Category Archives: 2 pirate flags


Changeling (2008): United States – directed by Clint Eastwood

Rated R by the MPAA – contains mature themes, disturbing material, some violence and some language

Changeling is Clint Eastwood tackling a period piece, a crime drama, a murder mystery, an historical account, police corruption, and the mistreatment of women in 1920’s Los Angeles.  The film is based on a true story, making certain elements all the more unsavory.  But it is an interesting story, and a complicated one, as evidenced by the 141 minute runtime.  This is Eastwood at his most bloated, and the numerous plot threads eventually hurt a generally engaging tale.

Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) is a working woman in Los Angeles.  She is a hard worker and intelligent, as evidenced by her status as floor supervisor in a call center.  She manages the other women, floating around on roller-skates to more quickly help the callers.  She has a son, Walter (Gattlin Griffith).  His father left when Walter arrived, due to a great fear of responsibility.  Christine does her best to care and provide for the boy.

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Sergeant York

Sergeant York (1941): United States – directed by Howard Hawks

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some violence and mature themes

Sergeant York is a simple tale, perhaps, one of a patriotic, religious farmer.  It’s a tale of conversion and catharsis, war and peace, love and violence.  The first hour sets up the characters and the settings before the reality of the Great War come into play.  It seems that Howard Hawks intended the film to be propaganda, as the United States hadn’t quite entered the second World War at the time it was made.  Fortunately the message isn’t as simple as the story and the filmmakers seem to take a little time to consider the ramifications of patriotism.

Alvin York (Gary Cooper) is a young troublemaker in a small valley town in Tennessee.  He rides hard, drinks hard, and shoots hard.  The beginning of the film has him disrupting a church service, embarrassing his proud mother (Margaret Wycherly).  The local pastor (Walter Brennan), who also runs the general store, is sure that Alvin just needs a bit of religion in his life.

Alvin may drink hard, but he works hard.  He works the land, his hill-side land that’s strewn with rocks and quite difficult to provide any sort of lucrative yield.  He wants to acquire some valley land and better provide for his ma and two young siblings.  There’s also a pretty lass down the way that could use an established gentleman as a husband.  Gracie (Joan Leslie) is sweet and honest, but has other suitors beside Alvin.  However, Alvin’s violent outbursts and nefarious dealings when it comes to love turn her off.

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Jurassic Park III

Jurassic Park III (2001): United States – directed by Joe Johnston

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains violence and blood

Watching Jurassic Park III in the theater, as a high-schooler, with a friend, as a fan of the previous iterations (especially the books, but even enjoying the poorness of The Lost World: Jurassic Park), I did enjoy the film.  There were dinosaurs, and they chomped on people.  There were new dinosaurs, and new people, and one familiar face, and that was about it.  I realized that it wasn’t a great film, but I did enjoy it.

Watching it again now it becomes apparent that it wouldn’t have had a theatrical release if it hadn’t had “Jurassic Park” in the title and been executive-produced by Steven Spielberg.  Nine years after its theatrical run it looks like a SyFy movie-of-the-week, with poor dialogue, a terrible script, stupid characters, and rather weak special effects.

The plot is standard and cookie-cutter.  A group of people get stuck on an island that’s overrun with dinosaurs.  But this is the second island from the original Jurassic Park movie [review here], and referenced in The Lost World: Jurassic Park.  Therefore, the film re-introduces Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neil), the paleontologist who suffered through the island the previous two times.  A brief scene reunites him with Dr. Sattler (Laura Dern), the paleobotanist from previous outings.  She has married another man and has an adorable young boy, so we know that this is her cameo and nothing more.

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Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin (2010): United States – directed by Mick Jackson

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some mature themes

Temple Grandin is not the story of a brave, courageous woman who fought the odds (and misogynistic men) to fulfill her life’s dreams.  Rather, it’s the tale of a woman who does what she needs to do, and however she can manage.  Growing up, Temple (Claire Danes) was not like other children.  She did not speak until she was four and had a strong aversion to other people.  More painful, especially to her mother (Julia Ormond), was a revulsion to being touched by another person.  No hugs, no comforting, no squeezing.

The movie starts the summer before Temple begins college.  She goes to live on a ranch in Arizona with her aunt (Catherine O’Hara), and her lifelong love of cattle is given a chance to blossom.  But it’s not just cattle that she loves; her mind works in an extraordinary way, giving her the ability to see the solution to mechanical problems.

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Big Night

Big Night (1996): United States – directed by Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott

Rated R by the MPAA – contains profanity

Big Night is a tale of two brothers and their vain attempts to conquer the vast cultural and culinary wasteland of America.  Primo (Tony Shalhoub) is the first born, as evident by his name.  Primo and his young brother, Secundo (Stanley Tucci), have immigrated to the East coast to start an Italian restaurant.  Primo is the artist, given to carefully crafting exquisite cuisine.  Secundo is practical and business-like.  He understands that there is a bank loan to be repaid and something to be said for giving customers what they want.

An early scene establishes their respective identities.  Secundo has served a plate of risotto to an American customer.  She is dissatisfied: there is no pasta and no meatballs.  She orders a side of spaghetti and is dismayed to learn that it does not come with meatballs.  She orders a side of meatballs.  Secundo, trying desperately to appease the customer while informing her of her cultural ignorance, relays the message to the kitchen, where Primo nearly blows a fuse.  Pasta on top of rice, what is she thinking?

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The Four Feathers (2002)

The Four Feathers (2002): United States – directed by Shekhar Kapur

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains violence and mature themes

The novel The Four Feathers, by A.E.W. Mason, has been filmed many times.  This 2002 update has the advantage of a large budget, name actors, and a classic story, but it never takes fully utilizes its potential.  The story remains epic, dealing with matters of honor and glory, and the production looks epic, but the construction is often confused and disjointed.

The story begins toward the end of the 19th century.  Harry Feversham (Heath Ledger) is in the army; one of those wealthy and privileged enough to serve.  He has a lovely fiancee, Ethne Eustace (a decidedly un-British Kate Hudson), and some good friends that include Jack Durrance (American Beauty’s Wes Bentley).  When he learns that his unit will be sent to war in North Africa, however, he falters.  He is not a warrior, and would rather engage in simpler pursuits.  His decision to resign his commission carries great weight.

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An Education

An Education (2009): United Kingdom – directed by Lone Scherfig

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some sexual content and mature themes

In many ways An Education’s heroine, Jenny (Carey Mulligan), reminds me of a more mature Juno [review here].  But this is Great Britain in the early 1960’s, and it is not boredom that might lead to “being in the family way.”  There is a rebelliousness about Jenny, but a clever and intelligent rebelliousness.  Perhaps she should have run off with Rebel Without a Cause’s James Dean or The Wild One’s Marlon Brando.  But again, this is Great Britain, so perhaps she would be more suited for À bout de souffle’s Jean-Paul Belmondo, a rebel whose greatest attribute is being French.

Jenny is a complicated character.  Her father wishes for her an Oxford education so that she can be successful in life.  Her teachers wish her the same, so that she will be a liberated, self-sufficient woman.  But she wants to study English and play her cello, listen to classical music and French swooners, peruse art collections and enjoy jazz clubs.  There is a world of enjoyment that she desires to experience, but even attaining this might not grant her the titular education.

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A Serious Man

A Serious Man (2009): United States – directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Rated R by the MPAA – contains strong language, brief and distant nudity, drug use, and mature themes

The end credits proclaim, “No Jews were harmed in the making of this motion picture” and it may be true that none were physically injured, but it sure appears that many were emotionally tortured.  In fact, the poor, luckless hero of the film seems to be a modern Job, with most of his wealth, family, and friends taken from him, and the people he turns to for advice prove useless.

The hero in the Coen brothers most recent blacker-than-pitch comedy is Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a physics professor at a university in a small town.  He is Jewish, his family is Jewish, and most of his friends and acquaintances are Jewish.  Almost everyone in the film is Jewish, besides the South Korean student that attempts to bribe Larry in an attempt to have his grade changed, and Larry’s anti-Semitic neighbors.  But everyone else is Jewish, include Larry’s wife’s soon-to-be new husband, Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed).

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Event 16

Event 16 (2006): New Zealand – directed by Derek Pearson

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some violence and a little sexual content

Event 16 is an odd little film from New Zealand, made with no budget in Wellington.  It’s always good to see new filmmakers get their feet off the ground, as director Derek Pearson does here.  However, some do it better than others, as Peter Jackson proved with Bad Taste and Dead Alive, also made in New Zealand.

Unfortunately, Event 16 isn’t quite as good.  It is an interesting little sci-fi movie with some intriguing themes and made almost entirely with special effects.  There are some actors and locations, but almost everything has had some post-production work done on it.

The effects look great sometimes, especially the backgrounds, and that’s probably the best thing to say about the movie.  Conversely, some of the effects are dreadful, but that’s not necessarily the worst thing about the film.  Almost everything screams low budget, from some of the special effects to the delivery of the lines.

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Perng Mang: The Haunted Drum

Perng Mang: The Haunted Drum (2007): Thailand – directed by Nuttapeera Chomsri and Sranya Noithai

Not rated by the MPAA – contains violence and gore, some mild sexual content

There are a couple things that make Perng Mang: The Haunted Drum a little different than most horror films.  The first is that it is Thai, and I have not seen a great number of Thai films.  The second is that it mixes genres in a way that only certain Southeast Asian films do.  Is it a horror movie?  Sort of.  Is it a tragic romance?  Yeah, kind of.  Is it a sports/music competition movie?  Yes.

As you might imagine, this all gets a little confusing.  The first twenty minutes in particular are poorly stitched together.  The film starts in the 1800’s, and we are introduced to a couple of small children.  The film then jumps ahead a few years, and one of the children receives a ring from his dying grandfather.  This ring is present throughout much of the rest of the film, but has no real significance.

A few years later a young man is sent to join a traditional Thai band.  He plays the drums in a percussive orchestra.  The most important instrument is the perng mang, a set of seven drums that sounds quite unique and interesting.  This particular band is rumored to have a haunted perng mang, with a spirit inside that protects the band.  However, there is also a rival band, with more money and better status.  The two bands don’t always get along, and loyalty to one’s band causes some fights.  Eventually the film progresses to band-offs, where each band plays in order to win a wager with the political ruler of the area.

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