Pride (UK: 2014): Too many good performances can be a problem

Pride is a film about empathy and building solidarity between groups coming to recognize that there is more to an alliance than a common foe. An enemy’s enemy is not really one’s friend until one actually comes to understand what their battles are about. The movie is set during the UK Miners Strike of 1984/85. It is a fight that we know the miners will lose, which makes the scenes of solidarity heartbreaking and uplifting. There wasn’t enough to the story to maintain my interest for the entire film. I kept wanting to feel good, but after an hour I wanted the makers to stop introducing new characters and instead have the ones already introduced do something other than have mix-and-meets.

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The Book of Life (USA: 2014): A Love Story for the Ages

Jorge Gutierrez’ The Book of Life is a visually stunning animated feature that balances action-adventure and romance themes to tell an epic tale of Mexico. I don’t think I’ve seen so much vibrant color in an animated film outside of Rio. The visual basis for the film is Mexican folk art, specially the dioramas, tree of life statuary and paper mache dolls associated with the Day of the Dead celebration. These rich and brilliant colors take us through a tale of love that becomes so grand that everyone living and dead has a stake in the question of who Maria (Zoe Saldana) marries.

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Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (USA: 2014)

Alejandro Iñárritu’s stage-door film, Birdman (2014) tells the story of a faded Hollywood star (Michael Keaton) attempting to make a comeback and establish a legacy in an Broadway play. It is a comedy – a dark one – and filled will characters who are mostly unlikable, but suited for the life in the theater. Keaton’s Riggan Thomson used to play the eponymous action hero, but walked away from “Birdman IV” 20 years ago. He is still in the public mind, but obviously hasn’t done much since. He is the writer, director, and star of a play based on the short stories of Raymond Carver, an author, whose early death from alcoholism imitates that of our star, who was famous, but never realized his full potential. 

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Phunstruck (Not A Review)

For the folks at, who’ve been entertaining me for the past few weeks, a setting for Lovesick, 20 years on.

Thanks as always to p’Kuda for translating p’Hed’s entertaining novel

Phun:  Not now!

Noh:    When?

Phun:  When you can stand up without grunting.

Noh:    I can stand up without grunting. (Stands. Groans) That was a groan. Not a grunt.

Phun:  Energetic as the day I met you.

Noh:    I don’t need this, bastard.

Phun:  I don’t think you have much choice.

Noh:    I’ve had better offers, you know.

Phun:  Really, better offers. The postman is only nice because we don’t get much mail.

Noh:    Well, there was Aim.

Phun:  Aim? Aim? That was 20 years ago.

Noh:    So?

Phun:  (Laughs) Fine. Just go. Do you know where she lives?

Noh:    I know where she lives. We dropped her off after a trip to the beach, one time. Remember?

Phun:  That was 20 years ago. She’s moved. Here I’ll text you her address.

Noh:    You don’t think I am going to do it. Wait. Why do you have her address?

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Whiplash (USA: 2014)-Good Job, Teach. Good Job.

Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash (2014) tells the story of a driven young jazz drummer and a drill sergeant. O.K. That’s not quite true, but it could be. J.K. Simmons plays Terence Fletcher, a stern, demanding college jazz band director as if he came from Fort Bragg. Fletcher teaches at Schafer College, the fictional best conservatory in the country set somewhere in New York City near Juliard but not quite. The studio jazz band wins competitions. To be on the core team of that band is to be best of the best for college jazz band musicians. Fletcher could be a football coach or drill sergeant, but this movie is a pedagogic drama and set in a college.

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Gone Girl (USA: 2014): An Imperfect Crime

Gone Girl is a slick potboiler about the failure of a marriage and the unraveling of an attempt to commit the perfect crime. It does a good job staying away from many of the cliches of the crime thriller. It could easily have become a straightforward police procedural, but nonetheless the movie still made me feel like I was watching a TV drama from time to time and not a film.

The movie opens on the morning of Nick and Amy Dunne’s (played by Ben Affleck and stunning Rosamund Pike) wedding anniversary. Has stopped in a watering hole called “The Bar” which he owns with his sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), mainly to complain about his wife and marriage. He receives a phone call from a neighbor that his door is open and he returns home to find broken furniture but no wife. For the remainder of the movie, the characters attempt to solve the crime while flashbacks provide the history of the marital conflict between the two leads.

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The Skeleton Twins (USA: 2014): What siblings do when childhood is over

Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader star in Craig Johnson’s offbeat comedy about siblings relating to each other in ways that others cannot. If many of our troubles as adults stem from problems we carry with us from childhood, who else to better understand them than someone who has lived them with you? If this were not a comedy, it would be a very difficult drama to watch. It touches on depression, suicide, child sexual abuse, death, abandonment, compulsion, grief, alcoholism, loveless marriage and infidelity. For the most part, these issues aren’t played for laughs or shock value. The humor in the film comes from watching a caustic Hader and revitalized Wiig play off each other in ways that make us believe that they were once very close and happy together as siblings and want to enjoy those experiences again. At the same time, they hurt each other, often thinking that they are only doing what is best for the other (and they often are).

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The Boxtrolls (USA: 2014): Occupy Cheesebridge?

It’s not often that I want to rate a children’s film based on its politics. But since The Box Trolls is a movie about a human boy who convinces a socially despised and persecuted group to fight back, a political consideration is in order. Visually, the movie is outstanding, if a little dark with its brown color palette. There is probably enough goofiness in the movie to amuse children, and there is a little bit of a love story with a message about the importance parenting and being yourself that should make it feel good. But it doesn’t succeed. Those messages end up looking like small curds when what we want is a big slice of cheese.

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Peyote (Mexico: 2013) Hope to see you around someday

Peyote (2013) is Omar Flores Sarabia’s first feature length movie. Set in San Luis Potosi, the movie covers 24 hours in the lives of two late teen-aged boys who meet one day and decide to take a journey to Real de Catorce in order to find the eponymous drug. With a premise like that, one could be excused for thinking that the movie would be a stoner comedy or road movie. But neither of the boys seems truly interested in the potential of the drugs and they probably wouldn’t know what to do if they found the plant. They also don’t have enough adventures influenced by the people they meet on their way to categorize the effort as a road movie. In fact, with the exception of one souvenir vendor, the boys don’t speak with anyone else on-screen.



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Love is Strange (US: 2014) – An update of a classic slightly misses

Love is Strange is an update of Make Way for Tomorrow, Leo McCarey’s Depression-era film about a elderly couple forced to live apart due to a late-in-life financial setback. After Ben (Alfred Molina) is fired from his job as a music instructor at a Catholic school, he and is new husband, Ben (John Lithgow) find that they are unable to continue to pay their mortgage and do not have enough equity in their home to find a new place. Moving out of New York City is out of the question, but staying in New York means splitting up. George moves in with a younger gay couple in Manhattan and Ben moves in with his nephew’s family in Brooklyn.

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