Movies I've Seen

This is a librarian's personality at work, cataloguing the movies and TV shows I've seen (since 2004). The Internet Movie DataBase remains the best source of movie information, and I favour Rotten Tomatoes for movie reviews.


The A-Team (2010)

One of the most notoriously cheesy TV series of the 1980s brought to the big screen. Not quite as cheesy, but just as dumb - if that makes any sense. I laughed and was entertained, so I have no major complaints.

2010, dir. Joe Carnahan. With Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel, Gerald McRaney, Brian Bloom.

Above the Law

I saw this back when it came out, and more recently (2010) on TV.

Steven Seagal (in his first film role) plays Nico Toscani, a Chicago police officer investigating a massive drug conspiracy - despite being told to lay off the case more than once. He plays an arrogant asshole, but I guess that's not terribly different from most action heroes - but he's less likable than most. What sets him apart to some extent is his martial arts fighting. Unusually, he's brought Aikido to the screen, and apparently refused to make it more flashy for the camera. I can respect that, but it's a fairly un-flashy art, and watching him in action isn't as entertaining as Jackie Chan, Jet Li, or Tony Jaa. I spent the whole movie thinking that he was the titular character, "above the law" (he certainly acts it), but apparently the title was aimed at the CIA and FBI, agencies that are in some respects accountable to no one. An interesting payload for a crappy martial arts flick ...

1988, dir. Andrew Davis. With Steven Seagal, Pam Grier, Sharon Stone, Daniel Faraldo, Henry Silva.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

If only I had remembered Timur Bekmambetov directed this - I would have passed entirely. Or at least sat down prepared to eat a banquet of cheese. It's not that I mind cheese - this movie review list is riddled with ludicrously cheesy movies that I've enjoyed - it's just that Bekmambatov thinks he's making fine art, and this shit can't be taken seriously. Plodding line readings that aren't quite bad enough to be funny and no intentional humour at all. Lots of blood splatter though. That's right: young Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker - a terrible actor without the acting skills or even the appearance to carry off the gravitas we expect - and the movie implied - of Abraham Lincoln) couldn't save his mother from being killed by a vampire and is now being educated in the ways of killing vampires by a more skilled vampire killer (Dominic Cooper, possibly the only person to retain a shred of dignity through this farce). And his weapon of choice is a silver-edged axe. A number of other good actors show up to be humiliated - Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell. Winstead looks amazingly similar to a younger Jennifer Ehles - so much so that I checked to see if they're related, but no. If you liked Bekmambatov's "Wanted" (should it be unclear, I did not) you might enjoy this, although it's not quite as "good." The action is similarly insanely over-the-top.

SPOILER ALERT: stop reading now if you haven't seen the movie. Why I'm bitching about logic errors in a movie like this, I don't know - it's just my nature to be bothered by them. Sturges (Cooper) is initially completely unable to touch or attack Adam (Sewell) in any way and we're told that the dead cannot kill the dead. And yet in the climactic battle sequence, Sturges is a key element in attacking and beating Adam. If you make your own storytelling rules, don't break them.

2012, dir. Timur Bekmambetov. With Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anthony Mackie, Rufus Sewell, Jimmi Simpson, Marton Csokas, Erin Wasson, Joseph Mawle.

The Abyss

I saw this when it came out, in its original too-long format: 140 minutes. A group of workers led by Virgil "Bud" Brigman (Ed Harris) on an experimental underwater oil drilling platform are co-opted by the U.S. military to help with the rescue/recovery/exploration of a nuclear sub that went down very near it. Since we saw the crash of the sub, we know that something beyond the capabilities of either the American or Soviet subs is zooming about in the neighbourhood - Cameron's set-up for the still-absurd ending.

Stars one of my favourite actors, Ed Harris. For better or worse, the plot is typical Cameron: pedestrian but absurd. Cameron does one thing I love: he obeys the laws of physics (putting him in a tiny minority in Hollywood). This is a wonderful thing when you're an engineer, as breaking those laws often takes me right out of a movie. He also makes spaces lived-in and realistic. But he loves his overblown plots ... SPOILER ALERT: stop reading now etc. So this time we have aliens on the bottom of the ocean. In the original version, they save Brigman's life - which is very sweet, but unexplained, and then the movie ends. In the much longer (add another 30 minutes to the already excessive run-time) extended edition, we see more character interactions, but especially we see the alien's motivations - and that they were going to destroy humanity ... but didn't because Brigman is such a nice guy (they were saving him because he ended up on the edge of death by preventing a nuclear explosion). It presents a very different view of the whole movie ... but it's still stupid, in fact probably even more so that the shorter version.

I liked Harris, and the relationship between Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as his ex-wife - particularly the heart-breaking scene where she chooses to drown, but the whole movie would have been a hell of a lot better without the aliens. Problem is, Cameron probably couldn't have come up with a story without adding aliens ... Stick with the short version if you're a fan of Harris, otherwise pass entirely.

1989, dir. James Cameron. With Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn, J.C. Quinn, Leo Burmester, Kimberly Scott, Todd Graff, John Bedford Lloyd, Chris Elliott.

Accident Man

I've known about Scott Adkins for a long time. For a lot of martial arts movie fans he got noticed with the "Boyka" series of movies, which I've never watched (although I've seen some of the fights on YouTube). The movie of his that completely won me over was "Avengement:" Adkins is a decent martial artist, but he has a skill that almost no other martial artist can match. He can ACT. In "Avengement," he was an terrifying bundle of rage any sane person knew to avoid immediately after seeing him. Selling something like that - as well and as fast as he did, particularly given that he still allowed a core of humanity to show through - was amazing. And it guaranteed I would track down at least a couple more of his movies.

This and "Avengement" were both directed by Jesse V. Johson (as are several other of Adkins' movies - they're a good team, see "The Debt Collector"). In this case, Adkins is Mike Fallon, an assassin who specializes in making his killings look like accidents. We're introduced to the other assassins that drink at his pub/headquarters, and we see a couple of his kills. But his personal life gets tangled up in his business, putting him at odds with his own group. This leads to numerous brutal fights - an interesting feature of this film being the finest fight choreography ever seen in an Adkins film - by a wide margin (again keeping in mind I haven't seen the Boyka movies). Ray Park and Michael Jai White really helped, and I don't know who Amy Johnston is, but man she can fight.

The action is well defined, excellently choreographed, and brutal. The humour is almost as vicious as the action, and just as worthwhile - but you'll need a fairly strong stomach for both. I would say this sits about half way between "Avengement" and the first "Kingsman" movie - it's not quite as good as either of them, but borrows elements of both to make a very entertaining movie.

2018, dir. Jesse V. Johnson. With Scott Adkins, Ashley Greene, Ray Stevenson, Michael Jai White, Ray Park, David Paymer, Perry Benson, Amy Johnston, Nick Moran, Ross O'Hennessy, Leon Finnan.

Accident Man: Hitman's Holiday

"Accident Man" was a fun movie, and a good showcase for Scott Adkins. It was directed by his long-time partner Jesse V. Johnson (they've made something like six movies together) and based on a graphic novel about a hit man whose kills all look like accidents. This sequel isn't directed by Johnson, and the listed writers are Stu Smalls and Scott Adkins (as it turns out, Adkins had a hand in writing the previous one as well). And man, do they have a vicious and hilarious sense of humour. This is at least as violent as its predecessor, and has a surprisingly quixotic (a word, I might add, that's actually used in the script) sideline in the idea of making a family wherever you go and/or hanging onto the one you have. It's perverse, it's insane, and it's always entertaining. One important thing for fans of the martial arts: they've retained the excellent choreography of the previous movie. If you're a fan of the genre, this is a must-see. And the ending has a wickedly clever twist on it - another unexpected treat from a martial arts film.

I made a connection between this movie and "Boss Level" - they both have huge kinetic energy and a cast of insane assassins out for our anti-hero. The difference is "Boss Level" has the SF / "Groundhog Day" thing going on and is "action," not "martial arts."

From the credits: "Fight Choreography: Andy Long, Hung Dante Dong, Scott Adkins."

2022, dir. George Kirby, Harry Kirby. With Scott Adkins, Perry Benson, Ray Stevenson, Sarah Chang, George Fouracres, Flaminia Cinque, Adam Basil, Faisal Mohammed, Peter Lee Thomas, Beau Fowler, Andy Long.

Accidental Parkland: The Bounty & Burden of Toronto's Ravines

I saw "Accidental Parkland" in preview at the Patagonia store on Queen West in Toronto (2016-12-15). The movie points out that Toronto is blessed with a truly staggering number of ravines. They've been protected from building because of the danger of flooding, and so the city is left with thousands of hectares of "accidental parkland." And it is, without a doubt, a blessing and an opportunity. Shawn Micallef (professor and newspaper columnist in the city) narrates, and walks the ravines. Someone with a very good eye got the movie some great footage (including a lot of drone shots), although perhaps not enough: while there was no direct repetition of footage, there were several times they used footage that occurred moments after footage seen earlier in the film. As the film only runs about one hour, we might have hoped for better. They talk to a number of more or less influential people, among them Mark Mattson who is "Lake Ontario Waterkeeper" (I had no idea that title existed), Geoff Cape, CEO of Evergreen Brickworks, and Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto's Chief Planner. At one hour in length it's a bit too long, but for a movie that was made on $26,000 funding from Indiegogo, it's both informative and interesting.

2016, dir. Dan Berman. With Mark Mattson, Geoff Cape, Jennifer Keesmaat.

The Accidental Spy

Jackie Chan plays Buck Yuen, a very fit but apparently unsuccessful exercise equipment salesman. Early on we see his intuition getting him into foiling a bank robbery. Shortly after that he finds out that his father (who he never knew as he was an orphan) may still be alive. His father dies shortly, but not before setting Buck on the trail of a lot of money and some deadly chemicals.

Unlike most Chan movies, this actually requires you pay some attention. But the action seems to be much more about Chan absorbing as much abuse as possible rather than being acrobatic as he was in his earlier movies. The grand finale is a straight (and rather poor) crib from "Speed," and the movie as a whole is just crap. See his earlier movies, pass on this one.

2001, dir. Teddy Chan. With Jackie Chan, Eric Tsang, Vivian Hsu, Wu Hsing-kuo.

The Accidental Tourist

I saw this shortly after it was released and remembered it as very good, but my tastes have changed a lot since then. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that in 2008 this is even better than I remembered it. I thought well enough of it to read the original book by Anne Tyler in the intervening years, discovering in the process that, as eccentric as director Lawrence Kasdan's characters were, Tyler's were much more so. The book and the movie are both really good, and have characters with the same names with similar story arcs: but they're very different. This is a very funny, very poignant movie. Highly recommended.

1988, dir. Lawrence Kasdan. With William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Geena Davis, Amy Wright, David Ogden Stiers, Bill Pullman, Ed Begley Jr.

Across the Universe

A musical done entirely with Beatles music. I'm not a fan of musicals, but I watched this because of the music. Whatever they paid their director of photography, it wasn't enough: Every. Single. Shot. Was a thing of beauty. Nevertheless I left the movie a little disheartened: the story isn't very good, the references were stretched to breaking (they sang "Dear Prudence" to Prudence and that was fine, but "where did she come from?" "She came in through the bathroom window" was just stupid when acted out literally), the song interpretations are a bit uneven (Eddie Izzard doing Mr. Kite was possibly both the worst and the most interesting), the large middle stretch of surreality may fit the Sixties but was irritating, and it doesn't hold together particularly well. Still, there were some very good ideas and brilliant cinematography.

2007, dir. Julie Taymor. With Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs, Martin Luther, T.V. Carpio, Eddie Izzard.

The Adam Project

We first meet Adam at the age of 12 (Walker Scobell), finding out that he's very smart - but he's small, asthmatic, and can't keep his mouth shut, so he's bullied at school. Then we meet his Mom (Jennifer Garner) who's struggling to keep it together as a single mother after the fairly recent death of her husband, Adam's father. Then we meet Adam, age 40 (Ryan Reynolds) ... when he jumps into 12 year old Adam's life in a time jet from the future. And we find out that their father actually created the science that led to time travel ... and someone else abused it. There's snark, time jumps, and several slightly weird but fun fights.

Reynolds isn't doing anything too different: he brings the abundance of snark and sarcasm. But he brings good comedic timing and charm, and they found a young kid (Scobell) who's a very good younger version of him. The end product is a lot of fun.

2022, dir. Shawn Levy. With Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Garner, Walker Scobell, Catherine Keener, Zoe Saldaña, Alex Mallari Jr.

Adam's Rib

The trailer (which is on the DVD) claims this is a "romantic comedy." I didn't find much humour in it, and very little romance. Most of the humour consisted of the lawyer couple (Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn) bickering constantly over the court case about a woman attempting to shoot her philandering husband and how it was all about equal rights for women.

1949. dir. George Cukor. With Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn.

The Addams Family

A cartoonist drew sick and twisted images of a family he named after himself - back in the 1950s, some of the comics didn't even run. But in the 1960s a somewhat toned down version became a TV series that won lasting fame. I don't remember anyone really expecting this movie to live up to the TV series, but it did: Raúl Juliá and Angelica Houston were absolutely wonderful as Gomez and Morticia, and Christina Ricci pretty much stole every scene she was in as Wednesday. The humour is twisted, but not sick enough to significantly change the audience demographic from the TV show. A lot of fun.

1991, dir. Barry Sonnenfeld. With Raúl Juliá, Angelica Houston, Christina Ricci, Christopher Lloyd.

Addams Family Values

This is the second (and last) of the "Addams Family" movies, based on both Charles Addams' New Yorker cartoons and also the black and white TV series from the 1960s of the same name. Watching this in 2018, I remembered enjoying it in theatres when it was released, but I thought I might find it a bit ... quaint ... at this remove. But the movie is loaded with wonderfully twisted jokes that come at you thick and fast. I could have used any of a dozen of them as an example, but here's a good one: "You'll meet someone. Someone very special. Someone who won't press charges."

The story revolves around Uncle Fester's (Christopher Lloyd) search for love. Unhappily for him, he finds Debbie (Joan Cusack), who marries and kills men for their money. Director Barry Sonnenfeld knows when he's got a good thing: he gives many of the best lines to Christina Ricci (who plays Wednesday Addams) whose slightly creepy and amazingly deadpan delivery makes already good jokes brilliant. Totally absurd and hugely entertaining.

Also notable to me for a very early and significant appearance by David Krumholtz, who was 14 at the time.

1993, dir. Barry Sonnenfeld. With Raúl Juliá, Anjelica Huston, Christopher Lloyd, Christina Ricci, Carel Struycken, Jimmy Workman, Christopher Hart, Joan Cusack.

The Admiral: Roaring Currents

I got interested in this movie because of the naval battle involved, The Battle of Myeongnyang (Wikipedia) in 1597. Wikipedia claimed of the movie itself that it was not only Korea's most financially successful movie, but also very well reviewed. Rotten Tomatoes (as of today, 2016-01-10) has four reviews, three of which are positive. The battle itself is fascinating: the Japanese had routed the Korean navy in the absence of Korea's star general Yi Sun-sin - he was betrayed and tortured (historical fact). After their replacement general proved totally incompetent and got most of their ships destroyed, they put Yi Sun-sin (played in the movie by Choi Min-sik) back in charge. Except he had only 12 ships against a Japanese force in excess of 300 ships. Yi's choice of the battle location in a narrow straight with extremely strong currents proved to be even more advantageous than expected.

I was put off early by the portrayal of the Japanese as slimy and repugnant - they're even wearing heavy make-up to make them look more evil. The Koreans are, of course, good hard-working citizens. Most of them are terrified - who wouldn't be at those odds, they knew what they were facing. And the writers had the decency to include a treasonous captain who tried to leave (also historical fact). But given that the battle was 400 years ago - and that the Koreans and Japanese aren't in any kind of conflict at the moment - I'd kind of hoped their view of it would be slightly more neutral.

Some critics loved the drama of the large scale battles: unfortunately, I saw CG and took issue with the wake thrown up by speeding oar-powered boats. These are fairly large warships powered by men below decks with oars. Instead, they moved about as if powered by motors (odd, that).

Where I have to give some credit is on something else I thought was a bit absurd: the battle is initially taken up only by the Admiral's flagship. I thought that was ridiculous, movie grandstanding ... but in fact it's what happened.

The movie is historically interesting, but if you're interested in the history you might be better served by reading the Wikipedia article linked above or finding a book on the subject. As a movie drama it falls down by being too jingoistic and lacking in nuance.

2014, dir. Kim Han-min. With Choi Min-sik, Ryu Seung-ryong, Cho Jin-woong, Kim Myung-gon, Jin Goo, Lee Seung-joon.


Tina Fey is Portia Nathan, an admissions officer at Princeton. Paul Rudd is John Pressman, who runs an alternative school that's just shown up on Princeton's radar. When Portia visits the school, John hits her with a surprise: one of the kids at the school (Nat Wolff) is probably hers - that she gave up for adoption at the age of 21.

The biggest problem with the movie is that it couldn't decide if it was going for low brow humour or intellectual humour. Parts of the movie are a charming drama-comedy about a woman coming to terms with the possibility of reconnecting with a son she'd long given up, and other parts are slapstick farce set in the same universe and with the same characters as our other movie. Fey and Rudd are both good, and do what they can, but the movie is too messy to succeed.

2013, dir. Paul Weitz. With Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Lily Tomlin, Wallace Shawn, Michael Sheen, Nat Wolff, Gloria Reuben, Olek Krupa.

An Adventure in Space and Time

Commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Who, this BBC made-for-TV movie celebrates the beginnings of the "Dr. Who" TV series. "Dr. Who" is now a mainstay of TV across the world (or at the very least the English-speaking world), and it's hard to imagine it as anything else: but 50 years ago it was a totally insane idea at the very staid and cautious BBC that barely made it to the screen to become the behemoth it is today. Brian Cox is Sydney Newman, the BBC exec who came up with a rough outline and got it going. Jessica Raine plays Verity Lambert, a former assistant to Newman getting her first shot at producing (she went on to become a force in British TV). Sacha Dhawan is the young Waris Hussein, directing this crazy idea while dealing with racism as the BBC's first Indian director. And David Bradley is William Hartwell, the grumpy and somewhat forgetful old man who became the first Doctor. Bradley was particularly good - as he's at the centre of the story, that's a very good thing.

The last 15 minutes shows interviews and footage of the original people (or family - it is 50 years on ...) talking about the show, giving the whole thing context. Very well done, and recommended for anyone who's a fan of science fiction - even if you're not a big fan of "Dr. Who."

2013, dir. Terry McDonough. With David Bradley, Jessica Raine, Sacha Dhawan, Brian Cox.


That summer job you hated when you were in university ... this is it. James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) is headed for grad school in the fall, but needs money and can't get a job waiting tables, so he ends up working at the local amusement park with a mixed bag of perpetual losers and other caught-in-between university students far too intelligent to be working the jobs they're in. Greg Mottola wrote as well as directed, and has pulled out a very funny movie. There's a bit more humour-of-humiliation than I like, but certainly no more than you receive in that part of your life, and it's not played simply for the humour. Eisenberg was good, but I particularly liked Martin Starr, who was charming as the over-educated, nerdy, likable, and less-than-gorgeous Joel.

2009, dir. Greg Mottola. With Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Margarita Levieva, Ryan Reynolds, Martin Starr, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig.

The Adventures of Baron Münchausen

We see a theatre company performing part of the Baron Münchausen stories in a besieged city in the late eighteenth century. They're interrupted by an old man (John Neville) who claims to actually be Baron Münchausen, and takes over the stage to continue the story (which we see in flashback). After his stories are interrupted by shelling, the Baron and Sally (a very young Sarah Polley) take off in a balloon made out of women's silk underwear for a series of outrageous adventures - pursued (as he always is) by Death himself.

Utterly absurd and very funny, and in many ways the quintessential Terry Gilliam film.

As it turns out, Münchausen was a real person (1720-1797) who developed a reputation in later life for telling tall tales of his war years - which were eventually collected into a book. Gilliam has clearly modelled Neville's appearance on Doré's 1862 caricature of the man.

1988, dir. Terry Gilliam. With John Neville, Sarah Polley, Eric Idle, Uma Thurman, Jonathan Pryce, Oliver Reed, Robin Williams.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Season 1

The definitive Holmes of the 1980s, Jeremy Brett plays the part in what is quite possibly the most accurate and well known version. Granada TV in the UK produced these first six 50 minute episodes, each bringing one of the original Conan Doyle stories to the screen.

Well done and well presented. The acting isn't fantastic but it's good enough, and I enjoyed the series.

1984. With Jeremy Brett, David Burke.

The Adventures of Tintin

The latest in a line of "motion capture" movies, in which perfectly good actors have computer generated skins laid over top of their faces. Oddly, the character I most strongly objected to because he was sitting right in the depths of the uncanny valley, was Tintin himself. All the rest of the characters were more cartoon-like, and thus avoided falling into the valley.

This movie is based on decades of Tintin stories by the comics artist Hergé, combining three of the comic book stories. Tintin (Jamie Bell) is a very young, award winning reporter. He buys a model ship in a flea market, and promptly finds himself embroiled in the search for some form of treasure on the ship his model is of.

As with the comic book, there's non-stop action. The action is usually physically impossible, and occasionally totally ludicrous. Some of this is meant for humour, some of it is just meant to be "cool." Tintin regulars Thompson (Simon Pegg) and Thomson (Nick Frost) appear, and Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) has a starring role. Of course there's a villain (Daniel Craig), but right triumphs and the inevitable sequel is set up.

I'm generally a big fan of children's movies, but I didn't like this one - at all. I suspect kids would, but I don't have kids and shouldn't be considered a good judge in this matter.

2011, dir. Steven Spielberg. With Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg.

Æon Flux

Lots of special effects. Lots. But guess what, that doesn't make a movie. I kind of enjoyed this science fiction extravaganza, but it's really not a good movie. Based on a graphic novel (or a series), look to the animated TV series for better material.

2005, dir. Karyn Kusama. With Charlize Theron, Pete Postlethwaite.

An Affair to Remember

I first became aware of "An Affair to Remember" through "Sleepless in Seattle" (so our world works). I was later to find that it's regarded as a classic, so I finally gave it a shot.

The basic premise is unfortunately familiar: suave playboy Nickie Ferrante (Cary Grant) is engaged, but that hasn't stopped him having another affair, nor does it stop him flirting with Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr) on their U.S.-bound cruise ship. But she's also engaged, and somewhat better behaved than he is. But they become friends. At a stop in Villefranche-sur-Mer, Terry doesn't believe Nickie is going to see his grandmother: she thinks he has another woman in port. But he invites her along, and it turns out to be true. (I'm considerably confused by where their Europe-to-U.S.A. ship left from if it stopped at Villefranche: I thought most ships from Europe to the Americas started on the Atlantic side of the continent, not in the Mediterranean. Not to mention that Villefranche is an incredibly podunk little town quite near to the much more probable port of Nice ...) They have a lovely day with his grandmother, and both are made to see the world a little differently. As they arrive in New York, they promise to meet atop the Empire State Building in six months - something that was directly echoed in "Sleepless in Seattle."

The start was a little too clichéd for my taste: extra-suave playboy meets his match in beautiful, witty, intelligent and slightly sarcastic woman. And I really, really could have lived without the singing kids - that was a touch too much. But with those exceptions, it's an excellent movie.

1957, dir. Leo McCarey. With Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Richard Denning, Neva Patterson, Cathleen Nesbitt, Robert Q. Lewis, Fortunio Bonanova.

The African Queen

Katherine Hepburn plays Rose Sayer, a mannered and religious woman in Africa at the outbreak of the First World War. After the Germans burn the village she and her brother are missionaries in, her brother dies. Rose ends up travelling down-river with the Canadian captain of the "African Queen," a small steam-boat that delivers mail. Problem is, she and her brother barely tolerated the unmannered, unshaven boor (Humphrey Bogart as Charlie Allnut). She attempts to convince him that they should go down-river (past a German fort and down two sets of very nasty rapids) to a lake, where they should attempt to destroy the "Queen Louisa," a heavily armed German boat preventing the advance of the British.

What follows is referred to by Wikipedia as an "adventure film," but if it wasn't in the National Film Registry and considered a "classic" by half the critics in the world, I would have called it a Rom Com. They don't get along, they fight, they reconcile, they have adventures. It's a Rom Com.

Bogart and Hepburn are both wonderful as lonely older people who don't really know how to deal with this massive change in their lives. Their romance is awkward and a little painful to watch. The ending is a little too convenient, but entertaining.

1951, dir. John Huston. With Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn, Robert Morley, Peter Bull.

After Life (orig. "Wandâfuru Raifu")

When you die, you are given one week to choose a single memory that you will live in forever. And then the team of people who help you choose that memory will film it, recreate it for you. The premise is thin and absurd, but Hirokazu Kore-eda filmed a bunch of people, actors and non-actors, talking about their favourite memories from their entire lives - and it's mesmerizing. In many ways the second half, which has slightly less talking, is not as good as the first half. A quiet and fascinating movie.

1998, dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda. With Arata, Erika Oda, Taketoshi Naitô.

After the Sunset

Beautiful scenery and beautiful stars can't save the kind of dog's breakfast Brett Ratner likes to serve. Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek play a pair of jewel thieves newly retired to a Caribbean island when Woody Harrelson (the FBI agent who has followed Brosnan for years but never caught him) and a particularly tempting gem arrive on the island simultaneously. It's not a bad idea, but Ratner mangles everything so badly it's painful to watch (except perhaps when Hayek is on-screen).

2004, dir. Brett Ratner. With Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Woody Harrelson, Don Cheadle, Naomie Harris.

Agatha Raisin

"Agatha Raisin" is apparently a well loved British detective fiction series in book form. In 2016, she got a translation to the small screen - and a bit of an update to modernize it. Reaction from fans of the books seems to be very mixed, with some very offended by the changes that have been made. I have no clue about the books. This review is based on the 90 minute pilot episode, and the first through fifth (out of eight) regular 45 minute episodes: that was all I felt a need to see.

Agatha Raisin (Ashley Jensen) starts the series as a highly successful London P.R. person, but she immediately follows through on her plan to retire to a cottage in a tiny village in the country. She makes aggressive moves to "fit in," and so makes herself multiple enemies. The local police man (D.C. Bill Wong, played by Matt McCooey) explicates to us that there hasn't been a murder in Carsley (her new town) in something on the order of 20 years - which I find interesting, as it's well established by the packaging even before you begin watching that this is a (comedy) murder mystery series.

On the plus side, the writers don't try to sell her as a genius detective: she's clever and fairly observant, but also gets herself into some extraordinarily sticky situations. She's not a particularly charming person - she uses people at her convenience (not a great trait in a small village). Most of the villagers are predictably eccentric. But the biggest problems are that the mysteries are at best adequate, and the humour isn't entirely to my taste - raising the occasional smile but definitely not getting frequent laughs.

2016. With Ashley Jensen, Katy Wix, Mathew Horne, Jamie Glover, Jason Barnett, Matt McCooey, Rhashan Stone, Lucy Liemann, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.

The Age of Adaline

Blake Lively plays Adaline Bowman who lives in modern San Francisco, age 106 - but looking 29. This is explained by the voice-over, which also walks us through the car accident (circa 1937), death, and lightning strike that stopped her aging. When the FBI decides they need to know why she seems to be 29 even though she's past fifty, she starts moving and changing identities every ten years. Not surprisingly, the movie is about ... a change of circumstances.

Lively does a good job as the old but ever youthful Adaline, while Ellen Burstyn plays her daughter (who is in her 60s or 70s) and Michiel Huisman a persistent and charming suitor as she approaches her next move and new identity. It's a relatively slow-paced and talky movie - which I have no issue with - and they do it fairly well. Unfortunately, the wrap-up suffers from severe predictability. Up until that point it was engaging, well acted, and fairly well thought out.

SPOILER ALERT: Read no further if you have any intention of watching this movie. It's just me getting pissy about predictability.

As Adaline races away from both her former and current suitor, I thought "she'll have a car accident. There may even be lightning." I was only marginally off - a woman of 100 years of age, already specifically shown to be a very good driver, makes an incredibly stupid driving mistake. Yup. Next up, lightning - because yes, she's died again. Oh, we've substituted a defibrillator. Next up: she'll find a gray hair because she's resumed aging. Wow, look at that. She did. I think the author(s) thought they were being clever with the symmetry of the car accidents, but instead it feels predictable, obvious, and stupid. I get that it's a romance and I have no issue with her settling in with the charming guy: that's a given. But that puts the onus on the writer to be more creative and interesting elsewhere.

2015, dir. Lee Toland Krieger. With Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Ellen Burstyn, Harrison Ford, Kathy Baker, Anthony Ingruber, Amanda Crew.

Ah! My Goddess

Mildly bizarre, kind of complex, targeting teens, doesn't make a lot of sense, and ultimately sickly sweet. Set in the future, with "gods" and "goddesses" walking around in both "heaven" and on Earth. A goddess and an human fall in love, and their love is tested - with a threat that might destroy the earth as we know it.

1993. dir. Hiroaki Gôda. With Kikuko Inoue, Masami Kikuchi, Yumi Tôma, Aya Hisakawa.

Akeelah and the Bee

Incredibly pedantic ("face your fears," and "be nice") and often overly sweet, this movie manages to be emotionally moving on the strengths of Laurence Fishburne's and Keke Palmer's performances. Palmer, at age 12, is something of a miracle. Reminiscent of "Searching for Bobby Fischer." Enjoyable and uplifting.

2006, dir. Doug Atchison. With Keke Palmer, Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, J.R. Villarreal, Curtis Armstrong.


Disney's take on a classic story. Since the genie becomes a main character and is voiced by Robin Williams, you can kind of guess where this one is headed: there's a lot of comedy. And, seeing it in 2011, I wonder if this movie didn't presage the sort of knowing, self-aware comedy that came into children's movies a decade later (with "Shrek" essentially being the vanguard). In the introductory segment, a peddler (also Williams) asks the camera "come closer," and it splats up against his face, "Too close! A little too close." I haven't always been a big fan of Williams, but when he's bright blue and can take on any form he wants, he can be pretty damn hilarious. There are a number of Eighties popular culture references that will go by a lot of people at this point (anyone remember Arsenio Hall?), but Williams is tossing out the jokes fast and furious, and nearly all of them are funny. And the rest of the plot is quite charming and has a positive message for the kids. Hell, I even liked Gilbert Gottfried's voice work, he's quite funny here. This one is a real treat.

1992, dir. Ron Clements and John Musker. With Robin Williams, Scott Weinger, Jonathan Freeman, Linda Larkin, Frank Welker, Gilbert Gottfried, Douglas Seale.

Alegría (live in Sydney)

Cirque du Soleil's show "Alegría" filmed live in Sydney. Very good. I got it at the same time as the DVD of their show "Dralion," and it's an odd comparison: "Dralion" is the better show, but "Alegría" was filmed better.

1999. Dir. Franco Dragone.


Franco Dragone brings us a bowdlerized version of Cirque du Soleil. One of the earliest images of the movie is a view of the main character of the movie, Frac, looking up out of a packing case. Whether the horrible pun "Frac in a box" was intentional or not, it sets the tone for the movie. It's awfully difficult to take drama seriously when most of the characters are in clown face. It's a poor story, and there's very little support from the artistry and acrobatics of the Cirque that I expected. Don't see this.

1998, dir. Franco Dragone. With René Bazinet, Frank Langella, Julie Cox.

Alexander Nevsky

Russian anti-German propaganda (look at the date), but kind of fun. Prince Alexander - who is obviously a good prince because he fishes with his people - leads the defence of Russia against the evil Teutons. The evil people with money want to buy off the invaders, but the peasants (the good working people of the country) are roused to defend the land. They sing many songs.

The battle scenes consist of people milling about making chopping motions, the acting is poor, and it's all in the service of a political agenda. Despite which it's a well filmed and interesting movie. And it deserves considerable credit for better historical accuracy than most films - in the day-to-day stuff, if not the politics.

1938, dir. Sergei Eisenstein.

Alfie (2004)

Remarkably similar to its predecessor of the same name, a morality play dressed up as a sex comedy. Jude Law talks to the camera (as Michael Caine did in the original), a cocky sleep-with-anyone guy. But his indiscretions all catch up to him at once, what a shock. Wait, were we supposed to care for this asshole at the end of the movie?

2004, dir. Charles Shyer. With Jude Law, Jane Krakowski, Marisa Tomei, Omar Epps, Nia Long, Gedde Watanabe, Sienna Miller, Susan Sarandon.

Alice in Borderland, Season 1

'Alice in Borderland' started life as a manga, and has graduated to a Netflix TV series (still in Japanese). The main characters are Kento Yamazaki as Ryōhei Arisu (as close as you can get to "Alice" in the Japanese language), and Tao Tsuchiya as Yuzuha Usagi. The series focuses first on Arisu, who with his two best friends is essentially transported from a restroom in the teaming Shibuya crossing area of Tokyo to an alternate, completely abandoned Tokyo. They soon find out that it's not totally abandoned - and the only way to survive is to play "games" every few nights. Comparisons have been made to "Battle Royale" and "Cube," neither of which I've seen - but it sounds about right from what I know of them. The first season consists of eight episodes of about 45 minutes each. This review is based on the first five episodes.

It's both dark and violent. I've never been a fan of horror movies or TV - and particularly not during the pandemic. Horror-comedy occasionally: this has no comedy. If you want to see society and civility break down completely (yeah, I understand this is kind of the point) as people are forced to kill each other to survive ... this is fairly well done, if you can get with the magical premise. Not my thing.

2020, dir. Shinsuke Sato. With Kento Yamazaki, Tao Tsuchiya, Yūki Morinaga, Keita Machida, Ayame Misaki, Nijirô Murakami, Yutaro Watanabe, Sho Aoyagi, Ayaka Miyoshi, Dori Sakurada, Aya Asahina, Shuntarō Yanagi, Mizuki Yoshida, Kina Yazaki, Tsuyoshi Abe, Nobuaki Kaneko, Riisa Naka.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

This is roughly the 20th film/TV version of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton for Disney (an odd combination). Also odd was the decision to place extremely well known actors in the parts of the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen, and the White Queen (Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Anne Hathaway respectively) and an almost unknown actress (Mia Wasikowska - not well known in 2010) as Alice at the core of the movie.

A frame story in the late nineteenth century has been added: we see Alice as a six year old with a recurring dream about the rabbit hole, then we see her again at nineteen at a garden party - where the current state of her life is made clear before she falls down the rabbit hole (again?). Many of the elements of Carroll's story are preserved - the Hatter, the Dormouse, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar - but the events aren't the same as the original and the Hatter is now a very major character.

I didn't think Wasikowska was particularly good as Alice. That may not be entirely fair when she's standing next to Depp, Bonham Carter and Hathaway, but the comparison is impossible to avoid. But despite that, and despite not having a lot to do with Carroll's original plot, I quite enjoyed this. The art is magnificent, most of the acting (intentionally over-the-top) is very good, and the story is a lot of fun (although I got rather less out of the frame story than "the dream").

2010, dir. Tim Burton. With Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Stephen Fry, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Michael Sheen.

Alien Autopsy

The film is about the making of a supposed documentary being filmed by Morgan Banner (Bill Pullman) about British duo Ray Santilli (Declan Donnelly) and Gary Shoefield (Ant McPartlin). Ten years prior they had been in the U.S., and Santilli purchased an ancient film of the 1947 Roswell alien autopsy ...

"Ant and Dec" (Donnelly and McPartlin) are a British comedy duo. Santilli and Shoefield are real people, who show up for a couple minutes in the closing credits. The film details the multiple scams they ran through - how real any of it is is open to speculation. I found it mildly amusing, and at least as annoying - depends on your sense of humour. I kept hitting fast forward (very rare for me).

2006, dir. Jonny Campbell. With Ant McPartlin, Declan Donnelly, Bill Pullman, Harry Dean Stanton, Omid Djalili, Götz Otto.

Alien Resurrection

The fourth (and hopefully final) movie in the franchise. Of course we're still getting Alien / Predator crossovers. Sigourney Weaver made a huge effort to have her Ellen Ripley character killed off at the end of the third movie as she was tired of the role. But this is science fiction, so we can do cloning (and Weaver was offered a huge sum of money for another sequel). Thus, Ripley is back. More or less. In many respects it's the same old story: the military wants to use the Alien lifeform as a weapon. So 200 years after Ripley died, they cloned her from DNA retrieved from the vat where she died in "Aliens 3." Except it was all mixed up with Alien DNA, so it took a few tries to get it right. Ripley is treated as a prisoner and experimental object - definitely not human. Also in the mix is a crew of mercenaries bringing human fodder in, a crew that includes Ron Perlman and "Call" (Winona Ryder).

While I think it's long past time this series should have ended, I also rather liked this movie - twice. And this time around I realized why: "written by Joss Whedon." That explained a lot. And being directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet explains A) the presence of Dominique Pinon in an American movie, and B) the frequent amber lighting. Weaver and Whedon have come up with a particularly psycho version of Ripley, who is herself partly Alien - extremely strong, with acid blood, and can sense the behaviour of the other Aliens a long way away. There's a lovely twist on the android/cyborg thing from the first movie, and at the end, four people (it's the fourth movie in the series, see?) survive. (Although only two of them are fully human, but that's okay.)

1997, dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet. With Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon, Gary Dourdan, Michael Wincott, Brad Dourif, Leland Orser, Dan Hedaya.

Alien vs. Predator

No, no, I wasn't expecting quality here. Pretty much by the numbers. People's chests explode, Predators kill Aliens, Aliens kill Predators, big Alien threat to all mankind. Yup. New record though: end credits clocked in at TWELVE MINUTES.

2004, dir. Paul Anderson.

Alita: Battle Angel

I have a major issue with books that are open-ended (they don't finish). I like it only marginally better when a movie does this, and I think it should be required in either case to tell people in advance "we're not going to wrap this up." You can make a book or a movie that provides for the possibility of a sequel while still wrapping up your plot threads. Or you can say "Fuck You" to your audience and leave them with a heap of unresolved issues that will only be answered if your movie is popular enough and makes enough money to warrant a sequel. That's "Alita," ending with the big middle finger to the audience. "Here's the real big-bad, and maybe Alita will get at him in the next movie ... or five movies after that."

Now that I've got that out, maybe I can write a review based on the merits (or lack thereof) of the content itself.

If you've seen the trailer, it's kind of hard to miss Alita's giant eyes. And they do occasionally pass into the uncanny valley, but for the most part the special effects are very good. The 3D (BluRay, not theatre) is good, although I did notice some artifacting around moving foreground objects - I was surprised to find that the movie was apparently shot in real 3D rather than being done in post. (Also very surprising that I could get a 3DBR: I thought the technology was officially dead for the home ...)

Alita (Rosa Salazar) is a cyborg, her head and upper torso recovered from the junk heap under the floating city of Zalem - the place that pretty much everyone in Alita's world aspires to live in. Alita is reassembled by Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), a cyborg repairman. She turns out to be sweet, impulsive, and irresistibly drawn to battle - it's what she loves best. This leads her to the spectacularly brutal sport of Motorball, where cyborgs tear each other apart (and incidentally try to score points with a ball). But bad politics in the city and her own history (which she can't initially remember) lead to her becoming a lightning rod for trouble both inside and outside the Motorball arena.

SPOILER ALERT: I'm going to bitch about the spectacularly poor logic of the ending. Stop reading if you don't want to know about that.

Alita has claimed "I do not stand by in the presence of evil," and so it's implied that she's on a quest for justice against Nova, the leader(? we don't even know for sure) of Zalem. And Nova directly threatened everyone she cared for if she pursued him. And yet, "several months later," at the end of the film, she's directly challenging him from the Motorball arena - presumably on the assumption that winning Motorball is the only way to Zalem. Wait, what? Who set that rule? The management of Zalem, meaning quite likely Nova. And how did the last returnee to Zalem go? In little meat pieces. Oh, and to get there, she has to have played multiple rounds of Motorball, damaging or killing dozens of other cyborgs who (while they may not be innocents) don't deserve to die or have to pay huge amounts of money to get their bodies fixed because of her thirst for revenge. That's not justice, and she claims to be in favour of justice. And if Nova has been letting you play Motorball for several months without harassing or killing those close to you, then this is his game. He wants you to do this. And even if Alita isn't smart enough to work that out, her "father" is. She's had several months to think about it (I worked it out in seconds). So not only is the movie setting up a sequel, it's saying "our heroine is a moron." Not a great start - or end - from my perspective.

2019, dir. Robert Rodriguez. With Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Lana Condor, Idara Victor.

All About My Mother

I think "Talk to Her" is Pedro Almodavar's best, but this one's pretty good. He puts his characters in absurd situations, but the characters themselves are very good ... In this case, Manuela's son (her only family) dies. She returns to Barcelona to find her son's father and comes into the company of some ... interesting people.

2000 dir. Pedro Almodavar. With Cecilia Roth, Penélope Cruz, Antonia San Juan, Marisa Paredes, Candela Peña.

All Creatures Great and Small (2020) - Season 1

I'd seen bits and pieces of the 1970s TV version of "All Creatures Great and Small" in my childhood, but I'd never been inspired to watch it. Despite that, a modern remake somehow appealed - perhaps because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has reduced my interest in depressing shows and increased my interest in reasonably upbeat fare like this. The show opens with James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph) leaving Glasgow to attend a job interview in Yorkshire with Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West) - who turns out to be entirely unable to keep assistants, with James being something like the fifth or sixth. Improbably, they manage to get along, with Farnon's housekeeper (Anna Madeley as Audrey Hall) acting occasionally as the peacekeeper. In the second episode, Siegfried's younger brother Tristan (Callum Woodhouse) returns home. He's intelligent, too much of a drinker, and a poor student of veterinary science (although a fair practitioner). The most important secondary character in the first season is Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton), Herriot's love interest - who is unfortunately already involved with Neville Longbottom (not actually the character's name, but the actor is Matthew Lewis who had that role in Harry Potter).

All of this is based at least in part on real people and events. "James Herriot" was the pen name of Alf Wight, and there are real people behind Siegfried, Tristan, and Helen. Mind you, there have been modifications: the original Siegfried sounds borderline crazy, whereas he's portrayed in the books and here as merely eccentric. Other changes were made to suit the books, but the series is at least partly autobiographical.

The series is about as low-key as it gets: it's a gentle comedy about life in a small British town in the 1930s. It's not completely without dark moments: James has to put down a winning racehorse to the considerable distress of all involved. But mostly it's a comedy, and quite a charming one.

2020, Brian Percival, Metin Hüseyin, Andy Hay. With Nicholas Ralph, Samuel West, Anna Madeley, Callum Woodhouse, Rachel Shenton, Diana Rigg, Matthew Lewis, Nigel Havers, Maimie McCoy, Mollie Winnard.

All Creatures Great and Small (2020) - Season 2

As with the first season, this one consists of six episodes and a Christmas special - each of which are a little under an hour in length.

The story is about James Herriot (a stand-in for the original book series author, Alf Wight), a Scottish vet who finds a job in the Yorkshire Dales in the late 1930s working at an established practise. On the plus side, Alf Wight's latest reincarnation has recovered his Scottish accent - something that was magicked away in the previous TV series. His boss is Siegfried Farnon - played by Samuel West, with Siegfried being a stand-in for Wight's partner Donald Sinclair. Farnon is often described as eccentric (which is how he's portrayed in the books) but when West was asked if Sinclair was eccentric, he replied "Oh no - he was mad." Wight apparently toned Sinclair's behaviour down significantly when he created Farnon. Other important characters include Siegfried's brother Tristan, played by Callum Woodhouse - a good vet who likes a good party and is struggling to complete his degree, the housekeeper Audrey Hall (Anna Madeley) who keeps the peace in the house, and Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton) who's the daughter of a local farmer and James' love interest.

Having started watching this because I was looking for something low key and not stressful (because we were in the middle of COVID-19), it may be slightly hypocritical to complain that I'm now unhappy with it because it's unrealistically up-beat. He's a vet - animals sicken and die sometimes, but hardly at all in this show.

2021, dir. Brian Percival, Sasha Ransome, Andy Hay. With Nicholas Ralph, Samuel West, Anna Madeley, Callum Woodhouse, Rachel Shenton, Patricia Hodge, Matthew Lewis, Tony Pitts, Imogen Clawson, Dorothy Atkinson.

All of Me

Steve Martin plays a lawyer who plays in a jazz band in the evenings. Lily Tomlin plays an incredibly rich and selfish woman who is on the verge of death after a lifetime of illness. She's convinced that a swami will move her soul into a bowl, then into Victoria Tennant's body. Martin meets her as a lawyer, and they don't get along well. Eventually Tomlin dies, and she does indeed go into the bowl ... and then, through an accident, into Martin. She and Martin split his body pretty much down the middle.

A lousy comedy with a few pieces of utterly brilliant physical comedy by Martin. When the two of them are jointly occupying his body and he's trying to get somewhere, he strides on one side and minces on the other. Martin is brilliant in these moments, but absolutely everything is overplayed and the outcome is pretty much inevitable.

1984, dir. Carl Reiner. With Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, Victoria Tennant, Madolyn Smith Osborne, Dana Elcar, Jason Bernard.

All the King's Men (2006)

The story of an earnest, passionate man (Sean Penn) who rises to power as the governor of Louisiana and becomes as corrupt as those he was trying to drive out, seen through the eyes of his assistant (Jude Law). The tale of a whole bunch of morally bankrupt people told in bits and pieces with not-very-compelling speeches and heavy-handed colourizing (or de-colourizing) of the film. I understand the 1949 version was very good - if so, this doesn't live up to it.

2006, dir. Steven Zaillian. With Sean Penn, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson, James Gandolfini.


The sequel to "Insurgent," itself the sequel to "Divergent." Curiosity, a love of science fiction (apparently even bad SF), and the fact that the movies are free because I borrow them from the library keeps me coming back to this crap series. In what has now become standard operating procedure, the third book of author Veronica Roth's Divergent trilogy has been split in half, so three books has become four movies.

I should state that this review isn't based on actually watching the movie: I skimmed it, watching perhaps half the content or maybe a bit less. And that's because it's utter crap. The dialogue is still weak, just like the ideas. The characters haven't evolved: they're still rigidly set in the behaviour patterns they showed in the first movie.

Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Christina (Zoë Kravitz), and Peter (Miles Teller) escape the growing chaos in Chicago, going over the wall and finding people outside. They find out that Chicago was essentially an experiment to see if the human genome would straighten itself out if given enough time and a bit of encouragement, and it has! Tris is PURE! (Four isn't, but Tris - because she's just cool like that - loves him anyway.) But the people outside are UNCOOL. So Tris and Four fight for their freedom again!

Woo. Spare yourself the pain. Consider my sacrifice: I've watched this garbage so you won't have to. Save yourself!

2016, dir. Robert Schwentke. With Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Zoë Kravitz, Jeff Daniels, Maggie Q, Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Bill Skarsgård.

The Almighty Johnsons, Season 1

The concept of "The Almighty Johnsons" is fairly simple: a family of brothers in New Zealand are a bunch of re-incarnated, nearly powerless, and fairly minor Norse Gods. Our main character, Axl Johnson (Emmett Skilton), finds this out (as the others did before him) on his 21st birthday when the older brothers take him into the woods and make him stand in a circle of stones stark naked. He's more than a little skeptical ... until a bolt of lightning hits him. The reason he was naked wasn't religious: the next youngest brother had been really, seriously pissed to have his favourite jacket fried.

Axl turns out to be Odin re-incarnated, which changes everything. The brothers want to find him the reincarnation of Frigg - Odin's wife. Because if Odin connects with her, all of them will get their full powers back. His brother Anders (Dean O'Gorman, the reincarnation of Bragi, god of poetry, who can talk any woman into his bed) thinks the best solution is for Axl to sleep with as many women as possible. Axl is exceptionally clueless even given that he's 21, but isn't entirely stupid and is a reasonably decent guy who's not overly keen on Anders' methodology. There's a low key ongoing conflict with a group of re-incarnated goddesses who don't want the return to power because they were always subordinate to the very stupid gods, etc. etc.

The series is fairly lightweight, with a fair bit of sex and plenty of raunchy jokes, and not a great deal of threat. On a purely practical level, it consisted of 10 episodes of about 45 minutes each, and all three seasons are available through Toronto Public Library. Characters are drawn a little broadly, but ... well, they're gods, admittedly with human concerns. And the writing is surprisingly good, interesting and funny and a reasonable representation of the ongoing soap opera that is the mythology of nearly any set of gods.

I was particularly fond of the sixth episode, in which their oracle leads them to a funeral and eventually to the reincarnation of Thor (Geoff Dolan). It was very funny, and Axl/Odin finally started taking a bit of responsibility and using his powers (such as they are) to do something worthwhile. The 7th and 8th episodes were also quite good. The season ended with several plot threads coming to a head (of course), including a rather good incarnation of Loki. "Good" in the sense that the actor does a marvellous job of playing a charming but nasty god who also happens to be a lawyer. I wasn't crazy about the directions the series was headed, but the writing remains pretty good so I'm likely to carry on to the next season.

2011. With Emmett Skilton, Tim Balme, Dean O'Gorman, Jared Turner, Ben Barrington, Alison Bruce, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rachel Nash, Michelle Langstone, Eve Gordon, Hayden Frost, Fern Sutherland, Geoff Dolan, Shane Cortese.

The Almighty Johnsons, Season 2

See my review of Season 1 above - particularly if you're not familiar with the setup of the show (although in that case you probably shouldn't read this review, there may be spoilers).

The weird setup remains much the same: Axl and his brothers are trying to find a way to restore their powers. Less breasts, just as much sex, staggering amounts of drinking, significant abuse of drugs. And still mostly a comedy. The writing is mostly on par with the previous year, although the ideas are perhaps a bit more stretched. They do have the good sense to realize that we'll be more interested in people than in gods, so mostly it's about the trouble being semi-god-like causes the (human) characters we care about. Axl's flatmates continue to play a big role: Gaia as the eternal romantic interest, and Zeb as the comedic relief - although he's a problem for me because most of the time he's full-on goofball, but when the kidnapping occurred, he randomly became smart for the duration (but no longer).

The season ending was this massive obnoxious hook - a new god arises, but not the one prophesied, leaving things in a mess. And it's just kind of dumb. I'm sure I'll watch the third season (it's the last), but I'm not as happy about it as I was after the previous season.

2012. With Emmett Skilton, Tim Balme, Dean O'Gorman, Jared Turner, Ben Barrington, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rachel Nash, Michelle Langstone, Eve Gordon, Hayden Frost, Fern Sutherland, Shane Cortese, Geoff Dolan.

The Almighty Johnsons, Season 3

See also my reviews of Season 1 and Season 2 above. The short version is this: when Axl Johnson turned 21 (at the beginning of Season 1), his brothers took him out into the woods, gave him a sword, and lightning hit him. At which point he discovered that he was a reincarnated Norse God - with very limited powers. Odin, specifically. And this was a big moment for his brothers, because they're all minor gods and the appearance of Odin could potentially mean that they'll all regain their full powers ... if the reincarnation of Odin is united with the reincarnation of Frigg. So we've already had two seasons of the brothers trying to track her down.

My favourite episodes all involved Thor: he only shows up for about one episode in each season, and Geoff Dolan does a wonderful job of their vision of an overweight goat farmer with a temper as Thor.

I had considerably less trouble with the New Zealand version of English than I expected ... and a good deal more trouble with their expressions. I now know that "munted" means not merely drunk, but so drunk (or messed up) as to not be functional. And it can also be applied to any piece of equipment ("this car is munted"). And that "having a root" means to have sex. And that a "fancy dress party" doesn't mean what we think (ie. suit and tie), but rather what we'd think of as a "costume party." And that was actually one of my biggest issues with the show: Axl (in fact nearly everyone) gets into a staggering variety of costumes across three seasons: at least one dress a season for Axl, his underwear on multiple occasions, butt naked fairly frequently, and on one memorable occasion, a merkin.

ASIDE: Speaking of fancy dress ... the four brothers end up showing up at the fancy dress party (independently) as a police man, an Indian, a cowboy, and a builder (Mike hasn't bothered with a costume, that's his profession). Mike looks utterly disgusted when he realizes what's happened. They don't bother to explain the joke and I'm guessing a very large portion of the show's audience missed it given that the Village People's "YMCA" came out in 1978, but I have to admit that if you did get it it was pretty rich.

This is the weakest of the three seasons, with the writing reaching farther and farther afield to try to bring in interesting elements of mythology to keep us entertained, and turning their human lives into a full blown soap opera. One of the things I particularly liked about the first season was the family bond between the brothers. Toward the end of this season they completely tear that apart, especially in the last three episodes. I thought "oh shit, you're just trying to ratchet up the tension before the inevitable cliffhanger ending before the fourth season you never got." And I believed that right up until the last half hour of the last episode when I finally realized they had actually known the end was coming and had written for it, which was a huge relief: I forgave them a lot for that. The ending was actually pretty good. Despite which ... if you want my recommendation, watch the first season and stop there.

2013. With Emmett Skilton, Tim Balme, Dean O'Gorman, Jared Turner, Ben Barrington, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rachel Nash, Michelle Langstone, Eve Gordon, Hayden Frost, Fern Sutherland, Shane Cortese, Geoff Dolan.

Almost Famous

I saw this a long time ago, probably when it came out. I remembered it as good, but that doesn't begin to do it justice: this is brilliant.

Set in 1973, Patrick Fugit plays William Miller, a precocious 15 year old who writes a couple articles for Creem magazine and then is invited by Rolling Stone to follow, and do an article on, the (fictional) up-and-coming band "Stillwater." Kate Hudson plays "Penny Lane," a band groupie of indeterminate age (but roughly the same age as William) who has an affair with Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), Stillwater's guitarist. Hammond has also become William's mentor, while William has fallen for Penny. It's all set in the drug-addled world of rock-and-roll with occasional phone calls from William's exceptionally protective mother (Frances McDormand).

Really a fantastic movie. Hilarious, touching, a little bit heart-breaking, with great performances all around - Fugit, Crudup, and Hudson are particularly good. See it.

2000, dir. Cameron Crowe. With Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Frances McDormand, Jason Lee, Fairuza Balk, Anna Paquin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Zooey Deschanel, Noah Taylor.


Bradley Cooper plays Brian Gilcrest, an ex-soldier and former high-end contractor severely injured and effectively demoted, now returning to Hawaii to arrange a proper Hawaiian blessing for a pedestrian gate at a new space centre. He has to deal with his military assignee Allison Ng (Emma Stone), his old buddy "Woody" (John Krasinski) who's now married to the ex-girlfriend he shouldn't have given up (Rachel McAdams), and his billionaire boss Carson Welch (Bill Murray). Not a great start, but not necessarily a bad one either. But then you have to mix in writer and director Russell Crowe's love of over-the-top dialogue (he's used this to some success in the past - "Jerry McGuire" being a prime example - but it's just bad here) and a huge dose of seriously misplaced Hawaiian religion and mysticism, and you get a movie every bit as bad as the critics said it was.

Cooper and Stone do their best with the material, but there's not really any hope for it. The subtitling of the Manly Silence later in the movie was brilliantly funny and at least gave us some good comedy, but didn't aid in saving a movie already short on drama.

My response was to go re-watch Crowe's "Almost Famous," which I still consider to be among the best movies ever made.

2015, dir. Cameron Crowe. With Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, John Krasinski, Bill Murray, Danny McBride, Alec Baldwin.

Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds

A young Korean firefighter dies saving the life of a young girl. He's taken to the Buddhist afterlife, where he's to be judged in seven trials to determine if he's worthy of reincarnation, and assisted by three grim reapers (alternatively known as "guardians") who help defend him against the prosecutors. The movie claims for him the title of "paragon," but in every trial we see the dubious decisions he's made during his life ... most of which turn out to be justifiable in dramatic reversals.

I saw a substantial similarity to the 1943 classic "Heaven Can Wait," which sees a recently deceased gentleman giving his life story to the devil because he's sure he deserves to spend eternity in Hell. But when I enumerate the differences between that movie and this one, you may not agree with my assessment ... Our nominal hero in this case is extremely uncommunicative, not the talkative star of "Heaven Can Wait:" he doesn't help his guardians for shit, and appears to believe he deserves punishment (that at least is the same). This movie is also action-packed: the journeys between the trials are eventful, and the lead guardian has to return to the real world to hunt down a vengeful spirit that's indirectly interfering with the trials. It's loaded with fantasy action.

Silliness and sentimentality abound, and if you like your movies overstuffed and over-emotional, this may work for you. I found it entertaining, but a second similar movie would be far too much so I won't be returning for the equally successful sequel that burned up the Korean box office. It's every bit as absurd as Bollywood ... except without the musical numbers. Try "Heaven Can Wait" instead, it's a better movie.

2017, dir. Kim Yong-hwa. With Ha Jung-woo, Cha Tae-hyun, Ju Ji-hoon, Kim Hyang-gi.


Aloys Adorn (Georg Friedrich) is a Swiss private investigator who worked with his father and meticulously avoids direct contact with other human beings, recording people on his video camera. When his father dies, he drinks himself into a stupor on a bus. When he wakes, he finds his camera and nine of his precious tapes are gone. Soon a female voice calls him, and essentially goads him into a form of fantasy to try to get his tapes back. He spends the rest of the movie stumbling back and forth between reality and a fantasy that he comes to enjoy more than his life.

This is a very weird movie. Tobias Nölle (the director) isn't being ambiguous about what's fantasy and what's reality: you'll know. He wants it to be very clear that what Aloys is enjoying so much is not actually reality ... It's well acted and does a fairly good job of representing the struggle in an isolated man's head between choosing fantasy and reality, but I found it awkward and inelegant.

2016, dir. Tobias Nölle. With Georg Friedrich, Tilde von Overbeck, Kamil Krejcí, Yufei Li, Koi Lee, Karl Friedrich.


Secret agent Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) enters Alphaville in his Ford Galaxie. He has crossed intergalactic space to visit the city/planet. He checks into a hotel as Ivan Johnson, a reporter for the Figaro-Pravda. He's shown to his room by a Seductress Third Class who starts to undress and offers to join him in the bath. He's attacked by a thug who's entered his room, but Lemmy manages to defend himself. The seductress reclines in the bath, unsurprised by this - it happens all the time. Lemmy tracks down a previous agent also sent by the Outer Colonies, then tries to find Professor von Braun, the creator of Alpha-60 (the sentient computer that runs Alphaville by pure logic), and finally tries to disable Alpha-60.

If that didn't make any sense, trust me, watching the movie itself makes even less sense. What frustrated me most is that people don't act like people: they act like philosophy- or poetry-spewing automaton moving about through what was - in 1965 - modernist architecture and talking about the virtues of logic over emotion (or vice versa). Which also makes it very hard to invest in anyone, or to believe that they could fall in love - or to understand why they would fall in love, when no one's actions or words make any sense.

The film has acquired minor classic status in both science fiction and the movie community. I get that it's Jean-Luc Godard applying the French New Wave to a Noir detective film. But finding meaning in it has been deliberately made difficult with the constant quoting of surrealist poetry, and is an emotionally distancing intellectual exercise that doesn't appeal to me in the slightest. I don't mind the time it took to watch it given the influence it's had on movies since, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who wasn't in film school.

1965, dir. Jean-Luc Godard. With Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina, Akim Tamiroff, Christa Lang, Valérie Boigel, Howard Vernon.

Altered Carbon (Season 1)

"Altered Carbon" is a ten episode Netflix series based on the 2002 science fiction novel of the same name by Richard K. Morgan. The main character is Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), who was dead for 250 years after he took part in a failed revolution. He is an "Envoy," the last one available to be revived, and now Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy) has brought him back to solve Bancroft's murder. What makes both of these things possible is the "cortical stack," a tiny device implanted at the base of the skull that holds all of a person's memories when it's moved to another body (bodies are called "sleeves"). If, that is, you can afford another body. Bancroft is a "Meth" - a person so rich he can live forever, like Methuselah. Kovacs is unimpressed by the world he's reborn into, and appears about to decline the invitation, but a flashback to the leader of his revolution convinces him to stay. Flashbacks are a big part of the series, filling in Kovacs' and the revolution's backstory.

I haven't seen Kinnaman in much, but haven't really been a fan. But this seems to be the role he was born to play: a gritty, disaffected anti-hero with a conscience who doesn't give a shit about anyone (if those last two elements sound in conflict ... it becomes a major part of the series). The person he spends the most time with is Kristin Ortega (the beautiful Martha Higareda), a strong-willed cop Kovacs finds himself tangling with repeatedly. She's also quite good. I also greatly enjoyed Edgar Poe (Chris Conner), the A.I. proprietor of the hotel Kovacs stays at (where he's the first guest for 50 years). Poe becomes a surprisingly important character. I thought the last couple episodes were a bit over-the-top with the return of another apparently-dead person: certainly the cortical stack allows for this, but the changes in the person are ... extreme, and not - to my mind - entirely justified.

Morgan has created a particularly thought-provoking mental playground with the implications and problems of the cortical stack: what does it mean when anyone can be "resleeved" at any time? Cross-gender, different age ... someone that other people recognize as someone else? He chooses to explore the ideas with more violence and action than I thought was necessary. It was also darker than I liked, but the darkness was justified by the massive economic disparity created by practical immortality.

The first episode was okay, but didn't entirely pull me in: watch the second episode. If that doesn't get you, then ... you may leave. But if you're a fan of SF, I think you'll be staying: this is the golden age of SF movies and TV, and this is one of the best.

2018. With Joel Kinnaman, James Purefoy, Martha Higareda, Chris Conner, Dichen Lachman, Ato Essandoh, Kristin Lehman, Trieu Tran, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Will Yun Lee, Hayley Law, Marlene Forte, Byron Mann, Tamara Taylor, Adam Busch, Olga Fonda, Waleed Zuaiter, Hiro Kanagawa, Matt Frewer, Tahmoh Penikett, Michael Eklund.

Altered Carbon (Season 2)

I was in a great rush to see the second season of "Altered Carbon." Hindsight is 20/20: why would I rush to watch the second season of a show when I thought the first season was one of the best SF TV shows ever? For most people, this would be obvious: of course you watch it as soon as possible. But I'm notoriously hard on sequels, and that's what this is.

Takeshi Kovacs now looks like Anthony Mackie, who can't quite bring the same world-weariness to the role that Joel Kinnaman managed. I said it in my review of the first season, I'll say it again: I was never a huge fan of Kinnaman until I saw him in this series, but he was BORN to play Kovacs. Mackie had a lot to live up to: he was good, but didn't quite manage. The second season is set on Harlan's World 30 years after the first season, bringing Kovacs back to his homeworld, and the world where he met Quellcrist Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry) and they took part in a failed revolution. It's not a place he wants to be.

Someone is running around killing Meths: one of the Meths who assumes (correctly) that he's on the kill list hires Kovacs to protect him. Kovacs isn't interested in money, but he's offered Quellcrist Falconer as payment - something he can't refuse. Kovacs is carrying the AI Poe (Chris Conner) with him, but Poe has developed a hell of a glitch that's making him unreliable. Kovacs also gets tangled up with a local bounty hunter who turns out to have a personal interest in the case. As with the last season, this season has a secondary focus on building relationships in the worst of circumstances.

It's pretty good SF, but what impressed the hell out of me about the first season was the brilliant and extensive speculation about the implications of the stack-and-sleeve idea. Unfortunately, that's been mostly covered, leaving this as just a big adventure story.

2020. Anthony Mackie, Chris Conner, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Simone Missick, Lela Loren, Torben Liebrecht, Dina Shihabi.

Altered Carbon: Resleeved

A classic Anime film - made in Japanese and in Japan - this was released shortly after the second season of "Altered Carbon" hit Netflix. Takeshi Kovacs is resleeved on Latimer 250 years before the events of season 1, but still long after the revolution. Unlike the Takeshi we know from the TV series, he barely questions his "assignment" from the head of the Taneseda family at all, and never mentions Quellcrist or the revolution, he just starts fighting. Not that he's given any time to question: this is a bloodbath from end to end (when it's not visually referencing "Ghost in the Shell" and maybe "Bladerunner" to a lesser extent).

This is an inelegant money grab rooted in the success of the first season. Takeshi Kovacs doesn't sound like Takeshi Kovacs: and I'm not talking about the person who did the voice work, I'm talking about the way he speaks and thinks. Here, he's merely a smart man in a difficult situation fighting to survive. He shows no relation to the person we know from the other season(s).

This is modelled on "The Animatrix," a semi-related movie rooted in the success of "The Matrix" done in an Anime style ... although I give that one some credit for originality where this gets none. Most of the film is computer animated. The characters appear to be hand-drawn, but machine animated. They certainly don't move like humans ... rotoscoping might have been better (not something you'll hear me say often!).

2020, dir. Takeru Nakajima and Yoshiyuki Okuda.

Always Be My Maybe

The movie co-stars Ali Wong as Sasha Tran, and Randall Park as Marcus Kim - the two were also writers for the project. Their characters grew up living next door to each other in San Francisco, had an awkward fling as teens, and lost touch. Now she's a celebrity chef, back in San Francisco (where he remained) to open a new restaurant. There's more awkwardness, but they manage to reconnect.

I've said this too many times, but I'm not a fan of embarrassment-as-humour. They use it a fair bit here, but happily not for all of the humour. The movie has some hysterically funny moments. And then there's the whole sequence with Keanu Reeves (as Keanu Reeves) which is comedic gold.

If I'm honest, the section with Keanu Reeves is kind of based on embarrassment too. But it's so novel to see him doing something like this: I'm sure he's done a successful comedic role since "Bill and Ted," but let's face it: seeing him do a farcical version of himself (and he did it so well) is seriously unexpected.

For a rom-com I felt they should have focused more on the relationship between the two main characters than they did, but they did still manage to sell them as a couple - and their reconnection at the end (because, you know, that's how it always is) was well done and more enjoyable than most.

2019, dir. Nahnatchka Khan. With Ali Wong, Randall Park, James Saito, Vivian Bang, Keanu Reeves, Susan Park, Daniel Dae Kim.


Amal (Rupinder Nagra) is an auto-rickshaw driver in New Delhi, scrupulously honest and eternally polite. One day he drives a rude old beggar (Naseeruddin Shah), who turns out to be a multi-millionaire and later decides to leave his entire fortune to Amal ... if only it can get to Amal in a month despite the problems of locating an auto-rickshaw driver in a city of 13 million and get by the scheming relatives.

I picked it up at the library because it had a 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes (admittedly from only five critics, but still impressive). It turns out that it's easy to get in Canada because, despite using all Indian actors and being set entirely in New Delhi, the majority of the funding is Canadian. Unfortunately, I found much of the movie dull, and the ending distinctly unsatisfying: setting aside other problems, they left a brand new murder dangling. Go figure.

2007, dir. Richie Mehta. With Rupinder Nagra, Naseeruddin Shah, Koel Purie, Seema Biswas.

The Amazing Spiderman (2012)

I watched this out of a sense of dedication to the genre (superhero films) rather than any great desire to do so. Superheroes are the new myths: morality tales of beings with powers greater than ours but similar problems, often on a grander scale - but ultimately they teach us what's right and wrong. And none has worked its way farther into the North American imagination than Peter Parker: "With great power comes great responsibility."

So here we are playing out the origins of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) again, complete with a magical spider, Oscorp, and not stopping the criminal who kills uncle Ben. We have a new enemy, the tragic Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), and the girlfriend endangered by his new notoriety is Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) rather than Mary Jane. But the evil corporation is still Oscorp, and the story of Peter Parker is still a tragedy.

Garfield and Stone are good. Ifans is good when he's human, but I wasn't fond of their CG rendering of the Lizard. Denis Leary is good, Martin Sheen is okay, didn't like Sally Field as Aunt May. It's better than the Tobey McGuire Spiderman, but I'm just so damn sick of the Spiderman story, over and over and over ...

2012, dir. Marc Webb. With Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Sally Field, Martin Sheen, Irrfan Khan.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The first series of big budget Spider-Man movies starring Tobey Maguire took until the third movie to fall into self-parody, with the utterly ludicrous emo-Peter Parker after Peter is taken over by the Venom parasite. This second series starring Andrew Garfield, has only required two movies to achieve the state of self-parody. There are only two real characters in the movie: Peter and Gwen (Emma Stone). Everybody else is a plot device, a cliché, or irredeemably over-the-top. And even Peter and Gwen are moved around like pieces on a Snakes-and-Ladders board (I'm not going to grace this garbage with a comparison to the more traditional "chess board"). Paul Giamatti shows up as a growling, sweating Russian gangster for five minutes at the beginning. Then he disappears for the entire duration of the movie (2h21m, it's not like they didn't have time to develop actual characters), only to reappear for a few seconds. Dane DeHaan plays Harry Osborn - he looks like a sleazeball from the second he steps on screen, and his father's nastiness is provided as a reason for him being evil, but his dubious friendship with Peter is never believable and barely explored. Worst of all is Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon/Electro: he's played as a genius electrical engineer with the social skills of a wall socket and a persecution complex. They had better than two hours to make a good character with this, and instead they employ brutally over-used stereotypes.

The effects are great, but there's really nothing else to watch this movie for.

2014, dir. Marc Webb. With Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field, Chris Cooper, Marton Csokas.

Amélie (orig. "Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain)

An incredibly charming movie about a young woman in Paris who messes with the lives of her friends and co-workers - and finds her own life changing. Hilariously funny.

Surreal and filmed in massively over-saturated colours. I think my favourite moment is when a four image passport photo of a stranger that Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) is carrying starts telling him about Amélie (who he hasn't met yet) and arguing between the frames about whether she's "pretty" or "beautiful." It's utterly hilarious ... and gives some idea of the sensibility of the movie.

2001. dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet. With Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz.

American Gods

(This review is based on only two episodes - and having read the book.)

We've had a lot of Neil Gaiman media lately: "Coraline," "Stardust," and "Neverwhere" at least. This time they're tackling the very well known American Gods - a conversion I immediately labeled as tricky because I had some major issues with the book. First: the main character ("Shadow Moon") is a non-entity - a fact that is made much of in the book. It's very hard to hang a book on a protagonist who has no personality. I thought Gaiman failed, but obviously a lot of people didn't as it's been very popular. And you have a problem translating the concept to TV, as it's essentially impossible to have a characterless character (they don't even try, instead choosing to make him mostly inoffensive). Second major problem: the entire book is a whole bunch of brilliant ideas (about the rise of new gods based on humanity's developing understanding of the world) in search of a worthwhile plot: the book, in part because Shadow is so character-free, doesn't particularly feel like it's going anywhere.

I hoped that the TV series might take the good parts of Gaiman's work (the ideas) and improve on the characters and plot. It was a faint hope, but after seeing the BBC's interpretation of "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" - which took a very-difficult-to-bring-to-TV book and utterly nailed it, I held on to that hope. Perhaps the Americans should have let the British do the work - the book is very much about America, but it's by a British author and is also about an outsider's view of the country ...

Ricky Whittle plays Shadow Moon: he's muscular and untalented, a particularly poor start to the series as the man we're going to have to watch almost the entire time. They also have the equally untalented Emily Browning as his dead wife (spoiler alert - the actress matters, you'll be seeing a lot of her if you watch the series). Orlando Jones goes to town as Anansi (a Ghanaian trickster god and a favourite of Gaiman's - he wrote the character an entire other book), he's not too bad - although in the first two episodes we only see him in ranting ferociously and causing a LOT of death. But their only really good bit of casting is Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday - the old god Odin. He's excellent, and clearly having fun - as he should.

The problem for me, and the reason I stopped after two episodes, is that they've made it darker, bloodier, and less intelligent than the original. It's poorly scripted, and I'm not putting up with that. Especially now that I've found out that they didn't wrap the book up in one season, but have instead stretched it out for a second season and possibly indefinitely - not something Gaiman planned for, and not something the material is up to.

2017. With Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane, Emily Browning, Bruce Langley, Gillian Anderson, Peter Stormare, Orlando Jones, Yetide Badaki, Pablo Schreiber, Cloris Leachman.

The American President

I think I saw this when it was first released - and now again in 2012. The movie was written by Aaron Sorkin, and reads a lot like a Capra version of "The West Wing" (which Sorkin also wrote). Not a difficult jump to make: not only does this start with a classic Sorkin corridor-walk-and-talk, but Capra is referenced early in the film and a number of actors overlapped from this movie to "The West Wing."

Michael Douglas plays Andrew Shepherd, a popular, widowed Democratic president. He shortly meets Sydney Wade (Annette Bening), a lobbyist for an environmental group - and asks her out. The president, dating, has a lot of awkward political fallout.

The movie is essentially a romantic comedy with a heavy dose of political manoeuvring. Douglas is really good, Bening is good, and the supporting actors are all entertaining. This is a very funny and enjoyable film.

1995, dir. Rob Reiner. With Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox, Anna Deveare Smith, Samantha Mathis, Richard Dreyfuss, David Paymer, Shawna Waldron.

American Splendor

An HBO movie following up on the success of "Crumb." Looks at the life of cartoonist Harvey Pekar, a friend of Crumb's. Weird blend of reality and fictionalized biography. Spends a great deal of time taxiing down the runway, setting the stage, but when in finally takes off it's really good. The voice-over on the DVD is surprisingly good - a reunion of nearly all the actors and all the people they played.

2003 dir. Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini. With Paul Giamatti, Harvey Pekar, Hope Davis.

American Ultra

The trailers for the movie were kind of fun, suggesting Jesse Eisenberg was some kind of secret agent who was a complete stoner ... to the point that he didn't remember he was a secret agent. It looked funny. And for the first thirty minutes, it was very funny, with Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart being an incredibly convincing stoner couple who are deeply in love. But the real problem is that somewhere around the thirty minute mark, the movie turns much darker, losing the humour and becoming grim and very violent.

One of the reviews I saw suggested that this was a mash-up of "Pineapple Express" and "The Bourne Identity." This is accurate as far as it goes, but you really need to throw in a big serving of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" for the dynamic between the lovers and the grand finale in the department store. That pretty much covers it (except that all the referenced movies are better than this one), because there aren't any new ideas here: had they given more time to the charming Eisenberg/Stewart stoner couple, it could have been a lot of fun. But in the end I'd have to recommend passing on this, because it ceased being fun after thirty minutes and the extensive CIA inter-departmental manoeuvring that follows isn't even well played.

2015, dir. Nima Nourizadeh. With Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman, Tony Hale.


Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black" is one of the greatest albums of the 21st century, and her story is one of the great celebrity tragedies of the century as well. My god that woman could sing.

Asif Kapadia directed this chronological documentary about her difficult life. Bulimia, neediness, alcohol, celebrity, poor choices, heroin, her father ... while the movie was playing, I kept thinking "they should have tried harder," but by the end I was thinking "I don't think anyone could have saved her."

It's a fascinating, well constructed, and horrifying ride. I don't think I'll ever listen to her music the same way again: finding out how true to life the lyrics are (she said she never wrote about things she hadn't experienced - and the movie plays songs right after they've set the context) makes the songs, already very good, even more gripping.

2015, dir Asif Kapadia. With Amy Winehouse, Blake Fielder-Civil, Raye Cosbert, Nick Shymanksy, Juliette Ashby, Lauren Gilbert, Mitchell Winehouse, Yaasin Bey, Tony Bennett, Salaam Remi.

Angel (Season 1, Disc 2)

Contains the episodes "Expecting," "She," "I've Got You Under My Skin," and "The Prodigy." I suppose I was hoping for the equivalent of the first season of "Buffy," instead I got something that felt like it had already been running for six seasons. It tries to balance its humour and pathos the way "Buffy" did, but fails: the humour is too flippant, and the pathos doesn't really stand on a solid enough base to really affect the viewer. Disappointing.

2000. With David Boreanaz, Alexis Denisof, Charisma Carpenter.

The Angry Birds Movie

Based on possibly the most popular single game in the history of cell phones.

Red is a volatile bird, sentenced to Anger Management class. There he meets (and tries to avoid) Chuck, Bomb, Terence, and his instructor Matilda. When Pigs visit the island, Red is the only one who's suspicious. So when the Pigs steal all the birds' eggs, they turn to Red for leadership.

It was a strange experience watching this movie: they had a hell of a voice cast, and the jokes come thick and fast. And on paper, they probably looked good. I kept going over the jokes in my head as they went by, and thinking "that ought to be funny ..." And yet it was amazing how few of them were. The movie was stupid, mildly offensive, colourful, innocuous, and highly unsuccessful. Definitely a movie for all ages to avoid.

2016, dir. Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly. With Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Kate McKinnon, Sean Penn, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Bill Hader, Peter Dinklage.


"Aniara" is a spaceship, used to transport people (a LOT of people) from Earth to Mars. The movie starts on the ship, and we're told that Earth is in bad shape, but no further explanation is given. The ship starts on its voyage, and is shortly hit by a small piece of space junk - which completely disables their propulsion. They're left drifting, and a three week voyage suddenly becomes ... indefinite.

Wikipedia tells me that Aniara started life as an epic poem in 1956 (in Swedish, also the language of the film).

Our main view of the trouble is through the eyes of the ship's Mimarobe (Emelie Garbers) - she's the person who runs Mima, a system that allows visitors to experience the Earth as it was when it was healthy, in immersive and completely convincing virtual reality. When the ship is suddenly left drifting, demand for the Mima jumps dramatically. They have enough food and water, but no significant hope of ever leaving the ship. No explanation is ever given of the situation on Earth, or why there's no external communication or assistance. I get that that wasn't the point of the movie (which was more of a horrible sociological experiment), but a few lines would have sufficed ...

I made connections to two other movies: "Wall-E" and "Passengers." There are significant differences in tone in both cases, but both involve huge passenger spaceships and unintentionally long journeys.

The movie is fairly good and makes you think about what would happen under those circumstances. But it's also brutally depressing, and not recommended viewing during a pandemic like COVID-19.

2018, dir. Pella Kagerman, Hugo Lilja. With Emelie Garbers, Bianca Cruzeiro, Arvin Kananian, Anneli Martini.


Jeff VanderMeer wrote the book of the same name that this is based on. I have mixed feelings about his writing: it's brilliant, but sometimes too unpleasant for me to enjoy. The exception was Shriek: An Afterword which is psychotically weird and utterly mind-blowing and features prose that's so dense I had to read at about a quarter my normal speed to make sense of it. Not for everyone, but incredibly vivid and really fascinating.

And Alex Garland, who directed this movie, directed my favourite SF movie of the last decade: "Ex Machina", which was every bit as thought-provoking as VanderMeer's writing.

With expectations like that, I was pretty much guaranteed to be disappointed.

The movie is set a few years from now: a place has appeared in the U.S. called "The Shimmer." The U.S. military is trying to keep it under wraps, but they have to evacuate people because no one who goes in ever comes out. Natalie Portman is Lena, and her husband went in a year ago. He's presumed dead, but reappears. But he's in extremely poor health. So Lena volunteers to go in with an all-female team of scientists (for which she's surprisingly well qualified).

It reminded me of nothing so much as Andrei Tarkovsky's "Stalker." They share a poorly described zone, a group of people of dubious intentions and often incomprehensible motivations, and a surreal story more interested in social commentary than in the "science" part of "science fiction." ("Stalker" is considered a classic but I'm not a fan.) I'm pleased to see I'm not the only person who's made a connection between the two movies.

2018, dir. Alex Garland. With Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac, Benedict Wong, David Gyasi.

The Ant Bully

Cute but predictable. Enjoyable, but you'll be thinking "it's all been done before:" this one doesn't really add anything new. Good voice work, decent animation.

Young boy (Zach Tyler) is bullied by his peers, doesn't connect with his parents. In his frustration, he floods the ant hill in his yard. As revenge, an ant-wizard (voiced by Nicolas Cage) changes him to the size of an ant. The ant queen (Meryl Streep) declares that he has to learn to live as an ant. He's mentored by Julia Roberts' character. As the movie progresses, he finds that his bitterness and lack of teamwork doesn't work. So predictable.

2006, dir. John Davis. With Zach Tyler, Nicolas Cage, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Paul Giamatti, Bruce Campbell, Regina King, Lily Tomlin, Larry Miller, Ricardo Montalban.


The movie opens twice - the first time in 1989, with Hank Pym (a digitally youth-ified Michael Douglas) quitting S.H.I.E.L.D. over Stark senior's desire to weaponize Pym's shrinking technology. The second time is after the title sequence and set in the current day, with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd - an unlikely but reasonably successful action hero) getting out of jail after a stint for burglary. He's picked up - and housed - by his former cell-mate Luis (Michael Peña - who has a large role but went over-the-top anyway ... although he's reasonably charming and funny). It's quickly established that Lang has a Masters in Electrical Engineering (I approve), his most famous heist was both technologically extremely difficult and charitable rather than lucrative (giving money back to people who had been ripped off), and that he has a young daughter he desperately loves but can't see much because he's an ex-con (and her would-be step-dad is a cop). All of that in about ten minutes, it definitely felt like a data dump. A reasonably well constructed one, but so laden with information that it screamed "prep!" as it happened. And then Hank Pym is back, fighting his former associate Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) who's nearly recreated the Ant-Man tech and is clearly evil because he wants to weaponize it.

All of the characters are drawn a little too broadly, but the actors are also clearly enjoying themselves in a way that makes the movie entertaining to the viewer. The end result is flawed, but fairly well constructed and a lot of fun.

Like any Marvel film, there's both a mid-credits scene and a post-credits scene to look for. The mid-credits scene directly relates to the movie you've just seen, and is fairly rewarding in context. The post-credits scene is an idiotic hook for "Captain America: Civil War," which tells you essentially nothing if you haven't read the related comic books, and hardly anything even if you have.

2015, dir. Peyton Reed. With Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Michael Peña, Bobby Cannavale, Anthony Mackie, Judy Greer.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is under house arrest for his actions (as Ant-Man) in "Captain America: Civil War," in which he sided with Captain America. The problem is, Captain America was officially against the U.S. government and the law, and while most of Cap's team are on the run, Scott was captured and is waiting out his house arrest by creating elaborate mazes to enjoy with his kid (they're big on the idea that Scott Lang wants to be the best Dad possible). Then he has a dream of Hank Pym's wife (Pym is played by Michael Douglas, and his wife by Michelle Pfeiffer), and breaks the rules of his house arrest calling Hank - who doesn't really want to talk to him. But inevitably Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), now equipped as the new Wasp, get together with Lang and have adventures.

This is certainly the most light-weight of the Marvel series. Sure there's stuff at stake: can they retrieve Hope's mother from her thirty year exile, and they're under attack by a couple new villains (Walter Goggins as a regular gangster and Hannah John-Kamen of "Killjoys" fame as super-villain "Ghost"), but they keep it light with a great deal of silly comedy of the same variety we saw in the previous movie. The first movie is definitely the better of the two, but this one is still entertaining.

2018, dir. Peyton Reed. With Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip "T.I." Harris, David Dastmalchian.


Woody Allen brings existential angst to animated kid's films. Go figure. A lot of the humour is aimed squarely at adults, and a lot at kids - with little crossover. It's fairly entertaining, more than a bit didactic, and somewhat confused about its target audience. The line-up of actors is pretty incredible.

1998, dir. Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson. With Woody Allen, Dan Ackroyd, Anne Bancroft, Danny Glover, Gene Hackman, Christopher Walken, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Lopez, Sharon Stone.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Anvil is a Canadian heavy metal band. In 1984 they were on stage at the Super Rock festival in Japan with the Scorpions, Whitesnake, and Bon Jovi. They were hugely influential on all the metal bands of the time ... but they've never had any particular success. Despite which they're still rocking out to small crowds in 2006 when the movie was filmed, with dull day jobs to pay the mortgage because Anvil doesn't pay for shit. But they refuse to quit, believing at every turn that the next concert will sell out, the next album will go gold ...

The movie is quite good, but kind of depressing as they go further into debt to record a new album that no record label is willing to distribute and their concerts sell 50 or 100 tickets. It's a fascinating character study. The irony of it is that the movie has put them back on the map: now they're opening for AC/DC and Saxon.

2009, dir. Sacha Gervasi. With Steve "Lips" Kudlow, Robb Reiner, Glenn Five, Ivan Hurd, Tiziana Arrigoni, Chris Tsangarides, Lars Ulrich, Slash, Lemmy, Tom Araya, Scott Ian.

The Apartment

I was fairly concerned at the beginning that I was going to watch a slapstick comedy with no real content - it took a good 45 minutes to get warmed up and actually put some emotion into the silliness. It was a bit late, but it was pretty good anyway. Jack Lemmon plays a low ranking business man who loans his apartment to higher ranking business men for their trysts - an awkward circumstance at best, and now he finds he's fallen for one of the mistresses.

1959, dir. Billy Wilder. With Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray.

Apollo 11

A new (2019) documentary about the Apollo 11 launch.

I tend to think of the Moon landing in grainy, low quality black-and-white, largely because that's how it was initially seen on tiny little 1960s TV screens, and that's how it's almost invariably represented even now. But a lot of film at and around the event was shot at far higher quality, and director Todd Douglas Miller edits together that and some previously unreleased colour 70mm(!) footage his research uncovered to assemble a recreation of that amazing moment of time.

Miller forgoes any modern narration in favour of ground staff, the astronauts, and possibly some contemporary narrators. The movie really brings home what a spectacular undertaking this was: how difficult, expensive, and dangerous it was. Coming as it does 50 years after the event, I think even those who lived through the event will be impressed by this well done retrospective.

2019, dir. Todd Douglas Miller. With Edwin Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Charles Duke, Bruche McCandless.


Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen play enforcers hired to clean the bad elements (Jeremy Irons and his men) out of the town of Appaloosa. As Mortensen's voice-over explains at the beginning, it might be a bit more complicated than that. While this is historically accurate and well acted, I thought that Westerns haven't changed much since the 1950s - except for the rather more frank inclusion of sex. Certainly the violence has always been there - brutal but actually somewhat underplayed in this one. While it was, indeed, well done, I found myself entirely unmoved by this movie.

2008, dir. Ed Harris. With Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Rene Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, Timothy Spall, James Gammon.


After a massive world war, humanity sets up a single utopian city to live in. Of course, there are cracks and flaws in utopia, quickly discovered by Deunan when she's brought into the city from the outside world. The buildings and machines are all CG and generally look pretty good, but most of the people are hand-drawn. Not that the people look bad, but I found the mix a little disconcerting. The dialogue is awful and the story absurd.

2004, dir. Shinji Aramaki.

April and the Extraordinary World

This is some wild and crazy shit. The introduction is a blatant info dump voice-over in which we're told that the world we're seeing didn't develop the combustion engine (making a direct comparison to our world), and scientists keep disappearing. All set in motion by a scientist working for Napoleon Bonaparte who unintentionally created sentient lizards instead of invulnerable soldiers. April Franklin ("Avril" in the French original, voiced by Marion Cotillard) is the great granddaughter of the scientist in question, and now the government is forcibly recruiting her scientist parents to work for the war effort - which is aimed at the vast forests of Canada as most technology is wood-fired and Europe has been stripped of trees. Got that? Did I mention it's crazy? But that's not a bad thing!

The steam-punk vision of 1941 in which April eludes the government and occasionally does science herself absolutely lives up to the title. The story is crazy yet cohesive, briskly paced, and a blast to watch. I'm at a loss to tell you who the target audience is: I don't think it would sit well with young kids (and some of their parents would be unhappy those kids are seeing it, with the word "merde" being bandied about), yet it's not really aimed at adults either. Teens? But they'd never watch it. How about this: it's for the discerning adult fan of animated movies. And credit where it's due: I once again owe CineFix a debt for their really excellent "Top 10 Animated Movies of All Time" for pointing me to this movie.

2015, dir. Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci. With Marion Cotillard, Philippe Katerine, Jean Rochefort, Olivier Gourmet, Marc-André Grondin, Bouli Lanners, Anne Coesens.


If I hadn't just watched "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" last night, I would have told you this was the most comic-book-like movie anyone has made. But "Spider-Verse" definitely took that title (and by a wide margin). But this one is live action and glorious to look at as it puts lots action on the screen along with lots of colourful Atlantean stuff.

The beginning of the movie shows that Aquaman (Jason Momoa) is now getting more involved in the events of the world after what happened in the "Justice League" movie. We're shown Aquaman's origins, a (royal) child of Atlantis and our world. And we see events down in Atlantis where the heir apparent wants to start a war with the surface world. So Mera (an Atlantean princess played by Amber Heard) tries to recruit Arthur Curry (aka "Aquaman") to help prevent the war - by making him do exactly what he doesn't want to do, become King of Atlantis.

There are good things about the movie: Momoa is charming and charismatic, and Heard is a good foil. The fights (there are plenty) are entertaining. The sea creatures and Atlantean technology are inventive and colourful and pretty to look at. But there are quite a number of bad things too. SPOILERS: Aquaman's mother has been "dead" for 20+ years, but in short flashbacks she's played by Nicole Kidman - you don't throw Kidman into a movie just to kill her off screen, thus telegraphing something that happens later. The plot is messy and silly. Patrick Wilson isn't a great villain (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II isn't significantly better, but apparently we're going to have to put up with him if there's a sequel). And it's too long (2h23m).

An amusing way to spend a couple hours if you like superhero movies, but not one you're likely to rewatch.

2018, dir. James Wan. With Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison.

Arabian Nights

Made by Hallmark Entertainment - had I known that up front, I probably wouldn't have watched it. Despite which, it's pretty damn good for a TV mini-series. Lavish production, some clever ideas, and famous stories brought to life in credible style.

1999, dir. Steve Barron. With Mili Avital, Dougray Scott, James Frain, Rufus Sewell, Jason Scott Lee, Tchéky Karyo, Alan Bates, John Leguizamo.

The Best Arbuckle Keaton Collection

A two DVD collection of two-reel silent shorts, directed by and starring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, all of which co-star Buster Keaton. Arbuckle had his career totally destroyed in 1923 by a massive rape trial - he was completely exonerated, but his career never recovered.

Arbuckle was a physical comedian much in the style of Harold Lloyd and later stars Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Arbuckle had his moments, but I was more interested in watching this early view of Keaton learning his trade - before he became "Old Stone Face." That's right, he actually reacts to things in these ones. And he already really, really knew how to fall down. It was fascinating to see in the short "Back Stage" a stage facade of a two storey building falling on an oblivious Arbuckle who is fortunate enough to be standing such that he goes through a window in the facade without injury. Sound familiar? It's a gag that Keaton borrowed to greater effect in "Steamboat Bill, Jr."(?) in which he used a real house facade and probably would have died if he hadn't positioned himself correctly. It's one of his most famous scenes.

Titles: "The Butcher Boy," "The Rough House," "His Wedding Night," "Oh, Doctor!," "Coney Island," "Out West," "The Bell Boy," "Moonshine," "Good Night, Nurse," "Back Stage," "The Hayseed," "The Garage." The DVD itself was issued in 2001, the dates on the titles range from 1917 to 1920.

Of these, "The Butcher Boy" is the standout and worth checking out if you have any interest in Arbuckle or the effect he had on cinema.

1917, dir. Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. With Buster Keaton, Al St. John, Alice Lake, Jack Coogan Sr., Molly Malone.

Arcane, Season 1

This is an animated prequel to the "League of Legends" online game, available on Netflix.

Vi and Powder are two young sisters living in Zaun, which is the crime-ridden under-city below the city of Piltover. They were orphaned, but taken in by Vander - one of the leaders of the failed revolution that orphaned them. This follows them from when they were perhaps 10 and 15 to when they're in their late twenties. The series is nine episodes of 53 minutes each.

The artwork is ... breath-taking. Superb. Art Deco Steampunk, this series is a work of art in every frame. I probably couldn't have watched all of it just for that - but I might have tried. Really. However, the series also has good characters. I thought Silco (voiced by Jason Spisak) was probably the best: he's a horrible bastard and a drug dealer, but he's alarmingly understandable. He was also a leader of the revolution, who loves his "daughter" and his city and will do anything for either one of them ... no matter the cost to anyone else.

And now I'd like to talk about a couple of problems, which gets me into minor spoiler territory. The biggest, to me, is Jinx. I don't know "League of Legends" at all, and I don't care what they "need" her to turn out as. She's batshit crazy, basically the Joker. And just like the Joker, I fail to see any way she could have survived. She's a loose cannon, doing random dangerous shit all the time. And yet when it's convenient for the plot she's in exactly the right place at exactly the right time with exactly the piece of artillery that's needed. Her perfect placement every time is simply not consistent with the character's madness.

A lesser gripe is that after watching seven and a half hours of the series, they offer no resolution - just make things worse as a cliffhanger for the next season. Have I mentioned how much I hate cliffhangers? This qualifies as a "lesser gripe" because I was kind of expecting it. Doesn't mean I'm going to come back for the next season. The series was good, but not good enough to get away with pissing me off that much.

2021, dir. Pascal Charrue, Arnaud Delord. With Hailee Steinfeld, Ella Purnell, Kevin Alejandro, Katie Leung, Jason Spisak, Toks Olagundoye, JB Blanc, Harry Lloyd, Mia Sinclair Jenness, Miles Brown, Reed Shannon, Mick Wingert, Yuri Lowenthal, Roger Craig Smith, Fred Tatasciore, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Amirah Vann.


A young man named Hamster (Skylan Brooks) living in a rough area of an unnamed city tries to make a living by posting videos of street life on the movie's YouTube equivalent. His sister Indigo (Zolee Griggs) works for the neighbourhood drug lord in an attempt to lift the two of them out of their lousy life. Hamster begins filming local drunk Max Fist (Joe Manganiello) who claims he's from another universe where he was super-powered. Hamster's videos of Max prove very popular as Indigo runs afoul of her boss - and Max steps in to try to save them (and prove he's a hero, not just a drunk).

While the movie is a different take on superhero ideas than the current Marvel mainstream universe, the plot is fairly similar to a number of indie comic stories out there. The movie is helped along by being reasonably well constructed and acted, but isn't exactly outstanding. I enjoyed it simply because it was a bit different, but can only give it a lukewarm recommendation.

2020, dir. Adam Egypt Mortimer. With Joe Manganiello, Skylan Brooks, Zolee Griggs, Paul Scheer, Amy Seimetz, Glenn Howerton.

Are You Afraid of the Dark? (2019)

"Are You Afraid of the Dark?" has already been a TV series twice. In each case, it was about a group of kids gathering at a campfire to tell horror stories. I haven't seen either of the previous series: they were relatively long-running, with multiple 22-25 minute episodes. This incarnation is a miniseries, three episodes of 43 minutes each.

Our heroine is Rachel Carpenter (Lyliana Wray). She's starting at a new high school, where her love of horror movies gets her invited to "The Midnight Society" - where kids sit around a bonfire and tell stories. She bases her story on her own nightmares about "Mr. Tophat" and "The Carnival of Doom," who abduct children. The day after she tells her story, a carnival rolls into town - and it's called ... "The Carnival of Doom." And one of the children from the school goes missing. Rachel has to try to convince her new friends that she didn't know the carnival existed, and try to figure out what's happening.

This is aimed at kids, and as such, to an adult it seems at most sort of gently creepy. Certainly not "horrifying." The kids involved are all reasonably intelligent, and for the most part make reasonable decisions - thus avoiding a lot of the classic horror movie tropes. There are some jokes, but not many of them actually made me laugh. It was nice to see a good excuse for the adults being ineffectual in a kids show: usually they're ineffectual just because, like the adults in Charlie Brown who appear as large objects and make inarticulate noises. In this case, they couldn't help the kids because they couldn't remember because of Mr. Tophat.

Ultimately inoffensive, mildly cute, and forgettable.

2019. With Lyliana Wray, Miya Cech, Sam Ashe Arnold, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Tamara Smart, Rafael Casal.

The Aristocrats

One hundred comedians (or thereabouts) and their takes on one incredibly filthy joke. Some of the view of how comedians work, their analysis of humour, was interesting - but I found the central joke relatively unfunny which left me kind of disinterested in a lot of the proceedings.

The two most obscene and/or disgusting takes on the joke were told by Whoopi Goldberg and Bob Sagat. Sagat?! Apparently after years of doing the excessively family-friendly "Full House" and "America's Funniest Home Videos," he had a lot of bile to get out. Ironically, the version that amused me the most was perhaps the least offensive.

2005, dir. Penn Jillette, Paul Provenza. With Penn Jillette, Whoopi Goldberg, Gilbert Gottfried, Bob Sagat, George Carlin.

Armour of God

One of Jackie Chan's less inspired movies, "Armour of God" sees Jackie as an Indiana Jones-like character called "The Asian Hawk" recovering (and selling) relics from all over the world. An evil cult wants to possess the Armour of God and Jackie has had three of the five pieces pass through his hands in the last few years. So the cult kidnaps one of the members of Jackie's former band and his ex-girlfriend - which saddles him with his ex-best-friend, now her boyfriend. So we get a fairly typical buddy set-up, with the friend being the theoretical comedic relief and simultaneously making Jackie's job of rescuing the girl much more difficult. There are a couple passable fights, a few decent stunts, but it's a hell of a wade to get to them.

1987, dir. Jackie Chan and Eric Tsang. With Jackie Chan, Alan Tam, Rosamund Kwan, Lola Forner.

Armour of God II: Operation Condor

One of Jackie Chan's most sexist movies, which is saying something. He surrounds himself with pretty, second rate actresses and has them shriek, lose their clothes, and be helpless. He occasionally throws in a joke or two aimed at his own sexism, but it doesn't stop him.

Nominally a sequel to "Armour of God," the movie sees the return of only two characters (one being Chan) and neither is quite what they were in the previous movie. But Chan is still a globe-trotting Indiana Jones type, this time after several tons of Nazi gold. He sets out with one woman as his boss, is joined by a second whose grandfather helped hide the gold, and rather inexplicably acquires a third helpless woman along the way in Africa. Good triumphs, but not without quite a number of fistfights - sadly, not among his best. He was concentrating on crazy stunts - powered paragliding, zorbing, fighting in a wind tunnel. A little too over-the-top, not enough good fights.

1991, dir. Jackie Chan. With Jackie Chan, Carol Cheng, Eva Cobo de Garcia, Shoko Ikeda, Aldo Sambrell.

Arn - The Knight Templar

Apparently there are two cuts of this film - one, the original Swedish version, and the second one that includes the original Swedish movie and the sequel in one. I take it this latter one was all that was released in North America, and it's what I saw.

We first meet Arn (Joakim Nätterqvist) in the Crusades, killing bandits in the Holy Land. In the process, he has saved a small group from the bandits - a small group that includes Saladin (Milind Soman). He and Saladin find a deep respect for each other. We're also filled in on Arn's back story: he grew up in a monastery, where he learned to fight from a former Knight Templar. When he stepped out into the world, his ability to fight saves his family - and creates other problems. Which are compounded when he falls in love with Cecilia (Sofia Helin), who is promised to another but loves Arn.

I found the movie too long - interesting that what I saw was a severely cut down version of two movies (the good news being that I didn't think that showed at all). But it's well done and well acted. The tone is sad, somber throughout as Arn and his love go through twenty years of penance and live under constant threat of battle.

2008, dir. Peter Flinth. With Joakim Nätterqvist, Sofia Helin, Milind Soman, Stellan Skarsgård, Simon Callow, Vincent Perez, Bibi Andersson, Michael Nyqvist.

Around the World in Eighty Days (2004)

I love Jackie Chan. I've become accustomed to watching stupid but entertaining movies based around his skills. In this case, all I got was stupid. Charming, but so silly it was pathetic and I didn't think much of the action, usually one of Chan's strengths.

2004, dir. Frank Coraci. With Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Cécile de France, Jim Broadbent.

Around the World in 80 Days (2021)

The story is a well-known one: Phileas Fogg (David Tennant) lives his life like clockwork, spending every day at the Reform Club reading the paper. One day an article by his friend's daughter Abigail Fix Fortescue (Leonie Benesch) about a railroad completed in India makes him conclude - out loud - that it would now be possible to travel around the world in 80 days. His obnoxious friend Bellamy (Peter Sullivan) says that even if it were possible, Fogg certainly couldn't do it ... and Fogg makes a £20,000 bet (an immense amount of money in 1870s Britain) that he can. He hires Passpartout (Ibrahim Koma) as a servant for the trip, and Abigail joins them to document the adventure.

At this point they've already been a number of changes from Jules Verne's original story: "Fix" was originally a police man who accompanied them rather than a reporter, so the character has changed gender and profession. Second, Passpartout, while still French, is now of African descent. Both of these things (her gender, his colour) would have presented far greater problems travelling the world at the time than they bothered to mention. They did discuss it a bit, but not realistically.

Putting that aside, I cannot fault Tennant, Benesch, or Koma: they were each lovely in the role they had been given. That's not where the problem lies. Each of the eight episodes is a super glossy story of a time and place: 1) England and France, 2) Italy, 3) Aden, 4) India, 5) Hong Kong, 6) a small island in the Pacific, 7) the U.S., 8) the U.S. and U.K. In each episode they face difficulties either physical or personal that stretch each of them to their limits, etc. And all of this is as Verne intended. But it all seemed too perfectly formed, too cleanly episodic to me, for a trip around the world. And it all really fell apart in the sixth episode, when we see Fogg held at gun-point on their steam ship across the Pacific by a man who wants their trip to fail. Through the magic of television, we flash forward to the three of them in a small boat on a huge ocean. Wait, what? The bad guy was threatening Fogg, and only Fogg: he went and collected the other two as well on an ocean liner with people everywhere? Why not just strand Fogg? And then our heroes in their tiny boat are threatened by bad weather ... and click, we jump forward again to the three of them re-uniting after the crash of the boat. But the bad editing and bad writing don't stop there: we're given to understand that the island is tiny, and their only hope is to make a raft of drift wood. And yet there are Durians. Durians grow on TREES. Large trees.

It's beautifully produced, and has some lovely moments. For the most part, the inner voyages of the three main characters (as each struggles with their own beliefs and limitations) is fairly good. But I had problems with a lot of the details.

2021, dir. Steve Barron, Brian Kelly, Charles Beeson. With David Tennant, Ibrahim Koma, Leonie Benesch, Jason Watkins, Peter Sullivan, Richard Wilson, Leon Clingman, Giovanni Scifoni, Anthony Flanagan, Lindsay Duncan, Shivaani Ghai.


I found this Netflix-produced movie during my recent interest in movies similar to "Groundhog Day."

The entire movie takes place in a single house and garage, with a cast of six. Robbie Amell is Renton, who wakes up beside his former girlfriend Hannah in their environmental disaster of a world. He's shortly killed in a house invasion - and wakes up beside Hannah again. Their time loop keeps changing as Renton tries different things - and others start to become aware of the loop. This is the strength of the film: the plot, while a little too convoluted, was well thought out.

Unfortunately, the movie is populated by a bunch of unknown actors. Not always a bad thing, but Robbie Amell is the "paternal first cousin" of Stephen Amell of "Arrow" fame - and he shares his cousin's dramatic range when acting: from stunned to clueless. The rest of the cast is slightly better, but only slightly.

The ending is somewhat unsatisfying [HALF SPOILER ALERT]: this is the only "Groundhog Day" movie I've seen so far where they don't manage to get out of the loop - it's simply implied that they've done something different and have a hope of getting out.

Not disastrously bad, but the worst of the "Groundhog Day" films I've watched and rather poor.

2016, dir. Tony Elliott. With Robbie Amell, Rachel Taylor, Shaun Benson, Gray Powell, Jacob Neayem, Adam Butcher.


Apparently those with a knowledge of juvenile fiction recognize the name as that of a character in Mary Norton's old book The Borrowers, and indeed this is based on that book. It is, however, set in modern day Japan. Hiromasa Yonebayashi is with Studio Ghibli, and has clearly studied Hayao Miyazaki's work. Miyazaki had a hand in the script.

Arrietty is about 10 cm tall, and she and her parents live under the floorboards of a house in the country. Trouble comes in the form of a sick young (human) boy: he means them no harm, but when he spots Arrietty on a couple of occasions, their interactions begin to cause problems for her family.

The movie is quite slow-paced with utterly gorgeous visuals. It's not going to astound you with its pyrotechnics, but it's likely to stay in your mind as a thing of quiet beauty.

2010, dir. Hiromasa Yonebayashi. With Mirai Shida, Ryūnosuke Kamiki, Shinobu Ōtake, Keiko Takeshita, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Tomokazu Miura, Kirin Kiki.


In catching up with recent major science fiction films, I watched two Denis Villeneuve movies in a row without even realising it until the credits rolled on this, the second one. This is based on "Story of Your Life," a short story by Ted Chiang.

We are shown first the most influential event of our heroine's (Amy Adams as Louise Banks) life - her daughter dying of an incurable disease ... in the first ten minutes of the movie. And then the aliens come to Earth. Twelve ships, all over the planet. Louise, a linguist, is called to the one in Montana, where she meets physics expert Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). Under the direction of Colonel G. T. Weber (Forest Whitaker), they meet the aliens and start work on the aliens' complex written language.

This is one of those movies where you can't explain much. It's weird, it's slow, it's thought provoking and fascinating. Highly recommended to fans of thinking SF (and I liked it a lot better than Villeneuve's even more stylish but less substantial "Blade Runner 2049" which I watched last night).

2016, dir. Denis Villeneuve. With Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma, Mark O'Breien, Abigail Pniowsky, Jilia Scarlett Dan, Jadyn Malone, Frank Schorpion.

The Arrival

I saw this first when it came out, and again in 2011.

Charlie Sheen (before his infamous meltdown(s)) plays Zane Zaminski, a radio astronomer for SETI who thinks he's heard an alien radio signal. As soon as he mentions it to his supervisor, he's shut down, and it's not just his job he loses. He starts "borrowing" other people's satellite dishes to make a composite radio telescope array, then goes to Mexico to visit the site of an answering signal.

Sheen has a lot of fun as the incredibly paranoid and slightly loopy Zane (with an arrogance that seems to have presaged his own later life ...) and a decent supporting cast and enjoyable script make this a lot of fun to watch ... although perhaps more for science fiction fans than anyone else.

1996, dir. David Twohy. With Charlie Sheen, Teri Polo, Tony T. Johnson, Lindsay Crouse, Ron Silver, Richard Schiff.

Arrow, Season 1

The story centres around young billionaire playboy Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), newly returned home after five years on a tropical island after the wreck of his father's ship. Evidently risen from the dead, he comes back to right the wrongs his father left him heir to in the city. His weapon of choice is the bow, and he's very, very good with it. And at fighting in general. Not what he was when he left. His vendetta in the city develops in parallel with the story of his time on the island.

There's an idea in Computer Science called "The Principle of Least Surprise," which means you want your user (or even your programmer) to be able to guess what a function or interface does. Unfortunately, "Arrow" seems to have been written according to this same principle. The characters are reasonably well written (if weakly acted), the dialogue is reasonably good, but the action and the plot developments are amazingly free of interesting surprises. I don't claim to have predicted all the plot points by any means, but when they never went anywhere I couldn't have gone myself with 15 or 20 minutes of thought ... Not impressive.

One interesting feature of the show is that no one (NO ONE) in Starling City is anything less than attractive. They're all perfect. Another significant issue is that it's astonishingly similar to Batman: rich playboy by day, masked vigilante by night, with all the techno-toys money can buy. Sound familiar?

2012. With Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Colin Donnell, David Ramsey, Willa Holland, Susanna Thompson, Paul Blackthorne, Emily Bett Rickards, Manu Bennett, John Barrowman.

Arrow, Season 2

Season 2 got away from the Principle of Least Surprise ... but by the 4th episode or so I was kind of wishing they could have chosen a more realistic storyline, like Oliver going water skiing and jumping over a shark or something like that. People who were thought dead reappear. There are assassins (a lot of them), strength-enhancing drugs, deaths, reversals (good people become bad, etc.), people who were dead reappearing (as opposed to those who, say, fell off a sinking ship and were "presumed dead"), more masked villains, more masked vigilantes. It's a full scale soap opera - not that that's significantly different than the original comic books, but I didn't find it terribly palatable then either.

2013. With Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Colin Donnell, David Ramsey, Willa Holland, Susanna Thompson, Paul Blackthorne, Emily Bett Rickards, Manu Bennett, John Barrowman, Colton Haynes.

Arthur and George

Martin Clunes plays the recently widowed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Arsher Ali plays George Edalji, a solicitor of Indian descent in rural England in 1903. He's accused of maiming multiple animals and sentenced to three years hard labour. After his release, Sir Arthur becomes his biggest sponsor in an attempt to prove him innocent after the fact. Edalji would be unable to practice law having been convicted of committing a crime, so the stakes were fairly high for him. Of course Sir Arthur was not Sherlock Holmes, no matter how much he might have liked to have been - but on the flip side, neither was he a stupid man. (It's loosely based on real events.)

The mini-series consists of three 45 minute episodes, and involves both Edalji's family and Sir Arthur's family and friends. It's all fairly low key, but it's also intelligent and interesting. I enjoyed it.

2015. With Martin Clunes, Arsher Ali, Charles Edwards, Art Malik, Emma Fielding.

Arthur Christmas

An animated movie by Aardman and Sony Animation.

Arthur Christmas (James McAvoy) is the youngest of the family that runs the North Pole: his father Malcolm (Jim Broadbent) is the current Santa Claus, and his brother Steve (Hugh Laurie) is in charge of operations. The beginning, Christmas night with Santa's massive technological sled and an army of ninja elves delivering presents, is brilliantly funny. Arthur turns out to be a horrible klutz - because of this he's been assigned to the mail room where he can't do as much damage. But he visits the control room anyway, and manages to make a scene without meaning to. And then he discovers that a child has been missed - received no gift - and sets out to remedy the situation with the help of GrandSanta (his grandfather - voiced by Bill Nighy) and Bryony (Ashley Jensen), a slightly maniacal Scottish elf from the Wrapping Department.

Both good-natured and very entertaining, this is a fun and charming Christmas story. I was a little reluctant to watch it, but it definitely won me over. Jensen was a particular stand-out, hugely funny.

2011, dir. Sarah Smith. With James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Ashley Jensen, Imelda Staunton, Marc Wootton, Laura Linney, Eva Longoria, Ramona Marquez, Michael Palin.

The Artist

A black and white, silent film from 2011. It's an interesting conceit: we follow the life of a famous silent movie star ("George Valentin," played by Jean Dujardin) and his rising protégé Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) who goes into the talking pictures that Valentin scorns.

It's very well done, but it's also frustratingly self-aware. Likewise, it's frequently very clever - but sometimes it was just ... annoying. Nevertheless, Michel Hazanavicius' extensive research and love of silent film paid off with a beautifully constructed film. A huge success as a pastiche and a tribute, I thought the story was somewhat less successful.

2011, dir. Michel Hazanavicius. With Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, James Cromwell, John Goodman, Missi Pyle, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell.

As You Like It (BBC, 1978)

A BBC TV production with a surprisingly untalented cast. Only Helen Mirren is even halfway decent, and she's too old for her role (Rosalind) and rather subdued. It's not disastrous, and it does appear to include the entire text (rather unusual these days).

1978, dir. Basil Coleman. With Helen Mirren, Brian Stirner, Richard Pasco, Angharad Rees, James Bolam, Clive Francis.

As You Like It (CBC, 1983)

Filmed on the stage at the Stratford Festival in 1983, and superior to the 1978 BBC version also listed here. Rosalind, Celia and Orlando are all too old, but it's well acted, and well interpreted - meaning that someone spent a lot of time thinking about Shakespeare's meaning, and some physical hints are given to help us understand Shakespeare's more obscure language ... without going overboard or taking us out of the play. Besides, it's broad comedy. A good production.

Rosalind: Roberta Maxwell, Orlando: Andrew Gillies, Jacques: Nicholas Pennell, Celia: Rosemary Dunsmore.

1983, dir. John Hirsch. With Roberta Maxwell, Andrew Gillies, Nicholas Pennell, Rosemary Dunsmore.

As You Like It (Branagh, 2006)

Kenneth Branagh has re-envisioned this Shakespeare play as set in a British enclave in Japan in the late 1800s. This was a bizarre and distracting choice, and I couldn't see any real strength to the decision. The acting varies from okay to quite good: Brian Blessed phoned in both his performances as the older and younger dukes, Romola Garai (Celia) was too animated, Alfred Molina (Touchstone) was underused, Bryce Dallas Howard (Rosalind) and Kevin Kline (Jacques) were good. As is often the case, Branagh had some very sound insights into the structure of the play and made some good choices interpreting the action. But he chopped the text mercilessly - as he often does - to poorer effect than usual. So he managed two or three really beautiful moments I'd love to cut out of the rest of the movie to stuff into the ultimate version of the play ... but unless you're a big fan of Shakespeare, this production probably isn't worth your time.

2006, dir. Kenneth Branagh. With Bryce Dallas Howard, Kevin Kline, Brian Blessed, Romola Garai, Richard Briers, David Oyelowo, Adrian Lester, Jade Jefferies, Janet McTeer, Alfred Molina.

As You Like It (Royal Shakespeare Company, 2019)

This is a Royal Shakespeare Company stage production of "As You Like It" - as such, it's not surprising it's not in Wikipedia or Rotten Tomatoes, but it was released on DVD (available through Toronto Public Library) so I thought it would be in IMDB ... but it doesn't appear to be. This review isn't about the text or plot (which I've read and seen many times) but about the presentation itself.

As is common these days, they're tinkering with characters and presentation (but very little with the words). This includes shifting Jacques' gender from male to female, as well as Le Beau (a fairly minor character), and most dubiously, Silvius the shepherd becomes "Sylvia," shifting one of the courting couples from man-and-woman to woman-and-woman. We also have Sir Rowland de Boys three sons, each an entirely different race - which is a mite disorienting. I mention these things not because I object, but out of interest: using the best actress or actor for the job is fine by me ... But I do question the choice of "Sylvia" who was a poorer actress than most of the rest of the staff. It brings the gender choice into question: did you do it just to mess with Shakespeare, or to get the best person for the job? Because the play was made slightly worse by substituting a woman there. Think about the ending: Ganymede becomes Rosalind and "cannot" marry Phebe because she's a woman ... but then Phebe marries another woman, Sylvia. Kind of breaks the logic of the play.

They've added more songs: this is already the Shakespeare play with the most songs, more weren't needed. They've made it goofier: it's a Shakespeare comedy, it's already absurd and goofy, why go more?

Some things I did like:

  • Orlando wins a prize wrestling, the Duke takes it away when he finds out that Orlando is Rowland de Boys son (there's no stage direction to this effect - there are no stage directions at all), which means Rosalind's gift to Orlando is - as well as a token of affection - a sign of respect for his triumph and a replacement of her uncle's retracted gift
  • several actors play different characters at court and in the forest - and they change clothes on stage as the scenery is changed behind them:
    • most notably one guy plays the two dukes: which Shakespeare may well have done when he staged the play (this arrangement is also in Branagh's version, and may in fact be fairly common?)
    • which cleverly ties into the "All the world's a stage" speech, with "And one man in his time plays many parts"

One last issue: the actors shout and over-act, because they're on a stage playing to the attending audience. I haven't been to an actual play in five or six years, and the experience is different being there compared to seeing it filmed anyway. But I watch movies all the time and this is in effect, "a movie" ... so the overacting seems out of place. (And yet I had no problem with the limited and relatively barren sets ...)

A final observation that's a feature of the play rather than this performance: Touchstone the clown is a truly horrible person. I knew this, but I guess I get reminded every time.

2019, dir. Kimberley Sykes. With Lucy Phelps, Antony Byrne, Sophie Khan Levy, Sandy Grierson, Emily Johnstone, Graeme Brookes, Leo Wan, Aaron Thiara, David Ajao, Richard Clews, Sophie Stanton, Laura Elsworthy, Amelia Donkor, Charlotte Arrowsmith.

The Assassin

I pride myself on being able to make more sense of movies and catch more details than most other people. As we all know from stories and movies, the prideful are eventually brought low. In this case, by a movie with an utterly glacial pace that shows an unresolved martial arts fight (it seems that both fighters walked away, but there's no explanation of why it happened) followed by a shot of goats in a pen chewing their cuds. The only conclusion is that the director is more concerned with "pretty" than with resolution. I was roped into this movie because it had an 81% rating and is "Certified Fresh" over at Rotten Tomatoes: I'm really going to have to rethink my decision methodology.

The basic premise sees a young woman (Nie Yinniang, played by Shu Qi) who was sent away to train with a nun ... who teaches her to be an assassin ... coming home with the assignment of killing her cousin (Chang Chen) who is now a provincial official and who also used to be her fiancée. There's other political intrigue at work, and some nasty family politics as her ex-fiancée is having an affair with a dancer (or is she officially his concubine? ... but his wife doesn't like it).

There may be cultural clues if you're Chinese that will fill in the gaping holes left by the director's disinterest in the plot (at 1 hour 45 minutes, there's enough plot for a 30 minute short - the rest of the time is filled with scenery and very long silences between conversation).

It's pretty in places, but overall I'd rate this one "agonizing."

2015, dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsien. With Shu Qi, Chang Chen, Zhou Yun, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Ethan Juan.

Assassin's Creed

I don't know anything about the video game series that inspired this movie, although I understand it's better than this turgid piece of crap. This movie is a poster child for why video games shouldn't be turned into movies ... and somehow it dragged several excellent actors down with it.

Michael Fassbender plays both modern-day murderer Callum Lynch, and also Aguilar de Nerha of the Assassin's Creed Brotherhood in 1492. In the modern day, as in the past, the Assassins are fighting the Knights Templar: the Assassins fight for the freedom of mankind, the Knights believe in peace through the removal of all free will. In the modern day, the Knights put Callum into a machine that allows him to relive parts of the life of his relative de Nerha, hoping to find the "Apple of Eden."

The plot only gets sillier, so I'll spare you. Fassbender apparently thought this project was good enough to be a producer. He's pretty much the only person in the whole thing who manages to bring a moment or two drama to the production. The others aren't trying very hard, but they have such a ham-fisted plot and lousy dialogue to deal with that selling this product is akin to selling shoes to snakes even if they'd been working at it. Some of the action sequences are mildly entertaining, although entirely unbelievable.

Overblown, over-long, and intensely ludicrous.

2016, dir. Justin Kurzel. With Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams.

Astro Boy (2009)

An animated children's movie based on the very old and often adapted work of Osamu Tezuka.

Toby (Freddie Highmore) is the brilliant young son of Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage), who is killed - partly by his own curiosity and a little by the bad choices of his father and President Stone (Donald Sutherland), for whom Tenma works. Tenma builds a highly realistic (but heavily armed) robot recreation of his son (also Highmore) ... and then rejects him because his behaviour isn't exactly the same as his son Toby. This young child robot has various adventures and eventually saves everyone and everything, and feels better about himself.

The target age group on this one is younger than I'm used to, although perhaps not out of line with the original Astro Boy material. There's very little in here for adults except the pretty visuals, and even seven year olds may notice this is a bit heavy-handed.

2009, dir. David Bowers. With Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland, Nathan Lane, Samuel L. Jackson.

Atomic Blonde

Based on a graphic novel. Spy Lorraine Broughton (an extremely fit Charlize Theron) is sent into Berlin just as the Berlin Wall is about to fall to try to recover a leaked list of all the spies on both sides of the wall that's about to go on the market. Her contact is David Percival (James McAvoy), who has (as described by the folks in London) "gone feral." We see him partying wildly, beating people up, and crossing from one side of the Berlin Wall to the other without much trouble.

There follow a very long list of betrayals and double crosses, with gun battles, and fist and knife fights - all done in Eighties fashion and often in garish colours. The soundtrack of Eighties music had some very good choices ("Cat People," "Major Tom," "London Calling") and some poorer ones ("Voices Carry," two versions of "99 Luftballons" when I could have done without any). The whole plot construct is so complex that we had to keep stopping the film to try to figure out what was going on. I was surprised to learn from Wikipedia that Broughton was supposed to be British (I thought she was an American spy temporarily seconded to the British). In the end we have a movie that's incomprehensible and unrewarding (and unbelievable) even if you can follow it.

2017, dir. David Leitch. With Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, James Faulkner, Bill Skarsgård, Sam Hargrave, Roland Møller, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson.


Joe Wright's follow-up to his very good version of "Pride and Prejudice," he chose to adapt another novel - this time a recent novel by Ian McEwan about Britain during the war. While the older daughter of the Tallis family (Keira Knightley) falls for one of the servants (James McAvoy), the younger Tallis daughter (played at different ages by Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, and Vanessa Redgrave) accuses him of a crime he didn't commit, changing all their lives. Flashbacks and different points of view of the same event mean that you spend a lot of time patching the actual sequence of events together in your head. I found the eventual conclusion ... realistic, but unsatisfying.

2007, dir. Joe Wright. With Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, James McAvoy, Brenda Blethyn, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave.

Attack on Titan

I learned a new word! "Tokusatsu," defined by Wikipedia as "a Japanese term that applies to any live-action film or television drama that features considerable use of special effects (tokusatsu literally translates as 'special filming' in Japanese)." And yes, "Godzilla" is the quintessential tokusatsu movie.

The movie was released in two parts in Japan: "Attack on Titan" and "Attack on Titan: End of the World." This is a review of the first of these two.

"Attack on Titan" is based on a successful manga of the same name. The main premise is that 100 years ago, Titans appeared - 20 metre tall humanoids who like to eat humans. The remainder of humanity (I love the assumption made by so many pieces of fiction that their people are the centre of the universe) builds three massive concentric walls to keep the Titans out, and lives a peaceful and relatively low-tech existence for 100 years. All of which is explained, and our heroes introduced, in 15 minutes before the first new sighting of a Titan - one so large it kicks a whole in the wall so regular Titans can enter. Decimation follows. And then we jump forward two years. Which is a crap story structure, but nothing compared to the wooden prose, lousy exposition, and terrible acting. Now "humanity" has lost their food supply (the outer ring wall contained the farms) and our heroes are part of a desperate mission by the makeshift military to try to fix the breached wall so the Titans within the outer ring can be cleared out.

The effects are good but not great. The method of attacking the Titans is ... physically improbable, as are the Titans themselves (and their food source). Most importantly, the writing and acting are bloody awful. And yet, it's kind of mesmerizing and I watched the entire thing. Whether or not I'll bother to track down "End of the World" is open to question.

2015, dir. Shinji Higuchi. With Haruma Miura, Hiroki Hasegawa, Kiko Mizuhara, Kanata Hongō, Takahiro Miura, Nanami Sakuraba, Satoru Matsuo, Shu Watanabe, Ayame Misaki, Rina Takeda, Satomi Ishihara, Pierre Taki, Jun Kunimura.

Attack the Block

A low budget science fiction thriller that starts out with a mugging in a low rent district of modern London. A young woman headed home is mugged, but escapes further injury when the muggers are distracted by a meteor hitting a car. The meteor has delivered some kind of small and nasty creature, which the muggers attack. Unfortunately, more (and larger) arrive shortly.

The set-up is unusual, and the cast of unknowns (Jodie Whittaker and Nick Frost appear to be the only ones who've been in major movies before, and neither is hugely well known) attack the script with energy and intensity. Very entertaining.

2011, dir. Joe Cornish. With John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Frank Drameh, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard, Nick Frost, Jumayn Hunter, Luke Treadaway.

Au revoir les enfants

This is now regarded as one of the classics of cinema. It's a semi-autobiographical tale by the director, Louis Malle, who grew up in France during the Second World War. The story is about Julien Quentin (Gaspard Manesse), who at the beginning of the film is returning to boarding school. He's one of the school's hellraisers (also quite smart), but we first see him as a pampered Momma's boy. At his Roman Catholic school, one of the new students is Jean Bonnet (Raphaël Fejtö), who turns out to be a Jew that the priests are hiding. This is a big risk in the middle of occupied France.

The movie plays out as a series of vignettes, scenes from their day-to-day life at the school. There's zero effort to join the scenes together. This lack of continuity made the film a fairly bumpy ride, and somewhat uninvolving. By the end you have a pretty good picture of who everyone is, and where they stand in the world ... just in time for the inevitable tragedy that made this period of Malle's life so memorable he needed to make a film about it.

It's a window on a particular place and period in time, and in the end a fairly good movie, but if we set aside the awe and the horror that surrounds the circumstances and just look at it as a movie ... I just don't understand the respect it gets. It's a good movie, but I didn't feel like it qualified as a great movie.

1987, dir. Louis Malle. With Gaspard Manesse, Raphaël Fejtö, Francine Racette, Stanislas Carré, Philippe Morier-Genoud, François Berléand, Irène Jacob, François Négret.


Keri Russell plays Jane Hayes, an American woman obsessed with Jane Austen's novels, particularly Colin Firth's version of Mr. Darcy. She spends all the money she has on a trip to Austenland, where she discovers that her travel agent sold her the cheap package, and playing at romance isn't as good as she'd hoped.

The concept isn't bad, but they start by massively overplaying Jane's obsession. As soon as she arrives in Austenland, she dials it back by a factor of ten and the movie deliberately surrounds her with tasteless boors (number one on the list being Jennifer Coolidge, who's so far past "typecast" she's defining a new category) so she looks like a princess. Throw in a handsome stable boy (Bret McKenzie) and a Mr. Darcy (J.J. Feild) who both fall for her ... The jokes are routinely painfully broad and the romance foregone. Could have been so much better if they'd ever heard the word "subtlety," but as it is, everyone should pass - especially Austen fans.

2013, dir. Jerusha Hess. With Keri Russell, J.J. Feild, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge, James Callis, Jane Seymour, Georgia King, Ricky Whittle, Rupert Vansittart.


Let's get this out of the way first: young man goes to new place, tries to infiltrate natives, succeeds, becomes enamoured of native culture, helps natives fight his own evil culture. The story is unoriginal. Although they do a good version.

That said, this is simply the most beautiful movie I've ever seen. James Cameron has created an entire world, a stunning visual feast, easily worth seeing multiple times. See it in 3-D, preferably in IMAX if that's available to you. The sense of immersion is much greater in IMAX, having seen both.

Special Edition: The above is about the original theatrical release. The Special Edition hit theatres in late August 2010 with an extra eight minutes of footage and immediately tanked - more because people had had enough "Avatar" than because it was a bad version. The added footage is scattered throughout the film in 10-30 second segments, and, while none of it is revelatory, I thought it added considerably to the film. The film is already incredibly long, but with reason: Cameron is world-building, taking the plot at a leisurely pace to help you understand an entire new world. The new material adds more context and depth: not essential, but one of those rare cases where the director restoring footage is actually a good thing.

Extended Collector's Edition: This version is included on both the DVD and BluRay disc releases. The primary change is another 4 minutes 30 seconds at the beginning, showing something of Jake Sully's life as a disabled, pissed-off veteran on Earth. It makes his character less appealing, and is better left to the imagination. So I'm staying with my recommendation: watch the "Special Edition." It's the best version of the film.

2009, dir. James Cameron. With Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Joel Moore, Giovanni Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez, Laz Alonso, Dileep Rao.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

By the time I got to three friends having told me I really needed to watch this Nickelodeon series, I started to take them seriously. The biggest problem was trying to watch it on the library's very popular and very scratched DVDs: I was forced to skip "Book 2 Volume 1" (how they label the discs, in this case indicating episodes 1-5 of the second year out of 21 episodes) because the disc was unusable. Each volume has a run-time of 2h02m, made somewhat shorter by five sets of beginning and end credits. The series ran for three years.

I found several problems with the series, none of them particularly serious. It's heavy-handed with the life lessons for the entire three year run - often with the young characters delivering them with more understanding of emotions (and willingness to talk about them) than 12-to-15-year-olds actually have. But then, the target audience was (according to Wikipedia) 6 to 11 years old. The animation is relatively low rent, low res, and jerky - although it's also often quite beautiful. Several pieces of the outcome were blatantly obvious: the Avatar would succeed, and I knew where Zuko and Iroh were headed by the middle of the first season (although Zuko's journey took longer than I expected). But despite these short-comings, it was immensely enjoyable: it's funny, it's great to look at, it's amazingly inventive, and it's really charming. I was a little shaky on it after "Book I Volume I" (the first five episodes) because it was TV animation and heavy-handed, but I kept going and was richly rewarded: they take the time to create a huge cast of characters, and to tell their stories in a massive and consistent story arc right across the three year run. Some parts are predictable, but most of it is surprising and very entertaining. It's a crying shame that Shyamalan's live-action movie interpretation is so widely reported to be spectacularly awful.

The series was created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.

2005. With Zach Tyler Eisen, Mae Whitman, Jack DeSena, Jessie Flower, Dante Basco, Dee Bradley Baker, Mako Iwamatsu, Greg Baldwin, Gey DeLisle.


It's really weird when you sit down to watch a trashy action/martial arts film and instead you get a decent movie.

Scott Adkins has been making cheap-ass action movies for over a decade, and recently some of them have been getting decent reviews (I really want to see "Accident Man"). This one sees him in the role of Cain Burgess, badly scarred and hardened after seven years of prison. He gets loose when he's taken out to see his mother who's dying of cancer. He knows who he blames for his seven years of pain, and he decides he's going to be avenged. He goes to a pub where his old gang is hanging out, and takes the lot of them hostage. Much of the story is told in flashback as he fills them in on how he became who he is today.

Adkins is riveting: he's an incredible bundle of rage and violence, but he somehow still has a streak of humanity left. My reaction to his character was "I'm going to be sympathetic to him ... from as far away as is humanly possible" - it's always impressive when an actor can induce such a visceral reaction. It's interesting to compare this thoroughly convincing performance with the lacklustre nasty he played in "Triple Threat" which I watched earlier this evening (also directed by Jesse V. Johnson). The acting in that was ... well, fairly good for a martial arts film, but nothing compared to this.

Someone give this guy a chance: he's actually got skills (outside of the martial arts).

2019, dir. Jesse V. Johnson. With Scott Adkins, Craig Fairbrass, Nick Moran, Thomas Turgoose, Kierston Wareing, Louis Mandylor, Mark Strange, Leo Gregory.

The Avengers (Series 4, episodes 4-23 to 4-26)

Being in the Science Fiction community in the 80s, it was hard to avoid mention of the old British TV series "The Avengers." And then there was the notorious 1998 Hollywood film starring Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes, which achieved an appalling 5% on Rotten Tomatoes to remind me again. I've often wondered what this oh-so-greatly-loved show was about. When a random disc from the series appeared in front of me at the library, I picked it up. This is the fourth disc of 1966, including the episodes "The House That Jack Built," "A Sense of History," "How to Succeed ... at Murder," and "Honey for the Prince."

Wikipedia suggests that the first couple episodes were actually about avenging something (a murder), but by the fourth season it was simply an excuse for Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg to run about being goofy, solving crimes with smart minds and an ability to fight, and be charmingly deceptive when necessary. While the cover shows Rigg clinging to Macnee, the DVD shows her to be eminently capable of taking care of herself. He rides to the rescue once, only to find that she's already got herself out of trouble: "Where's your shining armour?" she says, to which he replies "Oh, ah, it's at the laundry." It was lovely to see a capable woman who didn't need rescuing - particularly in 1960s TV. On the flip-side of that, in all four episodes they find a way to get her into a revealing costume. Macnee on the other hand is always dressed in a suit and tie. So only partial points for the creation of a strong female lead.

Charming, somewhat entertaining, and about as deep as a puddle. I'm afraid it falls under the Samuel Johnson quote: "Worth seeing? Yes; but not worth going to see."

1966. With Patrick Macnee, Diana Rigg.

The Avengers

The intersection (I thought of using the word "culmination," but that implies termination, and that's not happening) of several of Marvel's movie franchises: "The Incredible Hulk" (now Mark Ruffalo, the third actor in three movies), "Iron Man" (Robert Downey Jr.), "Thor" (Chris Hemsworth), and "Captain America" (Chris Evans) are all at play here. The two other members of the team, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) appeared in "Thor" and "Iron Man 2" respectively. They are brought together by Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson, also previously seen in "Iron Man 2") as the "Avengers Initiative" to fend off an attack on earth by Loki (Tom Hiddleston, from "Thor").

Joss Whedon directed and co-wrote. As usual, he manages to balance personal interactions between the characters and the grand scale of the battle they're embroiled in, setting his little plot points early on in the movie so you don't even know they're being set, then skewering you thoroughly on something innocent you learned earlier. Fanboys get what they want - not only do the good guys fight the bad guys, but the good guys occasionally fight amongst themselves. And people who want some intelligence get it too: it's well written and well plotted. And, as reported by just about every critic before me, Hulk's beat-down on Loki is indeed one of the best moments in the movie (short as it is).

The word that comes to my mind is "worthy." Marvel and Whedon had a lot to live up to with the success and quality they managed to bring to "Thor," "Iron Man," and "Captain America" (I'm going to forget about both recent versions of "The Hulk," except to say that Ruffalo makes a far superior Bruce Banner to Eric Bana or even Edward Norton). And they've lived up to all those franchises. Just make sure you know the previous movies before you step into this, and you'll enjoy it immensely.

2012, dir. Joss Whedon. With Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Samuel L. Jackson, Stellan Skarsgård, Cobie Smulders.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

"Age of Ultron" opens with bizarrely blatant CG shots, including one of director Joss Whedon's favourites which sees all of the Avengers lunging across the screen simultaneously. It's cute, but so blatantly a set piece that I recoiled in disgust. From there the movie - and the CG - improve. We meet "the twins," Wanda and Pietro Maximoff ("The Scarlet Witch" and "Quicksilver" in Marvel's larger universe). Which is somewhat disorienting if you've seen "X-Men: Days of Future Past" because in that not only are they played by different actors but they're about a decade apart in age - I wish Marvel would regulate their properties better ... but I digress and this seems to be entirely expected by a lot of people. And then there's the evil dude Ultron who's created by Tony Stark (still Robert Downey Jr., looking too smug this time out), and lots of big fights.

It's fun - even if we have to put up with deliberately contrived fights like the early on "Hulk vs. Iron Man/Hulkbuster suit" ... someone please ring the fight bell. They go about two rounds, and trash a major city. You know the routine, and the excuse: the Scarlet Witch got into Hulk's head. It all builds to a major denouement, and humanity is saved - mostly. Blah blah blah. There are good fights and it was enjoyable, but the first Avengers movie was definitely the better of the two.

James Spader has a blast voicing "Ultron," and does a fine job of bringing the deranged AI to life. Sadly, the only other character development of any description, despite the relatively long run-time, is regarding the possible budding romance between Bruce Banner (the Hulk, Mark Ruffalo) and Natasha Romanoff ("Black Widow," Scarlett Johansson). I suppose there's a bit for the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), but mostly they appear fully formed and we're expected to understand their bond through a few glances between them.

2014, dir. Joss Whedon. With Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie.

The Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel has been building up to this one for a decade, giving many characters their own movies and now finally bringing every single one (umm - except Ant-Man and the Wasp) into one massive movie against the most super-evil villain, like, ever. It's very carefully structured, first introducing Thanos as he slaughters thousands - and we find out he's strong enough to beat the shit out of both Thor and the Hulk. And that's before he gears up his super-weapon (the Infinity Gauntlet). So now we have a threat. And a couple characters tell a couple other characters about it, so you're gently reminded of these characters. And more character introductions, with humour - and a bit of fear. All amazingly well constructed.

We're also eventually introduced to Thanos's master plan. See, the universe is over-populated, and because of that people are living unhappy lives without enough food. His solution? Kill off half the population of the universe. He's been doing this planet by planet, but with the Infinity Gauntlet, he could do it with a snap of the fingers. He explains to Gamora (on whose world he's already applied his solution) that after, everyone has enough to eat, "a paradise." Hold on there, back up a bit ... Aside from the economic collapse this would cause, last I checked, we double the Earth's population in 50 years. So your "solution" is good for ... what, 25 years? How about halving the fertility of all sentient creatures? With that solution you wouldn't even have to kill people, it would all settle down in a generation or two ...

I found the big fight two thirds of the way through a bit dull (and illogical), and the conclusion particularly absurd. They kill off a lot of people - but they're killing off high value Marvel franchises, and anyone with a couple brain cells to rub together knows they won't be leaving these people dead because they can't afford it. One death has weight, but dozens of their major characters? It carries no weight at all because Marvel needs these characters, and so the weight and tragedy evaporates to leave disappointment at the silliness.

2018, dir. Anthony and Joe Russo. With Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt, Pete Dinklage, Terry Notary, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Carrie Coon, Michael James Shaw, Benicio Del Toro, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bradley Cooper.

The Avengers: Endgame

This is Marvel Studios' 22nd movie. And if you're not familiar with the other 21, don't even step into the theatre. Despite a three hour runtime, no concessions are made to the uninitiated, no time is spent on back story. And they reference damn near every character and event in their back catalogue.

I saw the movie in 3D, with D-Box. D-Box at Cineplex is an expensive experience: even on Tuesday, your ticket price goes from the regular $12 to $20. But you get assigned seating, and a very large subwoofer built into your chair. I have to say I did not enjoy the experience: on several occasions it seemed more akin to having someone behind me kicking my chair - really, really hard. Here's the thing: imagine you're in the midst of an on-screen conversation between two characters, and suddenly a third character drops a book. Yes, it's startling, but according to D-Box, your chair just jumped an inch in the air. I get chair-rattling when an airplane or spacecraft is taking off, but they use it to emphasize relatively mundane events that wouldn't in real life cause that level of reaction. The seats also tilt during some scenes. It distracted more than it added to the experience. Even setting aside the price differential, I wouldn't choose to repeat the experience.

The remainder of the Avengers (a term that's now apparently expanded to include not only the Guardians of the Galaxy but also Ant-Man, Spider-Man, and anyone who has winked in their general direction) struggle with the fallout of Thanos' "snap" (see "Avengers: Infinity War" ... or don't see it, which was kind of my recommendation: I really didn't like it much although it's impossible to see this one without it).

I can't tell you a whole lot without spoilers, because by about 20 minutes in I'd have to say "Tony Stark invents time travel," which is A) ludicrous, and B) opens so many logical problems with the entire MCU that I really don't think they should have gone there. But they did, and that means the fight to restore the universe after "the snap" continues, across time. Inevitably the Avengers win, but the victory is bittersweet - unlike the deaths in "Infinity War," I think they plan to make the ones in this movie stick (okay, one dead character has a spin-off movie coming up - but I suspect it will be in the MCU "past").

I'm happy to say that I enjoyed the movie. I have bucketloads of issues with it, but I did kind of enjoy it. If you're a fan of the MCU, you have to see it, it's not really a choice. Do your homework beforehand and re-watch any of the previous 21 movies that you don't remember well.

2019, dir. Anthony and Joe Russo. With Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin.


Robin Williams is Dr. Sayer, an academic who ends up working in a chronic care facility in a hospital. Some of the patients are catatonic, and he noticed that many of them responded to certain types of stimuli and were survivors of encephalitis. He begins to treat one of them with the new drug L-Dopa.

Based on a non-fiction book by Oliver Sacks, the movie is reasonably well done and rather bittersweet: I can't say much more without spoiling the movie. Williams' performance was a little shaky, and Robert De Niro's felt exaggerated (although it may have been accurate). And, while it's good as a whole, I didn't think it was in any way outstanding.

1990, dir. Penny Marshall. With Robin Williams, Robert De Niro, John Heard, Julie Kavner, Penelope Ann Miller, Max von Sydow.

The Awful Truth

A Broadway play-turned-movie, and thus full of witty one-liners and caustic humour. But somewhat impaired in the common sense department ... not just the characters, but the screenwriters as well. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne play a married couple who get into a tiff and immediately decide that divorce is the only solution, and we spend the next hour and a quarter watching them reconsider. Silly, and, as mentioned, occasionally funny.

1937, dir. Leo McCarey. With Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Ralph Bellamy, Alexander D'Arcy, Cecil Cunningham, Molly Lamont, Esther Dale.


Babette's Feast

A French woman of unknown origins prepares a huge feast for a group of religious puritans in a remote town in Denmark. Fairly good, but I found much of it emotionally cold - it doesn't draw you in or involve you much.

1987. dir. Gabriel Axel.

Baby Assassins

Chisato (Akari Takaishi) and Mahiro (Saori Izawa) are teenage assassins whose employers make them live together and try to get part time jobs. They don't get along very well, and neither of them is particularly good at holding down a job of any description. Imagine a Japanese John-Wick-style (less action, more comedy) coming of age tale.

I initially had some trouble separating Chisato from Himari (Mone Akitani) when the latter was introduced as the daughter of a Yakuza leader - the only thing I can think of to excuse myself for this is that I was busy watching the subtitles and not giving the visuals all of my attention. The plot also bounced around in time a little, which didn't help.

The dynamic between our two central sociopaths is pretty entertaining, and their attempts to negotiate daily life are sometimes very funny.

The final fight (mostly between Masanori Mimoto and Saori Izawa) deserves mention. It owes some credit to "John Wick" for the basics of "Gun Fu," but it's more than that. The choreography is outstanding. The actors must have rehearsed for weeks - particularly to make it look as natural, sloppy, fast, and vicious as it does. When I say "sloppy," I mean the inaccuracy of someone fighting for their life - not martial-arts-movie-fighting sloppiness, when they miss strikes by half a meter and expect us to read it as a hit. There's none of that kind of sloppiness here. This is visceral and brutal, and reads as more real than 95% of martial arts fights committed to film.

And then ... we get back to comedic violence, and then comedy.

2021, dir. Yugo Sakamoto. With Akari Takaishi, Saori Izawa, Mone Akitani, Masanori Mimoto.

Babylon 5

Babylon 5 is a space station - the fifth of a series, none of the previous ones having gone operational. The first three each fell to sabotage, and the fourth vanished completely within 24 hours of being completed. There's a pilot movie, "The Gathering," that's fairly bad, but should be watched if you're going to tackle the series. The first season is mediocre - "oh look, we have a space station! and aliens!" It sets the scene - I only watched about eight episodes of 22, on the recommendation of a serious fan of the series - but does little of the groundwork for the staggering story arc to follow. The change from the first season to the second is astounding, like a light switch being flipped. Seasons two to four is possibly the most spectacular story arc ever told in TV history: J. Michael Straczynski planned out the whole damn thing from the beginning of Season one, and it's ... amazing. Space Opera on the grandest scale - I've often mocked "space opera," but when it's done right ... and wow, it's definitely done right here.

In "The Gathering," Babylon 5 goes operational with Commander Jeffrey Sinclair in charge. He was a survivor of "The Line," the last line of defence in the Earth-Minbari war. The Minbari totally overwhelmed Earth's defences ... and then surrendered. Why is unknown, and is a big driver of the series. The pilot movie (this should be watched before any of the TV episodes) also shows the ambassadors of the various alien races arriving on the station.

Some of the weakest episodes are "Come the Inquisitor" in Season two, and the entire story arc about "The First Ones" from 4-1 through 4-6. Straczynski clearly has a fascination with the spiritual, but I didn't think it fit in well with the very physical presence of the station the series was named after. G'Kar and Londo Mollari are the best characters, because each has a very distinctive and superbly developed character arc within the fantastic set of stories. Londo's assistant Vir is also wonderful.

After the massive story arc and wars of the first four years the fifth year is a lesser product, disappointing after what has come before. Let's start with "actress" Tracy Scoggins as Elizabeth Lochley: she takes over command of B5 from Sheridan (who remains in a different role). Much of the year is about the telepath resistance, those who want to avoid the iron fist of the Psi Corps. Robin Atkin Downes plays reasonably well as Byron, leader of the rogue telepaths ... but the character's story arc plays out incredibly poorly when he decides that lying and blackmail are fine, even though he's absolutely against the use of violence - bizarre. And then there's Patricia Tallman as Lyta: such a terrible, terrible actress, and she plays a large part in this year as well. The best part of the year is G'Kar's unwilling conversion to spiritual icon among his people: G'Kar is a fantastic character, and this plays well.

The follow-up movie In the Beginning is told as a story to Centauri children by Emperor Mollari - he tells the tale of the origins of the Earth-Minbari war. The movie is quite good as an addition to canon, but shows one of the few instances of Straczynski retconning details: this movie wasn't a part of the grand sweep of his plans, it was clearly added later. For example, Delenn knew what the glowing tri-luminary meant when applied to Sinclair - and yet in the TV series she doesn't know what it meant when it glowed in association with herself (guess: it meant the same thing.) Setting that and a couple other minor details aside, it's quite good.

The movie Thirdspace is definitely one of the weakest entries: a device covered in Vorlon markings (oops - minor spoiler) is towed from hyperspace to B5, and as it starts to power up it causes massive psychic disturbance among the population of B5. Theoretically between the Shadow War and the war with Earth, this seems to be entirely outside the actual B5 timeline: we see dozens of people beaten bloody and senseless, we see multiple starships with explosions, and at the end Sheridan says "no one was hurt?!" Really poor.

The movie River of Souls brings in Martin Sheen as a "Soulhunter," one of an alien species who capture sentient species' souls at the point of death. Straczynski returns to his fascination with the spiritual, and again produces a fairly weak product - although perhaps better than "Thirdspace." This also sees significant retconning: Sheen's character claims the only time the soul hunters had ever been stopped from retrieving a soul was Dukhat, the Minbari leader. But the soul hunters arrive before the death, and we've seen Dukhat's death not once but twice: in the TV series and in "In the Beginning." There were no soul hunters, and their presence isn't something you fail to mention.

The movie A Call to Arms is somewhat better than the other movies. Sheridan and a couple others are drawn together by dreams, and it's eventually revealed that their source is legitimate and their mission is to fight the Drakh - the most significant race left behind who worked with the Shadows. A noticeable oddity of the movie is the use of a different composer - Christopher Franke did the entire TV series and all the other movies, and the new music is in a distinctly different style. This was also the lead-in for "Babylon 5: Crusade."

The Legend of the Rangers: To Live and Die in Starlight was a 2002 B5 movie starring mostly new staff - primarily being about David Martel (Dylan Neal) and the new crew of the old ship the Liandra. G'Kar is the only returning character. Martel was a pretty good character, as was his friend and first officer Dulann, but I was seriously put off by the new weapons control system that saw someone punching and kicking in a space simulation to fire weapons ...

Babylon 5: Crusade might as well have been called "Star Trek: Confrontational." The premise of the show is that the new and fantastic space ship "Excalibur" is searching the galaxy for the cure to the Drakh plague, which will kill billions of humans within five years. So the Excalibur goes around beating people up and doing science - but TNT cancelled it after 13 episodes. Watching it in 2013, I can't see its cancellation as a loss - it just wasn't a very good show.

1994. With Bruce Boxleitner, Claudia Christian, Jerry Doyle, Mira Furlan, Richard Biggs, Peter Jurasik, Andreas Katsulas, Jeff Conaway, Michael O'Hare, Patricia Tallman, Andrea Thompson, Jason Carter, Bill Mumy, Tracy Scoggins, Stephen Furst, Gary Cole, Daniel Dae Kim, David Allen Brooks, Peter Woodward, Carrie Dobro.

Baby Driver

I mixed up the two Wrights, Edgar and Joe, who have radically different histories as directors. Joe: "Pride and Prejudice," "Atonement," "Hanna," "Darkest Hour." Edgar: "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz," "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," "The World's End." This is directed by the latter - the guy behind the trilogy of movies with Simon Pegg. So an odd choice to direct an action movie - and we get an odd action movie.

Ansel Elgort plays "Baby," who jacked the wrong car in his youth and is still paying off his "debt" to mob boss Kevin Spacey. He doesn't talk much, and always listens to music when he drives. But he drives very well. He's met the perfect girl and he's out from under the mob boss's thumb - or so he thinks. But there's another job in his future, and it may end him.

Elgort surprised me: he's handsome - but also acting quite well. Jamie Foxx is passable - but I didn't think totally convincing as a psychopath who will happily kill anyone. Lily James is still coasting on charm - I hope she learns to act soon. The most interesting was Jon Hamm, who was disturbingly convincing as a battered and vicious criminal - he's been building himself quite a career, proving recently he can do just about anything he wants.

The movie itself though ... it takes some weird twists at the end that were a long way from convincing, and ultimately I wasn't a fan.

2017, dir. Edgar Wright. With Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal.

The Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting

I occasionally (frequently?) watch very silly movies on Netflix. Wikipedia entertainingly classifies this as "family horror," which means it's aimed at tweens and the horror is pretty non-threatening.

The main character is Kelly Ferguson (Tamara Smart), a teenager co-opted into babysitting Halloween night when she would far rather have been at the party where her crush was. Along with this assignment, she holds the memory of having seen monsters coming from her closet when she was five. The two things are of course connected.

Reviews have been mediocre, but while it's unquestionably silly and possibly a bit obvious, I found it mildly charming and I'm totally okay with them making being-a-nerd cool. Disposable but fun.

2020, dir. Rachel Talalay. With Tamara Smart, Oona Laurence, Alessio Scalzotto, Indya Moore, Tom Felton, Tamsen McDonough.

Bad Boys

A couple of really funny jokes in a long and tedious movie. Don't bother.

1995, dir. Michael Bay. With Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Téa Leoni.


Other reviews imply that this is science fiction because there are aliens involved. This is a mild spoiler, but I get pissed by mis-classification like this: there's a drone shaped like a UFO, there are no aliens. Wikipedia classifies this as a "Weird Western," a genre I didn't even know existed - but it makes perfect sense given the proliferation of movies with Western-like structures and weird elements. This is a SPOILER (stop reading now etc., although this is a reveal that appears half way through the movie, not the ending): this is mostly just a weird Brazilian Western variant on "The Most Dangerous Game."

Bacurau is a small and isolated town in Brazil. We're introduced to the residents' lives, the local politics, details like how the drinkable water is trucked in, and the unusual characters who populate the place. Then weird things start happening (first the town disappears from Internet maps, then the phone signal drops) and people start dying (the movie gets pretty bloody).

I was significantly put out that this was neither as SF (in fact not at all) nor as "weird" as the reviews had implied. It's mildly unusual, a bit "weird," but many of the reviews at Rotten Tomatoes imply it's spectacularly strange. In fact, on a scale of one to ten where Alejandro Jodorowsky is about a nine, this rates maybe a three, probably less. I wanted WEIRD, and I didn't get it. On the other hand, most of the people in the town are very well drawn characters: that at least was good. Overall - not really my thing.

2019, dir. With Sônia Braga, Udo Kier, Bárbara Colen, Thomas Aquino, Silvero Pereira, Karine Teles, Thardelly Lima, Rubens Santos, Wilson Rabelo, Carlos Francisco, Luciana Souza, Julia Marie Peterson.

The Bad Guys

This is well reviewed by the critics (88% on Rotten Tomatoes as of 2022-09), and I like animated kids movies. This one has quite a line-up of stars doing the voice work: Sam Rockwell, Awkwafina, Craig Robinson, Richard Ayoade, Zazie Beetz, Lilly Singh. "The Bad Guys" are a crew of criminals: Mr. Wolf (Rockwell), Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina), Mr. Shark (Robinson), and Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos) - they figure they're always seen as "bad guys," so they might as well roll with it. And they're really good at stealing things. Until one day Wolf gets a positive tingle from doing good works, and the crew gets caught and someone tries to convert them to good. They find themselves falling apart as Mr. Wolf wants to do good, and - at the other end of the scale - Mr. Snake wants only to steal stuff and be evil.

The voice work is very good, the jokes are cute and funny ... but the whole thing is aimed at six year olds. Movies like "Spirited Away" and "How to Train Your Dragon" (both favourites of mine) are aimed older than that and have at least some emotional depth and the occasional moral dilemma ... but not this one. No depth. It gets by on a witty script and very good voice work, but isn't going to displace any of my favourites.

2022, dir. Pierre Perifel. With Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Awkwafina, Craig Robinson, Anthony Ramos, Richard Ayoade, Zazie Beetz, Alex Borstein, Lilly Singh.

Bad Influence

Michael (James Spader) is a young executive who is letting himself be pushed around in all aspects of his life. After an incident in a bar, he meets Alex (Rob Lowe) and starts to learn from him not to let himself be pushed around. But Alex's wildness goes rather farther than Michael's conscience will let him, and their confrontations become extremely ugly. A psychological thriller of sorts, one I didn't like much although the two leads played their parts very well.

1990, dir. Curtis Hanson. With James Spader, Rob Lowe.

Bad Times at the El Royale

In 1969, the "El Royale" is a motel that's seen better days, right on the border between California and Nevada (it has rooms in each state). It's recently lost its gambling license and now has only one employee (played by Lewis Pullman). Several people, each with a secret, check in for a night that's less quiet than they might have hoped. Jeff Daniels is the probably-not-a-priest, Cynthia Erivo a singer fallen on hard times, Dakota Johnson and Cailee Spaeny a pair of sisters at odds.

Wikipedia describes the movie as a "neo-noir thriller," and it's both dark and violent. I wasn't entirely sold on the cult-leader twist that came in past the half-way mark, but overall it's a surprisingly entertaining film as people try to survive their miserable night. It was more violent than I like these days, but I still found it surprisingly enjoyable.

2018, dir. Drew Goddard. With Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth, Nick Offerman, Xavier Dolan, Shea Whigham.

Bagdad Cafe

"A middle-aged German woman walks into an American truck stop ..." Unfortunately this 95 minute joke is told with Eighties coloured filters over the camera lenses and bizarre jump-cuts, as well as highly improbable personal interactions. Not quite screwball, not quite magic realism, not quite good ...

Marianne Sägebrecht plays Jasmin Münchgstettner, an Austrian woman who has split from her husband in the middle of the American desert. She walks to a truck stop, where she lives in the motel and deals with the short-tempered owner Brenda (C.C.H. Pounder), Brenda's family, and the small selection of odd people who come through or live near the truck stop. Through charm, a fondness for cleaning, and a budding interest in magic (and posing nude for paintings), Jasmin wins the hearts of all around her.

The best feature of the movie as far as I was concerned was that Brandon Flagg (as Brenda's son Salomo) played all his own music on the piano - a lot of playing, and he did it quite well. That's hugely unusual. Unfortunately, that wasn't really what the movie needed most.

1987, dir. Percy Adlon. With Marianne Sägebrecht, C.C.H. Pounder, Jack Palance, Darron Flagg, Christine Kaufmann, Monica Calhoun, George Aguilar, G. Smokey Campbell, Hans Stadlbauer, Alan S. Craig, Apesanahkwat.

Ball of Fire

A group of professors labour over an encyclopedia "of all human knowledge." The youngest of them (also the leader), Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper), goes out to do some research on current slang, and ends up with 'Sugarpuss' O'Shea (Barbara Stanwyck), a showgirl and gangster's girlfriend in tow. She shakes up the professors, and Potts falls in love with her - although she's only using him. Etc. Not terribly inventive, but the professors, while a bit clichéd, are incredibly charming. Stanwyck is very good too. It's a silly movie that had no right to be worth watching, but it's funny and charming and one of my favourite movies.

1941, dir. Howard Hawks. With Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Oskar Homolka, Henry Travers, Richard Haydn, Dana Andrews, Dan Duryea, Elisha Cook Jr.

Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever

This has a reputation as being one of the worst films ever made. In fact, I found it quite disappointing: it's not nearly bad enough to warrant that reputation. Sure, the director (who cheesily styles himself "Kaos") managed to pry incredibly wooden performances from the otherwise competent Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu. Sure, it ignores physics completely, but most action films do that. And yes, it's tedious, with non sequiturs and a somewhat poorly structured plot. But where's the hilariously bad dialogue? It's all just tedious. And the continuity is fairly consistent. The fights are sequential, and most of the blows look vaguely as if they landed. Where are the blatant errors that entertain?

To me the most frustrating problem was the final fight between Liu and Ray Park (finally wearing his own face, instead of Toad in "X-Men" or Darth Maul in "The Phantom Menace"). I'm sure Liu trained hard, but it was immediately and massively evident that Park was a far superior martial artist (he's done it all his life and he's a movie stunt man - he knows how to move). Of course Liu wins the fight: but a five year old child with no martial arts training would be left scratching their head and thinking "how did that happen?" after the fight was over.

My favourite part though is when Banderas tells his wife "we must run." The next shot is a slow-mo shot of their legs running through puddles. Then we have the clichéd speed-up to full speed. We all know what this means: they're fleeing from gun-men or an imminent explosion. And then the pull-back ... revealing that they're not running, they're going at a light trot under no particular threat. I fell out laughing. It was a shot that should have been in one of the parody movies, but it wasn't done here for humour (which is part of why it worked so well ...)

2002, dir. Wych Kaosayananda. With Antonio Banderas, Lucy Liu, Gregg Henry, Ray Park, Talisa Soto, Terry Chen, Miguel Sandoval.

Balls of Fury

Another one of those I'm a little embarrassed to admit I watched ... It's bad. On the other hand, it did have a couple of big laughs - albeit with far too big a wait between them. Reminds me a lot of the over-the-top, hit-or-miss approach to comedy that the SNL alumni seem to take to comedy: it's extremely uneven, and perfectly happy to go for the gross-out.

The basic premise has Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler) coming out of retirement to play Ping Pong again, trying to get into a high stakes Ping Pong match run by the deadly Feng (Christopher Walken).

2007, dir. Robert Ben Garant. With Dan Fogler, Christopher Walken, George Lopez, Maggie Q, James Hong.

The Band's Visit

An Egyptian police band goes to Israel to play a concert. They take the wrong bus and get stuck in a small town with no way out until the next day and no hotels. Locals host them. ...... Yes, that's it. It's quiet, funny (extremely so in a couple places, but quietly so throughout), and charming. See it. The "Muslims meet the Jews" thing is there, but this isn't a preaching movie, it's just ... people.

2007, dir. Eran Kolirin. With Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri, Khalifa Natour.


Iranian movie about a short-tempered young construction worker who discovers that the new youth (an illegal Afghan worker) on the site is female, not male. He becomes obsessed with her. They had essentially two filming sites: a skeletal building that they're trying to rebuild (and which quite a few of them live in), and a small village. Very poorly acted, good cinematography, fascinating chiefly because it shows something of Iranian life.

2001, dir. Majid Majidi. With Hossein Abedini, Zahra Bahrami, Mohammad Amir Naji.

Barb Wire

I've always wanted to quote Mr. Cranky's review on this one - he just says it so well: "... if nothing else, 'Barb Wire' doesn't try to fool. Its opening sequence knows full well what Pamela [Anderson] Lee's two biggest assets are -- those half-grapefruit, silicon-implanted protrusions jiggling around on her chest. To inflate the nature of her fame, the filmmakers cram her into a dress two sizes too small so that as she dances to heavy metal music in the opening scene, her nipples fly out of her garment like pop-up thermometers on an overcooked turkey."

The acting is staggeringly bad across the board. I watched this primarily to see what the writers had done with "Casablanca" - the movie is based on a comic book that's a rewrite, with Lee in the role of Rick. Nothing good, and I do mean "nothing." Which is actually a little surprising: almost every re-envisioning manages to find something to improve, or some idea about the old story that's new or interesting. But having Lee pop out of costume repeatedly really didn't qualify.

1996, dir. David Hogan. With Pamela Anderson, Temuera Morrison, Victoria Rowell, Jack Noseworthy, Xander Berkeley, Udo Kier, Steve Railsback.

Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy

More than anything you can see the influence of producer Dino de Laurentiis, who redefined "camp" every time he made a movie. We're talking about the man behind the 1980 version of "Flash Gordon." This movie is mostly about bad special effects and Fonda in slinky outfits (or nothing at all). And I now know where Duran Duran got their name, and where "Flesh Gordon" drew its primary inspiration. Sad to say, this is a landmark in SF film (not entirely a bad thing: SF film needed both sexuality and humour in a bad way). Ludicrous as it is, this is definitely worth watching.

1968, dir. Roger Vadim. With Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O'Shea.

The Barbarian Invasions (orig.: Les Invasions Barbares)

Director Denys Arcand brings back most of the cast of "The Decline of the American Empire" 17 years later. Once again, the topic of the day is sex. Last time it was sex and life, but now one of their number is dying so it becomes sex and death. I found it remarkably ... disposable considering its central pillar is a death - even if it is used as an affirmation of life. Still, enjoyable and with a fair bit to think about.

2003, dir. Denys Arcand. With Rémy Girard, Stéphane Rousseau, Dorothée Berryman, Louise Portal, Dominique Michel, Yves Jacques, Pierre Curzi, Marie-Josée Croze.

Barefoot Gen (orig. "Hadashi no Gen")

A super cute movie about starving in WWII Hiroshima, right up until the bomb drops on them and most people die horribly. Then more people die of radiation sickness. Good fun for the whole family. Gen is a young boy who ends up trying to be a protector to his pregnant mother when the rest of his family dies. The combination of cute and horror didn't really work for me, even if the author did live through the Hiroshima bomb.

1992, dir. Mori Masaki. With Issei Miyazaki, Masaki Kôda, Yoshie Shimamura.

Barely Lethal

Our heroine is "number 83," aka "Megan Walsh" - played by Hailee Steinfeld. She's been raised all her life as a assassin, and she's very good at it, but what she really wants is to be a normal teenager. After a mostly successful mission, she has the opportunity to let her handlers think she's dead - which she does. And off she goes to high school.

From there we get a low grade high school comedy with lots of movie references: Megan has seen "Mean Girls," "The Breakfast Club," and plenty of others, but doesn't really understand high school - or even normal people. Just as she's starting to figure out where she fits, her old life comes back to haunt her.

Predictable and low on laughs. They set up a sequel, but not only is this movie's Rotten Tomatoes score 26%, its worldwide box office take - as of 2020 - was slightly under $1,000,000. I don't know the original budget, but I suspect it was a bit more than that - and return-on-investment is the only decider that matters on making sequels.

2015, dir. Kyle Newman. With Hailee Steinfeld, Sophie Turner, Dove Cameron, Thomas Mann, Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Alba, Rachael Harris, Rob Huebel, Toby Sebastian, Gabriel Basso, Jason Drucker.

Barney's Version

I was less than sure about this movie adaptation of a Mordecai Richler novel, but it won me over. In a big way. Never bet against Paul Giamatti - he can bring the worst script to life, and handed a good one (like this), he'll leave the audience awe-struck.

Giamatti plays Barney, a heavy-drinking Montrealer. We see his life from his twenties all the way to the very sad ending, and his relationships with his father, his three wives, his best friends, and his two children. Barney is a bit of a loudmouth asshole, but like anyone he has redeeming features. His love of his third wife (Rosamund Pike, luminous as always) is one of his biggest - particularly after his sorry second marriage. Highly recommended.

2010, dir. Richard J. Lewis. With Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver, Scott Speedman, Rachelle Lefevre, Mark Addy, Bruce Greenwood, Saul Rubinek, Anna Hopkins, Jake Hoffman, Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, Paul Gross, Denys Arcand.

Batman (1989)

I saw this when it came out and loved it, so it was a surprise to me to find that I hate it in 2011 - quite a reversal. The effects in the movie have aged poorly (the most direct comparison being the first of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies), and Burton's visual sensibilities really wore on me this time. I didn't like Tim Burton in 1989, I have no idea why I liked this movie ...

As I remembered, Michael Keaton is considerably better than you'd expect in the role - but then, he was spectacular in "Clean and Sober" so I suppose it shouldn't be a big surprise. Jack Nicholson sets the right tone as the Joker, but the facial prosthetics are incredibly distracting. Burton successfully takes the tone from the goofiness of the Sixties Batman TV series and movie to the much grittier feel of the comic books. It's not a bad movie, but it's far too Burton for me both visually and emotionally.

1989, dir. Tim Burton. With Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Billy Dee Williams, Jack Palance, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Michael Gough.

The Batman

Technically, I didn't watch the entire movie. I lost about two minutes around the 1h20m mark to the library's glitchy copy of the DVD, and then another couple minutes around the 2h00m mark. But I think I got the idea. (TPL's DVDs have been excellent - this was a very rare exception.)

Robert Pattinson plays possibly the most emotionally damaged Bruce Wayne / Batman yet. Pattinson is English, but he managed a convincing American accent (although he doesn't talk all that much). We have his butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis - wearing his own face for once, not doing motion capture), and the one non-crooked cop at Gotham City PD who's his compatriot (same name as always, James Gordon - played this time by Jeffrey Wright).

Then we have the rogue's gallery: Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle / Catwoman (and as always, Batman has an uncertain relationship with her as she steals things but also sometimes helps him), Paul Dano as the Riddler, John Turturro as mob boss Carmine Falcone, and a totally unrecognizable (due to extensive prosthetics) Colin Farrell as Oswald Cobblepot / the Penguin.

Is it a good movie? The excessive run-time (176 minutes) allows them to explore all the stuff they wanted to and develop their story well. But it also allows a number of overblown elements full reign - particularly when we get to dramatic pauses, when someone ever-so-slowly raises a weapon, pause for effect, and someone else suddenly appears to rescue them. That shit gets tiresome. Have I mentioned that it's always dark in Gotham? This makes sense as Batman says right at the beginning that he's a creature of the night, but it gets real old. And Gotham is a very, very dirty, crime-ridden city.

I'm tired of this story. I've heard it so many times before. But why come up with a new plot when you can recycle an old one? Frank Miller unintentionally created a competition to see who could come up with the grittiest Gotham, or the most morally repugnant super-villains (this is a top contender in both categories). This is probably a good movie for people who aren't sick to death of this plotline. I rewatch some superhero movies, but this one won't be on that list.

The only extra on the DVD was a short piece about costuming each of the major characters and the set design. They went on at some length about the durable and practical costumes and props, and how Matt Reeves wanted stuff that would really work. Which is of course why Selina Kyle/Catwoman sported 2" sharpened fingernails when she was going out on her motorcycle, or safe-cracking, or fighting. That was a bit of a breach in the logic.

2022, dir. Matt Reeves. With Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell, Jayme Lawson.

Batman Begins

Another shot at Batman's origins, and a fairly good one. The final dénouement is massively over the top, but that's no different than any other action movie these days.

2005, dir. Christopher Nolan. With Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Linus Roache, Morgan Freeman.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Animated. Slightly better than the 20 minute TV cartoons it's based upon. A "Phantasm" begins killing off local crime figures, contrary to Batman's desire to adhere to the law. Simultaneously, a woman that he had considered marrying as Bruce Wayne resurfaces in his life. No attempt is ever made to explain the Phantasm's magical abilities: he just does what he does.

2005. With Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Dana Delany, Hart Bochner, Abe Vigour.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Turns out DC has a chronology just like Marvel, and you really should watch "Man of Steel" (2013) before watching "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." Actually, my suspicion is that you should NOT watch them: you can do that in either order, and you won't have lost five hours of your life.

In "Man of Steel," Superman's battle with General Zod badly trashed Gotham City. Now Batman (Ben Affleck) is all upset with Superman (Henry Cavill) and determined to take him down to end the threat of the untrustable alien. To which end he constructs a battle suit and makes some nasty Kryptonite weapons. Into this mix we throw Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) aka Wonder Woman, and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). And here we hit upon the biggest of many problems with the movie: Eisenberg and director Zack Snyder have apparently concluded that "massively annoying" is the same thing as "massively evil" and substituted the former for the latter in Eisenberg's performance. I wanted to punch him every time he was on screen because he was so irritating. Let's compare this to Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker. Ledger was unsettling the second you saw him, and the air of menace about him was palpable. Punching him wasn't something you thought about: "getting the hell out" was more likely the plan. Eisenberg is a capable actor, but when he does evil things as Lex Luthor it seems more like a mistake than a plan: he's a very poor villain.

This is DC's equivalent to Marvel's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" - they're starting to get a smaller group of superheroes into the same movie. There are several strategies at work here: 1) roll several superheroes together, see if it sells, 2) question the morality of one or several of the superheroes, 3) which allows superheroes to fight each other because everybody loves that, 4) save the world, 5) hint at a bigger group movie to come (the upcoming "Justice League" movie with Batman, Wonder Woman and more). ("Winter Soldier" was actually post-Avengers so the latter point doesn't apply, but the rest of the points apply to both movies.) I'm sick to death of the comic book penchant for changes of opinion exclusively so we can see a fight between this hero and that ("Captain America: Civil War" is the worst for this) and the team-up-and-save-the-world trope at the end has also been done to death. Superhero movies need to bring something new to the table to be interesting, and this one doesn't.

2016, dir. Zack Snyder. With Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, Laurence Fishburne, Gal Gadot, Holly Hunter.

The Battle of Algiers (orig. "La Battaglia di Algeri")

Shows the Algerian revolution against the French Colonials from 1956-1962. The style verges on documentary, and is fairly unbiased - and all the more depressing for it, as it shows the French torturing prisoners and the Algerians bombing cafés with children and babies in them. The plot, coming as it did mostly from an account of the war, doesn't tie up its loose ends quite as neatly as a fictional movie, but this is a hell of a portrayal of war. A creepy and depressing piece of work that everyone should see. Filmed in Algeria by an Italian in French and Algerian. Several nominations and awards ... and wasn't screened in France for decades.

1967, dir. Gillo Pontecorvo. With Brahim Hadjadj, Jean Martin, Yacef Saadi.

Battle of the Damned

The premise is simple: some southeast Asian city (filmed somewhere in Malaysia, although the country was never named in the movie) has been over-run by zombies as a result of a wayward biological experiment. The city is blockaded - no one in or out. Major Max Gatling (Dolph Lundgren) and a team are sent in to retrieve the daughter of the man whose company was responsible for the biological fuck-up. They have to fight fast zombies and rescue survivors, and eventually there are robots too (the trailer features them prominently).

The biggest problem of course is the budget: this is a B-movie with Lundgren and a bunch of no-name actors. Lundgren is now firmly established as a B-movie actor, and getting up there in years (54 or 55 when they were filming this in 2012-3). The acting sucks, the dialogue sucks, the action has spectacularly choppy editing, and the robots are obviously primarily CG (although not as bad as I would have expected).

A couple minor notes: poor old Dolph seems to have seriously messed up his knees somewhere along the line. The scenes where they're running from the zombies have Dolph more "hobbling" than "running," which is a bit problematic with "fast zombies." A very minor plus: I haven't watched many zombie shows, but the survivor dynamics did feel at least a little different than most.

2013, dir. Christopher Hatton. With Dolph Lundgren, Melanie Zanetti, Matt Doran, David Field, Jen Kuo Sung, Lydia Look, Oda Maria, Jeff Pruitt, Kerry Wong, Esteban Cueto, Broadus Mattison, Timothy Cooper.


Our hero is Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), the intelligent but unmotivated brother of a Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgård), an exemplary American naval officer. Stone forces Alex into the Navy, where he survives - but doesn't thrive. While out on multi-nation naval exercises, Alex gets into a fight with Japanese naval captain Nagata (Tadanobu Asano, looking and acting like Ken Watanabe) that A) puts him on the to-be-discharged-when-we-hit-shore list, and B) blatantly sets up a "these two will have to co-operate later" scenario. All this, just in time for the alien invasion caused by NASA's misguided attempts to communicate with another planet, which locks a few ships in lethal battle with the aliens. Another standard plot device is used to put Alex in charge of a vessel where he's in a position to save the day (and co-operate with Nagata). I leave it to you to guess whether or not he comes through, or gets the girl.

The acting is poor, very much of the "run, jump and grimace" variety on the low end of the action movie spectrum. Kitsch, who's proven he can act in other contexts (even if it was the spectacularly misguided - but interesting - "John Carter") is poor here. Physics is defied at every turn. The effects are pretty, but the movie is dull.

2012, dir. Peter Berg. With Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson, Rihanna, Alexander Skarsgård, Brooklyn Decker, Tadanobu Asano, Hamish Linklater, Gregory D. Gadson, Adam Godley.

Baywatch (2017)

The critics panned this one (18% on Rotten Tomatoes), but I thought the trailer was funny. That doesn't guarantee a good movie, and I was pretty sure the critics were right - now I know.

Dwayne Johnson plays Mitch Buchannon, saving lives while surrounded by voluptuous young women. There's at least a bit of good news here: while they're definitely treating the women as eye candy, they're equal opportunity about it with Johnson and Zac Efron both being incredibly fit and scantily clad, and the women are also intelligent and competent (although Mitch is the anchor of the team).

Mitch is burdened with a selfish and obnoxious Olympic swimmer (Efron) as a new lifeguard because his boss sees it as good publicity ... although that's pretty dubious as it's quickly established that he puked his way to losing all his endorsements and teammates. And now the beautiful Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra Jones) who owns the local club appears to be selling drugs.

I enjoyed the first few minutes, with Johnson delivering a whole slew of funny take-downs of Efron's character, but around the ten minute mark the movie started rolling with the penis and sex jokes and never stopped. I might have forgiven them if the jokes had actually been funny - or the plot hadn't been totally predictable. But no such luck.

2017, dir. Seth Gordon. With Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Priyanka Chopra Jones, Ilfenesh Hadera, Jon Bass, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, David Hasselhoff, Pamela Anderson.

Beastars, Season 1

"Beastars" is a Japanese Anime series licensed on this side of the Pacific by Netflix. The series sounds more than a little weird when put in writing, although perhaps it's more understandable if I say that it was a manga first. It's set at Cherryton High School, where anthropomorphic animals from almost all the species go to school together. Sounds like "Zootopia," right? Particularly when you find out that there's an occasional problem with carnivores attacking herbivores. But this is longer form, and they have the time and/or inclination to look at the underbelly of this society: we learn around half way through the season that there's a black market where carnivores can buy herbivore meat, complete with its own gonzo psychologist to deal with rage incidents.

The reason the series succeeds is that the characters are well drawn and complex. For example, "Rouis" (as he was titled in the subs I saw, apparently "Louis" in most other interpretations) appears noble on the outside, but as you get to know him he's kind of a self-centred asshole putting on a show ... but when the chips are down, he's more likely to act nobly than not.

Our hero Legosi is a shy and quiet gray wolf struggling with his own nature as a carnivore, and with relationships (he's a teen). He has his moments of being unable to even speak to a female he's attracted to, but they don't overplay this as much as in most high school Anime. And when he can talk, he's an honest and quietly introspective guy that it's nice to spend time with (a good feature in your main character!). The animation styles vary considerably and look good too.

There are life lessons in there about tolerance of others, and controlling your impulses - but they're applied with a lighter hand than most teen series. Yes it's bizarre, and it's not meant for adults (or kids either with its relatively frank discussion of sex - this is aimed squarely at teens), but if you're in the right frame of mind it can be very enjoyable.

2019. With Chikahiro Kobayashi, Sayaka Senbongi, Yuki Ono, Junya Enoki, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Takaaki Torashima.

Beat the Devil

Humphrey Bogart plays Billy Dannreuther, with the first shot in the movie being a band playing in a town square that pans over to show us four men (Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Ivor Barnard, Marco Tulli) being taken away by the police and Bogart commenting on their crimes as his associates. Back we go in time to see them waiting in the same African town for a boat to take them to buy land cheap - land loaded with uranium. But they don't trust their contact - Dannreuther. Dannreuther is a charming con man married to Maria (Gina Lollobrigida), but shortly enjoying the company of Mrs. Gwendolen Chelm (Jennifer Jones) - while Maria becomes interested in Gwendolen's husband Harry.

For some reason I thought this was a serious movie when I started it: I was disabused of that idea relatively quickly. It's a flat-out farce, although not a hugely successful one. I found it at least mildly amusing: perhaps not laugh-out-loud funny, but I was grinning at the silliness most of the way through.

1953, dir. John Huston. With Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Edward Underdown, Ivor Barnard, Marco Tulli, Mario Perrone, Saro Urzì.

The Beatles: Get Back

The result of Peter Jackson getting his hands on the extensive footage shot of the Beatles around the making of "Let It Be:" an eight hour TV series that should have been three hours. Yes, it's fascinating to see them working together, creating songs together, and the tensions that occasionally arise, but this could have been presented in three one hour episodes instead of three episodes totaling eight hours.

What I got from it:

  • John is occasionally / often an ass ... although he does get serious when he needs to, but can be very annoying in between
  • Paul is trying to hold it together a bit more than the others
  • George is occasionally pretty unhappy - he quit the group for three or four days in the middle of this
  • Ringo just ... listens, and comes up with near-perfect beats from just listening to their guitar work - he's not flashy, but he's excellent
  • Yoko was always there. Other girlfriends, wives, and children come and go.
  • John and Paul are frickin' fountains of creativity, spewing brilliant songs all over, happily crossing genres and styles
  • Paul switches smoothly from bass to guitar to piano (he plays drums too, but not all that well)
  • the involvement of Billy Preston is interesting - you won't find any other credited musicians on any of the Beatles other recordings
  • if Yoko broke up the Beatles, it wasn't acrimonious (or at least not about that): it was perhaps because John wanted to make music with her more than with the Beatles
  • the real problem is that you had four incredibly creative people in one room, all with different visions
  • George did his best songs here? "For You Blue," "Old Brown Shoe" - he turns out to be a decent piano player too (Okay, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is his best ...)
  • many famous people show up (Peter Sellers comes to mind), but I was most amused by two momentary clips of a guy named Alan Parsons - who was probably very unimportant here (he's named the "Tape Operator"). They're incredbly short, and only there because of his later fame.
  • Jackson includes multiple performances of some songs (the one that appeared the most was "Get Back?"). While it was interesting to see a song transform from a chorus and a few words into the brilliant song we all know on the album, we heard some songs multiple times in their finished form in practice - and that gets old.

2021, dir. Peter Jackson. With Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr.

Beauty and the Beast

I saw this when it came out, and again in 2011. One of Disney's most famous productions, and one of their most overblown. Full of musical numbers, and some of their most obviously CG animation. All the characters are caricatures, with the loss of charm that accompanies that. I realize I'm disagreeing with 92% of the critics (according to Rotten Tomatoes) when I say this, but I think this is one of their poorer outings.

1991, dir. Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. With Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Steirs, Angela Lansbury, Bradley Michael Pierce, Rex Everhart.

A Beautiful Mind

John Nash is a mathematician who received the Nobel Prize for economics in 1994. "A Beautiful Mind" is the story of his life, as interpreted by director Ron Howard. Russell Crowe is John Nash, and Jennifer Connelly his long-suffering and loyal wife. I'm usually unimpressed by Howard's more manipulative sentimental notes, but he uses it to excellent effect here - I was hugely impressed with this movie.

An interesting follow-up to this is the one hour PBS documentary "A Brilliant Madness," a biography of Nash. Howard strayed in the finer details of Nash's madness, but ultimately "A Beautiful Mind" was a surprisingly an accurate portrayal.

A second viewing showed that Howard was hammering on some of his traditional emotional notes a little too hard ... despite which it's still a reasonably good movie.

2001. dir. Ron Howard. With Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris.


Becky (Lulu Wilson) is a 13 year old girl who is bullied at school and lost her mother to an unspecified disease about a year ago. Now her father (Joel McHale) has taken her to their lake house that Becky still associates with her mother - and he's brought his girlfriend (Amanda Brugel) and her son. None of which makes Becky any happier. When escaped convict and neo-Nazi Dominick (Kevin James) and his friends take them hostage but fail to catch Becky, she causes them ... difficulties. You know all this if you've seen the trailer, and that "difficulties" is a euphemism.

Apparently many critics are praising Lulu Wilson. I can see why: she would have been 14 during filming and she did a very good job. The critical reactions to Kevin James have been mixed: some people thought he was very scary, as he was supposed to be. But I'm with the people who weren't convinced. Given his words and actions, I suppose I would have been scared had I been in his presence; but watching him on a movie screen, I wasn't entirely buying it. He was convincingly unpleasant - not terrifying. on the other hand, Lulu Wilson was getting on toward scary by the end of the movie ...

The movie has some graphic violence. To its credit, it does go slightly beyond a standard action-revenge movie in attempting to show the damage this kind of thing does to the psyches of all involved (but particularly a 13-year-old). Wilson's performance and the violence are the only things you're going to remember as the story, structure, and dialogue are all formulaic.

2020, dir. Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion. With Lulu Wilson, Kevin James, Joel McHale, Amanda Brugel, Robert Maillet, Ryan McDonald, James McDougall.

Becoming Jane

An attempt to reconstruct the early life of Jane Austen. The first half was clever and extremely funny (even though I didn't believe a word of it had actually happened ... they recreated the history, but no one knows the conversations), but the second half had to dig into the romance that almost certainly formed her life, and the reasons that it didn't quite happen. Some of it was a little too pat (such as the reason Jane decides to leave Tom Lefroy), but for the most part it was very enjoyable. The closing scene includes one hell of a wicked jab that you won't be expecting: yes, Lefroy really did name his child that.

Anne Hathaway (as Jane Austen) and James McAvoy (as Tom Lefroy) were excellent, which went a long way to making this one good.

2007, dir. Julian Jarrold. With Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Julie Walters, James Cromwell, Maggie Smith, Joe Anderson, Lucy Cohu, Laurence Fox, Ian Richardson, Anne Maxwell Martin.

Bedazzled (1967)

I saw the (very bad) 2000 American remake starring Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley quite a few years ago (see further down).

Stanley Moon (Peter Cook) is a short order cook at a café. He's in love with the waitress Margaret (Eleanor Bron), but too shy to do anything about it. Unhappy with his life, he tries to commit suicide, but fails even in that. And then George Spiggott (Peter Cook) walks in and explains that he's the devil and he'll grant Stanley seven wishes in return for his soul. It takes a bit of convincing for Stanley to believe it, but he takes the deal.

What follows is a sequence of wishes gone wrong: Stanley keeps trying to get together with Margaret, but in every case some element of the wish goes terribly (and comically) wrong. And as he accuses the devil of deliberately sabotaging his wishes, the two of them develop something resembling a friendship.

Cook and Moore are both quite good. Like its later remake, it lost a lot of emotional weight by being so incredibly absurd in places - although it was also pretty funny because of some of those ridiculous interludes. It still manages some good whacks against Christianity.

1967, dir. Stanley Donen. With Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Eleanor Bron, Raquel Welch, Alba, Robert Russell, Barry Humphries, Parnell McGarry, Daniele Noel, Howard Goorney, Michael Bates.

Bedazzled (2000)

This turns out to be based on a Peter Cook and Dudley Moore movie of the same name from 1967. I wonder if that one was equally atrocious? I saw the 1967 version about five years after this.

It starts out utterly awful, with Brendan Fraser playing a character so broad and dorky that the people who starred in "Revenge of the Nerds" would have been embarrassed to play the role. But then, Harold Ramis is directing: subtlety isn't really his strength. The devil appears in the form of Elizabeth Hurley, in a series of outfits that change at the snap of her fingers. Fraser sells his soul to be with Frances O'Connor's character Alison, and gets seven wishes. But each wish is twisted horribly - as an example, he wants to be a powerful man married to O'Connor, and he finds himself a Colombian drug lord losing control of his empire, married to Alison ... who barely speaks to him and is sleeping with her English tutor.

As the process of repeated terrible wishes slowly educates Fraser, he becomes a much more tolerable person. And the gags finally have some humour and clout. But it's too little too late: sickening crap not recommended for anyone.

2000, dir. Harold Ramis. With Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley, Frances O'Connor, Orlando Jones, Paul Adelstein, Toby Huss, Miriam Shor, Gabriel Casseus.

Bee Movie

I was never a fan of Jerry Seinfeld: either his stand-up comedy or his show. But he has almost redeemed himself with this incredibly charming film (he wrote and did the voice work for the main character). Perhaps having kids has reduced the cynicism that got on my nerves so much.

The main premise is a fairly typical one: Barry B. Benson, a bee, has just graduated from bee college and is now required to choose a job that he'll hold the rest of his life. But he refuses, and then goes out into the world beyond the hive - and ends up mixing with the humans and causing all kinds of havoc. It's very funny, the animation is good (especially the flying sequences which work particularly well), and there are a bunch of entertaining cameos to keep the adults paying attention.

2007, dir. Steve Hickner, Simon J. Smith. With Jerry Seinfeld, Renée Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, Patrick Warburton, John Goodman, Chris Rock, Larry King, Sting, Ray Liotta.

Before I Fall

Watching "Happy Death Day" earlier this week has put me on a "Groundhog Day" bender of sorts. "Happy Death Day" was the sorority girl slasher version, this is the teen bullying version.

Zoey Deutch plays Samantha Kingston, part of the pretty-girl clique at her high school. Her friends are fairly shallow and occasionally bitches (one in particular), and she herself is spineless enough to go along with their obnoxiousness. For her sins she's thrown into living one troublesome day over and over - as with the other two variants of the movie, it appears that she needs to "get it right."

I really didn't like Deutch - but in this case, it can be argued that that's because she's a damn good actress. She's playing a charming, spineless creature who has a moral compass but simply submerges it in the meaningless life she's chosen to live. Like Bill Murray's character in "Groundhog Day," she uses her endless supply of lives to find out who she really is and what she needs to do. Better than "Happy Death Day" (which wasn't bad), this one stretches for "Groundhog Day" and misses - but it tried hard and was an interesting watch.

2017, dir. Ry Russo-Young. With Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Logan Miller, Cynthy Wu, Medalion Rahimi, Kian Lawley, Jennifer Beals, Diego Boneta.

Before Sunrise

Richard Linklater does like his talk. That's all this is, endless talk and negotiation of ideas. Ethan Hawke plays the American and Julie Delpy the French woman who meet on a train on the way to Vienna and spend one evening and night together ... talking. Hawke plays the brash, annoying but kind of charming American to the hilt - a stereotype I've never liked. Much of the blame goes to Linklater's writing and direction - many people love this movie, but I don't really like the script. But the characters are intelligent, and the dialogue has occasional moments of insight.

1995, dir. Richard Linklater. With Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy.

Before We Vanish

A strange, low-key, and fairly low budget Japanese film that's kind of in the tradition of "Man Facing Southeast" (or its American knock-off, "K-PAX"). That is, it's about aliens coming to Earth - but they're not identifiable because they look entirely human. (Which also conveniently means your filming budget is lower.) In this case, three aliens have landed as the vanguard of an alien invasion: it's their job to get a better understanding of humanity. The three take over the bodies of regular people, and then proceed to develop their understanding by taking concepts from people - unfortunately, when they take a concept (such as "work" or "property"), it's entirely removed from the person they took it from. So they leave a trail of people with significant mental problems behind them. These aliens are generally quite willing to explain what they're doing, but for the most part people don't believe them because they look entirely human (although they don't always act it).

If you're thinking this sounds weird, it absolutely is. But the script and acting are very good: I found the movie really fascinating and enjoyed it immensely. Fans of science fiction who mostly like explosions won't be into this (there are a couple at the end, but that's really not what it's about), but fans of thought-provoking SF should try to track this one down right away.

2017, dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa. With Masami Nagasawa, Ryuhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa, Mahiro Takasugi, Yuri Tsunematsu, Atsuko Maeda, Shinnosuke Mitsushima.

Begin Again

Mark Ruffalo plays drunken asshole music producer Dan Mulligan, and Keira Knightley plays Gretta James, a young British songwriter currently in New York. Their lives intersect, and Dan expresses an interest in producing her music ... even though he's just lost his job.

Knightley and Ruffalo act well, but the viewer's interest in this movie hinges heavily on whether or not they like the music written and played by Gretta James (and occasionally as sung by Gretta's ex-, Dave Kohl, played by Adam Levine). The movie is John Carney's as not only the director, but also the script writer and co-author of most (all?) of the songs. And I didn't like the songs. What there is of a plot is good enough, but it was dominated by the not-so-great music. <sigh>

2013, dir. John Carney. With Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Catherine Keener, Hailee Steinfeld, James Corden, CeeLo Green, Mos Def/Yasiin Bey.


We first meet Oliver (Ewan McGregor) cleaning out the house of his recently deceased father. We see Oliver's life in flashbacks, including his father (Hal, played by Christopher Plummer) becoming actively gay shortly after the death of his wife, Oliver's mother. And we move forward in his life, with him inheriting his father's dog (an important character in the story) and starting a relationship with Anna (Mélanie Laurent). Oliver is bad at relationships, always sabotaging them, and Hal - although he had known he was gay for over 40 years - had never acted on his gayness before. Thus the film's title.

Well acted (particularly Plummer as the newly freed gay man) with an interesting aesthetic. The story is charming and good, but never quite reaches the heights. Worth seeing.

2010, dir. Mike Mills. With Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent, Goran Višnjić, Kai Lennox, Mary Page Keller, China Shavers.

The Beguiled

The movie opens by telling us we're in 1864 Virginia, well into the Civil War. A young student of a mostly deserted girls' school finds an injured Union soldier in the woods and brings him back to the school. There the headmistress tends to his badly injured leg. As he recovers, the women become interested in him and he becomes interested in them.

This is directed by Sofia Coppola, and she loves her suppressed emotions. It works fairly well here, but it's a stylistic touch that's common to her movies. One of the things I liked least about the movie was the deliberate lack of colour: they were shooting in the American South, which is a vividly green place - but they seem to have shot entirely at dawn and dusk (and maybe at night) so the whole thing looks dingy.

I was interested to find that the Thomas P. Cullinan novel (A Painted Devil) that this was based on already has one movie interpretation, a 1971 movie starring Clint Eastwood with the same title as this one. This was, at the time, radically against type for Eastwood, and the movie wasn't a commercial success - although it's now considered a good movie. Wikipedia suggests the plots are nearly identical, but that Coppola wanted to make the movie from the women's point of view. It's made me curious about the Eastwood version - but probably not enough to go track it down.

2017, dir. Sofia Coppola. With Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Angourie Rice, Oona Laurence, Emma Howard, Addison Riecke.

Bell, Book and Candle

In 2020 I got into a discussion with the friend who recommended "The Canterville Ghost," and suggested he might like the similar "I Married a Witch." He said that that movie and "Bell, Book and Candle" were responsible for the existence of "Bewitched." I'd spotted the similarities between "I Married a Witch" and "Bewitched," but I hadn't previously known about this movie, so I gave it a try.

Kim Novak stars as Gillian Holroyd, a witch living in Greenwich Village (presumably in 1958, when the movie was released). She takes a fancy to her new neighbour (Jimmy Stewart in his last romantic lead, as Shep Henderson) - and when she discovers that he's engaged to a college roommate of hers (Janice Rule) that she particularly dislikes, she uses a spell to make him fall in love with her. But things go awry in a number of ways for them: she truly falls for him, and he finds out about witchcraft and isn't happy about what's happened to him.

"I Married a Witch" is the better film: both individually and together I prefer Veronica Lake and Frederic March to Novak and Stewart, and this isn't quite as well written. It's charming and nice enough, but don't rush out to see it ...

1958, dir. Richard Quine. With James Stewart, Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon, Ernie Kovacs, Elsa Lanchester, Hermione Gingold, Janice Rule, Howard McNear.


When his brother fires a waitress (Nina, played by Tammy Blanchard) at their restaurant for being late, José (who is the chef, played by Eduardo Verástegui) walks out to make sure she's okay, and spends the day with her. In their day together her reason for being late comes out, as do his secrets: the smaller of which is that he used to be a football star, and we later find how he fell from grace.

The movie is very well meaning, but both the structure and the acting are mediocre. I enjoyed it more for it being filmed entirely in and around New York City, and for its portrayal of a Mexican/Puerto Rican family there.

2006, dir. Alejandro Gomez Monteverde. With Eduardo Verástegui, Tammy Blanchard, Manny Perez.

Bend It Like Beckham

Has a lot in common with "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," re-written for an Indian family in the U.K. This is a very funny and up-beat movie about a young Indian girl whose parents don't want her to play football (aka "soccer" for us North Americans), which is pretty much the only thing she wants to do. Humour, misunderstandings, romance, and reconciliation follow. A favourite movie of mine.

2002. dir. Gurinder Chadha. With Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anupam Kher.

Benny and Joon

Benny (Aidan Quinn) lives with his intelligent but slightly crazy sister Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson), who isn't entirely stable. At one of Benny's bizarre (and hilarious) poker games, Joon loses a hand and is required to house Sam (Johnny Depp). Personal interactions get complicated, and Benny in particular has trouble adjusting to the changes. Depp does his best to emulate Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle, and Charlie Chaplin, and is spectacularly funny. I found Benny's explosion at the climax of the film a bit excessive for his character, but in all other respects this is a hilarious and wonderful film, highly recommended.

1993, dir. Jeremiah S. Chechik. With Aidan Quinn, Mary Stuart Masterson, Johnny Depp, Oliver Platt, Julianne Moore.

Beowulf and Grendel

Beowulf, but with massive embellishments, redrawn to cast everything in shades of gray. Grendel is no longer an evil monster, and Beowulf is still a hero, but his actions are seen in a very different light. Sarah Polley plays a substantial role as a witch who never appeared in the original poem, and there's a sub-plot about a recruiting Christian priest that's new. The Icelandic scenery (and weather!) is spectacular, and the historical reconstruction is good (it convinced me, but perhaps that's not hard). Very not Hollywood, always a plus.

2005, dir. Sturla Gunnarsson. With Gerard Butler, Ingvar E. Sigurdsson, Stellan Skarsgård, Tony Curran, Sarah Polley.

Beowulf (2007)

Borrows from the 2005 version ("Beowulf and Grendel") - once again there's a strong tie between the community and the monster, and this time also between the mother and Beowulf's later life. But this version is animated, sort of. On top of the actions of real actors. What this primarily does is utterly destroy the acting. Why hire good actors (Anthony Hopkins, Robin Wright, John Malkovich, Brendan Gleeson) if you're going to obscure the subtleties behind artificial masks? There's a circularity to the story (in part by Neil Gaiman) that's annoying in its cleverness. Despite all of which it's quite a spectacle to see.

2007, dir. Robert Zemeckis. With Ray Winstone, Brendan Gleeson, Robin Wright, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, Crispin Glover, Alison Lohman, Angelina Jolie.

Beowulf (1999)

Solid B-movie gold. Christopher Lambert plays the titular hero in a post-apocalyptic world with major medieval elements and a touch of technology. Relies fairly heavily on the "Beowulf" myth, although they did make some mildly interesting changes: Beowulf isn't entirely human, Hrothgar's right-hand man isn't a snivelling traitor - his story was actually kind of interesting, if poorly acted (like everyone else). The outpost/keep they're in actually looked pretty good except when they added their awful special effects. It's an atrociously bad movie, but ... I kind of enjoyed it.

1999, dir. Graham Baker. With Christopher Lambert, Rhona Mitra, Oliver Cotton, Götz Otto, Charles Robinson, Brent Jefferson Lowe, Layla Roberts.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" stars an impressive line-up of the best of Britain's older actors: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Tom Wilkinson, and Maggie Smith. It really doesn't get much better than that - or at least you would think so, but it could definitely be improved by a less clichéd script ... Interesting to see this was directed by John Madden, of "Shakespeare in Love" fame - too bad he didn't have Tom Stoppard write the screenplay this time ...

The story finds seven recently retired British citizens all moving to India and settling in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," a crumbling colonial era building - lovely but run-down. Sonny (Dev Patel, a bit over-the-top but fairly entertaining) plays the young, charming and bombastic hotel owner under siege by his mother who doesn't agree with his business practises or his choice of would-be wife.

It's often charming - hard for it not to be with the abundance of brilliant actors on tap - but relies too much on the clichés of India, and occasionally over-plays them. While the actors aren't as well known, anyone interested in "India 101" should try the criminally overlooked "Outsourced," another fish-out-of-water comedy set in India that I felt was more accurate to the spirit of the country.

2014, dir. John Madden. With Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Ronald Pickup.

The Best of Not the 9 O'Clock News

A very influential TV comedy show from Britain, starting in 1979 and running into the early 80s. This two DVD set compiles the best bits from quite a few episodes, and runs about three hours. Like Monty Python before them (Python gets an explicit nod in one of the skits) they're very uneven. But definitely worth a look. Of course if you don't know who Margaret Thatcher or the Royal Family are, a fair chunk of the humour will be lost to you. Rowan Atkinson went on to fame as both Blackadder and Mr. Bean, and Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones went on to the very long-running series "Alas Smith & Jones."

1979. With Rowan Atkinson, Mel Smith, Griff Rhys Jones, Pamela Stephenson.

The Best of Youth (orig. "La Meglio Gioventù")

A six hour epic following the lives of two brothers from Rome and their family and friends over nearly 40 years. It takes over an hour to really get interesting, but once it does you're in for the full run. A real Italian history lesson for the rest of us: from floods in Turin to communist rebels to mafia assassinations of judges - but most of the film centres on the smaller things, the lives of the main characters. I was frustrated in a couple places where it became obvious from small clues what the characters were going to do ... but not why. How can we have seen so much of their lives and know so little about their motivations? But that's another aspect of the movie not preaching to its viewers, and ... it's really good. Have a look.

2003, dir. Marco Tullio Giordana. With Luigi Lo Cascio, Alessio Boni, Adriana Asti, Sonia Bergamasco, Fabrizio Gifuni, Maya Sansa, Valentina Carnelutti, Jasmine Trinca, Andrea Tidona, Lidia Vitale, Claudio Gioè.

The Best Years of Our Lives

A 1946 William Wyler movie that opens on three veterans of the Second World War returning home to Boone City in the U.S. Frederic March is the middle-aged Sergeant Al Stephenson, Dana Andrews is Captain Fred Derry, and Harold Russell is sailor Homer Parrish. All three have dreamt of returning home, but having made it back, they all have trouble resuming their old lives. Stephenson's children are now essentially adults, and he's not sure what to make of it. Derry's wife isn't where he expected to find her, and has taken a job that makes it very hard for him to catch up with her. And Parrish lost both his hands - and while he's very skilled with the hooks the military has supplied him with, his parents and fiancée have some trouble with his change of status, and he doesn't deal well with their reaction.

The movie then follows their attempts to resume their old lives, and their occasional meetings at Butch's place, a bar run by Homer's cousin (Hoagy Carmichael). It's a long movie (172m), but thought-provoking and quite good.

1946, dir. William Wyler. With Frederic March, Dana Andrews, Harold Russell, Myrna Loy, Hoagy Carmichael.

Better Off Dead

The "Airplane" of 80s teen comedy, with John Cusack at the centre, the main reason the movie doesn't fall flat on its face. Curtis Armstrong plays the same stoner he played all through the 80s and into the early 90s - overtaken by Jack Black, and now possibly Michael Cera (although he's not usually portrayed as being on drugs). But back to this movie ... Cusack plays a high school student dumped at the start by his dream girl. He makes a couple half-hearted attempts at suicide, tries to become a skiing star, tries to race the Korean Howard Cosell kids, avoids his mother's cooking, avoids his seven year old brother's evil genius inventions and schemes, and is pursued by an insane paper boy (repeatedly). If you like scattershot surreal humour, you'll like this. Not entirely my thing, but I did enjoy the soundtrack by Rupert Hine.

1985, dir. Savage Steve Holland. With John Cusack, David Ogden Stiers, Kim Darby, Diane Franklin, Scooter Stevens, Laura Waterbury, Dan Schneider, Yuji Okumoto, Brian Imada, Amanda Wyss, Curtis Armstrong.

Better Than Chocolate

Two young women start a romance just before one's mother moves in with her. Genuine Canadian content - Vancouver/Port Coquitlam, relaxed attitude about sex and underage drinking. Erotic. Mediocre acting. Passable but not great script.

1999 dir. Anne Wheeler. With Karyn Dwyer, Christina Cox.

Beverly Hills Cop

Apparently they had originally cast Sylvester Stallone to lead this one! And he wrote out most of the humour and added huge heaps of action. They dumped him gently and he took the action scenes and made "Cobra" while they hired Eddie Murphy to replace him.

There's still quite a bit of action left, and some comedy - mostly based around Murphy being annoying. It's what he does. And then there's the soundtrack, possibly one of the most memorable ever written, by Harold Faltermeyer. I didn't say "good," just "memorable." Judge Reinhold and John Ashton are amusing as the actual Beverly Hills cops (Murphy is supposed to be from Detroit), fall guys for Murphy's pranks. The full reversal of the entire department to thinking Murphy is okay despite his trashing entire neighbourhoods to get the bad guy is a little difficult to swallow.

I'm not a huge fan, but this was possibly the most successful action-comedy movie ever made.

1984, dir. Martin Brest. With Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Lisa Eilbacher, Ronny Cox, Steven Berkoff, James Russo, Paul Reiser.

Bewitched (2005)

Will Ferrell plays a movie star whose career is in a tailspin, now starring on a TV remake of "Bewitched." To ensure he gets the majority of the attention he insists on an unknown as his co-star. He scouts Nicole Kidman himself - the big "joke" of the movie being that she is actually a witch.

There were a bunch of clever ideas and some really good casting that went into this film. Unfortunately, the script is incredibly uneven and Ferrell does what he always does: shrieks and falls down, and expects people to laugh. They're actually targeting meta-humour here: Ferrell playing a failing and unfunny actor, and we're supposed to laugh at him NOT being funny?

The casting of Kidman was brilliant: she's cute, charming, naive, everything she's supposed to be. The script is occasionally over-the-top, where it would have gotten more laughs by treading more lightly. Michael Caine is hilarious as her father, who appears at random to mock (or simply disbelieve) her attempts to be normal. Shirley MacLaine's character is so deliberately over-the-top that she's not really a lot of help. Caine and Kidman's moments together almost made the film watchable, but ultimately the blundering and ever-present Ferrell completely torpedoes what could have been a passable comedy.

2005, dir. Nora Ephron. With Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Shirley MacLaine, Michael Caine.

Beyond Silence (orig. "Jenseits der Stille")

The child of two deaf parents chooses to play clarinet like her aunt, who is estranged from her father. A little too sweet in places (particularly the ending), but intelligent and well filmed.

1996, dir. Caroline Link. With Sylvie Testud, Tatjana Trieb, Howie Seago, Emmanuelle Laborit, Sibylle Canonica, Matthias Habich.

Beyond Skyline

The original movie, "Skyline," was awful. This sequel is, if anything, more ridiculous - but also immensely more entertaining. It's cheesy as hell, but if you're up for that ... it's good fun.

The timelines of the original and this sequel overlap: Frank Grillo is Mark Corley, an L.A. detective bailing his estranged son out of jail. As they're riding the subway, everything shuts down. They eventually figure out that there's been an alien invasion, and most people have looked into the blue light, been zombified and sucked up into the alien ships. In the previous movie, the cast spent the entire movie running around a condo building trying not to be captured: this was achieved with passable special effects, but some of the worst dialogue ever put on film. The fact that we had essentially one set for the entire movie was pretty awful too. The dialogue here is better (not good, but better), and there's sure as hell a variety of sets as we travel from Los Angeles to Lower Bay station in Toronto (okay, that one wasn't officially part of the set list as it's still supposed to be L.A. ... but I live in Toronto and recognized it), sucked up into a spaceship, to Laos where they join the resistance fighters and use machine guns and martial arts and bombs and alien weapons to fight back. It's totally ludicrous - but still kind of fun.

For the most part the effects are reasonably good. But for some reason when it came to the battle of the kaijus near the end of the movie, it looked like Ray Harryhausen - jerky animatronic monsters, even though it was computer generated.

And they end the affair with outtakes - people falling down, prosthetics falling off, people completely forgetting their lines and giggling. Which is really representative of why this one was better than its predecessor: they took themselves too seriously last time, but this time they were having more fun.

2017, dir. Liam O'Donnell. With Frank Grillo, Bojava Novakovic, Jonny Weston, Callan Mulvey, Antonio Fargas, Iko Uwais, Pamelyn Chee, Jacob Vargas, Yayan Ruhian, Lindsey Morgan.

Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis (English: "Welcome to the Sticks")

Possibly France's most successful comedy ever, I tracked it down after I nearly fell out of my chair laughing during "The Intouchables" (another, more recent French comedy).

"Bienvenue ..." is the story of Philippe Abrams (Kad Merad), a postal manager in southern France who is trying to get posted to the southern seashore for the sake of his obnoxious wife (Zoé Félix). His attempt to claim that he's handicapped to get such a post earns him a disciplinary assignment to a tiny town on the rather less desirable northern seashore where the locals speak a variant of French called "ch'ti." He is surprised to find wonderful people (most notably his co-worker Antoine - played by Dany Boon, who was also the writer and director) and a lovely place, but when he tries to describe it to his wife back home, she cannot believe he isn't suffering horribly - so he goes along with her version of the story.

I found a few good laughs in the story, but it relies heavily on Philippe lying and humiliating himself repeatedly - mostly in an attempt to do things for other people, but these are simply not gags I enjoy. So for the most part I found the movie a loss.

Interestingly, the town of Bergues, where the movie was set and shot, not only exists but is apparently experiencing a tourist boom because of the film.

2008, dir. Dany Boon. With Kad Merad, Dany Boon, Zoé Félix, Anne Marivin, Lorenzo Ausilia-Foret.

The Big Bang Theory (Season 1)

I don't have cable, and I never really watched broadcast TV. Which means I only started to become familiar with "The Big Bang Theory" through YouTube in the last couple years. YouTube proved that the series has a number of brilliant comedic moments (the Leonard Nimoy napkin is at the top of the list), and I finally decided to acquire the first season ... a used DVD set of the first season cost $5 at BMV (2021). At which point I found out that almost the entire season is on YouTube as "highlights," because I'd seen nearly all of it. Still, it was fun to watch the series through.

Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg), Raj Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar), and Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) are all varying degrees of horrible - not evil, but simultaneously super-intelligent and blind to their own flaws. Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki), who is Sheldon's roommate, acts as an apologist for all of them - but particularly Sheldon - and the voice of sanity, with the lovely Penny (Kaley Cuoco) as the only normal human in the mix. All of which is kind of meaningless to explain as almost everyone already knows the story.

And ... they hired a Ph.D. in Physics as a consultant so every technical reference on the show is accurate. This seems obvious, but most movies these days casually ignore the reality of physics. It's a pleasure to watch a show about science that's not full of technical gaffes. (I'm a former engineer - it matters.)

2007. With Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Sara Gilbert.

The Big Bang Theory (Season 2)

As with the first season, I purchased the second and third at BMV as DVDs - although the price rose from $5 to $6. Evidently the world is saturated with discarded copies of the early seasons - everybody who wants to watch it has done so by now (2021-12).

The second season isn't as funny overall as the first, but has a couple of the series greatest comedic moments. As I mentioned in the review of the first season, the funniest moment they ever managed to put on film was the Leonard Nimoy napkin (in this season, "The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis"). I'm also fond of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock ("The Lizard-Spock Expansion"). Another stand-out for me was "The Maternal Capacitance:" while Leonard's mother Beverly (Christine Baranski) is too cold and analytical for me to find her entirely believable, she does deliver some of the show's best lines. Her take-down of Howard and Raj at lunch is brilliant: "That's fascinating. Selective mutism is quite rare. On the other hand, a Jewish male living with his mother is so common it borders on sociological cliché. You know, both selective mutism and an inability to separate from one's mother could be due to a pathological fear of women. That's would explain why the two of you have created an ersatz homosexual marriage to satisfy your need for intimacy."

2008. With Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Sara Gilbert, Christine Baranski.

The Big Bang Theory (Season 3)

"The Maternal Congruence" has the return of Dr. Beverly Hofstadter (Leonard's mother) and includes some brilliant jokes (her ongoing take-down of Raj and Howard a particular highlight), but also demonstrates the show's stretching for material - particularly Penny getting Beverly drunk and her resulting behaviour.

"The Precious Fragmentation" shows the boys in possession of one of the actual prop rings from "The Lord of the Rings" series, and the amount of turmoil such an item of geek chic produces among them: Penny punching Sheldon when he tries to steal it from her when she's sleeping was a moment of comedic genius - followed by another as Leonard, having woken and realized what's happened, says "that's my girl." As the series started to stretch for material, this episode felt truer to the characters than most.

"The Pants Alternative" includes an improbable but hysterically funny set piece with Sheldon drunk and singing Tom Lehrer, taking off his pants while discussing topology, and then having his memories of the evening restored by YouTube.

"The Adhesive Duck Deficiency" is brilliantly funny in places (Leonard, Raj, and Howard's stoned confessions) and a prime example of the show stretching for material (the hospital trip).

This season included the introduction of Bernadette Rostenkowski (Melissa Rauch), who appears in several episodes and becomes Howard's girlfriend. Their bonding over their over-protective mothers ("The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary") is clever and hilarious, but I failed to find her ongoing interest in Howard particularly convincing. In the last episode of the year we're also introduced to Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik), who would become Sheldon's love interest.

At this point, I think I've seen as much of the series as I really need to - from now on its diminishing returns as the situations become more absurd and humiliating to milk more humour out of the series (although the cameos are just ramping up - they had a lot in later years, and many of them were wonderful).

2008. With Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Sara Gilbert, Christine Baranski.

The Big Bang Theory (Season 4)

After watching seasons one through three of this show, I decided I'd hit a good stopping point: the absurdity and character distortions had started to increase and the humour had started to decrease. But I found seasons four through six on DVD at a garage sale for $1 each. It seemed like I had nothing to lose (I may have been wrong about that).

This season includes Raj and Howard accidentally kissing (episode 9?), a level of absurdity that wasn't remotely justified by the tepid laugh it inspired. Although as I'm now watching the fifth season, I realize "absurd circumstances" aren't as horrible as the "character distortions" (ie. our favourite geeks acting out of character) that became a standard in later seasons.

The list of (geeky) cameos is impressive (and entertaining): Neil deGrasse Tyson, Will Wheaton, Brent Spiner, Steve Wozniak, George Takei, and Katee Sackhoff. Possibly others I missed.

Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Mayim Bialik, Melissa Rauch.

The Big Bang Theory (Season 5)

Most of the way through this season I realized I hadn't laughed in several episodes (in the midst of Howard explaining his astronaut training). On the other hand, I was cringing multiple times per episode. I stopped watching. This season makes season 4 look like a masterpiece (it ain't).

There was one particular episode in this season that showcased what was wrong. Leonard and Penny go out together, but they make it clear it's NOT a date: it isn't romantic, they're just "friends." Then they spend the entire episode ripping each other to shreds emotionally. This is simply not Leonard's behaviour: he's a decent guy who goes out of his way to not hurt people. I'm not saying he never does, but when he does it's unintentional. And while Penny occasionally puts people in their place with spectacular zingers, she's never been one for deliberately hurting people either. Their behaviour in this episode would have ensured that they'd never get together romantically again (among other things, Leonard repeatedly makes it clear everything he ever did was just to get sex). The writers have made Leonard and Penny both act out of character in an attempt to create humour, but it was bitter and unfunny and also unlike anything either of them had ever done before so it doesn't fit. And that's how the whole season goes.

Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Mayim Bialik, Melissa Rauch.

The Big Bounce

A comedy of sorts, in which everyone is scamming everyone else. It's hard to care about any of the characters, and since the humour is pretty limited and this sure as hell isn't a drama, what's left to watch? Pretty poor.

2004, dir. George Armitage. With Owen Wilson, Morgan Freeman, Charlie Sheen, Sara Foster, Gary Sinise.

The Big Brawl

Jackie Chan's first - unsuccessful - attempt at the North American market.

Set in 1930s Chicago, Chan plays Jerry Kwan. His father runs a restaurant and doesn't appreciate that this son prefers to do martial arts training with his uncle rather than be a doctor like his brother. According to Wikipedia the crew were mostly those who had worked on "Enter the Dragon," so it's perhaps less surprising that there was a fine homage to Lee's "Return of the Dragon" fight scene in an alley behind the restaurant. Chan is eventually manipulated via a kidnapping into fighting in a big contest toward the end of the movie.

It's a great showcase for Chan (although he was apparently unhappy with some of the takes), and - as stupid martial arts movies go - it's actually pretty good.

1980, dir. Robert Clouse. With Jackie Chan, José Ferrer, Kristine DeBell, Mako, Rosalind Chao.

Big Brother

Donnie Yen is one of Hong Kong's greatest martial artists. In this movie, he plays a former military man who returns to Hong Kong after years away, to teach delinquent students at a run-down school. He instantly proves capable of avoiding student pranks and getting student's attention. And by the half-way point of the movie he's already "saved" pretty much all the troubled kids by intervention with their families, each time with grand and over-the-top gestures: singing in public, racing go-karts on public streets, fighting an MMA star.

According to the box, "City on Fire" (whatever that is) said it was "'Dead Poets Society' meets 'Special ID.'" Which is very funny (if you're familiar with Yen's "Special ID"), but both of those are better movies than this. It's well-meaning, having a bit to say about education and student suicides, but it's repulsively sweet - except for the parts that are bad martial arts scenes. Yen can be quite charming, and they're banking on that here. But the script gives you a sugar overdose simultaneous with overwrought drama: nobody's going to buy this as a drama movie. And yet if you come in looking for a martial arts movie, you're going to be disappointed as well: there are only two significant fights, and both are so choppily filmed that they have zero appeal to fans of Yen's better martial arts films.

2018, dir. Ka-Wai Kam. With Donnie Yen, Joe Chen, Kang Yu.

The Big Chill

I saw this when it first came out in 1983, but didn't see it again until 2008. It was a relief to see that it's as good as I remembered, possibly even better as there were some nuances I missed back then. Kasdan really did bring together the right cast with a very good story about friendship, trust, and growth. A group of college friends come together for the funeral of one of the members of the clique who committed suicide, although none of them know why. And strange things happen as the result of their reunion. It looks a bit dated, but it remains a damn fine movie.

1983, dir. Lawrence Kasdan. With Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, JoBeth Williams.

Big Country

Gregory Peck plays James McKay, a sea captain coming to the American prairies to join his fiancée Patricia Terrill (Carroll Baker) in this Western. He quickly discovers that the Terrills are in a long-term feud with their poorer and less refined neighbours the Hannasseys - in part because on his first day in the area he's dragged out of his horse cart, roped, and buffeted about by four of the Hannassey's drunken men. He soon finds himself at odds with several of the locals as he refuses to prove his manhood by fighting, something they're all very invested in - including his fiancée, who is appalled at his apparent cowardice. As he discovers, the key to the area is a large ranch called "The Big Muddy," where both the Terrills and the Hannasseys water their cattle. The school teacher that owns the ranch (Jean Simmons) refuses to sell to either family to maintain the fragile peace. But McKay's arrival and subsequent mistreatment (which he's not particularly fussed about) is used by the Terrill family head as an excuse to elevate the feud between the families.

I picked this up from the library because it's directed by William Wyler, it's at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and it stars Gregory Peck. And, like all movies, it has some good stuff in it - as mentioned by several critics, Burl Ives as Rufus Hannassey is the most interesting character. Most other characters are fairly black-and-white (Peck being both too nice and too brave to really believe), but Rufus is a blunt and obnoxious man with a sense of honour. But I found myself speeding up significant portions of the movie - a 166 minute running time with multiple minutes of people riding horses across grand scenery becomes quite tedious. It was barely worth the effort with a lily-white protagonist proving his bravery and keeping the peace in a thoroughly pre-ordained way ... although I admit the grand finale show-down and gun fights were unpredictable and more interesting than the rest of the film.

1958, dir. William Wyler. With Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Charlton Hesthon, Burl Ives, Charles Bickford, Alfonso Bedoya, Chuck Connors, Chuck Hayward.

The Big Easy

Dennis Quaid puts on a Creole accent (irritating, and while I can't say if it's accurate, it was at least consistent) as a New Orleans cop on the take who falls for a district attorney (Ellen Barkin) who's after corrupt cops. The two leads look sexy, and nobody acts badly, but no one is great either. And the plot is split between corruption and romance in such a way that neither quite comes together right. Not bad, but ...

1987, dir. Jim McBride. With Dennis Quaid, Ellen Barkin, Ned Beatty, John Goodman.

Big Fish

I always have mixed reactions to Tim Burton's movies. Billy Crudup plays a thirty-something coming to the bedside of his dying father (Albert Finney), who has told him tall tales all his life. He tries to get his father to tell him more of the truth of his life, and the movie is partly a view of the past, a retelling of the stories he's heard, and partly his attempts at reconciliation. It's a strange movie, but pretty good.

2003, dir. Tim Burton. With Billy Crudup, Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter, Alison Lohman, Matthew McGrory.

Big Game

The basic premise isn't bad - absurd, but not bad. Air Force One is shot out of the sky over Finland, and the President of the United States (Samuel L. Jackson, in one of his less bad-ass roles) is lost in the mountains where he has to rely on a 13 year old boy who's a hard-core hunter (Onni Tommila) as they're both hunted by the terrorists who shot down the plane. And, like most movies, there are good moments. But this one can't decide if it's going to be serious (where I thought the potential might lie), or comedic. Certainly, there's comedic potential in a team-up like that, but milk it too much and you've got a cheese-fest ... and they leaned a little too far into the cheese. Or maybe it was just the frequently hammy dialogue. Mildly fun to watch with a couple decent action set pieces and a heart-warming finale ... which is followed by the revelation of another level of betrayal for no reason at all, which sours the ending just a bit more. <sigh>

The BluRay lent to me by a friend had only one "Extra," which was the "Unrated version" of the movie. Very unusual, as it's possibly the only unrated cut I've ever seen that was SHORTER than the original movie (by five minutes!). A quick scan suggests that the primary changes are the inclusion of a longer scene showing our young hunter rehearsing killing his imaginary deer, pulling its still beating heart out and eating it. The only other change that stood out had Jackson in the standard cut saying "Mother-<gunfire>" - his use of the phrase is strategically cut off by a burst of gunfire. In the unrated version, he says the full phrase. Quite a bit must have been cut to add the longer scene with the boy and still have a five minutes shorter version, but I'm not sure what: it seems the stuff that was cut wasn't memorable.

2014, dir. Jalmari Helander. With Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Ray Stevenson, Victor Garber, Jim Broadbent, Mehmet Kurtuluş, Felicity Huffman.

Big Hero 6

Hiro (Ryan Potter) is a 14 year old robotics genius who uses his skills for profit in dubious underground robot fights. His older (and equally intelligent) brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) gently steers him into a university career, but this is cut short by tragedy early in the film. Hiro is devastated, but eventually aided - and to some extent guided - by Baymax (Scott Adsit), a (goofy) health care robot that Tadashi created. Tadashi's friends are eventually roped in to helping find the cause of the tragedy.

The movie is successful on almost every level: Hiro is convincing as a slightly misguided genius, the tragedy is heart-breaking, Hiro's recovery is slow (and more convincing because of it), and the humour is frequent and marvellous without stepping on the toes of the drama. It's a superbly constructed and hugely entertaining film. And the end-of-film easter egg with Stan Lee is definitely worth making it through the credits.

2014, dir. Don Hall and Chris Williams. With Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Génesis Rodríguez, Maya Rudolph, James Cromwell, Daniel Henney, Alan Tudyk, Stan Lee.

The Big Lebowski

I tried ... I just couldn't. It wasn't funny. Jeff Bridges plays "The Dude," a stoner who shares the last name of Lebowski with a very rich man who owes a lot of debts to people dumb enough to mistake the Dude for the Big Lebowski. John Goodman (over the top, but acting quite well) and Steve Buscemi play the Dude's equally clueless friends and bowling buddies. I didn't see the whole movie because my thumb developed this nasty tic and kept hitting the fast forward button.

1998, dir. Joel and Ethan Coen. With Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, David Huddleston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tara Reid.

The Big Short

This is a surprisingly interesting movie about the collapse of the housing market in 2008, with several of the characters based on real people who shorted the housing market. It's based on a non-fiction book of the same name: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, by Michael Lewis (2010). Not something most people would consider a compelling subject for a big budget movie, but director Adam McKay makes it quite watchable. That said, my level of enthusiasm doesn't quite reach that of the critics and friends who recommended it: I liked it and enjoyed it, but I didn't think it was quite as brilliant as most people seemed to think. My divergence may have to do with every single character in the movie being slightly over-the-top. I'm kind of torn on this one because I suspect they're not incorrect in their portrayals: people crazy enough to short the housing market in 2006 and 2007 would have to be a little bit "out there," they were going against every other stock broker and trader in the world. The fourth wall breaks by several actors were entertaining, but contributed to the feeling that this was a weird hybrid between a comedy, a documentary, and a drama rather than a "real" drama. This disconnect shouldn't be a problem for most people, and, as mentioned, it's a fairly good movie.

2015, dir. Adam McKay. With Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock, Hamish Linklater, Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, Adepero Oduye, Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo.

The Big Sick

Kumail Nanjiani stars in a movie based on his own life - the bit where he meets and eventually wins his wife. Which is, as it turns out, a very interesting chunk of his life. He was working in Chicago, mostly as an Uber driver and doing stand-up in the evenings, when he met Emily Gardner (his wife Emily Gordon is co-author of the script, but Zoe Kazan plays here in the movie). She's not sure she wants to be dating, he can't tell his family that he's interested in a woman who isn't Pakistani - and doesn't tell her about his family's expectations. Which eventually leads to a blow-up ... just before she gets extremely sick and nearly dies, which tangles him up with her parents for the first time.

I recently watched the Bollywood movie "Ra.One," which reminded me how incredibly difficult it is to blend tragedy and comedy. So it was a real pleasure to see a movie so shortly after that effortlessly did exactly that - making you laugh as the family sits at Emily's bedside, unsure if she'll live or die. And that's another good thing about this movie: most people know walking into this movie that Nanjiani is married to this woman. And yet you feel their pain, you're terrified with them that she's going to die. It just ... feels real. Which is about the best compliment I can give a movie. That, and it's damn funny: that's one hell of a combination.

2017, dir. Michael Showalter. With Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher, Adeel Akhtar.

The Big Sleep

Probably the movie that made Lauren Bacall a star, although that honour could arguably go to "To Have and Have Not" (also with Humphrey Bogart). This is based on Raymond Chandler's first novel, also his first novel starring Philip Marlowe (played by Bogart). For the first fifteen minutes I greatly enjoyed the rapid-fire witty banter, but it becomes tiresome and annoying: it happens occasionally in life, but is never as continuous as this. Bogart and Bacall play well, but an incomprehensible plot may leave you befuddled. Occasionally enjoyable to watch, but very hard to follow.

1946, dir. Howard Hawks. With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers.

Big Trouble in Little China

One of the cheesiest movies ever made. Kurt Russell plays loud-mouthed trucker Jack Burton, who gets mixed up in black magic in Little China in San Francisco over a gambling debt. The plot and dialogue are absurd, and the end product is both hilariously funny and fun. I've watched it three times?

1986, dir. John Carpenter. With Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Suzee Pai, Al Leong.

A Bigger Splash

Tilda Swinton plays rock star Marianne Lane, on vacation on a small Italian island after vocal surgery. With her is her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). They're quiet life is interrupted by the arrival of Marianne's former producer and ex-lover Harry. Harry - as played by Ralph Fiennes - is a flamboyant obnoxious braggart, and he's brought his (previously unknown) daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) with him. Harry and Paul also knew each other previously. We get to watch as the four of them provoke each other, fuck, and squabble.

The acting is very good, I'll give it that - Feinnes is particularly impressive (although very hard to like) as Harry, who loves life so much that he knows where the best food is, swims naked at the drop of a hat, snorts drugs, always says exactly what he thinks, and fucks anyone that will have him. He and his daughter succeed in bringing out the worst in Paul and Marianne. And watching two hours of four really unpleasant people getting on each other's nerves and fighting ... just isn't my idea of fun, no matter how well done.

2015, dir. Luca Guadagnino. With Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, Lily McMenamy, Aurore Clément, Elena Bucci, Corrado Guzzanti.

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

I saw this back around when it came out, watched it again in 2014. It remains both incredibly stupid and distinctly entertaining.

Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are best friends without a clue, on the cusp of failing high school history. They are given a magical phone box that travels through time, with which they collect a number of historical personages for their final report. Napoleon is a lousy loser at bowling and loves water slides. Other such discoveries abound. I was pleasantly surprised by how funny it was.

1989, dir. Stephen Herek. With Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves, George Carlin, Terry Camilleri, Dan Shor, Tony Steedman, Rod Loomis, Al Leong, Jane Wiedlin, Robert V. Barron, Clifford David, Martha Davis, Fee Waybill, Clarence Clemons.

Bill and Ted Face the Music

The return of two of the world's most lovable doofuses, in a sequel very few people were looking for: Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter return, in 2020, to roles they last inhabited in 1991. The movie is equally as much about their daughters, played by Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine. And of course it's about time travelling.

The movie is every bit as good as the first one - and yes, that's as backhanded a compliment as it sounds. But - as stupid as "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" was, it was also a lot of fun. And so is this.

It was prophesied that Bill and Ted would write a song that would not just unite the world, but stabilize time and reality. But they're in their 50s, still trying, and playing very small crowds ... Their princess wives (you remember, they brought them back from medieval times) still love them, but their marriages are a bit rocky. And their daughters are every bit as Excellent as their fathers.

For me, the stand-out performance in the movie was Brigette Lundy-Paine as Billie, Ted's daughter. She put the imitation of a young Ted/Keanu out of the park, and did it with amazing charm.

The closing credits are fun as we have hundreds of musicians (both real and air-) show up for a few seconds each. I managed to identify Weird Al Yankovic and Guillermo Rodriguez in the mix, and wondered how many other shooting star cameos I'd missed. But according to Wikipedia, that was about it. Although I should admit that I had no damn idea who Kid Cudi was - and he has a fairly major role.

2020, dir. Dean Parisot. With Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Kristen Schaal, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Samara Weaving, William Sadler, Anthony Carrigan, Holland Taylor, Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays, Beck Bennett, Kid Cudi, Amy Stoch.

A Birder's Guide to Everything

Kodi Smit-McPhee plays David, a high school student whose father is about to remarry after the death of his mother. He's not dealing well with the loss of his mother, and has followed in her footsteps as a passionate birder. His friends at school are also birders, and on the eve of his father's wedding, he runs off in pursuit of a possibly extinct bird that he saw, accompanied by his two friends and "the new girl," and eventually joined by Lawrence Konrad (Ben Kingsley), an avid birder they all look up to.

This is an indie movie with a tiny budget, or at least if there was any budget they spent it all on Kingsley (although my suspicion is he worked for the Hollywood equivalent of peanuts because this looked like fun). The kids do a passable job in the service of a fairly good story, life lessons are learned, etc. (it's essentially a coming-of-age story). Which makes it sound more quaint and clichéd than it is: it's ultimately quite enjoyable.

2013, dir. Rob Meyer. With Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alex Wolff, Katie Chang, Ben Kingsley.


Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, an aging Hollywood actor who's mainly known for playing the action hero Birdman in a series of three blockbuster movies years ago. He's now trying to bring a play of Raymond Carver's short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" to Broadway, but it isn't going well. He's having problems with his actors, and the voice of Birdman mocks him for his inadequacies.

The movie is filmed as if the entire thing is a single take, following actors through the halls of the theatre, onto the stage, up on the roof, out on the street to the bar next door. If you look for it, there are places where they must have made cuts (a passage through a pitch black corridor, or a few moments of a still scene), but even these are few and far between. It's impressive, unusual, and occasionally disorienting. It's also not clear how much of it actually happens, with Thomson performing telekinesis on several occasions, and an ambiguous ending.

I was impressed by it without actually liking it: there are a number of very good performances, and the visual style is nothing you've ever seen before. If you're a fan of movies, this is definitely worth seeing for what it says about actors, the acting, and for the spectacular filming.

2015, dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu. With Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Lindsay Duncan.

The Birds

I have a great respect for Alfred Hitchcock which has led me to work my way through much of his catalogue over the years. My favourite Hitchcock is "To Catch a Thief," and my favourite surprise among his less well known movies was "Stage Fright" with its wonderful dialogue between father and daughter. So I finally watched "The Birds" in 2017, a movie I'd never seen. If you're one of the three people left in the world who A) hasn't seen the movie, and B) actually cares about the plot and doesn't want spoilers, stop reading now. I'm writing for everyone who's seen it and I'll feel free to spoil.

We set up our two leads immediately - rich and beautiful practical joker and inveterate liar Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren, who was later to claim Hitchcock psychologically tortured her on the set ... she was probably telling the truth) and handsome and dashing lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor). A prank of hers leads to her being in the same small seaside town he stays in weekends, where the birds start misbehaving and attacking humans.

The movie - being Hitchcock - concentrates heavily on the human aspects of the situation - Mitch's insecure mother, Melanie's lying, Mitch's ex-girlfriend, the romance developing between Melanie and Mitch. The dialogue is better than your average Hollywood movie, but I didn't think it was up to Hitchcock's standards. Unfortunately, the effects are utterly appalling by modern standards and the movie is crammed full of what are now tired old horror movie tropes: people leaving safe places for stupid reasons, people going places alone, and my personal favourite, Melanie effectively blocking herself into a room full of birds when she was trying to exit the room.

And then there's the ending: they all get into a car and drive away from the birds. No wrap-up, no explanation, no answers to who survived or why any of it happened. Possibly my least favourite Hitchcock.

1963, dir. Alfred Hitchcock. With Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette, Jessica Tandy, Veronica Cartwright.

Birds of Prey

I guess Margot Robbie likes Harley Quinn: having played her in "Suicide Squad," she's back in her own starring vehicle - and a producer. ("Executive Producer" sounds fancier, but the plain-old producers are the ones with the power.) But I don't like Harley Quinn. All this movie did was convince me she's got no super powers (she swings a mean bat, but that doesn't count), she's batshit crazy, she's unlikeable, and - most important when you're making a movie about her - she's not very funny. And yes, they were going for "funny" because the full title of the movie is "Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)."

The movie starts by showing us that she's split with Joker. And while we also see she has bad impulse control and bad planning, she's well aware that his name - and her relationship with him - is protecting her. When she acknowledges to herself and the city that they've split up, a lot of people try to kill her. There's also a very expensive diamond, a kid sidekick, an evil crime lord, and several kick-ass women.

Mildly amusing at best. Could have been better if they'd included more of Harley's new pet - a spotted hyena she named "Bruce Wayne." Or more psychiatry: Harley has a Ph.D. in Psychiatry, she met Joker because she was treating him. As crazy as she is, that knowledge is still in there. It popped out a couple times in this movie, but it could have been used a lot more to much better effect - somebody should have told the writers that that's her superpower.

2020, dir. Cathy Yan. With Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, Ewan McGregor.

The Bishop's Wife

David Niven plays a Bishop who spends so much time trying to get his cathedral built that he's in danger of losing his wife (Loretta Young). When he prays to God for help an angel (Cary Grant) comes to his aid ... but appears to be about to take his wife away from him.

Grant and Niven are good, Young seems terribly bland - but I think the fault there lies more with the script than the actress. Charming but not overly romantic or funny. I did like Monty Wooley as the somewhat Bohemian history professor.

1947, dir. Henry Koster. With Cary Grant, David Niven, Loretta Young, Monty Wooley, James Gleason.

Black Butler

Prime silly Manga-turned-live-action, with our (nominal) hero being a young woman (supposed to be 17? played by Ayame Goriki) masquerading as a man to control a very large company. But I say "nominal hero" because the titular character is her butler (Hiro Mizushima), who is a demon that she's sold her soul to so that she can get revenge on the people who killed her parents. Style trumps sanity as we mix imagery from anywhere in the last 200 years (a lot of it from Europe) to come up with an aesthetic they like in a year that's approximately 2015. And the world is divided between two political entities, "East" and "West." The action takes place in the East (aka "Japan"), but our heroine is also a Watchdog for the Queen of the West, and thus has another political agenda besides revenge and managing a massive company.

I found it a little hard to generate sympathy for a person whose life is quite so far beyond my experience: indescribably rich spy who's a teenager masquerading as the opposite gender while pursuing revenge that has nothing to do with her espionage work (which she inherited from her grandfather). Mizushima was a bit silly but also kind of compelling as the demon butler, and the visual aesthetic was at least mildly interesting, but overall a rather poor film.

2014, dir. Kentarō Ōtani, Keiichi Satō. With Hiro Mizushima, Ayame Goriki, Yūka, Mizuki Yamamoto, Tomomi Maruyama, Masato Ibu.

The Black Cauldron

One of Disney's poorer outings, and a blundering insult to the source material. Lloyd Alexander wrote a series of children's books called "The Prydain Chronicles," very good books. The Black Cauldron was the second of five, and possibly the darkest of the lot. The Horned King and his legions of dead soldiers are a horrific threat in the book, and they kill quite a few people. Does anybody die in this movie? Not even a single bad guy. The characters are as quirky as they are in the original, but this is actually a liability - without back-story, it makes little sense that they should be so weird. All is reduced to cuteness and overwhelmed by trite. Even if you haven't read the original, this is going to be a pretty poor movie.

1985, dir. Ted Berman and Richard Rich. With Grant Bardsley, Susan Sheridan, Freddie Jones, Nigel Hawthorne.

The Black Hole

I loved this when it first came out ... Even at that age I thought my taste was better. I guess the effects looked okay back then ... This is appallingly bad. Any movie that gets five lines into the dialogue and says "It's mission, to find habitable life," you know you're in trouble. "Habitable life?!" Bad science I expected: but English that bad was a bit of a surprise. Hell, the robots acted better than the humans and they didn't even have faces.

1979, dir. Gary Nelson. With Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Foster, Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux, Roddy McDowall, Slim Pickens.

Black Panther

As the Marvel canon (the MCU, or "Marvel Cinematic Universe") increases in film count and number of characters, their version of Earth diverges farther and farther from the one we live in - all leading up to "Infinity War" and "End Game." Black Panther was introduced in possibly my least favourite MCU movie, "Captain America: Civil War." Now we're expected to accept that the country Black Panther comes from, Wakanda, has had massively advanced technology for a century or more, but has still succeeded in pretending to be a backwards farming country in the middle of Africa for that entire time and NO ONE HAS NOTICED. Except the arms dealer Klaue (Andy Serkis, who we first met in "The Avengers: Age of Ultron"). He's back - and pissed off, because they took his arm. And they're pissed off because he detonated a bomb to cover his escape that killed dozens (or hundreds - precision isn't a requirement in the MCU).

If you can accept the MCU baseline (and obviously millions of moviegoers do), then this is an enjoyable coming-of-age - or perhaps coming-of-kinghood - tale. Chadwick Boseman returns as the Black Panther, and with his father dead (see "Civil War"), he goes through the ceremony to become King - not an easy process. But much worse is ahead, with an upset Wakandan-American (Michael B. Jordan) with royal blood headed home.

I can't tell you much more without starting to give stuff away. It's fun, it's charming, there's bucket-loads of patented MCU action (invariably free of blood despite several deaths by skewering, so they can retain their family-friendly ratings at the theatres). Not my favourite Marvel film, but far from the worst. I would have preferred to see it on DVD from the library rather than giving my money to Marvel at the theatre, but I had fun so I'm not significantly upset about it.

I was surprised that most of the people in the theatre left before the end of the credits. Don't they know this is Marvel? There is, inevitably, not only a mid-credits scene (Wakanda speaks to the U.N.) and a post-credits scene (Bucky Barnes on the mend).

2018, dir. Ryan Coogler. With Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis.

Black Site Delta

Cam Gigandet is building up a solid resumé of B-movies, following the career trajectory of Stephen Seagal ... but without the initial peak. As of 2020, the man has 30 movies to his name on Rotten Tomatoes, only two of which have positive reviews. Worse, nine of them don't have enough reviews to have an average ... which meant no one cared at all.

I mock him, but not only did I watch the movie, I thought it was passable action - and it was better than the movie I watched immediately after it ("Barely Lethal").

We first meet Gigandet's character Jake drinking in a bar, afraid to go home to meet his own daughter. A bar brawl leaves him a killer, and he wakes to find himself in a black site prison with a bunch of other problematic ex-military people. By ten or fifteen minutes in, the base has been invaded by a mercenary force (Jake even knows the evil commander), and the prisoners are free. The mercenaries are after the drone with a nuclear bomb controlled from the base (because that's what's on top of most black-site prisons). So of course the prisoners decide to defend their country rather than just leave.

These days, most action movies have enough of a budget to hire a specialist to teach the actors to move like the kind of personnel that they're supposed to be. This movie clearly passed on such silly excesses. Half the people move like they think they're ninjas, and our heroes clear rooms and halls like ten year olds doing a cop impression.

Now that I'm done bad-mouthing it, I'll admit that I found it an acceptable way to waste 90 minutes. I mean, it's crap but I knew it would be, and it's straight forward crap with plenty of action.

2017, dir. Jesse Gustafson. With Cam Gigandet, Teri Reeves, Benjamin Charles Watson, Dion Mucciacito, Casey Hendershot, John Brodsky.

Black Snake Moan

If you've seen the trailer but not the movie, it may help to know that one of the producers (in the DVD extras) referred to the movie as "a fable." Old black man chains young white girl to his couch in rural Tennessee - yeah, that's believable. Accept it and enjoy the movie: it paints with broad strokes, but it's pretty good. Not least because of Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci, both of whom are excellent.

Ricci plays Rae, whose boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) goes off to join the army. Rae promptly goes on a sex, alcohol and drugs bender, and ends up beaten and left for dead in a ditch. Jackson finds her there, and decides to cure her evil ways.

The story is absurd, but gets that way by over-emphasizing accurate points about unhappy people we've all met to make its point. Jackson and Ricci, under Craig Brewer's direction, take what could have been the ultimate in B-movie trash and turn it into an astonishingly decent movie with good help from Timberlake, John Cothran Jr., and Kim Richards.

2006, dir. Craig Brewer. With Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake, John Cothran Jr., Kim Richards, S. Epatha Merkerson, David Banner, Michael Raymond-James.

Black Widow

Scarlett Johansson's swan song as Natasha Romanov / the "Black Widow," a role she's played in multiple movies in the "Marvel Universe." At least ... we assume this is her last movie: she's officially, permanently dead after "Avengers: Endgame," and we're told that this is Johansson's last, retroactive outing. This takes place right after "Captain America: Civil War" with Black Widow hiding from the American military who want to lock her up for "violating the Sokovia Accords."

The movie opens on a pair of Russians in 1995 playing at being an American family: David Harbour and Rachel Weisz as the parents, and a couple young female actors as the false daughters who grow into Natasha Romanov and Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh). Natasha, on the run after the events of "Civil War," unintentionally reconnects with her younger sister Yelena - from whom she learns that the man who created "the Red Room" that she thought she'd killed is still alive, and he's still training/torturing/killing young women to create assassins.

This leads to Natasha and Yelena reconnecting with their false parents: David Harbour is hilarious as an aging, overweight, not very bright former Russian super-soldier (he was supposed to be the Russian opposite number to Captain America) who just wants to punch things and/or reminisce about the old days - some of which he may have embellished, although he is very strong.

I admit to being considerably surprised to finding myself enjoying this one: Weisz and Harbour are charming and funny as the parents, but Johansson and Pugh really make this work as a pair of sisters who had a strong connection but spent a huge part of their life apart. The movie is quite clear (voiced by Natasha) about being about the struggles of holding a family together - but despite the heavy-handedness, is fairly good at carrying through on the idea. And again, Johansson and Pugh steal the show when they're on screen together. I haven't said it because it's just a given: there's lots and lots of action and it's pretty good. One of Marvel's better outings, and a very enjoyable departing bow for Johansson.

2021, dir. Cate Shortland. With Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, Olga Kurylenko, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, Rachel Weisz.


This is the best action horror movie ever made. I don't say that lightly: I've seen a LOT of them. Wesley Snipes plays a half-human-half-vampire Vampire hunter, assisted by Kris Kristofferson (in a role that probably saved his career). Humour, violence, and lots of action. See it.

1998. dir. Stephen Norrington. With Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson.

Blade II

The darkest of the three movies, finds Blade teaming up with some other vampires to fight a new breed of uber-vampires. While there's plenty of action, this is the closest to pure horror that the series got. There's a lot of leaping about in the fights, for which they chose CG over wirework. Unfortunately, it's very obvious.

2002, dir. Guillermo del Toro. With Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman.

Blade Trinity

Humour was what was needed to liven up the overly serious "Blade II," but they added too much, with Wesley Snipes still taking himself way too seriously. Parker Posey is supposed to be scary and funny, but manages neither. She's just annoying. Ryan Reynolds, who's a fairly capable actor, was let loose with his own brand of humour in this movie, and is nearly as annoying as Parker. Dominic Purcell is reasonably good as the ultimate vampire. But the addition of Patton Oswalt to the mix tells you what direction they were headed in. Some of the action is enjoyable, but this is a bad movie.

2004, dir. David Goyer. With Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Biel, Ryan Reynolds, Dominic Purcell, Parker Posey, Paul Levesque, Callum Keith Rennie, John Michael Higgins, Patton Oswalt.

Blade of the Immortal

Takashi Miike is a Japanese director who gained notoriety many years ago for his extremely bizarre and often very violent and grotesque movies. I've often wondered how his cult following has felt about his gradual drift toward the mainstream ... or perhaps it's that the mainstream has widened enough to include his recent only slightly less violent and grotesque works. Although I have to admit that over the years, his stuff has become more dramatically interesting - better acted, better plots. The trailer claimed this was Miike's 100th movie: with shorts and TV specials and everything else he's made over the years, that kind of counting is dubious. But it's pretty close - he's been staggeringly prolific.

"Blade of the Immortal" is based on a graphic novel: our main character Manji (Takuya Kimura) is an involuntarily immortal samurai with a conscience who gets roped into defending a young girl whose parents were brutally killed before her eyes (remember, this is Miike). He gets sliced and diced and reassembles himself and strange stories are told as they pursue an uneven quest for revenge.

Like the other recent Miike movies I've seen, this one is well constructed. It's also typically violent, bizarre, and nasty. I remained interested through most of the movie, although some scenes were a bit long (the movie as a whole runs to 141 minutes). The critics loved it: 85% on Rotten Tomatoes. Not the highest score, but those that gave it a positive score really loved it. And I'm not getting that - it's over-the-top, ridiculous, and mostly entertaining, but they seem to be making it out to be some kind of masterwork, which it's not.

For fans of martial arts movies, don't go watching this one for the fights. There are many, many fights. And many bloody puncturings and dismemberments. But the fights are chaotic and shot in a choppy manner meant to emphasize the bloodshed and violence, not the fighting style.

2017, dir. Takashi Miike. With Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sota Fukushi, Hayato Ichihara, Erika Toda, Kazuki Kitamura, Chiaki Kuriyama.

Blade Runner

One of the greatest science fiction films ever made. I preferred the original with Harrison Ford's voice-over (I'd seen it something like nine times), but the "Director's Cut" is also very good ... and I have to admit the voice-over is pretty bad. I haven't seen "The Final Cut" yet, but I don't expect it to make much of a difference. Based on a Philip K. Dick novel, the movie follows the story of Deckard (Harrison Ford) as he hunts "replicants" (very human androids). The setting is 2019, in a brilliantly conceived dystopian Los Angeles. A pretty bleak story - particularly when you consider that you're intended (in all the later cuts) to wonder if Deckard is in fact a replicant himself ...

1982. dir. Ridley Scott. With Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah, Edward James Olmos.

Blade Runner 2049

35 years after the original movie, Denis Villeneuve directed this sequel (which is set 30 years later in the movies' internal timeline). Ryan Gosling is KD6-3.7, a new model replicant who is also a blade runner - although a "Nexus 9" model, stronger and more compliant than the older models. Near the beginning of the film he "retires" (just like the last movie, that's their euphemism for "kills") Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), a Nexus 8 replicant who was in hiding. "K" discovers a buried box near Sapper's home which contains a skeleton. The skeleton shows the marks of an emergency caesarean section ... but is also a replicant. This is the big driver of the story as replicants can't reproduce and this could cause another replicant uprising.

Other players include: "Joi" (Ana de Armas), a hologram AI who is K's companion. Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) who has bought up the Tyrell corporation and is now the replicant manufacturer (and makes Tyrell look like a kindly old man). Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) is Wallace's enforcer replicant. And Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) is K's boss at the police.

When not being deliberately grubby and polluted, the cinematography is astonishing with an aesthetic that beautifully recalls the original. The movie spends most of its over-long 2h43m run-time making you think about replicants and their servitude: in case you weren't getting it, early on Niander Wallace goes on a heavy-handed rant about the utility of slavery - and kills a brand new replicant because he feels like it. He's made out to be a truly horrible person, and you're forced to think about what it says about a society that's willing to accept intelligent beings as indentured slaves. But in the end, a whole bunch of people (well, you know, mostly worthless replicants) suffer and die so two people can meet - and not a damn thing is done about the whole slavery thing. So, as pretty and well acted as it was, I found it deeply unsatisfying.

2017, dir. Denis Villeneuve. With Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Harrison Ford, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Edward James Olmos, David Dastmalchian.

Blake's 7 Series 1

As I write I've only watched episodes 1-6 of this series.

Roj Blake (Gareth Thomas) starts the series as a mind-wiped political dissident. His former comrades reach out to him, and he is shortly framed for a crime he didn't commit (because dissidence isn't even discussed) and shipped to a penal colony. I don't think that I'm giving too much away (given that the series is 35 years old and titled after a group of people) to say that he escapes with a group and starts "dissidenting" again.

I quite liked the first three episodes, the set-up with their dystopian future, evil government, and political manoeuvring. Despite special effects that made period Doctor Who look pretty good - the effects are unbelievably awful, so cheesy the most dedicated fan is going to giggle occasionally, 6" plastic space ship model terrible, etc. But after that it became apparent that it was to be more of an episodic and less upbeat Star Trek - travel about and confront various alien life forms, with periodic confrontations with the evil government - than anything else. The acting is mediocre, but arguably no worse than Star Trek. And a fairly convincing argument can be made that "Blake's 7" paved the way for "Babylon 5," "Farscape," "Firefly," and the 2004 incarnation of "Battlestar Galactica," with its band of squabbling anti-heroes fighting for the right.

1978. With Gareth Thomas, Paul Darrow, Michael Keating, Sally Knyvette, Jan Chappell, David Jackson.


A Japanese Anime movie distributed by Netflix, "Blame!" is based on a manga. It's a far future dystopia, in which the humans can no longer control their planet-spanning city and are hunted by constructs of the city as illegal squatters. Our group encounters a mysterious and ludicrously taciturn stranger called Killy who is super-human, carries a REALLY BIG GUN (TM), and is trying to return control of the city to humans. They help him for a while.

It's an adventure story aimed at tweens. The artwork is quite attractive, despite it being entirely in an abandoned city. The dialogue is weak, and the story feels like it's one step of progress on a trip that's going to take 100 steps - it makes some people's lives better, but doesn't resolve the primary question of control of the city.

2017, dir. Hiroyuki Seshita. With Kyle McCarley, Cristina Vee, Christine Marie Cabanos, Keith Silverstein, Cherami Leigh, Bryce Papenbrook, Johnny Yong Bosch, Brian Beacock.

Blast from the Past

In 1962, a brilliant but paranoid physicist (Christopher Walken, of course) takes his pregnant wife (Sissy Spacek) down into their bomb shelter just as a plane crashes on their house. Convinced that "the bomb" has gone off, he locks them in for 35 years. So when his son Adam (Brendan Fraser) emerges in 1997, he embodies early Sixties values in the modern world and knows nothing of modern technology. He meets Eve (Alicia Silverstone) and hilarity ensues. More or less. Unbelievably cheesy, but I have to admit I kind of enjoyed it.

1999, dir. Hugh Wilson. With Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, Christopher Walken, Sissy Spacek, Dave Foley, Joey Slotnick.

Blazing Saddles

Starts with the construction of the railroad in 1874 in the West. The construction crew is shown to be mostly African-American and Chinese, managed by obnoxious and stupid white men. Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) is trying to take over land that the railway will go through on the assumption it'll be worth money, and in trying to do that he convinces state governor J. Le Petomane (Mel Brooks, who also directed) to appoint Bart (Cleavon Little) as the new sheriff to the town. Bart being black in an all-white town, Lamarr hopes the townspeople will either leave town or lynch the sheriff. Bart turns out to be quick on his feet, and is assisted in his adventures by The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder).

Possibly Brooks' best known movie, and apparently a well-regarded comedy (#6 on the American Film Institute's "100 Years...100 Laughs" list). I loved this when it came out (I was ten) - it had people falling down, anachronisms and fart jokes, what's not to like? But I was less impressed in 2014. I have to admit that it remains impressive for sheer craziness, and I did find a few laughs in the mix. Wikipedia's comment on one of the aspects of the film is interesting: "The film satirizes the racism obscured by myth-making Hollywood accounts of the American West, with the hero being a black sheriff in an all-white town." With that in mind, it includes classic quotes like "All right ... we'll give some land to the Niggers and the Chinks, but we don't want the Irish."

I would love for someone to do a comparison of this to "Destry Rides Again:" if I recall correctly, the similarities goes substantially beyond Madeline Kahn's mediocre Dietrich impersonation.

1974, dir. Mel Brooks. With Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens, Madeline Kahn, Mel Brooks, Dom DeLuise.

Bleach (2018)

Like many Japanese movies that make it to North America, Bleach was first a manga. But its wide popularity has led it to proliferate more than most: it became a TV series, and a video game, and now a movie.

High school student Ichigo (Sota Fukushi - good looking, charismatic ... good choice) can see ghosts - and helps them out as best he can. He's also a pretty good fighter. But one day he finds himself way over his head in the middle of a fight between a "Hollow" (a nasty spirit) and a Soul Reaper - Rukia (Hana Sugisaki) - who is shocked that Ichigo can even see her (and the Hollow). When she's injured and can't finish the fight, she transfers her powers to Ichigo so he can kill the Hollow. And Ichigo manifests with a damn enormous sword to win the fight.

But that's not the big problem: Rukia discovers that she can't transfer her powers back. The reasons why are inconsistent: initially, she literally couldn't, but then she couldn't because Ichigo didn't have enough "energy" so he'd die if she transferred her powers. And the only way for him to get energy is to kill hollows - become a successful Soul Reaper. So she starts training him. Unfortunately, there's more going on: Rukia's brother doesn't care about Ichigo's life: he wants her to kill Ichigo. And there are the "Quincys," who are also hunting Hollows and don't get along with the Soul Society.

It's all pretty silly, but I've got behind even more ridiculous concepts in movies before. Where this one really falls down is when participants in a big fight taking what amount to time-outs to have long philosophical conversations while their semi-sentient enemy waits patiently for them to reach a conclusion rather than attacking. And yet - I kind of enjoyed it (with some pushing through at 2x ...). Still - I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

2018, dir. Shinsuke Sato. With Sota Fukushi, Hana Sugisaki, Erina Mano, Ryo Yoshizawa, Yu Koyanagi, Taichi Saotome, Miyavi, Seiichi Tanabe, Yōsuke Eguchi, Masami Nagasawa.

Bleeding Steel

I have for many years avoided Jackie Chan's movies past approximately the year 2005: some of his stuff through the 1980s and 1990s was quite amazing (I've seen most of it). Between 2000 and 2010, his movies were as often about how much pain he could absorb doing stunts as about the balletic action he used to specialize in. But fairly recently I saw "The Foreigner," which is very good. And I guess it softened me up enough that I was willing to try another recent Jackie Chan movie available on Netflix - this one.

The movie starts with Hong Kong cop Lin Dong (Jackie Chan) rushing to the hospital where his nine year old daughter Xixi is dying of leukemia. But a phone call is enough to divert him to protect a witness instead. He ends up in a firefight with a group of superhuman people who want to kill the witness: most of his team are killed and his daughter dies. Then we jump forward nine years: he's now in Australia, and both he and a skilled hacker are interested in both an author who wrote a successful book and a young Asian girl - as are a group of nasty people who wear the same uniforms as the nasties from Hong Kong.

Is this making sense?

Eventually you find out that it's all connected, but it's complex without being interesting. It's silly, obnoxious and ridiculous while trying to be funny, harkening back to the worst of Jackie Chan's humour in his HK movies of the 1980s. And it's unbelievable pretty much every step of the way. There are trademark Jackie Chan stunts, but they're not his best.

And after you've waded through this mess, the ending is even more improbable ... and deliberately sets up a sequel.

2017, dir. Leo Zhang. With Jackie Chan, Show Lo, Ouyang Nana, Callan Mulvey, Tess Haubrich, Erica Xia-hou, Kym Gyngell, Damien Garvey.

Blinded by the Light

I shouldn't have watched this movie. Gurinder Chadha has become the voice of the Indian experience in the U.K. - I fell in love with "Bend it Like Beckham" when it came out. She's had a mixed career since, but that movie has been enough to keep me watching her movies ever since. But on the other side of the argument - the movie is about a young Pakistani man who's extremely passionate about Bruce Springsteen. I hate Springsteen more than I like Chadha.

Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra) lives with his family in Luton (I had to look it up: it's a small town about 50 km outside London). It's 1987. He has to contend with a very traditional father, racist neighbours (not all of them), and the classic teen concerns like self-doubt and the opposite sex. At a new school - or maybe just a new year of school - he meets Roops, who pitches him Springsteen. So from about 20 minutes onward we have a solid Springsteen soundtrack to a fairly typical (although well done) growing-up-in-the-suburbs story.

Kalra is charming as Javed. His father (played by Kulvinder Ghir) looks different, sounds different, acts differently than the father in "Bend it Like Beckham," but he puts up the same roadblocks for Javed and has the same story arc. A couple of pseudo-musical numbers (actors lip-syncing and dancing to Bruce) didn't help the appeal of the movie. And given the size of the Springsteen's catalogue, I thought multiple repetitions of a couple of his best known songs was unnecessary (and painful).

A fairly good movie completely ruined for me by the unsurprising inclusion of way too much Springsteen. I thought maybe I'd have got over my dislike of Springsteen by now, but no - this only made it worse.

2019, dir. Gurinder Chadha. With Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon, Nell Williams, Dean-Charles Chapman, Aaron Phagura, Meera Ganatra.


The movie opens on Collin (Daveed Diggs) in his last three days on parole. He and his best friend of many years Miles (Rafael Casal) are movers in Oakland (the setting is important to the movie), and Collin is trying to prevent Miles' short temper and wild outbursts from getting him sent back to jail. It doesn't help that on the drive home that night, he sees a white police officer shoot and kill an unarmed black man, an event that haunts him throughout the movie.

That sounds dark, it is dark. But this is a "comedy-drama," and rarely in your life will you see a movie that so beautifully walks the line between those two genres. It brings home all the fear of being black in a neighbourhood policed by white officers, but it's never just about that: Collin has a life, he has problems, but that's not where it ends. Collin and Miles are intelligent even if they don't always make the best decisions, there's a lot of good in both their lives, and they're very interesting to spend 90 minutes with.

It's easy to see why Collin's ex- tells him he needs to cut Miles out of his life for his own safety, but it's equally easy to see why Collin and Miles are best friends: Miles, as volatile as he is, is incredibly loyal ("loyalty" being one of his favourite subjects), funny, and very loving to his family. It's rare to find characters this well portrayed in dramas, almost unheard-of in a comedy-drama.

Eye-opening, heart-wrenching, and hopeful - highly recommended.

2018, dir. Carlos López Estrada. With Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Ethan Embry, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Wayne Knight, Justin Chu Cary, Kevin Carroll, Nyambi Nyambi.


"Blitz" opens on Jason Statham's character Tom Brant interrupting three young men trying to steal a car and, when they threaten him and demand his wallet, he beats the crap out of them with a hurley. We find out shortly after that that he's a police officer, and this is his general attitude. It's soon established there's a serial cop killer on the loose, and he's targeting police in South East London, Brant's branch. Brant uses his unsubtle techniques to get the information he needs - and somewhat surprisingly works with the new transfer and head of the investigation, Porter Nash (Paddy Considine). Although maybe this isn't too surprising, as we learn early on that Nash, when pushed far enough, will also step outside the law.

Statham isn't a brilliant actor. He's very good at the physical roles, and can be quite charming - and that's what's kept him employed for so long. Here, they put him in a character almost totally devoid of charm, leaving a violent and unpleasant man without a lot of depth - Considine and Aiden Gillen (as the killer) shine by comparison. The writer did manage what I thought was a surprisingly satisfying ending (although totally illegal - no surprise there). The end product is just "a cop movie with Jason Statham in it," no great work of art and definitely one to switch your brain off for, but if that's your thing it's serviceable entertainment.

2011, dir. Elliott Lester. With Jason Statham, Paddy Considine, Aiden Gillen, Zawe Ashton, David Morrissey, Mark Rylance, Luke Evans.


This movie is one of those frustrating beasts where you see what-could-have-been ... but to do so you have to see past what-is. The idea is interesting: a dead soldier (Vin Diesel) is resurrected by replacing his blood with "nanites" (biological micro-machines). Not only does this bring him back to life, but now if he's injured - even catastrophically - he simply re-assembles himself in a matter of seconds.

We open with Ray Garrison (our soldier) - still human, a U.S. Marine - going semi-rogue to save a hostage in Mombasa. Which also proves how effective he is as a warrior. Then he and his wife have a bit of vacation time in Italy ... which is interrupted by a bad guy capturing both of them, killing her in front of him, and then killing him. And then the resurrection. He's supposed to have no memories, but he does, and goes on a vendetta against the bad guy. Except ... all is not as it seems.

It looks okay: the effects are fairly good and the execution is mostly competent. At one point Diesel knew ... approximately ... how to act. But he's been being a manly man in the "Fast and Furious" franchise for so long that all he can do is anger-face and stoic-face ... and he doesn't even make those convincing. He's backed up by a cast of pretty nobodies who aren't particularly good either ... and Guy Pearce. And I have to give some sort of dis-commendation to director David S. F. Wilson, because it takes something to get a crap performance out of Pearce.

Part of my frustration with the movie is caused by the script's treatment of the programmers. They're arguably the most important people in the entire cast as the ones who actually control Garrison's behaviour (or allow him freedom to be himself as the case may be) but they're treated as the comedic side-kicks because really, it's the people who do physical things that actually matter in the world. Never mind that the most important one of these physical people is manipulated and controlled by others for most of the run-time, they're still down-played comedic filler. It's not quite so bad or insulting as the scientists in "Pacific Rim," but it's up there.

Just all around weak.

2020, dir. David S. F. Wilson. With Vin Diesel, Eiza González, Sam Heughan, Toby Kebbell, Guy Pearce, Lamorne Morris, Talulah Riley, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Alex Hernandez, Siddharth Dhananjay, Tamer Burjaq.

Blown Away, Season 1

"Blown Away" is a Netflix series of ten episodes of 25 minutes each, a glass blowing competition show apparently modelled on the History Channel's "Forged in Fire." They start with ten glass artists, give them a challenge, and each week eliminate one from the running. I've always loved glass blowing and wanted to try it - although apparently never quite enough that I got around to actually doing so. But that meant this series held a huge appeal to me. It was a significant added bonus that the show is filmed in Hamilton, with all the assistants to the artists being supplied by the Sheridan College glass-blowing program.

I found a lot to like about the show: the artists were all interesting characters. The pieces they produced were often really beautiful, and always interesting. The episodes are relatively short, which works well. And I learned a lot about the making of glass art. It's a fun series.

2019. With Nick Uhas, Katherine Gray, Deborah Czeresko, Janusz Poźniak, Alexander Rosenberg.

Blown Away, Season 2

"Blown Away" is a Canadian competitive/elimination glass-blowing TV series. This season, they invited artists from all over the world (I think all the artists in the previous series were Canadian). As mentioned in the previous season's review, I've always been fascinated by glass blowing. The progressive elimination format is thoroughly derivative, but the entertaining characters (the artists, a charming group) and the fabulous glass art they create, make the series a lot of fun.

They made good use of their previous artists, with their third place artist (I thought he should have won ... best artist of the lot, also the most personable) from the previous year showing up as a judge in the first episode, and the winner showing up for the final episode. This was perfect use of their previous season's staff - without overuse.

2019. With Nick Uhas, Katherine Gray, Elliot Walker, Cat Burns, Chris Taylor.

Blue Submarine No. 6

I think this was originally a TV miniseries in four parts, only a half hour each - so about movie length. The Japanese don't have quite the same sense of plotting, or good and bad, as we do. This one leaps into the action with no introduction and never fully fills you in on the backstory. The ragged blend of CGI and hand-drawn cell animation is actually fairly attractive, but the plot and conclusion are ... unsatisfactory.

1998. dir. Mahiro Maeda.

Blue Thunder

Roy Scheider plays Frank Murphy, a police helicopter pilot and Vietnam war vet. He and his observer (a very young Daniel Stern) get assigned to a secret military helicopter project, which turns out (predictably enough) to be thoroughly rotten. There's intrigue, mayhem, and chases. As action movies go, fairly good.

1983, dir. John Badham. With Roy Scheider, Malcolm McDowell, Daniel Stern, Candy Clark, Warren Oates, Paul Roebling.


A divorced Korean doctor with sleep problems (including nightmares, which we the audience can't always tell from reality) suspects his landlords - who run the butcher shop under his apartment block - are serial killers after the addled father of the family makes a confession under the influence of drugs during a colonoscopy. (There are too many colonoscopies in this film.) But he doesn't go to the cops because he's a mess himself and he's not sure he can prove anything.

The movie contains several horror movie tropes: nobody is innocent, most people have psychological issues, don't call for backup (or the police) even when they're clearly needed, go into dangerous spaces you know you shouldn't. It's not horror though: Wikipedia lists it as a "psychological thriller."

Another twisty Korean mystery: the critics thought well of it, I didn't like it much. In part because I didn't feel like the parts fit together at the end.

2017, dir. Lee Soo-yeon. With Cho Jin-woong, Shin Gu, Kim Dae-myung, Song Young-chang, Lee Chung-ah, Yoon Se-ah, Kim Joo-ryung, Yoon Da-kyung.

The Bodyguard from Beijing

One of Jet Li's Hong Kong movies (and the better for it). Passable action, something vaguely resembling romance. The VHS has better subtitles than the DVD.

1994, dir. Cory Yuen. With Jet Li.

Bohemian Rhapsody

This movie shares even more in common than I initially thought with the movie I watched the previous night, "Rocketman." That one's about Elton John, this one is about Queen and Freddie Mercury. Some things are really obvious: they're both musical biopics about flamboyant gay front-men. Less immediately obvious (although I should have realized it) are that they share a very similar time period: the peak of both Elton John's and Queen's fame was through the Seventies and into the early Eighties. Unsurprisingly, both movies are about men trying to deal with their sexuality at a time when being gay wasn't commonly accepted (Elton lived long enough to marry his partner, sadly Freddie didn't live long enough to see today's broader acceptance). Not particularly obvious at all, both movies were directed by Dexter Fletcher (this movie is on the books as being done by Bryan Singer, but he was replaced part way through by Fletcher), and both have people playing John Reid. Aiden Gillen plays him in this movie, getting a smaller and more boring part than Richard Madden's portrayal of Reid as a backstabbing heartless bastard in "Rocketman" ... in this movie, he's just a manager.

The film suffers for being constructed as a standard-issue biopic, but the part that sank it for me was Rami Malek and THE TEETH. I totally get that Freddie Mercury had large teeth and a wicked overbite, but I doubt that Freddie Mercury looked deeply uncomfortable with his own teeth and kept trying to rearrange his own face to fit them. He may not have loved his teeth, but he was used to them. Rami Malek wasn't used to them, and it really shows.

I enjoyed the music, and thought they did a good job of presenting the band dynamic ... while simultaneously making Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon almost bit players in their own story. Mercury was undoubtedly the most important person in Queen, but the three of them deserved not just good portrayals (which they got) but at least a bit more screen time.

2018, dir. Bryan Singer. With Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello, Aiden Gillen, Allen Leech, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker.

Boiler Room

Giovanni Ribisi plays a college drop-out who runs his own illegal casino at the start of the movie, and is shortly recruited for a questionable stock brokerage. No one in this is particularly good, and, while the plot is good, it's not enough to make this a good movie.

2000. dir. Ben Younger. With Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nia Long.

BoJack Horseman, Season 1

This review is based on the first two episodes, and is meant (even more than usual) as a reminder to myself rather than a useful review for anyone else.

BoJack (voiced by Will Arnett) is an animated, anthropomorphized horse who lives in a world populated with both people and talking, people-sized animals. 18 years ago, he was the star of a successful and long-running sitcom, but now he's a rich has-been with an existential crisis. Wikipedia entertainingly refers to the series as an "American adult animated tragicomedy sitcom."

I can see that they're taking pot shots at a huge number of aspects of our culture, particularly BoJack's fading celebrity. But I actively dislike BoJack and everyone he associates with - which brings up a point about him and the show. These aren't his friends. He would claim to have friends, but the people he sees every day aren't them. And they're all assholes or stupid, and usually both. BoJack himself isn't stupid, although he has some pretty strongly held delusions about himself and his history. Frustratingly, his self-awareness kicks in if it'll make better comedy, and then goes away again after.

I understand that the second half of the first season, and all the following seasons are "better." And I see that they're taking some good whacks at pop culture and celebrity. But I laughed maybe three times across two episodes, and without even a single appealing character I'm just not enjoying the show.

2014. With Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Amy Sedaris, Aaron Paul, Patton Oswalt.

Bollywood Hero

This is an intensely frustrating piece of work, a TV miniseries of 2 hours 45 minutes that could have been really good. A good idea and good plot fall to Chris Kattan's mediocre acting and general foolishness.

Kattan plays Kattan - literally, his character is called "Chris Kattan" and the character was in all those fine movies: "Corky Romano," "A Night at the Roxbury," and of course SNL. And he's sick of playing small and/or really bad roles: he wants to be a leading man. In his desperation, he accepts the lead in a movie in Bollywood.

The idea is sound, and the plot is excellent. Some of it is obvious: musical numbers, cultural fish-out-of-water, romancing the beautiful girl. The plot about the director and his sister and their struggle to keep their dead father's movie theatre afloat and live up to his name is pretty good. Unfortunately Kattan is Kattan: his humour is, as always, unfunny - although somewhat muted. He makes an effort, but he's just not enough of a leading man, not charismatic enough. Too bad.

2009. With Chris Kattan, Pooja Kumar, Ali Fazal, Julian Sands, Neha Dhupia, Rachna Shah.


It's extremely predictable, but damn it's funny! And cute and incredibly charming too. Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) is a dog who stars in a TV show. He believes everything on the show is true, including his own superpowers. So when his "person," Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus), is "kidnapped" by the villain of the TV series and Bolt escapes, the real world comes as something of a surprise. He captures an "evil" cat (Susie Essman) and is joined by an adoring hamster in a ball (Mark Walton) as he struggles to get from New York back to Hollywood. I'm guessing you can fill in 90% of the remaining plot from this short summary, and I'm not saying you're wrong. But remember what I said: it's funny. See it.

2008, dir. Byron Howard, Chris Williams. With John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman, Mark Walton, Malcolm McDowell, James Lipton, Greg Germann.

Bon Cop Bad Cop

Yes, it borrows heavily from the Hollywood buddy cop genre, and that's a little disappointing for a Canadian movie. But it's entertaining, isn't that what we're aiming for? And besides, it reeks of Canada: half the dialogue is in French, the references to "Ontario," "Quebec," "Montreal," and "Toronto" are extremely frequent, and, above all, the motivating problem is HOCKEY murders. It's a seriously Canadian film. It's not great art, but it's funny and entertaining and that's a good thing. There are some bad sections, but whenever Colm Feore and Patrick Huard are on screen together it's worth watching.

2006, dir. Erik Canuel. With Colm Feore, Patrick Huard, Rick Mercer, Erik Knudsen, Sylvain Marcel.

Bon Cop Bad Cop 2

2006's "Bon Cop Bad Cop" was one of the highest grossing Canadian films ever made: not that that made anybody rich, but it's kind of nice to see success rewarded. And another plus: like most sequels ten years in the making, this one is better thought out than the ones that follow within a year of their predecessor.

"Bon Cop Bad Cop 2" finds our protagonists Martin Ward (Colm Feore) and David Bouchard (Patrick Huard) still cops - Bouchard is undercover with the Sûreté du Québec, while Ward has moved from the Ontario Provincial Police to the RCMP. They meet for the first time in a while when Ward's team busts the garage that Bouchard's gang is working in, and once again find themselves working together.

To the writer's credit, many of the things about the movie are different: in the previous movie, much of the humour was aimed at Quebec-Ontario differences, here Canadians are struggling with their relationship with the U.S. This time instead of solving a series of murders, they're unearthing a nasty plot that they think revolves around drugs - but they're not at all sure. Both of the characters are a decade older, and time has taken its toll particularly on Ward.

To my astonishment, they populated three relatively minor roles from the previous film with the same actors: Bouchard's ex-wife (now his wife again) is still played by Lucie Laurier. Even stranger, they brought back the two child actors (now adults) who played Ward's son (Erik Knudsen) and Bouchard's daughter (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse). They were in relatively small roles and they've changed so much that very few people would have noticed if different actors had been hired ... but both are still actors, and this is Canada: they were brought in. Not important, but a nice touch.

Like the previous movie, the plot is a little over-the-top and the last half hour is ridiculously over-the-top action - and yet, Feore and Bouchard still have a decent comedic chemistry that brings a certain charm to the film. If you were a fan of the first film, you should definitely see this - but if you're not, pass it by.

If you haven't seen the original movie, you should definitely give it a try: it's more raw than this and has a LOT of problems, but it's damn funny if you're Canadian.

2017, dir. Alain Desrochers. With Colm Feore, Patrick Huard, Marc Beaupré, Noam Jenkins, Andreas Apergis, Mariana Mazza, Erik Knudsen, Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse, Lucie Laurier.

Bon Voyage

A big line-up of some of the best actors in French cinema struggle with a mediocre script and the bizarre idea that the Nazi invasion of France at the beginning of the Second World War would be a good time to stage a romantic comedy. In one sense it is: people of all classes and backgrounds are packed into hotels and boarding rooms with regard only for expediency, and that gives rise to opportunities for humour: but around every corner are the horrors of displacement, invasion, and war. And the script still needs work. Isabelle Adjani plays a reprehensible actress who uses her beauty to manipulate men, Grégori Derangère a childhood friend who loves her desperately, and Gérard Depardieu the vacillating government minister who is Adjani's latest target.

2003, dir. Jean-Paul Rappeneau. With Grégori Derangère, Isabelle Adjani, Gérard Depardieu, Virginie Ledoyen, Yvan Attal, Peter Coyote, Jean-Marc Stehlé.

Bones, Season 1

"Bones" is based on the books - and to some extent the life - of author Kathy Reichs. The main character is Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel - visibly sister to Zooey), who her FBI partner Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) always refers to as "Bones" because she's a forensic anthropologist.

There's a pattern to the first year: at the beginning of every episode they squabble and don't get along, during the episode they come to understand each other on the subject du jour, they reach a peace. Only to have forgotten their newfound friendship to squabble again in the next episode. Booth and his FBI buddies refer to Brennan and her team as "squints" (scientists) and see them as hopelessly clueless about people and the real world, whereas the scientists see the FBI as clueless and unable to understand scientific concepts. And they're not wrong, at least within the context of the show, as everyone has their niche and their comedic cluelessness. Brennan even has a catch phrase whenever anyone references pop culture: "I don't understand that." (Although, bizarrely, she's familiar with "Treasure of the Sierra Madre.")

And yet the mysteries are interesting and the dialogue is often entertaining, and as annoying as I found the reductive approach to "scientists" interacting with "real humans," I kept coming back to enjoy the mysteries the (non-reductive) dialogue, and the humour.

In the last episode of the first season, Brennan's family gets yanked into the spotlight and we're given our first open-ended episode, with them handing us the fact that someone important thought dead is actually alive ... and the episode ends. When we come back to the first episode of the second season, it's clear that this previously wholly episodic series is now going to string out the story of Brennan's family through the entire season (nothing was resolved in that first new episode ...).

I don't like episodic TV, but I like this even less. Having a continuous story arc is good, but the only reason they're doing it here is to string viewers along: "hey, maybe we'll reveal some new tiny detail of her family next week!" And that's pretty much the only thing that's not wrapped up at the end of each show.

The most blatant use of "episodic" was around the fifth episode of the first season: Booth and Angela Montenegro (Michaela Conlin) figure out that Jack Hodgins (T.J. Thyne) (the institute's self-declared "bug and slime guy") is not only fantastically rich, but also indirectly owns a large portion of the archaeological institute they all (except Booth) work for. This is wrapped up in one episode and never mentioned again in the following 18 or so episodes - as if you wouldn't treat the guy a little differently when you knew he was A) insanely rich, B) worked exclusively for love of the job (he sure as hell doesn't need the paycheque), and C) could choose to turn your world upside down.

A second watch of the first season re-enforced everything I said: it's too reductive, it's too episodic, and on a second watch those characteristics tend to overwhelm the relatively limited good qualities. It doesn't help that the leads aren't particularly good actors.

2005. With Emily Deschanel, David Boreanaz, Michaela Conlin, T.J. Thyne, Eric Millegan, Jonathan Adams.

Bones, Season 2

I have a long-standing line about detective shows: I want to watch the detectives detecting, not fighting for their lives. And as this season progresses, it became more and more clear that this is a fighting-for-their-lives series - often in particularly stupid ways. In one episode Temperance and Hodgins are buried alive (in a car) by a serial killer called "The Gravedigger." It looks for a few moments at the end of the episode that Hodgins might suffer (realistic) PTSD from the event. It's never mentioned again. Not only that, instead of pursuing the Gravedigger every waking moment after that event ... they just move on to other things.

I think I watched through season 4 of "Bones" when it was available on Netflix, but it got so throw-away and silly I didn't even bother to review it here.

2005. With Emily Deschanel, David Boreanaz, Michaela Conlin, T.J. Thyne, Eric Millegan, Tamara Taylor.

The Book of Eli

Denzel Washington plays Eli, a wanderer in a post-apocalyptic world. The apocalypse is never explained, but it's mentioned that it's been about 30 years. Eli heard a voice shortly after the apocalypse and found a book (the Bible, no big surprise) - possibly the only one in existence because most were destroyed as having been the cause of the apocalypse. He's been travelling through a decimated world, headed west, for this whole time. But now he encounters Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who is impressed to find that Eli can read like himself, wants Eli's skills at self defence ... and wants a bible, with the idea that with those words he could build an empire.

Washington is good, as you'd expect. Oldman plays something akin to his regular character, but happily not spot-on - enough different to be at least somewhat interesting. Jennifer Beals hasn't registered on my radar since "Flashdance," and she's very good here - nice to see. There are a couple nice twists in the plot - around the nature of the book itself and a couple other details - that keep it from descending into cliché. The movie is filmed in extremely high contrast with very little colour, more a palate of browns - a convincingly grim world of violence, starvation, and lawlessness. Good for fans of the genre, but unlikely to captivate others.

2010, dir. Albert and Allen Hughes. With Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals.

The Book of Life

The movie starts with two young boys both in love with the same girl. Our hero is Manolo (Diego Luna), a musician at heart born into a family of bullfighters. The woman of his dreams is Kate (Zoe Saldana), and her other suitor is Joaquin (Channing Tatum). When they're children, La Muerte (goddess of death and Queen of the Land of the Remembered, voiced by Kate del Castillo) and Xibulba (ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, voiced by Ron Perlman) make a world-shaking wager over which of the two boys get the girl. We see them again as adults, now on the Mexican Day of the Dead: Xibulba, seeing that he's likely to lose his wager ... cheats.

Seen in the theatre in 3D. The style of animation is unusual, and fairly interesting: the characters are computer-animated, but they appear either as wood puppets (no strings) or bone. The presentation is equally as over-the-top, with the story ranging across the land of the living and both lands of the dead, with lots of magic, heroism and humour at every step. I found the absurdity led to a feeling of inconsequentiality, but the end result is quite funny and enjoyable.

2014, dir. Jorge Gutierrez. With Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Kate del Castillo, Ron Perlman.

Border (orig. "Gräns")

"Border" is a fantasy movie (although it initially looks like a modern-day movie about a somewhat unattractive border guard). It's currently (2019-05) available on Netflix, although you never know how long they'll keep these things.

Tina (Eva Melander, well hidden under excellent prosthetics to make her much less attractive than she actually is) is a customs officer with an incredible talent for sniffing out guilt, and thus contraband. She lives out in the woods where she frequently goes for walks, and clearly has a strong connection to nature. Things begin to change for her when a man with a similar appearance to her comes through the customs checkpoint. They become acquainted, and she eventually learns she may not even be human.

Even to tell you that the movie should be classified as "Fantasy" is to give away more than the movie itself meant to: they'd be okay if you thought it was about an unusual looking border guard and her isolated life. But I think it's a bit unfair to send someone into a movie thinking they're getting a drama and have it twist about into fantasy with elements of body horror, because you should have at least an idea so you can select the movies you want to see ... Having said that, I'm not going to say anything else about what happens.

It's a weird movie, well constructed and well acted, and I found it intriguing without actually liking it much. This should be seen by fans of urban fantasy - particularly if you like a touch of horror mixed in, but even if you don't - just because it's so interesting.

2018, dir. Ali Abbasi. With Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff, Jorgen Thorsson, Ann Petrén, Sten Ljunggren.

The Born Losers

The first in the series of "Billy Jack" movies (the second was called simply "Billy Jack"). Written, directed by and starring Tom Laughlin. This movie is named after the motorcycle gang that terrorizes the town Billy Jack (Laughlin) lives near, and he quickly becomes embroiled with them. Particularly after they rape several young women in the town, and then terrorize the families to prevent anyone from testifying against them in court. One girl in particular, Vicky (his co-screenwriter Elizabeth James) falls under Billy's protection.

I was interested in these movies as they're occasionally touted as early martial arts movies. Laughlin is put forward as part Indian and ex-army. But the closest we get to martial arts here is Laughlin side-stepping someone and delivering something that vaguely resembles a karate chop. It's hard to tell: the fight editing is jumpy and generally poor, and haymakers are the preferred blow.

This is an exploitation flick. It revels in the rapes, flaunts them, and then revels in the beatings. The acting is staggeringly wooden. Repulsive.

1967, dir. Tom Laughlin. With Tom Laughlin, Elizabeth James, Jeremy Slate.

Born to Defence

I think there's a factory right next to the fortune cookie factory that cranks out bad martial arts movie titles. Hong Kong product, Jet Li's directorial debut. Bloodier than most of his, fights are okay but not great. I like elegant fights, but these ones are messy.

1986, dir. Jet Li. With Jet Li.

Born Yesterday

Directed by George Cukor, the movie opens with Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford) coming to Washington with his showgirl girlfriend Emma "Billie" Dawn (Judy Holliday). He's there to influence politicians (with cash), and her foolishness quickly embarrasses him - although he's no charmer himself. He hires reporter Paul Verrall (William Holden) to educate Billie, a process that's much more effective than anybody expected.

Holliday is unpleasantly convincing as the uncouth and uneducated Billie, and manages to play her improbable transformation reasonably well. I found I disliked pretty much every character in the movie, although I think you're meant to like Paul Verrall, and eventually Billie. She takes her education and starts "doing the right thing," but I found too much of the old Billie in her (and wouldn't have believed it if there was less - a bit of a Catch 22). So - a fairly good movie that I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about.

I liked the movie (and the characters) a LOT better on second viewing.

1950, dir. George Cukor. With Judy Holliday, Broderick Crawford, William Holden, Howard St. John, Frank Otto, Larry Oliver.

Boss Level

Obsessed as I am with "Groundhog Day"-alikes, I was really looking forward to this one. And oddly enough, the trailers don't give too much away - in fact, one of the trailers is essentially the first minute of the film, as we jump in on our protagonist's 139th attempt to survive a day when he wakes up to someone trying to kill him with a machete. He gets his shoes and pants off the floor as he ducks the second cut, gets the pants on as he steps away from another cut, gets into the kitchen for some coffee, drinks some and then disables his attacker by delivering the rest of the hot coffee to his face, etc.

Our protagonist is Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo), who gives us a running voice-over and then explains how he got here - and as we move forward, we join him in attempting to figure out how he can maybe do something about it. Grillo is both obnoxious and charming, determined and willing to grind out a solution (if you're not a video game player, look up "grinding" in that context - there's a reason the movie got its title).

What Groundhog-Day-alikes need most to succeed is a lot of thought put into the structure, and the cycles that the movie goes through. And someone thought about this one a long time: the helicopter you see right at the beginning? That matters, as do most of the other details. The weirdest thing about the structure in this one is that after 20 minutes of violence followed by 20 minutes of exposition and menace, we have 20 minutes of sentimentality ... but then, the aim of the "Groundhog Day" movies is that our hero learns something and becomes a better person. And while it's a bit unusual, I thought it worked. Contrary to my viewing habits, I'm not really a fan of non-stop violence, and I thought they fitted the sentimentality in surprisingly well.

This may be too violent for some (ask yourself if you're okay with a decapitated head bouncing down an escalator), but it's funny, it's well thought out, and the action is really good: I enjoyed it a lot.

2021, dir. Joe Carnahan. With Frank Grillo, Mel Gibson, Naomi Watts, Will Sasso, Annabelle Wallis, Sheaun McKinney, Selina Lo, Michelle Yeoh, Ken Jeong, Meadow Williams, Mathilde Olliver, Rio Grillo, Armida Lopez, Buster Reeves, Eric Etebari.

The Bounty Hunter

(I watched about half of this, fast-forwarding through the rest. I think I saw it years ago ...)

Milo (Gerard Butler) is a New York bounty hunter and former cop short on cash. He's thrilled when he's given the opportunity to bring his ex-wife (Jennifer Aniston) in because she skipped bail. She's an investigative reporter, and was headed to her bail hearing - when she got a tip on a suicide that may actually be a murder. Milo calls his ex-wife Nicole's mother, and easily tracks her down and takes her into custody - a process he greatly enjoys. While Milo tries to get them back to the police station to get his reward, a crooked cop (Peter Greene) comes after them because Nicole's investigation is a problem for him. And since Milo wants to clear the name of his former partner who's involved in the police corruption ...

Can you guess what happens? They spend a lot of time together. They fight but the passion is also rekindled. The problem is he's still a gambling addict and they're both still assholes. Oh, you want to know the problem with the film, not the shoddy conclusion? It's not funny. You've seen it all before, and the charm of the two leads isn't nearly enough to cover for too few and weak laughs.

2010, dir. Andy Tennant. With Jennifer Aniston, Gerard Butler, Jason Sudeikis, Jeff Garlin, Cathy Moriarty, Ritchie Coster, Joel Marsh Garland, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Peter Greene, Dorian Missick.

The Bourne Identity (1988, TV)

I had no idea that Matt Damon's version of this wasn't the first. This made-for-TV movie holds that distinction, but I only found out about it in 2009. While I would undoubtedly do better reading the book, I found watching this movie to be quite an education: I suspect it's more accurate to the book than Damon's version, and the plot line is significantly different. The start is much the same with Bourne being pulled from the sea comatose (and awaking amnesiac), full of bullet holes and with the number of a Swiss bank account surgically implanted in his hip. Denholm Elliot made the drunken but fatherly doctor who removed his bullets and aided in his recovery a much more significant character, and I wish he'd had a larger part. This may be the character he always plays, I don't watch much TV; but it fitted well here. Richard Chamberlain and director Roger Young play Bourne as having a worse temper and being more willing to use others than Damon's version. This version has its share of TV cheese, the love scene in particular being truly appalling. Other than that, I would highly recommend this to fans of the genre, and especially to fans of the Damon version. Be warned it runs three hours.

1988, dir. Roger Young. With Richard Chamberlain, Jaclyn Smith, Anthony Quayle, Donald Moffat, Denholm Elliott, Yorgo Voyagis.

The Bourne Identity (2002)

A man washes ashore full of bullets and without memory. He shortly finds he's a target for several people who want to kill him - and that he's pretty good at killing people himself. It's predictable in the sense that he unravels his own history while fighting off bad guys, but it's better done than most movies of the type: you're always a little off balance, and (with the exception of the five storey drop at the end) they obey pretty much all the laws of physics.

Rewatched this in 2012: this is how action movies should be made. Well constructed, well acted (you know, when acting is actually needed), and with great action.

2002, dir. Doug Liman. With Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen, Brian Cox, Julia Stiles.

The Bourne Supremacy

Damon is back as Bourne. After two years of a quiet life, he's attacked and his friend killed. He sets out on a vendetta to assure they never bother him again (apparently he's not successful, as there's another sequel). How they manage to make a single man successfully taking on a large portion of the CIA convincing, I don't know - but they do. Again, Bourne is entirely efficient and effective ... but haunted by his conscience. Urban hardly has any speaking lines, but is on screen a lot and quite good as another highly efficient assassin (who obeys the laws of physics). Greengrass' perpetual hand-held filming manages to maintain the sense of always being a little off balance without making the audience seasick. Another very good movie.

2004, dir. Paul Greengrass. With Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Brian Cox, Joan Allen, Julia Stiles, Karl Urban.

The Bourne Ultimatum

Back again, Bourne once again accused/threatened with doing something he had nothing to do with. And again, he sets out to clear his name (or just get rid of the people causing problems) - leaving a trail of bodies behind him. Greengrass again offers his unsteady camera work, and Allen, Stiles, and Strathairn are along to add some class.

The movie has a lot of good action and has some extended scenes that really bring the player's paranoia to the viewer, but this isn't really the equal of the first two movies - in part because it's almost totally action-driven, with character development kept to an absolute minimum and used almost exclusively to either move the action forward or point out how terrible a character is.

2007, dir. Paul Greengrass. With Matt Damon, David Strathairn, Joan Allen, Julia Stiles, Scott Glenn, Albert Finney, Joey Ansah.

The Bourne Legacy

One critic complained that this is a Bourne movie ... without Bourne. So what exactly do you have?

Starts with a tribute to the first movie, a shot of a person floating motionless in the water. Jeremy Renner plays Aaron Cross (the floater), a member of "Operation Outcome." (And I thought the already revealed Operations Treadstone and Blackbriar were quite sufficient.) Because of the public revelation of these programs at the end of the last Bourne movie, Operation Outcome is shut down by killing off the operatives - but guess what, Cross survives and rescues Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) who was part of the science crew on the project, and thus also under threat of termination. They are hunted by another secret organization, even more secreter than the one that was after Bourne (oh geez). And let's not forget the Larx supersoldier program that pops up later in the movie.

This movie feels quite different from the previous movies in some respects - more about the people, more talking. And really, it's better at that than at the chase scenes, and it would be nice to see this Bourne-alike think his way out of stuff rather than muscle his way out, but we aren't so fortunate.

Overall not too bad, but doesn't seem likely to stop the Bourne series slide into mediocrity. If it wasn't so obvious to compare it to the first two Bourne movies (this is better than the third), this would stand alone as quite a decent action movie. Renner has a hell of a screen presence, and Weisz puts in a good performance.

2012, dir. Tony Gilroy. With Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Oscar Isaac, Željko Ivanek, Stacy Keach, Louis Ozawa Changchien.

The Boxtrolls

The movie is set in something vaguely resembling the British Victorian era, uses stop-motion animation just like "ParaNorman" (with which it shares the production company Laika), and is about a young boy trying to save his friends from persecution and death.

Eggs (named because of the box he wears, and voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright - Bran Stark of "Game of Thrones" fame) is a boy raised from a baby by the underground dwelling boxtrolls, who come up into the town above at night to scavenge mechanical parts for their inventions. Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), an unpleasant man who wants to better his social standing, convinces the town that the boxtrolls steal and eat babies, and sets out to round up and kill all of them with a promise of social advancement from the mayor. The boxtrolls don't fight back because they're just goofy and sweet, so the task of defending them falls to Eggs - who has no familiarity with human society. Fortunately, he falls in with the mayor's daughter (Elle Fanning). Laika has laid out a lot of jokes for adults, but you'll have to pay serious attention as a lot of them flash by as names on businesses and boxes ... and be prepared for an endless string of cheese jokes, many of which the kids won't get (although there's plenty for them here).

I wasn't too keen on the style of animation. Even the cutest characters had a slight touch of the grotesque in them - I suppose that was true in "ParaNorman" as well, but I thought it worked better in that one, with it being about zombies and raising the dead and all. Plenty cute and reasonably funny, it's not a bad film, but I don't think I'll be watching it again - unlike "ParaNorman," which is a story of surprising depth (and with better fitted animation) that I've watched several times.

2014, dir. Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi. With Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan.

The Boy and the Beast

At nine years old, Ren has run away from home after the sudden death of his single mother. While trying to live on the streets of Shibuya (Tokyo - Shibuya Crossing features heavily in the film), he's approached by a couple of "beasts" - intelligent humanoid animals who sometimes cross into the human world. The very grumpy Kumatetsu suggests, mostly as a joke, that perhaps this child could be his student? Ren follows them, and finds himself in the land of the Beasts (where humans are very rare indeed). He begins a very contentious student-teacher relationship with Kumatetsu, in which it's not always clear who is the teacher. And he meets many other people and beasts who guide him, trouble him, and help him.

The story has a lot to say about trying to be overly independent when growing up. And being true to yourself, and dealing with depression and anger, and treating people right, and ... It covers a lot of ground with astonishing grace. It's not only funny, but also deeply touching, and amazingly beautiful. I think this now ranks #4 on my list of best anime movies - it is beaten only by "Spirited Away," "Paprika," and "Ghost in the Shell," so it's in extraordinary company. A very fine movie indeed.

2015, dir. Mamoru Hosoda. With Shōta Sometani, Aoi Miyazaki, Kōji Yakusho, Suzu Hirose, Yo Oizumi, Lily Franky, Masahiko Tsugawa, Kazuhiro Yamaji, Mamoru Miyano, Haru Kuroki, Kappei Yamaguchi, Momoka Ono.

The Boys Are Back

Clive Owen plays Joe Warr, a sports writer struggling to connect with his young son after the cancer death of his wife. He does his best while enforcing almost no discipline - a thing that haunts him when his older son by another marriage comes to visit. It's very good for what it is, with an excellent performance by Owen - but you'd better want to watch an Australian family drama.

2009, dir. Scott Hicks. With Clive Owen, Nicholas McAnulty, George MacKay, Laura Fraser, Emma Lung.

The Brand New Testament

God, it turns out, is a grumpy old bastard who lives in Brussels. His famous son ran away from home many years ago and got himself killed. God spends his time making life more miserable for his creations. Now his ten year old daughter hates him, and as her departing act of revenge, she posts everyone's death dates to their phones. Then she sets out to find her own six apostles.

I found the movie highly reminiscent of "Amelie." It definitely shares certain elements - the childlike world-view in the face of very adult subjects (religion, sex, death), people talking to the camera as their own life plays out behind them, and of course the charming surreality. Weird, thought-provoking, and very funny, I really enjoyed it.

2015, dir. Jaco Van Dormael. With Benoît Poelvoorde, Catherine Deneuve, François Damiens, Yolande Moreau, Pili Groyne, Laura Verlinden, Serge Larivière, David Murgia.


Merida is the first daughter of a Scottish Clan, perhaps in medieval times, in this animated movie by Pixar. She's extremely good at archery, and when her parents (mostly her mother) try to wed her to the son of another clan leader (to be chosen by competition), she runs off and does something foolish involving a witch (and bears).

Pixar has always had a side-line in moral lessons, but they've never before let it get in the way of telling the story (okay, "Cars ..."). This time, the moral lesson is front and centre - and in case you missed it, it's then applied with a sledgehammer. Also front and centre is a Disney cutsey-ness (the bear learning to let go and be a bear, a very long and tiresome scene) that's atypical of previous Pixar movies. The common assessment is "this isn't as bad as 'Cars 2.'" That's true, but this is also nowhere near as good as any of the other Pixar pictures. Merida's hair is almost worth the price of admission (watch the trailer if you don't know what I'm talking about), but an hour and a half of hair isn't exactly a movie.

Much better you should go (re-)watch one of Pixar's earlier movies. And pray they get back to that mindset.

Re-watching it didn't help - a couple moments of humour stuck in a brutally heavy-handed FAMILY VALUES film. I cried for the death of Pixar.

2012, dir. Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman. With Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane, John Ratzenberger.


The premise is simple: drugs are stashed at an innocent man's cabin, innocent man and his family fight the bad guys to not be killed. I was sold on the concept when I found out that the "innocent man" in the equation was Jason Momoa, and he was throwing axes to save his family. I mean, what more could you want?

Momoa plays Joe Braven, a logging company supervisor. The first twenty minutes are spent filling us in the fact that he's a good boss and a good father, husband, and son. Although the latter is a problem, as his father (Stephen Lang) is having significant memory issues after head trauma, and his behaviour sometimes cause problems with the local police.

And here, because I'd seen the trailers and I knew that there was going to be that fight at the cabin, I thought "he's going to die fighting to saving his granddaughter." This allows him a noble death while also freeing Joe from having to put his father in a care home (something neither of them was willing to face). I was close enough on that guess to be thoroughly annoyed: this falls under "if I can guess your plot structure, you're doing it wrong," so major points off for that.

Joe and his wife are both strong and independent and fight very hard for their family. Joe is amazingly inventive in his methods of fighting back, somewhat reminiscent of MacGyver (you can decide if that's good or bad). My final assessment was that it was a decent, if somewhat rote, thriller.

I don't think a location was ever named, but it's implied it's the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. in late fall (after a snow storm). Apparently they filmed much of it in Newfoundland! Both have great scenery.

2017, dir. Lin Oeding. With Jason Momoa, Garret Dillahunt, Jill Wagner, Stephen Lang, Zahn McClarnon, Brendan Fletcher, Sasha Rossof, Teach Grant, Sala Baker, Fraiser Aitcheson, Steve O'Connell, Tye Alexander.


It would be simple to say this is 1984 meets Monty Python, and that's certainly true on the surface. But there's a bit more to it. Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) lives in a dystopian world full of broken duct work and a bureaucracy that combines the worst aspects of the current (2008) U.S. government and that of the former U.S.S.R. He works for the government and has, shall we say, a very active fantasy life. It's extremely surreal, occasionally very funny, brutally depressing, and absolutely brilliant.

1985, dir. Terry Gilliam. With Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin, Ian Richardson, Peter Vaughan, Jim Broadbent.

Bread and Tulips ("Pane e Tulipani")

A woman with a husband and family is accidentally left behind at a rest stop on the highway when her family is on vacation. While waiting for them, she abruptly decides to hitch a ride, ending up in Venice where she stays rather longer than she had planned. Fitting the plan of comedies everywhere, she encounters and becomes involved in the lives of a bunch of local eccentrics. It's charming and somewhat funny.

2000, dir. Silvio Soldini. With Licia Maglietta, Bruno Ganz.

The Break-Up

I'm not sure why I dragged myself to or through this one. Jennifer Aniston? Of the "Friends," she's the only one with any acting talent - but it's not really that much. And here she doesn't particularly stretch herself playing opposite Vince Vaughn, who has only the one tired old routine. Not funny, not romantic, and not even interesting. You know you're in for trouble when everyone else is a walking plot device.

2006, dir. Peyton Reed. With Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Aniston, Joey Lauren Adams, Cole Hauser, Jon Favreau, Vincent D'Onofrio.

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Watching this was an interesting exercise. Audrey Hepburn plays Holly Golightly (to borrow a phrase from "EdTV"): "she's damaged goods, Bro!" To believe a romantic comedy, you have to be convinced that the leads would appeal to each other and I definitely wasn't convinced that the relatively level-headed Paul Varjak (George Peppard) would fall for this utter wack-job (Hepburn).

Mickey Rooney played "Mr. Funyoshi," the stereotyped Asian landlord: an incredibly obnoxious and unfunny role usually reserved for the deservedly maligned Jerry Lewis.

1961. dir. Blake Edwards. With Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Mickey Rooney.

The Breakfast Club

One of John Hughes' most clichéd - and best - efforts. Hughes has always been heavy-handed, and so his movies are riddled with clichés and stereotypes. But he was successful because from this he usually manages to pull some achingly accurate moments of truth. This movie swings even further in both directions than most of his productions.

Saturday morning finds five students in high school detention. As is admitted in the movie, they represent stereotypes: a brain (Anthony Michael Hall), an athlete (Emilio Estevez), a basket case (Ally Sheedy), a princess (Molly Ringwald), and a criminal (Judd Nelson), attended by a contemptible teacher (Paul Gleason). After some initial stereotypical interactions, they start to talk and eventually there are full confessions and an understanding is reached. And yes, it still sounds clichéd, but it's funny and offers insights into both the people and the stereotypes. Nelson is particularly good, managing to make Bender ("the criminal") both reprehensible and sympathetic - but all the actors do well.

I really wonder what people who didn't go to high school in the 80s would see in this - probably nothing at all.

1985, dir. John Hughes. With Anthony Michael Hall, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Paul Gleason, John Kapelos.

Breaking Away

Strange to see this again, 27 years after seeing it in the theatres ... Quaid looks so young, and Stern is pretty funny in a minor role, not yet having fallen into his later stereotype(s). But the main story of this group of four recent high school graduates focuses on Christopher, a talented cyclist who should (perhaps) be in college. Yes sir, another coming-of-age tale ... done with a little more wit, intelligence and compassion than usual. Pretty good.

1979, dir. Peter Yates. With Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Jackie Earle Haley, Robyn Douglass, Barbara Barrie, Paul Dooley.

Breathless (orig. "À bout de souffle")

The movie that probably single-handedly started the French New Wave. Belmondo's character steals a car, and ends up killing a police man. He spends most of his time on the run in Paris flirting with Seberg. The shooting and editing are incredibly choppy - sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. If that's the charm of the movie, I failed to see it.

1960, dir. Jean-Luc Godard. With Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg.

The Breed

Low budget science fiction story about vampires living among us openly. Cop buddy movie with one of the partners being a vampire (Paul) and the other human. I enjoyed it despite it being fairly cheesy.

2001, dir. Michael Oblowitz. With Adrian Paul, Bokeem Woodbine, Ling Bai.


I was interested in this because of what Johnson did after: "The Brothers Bloom" (which I think was a failure, but nevertheless a very interesting one), and "Looper" (which I haven't seen yet, but which has received almost universal acclaim).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan Frye, and the movie opens with him kneeling beside the dead body of a young woman. We flash back and find that Brendan is a high school student adrift after his girlfriend dumped him a couple months previously. He receives a desperate and jumbled call from his ex-, which leads him on a wild chase to save her - and when he's unable to do that, to find out who killed her and who put her in front of the killer.

Essentially film noir except that it's set in a modern day high school, the movie is quite complex and uses highly stylized language. Not current or old slang - just a language of its own. This might have worked better if the sets were more stylized, but they feel like Los Angeles with just a touch of colourization and not much more so I found that the language took me right out of the movie. I liked the idea, I liked that I had to pay attention, and Gordon-Levitt is quite good, but the script kept tossing me back out of my willing suspension of disbelief.

2006, dir. Rian Johnson. With Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas, Noah Fleiss, Matt O'Leary, Emilie de Ravin, Nora Zehetner, Brian J. White, Noah Segan, Richard Roundtree.

Bride and Prejudice

I was a big fan of Chadha's previous film "Bend it Like Beckham," so I wanted to see her Bollywood/British take on Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." Since I've seen four or five versions of "Pride and Prejudice" and read the book (twice?), I'm not even going to try to look at this separately.

Rai plays Lalita Bakshi, the equivalent of Elizabeth Bennet. Shirodkar is her sister Jaya (Jane), Henderson is William (Darcy), Andrews is Mr. Balraj (Bingley), and Gillies is Wickham. The number of sisters in the Bakshi/Bennet family has been reduced from five to four, but we still have Lalita's youngest sister Lakhi/Lydia (Chowdhary) to run off with Wickham. The story is set in modern day Amritsar, London, and Los Angeles.

I think my favourite character has always been the father (Kher) - he's very smart and funny, and just doesn't get enough airtime. But that's not really what the movie is about, just a personal thing. The movie is funny, and while I have to agree with the critics that the musical numbers aren't quite up to Bollywood standards (not as well rehearsed/co-ordinated), they're still quite enjoyable. Overall, a refreshing take on Austen's much-played story.

2004, dir. Gurinder Chadha. With Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson, Naveen Andrews, Namrata Shirodkar, Anupam Kher, Daniel Gillies, Nadira Babbar, Indira Varma, Sonali Kulkarni, Nitin Ganatra, Peeya Rai Chowdhary, Alexis Bledel.

Brideshead Revisited (2008)

A whole bunch of miserable people (Catholic and atheist alike) wallowing about in their badly written guilt. What, precisely, was the point?

Charles Ryder (Goode) plays a young man befriended by the alcoholic and probably homosexual Sebastian Flyte. Ryder falls in love with the Flyte family home of Brideshead, and eventually also falls for Sebastian's sister Julia (Atwell). Thompson plays the extremely religious family matriarch, Lady Marchmain - who initially hopes Charles will be a good influence on Sebastian, despite being a proclaimed atheist. But she later warns him off Julia, who must marry a Catholic. It all ends badly, and without a rewarding moment anywhere.

2008, dir. Julian Jarrold. With Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw, Hayley Atwell, Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon.

The Bridge on the River Kwai

This won seven Academy Awards in 1957, but didn't particularly enchant me in 2004. It's good but not stunning. Being Lean, it's 2h40m - fairly restrained for him. Guinness plays a British officer leading prisoners of war under the Japanese in Ceylon. Holden plays an American unimpressed by Baldwin's determination to live honourably at all costs.

1957, dir. David Lean. With Alec Guinness, William Holden.

The Bridges of Madison County

We start with two adult children meeting a lawyer about their mother's will, then jump back to see (through the children reading journals) the most important time of their mother's life. Streep plays Francesca, a housewife in Iowa who meets a travelling National Geographic photographer (Eastwood) while her husband is away. She shows him around the area, and they fall for each other.

I found it very drawn out. This was intentional, but to me it was kind of tedious. To my surprise, I really liked the ending with the children. But overall, I wasn't too impressed.

1995, dir. Clint Eastwood. With Meryl Streep, Clint Eastwood, Victor Slezak, Annie Corley.

A Brief History of Time

The film opens on a woman talking about someone: happily, most of us will realize that the person being talked about is Stephen Hawking. After all, the movie is titled after his most famous book. But Morris isn't going to tell you who anybody is: people talk, and you guess who they are. The effects are cheap crap and I rather wished they'd passed on them and just stuck with the people talking, but the effects aren't the point of the movie nor are they a huge distraction.

The people and stories chosen paint a fascinating picture of a brilliant but unfocused young man (something Hawking himself admits to) whose ideas and interests come sharply into focus because of his disease. Another piece of that puzzle was added by a colleague (?) who talked about how having to work almost entirely inside his own head (because reading and writing are so problematic for him) meant that Hawking had to develop a unique toolset - and when you have a toolset that no one else in the world has, you make unique discoveries.

A fascinating portrait of possibly the greatest genius of our age - worth a watch if you have the slightest interest in Stephen Hawking. Also a great companion piece to the wonderful "The Theory of Everything," a fictionalized version of his life.

1992, dir. Errol Morris. With Stephen Hawking, Jane Hawking, Isobel Hawking, Janet Humphrey, Mary Hawking, Basil King.


Urban fantasy has come into its own as a written form in the last twenty years, but it's only just beginning to crack the movie market. Wikipedia defines it thus:

Urban fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy in which the narrative has an urban setting. Works of urban fantasy are set primarily in the real world and contain aspects of fantasy, such as the discovery of earthbound mythological creatures, coexistence or conflict between humans and paranormal beings, and other changes to city life. A contemporary setting is not strictly necessary for a work of urban fantasy ...

In the case of Netflix's "Bright" we have a modern day L.A. where there are Orcs and Elves (and a lot of other fantasy creatures, but those are the ones that matter) - and they've been around as long as humans have. (And yet L.A. developed into almost exactly the same city as it is in our world ... I find that a bit improbable.) The credits make it clear that there's a lot of tension between these three dominant races. Will Smith is Daryl Ward, an LAPD officer who's been burdened with the city's first Orc police officer (Nick Jakoby played by Joel Edgerton) as a partner. Orcs are despised by most humans, and Ward's fellow officers seem to particularly hate Jakoby. These reluctant partners go out on patrol and become entangled in a 2000 year old prophecy involving a wand ("this is like a nuclear weapon that grants wishes"), a young female Elf thief, and another particularly malicious Elf who owns the stolen wand (Noomi Rapace - a talented actress completely wasted on a one-note performance).

A "Bright" is a person (of whatever race) who can handle a magic wand. Most Brights are elves, but about one in a million humans are Brights. The problem is - to find out, you have to grab the wand. And if you're not a Bright, you'll quite literally explode.

The movie is set almost entirely in abandoned industrial buildings, and at night - they're not trying to make it pretty. The effects and make-up are very good. It's violent, and not exactly deep: it's essentially a buddy cop movie about a bad night that involves magic, gangs, and typical buddy cop movie bonding. The only thing that sets this apart is that it involves magic and multi-species racism. I think they were trying to make some sort of statement about racism, but it kind of got lost in the haze. Personally, I think the world needs more urban fantasy movies and I enjoyed it for that alone, but this is no masterpiece.

As an aside, the more I think about it the less correct my statement about a dearth of Urban Fantasy movies seems. One particularly obvious entry is the cheesy/wonderful "Highlander," but there are many others like "Underworld" and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." Hell, even the TV show "Bewitched" probably qualifies as Urban Fantasy ...

2017, dir. David Ayer. With Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace, Lucy Fry, Édgar Ramírez, Ike Barinholtz, Happy Anderson, Dawn Olivieri.

Bright: Samurai Soul

This is a 2021 Netflix Japanese Anime movie extending the world of "Bright." Maybe it was big in Japan ... I watched this because, as damaged and shitty as "Bright" was, it had some interesting ideas. I'm guessing this was made in Japan because the movie was more popular there?

This one is a little bit too much to formula - an Orc assassin, a human samurai, and a young elf girl walk into a bar ... What I mean is, just like the last one: orc, human, elf, complete with matching genders. What this one has is gorgeous artwork. Simplified and computer-generated, but beautiful throughout. The story is set during the Meiji restoration, but once again it's about a wand and the Inferni and the Shield of Light fighting it out. And this is another cheesy story. I kind of like the idea of the world - the races, the magic - but it seems like no one has a good story to put in it.

2021, dir. Kyōhei Ishiguro. With Simu Liu, Fred Mancuso, Yuzu Harada, Matt Yang King, Victoria Grace.

A Brilliant Young Mind

Butterfield plays Nathan Ellis, a young teen who's exceptionally good at math. His supportive and understanding father died when he was nine. His mother (Hawkins) is also very supportive, but doesn't understand him quite as well as his dad did. They find a tutor for him in the depressive and slightly foul-mouthed Martin (Spall) who is a former Math Olympiad competitor. Nathan is also recruited to the Math Olympiad, and is sent to training in Taiwan - which pushes him way out of his comfort zone.

Butterfield and Hawkins are both good, but Spall steals every scene he's in and Marsan is also more memorable (as the obnoxious British team coach) than the two leads. Considerably better than your average uplifting-story-of-the-week, but - despite being "based on a true story" or "inspired by a true story" or whatever it is - I enjoyed it but the movie doesn't manage to achieve greatness.

2014, dir. Morgan Matthews. With Asa Butterfield, Rafe Spall, Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Jo Yang, Martin McCann.

Broadchurch, Series 1

"Broadchurch" opens with the death of an 11 year old boy. Before his body is discovered, Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Colman) returns to work to find that the job as Detective Inspector she was assured she would have has gone instead to Alec Hardy (Tennant) - a investigator notorious for the recent failed Sandbrook murder investigation. Now they have a murder investigation - and she's reporting to him. Broadchurch is a small and tightly knit coastal town of 15,000 people in the UK.

I watched the first three episodes (of eight in the first season), and came up with a term for it - "grief porn." It's well written and very well acted, so we get to see this family (and community) suffering - in their living room, in their bedroom, even in their bathroom. As they sob, the camera lingers, comes closer, to ensure you can see the tears rolling down and that you don't miss a moment of anger, frustration, or hurt. Like watching a car wreck, it was hard to look away. But after three episodes I went online to find out who the killer was, because I wasn't up to five more episodes of the soap opera of intimate suffering. Well done, but definitely not my thing.

2013. With David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Jodie Whittaker, Andrew Buchan.

Brokeback Mountain

A good movie that I didn't like, despite having Lee at the helm. Gyllenhaal and Ledger were both excellent.

2005. dir. Ang Lee. With Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Randy Quaid, Anne Hathaway.

Brokedown Palace

Two friends fresh out of high school decide to go on a big adventure together. They end up in Thailand, and an encounter with a friendly Australian leads them on a weekend trip to Hong Kong. They're arrested and thrown in jail when drugs are found in one of their backpacks. Most of the movie is about their time in a Thai jail and their attempts to get out. Not a happy movie, and not particularly good.

1999, dir. Jonathan Kaplan. With Claire Danes, Kate Beckinsale, Lou Diamond Phillips, Jacqueline Kim, Bill Pullman.

Broken Arrow

The premise is fairly simple: two pilots (played by Travolta and Slater) of the "B-3 Stealth Bomber" (a fictional iteration on the B-2) run a top secret exercise with a pair of live nuclear bombs ... only one of the pilots has decided he needs a big pay off and sabotages the mission so that he can steal and sell the bombs. The rest of the movie consists of the second pilot and a Utah park ranger (Samantha Mathis) tangling with the other pilot and his crew, trying to stop the sale and/or detonation. "Broken arrow" is a military term indicating a lost nuclear weapon.

Woo is best known for his gun battles and explosions. And I don't know what was up with Mathis: her acting is off-the-charts awful in this one. Not that it's a great script or anything, but Travolta and Slater have a lot of fun with it. The action is fairly good - over-the-top Woo, but actually slightly more believable than usual. Classic quotes include "I don't know what's scarier, losing nuclear weapons, or that it happens so often there's actually a term for it," and "would you mind not shooting at the thermonuclear weapons?"

1996, dir. John Woo. With Christian Slater, John Travolta, Samantha Mathis, Delroy Lindo, Frank Whaley.

Broken Flowers

It's the journey itself that matters, not the destination, right? Don't expect any answers from this film - but it's an interesting trip, I guess. Murray plays an ageing Don Juan who receives a letter from a woman saying that she had a son, his son, that he didn't know about, 20 years before. Rather involuntarily, he sets off in search of the woman. The word "sparse" comes to mind.

2005, dir. Jim Jarmusch. With Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Julie Delpy, Sharon Stone, Chloë Sevigny, Jessica Lange.

Bronco Billy

Clint Eastwood directed 1980's "Bronco Billy," in which he also played the title character. Bronco Billy is a sharp-shooting cowboy, the leader of an Old West show that goes from town to town putting on a big top show. They're not doing terribly well financially and it doesn't sound like they ever have. Billy's assistants keep quitting (he shoots at them as part of the act) until - rather against her will - they're joined by a snotty heiress (Sandra Locke - Clint's significant other at the time).

The movie is mostly about Bronco Billy - as one might guess from the title. Initially, he seems like just an obnoxious narrow-minded cowboy wannabe with a hell of a temper. But through various badly acted scenes (Eastwood's manly squinting to show his pain has rarely seemed more ill used) we learn that he's a good-hearted man who'll do almost anything for the people he cares about. Locke's acting is only slightly better as her character has her own transformation through the course of the movie. The clichés, styles, and subtle (and not-so-subtle) sexism of the Seventies are very much on display.

A weird slice of Americana with an unsubtle "be what you want to be" message. Despite its flaws I found it kind of fascinating because of the lifestyle and window in time it represented.

1980, dir. Clint Eastwood. With Clint Eastwood, Sandra Locke, Scatman Crothers, Geoffrey Lewis, Bill McKinney, Sam Bottoms, Dan Vadis, Sierra Pecheur.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Season 1

Humour, as I often tell my friends, is a very personal thing. So in recommending a sitcom - who knows how well it will work for anyone else?

Andy Samberg stars as Jake Peralta, a detective at the 99th precinct in New York. The first episode introduces their new captain, Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher). As Sergeant Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews) explains to Holt in the first episode, Peralta is their best detective, "but the one thing he hasn't figured out is how to grow up." Samberg is hilarious, but this is an ensemble cast - and everyone else is very good too.

2013. With Andy Samberg, Melissa Fumero, Stephanie Beatriz, Terry Crews, Joe Lo Truglio, Chelsea Peretti, Andre Braugher, Dirk Blocker, Joel McKinnon Miller.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Season 2

The series slid just a bit further into exaggeration and absurdity - just enough to really put me off, and I stopped watching for a couple months. The scene that did it was when they put a New York City police captain into a chicken costume. But ... it was still funny (if not as good as the first season) so I eventually continued watching.

2014. With Andy Samberg, Melissa Fumero, Stephanie Beatriz, Terry Crews, Joe Lo Truglio, Chelsea Peretti, Andre Braugher, Dirk Blocker, Joel McKinnon Miller.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Season 3

I watched this season in bits and pieces over months, half a year ago. I don't remember anything about it: I thought the first season was really good, but this one clearly wasn't all that funny ...

2015. With Andy Samberg, Melissa Fumero, Stephanie Beatriz, Terry Crews, Joe Lo Truglio, Chelsea Peretti, Andre Braugher, Dirk Blocker, Joel McKinnon Miller.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Season 4

Another unimpressive and only mildly amusing season. I'm really tired of Joe Lo Truglio's turn as Charles Boyle, and sick to death of Chelsea Peretti as their receptionist Gina Linetti. That shtick was funny in the first season, but as time has passed it's become more exaggerated and not funny at all. And in another failure of faith in their own viewers (possibly justified given my apathy toward the show - they did the same thing at the end of season 2), the writers put a couple of main characters in jail at the end of the season so you'd have a reason to come back. That's a practise I really despise. And yet I'm still watching: I guess it's the pandemic, anything that will make me laugh at all will do ...

2016. With Andy Samberg, Melissa Fumero, Stephanie Beatriz, Terry Crews, Joe Lo Truglio, Chelsea Peretti, Andre Braugher, Dirk Blocker, Joel McKinnon Miller.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Season 5

Another unimpressive season, each one a little worse than the last. If not for the pandemic, I wouldn't be watching these. The first season was so good ...

2016. With Andy Samberg, Melissa Fumero, Stephanie Beatriz, Terry Crews, Joe Lo Truglio, Chelsea Peretti, Andre Braugher, Dirk Blocker, Joel McKinnon Miller.

The Brothers Bloom

Steven (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrian Brody) are brothers who have been con artists from roughly the age of 10. It's made clear that Bloom is the actor, always playing roles written by his older brother who is very clearly the leader. Bloom has tried to leave a number of times, but doesn't know what the hell to do with himself when he's away from Steven. Now Steven has assured him "one last con, then we're done." The mark is Penelope (Rachel Weisz), a lonely, charming, eccentric, and staggeringly rich young woman.

The characters and presentation are eccentric. All the leads act well, and I found the movie hysterically funny. Rinko Kikuchi as "Bang Bang," their almost entirely silent explosives expert, brings some of the biggest laughs. Unfortunately, as it builds toward its climax, it becomes fairly clear that it has to end in tragedy, which doesn't sit well at the end of a comedy ... See it for the actors and the humour, but brace yourself for an off ending.

2008, dir. Rian Johnson. With Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz, Mark Ruffalo, Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane, Maximilian Schell.

The Brothers Grimm

Heath Ledger and Matt Damon play the brothers, who make their money scamming people into believing their area is haunted and then they come in and remove the problem - for a fee. They are shortly recruited, involuntarily, to take care of an actual enchanted forest. It's not director Terry Gilliam at his best - typical of Gilliam, he's requested massively over-the-top performances (and a bunch of bad accents), and the ending in particular is irritating, but there's still a lot to enjoy in the movie. It's a great vision of where the Grimm brothers might have started out.

2005, dir. Terry Gilliam. With Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Peter Stormare, Jonathon Pryce, Lena Headey, Monica Bellucci.

Bruce Almighty

Bruce (Jim Carrey) complains at God. God (Morgan Freeman) lets Bruce take over his job temporarily. If you like Carrey, you'll probably like this movie. To me, the only thing that made it worth watching was Freeman, who's a whole lot more charming and has a lot more presence than Carrey. Jennifer Aniston as Bruce's girlfriend was wasted - she's not a great actress, but she's not bad and could have helped.

2003. With Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston.

Bubba Ho-Tep

I was interested to find out only a few days before I watched this film that its director is somewhat notorious for directing bizarre and rather bad (but often cult-following-inducing - notably "Phantasm") horror movies. This one opens with a voice-over by our lead (Campbell) which includes reference to the oozing pustule on his pecker. You can gauge the level of both the dialogue and the general campiness right there. Campbell's character claims he's Elvis, although he arrived in the rest home he lives in under the name of Sebastian Haff, an Elvis impersonator. Since he broke his hip falling off stage, he needs a walker to get around. He eventually teams up with a black man who claims he's John F. Kennedy (Davis) to stop a soul-sucking Egyptian mummy (it sucks the souls of the elderly out through their assholes).

Some critics have viewed this as being more about getting old than a horror-comedy, and there's something to that. However you look at it, there's not really a lot of action (and what there is is low speed, as our "heroes" aren't particularly mobile). It's mostly voice-over and dialogue, nearly all weird. The movie has become something of a cult classic, but while I found it kind of perversely fascinating, I'm pretty sure I won't be watching it again.

2002, dir. Don Coscarelli. With Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy, Larry Pennell, Reggie Bannister, Daniel Roebuck.

The Bucket List

Freeman and Nicholson play two terminal cancer patients who set out to check off items on "the Bucket List," things they want to do before they "kick the bucket." Of course Freeman is an unassuming mechanic, and Nicholson is, well, Nicholson (asshole billionaire without friends in this case) so we're really mixing it up with the elements of a classic buddy movie ... (that's sarcasm) Off they go to the Great Wall, the Pyramids, etc. But of course we bond and get emotional over the more human elements on the list. Two of the better actors in the world today could only bring a modicum of life to this doddering cliché. Perhaps Reiner is feeling his age?

2007, dir. Rob Reiner. With Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicholson, Sean Hayes, Rob Morrow.

Buena Vista Social Club

A charming but not particularly exciting documentary about a group of mostly forgotten Cuban musicians brought together by Ry Cooder to make a (highly successful) album and play a couple concerts.

1999, dir. Wim Wenders.

Buffalo Soldiers

A very cynical movie. What do soldiers do in time of peace? Especially if they're soldiers because the alternative was jail time? Phoenix plays a Ray Elwood, in charge of supplies at a U.S. army base in West Germany just as the Berlin Wall is falling. He steals stuff and deals drugs. But things get ugly when he comes by a large supply of weaponry that he tries to sell, and a new Sergeant appears on base intent on making his life difficult.

2001, dir. Gregor Jordan. With Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Anna Paquin, Elizabeth McGovern, Michael Peña, Leon Robinson.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The concept is a pretty good one: the horror movie cliché of the pretty blonde girl walking into an alley and being slaughtered is turned on its head: Buffy walks into an alley, the vampire(s) die. It has its moments, but the TV series it inspired was actually quite a bit better.

1992. dir. Fran Rubel Kuzui. With Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Luke Perry, Rutger Hauer, Paul Reubens.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 1 (TV)

Put in as a mid-season replacement, Buffy was probably a surprise to the networks. I suppose it should be classified as a "horror-comedy," but it's not actually very horrifying. It is pretty funny though. 12 episodes on four DVDs. The series picks up where the movie left off, with Buffy and her mother in the town of Sunnydale trying to start a new life. She ends up with a team of companions that help her fight evil from episode to episode. I've always been partial to Giles the Librarian, even if it is his last name. The series is better than the movie, and Gellar is definitely a better Buffy.

1997. With Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Head, Nicholas Brendon, David Boreanaz.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 2 (TV)

Darker and funnier than the first season. Season two weighs in at a more regular 22 episodes on six DVDs. While some of the necessities of TV plotting kick in (don't kill off those recurring characters, illogical things from people's pasts haunt them, good people/creatures become evil, evil becomes good, blah blah blah), this is really entertaining stuff.

1998. With Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Head, Nicholas Brendon, David Boreanaz, James Marsters.

A Bug's Life

"A Bug's Life" is the second Pixar movie after their ground-breaking entry into the world of animation, "Toy Story." The movie focuses on Flik (voiced by Dave Foley), who's an ant and an inventor in an ant colony that doesn't appreciate innovation. In an effort to limit the damage he causes the hive, the ruling ants send him away on a mission hoping he'll never return. And so he sets out to find warrior bugs to fight off the invading grasshoppers. What he finds instead are a bunch of circus bugs who he recruits, having mistaken them for fighters. He takes them back to his colony and comedy ensues.

It's an adventure story, it's colourful, it's fun, and it's funny. I would argue that it's actually one of Pixar's lesser properties, having little of the emotional heft of the "Toy Story" series or the underlying adult themes of "The Incredibles."

1998, dir. John Lasseter. With David Foley, Kevin Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Hayden Panettiere, Phyllis Diller, Richard Kind, David Hyde Pierce, Joe Ranft, Denis Leary, Jonathan Harris, Madeline Kahn, Bonnie Hunt, Michael McShane, John Ratzenberger.

Bull Durham

A season in the life of the Durham Bulls, a minor league baseball team. Susan Sarandon is a dedicated groupie, who spends each year with one of the players, who she chooses at the start of the season. Her choice is between the unfocused hotshot new pitcher (Tim Robbins) or the veteran catcher (Kevin Costner) brought in to get Robbins on track. She chooses Robbins, but as the movie proceeds it becomes clear Costner is a much better choice.

About talent, dreams, and sex - not necessarily in that order. The critics loved this one, but I found it mildly amusing at best. It's raunchy as hell if you like that kind of thing.

1988, dir. Ron Shelton. With Susan Sarandon, Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, Robert Wuhl, Trey Wilson, Max Patkin.

Bullet Train

Brad Pitt is "Ladybug" (all of our characters have names like this), an assassin who's been seeing a therapist as his poor luck has caused multiple unintentional deaths. As he's just returning to work, he's been given what he's told is a simple job to grab a briefcase and get off the bullet train at the next stop. Nothing goes as planned, with multiple assassins on the train all working at odds with each other.

As bizarre as this sounds, I'd recommend that if you're not a parent who already has a basic understanding of the main characters in Thomas the Tank Engine, you get yourself such an education before watching the movie. Although "Lemon" (one of our main characters, played by Brian Tyree Henry) does go on at considerable length in the movie describing their characteristics himself.

A couple of us watching the movie made a strong connection to the work of Guy Ritchie (exemplified by "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels") - the surrealistically comedic, clever and fast-paced dialogue, as well as the heavy involvement of luck in most outcomes. Unlike Ritchie though (I've never been much of a fan), I found this movie massively entertaining. Largely because the characters in this movie - despite being hitmen - are often fairly likeable. And the cast list is ... surreal. One warning: it's quite violent. If you don't like violent comedy, you should avoid this.

A second watch confirmed just how entertaining this is, putting it near the top of my list of favourite action-comedy movies.

2022, dir. David Leitch. With Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Benito A. Martínez Ocasio, Sandra Bullock, Zazie Beetz, Logan Lerman, Masi Oka, Karen Fukuhara, Channing Tatum, Ryan Reynolds.

Bulletproof Monk

Terrible, terrible movie. Such a waste of Chow Yun-fat. The idea that Seann William Scott has charisma is completely laughable - I think that's what they were going for, but the guy who played Stifler would have to be a damn fine actor to pull it off, and he isn't. Jaime King was terrible. Chow added a bit of charm and looked pretty good in this tale of an eternally youthful monk protecting a world-shaking Buddhist scroll, but the only redeeming feature I found (and it ain't much) is that huge chunks of the movie were shot in Toronto.

2003, dir. Paul Hunter. With Chow Yun-fat, Seann William Scott, Jaime King.


1968's "Bullitt" was selected in 2007 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." I've been intending to watch it for years partly because of that, but also because it has possibly the best known car chase ever put on film.

The movie is essentially a police procedural, which is of course centred around Lieutenant Frank Bullitt. Steve McQueen plays the part so cool he's only slightly better than dead. He's put in charge of a federal witness for an ambitious politician (Robert Vaughn), but everybody's got their own agenda. The witness himself isn't particularly interested in playing it safe, and since he's stolen from a large crime organisation, people want to kill him.

The whole movie proceeds at a remarkably sedate pace by modern standards - we get to listen to coroner's laundry lists of a corpse's injuries on not one but two separate occasions, even though the list of injuries and technical jargon don't advance the plot except to show you what Bullitt is doing right now. I don't have a particular problem with this (many movies these days are too quickly paced), but it was interesting to notice how differently pacing was handled fifty years ago.

Many things are just handed to us at the beginning of the movie with a big fat "this is how it is," and at the end of the movie multiple things are left unresolved. I don't think there was an intent to make a sequel. The main case is solved and closed (by Bullitt, of course), but the whole movie feels a bit like an episode of something bigger. And the car chase was good, but no longer (in 2018) looks as outstanding as it apparently did then.

1968, dir. Peter Yates. With Steve McQueen, Don Gordon, Robert Vaughn, Simon Oakland, Jacqueline Bisset, Felice Orlandi, Pat Renalla, Carl Reindel, Paul Genge, Bill Hickman, Robert Duvall, Norman Fell, Geong Stanford Brown.


Warren Beatty's magnum opus, stomping all over American politics. Very funny, kind of dark. Beatty plays a politician up for re-election who finds himself representing everything he hated in the political process. He gets a whole bunch of life insurance and then takes out a contract on his own life. Then he proceeds to crash and burn, and starts rapping at political gatherings.

It's bizarre, but hilarious. "All we need is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction. Everybody just gotta keep fuckin' everybody 'til they're all the same color."

1998, dir. Warren Beatty. With Warren Beatty, Halle Berry, Oliver Platt, Don Cheadle.


"Bumblebee" is the sixth of the current series of live action Transformer movies. I was fortunate enough to see it in preview (thanks Christia!). This is the first of the series that wasn't directed by Michael Bay - and the switch to Travis Knight (previously of the excellent "ParaNorman" - Knight was a producer and the lead animator - and the even better "Kubo and the Two Strings" - Knight directed, both with Laika) is a welcome one. The first Bay Transformers movie has always been a guilty pleasure of mine - I've never described it as "good," but it was a lot of fun. The series went from that dubious start to bad, and then even worse. Nevertheless, the people at the multiplexes continued to pour in and keep Bay's loud and unpleasant series in business ...

The first movie was fairly simple - "a boy and his giant robot," with multiple humiliating comedic interludes and a huge fight scene with lot of explosions at the end. This one is "a girl and her giant robot," with multiple slightly less humiliating comedic interludes and a big fight scene at the end. This has a smaller scale and more personal feel than any of the previous movies, and better acting in the form of Hailee Steinfeld. The end result is a comprehensible plot that you may actually care about, and enough action to entertain without overwhelming.

There's not much more to say about the movie, except that I'm not really getting the often glowing reviews it's receiving: it seems to me that critics went expecting Bayhem and were so relieved when they got an actual story that they gushed. It's fun and it's not bad, but some of them seem to be mistaking this for a work of art.

2018, dir. Travis Knight. With Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz, Pamela Adlon, Stephen Schneider, Jason Drucker, Len Cariou.


The movie starts with Lucy (Brittany Snow) and her boyfriend Jose (Arturo Castro) heading for the exit in a Brooklyn subway station, chatting about him meeting her family. But as they approach the exit, someone on fire staggers screaming down the stairs. At the exit, Jose is killed by an explosion. Lucy finds a semi-organized armed force crawling the neighbourhood, and is driven into an uneasy alliance with "Stupe" (Dave Bautista). The two spend the entire movie trying to get across the neighbourhood.

This is essentially a disaster movie: law and order are out the window, and our two heroes take up arms to survive. It's implied - eventually, about 40 minutes into the 90 minute movie - that this is a regional problem only, but it's certainly affecting a large chunk of New York. And the neighbourhood of Bushwick is what the movie looks at. (Although apparently its representation of Bushwick is inaccurate and has locals up in arms.) The movie implied a side-line in social commentary (when the origin of the attacking armed force is revealed), but then completely failed to address the subject.

Bautista puts in a good performance as a damaged but decent man struggling with his own demons. Snow, who's been an actress all her life, fails to keep up with the former wrestler. She's not bad, I just found it interesting that he was doing the better job. They're the only actors that matter on this one, their screen time dwarfs anyone else on this project. The filming is claustrophobic and tense, shooting in an almost found-footage style (happily not shaky-cam). The camera follows them very closely as they try to get one block without dying - as if you're there with them. This stylistic choice is very effective, but overall the movie feels kind of weak and pointless.

Being "pointless" in a social commentary movie about armed warfare? Practically de rigueur. In a disaster movie? Not unheard of. But in an action movie - which is what this most wanted to be? Uncommon and unwanted, and another reason for its failure.

2017, dir. Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion. With Dave Bautista, Brittany Snow, Angelic Zambrana, Jeremie Harris, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Alex Breaux, Arturo Castro.

Bus Stop

A 1956 Marilyn Monroe movie, I thought this would be worth a look for that inclusion alone. I know almost nothing about her beyond the name and the myth.

The movie opens on Beauregard "Bo" Decker (Don Murray) showing off his cowboy skills - roping a calf with considerable speed. He's headed to Phoenix Arizona to compete in a rodeo. Unfortunately - both for him and for us - he's both stupid and socially incompetent. His friend Virgil (Arthur O'Connell) does his best to guide Bo, but Bo's pretty damn unbiddable. Especially after Virgil suggests Bo might want to meet a woman. Bo sees "Chérie" (Monroe) at a cafe, and decides she's the one - whether she wants to be or not. The movie was designed to put Monroe in a skimpy outfit for the entire running time. Chérie isn't exactly the brightest light, nor is she a moral high water mark for the neighbourhood. Bo ropes her (literally at one point) and gets her on the bus to Montana.

The acting is cheesy and overdone, although the script is written in caricatures so the fault isn't entirely with the actors. The whole thing is ham-fisted and cringe-inducing - particularly the punchline. Complete crap.

1956, dir. Marilyn Monroe, Don Murray, Arthur O'Connell, Betty Field.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Famous, but not my thing when I watched it in 2007. Fictionalizes the life of two of the U.S.'s best known Old West bank robbers. Robberies, shooting, machismo, and Bolivia.

1969, dir. George Roy Hill. With Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross.

By the Grace of the Gods, Season 1

This TV series followed what's now a very common chain of events to be produced. It started as a light novel series, then became a Manga series, and is now serialized as an Anime TV series. The series is 12 episodes of about 22 minutes each.

Our main character is Ryoma Takebayashi (voiced by Emily Neves and Chris Rager in the English version). We learn in the first episode that he's 11 years old, has been living alone in the forest for three years taming slimes (and practising magic and some martial arts). He's shortly taken in by a duke's family. And we find out that he was originally a 37 year old Earthling who died of Karoshi (death-by-overwork ... a common enough Japanese malady) and was brought to the world of Seilfall by three gods who liked him - and wanted to borrow some of Earth's magic.

The series is unrelentingly sweet and upbeat. We never see bad people (the closest we ever come is a mention that someone's been embezzling), everyone is lovely. There are many dangerous creatures, but Ryoma is incredibly talented and can take care of pretty much anything. The series is full of life lessons about being nice to strangers, having faith in people, and treating your employees right.

It's a bit creepy that this 37-year-old-in-an-11-year-old body is clearly headed toward a romance with an actually-11-year-old girl (Eliaria Jamil, daughter of the duke's family). The gods explaining to him that he's going to experience "infantile regression" (that's how it was translated into English) - but as he's clearly maintained his old memories and lots of skills from his previous life, this isn't enough to make the implications un-creepy.

According to Wikipedia: "A light novel ... is a style of young adult novel primarily targeting high school and middle school students." I guess this series would make sense for people in that implicit age group - from 11-15? Although I think this would be too squeaky clean for the expectations of North American 14 and 15 year olds, who would probably want at least a little more darkness?

2020. With (English voices) Emily Neves, Chris Rager, Suzie Yeung, Anthony Bowling, Caitlin Glass, Kent Williams, Marissa Lenti, Ciarán Strange, R. Bruce Elliott, Monica Rial, Christopher Guerrero, Derick Snow.


Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton play mother and daughter vampires Eleanor and Clara Webb, each in the neighbourhood of 200 years old. It's established early that most of the current vampire tropes don't apply: they're not super-fast or super-strong, sunlight has no effect on them ... but they do have to consume blood. Eleanor looks 16, and Clara treats her as a child while making money as a prostitute. She's never told Eleanor - who's tired of moving around - that they're being chased.

Some of the cinematography is truly gorgeous. The story is more about a dysfunctional family than vampirism, although arguably their family problems stem from 200 years of failing to communicate. I guess it made its point about moving on when it's (long past) time, and that pain is necessary ... I didn't think it was a particularly good film: too bad given the starring line-up and good performances.

The more I think about the film the more badly constructed it seems: it's implied that there are a number of other vampires, but we only ever meet three. It's stated that they're a society that enacts justice, but we never see anything of the sort. They chase Eleanor and Clara, but that's about their "code." And they attempt to recruit Jonny Lee Miller's Captain Ruthven character, who is one of the most morally reprehensible people in existence - they know it but still try to recruit him. And at the end of the movie there's a betrayal that's telegraphed by the physical set-up of the players, but the motivation of the character is unclear at best. The whole movie feels like this: a muddle of unclear characters, ideas, and motivations.

2012, dir. Neil Jordan. With Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Sam Riley, Jonny Lee Miller, Caleb Landry Jones, Daniel Mays, Tom Hollander.


The Cabin in the Woods

Five young university students (following the tropes, we have the athlete, the promiscuous girl, the stoner, the scholar, and the virgin) take a camper to a cabin in the woods that's owned by the cousin of "the athlete" (Chris Hemsworth). As they travel to the cabin it becomes apparent that their trip is being monitored by an extremely large organization of some sort.

The dialogue is surprisingly good - but then it was written by Joss Whedon (and the director, Drew Goddard). And there's more at work than just a typical horror story: the technicians for the organization are carefully arranging each of the "kills" for a reason. Whedon has a great time turning the horror genre on its head. Reminded me considerably of "Tucker and Dale Versus Evil," another movie that's not precisely horror. This is even gorier.

2012, dir. Drew Goddard. With Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford.

Cadillac Records

A history lesson about Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody), Chess Records, and the rise of Rock and Roll. Chess opened a studio in Chicago, and the colour of your skin didn't matter so long as your records sold. He was also a bit of an equal opportunity exploiter, although he did try to take care of his artists. Fascinating stories of Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Little Walter (Columbus Short), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), and Etta James (Beyoncé Knowles). It's the kind of film you hope is true (as it claims to be). Well acted.

2008, dir. Darnell Martin. With Adrien Brody, Beyoncé Knowles, Jeffrey Wright, Gabrielle Union, Columbus Short, Mos Def, Cedric the Entertainer, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Eamonn Walker.

The Caine Mutiny

An ensemble movie, although Robert Francis is perhaps a bit more at the front than the rest of the cast. He plays a young navy officer assigned to a sloppy ship, initially enthusiastic when the ship is assigned a new captain. That new commander is Philip Francis Queeg, played by Humphrey Bogart. Queeg is detail-oriented, and somewhat worn down by command. Given the title of the movie I guess I'm not giving away much when I say that his ways eventually lead the crew to consider that he may be endangering their lives.

Bogart was fairly good, but I thought the really good performances were by Fred MacMurray, Van Johnson, and José Ferrer.

1954, dir. Edward Dmytryk. With Robert Francis, Humphrey Bogart, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray, José Ferrer, May Wynn, Lee Marvin, Tom Tully.

Cairo Time

Patricia Clarkson plays Juliette Grant, a woman arriving in Cairo to visit her husband who works with the U.N. He's tied up in Gaza and sends his friend Tareq (Alexander Siddig) to pick her up at the airport. As her husband continues to stay away, she sees considerably more of Tareq and a certain amount of attraction grows.

I didn't much like Clarkson's character (we started off badly when she completely failed to prepare herself for Egypt: she clearly didn't bother to research the place she was visiting), and while I thought Siddig was excellent, there's not a lot of plot. It reminded me a lot of "Lost in Translation," but without the humour or the interest. I was good with watching Cairo and Egypt go by, but as a movie ... not really.

The DVD is from "Mongrel Media," and includes both an ad for Egypt tourism that I fast-forwarded through, and an ad for Mercedes Benz - which I could not fast-forward. The DVD also didn't have subtitles. I don't think Mongrel has ever had subs, which I don't like, but the addition of ads - especially ones that can't be skipped - is revolting.

2009, dir. Ruba Nadda. With Patricia Clarkson, Alexander Siddig, Elena Anaya, Amina Annabi, Tom McCamus.

Calendar Girls

Based on a true story, several middle-aged members of the Women's Institute in a small town in Britain decide that their yearly calendar should be more interesting than in the past: they pose (discretely) nude for it, to raise money for a local hospital. Helen Mirren leads a good cast. Funny and charming.

2003, dir. Nigel Cole. With Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, John Alderton, Linda Bassett, Annette Crosbie, Ciarán Hinds.


Take the sex content of your average 70's porno movie, the violence of one of the recent Korean revenge flicks, add a bunch of very well known actors, and edit out any sense of plot continuity while letting the movie run to two and a half hours, and voilà, you have "Caligula." I only managed to watch the first hour, I took to skimming after that - seriously foul stuff.

1979, dir. Tinto Brass, Bob Guccione. With Malcolm McDowell, Teresa Ann Savoy, Guido Mannari, John Gielgud, Peter O'Toole, Giancarlo Badessi, Bruno Brive, Helen Mirren.


Brendan Gleeson plays Father James, priest to the small town of Easkey in Ireland. The movie opens with Father James hearing the confession of a man who explains how he was horribly sexually abused by another priest from the age of seven ... and how he's going to kill Father James one week later, because killing a good priest will send a message.

The rest of the week is laid out as labelled days. We meet his daughter (Kelly Reilly), freshly home from London and a suicide attempt over her latest love affair. And we meet the people of the town as Father James ministers to them. And this is where the movie fell down for me: every town, every priest has some unpleasant or difficult people. I don't question that. But every single person in Easkey (with the exception of a French tourist, and James's daughter, neither of whom actually live there) is bitter, violent, or horrible - sometimes all three. Even as they acknowledge, rather excessively, that Father James is "a good priest" - I suppose to emphasize the writer's initial point about killing a good priest.

The movie is incredibly dark, depressing, and unpleasant. I guess the movie thinks that it offered some hope at the end, but I didn't see it that way. A grim and ugly movie about nasty people, with no real hope for improvement - so not my kind of movie.

2014, dir. John Michael McDonagh. With Brendan Gleeson, Kelly Reilly, Chris O'Dowd, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Isaach De Bankolé, Domhnall Gleeson, Marie-Josée Croze, M. Emmet Walsh.

The Cameraman

I found this movie by looking for Buster Keaton movies and then narrowing it down to the movies he made that actually get some critical respect. This is the first (but not the last) movie he did for MGM. MGM is notorious for taking all creative control from Keaton and essentially destroying his career over the following decade by putting him in a series of cookie-cutter comedies where he and others mugged their way through. But Wikipedia claimed that this movie was still pretty good.

Keaton plays a tintype photographer. After meeting a lovely woman who works at MGM's news division, he decides the way to win her heart is to become a newsreel cameraman. Various hi-jinks and misunderstandings ensue - including Keaton apparently killing an organ grinder's monkey and, having paid for the death, coming into possession of the merely stunned monkey who of course causes him further problems.

I didn't think that this lived up to Wikipedia's opinion of it - I got maybe one laugh out of the whole thing. It seemed like a series of unsuccessfully contrived situations for Keaton and others to mug, and even Keaton's talent for falling down doesn't really get much of an opportunity to shine. Not his best. If you don't know who he is, start with "Sherlock Jr."

1928, dir. Edward Sedgwick, Buster Keaton. With Buster Keaton, Marceline Day, Harold Goodwin, Sidney Bracey, Harry Gribbon.

A Canterbury Tale

Three strangers get off a train in the town of Chillingbourne. As they walk to the centre of town, someone dumps glue into the hair of the young woman and rushes off. And so we have our central mystery, and a charming movie that moves at a glacial pace. I found it interesting for its portrayal of World War II Britain (filmed during the war!), but the characters are appealing, and the dialogue is both intelligent and charming. The three each work toward their own goals, but also keep their eyes open and work to figure out who "The Glue Man" is, as he's done this multiple times in a rather small town. The big climax of the movie is in the nearby town of Canterbury and its cathedral. I think what astonished me most was a walk around Canterbury: dozens of holes in the ground where buildings used to be, each with large careful signs explaining where that business had relocated to. Life goes on even in the face of devastating bombing.

Those familiar with period films will be less surprised that this is well done if I name the directors: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

1944, dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. With Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, Dennis Price, Sgt. John Sweet.

The Cannonball Run

A bit of a strange beast, this is a huge cast screwball comedy, 40 years past the main era of screwball comedies.

The movie is based on the "Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash," an unofficial and probably illegal cross-country race run several times in the U.S. The movie opens by introducing us to our various eccentric characters, spending more than half an hour on that. We spend most of our time during the race with the ambulance driven by Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise, who use Jack Elam as a Doctor decoy and Farrah Fawcett as a patient. Other drivers include the team of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., who are dressed as priests, Adrienne Barbeau and Tara Buckman driving a Lamborghini Countach and using their cleavage to get out of speeding tickets, Jamie Farr as a sheik driving a Rolls Royce, Roger Moore as, well, a parody of Roger Moore, and Jackie Chan and Michael Hui as Japanese (huh? Chan is from HK ...) Mitsubishi drivers.

An interesting side-note: Wikipedia claims that Chan has said that the bloopers shown during the closing credits are what caused him to start doing that in nearly all his movies.

1981, dir. Hal Needham. With Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Farrah Fawcett, Jack Elam, Adrienne Barbeau, Tara Buckman, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Tillis, Roger Moore, Jackie Chan, Michael Hui, Jamie Farr.

The Canterville Ghost

The movie opens in the seventeenth century with Charles Laughton as Sir Simon de Canterville. An act of cowardice sees him cursed to haunt the family castle until a relative performs an act of bravery. We move to 1943, when a group of American Rangers are housed at the castle, awaiting deployment in France. They're greeted by Lady Jessica de Canterville (the six year old Margaret O'Brien) who tells them the story of the ghost. One of the Rangers is Cuffy Williams (Robert Young), who turns out to be a direct descendant of the de Canterville family.

Based on a story by Oscar Wilde (although I doubt he envisioned the involvement of Nazis). If the idea of a cowardly ghost hasn't tipped you off, this is mostly a comedy. Laughton is fun as the ghost, O'Brien is staggeringly cute as Lady Jessica (she was apparently a popular and prolific child star), and Young is appealing as the man carrying both the movie and the fate of the family. Charming and funny.

Fans of this would probably also enjoy "I Married a Witch."

1944, dir. Jules Dassin. With Charles Laughton, Robert Young, Margaret O'Brien, William Gargan, Reginald Owen, Rags Ragland, Una O'Connor, Donald Stuart, Elisabeth Risdon, Frank Faylen.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Evans plays Steve Rogers, a short, thin, and unhealthy young man on the eve of the U.S. entry into World War II. Utterly determined to join the army, he applies at five different places until he's evidently allowed in for "heart," and put in a "super soldier" program. Which magically doubles his weight and triples his muscle mass, or something like that.

Evans is good in the lead and his team-mates have fun. The rah-rah patriotism gets a little old, but Evans, Atwell, and to a lesser extent Jones, carry it on personality. Not a great movie, but immensely enjoyable.

2011, dir. Joe Johnston. With Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Stanley Tucci.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Evans returns as Steve Rogers aka Captain America, living in Washington D.C. and an employee of S.H.I.E.L.D. We first see him running laps at the Mall, where he passes Sam Wilson (Mackie) several times, and they become friends. Rogers' disagreements with S.H.I.E.L.D.'s pre-emptive kill plans is highlighted before things get really ugly.

The dialogue is excellent: Black Widow and Captain America bantering about who he should date is hilarious. And "The Winter Soldier" is an effective and menacing enemy for the Captain (although I'm awfully tired of Marvel's reliance on brainwashing ...). But the plot is less well done: most of the critics love this thing, and it's not bad, but Marvel has a problem of scale: they seem to think they have to endanger the entire world and draw in a dozen superheroes with every movie they make now. That's fun occasionally (the first "The Avengers") but having smaller scale movies with more personal stories isn't just a good idea, it's a necessity. This one should have been smaller - a lot smaller.

2014, dir. Anthony and Joe Russo. With Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Emily VanCamp.

Captain America: Civil War

The plot points in the first hour of this movie are delivered like plodding hammer blows.

  • Bucky is the Winter Soldier.
  • Under mind control he has done many evil things.
  • Some evil guy called Zemo wants to control him.
  • Steve Rogers/Captain America is still determined to free/save Bucky.
  • Tony Stark feels guilty about the things he didn't say to his parents before they abruptly died.
  • The Avengers have induced a lot of collateral damage in saving the world.
  • Tony Stark is made to feel guilty about a death in Segovia.
  • The Black Panther is mad because his Dad the King was killed.
  • the U.N. thinks the Avengers are dangerous and should have an oversight committee.

The delivery of this information is incredibly work-man-like, with about as much poetry and appeal as the process of bulldozing a lot before raising a house.

I was pretty offended by the "you killed lots of people in Segovia" thing: in "The Avengers: Age of Ultron," we saw the Avengers saving every single person. They made a big deal of it, and we were never shown anyone dying (except one of the heroes). So to say they killed lots of people is essentially saying "we lied about what happened in the last movie."

The Avengers and associated heroes split into two camps: those who think they should be controlled by the U.N., and those who think they should continue to remain at large and control their own destiny. There's wrangling, there are fights, alliances are tested and occasionally changed. There are more fights. And it's not drama anymore, it's just ... soap opera. Just as the comics they're based on are perpetual soap opera, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has inevitably devolved to that same state: "we don't want to kill off our main players, we'll have them injured, we'll have different teams fight each other. And next week we'll have half of them swap sides and do it again." Has some very funny dialogue, but that's not a saving grace. The failures of logic surrounding Zemo's actions are massive.

I'm running against the critics on this one (they loved it), but I think this is a major stumble for the MCU and the beginning of the end. Undoubtedly I'll see many of the MCU movies that will follow, and I'm sure a few of them will be good, but I think it's mostly downhill from here.

2016, dir. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. With Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Daniel Brühl, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Frank Grillo, William Hurt.

Captain Blood

Errol Flynn plays Peter Blood, a former military man and doctor accused of treason because he treated the injuries of a rebel. As a result, he's sent as a slave to Jamaica. There he forms a motley crew of other slaves (all white) and steals a ship. Within a couple years they're the most infamous and successful pirate crew in the Caribbean.

There are movies that are "classics" that still hold power today ("Casablanca" comes to mind, also directed by Michael Curtiz). This is not one of those movies. It was very successful in the theatres and it's the movie that made Flynn a star, but from a remove of 80 years all I really see is a handsome man posturing and posing. The most memorable pose is, of course, the poster-ready noble-looking-skywards-profile, and he does it so well.

The movie is by modern action movie standards incredibly slow-paced: it's more than an hour before there's anything that could conceivably be called a physical altercation. Prior to that we're establishing characters and politics ... and not doing it terribly well as the acting isn't good. I was also fascinated by the whole "righteous man" / "wrongly accused" thing, and how that fits with being a pirate.

1935, dir. Michael Curtiz. With Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Ross Alexander, Lionel Atwill, Guy Kibbee.

Captain Marvel

Vers (played by Brie Larson) is a Kree warrior, her mentor and trainer is Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). The Kree are at war with the Skrulls, who are evil shapeshifters led by General Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). The war against the Skrull take Vers, Yon-Rogg, and the rest of their crew to planet "C-53" (aka "Earth," circa 1995) where Vers begins to realize that she may have had a life among the humans. This begins a series of reversals and a deeper understanding of herself. And of course she meets a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, de-aged for the part) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg, also de-aged).

The movie is charming, funny, and entertaining - and introduces us to a hero with powers on par with Superman (even if that's a DC character). But there are a lot of frustrations about the movie: the biggest and most obvious being that "Avengers: Endgame" is already in theatres, and it feels like all this is just back-story before "Endgame" landed. "Hey, none of the current Avengers can challenge Thanos, we need to fill that slot - time to put 'Captain Marvel' in the microwave to thaw her out." "Oh, and make her a woman - we need more of those." (Mar-Vell has been both genders over the years: they chose the more politically correct one ... a bit late at 20 movies into the franchise.) My second biggest frustration is that Jackson is 70 years old, and he damn well runs and fights like it. They can fix his face in post, but they should have got a body double for the two scenes where he "runs" (more of a crooked jog). Finally, this just isn't their best movie. Yeah, it's fun, but it's not deep, and more than anything it just feels like prep for "Endgame" rather than its own movie.

2019, dir. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. With Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Lashana Lynch, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg.

The Captains

A documentary under the auspices of Movie Central / The Movie Network, in which William Shatner jets about interviewing all the other Captains from the Star Trek franchise - up to and including the new James T. Kirk from the 2009 "Star Trek" reboot.

Shatner is a mediocre-to-weird interviewer who likes to talk about himself. Be prepared for a movie that's almost half Shatner. Scott Bakula's big into musicals. Kate Mulgrew is as wound-up as her on-screen character. Patrick Stewart said some interesting things about his life. Avery Brooks is off-the-charts weird. Chris Pine was charming but a bit dull. And Shatner went to where he started, the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, where he threw in some Canadian content by interviewing Christopher Plummer - who didn't play a captain, but did have a major part in "The Undiscovered Country."

Brooks and Shatner singing to each other over Brooks' playing jazz piano was either the high point or the low point of the movie - in fact, it may have been both. An interesting movie for dedicated Trekkies, but not for anyone else.

2011, dir. William Shatner. With William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, Chris Pine, Christopher Plummer.


This was a terribly frustrating movie for me - I desperately wanted to like it because Pixar has produced such excellent movies in the past ("Toy Story," "Finding Nemo," "The Incredibles ..."), but this doesn't live up to that. Instead, I found some hysterically funny moments embedded in a sickly sweet syrup of American family values. Pixar has always delivered family values, but in a more subtle, much more palatable form. And, unfortunately, Larry the Cable Guy does get to deliver several bodily function noises. Despite which there are some truly inspired moments: the Ahhnold SUV, Jay Limo the talk show host, the Japanese news show, the passing reference to Pixar's own short "For the Birds," ditto with "ET," and the truly inspired closing credits (reminiscent of the equally brilliant closing credits in Lasseter's own "A Bug's Life" and "Toy Story 2").

Since writing the above I've bought the DVD, and, while it's mostly true, it's pretty harsh. It's a very funny, very enjoyable movie (but yes, it is sickly sweet).

2006, dir. John Lasseter. With Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, Paul Newman, Cheech Marin, Tony Shalhoub.

Cars 2

I've never reviewed a full-length movie on 15 minutes of footage before. This is a reminder for myself (all of these reviews are, but some of the others might actually be helpful to others) that I did give this one a try. This movie looks very pretty, with gorgeous animation supporting the adventures of a James Bond-like spy car, followed by Lightning McQueen's return to Radiator Springs to see his friends. But the writing is incredibly insipid, plodding through the spy stuff by the numbers and then playing up Mater's cluelessness without actually hitting a single comedic note. Most direct-to-DVD authors would be embarrassed by this script.

In a way, seeing this was a relief. Pixar has finally done a bad movie. It made me sad too, but a bad movie from Pixar was inevitable, and I'm glad that's out of the way. Now we won't expect the world from them every time.

2011, dir. John Lasseter and Brad Lewis. With Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Jason Isaacs, Thomas Kretschmann, Eddie Izzard.

Cars 3

I wasn't initially a fan of the original "Cars" movie: I thought it was overly sentimental and not as funny as Pixar's best work. But in the end I became a fan: they make a virtue of the sentimentality, and I can enjoy that occasionally. But "Cars 2" I never got through: it's generally regarded as Pixar's worst movie, and after 20 minutes I had to stop watching. "Cars 3" holds onto the sentimentality (in a big way), and reminds me more of the remarkably pedestrian and weak "Planes" than the original "Cars."

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), after seven years of Piston Cup wins, is finding himself being out-raced by new rookies with the very latest technology. To overcome this, he finds a trainer (Cristela Alonzo), a new training facility, and a new training philosophy. But they keep the old friends: Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), Sally (Bonnie Hunt), and several of the others return from the previous movies - although a big point is made of the death of Doc Hudson (Paul Newman - whose voice is used a great deal despite his being dead).

The critics thought fairly well of this one, with the "Critical Consensus" on Rotten Tomatoes being "Cars 3 has an unexpectedly poignant story to go with its dazzling animation, suggesting Pixar's most middle-of-the-road franchise may have a surprising amount of tread left." It's a fairly sweet story aimed at kids ... but Pixar's best (and these days other studios are managing it too) also nail adults right where they live, and this one fails at that.

2017, dir. Brian Fee. With Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Armie Hammer, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Nathan Fillion, Lea DeLaria, Kerry Washington.


A truly great movie. The main character is Rick (Humphrey Bogart), the owner of "Rick's Café Américain" in Casablanca, a disillusioned man who "sticks his neck out for nobody." This is Casablanca in 1941(?), a purgatory, marginally safe ground during the Second World War that people flee to while trying to escape to America. Rick's life is badly shaken with the appearance of Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), the love of his life - who has her politically active husband with her and is looking for safe passage. The story is great, but what really makes it work is good cinematography, good acting, and a sly wit. It's also the origin of several iconic quotes in modern society: "Play it again, Sam," (even though nobody ever actually said that in the movie), "Here's looking at you, kid," and "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

1943, dir. Michael Curtiz. With Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre.

Casino Royale (2006)

The Bond movies have always been financially successful, but almost never critically so. After a wave of franchises re-inventing themselves (Batman, Superman ...) the Bond group decided to have a shot at it. New Bond, less reliance on technological toys and bad puns, very good action, a real sense of danger in what Bond is doing, and real live acting and emotion add up to an excellent movie. I was particularly impressed with the parkour (the chase through the construction site) near the beginning, and the scene when he breaks into M's house (also early on). It shows remarkably well that she's dealing with a group of men (the "double-0s") who are extremely capable, above the law (she put them there), extremely dangerous, and borderline psychopaths. Not a view of Bond we've had before. And because this is the very start of his career we see him change from someone almost human into the character we know (when has Bond every changed before?). And there's a very real possibility he could leave the service or even die. This is the best of the Bonds - by a wide margin.

2006, dir. Martin Campbell. With Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench.


A blatant triumph of style over substance ... unfortunately even the "style" is already looking a bit weak as it's mostly 2003 CG graphics (I watched it in 2018). The movie is based on a 35 episode Anime TV series. Movies based on Anime series or Manga tend to A) assume you already know the mythology, and B) try to compress nearly all the content - without trimming - into a two hour package. This movie certainly suffers from both these problems. All kinds of weird and non-sensical things happen, but my personal favourite is the four neo-humans arriving at an abandoned castle - where they find an utterly massive robot army available for them to turn against their enemies. No explanation of that is ever given, it just is. The movie presents as science fiction, but it also has ghosts and multiple unexplained (and pivotal) alchemical happenings.

It seemed fairly clear that it was an anti-war statement, while duly noting that it's very hard to break the cycle of hatred and revenge killing. But it's long and makes no damn sense and no longer looks very good because CG has advanced so much in the past 15 years.

2004, dir. Kazuaki Kiriya. With Yusuke Iseya, Kumiko Asô, Toshiaki Karasawa, Mayumi Sada, Jun Kaname, Susumu Terajima, Akira Terao.

Cast Away

Tom Hanks is a workaholic FedEx employee who's the sole survivor of a plane crash. He's stranded on a deserted island for several years. Too long, somewhat overblown, but an excellent performance by Hanks.

2002. dir. Robert Zemeckis. With Tom Hanks.

Casting By

The movie is primarily about the rise of the Casting Director as a prominent position in Hollywood, although it does a sideline in being a hagiography about Marion Dougherty.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Hollywood studios had stars on contract and casting - such as it was - was done by seeing who was available and who would be the biggest box office draw in the title role. Didn't matter that the character didn't fit the actor's style, put that round peg into that square hole ...

Marion Dougherty started arranging minor characters for TV in the 1950s. In the 1960s she was working in Hollywood as a Casting Director, fitting actors to roles she thought would suit them as the contract casting model fell apart. The movie interviews dozens of famous directors and actors to sing her praises, directors saying they couldn't have done it without her, actors saying they'd never have broken through without her. The latter seemed rather superfluous: they didn't interview people who she didn't cast, only the most successful of those she did cast. They interviewed only one director (Taylor Hackford) who downplayed the role of Casting Director, apparently as an incredibly weak attempt to show both sides of the argument - so instead Hackford came off seeming like a villain.

It was educational about the role of casting in movies, but the excessive love it showed for Dougherty (even if much of it was justified, which is hard to tell from within a movie so in love with her) was a little sickening.

2012, dir. Tom Donahue. With Woody Allen, Ned Beatty, Jeff Bridges, Glenn Close, Robert De Niro, Richard Donner, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Duvall, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Taylor Hackford, Paul Haggis, Arthur Hiller, Norman Jewison, Diane Lane, John Lithgow, Bette Midler, Al Pacino, Robert Redford, John Sayles, Martin Scorsese, Cybill Shepherd, Oliver Stone, John Travolta, Jon Voight, Paula Weinstein.

Castle in the Sky

Another surreal and beautiful world from Hayao Miyazaki, carrying many of his favourite themes: caring for nature, young girls coming of age (although the male character is equally important - unusual in a Miyazaki movie), and lots of flying things. All the characters are well developed and entertaining, and the visuals are fantastic. A great movie.

Anna Paquin's voicing and pseudo-British accent as the main female character was horrible. I would have listened to the Japanese audio anyway, but that sealed the deal.

1986, dir. Hayao Miyazaki. With Anna Paquin, James van der Beek.

The Castle of Cagliostro

Brings the famous anime character (and, further back, a famous French literary character) Lupin III to the big screen. I was interested in this because it was directed by Hayao Miyazaki early in his career, but nothing about it really shows his touch. It's conventional, passable anime.

2021-01: a rewatch shows that it's goofy fun, with a few of Miyazaki's later signature elements. Most notably an autogyro - he always has flying. And some very pretty visuals, although the animation is very low rent: low frame rate, frequent still shots with only one or two small things moving. Not recommended, but possibly fun during the pandemic - available along with his other, better stuff on Netflix.

1979, dir. Hayao Miyazaki.

Castles in the Sky

Not to be confused with "Castle in the Sky," a Hayao Miyazaki movie that I also have an interest in. This is a BBC TV movie, the story of the invention of radar by Sir Robert Watson-Watt prior to and during the Second World War.

Watson-Watt was a meteorologist, but in the mid-1930s he came up with the idea that you could detect incoming aircraft by bouncing radio waves off of them. With the rise of Hitler and his massive production of military planes, the British War Ministry decided (reluctantly, according to the film) to get Watson-Watt to develop this idea. The movie follows his efforts with a team of other "weather men" and "outsiders" to make their product work as envisioned. Drama is developed (after a fashion) by putting them in conflict with their superiors at the war office who want "real scientists" working on the project, or want the money for more offensive war machinery. And also by having Watson-Watt's marriage fall apart.

They play up that he's a "weatherman" and entirely ignore his background to make him seem the opposite of the Oxford scientists that the war ministry threatens to replace him with - but Watson-Watt did in fact have a very strong engineering background. His marriage did fall apart, although I don't know if it was during the period he was working on this, or because of it. As other critics have pointed out, just because an event is historically significant doesn't make it dramatically significant: Robert Watson-Watt seems to have been a charming, very intelligent, and decent guy, but perhaps not dramatically rewarding. And I have no doubt that the development of radar was a huge struggle full of set-backs, but most of the struggles presented to us were manufactured and not terribly interesting. Eddie Izzard does a great job in the lead (in what may be his first entirely straight role ever?) with good support from a number of the other actors, with one notable exception. I quite like Tim McInnerny, but he seemed like a particularly poor choice as Winston Churchill: he's too tall (18 cm taller than Churchill), not fat enough, and mostly sounded like a frat boy trying to imitate Churchill's speech patterns. Happily, he's not on screen much. In the end a poor story only barely worked for me because I was fascinated by the (limited) technical details of the history.

2014, dir. Gillies MacKinnon. With Eddie Izzard, Laura Fraser, Alex Jennings, David Hayman, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Karl Davies, Tim McInnerny, Iain McKee, Joe Bone.

Castlevania Season 1

"Castlevania" started out as an "action-adventure gothic horror video game series." That's Wikipedia's classification, and they carry on to say "It is one of Konami's most critically acclaimed franchises and also one of the best-selling of all time." Konami released approximately a game a year from 1986 through 2014. In 2017, Netflix released the first season of this animated TV series based on the video games.

This season consists of only four episodes, each about 25 minutes in length. The first one lays out Dracula - who's very good with technology - falling for and eventually marrying a female (human) scientist. This doesn't end well, and Dracula basically unleashes Hell on Earth. Even not knowing the video games, it was really clear at the end of the fourth episode that we'd just met the trio that will lead the crusade to save humanity and defeat Dracula. The whole first season - admittedly short - was just ... setup? The equivalent of the game video intro. Yup.

Low rent animation (lots of still shots, or shots with only one small moving element) is combined with reasonably good artwork and a lot of blood. The series has swearing, there's lots of gore, there's definitely the implication of sex, and some sort-of adult themes ... and yet it still feels like it's aimed at kids (it's the logic, and the way that the adults interact that gives this impression) even though it would be inappropriate for them.

Despite my complaints, I was kind of enjoying it. I'll get into the second season (which is considerably longer) and see how that goes.

UPDATE: the first two episodes of the second season introduced a plethora of new vampiric characters, and the whole thing felt ... silly. I probably won't continue.

2017, dir. Sam Deats, Adam Deats, Spencer Wan. With Richard Armitage, James Callis, Graham McTavish, Alejandra Reynoso, Tony Amendola, Matt Frewer, Emily Swallow.

Casual Sex?

A movie about two women looking for the titular "casual sex." Or so they claim, and promptly go look for regular relationships. This is supposed to be a comedy, but for those with any memory of the Eighties, the presence of Andrew Dice Clay in a major role should tell you just how funny it is. We didn't take the warning, and sat through an hour and a half of tripe.

1988, dir. Geneviève Robert. With Lea Thompson, Victoria Jackson, Stephen Shellen, Jerry Levine, Andrew Dice Clay.

A Cat in Paris

The two major characters are Zoé and Nico. Zoé is a young girl who has been silent since her policeman father was killed - her mother is also with the city police department. Nico is a cat burglar, who's connected to Zoé by the cat they share (although neither of them knows it). The cat lives with Zoé during the day, and goes with Nico on his burglaries at night. Zoé's and Nico's lives get tangled together when Zoé follows the cat to find out where it goes at night - and Nico's adventures take her too close to the violent criminal who killed her father.

The run-time is very short at 65 minutes (including the credits). I didn't much like the style of animation (blocky and scratchy), but some critics love it so that's very much a matter of personal taste. However, I'm definitely acquiring a taste for French animated kids' movies (see also "Phantom Boy" and "My Life as a Zucchini"). They retain the North American habit of making villains less threatening than they would probably be in real life, but they dispense entirely with "cutesy" and also tend to address things from a more mature viewpoint than would be expected in an American kids movie.

I didn't like the animation ... but I enjoyed the story and characters quite a bit.

2010, dir. Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol. With Jean Benguigui, Bruno Salomone, Dominique Blanc, Bernadette Lafont, Bernard Bouillon, Oriane Zani, Jacques Ramade, Jean-Pierre Yvars, Patrick Descamps.

Catch-22 (2019)

It's been many, many years since I read the book. I remember liking it, although I think I was young enough that I saw more humour than darkness. This is very fucking dark - and apparently very accurate to its source material (I'm too far removed from my reading of the book to be sure of that).

This is a six part TV series, each episode running 45-50 minutes.

Christopher Abbott is Lieutenant John Yossarian, a bombardier in the United States Army Air Force assigned to Italy. He chose the position of bombardier as one that required training so long he assumed the war would be over before he reached the front, but he was wrong. Now the Germans are trying to kill him and every time he gets near the mission limit that would get him sent home, the mission limit is raised. He tries a number of stratagems to get out of his duties, but he inevitably ends up back on a mission. And as the war proceeds, he watches as war brings out the worst in a number of people, and many of his friends die.

It's very well done, it's good ... and it was way too damn dark to be watching in the middle of COVID-19. I needed something more up-beat ...

2019, dir. George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Ellen Kuras. With Christopher Abbott, Kyle Chandler, Daniel David Stewart, Rafi Gavron, Graham Patrick Martin, Lewis Pullman, Austin Stowell, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky, Gerran Howell, Hugh Laurie, Giancarlo Giannini, George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Kevin J. O'Connor.


One of the most notoriously awful movies of the last 25 years, and the winner of four Razzies. Those are Golden Raspberries for the worst in film - in this case, Picture, Actress, Director, and Screenplay. I think it should have got one for worst special effects and/or worst fight choreography, but I'm a little late to the discussion since it came out in 2004. (Reviewed in 2017.)

Patience Phillips (Halle Berry) is an advertising artist at a beauty products company. She finds out too much about the not-entirely-safe product the company is about to launch, and is killed. But she's reborn as Catwoman. The story from there is inevitable: she solves the mystery and defeats the evil.

The problem is ... well, everything. The script is crap. Half the scenes are cringe-inducing (which is actually less than I expected after how often I'd heard about this movie ...). Berry is incredibly campy as Catwoman, but never does a single stunt: she's always replaced by blatantly obvious CG. Her outfit is particularly notorious: a skimpy, ludicrous, and surprisingly unflattering leather thing that probably inspired her equally silly hip-swinging walk. Benjamin Bratt plays the beefcake cop caught between the unassuming Patience and the very assertive Catwoman - he gets the least-bad dialogue.

Might be entertaining if you were really drunk, but I doubt it.

2004, dir. Pitof. With Halle Berry, Benjamin Bratt, Lambert Wilson, Frances Conroy, Alex Borstein, Sharon Stone.

The Cat and the Canary

Based on a play, the movie is about the reading of a will at a British mansion in the country. The attendees are unpleasant and in some cases at each other's throats, and the will doesn't help. They must stay in the mansion overnight, complicated by the possible presence of an escaped mental asylum inmate in the area. Tries to be both scary and funny, but succeeds in neither.

1979, dir. Radley Metzger. With Carol Lynley, Michael Callan, Olivia Hussey.

Cat Ballou

Cat Ballou (Jane Fonda) is a proper young woman, just educated to be a school teacher and now being sent back to the "Wild West" to the town where her father is a rancher. But this is a comedy more than a Western, and we're frequently accompanied throughout the picture by a Greek Chorus, Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye, who play banjos and sing fill-in material between scenes.

Ballou falls for a charming outlaw (Michael Callan) on the train home, and inadvertently assists in his escape from custody. On her return home she finds her father is being harassed by the local town who want the land rights to his farm. She hires the gunfighter and author of her favourite Western novels (Lee Marvin) to protect her father, but when he arrives he turns out to be an alcoholic. A particularly dark event (that doesn't fit at all with the tone of the rest of the movie, and is glossed over so the comedy can continue) turns her to train robbery, and leaves her headed to the gallows - which the chorus informs us of in the first couple minutes of the movie. At best mildly funny.

1965, dir. Elliot Silverstein. With Jane Fonda, Lee Marvin, Tom Nardini, Michael Callan, Dwayne Hickman, John Marley, Jay C. Flippen, Nat King Cole, Stubby Kaye.

The Cat Returns (orig. "Neko no ongaeshi")

The title refers to the appearance of a very similar cat character in "Whisper of the Heart," another anime movie.

Haru is a young woman lacking in self-assurance. When she saves a cat about to be run over by a truck, she finds herself offered the rewards for saving the son of the King of Cats - including being taken permanently to the Kingdom of Cats and marrying the prince in question. She's not entirely sure this is what she wants to do, and with some very odd assistance she attempts to sort things out.

While not a Hayao Miyazaki movie, this comes from the same studio (Ghibli) and that influence is obvious in both the primary setup and the attention to detail. I found much of it quite charming (and funny), but it was never as compelling as Miyazaki's best. It's a good start for a young director, probably worth watching.

2002, dir. Hiroyuki Morita. With Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Elliott Gould, Peter Boyle, Tim Curry.

Catch Me If You Can

Biography (of sorts) of a very good and very young con man, Frank Abagnale Jr. Quite a good movie, very well put together.

2002. dir. Steven Spielberg. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken.


A documentary (more or less) about a young photographer (Yaniv, aka "Nev") in New York City who receives a painting of one of his photos by Abby, an eight year old girl - a very good painting. He's soon entangled in a relationship with several people in her family on Facebook ... Including heading for an intimate relationship with Abby's older half-sister.

Nev's two office mates (or is it flat-mates?) are filmmakers, and they start filming him about his relationship with Abby. They eventually decide to head out to Michigan to meet this family, and everything goes monumentally sideways. Nobody dies, nothing horrible, it's just ... not what it appears. A weird movie about the state of identity and trust in the age of Facebook.

2010, dir. Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman. With Nev Schulman, Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, Angela Pierce, Vince Pierce, Abby Pierce.

The Cell

A visual extravaganza, lurid and bizarre. Jennifer Lopez isn't much of an actress, although she did better than I expected. She plays a psychologist using an experimental process to enter the mind of people in a coma. She's asked to enter the mind of a serial killer to try to find the location of his last victim before the victim dies. I thought they did a good job with some of the wild visuals for the mindscapes, but ultimately the plot doesn't support it very well. May be worth seeing if you have a fascination with extraordinary cinematography. This was Tarsem Singh's first movie (he had previously done music videos) and it demonstrated his extraordinary visual flair - and lack of grasp of both actors and plot.

2000. dir. Tarsem Singh. With Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D'Onofrio.


About two minutes of intro and no extro at all, just action from end to end. Kidnapped woman manages to make a (long-lasting) phone call to a random guy (Chris Evans) on his cell phone, and his attempts to help her lead him into random acts of ... well, violence. Some major logical flaws surrounding the phone calls, but if you can ignore that it's not too bad.

2004, dir. David Ellis. With Chris Evans, Kim Basinger, Jason Statham, William H. Macy.

Cemetery Man

The original Italian title was "Dellamorte Dellamore" which apparently means something like "of death, of love." I watched this because I'd read it was based on the same material as "Dylan Dog." It appears to be more accurate to say that it's based on material by the same author, Tiziano Sclavi (and the Dylan Dog graphic novel was drawn with Dylan looking like Rupert Everett). This deals with the undead, but beyond that the similarity is almost non-existent. I didn't think I'd be able to find a movie this obscure ... but guess what, it's on YouTube (blurry and low quality, but if that's all you can get ...).

I've never seen a Giallo film. So for me to say this has something in common with the Giallo genre is somewhat suspect. But it's definitely a bloody horror comedy film from Italy, with significant elements of eroticism, perversity, and plain old-fashioned craziness.

Rupert Everett plays Francesco Dellamorte, the caretaker of the graveyard in the small Italian town of Buffalora. (Of course, in an Italian-French-German production set in an Italian town, everyone speaks the language of the star ... English.) Francesco has a problem: the dead often rise from their graves within seven days of burial. But he patrols at night and puts them back in the earth. His helper Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro) has only one word in his vocabulary, although Francesco comprehends entire sentences in that word. And he keeps crossing paths with a gorgeous woman (Anna Falchi) who loves him - as he loves her - but she keeps dying.

It was fascinating in a perverse sort of way, but it's camp for camp's sake without ever really going anywhere.

1994, dir. Michele Soavi. With Rupert Everett, François Hadji-Lazaro, Anna Falchi.

Cemetery of Splendour

A group of soldiers with some form of sleeping sickness are moved to a former schoolhouse in northeastern Thailand. Our point of view is Jen, a middle-aged housewife who volunteers at the hospital and tends to the soldiers. She becomes attached to one named Itt, who sometimes manages to stay awake for an hour at a time.

The pacing is like molasses in winter - although that's not a very Thai concept, and this is a very Thai movie. Jen prays at a local temple - and soon encounters the two princesses the temple was built for. Re-incarnated? It's not explained. A young psychic spends her days at the hospital, reading the dreams of the soldiers out to their loved ones. She and Jen connect and the medium channels Itt and his dreams.

Polar opposite to the Thai films I'm familiar with (the bone-crunching martial arts of Tony Jaa), this shows the peaceful side of the Thai personality. But it also shows the very spiritual/mystical side that's so far outside the North American experience as to make essentially no sense.

Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul is a critical darling, but this didn't work for me.

2015, dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul. With Jenjira Pongpas, Banlop Lomnoi, Jarinpattra Rueangram, Petcharat Chaiburi.

Central Intelligence

Kevin Hart plays Calvin Joyner, who was class president and everything else in high school. He now has a very ordinary life while others are promoted above him at his accounting firm. Dwayne Johnson is Robbie Weirdicht / Bob Stone, the really fat bullied guy from high school who's now incredibly buff. He remembers Calvin, because Calvin was the only person who was kind to him. On the eve of their 20 year high school reunion Bob reconnects with Calvin through Facebook and they go for drinks. And we learn very early on that Bob can fight really well. In fact Bob has some magical skills: if you're not looking at him he can move unbelievably fast (but the movie sees this as humour, not "magic"). Ordinary Calvin is horrified to be dragged into a world of spies and espionage that he doesn't understand, but Bob is overjoyed to be re-united with his best buddy from high school. In fact Bob's love of Calvin is genuinely creepy and feels like it could only be horrifying, but is of course played for humour instead.

Much of the humour is based on humiliation, with Calvin mortally terrified of everything going on around him and Bob acting like he's still a fat, bullied high school boy (but now with muscles). Not my kind of humour. The movie did still manage some laughs for me, so not a total loss.

In fact ... here's a quote from early on that had me in stitches:

Thug: Hey, how about this? Why don't you and your boyfriend apologize to Big Rick here and then go jerk each other off in the parking lot?

Calvin: That's, that's a lot...

Bob: Yeah. You're right, CJ. That's a lot of homophobia coming out of a very angry man. You need to go get that looked at by a trained professional. But, since you have escalated this whole scenario by bringing what I can only assume is an unlicensed firearm into this public place, endangering the lives of all these innocent people, I can no longer, in good conscience, walk away and jerk anyone off in the parking lot.

2016, dir. Rawson Marshall Thurber. With Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Amy Ryan, Aaron Paul, Daniel Nicolet, Jason Bateman.


Rome is trying to expand its empire into Northern Britain, where the Picts are fighting a vicious guerilla war against the Romans. Our protagonist complains that it's "a war without honour," but as the invaders I felt they had even less right than usual to complain about that. Our protagonist and honourable man in a mess of grit and dishonesty is Quitus Dias (Michael Fassbender), a fairly high-ranking officer in the Roman army in Britain. His army is slaughtered, and he and his few remaining men are hunted relentlessly across the frozen British countryside as he tries to get them home.

A grim and exceptionally bloody tale, some of the human moments stand out borne on the acting of a good cast. It's not a story that's going to win anyone by charm, approach with caution.

2010, dir. Neil Marshall. With Michael Fassbender, Olga Kurylenko, Liam Cunningham, Dominic West, David Morrissey, J.J. Feild, Usrich Thomsen, Noel Clarke, Imogen Poots, Riz Ahmed.

Chain Reaction

Where to start? The technological basis for this film is blurry at best. There are more logical flaws than the bridges of Chicago have rivets. Keanu Reeves plays a student machinist kicked out of school for blowing something up by mistake, but his machinist skills are apparently enough to take on or outrun huge numbers of thugs and cops. If he was more of a "MacGyver" it would have been easier to swallow, as absurd as that show was. Morgan Freeman and Rachel Weisz can't save this one - and don't blame it all on Reeves either: he may not have been brilliant, but this is hardly his fault.

1996, dir. Andrew Davis. With Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman, Rachel Weisz, Fred Ward, Brian Cox.


A mediocre movie, but a really good biopic, if that makes any sense. Chaplin surely did love his women young ... I'm afraid that's the main thing that stuck with me. If the movie is correct, he married four times, and the oldest of them was 18 - when he was in his fifties. (This appears to be fairly accurate.) Robert Downey Jr. is, as reported, superb in the lead - he does Chaplin's slapstick incredibly well, and that's a hell of a trick. The problem with the movie is that Chaplin had a messy life, and layered on top of this is the idea that what we're seeing is a flashback of his life through the discussion of his biography-in-progress between Chaplin and his agent (Anthony Hopkins). Messy. But fascinating!

1992, dir. Richard Attenborough. With Robert Downey Jr., Dan Aykroyd, Geraldine Chaplin, Anthony Hopkins, Milla Jovovich, Moira Kelly, Kevin Kline, Diane Lane, Penelope Ann Miller, Paul Rhys, Marisa Tomei, Nancy Travis, James Woods, John Thaw.

Chaos Theory

About a man with an overly organized life. One thing goes wrong and his entire life falls like dominoes. Sweet and occasionally amusing, but forgettable and not very good.

2007, dir. Marcos Siega. With Ryan Reynolds, Emily Mortimer, Stuart Townsend.


Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant turn in good performances, but the movie seemed somewhat unsure about whether it was a murder mystery or a comedy. Eventually it decided on more of the latter, with a concomitant loss of menace. But the leads are charming and the dialogue is clever.

1963, dir. Stanley Donen. With Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Johnny Depp at his absolute weirdest - which is pretty damn weird - in a Tim Burton movie, so you know the whole thing is going to be more than a little off balance. I think Roald Dahl would have been pretty pleased with this take on his work. The kids are appropriately over-the-top, the special effects are very good, and the whole experience is damn weird.

2005, dir. Tim Burton. With Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, Deep Roy.

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle

I don't think I've ever seen a more humiliating or embarrassing piece of film in my entire life. I cringed all the way through it. I ask myself why I watched the whole thing, and all I can think is "car wreck syndrome:" I just couldn't believe it was really that bad. Apparently the original was just as bad so there appears to be a market for it. The action was ludicrous in its even more blatant than usual disregard of the laws of physics (think of the original "A Team" TV series), and the whole movie was a sequence of vignettes attempting to put the three main women in more and more foolish outfits and positions. It made me begin to wonder if maybe the Austin Powers films are actually high art.

2003, dir. McG. With Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, Demi Moore.

Charlotte's Web

I think we have "Babe" to thank for the slightly less sentimental attitude about farm animals in children's movies. In any case, it's made quite clear early on that Wilbur is going to be bacon if something extraordinary doesn't happen. And of course that's where Charlotte comes in. Dakota Fanning is great - they couldn't have done this without her. The line-up of voice talent is staggering. The humour is wonderful - although it gets pushed aside to some extent in the second half to make way for a bit too much pathos and sentimentality. Still, definitely an enjoyable movie.

2006, dir. Gary Winick. With Julia Roberts, Dakota Fanning, Dominic Scott Kay, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey, Cedric the Entertainer, Kathy Bates, Reba McEntire, Robert Redford, Thomas Haden Church, André Benjamin.

Chasing Amy

Probably Kevin Smith's best work. It's meant for a young crowd - it's raunchy and has some scenes that'll make adults cringe, but it's an excellent piece of work despite that. Basic premise: male comic artist falls for female comic artist who turns out to be a lesbian. I suppose it's a romantic comedy, but hardly standard issue. And for once, Ben Affleck turns in a decent acting job.

1999, dir. Kevin Smith. With Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes.

Chasing Liberty

Mandy Moore plays Anna Foster (codenamed "Liberty" by the Secret Service people who have to keep her safe), daughter to the president of the U.S.A. At the age of 18, she wants to be out doing stuff and dating boys, but crowds of Secret Service people around her make a normal life difficult. In Prague she makes a break for it, on the back of a scooter driven by Ben (Matthew Goode), who we shortly find out is also Secret Service (although she doesn't know it). Her father thinks this is a good arrangement, and makes Ben escort her on her further adventures.

I'll never know if I would have spotted that this was a riff on "Roman Holiday" - I was informed by Wikipedia before I saw the movie. "Roman Holiday" is quite possibly the best rom com ever made, so I thought I'd give this one a shot. Unfortunately, Moore's skills don't extend beyond "cute." Goode is incredibly handsome, charming, charismatic, and a better actor than Moore. He doesn't quite make it into Gregory Peck territory, but Moore is so far from Audrey Hepburn they couldn't see each other with telescopes. The silly and sloppy script is the nail in the coffin, and riffing on "Amélie" with the scooter scenes didn't particularly help. Mildly amusing at best.

2004, dir. Andy Cadiff. With Mandy Moore, Matthew Goode, Jeremy Piven, Annabella Sciorra, Mark Harmon, Caroline Goodall.

La Chèvre

I saw this movie back when it came out, and thought it was hilarious then. I was pretty sure I wouldn't be as impressed in 2012, but I was curious.

Campana (Gérard Depardieu) is a tough detective getting nowhere searching for Marie (Corynne Charbit), the daughter of a rich businessman. Marie vanished in Mexico six weeks prior to the start of the film. The company psychologist (André Valardy) convinces the father that the correct way to find his incredibly unlucky daughter is to send one of the company accountants who is also staggeringly unlucky to find her. And so Campana is saddled with Perrin (Pierre Richard), and back they go to Mexico for more slapstick shenanigans.

Perrin is incredibly annoying: he's been told he's in charge of the investigation and is obnoxious about it, having no clue of the real reason for his presence. He seems to have made it to the age of 45 or so without ever realizing that he's insanely unlucky and that most people don't walk into doors on a weekly basis. But Richard is quite good at physical humour, and Depardieu is a surprisingly good straight man. All in all, an entertaining enough way to pass an hour and a half.

1981, dir. Francis Veber. With Pierre Richard, Gérard Depardieu, Michel Robin, Corynne Charbit, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Jorge Luke, André Valardy.


Renée Zellweger is a want-to-be Jazz singer in the Twenties. She sees her life in musical numbers, and after she murders her nasty boyfriend, much of the movie takes place in jail. The director calls it a satire and the Academy apparently thought it was worth six Oscars, but a couple good numbers couldn't redeem this one for me.

2002. dir. Rob Marshall. With Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah.

Chicken Little

Chicken Little (voiced by Zach Braff) is a small but very intelligent chicken in a town full of animals. Unfortunately, after a piece of sky falls on his head and he successfully encourages everyone to run for their lives, he can't find the piece of sky and becomes an outcast.

The movie was Disney's last animated film before they purchased Pixar outright. The animation style is deliberately chunky and crooked, a visual style I didn't like. The dialogue is clever and knowing, very much a la "Shrek" - a method that's been severely overused in the intervening years and is rather a mixed blessing here. There are some clever ideas and a few decent jokes, but overall the movie falls flat.

2005, dir. Mark Dindal. With Zach Braff, Joan Cusack, Steve Zahn, Amy Sedaris, Garry Marshall, Don Knotts, Fred Willard.

Childhood's End

I read a couple of Arthur C. Clarke's books when I was younger but Childhood's End wasn't one of them: I can't compare this to the source material. This is a 2015 three part mini-series from Syfy, with each part running roughly 1h22m.

The series starts in the current world (mostly modern America) with the arrival of the Overlord's ships which hover over several major cities throughout the world. Kerellen (Charles Dance) - who claims to be the "Overlord for Earth" - speaks to pretty much everyone on Earth, explaining that they will usher in a new age of peace, a utopia. He recruits a farmer named Ricky Stormgren (Mike Vogel) to act as a representative. Over the next several years, the overlord's promises are seen to be coming true - although Kerellen refuses to let any human see him, saying that they aren't ready. Ricky stays with us through the second episode, but astrophysicist Milo Rodericks (Osy Ikhile) is our main protagonist through the second and especially the third and final episode.

The story moves through phases, each with several characters. Most major characters are seen in all the episodes, but some episodes concentrate more on certain characters. It's an interesting and fairly good if rather bleak look at what might happen if we encountered an alien race immensely more advanced than we are.

2015, dir. Nick Hurran. With Mike Vogel, Osy Ikhile, Daisy Betts, Yael Stone, Georgina Haig, Charles Dance.

Children of a Lesser God

At this point (2003) this movie really screams "Eighties" - despite which it's still a pretty good movie. The two leads are excellent and the script is good, it's the peripherals that are dated. Marlee Matlin got (and deserved) a best actress Oscar.

1986. dir. Randa Haines. With William Hurt, Marlee Matlin.

The Children of Huang Shi

The story of an inexperienced but determined English journalist (Jonathan Rhys Meyers playing George Hogg) who manages to find his way into the middle of the Rape of Nanking. He's about to be executed for taking photos of the Japanese atrocities, but is rescued by a small group of communists (led by Chow Yun-fat's character). He's forced to flee and finds himself taking care of a bunch of a children in an orphanage. He wants to continue his work as a journalist, but the children rely on him and they become his project.

Well meant, reasonably well acted by very good actors, based on a true story with fascinating characters, well shot, and a hell of a re-creation of war-torn China, the movie as a whole still manages to fall down. I'm at a loss to explain why: it's not bad, but neither is it particularly good.

2008, dir. Roger Spottiswoode. With Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Radha Mitchell, Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, Guang Li.

Children of Dune

A second TV mini-series from Sci-Fi to follow up their 2000 version of "Dune." The format is much the same, with three episodes of 90 minutes each. The biggest difference is that the first episode covers the material from Herbert's much-maligned (and deservedly so) book Dune Messiah, and the second and third cover the book with the same title as the series, Children of Dune.

Happily, they've managed to get rid of at least some of the Hippie Sixties that Herbert trowelled on to Dune Messiah. Young rising star James McAvoy does a good job as Leto (although he spends pretty much all of the latter two episodes with his shirt off), but much of the acting is quite bad - including Susan Sarandon who's certainly capable of better. The bad CGI remains the same.

It's not bad, but I thought their version of "Dune" was significantly superior. Partly, I suppose, because it's just a better story ...

2003, dir. Greg Yaitanes. With James McAvoy, Alec Newman, Julie Cox, Daniela Amavia, Alice Krige, Susan Sarandon, Edward Atterton, Ian McNeice, Barbora Kodetová, Steven Berkoff, Jessica Brooks.

Children of Men

Brilliant filming, brilliant SF. Fantastic world-building. In the near future (2027), there hasn't been a child born in 18 years. The world has pretty much gone to hell - the UK has soldiered on as they've often done, although under brutal military rule and detaining and deporting all foreigners. Clive Owen plays Theo, a former political activist who has turned to the bottle and pretty much given up. Into his world comes his ex- (Julianne Moore), who dumps a huge problem into his lap: a pregnant foreigner. Don't look for light or cheerful entertainment here, but it's a really excellent film.

This movie's one failing (and it's fairly significant) is that the woman at the centre of the movie is incredibly important - and a complete non-entity. Alfonso Cuarón concentrates so much on Owen and Moore that he ignores this essential character.

2006, dir. Alfonso Cuarón. With Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Claire-Hope Ashitey, Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices

I placed a hold at the library on this Makoto Shinkai movie immediately after watching "5 Centimeters Per Second," his previous (not-quite-full-length) movie.

Our heroine is Asuna, approximately 10-12 years old. She's very independent and pretty much runs the house after school because she's an only child and her mother is always working. But her life gets explosively weird with the arrival of a huge creature, and her rescue from the creature by a somewhat super-powered young man named Shun. We find out that Asuna's father died when she was very young. Asuna also gets entangled with her teacher Mr. Morisaki (who has lost his wife) after she becomes interested in the mention in a school story of a place called 'Agartha' where Shun claimed to be from.

The story is a heavy-handed and sometimes very weird exploration of how people deal with death, loss, and the process of grieving. Asuna and Mr. Morisaki end up in the underworld, where they have further adventures and attempt to process their own losses.

Obviously I wasn't overly excited about the plot of the movie. It reminded me quite a lot of Miyazaki's "Castle in the Sky" in the artwork, the heavy-handed message, and the weirdness of the environment. I was somewhat disappointed in this one, although the artwork is just as brilliant as his previous movie. I look forward to seeing his future movies.

2011, dir. Makoto Shinkai. With Hisako Kanemoto, Miyu Irino, Kazuhiko Inoue, Yūna Inamura.

The Chinese Connection

Bruce Lee, see the alternative title "Fist of Fury."

Chinese Zodiac

Chan returns as his "JC" character, a follow-up (or re-boot, according to Wikipedia) of the "Armour of God" series of movies. JC is comes across as the love child of Indiana Jones and James Bond - a tomb raider with a huge amount of technology at his disposal.

JC is trying to track down twelve bronze heads, animals of the Chinese Zodiac, with his team of three other archeologist-tomb-raider-fighters. They're doing it for money, but they team up with a woman who believes deeply in repatriation of artifacts to their home country. Will JC grow a conscience? Does anyone care?

There are muddled sub-plots about the messed up relationships JC and each of his team-members have. There's a morality play. There are two cute but pathetic female characters who cannot defend themselves and are thus "funny" - one of Chan's all-time favourite offensive tropes. I'd like to suggest that his having a strong female character on his team somehow redeems him, but no, she gets a cat-fight with another woman. The big set-piece at the end of the movie is once again Chan doing a stunt that involves him absorbing a massive amount of physical abuse. It's not entertaining. There's precisely one good fight - which is one more than some of his previous movies, so I guess that's a step up. But overall, this is a pretty terrible film.

2012, dir. Jackie Chan. With Jackie Chan, Kwon Sang-woo, Liao Fan, Yao Xing Tong, Zhang Lan Xin, Laura Weissbecker, Jonathan Lee, Oliver Platt.


A relatively short (27 episodes, 22 minutes each) Anime series. Obscenely cute, fairly funny. Would be appropriate for ten year olds if it didn't mention (but not show) porn and breasts so often.

Motosuwa can't afford a "persocon" (a personal computer / robot / significant-other-replacement), but finds one on a trash heap. She runs without an OS, and may be a "Chobits," an urban legend of an uber-persocon. He names her "Chii." The series is about her learning to be human, and the evolution of their relationship.

2002. With Rie Tanaka, Tomokazu Sugita.


I didn't see this 2000 movie until 2017, despite (or perhaps because of) its reputation. Learning it was directed by Lasse Hallström didn't help: he directs well-known and extremely emotionally manipulative movies ("The Cider House Rules," "The Hundred-Foot Journey," many others). The summary review of "A Dog's Purpose" on Rotten Tomatoes pretty much covers the problems of his movies: "... offers an awkward blend of sugary sentiment and canine suffering that tugs at animal-loving audiences' heartstrings with shameless abandon." But I continue to occasionally watch his stuff because he also once directed what I consider to be one of the best movies ever made, "The Shipping News."

"Chocolat" opens with the arrival of a woman and her daughter dressed in vivid red coats in a small (and fairly gray) French town in 1959. The woman (Vianne, played by Juliette Binoche) rents a shop with an apartment over it, and opens a chocolate shop - right in the middle of Lent, much to the disgust of the puritanical mayor Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina). Vianne has a magical ability to guess people's favourite chocolates, and her chocolates ... free people. They are so delicious that people are inspired to be better, to do the right thing, etc. etc. Of course Vianne has her own demons - mostly in the form of her history of moving from place to place, something she inherited from her migrant mother.

The movie is set in France and filmed in France, starring a French actress, but all dialogue is in English.

The acting is good, but it's all a painfully heavy-handed magic-realist parable with a tediously obvious outcome. If you like having your heart-strings tugged (and don't mind having a clear view of the man behind the curtain doing the yanking), Hallström is your man. But I think I've had enough.

2000, dir. Lasse Hallström. With Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin, Johnny Depp, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugh O'Conor, John Wood, Peter Stormare, Leslie Caron.

Chop Socky: Cinema Hong Kong

A hell of a lesson in the history of wuxia/kung fu movies from the 1920s through 2003. Talks to all the right people. The short run-time (55m) meant that it didn't have time for some things I would have been interested in (wuxia before film and in book form, wire-work versus no wires, relationship to the actual martial arts ...), but does a superb job of showing the trends in martial arts movies, including the pivotal movies and important people. Most interesting to me was the trend in the 1970s to show more blood, blood everywhere, dismemberment ... when all I want to see is the martial arts and maybe some drama. Utterly fascinating to fans of the genre, probably useless to others. Fans MUST see this.

2004, dir. Ian Taylor. With Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Sammo Hung, Jim Nicholson, John Woo.

Les Choristes (aka. "The Chorus")

Yes, it's a bit cheesy and perhaps undeservedly optimistic, but it's also incredibly charming and enjoyable. I'm usually not a fan of choral music, but even I found something to like in the music.

2004, dir. Christophe Barratier. With Gérard Jugnot, François Berléand, Kad Merad, Jean-Paul Bonnaire, Marie Bunel, Jean-Baptiste Maunier.

A Christmas Story

Something of a Christmas classic that I didn't see until 2006. Peter Billingsley plays a 10 year old(?) in hot pursuit of a Red Ryder BB Gun prior to Christmas, while trying to survive the travails of school, parents, and the approaching holiday season. A friend pointed out that the kids do in fact act more like kids than in most any other movie, and it's amusing to compare the nostalgia of the voice-over of the adult to the out-and-out avarice of the child. The story is a bit episodic, All-American vignettes written by Jean Shepherd (who also does the voice-over) that remind me a little of Garrison Keillor.

An amusing side note: director Bob Clark's previous movies were the "much maligned" (as he put it) "Porky's" and "Porky's II," without which (he notes) this movie could not have existed.

1983, dir. Bob Clark. With Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon, Jean Shepherd.


Our teenage main character (Dane DeHaan) buys a video camera (our primary eye through most of the movie), and the opening shot establishes the reason: he wants to record the attacks of his drunken abusive father. We also quickly learn that his mother is dying. At a party that evening he's called in because he has a camera to record a weird hole in the ground. The two other guys enter and he follows, where they're all exposed to ... something. After which they're all capable of telekinesis to a greater or lesser extent. As their skills grow, they use it for frivolous and occasionally obnoxious pranks. But things turn dark as one of them goes off the rails.

I don't like the sort of "found footage" thing - it's much less jittery than "Cloverfield," but at least the logic of filming in "Cloverfield" is consistent: one camera, one tape, found later at the attack site. This footage has been edited - not professional edits, but clearly not all done by our primary character, and then there's footage from another student's camera and several security cameras ... it makes no sense. Setting that aside, the movie is reasonably good: the characters are well done, and the development of their "powers" are fairly consistent. I didn't like it much because of the dark tone, but should work for most others.

2012, dir. Josh Trank. With Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Beautiful, not quite so heavy handed with the religion as the original, but unfortunately pedestrian in the interpretation. Oddly, the add-on intro that wasn't in the book was one of the better parts of the movie. The kids acted fairly well except for the youngest - who was nevertheless very cute. The talking animals weren't a huge success.

2005, dir. Andrew Adamson. With William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Peter: "You've seen him. I wish he'd just given me some sort of proof." Lucy: "Maybe we're the ones that need to prove ourselves to him." In Narnia, God manifests himself as a lion and occasionally provides miracles for the faithful. Although only after hundreds of thousands have been slaughtered.

I was fascinated to find that C.S. Lewis seems to believe that a person killing dozens in a war is fine, but killing a particularly evil enemy while he's on his knees (when, I might add, it could stop a war) isn't noble enough. That kind of logic baffles me entirely. (It's been a while since I read the books: I'm assuming the movie version of the hand-to-hand combat is reasonably close to the book, which it may not be. But I think Lewis's logic is pretty much like this.)

Once again the acting takes a back seat to the scenery and effects - which are absolutely first-rate. Dinklage was a stand-out, a very good actor limited in his choice of roles because he's 4'5". He plays a dwarf here, and perhaps it would have been better if he wasn't such a good actor as he made those around him look like fools. Of the children, Keynes held up the best this time.

2008, dir. Andrew Adamson. With Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Sergio Castellitto, Peter Dinklage, Warwick Davis, Vincent Grass, Eddie Izzard, Liam Neeson.

The Chronicles of Riddick

A really disappointing movie ... Riddick is Vin Diesel's character from "Pitch Black," one of the best SF/horror movies of the last decade. The character of Riddick was a pretty compelling one, but they tried to expand on his background and threw in all kinds of nonsensical crap. The overall story of the movie itself was disappointing too (peaceful planet, evil alien invasion, blah blah blah), and Judi Dench's performance was ... lousy. This was Diesel's project: he'd been dying to work with Dench and convinced her. I just wish he'd picked a better project, for both of them.

2003. dir. David Twohy. With Vin Diesel, Judi Dench, Colm Feore, Thandie Newton, Karl Urban, Alexa Davalos.


Fricke gained some fame in the early 1980s working with Godfrey Reggio on his visual masterpiece "Koyaanisqatsi." Wikipedia says of him "specializing in time-lapse photography and large format cinematography." "Chronos" was his first work as director (at least if you believe Wikipedia), although it only runs 45 minutes. The original IMAX images come out an odd size on DVD, less than the full width of a 16:9 screen. Scenes vary between nature (we start in the American west), famous sites (Michelangelo's David was in there - odd when I was there two weeks ago), and cities (New York featured heavily). Very few shots are in real time: many are sped up, a few slowed down, and some odder modifications are made. It's lovely to behold, but I didn't feel like it went anywhere. It made me realise that Reggio's "Koyaanisqatsi" (just as dialogue-free) really does have a successful progression and message, because I found none at all in this. I wrote a blog entry on Cinematography a couple months ago, although you don't need to read it: it's a long rant to say that "plot matters more than cinematography to me, even though I love cinematography" ... so I wasn't too surprised to find myself vaguely disappointed by this. At least it wasn't lumbered by lousy actors or terrible dialogue: it's pure, beautiful imagery.

1985, dir. Ron Fricke.

The Cider House Rules

Michael Caine runs an orphanage, Tobey Maguire is his favourite. Maguire leaves to see the world. A coming of age story set in the U.S. during the Second World War, based on a John Irving novel. It's fairly good, but it's also depressing, and if I watch a depressing movie, I want it to be better than this was.

1999, dir. Lasse Hallström. With Michael Caine, Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, Delroy Lindo.

Cinderella (2015)

Kenneth Branagh's live-action take on Disney's previously animated interpretation of "Cinderella." Disney's version is based on Cendrillon by Charles Perrault, an interpretation of a centuries-old fairy tale. Just as well they didn't base it on the Brother's Grimm version (both of the step-sisters carve pieces off their feet to fit into the glass slipper in that one). Lily James plays Ella, a beautiful, gentle, and kind young girl with two wonderful parents. But her mother (Hayley Atwell) dies, and her father (Ben Chaplin) eventually remarries to an incredible bitch of a woman (Cate Blanchett) with two equally unpleasant daughters. Why her father would do this after having been married to the love of his life is never explained. Inevitably he dies while he's away on business and the step-mother and step-sisters turn Ella into a slave in her own house, renaming her "Cinder-Ella."

I think you can guess the rest of the story: fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), ball, prince (Richard Madden), glass slipper, search, and - spoiler alert - happy ending. I suppose I watched this out of respect for Branagh: he's amazingly inconsistent, but occasionally very good. Unfortunately, this is Grade A pure weepy schmaltz ... with fantastic costumes. It looks pretty, but James has the emotional depth of a puddle, and everyone is playing straight to archetype anyway. Nauseating.

2015, dir. Kenneth Branagh. With Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger, Ben Chaplin, Hayley Atwell.

Cinema Paradiso

The original was heavy-handed but powerful. The director's cut (released in 2003(?) on DVD) is heavy-handed and incredibly tedious with another 51 minutes of footage. Someone please stop directors from "fixing" the "injustices" forced on them in editing the film ... See the original version: it's good.

1989. dir. Guiseppe Tornatore. With Philippe Noiret.

City Hunter (orig. "Sing si lip yan")

Based on a Japanese manga, Jackie Chan plays a womanizing private detective (with a Japanese name, but speaking Cantonese ...) hired to ... oh hell, I don't remember. Anyway he ends up on a cruise ship where he flirts with women, has fights, and performs numerous pratfalls. This can be considered a spoof or a manga brought literally to life, your choice: someone falls a long way and leaves a person-shaped hole in the deck of the ship, that kind of thing. I was hoping for a bunch of Chan's signature martial arts fights, but they went mostly for a lot of humour that didn't particularly work for me.

1993, dir. Jing Wong. With Jackie Chan, Joey Wang, Chingmy Yau, Richard Norton, Michael Wong, Gary Daniels.

City of Ember

Lina (Saoirse Ronan) and Doon (Harry Treadaway) grow up in the city of Ember, the last of humanity in an underground city that's deteriorating and dying. But due to the sudden death of a mayor, the city's most important secret (the way out, to be used at 200 years) was lost. Lina and Doon both question the complacency and resignation of their elders, and begin to believe in a way out.

Based on the novel by Jeanne DuPrau, the film makers didn't aim particularly high: there's not a lot of deep meaning here, and it's not hugely complex. On the other hand, they did make a charming and entertaining film.

2008, dir. Gil Kenan. With Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway, Bill Murray, Mackenzie Crook, Tim Robbins, Martin Landau.

The City of Lost Children (orig. "La Cité des enfants perdus")

Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's second full length film after "Delicatessen," this one is so surreal and bizarre it makes "Delicatessen" look, well, "normal." And if you've seen "Delicatessen" you'll know that's one hell of an achievement.

Evidently Daniel Emilfork's character "Krank" is unable to dream, so he kidnaps children from a nearby city to steal their dreams. Ron Perlman plays the not-all-there strongman "One," whose adopted younger brother is stolen. Judith Vittet plays a young girl who works for "The Octopus," a very nasty pair of women joined at the hip (Geneviève Brunet and Odile Mallet, identical twins). Krank is assisted by five copies of Dominique Pinon, all of whom deliberately over-act (along with the rest of the cast). The sets are quite impressive. Utterly bizarre. I'm not sorry I watched it, but I wouldn't really recommend it either.

1995, dir. Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. With Ron Perlman, Daniel Emilfork, Judith Vittet, Dominique Pinon, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Geneviève Brunet, Odile Mallet.

City of Violence

The movie is driven by the murder of ex-gangster Wang-jae, who owned a bar and was stabbed to death after chasing some trouble-makers into an alley. This re-unites his childhood friends: Pilho, who's taken over as the main gangster in town, Taesoo, a cop come home from Seoul, Seokhwan, who works as a debt collector for Pilho, and Donghwan, the struggling math teacher older brother of Seokhwan. The short-tempered Seokhwan (played by the director, Ryoo Seung-wan) and the results-are-more-important-than-rules cop both go looking for answers about the death, and end up teaming up.

It's ... violent. And eventually very bloody. And, as the Chinese proverb says, "he who seeks revenge should dig two graves." Jung Doo-hong (who plays Taesoo) has got a spectacular spin that he uses for kicks and various other manoeuvres, but the editing is choppy - this is no Jackie Chan movie where we see the action and the hits. We see spin and thrash, but not delivery. And there's not a single likeable character in the whole thing: you end up cheering for the hot-tempered asshole mob enforcer and the dirty cop because they're the gold standard of morality in the film.

2006, dir. Ryoo Seung-wan. With Ryoo Seung-wan, Jung Doo-hong, Lee Beom-soo, Jung Suk-yong, Lee Joo-shil, Ahn Gil-kang, Kim Byung-ok.

A Civil Action

Purports to tell a true story, the history of a personal injury lawyer (John Travolta) who sees dollar signs on the would-be defendants of a town water poisoning case that (probably) killed quite a few of the town's children, but finds himself becoming personally involved and eventually very nearly bankrupting his own law firm in the pursuit of a bigger settlement - for the people rather than for himself. I found it amazingly uninvolving: Travolta's character is hard to like at the beginning because all he's after is success and money, but he doesn't become much more likable when he finds his conscience because he's blind to the facts that he can't win (at least not the way he wants it) and that he's bankrupting his firm.

1997, dir. Steven Zaillian. With John Travolta, Robert Duvall, William H. Macy, Tony Shalhoub, Željko Ivanek, Bruce Norris, John Lithgow, Kathleen Quinlan, James Gandolfini, Stephen Fry, Dan Hedaya.


Trinh, aka "Phoenix" (Veronica Ngo Thanh Van) is a mob enforcer, hiring other criminals to assist her in a job she does under coercion for her boss who holds her daughter as collateral. "Tiger" (Johnny Nguyen) is one of the hired help. This is primarily a martial arts flick.

The acting is awful, the plot weak, and the martial arts mediocre (although slightly better than I expected). Van is a pop star and model - surprisingly, her fighting isn't significantly worse than Nguyen who makes his living as a martial artist and stunt man. Van is gorgeous, but that doesn't make a movie. There's betrayal and deception and lots of people die. Not recommended even for fans of the martial arts.

2009, dir. Le Thanh Son. With Veronica Ngo Thanh Van, Johnny Tri Nguyen, Lam Minh Thang, Hoang Phuc Nguyen.

Clash of the Titans (2010)

A remake of the notoriously bad 1981 film of the same name. I guess the thinking was that they couldn't produce a poorer product. I haven't seen the original so I can't compare.

The film starts with narration about the defeat of the Titans by the gods Zeus (Liam Neeson), Poseidon, and Hades (Ralph Fiennes) - this also introduces Hades creature "the Kraken," and sets up the rivalry between Zeus and Hades. Then we're introduced to Perseus (played as an adult by Sam Worthington), a demi-god (son of Zeus and a human mother) who was raised by a human family and has no idea of his powers. But it shortly falls to him to prevent the Kraken from destroying the city of Argos - and thus we have a quest in which he sets off to find the means to kill the unkillable.

The movie reminded me a great deal of "Transformers" (the first one) - an eye-popping special effects extravaganza in the service of an incredibly cheesy and stupid but somehow entertaining story. There are a million problems with it, but somehow it's just fun. It won't work for everyone, but if you liked "Transformers," you may enjoy this one too.

2010, dir. Louis Leterrier. With Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Jason Flemyng, Alexa Davalos, Mads Mikkelsen.

Clash of Wings

15 50 minute episodes presenting Walter Boyne's book of the same title about the air fighting during the Second World War. Episodes tend to centre around elements of the war: The Battle of Britain, The German Russian offensive, The early fight between the Japanese and the Americans in the Pacific.

It added interesting things to my knowledge of aerial warfare about manufacturing and supply lines, but had a frustrating tendency to discuss particular planes while occasionally (rarely, but a bad plan when your audience is plane buffs) using footage of planes that weren't even in the air at the time being discussed. In particular, they showed the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 during the early Russian attacks, and the Vought F4U Corsair just after Pearl Harbour: both would appear to great effect later in the war, but not at that point.

Editing was choppy and the voice-over was done by someone with the accent of each country being discussed: consistency would have been better. Especially when they tossed in Boyne himself wandering around a fancy house periodically giving us thirty second sound bites about the outcome of some particular battle.

1990. Discovery Channel.

Clean and Sober

I don't know when I watched this - before I started writing these mini-reviews around 2004. But the movie stuck in my head something fierce, and I've remembered it as a fantastic film.

Michael Keaton made a radical and amazingly successful departure from comedy to do a turn as a cocaine addict who somewhat involuntarily finds himself in a 12 step program. The movie is about his struggles with addiction, his mentor (Morgan Freeman), and the woman he falls for and loses who's in the program with him (Kathy Baker). The plot is nothing extraordinary, but the acting is: a really good film.

1988, dir. Glenn Gordon Caron. With Michael Keaton, Kathy Baker, Morgan Freeman, M. Emmet Walsh.

Clear and Present Danger

I remembered not liking this when it came out, but then I didn't like "The Hunt for Red October" the first time around either. Both are Clancy novels about Jack Ryan - "Red October" has Alec Baldwin as intelligence analyst Ryan, who's played as a thinker, this one has Harrison Ford as more of a action figure. Ford isn't acting well, and Ryan works better as a thinker.

This time out, Ryan is filling the shoes of his sick boss while trying to figure out a drug-related slaughter on a privately owned yacht and why there appears to be unauthorized American military action in South America against drug cartels. This could have been done with the same intelligence as "Red October," but instead they threw a fair bit of action on top of some nasty political manoeuvring. Unfortunately the action's not very good, the politics are only mildly interesting, and the acting is pretty poor (although James Earl Jones is alright as the sick boss). The end product is a heap of expensive crap that shouldn't have been as bad as it is.

1994, dir. Phillip Noyce. With Harrison Ford, Willem Dafoe, Miguel Sandoval, Belita Moreno, Joaquim de Almeida, James Earl Jones, Benjamin Bratt, Harris Yulin, Henry Czerny.

The Clock

Technically, this is an art installation made of movies - but the end effect is a very long movie. Christian Marclay has compiled movie clips showing clocks or related to time to create a 24 hour movie. I saw from 1730 to roughly 1920 at the Power Plant in Toronto. What Marclay has done is hugely impressive - if the average clip is 20 seconds, he would need 4320 clips. And then there's choosing them so there's some visual continuity (not always) and audible continuity (very good). In hindsight, the three years it took him to put it together seems a little short. And yet I'm not sure this is great art: he isn't constructing a story, and, while there was always something to do with clocks or time, I didn't feel like this led to any conclusion or overarching theme. But at the same time, I have to admit I found it utterly mesmerizing for somewhat unclear reasons: probably because I was having fun playing "name the movie" and "name the actor/actress."

Notable clips for me included "Time After Time," "The Matrix," and the 2002 version of "The Time Machine." I was also entertained by a transition from Donald to Kiefer Sutherland. How he got the rights for thousands of movie clips is another mystery entirely.

2010, dir. Christian Marclay.


Stars one of my favourite actresses, Noomi Rapace, as a "close protection officer" (aka "bodyguard"). This Netflix movie got relatively poor reviews for its conventional structure. I watched it for Rapace, but even she couldn't elevate this one.

Rapace is Sam Carlson. We first see her in South Sudan, where the journalists she's protecting come under attack. She proves how effective she is and gets both of them out alive. She's then hired to protect Zoe Tanner (Sophie Nélisse), troubled daughter of a newly deceased mining magnate who doesn't get along well with her stepmother (Indira Varma) who runs the business. Sam and Zoe end up struggling to survive on the run in Morocco (the locations were at least interesting).

The movie get some points for realism: at one point, Sam takes a few minutes alone to have something approaching a nervous breakdown as she cries over the recent violent death of a good friend. Which made me think about the hundreds of action movies starring men, where the only reaction they have to the death of friends is righteous rage - never a tear. Real action heroes don't cry. Thank god there are women to show us what to do occasionally.

On the flip-side of that, we have the poorly thought out plot point about the stepmother, who initially throws her stepdaughter under the bus (figuratively) in pursuit of a business deal and conforms to every Disney stereotype of the evil stepmother. For the sake of a plot point she has a change of heart at a crucial moment (oops, sorry, spoiler). That was deeply unconvincing and they lost all points they gained for realism.

2019, dir. Vicky Jewson. With Noomi Rapace, Sophie Nélisse, Indira Varma, Eoin Macken, Akin Gazi, Mansour Badri, Abdesslam Bouhssini, George Georgiou, Kevin Shen, Mimi Keene.

Closely Watched Trains (orig. "Ostre sledované vlaky")

A mildly surreal Czech comedy about sex, set during the Second World War. That latter part doesn't seem to make much difference - right up until the end. But this is proof once again that old comedy doesn't always translate well - I hardly laughed at all. Mostly it was just surreal. I suppose it's not as funny anymore because it's about sex and we've long ago brushed past all the mores it was sideswiping.

1966, dir. Jirí Menzel. With Václav Neckár, Josef Somr, Vlastimil Brodský.


A movie about four people abusing each other emotionally for two hours. A lot of people liked this movie, but none of the characters are even remotely likable - and even if that's okay with you I didn't think the dialogue was particularly realistic.

2004, dir. Mike Nichols. With Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen.

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell was a very complex, spectacularly well written novel that I admired, liked, and was frustrated by. If you haven't read the book, the movie's six plot lines across five or six hundred years is going to be a surprise. The book structure has the oldest story start first. It's then interrupted by the second story, which is interrupted by the third, on up to the sixth. The sixth story completes, then the fifth, the fourth, and so on back to the first. Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer decided to mix all six together in rapid succession, with pieces of each time period averaging about four minutes(?) each, going as low as a minute, with dialogue or voice-overs often stretching into the next segment. I guess they decided that this structure would be easier to parse in a movie - I think they're right. However, that doesn't mean it's easy to parse, just easier.

It's been a while since I read the book, but the movie does seem to be an accurate interpretation (excepting the structural changes). I do remember the frustration of reading the book, and it somehow feels appropriate that the movie was equally frustrating - like many of the Wachowski's products. It has moments of transcendence, but it's also kind of a mess in places.

And what the hell is it about? Connection: connecting to other people, trusting and supporting them. And the necessity of following your conscience and doing good, for without this the world fails. That makes it sound preachy: happily Mitchell and the Wachowskis and Tykwer make more subtle and compelling arguments.

2012, dir. Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski. With Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D'Arcy, Zhou Xun, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

I suppose any animated film has a degree of surreality to it simply because it's animated: it's been abstracted from reality and any resemblance is constructed in our minds. But most of them occasionally make reference to reality. This one buzzes reality for a few seconds at the beginning and then heads off into deep space: it's extremely surreal. It's very funny in places, both verbal and visual gags. And it's got a couple sharp things to say about North American society and how we perceive each other - the kids will laugh right through it, but the parents will notice. Very good.

2009, dir. Phil Lord, Christopher Miller. With Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Neil Patrick Harris, James Caan, Bruce Campbell, Andy Samberg, Mr. T, Bobb'e J. Thompson, Benjamin Bratt.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

I was a big fan of the original, which is incredibly surreal, very clever, and very entertaining. It seems with this sequel they decided the primary virtues of the previous movie that they should recreate were bright colours, surreality, and bad puns. The brains and most of the charm got left behind. UPDATE: by 2020 the directors of the original (Lord and Miller) have shown their genius in several other movies: Lord and Miller weren't associated with this. I'm blaming the much reduced quality on that.

All the people who live on the island of Swallow Falls are evacuated after the events of the last movie to allow for the clean-up of the giant food by Live Corp. Our hero Flint Lockwood is given the opportunity to work at Live Corp, working with this life-long inventor-hero Chester. This distracts him from his friends. Eventually he's sent to help clean up the excess food at Swallow Falls (after a large contingent of Live Corp staff have failed). Chester turns out to be evil and friendship saves the day.

The incredibly colourful food animals - with names like "Flamangos" and "Tacodile - Supreme" - probably entertain the little ones, but the original had a lot of thought behind it that's totally lacking here. Very disappointing.

2013, dir. Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn. With Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Will Forte, Andy Samberg, Neil Patrick Harris, Benjamin Bratt, Terry Crews, Kristen Schaal.


Does for the Godzilla genre what "Blair Witch" did for lost-in-the-woods. That is to say, shaky POV. Follows a group of not entirely charming friends who were at a party as they try to survive the night of the arrival of a giant monster, with one of them holding the cam.

Fairly clever and well executed, although some people may get motion sickness. You've never heard of any of the cast, despite the budget. We have J.J. Abrams to thank for this over-the-top craziness. Matt Reeves sounds, in the director's commentary, like an intelligent guy and may actually produce some work worth seeing later.

2007, dir. Matt Reeves. With Michael Stahl-David, T.J. Miller, Jessica Lucas, Mike Vogel, Lizzy Caplan, Odette Yustman.


A trip back in time to the 1990s and the cliché of the Valley Girl - all based (loosely) on Jane Austen's Emma. Alicia Silverstone plays Cher, self-centred but well meaning and very rich. She and her best friend adopt new girl at school Tai (Brittany Murphy in her first film role) as a project, and Cher tries to line her up with Elton (fans of Austen can guess how that ends).

Watching it in 2017, much of the style and exaggerated humour is painfully 1990s - but to my surprise, the movie remains quite funny. The script is loaded to the gills with witty one-liners. Some of them miss or haven't aged well, but many of them still connect. And under all the comedy they still manage a passable interpretation of Emma.

1995, dir. Amy Heckerling. With Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Paul Rudd, Dan Hedaya, Elisa Donovan, Justin Walker, Wallace Shawn, Twink Caplan, Donald Faison, Breckin Meyer, Jeremy Sisto.


Before I saw "Coco," I accused it (based on the trailer) of being overly similar to "The Book of Life," which came out in 2014 - having seen the movie I haven't changed my opinion. Both are animated children's movies about a young man who crosses into the Mexican version of the land of the dead where he turns to music (a career denied him by his family in the living world) to save himself and return to the land of the living. Within that frame there are many differences, and Pixar's "Coco" is the better film overall, but "The Book of Life" did come first and I feel it's been unfairly ignored in all the noise about "Coco."

Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) wants to play guitar, but he's expected to become a shoemaker like the rest of his family because music is barred from their lives. In an effort to prove himself a musician, he steals the guitar of his dead idol - and disappears from the land of the living. The "why" of that one is never explained, although the rules of him getting back are explicated in great detail. In the land of the dead he tries to track down his father, and many discoveries are made about his family.

The film spends a lot of time on the ideas of "respect for family" and "be true to yourself," building the core of its conflict on the two being at odds with each other for our main character. It's sweet, enjoyable, and even more than usually family-oriented, but not up there with Pixar's very best ("Toy Story," "Toy Story 2," "Finding Nemo," "The Incredibles," and "Inside Out"). Think of it more in the category of "Cars": charming and funny but not earth-shaking.

2017, dir. Lee Unkrich. With Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía, Edward James Olmos.

The Cocoanuts

Groucho plays the owner of a Florida resort that's making no money. Chico and Harpo fill in their usual roles of mixed support and trouble-makers, and Zeppo is the romantic straight man. Groucho is intermittently funny, and there are far too many musical numbers that I skipped through.

1929, dir. Robert Florey and Joseph Santley. With Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont.

Code 8

The movie outlines a world that looks exactly like ours, but "Lincoln City" where the movie is set (which looks suspiciously like some of Toronto's seedier areas) was populated by people with Powers. Now the people with Powers are hated and feared by most of the population, and the police department has built drones and robots to fight those with Powers who can't make a living because they're so marginalized.

Our protagonist is Connor Reed (Robbie Amell), who works under the table in construction as he's a powerful "Electric." His mother Mary (Kari Matchett) is dying of a brain tumour that they can't afford to treat, and in the process starting to lose control of her ability to freeze things. Connor starts taking criminal jobs to try to pay for her treatment, working with Garrett (Stephen Amell).

By this point (perhaps 20 minutes in?) they had multiple marks against them. Robbie Amell is a crap actor. Most of the "Powers" are shown to be very useful, and I really wasn't sold on the idea that they would be uniformly hated - but that's the only view the movie was willing to pitch. The writing lives down to Amell's acting: it was staggeringly pedestrian with wooden dialogue and no humour. And then they tossed in the other Amell cousin, whose only distinction is he's been acting badly for longer than Robbie.

There are crimes, there's a double cross, there's a crisis of conscience, the only difference from your average badly written heist movie being that this involved super powers. And it was set in Toronto - at least I got to enjoy trying to identify neighbourhoods, particularly the incredibly seedy Hotel Waverly which they apparently borrowed right before it was torn down. And at the end, the movie closes out on a relatively minor character who got a good outcome from this mess. What? That just felt weird. I'm not even sure where our main character went.

This bears a noticeable resemblance to both "Project Power" and "How I Became a Superhero" - either of which is more worth your time (although it's interesting to note that those other movies came after this one, and may have stolen some of its ideas).

Poorly thought out on almost every level, this should only be seen by hardcore fans of the Amells. It's their show, and not worth watching for anyone else.

2019, dir. Jeff Chan. With Robbie Amell, Stephen Amell, Sung Kang, Aaron Abrams, Kari Matchett, Greg Bryk, Kyla Kane, Laysla De Oliveira, Vlad Alexis.

Code 46

Ahh, the extraordinary Samantha Morton. Not beautiful, not ugly, not talented or untalented, just ... extraordinary. Her bizarre acting was great as the girl who saw the future in "Minority Report," but in this one I got sick of seeing her writhe, squirm, moan, and occasionally look confused. The movie amounted to a bunch of fairly standard science fiction ideas (papers for everything, language melding, elite city dwellers, memory wiping, control of genetics) and molds them into a poor plot around an unconvincing forbidden love.

2003, dir. Michael Winterbottom. With Tim Robbins, Samantha Morton.


A group of eight friends get together for dinner as a comet passes overhead. The scene is set as we learn who dislikes who, who slept with who, and the weird effects that comets have previously had on electricity and people's brains. The power goes out, everyone gets jumpy and paranoid, and really weird things happen - which only increases the paranoia.

The entire movie plays out in one house, and on the street outside the house. It's about disintegrating relationships in stressful situations (such as coming into conflict with another copy of all your friends). The critics thought well of it (88% on Rotten Tomatoes), but I just kept giggling over the silliness, which just kept escalating ...

2014, dir James Ward Byrkit. With Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon, Lorene Scafaria, Hugo Armstrong, Elizabeth Gracen, Alex Manugian, Lauren Maher.

The Cold Blue

A modern companion piece to "The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress." This documentary was made during the restoration of that one, from both movie footage and B-roll footage not originally used. This is accompanied by various members of the 8th Air Force (the Air Force the Memphis Belle was part of, but none of that plane's crew were still alive) talking about what it was like to fight in the war on the B-17s. Having just watched "The Memphis Belle" earlier in the day, much of the footage used here was familiar - but the commentary from the surviving flyers is both horrible and wonderful. And it ends with one of the airmen suggesting we all go home tonight and pray God that such a war never happens again.

Both very similar - in subject and footage - to "The Memphis Belle," and very different - because the voice-overs for this one were looking back from 70 years after the war. Every bit as good as "The Memphis Belle," and they should be watched together.

2018, dir. Erik Nelson.

Cold Comfort Farm

This is a 1995 British TV movie based on Stella Gibbons' 1932 book of the same name, a parody of romanticized farm life novels of the time. Kate Beckinsale plays Flora Poste, looking for a place to live after the death of her parents. Rather than live with friends or family in London, she chooses relatives on a clearly dysfunctional and broken down farm in the country. Despite problems, she's determined to persevere - and meddle in everyone's lives to make them better. All the eccentric relatives are painted in broad strokes, and her solutions to their lives even more so. Very silly, but somewhat amusing.

1995, dir. . With Kate Beckinsale, Joanna Lumley, Rufus Sewell, Ian McKellen, Eileen Atkins, Stephen Fry, Miriam Margolyes, Sheila Burrell, Freddie Jones, Ivan Kaye, Jeremy Peters, Maria Miles.

Cold Mountain

Jude Law plays a Confederate soldier in the Civil War, Nicole Kidman his fiancée, and Renée Zellweger the ... farm hand ... who helps manage her farm after her father's death. Law, sick of war, and holding a letter from Kidman asking him to come back and help her, deserts and starts a very long trek back. We watch the trials and tribulations at both ends through most of a year and an excessively long running time (154m). The acting is good, and the story is both epic and personal ... and yet there's something lacking. That may just be me: it was nominated for several Oscars and won one (Zellweger).

2003, dir. Anthony Minghella. With Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Giovanni Ribisi, Donald Sutherland, Rayi Winstone, Kathy Baker, James Gammon, Ethan Suplee.

Cold Souls

Paul Giamatti plays ... Paul Giamatti. An actor that we first see rehearsing "Uncle Vanya," he gets seriously wound up over his characters - to the point that it interferes with his performance. So he decides to have his soul removed and stored. But now he has no compassion or empathy, his wife thinks he feels different, and his performance in the play is awful. Next he temporarily borrows the soul of a Russian poet ... etc.

As you might expect, this is a pretty weird movie. And not, I think, among Giamatti's best performances. Because they're trying to show that he acts differently with each soul, he's overdoing certain behaviours at different times. He carries it better than anyone else would, but it's still not an elegant solution or performance. It's amusing in spots, but mostly just weird.

2009, dir. Sophie Barthes. With Paul Giamatti, Emily Watson, David Strathairn, Dina Korzun, Katheryn Winnick.


Jamie Foxx plays a cabbie who finds himself driving a contract killer around Los Angeles as he does a series of hits. It's an action movie, and as they go, it's actually a pretty good one. Both of the main characters act fairly well, and there's a bit more of a nod to reality than usual (although not a lot more).

2004. dir. Michael Mann. With Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith.


Anne Hathaway is Gloria, an alcoholic party girl just dumped by her boyfriend. She returns to her unoccupied family home in small town New England, where she encounters her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). Oscar gives her a job waitressing at his bar - shortly after which Gloria notices that the gigantic monster periodically rampaging in Seoul, Korea, has the same physical tics that she does. In fact, she appears to be controlling it ...

While it's listed as a dark comedy, I was a little surprised at how dark it went - although that's tempered by the utterly absurd primary premise.

I remain unclear if this was all meant as a metaphor for alcoholism, or perhaps repressed childhood trauma, or maybe even taking responsibility for your own actions. Or it could just be a crazy movie. In any case, I really enjoyed it.

2016, dir. Nacho Vigalondo. With Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson.

The Colour of Magic

Based on Terry Pratchett's first (and not best) Discworld novel of the same name. Since I've read it it's hard for me to say how this would fly with those who haven't read it - but it looks rather like chaos in the name of humour, too ludicrous to really hold together ... It sticks very close to the book (at least as I remember it), and that kind of ludicrous situational humour has always worked well for Pratchett ... on the page. It's hard to translate to the screen. But as someone who's read it, I found it quite entertaining - all 191 minutes of the original British made-for-TV movie. The effects are quite good, and the leads were mostly very good. I thought Sean Astin as Twoflower was the weakest, but making Twoflower convincing is pretty tough. But right next to him was David Jason in the role of Rincewind, which he did very well indeed (although I've always pictured Rincewind as in his thirties). My main dispute with the movie was the number of people that the Luggage ate: I really thought it should be higher. But again, what's funny on the page is less funny (and less family-friendly) when you actually see it ...

Pratchett has the closing line of the movie in a tiny role as an astrozoologist. A nice touch.

2008, dir. Vadim Jean. With David Jason, Sean Astin, Tim Curry, Jeremy Irons, Brian Cox, James Cosmo, Christopher Lee, Terry Pratchett.


When this came out in 2017, I was intrigued and thought I'd see it as soon as it came out on DVD. Which is normally a perfectly workable idea as everything eventually shows up at Toronto Public Library, but this - despite spectacularly good reviews by the critics - never got released on optical disc. So it sat in the back of my mind until I finally thought to look for it on Netflix in May of 2019. To my considerable surprise, it was there.

This is the first full length film by Kogonada, and stars John Cho as the son of an architecture professor who returns from Korea to Columbus, Ohio when his father falls into a coma. The other major role is filled by Haley Lu Richardson, a young fan of architecture locked into a fairly limited life in Columbus.

The pacing is absolutely glacial - which isn't to say I didn't like the movie, in fact it's fairly good. You have to sit back and relax, just let it go at its own speed. The framing of shots is incredibly meticulous, the architecture shown to exquisite effect, and people carefully placed in the shots. It's a bit static though: I think there were perhaps two moving shots in the entire movie.

The movie is about love: how Jin (Cho's character) feels about his distant and now comatose father, how Casey (Richardson's character) feels about her recovering drug-addict mother, how Jin and Casey feel about each other.

2017, dir. Kogonada. With John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey, Rory Culkin, Michelle Forbes.

The Commitments

The 1991 movie based on the 1987 Roddie Doyle novel of the same name. Our protagonist is Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins), young and unemployed in Dublin, with a dream of starting a famous band. He starts auditioning and recruiting, and brings together ten people to play American Soul. They start out sounding a bit crap, but they keep rehearsing until they sound fantastic on stage ... while simultaneously they're disintegrating off stage.

The actors were picked primarily for their ability to play or sing, and it shows in the performances: they sound fantastic. So much so that much of the cast ran a couple of tours performing the music in the movie, and both the soundtrack and a follow-up album charted. But the portrayal of a band forming and falling apart again is beautiful, hilarious, and a little tragic: it remains one of the best band movies there is. A great piece of work.

1991, dir. Alan Parker. With Robert Arkins, Andrew Strong, Glen Hansard, Kenneth McCluskey, Angeline Ball, Maria Doyle, Bronagh Gallagher, Johnny Murphy, Félim Gormley, Michael Aherne, Dick Massey, Dave Finnegan, Colm Meaney, Anne Kent.

The Company of Strangers

This is an NFB (National Film Board, for the non-Canadians among you) movie from 1990. Eight elderly women and their young female driver are stranded in the Quebec(?) wilderness when their bus breaks down on an impromptu detour to see the cottage that one of them went to in her youth. And really, there's no more to it than that: it's 100 minutes of old ladies talking. Seriously, that's it - a bunch of unscripted non-actors talking and reminiscing about their lives. And you know what? I loved it when it came out, and I love it in 2018. It's a charming, thought-provoking bit of Canadiana, a wonderful quiet little film that I highly recommend.

Best of all, it's available for free.

1990, dir. Cynthia Scott. With Alice Diabo, Constance Garneau, Winifred Holden, Cissy Meddings, Mary Meigs, Catherine Roche, Michelle Sweeney, Beth Webber.

The Company of Wolves

The movie starts with a rich teenager (Sarah Patterson) in modern Britain being pestered by her older sister (Georgia Slowe). We then enter her dreams, where she lives in a fairytale forest. Her sister is killed by wolves in the forest, and she goes to stay with her grandmother (Angela Lansbury) who loves to tell bloody stories (which are also put on film for us). Grandma also knits her a bright-red shawl for our Little Red Riding Hood. So the whole movie is a dream, except for about two minutes at each end: not a promising structure.

I got interested in this because it had fairly good reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and because it was directed by Neil Jordan. I struggled through it primarily because it was Jordan, but I'm here to tell you that the special effects are appallingly bad, and the pointlessly complex structure doesn't amount to a cohesive whole and the whole damn thing is just idiotic. Really terrible.

1984, dir. Neil Jordan. With Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, David Warner, Tusse Silberg, Micha Bergese, Graham Crowden, Shephen Rea, Georgia Slowe, Shane Johnstone.


Will Smith plays Bennet Omalu, an over-educated Nigerian doctor who works as a pathologist in (or near, anyway) Pittsburgh. When Hall of Fame football player Mike Webster (David Morse) landed on his autopsy table at the age of 50, Omalu spent his own money to determine what was wrong with Webster's brain - and discovered something that was eventually named Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Essentially, "you get too many minor concussions playing football, you get brain problems and you die young." The movie follows his attempts to tell the National Football League about it (according to the movie, he was surprised that they didn't want to hear it - and they have highly paid lawyers to prevent such conversations ...), while also trying to start a family. The movie runs from roughly 2002 through 2009 - by which time the NFL was finally forced to acknowledge there might be some small problem ...

Smith is good as Omalu, and he gets good backup from Gugu Mbatha-Raw as his love interest and wife, Morse as Webster, Albert Brooks as his mentor and head coroner Cyril Wecht, and Alec Baldwin as a former team doctor Julian Bailes - who's very unhappy with what's happening to his former players. The final product is a well constructed (if not stellar) movie about a rather interesting and disturbing subject. It's a good portrait of a man who did what was right in the face of very nasty opposition, and deserves all the accolades this movie implies.

2015, dir. Peter Landesman, Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Albert Brooks, David Morse, Arliss Howard, Paul Reiser, Luke Wilson, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.

Confessions of a Superhero

All I could think watching this movie is how weird my life would look if it were put on film. We follow the lives of four people in Hollywood, all of whom want to be actors, but have instead spent years on Hollywood Boulevard as costumed superheroes posing for pictures and working for tips - glorified panhandling. It struck me as a kind of reality TV show more than a documentary, although I suppose it can be considered as both. And no, I don't think my life is that strange, but we all have our quirks and ideas that make others scratch their heads and feel superior. The filming is awful (focus isn't always there, zooms are abrupt, subjects aren't always entirely in frame) and the intro by Morgan Spurlock wasn't merely gratuitous, it was actively bad. But the movie ... it's not bad. The director makes no judgements, although he chooses to end on relative high notes for each of the characters. Strange stuff.

2007, dir. Matthew Ogens. With Maxwell Allen, Christopher Dennis, Jennifer Wenger, Joseph McQueen.

The Congress

The first half hour of the movie concentrates heavily on battering Robin Wright (played by Robin Wright) for her inconsistency, her refusal to take parts or do what's expected of her - the point being that she has no options, and if she wants to make any money at all, she has to take the contract in front of her. The script has the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and I very nearly quit because it was so godawful - Wright managed to wring a bit of substance out of the terrible material, but Harvey Keitel (as, we are forcefully made to understand, her long-suffering agent) wasn't trying very hard at all.

But after Robin signs over the rights to, well, HER (her digital image, her right to act, everything), the movie jumps forward 20 years to the Future Congress. Which is ... animated. Everyone is what they want to be - and everything and nothing is valid. From that point on, the movie is pure psychedelia - and makes little more sense than that suggests. If you can stomach the first half hour, the remaining 90 minutes is ... more interesting. I'm not sure it's better, just weirder.

Based in part on Stanisław Lem's 1971 SF novel The Futurological Congress.

I watched this because a friend recommended it, and that combined with my respect for Ari Folman and his previous movie "Waltz With Bashir" kept me watching even after the poorly done introduction.

"The events, characters and firms depicted in this photoplay are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or firms is purely coincidental." We see this so often at the end of movies that most of us don't think about it at all. I hadn't thought about it in a long time, not until I saw this movie: this movie, starring Robin Wright playing a character called "Robin Wright" who played "Princess Buttercup" in a movie called "The Princess Bride." The disclaimer seems more than a little inaccurate as Robin Wright is definitely real. (Or is she? I'VE never met her. Maybe Hollywood is an illusion in my mind ...)

2013, dir. Ari Folman. With Robin Wright, Jon Hamm, Harvey Keitel, Danny Huston, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Paul Giamatti, Sami Gayle.


Val Kilmer plays a shell-shocked vet of the Iraq War. Back home in the U.S. he never leaves his apartment, spends what little money he has on a succession of prostitutes, and lives with his flashbacks. A veteran buddy eventually convinces Kilmer to move down to New Mexico to help him out. When he arrives, no one has ever heard of his friend, and he receives a rather poor welcome. Strangely enough, there's a conspiracy in town, and eventually Kilmer tries to take care of it.

If you took "Rambo," "Soldier," and about a dozen other movies of that variety and stuff them all in the blender, something just like this would come out. Minor oddities included illegal aliens (from Mexico) being the prosecuted group, and the bad guys all belonging to a company called "Halicorp" which is accused of the worst kind of war profiteering - a very clear knock-off of Halliburton. Gary Cole plays the exact same bad guy he played the last time I saw him (I think in "Pineapple Express"). Like any movie, it had a few decent moments; but overall, it stinks.

2008, dir. Adam Marcus. With Val Kilmer, Gary Cole, Jennifer Esposito, Jay Jablonski, Greg Serano.

The Constant Gardener

Would have been an excellent movie if it wasn't for the music video editing, use of colour, and volume. It's an intelligent political intrigue, not a brainless action movie. Despite the editing and with the help of very good performances by Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes, this is a good (albeit very depressing) movie about the evils of drug companies in the Third World. Original story by John le Carré.

2005, dir. Fernando Meirelles. With Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Bill Nighy, Pete Postlethwaite.


Based on the DC comic "Hellblazer," "Constantine" stars Keanu Reeves as an attempted suicide who's been to hell and can see the angels and demons walking on earth among us. If you can accept that premise, you might enjoy this movie. Watch past the end of the credits. Fans of the comic will be disappointed in the choice of Reeves, who isn't blond and isn't Cockney. But Rachel Weisz is excellent, Tilda Swinton and Reeves are very good, the ideas are wild, and the action is great. Despite huge flaws, it's highly entertaining. I was particularly impressed with the ending, which someone worked out very well indeed.

2005, dir. Francis Lawrence. With Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Tilda Swinton.


"Contact" was written as a film treatment by Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan. When movie production stalled, Sagan released the book Contact in 1985, with the film eventually coming out in 1997 - the year after Sagan's death. It's a fascinating take on Science and Faith, and despite some significant flaws, I've been a big fan for years.

Jodie Foster is Dr. Eleanor "Ellie" Arroway, a SETI scientist who lost her mother at childbirth and her father at age 9. She's independent, intelligent, excessively honest, and bad at relationships. While working at Arecibo in Puerto Rico, she and her team find an incredibly strong signal coming from the Vega star system. A signal with a LOT of information embedded in it. What comes of this is a machine that - they think - will transport someone to Vega to meet the aliens. Ellie desperately wants to be that person.

I've totally left out Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey), a man she had a fling with in Puerto Rico. As the machine is being built, Palmer goes on to considerable fame as a Christian philosopher. He also becomes the middle ground in the film between Ellie's atheism and Jake Busey's religious fanatic.

I find the movie's take on both the science of star travel and the essence of science vs. faith to be quite brilliant - I've watched the movie three or four times, and find it thought-provoking every time. Sagan himself was not (as I suspected, age 10, watching his famous TV series "Cosmos") an atheist like Ellie, but neither was he a follower of a particular church. I have to guess he wrote Ellie and Palmer as representative of those two sides of his personality, science and faith. Towards the end of the movie, Ellie comes up against a particularly nasty conundrum for an atheist scientist: she has an unquantifiable experience that she must ask others to take on faith. It didn't occur to me until this viewing of the movie that there's a very strong connection between the movie and Arthur C. Clarke's "Third Law:" "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

The biggest problem with the movie is Foster's performance. Don't get me wrong, I love Foster. But there are a couple extended scenes where she goes way over the top - or Zemeckis told her to make it an excessive ecstatic religious experience, I don't know. Either way, it's too much and the reason that I can't list this as one of the best movies in the history of the world. Given that, it still remains a thought-provoking and wonderful film about how we view the universe around us and a celebration of humanity.

1997, dir. Robert Zemeckis. With Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt, William Fichtner, Jake Busey, Angela Bassett, John Hurt, James Woods, David Morse, Rob Lowe.

Cool Runnings

Based, loosely, on the events leading up to the Jamaican bobsled team racing at the 1988 Winter Olympics. It's definitely one of the more bizarre true fish-out-of-water sports stories you can find. Being a Disney product, it spends its time trying to be extra charming - and mostly managing to do so. The four sprinters all have their own reasons and problems - but their coach is a real piece of work. John Candy plays a discredited American bobsledder who had a couple gold medals before he was caught cheating. Candy actually puts in a really good performance. The script is definitely manipulative, but by the end you're really cheering for them. Quite enjoyable.

1993, dir. Jon Turteltaub. With Leon Robinson, Doug E. Doug, Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba, John Candy.

Cool World

A lower budget, crazier, and much more sexualized version of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Came with a pretty poor recommendation, sitting as it does at 4% on Rotten Tomatoes 23 years after its release. The confused plot first shows us a human (a very young Brad Pitt, acting rather poorly here) in our world in 1945 drawn into the animated (and comedic) "Cool World" just as his mother dies - a bizarre tonal shift that lets you know director Ralph Bakshi is going to be tone-deaf throughout the movie. We then jump forward nearly 50 years, and see that an unchanged Pitt is now a policeman in Cool World, and out in the real world a cartoonist (Gabriel Byrne) who drew one of the Cool World characters (Holli Would, played by Kim Basinger) is getting out of jail. The cartoonist starts transitioning between worlds, and he and Holli cause major problems.

When the characters are in Cool World, the place is visually fascinating. It's also utterly littered with visual non-sequiturs: fist-fights, safes or cows dropping out of the sky - usually on to characters - crazy things just floating through the air. It's very cool to look at, but doesn't make a lot of sense or add to the plot. Byrne's comic book artist seems like a very white-bread guy, but we're supposed to think he really, really want to be in the utterly insane environment of Cool World - nothing sold me on that at all. Despite all of which I rather enjoyed it, as damaged as it is. It was interesting, and I think I'm looking for that right now after a string of incredibly boring action movies.

1992, dir. Ralph Bakshi. With Kim Basinger, Brad Pitt, Candi Milo, Gabriel Byrne.

The Cooler

William H. Macy plays the titular "cooler," a man whose luck is so bad he's employed by a casino to "cool" tables - his presence will destroy anyone's run of luck. That is, until he falls in love (with Maria Bello's character). So now he's being paid to bring bad luck and is instead bringing good luck ... not exactly what his vindictive employer (Alec Baldwin) wants. Definitely a bit on the surreal side. Macy is entertaining, Baldwin vicious, and Bello gets naked again. Weird, and I didn't like it much.

2003, dir. Wayne Kramer. With William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Maria Bello.


The Rotten Tomatoes summary says "It doesn't add many new ingredients to the genre, but action fans in the mood for an old-school thriller will be happy to buy what Copshop is selling." Some tense scenes, good action, some intelligence in the script, and good performances from Gerard Butler (I'd almost forgotten he could act) and Alexis Louder make this fairly enjoyable if you're looking for an action movie ... although the ending did put me off a bit.

Louder is Valerie Young, a rookie police officer. She's shown to be smart, honest, and good with a gun. But she ends up in the lockup with a con man (Frank Grillo), a hired killer (Butler), and a bullet wound, while the entire police building is under attack. Who does she trust, what does she do? Etc.

Since I watched the movie I've been trying to figure out what bothered me about it. I think it's Young's squeaky clean character. She's not just morally upright: she's perfect. The first comparison that came to mind is John McClane (Bruce Willis in the "Die Hard" movies ... yeah, you probably know that) - McClane is a reluctant hero, an asshole, and is a "vigilante" despite being a cop. He's a "good guy," on the side of law and order, but ... no one would accuse him of being a straight arrow. Valerie Young on the other hand - while she has a personality, she apparently has no failings. None. She's likeable without being interesting. Bob Viddick (Butler's character) is unquestionably "lawless" (how Young refers to him), but he has a conscience - even if it's weirdly distorted. It's bad when the bad guys are more interesting than your hero.

2021, dir. Joe Carnahan. With Gerard Butler, Frank Grillo, Alexis Louder, Toby Huss, Ryan O'Nan, Chad L. Coleman, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Kaiwi Lyman, Tracey Bonner, Christopher Michael Holley.


Coraline is a young girl dissatisfied with her parents, her life, and her new weird neighbours. Live action animation in the same style as "The Nightmare Before Christmas," with which it shares the same director. Coraline find a small door that occasionally leads to a copy of her new apartment - complete with copies of her parents, who seem to be much nicer than her real parents.

The story takes a dark turn - as you might expect of both the director and the original author, Neil Gaiman. The animation is beautiful, the story reasonably good, the characters fun.

2009, dir. Henry Selick. With Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman, Ian McShane, Robert Bailey Jr., Keith David.

Corbin Nash

Starts with a super-cheesy voice-over by none other than Malcolm McDowell, who has lent his decaying credentials to this pathetic B movie. Written by some dude from "Game of Thrones" (Dean Jagger) who is also the lead actor and thinks grimacey-face is acting, along with his brother (Ben Jagger) who also directed. The writing is consummately pedestrian, with people asking questions that are convenient to the writers rather than ones that an actual human would ask. Questions similar to "what is the next plot point you'd like to make?"

Corbin Nash is a rogue cop who learns - from another aging actor with fading charisma (Rutger Hauer who then leaves the set and never returns) that his parents were vampire hunters. And he's destined to become one himself. The first third of the movie is tedious set-up - he and his cop buddy cannot possibly match the vampires physically but his heart is in the right place etc. The second third of the movie sees him in vampire entertainment (and food) fight club, chained or beating people up. And occasionally being angsty and delivering plot points, or having them expostulated to him.

And in the final third he is himself a vampire, hell-bent on killing the bad vampires. Here's the thing: all the publicity told you this was coming, and the movie told you it was coming within about five minutes. Which begs the question: why the hell did it take them 60 minutes of the 90 minute running time to turn him? And, as inevitably as little Lego building blocks click together, he goes out and kills the evil vampires and saves the girl. Oh, and they're totally ready to make a sequel!

It's essentially "Blade" but completely devoid of charisma, worthwhile action, or ... well, anything worth watching.

2018, dir. Ben Jagger. With Dean S. Jagger, Corey Feldman, Richard Wagner, Rutger Hauer, Bruce Davison.

The Core

A Seventies disaster movie made in 2003 with modern tropes and good acting ... which doesn't prevent it from having painfully bad science. But this is one of those ones where you go into it knowing it's going to be really bad and enjoy it anyway. It was fun.

The basic premise is that the core of the Earth has stopped rotating, and everyone on the planet will die in under a year unless our intrepid (and very intelligent and antagonistic) heroes get to the core and detonate a bunch of atomic bombs to start the core rotating again. Against impossible odds and insurmountable problems and etc.

2003, dir. Jon Amiel. With Hilary Swank, Aaron Eckhart, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, DJ Qualls, Tchéky Karyo, Bruce Greenwood, Alfre Woodard.

Counterpart, Season 1

J.K. Simmons is Howard Silk, an employee of the United Nations in Berlin, where he's worked for 30 years. His job involves reading codes to another person through a glass shield, and recording the coded responses. But he doesn't know why. Until one day they drag him into a cold cement room and sit him down opposite a more badass version of himself (not really a spoiler, this happens in the first episode: if you know anything about the series, you know this). It turns out that there's a second Earth which appeared and started diverging from our Earth right near the end of the Cold War. The entry to that other world is a basement under the U.N. building in Berlin, and the U.N. has kept the whole thing secret while cautiously trading with the other world for knowledge, things like technologies that were invented in one world but not the other.

This is a Starz TV series, ten one hour episodes: there's also a second season that closes the whole thing out.

Tatiana Maslany rocketed to stardom on a similar premise: she acts as multiple clones of herself in "Orphan Black." I watched a couple episodes of that series and wasn't a fan - it wasn't about her, I didn't like the setup. She was good, but she did it by exaggerating character tics. J.K. Simmons on the other hand ... here's the genius of his performance: I don't know how he's doing it. 90% of the time when Howard walks on screen, you know which one he is by a glance at his face. We're not talking about clothes here (although they play a part) or the setting (although it sometimes helps), it's just ... his face. The two Howards have an identical history for about half their lives, but they diverged significantly after the worlds split. And those differences of opinion and experience show.

The setup is entirely and intentionally reminiscent of the Cold War. The two worlds are trading, but there's bad blood and political manoeuvring and spying. All of which happens in Berlin - you know, where the Wall was? Mostly in English, some subtitled German. The simplicity of the effects (two J.K. Simmons and a couple other people, not much else) is in direct contrast to the complexity of the script: there's a lot happening, it's well thought out, and you need to pay attention. I enjoyed the first six episodes more than the latter four: in the seventh episode we go to "The School," which takes us away from Simmons' great acting for an episode and also starts us down the path into a more violent closure of the season. To that point there had been some deaths and it was tense, but that was the turning point where it became more overt.

Overall an outstanding piece of work that should be sought out by any fan of science fiction. Or acting.

SPOILER ALERT, don't read the rest of this if you haven't seen the season, etc. The one complaint I have is that Berlin on Earth Prime has an abundance of new, fancy architecture. This is probably just to differentiate the two Earths, but the rest of it is so well thought out ... and the reality would be that they wouldn't have the cash to build new buildings, nor the people to occupy them, when 7% of your planet's population is dead. They'd be in a massive economic slump ...

2017. With J.K. Simmons, Olivia Williams, Harry Lloyd, Nazanin Bodiadi, Sara Serraiocco, Ulrich Thomsen, Nicholas Pinnock, Mido Hamada, Kenneth Choi, Guy Burnet, Stephen Rea.

Counterpart, Season 2

The second - and final - season of "Counterpart," ten one hour episodes. See the above review for the science fiction parallel worlds set-up.

At the end of the previous season, the two Howard Silks (both played by the excellent J.K. Simmons) got stuck each in the other's world, and had to inhabit each other's lives. The gentler of the two killed someone (in self defense, but nevertheless taking on qualities of his "other") at the end of the previous season and is in custody. The more hard-ass version of Howard is trying to live the life of his gentler counterpart with his wife Emily (Olivia Williams) who barely knows him - partly because she's recovering from a head injury, but also because his behaviour doesn't entirely match what she remembers of him.

Through all this, the ruthless and lethal Mira's (Christiane Paul) 20 year project of revenge against the alternate world moves forward, as agents on both worlds try to figure out what she's going to do.

The success of the series rests on the skills of Simmons and Williams, and they're more than up to the task. The more violent Howard is now dressing like, and trying to behave like his "other," but careful placement of context means that we still have almost no difficulty figuring out which versions of Howard and Emily we're looking at. The writing remains very good: the dialogue was good, I never knew where it was going, but it always made sense and was always interesting.

I didn't enjoy this season as much, although I think it's just as good. This one is a bit darker, with the shadow of Mira and her actions coming into focus. The ending is satisfying although unsurprisingly just as dark as the series as a whole.

SPOILER ALERT: stop reading now etc. After a pretty much flawless run of logic up to the last two or three episodes, I have significant problems with the handling of the virus. Why did they need a couple dozen huge specialty boxes to transport it? They were only injecting ten people. And Mira's arrangement meant that the virus was released and active before the crossing was shut: okay, it was tailored for the world it was on, but there's still a big risk to her world. After hardass Howard hunted down the carriers and killed them, he came in close contact with a couple of them during the fight: that arguably made him a carrier (and he crossed back to his world). And last: how did Mira have virus to inject into Yanek? As we were shown, the development work on the virus was done on the other world.

Actually, there is one other logical error I noticed very early on in the first season. We're told that the other Earth lost 7% of its population to a disease. And yet the other Berlin is differentiated by a variety of wild and different architecture on its skyline. Sure, Berlin has been the leading city for modern architecture ever since World War II, but even when I was watching the first season I realized that a 7% population loss would crush your economy: you ain't building new buildings. That was several months before COVID-19 came along and proved this beyond a doubt. And consider what's happened with COVID-19: our population loss (in July of 2020) is somewhere well right of the percentage decimal point and the entire world's economy is choked. This other world lost 7%. No new buildings - not only would they not have the money, they wouldn't have the people to put in them. I mostly forgave the show this error though because it's not about economy, but about visually identifying the two different worlds.

2018. With J.K. Simmons, Olivia Williams, Harry Lloyd, Nazanin Bodiadi, Betty Gabriel, Sara Serraiocco, Nicholas Pinnock, Kenneth Choi, Guy Burnet, James Cromwell, Sarah Bolger, Samuel Roukin, Christiane Paul.

Coup de Torchon

A cop in French West Africa in 1938 gets tired of being insulted by everyone and takes it upon himself dispense justice in his own unique way - uninformed by much moral sense. I'm sure there were black comedies before this one, but this is very dark. Funny, nasty, and mesmerizing.

1981, dir. Bertrand Tavernier. With Philippe Noiret, Isabelle Huppert.

The Country Girl

It's strange how we come to movies sometimes: Mika's brilliant song "Grace Kelly" includes a Grace Kelly quote: "The last time we talked Mr. Smith, you reduced me to tears. I promise you it won't happen again." While it's been slightly changed ("Mr. Dodd" vs. "Mr. Smith"), the quote is from this movie. Since the reviews - while limited - were good, I thought I'd give it a try.

Bing Crosby plays Frank Elgin, an aging former musical star. Grace Kelly is his younger wife, the titular "Country Girl," and William Holden is his new hard-ass director in a musical stage play. The problem is that while Frank comes across as very charming, he's a self-pitying, lying alcoholic.

The script is trying to tackle big subjects - self destruction, but also loyalty and attraction outside marriage. It was a noble attempt, but these days it looks terribly contrived. Also the emotional turning points in each of their three relationships are all abrupt and unbelievable. Crosby and Holden both do good work with a crappy script, but Kelly (possibly the most beautiful woman ever to grace the silver screen, and usually a decent actress too) can't get her footing on the admittedly bad dialogue.

There are many old films worth tracking down, but this isn't one of them.

1954, dir. George Seaton. With Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, William Holden, Anthony Ross, Gene Reynolds.

Courage Under Fire

I saw this when it came out and remembered it as quite good. I watched it again in 2012. Denzel Washington plays Lieutenant Colonel Serling who we first see in the Gulf War, where he is involved in a "friendly fire" incident. After the war he has a new medal, a drinking problem, and a job investigating whether or not people should be given the medals they are put in for. The movie centres around his investigation of the death of the helicopter pilot Captain Walden (Meg Ryan). The movie is nominally about her and the Medal of Honor, but is more about Serling and his problems, the stresses of combat, and the desirability of telling the truth - the whole truth - surrounding service deaths.

The acting is uniformly good, although I wouldn't call anyone in this one outstanding - possibly Matt Damon, in a supporting role showing up most of the rest of the cast. I kind of wished the story had been more about Walden - but I think that's because it was how I remembered it, and my memory was incorrect. Serling initially gets almost consistent reports of the incident, but pursues it further and finds the stories diverging in a rather "Rashomon"-like way.

1996, dir. Edward Zwick. With Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, Matt Damon, Lou Diamond Phillips, Michael Moriarty, Scott Glenn, Tim Guinee, Seth Gilliam, Bronson Pinchot.

The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell

Gary Cooper plays Billy Mitchell, an Army General who believed in the early 1920s that air power was the way of the future, and that the U.S. military services were ignoring it at their peril. As his advice is ignored and shunted aside, he eventually chooses court-martial to force a more public airing of his views.

The movie paints him as a visionary, describing in a 1923 letter almost exactly the attack that was to come on Pearl Harbour (the movie was made in 1955). He was certainly more forward-looking than many of his peers in the military forces, and the movie does go for historical accuracy in other respects (the Shenandoah, his reassignment to Texas), but I very much doubt his description of the attack on Hawaii was that accurate. And unfortunately, accurate or not, this movie is rather dry going. Cooper is very good, but the subject isn't hugely involving.

1955, dir. Otto Preminger. With Gary Cooper, Charles Bickford, Ralph Bellamy, Rod Steiger, Elizabeth Montgomery.

Cowboy Bebop

Japanese anime series, this is a review of the entire year. Episodes have about 21 minutes of content when you strip off the credits, the total run was 26 episodes. 21 minutes is inadequate for character or plot development - which is unfortunate because I really liked the characters and some of the plots would have been great had they not been so insanely condensed.

We first meet Jet and Spike, a pair of bounty hunters cruising around the solar system in Jet's big spaceship. Both of them have their own small ship for local travel and occasionally fighting, but Spike has the really cool ship. Within a couple episodes they've managed to pick up a dog (Ein), Faye (a gorgeous bounty hunter with a gambling problem), and the child Edward, an incredibly eccentric female(!) computer genius. They rarely manage to collect bounties as they often end up doing "the right thing" instead of the lucrative thing. We get filled in on everyone's back stories as things proceed. Some episodes are comedic (eg. Ed trying her hand at bounty hunting and feeding everyone else on the crew psychedelic mushrooms), some are sad (eg. Faye's massive memory loss and re-awakening with massive debt incurred by medical treatment/resurrection she didn't precisely request). But the ending is incredibly harsh and sudden - although not a total surprise. More of a wrap-up wouldn't have hurt.

It struck me as a mash-up of "Firefly" (it's been speculated that "Firefly" was based on this series) and "Trigun." Not that a lot of people would get that: you're likely to see "Cowboy Bebop" long before you see "Trigun."

1998, dir. Shinichirō Watanabe.

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie

This movie showed up on Netflix, and it made me realize I hadn't seen it - despite having watched the preceding TV series (named, oddly enough, "Cowboy Bebop"). The show has a reputation as being "cool" - both pretty to look at (mostly true, despite cheap animation), and containing the handsome and super-cool Spike Spiegel. I didn't mind the TV series, but didn't get as entranced by it as many of the fans do.

It starts with a (re-)introduction to the characters: it's 2071, and they're bounty hunters on the ship Bebop. The crew consists of Jet Black: a former cop who owns the Bebop, Spike, Faye Valentine: gambling addict and walking fan service but otherwise a decent enough character, Edward: their young female (yes, female) hacker, and Ein - a regular-looking dog who's far from regular (although that doesn't really play a part in this movie). It's just as well they did the intro: it's been a long time since I watched the show.

This time, they're pursuing a person or group of people who've released a deadly virus/pathogen on Mars. As usual, each of the crew members goes off on their own to pursue leads in their own eccentric ways. The animation has had a bit of an upgrade since the TV series (there's more money in movies), but unfortunately the story-telling is much the same. I thought it kind of went off the rails when Spike was apparently shot to death but was patched back together by a couple of what appeared to be Native Americans (spouting an attempt at Native American religion/philosophy) on a garbage dump. The later philosophical discussion questioning the nature and truth of reality didn't really fit with the otherwise very action-oriented tone of the film (although that tone-deaf insertion is classically Anime).

This will work fine for fans of the series, but not recommended for others. Try the series if you're interested - it was goofy fun, and didn't aspire to be much more. This aspires ... and fails to rise above its origins.

One minor unintentional amusement: to prove how multi-national the future is, there are many signs and computer screens in English. The problem is ... the budget didn't extend to getting an actual English speaker to vet the content. My personal favourite was a large sign in the middle of the city near the end of the movie that said "No Hanking."

2001, dir. Shinichirō Watanabe. With Kōichi Yamadera, Megumi Hayashibara, Unshō Ishizuka, Aoi Tada, Ai Kobayashi, Tsutomu Isobe, Renji Ishibashi, Mickey Curtis.

Cowboy Bebop (2021), Season 1

Many years ago I watched the "Cowboy Bebop" Anime series (originally released in 1998, I watched it in 2011). Quite recently I watched the "Cowboy Bebop Movie." I didn't love the series, but it was fun. I was underwhelmed by the movie. In 2021 Netflix released a live-action series starring John Cho as Spike Spiegel, Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black, and Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine, bounty hunters working the solar system in the future. All three have back histories they haven't entirely shared with their partners. Most of what I write about this will revolve around comparisons to the original series. The series seems to derive its name from their employment (bounty hunters are called "cowboys") and Spike's love of Jazz music.

The aesthetic when they're on the ground is essentially 1990s Cuba: old American cars, cigarettes, lovely old buildings, Jazz bars, big handguns. Except when it isn't: they throw in futuristic technology when it helps the plot, and yet police work seems to proceed almost exactly like a 1950s TV show. Filming apparently took place in Auckland, New Zealand (I wouldn't recognize it). But they also spend some time in space: Jet's ship is essentially Serenity/Firefly (old, battered, and occasionally falling apart) and we have jump gates and various colonies and space stations.

One of the original series' biggest problems is the rather abrupt shift in tone from mostly comedic action to violent and tragic death-fight at the end of the series: possibly the only improvement this series made was to start mixing in Spike's history almost from the beginning so you could see that coming. One of this series' biggest problems is that they apparently didn't realize that two solid, real, adult humans bickering like cartoon characters (Spike and Jet fighting as they did in the original Anime) isn't as funny as it is as Anime characters - and also leads to serious issues with suspension-of-disbelief. They do this less as the series progresses - but Jet's utterly ridiculous beard stays with us. It looked cool in the Anime with its spikes ... but in live action it's ludicrous. How hard would it have been to have him with a simple, currently fashionable beard? Credit to Cho and the costumers: Spike Spiegel looks almost as cool in live action as he did in the Anime, and that's an achievement. Pineda's outfits are less revealing than Anime-Faye's - but then, those were utterly ridiculous. Apparently this was partly a practical decision as well as a moral one as they needed to cover up stunt rigging with her clothing, and needed her not to freeze to death on cold shooting nights. Another thing that didn't make it from the original to this (and I feel like it's a loss): while they live by the bounties they retrieve, in the original they often gave up bounties to do the morally correct thing. In this series, they lose several bounties because the mark ends up dead (that happened in the Anime too), and they express some moral qualms, but they never give up a bounty for morality.

A major character in the original series was Ed the hacker. She's mentioned briefly late in this series, but doesn't show up until the last minute of the last episode. Ed was the comic relief to an already comedic series, an intelligent but weird and incredibly goofy character. And when they introduced Ed here, she's fully geared up in her most ridiculous clothing, on her weirdest behaviour, landing on a fairly tragic moment at the end of the series. Totally tone-deaf, and bringing too much of the Anime flavour of the character to live action. And of course her appearance will make absolutely zero sense to anyone unfamiliar with the Anime.

The single worst part of the series to me was Alex Hassell as Vicious, who spends most of the series clenching his teeth to show his rage. There was almost nothing good about his performance. Elena Satine as Julia (love interest of both Vicious and Spike) would have stood out too if Hassell's portrayal weren't even worse ... Not that anybody is going to win an Oscar for something that frequently reads like a farce.

Just as in the Anime, the big finale (this isn't a spoiler) is in a church. But the outcomes for several major characters are radically different. It makes less sense than the Anime ending ... but they're A) trying to be different from the original, and B) setting themselves up for another season. A second season they may not get and which I'm unlikely to watch even if it happens.

2021. With John Cho, Mustafa Shakir, Daniella Pineda, Elena Satine, Alex Hassell, Tamara Tunie, Mason Alexander Park, Geoff Stults.

Cowboys & Aliens

A man (Daniel Craig) wakes in the desert with no idea where he is, or even who he is. Although some of his abilities become clearer a couple minutes later when three men try to rob him and he takes them all out with considerable ease. In town he tries to mind his own business but soon enough he's involved in everyone else's. And then the aliens attack, which leads to a couple discoveries: they're abducting people (surprise!) and the weird bracelet around our anti-hero/amnesiac's wrist is a weapon capable of taking out the alien flyers.

Jon Favreau directs as if there's nothing in the world more fun than making a movie and blowing shit up. This was clearly fun to work on. But the "we're making a Western, ha-ha tricked you here's aliens" routine is decidedly uninspiring and merely passable acting from Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde (although Craig was quite good) meant that an already messy script ("let's ride back and forth and toss in new characters and twists") never really got off the ground.

2011, dir. Jon Favreau. With Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown, Keith Carradine, Adam Beach.

Cradle 2 the Grave

This movie is pretty bad - which is to say it's better than most of Jet Li's American movies. Jet Li is an extremely talented martial artist, and, while he's no actor, he's at least fairly charming. But his goofy Hong Kong movies look excellent by comparison to the tripe he's turned out since he was "discovered." I keep hoping he'll end up in something better.

2003. dir. Andrzej Bartkowiak. With Jet Li, DMX.


The basic premise is that our hero ("Chev Chelios," played by Jason Statham) wakes up to find he's been poisoned by an enemy and the only way to stay alive is to stay cranked on adrenaline. That tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the movie. I hope you can guess that it's intensely ludicrous. It's a bad movie, but ... pretty entertaining. Although I'm more than a little embarrassed to say that in public.

2006, dir. Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor. With Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Efren Ramirez, Dwight Yoakam, Carlos Sanz, Keone Young.

Crazy Rich Asians

This movie made a big sensation when it came out: finally, a movie by Asians, for Asians, about the Asian experience. All true, except for the "crazy rich" part: our middle class American-Chinese heroine is thrown into the middle of Singapore's richest families by her fiancée - who didn't bother to mention that he was part of the wealthiest family in the entire city-state. (Singapore is technically a country, but "city-state" describes it better - and to be "rich" there is to be very, very rich.) Ironically, Wikipedia says "the film did receive some criticism for casting biracial actors over fully ethnically Chinese ones in certain roles." How accurate does a film have to be, I wonder? My complaint is simpler: the movie may represent an Asian experience - but only that of perhaps 0.001% of the population given the incredible wealth of nearly all the characters. But, of course, it's also the point of the movie (that and family).

Constance Wu plays Rachel and Henry Golding plays Nick, her handsome, charming, and - as she finds out rather late in the game - crazy rich boyfriend who takes her to meet his family at his best friend's wedding. Much is made of the craziness of all the people around them, as well as the couple's relatively down-to-earth nature. Many of the characters are massively over-the-top - some comedic, a couple nasty, many a mix of both. It doesn't go quite far enough to be labelled as a "screwball comedy," but these characters manage to remove any hope of the movie ever having any feeling of "realism." And yet the movie manages enough charm, humour, and romance to achieve its goals: it remains enjoyable.

2018, dir. Jon M. Chu. With Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Nico Santos, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh, Ken Jeong.

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Steve Carell plays Cal Weaver, whose wife Emily (Julianne Moore) asks for a divorce at the beginning of the movie. He spends his time sitting in a bar bemoaning his state to no one in particular. Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a pick-up artist who takes home a different woman pretty much every night, takes Cal under his wing and tutors him. As Cal learns the tricks of the trade, Jacob unexpectedly falls hard for one woman (Emma Stone). There's also a subplot about Cal and Emily's son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) who's desperately in love with his babysitter (Analeigh Tipton) - who is herself in love with Cal ...

This is essentially the spiritual (and American) successor to "Love Actually." It's about being in love, and the value of that whether or not you can actually have the person you love or not.

Tipton's performance is excellent, but is much more surprising when you find out that this gawky, shy and awkward 17 year old is actually a 22 year old fashion model. Stone is also excellent, although the role is in many ways a more mature version of her character in "Easy A." Gosling and Moore are excellent, but no one is surprised about that. Carell continues to be a very decent dramatic actor. Bobo is great as the intelligent and obsessed young son.

Follows the comedy practise of characters being writ larger than life - some of the things that happen are a bit over the top. And there are a couple of major film-making contrivances in which the identity of certain players are deliberately hidden from us so it can be sprung on us later for laughs. I was mildly annoyed by this, but damn, they were big laughs. Setting aside the exceptionally high level of coincidence required for the big blow-up between the second and final acts (which is again brilliantly funny), the script is really good and supported by excellent performances. I bought it on disc the day it came out.

2011, dir. Glenn Ficarra, John Requa. With Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Analeigh Tipton, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon, Jonah Bobo.


We first meet Amy (Cara Theobold) as she tries to get off the psychiatric drugs she's on. She was put on them because she occasionally saw people with deformed faces. As the drugs ease up, the "hallucinations" return - but an encounter with another young woman Raquel (Susan Wokoma) who sees the same things convinces her that she may not be crazy. In fact, Raquel eventually convinces her that these people are demons and should be killed.

Raquel is blazingly awkward, leading to a fair number of cringeworthy jokes. And her awkwardness rubs off on Amy to some extent (or may already have been there). It's "horror comedy," so there's a lot of humour, but there are also a few deaths of friends they didn't want to lose.

The series is six episodes of 45 minutes each. It was clearly set up to continue, but despite good reviews and some minor awards, the series was cancelled. Happily, while there are some dangling details, the series does mostly wrap up.

The series made the deliberate choice to simply ignore the existence of the police. They kill multiple people, including ones they had a direct association with, and there are never investigations or questions of any kind - they just walk away. Although they did bury one person in the woods - apparently more for a plot point than anything else.

The awkward humour put me off, but there was enough non-cringey humour and action to keep me watching through the series' short run. I wouldn't particularly recommend it, but fans of horror-comedy may enjoy it.

2016, dir. Al Mackay, Declan O'Dwyer. With Cara Theobold, Susan Wokoma, Arinze Kene, Lewis Reeves, Riann Steele, Luke Allen-Gale, Charlie Archer, Tony Curran, Lu Corfield, Billy Seymour.


This is set in the current day, but it falls under the heading of "science fiction" because the main premise of the film is a piece of science that doesn't actually exist yet. Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) of the CIA is trying to extract hacker Jan Strook (Michael Pitt) who wants to get away from his insane boss Heimdahl (Jordi Mollà). This is because Heimdahl would happily cause a nuclear holocaust with the control Strook has gained over missile access codes. But Heimdahl has Pope killed, leaving Strook stranded and the CIA not knowing what's going on. So they use an experimental technology from Dr. Micah Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) to transfer the memories of their dead agent into the head of incarcerated sociopath Jerico Stewart (Kevin Costner). When Jerico isn't immediately responsive with the memories he wants, CIA boss Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) indicates that Jerico should be disposed of. But they don't do it on the spot because that wouldn't give him time to escape. And he does escape, and the memories start to take their effect.

The basic idea is sound, even quite interesting: what happens when you place the memories of a basically decent man in the head of an emotionless criminal? Jan Strook's hacking into the American missile defence system, is improbable, but ... let's let that go, it's a semi-credible threat. And I wouldn't have started watching the DVD if I wasn't willing to accept the memory re-implantation idea. But Strook's former boss Heimdahl - when he's not torturing people, he sits quietly typing - from where he apparently controls the GPS system, the entire world's cellular phone network, and every security camera anywhere (with sound and pan/zoom control). Damn he's good. In fact, he's so spectacularly good that he doesn't need Strook at all, because he's an immensely better hacker ... and he's totally unbelievable. It's unfortunate as Costner turned in a pretty good performance that might have made the movie watchable if it weren't so ludicrous. And in other regards, it's just kind of ... generic. The end result is a bit of a mess and, while not totally horrible, hard to recommend to anyone.

2016, dir. Ariel Vromen. With Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Gal Gadot, Alice Eve, Michael Pitt, Ryan Reynolds, Jordi Mollà, Antje Traue, Scott Adkins, Amaury Nolasco.

Crocodile Dundee

The movie that temporarily made a world-wide star of Paul Hogan, brought us endless Aussie jokes, and became an icon of the Eighties.

Linda Kozlowski plays newspaper reporter Sue Charlton, who pursues a story of a man attacked by a crocodile to the Australian Outback. There she finds that the story of him losing part of his leg was an exaggeration - although the attack was not. After a tour to the site of the attack, she convinces Dundee to come to New York with her. Comedic things happen in both locations.

The movie screams 1980s. Hogan isn't a particularly talented actor, but he's charming and funny and has written himself quite a few good jokes. Kozlowski, also a mediocre actor, is a passable foil. It remains an enjoyable movie in 2014.

1986, dir. Peter Faiman. With Paul Hogan, Linda Kozlowski, Mark Blum, David Gulpilil, John Meillon, Michael Lombard.

The Croods

I didn't much like the style of the animation or the humour in the trailer, but I decided to watch the movie anyway because the critics liked it, and, let's face it, I like animated kids movies. I only managed to hold my grudge for about fifteen minutes. It's silly, surreal, heavy-handed ... but also charming, and very funny.

The Croods are a family of cave dwellers, with oldest daughter Eep (Emma Stone) being in her rebellious phase. Dad (Nicolas Cage) is very insistent that they stay in the safety of the cave for days at a time if there's any danger at all in the outside world. Their not-very-peaceful existence is interrupted by Eep's interest in Guy (Ryan Reynolds) - and the fact that Guy is fleeing the shifting of the tectonic plates, which is rewriting the geography of the entire world. The creatures they encounter are fantastical, ridiculous, excessive, pretty, and entertaining. It's just that kind of movie. Lessons are learned by all.

2013, dir. Chris Sanders, Kirk De Micco. With Emma Stone, Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, Cloris Leachman.

The Croods: a New Age

"The Croods" was a very, very silly film. But ... it was also very funny, and I enjoyed it. This second Croods movie tries too hard to be better/cleverer/bigger than its predecessor, but despite some struggles, still manages to be fairly funny.

2020, dir. Joel Crawford. With Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, Cloris Leachman, Peter Dinklage, Leslie Mann, Kelly Marie Tran.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

I think this was the first DVD I ever purchased. It's also one of the most influential martial arts movies ever made: the first time a well-known director tackled the genre, also for the first time with good actors, a big budget, and a huge world-wide release. This movie legitimized martial arts movies, and paved the way for big budget releases like "Hero," "The House of Flying Daggers," and many others since.

The story opens with Li Mu-bai (Chow Yun-fat) and Yu Shu-lien (Michelle Yeoh). Li Mu-bai is considering giving up his sword, the legendary Green Destiny, and the warrior's life that goes with it. There are hints that this might even allow a long-postponed romance to blossom between the two. But the Green Destiny is stolen, and the two become entangled with Jen (a Governor's daughter, played by Zhang Ziyi) and Lo (a desert bandit - Chang Chen). And to confuse things further, it appears that the Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei) - a woman who murdered Li Mu-bai's master - may have re-surfaced. And did I mention that the better-trained among them can fly and perform super-human feats?

It sounds like a cheesy martial arts movie because it's based on a Wuxia novel. And that might have been all it was, but Ang Lee brings superb direction, excellent actors, and stunning cinematography to it, and produces a film that's enchanted millions who were never fans of the genre. Elegant, beautiful, and heart-breaking, this is a really wonderful movie.

2000, dir. Ang Lee. With Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Cheng Pei-pei.

The Crow

One of the earlier graphic-novel-to-movie translations, this one of a vicious revenge story. Brandon Lee died during the making of the movie. I still don't understand why the critics like this one so much: sure, Alex Proyas has a great eye for sets and shots, but the story is over-the-top vicious, silly, and not very well acted. If you want to see Proyas really on his game, watch "Dark City." "I, Robot" is more accessible and has issues, but is still very good. If you want to see Lee doing martial arts (this barely qualifies), try the shabby but well choreographed "Rapid Fire."

The plot revolves around a man (Lee) whose girlfriend was raped and he himself was murdered, and his return after death to take revenge.

1994, dir. Alex Proyas. With Brandon Lee, Rochelle Davis, Ernie Hudson, David Patrick Kelly, Michael Wincott, Bai Ling.


Robert Crumb had a lot to do with starting the underground comics movement in the late 60s. He's still an active comics author. This movie follows him around for a while, talks to his family, looks at his comics, and looks into his past life. Crumb has no problem talking about his life in considerable detail: it's how he's made his living for the past thirty years. Many of his comics are his own bizarre interpretations of the events in his life. Many of his comics are about sex, and the movie spends time dwelling on his fantasies, and occasionally his actual sex life. Get ready for a really weird ride. He's a pretty strange individual, but as the movie progresses and you meet his brothers and mother, you realize he's the sane one in the family ... Hilarious and extremely disturbing. I highly recommend it - you won't forget it for a long time.

1998. dir. Terry Zwigoff.

Cum On Feel the Noize

The movie is named after the Slade (and Quiet Riot) song "Cum On Feel the Noize," but in Canada it was released as "Come On Feel the Noize." The intent of the movie is to chart the development of heavy metal as a music genre.

Where this falls apart almost immediately is the voice-over. This is a German production with a German director and a German writer. Which suggests it got a bad translation into English, and a poor choice of narrator (according to the movie's own credits: "Gregory Fernandez," who isn't in IMDB's list of credits for the movie and doesn't appear to have really done anything else). What we end up with is something that sounds like a 1970s K-Tel ad. The movie says of Deep Purple's album "Infinite": "their biggest charting record in 30 years ... touring to sell to a whole new generation." The wording, the pacing, and the voice are all straight out of K-Tel - and it's pretty damn off-putting.

Another fairly significant mis-step occurred when they showed part of Twisted Sister's most famous song. The on-screen text credited it as "We're Not Going To Take" (sic). That's just sloppy.

The movie starts around 1970, and mostly credits Led Zeppelin as the real starting point of heavy rock. They talk about Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, Slade ... They address the rise of punk (from which metal gets a lot of musical stylings) and glam rock (from which metal gets its on-stage theatrics). On the plus side, they did seem to get their history right. But then they kind of glossed over the diversity of subgenres that have developed - not that they would have had time to examine any of them closely, but just to point out that Neue Deutsche Härte happened (it's a German film!), that Death Metal and Nu Metal exist (they didn't mention Korn) ... And on and on.

The movie is occasionally (but sadly not always) interesting when the artists are talking. I particularly like Dave Draiman and wish they'd given him more time. But overall the movie is too surface to teach fans much, and too off-putting to keep non-fans of the genre interested. I really wanted to enjoy this one, but no such luck.

2017, dir. Jörg Sonntag.

The Cup

About Buddhism, passion, and Tibet. Probably the only movie you'll ever see in Bhutanese (the Tibetan language?). Based on a true story. Several young monks at a Buddhist monastery in India are determined to see the World Cup football games, even though it's against monastery rules. The people in the movie are (I think) all monks, and not particularly good actors. But it's funny and enjoyable, and very educational about Tibetans and Buddhism.

2000. dir. Khyentse Norbu.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Brad Pitt plays Benjamin Button, born a shrivelled up and ancient baby, abandoned, forever ageing backward. In love, permanently and from a very young age, with Cate Blanchett's character Daisy. The story is told by Julia Ormond, playing Daisy's daughter, reading Button's diaries to Daisy as Daisy lies dying. It's certainly an epic movie: it follows him from his birth in 1920 to her deathbed in New Orleans during what appears to be the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. The aging of Blanchett, and the reverse effect on Pitt, are managed very well. I liked it, but didn't find it terribly involving.

2008, dir. David Fincher. With Cate Blanchett, Brad Pitt, Julia Ormond, Elias Koteas, Taraji P. Henson, Tilda Swinton.

Curse of the Golden Flower (orig. "Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia")

"Lavish" and "Extravagant" don't begin to do this movie justice: the sets and costumes are spectacular. Too bad the motivations for most of the characters are ... well, opaque. It reminded me a great deal of "The Lion in Winter" (okay, I'm getting old: I've seen most of the predecessors): king and empress at odds, three sons, everybody scheming. The king is slowly poisoning the empress, the empress is sleeping with the first son (child of the previous empress), first son is sleeping with the royal pharmacist's daughter, second son is desperately trying to be loyal to everyone, and third son is young enough to be blithely unaware of everything. Look at the pretty scenery and forget the foundering tragedy plot. Or better: go see "Hero" or "House of Flying Daggers." Both of which are flawed, but very pretty and better than this.

2006, dir. Zhang Yimou. With Chow Yun-fat, Gong Li, Jay Chou, Liu Ye, Ni Dahong, Qin Junjie, Li Man, Chen Jin.


Da Vinci's Inquest, Season 1

If the original "Law and Order" had a baby with "Bones" and the baby moved to Vancouver, you'd have "Da Vinci's Inquest." (Don't let the fact that "Bones" post-dates "Da Vinci's Inquest" throw off the comparison - it's otherwise surprisingly accurate.)

Dominic Da Vinci (played by Nicholas Campbell) is a coroner in Vancouver. One of the two pathologists working with him in the Coroner's office is his ex-wife (played by Gwynyth Walsh), who's now dating their boss (Chief Coroner James Flynn, played by Robert Wisden). This is all set up in the first ten minutes of the pilot: this show is going to be partly about the personal lives of the characters. We also follow the police officers who work with them, notably new Detective Mick Leary (Ian Tracey), Detective Angela Kosmo (Venus Terzo), and older Detective Leo Shannon (Donnelly Rhodes). They solve cases, like any crime drama show. But unlike any other, this isn't primarily about the cases: it's about the people. Case story arcs last an episode, two, eight ... and sometimes they're not even entirely resolved. The people's stories flow across episodes, with no neatly containerized story lines - they just keep going. And they don't feel the need (so far ...) to create a serial murderer who locks two of the leads in a buried car to ratchet up tension (I'm looking at you, "Bones"). This is work, this is people's lives. Work which most of them are pretty passionate about - and something you see in the show more than once is the consequences of these people getting sloppy or lazy (it happens when you do it every day until you're exhausted, even when you're passionate about it). They deal with prostitution, drug deaths, drownings, bad convictions ... The show is varied.

Until I saw this, I thought "Slings and Arrows" was the only really good Canadian TV show (and weirdly, I think it's the best TV show ever made ...). But now I'm happy to acknowledge that my home country has produced at least one more, and it gives me hope. The viewer doesn't have the "satisfaction" of seeing a case wrapped up every episode, but I'm finding in the long run it's much more satisfying tracking a very good story with well drawn characters slowly achieving what they want to achieve. So not all individual cases are solved: they're still making their city a better place. It's a real pleasure to watch.

(And there's Jewel Staite as the Da Vinci's daughter, a few years before she took care of the engine on Serenity ...)

1998. With Nicholas Campbell, Suleka Mathew, Donnelly Rhodes, Venus Terzo, Ian Tracey, Gwynyth Walsh, Alex Diakun, Robert Wisden, Max Martini, Jewel Staite, Duncan Fraser.

Da Vinci's Inquest, Season 2

See the previous season review for an outline of "Da Vinci's Inquest." In fact this is enough of a continuation of the previous season that I'm not sure I have much to add. Da Vinci is an alcoholic, and a bit of an asshole - but he never comes to work drunk, and ironically, being an asshole makes him better at his job. This season is often quite dark - although as I write that, I realize the show is about a coroner. He's only involved if people are dead, and usually in an unhappy way. So I suspect the first season was equally dark, but I may not have noticed because I was so pleased to find a really well done TV series.

1999. With Nicholas Campbell, Suleka Mathew, Donnelly Rhodes, Venus Terzo, Ian Tracey, Gwynyth Walsh, Alex Diakun, Robert Wisden, Max Martini, Sarah Strange, Sarah-Jane Redmond, Callum Keith Rennie, Duncan Fraser.

Da Vinci's Inquest, Season 3

More of the same. Which with most TV series would be a bad thing, but when they bring real, well-written characters and varied and always interesting cases, "more of the same" is very good. I'm really enjoying this series.

2000. With Nicholas Campbell, Suleka Mathew, Donnelly Rhodes, Venus Terzo, Ian Tracey, Gwynyth Walsh, Alex Diakun, Robert Wisden, Max Martini, Sarah Strange, Sarah-Jane Redmond, Callum Keith Rennie.

Da Vinci's Inquest, Season 4

Amazingly, this already very good show seems to be better in its fourth season than ever before. It doesn't ever promise you a tidy conclusion. You get them for some cases, for some you don't. And the characters lives just go on: for example, Leo continues to deal with the deteriorating state of his wife, who has dementia. This isn't a major plot point: just a reminder that police men have lives outside of work, and that those lives often influence their behaviour. And we're reminded about this all the time in small ways. Another example stems from a case that I think was in the third season: some bones were found while excavating for the foundation of a new building. This has become an archaeological dig, with all the repercussions that go with that. One of their pathologists, Sunny, goes there periodically (although it's not part of her job) to assist with identifying the ever-increasing heap of bones being pulled out of the site. And poor decisions in prior seasons sometimes come back to haunt our characters, months or even years later. Some bad decisions they get away with. It's ... almost like life.

I love this show.

2001. With Nicholas Campbell, Suleka Mathew, Donnelly Rhodes, Venus Terzo, Ian Tracey, Gwynyth Walsh, Alex Diakun, Robert Wisden, Max Martini, Sarah Strange, Sarah-Jane Redmond, Callum Keith Rennie.

Da Vinci's Inquest, Season 5

Everything I've already said about the series continues to apply: it's very well constructed, it feels realistic, it's a pleasure to watch, it's frequently dark.

As an example of what I love about the writing: Da Vinci has been driving the same SUV since the beginning of the series. As a viewer, you don't really think about this - but that means the car is a minimum of five years old, possibly older. In the last episode of this season, he's headed for a cemetery for a disinterment when the car sputters and stops, so he's desperately calling his office and then walking to the cemetery, where he's half an hour late. It's not a big or important scene, but it clearly shows the difference between this show and every other "cop show."

Mick Leary (Ian Tracey) is having more and more trouble holding his life together as the after-effects of something that happened mid-way through season 4 are tearing him apart. Angela Cosmo (Venus Terzo) is trying (only semi-successfully) to befriend a young prostitute, and she's finding friendship and using the woman as a snitch are incompatible, particularly in the face of the woman's addiction. Which leads her to a couple cops in Vice: Suki (Camille Sullivan) and Brian (Colin Cunningham). Across multiple episodes, we find out that Brian is severely bent, but not quite bent enough for them to pin anything on him. And not surprisingly, Suki wants desperately to not be Brian's partner.

The show is never-ending. And yet in most episodes they manage to get a reasonable wrap on a case or two, giving us some sense of satisfaction. It remains an outstanding series.

2002. With Nicholas Campbell, Suleka Mathew, Donnelly Rhodes, Venus Terzo, Ian Tracey, Alex Diakun, Sarah Strange, Sarah-Jane Redmond, Kimberly Hawthorne, Colin Cunningham, Camille Sullivan, Stephen E. Miller.

Da Vinci's Inquest, Season 6

Dominic Da Vinci spends some time in nearly every episode this season dealing with his attempt to become chief of police. He also works with the mayor intermittently on a safe injection site, something Da Vinci has been wanting since the series started. At the end of the last episode, he heads in to the interview for the police chief job.

After watching six seasons of this, I've finally registered another significant point of realism: the police officers we watch have drawn their guns twice in six years. And the only officer who ever fired a gun suffered from a couple years of depression (he seems to be recovering now). Amazing: you can have a great show without constant gunplay.

Da Vinci continues to be a hot-headed asshole whenever people do things he believes are wrong. He always does what he believes is right. He's always been sympathetic to the families of those who've died, and he's a loyal friend - including to a councilor who's done a couple things Dominic disagrees with. It's representative of the series: people aren't one-note, they're damn complex.

And while all this is going on, people continue to die and their deaths are investigated. The series remains very well written and acted.

2003. With Nicholas Campbell, Donnelly Rhodes, Venus Terzo, Ian Tracey, Alex Diakun, Sarah Strange, Sarah-Jane Redmond, Kimberly Hawthorne, Colin Cunningham, Camille Sullivan, Stephen E. Miller, Gerard Plunkett.

The Dance of Reality

I haven't seen a movie this bizarre since "Eraserhead," thirty years ago. I can give you some idea of the basic premise, but it's totally insane and I can't do justice to its weirdness. I suppose I was curious about Alejandro Jodorowsky after watching "Jodorowsky's Dune."

Jeremías Herskovits (who is in fact the director Jodorowsky's grandson) plays the young Alejandro. He lives in Chile with his parents Sara (Pamela Flores) and Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky, Alejandro's son - this is very much a family affair). Sara is very strongly Christian, and sings everything instead of speaking. But Jaime is a hard-core communist and atheist who worships Stalin, and demands strength and self-control from his young and fearful son. Alejandro Jodorowsky (the director, not the character played by Herskovits) appears occasionally to stand behind the young Alejandro - to reassure him and make incredibly cryptic pronouncements that clarified nothing. But it hasn't really got weird yet. At one point, to prove his bravery, Jaime delivers water to plague victims. He becomes infected - but his wife saves him by praying to God and then urinating all over him. Jaime now knows what he needs to do: he's going to save the workers by murdering Carlos Ibáñez (dictator in Chile from 1952 to 1958). He fails, and in an even weirder turn, is captured and tortured by Nazis (let's not forget the cattle prod to the testicles - Jodorowsky really likes naked people of both genders). The movie ends shortly after Jaime's return home and spiritual awakening. Oh dear - did I ruin that for you? Trust me, you aren't watching this one for the plot - if you watch it at all.

Let's have a look at the cast list ...

2013, dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky. With Brontis Jodorowsky, Jeremías Herskovits, Pamela Flores, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Bastián Bodenhöfer, Andrés Cox, Adán Jodorowsky, Cristóbal Jodorowsky.

Dark Passage

Humphrey Bogart plays Vincent Parry, accused of murdering his wife. In the first scene, we see him escaping from San Quentin prison on a supply truck. The film is quite unusual in showing most of the first third of the film from Vincent's P.O.V. - and even when it's not his view, his face is never shown until he has plastic surgery (to become Humphrey Bogart). After his escape from prison, he's aided by Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall - possibly at her most beautiful), a woman convinced that - as he claims - he didn't kill his wife. Parry eventually tries to prove his own innocence.

The movie is very uneven. Some scenes are brilliantly creepy - particularly as he's taken into plastic surgery by a doctor who's lost his license, and who jokes about what a mess he could make of Parry's face if he didn't like him or if he slipped up. The dialogue varies between preposterous and very good. It felt a bit like a failed experiment, but it was sure as hell interesting and I really enjoyed watching it.

1947, dir. Delmer Daves. With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Agnes Moorehead, Bruce Bennett, Tom D'Andrea, Clifton Young, Rory Mallinson, Houseley Stevenson.

Dark Star

John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon's first full length film, essentially their film school project turned feature. Carpenter's name is probably familiar, but if Dan O'Bannon's name isn't, it's because he went on to become a screenwriter. You might recognize movie titles like "Alien" and "Return of the Living Dead?" "Dark Star" wasn't well received at the time, but has become something of a cult classic.

I liked it only marginally better this time than when I first saw it around 1987. I had a bad tendency back then to take humorous movies seriously: not a good plan with a science fiction farce. But apparently the humour still doesn't work for me, even though I understood much of it at an intellectual level. Teaching a sentient bomb Phenomenology in an attempt to convince it to not detonate struck home when I first saw the movie: that one I enjoy. But thinking "that joke should have been funny" for most of the material doesn't really make a movie enjoyable. Still, it was fairly educational.

1974, dir. John Carpenter. With Brian Narelle, Dan O'Bannon, Cal Kuniholm, Andreijah Pahich, Joe Sanders, Barbara Knapp, Miles Watkins, Nick Castle.

The Dark Tower

I haven't read Stephen King's The Dark Tower series that this is based on. Apparently this is a sequel. But as far as I can tell, they've taken a massive epic and reduced it to a short and trivial fantasy movie for children. Which is doing a disservice to the children's movies that are coming out these days: most of them have more brains than this workman-like foolishness.

The three main characters are Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), and Walter aka "The Man in Black" (Matthew McConaughey). Jake is a human boy on modern-day Earth who has visions, which has led his parents to think he's insane. Roland Deschain is the last Gunslinger, the protector of the Dark Tower, who is seeking revenge on Walter (who killed his father). Walter is an evil magician who wants to open the universe up to the demons that live outside it by destroying the Dark Tower - and to do that, he's looking for a child with Shine. What "Shine" is is never really explained, but apparently you can send thoughts to people.

The problem is, it should have been a TV series - a long one. Not only have they squeezed it into 90 minutes, they've made something with the brains of a toad - and the repeated recitation of the ludicrous Gunslinger's creed. "I do not kill with my gun; he who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father. I kill with my heart." (It's longer than that, but that's quite enough.)

I can't recommend this one for anybody.

2017, dir. Nikolaj Arcel. With Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Katheryn Winnick, Jackie Earle Haley, Dennis Haysbert.

The Da Vinci Code

A long-winded, muddled mess of a movie. I haven't read the book. There are only two types of scenes in this movie: long explanations of art or Christian conspiracy theory, or action. This leaves no time for acting by an otherwise excellent cast. Even with all the explanations, it's occasionally unclear what's going on and you probably don't care anyways.

2006, dir. Ron Howard. With Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany, Alfred Molina.

Dakota Skye

Tiny little indie movie about a young woman (Eileen Boylan), a high school student who has a "superpower": whenever anyone lies to her, she knows the truth. As she points out in her voice-over, this isn't quite as much of a blessing as you'd think. Having discovered that everyone lies, she's become apathetic, sleep-walking through her own life. Until her boyfriend's stoner best friend (Ian Nelson) shows up: he never lies. And he's a pretty cool guy. His presence forces her out of her apathy and into making decisions about her life.

Boylan, Nelson, and J.B. Ghuman Jr. (Dakota's boyfriend) are all reasonably good. The script is very good. The movie has too many montages, too many long shots with music and no speech. It gets a little old, but they're used reasonably well to develop the plot. I liked it the first time I saw it, but kind of dismissed it because it's an indie. But it seriously stuck in my head, so I watched it again. The idea is excellent, and very well developed: this should be required viewing for fans of superhero movies.

2008, dir. John Humber. With Eileen April Boylan, Ian Nelson, J.B. Ghuman Jr.

The Dam Busters

The movie was made in 1955, just ten years after the end of the Second World War. It's about the development and deployment of the bouncing bombs used against the German hydroelectric dams in the Ruhr Valley (apparently called Operation Chastise). You would expect that it being made so shortly after the war would mean Rah-Rah patriotism, but not as much as I expected. The opening credits expressed gratitude to all the crew and surviving relatives who helped with the film - and this is one of the places the film falls down: everyone who worked on the process was JUST LOVELY. Not a bad or incompetent person to be seen anywhere.

The movie opens with Barnes Wallis (played by Michael Redgrave) working on the design of the bomb, and the first half of the movie is about that and the politics of getting practical trials for the bomb. I found that fascinating - as were the incredibly simple, but very effective, bomb sight that was designed specifically for the mission, and their method for staying at a very exact height on the approach. But around the half way mark, we switch to the actual bombing mission: we watch the men chatting, waiting for the call. We watch them going to the planes. We watch them board the planes, taxi, take off, fly over the ocean, fly over the land. It got somewhat more interesting with the actual bomb runs, but even that was too long. At the end, we're informed of the success of the runs against the Möhne and Edersee Dams, but the Sorpe Dam - which had previously been mentioned several times - isn't mentioned at all. Apparently because it wasn't damaged, but just forgetting to mention that - weird.

I suspect the historical accuracy of the technology is excellent. And they flew four(?) Avro Lancasters simultaneously in the film, a thing we'll never see again (there's one flying in the entire world in 2015). So from a technical point of view it's a wonderful movie. Dramatically, not so much. Recommended for war buffs, but not for the drama or action.

1955, dir. Michael Anderson. With Richard Todd, Michael Redgrave, Ursula Jeans, Basil Sydney.

Dan in Real Life

Steve Carell plays Dan, a widower who writes an advice column on family matters. At a gathering of his extended family, he falls for his brother's new girlfriend. Not a particularly brilliant premise, but workable with the good cast - Carell is actually a pretty good straight actor, in fact I much prefer it to his humour. But the movie fails because about half the time the director takes the easy route, goes for the cheap laugh. Dan acting like a petulant child and sabotaging his brother over family dinner was a particular low point: not because the humour didn't really work, but because it wasn't believable of the character. I was going to say "no bodily fluids jokes," but in fact there's about a minute and a half spent on masturbation, so it does get that low. On the good side there are moments like Dan telling his brother not to give the new girlfriend his (Dan's) book. You think initially that this is just Dan's belief that it's not that great a book, but over time you realize that it's because the book will be damaging to the new relationship. Carell is good, and the three girls playing his intelligent young daughters are good and work exceptionally well with him. If only they hadn't aimed so low so often.

2007, dir. Peter Hedges. With Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, Alison Pill, Brittany Robertson, Marlene Lawston, Dianne Wiest, John Mahoney.

Dances With Wolves

Far too long at four hours, there's a passable movie lurking inside this behemoth. The cinematography was beautiful, doing justice to the prairie setting. Kevin Costner was wooden. The leisurely pace has some advantages, but for the most part left me restless. The main story concerns a soldier who has just escaped the chaos of the American Civil War slowly being absorbed into a Plains Indian tribe.

1990. Dir. Kevin Costner. With Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene, Rodney A. Grant, Floyd 'Red Crow' Westerman.

Dangerous Liaisons

France, before the revolution. Not exactly the picture of courtly love. Brutal sexual and psychological manipulation. Excellent. Very depressing.

1988. dir. Stephen Frears. With John Malkovich, Glenn Close, Uma Thurman, Keanu Reeves.


Not as bad as I expected after it received a lot of bad reviews. It varies between Colin Ferrell in the ludicrous role of "Bullseye" (okay, the whole thing is ludicrous, but we're trying to suspend disbelief here and he makes that even more difficult) and the very entertaining playground fight. Not the best of the superhero movies, but not the worst either. The second disc includes a great deal of material about the making of the movie and the comic books which is at least as interesting as the movie itself.

2003. dir. Mark Steven Johnson. With Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Ferrell.

The Darjeeling Limited

Definitely a Wes Anderson movie, with his great eye for visuals and penchant for family dysfunction. Falls squarely in the middle between the resounding success of "The Royal Tenenbaums" and the disastrous "The Life Aquatic." Same cast as always, very similar themes. Three brothers convene on a train in India, speaking to each other for the first time in a year.

2007, dir. Wes Anderson. With Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Amara Karan, Wallace Wolodarsky, Anjelica Huston.

Dark City

I own this one, and love it. It's weird, dark, and very hard to describe. Think of the paranoia of Philip K. Dick, throw in Alex Proyas's directing style, and you have a story of aliens invading a city and experimenting with people's memories. Bizarre, but very good, and a visual feast.

1998, dir. Alex Proyas. With Rufus Sewell, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland.

The Dark Knight

The sequel to "Batman Begins."

Cillian Murphy (The Scarecrow) is wasted in what amounted to a cameo appearance, to my surprise Maggie Gyllenhaal is a poor substitute for Katie Holmes (although she's a better actress), and - if you have to die - every actor should go out acting as well as Heath Ledger did in this one. He was superb. I'm about to bitch at length about the Joker, but none of that is against Ledger: it's all about poor writing and logical fallacies. Sure, I'm willing to suspend disbelief when watching a movie. But the movie should have some degree of internal consistency. And nothing about the Joker is consistent (except his intelligence). We first see him robbing a bank, and then killing all his henchmen. Later, we see him burning a huge heap of money because the things he likes ("gasoline, dynamite") are cheap. We see him recruiting by saying "we need one person" and leaving three people from a competing gang to kill each other so he can take the survivor: this doesn't promote loyalty, nor does it select for intelligence or even competence. And yet he executes multiple incredibly complex plans (interception of Harvey Dent in a very heavily protected police van, break-out from jail, Dent/Dawes and the explosives, hospital break-in and destruction, ferry hi-jacking) flawlessly. I don't question his intelligence: Ledger makes him an extremely convincing insane genius. But he has no talent at all for working with people, and his plans are staggeringly convoluted and require dozens of extremely good employees to set up and execute. In fact, this is very similar to the problem the Joker character of the first movie (Jack Nicholson) suffered from. The first half of this movie was good, but the whole Joker thing really got on my nerves through the second half.

2008, dir. Christopher Nolan. With Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Ron Dean, Cillian Murphy, Chin Han, Nestor Carbonell, Eric Roberts, Ritchie Coster, Anthony Michael Hall.

The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan directs the third, and evidently final, Batman movie. At least in this series. They left the door open for a sequel - way the hell open, and straining. But I think Nolan is done.

Batman has disappeared for eight years, and simultaneously (no one noticed?) Bruce Wayne has become a total recluse. Batman took the blame for the death of Harvey Dent (as shown at the end of "The Dark Knight"). And apparently Wayne/Batman has no cartilage in his knees ... but that's okay, because he has military-grade prosthetics to help him. Bruce Wayne is drawn out of his house by the cat burglar Selina Kyle ("Catwoman" in canon, but I don't think she's ever called that in the movie - played by Anne Hathaway), who steals a pearl necklace from him ... and a copy of his fingerprints.

This is followed by the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy) in Gotham. Bane controls an incredibly dedicated and well trained militia, and is revealed to have had connections to Ra's al Ghul and the League of Shadows (we met them in the first movie).

The movie is long and tiring, and - while not so bad as the second movie (excepting, as always, Heath Ledger's performance) - just gritty and kind of uninteresting. I found the ending to be particularly improbable and hard to swallow - not to mention that someone named "Robin" finds himself in possession of the batcave at the end of the movie. I quite liked "Batman Begins," but it was all downhill from there ...

2012, dir. Christopher Nolan. With Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman.

Dark Shadows (2012)

A re-imagining of a gothic 1960s cult TV series. Johnny Depp plays Barnabas Collins, the head of a wealthy family on the New England coast in 1760. Cursed to be a vampire and buried alive, he's accidentally released in 1972 and returns to the Collins family home to help revive their fishing empire. An already exceedingly quirky family is made quirkier by the inclusion of a vampire. But Barnabas also has to contend with the 200 year old (and still gorgeous) witch who created him (Eva Green) who isn't much friendlier than she was 200 years prior.

The biggest problem is that the movie doesn't know if it's horror, comedy, or even horror-comedy. Aside from a bit of a blood-bath when Barnabas is released, the movie mostly glosses over the horror aspects. And the comedy isn't even particularly funny. Even the usually brilliant Depp can't sell this product.

2012, dir. Tim Burton. With Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Bella Heathcote, Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloë Grace Moretz.


Kevin Kline plays Dave Kovic, a decent guy who runs a temp agency and has a side line in doing presidential impersonations. He's even hired by the White House staff to do a walk-and-wave when the president wants some time off. But when the president has a debilitating stroke, Dave is hired for a longer period - and has to do some more serious appearances. Dave's upbeat impersonation of the president infects not only the people around him, but the entire nation. Unfortunately, there are a number of skeletons in the closet.

Echoes of Heinlein's "Double Star" and "Prisoner of Zenda" are heard loud and clear ... This is a Ruritanian Romance, it's just happens that the two titles mentioned are ones I'm familiar with.

Kline is wonderful, Sigourney Weaver puts in a great performance as the First Lady, and all the supporting cast is great as well. It's very funny. And it has a type of plot structure that I particularly appreciate, being somewhat circular: Dave starts to get involved in what's going on, and ultimately uses the event that roped him in in the first place to skewer the wrong-doers and get himself out of the role. A really wonderful comedy, highly recommended.

1993, dir. Ivan Reitman. With Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Frank Langella, Kevin Dunn, Ving Rhames, Ben Kingsley, Charles Grodin, Laura Linney, Stephen Root, Tom Dugan.

Dave Chappelle's Block Party

The critics loved this one, so I decided to have a look at it. I didn't find it funny enough to cover my disinterest in the music, but Wyclef Jean made it worth my time at the end: "Remember, the white man don't owe you shit. You're responsible for yourself. They got libraries in the ghetto. You need to go in there and educate yourselves. I couldn't speak English when I came to this country, but I went to the library and read. That's what you got to do." And he goes on to say "and if they don't have libraries, talk to your politician, talk to your mayor, make it happen." I think I like him.

2006, dir. Michel Gondry. With Dave Chappelle.

Day Watch

"Day Watch" is the sequel to Timur Bekmambetov's earlier "Night Watch," about the grand fight between good and evil supernatural people in the middle of modern day Moscow. Our protagonist is Anton, who's on the side of light but isn't very powerful and pretty much nothing he does turns out well. At the end of the last movie (SPOILER ALERT FOR THAT MOVIE, STOP NOW), his 12 year old(?) son Yegor - who is to be the most powerful supernatural being in the world - turned to the dark side. So now Anton is caught between the dark actions of his son and the trainee he's with who's bent on stopping the son Anton won't publicly acknowledge. His trainee, Svetlana, is also rather inconveniently the love of his life.

The overall story arc becomes evident over time, but I suspect that even if I'd rewatched "Night Watch" recently, this movie would still have been incomprehensible in many of its small details. Bekmambetov just doesn't fill in a lot of details that we need (despite the almost 2.5 hour run-time). Despite the incomprehensibility, the movie is kind of mesmerising with impressive visuals and all kinds of stuff that's interesting simply because it's clearly not-from-around-here.

2006, dir. Timur Bekmambetov. With Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Menshov, Mariya Poroshina, Viktor Verzhbitsky, Valeri Zolotukhin, Aleksei Chadov, Galina Tyunina.


In 2019 (the movie was made in 2010) most of the human race have been turned into vampires by a plague. A few real humans remain on the run, and many more are held in pens, unconscious, and farmed for their blood. Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), the head haematologist at Bromley Marks (the lead supplier of blood to the U.S.) is searching for a blood substitute, and bothered by his conscience. The rest of the world is bothered by the high rate of mutation brought on in the population by the blood shortage. Dalton has a run-in with some free humans that he saves - and they take an interest in him because of his profession.

The society resulting from rampant vampirism is reasonably well set up. All the standard vampire limitations seem to apply: stake them or expose them to sunlight and they die (explosively). It was well done and mildly enjoyable right up until the end when they wallop you with an excellent twist that really makes you need to re-think how things are going to play out. Fun.

2010, dir. Michael and Peter Spierig. With Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Claudia Karvan, Sam Neill, Michael Dorman, Isabel Lucas.

A Day at the Races

Bringing the Marx Brothers special brand of mayhem ("anarchic," the critics like to call it) to a sanitarium and race track. Groucho plays a horse doctor mistaken for a human doctor, while Harpo plays a jockey and Chico plays a ... well, driver, con man, and gambler. I fast-forwarded through the three big musical numbers, but found myself laughing quite a bit through the rest of the movie.

1937, dir. Sam Wood. With Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Margaret Dumont, Allan Jones, Maureen O'Sullivan.

Day for Night (orig. "La Nuit Américaine")

Commonly referred to as "Truffaut's love letter to cinema," this is a movie about making a movie - and what a royal pain in the ass it can be. Enjoyable, but cluttered with too many characters, and an excess of scenery (the side effect of having movie scenery and equipment showing in a movie). I do love the original title.

1973, dir. François Truffaut. With Jacqueline Bisset, Valentina Cortese, Dani, Alexandra Stewart, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Jean Champion, Jean-Pierre Léaud, François Truffaut, Nike Arrighi, Nathalie Baye, David Markham.

The Day of the Jackal

Far superior to "The Jackal," the 1997 remake. The plot revolves around an assassination attempt on Charles de Gaulle. Edward Fox is cold and systematic as the assassin. When Fox isn't on screen the movie is about the pursuit of this completely unknown assassin - hard to find when he has no name, no face, and not even a reputation, but they're pretty sure he's very good at what he does.

1973, dir. Fred Zinnemann. With Edward Fox, Michel Auclair, Denis Carey, Derek Jacobi.

The Day of the Triffids (1981)

If you can forgive the appalling special effects (it's the BBC in the Eighties), the unbelievably lurid 60s-esque intro, and the poor music, this is a very good mini-series. It sticks close to Wyndham's excellent original story, and the human drama is well played. So ignore the Triffids and watch the people.

Bill Masen (John Duttine) wakes up in the hospital. He knows why he's there - he works with Triffids, a very nasty kind of plant that's temporarily (he hopes) blinded him - but not why he's been left entirely alone and the city is almost completely silent. Eventually he takes the bandages off his eyes himself and finds that almost the entire world was blinded by the beautiful meteor shower the night before.

This script happily jettisons most of Wyndham's unconscious 50s sexism, but kept every other element of the story - a good thing, because it's a damn good story. Coker (played by Maurice Colbourne) remains one of my favourite characters.

2022 UPDATE: I've rewatched this series multiple times. What I said about the intro, and the music, and the special effects ... all true. But the consistent British acting and the superb and thoughtfully constructed story from Wyndham make this very worthwhile.

1981, dir. Ken Hannam. With John Duttine, Emma Relph, Maurice Colbourne.

The Day of the Triffids (2009)

Another BBC TV series based on the Wyndham book. The technical aspects were better: the CGI (including the Triffids themselves) and the music. And they had some interesting ideas about how to update the Triffids and why people kept them around (this is set in the modern day). But they heavily modified the plot, and chose a couple of very poor actors for the leads. Dougray Scott as Bill Masen could teach Keanu Reeves a thing or two about wooden. He had two expressions: a scowl and ... another scowl. Eddie Izzard is actually pretty good in his unrewarding role as the flat-out evil Torrence (set up from the beginning as the big evil of the series, and stripped of the motivations of his third act appearance in the Wyndham original). Brian Cox is okay, and Jason Priestley is wasted (not a favourite actor of mine, but looked like he could have helped here) in the very reduced and badly modified role of Coker.

The BBC usually goes for good acting and poor special effects on a thin budget. It looks like they spent more here to get better special effects, but the money they spent on big name actors has gone seriously astray. And the unnecessary plot rewrite significantly damaged a previously excellent story. Put up with the awful credits and special effects of the 1981 version: it's otherwise a far superior product.

2009, dir. Nick Copus. With Dougray Scott, Joely Richardson, Eddie Izzard, Jason Priestley, Brian Cox, Jenn Murray, Julia Joyce.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

One of the "classics" of science fiction. A spaceship lands in Washington, and the visitor is shot by a nervous soldier within thirty seconds of descending from the ship. The visitor turns out to be essentially human, and after healing (incredibly quickly) he slips off to try to meet real humans. There are a bunch of bizarre assumptions (he understands humans so well that he can blend in fine at a boarding house - and yet he doesn't know about money or the value of diamonds), but that's probably inevitable. While it shows some of the prejudices of the period, it also holds up remarkably well. (This is where the name "Klaatu" originated - he's the visitor - and his robot is called "Gort.")

1951, dir. Robert Wise. With Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Sam Jaffe.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

If your main character is an alien who has no emotions as we know them, who should you choose to play the alien? Keanu Reeves, of course. I like him and think he's an acceptable and often charming actor, but I still think the choice is kind of inspired. As was the rather strange choice of John Cleese as a Nobel-winning physicist: he pulled it off.

But they almost immediately commit a staggering logical gaff: if you find a self-powered incoming extraterrestrial object hurtling toward Manhattan at a speed that's going to create a massive crater, you don't rush all your carefully collected specialists to ground zero just before the expected impact. Hello? There are other logical problems, but they all pale by comparison to this one.

For those who've seen the original, this is a fascinating exercise in what they've updated: they've updated a lot, and someone gave it a lot of thought, and got most of it right. I was impressed. But if you haven't seen the original I don't think this will be as good or as enjoyable. Can't say for sure as I've seen the first one: it's definitely dated, but it's still good. I was pleased to find that this one is almost as thought-provoking (although the kid is flat-out annoying).

2008, dir. Scott Derrickson. With Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith, John Cleese, Jon Hamm, James Hong.

DC League of Super-Pets

This movie is derivative, juvenile, silly, and occasionally very obvious. But ... it's also damn funny. I'm surprised the formula worked, but a decent amount of heart and a lot of very funny jokes kept me laughing throughout.

The set-up is ... formulaic: Lex Luthor, a new form of Kryptonite (orange), some pets become "super," all members of the Justice League are incapacitated, band of misfit pets must save them. But on the other side of that coin we have the jokes. One of the better ones - not even the best - has the evil Lulu lassoed by Wonder Woman, who says "You cannot escape my Lasso of Truth." Lulu looks her costume over and says "You want the truth? The boots are a little much." Which manages so much in one snarky line: it gives parents a throw-back to "A Few Good Men," it disparages DC's own fashion sense, it's true without being useful, and it's just funny. DC may finally have taken the lesson Pixar started teaching the producers of kids animation years ago: entertain the parents at the same time as you entertain the kids.

The voice staff is astonishing. Let's put it this way, they got Lena Headey and Alfred Molina to do the tiny parts of Superman's parents, and it only gets better from there with the top two roles - the dogs Krypto and Ace - filled by Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart (is it just me, or do they work together a lot? "Central Intelligence," "Jumanji," Jumanji again, and "Hobbs & Shaw"). Hart's character Ace is the emotional centre of the film, supportive without being overly sentimental, and often very funny. Johnson's character Krypto is the lead, and the character who has the biggest emotional journey.

There's a funny running gag about Krypto's favourite toy, a Batman doll that he calls "squeezy-Bruce." As the end of the movie nears, one of the other dogs shows up with a different superhero squeezy toy, paying off the whole sequence beautifully. What's interesting to me is that a lot of animated movies try for this self-referential humour, and it's annoying or un-funny or both, but in this movie it played out perfectly. Just a better quality of writing I guess ...

Having mocked Marvel (and themselves) throughout, they used what's become a standard superhero movie structure in the final credits. The mid-credits scene is kind of meh, but the end-credits scene is a meta-post-modern analysis of anti-heroes that's one of the funniest things in the movie. The dialogue is aimed entirely at adults and yet kids will still laugh at the very physical punchline. All of this while simultaneously giving their own "Black Adam" movie a healthy boost ... beautifully played.

2022, dir. Jared Stern, Sam J. Levine. With Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Kate McKinnon, John Krasinski, Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonne, Diego Luna, Marc Maron, Keanu Reeves, Thomas Middleditch, Ben Schwartz, Olivia Wilde, Maya Erskine, Yvette Nicole Brown, Jameela Jamil, Jemaine Clement, John Early, Dascha Polanco, Daveed Diggs, Alfred Molina, Lena Headey, Keith David, Busy Philipps, Dan Fogler, Winona Bradshaw, David Pressman.

Dead Again

Kenneth Branagh's second directing gig after "Henry V." Branagh plays Mike Church, an private investigator who finds himself in possession of a woman (Emma Thompson) without memories or a voice. After putting an ad in the paper to look for her family or friends, he gets instead Franklyn (Derek Jacobi), a hypnotist who helps her regain her voice and then, through further sessions, some of her past ... lives. In fact, a large chunk of the movie is played out in the 1940s, in black and white, with a socialite couple (also Thompson and Branagh) whose history ended with the murder-by-scissors of the wife (apparently by the husband) and the execution of the husband. Robin Williams plays a disgraced psychologist in a relatively small part that remains possibly my favourite of anything he's ever done.

Branagh's directing here fluctuates wildly between pretty good and massively over-the-top. He knows he's doing it, he's doing it on purpose ... but it's still way over the top. I think he's reaching for the kind of visuals Hitchcock occasionally used, but with somewhat less success than Hitchcock. Nevertheless, it's an entertaining and enjoyable movie.

1991, dir. Kenneth Branagh. With Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi, Andy García, Hanna Schygulla, Wayne Knight, Robin Williams.

Dead Man

Johnny Depp is William Blake, who we first see riding the train from Cleveland, Ohio to the western frontier town of Machine. The movie is shot entirely in black and white, set at an unspecified time in the mid- to late nineteenth century. Blake is a mild-mannered accountant, promised a job at the metal works in Machine. But on arrival, he finds they hired someone else in the two months it's taken him to get there, and he's now jobless and penniless in the West. He quickly runs afoul of the locals and gets shot, then finds himself riding in the wilderness with an Indian named Nobody (Gary Fisher), pursued (although he doesn't know it) by three bounty hunters.

But this is directed by Jim Jarmusch: it's not a standard Western. "Nobody" keeps spouting nonsensical statements - even as Blake tells him they make no sense. Blake's condition worsens. The whole thing is surreal, each scene surrounded by Jarmusch's over-and-over fade-to-black. And then there's the music: Neil Young's intrusive, loud, and very irritating electric guitar soundtrack feels totally out of place - he hasn't done a soundtrack since, and that's a GOOD THING (TM). Aside from the soundtrack it was at least interesting.

1995, dir. Jim Jarmusch. With Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Lance Henriksen, Michael Wincott, Eugene Byrd, Crispin Glover, Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, Jared Harris, Mili Avital, Gabriel Byrne, John Hurt, Alfred Molina, Robert Mitchum.

Dead Still, Season 1

The main character in this series is Brock Blennerhasset (Michael Smiley), a photographer in Dublin in the 1880s who specializes in memorial photos of the dead. In the first episode, his niece Nancy (Eileen O'Higgins) comes to live with him to escape their unpleasant family, and he acquires a new assistant in the form of Conall Malloy (Kerr Logan). We also meet Frederick Regan (Aidan O'Hare), an officer in the police who's convinced a series of very similar suicides are actually murders.

Wikipedia calls this a "drama," but it focuses so heavily on its bizarre, low-key humour that the "drama" ends up carrying little weight. Blennerhasset is so emotionally opaque that no one - not us or his niece - has any idea why he does the unkind things he occasionally does. His niece is an improbably "modern" woman, and officer Logan is - while a decent detective - hard for us to take seriously because the series constantly makes jokes at his expense. I found the mystery weak, and was particularly frustrated by the bad guy's hiding-in-plain-sight because in the social circles he traveled in he might well have run into people who recognized him from his previous life. And at the end, they solve the base mystery but leave us with a shadowy conspiracy so they can have another series of this second rate crap. I only struggled through the last three episodes to see it wrapped up, and they refused to even do that ...

Six episodes of 50 minutes each.

2020, dir. Imogen Murphy, Craig David Wallace. With Michael Smiley, Aidan O'Hare, Eileeen O'Higgins, Kerr Logan, Jimmy Smallhorne, Mark Rendall, Martin Donovan, Peter Campion.


Deadpool has long held a special place in the Marvel comics universe - an obnoxious, motor-mouthed anti-hero who frequently breaks the fourth wall by talking directly to the audience. Ryan Reynolds played the part both in the appalling "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and in this movie - although his origin story and appearance are significantly different between the two. I think Marvel would prefer we forget about "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," even though Hugh Jackman is still playing the role of Wolverine. So let's consider this an entirely separate movie.

Reynolds plays Wade Williams, a former special forces operative and current mercenary in New York City. While he talks a lot and is unpleasant to be around, he's shown doing good things for little or no money. He finds a soulmate in the equally obnoxious prostitute Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin), but a year into their romance he's diagnosed with terminal cancer. This eventually leads to his entering the "Weapon X" program (I don't think it was ever named in the movie) where he's cured and given superpowers ... but the price is very high. Which sets him on the path of vengeance.

The movie starts around the end of my plot summary with an amusing set of credits. It then proceeds into a fight on a freeway that had me laughing so hard I actually paused the movie because I was going to miss the next thirty seconds of the film. Reynolds, who desperately wanted to play Deadpool in a movie of his own, has been handed a great script and is having the time of his life delivering the funniest material ever given to a guy in a superhero costume. The movie eventually backs up to fill in the details I've mentioned, all narrated by Deadpool.

My biggest single problem with the film was T.J. Miller as Weasel: he's supposed to be Wade's best friend, but all he ever does is drink with him and insult him (I understand that this may be their dynamic - but still). This is supposed to be the "comedy relief" (it says so on the case), but I didn't find him very funny and he sure as hell wasn't a friend. On the other hand, Baccarin was an inspired choice as Wade's love interest: she's beautiful, but also sells her foul-mouthed behaviour and attachment to Wade. The fights are good not just as "superhero" fights, but also as platforms for Deadpool's jokes, and the people who scripted the fights clearly revelled in the opportunity to do things that they couldn't put in other more mainstream Marvel movies (Angel's brutal and hilarious crotch shot on Colossus comes to mind, but is far from the only thing).

Has a distinctive style and is perhaps not for everyone, but most fans of superhero movies will enjoy this incredibly irreverent and hilarious ride.

2016, dir. Tim Miller. With Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Leslie Uggams, Brianna Hildebrand.

Deadpool 2

So, more Deadpool. Still 18+ in Canada, and bloodier, nastier, and more offensive than the last one. Here's the thing about offensive humour: the more in-your-face it is, the funnier it has to be to offset it. And this one, while still funny, isn't as funny as the last one. It's in-your-face alright, and it has some good jokes, but here they're relying on the same kind of jokes that worked so well the first time because of shock value - and shock value doesn't work twice.

Ryan Reynolds was always incredibly vocal about how Deadpool was horribly mangled in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" - he wasn't wrong, and in fact references it again at the end of this movie. But that makes it somewhat ironic when Deadpool gushes over Juggernaut being one of his favourite characters (he names comic book issues) ... and the movie completely wastes Juggernaut. Reynolds and director David Leitch both love Juggernaut and thought this use of the character was incredibly cool. In fact, it makes Vinnie Jones' performance in the much reviled "X-Men: The Last Stand" look like a thespian masterpiece.

Another problem: around the fifth time in this movie that we see Ryan Reynolds hamburger, the jokes about his injuries and regeneration are getting old. And if you're no longer laughing you begin to realize that you're looking at a mutilated talking corpse and it's kind of gross. Remember what I said about offensive humour? If you fail to make the audience laugh, then you're in their face with something offensive and grotesque and they'll notice because they're not laughing.

Josh Brolin's super-serious Cable is used as a straight-man to Deadpool's motor mouth, but the real stand-out in the movie was Zazie Beetz as Domino. Her superpower is that she's lucky. Deadpool doesn't agree that this is a superpower but you will, and quickly. And she's just really appealing and funny in the role.

SPOILER ALERT: I'm going to discuss a major (if stupid) plot point. If you don't want to read about it, go away. One of the first things they do is re-establish Wade's love for Vanessa. Then they kill off Vanessa, so her death is the motivating factor for much of what happens in the movie (including his willingness to die and suicidal tendencies). And I thought "no, that's not right. She's too important to him." Then Cable showed up with his time-jumping device and I thought "oh, that's how she comes back." The really depressing part is that I was right. And this deepens the hole they've dug for themselves in "Avengers: Infinity War" in which they killed off dozens of major stars and it was so fucking tragic ... but you know they're all coming back, so it had no dramatic weight at all. Which leaves me with the sour feeling that I can never trust a death in a Marvel production again. Deadpool is Deadpool and you're not meant to take it too seriously, but they were trying to give dramatic weight with her death (they didn't play it for humour) - but instead I spent the movie thinking "when's she going to come back?"

2018, dir. David Leitch. With Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, T.J. Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, Jack Kesy, Leslie Ugams, Karan Soni.


I don't know a great deal about magic - I've watched and enjoyed a lot of Penn & Teller's "Fool Us," but that's the extent of my magical education. Despite that, I'm familiar with the name of "Richard Turner." If you don't know it, you should look him up on YouTube - particularly his performance on "Fool Us." Two of the most knowledgeable magicians in the world watch him with their mouths open because he does, indeed, fool them. His skills with a deck of cards are legendary: watching him deal the second card from the deck is amazing. Especially when he turns over the top card so you can see that it never moves while he continues to deal. It looks totally natural, and the fact that he's demonstrating a cheating skill with perfect ease is both deeply disturbing and incredibly impressive.

Oh, did I mention? He's totally blind.

"Dealt" is a 2017 documentary about Richard Turner's life. Early on, someone refers to him as "on the crazy side of obsessive-compulsive," and they're not wrong: the man is shuffling cards when he works out, when he eats, when he sits on the couch relaxing, he never sets them down. But the movie isn't so much about his card artistry (although it couldn't avoid it even if it wanted to as it runs right through his entire life), but about his family and his coming to terms with his own blindness - something he's avoided for decades. He started going blind around ten, and was almost entirely blind by his mid-twenties, but has tried so hard to not be defined by his blindness that his behaviour became a refusal to acknowledge it. But his sister (who he seems to be very close with) had the same eye disease he had, and over the two or three years the movie followed him, he clearly became more accepting of the idea that he could be blind without it being his most important characteristic. It felt like he'd finally accepted that he truly was the best in the world at what he did: many laymen and almost all magicians have known that for more than a decade - he's late to the party. And sure, many of us are more surprised that he did it blind: but that doesn't really matter in the end because he is the best, period, end of story. And in understanding that, he's learning to live with the condition and become an inspiration to others who are blind and near-blind, showing what they can achieve.

2017, dir. Luke Korem. With Richard Turner, Kim Turner, Asa Spades Turner, Johnny Thompson, Max Maven, Armando Lucero, Jason England.

Dear Frankie

Frankie frequently writes to his father who is in the merchant marine since the separation of his parents when he was very young. We soon find out that his letters end up in his mother's (Emily Mortimer) hands, and she replies to them. Which works well enough until the ship Frankie thinks his father is on pulls into port. Rather than give up on the ruse, Mortimer hires someone (Gerard Butler) to play the part of the father, with substantial side effects. Charming, almost sickly sweet, with a very open ending. Mortimer and Butler are good.

2004, dir. Shona Auerbach. With Emily Mortimer, Jack McElhone, Gerard Butler.

Death at a Funeral

The movie opens with a coffin being delivered to an English country house. When it's opened, Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen) discovers the body that's been delivered isn't that of his father as it's supposed to be, but a stranger. This is pretty much the most tasteful joke in the movie. What we get:

  • a guy attending the funeral to flirt with a one night stand (although she's now in a permanent relationship and he knows it)
  • Alan Tudyk high on a mix of acid and ketamine - given to him by his girlfriend who thought it was valium
  • wrestling a cranky, disabled old man onto a toilet, resulting in someone getting shit on their hand ... and their face
  • a gay lover of the dead father trying to blackmail the sons out of £15,000 - or he'll show graphic pictures of the relationship to the funeral attendees
  • two men wrestling a dwarf to the ground and tying him up
  • adding another person to the coffin

This is essentially a 1960s slapstick farce to which has been added all the toilet and drug humour that couldn't be put in back then. If you're in for this kind of humour, it's done well by some good actors. I can enjoy this sort of stuff in small doses, but an entire movie is way too much.

2007, dir. Frank Oz. With Matthew Macfadyen, Rupert Graves, Andy Nyman, Kris Marshall, Peter Dinklage, Keeley Hawes, Daisy Donovan, Alan Tudyk, Ewen Bremner.

Death In Paradise, Season 1

British Detective Inspector Richard Poole (Ben Miller) is sent to the small (fictional) Caribbean island of Saint Marie, where he makes it eminently clear that he doesn't want to remain. But after solving the murder he was sent for in the first episode, he finds out he's going to be staying anyway. He's a prat - despised by his own department in the U.K. and apparently both disinterested in and unable to make friends. But he's an intelligent man and a surprisingly good detective.

I find online that the series has been quite successful, with Season 6 currently going forward. I find it's also accused of being formulaic - and this is correct, as Poole collects the seemingly unrelated facts, then at the 37 minute mark of the 57 minute run-time has an epiphany that he doesn't share with his colleagues or us, and at 50 minutes we have a gathering of the suspects and the big reveal.

His co-workers/employees Dwayne (Danny John-Jules) and Fidel (Gary Carr) are well written and a pleasure to watch. I have mixed feelings about his partner Camille Bordey (Sara Martins), who, while a well fleshed-out character, seems to primarily be a foil to follow him around to point out what an ass he is and turn his social awkwardness into comedy. She's intelligent and notices stuff, but never appears to be instrumental in solving stuff - it would be good if they'd give her the occasional Poole-free success.

Enjoyable, but too much the same and too "easy." I don't think I'll be tracking down the other seasons.

2011. With Ben Miller, Sara Martins, Danny John-Jules, Gary Carr, Selwyn Patterson, Élizabeth Bourgine.

Death In Paradise, Season 2 and 3

I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I did follow up season 1 with series 2 and 3: it's meaningless fluff, easy to watch, no thought required. Season 3 introduces a new detective, Humphrey Goodman (Kris Marshall). On the surface this is a good thing: he's a very different character than D.I. Poole. He's staggeringly clumsy, he's immensely better at dealing with people, and he likes being in the Caribbean. But his methods of solving cases are identical, as are the structure of each episode. He always solves the case: the bad guy is caught and there's no doubt about who did it.

The show's popularity has only grown as time has passed: as I write in mid-2017, the sixth series has aired to better ratings than any previous one, and the show has been renewed for a seventh series.

2011. With Ben Miller, Kris Marshall, Sara Martins, Danny John-Jules, Gary Carr, Selwyn Patterson, Élizabeth Bourgine.

Death of a Superhero

Thomas Brodie-Sangster plays Donald, a 15 year old with terminal cancer. He's angry and pushes his parents away. They keep sending him to psychologists, while he spends his time drawing, and imagining himself the superhero he spends his time drawing - his superhero is frequently close to death. Andy Serkis plays the one psychologist who actually kind of gets through to Donald, and Aisling Loftus is the girl he meets.

Based on a novel of the same name by New Zealand author Anthony McCarten, who also did the screenplay. Serkis is good, Sangster is okay. Not surprisingly, it's kind of depressing.

2011, dir. Ian FitzGibbon. With Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Andy Serkis, Aisling Loftus, Sharon Horgan, Michael McElhatton.

Death Race

A remake - in spirit only - of Roger Corman's 1975 trash classic "Death Race 2000." Corman was on-board as a producer. Paul W.S. Anderson brings us the story of an ex-race car driver (Jason Statham) framed for murder by a prison warden so she can bring him in to drive in the televised and extremely lucrative "Death Race" inside her prison. This is of course just an excuse for a revenge movie with lots of cars, crashes, explosions, and (very) gory deaths. And don't forget the babes - Natalie Martinez is gorgeous. Pure trash, and highly enjoyable if you like that kind of thing.

In the past I've mostly encountered Ian McShane as an animated bad guy - yes, I know he's done lots of other stuff, but that's what I've seen of him. It was a treat to find out he's a good actor and makes an appealing good guy.

The BluRay release also comes with an extended cut: it's been a while since I saw the theatrical release so I'm not sure what's been added in, but I didn't get the sense that it helped much. It didn't make it significantly worse (as many do), but I think the Theatrical Cut is the better choice.

2008, dir. Paul W.S. Anderson. With Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Tyrese Gibson, Natalie Martinez, Ian McShane, Max Ryan, Jason Clarke, Frederick Koehler, Robert LaSardo, Robin Shou, Jacob Vargas.

Death Trap

A well-known playwright (Michael Caine) riding a string of flops is approached by one of his young students (Christopher Reeve) to review the student's play. He decides to invite the student over and murder him to get the play for himself. This is followed by a string of reversals and betrayals to stagger the mind. It's meant to be ludicrously funny, but to me it was just ludicrous. But it's odd to see Reeve so long ago: I've thought of him for so long as a wheelchair-borne quadriplegic that I'd forgotten he was a good looking actor when he was younger.

1982, dir. Sidney Lumet. With Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, Dyan Cannon, Irene Worth.

The Debt Collector

I watched "Triple Threat" recently. I wasn't terribly impressed, but went on to "Avengement" (also starring Scott Adkins) anyway. And that one kind of blew me away. It's intense, well written, and well acted. So tonight I watched "The Debt Collector," starring (you guessed it) Scott Adkins.

Adkins plays French - who is British, and a martial arts instructor in Los Angeles. The first scene in the movie shows that he's a really, really good fighter, and that his club is direly short of money. One of his students reluctantly introduces him to the world of debt collection as a means to make ends meet. French is paired up with the far more experienced debt collector "Sue" (Louis Mandylor), and they spend a weekend working a debt sheet. The pay is good, but there's more violence than French expected. The morality of the whole process becomes even more problematic for French as their last assignment of the weekend is simply a beat-down, not a debt collection.

Director Jesse V. Johnson (Adkins' frequent collaborator) mixes in black and white footage of cows being herded throughout the movie. Since I was pretty sure this wasn't an arthouse production, I became concerned for our protagonist as it began to look like this wasn't going to end well for the cow(s).

I'm not a huge fan of Adkins' martial arts style, which strikes me more as high quality brawling than the balletic grace of Jackie Chan. But aside from the annoying and unnecessary cows, the movie is well constructed, well written, well paced, and even - at least by the two leads - well acted. So in the end we have a good action movie. "Avengement" is better, but this really is quite good.

2018, dir. Jesse V. Johnson. With Scott Adkins, Louis Mandylor, Vladimir Kulich, Tony Todd, Selina Lo.

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay

Ricky Jay is a well known magician (if you don't know the name, you'd recognize his face), and he's an intelligent and generally interesting man - although a bit of an ass. Somehow they've managed to make a remarkably boring movie about him - in part by taking a lifetime of magical practice and repertoire and reducing it to less than 15 minutes of footage in the movie. Instead, we have Jay talking about his mentors, magicians long gone (Cardini, Dai Vernon, Charlie Miller). Certainly, he's not telling us their secrets: he's a magician, they don't do that. So he talks about what it was like to be around them. And this kind of story telling isn't really his forte as a performer. I would much rather have seen him perform for an hour and a half.

2012, dir. Molly Bernstein. With Ricky Jay, David Mamet.

The Decoy Bride

This got very poor reviews, but I watched it because I like David Tennant and I love Kelly Macdonald, who is an incredibly talented actress. The premise sees author James Arber (Tennant) about to be married to the very famous movie star Lara Tyler (Alice Eve), but in a quest to avoid paparazzi and confuse the press, Katie Nic Aodh (Macdonald) is pressed into service as a "decoy bride." In time-honoured tradition, James and Katie get off on the wrong foot and hate each other but eventually realize that they like each other - except of course that he's to marry someone else.

The reviewers aren't wrong: this is poorly written and sloppily constructed. They spend far too much time humiliating their characters and expecting it to raise laughs - but occasionally they hand Macdonald a good line and she puts it right out of the park. I hope she does more comedy.

2011, dir. Sheree Folkson. With Kelly Macdonald, David Tennant, Alice Eve, Michael Urie, Sally Phillips, Maureen Beattie, Federico Castelluccio, James Fleet, Dylan Moran.


Woody Harrelson plays Arthur Poppington, aka "Defendor." Arthur isn't very bright, but is determined - as Defendor - to take out "Captain Industry." So he dresses up as Defendor and goes out nights to protect the world from evil. We see most of this in flashback, with Arthur being interviewed by Dr. Park (Sandra Oh) in a psychological evaluation.

The film has huge banners all over it proclaiming its Canadian-ness and its various Canadian funding, but three out of five of the main characters are American (Oh and Elias Koteas being the Canadians) and nothing in the content suggests that the city is Canadian (nor is it indicated that it's American).

Harrelson is good, and the script remains fairly true to itself right through to the end (although things resolve a little too positively to feel real) - which, not surprisingly, isn't very happy. The movie is reasonably good, but I didn't particularly enjoy it.

2009, dir. Peter Stebbings. With Woody Harrelson, Kat Dennings, Elias Koteas, Sandra Oh, Michael Kelly.

Definitely, Maybe

After a sex-ed class at school, Maya Hayes (Abigail Breslin) demands her father (Ryan Reynolds) tell her the story of how he met her mother (who he is about to divorce). He turns it into a mystery, changing the names of the three main women in his life as he tells her his romantic history across 16 years. Most of it we see as it happened, but there are occasional interruptions by Maya. It's a comedy, it's ... sort of romantic. Superbly drawn characters despite having a mid-sized ensemble cast, very funny and quite charming. There's chemistry between all the players. I also hadn't the slightest idea where it was going and found the ending satisfying without being obvious - a big surprise for something that's nominally a romantic comedy. An excellent movie, highly recommended.

2008, dir. Adam Brooks. With Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin, Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz, Derek Luke, Liane Balaban, Kevin Kline.

Déjà Vu

Denzel Washington plays a cop (actually a federal agent, but the difference isn't particularly important to the movie despite their making much of it) investigating a horrific bombing on a New Orleans ferry that kills over 500 people. He makes a connection on a young woman apparently killed in the explosion whose corpse showed up too early, and because of this detective work is drawn farther into the investigation. This includes viewing the scene four and a half days ago through what he is initially told is an assemblage of satellite data but which turns out to be a device that sees into the past, and you just know time travel will be involved.

MINOR SPOILER: Unfortunately the apartment with the blood-soaked bandages couldn't exist in the time line in which Washington started to investigate. Time travel, particularly when the characters have an opportunity to change things, present an immense technical ("could it happen?") challenge for writers. And they made a huge logical error: having carefully set you up to understand the parameters and how the time travel might work, they choose both options from their own either/or scenario. The first thirty minutes is a surprisingly decent suspense thriller, but it gets sillier and poorer once the SF elements are introduced - the "I can see the past" car chase is particularly stupid.

2006, dir. Tony Scott. With Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Val Kilmer, James Caviezel, Adam Goldberg, Elden Hensen.


"Surreal" doesn't begin to cover it. In a post-apocalyptic world, a surviving delicatessen serves up the occasional passer-by to the local residents. I borrowed this because it was directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and it certainly has many of the touches he shows in later films including a heavy inclination to sepia toning and absurdity by the truck load. Well-loved by both the critics and the fans, I guess I just didn't "get it."

1991, dir. Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. With Dominique Pinon, Marie-Laure Dougnac, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Ticky Holgado, Anne-Marie Pisani, Silvie Laguna.

Denise Ho: Becoming the Song

Denise Ho was born in Hong Kong. In 1988, at the age of 11, she moved with her family to Montreal. She became a singer, winning a singing contest in HK and eventually apprenticing (more or less) with her childhood hero Anita Mui. (It's odd that I actually had an idea who Anita Mui is: not because I was a fan of her Cantopop career, but because she was in several movies with Jackie Chan.) This led Ho to a career as a Cantopop singer herself, but over the last decade she's come out as gay (presumably harder in HK than here), and become a major activist for the deteriorating human rights in Hong Kong. Which has led to her losing both her major markets, HK and mainland China (and most of her promotional deals).

I now know for sure - although I wasn't surprised - that I really don't like her music. I respect the stance she's taken, but between the music I didn't enjoy and the depressing and inevitable political outcome in HK, the movie wasn't much fun.

2020, dir. Sue Williams. With Denise Ho.

Desert Heat

This is a bad martial arts movie (direct to video apparently), but saying "it's just a poor remake of 'Yojimbo'" misses out on some wonderfully sick and morbid humour. There have been many parodies of Mr. Miyagi (the mentor in the original "The Karate Kid"), but who better to parody the role than Pat Morita? Under the direction of the same man who directed him the first time? (Although John Avildsen was so embarrassed by this one he's credited as "Danny Mulroon.") The movie's greatest weakness is its attempts to be a serious martial arts film. That's just boring (and the fighting isn't even good). But the twisted humour is marvelous.

1999, dir. John Avildsen. With Jean-Claude Van Damme, Pat Morita, Danny Trejo.

Design for Living

A Noel Coward play, directed by Ernst Lubitsch in 1933 - pre-Hayes Code. This is an important point: the play is about two men and a woman all living together while both men are in love with the woman and she loves them. Gary Cooper and Frederic March play a couple of starving artists who meet a lovely woman (Miriam Hopkins) on a train. Both of them fall for her, shenanigans ensue. And then she moves in with them, to inspire them in their respective arts ... with a "Gentleman's Agreement" that there will be no sex (it was stated in almost exactly those terms, something that couldn't possibly have happened post-Hayes). It's all utterly absurd and I wasn't overly fond of Hopkins' character, but it was also charming and hilarious. Recommended - if you can track it down. (Since Criterion has done one of their clean-up jobs on it it shouldn't be too difficult.)

1933, dir. Ernst Lubitsch. With Gary Cooper, Frederic March, Miriam Hopkins, Edward Everett Horton, Franklin Pangborn.

Despicable Me

Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is a supervillain - but he's also getting a bit old and being supplanted by the younger Vector (Jason Segel). Having failed to break into Vector's fortress, he discovers that Vector's weakness is cookies, so he adopts three children who sell cookies to sneak his robotic minions into Vector's place. The bonding process that follows is unbelievable, ludicrous, occasionally sickly sweet, and very, very entertaining. Gru's army of minions (bright yellow, pill-shaped, short, indestructible, semi-humanoid ...) are also very funny.

2010, dir. Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud. With Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Elsie Fisher, Pierre Coffin.

Despicable Me 2

Sees our hero and father figure Gru (Steve Carell) teamed up with the Anti-Villain League - specifically his partner Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig, hilarious) - to save the world from other villains ... now that he's a dad and not a villain anymore.

Offers plenty of laughs, although the story is somewhat more slapstick than the last one (which already relied heavily on slapstick). Parents will find the cloying cuteness of the daughters overplayed in this one - although they'll also recognize Gru's overbearing concern about his daughters developing an interest in boys. The best scenes are the ones with Wiig in them: she's given many of the best lines and delivers them very well indeed. Once again, the closing credits offer some of the funniest bits (even without the 3D it was intended to play to).

2013, dir. Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud. With Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Elsie Fisher, Dana Gaier, Russell Brand, Ken Jeong, Steve Coogan.

Despicable Me 3

Like any long-running series, the "Despicable Me" movies have played out their comedic concepts and overstayed their welcome. This is better than the appallingly bad "Minions" movie (which was technically the third in the series), but far worse than "Despicable Me 2" which was still a decent movie, suffering primarily in comparison to its progenitor.

There's always an exception to a rule, although I thought for a long time that movie sequels had none. It remains incomprehensible to me how the "Kung Fu Panda" series has remained as funny and as good as it has: all three movies are of roughly equal quality, and all three very entertaining. I suppose there's still time for the series to stick around and destroy itself ...

But I'm supposed to be talking about "Despicable Me 3." This movie finds Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) struggling with unemployment, fired from the Anti-Villain League after his latest attempt to catch Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) goes bad - thus setting up the bad guy for the movie. Lucy is struggling with being a mother to Gru's three adopted daughters. And then we're introduced to Dru, Gru's twin brother he didn't know he had.

There are three or four very funny gags, but most of the movie is colourful and absurd mayhem with jokes so weak they don't even raise a smile. Thoroughly disappointing.

2017, dir. Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda. With Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Pierre Coffin, Steve Coogan, Jenny Slate, Julie Andrews.

Destry Rides Again

I've never seen Jimmy Stewart looking so young (or so thin and tall). And the movie has Marlene Dietrich too! Stewart plays Destry, a young new Deputy who doesn't believe in guns in a violent town. Everyone finds this hilarious except for the sheriff (Charles Winninger) who had hoped Destry would be a gunslinger like his father. Destry falls for the beautiful lounge singer (Marlene Dietrich) who works for the unscrupulous Kent (Brian Donlevy).

The movie shows its age and Vaudeville origins with the staged (literally) singing numbers with Dietrich in a saloon. Stewart is perhaps a bit better than usual: he's playing his usual character, but hasn't worn it in quite as much as he had later. I couldn't really see the appeal of Dietrich. Winninger was good - both funny as the former town drunk and also poignant when he needed to be. Overall fairly funny.

1939, dir. George Marshall. With James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Mischa Auer, Charles Winninger, Brian Donlevy.

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Andy Lau plays Detective Dee, jailed for eight years for treachery against the crown when he opposed the soon-to-be Empress' becoming protector of the throne. He's summoned to see her when a couple of men spontaneously combust on the eve of her ascendancy as Empress, and then sent out to investigate with the assistance of Jing'er (Bingbing Li) and Pei (Chao Deng). The first is unreliable and treacherous, and the second is a complete asshole ... who at least wants to get to the truth.

As befits a Wu Xia picture, the leads are all capable of super-human feats. Unfortunately, the fight scenes (under the care of Sammo Hung) kind of suck, so don't see it for that. The mystery is complex and mildly interesting, but I was bothered by the spontaneous combustion relying on a non-existent animal (it might have been better if it was caused by religious superstition, as was suggested at one point). I rather liked the Pei Donglai character - as I mentioned, not a nice guy but determined to seek the truth, not a common type of character in the Chinese movies I've seen. But overall it was a pretty poor and commonplace (if high budget) martial arts flick.

2010, dir. Tsui Hark. With Andy Lau, Bingbing Li, Chao Deng, Carina Lau, Tony Leung Ka-fai.

The Devil Wears Prada

Anne Hathaway plays a recent grad who wants to be a journalist working for the insanely demanding Meryl Streep at a fashion magazine in New York. The movie is essentially about selling your soul - something I might have guessed from the title, but you never know with a comedy. As her personal life is devastated, Hathaway starts dressing more and more stylishly and occasionally actually receiving acknowledgement from her boss. Hathaway is charming (except for the selling her soul part), Streep is miserable, Emily Blunt is unpleasant, Stanley Tucci plays his normal role (he plays it well, also as usual ... but isn't it time for him to move on?) and Adrien Grenier is around just enough to play the boyfriend, the reminder of what she's losing. It wasn't nearly as humiliating or embarrassing as it could have been and there's definitely some humour, but this isn't a particularly good movie.

2006, dir. David Frankel. With Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, Adrien Grenier, Simon Baker, Tracie Thoms.

The Devil's Disciple (1959)

I've seen the 1987 BBC production of "The Devil's Disciple" several times, and read the Shaw play a couple times - this is probably my favourite Shaw. Unfortunately, whatever this movie is, it isn't much of Shaw. There were bits of his plot and some of his words, but Reverend Anderson is now an on-screen action hero instead of an off-stage one, and huge chunks of nuance and character have been left on the cutting room floor by the massive changes to plot and dialogue. Like Shakespeare, what Shaw did best was words, dialogue. Unlike Shakespeare, whose non-historical plots often stumbled, Shaw was reasonably good at plot. Getting a Hollywood screenwriter to change them both was an incredibly poor idea. I don't require a word-for-word production, but they've changed so much here, and so much for the worse, that I can't recommend this to anyone.

Burt Lancaster (whose acting I've never liked) plays the Reverend Anthony Anderson, Kirk Douglas plays Richard Dudgeon, and Laurence Olivier plays General John "Gentlemanly Johnny" Burgoyne.

1959, dir. Guy Hamilton. With Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Janette Scott, Harry Andrews, Basil Sydney.

The Devil's Disciple (1987)

Written by George Bernard Shaw, a BBC TV production. The filming is ... iffy. But the performances are good, and the script pretty much puts away any further doubts. My favourite Shaw play.

In 1777 America, Richard Dudgeon (Mike Gwilym) returns home, disowned son of a religious and bitter mother, to find himself owner of the house (with his mother still in it) on his father's death. Just in time to face occupation by the British army. Dudgeon claims to be "the Devil's Disciple," although he may just be doing it because he's infuriated by the religious hypocrisy around him. The local preacher (Patrick Stewart) has a shot at befriending him. I enjoyed Shaw's script immensely (and this production is Shaw, word-for-word - there's some virtue in that).

This is one of Shaw's clearest plays. He often goes for humour at great cost to the structure and message of the play (Major Barbara particularly comes to mind), but his aim here is very clear: a person can say what they want, but their true morality will show through in what they do. By the end of the play you've really got that through your head, both intellectually and emotionally: it's a great piece of writing.

1987, dir. David Jones. With Mike Gwilym, Patrick Stewart, Ian Richardson, Elizabeth Spriggs, Susan Wooldridge.


I've rarely seen a movie so over-the-top that it's boring, but this definitely manages. Sharon Stone plays cold and obnoxious, and doesn't manage to even do that particularly well. Isabelle Adjani does weepy and weak. Chazz Palminteri tries for ferocious sexual animal or some such and just looks silly. The story has the wife and mistress of a brutal teacher teaming up to murder him, but strange things happen after the murder. Even if you can get past the bad acting, there are other major issues: who took the pictures of the wife and mistress moving the crate? All the major parties were occupied. And the ending, in which pretty much everyone dies and is revived a couple times, is beyond ludicrous.

1996, dir. Jeremiah S. Chechik. With Isabelle Adjani, Sharon Stone, Chazz Palminteri, Kathy Bates, Donal Logue.

Dial M for Murder

Hitchcock adaptation of a Frederick Knott play (Knott did the screenplay too). A beautiful young wife (Grace Kelly) is having an affair, and her husband (Ray Milland), while pretending not to know, plots to have her killed so he can keep her money. He's slippery and clever, but things don't quite go as planned. Clever, witty, and well-acted. Not great, but definitely enjoyable and worth seeing.

1954, dir. Alfred Hitchcock. With Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, John Williams, Anthony Dawson.


The movie is about Portuguese football ("soccer" to us North Americans) star Diamantino (Carloto Cotta). Wikipedia says "... [his] looks and persona bear an uncanny resemblance to that of real-life soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo." If so, Ronaldo should be insulted, because Diamantino is only slightly smarter than the fluffy puppies he sees when he's in the zone on the football field. Ah - I haven't mentioned yet: this movie is both absurd and surreal (these two are commonly found playing together). He helps rescue some refugees, his abusive twin sisters cause their father's death but tell him it was his fault for flubbing a critical goal, and his career goes down the toilet. So he adopts a refugee son - who is actually a female police woman in disguise. And really, that's just the beginning.

I was frustrated by a couple things that kind of don't count when you're watching something as surreal as this - but they still dragged me out of the movie and decreased my enjoyment of it. Diamantino is dumb as a stump - I'm sure several great movies have been made about people this lacking in brains, but I don't usually watch them as they make for less interesting characters. Then there's the voice-over from Diamantino - a more intelligent and omniscient version of him, which is at odds with the character we see speaking on screen. And finally there's the adult-woman-as-young-boy-adoptee thing: sure Diamantino is a moron, and this is an absurdist film, but even he couldn't fail to notice the gender of his "son" over the course of a week together.

Outside the realm of "reviewing," it was a strange co-incidence that I'm 3/4s of the way through the movie "Spaceship Earth" - a documentary about Biosphere 2. Because the mad scientist's lab in this movie was set at Biosphere 2.

I found the second half of the movie more interesting than the first, and I enjoyed the unjustifiably happy ending. I can't really recommend it, but it was at least different.

2018, dir. Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt. With Carloto Cotta, Cleo Tavares, Anabela Moreira, Margarida Moreira, Carla Maciel, Chico Chapas, Maria Leite, Filipe Vargas, Hugo Santos Silva, Joana Barrios.

Dick Tracy

Warren Beatty's take on the classic comic. Painted in broad strokes in every respect, I found it more annoying than successful. The dialogue is broad, the characters are broadly drawn, all the bad guys wear tons of facial prosthetics, and the colours blaze off the screen. "Sin City" took a lot of clues from this one: use the facial modifications and colours in judicious quantities as highlights, not continuous overload. Oddly, I thought Madonna provided one of the better acting jobs in this sloppy mess (the list of people who embarrassed themselves in this one is long). It's an interesting movie and worth seeing, but it's not very good.

1990, dir. Warren Beatty. With Warren Beatty, Glenne Headly, Charlie Korsmo, Madonna, Mandy Patinkin, Paul Sorvino, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Dick Van Dyke.

Die Hard

Of course I'd seen "Die Hard" before I watched it in 2017. I was never a huge fan. But another viewing shows me it's got a lot of good action and some very funny jokes. Ironically, it's become quite famous as a Christmas movie (as it's set near Christmas, with our hero John McClane coming to L.A. to see his family). I'm not sure it's ready to supplant "It's a Wonderful Life" or even "A Christmas Story," I suppose because it has more violence than cheer. But there's a certain segment of the population that considers it a masterpiece, and it is set at Christmas ...

I was particularly entertained to see Al Leong as one of the evil henchmen: he was in half the Eighties action flicks (including, memorably and appropriately, "Big Trouble in Little China"), and he always rocked the Fu Manchu mustache and the long hair while going bald thing, hardly ever spoke and usually died a horrible death. (Look him up on Google Images - you'll remember him if you saw those Eighties movies.)

1988, dir. John McTiernan. With Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Alexander Godunov, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason, De'voreaux White, William Atherton, Clarence Gilyard, Hart Bochner, James Shigeta, Al Leong.

Die Hard 2

Another Christmas finds John McClane (Bruce Willis) waiting at an airport for his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedalia) to land in Washington, D.C. John spots a suspicious package and follows the bearer into the luggage transfer area where he promptly gets into a gunfight. He is again rebuffed by the local police, and again goes rogue. His wife's life is - again - in danger, and he - again - fights ferociously and gets hurt and keeps fighting. Except this time it's not as likeable or funny.

Further sequels followed, and I think I've seen all of them too ... but they're all worse than this one, which is worse than the original.

1990, dir. Renny Harlin. With Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, William Sadler, Art Evans, William Atherton, Franco Nero, Dennis Franz, Fred Thompson, John Amos, Reginald VelJohnson.

Le Dîner de Cons

Pierre (Thierry Lhermitte) and his friends have a dinner each week, and each one of them brings the stupidest guest they can find (prize to be awarded later - no, really, they have a prize). Pierre has found a winner, a man who builds incredibly complex models from matchsticks, carrying pictures of them and going on at great length (Jacques Villeret, who played the same role on stage). But Pierre's back has gone out and his wife is upset with the game. When his new dinner guest comes over, he loses his wife to the hijinks that ensue and every attempt to fix things make matters worse, all of which is hilariously funny ... if you like humiliation. But the only part I enjoyed was Francis Huster as the ex-husband laughing at Lhermitte as he suffers through payback. A thoroughly mean-spirited movie about a bunch of obnoxious people.

1998, dir. Francis Veber. With Thierry Lhermitte, Jacques Villeret, Francis Huster.

Dinner at Eight

A screen version of a 1932 play of the same name, which might as well have been set on a stage for all the set changes we had. About a bunch of unpleasant people doing unpleasant things to each other - I can't claim they're all nasty, as a couple of them do good things. But this is the exception, not the rule.

Millicent Jordan (Billie Burke) is terribly excited to have invited Lord and Lady Fencliffe to dinner, as her husband's shipping business struggles. Their daughter is having an affair they don't know about with an aging and alcoholic actor, and the other invitees include a former movie star the husband had a crush on 30 years prior, a very crass possible business partner and his equally crass wife, and the philandering local doctor and his wife.

Wikipedia's absolute first statement about the movie was "Pre-Code," and in hindsight that's blatantly obvious: the drunken, thrice-married, not-yet-divorced 47 year old actor carrying on with a 20 year old girl PLUS a married doctor having multiple affairs his wife knows about ... dead give-away, if only I'd been thinking. As interesting as that is, the characters are unappealing and the acting is too uneven to raise this to any significant level of interest.

1933, dir. George Cukor. With Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore, Lee Tracy, Edmund Lowe, Billie Burke.

Dinosaur 13

This is a documentary about the political fallout surrounding the excavation of the 13th T-Rex skeleton, nicknamed "Sue." It was about 80% complete, and as such, quite an extraordinary discovery. It was found by the Black Hills Institute, a for-profit group in the Dakotas. I think we were meant to see how horribly mistreated the discoverers were - and indeed they were run through the wringer by the American legal system - but the main thing I got from it was just how incredibly messed up the American view of the world is, how incredibly profit-driven and uninterested in the public good it is. The film makers try to pretend to be unbiased, but they obviously favour the BHI. The most obvious example of this occurs when we see a shot of the jail one of the BHI guys ended up in: it's titled "Florence Jail, Colorado" (or something similar, don't remember the wording) and then a subtitle appears: "known as 'Alcatraz of the north.'"

Mildly interesting, but a little long and definitely biased.

2014, dir. Todd Douglas Miller.

The Dirty Dozen

The premise is simple: take a major who's smart but doesn't behave well (Lee Marvin) and give him a dozen long term army prisoners to train and storm a German chateau with. It's generally considered a suicide mission, but anyone who comes back will (probably) have their record expunged.

Too long by half at 149 minutes, we spend a lot of time meeting the dozen (who I still couldn't keep straight), seeing their training, and seeing them participate in a war game. The acting is uniformly "okay" - I wouldn't have said there was any danger of awards, but apparently the Academy disagreed as John Cassavetes was nominated. Not a favourite.

It was interesting to read on Wikipedia that the movie was considered shockingly violent at the time of its release, because I didn't even notice. Apparently standards have changed. A lot.

1967, dir. Robert Aldrich. With Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Richard Jaeckel, George Kennedy, Trini Lopez, Ralph Meeker, Robert Ryan, Clint Walker, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Robert Webber.

Dirty Filthy Love

I suppose I picked this up because of Michael Sheen: he really is one of the best actors around these days. Here he plays Mark Furness, who's lost his wife because of his OCD, and shortly after the movie begins, he loses his job as well. As Tourette's Syndrome and coprolalia start to put in appearances in his behaviour, he begins to realize what his problem is and finds his way into a support group with the help of a woman (Shirley Henderson) who also has OCD.

For the first ten minutes Henderson was on screen, all I could think about was where I had heard that incredibly distinctive voice before. It took me a while to put it together: she was "Moaning Myrtle" in the Harry Potter series of movies. That is one unusual voice.

The movie is described as a comedy, and certainly there are some very funny moments. But I found the overall tone to be fairly grim. There's some hope, but it becomes clear that Mark is never going to have anything approaching a normal life again. There's good acting all around, but unless you have a particular interest in seeing life with OCD (at that it may not be portrayed particularly accurately) I'm not sure I'd recommend this.

2004, dir. Adrian Shergold. With Michael Sheen, Shirley Henderson, Adrian Bower, Claudie Blakley, Anastasia Griffith.

A Discovery of Witches, Season 1

I was intrigued when I heard about the "A Discovery of Witches" TV series: I love urban fantasy (set in 2018 when it was released) and reviews suggested it was kind of Harry Potter and/or Twilight with more brains. A review on the DVD case from the library said "... 'True Blood' with a PhD!" While the author (Deborah Harkness) of the book trilogy this TV series is based on has a PhD, that in no way guarantees that she writes intelligent prose. Although this is of course hard to judge by watching the TV series and not reading the books. Regardless, the reviews definitely set my standards too high.

Our main characters are Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer) and Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode). She is an American (Palmer is actually Australian ...) historical researcher and reluctant witch who has just moved to Oxford, England to continue her research into the history of alchemy. This brings her into contact with a book at the Bodleian Library called "Ashmole 782" which appears for her despite having been missing for a century and a half. This is our first plot driver, as many of the "creatures" (their name for vampires, witches, and demons walking the earth in human form) are very, very interested in this book as it's thought to contain the creatures' genesis. The witches she encounters consider the book a good way to exterminate vampires (not all witches think this should be done, but unfortunately for Diana that's who she meets), which drives her into the company of the good-looking vampire and genetic researcher Matthew Clairmont.

And here we're immediately thrown into a classic - and badly overused - trope, which is also the major plot driver: forbidden love across families (Romeo and Juliet), gangs (West Side Story), or species (Underworld, Twilight). This has often been used to comment on the destructiveness of feuds or racism, but is now so worn down that it's just a convenient literary excuse to escalate simmering resentment between two groups into outright war and thus present obstacles for our lovers. And the writers don't try to make the attraction between our leads subtle, or build over time: they absolutely cannot resist each other within a couple days of meeting, and by three weeks in are clearly destined for eternity - despite little proof to the viewer that they're actually a good match. And wait - a guy who's 1500 years old hasn't learned to control his impulses? Vampire or no, he'd be dead. Also, after a season it's clear how to tell the bad guys: anyone who is loyal to family and friends above race is on the side of right. While it's a sentiment I agree with, it's never that simple in a war, is it?

Matthew Goode and Teresa Palmer are attractive leads who aren't given good dialogue and don't work too hard on their acting. The whole thing is essentially a romance - and there's a reason "rom-coms" are more popular than "roms" - they're more entertaining. This has almost zero humour and takes itself far too seriously while frequently being downright silly. Comparisons to Twilight are entirely justified, and while the writing isn't as bad as that series of movies, it's certainly not very good. I haven't seen mention of the "Underworld" series of movies in reviews of this, but that connection should be made too: after all, that's Romeo and Juliet for vampires and werewolves, with a dollop of genetics.

One of the series' best features was shooting on location mostly in Oxford and Venice. It's really lovely, but if that's the best thing going for you, you're in trouble.

2018. With Teresa Palmer, Matthew Goode, Edward Bluemel, Louise Brealey, Malin Buska, Aiysha Hart, Owen Teale, Alex Kingston, Valarie Pettiford, Trevor Eve, Lindsay Duncan, Gregg Chillin.

The Dish

"Based on a true story." When the Americans went to the Moon, a radio telescope in the middle of a sheep paddock in Australia was used to transmit a significant part of possibly the most famous TV broadcast ever made as Armstrong walked on the Moon. This tells the story of the people and town associated with that telescope. I'm usually not a fan of Australian humour (it can be strange or over-the-top), but this is both straight-forward and clever, and the jokes fit the characters. Manages to convey both the anxiety and the excitement of the event. A marvellously funny and incredibly charming movie, highly recommended.

2000, dir. Rob Sitch. With Sam Neill, Billy Mitchell, Patrick Warburton, Roy Billing.

District 9

In the near future, a very large spaceship settles over Johannesburg. Humans eventually cut their way in and rescue the starving aliens on board. Twenty years later, the million-plus aliens are being kept in a slum that's now to be relocated further away from Johannesburg. In charge of this operation and at the centre of the movie is Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a cheerful and not terribly bright man who was probably chosen for the job because he married the chairman's daughter.

A surprisingly decent SF movie, I didn't like it much - in large part because our main character spends most of the movie puking, mutating, and disintegrating. If you're okay with that, it's pretty good.

2009, dir. Neill Blomkamp. With Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James.

District 13 (orig. "Banlieue 13")

Free running / parkour and martial arts action flick from France. This has action that should make Tony Jaa and Jackie Chan sit up and take note. The initial (parkour) chase scene is fantastic. There's some good fights and action later, and - while it's mostly predictable - there are some entertaining twists and turns. Action movies don't usually come out of France, and that's another good reason for fans of the genre to watch this one: it's got a different feel. Definitely worthwhile.

2004, dir. Pierre Morel. With David Belle, Cyril Raffaelli, Tony D'Amario, Bibi Naceri, Dany Verissimo.

District 13: Ultimatum (aka. "D13-U", orig. "Banlieue 13 Ultimatum")

Just like the previous movie, except not as good. They do all the same things: we meet David Belle doing good in the hood (trying to blow up the wall around D13 this time ... last time it was destroying a drug stash), and we meet Cyril Raffaelli single-handedly taking out a drug dealer, exactly the same as last time. And this time Leïto (Belle) rescues Damien (Raffaelli) from jail instead of vice versa ... And guess what? They have to save D13 from being exploded, again. Except this time the editing is even choppier so the fights have less visual appeal, and the same problem applies to the parkour. Neither is as good as the previous outing. There are more bad guys, and more good/bad guys, and the end result is more laughable.

2009, dir. Patrick Alessandrin. With David Belle, Cyril Raffaelli, MC Jean Gab'1, Philippe Torreton, Daniel Duval, Élodie Yung.

Dive Bomber

Made just prior to the American entry into the Second World War, this rah-rah patriotic Hollywood product has little to recommend it except the science. Starring Errol Flynn as a flight medical researcher and Fred MacMurray as a leading pilot sometimes involved in medical testing, the flying footage is excellent but too long (even for me, a die-hard fan of that era of planes) and the acting kind of sucks. MacMurray misses the target on both his comedy and his acting. Flynn is somewhat convincing as a womanizing devil and okay as a doctor, but poor as a person with actual human emotions. There are also one or two supposedly "comedic" sub-plots dragged in for the "entertainment" value that fall completely flat while upping an already too-long run-time.

What the story is primarily about is the development of aeronautical methods of preventing black-outs in dives and preventing altitude sickness. And in this alone the movie is quite interesting - although probably only for a science geek like myself. Hardly recommended, even for the latter group. Other points of interest include incredibly early use of Technicolor - in combination with unprecedented naval aerial filming, and atrociously bad direction by Michael Curtiz - who directed Flynn's most famous movies and "Casablanca" (only a year later).

1941, dir. Michael Curtiz. With Errol Flynn, Fred MacMurray, Ralph Bellamy, Alexis Smith.


Veronica Roth wrote a successful series of young adult books called The Divergent Series, set in and around a dystopian post-apocalyptic Chicago. The movie series seems to be repeating the same success in the film medium.

Our heroine is Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) who, after going through the Choosing Ceremony, renames herself "Tris." She leaves the faction she was born into (Abnegation - the people who help others) to join the one she's always revered, Dauntless (the police force). But she's discovered that when she was tested, she tested as "Divergent" (not fully explained, but apparently "able to excel at anything") very bad news indeed in a strictly enforced caste system.

Much of the movie revolves around her training as Dauntless, but as they do this they're also building up the politics of the world she lives in, showing the characters of her fellow Dauntless recruits, and slowly moving "Four" (Theo James) from being the recruit's worst enemy to being her romantic interest. I have to give credit where it's due: it's well structured. Unfortunately, the ideas aren't anything new (dystopia, segregation, mind control, face your worst fears) and it's not done so well as to make the basic material into a brilliant story. It's also held back by being a fantasy: she turns out to be fantastically smart and talented (this was never noticed before?), and the hottest and smartest boy in the world (who may also be Divergent like her) falls for her ... and I'm going to call it "fantasy" despite the darker elements, because that fantasy is delivered with the subtlety of a brick to the head.

I'm amused that an author would write a book about the Erudite (intellectual) faction being the evil, trouble-making one: after all, which group would writers be placed in?

Apparently I'm not the first to find significant similarities to both The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner - both of which are young adult dystopian SF series being turned into movies. Although I was more amused by a comparison I haven't heard mentioned yet: the test, Choosing Ceremony, and factions of "Divergent" are a lot like Harry Potter's "Sorting Hat" and Houses. And just like Harry, Tris would do well in more than one of them ...

I'll probably watch the sequel because I like science fiction, people with super powers, and black-and-white morality. Mildly entertaining, but so far from great art they had to change the time zone on their clocks when they made it.

2014, dir. Neil Burger. With Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Zoë Kravitz, Kate Winslet, Ray Stevenson, Miles Teller, Maggie Q, Tony Goldwyn.

Django Unchained

Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave in the American South just before the Civil War. He is freed (in typically spectacular, violent Quentin Tarantino style) within the first fifteen minutes by Dr. King Schulz (Christoph Waltz). Schulz is a bounty hunter who needs Django's help to identify some slavers that Django knows, so he frees and hires Django. They work together as bounty hunters through the winter, and then go in the spring to free Django's wife.

Nobody revels in "the righteous kill" quite the way Tarantino does. Many of the critics liked this movie, but Tarantino's love of violent, "justified" kills makes me feel distinctly unclean. "Look, I'm going to create a horrifically evil person(s) so that we can revel in knee-capping them and watching them die horribly!" Urgh.

2012, dir. Quentin Tarantino. With Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, James Remar.

Do I Sound Gay?

David Thorpe opens his movie by reading the leading titles out loud as they go by, and I have to admit that my reaction to the title question was "yes." After the title, the camera gets pointed at a number of people who attempt to answer the same question about his voice. Thorpe's quest leads him to interview a variety gay celebrities: Dan Savage, George Takei, David Sedaris, Margaret Cho, Tim Gunn and Don Lemon among them. This is interspersed with his voice lessons from several different sources, interviews with academics about the sound of the human voice, and chats with his friends - who are entertaining and likeable people. As I've seen some rather badly constructed documentaries recently, I'll mention that this one is well filmed, well thought out, and very well edited. It all adds up to a fascinating and rather charming movie about finding your own voice that's worth a watch for pretty much anyone, gay or straight.

2014, dir. David Thorpe. With Dan Savage, George Takei, David Sedaris, Margaret Cho, Tim Gunn, Don Lemon.

Dr. No

The first James Bond movie. Sean Connery plays Bond, a role he was to become very familiar with. And most of the elements we became so familiar with over the years were there: suave hero, hot women, evil world-destroying conspiracy, even one or two awful puns. But this has the least action of any Bond movie I've ever seen - that's been ramped up considerably as the series progressed.

1962, dir. Terence Young. With Sean Connery, Joseph Wiseman, Ursula Andress, Jack Lord, John Kitzmiller, Lois Maxwell.

Doctor Strange

Benedict Cumberbatch plays the incredibly arrogant surgeon Steven Strange - very intelligent, an excellent doctor and a horrible person. Ten minutes into the movie he has a brutal car accident that damages his precious hands so he has the shakes and can never operate again. Looking for answers, he ends up in the East: from Kathmandu he finds his way to Kamar-Taj, where he learns from "The Ancient One" (Tilda Swinton). Instead of conquering his shakes as he'd hoped, he becomes a successful sorcerer. The villain is Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen, a good actor typecast as evil in English productions), a former student of The Ancient One who wants eternal life for everyone.

Cumberbatch is good as the titular character, and Swinton has a lot of fun as The Ancient One. The special effects are very good, and the movie is often goofy fun. I enjoyed it, but didn't think it holds up as well as the best of Marvel's movies. (Which would those be? I guess "Iron Man" and "The Avengers.")

2016, dir. Scott Derrickson. With Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

I enjoyed the first "Doctor Strange" movie. It was bizarre and absurd, it was stand-alone: you didn't have to know anything else about the Marvel Universe, and it had a certain internal logical consistency. This, on the other hand, is a giant soap opera that requires you know everything that's come before: the first Doctor Strange movie (of course), the entire Avengers saga - and the Scarlet Witch TV series "WandaVision." This is burdened with all of the MCU history ... and that also allows them to simply switch universes whenever they need another protagonist or antagonist, or another version of someone. Really, just like that? Yup. And just like a soap opera, good guys turn bad (Scarlet Witch turns evil ... oh, wait - SPOILER ALERT) and bad guys become good (more or less - Mordo resurfaces).

Let me put the things they do wrong another way. (Real SPOILER ALERT!) In another universe - ie. not ours - they have Wanda/Scarlet Witch kill off Reed Richards (John Krasinski in a role he may never play for more than about three minutes at a time), Professor X (still Patrick Stewart, but now back from the X-Men's 25 year exile at Fox), Captain Marvel (Lashana Lynch), Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell, powered up like Captain America, and she even says "I can do this all day," spare us please ...) and Black Bolt (Anson Mount) all in one go to show how evil and how powerful she is. But for me, all this really did was de-emphasize every other death in all Marvel movies. How much do you expect me to cry over the death of Professor X when you spent a good part of the movie explaining that there are an infinite number of Professor X's? And another part of the movie shows that you can retrieve a new one any time you want from another universe? This problem with the MCU really started with the ending of "Infinity War" - when they killed off half their heroes, but anyone with two brain cells to rub together knew it wasn't permanent. Sorry guys: you can't have it both ways. We aren't going to weep for deaths that are almost certainly temporary.

The movie has lots of action, but I found the barrage of characters, locations, the ever-shifting set of skills each hero and villain had, and all the deaths, made it a struggle to get through. It had some good moments - Sam Raimi directed, so there had to be something worthwhile in here, and newcomer Xochictl Gomez as America Chavez was charming - but the moments were too far apart to make a cohesive whole.

If you want to see a worthwhile "Multiverse of Madness," see the far superior "Everything Everywhere All at Once."

Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Xochictl Gomez, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams, Michael Stuhlbarg, Hayley Atwell, Patrick Stewart, Lashana Lynch, Anson Mount, John Krasinski, Bruce Campbell.


Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston) sells his very successful automobile plant in the U.S. to retire and go on a long vacation to Europe with his younger wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton). She's all about nights on the town, which doesn't appeal to him - so she goes off with a string of various young friends.

Dodsworth is more or less a prototypical practical American: a good and intelligent man who understands the value of what he has. His wife is pretty, flighty, and obnoxious, but he loves her. The movie is a portrait of a disintegrating marriage - although ultimately more positive than that would imply.

Highly recommended: superbly written with exceptionally well-drawn characters, the movie will stay with you.

1936, dir. William Wyler. With Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton, Paul Lukas, Mary Astor, Kathryn Marlowe, David Niven, Gregory Gaye, Maria Ouspenskaya, Odette Myrtil.


Jackson Briggs (Channing Tatum) is a former U.S. Army Ranger who works in a fast food restaurant and desperately wants to go back into the Army, but suffers from a brain injury and PTSD. When his former army partner dies in a car crash, he's told by his former commanding officer that if he transports their army working dog Lulu to his partner's funeral (1700 miles in a car), he'll be called back up. So off he goes with a dog he used to know who's also developed something similar to PTSD. Humour is made of Lulu's vicious and destructive antics and of Jackson's obnoxious behaviour.

The movie reminded me considerably of "Megan Leavey," another story about an army person and a retired working dog, although that one had less comedic intent. But this is a comedy-drama, so Lulu's antics force Jackson to re-assess how he views the world. Tatum is good in the lead, and the story moves along fairly well. I was put off by some of Jackson's most obnoxious behaviour (particularly the pretending-to-be-blind scene at the hotel that's in the trailer) and the deliberate cringe humour that went with it. Tatum was good, and they had (apparently three) very well trained Belgian Malinois dogs to play Lulu. Good, but I didn't love it ...

2022, dir. Channing Tatum, Reid Carolin. With Channing Tatum, Jane Adams, Kevin Nash, Q'orianka Kilcher, Ethan Suplee, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Nicole LaLiberte.


Kevin Smith's brutal attack on the Catholic Church. The irony of it, and what makes it so good, is that he is clearly still a man of faith. But that faith is in God, not the Church.

The cast is incredible, and, for the most part, well used. We start with a woman (Linda Fiorentino) who works at a Family Planning clinic. While she still goes to church, she's lost faith. She's shortly visited by an angel (Alan Rickman, hysterical) and sent on a quest to prevent two angels (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, also hilarious - and rather threatening) from returning to heaven - and in the process un-making reality. Jay and Silent Bob are of course present and ever-helpful.

Highly recommended for anyone with a sense of humour about religion.

1999, dir. Kevin Smith. With Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Linda Fiorentino, Alan Rickman, Chris Rock, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, George Carlin, Salma Hayek, Jason Lee, Janeane Garofalo, Alanis Morissette, Bud Cort.

Dolemite Is My Name

Rudy Ray Moore is an interesting guy. He's one of those people who's image has continued to grow after his death: his spectacularly raunchy comedy albums were too filthy to advertise in the 1970s, but they sold by word-of-mouth just fine - and now, because he rhymed over music, he's "the Godfather of Rap" (and they kind of have a point). I think a big part of his success was simply being transgressive: these days his records only sound a little rude, and not all that funny. But the people who made this movie had multiple records to mine for material to make the script, and the end result is very funny.

Eddie Murphy plays Moore in the movie: he wants to be famous, but his life isn't going anywhere. Until he repurposes some backstreet rhymes and jokes and puts on the persona of Dolemite. And that serves him fairly well, but he thinks he should be on the big screen. So he mortgages his future to make a badly produced movie.

I knew the story, I knew where it was headed. (I'll give you a hint: the "Dolemite" movies are crap, but they're a kinda funny blaxploitation that was fairly successful.) But the success of this meta-movie is in showing the good and the bad, the failure and the success. Yes, he was making a crap movie - he didn't have much money, and he didn't know what he was doing. But he was doing it because he wanted to entertain people, to make them laugh. And in the end, he succeeded.

It's good to see Eddie Murphy back on form: he's successful in this role because they have a good script and the humour comes from the character he plays, and he's just ... being Rudy Ray Moore. And holy shit, Wesley Snipes may finally have rediscovered the sense of humour he lost 20-odd years ago. This was just a fun movie to watch.

2019, dir. Craig Brewer. With Eddie Murphy, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Wesley Snipes, Chris Rock.

Don Juan DeMarco

The story of a soon-to-retire psychiatrist (Marlon Brando) and his last patient, a young man who claims to be Don Juan (Johnny Depp). Depp is just about the only person who could have sold this story in the title role, and he's great. The tale he tells is absurd, funny, and romantic, and the script is sharply observant of the state of love and our view of reality today. This is a really wonderful movie.

1995, dir. Jeremy Leven. With Johnny Depp, Marlon Brando, Faye Dunaway,

Don't Look Up

The movie opens with grad student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovering a new comet. With the help of professor Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) they discover that this comet will strike Earth in six months and cause an extinction-level event. This takes them to the White House, where they're brushed off and silenced. They do some talk shows, where they're humoured and doubted.

This being a satire, everyone is a bit over-the-top. As several reviews have said, this is heavy-handed, but also dead-on on denial of facts, the denial of science, political scandals, and rampant corporatism.

What a list of names: DiCaprio, Lawrence, Jonah Hill, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep. The cinematography is occasionally very weird, hopping from topic to disconnected topic very quickly - I assume to show us life happening across the planet, but they did this many times. Mark Rylance does almost exactly the same character as in "Ready Player One," except with a slightly better haircut. He's a darling with the critics right now, but I haven't seen it yet (yes, I know I haven't seen the acclaimed performances).

I found the movie reminiscent of (at least) "Last Night" and "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" - "Last Night" faces an unexplained apocalypse, but "Seeking ..." is brought about by an asteroid hurtling toward Earth. Being both middle-aged and a fan of Science Fiction I've probably seen more end-of-the-world movies than most people, so many people won't have seen as many of the antecedents.

It was depressing, but also funny and fascinating as they trotted out ever-more-awful unexpected outcomes.

2021, dir. Adam McKay. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Kid Cudi, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep.


Based on the video game of the same name, includes big nasty marines running around sticky dark corridors trying to clear them of horrible monsters level by level.

The awful plot and bad acting reminded me considerably of "Resident Evil," although, bad as it is, it isn't that bad. Karl Urban and Rosamund Pike raise the general level of acting from awful to mediocre. Dwayne Johnson is squarely holding down the awful end of the scale - he's made it to "passable" in recent years, but definitely not in this movie.

2005, dir. Andrzej Bartkowiak. With Dwayne Johnson, Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike.

Doom Patrol, Season 1

The series starts in a mansion that houses Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero), Rita Farr (April Bowlby playing Elasti-Girl, although she's never given that name in this season), Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer playing Negative Man, again not so titled in this), and Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser as Robotman). They are "kept safe" from a world that considers them freaks by "the Chief," Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton). After 30 years of isolation in the mansion, they venture out into the streets of a nearby town (those of us under COVID-19 lock-down can understand the desire to get out). Their outing draws the attention of Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk, vamping it up in his perpetual role). The Chief and Jane (and the entire town) are sucked into Mr. Nobody's vortex, although in the second episode Jane and the town are ejected back into reality by being vomited up by a donkey. The rest of the series (nearly 15 hours of it) sees them slowly gaining momentum, trying to locate and rescue the Chief.

This is, as one reviewer put it, committed to its weirdness. They thought that was a good thing, but I disagree. It's mildly interesting by virtue of being batshit crazy, but that's not enough to make it absorbing. For that, you still need good writing. And the writing in this just isn't that great. I got through the entire series (most of it at 1.5x) so I admit I kept watching, but it's just not that good. I guess I liked the characters, so that's something ...

2019. With Diane Guerrero, Brendan Fraser, April Bowlby, Alan Tudyk, Matt Bomer, Timothy Dalton, Joivan Wade, Phil Morris, Kyle Clements, Matthew Zuk, Riley Shanahan.


"Dope" opens with three definitions:

  1. noun: a drug taken illegally for recreational purposes
  2. noun: a stupid person
  3. slang: excellent. Used as a generalized term of approval

Appropriate to a movie that's so much about words, and a guy who concerns himself with them.

Shameik Moore plays Malcolm Adekanbi, who with his two buddies Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jig (Tony Revolori), bike the streets of Inglewood California as they try to survive their bad neighbourhood, graduate high school, and make it to college. As geeks, it's par for the course for them to get hassled and beat up at school, but the primary plot motivator occurs when they attend a party and a drug dealer puts five bricks of powdered MDMA and a gun into Malcolm's bag (Malcolm didn't know) to smuggle it out when the police arrive. This leads them to a series of absurd and scary adventures.

The writing is quite good, stereotypes are avoided in the best way (the drug dealer Dom who causes them so much trouble matches Malcolm in his geekiness about 90s hip-hop groups), and it's very funny. Unlikely to qualify as a classic, but it's fun and of its time.

2015, dir. Rick Famuyiwa. With Shameik Moore, Kiersey Clemons, Tony Revolori, Chanel Iman, Zoë Kravitz, A$AP Rocky.

Dorian Gray

Based on Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, the director and screenwriter apparently didn't believe that Gray's off-screen acts of depravity in the original novel were sufficient: they load on the on-screen hedonism, depravity, and violence to levels Wilde never even imagined. They also lost a lot of Wilde's wit and social commentary in the process.

Ben Barnes is adequate in the lead, as are most of the cast. Colin Firth is a stand-out, stealing every scene he's in. Every step away from Wilde's version made this a poorer film (and there are a lot of those steps): even if you haven't read the original, this will probably look a pretty shoddy piece of work.

2009, dir. Oliver Parker. With Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Ben Chaplin, Rebecca Hall.

Dorohedoro, Season 1

This was recommended by a WatchMojo "best of recent Anime" video on YouTube - and backed up by good reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Using these criteria, I sampled both this and "Kengan Ashura." The latter is described by Netflix: "Ohma Tokita enters a hidden world where corporate disputes are settled in brutal gladiator bouts. Forget the money, he just wants to fight -- and win." I watched three episodes of that and all I got was secret power-up after power-up, as they went "OMG - he's channelling secret power X, we didn't even know you could do that" repeatedly. It got old fast. "Dorohedoro" on the other hand has some wonderfully crazy world-building, ideas, and characters going for it. It's still pretty silly, but I tend to enjoy learning about well constructed unusual worlds.

Based on the notoriously weird manga by Q Hayashida, our main character is Caiman. He's human - sort of. A sorcerer has turned his head into that of a lizard, and he has no memory of the event or his previous life. So he goes around grabbing sorcerers and stuffing their heads in his mouth so the guy inside him can see them and pass judgement (yup). One useful side effect of his lizard head is that sorcery no longer works on him because he already has a spell cast on him. His best friend is Nikaidō who runs a restaurant where Caiman frequently goes to eat gyoza (food - particularly gyoza - features heavily in the series).

We also become fairly familiar with the sorcerer En and his "family" - particularly sorcerers Shin and Noi, who are En's enforcers. They occasionally compete to see who can kill more people faster, and yet they're mostly portrayed as sympathetic characters. Although En isn't a nice guy at all. I should mention: this is an exceptionally bloody show. And for no particular reason (fan service I assume), Noi and Nikaidō are well endowed - and frequently scantily clad.

Not for everybody, but a lot of fun for the right crowd.

2020. Japanese voices: Wataru Takagi, Reina Kondō, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Yū Kobayashi, Kenyu Horiuchi, Tetsu Inada, Songdo. English Voices: Aleks Le, Reba Buhr, Sean Chiplock, Cherami Leigh, Keith Silverstein, Taylor Henry, Billy Kametz.

Double Indemnity

If the interviews on the DVD are to be believed, this movie single-handedly launched the entire Film Noir genre. Certainly it's a very good movie. An insurance agent (Fred MacMurray) falls for a married woman who convinces him to help her kill her husband after taking out a lot of insurance on him. The three leads are all excellent, and the story falls into place, and then back apart again, with style and an elegant inevitability.

1944, dir. Billy Wilder. With Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Jean Heather, Byron Barr.

Double World

Netflix has a large variety of Chinese movies and TV shows (also - that I've noticed - Spanish and Korean). I have a slight preference for English language materials as it's my native - and only - language, but if a movie is entertaining I'm happy to watch it regardless of language.

UPDATE 2021-06: This turns out to be based on a popular video game? Which explains a lot ...

"Double World" is a Chinese movie, but the main lead (although it's an ensemble cast) is Henry Lau - who was born and raised in Toronto, speaking English. Bizarre - I watch a Chinese fantasy movie on Netflix and the star turns out to be from my hometown. Probably not important to anyone else, but a co-incidence I enjoyed.

The movie is full of your favourite tropes and clichés: noble thief, disgraced-but-noble warrior, traitorous counselor to the king, quests, mechanical marvels centuries before they could be built, reality-defying physics, life-long feuds, vengeance, warring clans, grand tragedy, magic beasts, impossible scenery, etc. Short of putting a banner at the beginning of the film that said "This Is Not Art, It's Entertainment!," they couldn't have been much clearer about their intentions.

Dong YiLong (Lau) is a skilled and acrobatic thief with a conscience. When his village and clan is called upon to provide warriors for their kingdom's defence - through a competition - he volunteers along with a taciturn outcast warrior (Peter Ho ... I think, I'm not doing too well with the cast listing). They have adventures travelling to the capital, they meet people, they fight, etc., etc.

It's not a good movie, but if you're in the right frame of mind it can be entertaining.

2019, dir. Teddy Chan. With Henry Lau, Peter Ho, Lin Chenhan, Luxia Jiang, Ming Hu, Mark Cheng, Him Law.

Dracula has Risen from the Grave

The poster over at Wikipedia seems about right: a young woman is shown from the ample cleavage to the nose (no eyes), with a couple anachronistic modern bandages on her neck (given that the movie is purportedly set in 1906). Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, left frozen in the previous movie, is awakened by someone accidentally dripping a bit of blood on his lips. He enslaves girls (and a priest), and has one line of dialogue. In the mean time, we're shown a bunch of cleavage, some dark forests, skulking across roofs, and a lot of scenes in various old Transylvanian(?) bars. Amazingly cheesy.

1968, dir. Freddie Francis. With Christopher Lee, Rupert Davies, Veronica Carlson, Barry Andrews, Ewan Hooper, Barbara Ewing, Marion Mathie, Norman Bacon.

Dracula Untold

Transylvania is ruled by the charming and likeable Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans) who is a Good King(TM) and has a wife he worships and a son he adores. Yup, that's how they're playing it. Vlad is Transylvanian, but he was a child tribute to the Turks, a former Turkish child soldier (very good at it too). And now the Turks are demanding another tribute of young boys as soldiers, including Vlad's son. His wife sobs and cries and reminds him he promised her this would never happen ... so he kills the emissaries and brings the wrath of the entire Turkish empire down on his small country.

In an attempt to defend his family (and, incidentally, his country), he goes to that cave on Broke Tooth Mountain, where he makes the deal and becomes a vampire. Temporarily, he hopes.

Warning, Spoilers: This is meant to be a great tragedy, at least the ending sort of essays that. He slaughters tens of thousands of Turks, but for some reason their leader uses a sneaky flanking maneuver that should have been totally unnecessary because Transylvania had no army - at all. And the Turks did this not even knowing what Vlad had become - why? Halfway through the movie the Turks kill everyone in his entire country, but this is as nothing to the deaths of two or three people near him. It doesn't play well.

Finally, they wrap up with a noble and tragic ending ... which they proceed to completely sabotage and de-fang (if you'll pardon the unintentional pun) by a questionable technicality and extending the movie to the modern day to leave room for the inevitable (they hope) sequel.

The movie is supported by some brilliantly applied special effects work that's wonderful to see, but the plot is so bad it's not worth watching at all.

2014, dir. Gary Shore. With Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Art Parkinson, Charles Dance.

Dragon Fist

Early Hong Kong Jackie Chan - before he developed a sense of humour and started directing his own movies. It looks initially like a standard "you killed my master" revenge tale, but turns out rather differently. Not that that's as much of a blessing as it sounds - the script is as useless as the acting. The martial arts are okay, but very traditional.

1979, dir. Lo Wei. With Jackie Chan.

Dragon Pearl

I'm going to claim I watched this because Sam Neill was in it. Trust me: that's not a good enough reason.

The movie is a Chinese-Australian joint venture, with the language being mostly Australian-accented English with some subtitled Chinese. Our main characters are Josh (Louis Corbett) and Ling (Li Lin Jin), each the child of an archaeologist on a dig in China. Neill plays Josh's Dad. Ling turns out to be "The Chosen One," destined to help a Chinese Dragon imprisoned beneath a nearby temple. She and Josh tangle with Wu Dong, the rather quirky keeper of the temple. And then, with his help, try to do right by the dragon, except that there's this evil man hiding behind an unassuming facade ... (I had him pegged 30 seconds after he appeared on screen - that's how blatant and obvious the writing is.)

The movie never reaches beyond the level of a "what I did on my summer holidays" kids TV movie, with bad acting, bad writing, and bad effects. Avoid.

2011, dir. Mario Andeacchio. With Louis Corbett, Li Lin Jin, Sam Neill, Wang Ji, Robert Mammone, Jordan Chan.

Dragon Wars: D-War

In 1507 in Korea, the Dragons had their last uprising. But the heroine and her hero fell in love, and denied the necessary sacrifice. Now the dragons, the hero, the heroine, and the protector have all been reborn in ... Los Angeles. So much of the same mythology will play out in 2007, in the modern-day United States.

The acting is mediocre, the special effects are visibly CGI but remarkably good given the budget. Still, it's a good thing I like the occasional movie with a side of cheese, because this isn't very good.

2007, dir. Shim Hyung-rae. With Jason Behr, Amanda Brooks, Robert Forster, Elizabeth Peña.

Dragons Forever

A silly movie that provides a showcase for Jackie Chan, his two former Chinese Opera buddies Yuen and Sammo Hung (who also directed), and his sometime conspirator Benny Urquidez to have an awful lot of fights. Pretty much the same crowd that made the likewise very silly "Wheels on Meals," and with very similar results. Lots of Chan/Hung humour that's mildly amusing at best, and a bunch of truly spectacular martial arts fights that should absolutely not be missed by fans of the genre. Chan, Yuen and Hung were pretty much at their peak, and the set pieces are utterly brilliant.

1988, dir. Sammo Hung, Corey Yuen, Fruit Chan, Alexander Chan, Wan Faat. With Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Deannie Yip, Pauline Yeung, Yuen Wah, Benny Urquidez.


A DVD of Cirque du Soleil's show "Dralion." A wonderful acrobatic show, with the occasional rather odd cutting decision - ie. some fantastic acrobatics going on centre stage, and they decide to show you the singer. Overall pretty good.

2000. Dir. David Mallet.


What the title has to do with anything, I don't know. Classically bad Hong Kong chop sockey. I hoped for a bit more from Yuen Woo-ping and Yuen Biao, one of Jackie Chan's classmates. Biao is incredibly acrobatic and Woo-ping is the best fight choreographer in the business, but this movie doesn't do much. It's mildly humorous, but overall not even worth the rental.

1995. dir. Yuen Woo-ping. With Yuen Biao, Tak-Hing Kwan.


The 2012 reboot of the notoriously awful 1995 Sylvester Stallone flick ("Judge Dredd"), both based on a long-running comic book series. This one stars Karl Urban as Judge Dredd, Olivia Thirlby as probationary Judge Anderson, and Lena Headey as the very nasty drug lord Ma-Ma. Right at the beginning of the movie during Urban's introductory voice-over describing the extremely corrupt Mega-City One that everyone lives in, we actually see the back of his head for a moment, complete with hair. But then he puts his helmet on and all we see of him for the entire rest of the movie is the helmet, the tip of his nose, and his mouth and chin.

Judge Anderson is a psychic, able to read people's minds - but has narrowly failed her initial Judge tests. She is nevertheless sent out for a trial with Dredd. Dredd lets her choose their first port of call for the day, and she predictably chooses the three homicides that leave the two of them locked in a massive apartment building battling a gang of 300 plus run by the extremely unpleasant Ma-Ma.

The similarities to "The Raid: Redemption" are remarkable: "the law" (including corrupt elements) comes to a huge apartment building riddled with crime, complete with a drug lab, a lethal boss at the top of the tower with video surveillance throughout the building, and charming P.A. system announcements about how people should just kill the cops.

Someone did a pretty good job with the cinematography of the "Slo-Mo" moments in the movie: "Slo-Mo" is the drug of choice in this modern city, and it makes time move very slowly. The movie is very violent (although perhaps slightly less so than "The Raid: Redemption"). Urban spends most of his time scowling, but it would have taken a very good actor indeed to do much with most of his face covered. Thirlby was good, Headey was really good. Overall, not bad if you like that kind of thing.

2012, dir. Pete Travis. With Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Wood Harris, Lena Headey, Domhnall Gleeson, Warrick Greer, Deobia Oparei.

The Dressmaker

Kate Winslet is Myrtle "Tilly" Dunnage, a dress maker returning to the town in the Australian Outback that she was driven out of when she was 10. She finds her mother, who she stays with, referred to as "Mad Molly" (Judy Davis) - with some justification. The first 20 minutes is spent setting up every person in the village is an eccentric "character." Initially the movie looks like it's going to be about revenge for her being driven out of town. But during the course of the movie, as she starts making fabulous dresses for nearly everyone, we get fashion and comedy as it looks like there may be reconciliation. And then it becomes a rom-com. But that ends and things get darker again. Wikipedia says "... criticism focusing on its uneven tone ..." No kidding. There's some good writing in places, both funny and clever, but the tone is fantastically uneven. And the story arcs of at least a couple characters are ridiculous: Gertrude (Sarah Snook) is unbelievably treacherous (that's not rhetoric: I literally didn't believe it), and Molly's progression from completely nuts to saner than anyone in the town is hard to swallow.

There are elements of a very good film in there. But the director seems to have assembled those pieces deliberately out of order and with no regard to tone to end up creating an actively frustrating movie that had me bellowing at the screen (pity the friend who watched the movie with me - although she shared my frustration).

2015, dir. Jocelyn Moorhouse. With Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Snook, Sacha Horler, Caroline Goodall, James Mackay, Shane Bourne.

Drinking Buddies

Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) work at a small brewery. They're best friends, and are both in relationships with other people. When one of those relationships falls apart, things get a little ugly.

Rotten Tomatoes lists this as "Drama, Comedy," but I would list it as "someone else's boring life." The acting is really good, but why would I want to step inside such an accurate recreation of a couple other people's very mundane existences?

2013, dir. Joe Swanberg. With Olivia Wilde, Jake M. Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Ti West, Jason Sudeikis.

Drive Angry

Our protagonist is John Milton (Nicolas Cage), brutally interrogating people who know about a kidnapping. As he causes mayhem across the state, he acquires a travel companion named Piper (Amber Heard) and her fine ride (a black Dodge Charger). We find out that Milton is after Jonah King (Billy Burke), a Satanist who killed Milton's daughter and intends to sacrifice Milton's granddaughter. Milton doesn't like that - in fact, it appears he's returned from Hell to take care of business. He's pursued by "The Accountant" (William Fichtner), who's enjoying his time on Earth - and is even harder to kill than Milton.

There's swearing, lots of sex, an incredible amount of violence, and more stupidity than you can imagine. It's all kind of entertaining, if you like that kind of thing.

2011, dir. Patrick Lussier. With Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichtner, Billy Burke, David Morse.

Driving Miss Daisy

A quiet little piece about some old people getting older ... Funny and enjoyable. Doesn't talk about racism much, and yet manages to say a fair bit about it.

1989. dir. Bruce Beresford. With Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman, Dan Ackroyd.

Drunk Bus

Michael (Charlie Tahan) is a former university student who drives the late night bus loop at an Ohio university. He's stuck in a rut after being dumped by his girlfriend. One night he's knocked unconscious by one of the riders, and the next night he finds he's been assigned a 300 lb. Samoan named Pineapple (played by Pineapple Tangaroa) as security on the bus. Pineapple's radically different outlook on life starts to have an effect on Michael.

I'm notorious among my friends as something of a prude about movie content. I'm not much bothered by blood and gore, but I don't like humiliating humour or awkward sex. I wasn't enthusiastic that this included masterbation and a couple thoroughly awkward sex scenes. But ... setting those aside, this is a charming film about getting damaged by life and starting to recover. (Rotten Tomatoes' summary refers to it as a "coming-of-age" story.)

2022, dir. John Carlucci, Brandon LaGanke. With Charlie Tahan, Kara Hayward, Pineapple Tangaroa, Tonatiuh Elizarraraz, Will Forte, Sarah Mezzanotte, Dave Hill, Jay Devore, Martin Pfefferkorn, Sydney Farley.

Drunken Master (orig. "Jui kuen")

My second favourite early Jackie Chan movie, bettered only by "Snake in the Eagle's Shadow" (which contains all the same actors and stunt men). Chan plays an obnoxious and talented Kung Fu student, who, after causing too much trouble, is forced by his father to study with the titular drunken master. After much brutal training and some typically Chan humour, he bests the evil enemy. So what else is new? But the fights are among his best. Highly recommended for fans of the genre.

1978, dir. Yuen Woo-Ping. With Jackie Chan.

Drunken Master II

As with many Jackie Chan sequels, there's a nominal connection to the previous movie - but not a substantial one. Chan has retained his character's name (Wong Fei Hung), his drunken boxing style, and his rather contentious family dynamics. Pretty much all of the staff are different - but then, the original was 16 years prior.

Most of what goes on is family shenanigans, but there's a sub-plot about Chinese treasures being smuggled out of the country by the British consulate who also happens to own the local steel mill and treats the workers poorly. These parts lead to the spectacular finale in the steel mill, one of Chan's best fights - including some truly insane stunt work.

1994, dir. Lar Kar-Leung, Jackie Chan. With Jackie Chan, Ti Lung, Lau Kar-Leung, Andy Lau, Anita Mui, Ken Lo, Ho Sung Pak, Felix Wong, Hoh Wing Fong.

The Dry

Eric Bana is Federal Agent Aaron Falk who returns to his tiny Australian hometown of Kiewarra during an epic drought. He's back for the first time in a couple decades to attend the funeral of a friend - and the friend's wife and daughter, all killed in an apparent murder-suicide. But it's worse than that for Aaron: he left twenty years prior because several people in town believed the death of his girlfriend wasn't a suicide, but that Aaron killed her. That's a lot of history to carry into a town.

The story is based on a mystery novel written by Jane Harper. A small, drought-stricken Australian town is something of an alien location to a city-living Canadian: a brawl at the local pub sees the two police escorting people home rather than to the jail. Well done, inevitably somewhat dark.

2021, dir. Robert Connolly. With Eric Bana, Genevieve O'Reilly, Keir O'Donnell, John Polson, Joe Klocek, Claude Scott-Mitchell, Bebe Bettencourt, Martin Dingle-Wall, Sam Corlett, Bruce Spence, Julia Black, Matt Nable, William Zappa, Miranda Tapsell.


In the near future, Sarah (Karen Gillan) finds out that she has a terminal illness. She has a clone of herself made so her loved ones won't miss her. But when it's discovered that Sarah has recovered completely, it's decided that she and her clone will need to duel to the death - "we can't have two of you walking around - that would be ridiculous."

This reminded me considerably of Yorgos Lanthimos' "The Lobster" for its excessively stylized human interactions, and the way they were usually meta-interactions. Although I get the impression the style can also be compared to director Riley Stearns previous outing, "The Art of Self-Defense" (which I'll now avoid).

I watched this because I like speculative science fiction. I also enjoy SF that uses the future, other societies, and social changes to explore our current social issues. I'm still not sure what this movie thought it was exploring (probably not cloning), but when the writers choose to change human interactions into stilted absurdist dialogue to make some kind of point, or for comedy, they generally lose me. This one sure did. There wasn't a single believable human character in this mess.

Minor Spoiler: To its credit, I had several guesses about where it was headed, and I was wrong about all of them. I guessed that the duel wouldn't take place after the original Sarah spent so much time on training ... I got that right, but I was wrong in all my vague guesses about why. It's good I couldn't guess, but by the time we got to the end I'd given up caring about anything in this unappealing mess.

2022, dir. Riley Stearns. With Karen Gillan, Aaron Paul, Beulah Koale, Theo James, Maija Paunio, Sanna-June Hyde, Ali Asghar Shah, Andrei Alén, Kris Gummerus.

Due South Season 1 (TV)

"Due South" is fine Canadian content about a Mountie (an RCMP officer, played by Paul Gross) named Benton Fraser who works at the Canadian consulate in Chicago. He was described by a friend who reads Terry Pratchett as "a Canadian Corporal Carrot," a description so accurate it's given me nearly as much amusement as the series itself. Of course Fraser works at the consulate, but somehow we always see him hanging out with his cop buddy (David Marciano) helping solve cases - usually by extreme attention to detail, and sometimes by sniffing, licking, or tracking. The ideas covered are quite varied, and they manage to keep the episodes fairly fresh and enjoyable.

1994. With Paul Gross, David Marciano, Gordon Pinsent.


Bianca (aka "B," played by Mae Whitman) is an honour student with two beautiful (and intelligent) friends. But she throws it all over when hot football star, childhood friend, and neighbour Wesley (Robbie Amell) casually mentions she's "the DUFF," or Designated Ugly Fat Friend. Which leaves her with no support group in high school, not an ideal situation. She asks Wesley for guidance on de-DUFFing herself. This leads to the worst section of the movie as Wesley has her trying on clothes - she strikes idiotic poses in fantastically ugly clothes. And then he has her approaching random men in the mall to "learn how to talk to men." And after all the idiocy in the mid-section of the movie, Bianca suddenly delivers this incredibly calm and perfectly worded monologue to her enemy at the climax of the movie ... one of these characters wasn't her. But in classic movie style, the writer and/or director made her both in the name of humour.

There are some scenes between Whitman and Amell that are very funny, but for the most part the movie finds its humour in humiliating people - and then ultimately claims to be about respect for individuals and their differences.

I have to give credit to Whitman though: my jaw dropped when I found out where I'd seen her before. She was Roxy Richter in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," and it's hard to imagine two less similar characters than Roxy and Bianca.

2015, dir. Ari Sandel. With Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Bianca Santos, Skyler Samuels, Ken Jeong, Allison Janney, Nick Eversman, Romany Malco.


Let's be clear from the start: this is a Romantic Comedy. The outcome is completely inevitable, the only thing that makes it worth the journey is Adrien Brody's excellent performance. He plays a shy and rather emotionally battered 28 year old who quits his job and takes up ventriloquism - and begins to find his voice. The end credits are quick to assure us that Brody did all his own ventriloquism - I'm sure he did, he's just that way. Milla Jovovich plays his misguided and flat out crazy friend "Fangora" with a great deal of energy but not a lot of talent, and Vera Farmiga plays his incredibly sweet and charming love interest.

2002, dir. Greg Pritkin. With Adrien Brody, Milla Jovovich, Illeana Douglas, Vera Farmiga, Jessica Walter, Ron Leibman.

Dune (2000)

I never did see the infamous 1984 movie by David Lynch: I loved the book too much to see it slaughtered like that. While this has many problems, it was an earnest attempt at bringing the entire novel to the screen.

Let's start with the problems: The effects are poor, constantly using massive amounts of blatant CGI. Everybody in the production is from different countries, and the accents vary enormously. The acting is often mediocre. Very heavy use is made of colour tinting throughout. The run-time is four and a half hours (the director's cut is five hours).

And now the good stuff: the run-time is four and a half hours. This let them develop most of Herbert's characters, and bring in very nearly the entire plot as he wrote it - something you couldn't do in less time than this. William Hurt is good as the doomed senior Atreides, although he doesn't stay around long. Alec Newman as Paul Atreides is quite good - and that's a major plus given that he's the centre of the entire mini-series. And the movie as a whole is gripping and disturbing. I highly recommend it.

2000, dir. John Harrison. With Alec Newman, William Hurt, Saskia Reeves, Ian McNeice, Julie Cox, P.H. Moriarty, Giancarlo Giannini, Uwe Ochsenknecht, Barbora Kodetová.

Dune Part I (2021)

To help you understand where I'm coming from on this one, I've read Frank Herbert's book something like ten times. Not in several years, but it was a formative part of my life and I know it very, very well. I refused to watch David Lynch's 1984 version of the movie. I have however seen the 2000 made-for-TV mini-series: it had some problems, but I thought it was surprisingly good. And I've even seen "Jodorowsky's Dune:" that was fascinating, but I'm glad his version of the film was never made.

And now we come to Denis Villeneuve. I think of his track record as somewhat choppy. I didn't like "Incendies," and "Enemy" was seriously freaky. I found "Bladerunner 2049" disappointing, but "Arrival" is a fantastic movie. And even with the movies I didn't like ... I couldn't deny the man's talent. He has vision. He's a big fan of monochrome - I don't mean black-and-white, I mean one colour utterly dominating the screen. He uses it a lot - and I can't even say "too much" because I'm not tired of it yet. In this movie, the preferred colours are beige and brown - but then, it's set on a desert planet.

We're introduced to the Harkonnen family on the planet Dune, and the Atreides family on planet Caladan. The two families are long-time enemies. The emperor takes the spice world Arrakis from the Harkonnens, and gives it to the Atreides. And "spice," which is an essential drug, is worth an unbelievable amount of money. Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) is our protagonist, plagued by visions of the future which increase when he comes in contact with spice. And then his family is betrayed ...

The choice of staff was excellent, just look at the cast list: Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem ... And of course Chalamet, and Zendaya - both rising stars. Many scenes are much shorter than in the book - but I'll take it, because they're appearing in order and hold together well. Liet-Kynes has been gender-swapped: it doesn't matter, if anything it's a good thing as Herbert didn't put women in positions of power outside the Bene Gesserit, and this helps a bit with that imbalance. I always thought of Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) as more emotionally controlled than she's presented here (after all, she's Bene Gesserit). She loved Paul and her husband enough to betray her order, yes, but she's excessively emotional and weepy in this version. I think this is because they've compressed her scenes too much: it doesn't give us time to see that most of the time she masters or controls these emotions.

I was frustrated when I learned before viewing this that it's only half the book, and I'm still a bit annoyed about that after seeing it. But on the plus side, the book really does need two long movies to decently contain its plot line. Overall, a very good interpretation of the book. This didn't feel like a full review to me: I guess I'm withholding full judgement until I see the other half.

2021, dir. Denis Villeneuve. With Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Chang Chen, Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, Zendaya, Charlotte Rampling, Babs Olusanmokun, Benjamin Clementine, Golda Rosheuvel.

Dylan Dog

"Dylan Dog" is based on a graphic novel of the same name by Italian author Tiziano Sclavi who placed his titular (anti-)hero in London. The movie puts the action in New Orleans - that at least was a good choice. The idea is fairly good: Dylan Dog (couldn't they have picked a better name?) is human, but the supernatural creatures in the city had accepted him as an arbitrator and helper ... until the death of his wife a few years prior to the beginning of the movie. Since then, he's been working as cheating-spouse-chasing private eye among humans. But the supernatural world drags him back in.

The effects aren't bad, but what really kills the movie is bad writing and seriously poor choice in actors: Brandon Routh is handsome and extremely weak in the lead, Anita Briem is just bad, and Sam Huntington is weak ... A measure of how bad the acting is can be seen by who doesn't look bad: Peter Stormare phones it in and still looks okay doing it, Kurt Angle (with his professional wrestling pedigree) looks almost like an actor, and Taye Diggs steals the show. That's just scary (and not in the way horror movies are intended to be).

The story opens with Dylan being called to the scene of a murder and asked by the daughter of the murdered man to investigate. When it becomes clear that the killer was supernatural, he declines. But when his assistant is murdered and it's clearly related to the other killing, Dylan throws himself into the work.

The movie also falls down because of poor character interactions: Dylan's voice-over make it clear that Gabriel (Stormare) was his best friend: while they could have used Dylan's long disappearance as a reason for the animosity between the two, instead they frame it as being related to "that thing he did" which remains unexplained for the surprise value later ... and which it turns out that if Gabriel was really his friend, they would have talked. This is only one of many failings in the writing.

It turns out that there was another movie loosely based on "Dylan Dog," 1994's "Cemetery Man" starring Rupert Everett (only appropriate given that the graphic novel artist based Dylan's appearance on that of Everett).

2011, dir. Kevin Munroe. With Brandon Routh, Sam Huntington, Anita Briem, Peter Stormare, Taye Diggs, Kurt Angle.


Eagle Eye

Works on our paranoia about the staggering level of observation that's possible in modern society, and what could happen if that was blatantly misused. LaBeouf and Monaghan both get phone calls from a mysterious woman who orders them to do illegal things - forcing them to do so with threats and physical coercion. A large number of expensive cars are totalled in the early car chase - and the action editing is so choppy and blurry you can't see a bit of this million dollar spectacle they've put on. So what was the point? Logic also falls by the wayside, a casualty of sloppy plotting. As usual LaBeouf's acting is like a beacon for viewers desperate for a moment of quality. Could have been a good movie, but blew it all on sloppiness and sensationalism.

2008, dir. D.J. Caruso. With Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Thornton, Rosario Dawson, Michael Chiklis, Anthony Mackie.


This is based on Ursula K. LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea and its sequel, The Tombs of Atuan. I've read the former about ten times, the latter perhaps four. It's kind of hard for me to look at this without thinking of the source material, and believe me, it doesn't hold up well. They didn't want it to be like Harry Potter-lite, or so the director said in the interview - and yet we have sorcerers throwing fireballs at evil soldiers, and horrible looking flying monsters, and a whole bunch of other stuff that didn't come out of LeGuin. Her stories are slow and contemplative, but the producers or the director felt the need for action. So there are large elements from her story, but there are also huge sections that definitely weren't hers. The acting is uniformly mediocre and the story they end up with is fairly bad. Not much to recommend here.

2004, dir. Robert Lieberman. With Shawn Ashmore, Kristin Kreuk, Isabella Rossellini, Danny Glover, Sebastian Roché, Chris Gauthier.

East is East

Listed as a comedy, and highly regarded by the critics. I suppose there is a fair bit of humour, but the emotional content is intense and the humour is frequently quite black. Portrays a lower class Pakistani-English family living in England, with the Pakistani father trying to arrange marriages for his sons, who aren't interested. The ending is pretty mixed - rather more like real life than most movies. I liked it.

1999. dir. Damien O'Donnell. With Om Puri, Linda Bassett, Jimi Mistry, Archie Panjabi.

Eastern Promises

Cronenberg's follow-up to "A History of Violence" - the two movies share a lot in common. Not least of which is Mortensen. This time we're looking at a Russian crime family in London. Mortensen plays the driver, Cassels the irresponsible son to the ruthless father played by Mueller-Stahl. And Watts is a midwife in possession of the child of a very young - and dead - girl who has dubious ties to that family. While the story is significantly different than "A History of Violence," the feel is quite similar - the same sorts of questions about violence and loyalty, and this one is nearly as good (which means it's very good).

2007, dir. David Cronenberg. With Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Mina E. Mina, Sinéad Cusack, Jerzy Skolimowski.

Easy A

Emma Stone plays Olive Penderghast, a sarcastic A student at a high school in California. She makes up a story of a sexual adventure and ends up with a reputation. Figuring it can't get any worse, she fakes sex with a gay friend so that his reputation will be improved. As rumours and unkind words fly, she starts wearing trashy clothes with a red "A" sewn on them to match the book they're reading at school, The Scarlet Letter. Stone is good, Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are good as her eccentric, intelligent and supportive parents, and Haden Church is good as her favourite teacher. I even enjoyed the several direct references to Eighties teen movies. But somehow the movie as a whole just never grabbed me. Should work for most people - definitely better than most teen flicks.

2010, dir. Will Gluck. With Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, Cam Gigandet, Lisa Kudrow.

Easy Living

Screwball comedy with poor working girl Mary Smith (Arthur) caught up with the extremely rich Ball family in the most ridiculous possible way. Typical of the Depression (and Preston Sturges, who wrote it), we have a poor girl suddenly thrown into the midst of wealth and romance. The product is silly but charming and funny, and Arthur, Arnold, and Milland are all very good. I'm usually not a fan of screwball comedies, but I enjoyed this one: better, more believable characters.

1937, dir. Mitchell Leisen. With Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold, Ray Milland, Luis Alberni, Mary Nash.

Eat Drink Man Woman

About the lives of three Chinese women and their master chef father who has trouble communicating with them. Plays out across several months and all their lives get turned around in various ways. Food plays a central part. Very funny and a great view of a family.

1994. dir. Ang Lee.

Eddie the Eagle

"Eddie the Eagle" will act as a sports history lesson for many, but a lot of us still remember the sensation Michael "Eddie" Edwards made at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. He's the subject of a movie because he embodies multiple contradictions, which makes him fascinating, and he was (and remains) a charming guy.

The movie starts by showing Eddie at a very young age - in poor health but nevertheless determined to go to the Olympics. A few years later his clumsiness - or perhaps "lack of elegance" - fails to endear him to the British Olympic Committee, and he's ejected from the downhill skiing team. Which leads to his taking up ski jumping - a sport in which there's been no British entry in the Olympics since 1928, and where he can dodge the very old rules to get in despite the committee. The BOC changed the rules to keep him out - but with almost zero money and coaching, he trained and competed and just barely made it past the new qualifications to get him in to Calgary's Olympics.

I was significantly put off by the scowl that Taron Egerton wears as Eddie through much of the movie - I think it was an attempt to replicate the real Eddie's spectacularly jutting jaw. The problem is that on Egerton it makes him look upset, whereas the real Eddie merely looked ... unusual, not upset. Aside from that, it's a charming, mildly unbelievable (and almost all true) story of a goofy and charming character who became a hero to millions by coming last at the Olympics.

2016, dir. Dexter Fletcher. With Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Christopher Walken, Iris Berben, Jim Broadbent, Jo Hartley, Keith Allen.

Edge of Seventeen

Several other movies came to mind while watching this: "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl," "The DUFF," and "Paper Towns." They're all recent teen comedies and coming-of-age tales. If I had to tell you to go see one, I'd say "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" without hesitation. If you asked for the best acting, that would be Hailee Steinfeld in this one: she's outstanding. But the movie itself didn't move me. It's not bad, but it didn't strike me as anything special.

Steinfeld plays Nadine Franklin, a neurotic, obnoxious, and intelligent student. Her father dies when she's 13, leaving her with a mother who doesn't understand her and a brother she can't get along with, and only one friend. She's known Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) since they were about six, and they're very close. But Krista begins a relationship with Nadine's brother (Blake Jenner), which causes Nadine to push Krista away and start acting even crazier than usual. If you've seen the trailers, you'll know that Woody Harrelson is in the movie: he plays the long-suffering (and not terribly hard-working) history teacher that she turns to when she's driven everyone else away.

Nadine is an intensely unlikeable person: she's not actively evil, but she can be explosively unpleasant. The miracle of Steinfeld's performance is that you can see that she's not evil, and sort of like her and hope that she gets out of the hole she's dug herself. Had it been any other actress, I don't think they could have pulled this off - particularly when you throw in a mid-sized serving of "humorous" humiliation, one of my least favourite things ... which she (and the script) somehow makes workable.

In the end it's too awkward and gawky, like its protagonist. And her epiphany is far too sudden and complete: Steinfeld's performance can't save that.

2016, dir. Kelly Fremon Craig. With Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner.

Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise plays William Cage, a PR wonk for the army in the near future. They're fighting an alien invasion in Europe. For reasons that are only partially explained, Cage is suddenly assigned to the front lines of the next attack. Being a coward (and, in his defense, totally untrained), he attempts to decline the offer and then runs away - so he's tasered and shipped unconscious, waking the next day at the front of the attack. He dies almost immediately in the attack ... and awakes the morning of the same day, at the front of the attack. Essentially a cross between "Groundhog Day" and a war movie (specifically Second World War, the D-Day beach landings) - with a bit of the feel of grinding a video game campaign (ie. die, respawn, get a little further, die, respawn, etc.). Well presented, great effects, and a very well constructed story. One of the best SF movies of the decade.

3D BluRay: Having seen the movie in flat form, I bought the 3D BluRay. This was a significant mistake, as it's the worst 3D presentation I've seen: whenever people are in motion (and this is an action movie), the blurring and artifacting around them is absolutely brutal. It's horribly distracting. This problem doesn't occur with the 2D BluRay, and I'll only be watching that in future. 3D was a complete waste of money on this one.

2014, dir. Doug Liman. With Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton, Noah Taylor.


Similar to "The Truman Show," except that the main character (Ed, played by Matthew McConaughey) is aware he's the centre of a live 24 hour TV show. Very funny, well developed.

1999. dir. Ron Howard. With Matthew McConaughey, Jenna Elfman, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Hurley.

8 Mile

To understand this movie, it helps to know a bit about Detroit. I've been there a lot over the years. Back in the Nineties (just before this film was made, in 2002), the core of Detroit was a burned out husk, and anything south of 8 Mile Road was a wasteland of abandoned buildings and horribly run-down neighbourhoods. The core - right across the river from Windsor, Ontario - has since gentrified to a certain extent, but there's still this massive donut of space from one mile from the river all the way to eight miles out where sane people simply don't go at night. And there's very little reason to go there during the day - unless you're a photographer: there are some gorgeous hundred-year-old civic buildings that were abandoned 50 years ago. According to Wikipedia's entry on the film, 8 Mile is also the divider between the poorer black neighbourhoods and the richer white neighbourhoods to the north.

Detroit was (may still be, I have no idea) a hot-bed of rap, and Eminem came up through their vicious system of rap battles, a white guy in the midst of an almost entirely black crowd. In this movie, he plays a slightly different version of himself - just split up from his girlfriend, back living in a trailer with his impressively trashy Mom (Kim Basinger) and four year old sister, working at a metal stamping shop and trying to make it as a rapper with his friends. He has the talent but not the confidence, and one of the first scenes shows him on stage with the mic ... unable to speak. We get a good look at his friends, his family, and his life, all leading up to a climactic final scene back on stage.

Eminem turns out to be a decent actor, at least when he's playing himself - I don't think that's as easy as it sounds. The supporting actors are also good, and the writing is excellent. The movie also brought us what I think is Eminem's single best song, "Lose Yourself," which is effectively a rap retelling of the life of his character. A very good movie.

2002. dir. Curtis Hanson. With Eminem, Kim Basinger, Mekhi Phifer, Omar Miller.

84 Charing Cross Road

Bancroft plays Helene Hanff, an American writer in New York looking for out of print British books. She strikes up a business relationship and correspondence with Frank Doël in Great Britain, buying books on an irregular basis. The correspondence lasts 20 years, and through it we trace both their lives. A very quiet and charming film based on a true story.

1986. dir. David Jones. With Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench, Mercedes Ruehl.


"Elektra" as a character makes her first live-action film appearance in the 2003 movie "Daredevil." In which she dies. And yet, this isn't a prequel, it's a loosely tied follow-up. See, Elektra (played in both interpretations by Garner) is raised from the dead by her sensei/teacher, "Stick," played by Stamp. After that (or is it before? it's hard to tell), she gets an education in "Kimagure," a combination of martial arts and anticipating the future. But none of this is told linearly: it's all flashbacks. This might have been workable, but is considerably confused by many of them being involuntary flashbacks for Elektra herself, who even occasionally mistakes them for reality. After being booted out of Kimagure school for being too violent, she becomes an assassin. We see her at the beginning of the movie on what will turn out to be her last assignment. She meets and saves a father and daughter (Goran Višnjić and Kirsten Prout), and then gets involved in their rather complicated lives which turn out to overlap her own.

Ultimately a very confused and confusing movie with all its unclear flashbacks and supernatural superpowers.

2005, dir. Rob Bowman. With Jennifer Garner, Goran Višnjić, Kirsten Prout, Terence Stamp.

Elementary, Season 1

Following shortly after the BBC's re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes, this is another take both similar and radically different. Jonny Lee Miller plays Sherlock Holmes, a British drug addict now living in modern day New York city. He lives in a brownstone owned by his father with his "sober companion," Dr. Watson (Lucy Liu) (also paid for by his father). Watson is a former surgeon, having left the profession when a patient died on the operating table. Holmes acts as a consultant to the New York Police, and Watson is frequently drawn into his work.

Our two other main characters are Aidan Quinn as Captain Gregson, Holmes' liaison at NYPD, and Jon Michael Hill as Detective Bell, Gregson's lead detective. Everyone plays well, and I was surprised to greatly enjoy the series. I thought it would suffer in comparison to the recent BBC series, but it's different enough and well done enough to stand entirely on its own. Very good.

2013-09: re-watching the first few episodes, I'm astonished at how well constructed these are: it's a very well done series.

2012. With Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, Aidan Quinn, Jon Michael Hill, Ato Essandoh.

Elementary, Season 2

Not as consistent as the previous season, three or four episodes had me wondering if it was going to jump the shark the next week - but they pulled it back every time. When you add it all up, it's not as good as the first season, but still enjoyable and worth watching. (Until the last three episodes, see below.)

The last three episodes brought back Sherlock's brother (and Joan Watson's love interest) Mycroft (Rhys Ifans). The number of reversals ("he's an idiot, he's a genius, he's a good guy, he's a bad guy") is truly staggering and incredibly tiresome. If they had approached it in a more straight-forward manner, Mycroft and the involvement of his superiors could have been good, with possibly one reversal. But instead I'm seriously questioning if I'm going to pick this up next season.

2013. With Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, Aidan Quinn, Jon Michael Hill, Ato Essandoh, Rhys Ifans.

Elementary, Season 3

The mysteries are still fairly good, but my frustration about the writing around the 2nd to 3rd season change was immense. That frustration, coupled with a dislike of new character Kitty (Ophelia Lovibond) and her story arc, caused me to stop watching the season for seven(!) years. I returned because COVID-19. And at the end of the season I thought "where's the season end wind-up?" They waited until the last episode to bring that in - and it felt thoroughly improbable. Just like the grandstanding between the first and second seasons, and the worse grandstanding between the second and third seasons. The person who caused all the trouble in the final episode wasn't smart enough (or together enough) to pull off something as complex as he managed.

Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller) and Watson (Lucy Liu) are still reasonably appealing characters, but they're stuck in deep grooves in a world that only changes at season ends.

2014. With Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, Aidan Quinn, Jon Michael Hill, Ato Essandoh.

Elementary, Season 4

I took a seven year break on this series half way through the third season because I thought the writing had become sloppy and poor. I resumed watching partly because a friend had assured me the fourth and fifth season were better, and partly because I had time on my hands at home because of COVID-19. Getting through that season was a bit of a chore, but the fourth season is an improvement. At least from my point of view: they concentrate mostly on the episodic mysteries. There were of course predictable elements: Sherlock is cleared of the (almost justified) assault he committed at the end of season 3 in a deus ex machina move that also introduces a character who remains their foil for the season: Sherlock's father (John Noble). And, in typical style, his manoeuvrings feel a bit like they're nailed on to the plot structure. And - again typical - come to a head in the final two or three episodes of the season. Although oddly, they wrap things up fairly cleanly without leaving us with a cliffhanger as they usually do.

I loved that they worked in "Rache," "German for revenge," which is a significant point in the first episode the British "Sherlock." Better yet, they manage to twist it into a very different clue. It was a hell of a nod to their counterpart series - and one that still worked fine if you'd never heard of "Sherlock." Quite elegant.

2015. With Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, Aidan Quinn, Jon Michael Hill, John Noble, Ato Essandoh, Betty Gilpin, Jordan Gelber.

Elementary, Season 5

I've become a little tired of "Elementary" after watching two and a half seasons inside a couple weeks, but credit where it's due: the writing on this season is probably the best they've managed. Our new character is Shinwell (Nelsan Ellis), a patient Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) saved from multiple bullet wounds back when she was a surgeon. He's recently got out of jail, and is trying to rebuild his life. Shinwell is a charming guy: we know his history is troubled, but he turns out darker than we thought. Watson offers him help, and over the course of the season he becomes quite entangled with her and Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller). What's unusual about this is that - unlike previous seasons - the appearances and disappearances of Shinwell didn't feel stapled on, they were part of the main plot. Shinwell becomes an informant on his old gang, the South Bronx Killas, determined to take them down. And over the course of the season we learn a great deal about that gang and about their biggest rival gang.

There are plenty of other single-episode mysteries to be solved. But the whole season winds up to the single most brutally brilliant plan the show has put on film as the leader of the South Bronx Killas almost manages an immunity deal and walks away. What makes this so impressive is its relative simplicity: to achieve it, all he had to do was slaughter an innocent to start a gang war, and betray everyone he knew.

It's a toss-up for me if this or the first season is the best. And to be saying that about the fifth season of any TV show is astonishing.

2016. With Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, Aidan Quinn, Jon Michael Hill, Nelsan Ellis, Jon Huertas.


I'm told by those that have read about the history of Queen Elizabeth's reign that this is ... inaccurate. Period dramas like this are usually shot in a very straight-forward manner, but there's some use in this one of unconventional cinematography, including bleach-to-white and blurring, which feels a little out of place. But the performances are superb, and the story is excellent. Highly recommended.

1998, dir. Shekhar Kapur. With Cate Blanchett, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffry Rush.


After creating a financial catastrophe of epic proportions, the main character (Orlando Bloom) is stopped from committing suicide by a phone call telling him of the death of his father. His visit to the titular hometown of his father introduces him to a talkative flight attendant (Kirsten Dunst) and quirky family members. Has some embarrassing moments (Susan Sarandon tap dancing is right up there), but overall a bizarre and bizarrely enjoyable ride. Second time around I was more impressed: Dunst and Bloom are excellent. Dunst is both annoying and charming, as she's supposed to be. The movie is a mess, the characters are brilliant creations, but Crowe pushes everything a little too far.

dir. Cameron Crowe. With Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin.

Ella Enchanted

Anne Hathaway plays Ella, "blessed" with obedience. She must obey every command given to her. When her father remarries and she acquires some new and unpleasant stepsisters, it comes time for her to set out on a quest to find the fairy godmother who so kindly cursed her.

Unfortunately what we have here is in many ways a live-action version of Shrek 1 + 2. No obnoxious-but-somehow-charming animated ogre (although there are ogres ...), we have instead a beautiful and intelligent but cursed young woman as our heroine. Also on a quest. Also through medieval settings with anachronistic jokes about malls and modern life in general. Also with bad musical numbers set to anachronistic rock music. Unfortunately, they over-applied the "cute," dumped the vast majority of the plot kindly provided by Gail Carson Levine (author of the book of the same name), and wasted the acting talents of several really good actors. A few clever jokes don't come close to covering the other massive flaws.

A related note: the BluRay disc of this movie is the most stripped out production I've ever seen in my life: no subtitles (in any language), no extras, it doesn't even have a menu. You drop the disc in the drive and it plays: that's it.

2004, dir. Tommy O'Haver. With Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy, Cary Elwes, Minnie Driver, Eric Idle, Steve Coogan, Patrick Bergin, Joanna Lumley, Vivica A. Fox, Lucy Punch, Jennifer Higham, Aidan McArdle, Parminder Nagra, Heidi Klum, Jimi Mistry.

Elstree 1976

Released in 2015, the movie consists mostly of talking head shots of several of the bit players who were in the original "Star Wars" movie about how it's affected their lives for nearly 40 years. I'm a fan of the original movie, and I get that their entire lives have been shaped by this one movie in which they had only a very small role - but 90 minutes ended up seeming like an awfully long time to discuss it. Of all of them, I think I liked David Prowse (the 6'6" bodybuilder inside the Darth Vader suit, whose voice was replaced by James Earl Jones') best: a charming guy who seems happier with where he's at than any of the others (although Greedo - Paul Blake - is doing okay too). Felt a lot like a duller version of "56 Up" for film actors. Should have been a half hour TV special.

2015, dir. Jon Spira. With Paul Blake, Jeremy Bulloch, Anthony Forrest, David Prowse, Angus MacInnes, Pam Rose, Derek Lyons, Laurie Goode, John Chapman.

Emma (Beckinsale, 1996)

An A&E product, this was made for TV. Despite that unpromising beginning, this is a superb production. The dialogue is great, it looks good, Kate Beckinsale is excellent as Emma with Mark Strong an excellent Mr. Knightley, and they get great support from the entire cast. I really enjoyed this one. Skip the other productions of "Emma" out there and watch this one.

1996. dir. Diarmuid Lawrence. With Kate Beckinsale, Mark Strong, Prunella Scales, Olivia Williams, Samantha Morton.

Emma (Paltrow, 1996)

I expected to like this better than the A&E version, but was surprised to find it worse. The thing is ... while Emma (played here by Gwyneth Paltrow) is indeed irritating and manipulative, she's also quite charming. The A&E script brings that out, this one completely loses sight of the charming part - which leaves very little for Jeremy Northam's Knightley to convincingly fall in love with. The production values on this one are far superior, but that's about it: the acting is about equal, and A&E got its hands on a much better script.

1996. dir. Douglas McGrath. With Gwyneth Paltrow, Greta Scacchi, Alan Cumming, Jeremy Northam, Toni Collette, Juliette Lewis.

Emma (Garai, 2009)

I'm a fan of Jane Austen and have read several of her books, including "Emma." I've also seen many of the movies that have been made from her books over the years. I tend to think of them - particularly versions of "Emma" - in terms of who played the title role. This is Garai's "Emma," and the two others I've seen are Gwyneth Paltrow (1996, American film) and Kate Beckinsale (1996, British TV film). There's a significant trick to Emma: she's both obnoxiously meddlesome and very charming, and the trick is to balance it to the point that the viewer will believe that a man as sensible and practical as Mr. Knightley would love her. Paltrow's version failed spectacularly: her Emma was distinctly unappealing. Beckinsale (in between her vacuous turn as Hero in "Much Ado About Nothing" and becoming an almost full-time vampire) is my measuring stick here: she tramples peoples lives and charms in equal measure, so much so that Mr. Knightley could not help but love her.

This version has a number of things going for it: Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. George Knightley, a nearly four hour running time that allows the inclusion of all the subplots and characters, a very good supporting cast, and a very good writer (who took some liberties with Austen's text, but generally did a good job of it). I initially took exception to Romola Garai's somewhat pouty interpretation of Emma, but have come to see this as as a very good version of the book.

2009, dir. Jim O'Hanlon. With Romola Garai, Jonny Lee Miller, Michael Gambon, Tamsin Greig, Rupert Evans, Robert Bathurst, Jodhi May, Louise Dylan, Laura Pyper, Blake Ritson.

Emma. (Taylor-Joy, 2020)

I'm a fan of the book, and this is the fourth version of Emma I've seen (not counting "Clueless," which I've also seen). I should think of them by their directors, but who remembers? It's so much easier to remember who played Emma. Today, we examine the Taylor-Joy version.

As I've mentioned previously, there's a particularly tricky thing about Emma: the title character is obnoxiously meddlesome, but also very charming. The actress (and director and editor and ...) have to create a character who embodies both of these things simultaneously, or the plot makes no sense - particularly why people like her, and why Knightley would fall for her.

Anya Taylor-Joy is passable in the lead - I think she's better suited to non-period dramas, where I've seen her act better. But it doesn't matter much because her performance is drowned out by a plot that's become almost a farce in the first half as they turn Emma's obnoxiousness up to 11, and ditto Mr. Elton's bad behaviour. Harriet Smith (played by Mia Goth) is Emma's companion for most of the movie, but leaves little impression. The wonderful Bill Nighy has about three lines and is utterly wasted as Emma's father. And, contrary to the book and most other adaptations, the music and the looks and the touching all tell us that Knightley and Emma fall for each other at the dance slightly past the midpoint of the movie. Which is difficult to fit into the plot because it happens prior to Emma's flirtation with Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), which she and Knightley refer to later.

For hard-core Austen fans, you'll be be disappointed by the lack of text written by Jane Austen. They follow Austen's plot, but the words coming out of the character's mouths are rarely those put down by Austen. Austen was one of the English language's greatest prose stylists: to successfully rewrite her text, you have to be very good. And the script-writers on this movie weren't up to the task.

Badly structured and badly thought out, this one is better than the Paltrow version, but falls well below the Garai and Beckinsale versions.

2020, dir. Autumn de Wilde. With Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Mia Goth, Miranda Hart, Bill Nighy, Josh O'Connor, Callum Turner, Amber Anderson, Rupert Graves, Gemma Whelan, Tanya Reynolds, Connor Swindells, Oliver Chris, Chloe Pirrie.

The Emperor's New Groove

One of Disney's best efforts. A little annoying in places, but very funny. They manage this by stepping outside of standard film conventions in some odd ways (think of a voice-over narration that's a little too self-aware). David Spade plays Emperor Kuzco, in the only role in which I've ever liked his work. Kuzco is turned into a llama by his advisor (who meant to kill him), and the story revolves around his regaining the throne and becoming less arrogant in the process (that's a surprise).

2000. dir. Mark Dindal. With David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Patrick Warburton.

Empire Falls

Made for TV, but that's a good thing: they had an excellent cast and got to make it as long as they needed (about three and a half hours). From Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-wining novel about a small town in Maine. Centres around Ed Harris's character Miles Roby, a good man who's a little too passive and is under the thumb of the town's ruling matriarch. Plays out ... just like life in a small town. I haven't been much of a fan of Paul Newman, but he was great as the tiresome, annoying Max. A very good movie.

2005, dir. Fred Schepisi. With Ed Harris, Helen Hunt, Paul Newman, Robin Wright, Aidan Quinn, Joanne Woodward, Dennis Farina, William Fichtner, Estelle Parsons, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Theresa Russell, Danielle Panabaker, Lou Taylor Pucci.

The Empire Strikes Back

The second "Star Wars" movie (contrary to Lucas's revisionism) and the best of the series. The darkest of the lot, with the best character development (such as it is). Retains the mythic proportions of the first movie and really develops the universe. Definitely benefits from a new hand at the helm (this was directed by Irvin Kershner rather than George Lucas).

1980, dir. Irvin Kershner. With Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker.


"Encanto" is Spanish for "enchantment." Our story opens with the grandmother of the Madrigal family (María Cecilia Botero) telling the story of the origins of the magic that blesses the family and allows them to protect and aid their community. She's telling the story to her granddaughter, Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). The story then jumps forward a few years, and shows Mirabel explaining (rapidly, via song) all of her family members and their super powers to some village children. And while she avoids explaining it, we soon find out that she's the only member of the family who doesn't have magical powers.

They're so busy with explication in the form of song that barely any plot actually happens. There are so many people with so many powers, they have a huge amount to explain. But underlying all this is a decent examination of the dynamics of family relations, trauma across generations, and family demands and expectations. The (limited) plot is almost never seen without explanation either in speech or in song - and spectacular, colourful magic realist visuals. And yet ... it works emotionally. For adults as well as children. The children may not understand all of the emotional dynamics, but it's so damn colourful and full of crazy visuals and catchy songs ... how could they not like it?

I was particularly fond of John Leguizamo as Bruno - damaged as a result of misinterpretations of his difficult power, but still charming. Stephanie Beatriz (Detective Roza Diaz of "Brooklyn 99"?!) is good in the lead too. Lin-Manuel Miranda's songs deserve considerable credit. I was also a big fan of of the final door symbolism: unlike all the rest of the family, Mirabel never had a door (and doors are important). But at the end of the film, she gets the most important door of all.

2021, dir. Jared Bush, Byron Howard. With Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Mauro Castillo, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitán, Diane Guerrero, Wilmer Valderrama, Rhenzy Feliz, Ravi Cabot-Conyers, Adassa, Maluma.


The premise is simple: in the animated world, the wicked step-mother (not even hers) launches the charming, singing, naive princess-to-be into the real world to get rid of her. Our world: Times Square, to be exact. Where she (Amy Adams) behaves exactly like a Disney character: singing, charming animals and people, and - with the assistance of our hunky and cynical hero, Patrick Dempsey - finding out about "dates." Her prince (James Marsden) follows her through and proceeds to take on a bus, which he skewers with his sword. Then the incompetent assistant (Timothy Spall) to the evil step-mom (Susan Sarandon) follows them through, etc. etc. You get the idea. Adams is particularly good as an authentic cartoon princess who believes in "forever and ever." I think the movie would have been better if they had skewered the initial naiveté of the cartoon world some (a la "Shrek"), but they chose to go for a faithful and irony-free version. But the result is nevertheless quite charming.

2007, dir. Kevin Lima. With Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, Timothy Spall, Susan Sarandon, Idina Menzel, Rachel Covey.

Encounters at the End of the World

Werner Herzog's voice-over starts this documentary about Antarctica by telling us "The National Science Foundation invited me even though I made it clear I would not be making another movie about penguins." Indeed, he does not. I still think the man is insane, and he does make some weird choices, but overall this is a fascinating movie. He goes to Antarctica, shows you not only the pretty scenery but also the ugliness (McMurdo Station, which looks like an Alaskan social housing project) and talks to the people. Who are all intelligent and more than a little bit weird. Most are travellers, many have PhDs and operate forklifts. You've never seen anything like this about Antarctica before - and you should.

2007, dir. Werner Herzog.


"Endeavour" is a Masterpiece/ITV TV series, being the early adventures of the ever-popular Inspector Morse (created by British author Colin Dexter). This is a review of the 90 minute pilot episode for the series, which shows the young Detective Constable Endeavour Morse returning to Oxford where he started (but didn't finish) university, to help investigate the murder of a 15 year old girl.

Morse is considering quitting the force, but gets wrapped up in the case in Oxford. His intensity, attention to detail, and honesty are noticed by the station head Detective Inspector Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) who is direly in need of not-corrupt employees.

It's slow-paced, interesting, thoughtful, and fairly dark. It also nails its time period, but the British have always been better at that than the Americans. A pretty good watch.

2012. With Shaun Evans, Roger Allam.

Ender's Game

Based on one of the best known SF books in the world (with the same name) by Orson Scott Card. I'm a huge fan of the book and couldn't write a separate review of this if I wanted to. The story incorporates a number of elements: the primary motivator for the story is an alien invasion of Earth that happened 50 years prior and was (barely) repelled. Now Earth's military forces are training a new group of soldiers to fight the aliens - all of whom are children in the 10-14 age range. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is one of the last recruited, and one of the best. Harrison Ford plays Colonel Hyrum Graff who deliberately isolates Ender and makes his life more difficult.

To my surprise the child actors were for the most part better than the adults: I'm not a fan of Ford, and he didn't change my mind here. Viola Davis is poor, and Ben Kingsley doesn't have much acting to do (under a very distracting Maori tattooed face - true to the book, but hard to see past). Butterfield does a very weepy version of Ender: not his fault, the script compresses the story down to the emotional high-points (or low-points, depending on how you look at it). He was okay. Abigail Breslin, usually reliable, didn't seem to be working too hard as his sister Valentine. I thought "the Battle Room" was very well done, which was a real surprise - although its importance in the story is diminished by the movie script. All together too compressed a version of the story to come close to carrying the weight of the original book, although I have to admit it's a bit better than I expected given the difficulty of the story.

2013, dir. Gavin Hood. With Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Aramis Knight, Suraj Parthasarathy, Moisés Arias, Khylin Rhambo, Conor Carroll, Nonso Anozie.

The Endless

Wikipedia lists this as "science fiction horror." I wonder about that: "unexplained events" can just as easily fall under fantasy, and is it "horror" when a lot of creepy (but mostly not horrible) things happen?

Two brothers (the directors, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead playing "Justin" and "Aaron") who were raised by a commune in the hills, have different memories of the place: the older claims it was a UFO death cult, the younger remembers a friendly commune. The life they've had since departing the commune has been poor both financially and emotionally, and they eventually go back to say goodbye and wrap things up. Initially it seems Aaron was right: they're welcomed back, people are friendly, they're served a good meal. But while the people remain friendly, strange things happen around them.

The story is mostly about the two brothers working out their problems, something that's re-enforced by a quote at the beginning of the movie: "Friends tell each other how they feel with relative frequency. Siblings wait for a more convenient time, like their deathbeds." The movie attributes the quote to "Unknown," but I suspect it can be attributed to Benson and Moorhead (all Google references to that quote point back to the movie). But it's an interesting observation, and does clearly outline one of the themes of the movie.

It's low budget: unknown actors and simple special effects with some (well done) CGI. But it's well written and consistently interesting: I really enjoyed it.

2017, dir. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. With Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Callie Hernandez, Tate Ellington, Lew Temple, James Jordan.

Endless Night

Hywel Bennett plays the main character, Michael Rogers. Having drifted from job to job for a while, a couple major occurrences change his life: he meets the famous, and terminally ill, architect "Santonix" (Per Oscarsson), and he meets a young woman named Ellie Thomson (Hayley Mills) at a particularly beautiful place where he'd like to build a house - if only he had money. As it turns out, she has a great deal of money, and loves him.

They hire their architect friend to build their dream house on the land - but there's a rumour the land is cursed, and problems and death follow. It is Agatha Christie, after all. The sets, particularly the dream house and casual clothing, are incredibly Seventies. I felt the ending was a terrible cheat: yes, we had a couple clues, but I wasn't happy with it.

1972, dir. Sidney Gilliat. With Hywel Bennett, Hayley Mills, Per Oscarsson, Britt Ekland, George Sanders.


Denis Villeneuve's "Enemy" stars Jake Gyllenhaal as two identical men who meet after one notices the other in a bit part in a movie. Their interactions do not go well. The movie is based on the book The Double by José Saramago - Wikipedia's plot summary suggests they're fairly similar, but Villeneuve has moved it from Portugal to Toronto, and addded spiders.

It's weird and creepy and doesn't make a lot of sense. Neither of the versions of Gyllenhaal are particularly sympathetic. It's filmed in black and white and yellow, with all the other colours muted. And my hometown (Toronto) has rarely - if ever - been made to look so ugly and alienating. For all that I have to admit it was kind of fascinating in an unpleasant way. One good touch was that, while the two guys are different in character, we're not given significant outward signs and have to occasionally work it out ourselves (doppelgänger movies sometimes get too blatant about helping the audience separate the different versions of the performer).

2013, dir. Denis Villeneuve. With Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini.

Enemy Mine

Based on an excellent novella of the same name by Barry Longyear, the story is about two fighter pilots, one human and one Drac (ie. "the enemy") stranded together on an abandoned planet. The story follows their hostilities and eventual co-operation over a long period of time.

The story in the movie diverges further from the novella as we proceed. I'm not sure it would have mattered if they'd followed the original story: most of what goes on, what's important, is the growing acceptance between the two enemies. This is an old, old story: just imagine them as both being human, in any previous war. Longyear told the story well, but trying to bring it to the screen was a bad idea: it just ends up looking silly as they try to mix in aliens and a culture completely unknown to our representative human. The end result is ... not good.

1985, dir. Wolfgang Petersen. With Dennis Quaid, Louis Gossett Jr., Brion James, Bumper Robinson.

The English Patient

Based fairly loosely on Michael Ondaatje's famous novel of the same name. Ondaatje wrote things that couldn't be put on film, and Anthony Minghella does things on film that would be impossible to describe in a book. An extremely badly burned patient is cared for in an abandoned monastery in Italy in the second world war. His history unfolds in flashbacks. A brilliant movie (nine Academy awards), but don't watch it if you're looking for a mood-lifter.

1998. dir. Anthony Minghella. With Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe.


The thing that struck me the most watching this movie was the slavish accuracy of the recreation of Bletchley Park (the code-breaking centre in the U.K. during the Second World War, whose existence was only acknowledged by the British government in the 1970s), and how astonishingly similar it felt to the Bletchley Park portrayed in Neal Stephenson's fantastic book Cryptonomicon. For me, the movie was worth seeing just for this: it's a fascinating episode in history (perhaps more so to a computer geek). The main story revolves around one of the code breakers, a mildly unstable mathematical genius (played by Dougray Scott) obsessed with a woman he went out with for a short time. When she disappears, he and her roommate set out to find out what's going on.

2001, dir. Michael Apted. With Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Saffron Burrows, Jeremy Northam, Tom Hollander, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Matthew Macfadyen.

Enlightenment Guaranteed

A low budget German movie about two cranky brothers who set off to Tokyo and a Zen monastery together, for very different reasons. It reminded me considerably of "Lost in Translation," not just because of the Tokyo setting, but also because the two brothers seem so lost in not just Tokyo but their own lives. The two main characters are incredibly irritating right up until near the end, when the monastery has finally had its effect on them and they find some peace.

2002, dir. Doris Dörrie. With Uwe Ochsenknecht, Gustav-Peter Wöhler.

Enola Holmes

Millie Bobby Brown is the title character, Enola Holmes. Many people know Brown (including me, although I didn't make the connection until after I'd watched the movie) as "Eleven" from "Stranger Things." Brown is also, I was interested to see, a producer. And given that she really is the age she's presented as being in the movie (16), that's a pretty lofty position. ("Executive producers" are figureheads, money providers, almost powerless. The real power rests with the plain "producers.") She's got a future.

Brown is both charming and very good in the lead, although I had some objections to her talking to the camera. That's fine with "Deadpool" (it's modern, and it's a comedy), less fine in a period piece. Enola is the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft - born of the book series "The Enola Holmes Mysteries" by Nancy Springer. As a fan of the Sherlock Holmes cannon (I've watched hundreds of hours of TV and movies, but ironically have never read any of the stories), I'm not entirely happy when the cannon is bent. And it certainly is here. I didn't mind the addition of Enola, I was a little shaky on the addition of her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) ... although I suppose a 16 year old daughter implies the existence and involvement of a mother. What offended me most was their portrayal of Mycroft (Sam Clafin). He's not stupid, but he's nowhere near as bright as Sherlock. The problem is - he's a well established character, and in cannon he's easily Sherlock's intellectual equal. On the plus side, Henry Cavill (in a relatively small role) is perhaps the most charming Sherlock we've seen in the last couple decades. Although even with beautiful tailoring, you could still occasionally see his currently massive physique (he's been doing a lot of action: "The Witcher," DC movies as Superman, like that). Which seems improbable for Sherlock. This last isn't really a complaint, it just amused me.

Another couple minor gripes: who knew that the London of 1900 was so diverse! According to this movie, an Indian police inspector (Lestrade, another cannon character modified) is normal, as is an African store owner. Neither of those things would have been possible in the time period. Likewise, the movie is all about what women can do, and women's rights: that's closer to reality, as women's suffrage was being debated at the time. Nevertheless the things that Eudoria, Enola, and Edith (the female African store owner) did in the movie would have been considered too outrageous to be accepted in society at the time. But of course my objections are overruled by the inclusive intent of the movie. The result is enjoyable ... I guess I just can't let these improbabilities pass without pointing out that wishing that's how London was in 1900 doesn't make it so.

2020, dir. Harry Bradbeer. With Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Clafin, Helena Bonham Carter, Louis Partridge, Burn Gorman, Adeel Akhtar, Susie Wokoma, Hattie Morahan, David Bamber, Fiona Shaw, Frances de la Tour, Claire Rushbrook.

Enter the Warrior's Gate

Our hero Jack (Uriah Shelton) is a bullied teen who's very good at video games. His boss at a Chinese antique store gives him a large antique pot as a gift, which results in a warrior (Mark Chao) from ancient (and magical) China appearing to recruit him (under his video-gaming name "The Black Knight") to defend the Empress-to-be (Ni Ni) from the evil "Arun the Cruel" (Dave Bautista). Adventures and life lessons follow, with an attempt at mixing action and comedy.

I have to admit that when I saw this on Netflix and started watching it, I thought I was re-watching "The Forbidden Kingdom" since I'd forgotten the title - and it took a surprisingly long time to realize that I wasn't because the plots are so similar. In "Forbidden Kingdom" Michael Angarano is a bullied teen who goes back in time to an ancient, magical China. In both cases, our heroes are ill-prepared to actually be heroes, and are aided by someone played by the same person who played the store owner that sent them back. Both show us a China that has heroes, but that really needs a white dude to save it.

The movie has no new ideas. Not that that's uncommon, but this one shows its plagiarism more blatantly than most, the most obvious example after lifting the plot line from "Forbidden Kingdom" being our hero teaching the overly formal warrior and Empress-to-be to loosen up and dance.

No one is winning an Academy Award for this one, but it was funny once again (I watched "Bushwick" recently) to see the former wrestler Dave Bautista being the best actor in a movie.

2016, dir. Matthias Hoene. With Uriah Shelton, Mark Chao, Ni Ni, Dave Bautista, Francis Ng, Sienna Guillory, Ron Smoorenburg, David Torok, Dakota Daulby.


The title is something of an overstatement if you think first of Gilgamesh or World War II, but if you think first of the expression of pleasure then you're good. This is a lot of fun.

Our heroine Mary Katherine ("I go by M.K. now, Dad," voiced by Amanda Seyfried), moves in with her father (Jason Sudeikis) in the country - it was unclear to me if her mother had died, but that's how I read it. Meeting her father again after many years she is thoroughly unimpressed: he's obsessed with finding the "Leafmen," 50 mm tall humans who he claims live in the forest. MK decides to leave, but is transformed to the size of the Leafmen where she has to take up the battle of good vs. evil.

The story is one you've heard many times before - coming of age, reconciliation with family - but the animation is lovely, the characters charming, and the jokes very funny. There's even a bit of tragedy to give some weight to the story (without traumatizing the children). Recommended.

The 3D BluRay version is the poorest of the three 3DBR productions I've seen as I write (the others being "Finding Nemo" and "The Wolverine"). With fast motion of the characters or the camera (there's a fair bit of both), the 3D effect goes a bit sideways. On steadier shots it's great. They give you full 3D when the video is paused: very cool. But I prefer this movie in 2D.

2013, dir. Chris Wedge. With Amanda Seyfried, Colin Farrell, Josh Hutcherson, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, Chris O'Dowd, Beyoncé Knowles, Pitbull, Jason Sudeikis, Steven Tyler.

The Equalizer

Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall, who initially appears to be nothing more than a Home Mart (essentially an even bigger version of Home Depot) employee with a very tidy apartment and an inability to sleep at night. That inability leads him to an all-night diner, where he comes to know a very young Russian prostitute (Chloë Grace Moretz). When she's severely beaten for wanting to get out of her enforced lifestyle, he calls on his old skill-set to take care of the city's crime lords. His main enemy is the Russian enforcer "Teddy," played by Marton Csokas. Loosely based on the 1980s TV series of the same name.

The movie is meticulously produced and fairly well acted. Unfortunately the plot is dull as dishwater and completely predictable. Hugely disappointing from the director of "Training Day" - not that he's been exactly consistent.

SPOILER WARNING: Although I was wrong in one aspect of my predictions: I assumed (and hoped, as it would be appropriate and he seemed quite willing) he would die at the end. You know, one guy against ten or so of the Russian mob's best killers? Hardly a scratch on him, and placing an ad online for people in need of help so that there can be a sequel.

2014, dir. Antoine Fuqua. With Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, Melissa Leo, Bill Pullman, Johnny Skourtis, Haley Bennett, David Harbour, David Meunier.


Low budget science fiction morality tale. A couple people said it was "like 'The Matrix.'" I wouldn't say so: it had several gun battles and it's SF, but the similarities end there. Set in a world where everyone takes drugs to prevent emotions and it's a crime to feel anything. I'm interested to see the director went on to do "Ultraviolet:" that makes a lot of sense.

2002, dir. Kurt Wimmer. With Christian Bale, Taye Diggs, Emily Watson, William Fichtner.

Ernest & Célestine

Célestine is a mouse who lives underground with the other mice. But unlike the other mice, she's not afraid of the bears who live up above. When she's trapped above on an expedition to collect teeth (mice like bear teeth), she meets the bear Ernest and they slowly become friends.

The animation has the look of hand-drawn watercolours, which is the media Célestine herself works in whenever she gets a chance, and it looks pretty good. The ideas are reasonably clever and the dialogue quite funny: it's a fun movie.

2012, dir. Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner.


Maybe this would have made sense if I'd seen the TV series ... although the notes claim it's a "retelling" rather than an extension. It made sense in places, except for the parts that didn't. Like why a 16 year old Japanese school girl is suddenly in an alternative universe, and a goddess. Or why everyone in the alternative universe is at war, or why there are enormous suits of armour that can magically be called up to wreak havoc on the landscape. Very nice animation in places, but the story doesn't make much sense.

2000, dir. Kazuki Akane, Yoshiyuki Takei.

Escape From New York

A 1981 near future science fiction action film written and directed by John Carpenter, which should tell you all you need to know.

It's 1997 and Manhattan Island has been converted into a maximum security prison. Going to the island is one-way, and ex-Special Forces soldier Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is about to make that trip for his part in a robbery. But Air Force One is hijacked and crashes in Manhattan. Plissken is told to go get the President (Donald Pleasence), who is still alive - and he's given a medically implanted death sentence if he's not back in 24 hours. He finds out that the President is a hostage of the Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes), and has to get the President and try to fight his way back out.

Russell had been known prior to this as a staple in Walt Disney's films: this was a huge departure for him, even if it was something as cheesy as Carpenter. But he's remarkably good: Plissken is a gritty and not particularly likeable character who doesn't look or sound like anything Russell had done before, and presaged his more interesting roles through the 80s and 90s. Not that this is a good film: it's at best mildly amusing.

1981, dir. John Carpenter. With Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Frank Doubleday.

Escape Plan

Two aging action heroes of the Eighties get together to make one more (I'd love to say "one last," but I very much doubt either of them will quit) blow-em-up action movie together. Sylvester Stallone plays a penal system expert whose means of employment is getting incarcerated in high security jails and breaking out. He's offered an extremely lucrative but non-standard contract that his two trusted advisors want him to decline, but his boss wants the money and his ego says he can do it, so off he goes. Things go sideways immediately, and he finds that the contact he expected on the inside isn't there - and he's in this brutal private enterprise jail for the long haul. Inside, he meets Arnold Schwarzenegger, and they work together on an escape.

Not as bad as I expected and mostly fairly enjoyable, I would have felt better about it if Schwarzenegger hadn't insisted on recreating the action movies of his youth near the end by picking up a massive tripod-mounted machine gun in his hands and slinging it around like it weighed the same as a guitar. Still, a fairly good diversion for fans of the genre.

2013, dir. Mikael Håfström. With Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Vinnie Jones, Vincent D'Onofrio, Amy Ryan.

Escape to Witch Mountain

Two young children (Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann) are brought to an orphanage, where it's quickly established to the audience that they have psychic powers - telekinesis, telepathy, premonitions. In fact it's a premonition that gets them in trouble after they save the life of Deranian (Donald Pleasence) who then decides their powers could be used to make his employer (Aristotle Bolt, played by Ray Milland) wealthy. Deranian adopts the children under false pretences, and they decide to escape. They're assisted by their powers, several animals they talk to telepathically, and the owner of a Winnebago (Eddie Albert) while being chased by Bolt, Deranian, and a bunch of other unpleasant people.

I watched this mostly to see how it compared to the 2009 remake. The children are similar, as are the origins of their powers and their pursuit by unpleasant people, but that's where the similarities end. This one is very Disney 70s. Not very good, although better than the remake.

1975, dir. John Hough. With Kim Richards, Ike Eisenmann, Eddie Albert, Donald Pleasence, Ray Milland.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Weird, weird movie. Very good though. Takes you a while to figure out what the hell is going on, but once you do it's fascinating. Jim Carrey plays a man who decides to get his last relationship erased from his memory. During the process he has second thoughts and tries to fight it off. Pay attention and you'll be rewarded.

2004 dir. Michel Gondry. With Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson.


The Eternals, according to Chloé Zhao's movie, are a group of ten super-powered beings who were sent to Earth around 5000 BC to defend the planet against "the Deviants" - and nothing but, so they didn't help fight Thanos (yup, this is Marvel). We see bits and pieces of their long history on Earth, and their reunion in the present. And we see how they bicker.

This is a long movie, but I can give you a short review: ten main characters - plus the god-like Celestial who sent them, and the Deviants as their enemy, and one boyfriend whose name says he's going to be another superhero - is way too many main characters. It's pretty, but too bloated and there's still not enough time to get to know any of the characters. Think of "The Avengers," one of Marvel's most successful movies: six heroes, four of whom (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk) had already been introduced in their own movies, and a lead enemy (Loki) who had been introduced in one of those other movies (Thor). We knew the characters already. Every single character in "Eternals" is new, and there's twice as many of them as in "The Avengers."

Did I mention that they bicker? We're supposed to see them as a family, with all the tensions and disagreements of 7000 years of living together - which may be why they've been apart the last 500 years. But when they get together again, it all comes back. Several of the characters are quite annoying - this appears to have been an attempt to make the cast of too many characters distinct from each other, but mostly it makes you not care about them.

I've been thinking about other movies with a large number of main characters, and a very successful one (and a personal favourite) that came to mind was "Ocean's Eleven." How did it succeed in introducing eleven new main characters - plus the bad guy and the girlfriend? That's easy: it was okay with some characters being caricatures. Remember the acrobat guy? He's got maybe two speaking lines. And Saul - he's basically "weird accents and heart attack waiting to happen." Or the brothers - they're just a running gag. The movie concentrated on George Clooney's "Danny Ocean," Brad Pitt's "Rusty Ryan," and - to a lesser extent - on Julia Roberts and Matt Damon. "Eternals" wasn't willing to cut those corners for itself ... so it happened anyway, in a much more messy fashion.

And then there's the accents thing. When they arrive on Earth, they all speak modern English. One of them has a strong Irish accent ("Druig"/Barry Keoghan), one has a strong Scottish accent ("Ikaris"/Richard Madden), and one has a Hispanic accent ("Ajak"/Salma Hayek). And 7000 years later, they all still have the exact same accents. This seems ... improbable. It's a small thing compared to the film's other problems, but I found it annoying.

2021, dir. Chloé Zhao. With Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Bill Skarsgård, David Kaye, Haaz Sleiman, Esai Daniel Cross.

Eureka - Season 1

"Eureka" was a TV series by the Sci-Fi Channel that ran from 2006 to 2012. The show's primary conceit had U.S. Marshal Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson) hired to work as the Sheriff of the town of Eureka - which is populated by geniuses who mostly work for a huge contractor to the U.S. Department of Defense. The first episode includes a "tachyon accelerator" which starts ripping apart the fabric of time in the town. The problems are never small or realistic: full human clones, large scale behaviour modification, super-fast healing, an entirely human-looking AI, etc. And yet the problem is often solved by Sheriff Carter's understanding of people or his intuition, even though he's not a genius.

Other major characters are Allison Blake (Salli Richardson) as a law officer with the D.O.D. who's also a romantic interest for Carter, Henry Deacon (Joe Morton) - the town mechanic who is a genius at pretty much everything, Zoe Carter (Jordan Hinson) - Sheriff Carter's delinquent daughter, Nathan Stark (Ed Quinn) as the manager of the government contractor, Jo Lupo (Erica Cerra) as the deputy sheriff, and Douglas Fargo (Neil Grayston) as the semi-comedic assistant to Nathan Stark. And let's not forget S.A.R.A.H., the house the Carters are given by Fargo: it's an AI and also a character in the show.

It's a very silly but funny and enjoyable show.

2006. With Colin Ferguson, Salli Richardson, Joe Morton, Jordon Hinson, Ed Quinn, Erica Cerra, Debrah Farentino, Neil Grayston.

Eureka - Season 2

For the most part, "Eureka" continues to be funny and absurd. But this season I felt there were a couple of off notes ...

In their pursuit of a long-running adversary, the show-runners have created an "artifact" (which is itself a problem - both for the characters and the structure of the show) and a shadowy conspiracy that wants access to the artifact. Last season ended with a death related to the artifact - and that's driven Henry's (Joe Morton) behaviour all season.

In pursuit of comedy, we have Carter (Colin Ferguson) claiming he goes to the gym all the time. We're supposed to believe that he doesn't, as they use his ineptness in the gym as "comedy." But there are several problems with this. We've seen Carter without a shirt before, and it's clear he goes to the gym regularly. Another problem is that he's lying to try to make himself look good. While they occasionally show him trying to pretend he understands advanced scientific concepts to avoid looking foolish, lying hasn't generally been his style. Finally, the scene wasn't actually funny. If you can't make a scene funny without warping a character's behaviour to suit the comedy, you're really doing something wrong.

In the final couple episodes, several of the main characters all betray each other (all with the best of intentions), except for Carter who is of course standing in the middle trying to figure it out. It struck me as sloppy and more than usually absurd (which is saying something for this series).

2007. With Colin Ferguson, Salli Richardson, Joe Morton, Jordon Hinson, Ed Quinn, Erica Cerra, Debrah Farentino, Neil Grayston.

Everybody Wants Some!!

Should perhaps have been called "Mi amigos de fuckwittery," as the protagonist refers to his new college friends at the end of the movie. The movie shows us the first three days of life on a college baseball team in 1980 - with the closing credits rolling just as our protagonist and one of his buddies close their eyes to sleep in their very first lecture.

Blake Jenner is Jake, a pitcher just arriving at university to join the baseball team. His introduction to his new house is to be ordered to turn off the water supply filling the water bed on the second floor that looks like it's just about to drop through to the first floor. What follows is most of two hours of macho athletic posturing, absurd dialogue, cruising for sex, and even a little baseball. Glen Powell as "Finn" got many of the best lines: very intelligent, he supplies a running commentary about the social foibles of his teammates and everyone around them. He's a charming guy who will do anything to get laid (one of his less attractive characteristics). Happily, Jake is a smart guy too - brighter than your average ball player and a charming guy to spend a couple hours with.

Evokes its time period very well, and has a very good soundtrack. Very funny, although about as deep as a puddle.

2016, dir. Richard Linklater. With Blake Jenner, Zoey Deutch, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Glen Powell, Wyatt Russell, Temple Baker, J. Quinton Johnson, Will Brittain, Juston Street, Forrest Vickery.

Everything Everywhere All at Once

I've seen some weird movies in my life. I have. "Eraserhead," "Paprika," Jodorowsky's "The Dance of Reality," and "Rubber" to name a few. But this - this easily ranks in the top five, and may just have taken the number one spot. Imagine if "Amelie" took LSD and amphetamines at the same time ...

The incomparable Michelle Yeoh is Evelyn Quan Wang, a stressed out Chinese-American woman running a laundromat with her goofy and charming husband. Evelyn's demanding father (James Hong - it's always James Hong) has just arrived from Hong Kong, their business is being audited, their daughter is gay, it's Chinese New Year, and her husband may be divorcing her. Everything All at Once. And then she starts crossing the multiverse.

The movie is at its core about a woman struggling to both find herself and connect with her daughter. To that end, we're subjected to possibly the trippiest movie in the history of cinema as Evelyn tries to stay grounded and connect with her daughter. I gotta say ... I'm still processing this one.

This was directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the pair that brought us "Swiss Army Man." I thought that one was interesting, but not good (but it readily qualified for the "weird" list above). This is an order of magnitude better - while simultaneously making the very weird "Swiss Army Man" look sane and boring. Also filed under "very weird" is the lead pair of producers: Joe and Anthony Russo, the pair who directed the four biggest Marvel movies.

The second most important person in this movie is probably Ke Huy Quan as Evelyn's husband Waymond. Reading about him on Wikipedia is interesting: 'Quan played Short Round in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (1984) and Data in "The Goonies" (1985). ... Quan stopped acting due to a lack of opportunity in the late 1990s ... He returned to acting as Waymond Wang in the film "Everything Everywhere All at Once" (2022), a role for which he received critical acclaim.' And well he should have: he was wonderful.

Movie references abound: the most obvious one - named out loud - is "Ratatouille," but close on its heels is a blatant visual reference to "The Matrix" (actually "Reloaded," but who's counting?). I have to admit I needed Wikipedia's assistance to notice that the version of Evelyn that's a martial arts movie star was a tribute to Wong Kar-wai (one critic referenced the "exquisite romantic yearning," which is perfect) and as soon as I read that I thought "Oh hell yes!" I suspect there are more references I'll spot on a rewatch.

2022, dir. Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert. With Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr., James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tallie Medel.

Everything is Illuminated

This was Liev Schreiber's debut as both a director and screenwriter. Elijah Wood plays Jonathan Safran Foer, the main character in the novel the movie is based on and the name of the novelist himself. Foer collects things - family things. He puts them in ziplock bags and sticks them on his big wall. We meet him as he sets out for the Ukraine to find the woman who rescued him from the Nazi extermination of their Jewish village. He has purchased the services of a translator and driver, who both turn out to be eccentric in the extreme - their several days together turn out to be "illuminating" for all of them.

The movie has a number of really beautiful moments, and all of the actors are good, but the movie frequently staggered on the edge of surreality and/or magic realism. I thought at first what they needed was to get more surreal, but the extras show that they had tried that, and they were right to avoid it. Perhaps what they needed was to always walk the line instead of straying back into mundane reality occasionally. Definitely an interesting movie.

2005, dir. Liev Schreiber. With Elijah Wood, Eugene Hütz, Boris Leskin, Laryssa Lauret.

Ex Machina

Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb Smith, a programmer who's just won a contest to go spend a week with the reclusive founder of the very successful software company Caleb works for. Oscar Isaac plays the manipulative and extremely intelligent company founder Nathan Bateman. Their initial encounters are uncomfortable, even creepy. They're isolated a long way from anywhere on Nathan's huge estate, the only other person a Japanese woman who speaks no English at all - "so I can talk trade secrets around her and not worry." But there's one more ... person. That's Ava (Alicia Vikander), the artificial intelligence in a human-like body on the other side of a pane of glass that Caleb finds out he's here to test.

The movie moves slowly and there's almost no action, but this is a movie to give your full attention to: the writing is fantastic and brain-twisting ideas about intelligence and behaviour come thick and fast. You will NOT be bored. This is the polar opposite of "Million Dollar Arm" which I watched yesterday: while charming, it required no thought whatsoever and in fact actively encouraged you to believe their views on how people should behave and change. This one wants you to think. It seems they've decided that AI isn't a very good thing, but the movie encourages you to reach your own conclusions. This is what Science Fiction should be: superbly done and incredibly thought-provoking.

2015, dir. Alex Garland. With Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno.

Executive Suite

The movie starts with a voice-over about how the people at the tops of those business buildings you see in major cities are exactly like us normal people: "you'd be surprised" the voice says. The movie then shows us one of those executives - but first person POV, which is very rare in movies ("Hardcore Henry" is extremely unusual even today, and "Executive Suite" was shot in 1954!) ... who promptly dies of a stroke. It then shows the political manoeuvrings that follow after his death, the cult of personality he'd built around himself, and finally emphasizes how different, unusual, special, even exalted a man must be to be the CEO of a company. Not exactly "just like us."

The writing is quite good, and a lot of thought went into the complexity, political wrangling and personal problems of all the people fighting at the top of the heap. And most of the acting (except possibly Barbara Stanwyck) was quite good too. Which made most of the movie reasonably enjoyable. But I guessed - correctly - that the good guys would win, and the whole "not actually just the same as us" thing left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth as they exalted the new CEO. It's also a bit dry - you get their passion for the business (or for money in some cases), but it doesn't quite get transmitted to us, the audience, in the way it does in the best movies. Not a great movie, won't consider rewatching it.

1954, Robert Wise. With William Holden, Fredric March, Walter Pidgeon, Paul Douglas, Barbara Stanwyck, Louis Calhern, Dean Jagger, Nina Foch, Shelley Winters, June Allyson.


A mental exercise in keeping track of layers of deception, but don't forget the pounds and pounds of animal internals and the penetration. I found the repeated and mostly unrelated switchbacks made the movie less and less involving and ultimately I just didn't care anymore. And of course it was completely disgusting, but then it's David Cronenberg. It doesn't matter if it was meant as a commentary on the dangers of video games, bioengineering, or both.

1999, dir. David Cronenberg. With Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe, Don McKellar, Sarah Polley.

The Expanse, Season 1

A 10 episode first season produced by the Syfy Channel, based on the novels of James A. Corey (who turns out to be a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). The series is set two hundred years in the future (according to Wikipedia - I guess I wasn't paying attention), and humans have populated most of the Solar System. But tensions are running high between Earth, Mars, and the Belt. Not that this is anything new: Corey is just using the politics of Colonialism to create a higher tech political drama. Our main characters are Earth politician Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), a charming lady who will betray or torture anyone if she thinks it will prevent a war, Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane), a corrupt drunken Belter police detective slowly finding purpose, James Holden (Steven Strait), an intelligent but responsibility-avoiding Earther who works as an ice miner in the Belt, and Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper) who is Holden's very sharp Belter crew mate.

One of the first things that happens is that the mining ship Holden and Nagata are on is blown up while they're out on a rescue mission ... but the attacking ship doesn't blow up their shuttle. Why not takes several episodes to clear up. At the same time, Miller has been assigned to find Julie Mao (Florence Faivre) - a job that starts to straighten him out. She was flying on the ship Scopuli, which is the one that Holden and Nagata were trying to rescue when their ship was blown.

The characters are exceptionally good. They could be accused of being too broad, but I was amazed at how distinctive they were without (generally) being over-the-top. The story is ... well, just politics. It's quite well done, but this could as easily have been set as some form of colonial war between Europe, the U.S., and Africa (had such a thing happened). But they're also mostly getting the science fiction elements right (discussing military threats in the form of approaching ships that are two days away, flipping ships to thrust in the other direction ... are we finally going to lose swooping in space forever?!). An absorbing if somewhat dark piece of work, I'll definitely check out the second season when I get the chance.

2023-05: A second watch of this season has brought me to thinking that this is very nearly Babylon 5-level universe-building. I had forgotten my jump to compare this to the politics of Colonialism ... and I wasn't wrong, but with excellent characters, real physics, and some great universe-building, this is a really engrossing series.

2015. With Thomas Jane, Steven Strait, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Dominique Tipper, Cas Anvar, Wes Chatham, Florence Faivre, Shawn Doyle.

The Expanse, Season 2

I really enjoyed the first season of "The Expanse", and leapt at the opportunity to watch the second season when it showed up at the library. This season was 13 episodes as opposed to the previous season's ten episodes.

I thought in the first season that the characters were well done. But now that we're spending more time with them, I'm finding that the writers (the book authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck are also the TV screenwriters) concentrate too heavily on two or three traits in each of these people - and the actors are good but not great, which would be required to bring broadly written characters to life. So while each of the characters is very distinctive, they're also relatively shallow. It's better than some author's work, but lacks some complexity that you see in the best shows.

Having said that ... what they're handling even better than last season is the ideas and the sweeping politics of the entire Solar System edging toward war. The action is intense, the effects are very good, and the politics are well played.

I gave them credit for good science in my review of the first season, but I want to say it again: damn it's good to see space flight handled right. I have to deduct a point for having the proto-creature making noises in vacuum, but I think we can blame that on Hollywood. They even got spacing right (ejecting someone without a spacesuit into space - not that I wanted to see that): no bleeding, no instant freeze, just ... you can't breathe. For added scientific accuracy, Adam Savage (of "Mythbusters" fame) has a small but speaking role in the last episode.

The whole series is a pleasure to watch.

2017. With Thomas Jane, Steven Strait, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Dominique Tipper, Cas Anvar, Wes Chatham, Florence Faivre, Shawn Doyle, Frankie Adams, Nick E. Tarabay, Chad Coleman, Terry Chen.

The Expanse, Season 3

I wrote a book review of C. L. Polk's Witchmark a couple days ago that said "if I can predict where you're going with significant elements of the plot, you're doing it wrong." That book was "doing it wrong," but "The Expanse" is not - it went in weird, cool, and fascinating directions I never even guessed at in this season (as it has previously). It held my interest.

It's not perfect, there are problems. Steven Strait continues to lead the cast as James Holden, the nominal captain of "The Rocinante." He is also - starting this season - a producer. Which means he's putting his money where his mouth is ... but he's also a poor actor. Happily, he's the worst of the cast. The characters are well drawn, but the series' greatest strength is what it's always been: it's solar-system-spanning politics and the sheer scale of the narrative. And its ability to surprise me - without disappointing.

I look forward to the next season.

2018. With Steven Strait, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Thomas Jane, Frankie Adams, Florence Faivre, Chad L. Coleman, Cara Gee, Elizabeth Mitchell, David Strathairn, Terry Chen, Nick E. Tarabay, Nadine Nicole, François Chau, Martin Roach.

The Expanse, Season 4

The first three seasons of "The Expanse" were made by SyFy, which then cancelled the show. Happily, Amazon Prime Video picked it up for this, the fourth season. This season consists of ten episodes of about 50 minutes each.

"The Rings" opened in the last season offer instantaneous travel to planets all over the galaxy. Belters rush through to start mining a planet they name Ilus. Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), the Secretary General(?) of the UN, sets up a blockade to try to prevent further settlement until more investigation is done, and sends Holden (Steven Strait, whose acting skills haven't improved much) to mediate between the Belters and Earthers on Ilus.

As I've mentioned previously, what the series has been doing superbly is interplanetary politics. Where this season falls down is in the five or so middle episodes on Ilus, where Holden tries to settle the bickering while the whole planet is violently shaken by reawakening ancient technology. That whole sequence felt like frying pan -> fire -> new frying pan -> new fire ... rinse and repeat. It was a struggle to get through. It's not the only thing going on (politics on Earth, terrorists in the Belt, intrigue on Mars), and they got out of it in the last couple episodes, but that large middle block of annoying-adventure-story made this the worst of the seasons so far.

If there are more seasons, I'll continue to watch - but my brother felt the third season was a good stopping point and he may have been correct.

Update: I had a revelation a couple days after writing this review: this is the Western. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, the authors of the original books that "The Expanse" is based on, are well known for writing the books in the series in various styles. The first, with Thomas Jane sleuthing after a doomed young woman, was done in the style of Noir Detective fiction. I haven't concerned myself with this propensity much while I was loving the series, but in trying to figure out what was wrong with this one ... frontier planet + frontier justice = Western.

2019. With Steven Strait, Dominique Tipper, Cas Anvar, Wes Chatham, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Frankie Adams, Cara Gee, Thomas Jane, David Strathairn, Burn Gorman, Lyndie Greenwood, Rosa Gilmore, Jess Salgueiro, Lily Gao, Paul Schulze.

The Expendables

There were a lot of complaints about this movie online, about it being "old school" or having too many characters. Certainly it's for fans of stuff like "Die Hard" and "Lethal Weapon" - if you stick those in the DVD player for a bit of mindless fun occasionally, you'll enjoy this too. Yes, there are a lot of well known action stars, but they're drawn larger than life - how much time do you need to get to know their characters? Things blow up, moral compasses are rediscovered, the good guys win ... What, you expected high art? It's well done in the genre and I enjoyed it.

2010, dir. Sylvester Stallone. With Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, Eric Roberts, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, David Zayas, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Expendables 2

Bigger and even stupider than the previous movie, and with more 80s matinee action stars. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis play larger roles, Chuck Norris shows up to help out the good guys (at age 72, the oldest of the crew - although a couple of the others, Sylvester Stallone included, are in their 60s), and Jean Claude Van Damme plays the lead villain (whose name is "Vilain"). Things blow up real good. I was surprised to find myself longing for Stallone's direction - it seems positively restrained compared to Simon West. There's plenty of action for fans of 80s action movies, but don't expect a lot of logic.

2012, dir. Simon West. With Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Yu Nan, Liam Hemsworth, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li, Scott Adkins.

The Expendables 3

Continues almost exactly as the previous two movies have, but each iteration has a little less grace ... After one of his crew nearly dies, Barney (Sylvester Stallone) dumps the remainder of his team and gets a new one of younger mercenaries to fight Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a former Expendable who is now a conscience-less gun runner. All irony about a mercenary judging a gun runner is completely ignored, because of course Barney has killed thousands of people only with the best of intentions. The new team and the old team eventually assemble for the finale and shit gets blown up.

The action is okay, but there's too much of it for it to carry much weight or have us worried about any of the main characters dying. The acting ranges from appalling (Stallone and Jason Statham yelling at each other when Barney breaks up the team is full-on laughable, as is most of Harrison Ford's screen time), to decent (Kelsey Grammer, Antonio Banderas), to disturbingly good/wasted-on-this movie. The latter is provided by Mel Gibson, who, hand-cuffed and in the hands of his enemies, is still genuinely frightening. It's not nearly enough to rescue this messy dud.

2014, dir. Patrick Hughes. With Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Kelsey Grammer, Antonio Banderas, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Jet Li.


I decided to watch "Explorers" because it was a well reviewed (77% on Rotten Tomatoes) science fiction movie (I like science fiction) very much of my generation that I'd totally missed.

The first half is a voyage of discovery for three young boys (Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, Jason Presson) as the smartest of them builds electronics components from the dreams of one of the others. The device they create allows them to create an inertia-less flying machine, which they eventually find out can function as a spacecraft. The second half of the movie degenerates into a really bad variety comedy show with aliens. It would have seemed weak in 1985 - in 2015 it's jaw-droppingly awful.

It was interesting seeing the very young Hawke and Phoenix and the first half of the movie actually felt like it was headed somewhere interesting. But that doesn't redeem the awfulness.

1985, dir. Joe Dante. With Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, Jason Presson, Amanda Peterson, James Cromwell, Dana Ivey, Robert Picardo, Dick Miller, Mary Kay Place.

Exploring the Deserts of the Earth

A documentary of a 900 day trip by motorcycle across nearly all of the deserts of the entire planet. Wallner is a very good cinematographer who produces some excellent footage, whether she's pointing the camera at people or landscapes. The 357 minute running time is broken up into 12 segments, two DVDs. If this were all deserts and nothing but, I might not have made it through: but it's broken up by the stories of their travels, which are occasionally quite fascinating. In Turkmenistan (? not sure it was that country, but one of the former Soviet republics) they were required to take two government watchers with them. The government watchers followed them into the dunes in a very old minivan, which got stuck. Over and over. Until Martin and Wallner hired two senior citizens in a very large truck to travel with them and periodically rescue the government watchers. Utterly bizarre.

2006, dir. Michael Martin, Elke Wallner. With Michael Martin, Elke Wallner, David Ingram.


The F Word

Daniel Radcliffe plays Wallace, a medical school drop-out with a lousy job who lives with his sister (Jemima Rooper) in Toronto. His last relationship ended badly a bit more than a year ago. On one of his first social outings since then, he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan) who seems wonderful ... but has a boyfriend. They become close friends while struggling with their attraction to each other.

The movie is based on the play Toothpaste and Cigars, and was released in "some countries" (per Wikipedia - I think they mean mostly the U.S.A.) as "What If." Director Michael Dowse's record is interesting: with two "FUBAR" movies, "It's All Gone Pete Tong" and "Goon" behind him, he's never done anything remotely resembling a romantic comedy before (and maybe that's a good thing - because he's definitely not playing to a formula).

It's a real pleasure to see Toronto being Toronto: it's my home town, it appears in hundreds of movies, but always as "New York," or "Chicago," or Anonymous, U.S.A. So for once it gets to play itself.

I've said this before, but of the "Harry Potter" crew, Radcliffe is definitely the most interesting: he's been getting out there and doing different projects (some of them distinctly weird, like "Horns" and "Swiss Army Man"), trying and stretching his acting skills. He's not (yet) a brilliant actor, but he's not bad at all and he's charming here. And Kazan - I hadn't seen her before. Also charming, as required. Again, possibly not a great actress (yet), but what a legacy she has: her grandfather was Elia Kazan, one of Hollywood's most famous directors, both her parents are well-established screenwriters, and she herself is also a screenwriter and playwright. A very entertaining story-in-a-story.

The final product is perhaps a little more scatological than I would have liked - mostly, but not exclusively, in the form of Wallace's friend Allan (Adam Driver), but clever and funny writing combined with such appealing leads produces one of the best rom coms I've seen in a long time.

2013, dir. Michael Dowse. With Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Megan Park, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis, Rafe Spall, Jemima Rooper.


Rollie Tyler (played by Bryan Brown, who the studio hoped would be a new matinee star ... didn't happen) is a special effects man for the movies, one of the best. He's approached by the Department of Justice, who convince him to stage a false public assassination of a crime boss so he can be put into a witness relocation program. The "assassination" goes beautifully, but suddenly he's on the run for actually committing the murder. He uses his skills to outwit his pursuers and trap the people who set him up.

Watching in 2010, the movie looks very "Eighties" - but it's clever and well done. For a movie that's primarily about special effects, continuity falls down rather badly in one or two places, but good performances and a solid mystery keep it interesting.

1986, dir. Robert Mandel. With Bryan Brown, Cliff De Young, Brian Dennehy, Jerry Orbach, Mason Adams, Diane Venora.

Fabricated City

Kwon Yoo (Ji Chang-wook) is introduced to us as "Captain," a video game player who is an excellent leader and takes extraordinary care of his team. This relatively short introduction is then followed by him finding a phone at the internet café and returning it to a woman's apartment. When he wakes up the next morning, he's arrested for the rape and murder of the phone owner. It's a successful frame-up, and he's quickly jailed for life.

I'll spare you the nasty details of prison, suffice to say that after a few months he manages to break out to try to clear his name. He does surprisingly well, but there's a national man-hunt for him - he only stays on the loose with the aid of his former video game team mates. He's very surprised (why?) that none of them look remotely like their avatars (perhaps because he's young and handsome himself, and does look like his avatar).

The movie is violent and nasty, and a little shaky about its tone: sometimes it thinks it's a comedy (but it never sticks with that for more than a couple minutes), sometimes action, sometimes revenge. Mostly it's a revenge flick, but its emphasis on loyalty within Kwon Yoo's team is kind of appealing (if not entirely believable). I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure it's going to work for many people with its combination of tonal inconsistency and nasty violence.

2017, dir. Park Kwang-hyun. With Ji Chang-wook, Shim Eun-kyung, Ahn Jae-hong, Oh Jung-se, Kim Sang-ho, Kim Ki-cheon, Kim Min-kyo.

Fahrenheit 451

Based on the Ray Bradbury novel, and showcasing not one but two wooden performances by Julie Christie (two different roles). Oskar Werner seems determined to save face for Christie by turning in a performance so wooden it comes with splinters. I was disappointed because the script was actually a good interpretation of Bradbury, although painfully Seventies.

1966, dir. François Truffaut. With Julie Christie, Oskar Werner, Cyril Cusack.

Fahrenheit 9/11

Michael Moore takes a look at the events surrounding September 11th, 2001. He looks closely at a lot of things that the news media have ignored. This is his best movie yet. The word "objectivity" simply isn't in his vocabulary, but, as biased as this is, it's deeply affecting, depressing, thought-provoking, and definitely worth seeing.

2004. dir. Michael Moore.

Failure to Launch

Rom com, based on Matthew McConaughey's character's failure to leave his parent's house by age 35. Sarah Jessica Parker is the woman hired to "simulate" a relationship with him and thus get him to leave. Has its moments, but a wide array of well-acted caricatures couldn't save bad dialogue and a bad plot. The biting animals got particularly tiresome.

2006, dir. Tom Dey. With Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Bartha, Bradley Cooper, Terry Bradshaw, Kathy Bates.

The Fall

I have such mixed feelings about this movie I don't even know where to begin. Possibly the most visually stunning movie I've ever seen. Tarsem Singh is incredibly pretentious, billing himself simply as "Tarsem" as writer, director, and producer ... and the movie went straight down the tubes, with a worldwide gross of $3.6M (as of 2012-02): he's not using big name stars here, but the locations and cinematography were breath-taking and all over Asia, Europe and Africa. In fact, quite a few of the scenes recreated my visit to India - the Red Fort at Agra, the Taj Mahal, and Jantar Mantar. Plus the Charles Bridge in Prague and the Hagia Sophia, which I've also visited. (The movie went a lot more places besides - Wikipedia has an extensive list.) But he's removed the dirt, the crowds, any modern elements, and all distractions - the focus, simplicity, and beauty of the shots, every single one, is astounding.

But the story kind of sucks. It reminded me considerably of Terry Gilliam's "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" - with better cinematography and a poorer story. Sure, I could see what he was trying to do and it was a very grand vision, but the writing was sophomoric at best. Fans of cinematography must watch this, but possibly with the sound down. It's kind of heart-breaking to see such brilliant work in the service of such a poorly realized story.

2006, dir. Tarsem Singh. With Lee Pace, Catinca Untaru, Justine Waddell, Daniel Caltagirone, Marcus Wesley, Robin Smith, Jeetu Verma, Leo Bill, Julian Bleach.

The Family Man

Nicolas Cage plays a business man who turned his back on the love of his life 13 years ago. On Christmas day he finds himself living the life he would have had if he'd stuck with the woman of his dreams (Téa Leoni, who is luminous - as the harried mother of three, more beautiful here than any other woman ever put on film). Cage channels Jimmy Stewart pretty much the whole way, but despite reasonably good acting the silly premise causes the movie to fall apart.

2001, dir. Brett Ratner. With Nicolas Cage, Téa Leoni, Jeremy Piven, Don Cheadle.

Family Plot

Alfred Hitchcock's last movie. I understand it's better than the two prior, but this certainly isn't his best work. I also felt he didn't really have a feel for colour film, not the way he did for black and white.

Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris) is a fake psychic, "contacting" the other world to fleece wealthy, gullible old women. When she's offered a very large sum of money to locate a long-lost nephew, she enlists her boyfriend George Lumley (Bruce Dern) to do a good chunk of the detective work. Unfortunately, the man they're looking for (William Devane) is a murderer and kidnapper, and doesn't want to be found.

There's a twisty plot and some decent dialogue. But I prefer my Hitchcock with a likeable character (Blanche and George aren't exactly charming), even better dialogue, and better cinematography. Not a bad film, but disappointing.

1976, dir. Alfred Hitchcock. With Karen Black, Bruce Dern, Barbara Harris, William Devane, Cathleen Nesbitt, Ed Lauter, Katherine Helmond, Nicholas Colasanto.

The Family Stone

Is it a comedy? A drama? It's a big, fat mess! Sarah Jessica Parker plays an incredibly uptight business woman brought into the midst of a laid-back, wacky, and slightly unforgiving family by her new boyfriend (Dermot Mulroney). In the script's scramble to cover every possible comedic, political, and dramatic note, a complete car wreck of a movie is assured. The romantic ... re-alignments that occur toward the end of the movie are far too pat, and too politely achieved. And yet there is some satisfaction in watching a large ensemble cast of very talented actors going to town with this mess of text and actually pulling out some moments both touching and funny.

2005, dir. Thomas Bezucha. With Sarah Jessica Parker, Claire Danes, Luke Wilson, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson, Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton, Tyrone Giordano.

Fanie Fourie's Lobola

I saw this on the library shelf and became curious about what "Lobola" meant. It turns out to be the price the groom pays the bride's family to be allowed to marry the bride - and the price is traditionally paid in cows. I watched this at least in part as an education in South African culture - and I certainly got that. I was also to learn that "Fanie" is in fact the male involved, not the woman as I'd expected. Fanie (played by Eduan van Jaarsveldt) is a decent guy, but also a bit of a goofball, a bit of a redneck - he lives and works in his mother's very large garage, creating car art with the help of the family employee Petrus (Yule Masiteng).

The dialogue veers between English, Afrikaans, and Zulu throughout the movie - and the producers decided that they would subtitle the Afrikaans and Zulu (whether you wanted it or not - it's burned in), and not the English (whether you wanted it or not). Which was unfortunate, as some of the English was heavily accented ... But that's a minor issue with the DVD. Similarly, the subtitles don't distinguish between spoken Afrikaans and Zulu - so we, the English speakers, can't tell from the subtitles that the language has changed and the Afrikaans speaker may not be understanding the Zulu speaker ...

Fanie isn't very good with women, and at his brother's bachelor party he's dared to ask a girl out. That girl is the beautiful Dinky Magubane (Zethu Dlomo), who initially rejects him but returns with a counter-proposal: she'll go as his date to his brother's wedding if he'll come to lunch at her place to act as a date in front of her father. He's happy with any date, and she's pleased to bring home a white boy to annoy her father.

This is a romantic comedy, so you know where this ends up - the beats of the romance are pretty standard. They have a pretty tough road ahead of them as his family is staid (and somewhat racist) Afrikaans, and hers is Zulu (and not much more welcoming to a white suitor). What really makes the movie a joy to watch is how it acknowledges the cultural and racial problems (it doesn't try to claim they're small) and still says "we can do this." I was surprised how much I enjoyed the humour: I expected to miss some of it because these are two cultures I haven't got a clue about, but either I didn't miss much or there was just a lot more to enjoy. I found the acting decent, and the movie incredibly charming and quite funny. I hesitate to recommend it only because it's going to be hard to find for most people: if you can find it, watch it: it's great.

2013, dir. Henk Pretorius. With Eduan van Jaarsveldt, Zethu Dlomo, Jerry Mofokeng, Marga van Rooy, Motlatsi Mafatshe, Chris Chameleon, Yule Masiteng.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

The Harry Potter prequel (released after the original eight movies), set in New York City in 1926. Newt Scamander (a British wizard with a thing for magical beasts) shows up in NYC, causing havoc with the escape of a couple of his creatures. He crosses paths with a muggle, and we get the swapped-same-suitcase gag. And then the two of them end up with Tina Goldstein (a demoted Auror) and her Legilimens sister Queenie. But there's much more going on than just Newt's escaped beasts.

The movie creates a couple wonderful characters: Eddie Redmayne's Newt Scamander, and Dan Fogler's Jacob Kowalski (the muggle). I really enjoyed them, and Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol were good as Tina and Queenie. But as usual, J.K. Rowling struggles with her own overly complex plot and ludicrously overblown denouement: she doesn't know any other way to write. And the magical beasts are boatloads of decent but not outstanding CG, which I found both mildly insulting and not terribly enchanting. Redmayne and Fogler made it surprisingly watchable, but it's brought low by its complexities and silliness.

2016, dir. David Yates. With Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Ron Perlman, Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp.

Fantastic Four (2005)

Not the best of the superhero movies, but not the worst either. The script and acting were both mediocre, with the exception of Michael Chiklis, who did more with a lump of rock (as "The Thing") than any of the others managed with their own faces. Ioan Gruffudd managed a credible American accent, but spent his time on that - not acting. But it's an enjoyable movie.

The commentary on the Bluray with Jessica Alba, Gruffudd and Chiklis is okay. Alba is deeply concerned about having to walk around in heels (sure, it's a pain, but 15 minutes of commentary on the subject isn't interesting), and Chiklis thought everyone on the entire project was a wonderful person (but he was otherwise pretty interesting). Sounds like Chris Evans ad-libbed half his spoken lines: if so, he's pretty good.

2005, dir. Tim Story. With Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon.

Fantastic Four (2015)

One of the review blurbs on Rotten Tomatoes said that this stirred fond memories of the 2005 version - while acknowledging that that was quite an achievement. It does, and it is: as shaky as the 2005 version was, it was at least kind of fun. This one has almost no action, clichéd dialogue, and weak acting, and is no fun at all. It's a very nearly identical origin story, with Johnny (Michael Jordan) and Sue Storm (Kate Mara - Sue was adopted), Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) being exposed to some weird form of radiation. It just takes longer and there's lots of bad dialogue.

Josh Trank - who directed the fairly decent but "alternative" and rather dark super powers movie "Chronicle" - was never going to deliver a movie in the classic Marvel mold. He's complained loud and long since the movie came out about studio interference. But the poor dialogue and poor acting - that's the choice and product of the director.

Marvel would love to have their first family of superheroes up and running to bring the entire Marvel Universe together ... instead they have an even worse stinker on their hands than the first attempt. When should we expect the next reboot?

2015, dir. Josh Trank. With Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathy, Tim Blake Nelson.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Considerably worse than the previous one, which at least had some character development. This one just rips into not particularly good action. Jessica Alba looks more like plastic than the CG Surfer and the gags aren't funny.

2007, dir. Tim Story. With Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

A stop-motion animated version of Roald Dahl's children's novel of the same name. I didn't like the style of animation much, particularly when there were close-ups on animal faces and they seemed to be caught in a wind storm (although I seem to be in the minority on this). The story is fun and the plot moves along fairly swiftly. Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is a former chicken thief - "former" at the request of his wife Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep), as it's a dangerous line of work. He now writes a column for the paper. But having moved into a new house near some very tempting farms, he returns to his old ways without telling his wife. The farmers are upset and fight back: escalation ensues.

The dialogue is quite witty and well delivered by the high-powered cast, often being quite philosophical about why Mr. Fox does what he does, or why their nephew Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) behaves that way. Huge chunks of it will go right over kid's heads, but will definitely entertain parents. The kids on the other hand will still enjoy the movie for its various "heists," occasional low-brow humour, and fast pace.

2009, dir. Wes Anderson. With George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Michael Gambon, Robin Hurlstone, Hugo Guinness, Eric Chase Anderson, Wallace Wolodarsky.

Fantastic Planet (orig. "La Planète sauvage")

We see a world where humans (called "Oms," a play on the French "Hommes") are seen by the dominant species the Draags as both a pest (at 1/50th the size of the Draags) and a pet. Our human commentator is raised in captivity, but his keeper enjoys keeping him around so much that he starts picking up a significant amount of Draag education. Eventually he escapes with a Draag education device and joins the wild Oms (who are constantly in danger of extermination).

Based on Oms en série by the French author Stefan Wul.

I kind of liked the illustrations, but didn't like the animation (if that makes any sense). Wikipedia's description explains it to me, anyway: "cutout stop motion." There are a large variety of incredibly freaky animals and "things" that we see during the film - our reaction was "someone was taking some good drugs." Really, really weird. The vision of humans as a minor annoyance to be periodically stamped out (sometimes literally) was quite disturbing. I'm reluctant to say I "liked" the movie, but it was both interesting and thought-provoking.

1973, dir. René Laloux. With Jennifer Drake, Eric Baugin, Jean Topart, Jean Valmont.

Far From Men

Set in Algeria in the 1950s, a school teacher (Viggo Mortensen) is unwillingly made to take a military prisoner (Reda Kateb, whose character apparently killed his cousin with a billhook) from his back country school house a day's travel to the military outpost. What they don't bother to remind you of at all is that Algeria was right in the midst of a long and ugly rebellion against French rule at the time (and it definitely helps to know that). You're going to need subtitles: even if you speak French, a good portion of it is in Arabic(?). The movie in fact spends no time whatsoever on explanatory text, possibly less than I've ever encountered: you'll discover who these people are by watching and learning, just as they learn about each other. In principle this is proper film-making: this is how life is. In practice I find I might prefer at least a little more explanation. My father, not known for praising movies or TV series, praised this one to the skies: he thought it was the best movie he'd seen in the past four years. I found it less enchanting than that, although well drawn and very well acted characters and a good story arc (which goes absolutely nowhere you thought it might) did make for a good movie.

2014, dir. David Oelhoffen. With Viggo Mortensen, Reda Kateb, Djemel Barek, Vincent Martin, Nicolas Giraud, Jean-Jerome Esposito, Hatim Sadiki.

Farscape, Best of Season 1 (TV)

This set of (supposedly the "best") six episodes from the well known science fiction series is absolute proof that there's no justice in the world. The far superior "Firefly" series was cancelled before it had run an entire season, and this one went on to multiple seasons.

"Farscape" looks good, with production quality oozing out all over. And the acting isn't bad. But the scripts suck and the meaningless "out of the frying pan into the fire" in every single episode became exceedingly tiresome.

1999. With Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Virginia Hey, Anthony Simcoe, Gigi Edgley.

Fast Color

Near-future, post-apocalyptic science fiction with superheroes. I don't think the director (Julia Hart) would be entirely thrilled to hear her movie so described, but she would be hard-pressed to deny it. She likes to describe it as being about woman power and creativity, and it's about that too. Our protagonist is Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw - definitely a rising star actor), a recovering drug addict making her way home across a world almost devoid of water. And she causes earthquakes. But her mother (Lorraine Toussaint) and her daughter (Saniyya Sidney) who she returns to have more positive powers ... but all of them hide those powers from the world. For very good reason.

There are moments of brief action, but most of the movie is about family relations and growing up. Both the acting and script are good, so that works out fairly well.


This section includes spoilers not only for this movie, but several other superhero movies. I'll name them here so you can avoid reading this if you want to: "The Incredibles," "Hancock," and "Wreck-It Ralph" (1 and 2).

What's never directly addressed in this movie (or even in the extras) is that the drought that Ruth is on her way to solving at the end of this movie was of her own making. That's right: her fear of water and nearly drowning her own child caused her to lock the entire country into an eight year drought.

This is a classic trope in superhero movies: the hero creates a problem, grows up a bit, faces and solves the problem. This can be seen in "The Incredibles" (Mr. Incredible's off-hand dismissal of Buddy causes him to become Syndrome), "Hancock" (he removes a bank robber's hand and the man becomes his archenemy at just the wrong time), "Spiderman" (Uncle Ben, need I say more), "Wreck-It Ralph" (Ralph's desire for a medal brings the Cy-Bugs to Sugar Rush), and " Wreck-It Ralph 2" (Ralph's insecurities create a monster, in possibly the most literal interpretation of this trope). While I'm a bit tired of Peter Parker, I love all those movies except for "Wreck-It Ralph 2". But that's not the point: I could fill pages with movies of "heroes" solving problems they created. Don't get me wrong: it's a form of heroism to overcome your own issues, but for us to hold someone up as a hero when they caused the problem in the first place is somewhat more dubious. This movie is definitely different, in many ways, from other superhero movies. But they fell into that trap, which amuses me greatly.

2018, dir. Julia Hart. With Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint, Saniyya Sidney, Christopher Denham, David Strathairn.

Fast Five

I watched "The Fast and the Furious" back around the time it came out in 2001. I wasn't terribly impressed, and avoided the rest of the series. But "Fast Five" and "Fast & Furious 6" have both received very good reviews (77% and 69% respectively on Rotten Tomatoes as of 2013-09), so I decided it was time to take another look. I like my dumb action flicks.

Domenic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is on the jail bus as the movie starts, but Mia (Jordana Brewster) and Brian (Paul Walker) are there in their fast cars to crash the bus and rescue Dom. The team ends up in Rio de Janiero where an apparently simple car theft gets them tangled up with THE drug lord in the city. Things are further complicated by the arrival of DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), determined to bring the team down.

Their defiance of the laws of physics wasn't quite as bad as I expected - although towing a vault through the streets of the city with a couple of cars was pretty ridiculous. As unbelievable as it was, it was all hugely entertaining. The series has a very weird combination of hot cars, heists, and family values. This one is worth a watch if you like your action movies.

2011, dir. Justin Lin. With Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot, Joaquim de Almeida, Elsa Pataky.

Fast & Furious 6

Picks up, reasonably enough, where "Fast Five" left off. We see a robbery by another team of Hot Wheels thieves, and our new favourite law enforcement officer (Dwayne Johnson), reviews what happened and decides the only way to catch this world class team is to employ the other world class car thieves, namely Dom (Vin Diesel) and his crew. Dom and company risk life and limb for full pardons ... and they really are risking their lives, because one of the good guys dies! But that's okay, because another crew member we thought was dead is resurrected, so apparently "death" is less permanent than we thought if you live "Fast."

I watched this after passing over F&F2-3-4 because I watched and quite enjoyed "Fast Five" - silly, charming and very entertaining. But this one fell apart for me: one of the virtues of the previous movie was that the villain was a really well drawn character, you felt like you understood him. Not the case here: the villain (Luke Evans) is one dimensional evil. And his team is essentially an evil clone of Dom's team. This cloning is pointed out by one of the good guys, but I'm sorry, that doesn't make it better. And finally, the characters don't play as well and the script isn't particularly funny - not an essential trait, but one that helped a lot in the previous movie.

[SPOILER ALERT:] I was also seriously annoyed by the cliffhanger at the end, in which Jason Statham (presumably the bad guy in the next movie) offs one of our more likable characters. But a friend of mine who's a big fan of the series assures me that if you've seen "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" (I haven't), then this is completion, a form of closure fans have been waiting three movies for.

2013, dir. Justin Lin. With Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Sun Kang, Gal Gadot, Luke Evans, Elsa Pataky, Michelle Rodriguez, Gina Carano.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Sean Penn has always been the literal poster boy for this movie, although it's Jennifer Jason Leigh is arguably the most central character. Written by Cameron Crowe, the movie remains something of a cult classic - I didn't see it until 2008. I'm at a loss to see why it's a "classic." Yes, it's a passable representation of school in the Eighties, exaggerated for humour, but ... it's very episodic and I wasn't too crazy about the gags.

1982, dir. Amy Heckerling. With Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Sean Penn, Robert Romanus, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Ray Walston.


This starts out looking like a slightly better produced violent revenge flick, but gets more complicated as it goes. The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) is actually pretty good, and several of the characters get rather more personality than you expect from the genre. The end is total fantasy - unfortunate given that they made other parts of it unexpectedly real, but overall a pretty decent film for fans of the genre.

After a second watch, I'd say that this is an intensely frustrating film. The Rock really is surprisingly decent. Oddly, the man is actually better at being charming - but here, he's asked to play a reasonably decent man with a ruthless lethal streak a mile wide and single-minded murderous determination ... and he does it pretty well. It has moments of sheer cinematic brilliance - the plot line about the preacher in particular, but it's not the only bit - and moments of utter stupidity. Could have made it beyond the genre if it had had a better plot - too bad.

2010, dir. George Tillman Jr. With Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino, Moon Bloodgood, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Maggie Grace, Mike Epps.

Father Goose

2011 reviews of this movie point out that Cary Grant was merrily playing against type after decades of being suave and debonair - although the movie is still a comedy (and romantic, more or less). In this case he plays Walter Eckland, bumming around tropical islands and getting drunk whenever he can. Unfortunately, the Second World War interferes, and he is involuntarily recruited as an island watcher. Things get more complicated when a school teacher (Catherine Freneau, played by Leslie Caron) and her seven charges wind up on his island and interfering with his already messed up drinking schedule. Caron is too young for Grant and their characters falling in love is a little contrived, but Grant does look remarkably good and a lot can be forgiven when the movie is this funny. Recommended for people who like this generation of movies.

1964, dir. Ralph Nelson. With Cary Grant, Leslie Caron, Trevor Howard, Jack Good.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

I love Terry Gilliam, but this is exceptionally weird, even for him. Johnny Depp plays Hunter S. Thompson, accompanied by Benicio Del Toro as his severely drugged-up lawyer.

1998, dir. Terry Gilliam. With Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro.

Fearless (aka "Huo Yuan Jia")

Jet Li claims this will be his last martial arts film. Certainly it's one of his better ones. He plays Huo Yuanjia, a martial artist with a burning pride that eventually drives him to go too far, and ruins his life. The recovery offers us something akin to drama - Li isn't a brilliant actor, but he's likable and does a reasonable job. Of course there must be a reconciliation and a final fight (or vice versa, it doesn't really matter). I continue to be thankful for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" which raised the bar for martial arts movies and allowed movies like this - with real cinematography, good action, and occasionally decent acting - to exist.

2006, dir. Ronny Yu. With Jet Li, Shido Nakamura, Yong Dong, Nathan Jones.

La Femme Nikita

The movie that put director Luc Besson on the map with a big bang.

Most people know the plot by now after an American remake and a TV series, but for those few that don't ... Nikita (Anne Parillaud) is a drug addict who kills a cop in a pharmacy robbery gone wrong. She shows no remorse and is eventually sentenced to death. After the death sentence is carried out, she wakes up in a room to be informed by her handler (Tchéky Karyo, both charming and reptilian) that she can train as an assassin for her country, or die for real. She's unsurprisingly not well socially adjusted, so this doesn't always go well. Imagine a trashy and violent version of "Pygmalion."

Watching it in 2017 - having first seen it in a double bill with "Point of No Return" (the previously mentioned American remake) 23 years ago - I find it still carries some clout. It's being 27 years old has some interesting side effects: the sound track of jangly Eighties music is a bit off-putting, but on the other hand the movie no longer looks over-the-top because it's no more violent than any current action movie ... so it comes out about even.

The story is of a young woman who seriously fucked up her life, and gets to find out how much emotional damage she has to take before she's paid her debt to society. You'll feel it, because the actors (particularly Parillaud in the lead) and script are very good.

1990, dir. Luc Besson. With Anne Parillaud, Tchéky Karyo, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Jeanne Moreau, Jean Reno, Marc Duret.

Fever Pitch (2005)

I don't like the Farrellys, I don't like Drew Barrymore, and I'm not crazy about Jimmy Fallon. Which makes me wonder why I would watch this in the first place, and made it a pretty big surprise when I actually liked the movie ... Based on a Nick Hornby novel that's already a successful British movie starring Colin Firth, the Farrellys changed football to baseball and relocated to Boston. Fallon is one of the Red Sox's most dedicated fans, and Barrymore the woman he falls for - and who falls for him. Can they balance his obsession with their love? Teeters on the edge of gross, but but for once the Farrellys resist the urge to fall into a huge heap of shit for a laugh. In fact, it's almost ... charming.

2005, dir. Bobby and Peter Farrelly. With Drew Barrymore, Jimmy Fallon, Jack Kehler, Ione Skye, Evan Helmuth.

A Few Good Men

Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) is a young and intelligent JAG corps lawyer who's mastered the plea bargain but never really been to court. He's teamed up with good investigator/mediocre lawyer JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) to deal with the death of a Marine in a hazing gone wrong at Gitmo (before it became infamous).

From an early play by Aaron Sorkin, with all the good and bad that implies - fortunately before he decided the walk-and-talk was a major form of communication. A very sharp screenplay. On the other hand, there are places where it's too self-consciously clever, and there's a staggeringly clichéd salute (both metaphorical and physical) at the end of the movie. But the mystery, the courtroom battle and the personalities involved are all very well played, so overall quite good.

1992, dir. Rob Reiner. With Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Kevin Pollak, Kevin Bacon, Jack Nicholson, J.T. Walsh, Kiefer Sutherland.


Imagine prototypical Fifties suburbia - with the undead for servants. And occasionally the zombies just ... do what zombies do. Social satire and a chunk of nasty humour. Even though Tim Blake Nelson did what he always does, I thought it was an excellent fit for the movie. And Billy Connolly was great as the titular zombie - the main character who never has a single word of articulate dialogue.

It's incomprehensible to me that this horror-comedy has vanished so completely: it's a great piece of work.

2006, dir. Andrew Currie. With Carrie-Anne Moss, Billy Connolly, Dylan Baker, K'Sun Ray, Tim Blake Nelson, Henry Czerny.

Field of Dreams

Kevin Costner plays Ray Kinsella, who hears a voice when he's standing in his cornfield in Iowa. Eventually he concludes that what it's telling him to do is build a baseball field in the middle of his property. As his reduced corn acreage drives him and his family toward bankruptcy, the voice returns to send him on another quest, to recruit author Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones, wonderful) to help his cause. Amy Madigan puts in a good performance as his feisty and supportive wife as well.

I'm not a fan of baseball, but this is one of the most charming and entertaining movies I've ever seen. I've seen it multiple times across the 30 years since its release, and it remains a favourite.

1989, dir. Phil Alden Robinson. With Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, Burt Lancaster, Frank Whaley.

The Fifth Element

This is a very silly film. The first time I saw it I thought it was supposed to be serious, and was very disappointed. Adjust your mind to a full-bore science fiction parody, and it's a complete blast.

Bruce Willis plays an ex-Special Forces major, now a down-on-his-luck taxi driver. Who suddenly has the perfect woman (Milla Jovovich, five years before the "Resident Evil" thing started) drop, literally, into his taxi cab. She also happens to be "the fifth element," the key to defeating ultimate evil.

1997, dir. Luc Besson. With Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, Brion James.

56 Up

In 1964, Granada Television had a movie made called "Seven Up!" with a view to showing the children who would be leading the world in the year 2000. Michael Apted revisited those children when they were 14, and has continued to do so every seven years, resulting in one of the worlds' longest running and most interesting documentary series. I've followed it since "28 Up," and always been fascinated by it as they're all eight years older than me, and give a window into what my life may be like in a few years - although it's also giving me a view of people in Britain, and I'm not British.

I think for me a part of the pleasure of these movies was that they were showing me people somewhat older than me - and I was seeing, every time, that life was still getting better. But that's finally reached a turning point for some of them: poor health and the British economy has effected several of them rather badly (including the librarian, Lynn). But on the plus side, both my favourites - Nick (the engineer) and Suzy - returned, although Suzy had stated in "49 Up" that she thought she wouldn't. Both intelligent, charming people that I'd like to know, who seem to be getting on well with life.

In the previous movie there was some discussion of the notoriety all of them had required as a result of the series - they're frequently recognized, despite their only celebrity being from this one series. And of course it affects their lives - quite strongly. I suspect this is also detracting from my enjoyment of the series, although it's totally unavoidable. Another thing that came up a lot was how people seem to think they know the participants, although our window into their life is hearing them talk for ten minutes once every seven years. It's a well-taken point - but again, discussion of that (although legitimate) takes away from time hearing about what they're actually doing.

The end product is, for the first time, one I enjoyed less than its predecessor. Still a good and fascinating movie, and a project I hope he continues (although Apted himself is, as I write, 74 years old).

2012, dir. Michael Apted.

Fight Club

Violent, yes, but with reason. Excellent social commentary, funny in a very twisted way. Highly recommended. Superbly structured and detailed, stands up to multiple viewings.

1999, dir. David Fincher. With Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf Aday.

Filière 13 ("File 13")

A Quebecois movie, I borrowed this from the library because it was directed by Patrick Huard who also did "Bon Cop, Bad Cop." I was pleasantly surprised: there's a bit too much awkward-situation-mugging and slapstick, but Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge is pretty good at it. And Lemay-Thivierge and Claude Legault both act quite well - good, given that the movie rests on their shoulders.

Legault plays Thomas, one of Montreal's best cops brought low by a permanent debilitating headache. Lemay-Thivierge is the police public relations officer who starts having crippling anxiety attacks. They're both assigned to a boring, dead-end observation job - which they mess up. But they get a break in solving another stale case (which ties into the Gomery Commission of all things), and, despite a suspension, insist on pursuing it while trying to pull their lives together again. Not a bad film.

2010, dir. Patrick Huard. With Claude Legault, Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge, Paul Doucet, Jean Pierre Bergeron, Elisabeth Locas, Marie Turgeon, André Sauvé.

The Final Cut

Near future science fiction, with Robin Williams as a "Cutter," an editor of life stories from an implant that records everything. An interesting look at the ethics (particularly relating to privacy) of such an enhancement. Unfortunately the ideas are a lot better than the plot or the central actor.

2004, dir. Omar Naim. With Robin Williams, Mira Sorvino, Jim Caviezel.

The Final Member

Iceland has a Phallological Museum (it really does: this is a documentary). To translate, that would be a "Penis Museum." Sigurour Hjartarson started collecting penises in 1974, and opened the museum in 1999. The movie is mostly about his quest to have a human penis in the collection. He finds two men who are willing to donate (Pall Aranson, Tom Mitchell), and both of them are - as you might imagine - unusual characters. The movie is eye-opening, hilarious, thought-provoking, and just generally fascinating. We paused the movie repeatedly for fits of laughter and debates about the sanity of the people in the movie, the filmmakers, and our society as a whole.

2012, dir. Jonah Bekhor, Zach Math. With Sigurour Hjartarson, Pall Aranson, Tom Mitchell.

Find Me Guilty

This movie dates back to when Vin Diesel occasionally had hair, and before he became the face of the multi-billion dollar "Fast & Furious" franchise (I watched it in 2020). He plays Jackie DiNorscio, a low level mobster serving a 30 year sentence. He's offered a reduced sentence to roll on his associates in another case, but refuses to do so - and opts to defend himself as he was unimpressed by the defence lawyer who got him 30 years.

DiNorscio is uneducated and kind of obnoxious, but he's intermittently charming and funny, and he's not stupid. The movie mostly revolves around the problems (and comedy) he causes in the courtroom, with his behaviour driven by his absolute belief in "family." The biggest surprise of the film is how successfully Diesel sells the character.

Lightweight, but kind of fun.

2006, dir. Sidney Lumet. With Vin Diesel, Peter Dinklage, Linus Roache, Ron Silver, Annabella Sciorra, Alex Rocco, Jerry Adler, Raúl Esparza, Richard Portnow, Aleksa Palladino.

Finding Dory

I saw this sequel to "Finding Nemo" on the plane to Beijing. Movies are occasionally edited for content (or even for length) on planes, so who knows if I saw the whole thing. It's a children's movie, so probably. It's also a LOT smaller than it would have been in a theatre or even at home: seat-back screens are what, 10 inches? Maybe even less.

Dory starts having flashbacks to her childhood - which is a big deal for her since she can't even remember breakfast. Determined to find her parents, she sets out on a quest - with Marlin and Nemo involuntarily in tow behind her, as they try to keep up. Dory tries to find her family, Marlin and Nemo try to find Dory.

Ellen Degeneres was good as Dory. Marlin and Nemo aren't exactly minor characters, but they've been reduced to something less: they understand what Dory is trying to achieve, and they have no great emotional story arc to follow ... all they need to follow is Dory. It seems rather inevitable after the last movie that there will be tanks and captured fish involved, but I thought they went too far - particularly the grand finale with the truck. Seriously, this seemed like a good idea to you?

Hank the Septipus (he's renamed by Dory who notes he only has seven arms instead of an Octopus's regular eight) is the stand-out new character ... and they know it. As good as he is, he doesn't carry the entire film. It's sweet and funny, it's not bad, but it's neither as good looking nor quite as emotionally rewarding as "Finding Nemo."

2016, dir. Andrew Stanton. With Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O'Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy.

Finding Nemo

Another fantastic movie from Pixar. I wasn't as in love with this the first couple times I saw it, but it's grown to be one of my favourite Pixars. The animation (particularly in the 3D version) is utterly dazzling, and the story is a very funny and charming coming-of-age story - not just for the young clownfish Nemo (Alexander Gould), but also for his insecure and over-protective father Marlin (Albert Brooks). Marlin is assisted in his travels by Dory (Ellen DeGeneres, hilarious), a fish with incredibly bad short term memory (used to great comedic effect).

The 3D BluRay version is glorious - although Disney made a very odd and annoying decision at some point: when you press pause, the on-screen image flattens and the time-based menu pops out at you. So 3D is achievable in pause, but they've broken it to display the menu. Bizarre.

2003. dir. Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich. With Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe.

Finding Neverland

I saw this one on a plane so I may have missed some content, but it claimed it was only edited "to fit the screen." A story based on the events in J.M. Barrie's life leading up to the creation of Peter Pan. I was really frustrated with some of the absurdities in the movie (I'm not talking about the flights of fancy with the children either), but both Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet are excellent.

2004. dir. Marc Forster. With Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman.

Finding Samuel Lowe: From Harlem to China

The movie was made by "The Africa Channel," and the advertising claims it's about some of the descendants of Samuel Lowe - a Chinese man in Jamaica who returned to China in the 1930s - seeking out their various other family members from Harlem to Jamaica and back to China. Sounds good so far.

The movie opens on Paula Madison, one of the grandchildren of Samuel Lowe. We find out that their mother brought them to Harlem from Jamaica with the intent they should become rich. She and her two brothers are all clearly intelligent, but she's unpleasantly self-confident with approximately zero self-doubt: not someone I wanted to spend an hour and a half with. She may have some right to that confidence: she's been a major, successful TV exec for many years - but that doesn't make her any less abrasive. And she and her brothers are now very rich, something the movie feels comfortable rubbing in the viewer's faces. I'm happy for you ... but I came to learn about your family history, not your pride. And then it comes out: "we own the Los Angeles Sparks [a WNBA team] and the Africa Channel ..." WTF? This is a vanity product?

This review is based on the 18 minutes of the movie it took to come to that little piece of information - which should have been on the front of the box and deflated all my remaining interest in the movie.

2014, dir. Jeanette Kong. With Paula Madison, Elrick Williams, Howard Williams.

Finding Vivian Maier

John Maloof is around 30, and has spent much of his life going to garage sales and buying up the contents of storage lockers. In 2007 he bought a storage locker lot that included a large quantity of photographic negatives, hoping for images of Chicago for a project he was working on. That didn't work out, but what he got instead were some brilliant photos: photographic negatives are the kind of thing you usually throw out when you find them in the storage locker, but not these ones. So Maloof went and bought up the other lots from the same locker, and began inventorying everything. The photographer in question was Vivian Maier. Maloof convinced one gallery to show her work - I doubt he needed to do any convincing after that, because her posthumous rise to fame has been explosive. And with good reason: she was a brilliant photographer.

Much of the film follows Maloof as he interviews various people who knew her, and even ends up taking an excursion to a small town in the French Alps where she had travelled and had some cousins. She was employed as a nanny - photography was something she did all the time, but she never showed her images to anyone during her lifetime. Highly recommended.

You can try a sample of her photography with a Google Image Search.

2013, dir. John Maloof and Charlie Siskel.

Finding Your Feet

It seems I'm not the only person who felt this was similar to "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." The story starts with Sandra Abbott (Imelda Staunton) finding out her husband of 35 years is having an affair. She runs off to stay with her estranged and rather more open-minded older sister (Celia Imrie), and is eventually introduced to her sister's eccentric and charming friends - who of course influence her and improve her outlook. Just like "Best Exotic," there's joie de vivre, a death, and romance. It's not doing a damn thing new, but it's well done by some of Britain's better actors, charming, and occasionally funny.

2017, dir. Richard Loncraine. With Imelda Staunton, Timothy Spall, Celia Imrie, Joanna Lumley, David Hayman, John Sessions, Josie Lawrence, Indra Ové, Sian Thomas.

Fire Dragon

I found this movie while looking for anything involving Jackie Chan. He's a minor character in this third rate, non-sensical piece of trash. I was unable to find any significant record of the existence of this movie in 2012, although there were a couple references on the internet. To muddy the waters, there are at least two other movies with the same title - one starring Brandon Lee, the other directed by Yuen Woo-Ping.

The plot seems to revolve around a superhuman agent of the ATA who is pursuing some evil Chinese Nazis. He's l