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General Magic (2018)
7/10
The amazing pioneering vision of mobile computing
4 April 2020
"General Magic" (2018 release; 95 min.) is a documentary about the Silicon Valley start-up company of the same name. As the movie opens, a voice-over reminds us that "Failure isn't the end, it's the beginning. Was General Magic a failure?" We then go back in time, to 1984, the year Apple introduces the Macintosh, when a Detroit kid named Tony Fadell recounts his geeky 16 yr; old self, dreaming of bigger things to come. We then get to know Mark Porat, who recounts how in 1989 he came up with the concept of what we know these days as a smart phone. He shows us his 1989 drawings, which look remarkably like the iPhone of today. It's not long before he starts a company called General Magic, funded by 16 major investors including Apple, AT&T, Sony, and other big names... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this documentary is co-written and co-directed by Sarah Kerruish and Matt Maude. Kerruish was invited by General Magic in 1992 to come and take a look at how a tech start-up functions, and film for posterity. As a result, we are treated to lots of archive footage from those times, and what a treasure trove that turns out to be! Aside from the footage, the story itself of General Magic is of course a fabulous one, and truly a case of a company ahead of its time. As Fadell explains, the 90s was a time of one failure after another (leading to the tech bubble burst in the early 00s), but that lots was learned along the way, Still, it blows the mind that certain people like Porat had the bold vision to foresee mobile computing, "a device you will always want to have with you", per Porat, almost 2 decades before that became a reality.

"General Magic" premiered at the 2018 Tribeca film festival to positive acclaim, and found its way onto Showtime in 2019. I recently caught it on SHO On Demand, and enjoyed it. How is it possible that the name General Magic isn't known better by the public at large these days for its true pioneering vision of how interwoven our lives would become with our smart phone. If you have any interest in business in general, or the history of technology, I'd readily suggest you check this out on VOD or on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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The Scheme (2020)
7/10
Exposing what really happened in the 2017 NCAA basketball coaches bribery scandal
1 April 2020
"The Scheme" (2020 release; 119 min.) is a documentary about what really happened with the (in)famous NCAA basketball coaches bribery scandal in 2017. As the movie opens, we see Sean Miller, basketball coach at Arizona, deny in the strongest terms any involvement with Christian Dawkins. We then get introduced to Dawkins. "Are you a convicted felon?" he is asked. "Yes I am, and this is the first time I am telling the whole story." We then go back in time, as we get introduced to his upbringing in Saginaw, MI and the basketball pedigree in his family. By the time Dawkins is 17, he is already incredibly connected in the world of basketball... At this point we are less than 15 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this is a new documentary from director Pat Kondelis ("Disgraced"). Here he digs into the 2017 NCAA scandal, and does so primarily by letting Dawkins tell his story and by using lots and lots of archive footage, including a bazillion wire taps. I remembered this scandal, which rocked the NCAA to its core, but didn't know of any of the details. The key issue (and I'm not spoiling anything here) is why and how anyone thought that paying/bribing coaches would ensure certain kids ended up at certain schools (as opposed to: paying the kids directly to convince them to attend a certain school). That is the heart of the matter, and wait until you see this play out in the documentary. I think you will be surprised. I know I was.

"The Scheme" premiered this week on HBO and is now available on HBO On Demand and other streaming services. If you are a fan of college basketball, or simply are interested in a good true crime story. I'd readily suggest you check this out on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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7/10
Deep dive into the Jennings, LA murders
1 April 2020
"Murder In the Bayou" (2019 release; 5 episodes of about 55 min. each) is a documentary TV series about the mysterious murders of a number of women in a small Louisiana town called Jennings. As Episode 1 "A Body In the Canal" opens, it is May 20, 2005, and a guy fishing in one of the local canals finds the body of a woman, later identified as Loretta, age 28, and mother to 2 young kids. Then we go to June 17, 2005 when, believe it or not, another body is recovered from another nearby canal, this time a woman named Ernestine, age 30. Who could've done this? Meanwhile we are introduced to the Jennings Daily News reporter who covered these stories for the local newspaper... At this point we are less than 15 min. into Episode 1 but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this documentary series is produced and directed by veteran documentarian Matthew Galkin. Here he adapts for the screen the non-fiction book of the same name by Ethan Brown (who appears extensively in the second half of this TV series). I didn't know much about these cases when I started watching this, and I really don't want to give away any thing that might spoil your viewing experience. So let me just say that this series is like an onion: you peel away, only to discover that there is more than meets the eye. And then you peel away some more, and before you know it, by the time we are in Episode 4, we find ourselves miles away from what we could or might have anticipated. Some might say that the series is moving too slowly, and it's true that this series probably didn't need the full 275 min., but I didn't mind the slow pace at all. Galkin does a good job giving us a true sense of what this small community was like (with a stark difference between the well-off north part of town and the trashy south part of town, both sides neatly separated by railroad tracks. The other thing that is so striking is how this small town was overrun by drugs, literally from all sides.

Bottom line: I found this to be a compelling true crime documentary series, with some twists that will blow you away, I mean, you can't make this stuff up! Kudos to both Galkin and Brown for their painstaking work on this. This series premiered on Showtime in the Fall, 2019, and I caught it recently on SHO On Demand. If you like true crime documentaries, I'd readily suggest you check this out and draw your own conclusion.
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7/10
Entertaining look at controversial tennis coach
31 March 2020
"Love Means Zero" (2017 release; 90 min.) is a documentary about tennis coach Nick Bollettieri. As the movie opens, we get some high level comments from Jim Courier and Boris Becker, and we note that Andre Agassi is not going to contribute to the film (but that doesn't stop Agassi from being featured heavily in the movie). We then to back in time to when Bollettieri started the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, FL and soon he starts attracting major tennis talent. Meanwhile Bollettieri, now well in his 80s, is talking to the camera and holding court... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie, and you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this is the latest documentary from producer-director Jason Kohn. Here he brings Bollettieri's story, with fill cooperation of the coach himself. I vaguely knew of the guy, but nothing really in details, and hence I was quite interested. It is clear that Bollettieri was very driven and very ambitious. Where his coaching methods "kosher"? As the guy keeps saying: "look at my record, it speaks for itself", and from that perspective it is difficult to argue. But is that all there is to life? Of course not, and Bollettieri makes plenty of dubious decisions and choices. Kohn tries to pin him down on that, but Bollettieri keeps reminding Kohn and us viewers "I simply move on", and that is that. The interviews with Courier and Becker and some other notables really add a lot. Of course Agassi's shadow looms over it all from start to finish. Bottom line is that you may or may not agree or even like Bollettieri, but one cannot deny that he is a master storyteller, and that as a result, this makes for an enjoyable and entertaining documentary.

"Love Means Zero" premiered at eh 2017 Toronto International Film Festival to good acclaim. I caught it the other day on Showtime on Demand. If you like tennis or have any interest in a controversial but successful tennis which Bollettieri surely was, I'd readily suggest you check this out and draw your own conclusion.
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8/10
(Re)examining the weaknesses (in plural) of electronic voting in the US
30 March 2020
"Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America's Elections" (2020 release; 91 min.) is a documentary that (re)examines how secure electronic voting in the US really is. As the movie opens, we are introduced to Harri Hursti, a cyber security expert from Finland who specializes in elections security: "Everything is hackable", he bluntly states (and then later proves it), despite assurances from government officials at all levels that voting in the US is "secure"... At this point we are 10 min. into the documentary.

Couple of comments: Harri Hursti is universally recognized as one the world's top experts in these matters, and in fact this movie can be seen as a sequel of sorts to the 2006 documentary "Hacking Democracy", where Hursti was seen how easily he breached a voting machine right there in front of local government officials. Get this: that very same voting machine which Hursti breached back then is still scheduled to be in use in the 2020 elections in no less than 20 US states! It simply blows the mind. The 3 remaining North American manufacturers of voting machines are shown along the way as still being way too vulnerable, and apparently having little interest in fixing the issues. Later on, the documentary looks in detail at what happened in the 2018 elections in Georgia and Alaska. You simply can't make this stuff up. Surreal doesn't even begin to describe it.

"Kill Chain: The Cyber Wars on America's Elections" premiered recently on HBO and is now available on HBO On Demand and other streaming services. I am sure that this documentary will be dismissed by a certain segment of the US population as yet more "fake news" but the facts once again are clear and get exposed by the film makers. Let this movie serve as a reminder that there is work to be done to shore up the vulnerabilities of electronic voting in the US.
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8/10
Season 5: Get a front seat to the Democratic 2020 primaries
29 March 2020
"The Circus - Inside the Craziest Political Campaign on Earth" (2020 release; episodes running 30 min. each) is Season 5 of the long-running Showtime documentary series in which we get the inside scope of the latest political happenings. As Episode 1 opens, we are in "Iowa, Two Weeks Before the Caucuses", and it is crunch time for the still large slate of presidential hopefuls. But these are not normal times, as the Trump impeachment trial in the US Senate is about to get started. It requires 3 of the front runners (Sanders, Warren, and Klobuchar) to return to Washington at the most critical juncture. Does it open the door for the other 2 front runners (Biden, Buttigieg)? At this point we are 10 min. into Episode 1.

Couple of comments: by now (Season 5), "The Circus" production team is seemingly a well-oiled machine. The three usual suspects (Alex Wagner, John Heilemann, and Mark McKinnon) are joined this season by Jennifer Palmieri (who advised the Clinton campaign in 2016), as there is so much going on that a 4th person is a godsend. The series continues to be well-served by the seemingly unfettered "all access" to the candidates. The energy is palpable, as these are all political junkies who just live for this stuff. Season 5 runs 9 episodes to date (more or less up to the days following Trump's COVID-19 national emergency declaration). It's unclear whether new episodes will be arriving, given the almost complete standstill of the country as a whole.

I binge-watched all 9 episodes on Showtime On Demand over the last 24 hrs. Even though I obviously knew the outcome of what would happen (covering roughly mid-January to mid-March), it really speaks to the strength of this series that I was absolutely transfixed from start to finish (and hoping for more episodes in due course). If you have any interest in the political process of this country, I'd readily suggest you check this out and draw your own conclusion.
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The Trade (2018– )
8/10
The Trade's Season 2 brings an honest and brutal look at human trafficking and asylum-seekers
28 March 2020
"The Trade" (Season 2; released in 2020; 4 episodes of about 50 min. each) brings a brand new story arc that has nothing to do as such with Season 1. As Season 2, Episode 1 opens, we are at the "US/Mexico Border, Tijuana", as we see someone climb the wall on his way over into the US. We then go to "McAllen, Texas". "After I paid $7,500 and arrived on US soil, I thought I had it made", comments one migrant. But that turns out to be incorrect, as ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is doing all it can to stop the flow of migrants. We then go to "San Pedro Sula, Honduras" where gangs terrorize entire cities, making Honduras the murder capital of the world. "If I stay here, I will die", a widower comments, after her husband was brutally murdered execution-style on the street. At this point we are 15 min. into Episode 1.

Couple of comments: Season 2 is once again produced and directed by Oscar-nominated Matthew Heineman ("Cartel Land"), in my view one of the best documentarians of this era, and that is saying something. Whereas Season 1 looked at the heroin and pioiod trade, Season 2 looks at the human trade, as in: why are so many people fleeing Honduras and Guatemala, and how do they get from there to here, and then what happens to them when they get here. There is some very harrowing footage of "the caravan" of 4,000 people making their way from Honduras through Guatemala, Mexico and then to the US. Heineman introduces us to Magda, a recent widower who along with her small daughter and the brother of her recently murdered husband decide to flee. Finally tow separate comments: as to the documentary series itself, it puts forward an honest and brutal look of human trafficking and asylum-seekers, and as such I find it compelling to watch. As to the Trump administration's stance on asylum-seekers, it is shameful and of course illegal to deny genuine asylum-seekers entry to this country. We are the richest and greatest country in the world. Are we now so insecure (where once we were eager to help others) that we will not share a tiny fraction of our country's rich resources with people (including many women and young children) fleeing, literally, for their lives? Watch the footage in this documentary series if you think they are just 'faking' it...

Season 2 aired in Showtime this March, and is now streaming on demand. Although it is perhaps not quite as strong as Season 1 of "The Trade", I still find it very much worth seeking out. If you have any interest in understanding why migrants flee places like Honduras and Guatemala, I'd readily suggest you check this out and draw your own conclusion.
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New Order: Decades (2018 TV Movie)
7/10
New Order performs with "synthesizer orchestra" and Liam Gillick-designed visuals
23 March 2020
"New Order Decades" (2018 UK release; 2019 US release; 90 min.) is a documentary about New Order's collaborations with a "synthesizer orchestra" and Liam Gilick-designed visuals. As the movie opens, it is "Vienna, May 2018" as the band is getting ready to hit the stage. We then go to "six weeks earlier", where we watch the 12 musicians that make up the synthesizer orchestra in rehearsals for the upcoming shows. Along the way, New Order band members talk about their long history, going back to the days of Joy Division... At this point we are 10 min. into the documentary.

Couple of comments: this is the latest from veteran British documentarian Mike Christie. Here he brings a look at a now legendary band and their quest to remain relevant. The idea to come up with something new and unique arose from the Manchester International Festival's invitation for their 2017 fest. From there, the band came up with two things: (i) create a "synthesizer orchestra", with 12 original scores for the 12 musicians, and (ii) have Liam Gillick design a stage to enhance/emphasize the visual experience of it all. Much is made of the technical challenges to perform with the synthesizer orchestra, and I'm sure there were many, but in the end that matters little to the viewers (at least, it did for me), and instead we just want to enjoy the performances. Even though the words "deconstruct" and "reinvent" are used multiple times, in the end it all sounds quite familiar. Yes, the visuals are very noticeable (reminding me of certain Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode sets from the past). The band also discusses how they arrived at the set list, and why, for example, Blue Monday (by far their biggest hit ever) simply did not fit the bill and hence went unplayed, and why indeed two Joy Division songs (Disorder and the set-closing Decades) did made the cut. New Order's ringleader Bernard Sumner, a crisp 62 yr. young when this was filmed, seems very much in control throughout.

Bottom line: this is a pleasant documentary with a visually striking live performance. The "synthesizer orchestra" never really steps forward all that much, and the songs sound to me pretty much like they've always sounded. If you are a New Order fan, I'd readily suggest you check this out and draw your own conclusion. For completeness' sake, here the set list: New Order, Vienna, Austria, May 13, 2018: 1.Elegia (performed by the synthesizer orchestra only) 2.Who's Joe? 3.Dream Attack 4.Disorder 5.Ultraviolence 6.In a Lonely Place 7.All Day Long 8.Shellshock 9.Guilt Is a Useless Emotion 10.Subculture 11.Bizarre Love Triangle 12.Vanishing Point 13.Plastic Encore: 14.Times Change (performed by the synthesizer orchestra only) 15.Your Silent Face 16.Decades
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7/10
Enjoyable look behind the scenes to HBO's My Brilliant Friend
22 March 2020
"My Brilliant Friend - The Story of a New Name" just premiered on HBO this week, and brilliantly at that. The perfect excuse to binge on the series' first season, which premiered in Fall of 2018. At that time, a companion documentary was released.

"My True Brilliant Friend" (2018 release from Italy; 76 min.) aims to give us a behind the scenes look at the making of the first season of "My Brilliant Friend". As the movie opens, we see the two leading stars, 15 yr. old Gaia Girace (playing Lila) and 16 yr. old Margherita Mazzucco (playing Lenu), being interviewed a a film festival. We then go to "One Year Earlier", as these 2 young ladies who have never acted professionally before, are chosen among thousands of wanna-be's and are now getting ready for rehearsals. "I immediately felt a bond", Girace comments, and indeed it is pretty apparent that these two hit it off and enjoy working together. We also see the Italian encourage them to dive into these characters. "Take a vacation from yourself, Margherita", he encourages her. Along the way, we get to know others from this large cast, but the focus remains mostly on Girace and Mazzucco.

This documentary is enjoyable, even if it really isn't essential. Mostly we learn that Girace is more driven than is Mazzucco ("I miss my friends". Ahead of season 2, I binge-watched all 8 episodes of the first season, and can only marvel at the top-notch storytelling demonstrated by the Italian production team. Episode 1 of "The Story of a New Name" picks up exactly where Season 1 left off, and is giving me hop that Season 2 will equally be must-see TV.
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Ice on Fire (2019)
8/10
Climate disruption 101 explained for the rest of us
21 March 2020
"Ice On Fire" (2019 release; 95 min.) is a documentary about what causes climate disruption (a/k/a climate change) and how it can be fixed. As the movie opens, the voice-over (narrator Leonardo DiCaprio) informs us that in the last 250 years (roughly since the Industrial Revolution), the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen dramatically, and the voice-over invites us to then listen to the impartial experts (scientists, professors, and the like) to understand the implications of this. We then go to the "Rocky Mountains" where a woman at the University of Colorado drives up a mountain in a snowmobile to a remote location to take air samples, as is done around the world, to keep track of the parts per million (PPM) of carbon dioxide (322 in 1968, now at 408). At this point we are 10 min. into the movie.

Couple of comments: this movie serves to be a basic introductory to everyone wondering what the deal is with "climate change". To the credit of director Leila Connors and the entire production team, they are staying away from politics and instead focus on "just the facts, 'mam". Hence no annoying/preachy figures like Al Gore or even Greta Thunberg, but instead we get third party experts from all over the world, testifying as to their scientific work and what it all means for you and me. "What happens in the Arctic has major implications in the rest of the world", informs one of them, and then explain how and why. At one point there is a clip that shows in about 30 seconds how much exactly the ice mass of the Arctic has reduced from 1984 to 2016, and frankly it is frightening when you see it like that. The movie's title refers to the methane emissions from thawing permafrost in the Arctic as it bubbles up in frozen lakes around the Arctic (one of the scientists pokes a hole in the lake and sets it aflame, hence "ice on fire"). But it's not all bad news, as the documentary also shows how we can reverse the ongoing climate disruption in specific and concrete and DOABLE ways.

"Ice On Fire" premiered at the 2019 Cannes film festival to immediate acclaim. I just recently caught it on HBO On Demand. The movie is quite similar to a new PBS documentary called "Polar Extremes" that just premiered on NOVAS. And there's nothing wrong with having two similar movies about this important topic. This is MILES away from the bombastic and annoying "An Inconvenient Truth". "Ice on Fire" sticks to the scientific facts and lets them speak for themselves. If you have been wondering what to commotion of climate change has been about (as I was), I'd readily encourage you to check this out, and draw your own conclusion.
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My Brilliant Friend (2018– )
8/10
The second season kicks off... brilliantly
18 March 2020
"My Brilliant Friend - The Story of a New Name" (2020 release from Italy; 8 episodes of about 60 min. each) opens with "Chapter 9 - The New Name". We pick up exactly where the first season (and first book) left off, namely right after Lila's wedding to Stefano. On the way back from the wedding, Lenu and her (boy)friend Antonio get into a huge argument, but make up and... make out. Antonio raises the issue of marriage, but Lenu demurs. A few days later Lila and Stefano return from their honeymoon. When Lenu visits Lila (now Lila Carrucci--the new name) at the newlyweds' new apartment, Lila sports a black eye. In a flashback we learn what happened in the honeymoon... At this point we are 15 min. into the episode, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this is the TV adaptation of the second book of the 4 serial novels written by Neapolitan author Elena Ferrante. If you saw the first season, which aired in the Fall of 2018, you know EXACTLY what to expect: the continuing stories of BFFs Lila and Lenu. Given that this is a plot-heavy series, I am not going to say anything else about the story line besides what I described from the initial 15 min. (which sets the table for the remaining 7 3/4 episodes). Instead, let me point out that seemingly money was not an object, as we move into Napoli's 1960s. The Italians have always dressed super nice yet always cool, and this production reflects that, and then some. The cast is pretty much a no-names cast from the US' perspective, and when you have that many characters to follow, that actually works very well. Once again Max Richter has provided a rich instrumental orchestral score. In short, the second season looks to continue in the same high quality as was the first season, on all levels.

"My Brilliant Friend - The Story of a New Name" premiered this week on HBO and is not available on HBO on Demand and other streaming services. New episodes air Monday evenings at 10 pm (Eastern). I can't wait to see how the continuing story of Lenu and Lila will play out. If you are in the mood for a top-notch quality foreign TV series, I'd readily suggest you check this out and draw your own conclusion.
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7/10
Intriguing opening episode promises explosive mini-series (with Winona Ryder alert!)
17 March 2020
"The Plot Against America" (2020 release; 6 episodes of about 60 min. each) brings an alternative history of the US. As the series opens, we are in "Hoboken, NJ, June 1940", and we get to know a Jewish family, the Levins. Dad (Herman) is working his way up in the life insurance business and is in line for a promotion that would allow them to buy a house and move to a better neighborhood. On the radio we hear a thunderous speech from American icon Charles Lindbergh, whom the Republicans have recruited to run for president against Roosevelt and whose views are outright anti-semitic and pro-Nazi, much to the dismay of Herman... At this point we are 15 min. into the opening episode but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this mini-series is the work from Ed Burns and David Simon, who brought us the acclaimed "The Wire". Here they bring the 2004 Philip Roth novel of the same name to the screen. I have not read the novel and hence I don't know how closely the mini-series sticks to the book. Surely the overall basic premise is the same: an alternative history of the US, in which an anti-semite/pro-Nazi candidate runs for president and wins. Of course there have been similarly themed shows before, as "The Man In the High Castle" immediately comes to mind (in which the Nazis win WWII and how that plays out in the US). This opening episode is setting the table of how all of it will play out, and does so quite effectively. After hearing Lindbergh's insidious speech, Herman laments "Win or lose, there's a lot of hate out there, and he knows how to tap into it". You don't need to be a genius to see how this perfectly fits into the current political climate, and that is the strength of the opening episode: it builds up gradually and it makes you worry, and worry a lot. As to the production value: it is clear that money was not an obstacle as this is an eye-pleasing production from start to finish (I mean, how many cars from that era can you put in a single frame?). The cast is tops, and it wasn't until the episode's end credits rolled that I realized that Evelyn is played by none other than Winona Ryder!

"The Plot Against America" premiered this week on HBO and is now available on HBO On Demand and other streaming services. New episodes air on Monday evenings 9 pm. I personally can't wait to see how all of this will play out. If you have an interest in "what if" stories on a grand (and political) scale, I'd readily suggest you check this out and draw your own conclusion.

*UPDATE 3/23/20* I just saw the second episode. We are now in "October 1940" and the presidential campaign is in full swing. This episode continues "setting the table" that was started in episode 1, and now the fireworks are ready to start in episode 3. Can't wait for that.
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8/10
Exquisite study of two female characters
16 March 2020
"Portrait of a Lady on Fire" (2019 release from France; 120 min.) brings the story of Marianne and Heloise. As the movie opens, Marianne is asked by art students about a certain painting. "Yes, I painted it many years ago. It's called Portrait de la Jeune Fille En Feu." We then go back in time, as Marianne arrives on an island off Normandy in what looks to be the late 18th century. Marianne is there to paint the portrait of Heloise, who refused to pose for the previous painter as a sign of refusing the marriage that has been arranged for her (to an Italian business person). How will Marianne be able to gain the trust of Heloise? At this point we are 10 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this is the latest film from French writer-director Céline Sciamma ("Water Lillies"). Here she looks at the complex relationship between these two women, with additional subplots involving Heloise's mother as well as the live-in maid. Given that the movie is plot-heavy, I really can't say much more that relates to the main story lines, sorry. So let me make a couple of comments on the movie's style. The movie is minimalist, as can be expected from Sciamma, purposefully slow-paced (in the best possible way) and nuanced. While of course physical portraits are painted and are at the core of the film, but that can be said as well for how the film studies these characters. The two leads, played by Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel are absolutely outstanding. The photography is likewise (with seemingly only natural light, and hence lots of candle-lit scenes in the evenings. Bottom line: this movie is not for anyone in a hurry.

"Portrait of a Lady on Fire" premiered at last year's Cannes film fest to immediate acclaim (it won the prize for Best Screenplay), and not surprisingly is currently rated 98% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The film opened recently at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati, and the Sunday early evening screening where I saw this at was attended poorly (5 people) but keep in mind that was the weekend where the coronavirus was declared a national emergency. If you are in the mood for a slow-moving French relationship drama set in the late 18th century, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it at the theater (if you still can), on Amazon Instant Video, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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Saint Frances (2019)
7/10
Watch the arrival of up-and-coming talent Kelly O'Sullivan
15 March 2020
"Saint Frances" brings the story of Bridget. As the movie opens, Bridget, a 34 yr. old waitress, is at a party and gets to know a 26 yr.old guy who also works as a server. They hit it off and next we know, they are living together. Bridget desperately wants to do something with her life, and she applies for a full-time nanny position to take care of a 6 yr. old girl named Frances (but everyone calls her Franny). Franny is more than a handful. Then one day, Bridget discovers that she is pregnant, and wonders what to do... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this is the feature length debut of director Alex Thompson, in a movie written by and starring Kelly O'Sullivan, also making her feature length debut (as a writer). This team aims to bring us a comedy with a lot of deep and deeply personal issues (and I mean a whole lot more than nannying a 6 yr. old). Because the movie is so plot-heavy, I really don't want to go into further details as to these deep and deeply personal issues, although I do wonder whether O'Sullivan has lived through some of these issues herself. "I'm not an impressive person", laments Bridget at one point (after another screw-up on her part). This surely is not a reflection of O'Sullivan, who is quite impressive in what amounts to a coming-out party. I'm quite certain that Hollywood has taken notice and that we have not seen the last of her, not by a long shot. that said, the movie is not without flaws. There were a couple of narratives that were built up and then... went nowhere (literally disappeared from the film). Kudos to Quinn Tsan, who composed the soundtrack with a bunch of delightful indie tunes.

"Saint Frances" premiered at last year's SXSW festival to immediately acclaim, and is currently rated 98% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The film finally was released in theaters in late February. It opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati, and I couldn't wait to see it. The Saturday early evening screening where I saw this at was attended so-so (7 people but keep in mind that the coronavirus was declared a national emergency this weekend). If you are in the mood for a very indie (and frank) movie about personal relationship issues, or simply want to discover the up-and-coming talent that is Kelly O'Sullivan, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater (if you can), on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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7/10
"The power of his words, but also the power of their words"
15 March 2020
"We Are the Dream: The Kids of the Oakland MLK Oratorical Fest" (2020 release; 58 min.) is a documentary about the 2019 edition of the annual oratorical fest around Martin Luther King Jr's legacy. As the movie opens, we see kids taking the stage, bringing inspirational quotes, original poems, tributes, etc. After that quick introduction, we step back and learn what the event, not in its 40th year, means for the 120 public schools in the Oakland school district, and how engaged the students become in the run-up to the oratorical fest. At this point we are 10 min. into the movie.

Couple of comments: this is the latest from veteran documentararian Amy Schatz, who just last year brought us the excellent "In the Shadow of the Towers: Stuyvesant High on 9/11". Here Schatz lets us take a glimpse at the impact of the annual MLK oratorical fest has on the Oakland public school students. While the fest runs K through 12, the film mostly looks at kids ages 9-11, and none more so than 9 yr. old Gregory Payton, whose public speaking skills will blow you away, even at that young age. The film s mostly inspiring and I was awed with the efforts put in by these young kids all around. However, in full disclosure, there was one scene that I cannot understand. A teacher in Markham Elementary is prepping his class for the oratorical fest: "Who are we? we asks. "We are Black Panthers", the class answers in unison. "I can't hear ya, WHO ARE WE?" "WE ARE BLACK PANTHERS!" the class screams. "Show me some angry face!" the teacher instructs. Say what?!? I couldn't believe how this teacher is indoctrinating these young kids with Black Panthers stuff. Much better is the scene where the Superintendent of the Oakland School District sums up what this even is all about: "It's about the power of his (MLK's) words, but it's also the power of their (the kids') words."

"We Are the Dream" premiered last month on HBO during Black History Month, and I finally had a chance to catch it on HBO on Demand. If you have any interest in Martin Luther King Jr. or how kids in the Oakland School District are affected by him and inspired by his legacy (and then do some of their own inspiring of us, the viewers), I'd readily suggest you check this out, and draw your own conclusion.
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7/10
A different kind of coming-of-age movie
14 March 2020
"Big Time Adolescence" (2019 release; 90 min.) brings the story of Monroe, or "Mo". As the movie opens, Mo is daydreaming in class and then led away by the principal and a cop. We the go to "Six Years Earlier". ad we get to know 10 yr.old Mo, as he hangs out with his sister and her 17 yr.old boyfriend Zeke. When his sister breaks up with Zeke, Mo continues to hang out with Zeke, and they become close friends. We then turn back to today, when they are 16 and 23, respectively, Alas, Zeke does not always provide the best example for growing up... At this point we are less than 10 minutes into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you';; just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this is the directing debut of writer-director Jason Orley. When we think of coming-of-age films, we typically think of films like the recent "Eighth Grade" or "Thirteen" or perhaps even "Palo Alto?. Let me tell you upfront that "Big Time Adolescence" is not that film. It's brought from a different perspective for one: a 16 yr. old whose parents inexplicably let their son hang out night after night with a college dropout who means well but is a classic slacker or loser when all s said and done. This is billed as a comedy, and yes there are a lot of funny moments in, but more of the chuckling kind than they are the laugh-out-loud kind. A good example is when Mo meets a girl in school that he likes, and Zeke gives him some "can't miss" dating advice. Watch the ensuing consequences! The movie features pretty much a no-names cast, except for Pete Davidson (from SNL) who plays Zeke. Beware: this movie is rated R for a reason, and there is lots of cursing and underage drinking and doping, so if that bothers you, better check out something else. In the end, the movie flew by in no time.

"Big Time Adolescence" premiered to immediate acclaim at last year's Sundance film festival (yes, over a year ago), and Hulu snapped it up and is now giving this a brief theatrical run. The movie opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati, and the Friday early evening screening where I saw this at was attended dismally: 2 people including myself. (This was the day that the coronavirus was declared a national emergency.) If you are interested in a slightly different coming-of-age movie than what you have seen in the past, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater (if you can), on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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The Way Back (2020)
6/10
Worthwhile checking out for Ben Affleck's performance
9 March 2020
"The Way Back" (2020 release; 108 min.) brings the story of Jack. As the movie opens, we see Jack at work at a construction site. On his way home after work, he starts drinking heavily, ending up at what seems to be his usual hangout neighborhood bar. The next day Jack spends Thanksgiving with his mom and his sister and her family. Then one day he gets a call out of the blue: his high school is looking for a replacement basketball head coach. The school hasn't made the playoffs since Jack played and starred in the mid-90s, and has been outright terrible as of late. Jack reluctantly accepts. At this point we are less than 15 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this movie marks the reunion of director Gavin O'Connor and actor Ben Affleck, following their 2016 "The Accountant" collaboration. Here we get really two stories in one film: the (fictional) Bishop Hayes HS basketball team, and Jack's alcoholism. At times these two stories intersect but frankly not all that often. It's really two separate films joined together. Want to guess which of the two is the more interesting story? Of course it is Jack's alcoholism. Ben Affleck's own bouts with alcohol abuse are well documented, so for him to play this part is not only bold but also shrewd (no additional research needed for this role!). His performance is what makes this film worth checking out, period. But why is it that Jack is dealing with raging alcoholism and correlating anger management issues? I'm not going to tell you of course, as the movie is plot heavy. Please note that this movie is in no way connected or related to the 2013 film "The Way, Way Back".

"The Way Back" opened wide this weekend. The Sunday early evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati was attended so-so (about 10-12 people), but the picture-perfect warm weather may have had some impact on that. If you like a HS basketball movie a la "Hoosiers" or a study of alcoholism, or simply are a fan of Ben Affleck, I'd readily suggest you check this out, and draw your own conclusion.
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Ordinary Love (2019)
7/10
Not your typical Hollywood cancer drama
8 March 2020
"Ordinary Love" (2019 release from the UK; 92 min.) brings the story of Tom and Joan. As the movie opens, Tom and Joan are taking their daily walk along the water, and we then see them watching telly. When Joan takes a shower, she feels a lump in her left breast. She goes to the doctor and after a mammogram, she gets the news that she has cancer... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from the Northern Ireland husband and wife co-directors Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Layburn. Here they examine the fallout of dealing with cancer on a long-married couple. There isn't much of a plot, other than to see whether Joan makes it through. Instead, we look at the devastating effect of dealing with cancer on their daily lives. Hospital visit after hospital visit. "I'm frightened", Joan confesses to Tom, and he tries to be supportive as best as he can, all along being frightened himself (but not saying so to Joan). There are some side stories that bear out on this but which I don't want to spoil here. Just watch. What makes this movie different is that it isn't your typical Hollywood cancer drama (think: The Fault In Our Stars; A Walk to Remember, etc.), but instead a nitty gritty look at dealing with cancer. Some scenes are difficult to watch, and other will move you to tears. The two leads are outstanding, with Leslie Manville as Joan and Liam Neeson as Tom. Neeson returns to his Northern Irish roots for this film, and thankfully stays MILES away from his recent action figure characters (the "Taken" franchise, "The Commuter:, "Cold Pursuit"). It is easily his best role in YEARS.

"Ordinary Love" premiered at last Fall's Toronto International Film Festival to immediate critical acclaim, and is now getting a limited US theater release. It opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati and the Saturday matinee screening where I saw this at was attended so-so (8 people in total). No, this film isn't going to amass big box office, as for that it's way too difficult to watch, but if you look behind the obvious struggles of these people, you'll notice a celebration of deep love and friendship, and indeed life itself. If that appeals to you, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater (if you still can), on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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8/10
In-depth look at the Band's history
7 March 2020
"Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band" (2019 release from Canada; 100 min.) is a documentary about the Band. As the movie opens, today's Robbie Robertson addresses the camera and talks about his music-writing process. We then go back in time to the origins of the Band, as talking heads like Bruce Springsteen and Eric Clapton comment on how tight these 5 guys were, "like a brotherhood". We then go back even further in time, to Robbie Robertson's upbringing in Canada and how he was exposed to music at an early age. At this point we are 10 min. into the movie.

Couple of comments: this movie is directed by documentarian Daniel Roher, but more importantly executive-produced by Martin Scorsese (who of course directed "The Last Waltz") and Ron Howard. In the end credits, we learn that the documentary is "inspired by" Robbie Robertson's 2017 memoir "Testimony", and indeed this is very much Robertson's perspective on how things unfolded. The documentary is absolutely tops in its first half, where we revisit how Robertson, at age 15, wrote a couple of songs for Ronny Hawkins & the Hawks (where the drummer was a certain Levon Helms), and a year later he was invited to join the Hawks. Plenty of archive footage along the way livens up the big screen, and it's like sitting at the feet of a music history teacher. Indeed, Robertson proves to be quite the master story teller ("joining Bob Dylan was a detour but we decided it was a worthwhile detour"). The movie's second half is not quite as formidable, as we follow the Band's demise (leading to the brilliant 1976 farewell concert "The Last Waltz"), and the subsequent bitter falling-out between Helms and Robertson. But in the end, the proof is in the pudding: I couldn't believe how quickly the theater's house lights came back on, as the movie had simply flown by in no time. When in the last scene of the movie we watch them play "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" in "The Last Waltz" and we are reminded that it was the very last time these 5 guys ever played on stage together, I readily admit that I choked up. What a loss for rock music that was!

"Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band" premiered last Fall at the Toronto International Film Festival to great acclaim. It opened last weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati and I finally got a chance to see it this weekend. The Friday early evening screening where I saw this at was not attended well (3 people, to be exact), and I can't see this playing much longer in theaters. But it you are a fan of rock music history or simply a fan of the Band, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be in the theater (if you still can), on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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Seberg (2019)
5/10
Kristen Stewart's talents wasted
5 March 2020
"Seberg" (2019 release; 102 min.) is a bio-pic of American actress and political activist Jean Seberg (best known for her role in the 1960 movie "Breathless by Jean-Luc Godard). As the movie opens, it is "Paris, May 1968", and Seberg is about to depart for a movie shoot in LA, leaving husband and young son in Paris. On the flight over, Seberg gets to know the Black Panthers' Hakim Jamal, whom the FBI is surveilling for "subversive" political actions and leanings. Seberg willingly supports the Black Panthers and she in turn is now surveilled by the FBI... At this point we are less than 15 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this movie is directed by Benedict Andrews, the Australian director better known for his theater and opera work than for films. Here he brings the true story of how the FBI decided to try and torpedo the acting career of Jean Seberg. At first the movie hints at a civil rights issue movie, but that dissipates quickly when it becomes clear what the FBI is intending to do. In and of itself, it should make for a rousing film, but alas, what we end up with is a stylish and visually strong movie that lacks in substance and in drama. Stewart does the best she can with what she is given, but she simply cannot save this movie. (Please note there is also a fair amount of nudity, if that bothers you.) Keep your eye out for a short appearance by Vince Vaughn (as one of the FBI guys.) For Stewart (who amazingly is still not even 30 years old), "Seberg" continues a string of critical AND commercial flops (including the disastrous "Charlie's Angels" reboot and the "scary" movie "Underwater"). Someone please get her a better agent!

"Seberg" had a very limited release in December to qualify for the Oscar nominations (as if!) and got a wider theater release on February 28. The Sunday early evening screening where I saw this at last weekend was attended poorly (6 people to be exact), and I can't see this playing in theaters much longer, to be honest If you have any interest in Seberg the person or are simply a fan of Kristen Stewart, I'd suggest you check this out, be it in the theater (if you still can), on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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8/10
The (unexpected) best movie of 2020 (so far)
29 February 2020
"The Invisible Man" (2020 release; 124 min.) brings the story of Cecilia. As the movie opens, Cecilia is in bed, next to her boyfriend, eyes wide open, with the alarm clock reading 3:41. She gently gets up and it is clear that she is trying to make her escape, having drugged her boyfriend. She barely manages to get away and is picked up by her sister Emily. We then go to "Two Weeks Later", as Cecilia is in a safe house with a friend. Emily stops by again, and has big news: Adrian (the ex-boyfriend) has killed himself! At this point we are 10 min. into the movie but to tell you more would spoil your viewing experience, you;ll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this movie has been in development hell for years (at one point Johnny Depp was attached to it), and then finally was made as a Blumhouse Production. Blumhouse has built a nice role in making clever "scary" movies on a limited budget. The film is a reimagining, if not reboot, of the classic 1930s movie of the same name , which in turn is based on the H.G. Wells 1890s book. Of course in the reboot the story is set in today's Bay Area. The film is written and directed by Leigh Wannell, himself no slouch in "scary" movies (Saw I, II and III, as well as Insidious 1,2 and 3). From the get-go, the movie is very tense/intense, starting with Cecilia's escape from Adrian's house. It's not long before things get worse. Of course with the "bed guy" being invisible, less is more, and it's incredibly effective. I would call the first half of the movie more of a psychological thriller than it is a "Scary" movie. Check out the very first scene where Cecilia realizes that there is an invisible man in her room. The movie benefits enormously from the outstanding lead performance by Elisabeth Moss, who is in practically every frame of the film. The second hour of the movie is still very good, even if not as captivating as the first half, as eventually all hell breaks loose and bodies start flying left and right. As we approached the movie's climax, I kept thinking to my self "I cannot believe how good this movie is!".

"The Invisible Man" opened wide this weekend, and is projected to do quite well at the box office, although I certainly couldn't tell that, as the Friday early evening screening where I saw this at in a large theater was attended poorly (about 15 people). But there is a reason why this film is currently rated 90% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes: the movie is frighteningly good, just rock solid from start to finish, and for me the very unexpected best movie of 2020 (so far). I'd readily suggest you check it out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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The Traitor (2019)
7/10
Gritty and terse Mafia crime drama
24 February 2020
"The Traitor" (2019 release from Italy; 145 min.) brings the story of Tommaso Buscetta. As the movie opens, it is "4 March 1980, Palermo", and the heads of various Mafia crime families are gathered to celebrate the patron day of Saint Rosalia, and making a toast "for the peace that must never end". They all gather for a group photo, and before we know it, the killings start to happen. We then go to "December 1980, Rio de Janeiro", where Buscetta has resettled so as to avoid the families' infighting, but to no avail, as one day he gets a call from someone back in Italy: "don't you remember who I am?". At this point we are less than 15 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this is the latest film from legendary Italian writer/director Marco Bellocchio, a/k/a the Italian Martin Scorsese, and now a crisp 80 years young. Here he brings an epic Mafia crime drama about one of the first Mafia bosses who'd betray and become a "pentito" (literally, a "repentant"). This is a plot-heavy movie and hence I'm not going to say much more about the story line. But I will say this: the movie contains lots and lots of violence, not surprisingly. The movie's overall tone and approach is gritty and terse, making for compelling viewing if you like that sort of thing. And yes, the 2 hrs. 20 min. are needed as Bellocchio looks at many different characters (which at first is a bit confusing if not intimidating). The movie hence features a large ensemble cast, none of which were previously familiar to me (and in a way that is not a bad thing). Kudos also to the excellent photography.

"The Traitor" premiered at last year's Cannes film festival to positive acclaim, and is currently rated a very respectable 76% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie opened out of the blue on 2 screens this past weekend and I didn't hesitate as I'm guessing this will have a very limited US theater run. Indeed, the Sunday early evening showing where I saw this at was attended dismally (3 people including myself). If you like a tough Mafia crime drama (and you know who you are!), I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater (if you still can), on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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The Lodge (2019)
6/10
Takes forever to settle in, plus Alicia Silverstone alert
22 February 2020
"The Lodge" (2019 release; 108 min.) brings the story of Richard and his teenage kids Aden and Mia. As the movie opens, Laura and the kids come over to Richard's and Richard tells her that he wants to finalize the divorce so he can marry his girlfriend Grace. Let's just say that Laura does not take this well. We then go to "6 months later", and Richard is trying to convince the kids that the 4 of them (Richard, Grace, Aden and Mia) should spend the days leading up to Christmas in the lodge away in the countryside. With hesitation, the kids agree... At this point we are 15 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this movie is co-directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, Franz made the excellent 2014 thriller "Goodnight Mommy", so that was a good sign. Here they bring a scary movie in a familiar setting, the remotely located lodge. The lodge is dark and cold, and did I say isolated? This a plot-heavy movie, so I am not in a position to say a whole lot more without spoiling, so I shan't. Alicia Silverstone alert! It wasn't until the movie end credits rolled that I noticed that the small role of Laura is played by none other than Alicia Silverstone. Silverstone, now in her early 40s, is a quarter century removed from "Clueless", and still going at it with some regularity. Riley Keough (It Comes At Night; American Honey) is quite good in the main role of Grace. Other than that, this movie is okay (not great, but okay), but does take a very long time to really settle in.

"The Lodge" premiered at the 2019 Sundance film festival (yes, over a year ago) to positive acclaim, and is just now getting a limited theater release (given the movie's Christmas setting, I cannot understand why this wasn't released last October or November). The Friday early evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati was not attended well (6 people in total), and I really don't see this playing in the theaters much longer. If you like a scary movie, please hold your expectations fairly low, and then I'd suggest you check this out in the theater (if you still can, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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IMDb on the Scene: Survivor: Winners at War (2020)
Season 5, Episode 2
9/10
40th season is underway with a BANG, and promises to be truly memorable
21 February 2020
"Survivor Season 40 - Winner At War" opened last evening with a 2 hr. episode called "The Greatest of the Great". The basic premise is as simple as it is brilliant: the producers have selected 20 winners of the previous 39 seasons to battle for the Survivor GOAT title. There are a couple of new twists: first and most importantly, there is now a currency in the game called "fire tokens" that allows the players to buy certain things (like an Immunity Idol, food, tools, etc.). All 20 players start off with 1 fire token each, but you get the sense that a lot more currently will be injected into the game in due course, and that it will only add to the craziness and uncertainty of the game. Second, the prize money has been doubled to 2 million dollars, the highest price in reality TV history.

Couple of first impressions after watching the 2 hr. opening episode. All the big names in Survivor are back, including among others Boston Rob, his wife Amber (did you know that they now have 4 daughters?), Tony, Parvati, Tyler, Ethan (who is a TRUE survivor, having survived cancer), Ben, and of course Sandra, the self-titled "Queen" of Survivor (she is the only person to date to have won the game twice). I obviously am not going to put any spoilers in here as to what exactly happened last night. But suffice to say that there is PLENTY of action from the get-go. Also very noticeable is the divide between the "old school" players and the "new school" kids. Old schoolers like Ethan , Yuul and Parvati, who all have been away from the game for a very long time, simply cannot get over the fact how much quicker the game has become. "Compared to this, Survivor Africa went about at glacial speed", comments Ethan.

As a Survivor fan from the first hour, I cannot get over the fact that this show has been around for 20 years now, and is still going strong. I typically am not in favor of rehashing past players, but for celebrating the 40th season of this show, I'm fine with it. I expect this to be an epic season on so many levels and if the opening 2 hr. episode was any indication, we are in for a jolly good time. Well done Mark Burnett, Jeff Probst and the rest of the Survivor production team, "the tribe has spoken!"

"UPDATE 2/19/20* I've also watched the second episode. Oh boy... This is all-out war for sure... watch Boston Rob's reaction when he learns that the other tribe has voted out Amber! And as anticipated in the first episode, the fire tokens indeed are playing a major role in how this season is taking shape, I just hope that the game isn't flooded/overwhelmed with them! We shall see in the coming episodes, See you next Wednesday evening!
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Downhill (2020)
4/10
The Hollywood remake of Force Majeure that nobody asked for...
17 February 2020
As "Downhill" (2020 release; 86 min.) opens, we get to know the Staunton family: Pete and Billie and their two boys have just arrived in the Alps for a ski vacation. The next day after some morning skiing, they head out for lunch on an outside terrace. Then a controlled avalanche goes wrong and comes barreling down the mountainside, straight towards the terrace. Just before it reaches the terrace, panic ensues and Pete grabs his phone and runs, leaving Billie and the kids. After the snow hits the terrace, everyone is okay, but Billie and the kids are in shock. And where is Pete? At this point we are 10 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this is the latest from co-writers and co-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who previously brought us the excellent "The Way, Way Back". Here they remake the 2014 Swedish film "Force Majeure", which garnered worldwide attention and acclaim. Eventually Hollywood announced a remake, starring Will Ferrer and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. My big fear was that the remake would be done as a comedy. If you've seen "Force Majeure", you know that it is anything but a comedy. The good news is that "Downhill" is not an outright comedy, although there are certainly funny bits in it. The bad news is that it's simply not a great film, and it outright pales compared to the original. The worst of it is that, whereas the original was a 2 hr. movie looking at the complicated consequences of the avalanche incident, the remake runs short of 1 1/2 hr. and even then it doesn't focus nearly enough on the consequences of the avalanche incident. Instead the movie makes some diversions that go nowhere and are irrelevant to the core of the film. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (as Billie) tries to save the movie, and almost does, giving a terrific performance, but in the end it's not enough. Will Ferrell is horribly miscast as Pete, I mean what were the movie makers thinking? Kudos for the photography, which is eye-candy from start to finish, as well as for the original score, courtesy of Volker Bertelmann (a/k/a Hauschka). Bottom line: "Downhill" is the Hollywood remake of "Force Majeure" that nobody asked for.

"Downhill" premiered at last month's Sundance film festival to ho-hum reaction, and is now seemingly rush-released into theaters. The movie opened wide this weekend and the Sunday early evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati was attended so-so (about 12 people). If you haven't seen "Force Majeure", don't waste your time and money on "Downhill" and seek out "Force Majeure" instead. If you have seen "Force Majeure", there is no point, none whatsoever, to see "Downhill", but hey don't take my word for it and check it out, be it in the theater, on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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