Tuesday, March 21, 2017



STARS: Sandra Oh, Anne Heche, Alicia Silverstone
DIRECTOR: Oner Tukel
GENRE: Dark Comedy

We tend to think of a "catfight" as a snotty verbal altercation between two women that might, if it gets out of hand, devolve into some hair pulling. This ain't that kinda thing. This is Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed. Bare knuckled.

And in this corner, weighing one hundred and seventeen pounds...

Don't be deceived. Catfight pits a couple of cinematic heavyweights--Sandra Oh and Anne Heche--against one another in a knockdown drag out slugfest of epic proportions!

Sandra Oh Plays Veronica--a self-absorbed housewife married to a wealthy industrialist war profiteer.  Anne Heche is a struggling lesbian artist. Freud would have a field day with her paintings. They haven't seen each other since college when their paths cross at a glitzy birthday party. Old resentments surface. Verbal barbs begin to fly, and soon thereafter the fists. Veronica gets the worst of it and ends up in a coma. For two years. Meanwhile, Ashley's fortunes have changed, and she is now a celebrated artist. Veronica has lost everything and takes work as a maid. 

Fate throws the two of them together again and another brawl ensues. This time Ashley loses--by a knockout--and ends up in a coma. For two years. When she awakens, all her funds have gone to pay the medical bills, and her notoriety is gone. And the first one now shall later be last...there but for fortune...and all that. I love the symmetry of it. In all, there are three grudge matches between them where the punches fly and the blood flows freely. Some people are just always rubbing you the wrong way.

Catfight makes its satirical statement in a not so subtle way. No reading between the lines required. It has to do with, among other things, our national obsession with violence and war. With every punch thrown, there's the mandatory SOCKO sound effect (which you don't hear in a real fight) that's in every TV show and movie that features fisticuffs. Which is most of them. 

Sit in front of the tube for a couple hours and take note of the shows they promo during the breaks. What do they show in these short clips? Somebody getting punched or shot. We've grown so numb to it, we're no longer aware of what it's saying about us. Maybe a clue to that is in the "Fart Machine"--a guy who interrupts the late night TV host's monologue by parading out and feigning flatulence. Everybody who watches this is highly amused--and, of course, distracted from what's really going on around them. (A statement about our declining intelligence level?)

Catfight is like a hot fudge sundae. Dark and delicious. And yes, dark humor requires something of a sophisticated mindset to be able to differentiate it from that which is being presented as deadly serious. Through humor the most serious of issues are often examined. The darker the humor, the more deadly serious those issues can be. And that's why humor should not be taken lightly.

Grade:  B +  


OMG! I can't believe what I just read. At the end of Catfight, I turned to Tim and whispered, "This is, bar none, the worst f---ing movie I've ever seen!" Dark humor be damned. The tag line of this turkey should have read: "Thelma and Louise Meet Wrestlemania" with a little Animal House thrown in for good measure. Sheesh! (My personal expression of disgust.)

I can just imagine the "pitch" for this non film went something like, "Listen, JB. Let's get two bankable female stars to beat each other up for 96 minutes. We've seen tons of movies where guys do it but it's time to give women their due." Billed as a 'black and blue comedy,' the plot was so unbelievable, and the violence so un-funny, that I just plain hated it. Except for the musical score. They don't list a scorer but the musical supervisor, Devoe Yates, must have had a blast picking famous classical themes such as Grieg's "Anitra's Dance" to contrast with the battles going on onscreen. Still, I have a problem with violent comedies. (I wasn't particularly amused by Married to The Mob or My Cousin Vinny, either.) Maybe it's just me. After all, the Tomatometer gave it 76% -- but the audience score wasn't nearly as favorable...

The really sad part? Catfight is the last movie Tim and I will see together. I leave for California in two days. For good. We'll still write our joint reviews long distance but it won't be quite the same without him quietly disagreeing with me (or not!) as the credits roll. 

Grade:: F

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Rated: PG-13
STARS: Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidooosti, Babak Karimi
DIRECTOR: Asghar Farhadi
GENRE: Drama

The Salesman isn't about how different it is to be a young-ish married couple living in Iran from their counterparts in the United States. It's about how similar it can be.The difference being, of course, that in Iran they live under a repressive regime where what can be performed onstage, for example, may be screwed with and altered at the whim of government censors. Though right up until the 1957 landmark court case that centered around Allen Ginsburg's epic poem, "Howl," there were similar restrictions on freedom of public expression that existed here in the states. (Check with the ghost of Lenny Bruce for further details.)

Our couple, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), are performers in a Tehran production of Arthur Miller's Death Of A Salesman. Emad mentions in passing that three lines from the play might come under scrutiny from the censors. Once we are past that, The Salesman is a purely personal story of two people working on issues in their marriage.

While taking a shower, Rana is attacked by an unknown assailant who has crept into their apartment. Emad finds her at the hospital with a head wound. Keeping a stiff upper lip, she denies being raped to save her husband further anguish, but we can put two and two together. The plot centers around his personal detective work in tracking down the perpetrator. The twist at the climax is that it's not someone we would normally suspect. The way that retribution will come down upon this person becomes a source of conflict between Emad and Rana, rattling the very foundation of their relationship. When is compassion more appropriate than punishment? That's the food for thought you'll be munching on as you leave the theater.   

It's up to interpretation what the intended metaphor of Arthur Miller's play is to the relationship between this couple; though as performers they have a public persona to maintain...a mask to put on...the show must go on and all that rot, while behind the scenes the growing strain on their marriage shows on their faces. 

The Salesman won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film of 2016. Filled with noteworthy performances, it follows in the footsteps of director Asghar Farhadi's other cinematic gem, A Separation (2011). It's something of a slow mover in the beginning, but the fireworks at the end are well worth the wait. 

Ultimately, it's about people and how they struggle with the basic questions of relationship and existence. And that transcends geographical and political boundaries. 



After reading Tim's review of this film, I feel guilty not liking it more. I loved one aspect of the premise, i.e. how will an Iranian husband – as opposed to an American one -- deal with his wife's abuser? Good question! (And I'm not about to reveal the answer!)

But what exactly does the subplot of Death Of A Salesman have to do with anything? That's my main gripe. If, as Tim opines, it's about this couple's public persona versus their private angst, I feel far too much cinematic time was spent on it. This also leads to another complaint of mine: The film's innocuous title, The Salesman. Really?! (I wish I knew the literal translation of Forushande.)

It does leave the viewer asking lots of questions upon leaving the theater which I suppose is a good thing. Was the wife really raped or simply beaten up? Was the perpetrator "acting" physically frail and sickly? Was the couple's marriage in trouble before this incident happened?  Will it survive this trauma?   

The acting was superb. I especially liked and believed the fellow who played the attacker, Babak. Kudos to Babak Karimi. But when I think of other Best Foreign Movie award winners such as The Bicycle Thief,RashomonBlack OrpheusTheVirgin Spring½Seven BeautiesCinema ParadisoLife Is Beautiful (the list is endelss, really), this one got lucky.

Grade: C+

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


Rated: R

STARS: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth
DIRECTOR: Gore Verbinski
GENRE: Horror/Thriller

If I had checked beforehand to see that The Cure For Wellness was two and a half hours long, I never would have agreed to see it in the first place. But on the strength of Jill having a thing for the lead actor, I said what the hell. I have since realized that I need to be WAY more discriminating in my film choices!!!

Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is a young finance director for a blatantly greedy corporate entity who travels to a mysterious rehab facility in the Swiss alps to retrieve the company's CEO, who seems to have gotten hung up there and doesn't want to come back. He has some difficulty locating the head honcho within the facility, and before you know it, Lockhart, in classic horror/thriller fashion, finds himself an unwitting patient instead of a visitor. What's keeping him there is whatever is in the water that everyone is encouraged to partake of profusely. Stupid horror flick mistake number one: When you go to another country, don't drink the water!

There's a backstory about the "wellness center" being built on the ruins of a castle that was inhabited by a baron who wanted an heir of pure blood, so he gets it on with his sister. The villagers learn of this debauchery and come with their torches ablaze--the villagers are always carrying torches in every B movie since Frankenstein--and burn the place down. This all has much relevance to the current bizarro director of the spa, Dr. Heinrich Volmer (Jason Isaacs), and off we go into one of those so-and-so-is-the-reincarnation-of so-and-so things and it's not very original but may appeal to those who love that time weathered plot.

Lockhart meets a strange teenage girl with haunted eyes named Hannah (Mia Goth) who is also "taking the cure," but in fact has been held there, apparently, for all of her days. (Mia Goth is a 23 year-old actress playing a girl of fifteen or so, and she passes believably for that age. She and Jesse Eisenberg should get together and they could play Hansel and Gretel in some film and both of them would just totally look the part.)

So on we go, cuz there's a lot of time to fill, and in time-worn fashion we will find out if Lockhart can extricate himself and the man he came to find from all the weirdness that is going on at the facility--facing roadblocks at every turn, of course. And will he and Hannah ride off into the sunset together--or in this case go drink beer in some pub at the foot of the mountain.

It's not as interesting or as thrilling as I'm making it sound. A good horror flick makes you jump when you least expect it. And it's oooooh scary.  A Cure For Wellness isn't scary. It's just creepy. Really creepy. It pulls out all the stops to bring you cringe-worthy realism depicting heinous and gory cruelty to humans and animals alike. What's the point?  There is no point to this movie, other than to titillate in the cheapest kind of way.  Style over substance. But I'll give them points for style. In fact during the last half hour, I was contemplating giving the film an F, and then I softened some because it's such a totally demented romp that you have to laugh and shake your head and give them credit for doing what they obviously set out to do. The only thing missing is Vincent Price and his blood-curdling laugh from Michael Jackson's "Thriller."    

Grade:  D


Recently, Tim pointed out to me that several of my reviews say essentially the same thing.  That I'm confused, confounded and don't really "get" what the film is about. Since consistency is something I seriously value, A Cure For Wellness also left me bewildered, bothered but definitely NOT bewitched. It did, however, deliver some scary moments. And as long-running as the movie was, I didn't get bored. Or sleepy.

They pulled out all the stops. Including our handsome hero dashing up and down stairs on crutches due to a broken leg, trying to escape his captors. (I bet Dane DeHaan had to practice that routine a lot!) If you, as a viewer, are the least bit squeamish about watching a graphic sex scene between father and daughter—mind you they are over 200 years old but have somehow managed to stay young-looking—I urge you to pass on this film. (Maybe a better title would have been "Kinkiness From The Crypt"?)

But I do have a thing for the lead actor. Ever since I saw him playing James Dean in the 2015 movie Life. He hooked me even further when I came across him again in the HBO series "In Treatment." But an actor doesn't necessarily make a movie worth seeing...(And as I watched Tim squirm uncomfortably in his seat, convinced that he was about to walk out of the theater, I felt a bit sheepish for talking him into this pseudo scare fest.)

I did love Benjamin Wallfisch's creepy score, though. It added immensely to the tensions of each off-the-wall moment. And let's face, if you want to escape reality, logic and clean living, this movie will do the trick.

Grade: C