“All Is True” on Amazon Prime

An intriguingly imagined look at the final days of Shakespeare, directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also plays Shakespeare. With Judi Dench as his wife and Ian McKellen, who is superb as the Earl of Southampton.

After the Globe Theater burned down in 1613, Shakespeare left London and returned home to Stratford, where he tries to put back together the family he so long neglected. Lots of embedded references to Shakespeare’s works and personal life and place in literature for those who, like me, think of him as the greatest of any writer that wrote in English.

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“Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” (1927)

I first watched this movie, quite by accident, perhaps 15 years ago. It was about two in the morning when I started, and I couldn’t stop watching it. It is a very old black & white film, and is experimental in some ways. I was surprised by how drawn I was to it – the story, the characters, the special effects, and especially the photography. It had a powerful effect on me. I felt at the time that it was one of the very best movies I had ever seen, and I still feel that way.

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Who’s That Knocking at My Door? (1967)

On Friday, I talked about Martin Scorsese’s brilliant “debut” film (in 1973), Mean Streets. It was actually his second movie. The story is that his first one – Who’s That Knocking at My Door?– was considered to be clever but, in the words of John Cassavetes, “a piece of shit.”

As a filmmaker that has produced and directed three bad movies, I wanted to compare my first oeuvre, Killer Weekend, to Scorsese’s first. I was hoping to see similarities – the same sort of bad stuff that Killer Weekendhad. Alas, it turns out that Who’s That Knocking?, while not by any means a great movie, is very interesting in more than a dozen ways. And (in my view, at least), the product of someone that already had, at such an early age (31), a genius for making movies.

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Mean Streets (1973)

I saw this movie when it came out, and again just recently, I was surprised to discover how little I remembered of it. Overall, it is a cruder production than I remembered. It feels like – and maybe it was – a student movie. The film and sound quality are weak, some of the acting is amateurish, and the editing is undisciplined. It should have been 15 to 20 minutes shorter. But there are so many bits and pieces of brilliance in it – in the photography, the direction, the dialogue, and the acting – that I can understand why it was inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. (Films on the NFR are selected for their cultural, historic, or aesthetic significance.)

Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro play the main characters, and they are both amazing. But there are other great performances by David Proval, Amy Robinson, Richard Romanus, Cesare Danova, and, I was surprised to notice, a nice little bit of acting drunk by a young David Carradine.

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“Dead to Me” (Netflix)

This is a series that I would not have tried, but did on the basis of M and M’s recommendation. It’s the story of two women (played by Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini) who come together in grief and develop a touching and often funny relationship. The plot is improbable at times and a little too California-correct for me, but it’s smart and well done.

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Deadwood (the movie, HBO Now)

You either loved the series or you didn’t care for it at all. I loved it. I loved the story and the cinematography and the characters and the language. I was a sucker for the psuedo-Shakespearean English that everyone that passed through this town spoke fluently.

The movie takes place 10 years after the series ended, which is appropriate because most of the actors look 10 years older. I enjoyed the series but was happy to close the book on it when it finished. I would not have wanted to see it extended – but another 90 minutes in movie form was just about perfect.

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The Island Murder (Netflix/American Experience)

In 1931, Honolulu’s tropical tranquility is shattered when a young Navy wife makes an allegation of rape against five islanders. This sets in motion a series of events reminiscent of the Jim Crow South. It was, apparently, a big story at the time that made national headlines and pitted the US military and the island’s social elite against the native population. In a brief 45 minutes, this B&W documentary gave me a good introductory lesson on the early days of the American occupation of Hawaii.

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I’d give Kon-Tiki a B for cinematic values and a B+ for historical interest. Seeing the movie made me want to read the book again and try to find the documentary made about the expedition that won the Academy Award in 1951.

The movie was based on Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft, one of the first books I remember reading. My father, who was not a sailor but a ship captain during WWII, recommended it to me, and I was enthralled by the story.

Here’s some info about the movie from the IMDb website.


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Slaughterhouse Five

This month, Bob S challenged us with 2 books and a movie. The books were Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle(both by Kurt Vonnegut). The movie was Slaughterhouse Five.

I watched the movie last night. It is part anti-war and part time-travel. And it is well done on both accounts. The hero, Billy Pilgrim, is a classic modern tragic figure who is traumatized by his past life, bored by his present life, and hopeful for a better life in the future. Yet he is unable to change anything. Being “unstuck in time,” as he puts it, allows him to move back and forth through his past life as a prisoner of war during the firebombing of Dresden, his present life as a successful optometrist, and his future life as a caged animal in a zoo.

The transitions are cleverly done through a variety of techniques: musical cues, camera angles, images, sound effects, and gestures. Ultimately, it’s an ironic statement about the futility of human volition and the absurdity of large-scale human “achievements” such as war.

Note: Nearly the entire enchanting soundtrack is Bach’s 5th Concerto, arranged by Glenn Gould.

Here’s the trailer:


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Eric Edmeades on “How to Become a Master in the Art of Public Speaking”

A very good speech on public speaking that’s about much more than public speaking.

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