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Skizzerflake's Movie Ramblings - Reviews of the Stuff I See

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The Conjuring 2 - Further Adventures of Ed and Lorraine Warren

I admit to having a skepticís interest in the topic of hauntings, spirits, visitations, etc, and have read some books on the subject. The motherlode of stories about things that go bump in the night are the experiences of an actual married couple, Ed and Lorraine Warren, the originals in the field of ghost hunting. Prior to Edís death in 2006, the Warrens had been doing this since the early 50ís and claim to have visited as many as 10,000 ďhauntedĒ houses. A number of movies have been made that fictionalize their experiences, most notably the first Conjuring movie, Annabelle, The Haunting in Connecticut and the Amityville Horror. I donít know whether I believe in their claims, but I donít believe that they are deliberate frauds. As in the first Conjuring movie, Ed is played by Patrick Wilson and Lorraine by Vera Farmiga. The movie was directed by James Wan, who directed the first Conjuring film as well as some other action movies.

The Conjuring 2 concerns itself with what has been referred to as the Enfield Poltergeist, a series of 1977 events in a British home that resulted in widespread media coverage and a visit from the Warrens. Recordings and photos were made, investigators, skeptics and news reporters were ďbaffledĒ. The Warrens were called (both in the movie and real life) and asked to document the events in order to get attention from the church and a possible exorcism. Itís worth noting that in real life, as well as in the movie, the Warrens have a very religious take on all this and regard it as a battle between good and evil, God and Satan. The first half of Conjuring 2 portrays the lead up to the main ďbattleĒ. Lorraine is completely exhausted from her experiences in Amityville and her protective husband thinks she needs a rest. This is when they get the call from Britain and they feel that they can not NOT go. The entire family is terrified, local people who have investigated feel over their heads and itís all spilling out into the news.

Thereís a sense of relief when the Warrens arrive, a lot like cavalry to the rescue, but things donít get better right away. Cases like this rarely have a neat resolution and this haunting seems to be especially pernicious, with Lorraine calling it a demon infestation. Itís not just bumps in the night, but flying objects, scary voices from a possessed daughter, levitations and bite marks go along with this malevolent spirit. Tension builds and the movie delivers lots of quick scares, along with a creeping mortal dread.

I donít want to be a spoiler, so I wonít comment on how either the real case or the movie ended and wonít compare them to each other. Iím guessing that you either are or are not a fan of these kinds of movies and you probably already know whether you are going to see it. If youíre a fan of the Warrens, you probably already know about this case. If you donít know about it, just search for the Enfield Poltergeist. I will say, however, that I enjoyed it. The suspense stayed with me to the end, it didnít have as many dumb non-sequiturs as most horror movies and I liked that it did stay fairly true to the Warrens as characters. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga make a good couple, seem as sincere as the actual Warrens and make their rather odd beliefs seem to work. Direction by Wan was quite good. I was looking for ďthrills and chillsĒ and got them. The first half of the movie (except for the first few minutes at Amityville) seemed to drag, but I think it was necessary to do a lot of exposition in order that the context of the story and its claims to be based on truth can have some credibility. Special effects were fairly modest and some of them are based on ďactualĒ events where were photographed.

Altogether, I thought it fared fairly well for a horror movie. The audience had fun, maybe a few of them will wonder about the true story, the production was not cynical or exploitive and the liberties taken in order to have a definable climax in 2 hours didnít do any serious damage to the story. I donít know whether Wan, Wilson and Farmiga have plans for any further episodes about the Warrens, but if they do, I will probably go. Itís pretty solid for a scary movie. It doesnít rise to the level of The Witch, but horror movies rarely do. An actual photo from the Enfield events follows.

Genius - A Sea of Words

When I saw that this was coming, I was intrigued. On the one hand, itís a movie that portrays my 3 favorite writers, Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald, along with their Scribnerís editor, Max Perkins. Most of the movie centered on Wolf and his relationship with Perkins. On the other hand, Flixter ratings are below 50, usually a dead zone for movies. Well, we decided to do it anyway, and I have to say that itís intriguing.

In case you were not paying attention in American Literature class, Thomas Wolfe was a maniacal novelist in the 20ís - 30ís, a fire hydrant of amazing but completely unrestrained prose. His writing was amazing, but there was SO much of it. On one occasion, he presented his publisher with a million word novel, on another, 5000 type written pages delivered in several cartons. Wolfe was, in short, a wild man and a supernova of verbal energy. His editor, Max Perkins managed to work with Wolfe to whittle down his tomes into something that could actually be published and read. Genius is a fictionalization of that relationship.

Right from the start, Genius is odd. Itís a completely British movie, with nearly all British actors, filmed at Pinewood Studios in UK and directed by Michael Grandage. My only other experience of Grandage was with The Madness of King George, a fine but obscure film. Colin Firth costars as Max Perkins, with Jude Law as the hyperactive Wolfe. Nicole Kidman appears as Aline Bernstein, Wolfeís married girlfriend and sometimes financier, Laura Linney as Louise Perkins (Maxís wife), Guy Pearce and Venessa Kirby as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Dominic West as Hemingway. Accents are all over the place, with Firth generally sounding British and Law with a contrived Southern accent that doesnít quite work. That bothered me at first, but once the verbiage starts rolling, it doesnít really matter that much.

The story follows Wolfe and Perkins during the tempestuous writing of Wolfeís first two novels, Look Homeward Angel and Of Time and the River. Itís hard to imagine working with a person like Wolfe on a day to day basis. His intensity and manic talking would drive almost anybody crazy, but, on the other hand, you ARE in the presence of a wild genius of a sort that would be like a drugÖ.hard to pull away from, as Max discovers. As such, to adequately characterize a person like Wolfe, the movie has to be more verbal than any movie you have probably ever seen. Itís dense dialog, end to end, so much that, by the time itís over, you might come out exhausted. As a script, Genius is more like a stage play than a movie, as verbally intense as Hamlet. It has no action of any sort, most of the movie consists of dialog between Wolfe and Perkins.

Genius is mostly set in New York, in the late 20ís and 1930ís, up to the time of Wolfeís death from tuberculosis of the brain in 1938. Nothing in the movie seems to be filmed on location, but the digital guys did an excellent job of placing the action in a sepia-tinted version of depression era Midtown Manhattan. The outdoor settings are obviously animated, but in a film like this, it doesnít matter. The characters and dialog are the focus of every minute.

Genius seems to have been a labor of love and awe. Trying to bring a guy like Wolfe to the screen poses problems that defy the usual movie logic of keeping words short and visuals long. I donít think itís a movie for general audiences and it might actually fare better as a stage play since theater audiences are used to wordy plays. If youíre a fan of Wolfe (I am) or that period in literature (I am that too) you will enjoy it. If youíre looking for a popcorn movie, you will probably be overwhelmed with words and turn it off. My small audience seemed to have come to see these characters and were quite pleased.

I couldnít miss this movie. Being from Baltimore and relishing the local connections of Wolfe (who died here) and the Fitzgeralds, who drank, partied, rehabbed, sometimes wrote here, and who left carefully preserved graffiti on the menís room wall of a speakeasy that was later converted to a bar/bookstore that I frequented in my college years, I initially wanted to see more of Fitzgerald, but was won over by the intensity of the Wolfe story. I can understand the low user ratings for this movie, but I thought that it was pretty good. I canít imagine how anybody could portray Thomas Wolfe and NOT be excessively talkyÖ.it was the nature of the beast. He, and the movie might drive you crazy if you spend too much time, but, if you like this literature, I recommend it.

Our Kind of Traitor - Intrigue in Britain

The latest film adaptation of a John le Carre novel is Our Kind of Traitor, directed by Susanna White, a British director, mainly of a number of episodes of many TV shows, some of which have appeared in the US. The cast is mainly European, with Ewan McGregor and Stellan Skarsgard being the actors most familiar in the US.

The story begins with one of my favorite plot devices for suspense or horror movies, notably that moment when an innocent, uninvolved person makes a small, seemingly inconsequential mistake that wrangles them into something thatís much larger than they are and thatís really scary. Often characters like this are given a subtle warning, not unlike when Dracula tells Harker, at the door of Castle Dracula, to ďenter freely of your own willĒ. In this case, Peter (McGregor) and his partner Gail (Naomi Harris) meets ďDimaĒ (Skarsgard), a Russian mafia chieftain, complete with a security entourage, and becomes acquainted. If I have rules in my personal life, one of them is to avoid too much contact with guys who have armed entourages. Another one is to find a way to bow out of an invitation to parties or tennis games from guys with entourages. Nevertheless, Peter does both. It seems that Dima is on the outs with another rising gangster (The Prince) and The Prince wants Dima and his entire family dead. Now Dima is a pretty cold sort of guy, but he does love his family and is hoping that Peter can be a go-between with the British MI-6 guys who would love to uncover entanglements between guys like Dima, The Prince and British politicians, who are on the take. Dima wants protection and escape for his family, in return for evidence on a flash drive, pointing to who the web of bad guys are.

You can probably imagine that will all these bad guys in action, things will not be simple or safe for Peter and Gail, not to mention Dima. Dima seems to like them, invites them to a very expensive party and before they know it, these innocent people are in the middle of a skirmish between very bad, violent gangsters, British Intelligence and sensitive information contained on the flash drive. It devolves into a chase, scenes in a safe house in the alps, some gunplay and death, a discovery that ďBritish IntelligenceĒ is not quite as smart as it should be and that not everybody the the MI 6 hierarchy is on the same page. Iím NOT saying how all that turns out beyond whatís in the trailer.

Like a lot of British movies, especially in this genre, Our Kind of Traitor probably uses more words on screen than most cineplex movie fans expect. Suspense builds steadily and methodically, but you really do need to pay attention and listen to the words; the movie is not just a sequence of images and 4 word sentences. As such, Iím not surprised that the movie currently sits at 6.3 on IMDB and 68% with critics on Rotten Tomatoes. I liked it more than that. I have long enjoyed that whole genre of movies about tangled webs of spies, saboteurs and gangsters. Itís not unlike a lot of horror movies in that, as I noted at the beginning of my review, you, as an audience member are smarter than Peter and Gail. I know that I would never go into Draculaís castle, nor would I go to a party with the Russian Mafia. I feel sorry for Peter and Gail, but itís their problem, not mine. Once thatís clear to me, I can enjoy the labyrinth of connections between all these shady characters.

Because of that, I enjoyed Our Kind of Traitor. Iím quite comfortable with wordy, British intrigue movies. This one worked quite well for me. The cast is quite good in those creepy roles, direction moves forward at a good pace and exposition was good enough to tell me as much as I need to understand in order to know whatís going on. Our Kind of Traitor is not like a James Bond movie (at least the recent versions), in that the action is fairly low level, without incredible technologies or over-dependance on big spectacular digital stunts. The digital renderings center on adding backgrounds, like mountain scenes and snowstorms and the action has a feel of contemporary believability. If you like this sort of movie, itís worth a view.

Ghostbusters - An unneeded remake

The title says itÖwhy? There are probably very few people living in the US who have not seen the original Ghostbusters movie at some time. The logo is still familiar, kids buy costumes at halloween, theyíre on lunch boxes, it comes around on TV, the video is in almost every library, on VHS, DVD and Blue Ray. So the question is, why do a remake? What can a new version of this venerable classic add to the story? For me, the answer was nothing. Yeah, the FX were amped up, but the cheesy 80ís FX were part of the charm of the original. The new ones were obviously copied from the old one, but lack the charm. Theyíre just, well bigger and more numerous.

The original movie had four elements that made it likable, the buddy story, the ghost hunt story, the New York setting and the understated comedy elements. The new one comes up short on all of those. The story is similar. Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig) is a physics professor, coming up on possible tenure, trying to keep her ghost hunting past under wraps until her tenure is finalized. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) is still ghost hunting and trying to sell the book that she and Erin had written years ago. Abby has a sketchy assistant, Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon). Meanwhile Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) is a subway station attendant who has just had a paranormal experience down in the tunnel. The four of them become the unplanned team that has to fight off the biggest paranormal outbreak the Big Apple has seen in quite a while.

Slimer is there, as are a number of somewhat familiar spooks, thereís lots of green slime, and the Busters have jumpsuits with backpacks that shoot out streams of protons. There is Mayor Bradley (Andy Garcia), the guy who doesnít want all this publicity for his city and a receptionist, the exceptionally ill-suited Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), who seems to really want to be an Australian dancer. A number of other familiar Saturday Night Live cast members make cameos and Bill Murray has a small role as an elder critic of ghostbusting who doesnít last long. Dan Ackroyd, Ernie Hudson and Sigourney Weaver have cameos. Iím guessing that if youíve seen the trailer, you know the rest of the story.

So, how was it? I was mildly entertained, but nothing more than that. The setup and plot were predictable, as was the ending. Nothing new was added to the old story except for the obvious gender reversal, which turned out to be as much of a disappointment as the rest of the movie. My first criticism is that the buddy story angle just didnít work here. The four characters were just that, nothing about them jelled as a team. Much of the characters and acting looked like it was a long version of an SNL skit, put together quickly for something quick. Kate McKinnon especially, didnít really do much except channel a couple of her SNL characters and act weird. No buddies there.

As for New York, in the old movie, it was a character, but not in this one. Having been around New York a lot I kept hoping to see some familiar places, but that was not to be. GB was actually filmed in Boston, with taller buildings and a few skyline scenes obviously digitized into the contrived backgrounds. New York didnít get to be a character in the movie, at least not the New York I visit.

As for ghost busting, anybody has turned on a cable converter in recent years canít help but see the many and varied versions of that, so itís nothing new. The new version of GB uses the familiar devices from the old movie but acts as though they just invented them.

In regard to acting, the new version of the movie made me appreciate how much I enjoyed the understated performances of the characters in the old version. Bill Murray, especially, can do a lot with small gestures, something lost on the current cast. Once again, it all had the look of a much-too-long SNL skit. I have to admit that I donít like Melissa McCarthy very much in anything, but I do enjoy the rest of the cast, just not here. The only new character I liked was Leslie Jonesís Patti. Jones can be funny doing almost anything. Completing the teamís gender reversal with Chris Hemsworth as receptionist just made no sense. I had the impression that he could have been digitized into the movie during post production when the Australian lab that was in the credits was doing all of the digital animation. Nothing about him melded into the sets, rest of the cast or the story. Direction by Paul Feig was adequate in a television sort of way. Nothing much there either.

In short, save your money unless you just need a couple hours of mild entertainment. The original Ghostbusters is much better and even the lesser Ghostbusters II works better than this. I like most of the cast and wanted this to be better, but, alas, it was not. One thing they DID do of course, was to prepare us for a sequel. In the last few seconds, one of the characters says something like ďwho is Zul?Ē, presumably preparing an ďeagerĒ audience for another round of ghost busting. I will probably skip it.

Star Trek Beyond - Old and new characters, a new plot and a wild, enjoyable ride.

Whenever I see a new Star Trek episode, I have to go back and refresh myself on the chronicle. There was the original 1960ís TV show, the film series based on the original show, the later ďNext GenerationĒ shows and the movies based on the next generation. Now, weíre in the so-called reboot series that goes back to the original TV characters, at a time before the first show. Given J J Abramsí involvement in the production, one is reminded of the often confusing chronology of Lost, but I guess the entire decades long sequence was confusing before Abramsí involvement. It was directed by Justin Lin, who did several Fast and Furious movies, written by Simon Pegg (Scotty) and Doug Jung, with credit to Gene Roddenberry for creating the characters and the Star Trek ďuniverseĒ.

Things begin innocently enough, with the Enterprise checking into Starbase Yorktown for R&R, during their ď5 year missionĒ. That respite only lasts a few minutes, however, and the rest of the movie is end-to-end action, fast and furious so to speak. When the Enterprise is sent on a rescue mission into a chaotic nebula, it is suddenly attacked by a huge swarm of insect-like vessels that swarm it, take little bites and quickly destroy the ship, leaving remnants of its crew (especially the stars that we all know and love) stranded on the planet Altamid. Why the attack? Well, apparently the attack was initiated by a highly aggressive alien, Krall (Idris Ebla), a humanoid lizard who urgently desires a mysterious artifact retrieved by Captain Kirk on another recent voyage. Krallís temperament makes Romulans and Klingons look like pacifists. At this point, the rest of the plot centers around re-uniting and rescuing the valiant crew so they can go back home. Based on the facts of the future that we, the omniscient viewers, already know, Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura, Sulu and Scotty have a future in episodes we have already seen. Even J J Abramsís loose take on the rules of time flow make us expect that most of the main characters are going to survive. Thereís a new character who seems to have a role in the main cast, Jaylah (Sophia Boutella), stranded on the planet and living in an old, crashed starship.

The cast of Beyond includes the now familiar faces of Chris Pine as the young James Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as the ever grouchy Bones McCoy, Zoe Suldana as Urhura, Simon Pegg as the ever cheerful Scotty, John Cho as Sulu and the late Anton Yelchin as Chekov. The movie includes RIPís for Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin and an ďoutingĒ for Sulu. None of the acting is especially noteworthy, but in the context of a movie that is nearly completely action oriented beginning at minute 5, thatís not surprising. All of the cast members do a decent job of recreating their characters and Sophia Boutellaís Jaylah looks like a character that might have a future in another movie. The characters have their familiar relationships with each other; verbal snipes between Spock and Bones and urgent attempts at mechanical repairs by Scotty punctuate the action and provide a little bit of comic relief.

The effects in the Beyond are quite remarkable. I didnít see it in 3D, but the 2D digital projection I saw left little to be desired in regard to image quality. Things move quickly in Beyond, so you never get to focus very much on one scene, but the believability and detail of the action are truly excellent. It isnít Shakespeare, but itís sci-fi action thatís right at the current state of the art. Nothing drags in the two hour run time. Fast and furious definitely defines Linís direction.

Where does this stand in the Star Trek universe? I liked it. Itís not as philosophical and preachy as the Next Generation series. Thereís plenty of action but, at the same time, the movie does continue in the long tradition of advancing a more positive future. When it all began the original TV series was notable for its early minimal attempts at cast diversity. Network executives made Roddenberry fight for every cast member that didnít look like suburban USA as they saw it in 1965, but in the Star Trek universe of the current series none of that looks remarkable. Itís just the way things are and characters that donít look like each other are not exceptional. Thereís not a lot of depth in the story, dialog is mainly action oriented, so donít expect to need a lot of erudite sci-fi analysis or theorizing about gravity, time lines or whatever. Let the story geeks worry about all of the character details, time lines and dubious science and just go along for the ride. Itís a fun movie that lives up to the franchise.

The Wave - Released in the US on Netflix - a fine disaster film from Norway

I generally avoid disaster films unless Iím in a mood thatís only slightly more elevated than when Iím watching professional wrestling. In general, these movies are contrived, stereotyped, predictable exercises in digital FX making. What it would look like if an asteroid hit the earth, or if some idiot recreated dinosaurs, the ultimate ďCategory 12Ē hurricane, or a swarm of flaming tornadoes hit Manhattan, are the usual grist of these movies.

In the case of The Wave, however, itís a real disaster that has happened. Part of my family is Norwegian, and I grew up with folk tales about giant waves that wiped out towns in remote fjord regions. It turns out that this is true and has been happened several times in recent history. What happens is that a part of a mountain that borders a fjord cracks away, slides into the water and generates a huge splash. As the wave from the splash travels up the narrowing waterway, the height is amplified. The resulting wave can be far higher than an earthquake tsunami and wipes out anything in its path. Thatís the plot of The Wave. This movie was the most popular movie in Norway back in 2015, won some awards there as well as being nominated for several American awards.

Itís a normal day in Norway (cold and gray that is) when a geologist, Kristian Eikjord, starts his day. He has gotten a better job with an oil company. He and his family will be moving so heís finishing on his current job, which is monitoring vulnerable mountains that sit next to fjords. Being a movie of this type, you know that things are going to go downhill (in more ways than one) pretty soon. In this case, he wants to move on to his new job, but notices that changes are occurring in the mountain and, being a dedicated guy, he alerts colleagues and authorities. They are skeptical about setting off an alert system that triggers evacuations, but they look at his evidence and are convincedÖ.something real bad is about to happen. Alerts are triggered, evacuations begin and once the mountain starts to slide, the best guess is that they have about 10 minutes before the wave hits a small tourist town and hotel that are right on the waterfront. Kristian is a good parent, gathers his kids and alerts his wife, who works in the tourist hotel. She, in turn, is responsible for alerting hotel guests and doing what is needed to get them out of the way. The wave hits the town. Itís a huge disaster, followed by a search for survivors.

If youíve seen disaster movies before, you can probably guess at the rest of the story. Thereís not much original in that. What is different about The Wave, however, is just how sincere the movie seems. It doesnít have all of the usual contrived ďHollywoodĒ characters that populate these movies. The characters all seem like real people, confronted with a terrible situation that threatens their lives. Thereís none of the usual callous authority figures that generally play into these movies as villains. Everybody in town knows that this can happen, wished that it would not happen during their lives, but now they have to deal with it within minutes. The fact that the disaster happens so quickly means that there really isnít much to be done except run or drive as fast as you can uphill. The movie runs a little under 2 hours, is very compact, gets right down to business and doesnít relent until the end. By the time it is over, you might be breathless.

I wonít list out the cast, characters and director, since none of them seem to be known outside of the land of the Vikings, but they are all quite good. The Wave has none of the stupidity that generally afflicts these sort of movies, plays it straight and is very believable. The Wave is in Norwegian, has subtitles, but, for the most part, you donít need them. Aside from some of the science at the beginning of the film, itís mainly action oriented. Dialog is minimal, mostly being screams, pleas for help, and some surprising expletives, rendered in American English, that require no subtitles.

I didnít set out to watch this film, but being completely overdosed on stupid convention politics that were dominating TV that night, I checked on Netflix and saw this as a recommended movie. I actually didnít even mean to watch the whole thing, but became riveted. Itís probably the best disaster movie Iíve seen in recent years, is mostly believable, never stupid and quite worth watching if youíre in the mood.

Jason Bourne - Latest in the series

It doesnít seem like it, but itís been nine years since Matt Damon last appeared as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum. The next chapter in the story is here now. It was directed by Paul Greengrass, co-written by Greengrass and Christopher Rouse, with elements lifted from Robert Ludlum, author of the original books.

When the story begins, Bourne is recovering from the amnesia he developed in the previous movie, recovering memories, has been laying as low as he can, making some sort of living and honing his skills in illegal bare-knuckle boxing matches, in which he plays along for a while and then just decks his opponent. Meanwhile an activist for on-line privacy (Nicky Parsons) has hacked the CIA, retrieving documents that reveal the background of Bourne including information about his father and his training as super-soldier-assassin. A parallel plot to this is that a tech CEO, head of social medium Deep Dream, Aaron Kaloor (Riz Ahmed), is launching a public campaign to guarantee privacy on his site. He also has back door dealings with the CIA; his privacy campaign is at least part self promotion and grandstanding.

Meanwhile, back in the CIA HQ, a division head, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) has discovered the hack and revealed it to her boss, the Director, Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones). Parsons and Bourne meet in Athens, but are interdicted by a CIA goon squad that includes a character only known as ďThe AssetĒ, an expert assassin. Most of the CIA squad and Parsons are killed or otherwise neutralized by Bourne, but The Asset is now on Bourneís trail and the trail leads to London, where further players emerge in this web. Both the Director and Lee want to get Bourne, but do they want to kill him or bring him back into the agency? Not everybody in the CIA is on the same page with this, so the big chase that makes up most of the movie is not just the fox and hound sort of chase. In fact, there are several hounds, with different agendas. Bourne, of course, doesnít really trust any of them and, in any event, needs to evade The Asset, who continues on a relentless pursuit of Bourne, in the process doing a lot of shooting, blowing up a lot of stuff and wrecking an awful lot of cars. Also, just HOW does Deep Dream get involved in the Bourne chase and who is Kaloor dealing with in the CIA?

When you decide to see a movie that includes Jason Bourne, you know up front that thereís going to be a lot of action, many things get blown up and the contents of a small auto production plant will all be wrecked in about two hours. If you like that sort of thing, donít miss it. JB is action pretty much from beginning to end, fairly breathless action at that. Nobody is going to win any acting Oscars for this, but I doubt that they expect to; itís not what the movie is about. If you are looking for some sort of erudite script about the morals involved in internet security, privacy and spying, there wonít be much that you canít read in a Twitter messageÖjust know that itís an issue and part of the plot.

All that said, I did enjoy it. The action is really end to end and fairly relentless. The machinations of who is betraying who, who do the hit squads really work for and what does Bourne want are complex, constantly shifting and, even if you donít get that, you will probably enjoy the action anyway. The FX and sound are top-notch and the visuals are convincing. Having segments filmed in what looks like Greece (the Canary Islands sit in for Greece), London, Berlin, Washington and Las Vegas make the movie into a lightning tour. I assumed what it would be going in and enjoyed it. So, it seemed, did the rest of the large audience. Neither Jason Bourne as a character, nor Jason Bourne as a movie are big favorites of mine, but I was suitably breathless and entertained for the duration and thatís about as much as you can expect from an action movie franchise like this.

Donít Think Twice - A completely enjoyable indie film

Having seen most of what is currently popular and not being all that interested in Suicide Squad, we decided to take in something relatively obscure, a new movie written, directed and starred in by Michael Birbiglia, who is mainly known for acting in some TV episodes. I think you can be forgiven if you have not heard of himÖI hadnít. Donít Think Twice was playing at our local indie/foreign film mecca and when we looked, surprisingly, it showed up as an exalted 99% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. It stars Birbiglia as Miles, Keegan-Micheal Kay as Jack and Gillian Jacobs as Samantha. Among the cast members, the only one I was familiar with was Jacobs, who was previously featured in the witty TV show Community. Itís an extremely low budget film, shot in tiny corners of New York. The rest of the cast is completely unknown to me.

The story centers around an improv comedy group that calls itself The Commune. They have been performing together for a long time in small venues in the City, but to their dismay, they find out that their usual gig, a small Village comedy club, is going to close. In spite of all their years of performing, the members of The Commune still live like they just graduated, came to the big city and are looking for a break. Miles, the group leader, lives in a space so small that his bed looks like a bookshelf. Sadly, for most of them, theyíve been looking for that break for a long time now and there isnít much future for The Commune when the club closes. The ďHoly GrailĒ for these performers is to land a job on the long-running TV show Weekend Live, a very thinly veiled version of Saturday Night Live. Ironically, they are improv comedians, striving to get on a show where improv is not done. The long-running ecosystem of The Commune is disrupted, however, when two members, Jack and Samantha are invited to audition for Weekend Live. Samantha backs out, but Jack lands a job. All of a sudden Jack is going big-time and the rest of the group is losing their venue. Relationships in The Commune (especially Jack and Samanthaís romance) get complicated as these characters try to come to grips with the fact that they are floundering while Jack is about to take the big step that they all secretly envy. Realizing that youthful aspirations are not being fulfilled and wondering how Jackís possible success will effect the group becomes the main theme of the story. As one character, who reminds me of Woody Allen, puts it, ďyour 20ís are all about hope, your 30ís are all about how dumb it was to hopeĒ.

Donít Think Twice was shot in the second half of 2015 and opened in New York just a few weeks ago. Word has spread quickly in the indie community and the film has been well received. I went, not knowing anything except for the single paragraph in the theaterís evening schedule. My experience with movies like this is mixed. Sometimes they seem pretentious about their low-budget moral purity, but in the case of Donít Think Twice, that never happens. I donít know anything about Birbiglia, donít know if thereís any autobiographical element to the story and donít know how the movie germinated, but that doesnít really matter because the movie becomes a believable story about approaching middle age, the realization that not all dreams come true and the difficulties of trying to deal with a friend who is now more successful than anybody else in the group, but who is still the same person they knew before.

Donít Think Twice has already been a relatively big hit in New York, where it is set, and was referred to in Metacritic with the term ďuniversal acclaimĒ. I really enjoyed it. The cast works, like The Commune, as an ensemble; acting is completely realistic, not movie-contrived. The minimal production and grainy cinematography doesnít detract; in fact, it gives the movie a realistic look that seems almost voyeuristic. A bigger production would have detracted rather than improved the film. When I recently reviewed the new Ghostbusters movie, I recall remarking that, unlike the old one, it tried but failed at being a buddy movie or a New York Movie, in spite of trying for both. Donít Think Twice succeeds at both. If youíre not sure about seeing something so little with nothing approaching a superhero, just lie yourself for a few minutes that this is a French movie from the 1950ís thatís a verifiable classic of the cinema. After those few minutes, you will be absorbed. Iím assuming that DTT will be circulating around the festivals and showing at big-city indie theaters for a while and that it probably wonít be showing up in suburban cineplexes, but if you get the chance and can have an open mind, donít miss it.

Florence Foster Jenkins - Meryl Streep creates another unforgettable character

So, like most people, you probably want to know just who Florence Foster Jenkins was and why there is a movie about her. WellÖJenkins was possibly the worst singer to ever perform in Carnegie Hall. A well-off socialite in Manhattan in the early 20th century, Florence came to the conclusion that recital stages needed a soprano like her. She started life as a pianist, but a hand injury convinced her to become a singer. After divorcing the husband, who gave her syphilis on their wedding night, she took up dating a British actor St. Claire Bayfield, who became her promoter, who guarded her from media attention and had affairs on the side to compensate for the chaste relationship required by Jenkinsí syphilis. Over the years, Jenkins performed operatic arias in front of carefully vetted society people, picked by Bayfield, with the understanding that they would be supportive of her so-called singing. Jenkinsí singing, can be heard in a few recordings on Youtube and is painful to endure. She teamed up with a pianist, Cosme McMoon (yes, that really WAS his name) who could manage to follow her singing, which lacked pitch, cadence, melody and tone. Her voice was worse than a cat in heat. The carefully staged recital fantasies went on until she insisted on performing at Carnegie Hall in 1944 and Bayfield could not filter or bribe the audience. What followed courted disaster. This movie takes an abbreviated look at this genuinely bizarre story, starting at the Carnegie Hall event. Itís condensed for time, but the movie narrative hits the main points in this poor, deluded womanís ďcareerĒ.

The movie stars a well-padded Meryl Streep as Florence, Hugh Grant as Bayfield and Simon Helberg as Cosme McMoon. In addition, Streep actually did sing her parts in the film. Apparently Streep, who is actually a decent singer, had to prepare carefully in order to sing so badlyÖ.and it really IS bad. Her portrayal of Jenkins is of a very sweet lady, completely unaware and unaffected by how she is heard by others. Itís also hard to avoid thinking that, being several decades after her syphilis infection and after unsuccessful treatment with mercury and arsenic, her brain had deteriorated to the point where she lived in a fantasy. Streep really hits all the buttons on that. Hugh Grant is also excellent as the fawning, supportive Bayfield, who manages to keep Florence from knowing how awful she is, while carrying on an affair with another woman. His upper-crust British mannerisms work perfectly in this context.

I went to this movie unsure. It looked like a light comedy, but knowing the actual story of Jenkins, it seemed almost mocking to make this unfortunate woman into a fool. I was surprised to find that it really handled the story well. Jenkins was such an effervescent character that she never really realized that, if she appeared in public without Bayfieldís protection, the audience would laugh and the critics would eviscerate her. Bayfield, in spite of his infidelity, is genuinely concerned for her ďcareerĒ and well being. McMoon plays on, as though all this is high seriousness. The movie stays light and mostly implies the tragedy that underlies the story. It works much better than I expected. I will go out on a limb this early in the season and say that Streepís performance is Oscar worthy. Once again, she creates an unforgettable character, even if itís a light comedic character. I canít imagine a better character coming out of a heavy drama of the sort that Oscar-pickers prefer. Doing her own execrable singing just adds to the performance.

The look of the movie is quite enjoyable. Itís a digitally re-created, sepia-tinted Midtown Manhattan of the 1930s and 40ís. Itís so much more convincing that the Boston + NY Skyscraper Manhattan that was created for the recent Ghostbusters re-boot. This New York movie works. Florence Foster Jenkins is not a heavy or consequential movie and not an epic of any sort except for Streepís performance, but it is quite enjoyable and well done. As light movies go, itís a gem.

Cafe Society - Woody Allenís latest

Like him or not, Woody Allen has had one of the most remarkable careers in movie history. Heís 80 now, started out writing tens of thousands (literally) of jokes for star comedians back in the 1950ís, had a stand-up career for a while, moved into writing, performing and directing in the movies, and, as of this moment, has written 76 of them, directed 53 and acted in 50. In the mean time, he had 3 wives, several other long term lovers, a number of kids and a scandal involving Mia Farrow, one of her many adopted daughters (Soon-Yi Previn) and court cases involving accusations that have gone in until fairly recently. Itís worth noting that, in spite of the sleaze factor, none of the court judgements actually went against Woody.

Cafe Society, set in the 1930ís, is his latest project. As always, there is a central character who looks and speaks a lot like Woody. In this case itís Bobby Dorfman, played by Jesse Eisenberg, a young guy from a New York Jewish family, who travels to Hollywood in order to make some sort of life in the movies, with help from his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a shark-like agent to the stars. Bobby is immediately stricken with Philís secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), develops a big crush and pursues her, in spite of the fact that she tells him that she already has a boyfriend, a journalist named Doug. Bobby continues to pursue her anyway. They become friends and near-lovers. What Bobby doesnít know, unfortunately, is that Vonnieís boyfriend is not ďDougĒ, but Uncle Phil, who wants to leave his wife of decades for a younger prize.

Thereís another wild card in the family affairs, however, and thatís Bobbyís older brother Ben (Corey Stoll), a gangster in New York, who runs night clubs and makes his rivals disappear into concrete slabs. When Bobby eventually discovers who Vonnieís real boyfriend is, and realizes that his movie career isnít very satisfying, he goes back to New York to work managing one of Benís nightclubs. When Ben is finally convicted for one of his many hits and goes to The Chair, Bobby takes over the nightclub and makes it into a big celebrity destination. There, he meets Veronica (Blake Lively), gets married and has a family. He turns Benís night club into a legitimate business and has an ambition to open a second club in Hollywood, where he will cross paths with Phil and Vonnie.

Will Bobbyís and Vonnieís lives ever reconnect? Will Bobbyís unrequited love for Vonnie ever be ďrequitedĒ? As it usually is with a Woody Allen story, there are a lot of twists and turns. Also, is it always is, the central character Bobby, is a thinly veiled version of the Woody Allen nebbish characterÖsimilar dialog and jokes, quick banter and constant self reference. Weíve seen Woody in many different places; this time heís running a night club.

I enjoyed Cafe Society. Iíve enjoyed a lot of Allenís films over the years, and this is hardly his best, but if works quite well as light entertainment. When a writer is 80 years old and has written 76 movies, you canít realistically expect him to be breaking new ground, and Cafe Society does not. Itís dominated by Allen-isms, Jewish jokes, old-time Hollywood references and quick one-liners. If you donít like Allenís brand of low-key, highly verbal, sarcastic humor, you wonít like Cafe Society any better than his other movies, but if you do, itís worth seeing.

The movie is quite well done in terms of the sepia-tinted visuals. The movie and night club cultures of that era, gangster stereotypes, costumes, hair and music are all done with excellent detail. Acting by all of the cast is ďby the numbersĒ, nothing great, but all quite professional. The production seems quite authentic, much of it being set on location in New York and Los Angeles, with modern buildings deftly removed in the digital lab. Like most of Allenís movies, about 60% of the value of the film is whether you appreciate his brand of clearly structured, wordy dialog. Thereís a lot of words in the movie, and you should listen carefully, because most of the virtue of the movie is in the writing. Cafe Society is not bound for my bookshelf, but itís definitely worth seeing.

Snowden - The latest from Oliver Stone

Whenever a new movie directed and/or written by Oliver Stone emerges, I expect it to be controversial, ideological and fairly hard hitting. With that in mind, I was ambivalent about seeing Snowden, figuring that it would be a polemic of some sort. I was surprised to see that Snowden receives little propagandizing, that the story is pretty straightforward, as though taken from a Wikipedia account. The movie stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Snowden, Shailene Woodley as his girlfriend Lindsay Mills, Rhys Ifans as Snowdenís CIA handler and Melissa Leo and Zachary Quinto as reporters working with Snowden. We also see Nick Cage in a small role as a CIA non-conformist, relegated to the basement level of work due to his eccentricities.

Snowden starts out in 2013, after his much publicized release of extensive secret computer documents that detailed the scope and extent of US digital surveillance and his subsequent exile in Russia. There really isnít much that can be a spoiler here because the beginning of the movie is the end of the story of how this happened. We know how it ends as the movie begins; the rest is a flashback. The narrative starts out with Edward Snowden as a genius high school dropout, joining the army, but receiving a service ending injury during basic training. Being zealous about his desire to serve his country, Snowden subsequently worked for the CIA, the NSA and for government contractors that work in digital surveillance. It culminates (the beginning of the movie) when Snowden comes to the conclusion that he canít, in good conscience, continue the work he does, believing it to be a gross violation of the rights of citizens to digital privacy.

The conundrum to Snowden, both the man and the movie, is whether he was right to do what he did. On the one hand, he earnestly believes that the spying is wrong and unconstitutional, but on the other, he did swear oaths promising to NOT do exactly what he did. Nobody can claim that he did it accidentally, that he was misled or delusional. Snowden, with his 145 IQ, knows exactly what he is doing, plots it out methodically and knows that his life will be in the trash can, even if he is not killed. This is quite clear in the movie.

Snowden, the movie, is excellent at clarifying this story. It also does a fairly decent job of explaining the extent of information collection, and the scope of events that can follow from what has been called ďconnecting the dotsĒ. As a person who spent a big part of my life working in the world of digital information, itís quite obvious to me that all of us leave digital footprints everywhere. Credit cards, cell phone usage, internet usage, social mediaÖeverything we do that is not specifically calculated to be ďoff the gridĒ leaves those footprints. This has been massively publicized and shouldnít be a surprise to anybody. Our information is all out there to be collected and correlated, and even if our government doesnít do it, other governments will, as will service providers, advertisers, gangsters or anybody else who realizes that people put all the details of their life in Facebook, just for starters. Itís naive and unrealistic to NOT realize this.

Because of that, to me, Snowden, both the movie and the manís revelations, is yesterdayís news. I knew how the story played out before I walked into the theater and knew about how the information is used, before the real events. Nevertheless, I thought that the movie dealt with the issues quite well. Part of the movie seems to be an ernest attempt to explain how all this works, in terms that a movie audience can comprehend, what it means to connect the dots. I thought the movie succeeded in that. It also appeared that the cast had a belief in the story. Thereís a lot of sincerity in the acting and general feel of the movie. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is excellent at mimicking the real Edward Snowden and giving the film a documentary feel. Even though we know how the story ends right at the beginning, the film does a good job of keeping up the suspense. Snowden is more visually interesting than most Stone films. It uses a lot of graphical devices to illustrate the connections that are made with all of the data, from social media photographs, to government information, to drone attacks in other counties. Itís all tied together in vivid pictures and animation. Itís scary how all this connectsÖ.a digital horror movie.

I enjoyed Snowden. As I said previously, I knew how the story came out, how all this connecting the dots activity works, but I liked having the story of this man told without a lot of preaching, from either the good or evil perspective. Oliver Stone canít entirely resist preaching, but thereís only a little bit of it at the end. Most of it is procedural, letting Snowden, the facts and the story speak for themselves. Itís a fine piece of that old tradition of ďripped from the headlinesĒ movies. Itís not much for date night, but well worth seeing.


Just in case - The entire story is in the trailer and was a huge story in the news, but in the event that you just arrived on planet Earth - Spoiler Alert for plot revelation.

You can generally recognize Clint Eastwoodís directorial style. You might have seen it in films like Million Dollar Baby, American Sniper or Gran Torino. Like his face and his acting, itís wrinkly with a determined icy stare that never grins or looks away. Eastwoodís stye continues here in Sully, the story of Chelsey Sullenberger. If you were paying any attention to the news in January of 2009, you would certainly recall the photos of an airliner floating in the Hudson River in New York, surrounded by harbor vessels intended for tourists, passengers standing on the wings, being taken aboard the ships. The plane had just taken off from LaGuardia Airport when it collided with a flock of birds. Enough birds were sucked into the jet engines to stall and damage them. All of a sudden, this aircraft was only 3000 feet up, above a huge city, with no power to climb or maneuver and a full load of fuel, a huge flying bomb with full load of passengers. With no engine power a jet airliner stays aloft only a little better than a tomato can, so the question was not whether it would go down, but just where and in how many seconds. In the urgency of the moment, Sully (Sullenberger) determined that he would not make it back to LaGuardia, nor could he stay aloft long enough to reach a smaller airport in New Jersey. His only recourse was to attempt a controlled landing on the frigid Hudson River. Amazingly, all of the passengers and crew survived to be rescued by the quick acting tour ship captains. The entire incident, from take off to completed rescue took only about a half hour.

This much was in the news for weeks. The rest of the story, however, was the aftermath. The movie mainly tells that story, the media circus that surrounded Sully, the subsequent investigation and the impact on Sullenberger and his crew. Tom Hanks stars as Sully, Aaron Ekhart is Jeff Skyles, the First Officer and Laura Linney is Sullenbergerís wife Lorraine.

The action in this film is partially in the form of flash backs of Sullyís memories of his long career as a pilot and the psychological trauma that can happen in a couple of life threatening moments. It is also about his attempts to survive the predictable inquisition that occurs when the Federal Transportation Safety Board attempts to diagnose the cause of a major incident like an airline crash. In spite of the media attention that made Sully into a hero in the public perception, there were questions about whether his decision to land on the river was the right one. Some after-the-fact computer simulations indicated that he could have glided to one of the two nearby airports and avoided the danger and cost of the water landing. The investigation and aftermath are the substance of the movie.

Like a lot of Eastwoodís movies, Sully is fairly relentless. Its depiction of the stress of the incident and the subsequent investigation donít let up. Even though we know from the beginning how the story ends, itís tense, right up to the end of the movie. Between reliving the 200 seconds of the flight and then living through the investigation, Sully is not a light movie or a superficial celebration of a hero. Thereís no real villain in this story. The birds are just birds and the FTSB is doing its mandated job of trying to determine what happened and how to prevent such incidents in the future. Sully just wants to survive the investigation, go home and take a break.

Tom Hanks, as Sully, does his usual excellent job of portraying a character. I read that he spent some time with the real Sully in order to learn his mannerisms. His character is the center of the story. The rest of the cast, especially Aaron Ekhart and Laura Linney do their usual jobs of being capable actors, but they are not the center of the story. Itís mostly Hanksís movie and itís a memorable performance. Cinematography is quite good. The special effects used to create the crash are extremely believableÖyou are right there when it all happens, in the cockpit and the passenger cabin. Like my last review, Snowden, this is another ripped-from-the-headlines factual story; there are no surprises in the end. Nevertheless, Eastwoodís unblinking look at the story makes it engaging, suspenseful and enjoyable. You end with the feeling that everybody in the movie did their damnedest to tell the story and that the story is worth telling. After my adrenaline came back to normal, I really liked the film.

Demon - AKA, My Big Fat Demonic Polish Wedding

Let me start at the end of the review. Demon is one of the strangest and most disturbing movies Iíve seen in a while. Iíve seen ratings that are all over the place, from high to low. I think critics think more of it than viewers. It also has a tragic side. After the release of this movie, the co-writer and director Marcin Wrona, a Polish film maker, hung himself (for real). Its genre is closest to horror, but itís also a horror movie with some comedy. Most of all, however, itís just bat-sh*t crazy, far more than the misleading trailer suggests. For all of the reasons above, Iím going in the middle, giving it a 3 mainly because I have no idea how to review or rate something like this. Demon is partly in English and partly in subtitled Polish and Yiddish.

Demon has some foundation in an old Jewish ghost story of the dybbuk, in this movie, the spirit of a dead woman who lures in and possesses a young man. Itay Tiran plays Piotr, who is engaged to Zaneta (Agnieszka Zewelska). They are to be married in her parents old house, a rural farm house somewhere in Poland. Zanetaís family has reservations; they donít know him well and itís been a short engagement. The wedding gets off to an ominous start when heavy storm rains intrude. Piotr is considering adding a pool to the home, is digging with a backhoe but runs into a buried skeleton. Things go straight downhill from there. He slips, or is sucked, into a muddy pit, seems to be drowning, but strangely turns up the next morning, clean, and sleeping in his car.

Soon after, the wedding happens. Itís a big drunken affair with massive amounts of vodka and sleazy behavior, held in the big house. The groom seems to not be able to handle his alcohol. It only gets worse, however, when he starts to have seizures. The father of the bride, not wanting to ruin the wedding, brings in even more vodka and the guests get even more drunk. Piotr is carried off to another room as his condition deteriorates and itís apparent that whatever afflicts him is far worse than being drunk. When he claims to be Hana, a dead Jewish woman, a priest is brought in to pray but his condition worsens. Whatever is afflicting poor Piotr seems to have its roots in something far worse, like when the father of the bride exclaims that you canít dig anywhere in Poland without hitting a grave. The big wedding turns into a horror. Awful weather, disgustingly drunk guests, a missing bride and groom and nobody knows WHAT is going on.

What is this movie about? I have read accounts of medieval events like St Anthonyís Fire, plague dancers and insanity, associated with ergotism. Ergot is a toxic grain fungus that causes vivid hallucinations, seizures, gangrene and even death. The most benevolent component of its brew of alkaloids is LSD. Whatís happening here, however, is not just fungus poisoning. It seems to go far beyond that into some sort of other realm, like the ghosts of Jews in the Polish soil. While only Piotr is possessed, all of the other guests, along with the brideís family, seem to be on the verge of madness in the rainy, muddy, wedding hell. Nothing good comes from this.

Donít say I didnít warn you. You may or may not like Demon. Itís not exactly scary in the conventional horror movie sense, but you really do NOT want to visit this Polish town, especially in the rain. Itís been described as a dark comedy. There are ďGreek WeddingĒ moments in Demon, but it really is dark and that is the pervading feeling. Some elements (especially the ergotism hints) remind me of the excellent The Witch, but this is far stranger. I donít know enough about director Wrona to hazard a guess about what he meant to say in this film, but it has a gloom and fatalism that really is not something Iíd want to live with. His suicide is tragic and somehow not inconsistent with the feel of this movie. Technically, itís well filmed, the acting is excellent and everything about the movie is convincing. It canít be full of plot holes, because most of the plot doesnít make conventional sense anyway. Itís not a date night movie but if you're in the mood for off-balance atmosphere, you will get it in Demon.

The Accountant

Iíll go right in and state up front that Iíve never been all that fond of Ben Affleck as an actor. Heís spent a lot of recent years behind the scenes in the film industry and that seems to suit him better than being in front of the lens. His latest starring role is in The Accountant, a suspense film, directed by Gavin OíConnor and written by Bill Dubuque. Co-stars include Anna Kendrick, J. K. Simmons and John Lithgow.

In the story, Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a high-functioning, autistic, forensic accountant. Heís not much on communication, but he is a wizard at understanding ďthe booksĒ, especially for some of his less reputable customers, gangsters, who are keeping tabs on who might be siphoning off money from their ill-gotten gains. Wolff has an awful childhood background, having been institutionalized for a while as a kid, then removed into the tender love of his psycho-father, a military fanatic whose idea of childhood discipline makes marine boot camp look like a Brownie Scout cookie bake. During his time in the institution, Wolff had formed a friendship with a mute girl, Justine, one of his only real connections in the world, a fact that becomes important later.

In his practice, Wolff gets hints about the activities of his clients from a mysterious voice on the phone, someone quite adept at hacking and uncovering creepy exploits with gangster money. Meanwhile, Ray King (Simmons) is a Treasury agent, on the hunt for Wolff. When he uses threats to reveal unsavory activities of another accountant, Marybeth Medina (Kendrick) to induce her to help him in his investigation, she becomes involved in Wolffís life. In addition, the voice on the phone has uncovered Kingís investigation and provides Wolff with a legitimate project to help cover his activities. Auditing the activities of a robotics company partly run by Lamar Black (John Lithgow) provides some cover for Wolff, however, the internal rivalries in that company seem to be as dangerous as the Gambino family. Some very minimal romantic sparks are flying between Wolff (he canít do much in the way of sparking) and Medina, so she is in danger too. Thatís when we find out that Wolff has yet another ďunique talentĒ to use, that as an expert assassin, a skill heís quite willing to use in order to clean up loose ends in all of this forensic-criminal-gangster activities. Bodies fall, heads explode and nobody whoís on the wrong side of Wolff is not in danger.

WellÖwhatís MY verdict? Did I like the movie? Iíll start by giving it one star for being competently produced, acted and filmed. Iíll add a star for the fact that it had continuous suspense and held my interest right up to the violent end. A rerun of a Cheers episode can also do that. I canít do more than that, however. On the other hand, itís dense and complicated to a fault, too labyrinthine for a movie that basically is about Wolff using a big gun to shoot lots and lots of bad guys from a long distance.

Acting wise, the high functioning autistic label for Wolff gives Affleck the cover he needs to engage in uninteresting, flat, rote acting. Heís not bad at dressing well and looking blank when heís really mentally very active, but thereís really not much acting in that and certainly nothing interesting about the character. Anna Kendrick, on the other hand, is basically the Anna Kendrick we see all the time, cute and animated, but not much of a reach, acting wise. J. K. Simmons is pretty much as we see him in insurance ads on TV, nothing very interesting there either. A few other supporting characters do their jobs, as do dozens of gangster-goons. They are the tough guys who, after 15 out of 16 of their compatriots have been shot dead by a sniper, continue to charge straight ahead, right into the bullets. Yeah, right, thatís believable.

With not much other than well executed action to recommend it, I canít recommend spending your movie money on The Accountant. Thereís no higher conclusion to be drawn from the plot and nothing particularly artistic about how itís played out. Wolff, as an autistic person who is also a sociopath and assassin, wonít do much for the reputation of people with that particular disability, and Affleck wonít do much for his reputation as an actor, nor for the profession of accounting. All that with no other redeeming artistic value. Anna Kendrick is still cute, however, and J. K. Simmons will probably continue to do insurance ads on TV. Whoever manufactures the assassin rifle will probably get some additional business from real assassinsÖwhoopee. I was glad to have that two hours over with.

Arrival - Epically excellent science fiction

Having seen more of these sort of movies than I can count, after seeing Arrival, I was trying to recall and categorize all of the alien contact films I have ever seen, but the number was getting daunting. The simplest way to categorize them is whether the extraterrestrial beings are invading or just saying hello. The grand daddy of them all was War of the Worlds, which was released in 1897 by H. G. Wells and has been the basis for a famous radio broadcast, as well as two movies with the same name and uncountable other evil-alien movies. The movie archetype for movies with benign aliens is the still excellent The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), in which an impeccably proper English speaking alien, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), brings hope to earth and is greeted with suspicion and violence. Several cohorts of kids have now grown up with the lovable ET and a few more thoughtful adults have enjoyed the aliens in Contact. On the whole, however, most alien contacts seem to mainly be the fodder for big battle scenes, heroic speeches and determined resistance, in the spirit of Independence Day or Battle: Los Angeles. We earthlings and especially we Americans like to think that a civilization can find us, travel interstellar distances, invade earth and still somehow be undone by plucky Americans who find a secret weapon at the last, desperate moment. The less naive realize that the conflict would be more akin to naked islanders sinking an aircraft carrier with a spear.

Thatís the quandary of Arrival. The film was directed by Denis Villaneuve, based on a book by Ted Chiang, with a screenplay by Chiang and Eric Heisserer. A group of smooth, huge, ellipsoidal space vessels arrive and take up static positions just above the ground in a dozen places around the earth. Thereís no obvious attempt at communication, but also no hostile acts, no ray gun massacres and no scoops shoveling up the earthlings to make fertilizer. Earthlings, however, are scared and the usual first response is to bring out the army in all of the effected parts of the world. The American government, trying to figure out how to communicate before they start shooting, contacts Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a prominent linguist and mother to a dead daughter. She is brought, under armed guard, to one of the vessel sites where she meets physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and army commander Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), who is nominally in charge of the army unit that surrounds the vessel. Bankís task is to attempt to communicate with the aliens, who allow human visitors inside a part of their vessel periodically, and, to determine their intent. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, things are heating up. While aliens there have not done anything hostile, military trigger fingers are getting itchy and the possibility escalates that something awful is about to happen on a global basis. The outcome seems to hinge on whether Banks or any of the other similar ďtranslatorsĒ in other countries can assure nervous governments that the aliens are not intent on planet harvesting and whether the various countries will share what they are learning. For all of their advanced technology, the alien ďhexapodsĒ seem remarkably unprepared for the contact, lacking anything comparable to Klaatu, who can put us at ease.

The outcome of this standoff, whether it is actually a standoff, and what the intent of the aliens is, takes us into a lengthy and suspenseful voyage. The nature of time, and how it effects our experience of the universe also is part of the drama. Even though the aliens are trying to communicate with us, itís not certain whether itís OK or whether we should look back to the classic Twilight Zone episode ďTo Serve ManĒ and realize that the reference to serving could be to help or as in, serving us on a dinner plate. Language is everything and neither side understands the other.

Arrival is one of the more intelligent sci-fi movies I have seen in a while. Itís not a film about blaster action and big speeches, but about whether to make the speeches and activate the blasters. The aliens might just want our planet, or they may be bringing us something that makes our current technology and view of physical reality look like those of a squirrel. As movies of this genre go, Arrival is slow moving, sometimes almost meditative and takes its time taking us where itís going. It owes some of its pace and inscrutability to The Tree of Life. Itís not really an easy movie and definitely will merit a second viewing. The end is an enigma. Direction by Villaneuve is spot-on. The biggest role is Amy Adamsí character Louise Banks. Sheís basically the Amy Adams we have seen before, but, as a character, does an excellent job in a low-key role, trying to figure out what this all means before itís too late. Jeremy Renner does a good job as an ordinary guy/physicist, as does Forest Whitaker as the no-nonsense army commander, trying to understand whatís going on without starting a war, but itís mostly Adamsí movie. Other roles are mainly support characters. The special effects are quite good without resorting to the sort of War of the Worlds megalomania that these movies often have. The story is about plot and dialog, not giant robots.

If youíre wondering whether this is a recommendation, it definitely is. If youíre looking for a big battle, however, stay home. If you enjoy smart science fiction that might even give you a larger view of the possibilities inherent in the universe, you will enjoy Arrival, which has more than a little in common with Contact. I definitely want to see it again. Arrival is currently sitting in an exalted 8.5 on IMDB, with critics at 93% on Flixter from critics. Iím guessing that the lower 82% from audiences comes in part from the guys who wanted lots of alien blasting and patriotic speeches, but I also admit that itís not an easy movie. I was glad about that.

Allied - Derivative vintage movie stuff, but not too bad

Is it a Casablanca remake or a Casablanca sequel? Fortunately not. Fortunately itís also not an Inglorius Basterds do-over either. What it is, is a story about star crossed lovers who meet in Casablanca. Itís the so-called Free France zone, officially still France, but infested with Nazis in 1942. The French, eager to remain ďfreeĒ, have to give the Nazis a lot of latitude. Meanwhile partisans are at work. Mark Vatan (Brad Pitt) is Canadian, is in uniform sometimes and other times heís acting with French partisans. When heís not at work, heís in a night club that looks an awful lot like Rickís Cafe Americain. Itís there that he meets Marienne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), a beguiling but deadly partisan, who barely escaped from a failed previous operation. The two of them are assigned to work together to kill some nazis and collaborators who are in Casablanca. The expected romantic sparks fly between Vatan and Beausejour and, after an operation that requires them to escape the city, they get married and have a daughter, and live in war-time England, barely evading The Blitz. Vatan is still in uniform, working with British intelligence, under the harsh supervision of two very procedurally rigid bosses, Marienne is now a sweet mom, trying to raise her daughter in this horrifying time.

This is when things get complicated. Vatan is confronted by his superiors, who claim that Marienne is a double agent. They are fairly sure that the real Marienne was killed in the failed operation and that the current one is a German infiltrator. If they prove their suspicions, Vatan must kill her or be killed himself. This much is in the trailer. Iím not going any further with the plot since, if youíve ever seen spy movies, you can probably anticipate the possibilities and conflicts of the story. Itís about loyalty to country in conflict with loyalty to a spouse, and not knowing which part of what you think you know about a person is right.

Allied was directed by Robert Zameckis, who you might remember from the Back to the Future movies, and other pop movies like Flight, Castaway, Forest Gump and The Polar Express. Pacing and directing is spot-on. Allied is lushly filmed, with lots of WW II-appropriate sepia tinted sets, Glenn Miller songs in the soundtrack and at least a little of the moral urgency that came across so many previous-era WW II movies. Special effects are quite good at putting us in England during The Blitz, when so many people clung to life hoping to survive nightly bombing raids and trying to keep their spirits up, in spite of death and destruction all around them. Allied, however, is less of an FX movie than it is a personal story needing good characters and convincing acting. The British cast (Mark and Marienneís handlers) are good at being stern faced Brits, but the main weight of the story is about Mark and Marienne. My problem with the movie is that I canít get past how much of the visual set up in Casablanca looks like the old movie Casablanca, even down to the night club. They didnít have a piano singer named Sam but otherwise itís an updated version of Rickís. The star-crossed lovers theme continues the comparison. Unfortunately Brad Pitt just isnít Humphrey Bogart, no matter how many cigarettes he smokes. Heís OK, but just OK. I do think that, in a different world, Marion Cotillard could play the role of Ilsa, but thatís not in this script. Instead we have Mark and Marienne, mowing down nazis with Sten guns.

That said, Allied is not a bad movie. Itís not a great movie either. It is full of period detail, a somewhat believable plot, decent acting and a suspenseful ending. The ďPitt is no BogieĒ part doesnít ruin it, but it does remind me just how good Bogart was at creating a character in flicks like Casablanca, Passage to Marseille and To Have and Have Not, the stylistic ancestors of Allied. It was hard to avoid the comparison. The plot setup made comparison to the movie Casablanca unavoidable and made it seem like Pitt, a decent actor, was being set up to fail. They even set the first third of the movie in Casablanca. Couldnít they have chosen another location? Why Casablanca? The movie would have fared better without that obvious comparison. If youíre not a fan of these old war time classics, Allied might play better for you but if you are, itís decent but not entirely satisfying.

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea opened a couple weeks ago in a few theaters, hit some festivals, but is getting a wider opening this week. Starring Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler, Michelle Williams as Randi Chandler, Lucas Hedges as Patrick Chandler and Kyle Chandler as Joe Chandler, the film was directed and written by Kenneth Lonergan. The story of the production is tangled, involving several big changes. At some point Matt Damon was going to direct, John Krasinski was going to star, but due to other obligations, neither was available, so it ended up with Lonergan and Affleck in front. Manchester is currently rating extremely high, with 8.6 on IMDB, 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and 95 on Metascore, so, if you think itís good, you have plenty of company.

The first thing you need to know is that, Manchester is really a downer that is only partially relieved by moments of gallows humor. The main character, Lee, is a marginal character, living in one room in Boston, going maintenance work, cussing out his apartment building customers and just about anybody else who crosses his very short temper. Lee drinks a lot, is monosylllabic and moody, has history with hockey, bar fights and general dysfunction. He has family in Manchester, New Hampshire. They are also a somewhat dysfunctional group, working with fishing boats. Lee has a horrible tragedy in his past (a spoiler) that caused him to leave Manchester and take up his walking-wounded life. When his brother Joe dies of heart failure, Lee goes home to Manchester and discovers that Joe has appointed him as the guardian of his 16 year old son Patrick. The movie bounces back and forth in its time frames, with a lot of flashbacks to the period before Leeís tragedy, when things were better. When Lee finds out that he is Patrickís guardian, he resists that, temporarily moving to Manchester, into his brotherís house, trying to find an alternate guardian for Patrick. Patrick is a branch from the same family tree, playing hockey, juggling multiple girlfriends, being moody and wanting Lee to step up and take responsibility. They seem obligated to each other, but not by choice. Leeís ex-wife has a new life as does Joeís, and neither seem like a good match for the disposition of the rest of the Chandler family. Just how these characters move on, what happens to Patrick and whether they remain as walking wounded, is the rest of the story, that I wonít spoil.

As I said, the first thing to know is that Manchester is NOT a popcorn movie. Itís sad, difficult to watch and slow. It takes its good old time telling this story and doesnít let the audience off the hook for a moment. Much of the time, it feels like youíre watching a very personal story thatís none of your business. You want something to turn out right for these characters, something to drag them out of their small town, depressing malaise, but the outlook is not good. Thereís too much toxic history for sudden, sweet endings where everybody ends up happy. None of the characters seems up to the task of rescuing all of the others.

Acting in Manchester is excellent. Much of the movie is Lee, and Casey Affleck deserves the attention heís received for creating this character. Everybody else in the cast is similarly believable. Michelle Williams is excellent as Randi, as is Lucas Hedges as Patrick. In fact, everybody in the cast is excellent and completely believable. Itís definitely an actorís movie, a low budget drama and not a visual spectacle. Effects and action are near zero since the entire film is about plot and characters. It has a lot of dialog and personal tension. Itís set in several very old towns in coastal New England and has a lot of thick accents. The genealogy of the people involved in the movie (Affleck, Damon and a minor character who may be from the Wahlberg family) suggests that this film is something very personal, being part of the world where they grew up. Sometimes the fruit does not fall too far from the tree.

Direction, by Kenneth Lonergan (also the script writer) is excellent. The movie is slow, seems longer than its 2 hour and 15 minute run time, but it seems appropriate to the story and the characters, for whom life often is a labor. My only criticism (aside from the mood) is the obviously low budget movie music. It never seemed to be mirroring the plot and much of it was cloned from classical music pieces that have no relevance to the plot. I found it to be distracting. Itís not a movie to see if youíre in the mood to be entertained, but Iím guessing that it will be reckoned as one of the best films of 2016, a credit to the cast and crew.

Nocturnal Animals - Neo Noir in Los Angeles

Nocturnal Animals is a suspense movie, directed by fashion designer Tom Ford, his first shot at directing a full length movie. Itís a full budget trifle, complete with A List stars. Taken from the book entitled Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, with a screenplay by Ford, Nocturnal Animals follows the characters in three different time periods, one of which is the fiction of the book.

Amy Adams plays Susan Morrow. She is an elite, high priced art gallery owner who stages events for the celebs in Los Angeles. Itís the sort of gallery that attracts money. The opening of the movie and the latest show includes a performance piece with six naked, obese women dancing on a stage, leading to a display of incomprehensible, but expensive art that I canít imagine buying, even if I had the money. Sheís not very happy with her glitzy, shallow glamor-art life and, her rather bland husband both losing money and cheating on her. Itís uncertain which is worse. Years before, she had a previous marriage to Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal), back when she aspired to be an artist and he was a budding novelist. In the past, she had belittled his attempts at writing, dumped him and aborted their baby. When the movie opens, Susan is contacted by Tony, who sends her a pre-release copy of a novel, Nocturnal Animals. The story plays out in three periods, one of which is fictional. Aside from present reality, we also get flashbacks of Susan and Tonyís past life and the dramatization of his tense, violent, disturbing book. We see that plot as Susan reads the book. We have the implied impression that Susanís marriage is ending and that Tony wants to get back with her.

A large part of the movie is Tonyís book. He is the main character in his own book. Tony, his wife and daughter are traveling through the lonely desert in west Texas when they are attacked by a group of stereotypic, crazy, psychopathic rednecks. The wife and daughter are brutally murdered but Tony barely escapes into the desert. He is eventually found by the police and detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) is on their case. He is a stereotype too, an anachronistic, wild west manhunter, the man of few words, with the steely eye and fast gun, who pretty much ignores the law when it suits him. Heís also dying of lung cancer, smoking like a chimney, spitting out pieces of his lungs and has nothing to lose. He would probably prefer to die with his boots on. A year after the murders, he has a lead on the perpetrators. He and Tony go on the hunt. Meanwhile, in the present reality, Susan reads the book and sets up a date to see Tony in an elegant LA restaurant, so they can share some memories and she can talk about the book. She seems to think she owes him that much after their troubled past. The rest of the movie (a spoiler) is the manhunt and the date.

Nocturnal Animals has had good, but not glowing reviews, the main negative being the shallow portrayals of the characters. They seem to all be cardboard characters, the decadent LA art scene and diva gallery owner, a struggling writer, crazy, murderous rednecks, and the relentless manhunter are all exactly what you expect them to be. The characters offer no surprises at all. My cynical observation is that they are literary characters created by a fashion designer for a photo shoot in Vogue, just Photoshopped images, not people. On the plus side, the purpose of the movie is not really characters but suspense and pacing, which the movie does really well. Several people walked out of the showing I attended, but if you see the nightmare through to the end, the plot twists are worth the increase in your blood pressure. It really IS that tense. Itís excellently filmed, with a minimum of special effects, and has a dark, noir-inspired look.

I thought that the movie drew a lot of inspiration from those old Alfred Hitchcock films like Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest and Psycho, all films where characters were thin, but the situation and resulting fear were the real grist of the plot. A longer movie with fleshed out characters would not really be the point of the story. As it was, Animals was lean, with few wasted seconds and tense nearly from beginning to end. If you like that sort of movie, this is a high recommendation. If you think that crazy redneck violence in the desert is better not seen, then this is not your movie, although a lot of the worst violence is implied rather than seen, like in Psycho. My observation was the the people who walked out were all older women, so take that for whatever itís worth. When Iím in a nightmare, Iíd rather finish it, and not leave it hanging, so I stayed for the entire movie.

Acting performances were quite good. Amy Adams portrayed Susan as being burned out on glamor, understanding her big money world but also knowing how pointless and decadent it all seems. Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent, both as the younger, aspiring Tony and as the terrified and vengeful father and husband. As always for this great character actor, Michael Shannon is terrific at characterizing this sketchy, tense, brooding, wild west detective. Andy is the sort of character that would have been created in a previous generation by Clint Eastwood, not many words, lots of flinty-eyed scowls, a lot of spitting, violence always just a second away. Enjoy it if you can, but itís worth seeing.

Split - Is M. Night Shyamalan back from movie exile?

If your movie recollection extends back to 1999 and thereafter, you might recall that M. Night Shyamalan was the darling of the moment, an ďauteurĒ in the tradition of Fellini and Bergman, only with scary movies. Shyamalan wrote, produced and directed his movies and set them close to home in southern Pennsylvania and gave them a distinctly local look that seems downright familiar to people who know the area, with sets in Philadelphia and nearby places like college destination Doylestown. His first few widely released films, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs shared a common somber mood, insidious rising tension and, one of M Nightís trademarks, a twisty ending, not unlike some of the old films of Alfred Hitchcock. After this good start, however, Shyamalan seemed to go off the tracks, releasing increasingly cringe-worth movies like The Last Airbender that went nowhere and ended up with embarrassing ratings.

If you liked his early films, youíve probably been hoping that Shyamalan would get back on the tracks, do some decent movies and maybe even go back to southern PA. Some of that happens in Split. The plot line of Split is about a character of many names, played by James McAvoy. The character is that strangest and most controversial of psychological types, a ďmultiple personalityĒ. McAvoy portrays a wide variety of strange characters, including Dennis, Patricia, Kevin, Barry and others, as well as a much darker personality, The Beast. We meet Kevin in therapy with a psychologist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), who is fascinated with multiple personality disorder, perhaps to the extent that she romanticizes them, and attributes them with special powers, such as the ability of one character to not experience physical illnesses that afflict the others or even special strength and abilities.

MeantimeÖthree suburban teen age girls have been abducted from a parentís car and are missing. The movie audience, of course, realizes that one of Kevinís personalities has kidnapped them, and has them locked up in some sort of scary basement. While the kidnapper doesnít seem to be directly threatening them, one of the other personalities definitely is. Suspense builds over what is going to happen to the girls. Frantic searches ensue. Meanwhile, the girls try whatever they can to escape. One of the girls, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) seems especially wary and resourceful, at least in part due to some seriously creepy parts of her childhood experience, which are related in flashbacks. At the same time, ďKevinĒ (or whoever he is at that moment) is still attending therapy, while his therapist is finding herself increasingly over her head in trying to keep track of all of his personality shifts. What all this leads to is a twisty, Shyamalan-patented ending. Iím not giving any hints since the twists and the end are why you are seeing this movie.

I thought that Split was partially successful. Knowing Shyamalanís penchant for Hitchcocky endings, I knew that I needed to watch for foreshadowing, seemingly trivial elements and plot turns that would lead up to some sort of surprise or unexpected plot development. Nevertheless, there was at least a middling surprise in how things ended up. The twist wasnít the one I expected. The movie is well crafted, as have been all of Shyamalanís films. I thought that the middle of the movie, the part about the girls in captivity, lasted too long. It made the entire film last longer than the plot material could support. We didnít really need that many scenes of the girls and their unsuccessful escape attempts. Nevertheless, the mood and plot twists worked pretty well.

Acting was quite good, with special plaudits to James McAvoy. He did a great job of creating a large number of characters, each with his own unique speech mannerisms and body language. The three kidnap victims were the usual horror movie victims, mainly attractive young women who look good in their undies and can scream a lot. The character of Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) gets more on screen time than the other two and is quite good at running and screaming. Other characters are serviceable horror movie characters, nothing noteworthy but decent enough.

Itís worth noting that there is a cameo. At the end, Bruce Willis appears for a few seconds, giving hints that his character from early Shyamalan movie, Unbreakable, might be playing into some sort of sequel that combines that character with the outcome of Split. Who knows..thereís nothing about it on IMDB yet, but itís a hard connection to miss.

Overall, I liked the filmÖdidnít love it, but it was certainly better than some of Shyamalanís other recent fare. My biggest complaint was that the middle part of the movie, the girlsí captivity, seemed overlong to me. The cheap thrill of teen girls screaming in their undies was mainly a distraction and not much of a titillation. The film would have benefitted with more cuts to the running and screaming parts in the middle and a better pace leading to the enigmatic ending. Early on in the 2000ís, I had high expectations for Shyamalanís auteur status. Split hasnít exactly restored that, but itís OK. Itís enjoyable (at least if you like this genre), doesnít do anything awful and does some things I originally liked about Shyamalan. Heís back where he seems to belong, in southern PA, using local settings and culture, working them into the backdrop of the film. Iíd like to see some sort of ďpart threeĒ that brings Willisís Unbreakable character into a final chapter that has Split as part two. Split is good enough to enjoy on its own, however, and hopefully may be the beginning of a return to grace by Shyamalan.

A Cure For Wellness - An Updated Version of German Expressionism?

A cure for Wellness was directed by Gore Verbinski. Based on Wellness, Iíd expect Verbinski to be some accented guy from Middle Europa, but no, heís an American whose background includes fare like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. So, why do I think of Europe? To take it back to the beginning, A Cure for Wellness is a movie with long and deep roots in the horror genre. We begin with the star Dane Dehaan, playing Lockhart. Heís a young, rising Wall Street shark who is assigned the task of retrieving an upper management guy Pembrooke, who has retreated to a spa in Switzerland and is needed back in the Big Apple to hold off some sort of financial apocalypse. The assignment seems to be below Lockhartís ambitions, but he has to do it and expects to be in and out in hours. Because this is a horror movie, of course, the audience knows that it wonít be that simple.

When Lockhart arrives at the beautiful, luxurious mountaintop castle spa, he begins to discover that leaving isnít as easy as entering. Itís the ďroach hotelĒ of cures. Its beautiful, orderly and good to its patients who are said to benefit from the antiquated, low tech water cure promoted by the spa. Nobody seems to leave, including the young, pretty Hannah (Mia Goth) who is getting ďspecialĒ attention from the head ďtherapistĒ Volmer (Jason Issacs). When the film begins, Lockhart is not a likable character. You want to blame him for the 2008 crash, just because heís so abrasive, but heís too young for that to be fair. As the movie progresses, however, you start to feel sorry for the guy as he assumes the victim/hero role. This being a horror movie, you know itís only going to get worse and, as the story progresses, we see dark doings in the old castle. Will Lockhart escape? Are things any better down in the town below with all of its sketchy, damaged looking inhabitants? What about Hannah, the seemingly underage, gloomy girl who spends her time walking on the parapets of the castle, being treated in a creepy way by the scary Volmer? Who and what IS she?

Iím not saying. It would be revealing too much. Instead, Iím going to note the interesting references and influences in the movie. If you were paying attention in European literature class, you might recall early 20th century classics like Thomas Mannís The Magic Mountain or Hermann Hesseís Magister Ludi. Wellness is not those, but it does draw on that tradition of an isolated, Germanic mountain top where elites idle away their lives, removed from the ugliness of being down in the real world. It also draws on that old Germanic idea of artificial perfectibility of humans, who can be lifted from the grime by intellectual, physical or spiritual pursuits. Mann and Hesse also dabbled in this and, at its worst, the Nazis turned it into abomination. Earlier on, the infamous German alchemist Johann Conrad Dippel, the guy who actually lived in Castle Frankenstein (for real), had attempted all sorts of ways of doing this, including the transfer of souls from one body to another, the result being a conviction for heresy. Dippel became immortalized not by soul transfer, but by Mary Shelley in her book Frankenstein. Wellness seems to be the next over-the-top version of a pursuit that has always been over-the-top.

Did I like A Cure for Wellness? Yes, I did. I liked it because it went full out into that mid-Europa weirdness and didnít back down from gothic strangeness. Some reviewers have said that the end is impenetrable, but itís only a little further gone than the things that the real Conrad Dippel tried to do back in the 1700ís. Visually, itís a wonderful film, full of hauntingly composed images. The image quality is amazing and appears to be a full out use of HDR and high-resolution digital imagery. The plentiful digital effects are quite good, making it possible to actually visually realize that whole magic mountain thing.

Acting and direction are also excellent. Dane Dehaan is excellent as Lockhart, making the transition from arrogant Wall Street prick to terrified ďpatientĒ and into rebellious hero in good form. As always, Jason Isaacs creates an excellent villain in Volmer, transforming his face from OK to evil in an instant. Mia Goth (What? Me A Goth?) seems perfect in her role as the fragile waif Hannah, the enigmatic project of Volmer. The rest of the cast is serviceable, but their roles are lesser. As horror movies go, itís unusual. It runs 2 1/2 hours, much longer than the usual 90 minutes that horror movies get. It doesnít use the usual horror movie scares and monsters, but delves into the 19th century weirdness like the original novel of Frankenstein and Dracula, that spawned 20th century horror and the classic Universal Studios movies and all their German Expressionist imagery. Whatever you might think of it, itís not the usual date-night slasher film. I donít think itís a great movie, but itís well worth reveling in the sets, cinematography, imagery and the strangeness of the plot and interesting to speculate what those German Expressionist film makers would have done with the technology used to create this movie. Iíll choose 2 1/2 hours of meandering mid-Europa, post-Frankenstein horror any day over most other recent horror flicks. Iím sure I will seem excessive in giving it a 4, but itís such a long stretch between interesting horror flicks, that A Cure for Wellness seems worth the rating.