Tuesday, October 31, 2017

ONLY THE BRAVE, VICTORIA AND ABDUL, BATTLE OF THE SEXES, MARSHALL, AMERICAN MADE, OUR SOULS AT NIGHT, THE DEPARTURE, THE KING'S CHOICE plus PATERSON (2016)

October is movie month for me--I saw 15 new films at the Vancouver International Film Festival including advance screenings of CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, THE SQUARE, HAPPY ENDING, QUEEN OF SPAIN, BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE), A FANTASTIC WOMAN, VALLEY OF THE WOLVES--these were the best ones, plus a couple that I did not care for.  I will write about them as they open up around the country.  First up in opening is THE SQUARE, from the director of FORCE MAJEURE.  It won this years best picture at Cannes, and is now playing in New York.  The Seattle opening is in another month or so.  In the meantime, here are some of the current films now playing that I saw this month.


The title is rather generic and the trailer seemed hokey and contrived, but ONLY THE BRAVE, based on the true tragic story of fire fighters who meet their Waterloo in an Arizona mountain wild fire is packed with naturalistic, likeable performances from Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly, Taylor Kistch and many others.  The film strives to enlighten viewers on the training each firefighter receives, the conditions they must work in, and gives some dramatic insight into their personal lives, and by carefully avoiding any sentimentality, delivers the most heartfelt tribute to a group of heroes that I've seen on screen in a long, long time.  I was pleasingly surprised and very moved throughout this excellent film.                 GRADE-----------------------A

Another film based on a true story, and one that I remembered from the early 1970's, was the silly challenge that sexist, desperate aging tennis player Bobby Riggs delivers to the professional top woman tennis player Billie Jean King, trying to drum up interest in a male vs female match for big bucks, and to prove that men are better than women in this growing sport. It's all there---the Virginia Slims cigarette tie ins, the Sugar Daddy candy spoofs, the Riggs struggle for a comeback, the King sexuality crisis--the film BATTLE OF THE SEXES is perhaps the most entertaining comedy-drama of the year, with Steve Carell and Emma Stone nailing their characterizations.            GRADE-----------------B+

The film is definitely pro-British in it's politics and social drama, and there's a nasty bias towards the Hindus that counters the charm and humor of seeing this relationship of an obese and elderly Queen Victoria as she gets to know her new Indian servant and teacher and opens her eyes to parts of the British empire that she had little knowledge of, but the film VICTORIA AND ABDUL gets a lot of mileage from the regal artistic presence of 82 years old Judi Dench and handsome newcomer Ali Fazal  that makes the film a diverting and thoughtful entertainment.  The well made film is another in the extraordinary canon of films from director Stephan Frears--just contemplate some of his greatest films:
FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS 2016, PHILOMENA 2013, THE QUEEN 2006, PRETTY DIRTY THINGS 2002, HIGH FIDELITY 2000, DANGEROUS LIAISONS 1988, THE GRIFTERS 1990, MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDERETTE 1985---and a dozen others!!!!!         GRADE---------------B+

A more than competent action director, Doug Liman made SWINGERS 1996, GO 1999, BOURNE IDENTITY 2002, MR AND MRS SMITH 2005 and EDGE OF TOMORROW 2014 among others.  His latest is AMERICAN MADE with Tom Cruise, based on a true story about a pilot who becomes entangled in nefarious dealing with gun running, drug and immigrant smuggling, and all at the direction of the FBI, CIA and other government officials.  At one point he has made so much cash money that it bulges out of boxes, bags and closets.  The film is engrossing in the way that life is stranger than fiction, and the Tom Cruise smirk is kept  in check because the plot gallops on before him.  My main complaint is that nearly half the film features that chaotic hand held camera look that some directors seem to think makes the picture cool, but mostly gives viewers a head ache.   I'd give AMERICAN MADE a higher grade if the photography were calmer.            GRADE----------B

Here's an effective, straightforward biography film on the early career of Thurgood MARSHALL, about the first major case that he won.  A wealthy white woman accuses her black chauffeur of rape, and the film is mostly a court room drama  with some back story scenes enacted.  Even though the film takes place in the early 1940's, and does not include the major achievements of MARSHALL's
life (including taking on school discrimination and other major wins, and he later becomes the first black man to become a Supreme Court Judge), the film clearly illustrates that times have not changed legally for black defendants today. Chadwick Boseman, who stars next in the new superhero film BLACK PANTHER gives a fine, low key portrayal, Gosh Gad plays his white Jewish assistant, Kate Hudson is the sympathetic, confused rich socialite, and Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens is the prosecutor, all very excellent.              GRADE--------------------B 

It played several international film festivals earlier this year, but you can see OUR SOULS AT NIGHT now on Netflix.  The main attraction of this modest romantic drama is the fourth reunion (THE CHASE 1966, BAREFOOT IN THE PARK 1967, ELECTRIC HORSEMAN 1979) of two stalwart actors:  the always effective team of Jane Fonda and Robert Redford.  They play neighbors, a widow and widower, who decide to try living together, and we find ourselves rooting for them in spite of this simple story line.                         GRADE---------------B   

Viewed earlier this month at the Vancouver International Film Festival, THE DEPARTURE had a brief run in Seattle last week, but it is certainly worth tracking down.  Filmed in Japan with subtitles, but produced and directed by Americans, this tells the story of a very modern Buddhist monk who rides a motorcycle, dances to electronic and techno music in clubs, and tries to dissuade his depressed clients from suicide.  This job is growing heavy on his mind, and when a health crisis occurs, he must  learn to swallow his own medicine.  This thoughtful, subtle and moving film deserves a wider audience.            GRADE----------B  

I saw this last June at SIFF, and it played at VIFF, and is currently opening around the country, and it has been a popular choice for foreign film audiences, but this engrossing true story about Norway's reaction to Nazi occupation during WWII, called THE KING'S CHOICE left me with a headache, because EVERY SINGLE SCENE IN THIS FILM (check out the trailer if you don't believe me) is hand held--sometimes excessively so.  (It didn't help that I was sitting in the third row looking up!)
If you can sit in the back and a jiggly camera doesn't bother you, there is an effective narrative and good acting and other pleasures to distract you, but I will never see this one again.            GRADE-------------------C+         (I would rate it higher if the photography was calmer.)




VIEWED ON TV/DVD 


PATERSON 2016--Here's a modest but effective gem--a small independent film by director Jim Jarmusch about a bus driver poet who lives in the small town of Paterson (and that's his name also) and systematically follows routine daily, all the while composing poems in his head and/or committing them to a notebook based on people he sees or the conversations he overhears.  He lives in nearly an altered state--his sweet loving wife is an artist of sorts--she decorates and paints the house in various versions of black and white.  Even her cupcakes are black and white.  DO NOT WATCH THIS FILM if you are tired and prone, as the pacing is slow and carefully drawn, and you might just slip off to sleep (guilty!) but I adjusted my seating and suddenly the film becomes curiously engrossing--it's a poetic and beautiful poem vision, and even though it's set in a modest (and rundown) part of Paterson NJ, the diverse characters are all portrayed as loving and thoughtful--the perfect utopia of humanity, something of a fantasy--an unusual departure from realism that makes you hopeful and happy.                    GRADE-------------A

PURGE: ELECTION YEAR 2016--I saw the first PURGE 2014 and thought it was an interesting idea to attempt----one night a year, any crime and murder  is legal, and the suspense comes when some family members get caught outside  their safe home when the chaos begins.  ELECTION YEAR is the second sequel, and a senator running for President wants to discontinue the purge because it discriminates against the poor and black neighborhoods, and decreases the need to help the disadvantaged people since their numbers are reduced  during that horrible night.  Of course, she is targeted by the politics of the purgers (a not so subtle political party made up of rich and white--Republicans!?! and much tension is created as she finds herself (with her security guard) out on the street at the mercy of the punkish killers and other enemies.  Although the film deals with some low brow violence, there are some interesting ideas and situations to make the film worthy of cult status.  I, so far, missed the first sequel (PURGE: ANARCHY) and just read that a fourth PURGE film will be a prequel, to show just how the PURGE situation came about.       GRADE-------B 

BROADCHURCH 2013--Just finished binging on the first season of this British TV murder mystery mini series (nearly 500 minutes!) and my main concern is that every eight hour long episode felt rather protracted about 15 minutes more than it needed to be. By the start of Episode 6 I became exasperated that the rather incompetent two main detectives on the case (an insecure first time woman and a sickly man who collapses on nearly every episode from a heart problem!)  never followed up on obvious clues that were introduced several episodes earlier.  By the start of Episode 7 my spouse and I  both decided who the murderer was (independently of each other) and unfortunately we both were correct, although the motive remained murky.  They even managed to make the last Episode 8 drag on for more than 30 minutes more than was needed.  Still (!!!!!!) I liked the setting (reminded me of a cross between GEORGE GENTLY which I've seen all of, and perhaps some VERA--also a favorite) and hopefully this series will grow on me in seasons 2 and 3.             GRADE--------B-

THIRTEEN FOR DINNER 1985--This made for TV movie features Peter Ustinov as famed Belgium detective Hercule Poiret, created in novels by Agatha Christie, and also featured  David Sachet, who shortly thereafter became the definitive Poiret on  several years worth of PBS shows about the famous detective.  I've seem most of the Christie productions, and thought this might be a new one, but 10 minutes into the film, which also features Faye Dunaway, I realized that I'd seen the Sachet version of this story called  LORD EDGWARE DIES.  Neither version is particularly memorable.            GRADE-----------C


 


 







        












Saturday, September 30, 2017

DUNKIRK (finally!), MOTHER!, STRONGER, UNKNOWN GIRL, BEACH RATS, CROWN HEIGHTS, plus PHILADELPHIA STORY, INHERENT VICE

September has been a slow movie watching month for me, mainly because there was a lot of biking to get ready for a week long 300 mile plus biking "vacation" but I did see a few films.

One of the best films so far this year is the widely praised DUNKIRK which more than lived up to my expectations.  I've waited (and I don't know why!) nearly two months to see it and it is well worth the wait.  Director Christopher Nolan expertly floats the action between air, sea and land stories--each intense with drama and suspense, the result is sometimes nerve wracking and finally exhausting, so that the finale culminates in what was for me a very moving and poeticly resolving (and tearful) 20 minutes.  Is it the best war film ever?  Certainly not, but in focusing on just the DUNKIRK situation that has hundreds of thousands of British (and French) soldiers cornered on a desolate beach during WWII, awaiting certain death from the German air force, this film captures the chaos, fear, patriotism and survival themes that every great war film offers.  There is no single actor that stands out, although all of them have their moments.  Biggest names are Kenneth Branagh (on land), Tom Hardy (in air) and Mark Rylance (on water.)  What is really effective, however, are so  many individual sequences--an early scene where the small town is peppered with propaganda leaflets promising certain doom,  soldiers waiting for the tide to lift their stranded boat off the mud, and being used as target practice by the Germans,  and full large boats with injured soldiers trying to set off for England only to be tragically bombarded, and exciting air battles with "you are there" visuals.  Each scene is filmed with an urgency and skill that only a mature, knowing director can bring, and is highlighted with a classical, memorable  musical score by the excellent Hans Zimmer.  This film is a highlight of a year which includes (so far) great films from SIFF including THE BIG SICK, AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL, THE NET,  I DANIEL BLAKE and WIND RIVER, and unlike those more intimate experiences, DUNKIRK demands to be seen on a large screen.               GRADE-----------A-

I've always been impressed with the willingness of director Darren Aronofsky to go over the top in some of his films in a way that represents extreme psychological stress and drama in such films as REQUIEM FOR  A DREAM,  BLACK SWAN and even NOAH, and in this newest film MOTHER! he really creates a horrific view of a mad, mad world out of control.  The film has divided the critics and the public into equally strong camps of "love it or hate it", but when I read the New York Times  interview with the director and actors of MOTHER! last week I knew I had to see it.  The main criticism  for the film is that most people have no idea what is going on in the movie--things seem to happen out of context and the symbolism seems out of control.  Half way through this long interview, the "explanation" of MOTHER! is presented, apparently against the wishes of Aronofsky.  In some ways I wish I hadn't read it before seeing it, but on the other hand, the film makes perfect and horrifying sense to me knowing what I was watching, and I was very stunned and impressed. ||| STOP READING HERE IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW WHAT THE DIRECTOR HAD IN MIND. |||   The film is an allegory of the book of Genesis.  The husband, played by Javier Bardem is a blocked poet whose creativity has hit the wall.  Jennifer Lawrence is his wife, who is obsessed with fixing up the dilapidated mansion in which they live.  Bardem is a God figure, open and receptive to all types of people.  Lawrence is a "mother earth"  character (the main point of view in the film) responsible for nurturing and growing their "garden of Eden" and the cast includes Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Jesus and the destruction of the earth by those who would pollute the earth with heathen worship and destructive violence, albeit a bit heavy handedly.  The film IS curious even knowing this format, and there is a dangerous theme of blood and death that adds to the feeling of dread that is created here.  Aronofsky creates a world that is evil and sad, although I wouldn't consider the film to be the typical "horror" film  it has sometimes been promoted as.  I wouldn't recommend this film to just any one, and certainly not without some explanation, but for film buffs like me, and for Bible readers with open minds, MOTHER! is the most audacious and creative film of the year.              GRADE--------B+

Led by a sympathetic yet unsaccharine performance by Jake Gyllenhaal and based on the true story of the Boston marathon bombs that destroyed both his legs, STRONGER is a satisfying drama that focuses not on the bombers, but on the recovery effort by real life character Jeff Bauman to deal with the adulation from fans that want to make a hero of him, when all he wants to do is heal his wounds.  Tatiana Maslany (ORPHAN BLACK) is excellent as his girlfriend who loves him when he has problems of loving himself, and Miranda Richardson is nearly unrecognizable as his alcoholic mother who doesn't want to lose him to his girlfriend.  The characters are gritty, gripping and involving all the way, lifting it about other true life stories with similar themes.                         GRADE--------B

French film by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne is one of their lessor efforts--a young doctor doesn't answer the clinic door late one night only to discover the ringer, a young girl was found murdered the next morning, and she spends several weeks trying to find out her name and where she was from and why she was murdered.  She persists with her inquiries against the advise of the local police and she is threatened by local gangsters.  THE UNKNOWN GIRL is in the usual laid back manner of the Dardenne brothers other films, and I had questions about why she would be so persistent when things were obviously so dangerous for her.  Also, the actress in the lead seemed so immature as to be miscast.  Frustrating but not so dull, the film maintains a low burn that might work for some viewers.       GRADE--------B-

A first time independent film by a new female French director,  BEACH RATS has a naturalistic, tense tone that kept me interested.  A young man is losing his father to cancer, while starting a new relationship with a local girl, yet seems obsessed with cruising the Internet to pick up older men for sexual encounters.  He's pretty confused about a lot of things, to say the least.  The film relies on too much hand held camera work, but there are a number of surprising scenes and it captures our sympathies with interesting characters.              GRADE-----------B-

When this film opened in Seattle several weeks ago, I thought I hadn't seen it, but reading the review for CROWN HEIGHTS I realized I had seen it at SIFF several months back.  This is based on a true story about a man accused and sentenced to prison for a murder he didn't commit--he didn't even know the victim, but because he was black, no one would believe him, except his close friend who spent nearly 20 years trying to clear his name.  It's an important story, but the film making is routine, and none of the actors really stand out, and I remember watching this film thinking it should have been better.  Unfortunately it is not very memorable.                       GRADE---------C+


VIEWED ON DVD---------------


PHILADELPHIA STORY 1940 --Amazingly, I had never seen this Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart film, despite having read several biographies about Hepburn and Grant, and I just finished reading one on Stewart (it won him his one and only Oscar for best actor.)   I've read so much about the film, the making of, and politics of and the history of the story turned play turned movie, I guess I felt like I'd already seen it.  The script is smartly written and there are some very funny moments, and Hepburn (who made something of a comeback after a series of flops) and Grant are pretty good.  But I was really intrigued by Stewart, who plays more of a very pivotal but supporting role in this film--he is amazingly good that he manages to steal the film from Hepburn and especially Grant.  He's got his usual ticks and mannerism, but his timing is super, and he was at a career peak at the time:  YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU 1938,  MADE FOR EACH OTHER 1939, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON 1939,  THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER 1940--Each of this films were critically very popular and many felt he should have won the Oscar for any one of them.  And he hadn't even appeared in the four classic Hitchcock films in the 1950's (ROPE, VERTIGO, REAR WINDOW, MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH) and the wonderful Anthony Mann westerns of the 1960's.                 GRADE--------------A-


REVIVAL-------------------

INHERENT VICE 2014--  Set in the psychedelic 1960's and based on a novel by Thomas Pynchon, this film by Paul Thomas Anderson is a curious comedy/drama about a detective (Joaquin Phoenix) trying to find a missing billionaire among an odd assortment of characters.  I saw this at the 70 mm festival at the Cinerama--the print was good, but I wondered why it needed to be seen in 70mm--nothing seemed to warrant that type of screening.  I had mixed feelings about the film--Anderson is always a challenging and intelligent director and I'm never bored,  but sometimes his films just don't connect with my sensibilities, as intrigingly made as they are.  BOOGIE NIGHTS 1997, MAGNOLIA 1999, PUNCH DRUNK LOVE 2003, THERE WILL BE BLOOD 2007, THE MASTER 2012.  What I liked most of the above films were the actors that were featured in them:  Mark Wahlberg (and Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Heather Graham and others, )  Tom Cruise, Adam Sandler, Daniel Day-Lewis, Philip Seymour Hoffman--respectively.                GRADE------B



COMING SOON:  A REPORT FROM VIFF (VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL........

   

 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

SLOW TIME FOR QUALITY FILMS IN AUGUST; WIND RIVER, ATOMIC BLONDE, BRIGSBY BEAR, DETROIT, MENASHE, WHOSE STREETS?, GIRL WITHOUT HANDS, LEMON, GIRL'S TRIP, plus IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD in 70MM at Cinerama!

August has been hot and busy with other activities like bike riding, hiking, camping and napping, but here are a few I managed to see this month, and a couple that I saw at SIFF that made brief appearances at theatres nation wide.

Top of any list this year is the new thriller WIND RIVER which was directed by the writer of last year's diamond HELL OR HIGH WATER. Jeremy Renner plays an animal big game tracker who is enlisted by novice FBI agent Elizabeth Olsen to find out what happened to a young girl found murdered in the snows of a Colorado Indian reservation.  The tense murder mystery has intriguing characters that keep you intrigued to the very end, and includes some clever scenes, one of which is borrowed from his film HELL OR HIGH WATER from last year, but it works just as well here.
GRADE---------------A-

Viewed at SIFF last June, BRIGSBY BEAR is a quirky, delightful comedy about a man child who was kidnapped as a young boy,  and has been living in a fantasy world all his life--a life that featured the make believe world of a giant fuzzy bear's adventuresWith the help of his new friends, he is determined to recreate this fantasy world in order to make a movie to complete the adventures.  The film works surprisingly well as it deals with issues of kidnapping, readjusting to society, reality vs fantasy and friendship.   It is also an adult film, aiming above the heads of only the most mature older children.  Featured actors include Kyle Mooney (SNL), Claire Danes and Mark Hamill.         GRADE-----------B+

If there is one film this year with a lot of style, it would be ATOMIC BLONDE, with trendy (from the 1980's) costumes, vivid looking set designs (in Berlin and East Germany) and expert camera work that keeps you very interested without shaking the camera around.  And there is the lead actor who can really kick butt in a brutal, tough manner--Charlize Theron makes her bruises very believable, and some of the extended fight scenes made me wince in a very uncomfortable manner.  The plot may not be the most sophisticated, but this spy drama delivers most of the thrills that we expect in a cold war story.                 GRADE----------B

A modest, character driven story, MENASHE tells of a single father living in a Jewish slum in New York City who struggles to work full time while raising his young teen son---and he's not very good at either.  He has one week to prove that his son should be living with him and not his brother's family, who are more well to do.           GRADE---------B

Here's a film nearly ruined by shaking hand held camera work:  this is a timely and true story called DETROIT which tells of three black men murdered during the Detroit riots of 1967, by a white, bigoted policeman.  When filmmakers (Katherine Bigelow who won Oscars for directing and producing THE HURT LOCKER 2010) are filming with a shaking camera and most of the film's scenes are held at night or in a dimly lit hotel room or hall way it is nearly impossible to discern who is who and what is happening to some of the main characters.  This is a powerful story that deserves to be told, but it was difficult to watch  (for a number of reasons) and I look forward to a better telling of this tragedy.           GRADE----C+

The documentary about black lives matter issues is a hodgepodge that starts with the Ferguson Mo. killing and includes other incidents that cause much anger on the streets.  Unfortunately, for all the passion demonstrated, WHOSE STREETS?  is not in any particular order, the facts are not often presented clearly and the film becomes a frustrating, unsatisfying experience.               GRADE-----------C+

This animated film THE GIRL WITHOUT HANDS, based on a Brothers Grimm story, certainly has an unusual look--the animation is very sparse, almost an avant garde look that is not easy to watch, with much of the drawings having a bare minimum look of the brush stroke used by Japanese masters.  Whether or not this suits the story may be debated.  I didn't care much for it, except if each image was framed.  The story is odd, violent, tragic, with very little humor or emotional pull.          GRADE-----------------C+

The very quirky comedy LEMON took a while to grow on me, but by 2/3 mark there is a splendid scene where a dysfunctional family sings a song about a million matzoh balls and I was finally hooked.  Still, noting the number of walk outs during the first half, this film is not for everyone.        GRADE-------------C

Seems like these days every R rated comedy tries to out gross  the last one, and GIRL'S TRIP includes some very vulgar activities, indeed.  In fact, I kept thinking that these women were out grossing Trump's bus episode with descriptions of sexual activities they were hoping would happen on their long weekend trip to New Orleans for the Essence weekend.  This was actually filmed during last year's Essence weekend, and they did a good job of  capturing the musical excitement of that event, complete with short shots of singers being integrated into the slim story line.  But for me the sex jokes became tiresome, and drinking became predictable and the story was boring.  This film was for me the epitome of a "chick flick" with a lot of sexual innuendo thrown in, and I just couldn't get that interested.  The cast was fine, with Queen Latifah, Jada Pinket Smith, Regina Hall well cast as college best friends reuniting after many years, but Tiffany Haddish seems so completely immature and silly that I found it hard to believe she was part of their social circle.  I ended looking each actress up and found that she was 10 years younger than the other three, and she wasn't able to hide that fact very well. If there is a sequel, I will not being seeing it.                              GRADE--------C




REVIVAL--------


IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD 1963--Seen on a giant Cinerama screen with a decent print in 70 MM with several hundred obvious fans, this giant film, mediocre for some, amusing for others, flew by (over 3 hours with intermission) and I had a giant grin on my face the whole time, even though I've seen this half a dozen times on TV in the last 50 years.  Spencer Tracey was drool, Ethel Merman was appropriately shrewish, Milton Berle was dryly amusing,  and Jonathan Winters nearly manages to steal the show (if he had had more to do)--in fact all the dozens of comedians have their great lines and good scenes.  There is an unofficial remake called RAT RACE 2001 which I recently saw and thought it was very funny--better than MAD WORLD in many ways.        GRADE-----B


Monday, July 31, 2017

I, DANIEL BLAKE, MAUDIE, A GHOST STORY, WONDER WOMAN, THE BIG SICK, WAR FOR PLANET OF THE APES, CITY OF GHOSTS, MOKA, SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING, LANDLINE, BEATRIZ AT DINNER, LITTLE HOURS, WEDDING PLAN

A lot of SIFF films have opened for brief runs in Seattle in the last month and should be available soon on DVD or NETFLIX.  Here's a roundup of films from this past month that I've viewed and have finally opened commercially.

Finally, after viewing it last October in the Vancouver BC film festival, I, DANIEL BLAKE opened for a surprisingly brief run in the Seattle, probably due to the fact that not one but three art house theatres that would normally play such films have gone belly up in the last two months.  RIP to the 7 Gables and the two screened Guild 45, both which seem unlikely to reopen any time soon if at all.  The company says they will be remodeled, but that has been promised for the last 20 years, and they are both now dark.  Also, the multi screened Sundance cinemas in the University District has officially changed hands to AMC, which makes it unlikely to book specialty or foreign films.  This now only leaves the four screened SIFF Cinemas on Queen Anne near the Seattle Center, and the large screen Egyptian on First Hill to pick up a lot of slack, and the tiny Grand Illusion in the University District.  But getting back to the wonderful, humanistic I, DANIEL BLAKE, this is the latest from British director Ken Loach, and it's his best. I don't want to over sell this modest, incisive drama, but it has appeared on every top five list so far this year, including VIFF, SIFF,  Fool Serious, and  other festivals where it has been featured.                             GRADE-----------A

The audience award winner at VIFF last October (but I missed it then) is MAUDIE, the (mostly) two character drama about the life of Canadian artist Maud Smith, who suffered from  extreme juvenile rheumatoid arthritis--the effects lasting until she died, and the anti social man she married after responding to an ad for a house cleaner.  She started off painting small Christmas cards, eventually painting on every surface she could find, selling these paintings from her house next to the freeway in Nova Scoctia.  The actors Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke are both superb, and the film involves you deeply in their poverty stricken lives and struggles.  Her folk style reminded me of Grandma Moses, and now, decades after her death, her art sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars.             GRADE--------A-

An actor wearing a ghost sheet with black holes for eyes is the leading man in the unusual and moving A GHOST STORY, which takes the point of view of a ghost after the death of a man.  Filmed in a deliberately leisurely pace (think three to five minute takes for many single scenes) this film requires some patience, but about half way through the film it hits you about what is actually happening, and by the end the film brought many audience members to tears.        GRADE------A-

Based on a true story, a stand up comedian breaks with his girl friend, only to have second thoughts when she falls into a coma, and he meets her parents, in the comedy drama THE BIG SICK, a thoughtful rom/com which features Holly Hunter and Ray Romano.           GRADE--------B+

It's been a long wait for WONDER WOMAN the movie, but the film, based on the Marvel comic was worth the wait.  French actress Gal Godot makes a fine super hero, and the technical aspect are excellent.  Chris Pine is the worthy male foil, and the story that has been fashioned which includes the history of Wonder Woman and her emergence into World War I is fascinating.  My only complaint--the final 20 minutes seems disappointingly predictable--how many superheros must save the world by the end of their film?             GRADE-----------B+

I wasn't looking forward to another APE movie---I've seen all five of the 1970's versions, as well as the last two reboots, but the timing was on the side of the new WAR FOR PLANET OF THE APES, and I became engaged quickly into this story of a renegade human colonel played with macho gusto by Woody Harrelson in quasi Marlon Brando mode from APOCALYPSE NOW! ---there's even the bald head, the speeches about the love of killing, and the war helicopters over the sunrising horizon with operatic style music.  But for me the ace in the hole--the thing that makes this film a true stand out is the main ape Caesar, played with the greatest of subtlety and emotion by the astonishing actor Andy Serkis.  He was so excellent in the LORD OF THE RINGS films as Gollum, and as KING KONG a few years later, and this performance is the best of his outstanding career in portraying computer generated creatures.  He is putting more emotion into these parts than any human actor I've seen this year.  He captures our attention and sympathy like nothing I've seen him do before.             GRADE-------------B+

Anonymous activist journalists try to send out descriptions of ISIS atrocities in Raqqa, Syria in this very intense documentary, CITY OF GHOSTS which is as shocking and frightening as if you lived in the middle of that war.         GRADE-------------B+

In the Israeli film WEDDING PLAN, a young bride to be is jilted just one month before her wedding, but instead of calling off the ceremony, she believes God will find her a new groom in time for the wedding, in this comedy/drama about faith and trust.                   GRADE--------B

A bereaved mother seeks revenge on the person who killed her son during a hit and run accident while driving a MOKA colored car, but she has trouble finding the truth in this slow burn French thriller.              GRADE---------B

I've seen all the previous Spiderman movies (six or seven?) so I wasn't too keen on yet another film, but this new SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING certainly has a fresh look and unique modern feel.  The story includes the immature (at times) 15 year old learning about this powers and how to control them, and with Iron Man as his mentor you know things will be just fine.  He has a single aunt as his guardian (the always welcome Marisa Tomei) and Michael Keaton is the bad guy.  A perfectly fine popcorn movie if you are in the mood.               GRADE----------B 

Selma Hayek shines as a simple healer/therapist who butts heads with a crude Trump-type capitalist (John Lithgow) in the provocative drama BEATRIZ AT DINNER.          GRADE----------B

Beautifully filmed version of Daphne du Maurier's novel MY COUSIN RACHEL is a skillful  PBS Masterpiece theatre --type--production, and features Rachel Weisz in an enticing mysterious role.
        GRADE------------B 

Based on a story from The Decameron, this ribald comedy has plenty of laughs if you are in the right sort of mood.  THE LITTLE HOURS tells the tale of a young man who hides from his master (after seducing his master's wife)--in a nunnery, where there are lot's of lovely, single women who want to seduce him.  The lively cast includes Audrey Plaza,  Dave Franco, John C. Riley, Molly Shannon, and many other amusing comedians.  Filmed on location in Italy.              GRADE------B

A grown daughter suspects her father of being unfaithful, while she herself is cheating on her fiance, in the comedy/drama LANDLINE, which is set in the 1990's before cell phones, although I don't know why that was important to the plot.  Comedian Jenny Slate, John Turturro, Edie Falco and others star in this film that tries to be like something Woody  Allen might have written, but not quite as sharp.              GRADE-----------B 

He's got a substantial mustache and a deep gravely voice, and he's made a lot of western films.  He is Sam Elliott, and he basically plays himself in the corny and predictable film THE HERO.  He is now an out of work actor with cancer looking to redeem himself with his family and find one last good movie role, and he has an affair with a woman more than half his age.   Yawn.        GRADE-------C


___________________Viewed on DVD or Netflix--TV_________________ 


MOVE OVER DARLING (1963)--This comedy remake of MY FAVORITE WIFE (1940) which starred Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, was originally planned as a 1961 film called SOMETHING'S GOT TO GIVE, the beleaguered film that Marilyn Monroe started with some sexy nude swimming pool scenes, but due to illnesses, she only filmed about 30 minutes of footage (which is available on DVD) before she was fired, and then finally rehired when co-star Dean Martin refused to work with another actress, but Monroe died of a drug overdose just a few weeks later, so the project was reworked as MOVE OVER DARLING with James Garner, Doris Day, Polly Bergen and Thelma RitterThe SOMETHING'S footage showed just how interesting Monroe's personality would have changed the feel of the film, but compared to Doris Day, which was interesting in a different way, it's like apples and oranges.  The film is a watchable little sex comedy (did the missing for 5 years wife, stranded on a deserted island with a hunk, have sex?)  but certainly not a classic.      GRADE----B

THE COMMITMENTS (1991)--Irish film directed by (not my favorite) Alan Parker, about a group of mostly young musicians who start a band trying to emulate the mostly black soul singers of America.  Fortunately, the music is decent and plentiful and the characters are mostly engaging if a bit obnoxious at times.              GRADE--------B- 

OKJA (2017)--This new fantasy film is currently playing at some theatres in larger cities, and also streaming on Netflix, and features an interesting cast including Jake Gyllenhaal (who overacts) and an odd Tilda Swinton, and Paul Dano.  The plot concerns a young girl who has raised a gentle giant of a pig--raised to provide massive amounts of pork for a world demanding more meat!  The plot is mostly for adults as discussions about commercialism and consumerism battle the rights of the individual to own what they have raised and bonded with.  The giant pig is a clever and witty special effect which gives lots of sympathy to the girl who raised him.  But overall, the film feels like a predictable, awkward blend of fantasy, politics and preachy-ness.         GRADE-------C+

PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN (1951)--Based on a myth of a man who will not die until he falls in love with a woman who will die for him (!), this lushly photographed color film is watchable mainly because the two actors are so beautiful.  James Mason and Ava Gardner are at their most alluring--watching them makes up for the leisurely dialogue and slow, creaky plot .                GRADE---C+

TRAPEZE (1956)---Directed by the great British director Carol Reed (OLIVER! 1968, ODD MAN OUT 1947, THIRD MAN 1949, and my favorite FALLEN IDOL 1948) this odd triangle love story set in a circus feels typical at first, but manages to engage us because the actors (Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigeda) are so committed to their roles, a(1946nd they apparently did most of their own stunts.              GRADE-----C+

NOBODY LOVES FOREVER ( 1946)--John Garfield is out of prison trying to go straight but needs one last big scam to set himself up.  He meets a rich widow and ends up falling in love with her, which raised conflict with his mob friends.  Geraldine Fitzgerald is excellent in her first major role, and Walter Brennan is his usual charming character.           GRADE-----C+

MR. LUCKY (1943)--Cary Grant is a gangster trying to scam money, but ends up falling for the head of a non profit raising money for the war effort in this modest drama notable mainly for Grant's effort at a New Jersey accent.                       GRADE-------C

THE GREAT MAN'S LADY--(1946)---Barbara Stanwyck plays a 100 year old woman (and not very convincingly) who tells the story of her long life in flashback.  Joel McCrea is the man she tried to love.  I watched this about 3 weeks ago and already I've forgotten most of the narrative.               GRADE-----C 


EXCELLENT FILMS OPENING SOON AROUND THE COUNTRY:
French film THE MIDWIFE with the wonderful Catherine Denueve
Single father tries to raise his son--MENASCH
Thriller from makers of  HELL AND HIGH WATER-----WIND RIVER
and delightful, quirky American comedy BRIGSBY BEAR 






 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Final weekend of SIFF Screenings-- Fri June 9--Sun Jun 11-----Best Bets--GHOST STORY, THE NET, HANDSOME DEVIL, SONG OF COTTON------Plus BEST OF SIFF 2017

Here's what I saw the final weekend of SIFF......



GHOST STORY---USA--Coming soon to a theatre near you, this is a "ghost" story like nothing you've seen before.  Extreme long shots held any where from 1 minute to 5 minutes (!) punctuate this simple but moving story of loneliness and history--from a ghost's point of view!!!             GRADE---------A-

THE NET--South Korea--When a simple North Korean fisherman accidentally crosses the border  to South Korea, he becomes locked in a struggle to return to the North, when the South only want to liberate him or turn him into a spy.  Powerful and tragic.                GRADE---------A-

HANDSOME DEVIL---Ireland--A gay teen struggles to fit into an all male prep school, but finds an unusual friendship from within the boisterous rugby team.  Charming comedy/drama.          GRADE----------     B

SONG OF COTTON--China--After seeing at least 3 Chinese films that I didn't like at all, this drama about a young divorcee pregnant by her lover who becomes a caretaker to an old man with a mean and cranky daughter becomes an insightful experience.         GRADE------------B

FEATHER--Italy--Domestic comedy about a teen couple who become pregnant and feel pressure on all sides about what steps to take.  The parents and relatives are all wacky, the kids keep their feet mostly on the ground, and I enjoyed this weird trifle of a film.         GRADE------B-

THE FEELS--USA--A group of lesbians and some others gather for a pre-wedding celebration of two women from the group, and during the drinking the first night, some secrets pop up that disturb some of the friends.  This is light drama with some laughs thrown in, nothing too heavy.         GRADE-----B-

INLAND ROADS--New Zealand--While hitchhiking, a 15 year old girl survives a car crash that kills one older brother, and ends up staying on with the surviving brother's family, where she learns some ways to grow up.  Nice acting, but slight story has too much hand held camera work to keep me involved.            GRADE--------C+

THE KING'S CHOICE--Norway--Both the Fool Series and the Golden Space Needle awards put this epic historical story about Norwegian resistance to the Nazi invasion during WWII in the top 10 films of the festival, but this film had so much aggressively jiggling hand held camera work in EVERY scene that it made me nauseous to watch.            GRADE-----C+





MY TOP CHOICES FOR BEST FILMS FROM SIFF 2017

At the End of the Tunnel
The Bar
Brisby Bear
Date for Mad Mary
A Dragon Arrives
A Ghost Story
God's Own Country
Heal the Living
Hippopotamus
I, Daniel Blake
The Journey
Kills on Wheels
Lane 1974
Little Hours
The Net
Sami Blood
Small Town Killers
Soul on a String
Weirdos
Woodpeckers

There are about 40 more films that I enjoyed quite a bit (rated B+, B, and B-) and I will write about them if and when they open for some sort of regular run later in the year.


FAVORITE DOCUMENTARIES

Angry Inuk
Death and Life of Marcia P. Johnson
The Farthest
Paris Opera
The Quest
Roberto Bolle--The Art of Dance


TOP REVIVALS

Cabaret 1973
Maurice 1987


WORST FILMS

Beautiful Kokonor Lake
Boundaries
The Hero
Hello Destroyer
Infinity Baby
It's Only the End of the World
Struggle for Life
Wallflower


TOP FILMS FROM THE FOOL SERIOUS (Full Series) AWARDS

At the End of the Tunnel
The Journey
In Syria*
I Daniel Blake
King's Choice
Wind River*
Paradise*
The Net
Kills of Wheels
Bye Bye Germany*

 *I have not seen these films yet, but believe they will open up in the next few months.
 For the first time, the same film At the End of the Tunnel appeared as Best Film on both the Golden Space Needles Awards (audience balloting through SIFF) and the Fool Serious Awards (independent balloting by Full Series members.)



Friday, June 9, 2017

SIFF Screenings Mon. Jun 5 through Thur. Jun 8-------Best Bets--------GOD'S OWN COUNTRY, THE JOURNEY, AMERICAN FOLK, KILLS ON WHEELS, THE QUEST, BORDERS, BETTER WATCH OUT, DEATH AND LIFE OF MARSHA P. JOHNSON

It's been a busy last week of screenings.  Here's what I've seen this last week.


THE JOURNEY--United Kingdom--Spectacular acting with Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, John Hurt and Freddie  Highmore, about political peace making in Northern Ireland.          GRADE-----A

GOD'S OWN COUNTRY--United Kingdom--Splendid drama reminds us of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN but set in rugged Yorkshire, England where two farm hands discover warmth and love amid a dreary life of sheep herding.  Some hand held camera work keeps this fine romantic film from a top rating.       GRADE--------A-

KILLS ON WHEELS--Hungary--Unique violent fantasy drama of young men in wheelchairs who gang up with a gangster hit man.              GRADE------------B+

AMERICAN FOLK--USA--Two strangers drive and sing their way across the USA when the 9/11 tragedy grounds all air planes.  Powerful and uplifting in a simple way.         GRADE--------B+

THE QUEST--USA--A black family from North Philadelphia is dramatically profiled over the course of 5 years, covering sickness, a shooting, cancer and other conflicts.  Will be shown eventually on the PBS program POV.             GRADE-----------B+

BORDERS--Burkina Faso--A serious but at times lighthearted, and very colorful film about four different women trying to travel across West Africa, facing corruption and other dangers.           GRADE--------B

BETTER WATCH OUT---USA---A funny, sick "midnighter" film with appropriate violence and shocks and twists--a cross between  home invasion scenarios and twisted teen escapades.  If this is your thing, you will find it fun.  Oh yeah---filmed at Christmas time.               GRADE-------B

SANTA AND ANDRES--Cuba/Colombia--A gay man and a lonely woman sent to guard him find companionship despite different political views.                   GRADE-------B

DEATH AND LIFE OF MARSHA P. JOHNSON--USA--Documentary about a 25 year cold case, where a transgendered gay man is found murdered, but the police claimed it was suicide.  Fascinating  account of misjustice.                   GRADE-----------B

KALUSHI--South Africa--Bio pic about a freedom fighter trying to win justice and equality for poor blacks prior to desegregation.             GRADE---------B-

GOOK---USA--A hand held camera extravaganza about the day of the Watts riots and burning in Los Angeles, focusing on two Korean brothers struggling to run a shoe store  while being harassed by some black gang members.  Profane and chaotic but has some powerful moments.      GRADE---C+

SUSANNE BARTSCH: ON TOP--USA--Gay icon and fashion director and party planner in NYC is profiled in this occasionally interesting documentary.               GRADE------C+

TROUBLE---USA--Angelica Huston and Bill Pullman are antagonistic siblings and are strong reasons to watch this  modest comedy drama.           GRADE------C+

IN THE RADIANT CITY--USA--Slow, protracted drama about a man returning to his hometown after 20 years, whose testimony sent his brother to prison.  Actors are fine but let down by poky script.             GRADE--------C+

ON THE ROAD--United Kingdom--Docu-drama follows a head banger band (loud), with  much aggressive hand held camera work complete with strobe lighting and after 35 minutes I left.  Only for the interested film goer.          GRADE-----------C

WALLFLOWER---USA--Local Northwest production about a mass murderer.  Most of the film is spent at a rave (dark, loud, hand held camera) and an after rave all night party (dark, loud, hand held camera) making this very difficult to see and listen to.  (Imagine being the only person who is not drunk or high and trying to have a conversation--that's what the killer has to contend with--no wonder he kills everyone.   I left after one hour.      GRADE---------C-

KNIFE IN CLEAR WATER--China--Austere, extremely meditative (read sleepy time for the viewer) film about elderly man trying to decide how to honor his dead wife--kill some chickens or kill the old ox.             GRADE----------C-

THE DOOR--China--Dull and confusing story of man who goes through a door to a different life of luxury and wealth.  Production values are fine, but it felt like an ending every five minutes for the last 30 minutes.              GRADE---------D+

THE BEAUTIFUL KOKONOR LAKE--China-- Busy, silly, excessively melodramatic  soap opera that spans over fifty years, but still feels like a vanity production for the writer/actress who at age 95 is recounting her life.  I wanted to like it but after 45 minutes I left.       GRADE-------D+



Sunday, June 4, 2017

SIFF Screenings Friday Jun 2----Sunday Jun 4--------Best Bets----WOODPECKERS, SOUL ON A STRING, THE HIPPOPOTAMUS, INVERSION

Here's what I watch for the weekend---


WOODPECKERS--Dominican Republic--Here's the break out film of SIFF--a tough prison film with a tender heart, observed with skillful direction (there's a fabulous minute plus long tracking shot  through nearly the whole prison, without cuts) and careful photography and editing--you can almost "read" the hand gesturing as male inmates talk to female inmates nearby.  There is a minimum of hand held camera movements---astonishing due to the fact that there are literaly dozens of characters in each scene. And best of all, in spite of the fact that the film deals with horrors and tragedies of prison life, there is a strong sense of life and romance that permeates the story.               GRADE-------------A

SOUL ON A STRING--China--At 140 minutes, this epic odyssey set in Tibet is filled with murder, revenge, mystic folklore,  and eye popping scenery of deserts, mountains, rivers and villages.  When a man with a dark past finds a mystic stone in the mouth of a deer he has just killed, he must return the stone to a mystic mountain many days away--in the meantime he encounters a determined young woman, a psychotic boy, and a man who is trying to kill him because he killed this man's father in his past.  Here's a skillful blending of the Western, road picture, romance, thriller and mysticism.
GRADE---------A-

THE HIPPOPOTAMUS--Great Britain--An alcoholic washed up poet and writer is sent to his god daughter's family home to investigate the possibility of miracles that have been reported. Written by the clever, wry Stephan Fry, the dialogue is full of cruel sarcasm, hilarious entendres and outrageous insults.  There's also a telling and tragic story here, steeped in bizarre sexuality,  and if you like such British entertainments, you will love this film.  Prepare to be offended.            GRADE----------B+

INVERSION--Iran--When the matriarch of the family collapses due to massive air pollution conditions in Tehran, the men in the family decide to send the unmarried single daughter to the north to live with the mother with clean air, with out consulting her, and forcing her to give up her business and her burgeoning relationship with a man.  Here's an insidious look at gender issues in an oppressive society.           GRADE---------B+

LANDLINE--USA--Set in New York City in 1995, this features comedian Jenny Slate as an older sister who is engaged to be married, but finds herself attracted to an old beau, while her younger sister is secretly involved in sex, drugs and clubbing.  They think their father is having an affair and hope to derail this without their mother becoming involved.  There are a number of fine laughs, mostly thanks to Slate's delivery and charm, and there's a very serious underplay going on, but the film doesn't transcend the set up.                GRADE------B-

SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS--Great Britain--Based on some children's books, this is a well made film that seems far to complicated for younger children (different pirate groups and lingo, perilous conditions for kids, British spies, Russian spies, confusing and awkward locations, etc.) and becomes rather pedestrian for adult viewers.            GRADE-------------C+

BOUNDARIES aka PAYS--(French) Canada--A dull and boring film about local politics that has little of interest for general audiences, with mediocre actors and basic direction.  The four Canadians sitting next to me  turned to  each other when it ended and all agreed that this was the most boring film they'd seen in years.            GRADE----------D+

INFINITY BABY--USA--I was amused by director Bob Byington's quirky last film 7 CHINESE BROTHERS 2015, but this new black and white, deadpan quirkiness did not provide one laugh for me in the 45 minutes I watched, so I walked out.  The main conceit --trying to get adults to adopt babies who will be 3 months old for ever , is a big problem.  There is no where to go with this situation,and it is too bizarre to even be funny. You know you are in trouble when the director, during his introduction of the film, says he "made a good film, but only some of you may like it, and some of you will not like it."             GRADE--------D