"The Gift" by Ralla

I've decided that my favorite genre of movie is the psychological thriller.  I didn't realize that until I walked out of "The Gift" mulling over the twists and turns of the plot.   

This summer I've tried to widen my horizons by going to more action and comic book films.  I threw in "Magic Mike XXL" just to stay up with the trends.  I smiled a few times while watching "Ant Man" because I really like Paul Rudd.  "San Andreas" was thrilling with its earthquake and tsunami special effects.  But none of these movies really did it for me the way "The Gift" did.

There's nothing as fascinating to me as the hidden nooks and crannies of the human mind.  What goes on in the folds of our brains seeps out into our relationships, both with others and with ourselves.  I'm weary of bomb blasts and car chases and super powers.  I admire the film technology it takes to produce these effects, but I don't find them very interesting in terms of story telling.

"The Gift" is reminiscent of the style of Alfred Hitchcock.  "Suspicion," the 1941 film starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine, comes to mind.  The mystery that sustains the plot in "Suspicion" is that we are kept in the dark about the motivations of the Cary Grant character.  "The Gift" successfully sustains the same type of mystery with three different characters.  The golden couple, played by Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall, is living a seemingly charmed life in a stylish L.A. home with a stylish L.A. job for the husband.  When the Joel Edgerton character enters the scene, everything we assume about the couple is tilted slightly to the left.  

I don't want to elaborate on the plot points.  It's enough to say that the audience is presented with a troubling labyrinth created by these three characters.  What I am most excited about is the discovery of the talented Australian, Joel Edgerton, as a gifted psychological thriller creator.   He wrote, directed, and produced this fascinating tale.  As if that weren't enough, he played the quirky Gordo.  He was the perfect foil to the charming Jason Bateman's edginess and Rebecca Hall's vulnerability.  

Please keep up the good work, Joel Edgerton!



"Young Toerless" by Ralla--1966 West German/French film

Turner Classic Movies recently premiered a German film from 1966, "Young Toerless," that much affected me. It was directed by Volker Schlondorff and produced in West Germany and France.  The story of this Austrian military boarding school was set just after the turn of the 20th century.  It was based on a mostly autobiographical novel by Robert Musil, who in 1906 wrote "The Confusions of Young Toerless" at the age of 26.

This film is a classic tale of the sensitive, questioning, uninitiated young adolescent boy who is left on his own to make sense of the cruel acts of his classmates.  The adults, all men, are probably not clueless, but they are no help.  Primal aggression is the order of the day.  Young Toerless, flawlessly acted by Mathieu Carriere, is a leaky boat on a turbulent sea.

Two boys, his closest acquaintances, begin to torture an Italian classmate named Basini, who is a known thief and homosexual.  He is punished by the boys for both.  The aggressors also exploit his homosexuality.  Toerless is mostly a passive observer.  Eventually the entire school gets in on the bullying, surrounding Basini in gym class and stringing him up by his ankles like a pig ready to be gutted.

Toerless runs away for two days after this, but returns to account to the Headmaster, the Reverend, and four teachers who are sitting in judgement waiting to hear his reasons.  

Headmaster “Can you tell us, Toerless, the reason that led you to run away so suddenly?"

Toerless pauses as he thinks about it, eyes downcast.

HM  “We already know these things, but tell us what led you to conceal Basini’s crime?”

Toerless “I don’t know sir.  When I first heard of it, it seemed outrageous.  On the one hand, I told myself I should report him to you.”

HM “And so you should have.”

T “On the other hand, I wasn’t interested in punishment.  I was overcome by dizziness each time I….”

HM  “You must express yourself more clearly, Toerless.”

T “For example, imaginary numbers."

Math Prof  “Allow me to shed some light on this obscure reference.  Young Toerless came to ask me about certain fundamentals of mathematics, including imaginary numbers, which are truly difficult for the untrained mind.”

T “Yes, I said it seemed to me that we couldn’t get to the bottom of that through logic alone, that we needed another certainty, an inner certainty.  And I felt the same way about the Basini matter."

Reverend “So you feel drawn away from science and towards moral, even divine, aspects?"

HM  “Toerless, is what the reverend says true?  Do you have a tendency to see—as you seem to be saying—a religious background to things?’

T  “No, that’s not it either.”

HM  (angrily)  “Then for God’s sake tell us in plain words what it was!  We can’t get into philosophical debates here!”

T  “I can’t help it if it’s not what you think.  Perhaps I haven’t learned enough to express myself clearly.  But I’ll attempt to describe it.  Basini was a student like any other.  A perfectly normal person.  Suddenly he stumbled.  I’d thought of these things before—humiliation and degradation—but I’d never experienced them.  But it happened to Basini.  I had to admit it was possible that man wasn’t created good or bad once and for all.  We all keep changing ceaselessly.  We exist only by virtue of our actions.  But if we allow ourselves to change to where we become torturers or sacrificial animals then anything is possible.  Then even the most horrific things become simply possible.  Then there’s no line between good and evil and both merge imperceptibly.  Then perfectly normal people can do terrible things.  The only question then was “How is this possible? “ To observe this I let these things go unreported.  I wanted to know how it was possible.  What happens when a person humiliates himself or suddenly turns cruel.  I used to think it would mean the end of the world.  Now I know differently.  What seems so horrific, so incomprehensible from afar, simply happens.  Quietly and naturally.  Therefore one must be continually on guard.  That’s what I’ve learned.”

T turns and leaves the room.

HM  “This young man is under such emotional strain that this school is no longer the place for him.  His intellectual nourishment must be monitored more carefully than we can do here.  I’ll send his father a letter to that effect.”

Teacher  “Peculiar person.”

Younger Teacher  “You think?”

The novel on which this film was based was written well before the rise of the Austrian born Hitler.  It remains part of the human condition that we still contemplate the reasons for cruelty and torture.  As I watched this scene unfold, I found myself hanging on Toerless' words hoping that he could explain it.  Even this innocent could not find the reasons, but just knew that we need to stand guard against it.




All aboard "Trainwreck" --the other Amy, by Ralla

This time Amy Schumer fills the big screen, rolling out reams of her unique brand of humor.  Steve and I were ready to appreciate her raunchy inclinations because we had watched every episode of "Inside Amy Schumer" on the Comedy Central channel.  We bought our tickets for "Trainwreck" as Amy Schumer fans.

The reviews and commentary I read led me to believe that this movie would be a watered down version of Amy's fearless performances on her weekly show.  So I was delighted to find myself laughing, giggling and elbowing Steve throughout most of the movie.  Amy Schumer has a relentless talent for poking and probing all kinds of ridiculous situations.  Her ability to morph from vixen to cherub to schlub is magical.  Even when she is insulting one of her many male conquests for having too large a penis, you are on her side.  Is there really any harm done from such an insult?

Bill Hader was the perfect foil to Amy's careless character.  He was earnest and nerdy and inexplicably attractive.  His best friend, LeBron James, was hilarious.  His need to watch "Downton Abbey" in real time so he could discuss it with his locker room buddies, his penny pinching, and his mother henning of his friend were adorable.  What is amazing to remember is that all the words that came out of their mouths were words written by Amy Schumer.

Amy Schumer has a gift for contemporary social commentary.  And besides that, she is extremely funny.  And she can act.  I, for one, was happy for the two of them as they played out their relationship in this romcom.  But this is not our mothers' romcom.  This is something entirely new.


"Amy"--A Bumpy Ride by Ralla

Although this documentary about Amy Winehouse is a melange of photos, videos and voice overs, it is woven together in such a way that by the end I almost felt I knew her.  The bumpy style of filming fit her style of living.  She lived a messy life, full of obsessive loves and habits, too many drugs, and a childish dependence on a father who milked her talent for his own profit.  The camera was drawn to her from an early age.  Videos of her youthful singing predicted the wondrous talent she would offer to the world during her short musical career.

Amy Winehouse was an apt subject for the many video moments taken by those around her because she seemed to have no personal boundaries.  Her raw authenticity was expressed through her song writing.  Her lyrics hauntingly expressed her dark experiences and feelings.  

The most touching moments came during the recording of the duets with Tony Bennett.  His kindness and patience with the nervous Amy to help both of them produce the best performances were a revelation.  For her it was always about the music.  





Not so "Magic Mike XXL" by Luci

Magic Mike. I think maybe it was an attempt to make a "chick flick" and turn sexy men into sensitive teddy bears who fulfill every woman's fantasy, even those who aren't usually cast with hunky men. (plus size).

I think most women would have appreciated some sophisticated humor and fewer smutty dance scenes, along with more just good dancing.

"Anyway....the movie" Thoughts by Susan on "Magic Mike XXL"

Anyway….the movie.


I thought there would be lots of eye candy, which there was. That said I found myself giggling a lot

out of ( I guess) the absurdity of the movie that went on and on with very little plot and lots of 

dancing that did nothing to arouse me.   The dancers  and their bodies were very good but the way the movie was presented

seemed vaguely humorous and really not very interesting. 

There…does that sound logical?


"Magic Mike XXL" or "The year of the horrible idea" by Ralla

My horrible idea of the day was to invite several of my movie going girlfriends to view "Magic Mike XXL" on a Sunday afternoon.  I  warned them that it has gotten poor reviews and was attended mostly by women (97%), but this bunch was game.  The original "Magic Mike" was great fun, in large part due to the hilarious presence of Matthew McConaughey as the guru to the troup of male strippers.  As I recall (it's been several years since I've seen it) there were raunchy lite scenes, but nothing too objectionable.  The plot was thin, but nobody cared.  It was more than worth the price of admission.

"Magic Mike XXL" (or as Steve has renamed it "Magic Mike XXs") bore little resemblance to the fun frolic of the first film.  I am a complete Channing Tatum fan--he's a great dancer and could charm the sock off a snake.  But his adorable smile and occasional dance performances could not save this sinking ship.  I wanted to cry out to him & all the other actors "Do the opposite of what your director is asking you to do!  Unite in solidarity in refusing to say even one more line of your script!"

50% of the dialogue was the word "fuckin'".  It was the primary verb, adjective, and adverb throughout.  Aside from that, though, I want to share some of my favorite lines:

In response to "What are you doing" as he passed his hands over the injured driver of the van, the Matt Bomer character said "Reiki--I'm a level 3 healer."

The hapless Donald Glover character got some of the best lines.  The first was "I just want to stay authentic" followed by "we're like healers or something, man." 

The morning after question from the male stripper group to anyone dragging into the kitchen for coffee was "Did you bang--ee?"

And my personal favorite spoken with an impeccable Georgia southern drawl by Andie MacDowell "I've had only one penis my entire fucking life."


This pornish film even sustained a reference to "the glass slipper."  I can't bring myself to elaborate.  You will have to suffer through this film like I did for that pay off. 



"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" by Joanne

Take a geeky, insecure high school senior and his quirky friend, and a mother who won't take no for an answer, and throw in an intelligent, pretty girl with a deadly disease, and you have Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. You wouldn't think there would be many light moments in a film like this, but they are found. Many emotions are dealt with in this movie making it like life. 

M&E and DG is a coming of age movie about the young man, Gregg, and his gaining of confidence and self esteem. All performances of the new, young actors are enlightening and fresh. Highly recommended.

"Mad Max Fury Road" by Ralla

or "how to keep your lipstick fresh in the hot dry desert while being chased by very strange beings in stranger vehicles"

where to start.  first of all, the last terrain I want to see is the dystopian desert in the middle of our own heat wave, although it was wonderfully cool inside the movie theater.  with all the murder & mayhem, the most nauseating scene for me was when our hero, the very handsome and endearing tom hardy, put a needle into his own arm to draw blood for some reason.  I had to look away, as in every movie containing such a scene.  

my favorite touch was when the amazingly accurate zinc oxided villain, atop a vaulting pole mounted on an all terrain vehicle moving at a perilously rapid speed, was able to swoop down & delicately snag the lovely breeder girl (perfectly be-lipsticked) back to a certain very unpleasant existence.  

other than that, can't say I much liked this movie.

"That Thing is a Killin' Machine" Ralla's review of "Jurassic World"

Imagine my glee when Vincent D'onofrio showed up on the screen during "Jurassic World."  It's been too long since I got to see his quirky takes to the chaos going on around him (much of which his character caused, by the way).  He was given the pivotal line, "That thing is a killin' machine," to clue in the audience that all hell was about to break loose.  The vicious & clever Indominus Rex was on a murderous rampage.  All the park staff were eminently unqualified to deal with such an unforeseeable circumstance.  Predictably Vincent ended up as a choice delicacy for a churlish trained velociraptor.  His attempts to convince the creature that they were both "on the same side" were to no avail.

Brice Dallas Howard played the classic stuck up formal woman of authority.  Her adorable manly love interest, Chris Pratt, told her she couldn't go running around searching for her lost nephews "in those ridiculous shoes."  They were HIGH HEELS--about 2 inches high & almost stiletto.  Her response to his comment was to rip open the top 5 buttons of her shirt to reveal a lavender tank top underneath.  She vigorously rolled up her sleeves and stared him down.  His response was to ask her "What does that mean?"  It meant, of course, that she was ready to roll.  But what about her stilettos?  I made it my mission to get glimpses of her feet, and she made it through the entire adventure WEARING HIGH HEELS.  It proves that women are tougher than men.

Overall, I call this movie a fun romp.  And the T Rex was finally given its due as the heroic one of its species. 

"Dope" by Joanne

I recently saw the movie Dope and thought it was a terrific film. In a lighthearted way it enables the audience to realize some of the hurdles a young black man who wants to make something of himself has to go through if he lives in certain areas of the country-- in this case in Inglewood, California. The young cast is superb. Shamiek Moore is the main character, Malcom, and Zoe Kravitz, Kiersey Clemons and Tony Revelori, who you will remember from Grand Budapest Hotel, all are beautiful and good!


Dope is a 4 star movie with some action, comedy and drama. Go see it one and all.