Marlene’s 3 Sentence Movie Reviews


A bullet in the neck has put her husband into a coma in this tender and beautiful movie, based on a 2008 best-seller by Atiq Rahimi.  As he lies in bed unconscious, it is seemingly her devotion that impels the Afghanistani wife to feed and nurse him back to life in her one dreary room. A passing soldier steps in and the ending, not to be revealed here, is both unexpected, surprising and precisely right.


Consistently engrossing, the story of the Japanese sad-sack Kumiko, an “Office Lady” locked in a dreary job and living with her rabbit in a minuscule apartment, follows her misadventures in Tokyo and Minnesota. She has become obsessed with an old tape of the American movie, FARGO, imagining that the suitcase of money buried in the snow in the film actually exists. The brothers David and Nathan Zellners’ screenplay is filled with clever, offbeat twists, Rinko Kikuchi as Kumiko puts in bravura performance, and with its marvelous cinematography, this film deserves wide distribution.


Shot in Iraq-looking Morocco, the authenticity of its battle scenes pull you right into war. This is a macho, often hold-your-breath exciting story, a red-meat of a show starring Bradley Cooper, best served up for those who live in the red states, and probably all men who’ve worn a military uniform. Women will want the Chris Kyle character’s repetitive tours of duty to end so the hero can quit killing and go home to patch up his wobbly marriage.


Nick Hornby wrote it and Reese Witherspoon carries it off beautifully. Women will probably be more patient with a movie that, for all its magnificent cinematographic scenery, smartly crafted flashbacks of her mother’s illness and death, her abusive father and angry ex, goes on too long. Trekking the thousand miles through the Pacific Crest Trail, she gets thoroughly cleansed of her wayward past and we root for her all the way, but the book was better.


Sordid, yes, TANGERINE, an unlikely title for its seamy world of wrong-side-of-the -tracks West Los Angeles, has what every good film needs: heart, humor and originality. The transsexuals in this grubby neighborhood live by their own codes of friendship and revenge, and Sean Baker, producer/writer/director has come up with a sparkling, brilliant stew, that includes a just-right music score and an Armenian cabbie caught up in this red-light life. The acting–by mostly unknown talent–is flawless and the results, sordid, yes, but splendid, too.


Within a few minutes of watching this documentary about transsexuals in Puerto Rico, one forgets that these beautiful ladies were born a different gender. As part of a group they call the Doll House, they face a daily life fraught with struggle and danger. Philosphical, thoughtful, funny, they reveal their humanity and dignity in a full bright bloom of beautiful cinematography.


Here’s a sweet French film that centers around a little boy, his mother and his schoolteacher. Expect that the troubled mom, who owes thugs big money and is pursued by them, will fall in love with the teacher. It turns out–well, I’m not giving anything away in this review except that the ending is trés happy but trés unlikely, too.


Lily Tomlin has a good time in this movie and you might too. Here’s a senior citizen  who actually wants her granddaughter to go through with an abortion and scratching up the money is the basic plot. Tomlin’s a funny old honey, doing her far-fetched best to help the girl, and it’s Granny who’s a standout in every scene.


This is a serious, expensive  production packed with huge sets, many extras and good dialogue, but the movie promises more than it delivers. Despite Michael Fassbender’s topnotch acting and a strong supporting cast that includes Seth Rogen and Kate Winslet, this watered-down version of the life of America’s 20th Century superman is disappointing. It’s heavy on the tech aspects of Apple and LISA and leaves out most of the juice of Jobs’s colorful personal life.



Why do mediocre, gross-out comedies get wide distribution, when a small jewel like this gets a few art house showings and then vanishes? Here’s a PG13 funny and clever documentary–don’t let “documentary” scare you off–about an Indian-American man of thirty, whose family is desperate to get him married off. The cross-country trek, the trip to India and Internet dating sites don’t seem to work, until–well it is a bit predictable but you will laugh, and that’s a promise.



The Steven Spielberg name doesn’t necessarily translate into Midas in every movie, but in this one, with the help of a script by the Coen brothers, there is not a dull moment. Tom Hanks as the everyday insurance lawyer sent on a critical, dangerous mission, and Mark Rylance–one of the most talented actors working today– as the purported spy whose life he hopes to save, become the unlikely pair of heroes. Based on real events is the sketchy underpinning of one after another of these exciting scenes, but much of the film sounds perfectly valid and true.


Here’s Ireland’s official Oscar entry for Best Foreign Film, and, surprise, the setting is the poorest streets of Havana, and although the director is one Paddy Breathnach, there’s not a hint of Ireland anywhere in this film, which is in Spanish, with English subtitles. The current vogue of featuring gay or transsexual protagonists should not lead to an, “Oh, not again!” reaction, as this is a well-written, poignant and realistic film, a struggle for a gay boy’s conflicted wish for his father’s approval and for the dignity that’s eluded him all his life. Despite some tried-and-true plot twists–the illness, the hospital– the remarkable acting talent of a young Héctor Medina might bring a catch to your throat, and the silent scene that follows the roll of final credits will promise a happy resolution and stay with you, maybe until the Academy Award ceremonies.


This movie moves slowly, so it is not for everyone, but the scenes that move the plot work quietly and realistically. Much of the charm of this long fictional marriage and its tender and painful moments are reflected in Charlotte Rampling’s expressive face. The last scene is perfect  as “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” plays at the couple’s anniversary party, an inspired choice that is  symbolic of the inconclusive ending.


This Indian (subtitled) film is a grand epic that sweeps across the screen in every color of the cinematographer’s rainbow. Perhaps its soap operat plot is not for the most critical filmgoers, but the scenic splendor, the costumes, dance routines and even the occasionally poetic dialogue should wow most audiences. It takes place in the early 18th century, is basically a historical, fictionalized star-crossed lovers tale and grossed 52 million dollars at the box office, (more than any other Indian film) and is reason enough to go see it.


While the title of the movie misleads a potential American audience into imagining a Western film or one about cars, this charming story about five girls in a repressive culture in the Turkish countryside, is a subtle coming-of- age saga. The girls’ uncle makes their lives unendurable by forbidding them the simplest pleasures and reading sexual meaning into their most innocent activities. Touching, tragic and topical, this movie will be of particular interest to women and did not get nearly the attention or exposure it deserves.


Michael Moore is at it again, being funny, brilliant and incisive in this documentary. He finds much to ridicule in the United States, illustrates the “better way” in other countries when it comes to education, crime and punishment, health care, peace and standard of living, a very palatable tract if you are in agreement with his point of view. Yet, the points he makes are somewhat simplistic and, like many movies currently showing on neighborhood screens, it’s a bit anticlimactic and about half an hour too long.

BUSCO NOVIO PARA MI MUJER  (Seeking Boyfriend For My Wife)

Here’s a Spanish comedy that’s going to offend no one and might delight audiences who are put off by explicit sex scenes, slapstick and adolescent toilet jokes. You may know how it’s going to end when a charming husband confides to his soccer pals that he hates his wife, but getting there is fun. You won’t be bored and there are some very funny laugh-out-loud moments in this pleasant romantic movie with its guaranteed happy finale.                                   



A young girl goes missing at a French country fair and the search begins. Her father cannot believe that she has chosen the life that Ahmed, her boyfriend, has seduced her into. His determination to find her continues for years and his pursuit, and later those of his son, cover many Muslim corners of the world and perhaps stretch too long in this mostly beautiful French film.


Here’s a sweet, low-budget film that doesn’t break any creative records. The two thirteen-year old protagonists–Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri–do a nice job of being good pals in Brooklyn and underscoring the differences in their class and upbringing. Here’s a wholesome, solid movie to take the family to, assuming the kids are not city sophisticates or a day over thirteen.


At the end of the Second World War, Russian soldiers invaded a convent in Poland, raping many of its nuns. The action of the film begins when the pregnancies come to full term and the nuns,–most virgins at the time of the rape–begin giving birth. A French doctor is summoned and she, a nonbeliever, is convinced to help, but it is the unshakable faith of the Reverent Mother that becomes the pivotal, shocking crux of this marvelous Polish film.


In a poor neighborhood of Buenos Aires, a man named Usher runs a foundation to help his needy, mostly Orthododox Jewish community. When his son comes from New York to visit, his father makes endless demands of him, to give help to those in need. The acting in this comedy is so good one can hardly believe these are performers and many are not, as for example, Usher, who appears in only one frame and plays himself.



In a poor neighborhood of Buenos Aires, a man named Usher runs a foundation to help his needy, mostly Orthododox Jewish community. When his son comes from New York to visit, his father makes endless demands of him, to give help to those in need. The acting in this comedy is so good one can hardly believe these are performers and many are not, as for example, Usher, who appears in only one frame and plays himself.



Using an unusual documentary technique, the story of the first mass shooting at a university is shown in archival images, old news reports and animation. Because the lives of some of those forty-nine students who died that day at the University of Texas and some who luckily survived are brought into the narrative, this 1966 event comes to dramatic life on the screen. While the early half of the film could use some cutting, the second half and its conclusion are compelling and, sadly, timely.


This edge-of-your seat horror movie is shot in black and white, which both escalates the excitement and diminishes the impact of the gore. The film’s protagonist is a psychologically damaged heroine, who takes revenge for her mother’s murder on almost everyone crossing her threshold. Here is the movie’s clever premise, that  a child watching a killing is impacted by evil for life.


The Handmaiden in question is actually a virginal, petty thief who’s been set up to be the personal maid for a beautiful, rich and isolated woman living in a castle-like mansion in 1930’s Korea. This is an elegant movie with beautiful acting and direction, including very explicit lesbian sex scenes and marvelous THE HANcinematography. The movie is long, the plot has many twists and turns, the subtitles are in Japanese and Korean, and American audiences might find some of the fairytale-like developments hard to follow, hard to swallow.


This is basically a two-character adventure, set in the magnificence of Big Sur, as two competitive twentyish actresses try for reclaiming their friendship. The cinematography and nice acting can’t make up for the gaps of logic in the scenes that tell their story. Yet, you can’t stop watching as the action unfolds into predictable disaster.


This Iranian film is a domestic drama with an American twist, as the husband and wife are amateur actors performing in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. It’s a cliff-hanger without a scary cliff and a thriller without violence, but the tension is intense and it ultimately ties into the plot of Miller’s play. It’s got its twists and turns, acting that is marvelous and a view of a culture both similar and unlike ours.


This stark, black and white biopic about the first woman executed  in Czechoslovakia, is both fascinating and baffling. It is episodic, her chronic abuse too subtly implied, and many scenes are choppy, confusing vignettes, its cigarette-smoking, defiant heroine hard to like. The beautiful Polish actress, Michalina Olszanka, as lesbian Olga, (with a perfect haircut throughout) runs over twenty elderly pedestrians in a rage over a perceived lifetime of bullying and finally shows emotion as she is dragged to her hanging at age 22 in 1973.


Despite its C-horror movie title, this is a serious film about the conditions in a Brazilian psychiatric hospital in 1944. Sometimes the scenes of Despite cruelty and medical malpractice are hard to watch, but then in steps Dr. Nise de Silveira (played by Gloria Pires) who rescues these tormented, virtually abandoned patients, who live in a harsh and abusive environment. Her objections to shock treatments, her dedication to her “clients” and her belief in the possibility of improvement result in bringing art into the ward and finally, into the world as well.


Here’s a really good half of a movie, which starts out like the screenwriters had finished colllege and then, off the rails it goes. The solid, normal characters become horror-movie monsters capable of cutting off heads and replacing brains, hypnotizing our hero (Daniel Kaluuya) with a spoon in a cup of tea and other such nutsy capers. Bottom line, the acting is great but go to the box office and get half your money back.


Here’s a cheerful documentary about the work that goes into preparing an obituary for publication in the New York Times. The digging and delving, fact-checking, and the few, painful errors that editors make create a fascinating look inside the paper’s unheralded obituary department. There are more journalists interviewed than one would have imagined work this niche, including the manager of the “morgue,” filled with thousands, perhaps millions, of clips going back to the paper’s origins in 1851.


Women’s empowerment, music, a love story and topicality come in a single charming package in this French import. Julie is young and unemployed, an immediately lovable down-and-out heroine, who finds work and love in a shoe factory. Every now and then the cast bursts into song and dance, and the audience, especially women, will leave this feel-good film smiling big.

AFTER LOVE (French, English subtitles)

A pair of darling twin girls are the bright spot in the evolution of the relentless unraveling of a fifteen-year marriage.  The acting is excellent, but the claustrophobia of both the setting and the couple’s relationship needed cuts and/or fresh scenes and insights. Underwritten and redundant, the plot does hew closely to the very sad realities of a marriage going under, including the couple’s  financial settlement details, custody specifics and other divorce minutiae.


Brutal, tense, sexy and exciting, this is a stunning and upsetting film, actually shot on location in an infamous Dominican Republic prison. The extras are actual inmates so it’s undeniably authentic, although the unrelieved suffering of its hero and his ability to quickly pick up sign language to signal his love for a woman in the adjacent women’s prison, requires some suspension of disbelief. While the blazing ending goes on for a bit too long, the amazing actor, Jean Jean in a “breakout” role, plays the hero, and we root for him from the first frame.


This well-directed and edited film is based on the real life of a gay commercial artist, who comes home from fighting in the Second World War to find himself in a precarious situation. Homosexuality is a crime in Finland and he endures harrowing humiliation and near imprisonment in his efforts to find companionship and sex. Ultimately, his homoerotic art finds a place in America and although there are missteps in the movie–there are odd coincidences and no one ages much over thirty years–the story is gripping, graphic and a pretty accurate history of gay life in both Finland and the United States.


This brilliant film, mixing amateurs with moppet actors in its child-centered plot, is definitely not for children. Filmed in the shadow of  Disney World, it shows the flip side of the happy Florida magic, the reality of life of a single mother and her neighbors. They exist day by harrowing day, scrimping to pay Bobby, played by Willem Dafoe, who runs the seedy motel they call home.


Economists, social scientists and students of philosophy will most likely be a very enthusiastic audience for this ambitious screenplay, a saga of endurance, determination and hardship. What Karl Marx lived through in his early years: poverty, the animosity of much of the society he lived in, his struggle to right the wrongs of exploited workers, the laws that  threatened to imprison him for his writings and speeches, will be best understood by those who already are familiar with his teachings and ideals. For the less educated public, the film may at times be difficult to follow and the nuances of his philosophy somewhat pedantic and hard to grasp. (In English, French and German.)