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1917 (2019)
Literate, gripping ... and manipulative
24 January 2020
Well acted and literate, and elevates history, all of which are good, but I found it crassly manipulative, with too many scripted coincidences that amounted to unwitting parody of the genre "single mission war movie." For me, it became unwatchable. I walked out.
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The Lion King (2019)
A vapid remake
19 July 2019
When the highpoint in a Disney film is a musical reference to another popular Disney film, we are in for an unoriginal evening.

This remake excruciatingly follows the animated version, except for one thing: in the remake, Simba the cub looks like a plush toy.

I don't have to comment on the plot and it would be impossible to write a spoiler because every detail of the original is repeated here.




And the CGI. Sitting still, the animals were animals. Moving, though, was dangerous for the poor things. Sometimes jerky, sometimes not. Lion laying down? Either have the Lion hit the ground smoothly and naturally or keep the creature standing up. Chase scene needs multiple openings just small enough to slow down the predator, except for its big ugly face? (Maybe in 3D that becomes more exhilarating)

I've also seen more than a few films where the actors look onscreen like they're waiting for stage direction and somehow the awkwardness makes its way into the final cut. But CGI animals? How could they possibly have been drawn that way?

The kids in my life loved it, ages 4 to 15. So that's something.
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South Pacific (1958)
2 stars for nice staging; no stars for anything else
2 June 2019
I found this film oddly hollow. The tropical location, a few fun character actors playing quirky roles, and some memorable tunes were about it.

None of the characters were well-developed, whether through their clunky dialogue or the songs - and if we are talking about war and the failure of lasting love, this film was more like an extended trailer. Even the lively songs were off kilter. They did not match the story.

This is light opera with rare dialogue. And the songs were no substitute.
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One of the best....
30 May 2019
I first saw this when I was stationed in Italy on a remote island. The only entertainment we had was making dinners with local fresh ingredients and following up with a VHS movie sent to one of us by our folks back home. This was the 80s so VCRs, cable and the ability to tape was all new and my parents did not waste any time taking to the new tech for their son stationed "overseas."

Whenever one of their longtime favorites came on, that's what they'd record. So my contributions to our movie parties were all these 30s and 40s films. It's how I first saw "It's a Wonderful Life."

And "My Favorite Wife."

I loved it and live loved it ever since. Highlights: the hem change upward after Irene Dunne discovers that the dresses from her closet were about a foot too long. Snip snip snip in the hotel bathroom.

The homecoming where Irene becomes this screeching southern moll who all but sickens Gail Patrick who's just been carried across the threshold.

And did they or didn't they? Did Adam and Eve consummate their 7-year long stay with some island intercourse.

Of course they did, and Randolph Scott's non-answer answer - "we have nothing to reproach ourselves for" - shows it. That comment conveys that they - "Adam and Eve" - were together for an indeterminate time, possibly never to be found, and therefore had a right to companionship and intimacy. Indeed, under those circumstances, there would be nothing to reproach them for.

A wonderful film that holds up over repeated viewings.
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Aladdin (I) (2019)
An astonishing failure
26 May 2019
It is now a trend. The big budget segment of the film industry is so full of CGI and (in this case) making sure that just the right kind of diversity (and nothing else) dominated, they forget how to write literate, funny scripts.

This was a strictly connect-the-dots production. Both leading roles were oddly hollow. The genie not believable. Jafar as threatening as an aggressive usher. I read the press materials about the triumph of making it a point to cast people who look like they're from the region. But then what? Put San Fernando Valley English into their mouths?

And what English? Every scene was predictable. Sometimes even the next line was predictable. For all that production money, they should have hired a literate someone to fix the script.

A grievous waste.
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The Time Tunnel (1966–1967)
A 10-year old's review
5 April 2019
I am 10 and I love this show. My teacher Sister Mary Francilla said to please remember that not everyone speaks English in history, but I just think she's being negative.

I like it when the time travelers are just dropped into a place and then they have to fend for themselves and make sure they don't change history or that things happen that need to happen to make sure we're actually here today.

My other favorite show is Lost in Space. All the aliens speak English. Sister doesn't bring up Lost in Space.
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Unplanned (I) (2019)
My sudden interest in activism
3 April 2019
I saw the film last night, alone. I wanted an experience that was strictly me and the film.

I'm a trial attorney. I measure things through words. How are they put together? How are they spoken? I apply that to film viewing. The words.

I am new to abortion awareness. As a Catholic I was mildly pro-life, but certainly not an activist, much less an angry one. That all changed when Andrew Cuomo signed the NY legislation effectively permitting abortions up to the instant of birth. (I've read the legislation and the treatises. That is indeed how the statute can be applied.).

Seeing this film was part of my new activism. I was previously aware of Planned Parenthood as a "reproductive health services" provider. But I was always skeptical of that description. After all, reputations don't happen by accident. Abortion seemed to be the sine que non of its existence - by reputation. I've known donors who gave for precisely that reason.

And then I read the press reviews, and their snarky and adolescent tones. I thought: this movie must disturb effectively.

My prognostications were correct. It does disturb. It is also gripping, shocking, and surprisingly even-handed in its presentations of what is, by any measure, a grisly procedure. The juxtapositions of everyday life against the gruesome were well-done because they were understated.

If you are new to abortion awareness, I recommend this movie. I am new. I am glad I went.
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Perhaps I'm giving it a 10 just to counter THR
11 March 2019
Having endured the ridiculous Aquaman (I know: different comic universe), this was a refreshing upgrade - simple and heartfelt, with the humanity of the (many) roles shown well.

The script? Before I answer that, answer me whether you saw Aquaman, and its unclever blend of On Golden Pond, Casablanca, Flipper and The Adventures of Tin-Tin. Now there's a bad script.

Here we have straightforward story-telling with some heart-tugs (though the kid heart-tugs could have been more sophisticated). It certainly was not a "feminist" movie or an anti-capitalist one. Where did those folks get that impression? Perhaps some projection at work there - from misogynistic fascisti-communists maybe.

The use of 90s music was on target, particularly using a pop piece during a major fight scene. Nice touch.

The female lead? Not bad. She wasn't given great dialogue - too much going on in this particularly busy and complex origin story.

It's a wonderful film. Only fascisti-communist misogynists will be dissappointed. (Yes I know fascism and communism are supposedly opposite. They're not.)

And I'm not reading The Hollywood Reporter reviews anymore. There's your fascisti-communist misogynist.
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Blindness (2008)
7 February 2019
I watched this at the suggestion of someone who knew one of the actors.

Grotesque. Non-fiction misery filmed is one thing. But this was fictional misery, and the production team had no limits.

The premise was nonsensical, an inexcusable flaw where humanity is about to experience its greatest trial. With plausibility not a quality check, sky's the limit for all the intensifying grotesquerie that follows. The voice in your head is subtitling the whole film with "this is so idtioic it's painful," which I am sure was not the fulmmakers' goal.

But perhaps this was a closet anti-globalist film. After all, it's a world government that presided over the horror.
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Aquaman (2018)
Did anybody read the script prior to filming?
18 January 2019
Warning: Spoilers
A zero-star script. One star added for competent CGI.

And the worldwide public has to date paid a billion to see it.

Aquaman was a series of lines and stagings from every movie you've ever seen. And not in a good way. Every scene was predictable. It doesn't take long for that realization to set in. Wait. Didn't we see that scene in Dr. Doolittle with hints of Flipper? And that scene. Was that Casablanca? And were those creatures the flying monkeys from Wizard of Oz? No? Could've fooled me.

Want a poignant father-son pirate presentation of a manly heirloom (ugly and savage pirates, not Johnny Depp) right in the middle of a violent boarding? Here's your film.

Want to lurch from a strange undersea world to the Sahara and then to a quaint Italian village - all in five minutes - where the lovers discover amore (and Aquaman pulls a quick Superman heroic), where you think you've somehow landed in The Adventures of Tin-Tin? Here's your film.

Like your lovers to embrace and neck right in the middle of the major battle scene, complete with gal's leg halfway up the thigh of the hero? Here's your film.

And if you haven't seen On Golden Pond in awhile or taken in the Fourth Station of the Cross or heard "He has Risen" since Easter, here's your film.

Bonnie and Clyde escaping under a hail of billets? Check.

Shakespearean family strife (drawing from Merchant of Venice, possibly Hamlet, traces of Romeo and Juliet, a reverse MacBeth, and heavy on the Tempest)? Check.

A terribly wooden script, with no susatained suspense? Check.

Every outcome of every scene obvious? Check.

With this amount of money in the project, there is no excuse.
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Nine stars, with a deduction for a poorly written and staged confusion.
1 January 2019
This was a delightful comedy with rich laughs drawn from life. Even in face of ostentatious wealth, we still recognize these situations from parts of one's own life. Exclusion. Pretension. Falseness. Greed. Envy. In fact, we learn of the difference between most of the Seven Deadly Sins and most of the Cardinal Virtues.

The characters are the uncomplicated types who usually inhabit screwballish romantic comedies, with the added twist that the characters are all Asian.

The two leads, unfortunately, don't have much chemistry with each other, but adequately fill their roles even if lightly. I believe better introductory lines from both leads - and not about dessert portions - would have accomplished this.

The great treasures are the non-leads (the protagonist Eleanor, for example) and the best of these are the blonde "Ellen" and the gay fashionista.

For those complaining that this or that about Singapore wasn't captured correctly, welcome to movie-making. Not every detail or nuance can be captured. When people from New York or San Francisco or Tokyo or Rome see their cities depicted, they accept it as a depiction - showing their experience with these kind of things.

For those who say that the characters were not terribly deep, remember that this is a comedy that sets a particular scene for particular laughs at particular things. Deviations into sadness or despair would be absurd.

Enjoy! A delightful confection. (I love using that word.)
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Deductions for script lapses
22 December 2018
This is an extremely enjoyable film, despite occasionally poor dialogue - almost unforgivable in a film with this budget. Worse, the cheesy and predictable dialogue introduces the film - with all of the key set-ups rooted in these silly introductions. Could no one write words to set scenes we've not seen and heard a thousand times?

Putting that aside, Emily Blunt is a revelation. Obviously, a comedy genius with an uncannily believable way with a line and even without a line - her presentation of this marvelous character was pitch-perfect. I did not watch her and think, "oh, here's Emily Blunt playing Mary Poppins."

I thought, "here's Mary Poppins."

But that script. Michael Banks was more weakling than grieving. His sister Jane's contrasting confidence made his character suffer even more by comparison. And the lawyers and bankers? The script left them as little more than predictable good-cop-bad-cop cartoons. Ellen the kitchen maid? Completely uninspired, with only a rare laugh.

Meryl Streep's segment provided relief from the script. Was this a different writer? Clever and fresh and unexpected.

Unexpected is what should drive a family fantasy movie, particularly one with so many expectations built into it.

The unexpected in this film?

Emily Blunt's stunning characterization first and foremost.

The trip into the Royal Doulton antique bowl.

Meryl Streep's Topsy segment.

The excellence of the hummable music. (Despite what you may have read, there was no "rap" segment.)

But that script......
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I was surprised to learn of this show
15 December 2018
Being a long-time Jean Arthur fan since I first saw her already-old films in the 80s, I was surprised to learn she had a sitcom.

It lasted only 11 episodes, but compared to some others that haven't aged at all well, this wasn't bad - and Miss Arthur is excellent. Dated plots, but given freshness with the nicely done acting and the inimitable Jean Arthur. Unfortunately, there are precious few episodes on YouTube.

Curious flaw: some of the takes of Miss Arthur seated or standing are badly done, as if the director couldn't quite get her to face the camera without appearing staged.
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Did I see the same film the negative critics did?
11 November 2018
Apart from the minor fact that the narrator's adolescent voice tone lent no gravitas, sophistication, or other quality point to the film, the entire package was a perfectly acceptable new interpretion of the character and story.

The music was fine, and the delightfully festive Whos of Whoville even managed to sing two traditional hymns - God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Silent Night.

We were three generations who saw it, and each generation found something to enjoy. How wonderful that this relatively modern story about the true spirit of Christmas continues to find new outlets for interpretion.

(The negative critics do realize this is a work of fiction, right?)
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The Big Easy (1986)
The only other movie I've walked out on
25 September 2018
We're supposed to believe that the Ellen Barkin character is a strong and independent woman, and what happens about 14 seconds into the film? She's just too weak to resist Dennis Quaid's dazzling smile. Up she goes on the bed post and his finger does the rest.

What? We're supposed to believe that people behave like this? Or that strong womanhood is so readily compromised by a winning smile?

It was a lazy writer's trick to have these two writhing around barely after the opening credits role. After that, the "story" never recovers. We're never convinced we're watching anything but two hormonal adolescents about to do it again, if only they could find another bed post.
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One of only two movies I've walked out on
25 September 2018
It's neen 27 years and I haven't forgotten. This was a stinker, and one of only two films I've walked out on - the other being The Big Easy. I guess there's a third I SHOULD have walked out on: Star Wars I, whatever it was called.

This movie has the name "Godfather" in it, but that was the last similarity between this and the masterpieces I and II. No gripping story - barely a story at all. And Miss Coppola, wow. It was like Anjelica Huston's first efforts: hollow, wooden, monotonous.

A stinker.

So bad it's good? No, worse than that.
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Pretentious and boring
22 September 2018
This film has a vague and uninteresting screenplay (quite a marvel given the subject matter), overwrought acting (all wearing a variation of the same woeful expression), and drifting characters. Of course, Ingmar Bergman directed So It Must Be Profound.

The screenplay deploys the same revolving technique:

1 camera pans to sad scene 2 in walks sad person 3 then another person is sad too 4 all are sad 5 camera pans all the sad people 6 scene dissolves 7 repeat

Bedknobs and Broomsticks is more comprehensible.
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The Migrants (1974 TV Movie)
Men for others...
22 September 2018
As a senior at an all-boys Jesuit high school, we the entire student body were required to watch this. It was part of the school's relentless insistence that we in all ways should be Men for Others.

I've remebered this film ever since as my awakening awareness of the poor.
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Pitch Perfect (2012)
I guess this is what you get when literacy is unavailable
14 August 2018
I was a prisoner of this plodding, unfunny, downmarket predictable anti-confection during a car ride. I was driving 14-year olds 500 miles and we needed movies for our onboard video system.

I managed to get incensed. This PG-13 "tween" film was so outlandishly sexual that I saw fit to accompany the whole movie with my very own morals narrative. A very special type of dubbing. And because our onboard TV puts the sound controls in front of me (thank you Lord), I got to reduce the volume for my "Morality Dubs" every time the dialogue edged into the abyss. There were plenty of abysses. And I narrated all of them. With a sense of humor designed to illuminate young boys who we want to become gentlemen, not pigs (yes, I said that).

A movie for piglets to wallow in.
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A marvelous film in every regard
23 September 2017
I should have expected that in these divisive days mainstream press reviewers would all pan this film because it amounts to a favorable depiction of British colonial policy in India and elsewhere. One reviewer referred to the British imperial era as "occupations" of the colonies, deliberately using a word that this same element would never use in, say, describing post-WWII Soviet "occupations" of Eastern Europe.

The film is a personal study. It depicts Abdul as an aspiring man, who appreciates and admires Britain. He was not servile, because anyone - of any color - in that era would have been required to be similarly "servile" to the Queen of England. It depicts Victoria as the complicated woman we know her to be - she was in this sense the last of the old monarchs and the first of the new. Her reign began just 18 years after that of George III (the "American Revolution" George III), and ruled long enough to last into the lives of people like my own great-grandmother. The world changed significantly in that 64-year span of time, and the era could only have produced a monarch as fascinating and complex as Victoria.

Here too is the first multi-cultural friendship to take the world stage. Lost on the reviewers. Here is an ascendant Indian, well-educated precisely because of the British. Lost on the reviewers. Here is a Queen interacting deeply with the Indian, an actually "diverse" friendship. Lost on the reviewers.

This is, in the end, a capture of our civilization at a point in its history. There is a reason that western civilization is the dominant civilization in the world - for its emphasis on Liberty, Liberalism (the traditional kind, not the corrupted modern kind), and Opportunity. And the British Empire played an outsize role in shaping today's world.

Victoria and Abdul is a capture of that. An excellent one.
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What happened?
6 July 2017
The previous installments nicely balanced the over-the-top tricks with the plot, and somehow it was plausible in an imaginary sort of way.

But this one? It's as if the writers had the plot then later realized they needed the tricks, and in they went, one by one, arbitrarily, with no real imagination or thought. You can hear the director saying, "ok, insert a trick here, then there, and there, then there." With a 90-minute run-time, there were actually five stories going on: the brothers, the unicorn search, the minions' imprisonment, the engagement segment (involving the oldest child, age 12!), and the Brat. Two are eventually irrelevant and unresolved, while the other three meet in the end, but in a forced "we have to write it this way or the movie has no ending" sort of way.

The premise was interesting - long-lost twin brother wants to resuscitate the family tradition of villainy vs. Gru's new home-bound stability. But the execution was just mediocre, if that. Light laughs, an LOL or two, but that's it.

The minions stole the show.
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Cars 3 (2017)
It worked again, in that inimitable Cars way
6 July 2017
I always have to get past my "but who built the cars" skepticism before I can settle in and watch a Cars or Planes movie. It's like listening to Shakespeare being performed. Give me 10 minutes and I'm into it.

That was the same with this iteration of Cars. Everything is familiar, yet the plots always surprise. And there is a generous dose of humility, love, and tenderness that these movies consistently deliver.

The kids in my life are getting older now. I don't how long it will be before they'll be wanting to see their own movies. But that I get to enjoy these movies with them just enhances the experience and my memory of these precious moments.
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Mother's Day (I) (2016)
Once upon a time, simple films were not attacked.
6 July 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I don't know what happened to take the humor and good nature out of our country, but some of the reactions to this film are proof-positive that something bad has happened.

This is simple fare, semi-farcical at times, tender at other times, and it can be enjoyed by a wide age-range. There is the wacky character, the tender character, all good-humored characters, the bulls-in-China-shop visitors, and an overall sense that with a good few hugs and some patience and some love, all will be well.

You see, that's the way movies used to be made. To entertain and uplift, sometimes in major ways, sometimes in minor ways - like this way, this film.

It's a cute little romp. Ignore the humorless. You can tell who they are. They didn't like this silly little fun film.
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Annie (2014)
A fun romp, with all the right touches
19 January 2015
As I read critiques of this film, I notice something. The critics appear humorless and without a sense of whimsy or fun.

This is based ultimately on a comic strip that was turned into a stage musical. Where, exactly, is the criticism coming from that says these characters are underdeveloped? For a comic strip turned stage musical, then updated to 2014, this is a perfectly designed romp (with one major exception I'll get to). It was funny, the characters perfect captures of their respective types (comic strip, folks; comic strip), and the overall experience one of fun.

OK, yes, we could have called in a Dostoyevsky clone and made this an indecipherable mood piece, but why on earth would we do that?

The one odd note. The choreography. Not only was it leaden and uninspired, there were obvious instances when characters were exiting their dance segment only to be caught by the camera as (1) they were exiting (smiles gone), while (2) others in view were still dancing.

We took children, sports-loving boys aged 10, and they loved it. Perhaps the ultimate test of a musical.
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Frozen (I) (2013)
I would rather watch . . . anything other than this
9 January 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I can barely believe that this insipid junk made money. It was "off" in every regard. The two sisters, on whom all of the tension of the plot rests, were wooden, uninspired, and just plain boring. Of course, if you don't care about those two, you're only going to be antagonized by the rest of the film too. Every character, scene, and resolution is only going to be annoying and seemingly contrived. And then the plot twist at the end. No handsome prince for this one! She loves her sister! Are you kidding? This bizarre, modern take in a film with a talking snowman and cynical moose.

Non-discerning kinds under age four may like this. But anyone over five with eyes and a brain will wonder when the real fun will start, and will keep wondering all the way to the end of the film.

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