Mini Movie Review (BIT)

The lesbian teenage vampire movie BIT (2019) was, to sum it up in a word, dope. I mean that in both a good and trashy sense. This was fun, thoughtful escapism with excellent feminist and inclusion-oriented messaging. I enjoyed a lot of the music and the young women’s sexy outfits. The lead vampiress of the gang (Diana Hopper as “Duke”) was quite lovely and kick ass. I like how imaginative campy sensibilities can still come through in contemporary movies– albeit on rare occasion– and not just in productions made before, say, 1975 (though, especially, during the 1940s through the 1960s). I also appreciated the portrayal of teenaged angst by the lead character Laurel (Nicole Maines). I felt empathy and compassion for her and a few others in the movie, such as Laurel’s sweet older brother Mark (James Paxton) and her awkward gay best friend Andy (Matt Pierce). I only wish we viewers saw a bit more of Andy in the story.

I’m not a fan of vampire movies in general, but I like the occasional ones with a good twist or two. BIT delivered enough twists, including the feminist lesbian one, which kept it interesting for me and not overly-formulaic. 

Mini Movie Review (GODZILLA VS. KONG)

For those who enjoy Kaiju movies, GODZILLA VS. KONG, released earlier this year, was a lot of fun. There were some great, colorful visual effects. I found myself liking both Godzilla and Kong. The indigenous island girl communicating with Kong through sign language added a sweet, humanizing touch. And I appreciated the message of nature balancing things out, including overcoming out of control man-made (yes, made by arrogant men) technology.

Movie Review (THE ISLAND)

As far as I’m concerned, THE ISLAND (2005), directed by Michael Bay and produced by DreamWorks, is a modern science fiction classic. I watched this movie very recently since last seeing it in a theater as a new release. The film, which takes place in 2019, now two years past, holds up well after the better part of two decades. Granted, some of the technology presented, such as flying cars and motorcycles, still has not come into existence. Because of this, I would have added another decade into the future for when the story takes place, but perhaps the production’s creators wanted to be more immediate for the sake of relevancy to real life issues. In any case, the bold, saturated colors and periodic closeups lend an effective immediacy, intensity, and intimacy to the movie. The antiseptic, straight-lined, futuristic sets are grimly fascinating and claustrophobic (like institutions of science can often be, I find), making it easy to empathize with the two protagonists.

THE ISLAND initially takes place in some mysterious massive facility where several clones of adult people reside and are heavily monitored by a staff of uniformed, often intrusive, workers. Ewan MacGregor plays Lincoln Six Echo, an especially bright and curious clone who begins to push against the hum drum existence doled out to him. Recurring, disturbing dreams also add to his restlessness. Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) is his close friend and love interest. These two and all of the other clones each await winning a frequently held lottery. The winner gets to leave the sterile facility and go to the Island, a supposedly idyllic place that is free of deadly contamination, unlike the rest of the earth, which has gone through some vaguely explained, human-caused apocalypse. When Jordan wins the lottery one day, Lincoln panics and quickly persuades her to escape with him. He suspects much nefariousness is afoot, including the likelihood that there is no actual Island.

The entire cast is very competent, with Steve Buscemi providing occasional comic relief as James McCord, a technician/mechanic employee of the facility who befriends Lincoln before the start of the film. He later aids the two main characters on their adventure. Sean Bean plays Dr. Bernard Merrick, the director of and ruthless mastermind behind the institution. He hires highly skilled mercenary and security specialist Albert Laurent (Djimon Hounsou) to pursue and capture Lincoln and Jordan after they escape to the outside world. Much intrigue and action ensues. MacGregor’s precocious and thrill-seeking Lincoln Six Echo is a good foil to Johansson’s more innocent but feisty Jordan Two Delta. I felt they had believable sexual chemistry.

THE ISLAND is a powerful blend of dystopian screenplay and intriguing action movie which speaks to the superficiality and entitlement of glorified wealth culture and how dehumanization is a real danger/problem within capitalism, including when it is united with science. It isn’t often that speculative fiction in cinema is thought-provoking while being well-done overall in terms of acting, writing, and production values. THE ISLAND happens to be a screen drama that meets all these standards and entertained me throughout.

Mini Movie Review (SNOWPIERCER)

The off beat science fiction action film SNOWPIERCER (2013) is a gritty and fantastical post apocalypse allegory which effectively explores classism and subsequent other issues such as dehumanization and substance addiction. Chris Evans and the rest of the cast perform excellently, all within the setting of an enormous train that houses the remainder of humanity in a world enduring a human-made second ice age in the year 2031. The script is intriguing and movingly written. And Tilda Swinton is always fun to watch. She portrays quite a smug yet entertaining villainess here. The colorful and often almost surreal visuals reminded me of the 1990s movies DELICATESSEN and CITY OF LOST CHILDREN. The pace is fast and never dull, the story thought provoking.

Mini Movie Review (YVES SAINT LAURENT)


I just watched the 2014 French film YVES SAINT LAURENT. I enjoyed all the beautiful clothes, faces, artwork, music, and interiors. Actor Pierre Niney as fashion designer YSL was excellent, conveying a rare mix of ethereal elegance, nervous intensity, and coy sexiness. He looked a lot like Monsieur Saint Laurent. The rest of the cast was very good. I felt like I was partaking in a visual feast and party without having to deal with consequences of overindulgence like poor YSL did with drinks, drugs, and sex. What an imbalanced genius, a beautiful outsider who brilliantly created an elite insider niche for himself.

Movie Review (WONDER WOMAN 1984)

I finally watched WONDER WOMAN 1984 (released here in the U.S.A. last Christmas). I was prepared to be unimpressed, annoyed, confused, and disappointed. While the movie is certainly not as good as its 2017 prequel, which had a far more archetypal feel to it, I thoroughly enjoyed this newest installment of Gal Gadot starring as one of my favorite comic book super hero(ine)s. She looks as beautiful and poised as ever here, amidst a hair-brained storyline and fun 1984 time period props and settings. The latter two things were nostalgic for me. I graduated from high school that year, so I felt particularly demographically targeted as a viewer. Back in actual 1984, I admittedly enjoyed wearing clothes in the style of some of the outfits worn by a few of the male characters, including Chris Pine as Steve Trevor (come back from the dead due to some goofy ancient magic). The incidental ‘80s pop music and scenes in a shopping mall had me pleasantly reminiscing.

Comic actress Kristen Wiig is amusing to watch, ramping up the campiness of the film wonderfully (and I love camp). She is a good foil to the often earnest and proper Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. As the character Barbara Minerva when she is in villainess mode, Ms. Wiig is mostly not to be taken seriously (including in her final costume, which made me think of humanoid feline characters in the 2019 box office bomb CATS), except in a particular scene when she first embraces her dark side. That is believable and relatable, not only for many women abuse survivors, I imagine, but for anyone who’s ever been harshly mistreated in some way. Thoughts of revenge are natural to have, even though more people than not know better than to act on them.

There are a few actions that I found to be verging on nonsensical. Wonder Woman develops the ability of flight simply by finally believing she can combined, it seems, with the help of her magical golden lasso. I read some years worth of original Wonder Woman comics and watched the 1970s TV show with Lynda Carter. Nowhere in those narratives of the lovely heroine do I remember her ever having the ability to fly. I suppose the creators of this latest production wanted to make her even more superhuman/goddess-like. Perhaps I’m too attached to the old canon about this character, but I personally found this added on ability to be superfluous, unnecessary. That said, despite this inconsistency with how I’ve always known Wonder Woman to be, I didn’t actually mind seeing Ms. Prince fly because she looked so beautiful and graceful up in the clouds, her long dark hair blowing in the wind. And there’s likely the real reason she was portrayed flying: this was yet another way to showcase her lovely image. It’s all about appearances above all else.

The other occurrence that made little sense was how Wonder Woman’s invisible jet airplane comes to be. This is presented as a last-minute, all too convenient development done with seemingly little thought or effort. More magical powers are added onto the main character, more superfluousness. However, by not describing the actual scene I am referring to, I leave it to viewers to judge for themselves if I am on the mark here or not. Ultimately, it need not matter, since, as I’ve already implied, this film is simply meant to be visually fun and pleasing fluff, not a narrative with deep consistency or sense.

I was able to follow the story without confusion, though I’m sure it helped that I didn’t give the ridiculous, unoriginal plot much thought. I sat back and enjoyed all the slick sets, clothes, music, special effects, and Ms. Gadot’s goddess-like screen presence. The storyline about an ancient magical wishing stone getting into the wrong hands and eventually resulting in worldwide chaos hardly matters. It’s been similarly, repeatedly done in blockbuster movies anyways, very formulaic. This is a thrill-ride piece of cinema — exactly what I figured it would be. That said, I find myself in middle age becoming more of a softie in response to schmaltz and sentimentality, both of which are especially served up in a few scenes toward the end of the show. And that very schmaltz and sentiment redeems the film somewhat out of its often lame and silly narrative. Watching on screen how love and truth overcome crass materialism, narcissism, and unbridled power over others feels timely, encouraging, and refreshingly idealistic in this era of cynicism, selfishness, and lack of honesty by so many. I’ll take these feel good moments— even if unreal and fantastical— where I can, like breaths of fresh air. I’m thankful WONDER WOMAN 1984 could provide some for me. Sometimes, it’s good to just have a bit of mindless fun.

(Note: It’s important to watch the movie well into the end credits in order to see a special treat. At least it was for me and it certainly is/will be for many others.)

Mini Movie Review (STONEHEARST ASYLUM)

STONEHEARST ASYLUM (released in late 2014), directed by Brad Anderson, is a well-done Gothic suspense drama, taking place within an insane asylum in late 1899 and into the start of 1900. I finally learned what the obsolete term “alienist” means while watching this fun film. Young doctor Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) comes to Stonehearst Asylum in the English countryside to train as an alienist (a physician who attends to patients in an asylum). He discovers a disturbing shakeup of the staff there. Much intrigue ensues.

The cast (which includes Kate Beckinsale, Michael Caine, and Ben Kingsley) is excellent, the setting wonderfully macabre, and the cinematography darkly beautiful. The talented acting effectively carries the melodramatic script. I appreciate how the storyline includes a mix of old barbaric treatment methods being eclipsed by more humane effective ones and how the concept of insanity is presented as relative and often even subjective. This film is solid entertainment as both old fashioned-style, reliable suspense and romance and as a modern screenplay about human psyches and overcoming long-held misunderstandings of them.

Mini Movie Review (PEEPING TOM)

PEEPING TOM (1960), starring Carl Boehm and directed by Michael Powell, is right up there with PSYCHO (also 1960) in regards to being creepy, psychologically disturbing, and well-done— if not more so with all of those descriptors. Probably due to the film’s very harsh reception when first released, it’s not so generally well known as Hitchcock’s contemporary masterpiece. There is a scene I found especially memorable in which a blind, middle aged woman (Maxine Audley) confronts the main character (Boehm), a misogynistic voyeur and sociopath, while he watches silent footage of a murder he recently committed and filmed.

This is not a movie for everyone, including the particularly squeamish, though it’s artfully crafted and stylized, well acted, and intriguingly written. For those, like me, who especially enjoy the medium of film, this great cinema project plays with camera work, darkness, light, and both still and motion photography in clever and thought-provoking ways. All of these elements within PEEPING TOM serve as a powerful expression of the seemingly razor thin, often titillating dance between vibrant, fragile life and the finality of death. Profound impacts of child abuse and dark implications of voyeurism, such as objectification of women and how we, the film viewers, are also voyeurs, are all intuitively explored.

Mini Movie Review (CAPERNAUM)

The Lebanese movie CAPERNAUM (2018), with its subtitle translation being “Chaos,” blew me away. I can’t remember the last time I watched more riveting, powerful acting than what twelve-year-old (now aged sixteen) Syrian refugee, Zain Al Rafeea, delivers here. Taking place in the slums of Beirut, the story focuses on a streetwise, impoverished boy who tries to protect his eleven-year-old sister from being married off to their family’s landlord. Surrounded by squalor and pain, Zain (also the name of the main character) bravely faces what life throws at him. Filmed in documentary, hand-held camera style, the sense of intimacy and immediacy is constant. I highly recommend this phenomenal film.

Movie Review (I AM DRAGON)

The Russian language movie I AM DRAGON (2015) is often a visual poem. It is that beautifully made. Based on a Russian fairytale, the story is quite simple: A nobleman’s daughter is kidnapped by a dragon on her wedding day, thus resuming a horrifying tradition the villagers had thought ended a few generations back. The young bride-to-be must then contend with living on an enchanted isle where she soon finds out there is far more to the hosting dragon than initially meets the eye. Emotional intrigue and opening of hearts ensue.

There are definitely parallels in this story with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Cinematography and CGI weave gracefully together throughout this colorful production along with solid– often purposefully dramatic– acting by the two attractive leads (Maria Poezzhaeva and Matvey Lykov) and supporting cast. But, then, dramatic situations so often elicit dramatic responses. Well-crafted sets (CGI enhanced in places) and lovely costumes round out the exquisiteness of this film.

I’m humbly reminded here and by a few other recently-viewed productions that America is not the only producer of well-made high tech. movies, including those that excel in both style/look and emotional substance. I AM DRAGON is one such cinema masterpiece.