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A few reviews . . (film or TV) — Page 66

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Scenic Route - 2013 - 5/10

Two aging, childhood friends are driving a forsaken backwater route through Death Valley.
Failed, homeless writer and newly married, burnout musician.
Height of summer, sheer oblivion, what are the odds of engine trouble?
I was barking aloud at this one:
“Don’t do that.” “No, you idiots, what are you, suicidal?” “Stop talking and start thinking.”
As gathered, the pair talked and they talked and they talked.
Note to producers: Men don’t gab this much. Otherwise they get booted from the Guy Club.
Note redux: Dialogue was not remotely “My Dinner With André.”

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Annihilation - 2018 - 6/10

Extraterrestrial object impacts isolated southern USA coast.
Flora and fauna soon begin to alter, then the affected area begins to widen.
A select team of four women cross into this zone, also known as the Shimmer.
Previous male units vanished with one exception.
Taut SciFi thriller packs in suspense, psychological drama, mystery and a creeping sense of unease.

I went into this stone cold, never having read the runaway bestseller upon which it is based.
While some reviews cast this as an invasion film, it is a contagion story, unless contrary details are in the book.
Themes of adaptation, assimilation and utter indifference may confuse “answer seekers.”
Visuals are imaginative, sound mix is unobtrusive, acting is fine.
For all that, this struck me as a left turn fork of Day Of The Triffids.
Afterward, I had an odd reflection - that may only resonate with Southerners - as I wondered if the author had grown up in a pre-kudzu era, before the landscape was overwhelmed, and if the Shimmer is an echo of that.

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The Howling Wind - 2020 - 6/10

Early on, radio broadcasts alert listeners that the unusual winds are turning humans deadly.
When gusts wail, lock the doors and let no one inside.
So what to do when you are barricaded, alone, then discover an intruder.

Well, in this short, there are long conversations. Interrogations.
The caliber of acting is high in this, the photography top notch.
And yet, for most of us, the 12 gauge would have boomed at first sight.

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In The Courtyard - 2014 - 7/10
AKA - Dans la Cour

Just before the concert, the band singer is fed up, and walks.
He is old, he has no professional skills, he is unsuited for most work.
The building complex needs a janitor, however.
French drama, with comic touches, is of the inhabitants, their obsessions and flaws.
Catherine Deneuve nominated for a Cesar as the wife whose anxiety over a wall crack deepens as the fissure itself.
Not necessarily a downer, but most of the characters are disappointed with themselves and despondent.

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Midnight Hair - 2014 - 5/10
AKA - Yèbàn Shūtóu // 夜半梳頭

Such a tantalizing title. Especially for a yarn featuring newlyweds.
Film is, however, Chinese horror, and a throwback to old school Hong Kong.

Happy couple moves into grand home. Within ten minutes you realize the joint is haunted.
Soon enough, the bride sees a pale ghost, the husband grows troubled.
So what do they do? They stay put. Well, it is a really nice house.
Story plods along like a drunken tortoise, past fog, creepy shadows, and jump scares.
The male actor (clearly a high school drama dropout) does IT or something. His gifted companion prances about in skimpy dresses, sheer negligees, tight tops, while exploring posh, dust-free, interiors.
Subs were embedded Chinese over English, and just as ridiculous as HK subs from the 90’s.
Pedestrian narrative, poor ending. Might rewatch though, because I enjoyed that home.
It was huge - especially by Asian standards. And richly furnished.
How could they afford that? (Yes, there was an explanation.)

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Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie - 2012 - 6/10

Documentary of trash talking talk show host who chased fame from the rabble.
His TV show, which I well remember, barely lasted two years.
Meteoric rise followed by hurtling crash.
I knew he was involved in the 60’s surf music scene, but that was not mentioned.
Instead, the doc showed his childhood home, a stone’s toss from the Kennedy family.
From leftie to songster to demagogue to has-been.
Curiosity flick. Better if you have a fondness for belligerent types.

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My Past - 1931 - 6/10

Steel tycoons, partners, one old, one young, fall for the same showgirl.
Bebe Daniels is the alluring Doree, Joan Blondell her sharp chum.
This Pre-Code has nude swimming, bedroom action, adultery, casual morality.
“Ultra modern” girls, says one gent, are here today, gone tomorrow.
The first half is racy, the second stodgy. Lewis Stone’s as fading sugar daddy is the most sympathetic.
Trappings throughout of furs, jewels, champagne, seem like a dimly remembered take on the half lit world of the Roaring Twenties, swept away two years earlier.
Look for the book Daniels reads, “The Maltese Falcon,” which would be her next film.

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Los Angeles Overnight - 2018 - 6/10

Shaggy dog yarn.
Failing, barely working actress overhears a whispered conversation during her waitress gig.
What she caught was a secret, a clue, a puzzle. She needs assistance in solving.
She should have realized bad guys would find her.
Plot is nothing new, characters are oddballs, though not needlessly weird.
Surprise in this sunny Neo Noir is the waitress/actress who is determined to remain in Los Angeles, praying for the mythical big break.
Her desperation to not return to Ma n Pa and the hometown, pushes her actions.

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 (Edited)

Duck Amuck - This short is still incredibly hilarious. The twist at the end makes the short complete, and is a great punchline.

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Le Week-End - 2013 - 6/10

Film references and pays homage to Goddard’s Band Of Outsiders, and features cues by cult fave Nick Drake, yet Le Week-End remains a frustrating, pale reminder.
Narrative follows an older, professorial British couple who return to Paris for their 30th anniversary.
Their original honeymoon room has changed … or perhaps they have.
They bolt, and book the executive suite in a posh hotel.
Bickering, whining, accusations and atrocious behavior soon flow thick and fast.
The scenery was enjoyable - hell, I appreciated the story - a frayed marriage at the end of its rope.
Yet, I disliked the couple. Intensely.
Once they started running, without paying, from every place they went, short-changing waiters, cooks, maids, etc…, “working people,” it was hard to be sympathetic toward them.

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The Wave I Ride - 2015 - 6/10

Surfing doc of Paige Alms, one of the few, very few, females riding big waves.
More than most surf films, this is a character study. Don’t go here for loud music, hyper cut, surf porn.
Paige’s training, injury, support crew, home life, community work, jobs.
Yes, jobs. Being a girl, she doesn’t get the sponsorship that the boys get.
The sport is segregated male / female.
Money also tends to flow to riders working the shore, or – especially – those who model for boards and suits, showing sculpted backsides.
As in many spheres, talent and ability generally lose out to sex appeal.
Paige is genuinely likeable, if a little New Agey.

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Army Of Shadows - 1969 - 8/10
AKA - L’armée des Ombres

French Resistance during the German occupation of World War II.
This focuses more on the tedium, the tension, and the loneliness of key members.
Individuals seem to be constantly on the move, relocating from one “safe” house to another.
Missions are small, try to rescue a pilot, deal with a betrayer, recruit, and missions often fail.
Help comes from ordinary people, while armed troops scrutinize the populace.
No lengthy gun battles, pyrotechnic explosions, bombastic heroic music.
Everything is understated and weary.
There are the Germans, the Vichy collaborators, and the weasels.
Lack of glamour possibly evokes the Occupation and Resistance better than other films.

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The Hoodlum - 1951 - 6/10

Ma pleads with the parole board, “He’s a good boy. He’s learned. Please, he’s my son!”
So junior get released, then starts working at his brother’s gas station.
Conveniently located across the street from the bank.
Grade-D Noir with hard as nails, Lawrence Tierney.
Main supporting cast are terrible, including Tierney’s brother, Edward.
Guys portraying the heist crew are fine, and the caper was creative.
Film clocks in at barely an hour, packing bullets, betrayal, and sleaze.
Okay for Noir diehards or Tierney fans.

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Phantom Thread - 2017 - 7/10

Austere take on the Pygmalion fable.
Dressmaker for London’s high end takes on new girl as model.
He is extremely fastidious, the only soul who understands or who can communicate with him is his sister.
Leisurely paced, desaturated color scheme, the narrative steps along by nuances.
Character study of man with complicated mother issues, the irony being his incredible eye for enhancing female appearance compounded by his tendencies to wound them.
Sound mix is noteworthy. Concentrated silence marred by the tiniest activity.
This will not be for all tastes.
First Paul Anderson film I have actually enjoyed since Boogie Nights.

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Web Of Deception - 1989 - 6/10
AKA - Jing Hun Ji // 驚魂記

Lawyer Lin, planning to emigrate to Canada, is being blackmailed.
Her friend and assistant, May, might have motive.
In addition, May’s friend Queenie has a desperate financial need for her convict sister.
Then, during a stormy night, everyone winds up in Lin’s dark home.
Muddled Hong Kong thriller has an improvised, cobbled together feel.
As if they had a sketch, rather than a script.
Juicy dual role for Joey Wong, especially as the crazy, vengeful jailbird sister.
No great shakes but will divert Hong Kong fans for an hour or so.

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Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work - 2010 - 7/10

Documentary following the comedian for a year.
I had viewed this when it came out, but watched this time with her audio commentary.
In many ways, funnier, with merciless self awareness.
Rivers packs the commentary with jokes, one-liners, sarcasm, and confessions.
Sensitive souls, beware, there is foul language galore, as well as an early sequence of her sans makeup.

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Ferris Wheel At Night - 2013 - 6/10
AKA - Yakou Kanransha // 夜行観覧車

Warning! This J-dorama is like a female hormonal tornado.
Family moves into exclusive, posh community they can barely afford.
Straight away, neighbors regard them with disdain and belittle them numerous times.
At school, the daughter is bullied. Across the street, a brutal murder.
No mistake, while seemingly a “chick drama," secrets and conspiracies increasingly predominate.
Perfect families, perfect neighborhoods, and those brittle, perfect facades that conceal so much.
Cleverly constructed to punch emotional buttons.

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Grand Budapest Hotel - 2013 - 6/10

Is it just me? How is this shaggy dog tale such a critical darling?
Narrative supposedly shows hotel in its glorious heyday, especially the ever attentive manager, and how it came to fall into the possession of the current, and possibly final manager.
Story itself is a series of onion like recollections, each more stylized, more fabricated the deeper memory probed.
Stunning set design counterbalanced by mannered performances of oddballs and kooks.
Anderson’s films are always worth a look, but the overall look and tone begin to feel repetitive.

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Big Sur - 2013 - 7/10

Languid adaptation of Kerouac’s novel, focusing on a couple of stays at Ferlinghetti’s mountain cabin.
Slow going and meandering, yet enjoyable for fans of the author and the Beats.
Kerouac is older here, haggard, and well on his descent into alcoholism.
Opening paraphrase sums up the curse of fame and expectation -
“All over America high school and college kids are thinking Jack Kerouac is 26 years old and on the road hitchhiking, while there I am, almost 40 years old, bored and jaded,”
Might be difficult for those who know the Beats through movies, not their writings.

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The Mystery Of Henri Pick - 2019 - 7/10
AKA - Le Mystère Henri Pick

Publisher Daphné hears about a peculiar library devoted to rejected books.
Manuscripts that other presses had refused to publish.
By chance, she comes across the one by Henri Pick, recently deceased pizza maker.
Once printed it becomes a massive best-seller, lauded by critics and casuals alike.
Save for Jean-Michel, TV critic, who declares the whole business is dubious.
From there, into the maze he scuttles, with viewers tagging behind.
Light comedy with a bitter edge will suit reading types, who will be better at catching the sly jokes.

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The Double - 2013 - 6/10

How come I never heard of this one?
Oh, because it was way too confusing and artsy for 98% of the planet?
Evocative Orwellian set design, straight out of Brazil sets the tone of an oppressive worker drone state.
Insecure, nebbishy Jesse Eisenberg bobbles adrift in vast, gloomy, mega-corporation, going nowhere fast.
Then his double, Jesse Eisenberg, arrives, swaggering confidence and gusto.
The pair meet, and the charismatic one offers to help his meek counterpart.
Viewers can spot that L for loser across his forehead.
Bleak, often wickedly funny film based on Dostoyevsky story.

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The Museum - 2021 - 6/10
AKA - Yr Amgueddfa

Daniel, right, brings new mate / love stud, Caleb, to the museum gala.
Whereupon Caleb immediately puts the moves on Dan’s mom, Della.
And Della, apparently as heedless as she is weak, succumbs and opens the velvet temple.
First episode of a corkscrew puzzler from Wales.
Believe me, there are twists and turns throughout this labyrinth of schemes and secrets.
At times, this is a little too contrived from its own good.
Soap opera elements detract from the mystery angles.

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Just Like A Woman - 2012 - 6/10

Chick flick hits the road.
Two women flee Chicago for a belly dance competition in Santa Fe.
To pay for fuel and supplies, they perform at bars and clubs along the way.
Fabulous outdoor scenery provides backdrop to confessions and fears.
Unlike other traveling souls who seem drawn to trouble, these two try to avoid it.
Their past trails after them, however, and free spirits always capture attention.

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The Square - 2017 - 6/10

Flux of museum curator, publicity consultants, journalists, benefactors, an innocent.
Not the actual creative forces. No, showmen, touts, hangers on.
Stockholm museum, determined to juice interest in upcoming installation, opts for disturbing gala.
Anyone who has done PR - or rolled their eyes at it - will recognize how some stunts, no matter how moronic or stale, succeed despite themselves, whereas imaginative concepts may be utterly ignored by the unwashed.
The distracted curator is a poor father, thoughtless lover, bully to children.
Insider satire may be too icy and too incestuous for its own good.

I had a couple fundraising gigs for “non-profit” arts groups.
Their appetite for money would astonish many. Just how much was taken in and spent.
I was good, coaxing mid-sized Poobahs to donate so they could admire their names in guides
Until I was fired. Next year, I was recalled.
When money is involved, the arts world has little shame.

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A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder - 2021 - 6/10

Fun, socially distant (Covid era) production put on by CollaborAzian.
An all-Asian cast perform this musical cousin of “Kind Hearts And Coronets.”
After Montague’s mother dies, he discovers he is actually a D’Ysquith.
More than that, he is actually eighth in line for the earldom!
Oh, those pesky relatives. Save for the lovely Phoebe, something of a cousin, yet elegant.
Then there is Sibella, catnip personified.
First things first, those heirs, can’t they simply … move along?
As far as the songs, think music hall or Gilbert & Sullivan.
Theatre junkies, comedy tonight!