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a movie needs to be able to hold your attention the whole way through
"Gemini" holds your attention in a few spots but feels like it's dragging for most of the run. It could've used more suspense and less talking. Given the talent involved, they should've achieved something better.
from the Emerald Isle to the land of dreams
I heard about "Brooklyn"'s release in 2015-2016, but due to my life situation at the time (it's a long story) I never got around to seeing it. I finally have. What an experience. There have been a lot of movies about immigrants and about Ireland - there could be an entire college course focusing on either of these - but I think that this particular film deserves special recognition. The story and performances are the main strength, but there's also the moral issue that the movie address (loyalty to one's roots vs. one's future).
In the lead role of Eilis, Saoirse Ronan has the role of a lifetime. We all loved her performances in "Hanna" and "Lady Bird", but this will probably go down as her greatest one. Which is not to subtract from her co-stars. Everyone puts in their best efforts here and it shows. Without a doubt, this is a movie for the ages. A true credit to Ireland.
As to the issue of whether or not it should've won any of the Oscars for which it got nominated, we can debate that forever. I'd say that every nominee that year had its merits.
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
there were good things and bad things
"Snow White and the Huntsman" has an impressive cast, cool performances, a true-to-life setting, and great cinematography and sets (nominated for an Academy Award). To bad that it has an uninspired plot. The whole movie comes across as a cynical cash grab in that respect. The better Snow White-themed effort in 2012 was "Mirror Mirror", mainly because it depicted the queen less as an evil maniac and more as an empty-headed narcissist.
The cast includes Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins and Toby Jones. Put another way, it stars Bella Swan, Imperator Furiosa, the Ghostbusters' secretary, Finnair Odick, Al Swearingen, Eddie Valiant and Truman Capote/Karl Rove/Alfred Hitchcock.
a real ball (but even more)
Ryan Murphy is one of the people who has revolutionized TV in the 21st century: "Glee", "American Horror Story", and now "Pose". While mainly about the 1980s ball culture in New York, it also looks at how hard life was for these folks: discrimination (especially against transgender people), HIV, a president ignoring the AIDS crisis, and other things. But without a doubt, it's something that you gotta see to believe.
A Ciambra (2017)
I have no doubt that this is the reality for millions of people
"A Ciambra" focuses on a Romani boy and his grim existence in southern Italy. He and the African immigrants have no option except to participate in the underworld. The movie stars a cast of unknown (and unglamorous) people. The handheld camerawork gives the movie a feeling of gritty realism. The events portrayed are probably a daily reality for millions worldwide, whether immigrants or just people forgotten by society at large. Indeed, the Roma - mistakenly called gypsies - have been one of the most discriminated groups in Europe for ages; the Nazis murdered at least 220,000 Roma, possibly as many as 1.5 million, labeling the Roma as criminals.
Anyway, this is a movie that everyone should see.
it ain't easy being old
One of D.W. Griffith's early movies looks at the trials and tribulations of aging. When a man gets fired and can't find a new job, he resorts to crime (does that make it a precursor to "Fun with Dick and Jane"?). Because "What Shall We Do with Our Old?" is from cinema's infancy, the production value won't be what we're used to, but it's a respectable effort. Available on YouTube.
singin' in the brain
Bradley Cooper has become a household name in the past few years thanks to "Silver Linings Playbook", "American Hustle" and "A Star Is Born". Right before he became a star he appeared in this quirky sci-fi flick about a man who gains the ability to use his entire brain...with a catch. The movie's a little confusing at times due to the jumping around, but overall I found it to be a fun, entertaining flick. I guess that it's a loose adaptation of "Faust", as the protagonist does questionable things in his pursuit of wealth. Very much a New York movie. Good one.
it works to go for the eerie stuff
M. Night Shyamalan made an interesting movie with "Split". It was no "Sixth Sense", but still worth seeing. "Glass" turns out to be equally mind-bending, with the characters from "Glass" and "Unbreakable" meeting. And there are some other people to add to the mix.
Maybe the movie goes a little too far in posing the question of whether or not superheroes exist, but I liked the tricks that Shyamalan played; basically, he needs to make more movies like this and fewer like "The Happening". Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson and James McAvoy put on the performances of their lives. I also hope that Sarah Paulson (whom one of my friends met in New York) gets more roles like her role here.
The Meg (2018)
Oh Meggy, you're so dumb, you're so dumb you make me numb, hey Meggy!
Since it stars Jason Statham and focuses on a mammoth prehistoric shark, you can probably guess what sort of movie "The Meg" is. High action, lots of CGI, lines that sound scripted, and all manner of unrealistic things, the movie practically wears its corniness on its sleeve. If you expect that, then you won't be disappointed. If it's something intellectual that you're after, then your choice should be "If Beale Street Could Talk" or "Capernaum".
As for "Mickey", I recognized it because "Weird Al" Yankovic spoofed Toni Basil's original song (his version was "Ricky", about "I Love Lucy").
Another Year (2010)
if you haven't seen at least one Mike Leigh movie, you don't deserve to call yourself a film buff
Mike Leigh has spent his career directing movies about the unglamorous side of the United Kingdom. Whether it's "Naked", "Secrets and Lies" or "Vera Drake", not all his movies focus on class issues, but the cast members - and thus the characters - are not the types whom you see splashed across magazine covers. "Another Year" is a perfect example.
Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen play a happily married couple. Over the course of a year (represented by the different seasons), they come in contact with friends and relatives, none of whom are fulfilled. This begins to cause issues in the main couple's relationship.
Of course, that's a rough description of the plot. The movie's plot is too subtle, complex and nuanced for a review to do it justice. That's what happens when a movie focuses on real people and real issues, as opposed to nonstop explosions and CGI. It also helps to cast ordinary-looking people, as opposed to "handsome" and "pretty" individuals.
Definitely see this movie. It might not change your life, but it will probably give you a new outlook on interpersonal relationships.
Prekrasnaya Lyukanida (1912)
a feature, not a bug
One of Wladyslaw Starewicz's stop-motion shorts from pre-revolutionary Russia features a pair of insects vying for a female insect. Like most of his works, "Prekrasnaya Lyukanida" may come across as silly today, but you still have to appreciate the work that he put into it. As it turns out, Starewicz's first passion was entomology, so it makes sense that he often depicted insects. Nothing particularly sophisticated, but enjoyable.
Noch pered Rozhdestvom (1913)
Starewicz goes the Gogol route
I had never heard of Nikolai Gogol's work "Christmas Eve" before watching Wladyslaw Starewicz's "Noch pered Rozhdestvom" (translated both as "Christmas Eve" and "The Night Before Christmas"). Starewicz's only live-action work is nice, brief entertainment, as a series of wacky things take place in a Ukrainian village on December 24: a demon and a witch make mischief, some Cossacks get drunk, and a smith woos a hot young woman.
Starewicz's shorts - most of them consisting of stop-motion animation - are the only examples of pre-revolutionary Russian cinema that I've seen. If there's more I'd love to see it. In the meantime, this short is nothing special, but OK. I guess that Starewicz was more comfortable with animation. Certainly entertaining, at the least.
When They See Us (2019)
it was one of the vilest miscarriages of justice in our country's history
The 1989 Central Park Jogger Case is probably one of the top 100 things that every person should know about US history, as it shows the legal situation that non-white people face in this country. Five black and Latino juveniles got charged with the rape of a woman, seeing their civil rights violated every step of the way. Donald Trump even took out an ad calling for their execution (for which he has never apologized). The young men got convicted, but later exonerated.
Ava DuVernay's "When They See Us" focuses on the case, but also draws attention to a few other things. Prosecutor Linda Fairstein claimed to be standing up for women when she mercilessly targeted the young men (meaning that we should be wary any time someone stands up for one group to the detriment of another). Also, the title refers to the moniker Central Park Five; it got applied to the young men, to the point that most people don't know their names (Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, Raymond Santana). Finally, there's the question of how much our society has advanced since then: we still see police killing unarmed black men and getting away with it (and yet millions of ignorant people still call Black Lives Matter the equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan).
Everyone should see this series. It shows the level of racism in our country, whether then or now, and prods us to think about how we might improve things. Absolutely devastating.
Boy Erased (2018)
...vs. The Miseducation of Cameron Post
"Boy Erased" and "The Miseducation of Cameron Post" got released around the same time. Both focus on gay conversion therapy, wherein religious institutions try to force children to suppress their sexual orientation. I don't know if the release of the two unrelated movies led to any kind of rivalry between them, but I can sincerely recommend both. This one is based on a boy's memoir of getting sent to a church that tried to force him to reject his natural desires. The people who run these programs are lunatics.
Part of why this is important is because this process is still legal in most of the US. Indeed, Mike Pence supported it as governor of Indiana. I recently participated in a rehearsal for a musical called "Pray the Gay Away", a satire on conversion therapy. Everyone should see these movies. Make no mistake about it, these programs are a form of torture.
Your Face (1987)
I need to start watching more of Bill Plympton's cartoons
Bill Plympton's Academy Award-nominated "Your Face" goes the Bob Clampett route, with a man's face changing in all sorts of ways while he sings. This short shows the heights that animation can reach when one puts one's imagination to it. It was certainly a neat one. Available on YouTube.
Case 39 (2009)
I am very much looking forward to Renée Zellweger's Judy Gardland biopic
It might not be a masterpiece, but it'll erase the memory of this hackneyed excuse for a horror flick. It's the typical story of a person who turns out not to be what they seem (in this case, a social worker adopts a girl who isn't the innocent child that we assume). It's not a terrible movie; I've seen "Dante's Peak", so I know how to define "terrible movie". It's just that this plot feels so rehashed. The most original horror movie released that year was easily "Paranormal Activity".
New York, I Love You (2008)
love in the time of anything
Without a doubt, "New York, I Love You" will not be for everyone. A series of short vignettes about relationships whose sole connection is that they take place in the Big Apple, the movie is definitely geared towards the arthouse crowd. I understand that there's been a series of these movies set in assorted cities, but I've only seen this one and the one set in Rio.
The vignettes themselves look at the different cultures that inhabit New York (such as the Hasidic Jews), and how they interact with other cultures. Any one of the vignettes could've just as easily functioned as a feature film. I was satisfied with what I saw in the movie, although I am left wondering how any of these stories would've looked as a feature.
In the end, I recommend it. Not a masterpiece by any stretch, but a fine look at the city's environs (in the same way that "Taxi Driver" and "Ghostbusters" are) and the characters' relationships, brief though the focuses are.
Ramy Youssef: Feelings (2019)
Ramy Youssef is one of the best
Having taken a Philip Roth-style look at the Muslim community in "Ramy", Ramy Youssef now has a special on HBO in which he expounds on his experiences. Great guy and he has some funny stuff in store. I recommend it.
What They Had (2018)
one of the best family dramas
There have been a number of movies in which a problem in the family forces the whole brood to get together, but I think that Elizabeth Chomko's "What They Had" still bears watching. It focuses on a Chicago family whose mom has Alzheimer's. When her memory loss becomes a danger to her, the daughter (who has power of attorney) has to return from LA to help with things. She brings along her irresponsible daughter, complicating things. The family's son also complicates things.
Every character is damaged in some way. In fact, the mom is the least damaged, despite her amnesia. The dad, daughter, son and granddaughter all have their problems to sort out amid this gathering, and it's not going to be that easy.
The cast puts their all into the roles (not that I expected otherwise). The mom (Blythe Danner) wasn't as developed as I had hoped for, but the daughter (Hilary Swank) is shown to be a complex character. Michael Shannon continues his string of heavy-duty roles as the son. As for the dad (Robert Forster), he's the type who makes everyone feel as if they're walking on eggshells. Very much the opposite of a role model. Meanwhile, Taissa Farmiga confirms herself as one of the great upcoming actresses in the role of the granddaughter.
All in all, a good one. I recommend it.
His Royal Slyness (1920)
All hail the silliness!
Probably the most famous political satire from the inter-war era is the Marx Brothers' "Duck Soup". However, Harold Lloyd had starred in one a decade earlier. "His Royal Slyness" casts him as an ordinary guy who just happens to resemble the visiting prince of a foreign country. When the prince doesn't want to return home, Lloyd's character goes in his stead. Because the country has an incompetent, self-serving government, and the peasants are rising up against it, that doesn't make things any easier for poor Harold!
This movie doesn't go for the jugular the way that "Duck Soup" did, but still sympathizes with the peasants (who wouldn't after seeing the worthless people who dominate the government?). It's no masterpiece but still a fun look at politics and the people's discontents therewith (which continue to this day).
Just Neighbors (1919)
Wacky Neighbor policy
Neighbors are a common device in comedy. There's rarely a sitcom that doesn't use its neighbors for humor, and there was even the 1981 Belushi-Aykroyd comedy "Neighbors". As it turns out, the person next door was a comedy device 100 years ago in Harold Lloyd's "Just Neighbors". The plot involves an attempt to build things, impeded by all manner of ineptitude. It's only thirteen minutes, but entertaining enough in that short period. It goes to show that a movie doesn't need words, just a good script. Worth seeing.
Loving Vincent (2017)
van Gogh's style comes to cinema
I recently saw two unrelated movies about Vincent van Gogh: 1956's "Lust for Life" starring Kirk Douglas, and 2018's "At Eternity's Gate" starring Willem Dafoe. Both movies made clear that van Gogh was a tragic figure, unappreciated during his life due to how much ahead of his time he was.
I've now seen another movie about the post-impressionist painter: "Loving Vincent", about a man who goes to van Gogh's hometown to investigate his death. This has made some news as the first painted feature film. It's painted entirely in van Gogh's style, and the result is nothing short of amazing. I can guarantee that you've never seen a movie like this, so you should definitely see it. Outstanding one.
Street Food (2019)
sometimes you gotta venture out to taste the real stuff
Every culture has its cuisine. But the stuff served in restaurants often gets refined to suit certain tastes. Where you tend to find the authentic flavors are on the streets. Netflix's documentary series "Street Food" focuses on the street food in a number of cities in Asia. It looks like some tasty meals. I hope to go to these places eventually and try these dishes. Definitely worth seeing.
whether in ancient Greece or Depression-era Mississippi, there's a story to tell
Homer's Odyssey remains one of literature's most famous stories, to the point where the word refers to any epic journey. Probably the most well known adaptation to us in the 21st century is the Coen brothers' "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", which moves the action to Depression-era Mississippi. I recently saw a 1954 Italian adaptation called "Ulysses", starring Kirk Douglas in the title role. It turns out that the first ever big screen adaptation was this 40-minute Italian movie from 1911. We can forgive the archaic special effects in "L'odissea"; after all, cinema was in its infancy at the time. It's still a fun time. Available on YouTube (where the version has German intertitles).
Cry of the Banshee (1970)
actually, this had nothing to do with Edgar Allan Poe
Already the inimitable horror star in the US, Vincent Price went to England and starred in a couple of movies about spooky events there. His "Witchfinder General" (aka "The Conqueror Worm") cast him as a witch-hunter during England's civil war. "Cry of the Banshee" broaches a similar topic, but instead casts him as a magistrate in Elizabethan England going after suspected witches. That is, until he messes with the wrong crowd.
It was a worthy effort but was no match for most of Price's work, especially since it wasn't based on an Edgar Allan Poe work. As for the banshee, it was actually an aos sí, or sidhe. It's fun but don't expect much, unless you enjoy all sorts of gruesome things.