Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Madame Rosa (Sofia Loren at age 85!) is an Auschwitz survivor who lives somewhere in a seaside city in Italy and runs a business taking care of the children of prostitutes. She reluctantly takes in a 12-year-old Muslim African orphan at the begging of her doctor, who is also the counselor for the Social Services Department that takes care of street kids.

Momo (Ibrahima Gueye) is from Senegal, and is streetwise beyond his age. He robs strangers in the market, and he is a drug dealer under the wings of an adult gang lord. At first, as one would expect, he does not fit into Madame Rosa’s household, with the other kids who live there, and with the adults around him.

But Momo is smart and resourceful, and quickly he turns from victim to protector as he learns the hard lessons of life earlier than a 12-year-old should. As quickly as he calls Madama Rosa’s world his home and family, it starts crumbling around him.

The Life Ahead is in Italian with English subtitles. The director, Edoardo Ponti, is Sofia Loren’s son. The movie was made for Netflix during the 2020 pandemic.

The Life Ahead is completely carried by the two lead actors, Sofia Loren with her powerful presence, and the amazing talent of Ibrahima Gueye.

Here in America we are so inundated with our Hollywood movie formula, we’re not used to hearing other languages and exotic sound tracks, playing in locales that look foreign to us. The challenges of a 12-year-old black orphan from Senegal on the streets of a city in Italy are beyond our everyday comprehension. The movie may not present a culture clash for viewers in Italy, but in our American living rooms, they give us powerful jolts of realities we can’t even comprehend.

After the credits started rolling, I was mesmerized. I listened to the music until it was all done.

I owed it that.

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Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) is a farmer in Mississippi during the Civil War. Rather than being a soldier in the Confederate Army, he chooses to be a medic, because he thinks that actually helps people. When his nephew is drafted and he asks for his help, he tries to save him to no avail. When his nephew dies in battle, a chain of events forces him to desert. He find refuge in the swamp with a group of runaway slaves. Safely hidden away, they gradually attract other deserters and farmers who have no interest in upholding a system that keeps the rights of rich people to own slaves. They secede from the Confederacy and form the Free State of Jones in the swamps of Jones County, Mississippi.

Their actions change local politics during and after the war, and have an impact far into the 20th century.

Free State of Jones is a hard movie to watch, as the cruelty against black slaves in the history of America is brought to the forefront. Racism still persists today in 2020 and watching this movie today illustrates the massive injustice that was and is being perpetrated in the name of race in the United States.

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It’s 2015 in Los Angeles. Poppy (Annie K. McVey) and her film crew are working on a documentary of homelessness in Los Angeles. As they walk the streets and parks where homeless people abound, they get approached by a man in an antique woolen brown uniform who speaks with an English accent. His name is Alistair (Guy Birtwhistle). He asks for their help. He is quick, in a nonchalant way, to tell his story: The last thing he remembers was being in the trenches in World War I in 1918, when a grenade hit. He flew through the air, and ended up landing on top of a shipping container in an industrial section of Los Angeles. He’s been here for a month and literally learned to live off the land, mostly by trapping squirrels in the park, which he roasts and eats.

He has a wife and a life in 1918, and he wants to get back. The film crew has a hard time believing him, and for the most part think he is a mentally ill person with a fantastic imagination. Only Poppy wants to believe him. She starts taking him in and tries to help him on his journey back.

Alistair1918 is a simple time travel story with an unlikely and far-fetched plot. But it works. Alistair acts like a man catapulted 100 years into the future, although he picks up modern skills astonishingly quickly. He seems to teach himself typing and learning how to use a computer and the Internet in record time. Cameras seem to come naturally to him. He is an excellent map reader and he seems to be able to figure calculations on the movement of worm holes (which are needed for time travel) very quickly. While the time travel technology is somewhat hokey, it works in this movie. The ending is surprisingly satisfying.

This is definitely a low-budget film, and as such quite successful. It was completed in 2015. Guy Birtwhistle wrote and produced the movie, and also starred as the male lead, Alistair. Annie K. McVey directed the movie, and also starred as the female lead, Poppy. With only a handful other actors, and very simple scenery, I would say Alistair 1918 is a successful, quirky, but enjoyable time travel movie.

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Craig Foster is a South African diver. He likes to swim in the ice-cold Atlantic off the tip of Africa. As he explores a kelp bed, he finds a curious octopus.

He then decides to swim out and dive every day, seeking out the octopus in her den, waiting patiently for her to get comfortable with him. Eventually, an unlikely friendship develops, where man learns about octopuses, and – so it seems – the octopus teaches man a thing or two.

My Octopus Teacher is a documentary. There are only two human actors in this film, Craig, playing himself, and then there are a few scenes with Craig’s son, also playing himself.

The underwater photography is amazing, and I kept wondering just how he did it. There must have been other divers taking the shots of course. Also, he believes in free diving, not using scuba gear, and he seems like a he never needs to breathe.

A  documentary does not usually elicit strong emotion in its viewers, but I admit there were a few passages where my eyes teared up.

My Octopus Teacher is a remarkable film that shows that man is by far nothing special in this world and ecosystem, and that there are many other “beings” here living with us, so close, and yet so far.



Linguistic comment: The plural of octopus is “octopuses.” The word comes from Greek, and the plural form is “octopodes.” The Latin word for “octopus” is actually “polypus.” There is no “i” in any form of octopus, and therefore the reference to “octopi” we occasionally see is grammatically incorrect.

References: I have written about octopuses a number of times in this blog, and will take this opportunity to direct you to those posts.

Here is a post about how an octopus is smart enough to escape from an aquarium: Octopus Escapes Aquarium Through 160-Foot Drainpipe Into the Sea (returntonow.net)

Here is my book review for Other Minds

Here is my book review for Aliens




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Every now and then I watch a movie and I get these vague flashbacks: I have watched this before. But I can’t remember much, just a scene or two, or a feeling. Such was the case with A Serious Man. We just watched this off the the saved playlist. I thought I saw it before “a long time ago, so long, I can’t remember.” But it helps when you write a blog and your self-discipline requires you to write a review of every movie you watch (all the way through).

So within an hour of turning off the screen, I sat down and searched for A Serious Man and sure enough, here is my review of April 6, 2010. I thought I should write another one now, but reading the 2010 one again, I must say – tapping myself on the back – I did quite a good job. I think I spent more energy on my movie reviews 10 years ago than I do now.

So I invite you to read my review – I assure you there are no spoilers there – and then watch the movie. I gave it three stars, and that should make it worth your while.


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Alex Jacobs (Kyle Gallner) is a washed-out but brilliant cryptographer. When government agents recruit him with an offer he can’t refuse, he finds out that he is being drawn into a world he was not prepared for. His job is to decrypt a message encoded in an American satellite that has been in orbit for apparently a long time, and was definitely not launched by America.

It turns out that the message is from the future and contains a blueprint to build a machine.

Alien Code is a low-budget film with fairly bad acting, awkward special effects, and a very difficult plot to follow. It takes a lot of concentration, and after a while, I just found myself giving up and just enjoyed the ride.

If you want secret message conspiracies, bad men in black, caricatures of government agents, time travel, scientific brilliance stereotypes, it’s all in this movie.

After you’re done watching, you’ll forget about it all quickly.

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Spenser (Mark Wahlberg) is a former Boston policeman with a dubious reputation who just got out of prison. He wants to get out of town and start a new life. But his friend Henry (Alan Arkin), who runs a gym and fighting school, talks him into coaching Hawk (Winston Duke), a young and huge black amateur, whom he has taken under his wings. Spenser, pretty much half of Hawk’s size, is able to teach him a thing or two.

When his former girlfriend Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger) get back into the picture, Henry sees trouble. And then two of Spenser’s former cop buddies end up killed, he decides he has to get to the bottom of what has happened. In vigilante style, with the help of his friends, he takes on the Boston police department and finds ever deeper layers of corruption.

Spenser Confidential is a simple who-dunnit movie, with a comedic twist, a good story, but overall not very inspiring. Mark Wahlberg is a good actor, and I have never seen a movie with Alan Arkin I didn’t like. He is such a convincing actor, and he always seems to get the dirty-old-grandpa roles that fit him so well.

I would not recommend you go to the movies and pay for this, but hey, it’s 2020, it’s on Netflix, and if you have nothing better to do at 11:00pm and want to get a couple of hours of entertainment – don’t let me stop you.

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The History of Time Travel, filmed in 2014, is a fictional documentary about a man who invents the world’s first time machine. What is a “fictional documentary” you may ask?

The entire movie is being narrated by various “authorities” like the general shown above, as well as scientists, journalists, and others. The are being interviewed and they tell the story of Richard Page, a physicist who invents time travel. The story involves his wife and two sons, who eventually carry on his work. While the narrations take place, there are grainy scenes of the Richard and his contemporaries during various periods in history.

As you might surmise, a time machine will quickly attract the attention of the government and military organizations, as well as foreign adversaries, and they will do what they can to obtain the technology. With the technology being the ability to travel in time, things tend to get interesting.

There is no good synopsis to write for this movie without giving away its inherent cleverness. But clever it is. It does require careful attention, and I suspect it’s the kind of movie that would be best watched at least twice. It is now streaming on Netflix, so you can do just that.

Hint: It helps if you have busied yourself marveling about time travel, like I have, and I suspect I am rating it higher than I would otherwise.

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Seb is a regular dude who finds a new girlfriend. One day, without warning, he just disappears. Or at least that’s what it looks like for us in the normal world. From his point of view, he simply wakes up a year later, skipping forward in time. From his girlfriend’s point of view, he was gone, and then, without explanation a year later, he comes back. It takes several of these jumps before the two of them figure this out. How do you have a relationship with a man who is only “with you” one day every year?

This movie is surprisingly well done for such a weird central concept. It’s a movie looking for a reason to exist, but, hey, it came out in 2020, what do we expect?




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The Democratic Party Convention in 1968 took place in Chicago. It was the height of the Vietnam War, President Johnson had increased the number of soldiers in the war, and instituted an increase of the draft. Every day, innocent soldiers died in Vietnam. Back home, many activists were incensed and called for demonstrations at the Democratic convention. As history knows, those demonstrations turned violent and bloody.

After Nixon’s election in 1968, the Justice Department of the new administration wanted a poster trial, and appointed a reluctant young prosecutor named Richard Schultz to come after who became known as the Chicago 7: Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner. They were all charged with conspiracy, inciting to riot, and other charges related to protests that took place in Chicago. Bobby Seale, an eighth man, and a member of the Black Panthers, who was not involved, was also charged in the trial and was forced to participate without legal representation. His trial was eventually pronounced a mistrial.

The trial was a 6-month-long spectacle, accentuated by antics of some of the defendants who were not shy about displaying their civil disobedience.

Abbie Hoffman is played by Sacha Baron Cohen, the “Borat” guy, and I really didn’t recognize him until I checked the cast later. He does not have any noticeable accent and while Abbie’s role is somewhat comic, there is nothing comical about this performance. Cohen does a great job playing Abbie Hoffman.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is one of the best movies I have watched all year. It features the corruption of the government, particularly the Justice Department, under a president with autocratic tendencies (Nixon) and his loyal Attorney General, John Mitchell. Yes, “the” John Mitchell who was later convicted and went to federal prison for his role in the Watergate affair.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is as relevant a movie today in 2020, as it would have been back in 1970.

History does seem to repeat itself.



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Usually I put a photograph here that represents the movie, and if I can’t find a good one, at least the movie poster is better than nothing. I could not find any images for Chronological Order. Rotten Tomatoes does not have it listed at all, and IMDb has a listing with a few details, the trailer, but no images at all. And there are no images to be found relating to this movie in a Google image search.

That all tells you something, I guess.

This 2010 movie is about a guy named Guy – how creative – (Brett Jacobsen) who lives somewhere in a beach town in Southern California. All the scenes looked eerily familiar. Somehow, we never find out exactly how and why he is rich. Rich enough to have nothing to do. He has a lawyer named Murray (Vic Stagliano) who is also his best, and apparently only friend. There is also a dad that is part of the picture. Guy does not seem brilliant enough to have made his own money and sold out, and he also didn’t inherit it from his father, because we find out that he supports his father. But be that as it may.

One day Guy walks along the ocean and a door (with hinges and a door knob) washes up on the beach in front of him. We see him take the door home. It’s not clear how he manages that, since his only means of transportation is a bicycle. He must have walked home with the door, but that leaves the question on how he then got the bicycle home. I guess he made two trips.  The movie is full of plot holes like this.

Don’t ask how, but he figures out that when he mounts the door and walks through it, he travels back in time. This enables him to stalk himself in the past and leave notes for himself, presumably to change his life.

This is a bad movie, with a seriously flawed plot, poor execution, pretty bad and stilted acting, unrealistic dialog, especially between Guy and his father, and not much of a story line to follow.

I would normally give it one star at best, but I boosted it by a half, because of three small reasons: (1) I did chuckle occasionally about the quirky scenes with the door, (2) it’s a time travel story and I have an affinity for those, and (3), I found the score (the music) actually quirky and a bit refreshing.

Now don’t all run to Amazon Prime to watch this masterpiece, unless, of course, you’re time travel buffs. Then you have to.

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Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) is a middle-aged woman in 1985 who attends her 25th high school reunion. She has just separated from her husband Charlie (Nicolas Cage) who is also a member of her class. She runs into him at the reunion. The reunion does not turn out well for her, and she faints – and wakes up in high school in 1960, just before her own graduation. While she is her mature self, nobody else notices anything unusual and everyone treats her just like the teenager she is. She has all the knowledge she has gained throughout her life. After the initial shock and some adjustment, she realizes she might just have a chance to change things this time around. Of course, she treats cheating Charlie accordingly. But things get complicated quickly as one might expect.

Peggy Sue Got Married is a Francis Coppola film of 1986 that I had never before watched. Recently, during a Zoom meeting with a number of friends from high school in a virtual reunion, one of them brought up this movie as a nostalgic time travel story centered around reunions. That was the trigger for me to find and watch it.

I found it interesting that it came out right around the same time as the famous Back to the Future trilogy started, namely in 1985. There, Marty goes back 30 years into the past, to 1955, where Peggy Sue makes it to 1960. The experiences are quite similar in high school during that era.

I enjoyed the nostalgia of Peggy Sue Got Married. The movie has a lot of great scenes, it’s a little sappy at times, but the happy ending make it all worthwhile. If you haven’t seen it, I do recommend you find and watch it.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to do it all over again? Would you, if you could?

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Movie Review: Creep

Aaron is a freelance videographer. He answers an ad on Craigslist for a one-day job to videotape a man dying from brain cancer, who wants to leave a video journal of one day of his life for his unborn son. The instructions are for Aaron to tape himself driving up to the mountains. When he arrives and meets the man who hired him, Joseph, things turn creepy right away, and get more and more uncomfortable for Aaron as the day progresses. When Aaron is ready to leave in the evening, he can’t find his keys. Joseph convinces him In the next few days, the learns that the job wasn’t quite what he thought is was.

Creep is the 2014 movie we ended up choosing to watch on Halloween night, when the pandemic kept the streets empty of trick-or-treaters, and we were looking for a scary movie. There are exactly two actors in this movie, Aaron (Patrick Brice) and Joseph (Mark Duplass). It could have been a play.

This film would not win awards in cinematography, since the entire movie is filmed by a hand-held video camera. You hardly ever see both actors in the same frame, since one of them always holds to camera, consistent with the plot. The picture is always shaky, to the point where I felt dizzy at times. Creep got 89% from the critics on the Tomatometer, but I have to say I just found it – well – creepy. Being what it was, I expected that axe in the front yard of  the house in the mountains to have some role in the movie, and indeed it did in the end. But Creep did not draw me in. I watched it from a distance, so to say, as an exercise, rather than a movie I was drawn into by anything it offered. No music, bad pictures, shaky frames, very unlikable characters, silly plot, none of it spoke to me. While it didn’t specify the location, the scenery looked a lot like Big Bear, California to me, and I could relate to the cabin, having rented some there from time to time, and trails in the woods, and the scenes by the lake.

If you want to see a weird and creepy movie, do watch Creep, but don’t expect to write home about it afterwards.


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Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage) is a single man who lives the life of the rich and famous on Wall Street. It’s just before Christmas, and he rushes to put together a billion-dollar merger the night of Christmas Eve, when he hears that his former girlfriend, Kate (Téa Leoni), has tried to call him after many years. On the way home he has a strange encounter in a convenience store, and eventually he goes to sleep in his penthouse apartment.

The next morning is Christmas Morning. He wakes up in the New Jersey suburbs with his wife Kate, two little children, and a life apparently very different from the one he knows. He rushes back to the city to go to work and finish the deal, but nobody recognizes him. He gradually figures out he is in an alternate universe, where he has a lesson to learn: How to be a family man.

But he can’t help himself, and he muscles his way back to the business world, while playing husband and father at home. Will it change him?

The Family Man first came out in 2000, but it is just as valid and amusing now in 2020. I enjoyed watching it. Nicolas Cage is a very versatile actor and along with Téa Leoni, he tells an entertaining story with a happy ending.


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General McMahon (Brad Pitt) is a four-star general in the U.S. Army. He is a badass, he has the reputation of a tough soldier, his men admire him, and his country sends him to Afghanistan with a mission to …. do exactly what?

He is supposed to clean up the mess left after eight years of war and no strategic plan to win. But he can do it! There is no political will or support at any level to help him get the job done. His soldiers are tired and disillusioned. None of them believe in the mission they were sent to accomplish.

But yes, if they want him to liberate the country, he is going to liberate the shit out of the country, no matter what. So he forges ahead.

War Machine is a comedy, albeit a tragic one. It tells the story we have seen since 2001 on TV, night after night, starting with Bush, continuing with Obama, and on with Trump. We’re building a nation in Afghanistan, right!

I chuckled, I laughed, and I was sad and disheartened, because what I watched was satire.

Satire as real as life itself.

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