch-printing techniques Kar-Wai likes deprive action-flick-lovers of an otherwise exciting shootout scene. The film is also better in context: it’s filled with motifs of expiry dates and plane travel, at a time when many were leaving Hong Kong in worried anticipation of the transfer of sovereignty from Britain to China on 1 July 1997. This movie wouldn’t be at the top of my recommendation list to everyone: I must say all the characters seemed a little insane on a first watch (and maybe they are), and the film doesn’t have a conventional structure of sorts - it’ll either work for you or it won’t. But Chungking Express has very much warmed on me, and anyone either interested in art films or how to deal with change in their own lives should absolutely check it out.

“Remember, the Force will be with you. Always.”

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Sinister - 2012 - 6/10

Promising thriller missteps early, succumbs to cliché, tired writing, formula.
True crime writer (aarrgghh, another plot with that most boring main character, the writer), Ethan Hawke, moves family into home where previous family was mass murdered.
Of course, he neglects to tell his wife any of those details.
In no time flat, he discovers cans of film reels, disturbing clues, and bumps in the night.
Does he move the family out? Ha, silly.
OK enough production, but the plot has been done dozens of times.

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Julieta - 2016 - 7/10

Stellar return to form from Pedro Almodóvar.
Older woman, on the verge of leaving Madrid for Portugal, suddenly decides to remain.
She returns to a previous residence then sets about writing a journal - memoir about her relationships with her mother, husband, daughter. All lost.
Writing is part therapy, part confession, meant for the daughter whom she has not seen in over a decade.
The narrative time slips, settings shift, and two different actors portray Julieta.
Much of the tone, indeed the whole music score, is reminiscent of a Douglas Sirk thriller.
There are no throwaway scenes in this, either, and several are outright magical.
The story pulls the viewer irresistibly into a past often shrouded with guilt and self deception.
For me, the best Almodóvar since Talk To Her (2002).

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Fantômas - 1964 - 5/10

Playful adaptation of the legendary French villain.
Again and again, the criminal mastermind thwarts the police.
It does not help that the police are led by the over-confident, bombastic Inspector Juve (Louis de Funès).
Here, Fantômas wears the blue mask, deploys technology, and has a sumptuously appointed lair.

There are echoes of James Bond throughout, but the plotting is feeble.
Indeed, there are too many chase sequences and the final one goes on for 20 minutes!
OK to watch (Jean Marais as Fantômas is memorable), and yet this does not eclipse the 1913 classics.

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Savages - 2012 - 6/10

Reefer wars movie, directed by Oliver Stone, who was apparently watching too many Tarentino flicks.
Mexican drug cartel tries to muscle in on boutique, California growers, expecting them to roll over and agree to anything.
Kidnappings, ambushes, and gunplay follow in due course.
I watched the unrated version. Violence and mayhem, no nudity.

Stone is usually good providing background info, but that was lacking in this film.
The reason Mexican cartels are trying to get a foothold in the States is because their product, slagged in the States as “pedro” is losing marketshare to US grown “hydro.” Latter being more potent, and more expensive.
As more states decriminalize, then legalize, marijuana, cartels lose power and influence (ref: mobsters during Prohibition). So the argument goes.
Stone barely touched this area, and it would have made the plot more coherent, and character motivations clearer.
The premise that a band of stoners, even ex military, could take on a powerful cartel is difficult to accept.

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School For Unclaimed Girls - 1970 - 5/10
AKA - The Smashing Bird I Used To Know

Lo-watt exploitation snoozer might fall into “women in prison” category, but … c’mon.
Remand girls live in a rather posh dorm, have a pillow fight, have the dreaded shower sequence (above).
Oh yeah, our heroine, Nicki, finds herself there after stabbing Mom’s boyfriend when he tried to rape her.
Never mind he’s a grinning sleaze, and Mom a lonely bed bouncer with a checking account.
Glossy MGM sudser has barely any energy and is way too posh to be a trashy frolic.
Missed opportunity, since, clearly, production funds were enough for ten authentic poverty row flicks.
Writer director Hartford-Davis lensed similar twaddle in the 60’s.
“See! wild youth of today!!” except his yarns were behind the curve and out of step.

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Burroughs (Arena) - 1983 - 7/10

Penetrating, if difficult biography of William Burroughs.
Childhood, the Burroughs name, the William Tell incident, drug use, travels, sex, all check listed.
Being 1983, many interviewees were still alive (including Burroughs’ son) and they were blunt.
One memorable scene has him showing his defensive weapons in his bunker. Knives, blackjacks, and of course, guns.
College readings (*) were problematic for me, as listening to his prose seemed harder to decipher compared with reading.
Burroughs’ growling snarl might be an acquired taste. Nonetheless, this is an excellent overview of the man a good decade before he died.

(*) Seeing some of the readings, I began wondering who current students listen to.
Not the corporate shills, media celebrities, or pop culture scribes. The poets, the literary masters, the underground.
Do junior and senior year intelligentsia value any literary elders enough to listen to?
Salman Rushdie? Joan Didion? Thomas Ligotti?

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Anna Karenina - 2012 - 4/10

Opulent, gaudy, stilted, mannered adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel undone by profound miscasting.
This is a very theatrical interpretation, as in much occurs on a theatre stage.
Characters often move as if performing ballet.
Knightley, once again, attempts a role she is too young for.
She is incapable of gravitas, but her trademarked pursed lips, squinty grin appears over and over.
Received well deserved accolades for sets and costumes.
Taylor-Johnson, playing Vronsky as a sissified fop, resembles Gene Wilder’s Doctor Frankensteen.

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ZerØ Days - 2016 - 7/10

Excellent documentary of the Stuxnet computer worm, discovered by Kaspersky iin 2010.
Without spoiling too much, evidence is fairly clear this was a government operation.
This was an early salvo in cyber warfare. Target, nuclear centrifuges.
Aftermath - the global proliferation of national cyber divisions.
Dozens of security folk interviewed, security firms and spymasters.
Do not hope for confession or clarity.
Coding jargon is basic 101, not overly technical (though I paused twice to answer questions).
For those who shrug, “This does not affect me,” au contraire. Targets include electrical grids, nuclear plants, dams, banking systems, hospitals, damn near anything with power and a micro processor.

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The Whales Of August - 1987 - 7/10

Two frail, elderly sisters rest in their seaside cottage, and reflect on the passage of time.
To paraphrase, how could we ever grow so old?
One (Bette Davis) is sharp tongued, somewhat bitter, and resigned to the Reaper.
The other (Lillian Gish) still makes plans, intends to enjoy what time remains.
Casual remarks and observations of those who have dropped from the Parade, those who have withered.
Vincent Price plays an impoverished aristocrat from Czarist Russia (the film occurs @ 1950‘s).
The language and manners reflect the earlier, more gracious period.
Perhaps better for old viewers. My wife and I, both in our 30’s at that time, blew this off when it first screened. Decades on, we may not be ready to shuffle off, but we can sense the Reaper’s shadow.

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Born To Be Blue - 2015 - 6/10

Iffy musing on Chet Baker’s “missing years.”
Between the glamorous, youthful heyday and the stubborn comeback.
The years when his teeth were knocked out and he had to rebuild his embouchure.
This is not a biopic proper. The girlfriend is a composite of Halema, Diane and Ruth.
Bit careless on chronology, too. And the ending – no.
Credit to filmmakers for trying to show the unpleasant side of Baker to balance the talent.
They did not go far enough, though, and this is too feel goody for my understanding of Mr Baker.

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Searching For Sugarman - 2012 - 7/10

If you are a music fan, like a hardcore collector, you are always searching for new.
Or forgotten, or overlooked. You don’t want mainstream, that’s for the herd.
Documentary about the obscure Detroit musician, Rodriguez.
He released two albums in the early 70’s. Both sank like stones.
One night, so the story went, angry, despondent, Rodriguez killed himself onstage in front of a bored crowd. No one knew him, no one missed him.
Except in South Africa where he had been massively popular. And he had never known.
Film follows the trail. Who was Rodriguez? What happened to him?
This one really pulls you in, partly for the mystery, partly because his music is surprisingly good.

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Let’s Get Lost - 1988 - 7/10

After watching the well meaning, but sweetened portrayal of Chet Baker, I dug out this blunt alternative.
The face and soul of chronic addiction, shot in stark black n white.

Difficult, at times abrasive, biography of the prince of Cool.
Flashbacks, old photos, new performances.
Plenty of “candid” answers and ruminations from Mr Baker.
Counterbalanced with corrections from producers, fellow sidemen and the women in his life.
Women, meaning his mother, one of his wives, his daughter, two girlfriends.
Terrific film of a horribly flawed man, but genuinely gifted musician.

Confession, I’m a big fan of Chet Baker. I have close to sixty recordings and I’m still buying titles of his.
A haunting artist of despair and regret, especially in his mature years, but as a human, a right piece of work.