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A nearly perfect epic adventure!

 

 

'The Physician' Set Visit

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOj-Pn5WJkw

 

The Physician is one of the best epic adventure films I’ve ever seen—there that pretty much says it.  However, the folks at Influx will not allow single-sentence reviews, so I suppose I should talk about the movie a bit and explain why I enjoyed it so much.

The film begins in England during the Middle Ages.  A boy watches his mother die and no one can help.  After all, there aren’t any doctors and medicine is extremely primitive.  Having no place to live, he takes up with the closest thing they have to a doctor—a barber!  The guy is very gruff and his knowledge of medicine is negligible but young Rob Cole (Thomas Payne) learns what he can from his new guardian—including very, very basic surgery, since in those days, barbers often supplemented their income with such procedures.  Later, when Rob’s guardian loses his sight, a Jewish surgeon does cataract surgery!  Rob is intrigued—where DID this man learn such advanced techniques?  He learns that there is a medical school but unfortunately it’s in the East…in Muslim land.  And Christians are NOT welcome there.  So Rob comes up with a seemingly insane plan—to pose as a Jew and enroll in the school.  I know what you might be thinking…yes, Jews were treated well in Muslim lands at the time and were quite welcome.  And, the only hospitals and true doctors in the world were in these same lands.

The first thing Rob needs to do is a VERY painful thing indeed.  To make himself appear to be a Jew, he not only cuts his hair but his schmeckle.  I would say more, but just don’t know if Influx will let me elaborate further.  Suffice to say, it was a very painful but relatively minor operation!  Then, he joins a caravan heading East.  Along the way, he meets a beautiful Jewish woman and you KNOW that more will come of this relationship—but that comes much, much later in the film.  In the meantime, Rob must survive a killer sand storm, find the medical school and somehow get himself admitted.  What’s next?  Well, what I’ve told you occurs only in the first 45 minutes or so—and the film has nearly another two hours!  But, considering how exciting Rob’s adventures are, you won’t find yourself squirming or getting bored!  All too often, I’ve found epic films have great difficulty maintaining their pace—this is certainly NOT a problem here.

This movie has nearly everything going for it.  The script is very intelligent, engaging and fascinating.  Rarely is history made this fascinating in movies—but this fictionalized story is sprinkled with interesting tidbits about the times, the way folks lived and what it was like to be a doctor in the so-called ‘Dark Ages’.  Excellent acting is also evident throughout—with Ben Kingsley providing a nice bit of class and an excellent performance as Rob’s teacher.  However, it’s not all Kingsley.  Despite a lot of relatively unknown actors, they deliver the goods.  In particular, Tom Payne is quite good in the lead.  Add to the acting great cinematography, excellent direction, a wonderful soundtrack and a real sense of escapism, and you have a heck of a film.

So if I enjoyed the film THIS much, why didn’t I score it an A+?  Well, I rarely would give such a score to any film—and this one nearly earned it.  However, I was a bit irritated that such a great history lesson would include quite a bit of nudity, as the film otherwise would have been wonderful for teens.  Why did they have to do this when the film didn’t need any of this to advance the plot?  I might still consider recommending the film for teens but understand that many parents would blanch at letting their kids watch a rated R film.  I very, very minor trimming (which would have done nothing to harm the plot) could have easily made this one PG-13…and would have earned the highest possible mark from me.

Wow…this Little Rascals film is quite cute and a nice homage to the originals…

Little_Rascals

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENu4rpDqR0o

 

Finally, the editors of Influx Magazine have asked me to watch a film that is right up my alley.  This is because one of the many dubious distinctions I have as an insanely compulsive movie viewer is that I have seen perhaps EVERY Little Rascals short that is currently available.  I say ‘currently available’ because quite a few of their early films have simply disappeared—decomposed like so many of the nitrate film stock films during the first half of the 20th century.  It’s a shame, as the silent films in the series that exist today are among the very best of the series.

The Little Rascals were brought to the screen by Hal Roach Studios—the same folks who brought us Laurel & Hardy as well as quite a few other wonderful comedians, like Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chase.  Is this new version of the Little Rascals up to the same quality and spirit as the older, original films?  Or, even as good as the pleasant re-boot they brought out in 1994?  I sure hoped so when the film began!

This family film has a LOT of familiar elements if you are familiar with the old films.  I appreciate this, as most folks who will watch this movie will have never seen the original films.  So, they didn’t have to replicate the style and look of the old shorts.  But SOMEONE associated with this film thought it was important to be faithful to the franchise—and I really appreciated that.  A few examples of the old Little Rascals elements are when the boys tried to skip school and end up missing out on a party (I’ve seen this in two other Rascals films—one with an ice cream party and the other where the teacher took them to an amusement park—and the boys missed out on this because they played hooky), all the more familiar old characters from the franchise’s most familiar period (with Porky, Buckwheat, Darla, Alfalfa and Spanky—as well as villains like Butch and Waldo), Miss Crabtree, the kids’ taxi and much more.  On top of that, the marquee at the theater, if you look carefully refers to a Hal Roach Film Festival and the emcee of the talent show is Leo McCarey!  McCarey was a brilliant director who worked for Roach and directed many of the Rascals films (he later went on to become a top director of full-length films).

The plot involves Grandma (Doris Roberts) who about to lose her business.  She needs $10,000 fast and the kids all decide to help her.  However, the Rascals’ plans are all terrible and backfire badly—and it’s kind of cute seeing them turn everyone’s pets green (among other things).  Eventually, as a last ditch, they decide to enter the kids talent show—and first prize is, of course, $10,000.  Who will win—the Rascals or the insufferable Waldo?  What do you think?!

I am sure that the film will appeal to kids and their parents (and grandparents), though I am not sure if it will appeal to teens.  Teens will probably find it all a bit mushy and predictable…which is true.  But it’s well made mush!  Plus, it’s nice to have a film that will appeal to parents and kids alike…so leave your picky teens at home and enjoy or lock them in their rooms if you decide to buy the video!  Overall, this is a cute and surprisingly well made and enjoyable family film—and a bit better than the 1994 film.

Now see my reviews, rants and articles about films at Influx Magazine’s website.

IMG_2242a

 

After writing nearly 16000 reviews on IMDB, I decided to put my rants about movies to greater use and broaden my scope.  So, when Influx, a web magazine, offered me a chance to write for them, I decided to do so.  Part of this is because they have a very nice website and pedigree and part of this is because writing only on IMDB is a bit constricting and doesn’t let me talk about what I always want to talk about.

 

I’ll still be adding posts to this blog but most of my writing, at least for the time being, will be at the link below.

http://influxmagazine.com/about-us/

http://influxmagazine.com/martin-talks-bollywood/      This link is for my first post–a discussion of Bollywood films for the uninitiated.

A truly exceptional ‘little’ film.

2

The cast.  Mayer is in the middle and Dancy is to the left.

 

A long time ago, I was a social worker and then a family therapist. Later, I taught psychology. During the course of this, I worked with a few folks with Autism spectrum disorders–including Asperger’s Syndrome. Now I am NOT an expert but know enough by teaching about it, knowing folks with it (including a few of my students) and reading up on it to know whether or not a film that deals with this topic gets it right or wrong. It was because of this background I was excited to watch “Adam”–to see if I finally found a film that got it right. This is because although a lot of folks on the internet talk about this disorder (and many claim to have it–though in most cases this seems to be done to excuse boorish behavior) but few folks REALLY understand what it is. I sure wish I’d had this film available to me when I was teaching–it sure would have provided a nice example for my students.

I won’t spend a lot of time discussing what Asperger’s is–though it would make sense to briefly explain it. People with Asperger’s are generally quite normal. However, they are socially inept–having great difficulty picking up on normal social cues, understanding polite conversation and relating to people in a healthy manner. It’s as if they are socially retarded–generally unable to understand nuances, metaphors or things such as sarcasm or inferences. But, on the other hand, intellectually (aside from the social aspects) they are very normal and even sometimes brilliant. They are also incredibly literal in their thinking and speech. For someone to build a relationship with an individual like this is possible…though it certainly poses challenges.

Adam (Hugh Dancy) is a nice young man who lives alone and works with computers and loves astronomy. He happens to strike up a conversation with his neighbor, Beth (Rose Byrne) and slowly they become friends. But, early on, it’s obvious to Beth that there is something wrong with Adam. When he tells her he was diagnosed with Asperger’s, she learns more about him–such as how to interact with him as well as his social shortcomings. And, despite this problem, she learns to love him and vice-versa. The movie then unfolds–and addresses the unspoken salient point–is loving a person enough when you’re in a relationship?

 

The writer/director of this film is Max Mayer. It’s obvious that Max either knows someone with the diagnosis or he really, really did his homework. The film very accurately portrays someone with these life challenges–and Hugh Dancy was amazing in the film–simply amazing. I also really, really appreciated how the movie did NOT simply give way to sentiment or stuff itself with clichés, film formula or false nobility. Realism and integrity of the characters is what made this film really work for me.

If you do see this exceptional film (and I strongly recommend you do), a couple things I noticed that you may also like are Dancy’s amazing performance which includes no trace of his British accent as well as the cute scene with Beth reading to her young students.   As for Ms. Byrne, she is also excellent and I had no idea she was an Aussie–there was no trace of this accent in the film.  The way the little kids talked about “The Emperor’s New Clothes”–and how some just didn’t get it at all–was very realistic. Apparently, Mayer also really understands kids and child development! What a great film–and one of the few movies where I have NOTHING negative to say about it!

 

Disney REALLY reimagines Mickey!

Two new incarnations of Mickey Mouse have recently been created by the Disney folks recently.  One is REALLY radical–the new Mickey Mouse shorts shown on the Disney Channel.  The other, though it looks old, brings a crazy new CGI version of Mickey to the big screen as a short before the feature “Frozen”.  Here’s a quick blurb on each:

 

clip-from-great-new-mickey-mouse-animated-short-get-a-horse

http://geektyrant.com/news/clip-from-great-new-mickey-mouse-animated-short-get-a-horse

GET A HORSE!

When the film begins, you don’t think it’s a CGI or 3-D film. It looks like a Mickey Mouse film circa 1929–complete with scratchy film stock! However, when the baddie, Pete, tosses Mickey THROUGH the screen and he becomes a full-color 3-D character, you know you are in for something unique! What’s next? See the film–it’s well worth it.

This is an interesting case where it turns out that I liked the short more than the feature film it accompanied. In the case of “Get a Horse!”, it was shown before the Disney CGI film “Frozen”–a moderately enjoyable full-length film. However, the short was indeed magical and appeared to be a real work of love. I say this because the folks who made the film did a great job of trying to replicate the exact look and sound of the very early Mickey Mouse cartoons–something that is no small feat! Unlike most 3-D films I’ve seen, I think it’s very important you try to see “Get a Horse!” in 3-D. This is because rarely has another 3-D film tried so hard to incorporate this sort of camera-work into the film (another exception being the underrated “How to Train Your Dragon”). Most 3-D films, to me, seem as if they just tacked on the 3-D at the end and didn’t plan for the use of 3-D all along (this is especially true of the live action 3-D films).

Overall, a wonderful little film that no doubt will get nominated for Best Animated Short for the Oscars. If it doesn’t, I’ll be incredibly surprised as the film isn’t just fun but an amazing film technically.

 

mickeydonald

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDD1f-w9__4

MICKEY (Disney Channel)

One reviewer for this show on IMDB clearly hated these cartoons. They describe them as ‘despicable, detestable, deplorable desecration of Walt Disney’s early works’. I can certainly understand WHY they felt that way, as the animation style is NOTHING like the classic Disney characters and it seems pretty cheap at first. And, I can certainly understand WHY they felt this way because the characters were doing many things that would make Walt spin in his grave like a rotisserie. Imagine having episodes with a zombie Goofy, Mickey and Donald trying to hide their nudity, dogs urinating, bites being bitten off Mickey’s ear and a lot of very un-Disney-like violence!! It IS shocking and I could see how a purist would blanch at such things. However, I am NOT a Disney purist. Sure, I love the old cartoons but will quickly admit that Mickey’s old cartoons were awfully sanitized–a bit too sanitized if you ask me. Rarely did Mickey have any sort of edge–that was left to Donald and, sometimes, Goofy. But here, Mickey is a rather impish character–more like you’d see in the very, very early Mickey cartoons and not the sweet and 100% wholesome guy you’d see in the 1930s to today! While the art style takes some getting used to, I can look past the cheap look. More importantly, as I sat and watched these cartoons during a recent Disney cruise (where they pipe them into the rooms), I found myself laughing louder than I ever have before with a cartoon. Imagine blending a bit of “Ren & Stimpy” with Mickey–that is what you’ll find in “Mickey Mouse” (2013). I love them and want more!

Majid Majidi’s films are a treasure–yet most folks have never heard of the man or his films.

Majid-Majidi 1_c67

http://www.cinemajidi.com/

Years ago, I saw a couple Iranian films that were as good as any films made anywhere.  The best thing about “Children of Heaven” and “The Color of Paradise” is the humanity of the characters.  So, while political relations between Iran and much of the West are very, very strained to say the least, the film gives you insight into the people and shows that there is goodness everywhere.  And, the issues these folks deal with (particularly in “The Color of Paradise”) are universal.

While “Children of Heaven” is Majidi’s most famous film, I think “The Color of Paradise” is his best.  In fact, I’d place it in my top 10 of ALL films–it’s that good since I have seen so many.  It’s the story of a blind boy whose father will not accept him–a problem many disabled children struggle with throughout the world.  As a father of a deaf daughter, it was particularly poignant.  I won’t tell you more of the plot–just see this film for yourself.

As a result of my loving these two films, I have sought out all of Majidi’s films and have enjoyed every one of them.  They each star normal folks and seem like a more modern version of the Italian Neo-Realist films–movies made without professional actors and filmed out in the real world.

“Baran”, “The Song of Sparrows” and “The Willow Tree” are all exceptional films by Mijidi which haven’t yet been discovered by most film snobs.  Of the three, “The Willow Tree” is the best.  It’s a strange story of a middle-aged man who is blind but is given his sight–and it actually ends up making his life much worse!  It’s a wonderful look into human nature and I appreciate how in this story, a disabled guy isn’t wonderful and noble!

My suggestion is to start with “The Color of Paradise” but have some Kleenex handy.  It packs a huge emotional punch and is perfectly appropriate for all ages.  Then by all means see his other films.  You will thank me–they are that good.

the-colour-of-paradise

A vist to the German Film Museum in Frankfurt.

Downtown Frankfurt--the Romer 101

http://deutsches-filminstitut.de/filmmuseum/

I was in Paris a week ago, and unfortunately did not have time to visit their great film museum.  However, I did have some time in Frankfurt and dropped by the German Film Museum.  While unfortunately it didn’t stress German films enough and was a bit small, the place was well worth seeing.

 

The entrance opens to the gift shop and the small cafe.  The man working the counter at the cafe was very friendly and the beer selection was excellent…as was my soup.  I particularly loved these chairs next to the cafe–you can feel free to sit in them.

Downtown Frankfurt--the Romer 094

 

The first floor (actually, to us Americans, we call it the second floor) is about the history of inventions that led to what we call movies.  Various devices such as stereoscopes, photography, Zoetropes and the early cameras of the Lumiere Brothers and pictures of Edison’s studio fill this very interesting portion.  Kids, in particular, will enjoy this section.

Downtown Frankfurt--the Romer 098

 

The second floor is mostly movie memorabilia as well as a four-screen viewing area.  As for the memorabilia, it was great but not really a lot to see.  In particular, the great German films are not nearly as well represented as I’d hoped (apart from a script by one of Murnau’s American films, I didn’t see much)–and they should be more prominently represented.  The viewing area is nice but the little one with one screen on the first floor I preferred–mostly because I adore the early silents.  Below you see the multi-screen one on the 2nd and the single screen of a GREAT little silent (“The Japanese Acrobats”) from the 1st floor.

Downtown Frankfurt--the Romer 143   Downtown Frankfurt--the Romer 132

 

So, is this a place to rush to see?  Probably not if you aren’t in the area.  However, a trip to Frankfurt should include this–especially since it’s only a 15 minute walk from the rebuilt old town square (which includes the Cathedral, a modern art gallery, a cartoon museum and quite a few other minor sites).

Felix, the forgotten comic genius.

Felix-chaplin

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XwMbEEKR44

I have always loved silent films.  Even as a child, I remember watching them whenever they came on TV.  I even remember going to an honest to goodness theater to see Harold Lloyd’s “The Freshman” (1925).  No, I am NOT 100 years old–heck, I’m not quite even half that.  I just have a love for early films.  Now I could go on and on about the early comics like Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd or even Charley Bowers (that’s a new one–perhaps I’ll talk more about him in a future post).  However, this post is about a different comic genius of the age….Felix the Cat!  Now before you think I’ve lost my mind (again), hear me out first.  The Felix cartoons you grew up watching were probably NOT the ones I am talking about at all.  I grew up with the stupid Trans-Lux version made in the late 1950s.  There also were other re-inventions of Felix in the 1930s and 1970s and 80s.  No, I am talking about the ORIGINAL Felix cartoons–from about 1919 to about 1928.  Back when Felix was a silent film star.  In these films, Felix rarely was normal in any way.  In fact, the cartoons seemed a bit inspired by Salvador Dali–weirdly surreal and a very mischievous leading man!

Of all the Felix silents I have seen, so far my favorite is “Comicalamities’–a genius of a film from 1928.  In it, Felix repeatedly violates every rule for cartoon characters and the results are amazing and refreshing…yes, refreshing.  He is not some boring nice-guy (like he was in the three Van Beuren Studios Felix the Cat shorts)  but crazy, wild and a little bit of a jerk!  My advice is to click on the link above and watch “Comicalamities’ yourself.  Go ahead, I dare you.  Then feel free to let me know what you think about this forgotten comic genius.

felix

I have my first fan…..sort of….

Guillame Filion and Martin the Penguin 001

http://blog.thegrandlocus.com/2012/06/The-elements-of-style

http://blog.thegrandlocus.com/2013/03/one-shade-of-authorship-attribution#disqus_thread

A few months ago, I did a Google search on my IMDB name, planktonrules.  Wow, was I surprised.  I found that there was a website in Barcelona that was talking about me!  Strange….very strange.  Fortunately, the site was in English and I saw that a Microbiologist, Guillaume Filion, had posted a blog entry about me….or at least about my posts on IMDB!  That’s kind of weird…and I was intrigued–especially since the posts were about a statistical analysis of my entries!

 

In his first post, Guillaume compares the style of my reviews to the average review.  He found that mine differed in a few interesting ways.  In general, the more I disliked a movie, the longer the review.  That came as no surprise to me, as warning folks about a horrible film is like a civic duty to me!  Besides, a bad movie can be so bad that it is actually fun to dissect it!  He also noticed that I tended to avoid doing what most reviews did–I did not get bubbly and excited over a good film and talk about it using teen-speak (such as OMG, or using multiple exclamation points).  Finally, I tended to use the word ‘film’ much more than ‘movie’.  That last one I didn’t realize…but I sure do now when I write a review!

 

In his second post about planktonrules, which came a few months later, he tried to answer a question I had no idea was buzzing around the internet–‘Is planktonrules a single person or actually a group of people who pretend to be just one person?’.  When I thought about it, I realized that this IS a valid question.  After all, I have about 14,500 reviews on IMDB and that DOES sound impossible.  So, using statistics, he was looking for internal consistency to determine if the style varies–which he found did not.  Still, his blog did not sound 100% convinced.  So, I contacted Guillaume….and suggested we meet!  After all, I would be in Barcelona in June and wouldn’t mind meeting him.  Plus, I was really intrigued.  Why would he write about me in his blog?!

 

Above is a picture of Guillaume.  I took it at the bar in the hotel where we were staying back in June.  He does not look like a serial killer or nut…and I hope he did not think the same about me!  Overall, it was a delightful get together and I am happy to have met my one and only fan!  We chatted and I learned that Guillaume is absolutely in love with his work–he adores math, statistics and microbiology.  And, he learned that I DO have a life beyond just writing IMDB reviews!  I’ll keep you posted in case he does any more blogs about me, though I really think he’s exhausted this topic!

 

It’s not the sort of thing I usually watch, but I liked “Last Passenger” and suggest you try to see it when it debuts in August.

Last passenger

Before I talk about what I thought about this movie, I think I should mention why I watched “Last Passenger”.  While I rarely watch action films, I was approached by someone who made the film and was asked to see the film and comment on it before its release in August.  I have occasionally had a few filmmakers do this and I assume it’s one of the perks of being such a prolific reviewer here on IMDB.  I agreed to see the film but in no way was paid or given anything in order to write a positive review—I told them I’d just give my honest opinion.  Fortunately, it turned out the film was awfully good—so reviewing and seeing “Last Passenger” was a pleasure.

The film begins with a doctor (Dougray Scott) and his son (Joshua Kaynama) getting on a train in England.  They soon strike up a conversation with a very lovely young lady (Kara Tointon) and it really looks like it’s going to be a romance film.  You like the people and hope that they’ll hook up by the end of the movie.  But in a great case of misdirection, the film has other plans! Soon the doctor gets a call from the hospital—they need him as soon as possible and he’ll have to drop off the boy at his grandparents.  But it’s still a while until they get to his stop and he’s obviously tired, so the nice lady tells him to take a nap—she’ll watch the boy.  Again, here is a nice case of misdirection—the lady is NOT a serial killer or kidnapper.  Instead, the surprise comes later, after the doctor awakens.  His stop is nearing but he notices that almost all the passengers are gone and the train is NOT stopping at the stations!  Soon it becomes apparent that the train is either unmanned or some crazy person is hurtling the train towards oblivion.  And, the few passengers aboard and the people outside the train seem unable to do anything—as the train is a diesel and is racing towards the end of the line.  What’s next?  See this film for yourself.

As I mentioned above, although the story is simple, there are some nice cases of misdirection—which I really appreciated.  Additionally, although I didn’t recognize any of these actors, for relative unknowns they sure did great.  I particularly liked Scott—he was nice looking but no pretty boy and did a very nice job in the lead.  In fact, all the actors (including Iddo Goldberg, David Schofield and Lindsay Duncan)  were excellent and having ‘normal’ faces in these parts instead of big-name stars was a plus, as it made the film seem a lot more realistic.  As for the direction and cinematography, these were big pluses—and you wonder HOW they managed to make the film in such a confined set, as ALL but the final seconds of the film are aboard a train.  Finally, the music was great—and really helped create a tense mood throughout.  Overall, an exciting film that I hope gets wide distribution, as it really deserves to be seen.

last passenger2