Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


Last week I watched "Sunset Song", one of the saddest movies I've seen recently. Directed by Terence Davies, the film is set in the period just before and during WWI on a farm in northeast Scotland. Chris Guthrie, a bright young girl's whose dreams of going to teachers college are shattered when, after her mother bears numerous children, she commits suicide and kills her two youngest twin boys when she discovers she's pregnant again.

When Chris is left with her father, a brutal man, and her older brother, Will, after relatives take the younger children to live with them, she gives up her dream of teachers college to care for the household. For minor infractions, John, the father, takes the horsewhip to Will, and Will finally saves enough money to leave the farm and marry. Chris is left alone with her father.

The mood is dark and somber throughout the movie, except for a brief interlude of happiness after John dies of a stroke, and Chris marries Ewan, an amiable young man who lives nearby. Ewan reluctantly volunteers for the Scots Guards after war is declared and goes off to training. When he comes home on leave before being shipped to fight in France, he's drunk and brutal with Chris in the sight of their young son. Chris does not understand what's happening with Ewan, but she stands up to him when he shows sings of becoming violent, like her father.

When Ewan turns brutal, which we learn later is from stress about going into the fight in which thousands upon thousands have already died, I thought, "Oh! I've seen this movie before," and I debated whether to continue watching a replay of Chris living with another violent man. I decided to go ahead, and the dark mood continued, till weak hope is offered toward the end of the film by Chris' oneness with the land.

The stunning cinematography, which redeems somewhat the sadness of the movie, is by Michael McDonough. Northeast Scotland is gorgeous, and McDonough takes full advantage as he moves the camera slowly and lingeringly on the beautiful scenes. Indoor scenes are poorly lighted, as were the farmhouses at the time, and the camera again moves slowly. The light and shade in certain scenes resembles lovely paintings, and I was grateful again for the lingering camera.

The soundtrack by Gast Waltzing is very much in tune with the sadness of the movie and deserves credit.

I was going to post the video of the trailer for the film, but I think it gives away too much. It's on YouTube if you'd like to see it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Anyone out there seen the Swedish film Force Majeure, directed by Ruben Östlund? Did I order the movie from Netflix because of a recommendation from a friend, or a review that praised the film? It is a puzzlement. Apparently, I ordered it some time ago, and, when it arrived, and even after watching, I wondered why I put it in my queue. Anyway, I thought it intriguing, though rather strange, and overly long. The movie included very funny moments, and I suppose it could be characterized as black comedy. Live and learn, and, in the end, I'm not sorry to have seen it.

In the film, a Swedish family, which includes the father, Tomas, the mother, Ebba, and two children, Vera and Harry, is on a ski holiday in the French Alps. The performances of the main actors, Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) are not of the highest quality - the father's especially, I thought quite weak. The child actors, Clara Wettergren and Vincent Wettergren, are very good in their roles.  The family meets up with an old friend of Tomas, Mats (Kristofer Hivju), of the startlingly wild red beard, and his 20 year old girlfriend, Fanni (Fanni Metelius), whose performances outshine those of the parents.

The film created a buzz at Cannes and is rated highly in reviews by critics at Rotten Tomatoes, but less so by the audience reviews. Shades of Ingmar Bergman, but surely not in his class of genius.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Spoiler alert!  If you have not read the third in the Chief Inspector Gamache mystery series, you may want to stop reading now.  I don't reveal the identity of the murderer, but I write more than you may wish to know.

Louise Penny writes well, and I enjoyed the third book in the Chief Inspector Gamache mystery series, with exceptions.  Had I not read Penny's two earlier books, Still Life and A Fatal Grace, I probably would have been puzzled by the side story of Chief Inspector Gamache's difficulties with his employer, the Sûreté du Québec.  Despite Penny's formidable writing gifts, her attempt to squeeze the two stories into one book seems less than successful to me.  Am I alone in thinking a mystery novel, even one that is part of a series, should stand on its own?  Even if characters in the series recur, the reader should be able to pick up any of the novels and read and enjoy.

Once again, the setting is Three Pines, the tiny, out-of-the-way, beautiful, and peaceful village - well, maybe not so peaceful, as murder is in the offing yet again.  With another murder in the same setting, the story crossed the boundary of my ability to suspend disbelief.  As I read the beginning of the book, I was much preoccupied thinking, "I can't believe this.  Another murder in Three Pines."

To detract further from the credibility of the story, with a visiting witch in tow, the villagers decide to hold a séance, just for fun, in the village "haunted" house, where terrifying events took place in the earlier mysteries, and - all too predictably - one of their group is murdered.

Except for the distracting side story, I enjoyed the middle of the book.  Alas, near the end, at the climax of the story, Gamache hopes to solve the murder - incredibly! - by gathering the villagers and returning to the "haunted" house where predictable mayhem takes place before the murder is solved.

I wanted to like the book more than I did, because Penny is a skilled writer who creates characters that come to life, and she has a gift for realistic dialogue.  The plot is the problem. The introduction of the side story, which doesn't mesh with the main story, the setting of yet another murder in the small village, and the return to predictable murder and mayhem in the "haunted" house stretched credibility beyond what was acceptable to me.

Saturday, May 3, 2014


A week or so ago, I watched the film Philomena. What a lovely, lovely movie. Judi Dench is superb and Steve Coogan is no slacker. He more than holds his own with Dame Judi, and that's no small feat. The chemistry between the two actors, Coogan, who plays an English journalist, and Dench, as Philomena, an Irish woman, is amazing when they come together to search for her lost son.  If you didn't see the film, which is taken from a true story, when it played in the theaters, I highly recommend you watch online or find a copy of the DVD.  As well as acting in the movie, Coogan co-wrote the script with Jeff Pope from the book of the same name, so it is truly his baby.

Be sure to watch the bonuses, the interviews with the real Philomena and actors, Judy Dench and Steve Coogan, that are included in the DVD.  Philomena Lee is quite a woman, and the film appears to have been a labor of love for the script writers and the actors.  In the interview, Coogan speaks of Philomena with true fondness and respect.

As Coogan, who played the journalist, Martin Sixsmith, was being interviewed, I thought of the present discussion and controversy over whether England is a Christian country initiated by Prime Minister David Cameron's speech at his Easter reception at Downing street. In the interview, Coogan, who is a lapsed Roman Catholic, notes that he and Pope, with permission from Sixsmith, took the liberty of making him a lapsed Catholic, though...
He's Church of England, so Protestant, which in England, basically, means athiest. (Laughter) You go to church, but you don't believe any of that stuff, you know?
Not the final word, I'm sure. 

Coogan is also a comedian, and, though the film is not a comedy, his comedic touch lightens what is, in fact, a quite moving and serious film.  One phrase spoken by Sixsmith refers to the nuns at the the convent in Rosecrea, Ireland, as, "The Sisters of Little Mercy".

Before I returned the DVD, I watched and thoroughly enjoyed the film one more time.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Spoiler alert!

While I enjoyed the second book in the Chief Inspector Gamache mystery series, I thought it fell short of the first, Still Life. First of all, that the story was set in the the same small, remote village of Three Pines stretched credulity a bit too far for me. Second, the story includes references to an investigation in Gamache's past that gravely affected his chances for further advancement in the Surété du Québec, but the reader is given only only the sketchiest of glimpses into the case. Third, the book concludes with another loose end left dangling. I suspect the reasoning behind the references to the past and the loose end is to entice the reader to read the next book in the series, but it bothers me because I believe each book, even stories in a series with recurring characters, should stand on its own.

Also, I guessed the identity of one of the murderers, which did not at all detract from my enjoyment of the book, but I was surprised because it almost never happens.

Monday, January 13, 2014


"Another Year" is a strange movie. Written and directed by the much admired Mike Leigh, the film received a number of glowing reviews, yet a quarter way through watching, I wondered what the movie was about. At the end, I asked myself the same question.

Were the names of the two main characters, Tom and Gerri, intentional?  Both Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen play their roles as Tom, a geological engineer, and Gerri, a counsellor, a middle-aged happily married couple, well and naturally, with Broadbent's performance outstanding in excellence. Tom is plainly a nice guy, but Gerri's character is annoying to the point of insufferability, seeming smug, all-knowing, and insular as she observes the disastrous lives surrounding her, even as she offers the characters kindness and hospitality.  Oliver Maltman is very good and natural as their son, Joe.  Tom and Gerri's daughter, mentioned in passing, seems not a steady presence in their lives.

To enjoy a movie, I must first suspend disbelief and accept the characters as real people for the duration, but several of the characters were caricatures who were not at all credible.  I wondered how it was possible for the couple's friend Mary (Lesley Manville), with her
overplayed shrinking, cringing, and gesturing, to ever pull herself together enough to function in her job as a receptionist.  Then there is sad Ken (Peter Wight, also overplaying his role), as their miserably unhappy friend with whom the couple try to link the miserably unhappy Mary, but she's having none of it, and who can blame her?  What a miserably unhappy pair the two would make.

Enter son Joe's long-awaited (by his parents) fiancée, the giggly, squirmy, gesturing Katie (Karina Fernandez), whom both Tom and Gerri agree is lovely and just the girl for Joe.  Please.  To be in the same room with Mary, Katie, and Ken all at once would try my patience to the utmost.  Though it doesn't happen in the film, viewers are painfully subjected to two at a time.

Oh my.  I sound grumpy even to myself, but, in the end, what this viewer is left with are four seasons in the lives of Tom and Gerri showing the couple's kindness and hospitality to the less fortunate, yet all the while remaining self-contained and self-satisfied throughout.  Director Leigh most certainly does not fear moments of silence.

Three intriguing characters appear only briefly: Janet (Imelda Staunton), an unforgettable picture of depression, whom Gerri counsels at the beginning of the movie and who never again appears; Ronnie (David Bradley), Tom's brother, whose blunt and steely gaze is stunning throughout his nearly wordless performance which begins at his wife's funeral; and Ronnie's son Jack (Philip Davis), a study in anger, barely and, at times, unsuccessfully repressed.  Strangely enough, Mary and Ronnie seem to connect in a way that is believable, but I shuddered at the thought of the havoc Mary'd wreak should she became part of Ronnie's life.

Please don't simply take my word on the quality of the film, but read at least some of the words of the 93% of critics and the 74% of audiences who praise "Another Year".  

Thursday, May 30, 2013


In an earlier post, I said that I would probably go with my granddaughter to the the latest film version of The Great Gatsby, even though I did not particularly wish to see the movie.  When I've enjoyed a book as much as I did Gatsby, I hesitate to see the movie version unless the reviews are very good.  The critics' opinions were evenly divided between positive and negative, but audience reviews were and still are positive in the ratings.

Last week, we went to the theater, and, after we bought the tickets and were in line to buy high-priced concessions, GD told me, "My friends decided to see the movie, and I'm going back with them this weekend."

"You tell me now?" says I.

"I want to see it twice," says she.

Oh well.  In we went to our seats and, after a series of trailers, the movie began.  For the first half hour or so, I found myself noting the period details of the clothes, cars, and home decor of the 1920s, which usually means the film is going slowly.  Still, I sometimes enjoy long, slow movies with lots of period details, so I was not unhappy.  Then, the pace quickened, and I became completely absorbed in the film.  I found that the more I forgot the movie was about Fitzgerald's novel, the more I enjoyed the film for itself.

We did not see the 3-D version, which I think was a good thing.  Aside from the fact that I'm not a great fan of 3-D, I think all the popping out would have been a distraction for me.  GD saw the 3-D version on the weekend, and she expressed a slight preference for the 2-D version.

Leonardo DiCaprio was splendid in the role of Jay Gatsby, and Carey Mulligan was very good as Daisy Buchanan, as (I read somewhere, now forgotten) the young woman whom two men want to possess, though she doesn't yet own herself.  To me, Tobey Maguire was miscast as narrator Nick Carraway, as he seemed dazed throughout the film.  Of course, in the film, he wrote the Gatsby story from a rehabilitation center for alcoholics, so perhaps his befuddled state was as intended.  Although Fitzgerald himself was an alcoholic, Nick in rehab was not in the novel.  Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan was appropriately repulsive.

When I completely suspend disbelief, and become part of a movie, though in the role of a spectator, I consider the the film a success, thus I fall on the side of movie audiences who give the film an 84% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, rather than on the side of the divided critics.     

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Spoiler warning.

Over the last couple of nights, I watched the film "The Tree of Life" on Netflix DVD.  I've enjoyed all the Netflix movies that I've chosen so far, some more than others, but "The Tree of Life' was the absolute worst.  The movie was filled with beautiful images, some from the Hubble telescope, others such as a view of the silhouette of an actor projected against sunlight shining through trees, with a soundtrack that includes Brahms, Bach, and Schumann, along with original music, but - hey! - where's the story?  A character comes on the scene, we see images, strange landscapes, then the character thinks or talks in a low voice, mostly to her/himself.  (Before the movie begins, the viewer is instructed to turn the volume to loud.  Good advice.)  What's going on?   I broke my viewing into two parts, because I was bored/impatient/mystified.  The actors, especially the young boys, were very good when the camera was on them, which it was far too little of the time.  There is a story in the movie, but it's broken in pieces and lost in interruptions that serve to lengthen the movie to over two hours to no good purpose.

I went back to read the reviews again, because I always check them out before I put movies in my Netflix queue, and more than 80% of the critics gave the movie positive reviews, but when I went to audience reviews, it was a different story.  The moviegoers either loved the movie or they hated it.  The scores were either 0 or 10.  I'd score it far on the low end, either 1 or 0.
The Tree of Life is nonetheless a singular work, an impressionistic metaphysical inquiry into mankind’s place in the grand scheme of things that releases waves of insights amid its narrative imprecisions. This fifth feature in Terrence Malick’s eccentric four-decade career is a beauteous creation that ponders the imponderables, asks the questions that religious and thoughtful people have posed for millennia and provokes expansive philosophical musings along with intense personal introspection.
As such, it is hardly a movie for the masses and will polarize even buffs, some of whom might fail to grasp the connection between the depiction of the beginnings of life on Earth and the travails of a 1950s Texas family. But there are great, heady things here, both obvious and evanescent, more than enough to qualify this as an exceptional and major film. Critical passions, pro and con, along with Brad Pitt in one of his finest performances will stir specialized audiences to attention, but Fox Searchlight will have its work cut out for it in luring a wider public.
Crikey!  If I'd read the overblown review from Cannes beforehand I'd have known not to put the movie in my queue, that it was not for little me of "the masses".  I ask you, what would I know about "great, heady things", me of "the wider public"?  The film won the Palme d'Or at  Cannes.  Not for everyone, surely.  Not for me.

Movie poster from Wikipedia.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


The trailer for the film is not yet available, so far as I know, and I'm late taking note of the film's award at the Sundance Film Festival.

Ann Fontaine at The Lead:
Sundance Film Festival announces awards:

Winner of the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Prize for Grace Under Pressure:

Love Free or Die, directed by Macky Alston

The film is about what happened after the Episcopal Church in New Hampshire came under fire for electing an openly gay man as its bishop.
From Beyond the Box:
BTB caught up with Alston at a mass held at St. Luke’s Church on Sunday in Park City, where LGBT leaders showed up to support and discuss the film.

Daniel Fienberg offers a splendid review at HITFIX:
Macky Alston's "Love Free or Die," playing in the US Documentary competition at the Sundance Film Festival, begins as a portrait of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Church.

Even if "Love Free or Die" had been content to just remain focused on "the most controversial Christian in the world," it would have had a solid story to tell. Despite facing death threats and opposition within his own church, Robinson is a sensitive, funny and altogether inspirational subject.

The thing that elevates "Love Free or Die" -- which I will eventually type as "Love Free or Die Hard" in this review -- is that in its final act, the documentary leaves Robinson almost entirely and, without belaboring its point, it becomes the story of change, a moving look at how even a rigid church with centuries of entrenched methodology can begin a slow shift towards inclusiveness and equality.
Please read the entire review, especially the final paragraph.