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LEAST & MOST FAVORITE of the week...

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I saw four movies last week.  Independence Day, along with Armageddon, is the most cynical of Hollywood blockbusters.  It lacks craft, genuine wit, or genuine invention.  Every gesture is made with the lowest common denomination response in mind.  But the idea of our world, or our world in 1996, suddenly interrupted by an malevolent, impenetrable alien force, did have a visceral effect that seemed to make up for it.  I can tell when this effect wears off.  It's near the end of the first third, where after the aliens have destroyed the world's cities and uncounted millions of lives, the stripper with the heart of gold is not only saved along with her child, but also their bloody dog makes it as well.  Independence Day: Resurgence is not able to repeat that visceral effect, since their 2016 is nothing like our 2016.  And despite more destruction, more danger, more special effects, more aerial battles, more plot holes (Judd Hirsch manages to get from the Atlantic Coast to Nevada in a day?) everything is very low energy.  Will Smith's performance in the original was nothing special, but one misses its energy here.  Jeff Goldblum has never been less interesting.

Mandy, in retrospect, is what would happen if you took all the elements of Ghost Rider, put them in a blender, and then hired an independent director to create a movie out of them.  The results are...genuinely eccentric.  Crazy Nicolas Cage has a good reason to be crazy.  I haven't actually watching the movies since Adaptation that destroyed his reputation, but he's surprisingly tolerable here.  Certainly a strange movie, maybe even a good one.  Sweet Bird of Youth is Richard Brooks' second shot at directing Tennessee Williams.  Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was not a good movie, but at least there was an understandable relationship between repressed homosexual Paul Newman and his oversexed wife Elizabeth Taylor.  By contrast, the relationship between Newman and Shirley Knight seems to be based on some studio head's desire for a happy ending to go along with the bowdlerized story.  The 17th Parallel is clearly the movie of the week.  Clearly it's a partisan documentary, and should be viewed with caution.  On the other hand this portrait of a North Vietnamese village resisting American bombing does offer a genuine picture of people showing considerable initiative under remarkable strain, as well as a side American media made little effort to show.

I also rewatched the Peter Brook King Lear the Saturday before, and My Man Godfrey.  It's awesome, and I'm startled I didn't realize it before.

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I saw three movies last week.  I saw Bloodbrothers because it had been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.  The seventies saw a number of movies which sought to deal with Italian Americans.  Bloodbrothers was one of those where neither the director, the screenwriter, the writer of the original novel, or the main star and focus of audience identification were actually Italian.  You might think this was not a promising approach, and you would be right.  As it happened, the director of Bloodbrothers, Robert Mulligan, had directed in 1963 Love with the Proper Stranger, a tale of two Italian-Americans played by Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen (!) united by the magic of unwanted pregnancy which got five oscar nominations (!!).  LWTPS was not a good, or honest movie, but at least it had Wood and McQueen as a couple.  Supposedly a tougher movie, Bloodbrothers just has most of Italian characters being really obnoxious.  The dilemma the protagonist faces between the close, narrow minded traditions of his family and the more imaginative fulfilling choice that he's actually good at is as predictable as one might think.  Even more irritating is that Richard Gere's (implausibly awful) parents, played by actors thirteen years older than him, look exactly like actors thirteen years older than him.  This lack of credibility is especially irritating considering that paternal authority is the key theme of the movie.

Gilda Live is amusing, although the best skit is early on in the movie, and Radner, I'm afraid, doesn't have the energy or power that Bette Midler had in the same year's Divine Madness.  Ironically the most telling joke is when one of Radner's characters is singing an ode to saccharin, claiming that men prefer thin girls with cancer to healthy ones with bulging thighs.  Radner's own death later that decade from ovarian cancer is a nasty irony.  Tanna isn't exactly a remake of Tabu, although it has a similar plot in that it deals with unfortunate lovers facing opposition from tribal authorities.  It's OK, and if there's nothing here that's as memorable as in Murnau's work, there's considerable attention paid to authenticity.  The film was shot in Vanuatu, and the characters speak the local language.  One interesting thing is one might think the story told was very old, and then halfway through the movie one of the characters says he's seen Prince Philip.  Later the lovers find a Christian village and this leads to the movie's funniest line ("Those people really freak me out.") and at the end we find it's 1987!

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I saw four movies last week.  BlacKkKlansman is an interesting and in many ways serviceable Spike Lee joint about the first black police officer in his Colorado city who decides to investigate the Klan.  Having accidentally given his real name to the man he telephoned he has to convince a Jewish colleague to impersonate him as part of the investigation.  Adam Driver, as the colleague, does a good job as does Jasper Paakkonen as the most sinister of the Klansmen and Topher Grace as David Duke.  There's a certain weakness of rhetoric, with  Stokely Carmichael appearing giving a speech doing his trademark more charisma than brains.  Where are my Children? may have been directed by a woman and an argument for contraception.  But it doesn't wear well a century later, what with its seduced and abandoned subplot, belief that women have abortion for frivolous reasons and obvious name (Malfit as the abortionist).

Peking Opera Blues is one of the more successful action films of 1986, with the plot of three women in Republican China trying to help the national good over warlord factions.  It's expertly edited, well paced and shot, notwithstanding the lack of acrobatics later seen in Once Upon a Time in China.  It also does well with the limitations put upon it.  Chinese cinema at the time, whether Communist or non-communist, was fairly puritan in its tone.  So the fact that two men who hang around and help the two women don't become love interests actually works in giving the women more autonomy.  (The movie ends with the five riding off in different directions.)  The Unknown Girl is another fine Dardenne brothers drama about the Belgian precariat, if not quite up to the high standards as their previous two films.  In this case a doctor ignores a buzz at her clinic door an hour after closing, only to find out soon after that the inquirer was the title character in question, and she died violently shortly afterwards.  Adele Haenel gives an especially good performance as the doctor as she tries to find out who the victim was.

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I watched 37 movies in the past 8 days.

Frances_Ha_poster.png           220px-Wadjda_(film).jpg

The best were Frances Ha (2012), a B&W indie starring Greta Gerwig as a twentysomething college grad in New York trying to find her place in life. It was funny, smart, and featured a very winning performance from Gerwig. I also really liked Wadjda (2012), the first film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, and also the first directed by a Saudi woman. It follows the daily life of 13-year-old Wadjda, a young Saudi girl on the verge of womanhood and coming up against the various cultural and religious restrictions placed on women in their society. It's moving while not being preachy or overbearing.

Other good movies that I watched last week include A Royal Affair (2012), John Dies at the End (2012), Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), Enemy (2013), Murder Party (2007), Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011), Night Moves (2013), A Touch of Sin (2013), and Camp X-Ray (2014).

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The worst was A Talking Cat!?! (2013), one of the worst films I've ever watched, earning a rare rating of a 1 out of 10 from me. It's a family-friendly comedy about a talking housecat (voice of Eric Roberts) who helps bring various neighbors together, including a bloated Johnny Whitaker as a retired tech millionaire and Kristine DeBell as a struggling mother and would-be caterer. The movie is amazingly dumb, slow, and cheap, and will be a true test of fortitude for any bad-movie connoisseur.

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Last week I saw four movies.  Valmont is beautifully shot with lovely set decoration and charming performances.  Had Dangerous Liaisons not appeared a year earlier, and had there not been a prominent theatrical adaptation of the original novel earlier that year, people would undoubtedly have liked it much more.  However, there were both such things, leading one to think why anyone would produce a version defined by having nicer protagonists.  Seriously, what's the point?  As such, the cast ultimately pales besides Dangerous Liaisons:  Annette Bening acquits herself best against Glen Close, while Meg Tilly and Fairuza Balk are least impressive against Michelle Pfeiffer and Uma Thurman. 

Settling into the sixth Mission Impossible movie, it occurred to me that I had forgotten the subtitle (Fallout), as well as the subtitle to the previous movie (Rogue Nation), and had forgotten most of that movie except Tom Cruise hanging on to a flying plane, and an elaborate scene where he has to get somewhere or deactivate something while running the risk of drowning.  As it turns out, this movie is a bit more memorable:  there's an elaborate, and very threatening fight in a bathroom near the beginning.  There's also an elaborate chase involving helicopters over the Himalayas as a climax, complicated by the fact that Cruise can't simply kill the villain since he has to take the detonator he's carrying.  Also there is an interesting, somewhat over elaborate car chase in Paris for the middle which is OK if not brilliant.  Once again, the plot involves Ethan Hunt being accused, or framed of involvement in a terrorist conspiracy, and only way he can clear his name involves giving the terrorists what they want.  Also this plans goes badly wrong, and Hunt has to find a way to solve it.  I know variations of this happened in movies 1 and 4, and if I cared enough about the plots, it may have happened in 2, 3 and 5.  At least this time the government officials who criticize Hunt are even more horribly compromised.

Something New is a silent movie with only one joke.  But it is a surprisingly good joke and sustained over the 55 minutes it lasts.  Basically Nell Shipman, director and lead actress, is kidnapped by Mexican bandits.  And so the hero comes to rescue him (which he eventually does) and they (eventually) get away.  The joke is that he does this by car, and he's doing this in a rocky, mountainous area where you'd have to be an utter idiot to drive.  Given the reliability, or the lack of them, of 1920 automobiles, any drivers watching the film in its first run must have been terrified as how the car crawls over the landscape, thinking every minute the suspension will break.  Shipman also shows some initiative as the movie goes on. 

I can imagine the conversation studio heads had when developing Roman J. Israel Esq:  "It has Denzel Washington concerned about the African-American community."  "We've done that."  "He's also a lawyer concerned about losing his soul."  "We've also done that."  "But this time he has Asberger's Syndrome."  "All right I admit we haven't done that.  But should we bother?"  As it happens the issues raised are vaguely and shallowly presented, and the thriller that the movie eventually gets around to doesn't amount to much.  True, the director of Michael Clayton liked it.  But since the directors of the two movies are brothers, people who don't have to share Thanksgiving dinner with them can reasonably be more skeptical. 

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I watched 38 movies in the past week. The best were:

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The Look of Silence (2014) was the documentary follow-up to The Act of Killing (2012). Like that first film, The Look of Silence concerns the killing of over a million suspected "communists" from 1965 to 1966, following a military coup in Indonesia. The filmmakers follow Adi, an ophthalmologist whose older brother was among those killed, as he visits surviving perpetrators of those atrocities and confronts them about their guilt while also measuring them for eyeglasses. It sounds silly, but it's a powerful film that moves the viewer as much as the first film did.

220px-The_Invitation_(2015_film)_POSTER.

Another recommendation is The Invitation (2015), a very slow-burn American thriller that deftly ratchets up the tension in a way few do anymore. It's best to know as little as possible before going in, but I will say that it concerns a couple attending a dinner party at the home of the guy's ex-wife. The audience gradually learns about the characters' pasts as a sense of dread seems to settle over everything said and done.

The_Lure_(2015_film).jpg

I also really enjoyed The Lure (2015), an absolutely original Polish film that's a musical-horror-romance about a pair of flesh-eating mermaid sisters who become singing stars in the early 1980's Polish discotheque scene. It's funny, with catchy songs, and interesting cinematography. 

I also liked Good Kill (2014), The Rover (2014), Son of a Gun (2014), 20,000 Days on Earth (2014), The Water Diviner (2014), Don Verdean (2015), Beasts of No Nation (2015), Born to Be Blue (2015), The Devil's Candy (2015), The End of the Tour (2015), Evolution (2015), He Never Died (2015), and Into the Forest (2015).

 

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The worst of the week was easily Saving Christmas (2014), the winner of that year's Razzie Award for Worst Picture. While I expected goofy proselytizing with a healthy dollop of corny seasonal sentiment, instead I was greeted with amateurish filmmaking, cringe-worthy ideas ("Materialism is fine during Christmas, since Jesus had a material body!"), and a massive ego trip for star Kirk Cameron, who has never come across worse, and that's saying something.

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3 hours ago, LawrenceA said:

220px-Saving_Christmas_poster.jpg

The worst of the week was easily Saving Christmas (2014), the winner of that year's Razzie Award for Worst Picture. While I expected goofy proselytizing with a healthy dollop of corny seasonal sentiment, instead I was greeted with amateurish filmmaking, cringe-worthy ideas ("Materialism is fine during Christmas, since Jesus had a material body!"), and a massive ego trip for star Kirk Cameron, who has never come across worse, and that's saying something.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4009460/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv

Kirk Cameron responded to the film's negative reviews by pleading to his fans on his Facebook page: "Help me storm the gates of Rotten Tomatoes. All of you who love Saving Christmas - go rate it at Rotten Tomatoes right now and send the message to all the critics that WE decide what movies we want our families to see. If 2,000 of you (out of almost 2 million on this page) take a minute to rate Saving Christmas, it will give the film a huge boost and more will see it as a result! Thank you for all your help and support in putting the joy of Christ back in Christmas!" This actually resulted in a severe backlash against the film, in which Internet users traveled to the Rotten Tomatoes page and condemned the film. Cameron later blamed this action on "haters and atheists".

:lol::lol: :lol: :lol::lol::lol::lol: 

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