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A few reviews . . (film or TV) — Page 54

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The Serpent & The Rainbow - 1988 - 5/10

Bill Pullman, field worker / anthropologist for Big Pharma, digs around in voodoo Haiti for cures.
Instructions are to find the “zombie drug” which supposedly will suspend life for a month.
Yeah, boss, wait till Marketing tries to overcome - “I ain’t gonna be no zombie” - consumer resistance.
Of course, he never gets that far. Instead he gets embroiled with the Bébé Doc Duvalier police state and growing insurrection.
Some curious dream sequences fueled by voodoo herbal cocktails, but the film mostly staggers around.
Directed by Wes Craven, this looks ten years out of date, circa 1975.
Pullman’s hair stays fluffy the whole movie.
Wasted opportunity.

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An Unpopular Woman - 2013 - 6/10
AKA - Eine Unbeliebte Frau

The “unpopular” woman, Isabel, races through a cornfield, then makes a mistake, emerging into an open field.
Police soon arrive, as well as the forensic team.
Isabel was pretty much disliked by all. She was mercenary, and slept with numerous males, most married.
Don’t start second-guessing the detectives, as another murder occurs, and a child kidnapping!
Based on a Nele Neuhaus novel, there is also, supposedly, a Cinderella undercurrent.
Confusing muddle of narratives and relationships, set in the equestrian sphere.
Better than “reality” TV, though.

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Shakespeare & Hathaway: S01 - 2018 - 6/10

Daytime detective series, set in Stratford-upon-Avon, with male/female partners.
Stories are one-offs. Robberies, sabotage, a bit of murder.
Police are involved, but TV detectives are always smarter than TV authorities.
Cheerful throughout, with wisecracks and light humor.
On par with the Agatha Raisin series, lacks the polish of Miss Fisher, superior to any Hallmark drivel.
S02-03 have come and gone, and been viewed. I have been informed if there is a S04 I will be watching it.
Resistance is futile.

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Naked Alibi - 1954 - 6/10

Decent Noir with Sterling Hayden as no-nonsense police chief.
Drunk n disorderly baker brought in for questioning, provokes cops, gets smacked around.
Within days, three cops murdered and gruff chief suspects the family man, police brutality victim, the baker.
Plenty of false trails to keep viewer guessing.
Noir fatale, Gloria Grahame, plays cheap singer in low life Mexican cantina.

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The Quiet Season - 2013 - 5/10

The old man arrives at the B&B for a rest, a holiday.
Though he is just a “nobody” the owner’s daughter recognizes him.
He is Professor Redhook from Miskatonic University, problem solver of the paranormal and supernatural.
Yes, there is something wrong inside her family’s lovely home.
Perhaps the professor is not simply on holiday.
The chief problem is an insubstantial plot, though the sound design lets music overwhelm dialogue.

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Frances Ha - 2012 - 5/10

Say what?
Critical darling about deluded late 20’s girl who comes off as a failure on every level.
Doesn’t really have a job, mooches apartment space, fails with relationships.
Yeah, join the club, princess.
How does she pay New York rent? Eat out? Airfares?
Oh - it’s a movie. And not a New York film ala Woody Allen or Edward Burns. This was fantasy island.
Frances strikes one as shallow, self centered, untalented, yet resolute in the belief of her innate specialness.
Could be a metaphor for every Me Generation.
After muddled speeches, foolish decisions, squandering of funds, the film rushes a tacked on, happy finale that was as satisfying as a peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich.

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Ex Libris: The New York Public Library - 2017 - 6/10

Lengthy documentary on the central location and the branches.
Free form structure. Five minutes of an author interview, five minutes in the childrens section, five minutes with the board, five minutes with a poet, or a rapper. Book club. Senior time! More board meetings. E-books. Funding.
Repeat - repeat.
The homeless problem barely touched upon. (My bride toils in the stacks, and believe me, street types, especially those with mental issues, affect patron traffic.)
Time runs three and a half hours. I broke this up into two nights.
The first half seemed mind numbingly slow. Every vignette went on three beats too long.
The second half was edited quicker and had a better flow.

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The Missing Sun - 2017 - 6/10

Early on, Alma has what appears to be a conversation with herself, saying she is not ready to die yet.
Everyone else, however, seems to have shuffled off. Her husband is there. Sleeping, comatose, dead.
The sparse area is pretty deserted, though, and those who remain don’t seem to “see” Alma.
That had me wondering, is she dead? Is she a restless spirit?
Her home has quartz crystals, tapes on astral projection.
There is a cult-like church with a tiny flock, where the shepherd goes on and on about this life, that life.
The photography is extraordinarily sharp, the narrative quite opaque.
I was never sure what the writer / director was trying to say, in a film that moves at a glacial pace.

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The New Girlfriend - 2014 - 5/10
AKA - Une Nouvelle Amie

I will generally watch any film by François Ozon; I consider him a wayward nephew of Douglas Sirk.
This one covers unrequited love, identity, and deception.
The blurb in IMDB is uselessly vague -
“… young woman makes surprising discovery about the husband of her late best friend.”
The source material is Ruth Rendell, so I expected a dark psychological mystery / thriller.
Mmm … no.
The plot, steeped in individual fashion choice, despite being straight-faced throughout, is already dated.
The story, SPOILER about cross-dressing, is regurgitated and sleep inducing.

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Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life - 2010 - 7/10
AKA - Gainsbourg (Vie Héroïque)

Challenging French film about artist, singer songwriter, personality, Serge Gainsbourg.
No time dates, names, or other signposts as viewer is dumped into Vichy France where Serge still goes by Lucien Ginsberg. Young Gainsbourg very precocious and very annoying. Accurate? Maybe.
Great masked alter-ego trails throughout film.
Parade of female performers and conquests follow, including Juliette Greco, France Gall, Jane Birken.
Some steamy scenes with Bardot, probably the most recognizable person to the uninitiated.

Solid period soundtrack, running from the 40’s to the 70’s, though not enough Gainsbourg tunes.
Two hours later, and I still didn’t have a feel for the guy.

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Upgrade - 2018 - 6/10

Auto accident leaves man injured. Sadistic vulture types leave him paralyzed.
Set in the near future, robots and machines care for him and abort suicide attempts.
A life of misery stretches ahead - until - a reclusive computer genius offers to test his implant in the man.
“… Better than he was before. Better… stronger… faster …”
Readers old enough to recognize the quote will know the premise, which is coupled with a quest for truth plot.
In his journey, our protagonist forms a relationship with his implant, a cross between HAL and KITT.
Most of the fights resemble bouts from the Mortal Kombat arcade game.
Story may not feel like leftovers to under 40 viewers.
The ending made it for me, though others may be unsettled by the reveal.

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Female Agents - 2008 - 6/10
AKA - Les Femmes de l’ombre

Squad of females dropped into German controlled France.
Part hit / part heist, just prior to the D-Day invasion.
Lot of familiar French faces in this one.
Germans were not clueless adversaries. Each encounter leaves the Resistance bruised.
Decent action film with political intrigue. Rare to see a WWII movie with females using carbines.
Based on actual persons. Recap and vintage photos during closing credits.

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Ten Little Indians - 1965 - 6/10

Sturdy warhorse holds up fairly well.
Ten complete strangers find themselves isolated in a remote Alpine manor.
Their host, one U N Owen, accuses them of capital crimes.
Soon, one little Indian after another, our guests are eliminated.
Those who have viewed any other version of this know what to expect.
This has good Noirish camera work, a nice cast of English and American (Fabian alert).
Music is a bit jazzy and incongruous at times, but the fabulous set design compensates.

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Lady MacBeth - 2017 - 7/10

I thought this would be an inversion of Shakespeare, and there are elements of the play, especially guilt.
This is based on a short story by Nikolai Leskov, however, adapted into rural England.
Family sire buys a small parcel of land. With it, a 17 year old wife for his 30ish son.
Like the land, she is “property” and is repeatedly reminded of that.
Chattel, like horses, are best dealt with harshly until their spirit is broken.
Only Katherine does not break easily; in fact, there is a furnace inside her, waiting to be stoked.
Slow burn costume drama that manages to be repulsive, sexy, violent, exquisite.
Austere manners and photography barely mask primal undercurrents.

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California Dreamin’: Songs Of The Mamas & The Papas - 2005 - 6/10

Fun, if shallow, overview capturing the 60’s pop group during their peak.
Packed with clips of the quartet lip syncing on a variety of TV programs.
Interviews were positive. In-group infidelities were referenced, though not Michelle’s temporary dismissal.
Watching Cass dancing in her white go-go boots, Denny with his head tossed back, both soaring like the free spirits they were.
The moment was brief, though. The group, like the hippies themselves, evaporated in the late sun.
Easy stroll down nostalgia lane, and Phillips’ songs remain buoyant, irresistibly catchy.

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The Queen Of Black Magic - 1981 - 6/10
AKA - Ratu Ilmu Hitam

Goodness, wishes still come true!
Murni, watching her love marry the village head’s beautiful daughter, goes home to cry.
Thereby missing the wedding collapse into chaos.
Superstitious villagers accuse her of being a witch and do their best to kill her.
Fortunately for all concerned, a wicked shaman rescues Murni and trains her in the deadly arts of vengeance.
Yes, there will be retribution, oh yes. Menfolk, piss off women at your peril.
The deaths in this are imaginative and wildly over the top.
Moreover, this feels like a picture meant for a national audience, not crafted with one eye toward global profit.
Corny at times, ridiculously gory, hammy, truly wonderful!

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World’s End - 2013 - 6/10

Yet another quasi apocalyptic comedy from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
High school mates reunite to try and finish hometown pub crawl they attempted and failed 20 years earlier.
Pegg’s character annoying at first, but struck me better as the tone and tempo of the plot intensified.
As with all this duo’s films, the last act loaded stale action and a lazy finale.
Good premise, wish these guys could finish as well as they start.
(Hmm, sounds like a common female dating lament.)

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Game Night - 2018 - 7/10

C’mon, do people still play charades at home? Pictionary?
So if you say, “Well, maybe. I dunno.” you could buy into this.
Friends gather monthly to play said games, eat snacks, shun creepy neighbor.
Until one of the role playing dramas takes an unexpected dark turn.
And it becomes a high octane race to solve.
Once this thriller builds up momentum, it is like an express.
Better, this is packed with jokes. Situations, one-liners, characters.
Believe most of the ratings and avoid reading spoilers, this is a fun film!

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Bacurau - 2019 - 7/10

Following the death of her 94 year old grandmother, Theresa returns to her village of Bacurau.
She arrives riding in the water truck, since authorities have dammed the river upstream.
First indication there is something amiss.
For reasons unexplained, someone or something is trying to squeeze the villagers.
We observe residents, their struggles, romances, endurance.
A half hour in, from out of nowhere, one of the villagers, riding home, is followed by a small UFO.

Right off, I get tremendously excited. UFO, middle of oblivion, this must be the Zanti misfits!
Well, that was not to be, but several scenes later Udo Kier appears and the plot accelerates.
Slow boil actioner will reward the patient.

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Disconnect - 2013 - 7/10

Several ongoing stories, sometimes interconnecting, showing souls more plugged into devices than relationships.
Identity theft, online gambling, chat rooms, sexting, bullying, underage porn, exposure, spying.
Most reflect the Zeitgeist of the times, but to be fair, the writing seldom stoops to cliché or “happy.”
Similar to Crash, (the 2004 film, not the 1996 carwreck), Short Cuts, and numerous others.
Finale overused the slo-mo to distracting effect.
Although I find it hard to believe people are so gullible and trusting, they are indeed.
In addition, their desperation to belong, to be accepted, can be devastating.
Technology exposes the weaker members to the merciless.

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 (Edited)

Love In Andalusia - 2019 - 5/10
AKA - Coup de Foudre en Andalousie // Coup de Foudre à Séville

During Claire’s birthday party, her sister Laura presents her a stunning red dress.
“It will be prefect to wear at MY WEDDING!! Yes, everyone, I’m getting married!!”
For the umpteenth time, Laura upstages Claire’s event.
Shift now to Sevilla (for travel types, this has terrific location filming), where Claire meets fiancé Alvaro and the entire family.
But no Laura, who is missing (and who has stranded prospective bridegrooms before).
No worries. Claire and Alvaro decide to start searching for the wayward betrothed.
Clichéd family characters, predictable romantic comedy fluff.

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Ed And Pauline - 2014 - 7/10

Theater owner Ed Landberg and film critic Pauline Kael form an unlikely team in 1950’s San Francisco.
The Cinema-Guild and later Studio brought in foreign films, indies, and old movies people had heard about, yet had never viewed. Things like Citizen Kane, or Casablanca, or Brief Encounter, or The Bicycle Thief.
Kael wrote reviews and columns in the program guide, before relocating to New York.
At less than 20", this short effectively captures what it was like in the pre-VHS rental days.
There was either late-night television reruns of old movies, or the revival house.
The latter was almost exclusive to the largest cities.

By the 70’s, repertory cinema houses dotted the Los Angeles landscape.
They always showed a double-feature. The hippie chick and I attended two or three times a week.
After we moved away, we discovered what a hinterland the rest of the country was.
Almost.
Aside from museums, there were film societies.
One subscribed, and a $35.00 yearly ticket got you one movie a month.
French, German, Cassavetes, etc … Pure arthouse fare.
At the end of the season, members were given a list of 50-60 prospective titles and we voted on what we wanted to see next season. The Top 12 were ordered.

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Wish You Were Here - 2012 - 6/10

Two Australian couples head to Cambodia for partying and heavy drinking.
One couple returns, one person remains behind, one disappears without a trace.
The story gets teased out during ninety some minutes.
No great revelations. I predicted one of the twists early on.
Strength was in how characters found themselves bound to secrecy.
For most souls, however, keeping secrets proves next to impossible.

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Simon And Garfunkel: Songs Of America - 1969 - 6/10

More an assemblage than a documentary by director Charles Grodin.
While the duo’s songs play underneath, period news unreels.
Vietnam, demonstrations, civil unrest, counter culture, Kennedy, King, another Kennedy.
What informed the music, the audience for the music.
Rehearsals, studio sessions, traveling.
Finally, concert footage. Within a year, the pair would break up. Cause (my take) diminished trust.
A curio, an opaque time capsule. Passions of the period may be lost on those who did not live through the 60’s.

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Stolen Death - 1938 - 7/10
AKA - Varastettu Kuolema

Finland, circa 1904, tries to break free of Czarist rule.
Revolutionaries, printing subversive flyers and broadsheets, progress to seeking weapons.
The secret police hunt them, an arms dealer blackmails them, and traps lay everywhere.

One of the last Expressionist films, the narrative moves too quickly for its own good.
Indeed, twenty minutes in, I paused this, quite confused, to research.
After the initial release, 15 minutes were cut (though preserved), reason for the narrative jumps.
Film scholars theorize the girl is actually a prostitute, sleeping with Russian soldiers for guns.
The arms dealer / blackmailer is her pimp.
And he doesn’t count on her falling in love with one of the revolutionaries.

Camera work is memorable throughout, though the print is battered.
Finland actually has the complete cut, so a restored version is possible.
The director only made five films, before dying in World War II, age 29.