Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe,  a burly hitman   looking after his ailing mother (Judith Roberts) while coping with a severe case of PTSD caused by a triple whammy of childhood abuse, FBI raids and the horrors of military combat. His “job” is rescuing  underage girls from sex traffickers. which he dispatches with a ballpeen hammer. (Obviously, this bleak, brutal film is not for squeamish viewers).

Writer/director Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk about Kevin) bases her screenplay on a novella by Jonathan Ames (Bored to Death.) While the book offers glimpses of Joe’s method and madness (well, sorta) Phoenix and Ramsay use only the actor’s eyes and facial expressions  (partially hidden by a ferocious beard) and judicious use of millisecond flashbacks. to conjure up the character.  (Phoenix has less than a page of dialogue). The actor meets the challenge with another fierce and focused character study. (This is, after all, the  same performer who famously pulled out a sink from a wall while filming I Walk the Line. According to showbiz legend, he was not expecting the prop sink to completely give. Rather than call for another take – as I’ve seen in countless DVD extras- the actor masked his surprise and completed the scene in character.)

Ms. Ramsay shows scenes of brutal violence while Rosie and the Originals’ exquisite oldie “Angel Baby” and Engelbert’s syrupy “After  the Lovin’ ” play on the soundtrack.  This has been interpreted by several reviewers as examples of Ms. Ramsay’s midnight black sense of humor.

In one riveting scene, the carnage is shown as viewed on the building’s security cameras.

 Not to start including spoilers in my “reviews ” at this late date but there is a scene towards the end of the film that may make you doubt the truth of Joe’s point of view. (He is not the most reliable narrator, after all.) 

Yes, it is bleak. Yes, it can be violent. However, if you can handle it, You Were Never Really  Here is worth viewing (it’s now available on DVD) for the force  of Phoenix’s performance and the skills and unique touch of the Glasgow-born Ms. Ramsay (surprisingly, this is only her fourth feature-length film since her 1999 debut Ratcatcher.  In addition to the films already mentioned, her resume also includes 2002’s  highly acclaimed Morvern Callar. Needless to say, this   is onewriter/director who chooses projects carefully and on her own terms.

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Lynne Ramsey





Oh No! Not the Z-Word Again!

A  different spin on the zombie movie genre?                                                                 I know, I know, you’ve heard that before.   

  But THE CURED really is a zombie movie with a difference.

I mean, what would happen if zombies (there I go using the “z-word” again, to quote Shaun of the Dead) were turned back into normal (that is to say, non-people-chomping) people again?

That’s the premise of this movie written and directed by an Irishman,David Freyne (in his feature film debut) and set in Dublin. 

Anyway, a virus has infected 75% of the population, turning them into z’s (Relax, fans of The Walking Dead, that still leaves 25% to kick up a little homicidal mischief.)

Life isn’t so good for those who have been cured, either.

“This is worse than jail. They’re treating us like lepers,”moans one of the former zombies who have taken the cure.

A former lawyer (Tom Vaughn-Lawlor) and ex-z is shunned by his parents and reduced to a cleaning job. He doesn’t take it well.

Abbie, a single mom with a child (her hubby is chomped to death)  is played by Ellen Page (once referred to by one “reviewer” as “that tiny little Canadian”). Senan (Sam Keeley), Abbie’s brother-in-law, is also struggling with his zombified past.

Ellen Page (as if u didn’t know)

It isn’t long before the resentful Cured are mounting a protest against their conditions, as if Ireland hasn’t had enough Troubles in the past.  (One metaphor fits all  oppressed minorities.)

The film has a low budget look to it (although there are enough companies listed in the opening credits.)

Ms. Page fully commits to the role (she is listed as one of the producers) and the rest of the cast do their best. The result is, well, a zombie movie with a difference.




What the Other Half Watches: THE EXCEPTION

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Lily James in a blink-and-you-miss it and totally unnecessary nude scene is about the only exceptional thing about a wannabe thriller? love story? somewhere in between? movie about an available young woman (James) and a reluctantly good Nazi , played by a big slab of beef named Jai Courtney. (Clicking on imdb, after I had already written this, I see that Mr. Courtney ‘s resume includes , besides the ill-fated Suicide Squad and Terminator Genisys – you guessed it – Beef. )

And, sorry , but despite his best efforts, I did not believe the great Eddie Marsan as the malevolent and much-feared Heinrich Himmler.

However, female (and some male) viewers may agree to differ. My niece recommended this movie and her father dutifully spooled it for us. Yes, if you’re paying attention, this is one of the movies I saw at my sister’s house.




A Man’s Gotta Do etc.: 12 STRONG

I didn’t know they still made movies like this anymore. (I almost expected the ghost of John Wayne to pop up with a steely grin of approval.)

This time it is Thor leading the charge (actually, star Chris Hemsworth is Australian) and the battleground is Afghanistan.

Sure, I know it’s a true story but its depiction is a tad too “rah rah- a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” for me.

“Hi. My name’s Chris Hemsworth. But most people just call me Thor. (Hey, that rhymes with war. and speaking of war ……”

And in true pre-#Me Too fashion, the little women in this movie wait for their man to come home with the actresses portraying them getting scant screen time to make room for the guys’ heroic deeds.

Which is probably just as well.

The true stories of what happened to some of the women who joined  the U.S. military may not be as entertaining but it is factual – there is plenty of source material in the documentary The Invisible War – although they were obviously deemed unfilmable by the hawks of Hollywood.

What The Other Half Watches

I have been a witness to how the other half (or the silent majority) watches while visiting my sister and her husband recently. There are reams of copy issued when a film is first released in theatres (or on streaming services) and I seem to read most of it. I have never done any deep thinking on the subject but I guess that is how I choose what I want to watch. So, for example, after reading about Black Panther, I decided that was a film I had to see (even though I am not a huge fan of MARVEL superhero movies.) On the other hand, I had no burning desire to view Manchester by the Sea, despite all the Oscars and positive press. (For one thing, I am sad enough as it is. And I make it a point not to see any films featuring Casey Affleck).

My sister and brother in law, by contrast, select their movies (mostly on Netflix) by reading the movie synopsis and, if its a movie that sounds interesting, they will check the language and violence warnings (they are both rather conservative in their taste). Gasp! It seems that all they ask of a movie is that it helps to pass the time before falling asleep(If I am being objective, so do I. Although I usually manage to stay awake until the end of the feature.)

When I am visiting them I often see movies that I wouldn’t see normally or at all. Sometimes this yields the occasional surprise, like the little-seen Prodigy (although obviously shot on the cheap, the film is an impressive calling card for the writing/directing team of Alex Haughey and Brian Vidal and features an assured performance by amazing young Savannah Liles. If there is any justice in the world, you should be hearing more – much more – about all three.)

More likely,though, it is a dud like Downsizing or what my brother-in-law refers to derisively as a “two-star movie” (ironic, since he selects enough of them.

Savannah Liles – Don’t Touch Those Freckles1

I’d like to write more but I am going to watch Annihilation on Netflix (I read something about the film a few months ago (Gina Rodriguez of Jane the Virgin TV fame in a sci-film film? Alex Garland, writer and director of Ex Machina, behind the camera? This, I gotta see.)



I Got It at the Library: NOSTALGIA

Screenwriter Alex Ross Perry may have noticed some friends packing up stuff for their late parents. Perhaps  he was faced with the onerous task himself. He may have thought, Now there’s a good subject for a film.

Trouble was, nobody wanted to see it.

At least that’s what I gathered from the box office and reviews (Critics gave Nostalgia a rating of 35% on the Rotten Tomatoes.com website and the audience “reviewers” weren’t too enthused either. Ouch!) Okay, it does drag a little.

A pensioner in his 80s (Bruce Dern),  surrounded by objects collected over the years tells an insurance agent (John Ortiz) he doesn’t care about any of it. This leads to another story about a widow (the great Ellen Burstyn) devastated by the loss of her house. She says to the agent, What is the first thing you grab when your house is burning. In her case the only thing she managed to save was a treasured possession that belonged to her late husband

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The sometimes uncomfortable but essential “NOSTALGIA”

Perhaps the most sobering part of the film features Jon Hamm and the great Catherine Keener as a brother and sister duo who return to the house they grew up in to clean up after their parents who have moved to Florida. Catherine’s daughter (Annaliese Basso), your typical millennial i.e. early 20s, cannot relate since she never spent any time in the house and, furthermore, has no use for her grandfather’s vinyl albums. (“Whatever I want, I can download.”)

Basically, the theme of the film is the sentimental attachments we form to objects collected over a lifetime and what to do with them at a critical juncture. (For millennials, the film makes the point that everything of value is on phones and/or on laptops and if those objects are destroyed, there are no keepsakes to remember them by.)

Despite the negative feedback from various sources, I would recommend the film as required viewing for all boomers of a certain age. (In North America we call it “downsizing”. Europeans are more pragmatic. They refer to the process as “Swedish death cleaning.”)

For those to whom the film applies (I plead guilty) the film’s subject matter can make for  uncomfortable viewing. In fact, I had to watch it in installments because I related so deeply to the film’s subject matter.