I watch a lot of movies: good, bad, indifferent; all genres; English and non-English speaking; and, occasionally, I write a few comments about those I enjoyed. Here are six mini-reviews, in no particular order. The percentage/numerical ratings in the title fields are from the review-aggregation website, Rotten Tomatoes (where I look for 60% or higher), and the internet movie database, IMDb (where I look for 6.0 or higher). Movies for Movie Buffs: Index lists all my reviews so far posted.
37. I Care a Lot, Black Comedy/Thriller, Director Jonathan Blakeson, 2021 USA, 78%/6.3
Here’s the scam. A professional legal guardian, one who is appointed by a court to look after an elderly person who can no longer look after themselves and has no-one else, no family or friends, to do so, works with a bent physician and bent care-home manager to commit the elderly person into a care home thus enabling the legal guardian to sell off all the assets and profit, sometimes greatly, while the elderly person is kept in a permanent state of disorientation and sedation until they die. Could it happen? Oh yes. There are many real-life cases of guardianship predators. Google ‘April Parks ex-Nevada guardian’ to find out more.
Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) portrays such a guardian. She works closely with a physician, Dr Karen Amos (Alicia Witt), who screens her patients for early signs of dementia, evidence of wealth, and lack of family support. On identification, Karen tips off Marla who then obtains the guardianship court order which, incidentally, can be obtained without the presence of the scam target. Armed with the order, Marla and her assistant, Fran (Eiza González) and two burly law enforcement officers, enter the home of the target, explain the situation, and amidst the confusion, removes the target to a care home where the manager, Sam Rice (Damian Young), is waiting to welcome with big smiles, unctuous comments and gestures, and a cupful of pills. Once inside, the target’s cell phone is confiscated, main doors locked and, effectively, the target is now incarcerated until death.
Rosamund Pike plays her part to perfection—alternatively ruthless and charming, austere in her power-suited appearance, icy in her approach, and utterly devoid of any morals. (Pike received the 2021 Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for her performance in I Care A Lot.)
All goes as planned in the movie until Marla targets a solitary elderly woman, Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), who owns her own home, has no living family or relatives, has considerable cash savings, and who suffers minor memory lapses that could be erroneously medically diagnosed as dementia. Jennifer is, to quote Marla’s assessment following the tip-off from the physician, a ‘cherry’.
I’ll say no more other than to mention that the entry of the bad guy, Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage), adds an unexpected and sinister dimension to the story, providing the thriller content. I Care A Lot is a solidly constructed, entertaining and thought-provoking movie and I’m just glad I have three independent but blood-related children, all of whom I trust!
38. Crisis, Crime/Thriller, Director Nicholas Jarecki, 2021 USA, 66%/6.1
America is in the grip of an opioid addiction crisis. Synthetic opioids, such as oxycodone and fentanyl, are painkilling prescription drugs that can induce dependence (become addictive) and which are also widely used as recreational drugs having a euphoric effect similar to the naturally-occurring opioids, morphine and its derivative, heroin. Crisis is a movie that seeks to show different aspects of the opioid crisis via three parallel stories.
The first involves an undercover DEA agent, Jake Kelly (Armie Hammer), who is trying to instigate a bust with the Canadian drug lord, Claude ‘Mother’ Veroche (Guy Nadon), a fentanyl manufacturer, and with various members of the Armenian Mafia who control the distribution of the fentanyl in the USA.
The second involves a recovering drug addict and mother, Claire Reimann (Evangeline Lilly), who wants revenge when her teenage son is found dead after being forced to swallow an excessive amount of fentanyl.
The third story takes the high ground and centres on Dr Tyrone Brower (Gary Oldman), a biology research scientist and university professor who is contracted by a Big Pharma company, Northlight Pharmaceuticals, to prove that a new opioid, Klaralon, a fictiticious name, does not induce dependency after a seven-day course. Tyrone’s assistants do prove this but they then go on to show that after ten days, the new drug is just as addictive as and more dangerous than the more established synthetic opioids. Northlight wants to supress the findings; Tyrone wants to disclose the findings, and so the fight between Big Pharma and Scientific Truth and Conscience begins.
Some critics have commented negatively saying that the movie bites off more than it can chew. I tend to agree but the movie made me think, especially in its portrayal of the underlying politics and monetary interests of synthetic opioid manufacture and distribution to an unsuspecting public. All the themes in Crisis have been done before: for example The Constant Gardener (2005) for Big Pharma duplicity; Traffic (2000) for the world of drug manufacture and distribution; and Sicario (2015) for drug-related revenge. Crisis is an ambitious attempt to combine all three themes and almost achieves it in just under two hours runtime. Where it fails in detail however, it makes up for in big-picture viewpoints and is an entertaining ride.
Footnote. The day after I viewed Crisis (on 27 June 2021), an article on the BBC website announced that Johnson & Johnson is to pay $230M to New York State in settlement of claims that it helped fuel an opioid addiction crisis in the state, and will cease sales across the United States. The $230M is part of Johnson & Johnson’s agreed payment of $5B across all the US states to settle multiple opioid addiction claims and which, in turn, is part of a $26B settlement fund agreed with multiple pharmaceutical manufacturers. Opioids have been big business for Big Pharma and is now big business for the victims of the drugs.
39. Creep, Psychological Horror, Director Patrick Brice, 2014 USA, 89%/6.3
Here’s the setup. A man advertises for a videographer to join him for a day in order to record a series of personal messages for his as-yet unborn son. The man claims he has an uncurable brain tumour that will cause his death within two months, well before his son’s birth, and he wishes to show his son what sort of a father he had. A photographer replies to the advertisement and accepts the contract but when he travels to the somewhat remotely-located cabin and knocks on the door, there is no answer. So starts the psychological thriller, Creep, filmed on a hand-held video recorder by photographer, Aaron (Patrick Brice, also the director).
Eventually, Aaron does connect with the man, Josef (Mark Duplass, one of the originators of the story) and so the fun begins. All is not as it seems (as hinted at in the title of the movie) and, gradually, Aaron is drawn into a web of deceit and intrigue ending in… well, you’ll have to watch the movie to find out more but I recommend you do.
Billed as a found-footage movie, although I disagree slightly with this labelling, the movie stars just the two cast members and is heavily improvised. It’s clearly a low-budget indie film and, normally, I would not watch such a film. Ever since The Blair Witch Project (1999), filmmakers have looked for ways of milking the found footage style of movie making, mostly with very little success. But I was drawn to Creep by the very high ratings it was awarded by critics I respect and despite the shaky camera style and obvious improvisations, the movie draws you in with its unfolding story and, in particular, the creepy performance of Mark Duplass as the is-he-a-good-guy-or-a-bad-guy? portrayal of the man with a brain tumour.
If psychological movies attract you, try Creep, but don’t read Wiki’s summary of the story line. Watch the movie first, then read Wiki’s summary, then watch the film again.
Footnote. I see that Creep 2 (2017) is also available and with even more excellent ratings: 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.5 on IMDb. Mark Duplass reprises his role as Josef. The movie is on my to-be-watched list and my comments will be forthcoming in due course.
40. Balloon, Drama, Director Pema Tseden, 2020 China (Tibet), 100%/6.9
‘And now for something completely different.’ Balloon is a Chinese-made film directed by a Tibetan director, Pema Tseden, about a Tibetan sheep farmer and his family, all played by Tibetan actors, and filmed in the Qinghai province of China, a region that formerly was part of Tibet. So, this is a Tibetan movie that, somehow escaped the detailed scrutiny of the Chinese censors.
The movie opens with two young boys playing with white oblong-shaped balloons which turn out to be unused condoms they found under the pillows of their parents’ bed. The father, Dargye (Jinpa), angrily confiscates the balloons without explaining why thus setting the scene for further novelty use of the condoms by his two sons with tragic consequences.
Drolkar (Sonam Wangmo), the mother of the two boys plus a third son already in secondary school, is dismayed to discover the loss of the condoms as she knows her husband is a lusty virile man with little regard for family planning. She visits her local health centre to request condom replacements. The scene where Drolkar explains to the lady doctor what happened is hilarious. Drolkar is bashful and won’t talk about her request in front of a male doctor, insisting she talks with the lady doctor out in the corridor.
The contrast between the shyness of Drolkar’s attitude towards sex and her husband, Dargye’s, earthy attitude towards a ram he secures to service his herd of ewes is comedic, especially so when Dargye transports the ram from a neighbour’s farm on the back of his motorcycle, unloads the ram, cups and gently lifts the ram’s testicles and pronounces ‘Now you’re talking’. At least, that’s what the subtitle read!
So far, the movie is shaping up to be a comedy but tragedy does strike and the mood of the movie changes as elements of Buddhist beliefs in reincarnation plus China’s policy of limiting the number of children enter the scene. There is also a side story of Drolkar’s younger sister who has become a Buddhist nun (a novice bhikkhunī) because of some sex-related incident in her past, hinted at but never fully explained.
Dargye approaching the statue of Princess Wencheng in Daotanghezhen
I enjoyed the movie. It’s a far cry from Hollywood’s movie-making sophistication but the cinematography is superb with interesting closeups, dream sequences, metaphorical shots of balloons, dialogue interchanges, and panoramic views of the surrounding Tibetan plain. There is also one scene that intrigued me. At 1:33:21, after completing a sale of a ewe in a town not far from his farm, Dargye approaches and sits at the base of a large imposing statue. Sterling detective work by my daughter-in-law, Kirsty, revealed that this is a statue of Princess Wencheng of Chinese Tang Dynasty in the town of Daotanghezhen, Riyue Mountain which is south east of Lake Qinghai in Qinghai Province. The princess was an impressive lady!
Incidentally, if you watch and enjoy this movie, try the 2004 movie, Kekexili: Mountain Patrol, filmed in the remote Tibetan region of Kekexili. The movie depicts the never-ending battle between those who poach the endangered Tibetan antelope, and the rangers who try to stop them. It’s a powerful docudrama-style movie with elements of masculinity, loyalty, and honour, even among the poachers, but the true star of the film is the majestic mountains and plains of Kekexili, now designated a national nature reserve thanks to the movie.
41, My First Summer, Drama/Romance, Director Katie Found, 2020 Australia, Not yet rated/6.4
My First Summer is hailed by the LGBTQ+ community as a triumph for youthful lesbian relationships. It’s not. Some critics say they felt uncomfortable about the so-called sex scene between two 16-year-old girls. There is no such sex scene. The movie is simply about first love, non-sexual and between two teenage girls, and is one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever watched.
The story centres around worldly-shy Grace (Maiah Stewardson) and her new-found worldly-wise spirited friend, Claudia (Maiah Stewardson). Grace has been living with her mother who has sheltered her from the outside world, telling Grace that the fences around the house represent the mother’s womb and as long as Grace remains within the fences she will be protected by the mother. But, eventually, the mother tires of the world and commits suicide leaving Grace to fend for herself in an unfamiliar world. And then along comes Claudia wearing a pink tutu fairy skirt, on her bike, who befriends Grace and introduces her to such worldly pleasures as strawberry milk and marshmallows. Along the way, the two girls develop feelings for each other. They experience the first pangs of unconditional pure love, feelings which are new to both, difficult to internalise, wonderful to experience, and awesome in its effect. Most of us can probably remember when first we experienced this emotion, usually in the early teenage years. It’s non-sexual, incomprehensible and like no other emotion we have ever experienced. We call it first love or coming of age or infatuation but none of these terms quite describe the depth of sensation, the intensity of the feeling, the need to explore deeper. And, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s between two boys, two girls, or one of each. The emotion has not yet awakened the sexual element and that’s why I do not agree My First Summer is a film about lesbians.
I encourage you to watch this film if only for the memories you may have of the first time you experienced a feeling of love that was completely different to the ‘I love you’ sentiments expressed between parents and children. Katie Found, both the scriptwriter and director, has managed to capture the glances, the hesitancy, the uncertainty, even the beginnings of an awareness of sexuality in her direction of her two young female protagonists in a way that is neither prurient nor lascivious. The cinematography is superb with sun-dappled scenes to match the unfolding sun-dappled emotions. It’s just a lovely movie.
42. Je t’aime mais non plus (translated as I love you, I don’t or I love you, me not anymore), Drama/Romance, Director Serge Gainsbourg, 1976 France, 91%/6.0
In 1976, Jane Birkin, Joe Dallesandro, and Serge Gainsbourg—names synonymous with the swinging sixties/libertine seventies—collaborated to make the film, Je t’aime mais non plus, about a gay hunky trucker, Krassky (Joe Dallesandro, an Andy Warhol superstar and pretty-boy gay culture icon), who becomes sexually attractive to an androgynous girl, Johnny (Jane Birkin, Director Serge Gainsbourg’s partner at the time and the blonde girl in the very sexy threesome romp with model photographer Thomas (David Hemmings) in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 classic movie, Blowup). Birkin plays the lovesick lonely waitress Johnny who sees possibilities in Krassky when he enters the café even though her hair is shorter than his and who, when asked why she is called Johhny, answers, ‘Parce que j’ai pas de nichons et un gros cul.’ (‘Because I have no boobs and a big ass.’) Krassky is sexually attracted to her because of her boyish looks but, when the moment arrives, finds he can only get an erection if Johnny agrees to anal intercourse. And this is why the movie was banned in many countries, including the UK, until, finally, it was released on DVD in 1993.
Johnny and Krassky do get it together several times in the movie but the scenes are not explicit by today’s mainstream movie standards. They are more about Johnny’s submission to Krassky’s demands and the trade-off she makes between the pleasure of the physical contact versus the pain it causes her. Eventually, Krassky’s regular male partner, Padovan (Hugues Quester), becomes incensed with jealousy and violence erupts.
Because of the immediate banning by the British Board of Film Censors, I was not able to watch this movie when it first came out. Watching it now (2021), I was struck by the simplicity of the story—no unexpected twists—and excellent camerawork. There are also some interesting inserts: the amateur striptease during the barn dance; the violence of the roller derby; Gérard Depardieu’s strange cameo as a seemingly well-endowed horse-riding gay local; and Jane Birkin’s erotic consumption of a candy-pink stick dipped in milk or cream. I was also intrigued by the film’s setting. French is spoken by all actors throughout the film (even though Jane Birkin is English and Joe Dallesandro American) but the setting is somewhere where English is the main language. You will spot a newspaper written in English, English wall and entrance signs, and an American Mack Thermodyne dumper truck sporting a Veedol Pin-Up Girl Motor Oil metal sign on the radiator. It seems as if the movie was filmed somewhere in a US southern state but by an all-French crew.
By today’s standards, the movie is relatively tame but there are strong elements of homophobia and, in one scene, racism against black people. In that sense, the film still has power to shock simply because such scenes rarely occur in modern movies. Jane Birkin’s performance, however, is outstanding. Even without curves, she exudes sexual allure and desire. At one point, Krassky asks her to dress up to please him and so she appears wearing a pink and white striped dress with a tight bodice and buttoned-up full skirt. When Krassky complains—he obviously wanted her to dress more like a boy—she replies, ‘Bien, je suis une fille!‘ (‘Well, I’m a girl!’) She is that!
Incidentally, Je t’aime mais non plus, the movie, was made seven years later than the song of the same name sung by the same couple, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, but bears no other relationship to the earlier song apart from the title. The 1969 song was banned by the BBC because it depicted the sounds made by two people having enjoyable consensual sex but, despite the ban, the record became number one in the UK charts and stayed in the charts for thirty-one weeks. The song is also said to have inspired Donna Summer’s orgasmic cornucopia, Love to Love You Baby, recorded in 1975; music I once owned and frequently listened to before partial deafness robbed me of the pleasure.