THE ART OF THE MATTER – Part Two: Movie Reviews of the films The Square and The Disaster Artist by Howard Casner

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After watching The Square, the new film from writer/director Robert Ostlund (he previously gave us the cheeky Force Majeure), I have to say I’m not exactly sure what point he was trying to make. At the same time, it was so entertaining and involving, I guess I’m not exactly sure I cared.

The story revolves around a man named Christian (I doubt Ostlund randomly drew the name out of a hat), the curator for a modern art museum in Sweden. The museum’s newest installation is, well, a square. That’s it, a square, with some wording about what the square means (though after hearing the words a few times, I’m not sure I knew exactly what that was).

I think it has something to do with the idea that whoever is in the square is supposed to be treated as equal to anyone else, a safe place where they are protected from harm. Read the rest of this entry »

GAY BY GAY: Moonlight, Closet Monster and King Cobra

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I am now offering a new consultation service: so much emphasis has been given lately to the importance of the opening of your screenplay, I now offer coverage for the first twenty pages at the cost of $20.00.  For those who don’t want to have full coverage on their screenplay at this time, but want to know how well their script is working with the opening pages, this is perfect for you.  I’ll help you not lose the reader on page one. 


Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  FosCheck out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013.  Only $2.99.


and check out my Script Consultation Services:


rev-1For new screenwriters, the niche marketplace is important because it’s not unusual for that to be a stepping stone for up and comers to bigger budgets and more ambitious projects.

For gays and lesbians, it’s doubly important because it gives us a series of films where the central character dying at the end isn’t a requirement for the acceptance of the story (although that can make it more difficult for an actor to get an Oscar nom-#oscarssowhite just loves a nice helping of #gayssodead).

There have been three movies of late (well, four, but I reviewed The Handmaiden in another post) that are niche films that have a special appeal to the LGBTQ community. Two are what are called coming out films. The other is decidedly not. Read the rest of this entry »

IS IT REAL OR IS IT MEMOREX: Movie reviews of Ex Machina and True Story by Howard Casner

First, a word from our sponsors. Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay? Check out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013. Only $2.99.


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ex machinaA critic once said that when you get down to it, there aren’t that many plotlines; after all, Frankenstein and Pygmalion are basically the same story.

This came to mind as I was watching Ex Machina, the new sci-fi drama written and directed by Alex Garland (who also wrote the very involving Never Let Me Go and the highly successful 28 Days Later…). For my money, what he’s done is basically combined both Mary Shelley and George Bernard Shaw’s seminal works into one narrative.

It’s intriguing. But for me, I also found it a bit slow, unfocused at times and, well, to be ruthlessly honest, more than a bit creepy in ways that may not have been intended.

The last is because the more I think about Ex Machina, the more it seems to me that what the movie is about is not what the movie is about. And what the movie is really about made me very uncomfortable. Read the rest of this entry »

THE ROAD TO PYONGPANG: Movie review of The Interview by Howard Casner

First, a word from our sponsors. Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay? Check out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013. Only $2.99.



interviewAbout a third of the way through the new, and unexpectedly controversial comedy, The Interview, I had this odd feeling of déjà vu, as if there was something strangely familiar about the movie.

And then I realized what it was: The Interview, the movie about a celebrity interviewer (with a wicked, fun moment when Eminem comes out of the closet) and his producer who get a chance to go mano a mano with the leader of North Korea, is basically a Road movie.

And by that, I don’t mean one of those sub-genres about two people who get in a car and keep driving and driving encountering various eccentrics along the way until you’re begging for a lobotomy.

No, this is basically a modern day version of a group of movies made famous by Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour (The Road to Singapore, The Road to Zanzibar, The Road to Utopia, et al.), in which two contrasting characters have a bromance as they make their way through a series of ridiculous adventures. Read the rest of this entry »

TEENANGSTERS AND DOPPLEANGSTERS: Movie reviews of Palo Alto and The Double by Howard Casner

Palo-AltoPalo Alto is about teenage angst and existential ennui, just like the Twilight series, but without the werewolves and vampires, though almost as painful to get through (sorry, but it’s true).

The story revolves around three teens: April (Emma Roberts), Teddy (Jack Kilmer) and Fred (Nat Wolf) who are going through the throes of finding themselves. Unfortunately, the throes they are going through are pretty much the same throes that millions of other movie teens have pretty much gone through in millions of other movies before this and dramatized in pretty much the same way as those millions of others that came before as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Movie Reviews of BLUE IS THE WARMED COLOR and SAL by Howard Casner

Oh, to be young again. To be that age when you had no idea what anything meant. Where you had no control over your emotions. Where you didn’t know the difference between love and lust, or if there was one, or if you cared. Where every day was full of the pain and awkwardness of trying to navigate where you fit into the world. I hated every single, tortuous, tension-filled moment of it. And I would give anything, anything, to return to those halcyon days of innocence.

That is what I was thinking as I was watching the intensely tense movie that everyone, just everyone, is talking about, the latest Cannes award winner, Blue is the Warmest Color (or The Life of Adele, Chapters 1 & 2—and if you’re not talking about it, what’s wrong with you). And what an experiment in intensity it is. Blue… is so intense (how intense it is?), it makes Gravity look like a “you must be this small to ride this ride” at Disneyland ride (which it may soon be, for all I know). It’s so intense, it leaves you exhausted at the fin at the end (it is French, you know, and oh, how Francé it is). It’s so intense, I’m not sure I ever want to see it again.

Blue… is written by Ghalia Lacroix and Abdellatif Kechiche, who also directed (they are long time collaborators, most recently Black Venus and The Secret of the Grain). The movie is adapted from a popular graphic novel by Julie Maroh. Its story is, in many ways, simplicity itself: girl meets girl, girl loses girl, girl…well, I won’t spoil the ending. But the emotions displayed, the emotional rollercoaster ride, the rawness of it all (including, yes, those fifteen minutes of incredibly, just this side of, graphic sex—the women were wearing fake genitalia, after all—sorry guys, that’s probably a bigger spoiler than if I had shared the ending), are anything but.

Adele, the lead, is a baby dyke still in high school who doesn’t quite know why something is missing from her life. She is played by Adele (coincidence or not, you be the judge) Exarchopoulos with the pouty lips of a Bridgette Bardot and a wisp of unruly hair constantly falling in front of her face. Lea Seydoux is Emma, the more “tomboyish” of the two, an older (well, slightly older, four years maybe) woman struggling to be an artist. They first see one another on the street as they casually pass by (their turning to look at each other reflecting an event in a book Adele is reading for literature class—the cultural references are both a tad heavy handed while making one wonder why school over there is so much more challenging than here). At first destined to become ships that pass in broad daylight, they meet up again at a bar and it’s not long before all the fireworks that Hitchcock used in To Catch a Thief and David Lean used in Summertime are going off overtime.

Both actresses are scarily superb. I don’t know how the two and the director did it (and based on the scandalous reporting that has come out afterwards, I’m not sure I want to), but working together, the three have reached depths you will probably not see in another movie this year.

Blue… is not for everyone, and I don’t just mean because of the realistic portrayal of gay sex between women. One of the main characteristics of director Kechiche is a certain, well… leisureliness to it all. Let’s just say that here, as in the movie The Secret of the Grain, he is not in a hurry, to say the least. But that’s not automatically a bad thing (unless you think Pacific Rim is a great work of art). Kechiche’s scenes are like movements in a Beethoven symphony, which also go on too long until they reach a point where you desperately wish they would never stop. And like said movements, Blue…’s scenes go on until you start asking yourself, will this never end, then continue on for so long until you start hoping they never reach a coda.

And it’s a style that leads to such incredible set pieces as a dinner party thrown by Adele for Emma and Emma’s friends. The scene takes forever to run its course. But as it goes on, in ways deep and weather sharp, in both subtle and marvelous ways, the darkness creeps in as you realize that the days of this relationship are numbered. It’s maddening, but moving. It’s long, but tense and powerful. Until the whole movie seems that way, a long, drawn out, slow moving microscopic examination of first love that you finally wish would never end.

One of the best pictures of the year. Not recommended you see it with your mother.

I could not believe what I found out while doing research on the new movie Sal (research, hah—I looked it up on IMDB—so shoot me). There are five credits for the screenplay (one for a book, four for story, and then one of those, Stacey Miller, for the screenplay itself). Five credits. Five. The reason I’m throwing such a hissy fit over this is because—Sal has no real story and has an almost worthless screenplay. And it took five people to not come up with it?

Sal is a last day in the life of story, this time about the actor Sal Mineo, most famous now for his break out (and Oscar nominated) performance in Rebel Without A Cause. The story (and I say that trying not to FOTFLOL without stopping) starts with a dinner the night before; then begins proper with his waking up the following morning; follows him during the day (including three or more car rides in which for some reason he always listens to the exact same song over and over again—it’s unclear whether this is because the song means something or the producers just didn’t have enough money to pay for the rights to another tune); spends a bit of time at the rehearsal for a production of the play P.S. Your Cat is Dead with 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Keir Dullea; until his arrival home that night and his death at the hands of a mugger.

It’s uneventful and pointless (and takes forever to be so). Even worse, it’s just plain boring. And after it was over, I still had absolutely no idea why anyone wanted to make this movie or thought that Mineo’s last day would be interesting in and of itself. The only real message I took from it was that his death at least saved the world from what appeared to be a perfectly dreadful production of a perfectly mediocre play co-starring a perfectly less than mediocre actor (and I’m not referring to Mineo).

Sal is played by Val Lauren, and though his has the same doe-eyes of innocence as Mineo, he just never remotely seems to resemble that waif-like star. Even in one of Mineo’s last performances (in the TV series Columbo), and all those years had passed, he seemed barely changed from the wispy, shy teen John “Plato” Crawford in Rebel…. Yet Lauren’s interpretation almost made me think he had never even seen Mineo before (and the film including a scene from Rebel… at the end of the movie doesn’t help the matter of comparison either).

It’s directed by James Franco (yes, the actor James Franco, and based on this movie, he shouldn’t quit his day job). And if you thought Kechiche was leisurely, he’s Michael Bay in comparison to Franco’s approach. Of course, since there’s no story, there’s not a lot to work with. At the same time, Franco’s also one of the people who gets credited with the story, so he really has no one to blame but himself.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Jim Bishop, a historian, wrote a series of books that followed the last day of a notable figure, including The Day Lincoln Was Shot, The Day Christ Died and The Day Kennedy Was Shot. The books were extremely detailed, focusing on such mundane issues as what the figure would have had for breakfast. The books may not have been great literature, but they were great reads. I thought of those books as I was watching this movie, wondering whether Miller and Franco were trying to do the same thing. Maybe, maybe not. But if so, for some reason (possibly due to the importance of the person involved), knowing what Lincoln ate for his first meal of the day had a bigger emotional impact on me than watching Lauren chug milk from a bottle and orange juice from a carton. And maybe that is where the movie began going wrong.

Movie Review of MAN OF STEEL and THIS IS THE END by Howard Casner

On 9/11, terrorists flew airplanes into the Twin Towers as acts of war. In Man of Steel, director Zack Snyder utterly demolishes almost half of Manhattan for no other reason than to show off and to make the audience go “ooh” and “neat”; I’m sorry, but I think that’s sad and pathetic. Man of Steel is a movie in which Superman’s adopted father suggests his son should let kids die rather than reveal who he is and in which his mother has no issues with sending a man to his death to save a dog during a tornado. Not only is Man of Steel a movie that has its priorities shockingly out of whack, it’s simply one of the worse movies in recent memories.

But it’s not like anyone should be surprised or shocked. It’s not like Snyder and the writer David S. Goyer lied to anyone or misrepresented the movie in any way. This is what studio films have become like in the last fifty years. Some are better than others, true, but generally speaking they are more and more becoming soulless monsters and no one has a right to get mad at anybody about it because, by now, everyone knows the drill, everyone knows this is what they’re going to get before they buy their ticket (the audience is becoming more and more like Louise Renault in Casablanca: I’m shocked, shocked that studios are making such horrific films).

However, even for a Hollywood blockbuster, this one is almost bottom of the barrel and is so bad, I just can’t bring myself to waste any more time and words on it.

Where Snyder destroys half of Manhattan, director and writers Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg destroy not just Los Angeles, but the whole world in This is the End. Not only do they destroy the world, they kill off large numbers of people in particularly gruesome, offensive and horrifyingly grotesque ways. But where Snyder’s film just seems sad and pathetic, Rogan and Goldberg’s film is often very, very, very funny…very.

This is the End stars just about every friend Rogan has playing just about every friend Rogan has, and as themselves. The result is a huge number of in-jokes that get quite the chuckle now, but may make the movie harder to enjoy years later when no one knows who the hell Danny McBride is anymore.

The basic premise revolves around the Rapture and Armageddon literally happening and the few stars (i.e., the ones who have played leads in successful movies and/or earned an Oscar nomination) that manage to take refuge in James Franco’s earthquake (and apparently rapture quake) proof renovated house in the Hollywood Hills (which are hills, not mountains, since you can get over them in ten minutes by taking Cuhuenga Pass, a joke that will make sense once you see the film). The humor is based on the same style as another end of the world comedy that came out this year, This is a Disaster: the people involved keep focusing on unimportant things, like the petty problems in their various relationships, rather than the world collapsing around them.

This is the End is not a perfect movie by any means. It has a wonderful first third and the onset of the rapture and the resulting cataclysms is wondrously delightful, at times beautiful, and just rather clever. But once the second act begins with Franco, McBride, Rogan, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel and Craig Robinson barricaded into the house, the movie has difficulty finding places to go. No one has an overall goal, no one is that interested in trying to figure out what is really going on, or coming up with a game plan for survival; so instead, the audience gets stuck with many of the same jokes over and over…and over, again. It’s not that the laughs go away or that there are no interesting scenes here, but this section tends to lose forward momentum (in contrast, This is a Disaster is much tighter, more focused and in the end a much better written film).

However, what actually may be the most disturbing aspect of the film is that there are no woman around (well, Emma Watson has a fun little bit). But Rogan, et. al., don’t need them, or even want them, really. They can get all their emotional needs met from each other (one of the more than reoccurring jokes is the idea that the guys have no problems relating to each other like gay men–for no other reason, it feels, so that they all can prove to the audience that they are really, really straight, really, even if they take a demon’s cock up the ass). And if they want sex? Well, Franco has a porn magazine. (In fact, they all seem amazingly sexless and make one wonder if that’s the real reason why movies are so female-less these days—filmmakers and actors are all like Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory.)

Once the survivors are forced back out into the world, the whole thing picks up steam again and Rogan and Goldberg manage to somehow get their characters out of the corner they have painted them into. Of course, the result is a heaven that resembles a James Franco party, and it’s a little disturbing that Rogan and Baruchel reveal that they like The Back Street Boys more than Hill and Franco, but based on Rogan and Goyer’s view of Revelation, the characters could have ended up far worse.

Movie Reviews of SPRING BREAKERS, DORFMAN IN LOVE and GINGER & ROSA by Howard Casner

There is a scene in Spring Breakers, the new bikini noir written and directed by Harmony (Gummo, Trash Humpers) Kline, where you think it’s all finally going to come together.  In it, Alien, a white rapper/Scarface wannabe (a surprisingly amusing James Franco), plays a sentimental Britney Spears’ song on a white piano that overlooks the ocean while three of the spring breakers, model thin college students dressed in more than skimpy two pieces, sing along, dancing ballet like movements while holding assault rifles the NRA would be proud of, and wearing pink ski masks.  It’s absurd, ridiculous, preposterous, unlike almost anything you’ve seen before, and you think, this is it, this is the moment when it all becomes something.


But it doesn’t.  It just doesn’t quite make it.  And in the end, that’s what the whole movie is.  Ambitious. Daring.  An unapologetic attempt to do things differently.  And just one scene after another where you think it’s going to blossom, but never does, finally falling apart by the end in one big, flailing, frustrating mess.


Spring Breakers is a movie that starts out being about one thing and then changes horses in mid stream.  It begins as a story about Faith, a college student who attends Christian youth meetings.  She’s warned that Satan will tempt her, but God will always giver her the strength to withstand him.   She’s not sure she buys it, but she can’t let go of it either.  So when three childhood friends (who all ended up at the same  college, which I thought was a neat trick, but sure, why not, let’s go with it) ask her to go on spring break, she agrees, even though she’s warned that the three friends are really sociopaths (and they are).  And of course, they do what any group of proud sociopaths do before spring break: they rob a restaurant to pay for it (and get away with it to boot, but it’s the sort of movie where the police only show up at the convenience of the plot).  And then on spring break, after a very, very, very, very, very, very (well, you get the idea) long time, they finally meet Satan, the aforesaid Alien.


The group describes themselves as miserable.  But they’re not miserable because of their situation.  They’re miserable because they’re, well, miserable people.  But the movie is written and directed in such a way that you’re unclear Kline realizes this; you don’t know if he’s commenting on how self-deluded his characters are, or if he’s playing it straight.  In fact, if I were to be perfectly honest, it reminded me of a screenplay I once gave feedback on and described as an incompetently written drama  only to find out the author thought it was a comedy—I really couldn’t tell the difference.  (At one point, Faith asks “why is this happening”—it’s hard to take someone seriously who is so self-deluded, but at the same time, I wasn’t sure whether I was or wasn’t suppose to take her seriously; I was the only one laughing in the theater).


So everything is set for a highly stylized, semi-satiric morality play.  And then at the halfway mark, Faith leaves.  She goes home.  A very wise move on her point it must be said, but still, she never comes back.  So if she isn’t what the story was about (as everything up until that point suggested), then was the point of the first part of the movie?  Why did we even watch it?  Kline actually does this two more times (changes the intent and direction of the story), until it feels as if he had no clear concept in the first place, that he didn’t really know what was going on and what he was trying to do.   And the whole thing finally reaches an ending so absurdly ridiculous that one is just amazed at the preposterousness of it all.


I suppose that’s the point. But in the end, the finale is just one big long cliché.  In fact, the whole movie is just one long cliché after the other.  But Kline doesn’t do anything with them except present them at face value.  He doesn’t comment on them.  He doesn’t use them to make a point.  He just treats them as if it is enough that they are clichés—which may be a bit too ironic and post modern even for me (sort of like someone copying the Mona Lisa so well you can’t tell the copy from the original and presenting it as an original work of art).


Spring Breakers is visually stunning.  But it falls into the category of recent films like Stoker and On the Road and to some degree The Silence in which it feels as if the filmmakers think character, story, ideas are irrelevant.  As long as it’s all told visually, that’s all that’s necessary.  But the more I see of movies made like this, the more I’m becoming less and less convinced that a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.



At one point in the movie, Dorfman in Love, Dorfman (played by the cute and charming Sara Rue) is described as a cliché…a Jewish accountant.  The description is half right.  She’s a cliché, but not because she’s a Jewish accountant, but because she is a…well…cliché.  A walking, talking, double taking cliché.  In fact, one of the things that this light, breezy rom com has in common with Spring Breakers is that it is one cliché and formulaic contrivance after the other.  And like Spring Breakers, it’s unclear whether writer Wendy Kout and director Brad Leong realize this.


Kout’s screenplay is sincere and well meaning.  She shows all the appropriate empathy for her characters and the story fits all the correct troupes found in the more popular books on screenwriting.  But it’s also a movie you’ve seen a million times before.


Dorfman in Love is about a woman whose journey is to find herself, to liberate herself from the stereotyped roles she’s been assigned, to free herself from the bourgeoisie trap she’s found herself in, to really discover who she is.  But in this movie, that journey is basically defined as finding a boyfriend (at that point I almost tossed my hat up in the air and said, “That’s it, I’m outta here”).  One of the oddest interchanges is when Dorfman’s father (played in an appropriately grumpy manner by Elliot Gould, though his performance, like so much of the acting, is a bit too on the nose) tells her he’d be happy once she is married and has children.  This upsets Dorfman, though I wasn’t sure why since this seemed to be the goal she had set for herself as well.


Dorfman in Love is a movie in which the heroine is encouraged to be brave and take chances and really experience the world and have an adventure; noble goals, to be sure, but which, within the context of this movie, means taking the L.A. Metro rather than driving, and then walking around downtown (I suppose the demographic aimed at here are readers of Joan Didion).


There’s something about Dorfman in Love that is very reminiscent of Georgy Girl, Lynn Redgrave’s rise to stardom movie about another non-thin young woman looking for love.  But while Georgy Girl is set against, and is a commentary on, the swinging sixties and the changing morality of the time, Dorfman in Love seems more set against the middle brow, urban middle class lifestyle reflected in off-Broadway plays of twenty to thirty years ago (plays that often won Pulitzer Prizes for reasons I never understood).   Dorfman in Love just feels a bit dated.


The movie is bright, at times funny (the best line is when Rue runs down the street past some winos and one says to her “Change?” and she says, “I’m trying, I’m trying”).  But perhaps the most ironic thing about it is that after it was over, I so wanted to go back and watch the anarchy and failure of Spring Breakers rather than the safe, works on its own terms, formulaic Dorfman.



Ginger & Rosa is writer/director Sally Potter’s touching and empathetic character study of Ginger, a young teenager growing up against the rise of nuclear weapons and the protests against them in 1962, England.  It’s a milieu affected very deeply by World War II, even at that late a date.  People still bear scars of that time.  And the whole country still looks as if it is affected by the rationing (everything is bleak and everyone wears coats and heavy clothing whether they are inside or out).


There’s much to like here.  The period detail is quite nostalgically wonderful and Robbie Ryan’s cinematography has an effective cold warmth to it (he’s also worked on such movies as Red Road, Fish Tank and The Angels’ Share).  Elle Fanning (of Super 8 and Somwhere fame) is quite marvelous in the lead role.  And the most interesting actors keep popping up:   Christina Hendricks as Ginger’s long suffering mother; Alessandro Nivola as her not long suffering, but wants everyone to think he is, father; Oliver Platt and a sly minx of a Timothy Spall as a gay couple who are also Ginger’s godparents; and Annette Bening as a no-nonsense war protester (you kind of want to stick around just to see who else might put in an appearance).


The movie doesn’t always work as well as it might.  It’s basically a chamber piece, a boulevard drama, but though it has many effective moments, it could use a bit more of the tension of a Henrik Ibsen/August Strindberg play.  And the constant references to the threat of nuclear war and the end of the world never quite convince.  I suppose the idea is that Ginger is spouting this outward conflict so she doesn’t have to face her inner and more immediate conflicts.  But whenever anyone talked about the danger of the bomb, the lines never felt comfortable on anyone’s lips and seemed a bit clunky, more a distraction than an integral part of the drama.


But in the end, it’s a satisfying and often moving portrait of a young girl learning that contrary to appearances, life goes on and there’s always hope for a future.

Movie Review of Oz The Great and Powerful and The Monk by Howard Casner

Oz The Great and Powerful, the new fantasy film written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire and directed, for some reason, by Sam Raimi, is a movie about a man with Peter Pan syndrome and has commitment issues who ends up in a land far, far away where he gets caught up in a cat fight between three woman (Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz) who are jealous of each other’s looks and/or the man in their lives.  Yes, that’s about as much imagination as is shown in this conglomeration culled from the characters in the books of Frank L. Baum (of The Wizard of Oz fame).


It’s also a movie starring the incredibly, if not profoundly, miscast James Franco (easily as miscast as he was as host of the Oscars) in the titular role.  It’s a movie in which every scene is designed for maximum 3-D effect, while the scenery, characters and dialog are as flat as Franco’s acting (and with backgrounds that have rarely looked as much like matte drawings as they do here).  It’s a movie in which Zach Braf, a former romantic lead of such outings as Scrubs, Garden State and The Last Kiss, has fallen to such depths as to be cast in a second lead, as a flying monkey no less, yet he still steals every single scene he is in.


And finally, it’s a movie that can’t have a satisfactory ending because the filmmakers have painted themselves into a corner.  The only truly dramatically satisfactory resolution is for Oz to return to Kansas to save former girlfriend Annie (Michelle Williams) from a loveless marriage.  But he can’t leave Oz because he’s got to be there when Dorothy arrives.  But his character arc needs to be resolved, so he ends up kissing Glinda (also played by Michelle Williams, and I suppose that from the filmmakers’ points of view, one woman is the same as another, so it really doesn’t matter if Oz ends up with Annie or Glinda as long as they are played by the same actress), but we know that this relationship can’t last because there’s no such relationship when D-girl arrives.    And isn’t there something just a little creepy in that a lead character in a family film is awarded with sex for saving the day?


Oz The Great and Powerful doesn’t work.  It’s unimaginative in design, acting, direction and writing.  Perhaps it’s best to say that it’s a movie that is no Jack the Giant Slayer and let it go at that.


Meanwhile, The Monk is also about a character that is also supposed to be charismatic and inspiring.  It’s the new movie written by Dominik Moll (who also directed) and Anne-Louise Trividic.  Moll also directed the highly recommended films With a Friend Like Harry… and Lemming and there seems to be a theme here—that of some evil or perverseness worming its way into a seemingly safe situation.


The Monk is about, well, this monk Ambrosio who lived in Spain in the late 18th century.  He’s very popular.  His sermons draw SRO crowds.  I have to be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure why.  His homilies are pretty doom and gloomy stuff and the character, as played by Vincent Cassel, is not the most charismatic of preachers.  He’s actually much better at confession where he’s able to cut through bullshit with a butter knife.


Ambrosio’s main philosophical point is that Satan has no more power over any of us than we can stand.  I guess that was too much of a Job like statement, because it’s not long before Satan (played by Sergi Lopez, one of the go to guys for playing the devil these days, I guess) arrives to take up the gauntlet the monk has thrown him (Lopez is actually in the opening scene, which in many ways kind of demonstrates one of the structural weaknesses of the story—since the audience doesn’t know this is Satan, it never gets related to the rest of the story until the movie’s over, which isn’t very satisfactory).  But at any rate, Satan sends evil to the monastery and since this is based on a Catholic novel written in 1796, evil must arrive in the form of a woman.   And Ambrosio’s beliefs are quickly proved wrong because Satan’s power is greater than the father can withstand and Ambrosio is soon heading toward an Oedipal like tragic ending.


But the movie never quite worked for me mainly because Satan is able to defeat Ambrosio by using magical powers and forcing Ambrosio to do things he would never normally do.  Satan’s not the devil here, he’s a Jedi knight.  So instead of being emotionally involved in Ambrosio’s downfall, all I could think was, “Hey, that’s cheating”.   I guess the whole thing’s suppose to be some sort of metaphor, but if so, it all felt a bit too vague to me until I didn’t know what the moral of the story was supposed to be: beware of Satan because he’s really Yoda?


The real problem with the movie, though, may be the basic structure.  It’s a tad all over the place.  There are three major through lines and the movie takes a bit too long in bringing them all together (and one never seems satisfactorily integrated).  And the movie also tries to implicate the monk for the fate of a young nun, something to which Ambrosio’s guilt is tenuous at best and to which I called “shenanigans”.


I understand that the great prankster filmmaker Louis Bunuel wanted to make a movie of the novel over the years and one can see why.  It has all the ingredients that would appeal to someone with the impious sensibility of that anti-Catholic filmmaker.  And he quite possibly would have been able to bring a certain perverse vision to the material that might have been more successful.  But for me, this movie is just a slight misstep in Moll’s career.