Tag Archives: movie reviews

Movie Reviews: Different Drum

I picked this movie because it looked lonely and unrated on Amazon Instant Watch. Well, and because the description mentions Indiana. As a dude from Indiana, I can totally speak to that bit.

The nutshell summary is that this is a travelogue movie that’s shot in a very informal and random manner. You feel like you were there but all in all nothing of great consequence happens. A couple travels from point A to point B and have pretty realistic adventures that result in a pregnant woman with a bedazzled eyepatch, urinating on the train tracks and changing a flat tire.

In the end…. yeah, it’s not a picture that’s ABOUT something. There’s no grand crescendo but it’s a story that really, we’ve all lived. As the picture wraps you don’t say to yourself “wow!” so much as you do, “yeah, I remember when…” We have all lived some vague insubstantial version of this story but unlike this filmmaker, we didn’t bother to record it.

This is a movie that doesn’t make you remember IT so much as it makes it remember your analogous version of what you just saw. This is a movie for when you’re in a contemplative and reminiscent mood.

Notes from my viewing…

The style is that clumsy but endearing one in which everything is shot in a very informal way. Shots get cut off at times, don’t quite work out, sometimes out of focus, but very lifelike. It makes you feel like you’re there but it’s not got that over-processed look that most of the Hollywood junk does. I love this aspect of the film.

The credits are exceptionally high tech and come in about 11 minutes into the film. They add a distinctly charming air to the whole thing. They also act as chapter markers.

The whole thing feels VERY midwestern. I would swear that I’ve been in some of these places. There are some great shots photographically; very similar to what I’d take when I’m traveling.

The dialog in this film is so… pedestrian… there’s a bit talking about uncles and great uncles and how that works and it’s just so… real. It’s very much like a real life conversation that’s really ABOUT nothing but it’s the sort of thing that makes up our entire lives.

Movie is filled with lifelike little contradictions… like the pregnant protagonist who smokes and drinks at times but then acts terribly guilty about it. And her identical coats in yellow and green.

My god; some of these painfully nondescript settings are completely and utterly realistic. Case in point, visiting the protagonist’s cousin. The situation is rather bizarre but the setting is completely natural.

This movie….. this movie has the MOST polite armed robbery in the history of … well, of history. Holy CRAP that was nonchalant. That is the Midwestern way. “Give me all your money but, you know, whenever you want.” OK, not quite a quote, but that’s the general idea.

Eight minutes from the end, it’s time for Indiana!!!!!

Yeah, that’s Indiana. Northern Indiana at least. Lots of Amish.

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Movie Reviews: Ward No. 6 [Russian] (****)

I picked this movie because it looked very lonely on the Amazon Instant watch. Am I glad that I did? Yes, for the most part.

To the positive, this movie encapsulates some pretty deep philosophy, plunging all the way to the depths of pondering existence itself. The story follows a psychiatrist working in a mental ward who slowly goes native and begins to identify more and more with his patients until… well, you’ll see if you watch the movie. The movie shot is in a documentary format that makes the setting feel like a pretty accurate rendering of a 2007 Russian insane asylum.

To the negative, the film takes a LONG time to build up to anything. Even though it’s only 85 minutes long those first 30 seem like they could be condensed to about 5. By the standards of the average movie viewer this one is a bit long in the tooth. Also the yellow subtitles are sometimes exceptionally hard to read against the white backgrounds so keep your eyes ready for gymnastics as you read along with this one.

In summary, this is a slow-mover but one with a great point to make. There’s not a lot of action but plenty to think about if that’s the sort of thing you’re in the mood for.

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Movie Reviews: Joker (Hindi with English Subtitles) (*****)

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I picked this movie on Amazon Instant watch because it looked lonely and I’m a sucker for anything Bollywood. This movie did not disappoint but it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into.

This comedy seems to be patterned after American flicks like Idiocracy and Dumb and Dumber in which the real humor is found in wondering just how stupid can these people be. In that vein the movie does have some truly laugh-out-loud moments but they’re mostly palm-to-forehead jokes rather than anything more intellectual. The story is absurd, the effects are absurd and the acting is at times absurd. So if you’re looking for wacky madcap then here you have it.

Casting seems to fall along the usual lines for films like this; you have a cast of Indian actors and one token white-dude in the main group who is just a tad more nuts than the rest and all the villains are, of course, Americans. Our primary hero looks a lot like Ben Stiller but I have no idea if that’s intentional.

Musically, you of course have all the standard trappings of Bollywood movies. Personally I love this stuff; there’s no music in the world that can get you going on the exercise bike like a Bollywood standard. If you’re not into the Indian music scene then you might move on. My only real complaint is that the songs aren’t subtitled so you have next to no clue what the song is about. At various points in my life I’ve contemplated learning Hindi for the sole purpose of better understanding Indian movies so perhaps this is just extra incentive.

In summary, this movie is great if it happens to be what you’re looking for at this exact instant. It’s pure absurdist humor with some really catchy tunes in the middle. Expect a few serious laughs but mostly smirks and toe-tapping.

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Les Gars (The Notorious Guys) – An amusing one-third of a movie (3/5)

I picked this movie because of the pleasant yellow cover and the fact that it looked rather lonely on Amazon Instant watch and in need of an impartial review. Am I glad I did…? yes, mostly.

To categorize this one it’s basically in line with a Beavis and Butthead or a Wayne’s World or Bill and Ted. Crazed misfit dudes go on a bizarre adventure and do some completely random crap. That about sums it up and if you don’t like the idea of that then you won’t like the movie.

On the positive side, the movie starts out really well. They regularly break the fourth-wall by talking to the audience and even go so far as to spoof about playing specific music just to get the royalties for it. Their madcap hijinks are absurdly random as they bully a downspout (yes, that aluminum thing that carries water from your gutters to the ground) and there is, of course, the obligatory self-pleasure scene. It’s perplexingly random to be sure.

To the negative, all the best parts of the movie are in the first 30 minutes. So is this movie worth starting? yes. Is it worth finishing? Probably not. So I’d suggest that if this is at all appealing to you then start it up and the moment that it seems to drag (which it will) then turn it off and watch something else. I’ve watched it to the painful end so there’s no need for you to. Another negative aside from the slow story slide is that it’s very hard to pay attention to the highly visual humor and read subtitles at once. So be prepared for some visual gymnastics.

In summary, as I said, start this movie then stop it. Do not watch it all the way through. Enjoy the girl in the bikini bouncing on the trampoline and the introductory classroom scenes and then go do something else when you’ve had enough. It’s an amusing concept but not an hour+ worth of amusing concept.


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Where were you? Events that Changed the World – Very easily digested tidbits from history (4/5)

I picked this particular bit of video because it looked lonely on Amazon Instant watch and in need of a review. Am I glad I did? Yeah, mostly.

This short-lived series is a collection of mini-documentaries covering momentous events in world history from 1945 through 2004. Each event gets 24 minutes of coverage that runs something along the lines of a 4-minute introduction to the event, then 20 minutes in which the history is put into historical context. So for the moon landings we start out in the 60s for the intro, then we go back 100 years to the pioneers of rocketry and then work our way back up to the 60s again.

On the positive side, the episodes assume you know absolutely nothing about the event in question. They start from the basics of “This is the moon” and work you quickly back up to the importance of the event in question. I’m also impressed that the series does not take an America-centric view on history. It does have a preference for the Western Hemisphere but every continent at least gets a mention in some episode.

To the negative side, the production value of some of these episodes is atrocious. The incidental music sounds like something from a royalty-free website of music clips. It’s distractingly bad most of the time and almost worth muting the TV and turning on captions. (Sadly there are no captions) Further, the video is all period footage which is to be expected but something has happened in the translation that introduces very tight waves that creep in and out of the playback. Lastly, the introductory vignettes and the bumper graphics between commercials all seem to have been left in. So in any one episode you see the same video of a dirigible about 10 times.

In summary, these are neat and easily digested tidbits of history if you can put up with the production problems. Probably something to show the kids so they know what in the world grandma and grandpa are talking about when they go on about World War II or the JFK assassination.


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You’re in Charge – Probable Cult Classic (4/5)

I picked this movie just because it seemed lonely on Amazon Instant Watch and I’m glad I did because this could be the next Officespace or Napoleon Dynamite.

If I were to sum up this movie…. it would be fairly impossible. It’s a multi-threaded tale that includes, among other things:

* A gritty, sloppy home-birth with multiple husband slaps

* An ex-con who fancies himself a doctor of holistic medicine

* A manic gardener who has plans for a placenta

* A mumbling creole home remodeling company

As if all these basic themes aren’t enough, the movie is infinitely quotable.

* “People are like teabags. You never know how strong they are until you put them into hot water”

* “So, you’re asking me to fire myself?”

* “We need ebola; we need the plague, that’s how viral we have to go right now”

* “You had the baby! Would you put the gun down?!!?”

In summary, Amazon calls this a comedy and I can’t really categorize it any other way, but I’d add the word “quirky”. It’s not the sort of film that makes you laugh out loud so much as it makes you say, “um, wow.” after it’s over. This is one that’s probably funnier the second time through. And the third. And the fourth. Ad infinitum.


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Detroit Unleaded – Wonderful slice of Arab culture in romance form (5/5)

I picked this movie because it’s newly out on Amazon Instant Watch and it looked lonely and in need of a review. I’m glad I did.

The story starts rather tragically with the violent death of the patriarch of a Lebanese-American family. Now, the son is forced to put all his own plans on hold and stay behind to run the family business instead. Anything more than that would constitute a spoiler so there I stop with plot-summary.

To the positive side, the story is a great allegory for being who you are, and pursuing your dreams despite the expectations put on you by others. Further, I’m a cultural xenophile so I was extremely entertained by the details of Arab-American culture and the interplay between that and the larger urban culture of Detroit. It’s also amusing to see the complex role of the neighborhood gas station in an area. In short, this was a great slice of urban ethnic anthropology. If nothing else you can love it for that along with the strong visual symbolism.

To the negative… this isn’t really a complaint I had but I could imagine that some might be concerned that there’s not really a lot of movement either in plot or in character in this movie. The entire action could have taken place in a day and the characters don’t evolve so much as suddenly come to their senses.

In summary, a great little film to watch with someone special. It has enough tidbits to keep the viewer entertained, a few small laughs along the way and a hopeful and uplifting outcome. Great film.


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A Man Called Hero – Amusing enough if you have the right frame of mind (4/5)

I picked this movie because it looked lonely on Amazon Instant Watch. At first I had my doubts but by 20 minutes in I was glad that I did.

So this is a multi-generational revenge/drama/romance film. Some innocent people are killed, a son goes in search of revenge in America. We don’t hear much about it until his own son shows up in America almost two decades later. Eventually fighting and the standard expected stuff ensues.

On the positive side, this is a martial arts film rife with all the standard soft of action you’d expect in such. It should be noted that this is primarily a family drama and not all that much action. I’d say it’s 80% family drama and 20% combat. it’s really, really cheesy combat but combat none the less. The real joy of this film comes from seeing all the stereotypical portrayals of Americans as viewed from the standpoint of the Chinese. They’re not all QUITE walking around in spurs and chaps but they certainly do dress alike.

To the negative, some of the scenes are just ill-constructed. I’m talking Power Rangers bad here. Early on we get a glowing-red obviously plastic sword that really steals a scene or two and it is an effort to suspend disbelief. Other fighting scenes are similarly laughable but that’s all part of the fun.

In summary, this is a good one to sit down with and not take too seriously early on. The story’s not half bad; you just have to decide to focus on the parts that amuse you and not the parts that are terrible.


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Re-Cycle – Pretty Terrifying even with the Subtitles (4/5)

We picked this movie mainly because it had the word ‘phantasmagorical’ in the description. Any movie that uses that word is almost guaranteed to be worth watching. On the whole, it was a good pick.

The story is anything but straightforward, but in a nutshell, an author gets sucked into a world built of her own discarded ideas and has to find a way to escape. I won’t say more for fear of spoilers but this is one EXCEPTIONALLY creepy movie both in concept and in execution. It sustains this creepiness without a great deal of violence and not really any gore to speak of; it’s a deeply psychological terror.

On the positive side of things, this movie is visually stunning to the Nth degree. I found myself wishing that we’d been able to see this in the theatre instead of on a television. This would be one to sit near the front in the center of the theatre for. Even on the small screen this one has a yawning depth of visuals. Also, as I said above, the story is extremely nerve-wracking but doesn’t have to splash blood on you to do it.

To the negative, the story fades a bit towards the end. The movie veers into what would appear to be a visual polemic against abortion; while the scenes around this topic are exceptionally horrifying and effective, one does get the sense of being lectured to a bit. Near the very end the special effects seem unnecessarily forced and don’t really add to the story in any way. At times when the movie tries to be an action flick rather than a psychological horror things just don’t work out in its favor..

To sum up, an extremely disturbing and well-executed movie about the place where all those discarded objects and ideas in our lives go. Highly recommended if you want to be terrified out of your mind and want to exercise your eyeballs. Those seeking a more erudite offering may be a bit disappointed. Good escapist horror mostly unencumbered by detailed storyline.


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Mourning (Soog) – A thought-provoking movie out of Iran (4/5)

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This title was added to Amazon’s Instant Watch collection only a couple of days ago. It’s free to Prime members so it’s certainly worth the money.

As usual I picked this movie only because it looked lonely in Amazon Instant watch and needed a nice review. I’m glad I did because it was a surprisingly deep little title.

When I read the description all I saw was the words “tragic secret” and immediately decided to start the movie without further inspection. That added a nice air of mystery to the whole thing as the first 20 minutes are a bit perplexing even if you do happen to read the whole description of the movie. They illustrate wonderfully, in a visual way, the barriers of communication that are pervasive throughout the whole thing.

This movie is not an action-packed thrill-ride but instead the entire plot, such as it is, plays out in the span of a few hours. The trio drives to Tehran through some pretty scenic country and manages somehow to communicate with each other only unintentionally as the secrets they’re trying to keep leak out. I can’t really say much more without risking a spoiler so I leave the rest to your imagination.

In summary, this is the sort of movie that makes you think and spawns conversations. It’s not the sort that blows your shorts off or makes you squirt milk out of your nose in laughter. It’s tragic, dark and… one can’t even really say hopeful. Worth a watch if you’re in the right mood to have your brain stirred up a bit. Oh, and bear with the first 20 minutes. The audio is not hopelessly out of sync and the video is not broken. All will become clear to you.


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