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K. Harris "Film aficionado" RSS Feed (StudioCityGuy33 at Yahoo dot com)

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The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane

22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Try This "Little Girl" As A Character Study, Not Horror, April 13, 2016
This movie is a bit of a curiosity. I'm not surprised that people picking up the DVD or discovering the piece expecting to see a horror movie are a little disappointed. Yet, with the provocative product description one might, at least, expect a thriller. This is how the movie was sold in its day and how it continues to be sold. For me, "The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane" has always been an interesting character study, but one with a decidedly creepy edge.

The film may seem a little dated to modern audiences, but that's to be expected. Upon my most recent viewing, I was completely put off at how many times someone barged right into the house! And Martin Sheen was so recognizably villainous from his first moment on screen--I wouldn't have minded some shading behind the character, something less obvious.

But, as everyone can agree, the film belongs to Jodie Foster. Cool and intelligent, resourceful and belligerent--it is a masterful performance. But I guess that's to be expected, this was the same year Foster was Oscar nominated for "Taxi Driver". One of Foster's chief assets, and it remains true to this day, is that she always just seems so much smarter than anyone else around her.

I admire "Little Girl" for just this reason. It is a progressive look at a young girl who is wise and adult beyond her years. She is allowed to be unsympathetic, she is allowed to be sexual, she is allowed to be independent. WOW! Imagine having written a role that doesn't condescend. Today, actresses don't mature on screen until their thirties (usually). This film has the audacity and bravery to respect it's lead character (who is 13) and let the viewer make up it's own mind about her. I'm sure that if this film were remade with today's standards, it would not be as morally ambiguous. And it's that haunting uncertainty, that lack of obviousness, and the utter freedom as the viewer to either embrace or condemn this "Little Girl" that has made this a mini-masterpiece. KGHarris, 9/06
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 30, 2016 3:36 PM PDT

The Jesse Stone Limited Edition Collection (Amazon Exclusive)
The Jesse Stone Limited Edition Collection (Amazon Exclusive)
DVD ~ Tom Selleck
2 used & new from $118.99

87 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Pitch Perfect Tom Selleck Headlines 8 Made-For-TV Endeavors: Does Not Include 2015's Lost in Paradise, November 20, 2015
Note: A brief mention about pricing. While it's great to get all eight of the Jesse Stone films together in one convenient shipment, many have been around at bargain pricing for years. You may want to do a bit of shopping for a price configuration that makes sense to you if the ask here seems a little high (some of the movies can be had for around five bucks). This collection does house all 8 previously released DVDs in a new box, this exact set was released a couple of years ago with a replica of Jesse's PPD ball cap as additional swag. This "Ammie Exclusive" is a bit cheaper and is minus the hat.

Additional Note: I came across this listing as I was thinking they might do a new set that includes 2015's Lost in Paradise which aired on the Hallmark Channel. Perhaps, though, they are waiting for the new feature scheduled for 2016 to do a ten film box set. Lost in Paradise, for the record, doesn't have the strongest mystery as the case is rather easy to deduce but it does have a strong sense of melancholy as Jesse adapts to a major life loss. I also liked the brief appearance by Luke Perry as a serial killer.

2005: Stone Cold
2006: Night Passage
2006: Death In Paradise
2007: Sea Change
2009: Thin Ice
2010: No Remorse
2011: Innocents lost
2012: Benefit Of The Doubt

Tom Selleck is Jesse Stone! I don't know who author Robert B. Parker might have envisioned inhabiting his iconic small town police chief, but Selleck has certainly owned and perfected the role over the course of these 8 made-for-TV movies. Stone must surely be one of the most laid back heroes to ever grace the small screen and Selleck has perfected the minimalism necessary to make this character stand out. In the film world of quick cut editing, these films defy expectation by unfolding at a very leisurely pace. For the most part, the mysteries place a distant second in importance to the characterizations and the humor developed in the scripts (for which Parker does share a writer's credit). For the Stone series to be successful, you've got to care about the principals. So while Selleck is as comfortable as an old slipper in his role, it is also important to single out the recurring cast that helps to sell these tidy mysteries. With stellar talents like Viola Davis, William Devane and Kathy Baker providing back-up (not to mention a quietly impressive Kohl Sudduth or a pretty cool dog), it's easy to become invested in this small community of characters no matter what challenge they're faced to solved.

Starting with 2005's "Stone Cold" through 2012's "Benefit of the Doubt," each of the eight films obviously has its own central plot and mystery. While the earlier films are probably regarded as stronger entries plot-wise, I do think each chapter has enough to recommend it on its own merits. You'll appreciate the films to varying degrees as with any serialization. Some you may love, some just like. The series gets progressively more introspective. Some of the later entries have enormous sections with very little dialogue. However, to my way of thinking, what has made this series terrific is the continuing back story and its respect to the characters. Jesse Stone and team have evolved through the years and their interactions, relationships and growth in the totality of these eight films is what is so very special.

In truth, there is nothing necessarily ground-breaking here. Just old pros putting on some great entertainment. Lacking hysterics and over-the-top action set pieces, the Jesse Stone series is a quietly compelling throw-back to when stories and people mattered more than special effects. And, as always, the icing on the cake is the pitch perfect Tom Selleck who paints Jesse as both lovable and excruciatingly frustrating. It may be his best role ever, so it's no surprise he's come back 8 times! Enjoy. KGHarris, 7/13.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 14, 2016 4:16 PM PST

The Graduate (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
The Graduate (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Dustin Hoffman
Offered by MightySilver
Price: $24.83
28 used & new from $20.37

24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Criterion Specs For 2016 Release Of The Brilliant "The Graduate", November 19, 2015
A timeless classic and a personal favorite, "The Graduate" is a film I watch at least once a year. Featuring a pitch perfect script from Buck Henry, a stellar lead performance by a young Dustin Hoffman and capable assists from the terrific Anne Bancroft and Katherine Ross (all 4 were Oscar nominees), the movie is smart, funny, and has a knowing dead-pan sensibility (PLASTICS!) that holds up incredibly well. Nominated for Best Film of 1967, it took home a Best Director statuette for Mike Nichols. One of the best and wittiest examples of post-collegiate ennui ever put on film.

Everyone know how great the movie is, I'm not even attempting to review it. When I heard it was joining Criterion, I rushed over to see what would be included in the new release. Alas, no info. For purely informational reasons, I wanted to post the specs on one of my favorites for other like-minded fans.

New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Optional 5.1 surround remix, approved by director Mike Nichols, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray
Audio commentary from 2007 featuring Nichols in conversation with filmmaker Steven Soderbergh
Audio commentary from 1987 featuring film scholar Howard Suber
New interview with actor Dustin Hoffman
New conversation between producer Lawrence Turman and actor-screenwriter Buck Henry
New interview with film writer and historian Bobbie O’Steen about editor Sam O’Steen’s work on The Graduate
Students of “The Graduate,” a short documentary from 2007 on the film’s influence
“The Graduate” at 25, a 1992 featurette on the making of the film
Interview with Nichols by Barbara Walters, from a 1966 episode of NBC’s Today show
Excerpt from a 1970 appearance by singer-songwriter Paul Simon on The Dick Cavett Show
Screen tests
PLUS: An essay by journalist and critic Frank Rich
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 25, 2016 4:50 AM PST

The Comeback: Season 2
The Comeback: Season 2
Price: $14.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars After 10 Years, The Scathing Hollywood Satire Comes To A Surprisingly Satisfying Conclusion, July 30, 2015
Shamefully, I must admit that it took me a while to join the bandwagon of enthusiasts for HBO's "The Comeback." When it premiered in 2005, we watched a few episodes without ever really committing to this awkward and uncomfortable comedy. The pseudo-documentary style of Michael Patrick King's (who also created Sex and The City) scathing satire was undoubtedly ahead of its time. In the following years, with the ever-proliferating number of networks, reality TV is more obnoxious, more contrived, and more laughable than ever. And in truth, "The Comeback" works as both a social critique and as a harrowing journey into the trials and tribulations of former sitcom star Valerie Cherish (the fearless Lisa Kudrow) as she tries to get her next big break. When I rewatched the series a couple of years ago, I realized what I had been missing. And I was first in line to view last year's unlikely Season Two (not many shows can so successfully continue 10 years later).

The premise:
"The Comeback" starts with Valerie desperate to kick off a new chapter in her career. Having once been on a successful TV show, she is eager to rise to stardom again. Getting cast on a new show "Room and Bored" seems like a big break, and she wants to document her triumph with a film crew shooting a documentary called "The Comeback." Although Valerie fashions herself quite a star, she is continually humiliated by being relegated to a frumpy supporting player (the show-in-a-show cast includes a young Malin Ackerman and Kellan Lutz). Clashing with writers and creative at every turn, it is a slow brutal awakening for the self-deluded Valerie. Through all the set-backs, she is constantly trying to control the narrative of "The Comeback" by creating a personality as opposed to being herself. But the camera catches everything as a second chance continues to elude our heroine. Robert Michael Morris, as hair stylist and confidante Mickey Deane. steals every scene he's in by propping up Valerie even when she's deep in denial. Damian Young is her put upon husband, Lance Barber is her greatest foe, and Laura Silverman is the woman behind the scenes filming the documentary.

Season Two picks up, literally, ten years later. Ackerman and Lutz are now big stars, Mickey is battling some health issues, Silverman has turned into a serious filmmaker, and Valerie's husband is not eager to see Valerie get her hopes up once again. When she hears that Paulie G. (Barber, who hates her) is shopping a script at HBO based on their work on "Room and Bored," two worlds collide. In a meta twist, she takes on the role of herself as seen through Paulie's eyes in a show starring Seth Rogan. This time, however, she is determined to get it right. What she fails to realize (she's older but no wiser) is that she continues to be her own worst enemy. But this time, her self-sabotage may compromise the relationships closest to her. And by finally letting her defenses down, we might just start to see the real Valerie Cherish.

While Season One had a general car crash appeal, Season Two has moments of contemplation and even redemption. It's a fitting conclusion that has surprising emotional resonance. Through it all, Kudrow goes for broke in a completely unflattering self-involved performance. Kudos for her EMMY nomination. But I must again single out Robert Michael Morris who, to me, has always been the heart of "The Comeback." The show may not be for everyone. It can be caustic and unpleasant and Kudrow almost defies you to like or identify with Valerie. But vanity and insecurity are both eminently identifiable. I've said everything except how funny the show can be. But beware: it's oftentimes biting black humor that dissects everything that is wrong with reality TV and entertainment in general. I didn't start out loving "The Comeback" but I became one of its biggest fans. KGHarris, 5/15.

The Casual Vacancy BD [Blu-ray]
The Casual Vacancy BD [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Keeley Hawes
Price: $49.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Town Divided: A Caustic Three-Part Miniseries From HBO and BBC, July 30, 2015
Both HBO and BBC joined forces to produce this three part miniseries adaptation of J.K. Rowling's somewhat divisive novel "The Casual Vacancy." For the record, I have not read the source material and do not intend to comment on whether or not this was a satisfactory adaptation. I know individuals who hated the book and yet found the show worthwhile and also those who liked the novel and found this presentation somewhat disappointing. As they say, you can't please them all. For my taste, "The Casual Vacancy" is an interesting dissection of small town hypocrisy. Set in a little village called Pagford, this seemingly idyllic burg is really a hotbed of potential scandal, class warfare, and duplicitous business dealings. The main drama centers around the future of Pagford as envisioned by its various inhabitants. Should the local community center, which caters to the impoverished and disaffected, be shut down and turned into a luxurious spa for the wealthy? Those sitting on the town council have wildly different opinions.

Leading the charge for philanthropy is an impassioned Rory Kinnear as Barry Fairbrother. How's that for an on-the-nose character name? His prime opponent on the council is the great Michael Gambon as Howard Mollison. Howard and his wife Shirley (Julia Mckenzie stealing every scene she's in) envision themselves as the parish's power couple, making the decisions to create a prosperous and elite little community. When a seat on the voting board unexpectedly opens up, a trio of candidates (each rather absurd and/or unlikely) position themselves for the election. But behind the scenes, someone is working to expose the true nature of these hypocritical choices. Much of "The Casual Vacancy" plays as a scathing black comedy. It focuses on a rather extensive cast of unsavory characters. Even the good guys don't elicit much empathy until the final episode takes a more melodramatic turn. The neighboring Fields, the lower income housing development, is also showcased as a true home of apathy and crime. In fact, the entire township, despite its quiet appearance, is a battleground. The council war, parents and children, husbands and wives: just about everyone squares off against one another.

I liked the broad view of community represented in "The Casual Vacancy" and the intergenerational relationships within the story. In addition to the primary storyline, I did enjoy the younger generation of characters dealing with abuse, neglect, first love, and burgeoning sexuality. Along the way, Pagford is plagued by death, disappointment, marital discord and every type of unpleasantness imaginable. But that's not to say that there isn't a dark humor at work as well. Truthfully, though, there is probably a little too much going on. "The Casual Vacancy," a literal reference to the open council seat and a metaphorical allusion to death, is an engrossing if overcrowded piece for adults. It is not for the casual viewer, but someone who doesn't mind investing time. While I never felt particularly close to the characters, "The Casual Vacancy" always intrigued me as I didn't know where the story was headed. And it eventually packs an emotional wallop as well that I wasn't really expecting. I won't say that I loved this HBO miniseries, but I certainly think it's well worth watching. The cast is terrific (another familiar face is Keeley Hawes) and the screenplay has real bite. KGHarris, 5/15.


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fitfully Engaging Documentary That Is Both Tongue-In-Cheek And Enlightening, July 30, 2015
This review is from: Boredom (Amazon Video)
I'll give credit to documentary filmmaker Albert Nerenberg. He takes a mundane topic like boredom and transforms it into an amusing subject for analysis. Who'd have thought? I am not familiar with his previous works, but they seem equally inspired with titles like "Laughology" and "Stupidity." What makes "Boredom" so unusual is Nerenberg's approach. If you're not careful and attentive, you might think you're watching a comedy for most of this hour long presentation. But don't be fooled, there is lots of information as well (although some is speculative). In the end, I'm not sure that the film addresses any real breakthroughs in the subject of boredom, but I don't think that's particularly important either. Nerenberg simply wants us to think about something very common that gets relatively little serious consideration. And if the exploration of boredom still sounds tedious, even if the documentary is only an hour, the DVD release offers an alternative version that's slightly sped up to come in at 48 minutes. It's a hysterical idea and fits the tone of the piece perfectly.

Nerenberg starts the idea of the film out with an amusing notion. He discovered the topic of boredom one day after realizing that he'd lost his phone. Equating this disappearance with near catastrophe, the movie has a tongue-in-cheek quality that produces a lot of laughter. I won't reveal too much, but his interviews with others in similar crisis are very funny. Along the way, the movie addresses all of the usual areas you might expect with sections on school and workplace boredom, the reliance on technology, the thrill seekers, and even the fact that boredom helped contribute to the London riots of 2011. He has testimony from several experts and others of dubious authority, but it's never less than fascinating.

Other highlights include visits to the Boring Institute and a conference on the most boring topics imaginable. I watch a lot of documentaries and even I have to admit that I wasn't overly excited to watch "Boredom." But the movie surprises and captivates. It may not hold many answers, but it is a thoroughly entertaining treatment of the subject matter. And one thing is for sure, I now have a mission to track down the movie "Stupidity." If Nerenberg can make boredom this entertaining, I anticipate stupidity will be an even better muse! KGHarris, 8/14.

Rosemarys Baby (Dvd,2014)
Rosemarys Baby (Dvd,2014)
4 used & new from $3.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Serviceable TV Entertainment, If Not Exactly A Modern Horror Classic, July 30, 2015
This review is from: Rosemarys Baby (Dvd,2014) (DVD)
Roman Polanski's 1968 version of "Rosemary's Baby" is a true classic by any definition and a horror film that still holds up for modern viewers. It placed #9 on the American Film Institute's Most Thrilling American Films roster, garnered Polanski an Oscar nod for Best Screenplay and even won Ruth Gordon a golden statuette for Best Supporting Actress. Remarkably vivid for its day, the tale is an escalating ride of paranoia, menace, and ultimate dread. The film, adapted from a novel by Ira Levin, is stamped by Polanski's indelible mark. So let's just get this out of the way, the TV two-parter of "Rosemary's Baby" doesn't try to emulate Polanski's film so much as it is another adaptation of Levin's source material. While it relocates the story to Paris, the new interpretation of "Rosemary's Baby" stays closer to the roots of the novel on which it was based. As a product for a different medium in a different time, I'm not concerned with comparing the two versions. The only comment I'll make is that the original film was fairly startling and explicit for a Hollywood film (with an A-list cast, no less) in 1968 while the story is not nearly as shocking almost 30 years later when we've seen countless films borrow heavily from the same type of plotting.

The miniseries opens with a grim sequence depicting a young woman plummeting to her death. Soon thereafter, we meet our young heroes (the appealing Patrick J. Adams and Zoe Saldana) as they acclimate to their new Paris digs. Having suffered a deep tragedy, the lovely pair are trying for a fresh start in the City of Lights. He's an aspiring writer joining the faculty of a Parisian college, she's a former ballerina content to spend her time in cooking classes. A series of events put the duo into the orbit of an upscale couple played by Carole Bouquet and Jason Isaacs. The elder couple insinuate themselves into the lives of their young proteges and things start to feel slightly uneasy. It's all a little too close for comfort, in my opinion. Of course, when they offer them the apartment in which the woman from the opening died--you know things can't stay blissful for long. Soon Adams and Isaacs are fast friends and all of the writer's dreams start to come true. But at what price? By the end of Part One, Rosemary is pregnant which leaves Part Two open to unraveling the mysteries of the impending birth.

I won't reveal any major spoilers although I feel like the story is largely given away in descriptions and promos. Suffice it to say, many of the major players have ulterior motives and the baby is the ultimate prize. I think locating the tale in Paris was a great idea that gives us a fresh spin on the classic story. But with the extra time (without the commercial breaks, this still pulls in at about three hours), the adaptation feels a little padded and flat. I wanted the extra time to enrich the story, not water down its impact. It's all well done from a technical standpoint and the piece even has the terrific director Agnieszka Holland (love Europa Europa) at the helm, but something feels like it's missing. And when I really scrutinize this version, it comes down to the character of Rosemary.

The performances are fine. Adams (great in Suits) has a nice change of pace, Bouquet is deceptively off-kilter (although Ruth Gordon killed this role), and Isaacs is always reliable. Truthfully, I'd watch Isaacs in just about anything! Mostly, though, this piece rests on Saldana's shoulders. I'm a big fan of Saldana, but I never felt like her Rosemary seemed very modern. In 1968, Rosemary would be a lot less independent and gullible. It seems less likely now, especially as they established Rosemary as someone who had been supporting the family on her dance salary. As presented, she just bends to the whims of everyone around her and it's a little strange to see. Essentially Rosemary is a victim, but I'd have liked to see a bit of re-imaging in this modern interpretation. Overall, I've heard people completely dismiss "Rosemary's Baby" as unnecessary rubbish. Others boldly proclaim it is a great film. I'm in the middle ground. It's fine to pass the time, but almost instantly forgettable. If you watched any of last season's 666 Park Avenue, this just seemed like an extension of that type of TV horror. KGHarris, 5/14.

Garbo: The Spy
Garbo: The Spy
Price: $2.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Garbo Remains An Enigma, But A More Compelling True Life Tale Is Hard To Imagine, July 30, 2015
This review is from: Garbo: The Spy (Amazon Video)
The story of the double agent code-named Garbo is perhaps one of the most incredible true life tales to emerge from World War II (or even from history in general). So I enthusiastically looked forward to Edmon Roch's new documentary feature "Garbo: The Spy." A Spanish national who had seen the ravages of Communism and Fascism during the Spanish Civil War, Joan Pujol Garcia wanted to work with the Allies to oppose the Franco regime. When the British turned he down, he took matters into his own hands and offered his talents to the Germans as a devout zealot to their cause. He started feeding them faulty and/or fabricated information which led him to once again knock on British Intelligence's door. "Garbo: The Spy" relates this twisted tale and much more. Garbo's participation as a double agent led to a pivotal shift of power and he is credited with a major hand in the war's resolution. Unbelievable stuff!

But even as this is a thrilling subject, Roch's documentary is surprisingly low-key. The main text is related in a series of interviews with historians, reporters, and other spies. In an unusual choice, Roch doesn't even acknowledge who his contributors are for quite some time. I found myself questioning if I had missed something before the point where they are identified, but did enjoy how they were revealed. The talking head sequences are intercut primarily with movie clips in the first part of the film and archival footage in the second part. I didn't expect all the movies footage, most only thematically related to any particular topic at hand. But I did like it. It's an interesting approach, perhaps not for everyone, but I was never less than entertained. At the beginning of the movie, Garbo is a complete mystery but as the interviews progress--we do get closer to the man.

Truthfully, though, Joan Pujol Garcia remains largely an enigma. I suppose that's to be anticipated but his absence in the film is particularly noticeable. As he remains a relative cipher as a real human being, the film lacks some of the impact I might have expected. The tale is so fascinating, I wanted to learn more about the man. Roch assembles the other elements with style, and the final product is still quite engaging, lively and even witty. Even lacking Garbo as a principle character in his own right, the journey through his life and exploits is a compelling and entertaining one. An easy recommendation to those with an interest in the subject, and if you don't know the story--check it out, you won't believe it! KGHarris, 4/12.

Kennedy's Brain (English subtitled)
Kennedy's Brain (English subtitled)
Price: $5.99

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Two-Part German Miniseries Based On Henning Mankell's Divisive Medical Polemic, July 30, 2015
After becoming an international sensation with the Wallander series, Swedish crime novelist Henning Mankell ventured away from his typical police procedural with 2005's "Kennedy's Brain" (released in the U.S. in 2007). While some of Mankell's stand-alone novels have been quite successful (and I am a Mankell fan), I've always found "Kennedy's Brain" to be one of his most problematic titles. This angry polemic masked as a mystery tale charges forward as a scathing indictment against western complicity in a worldwide medical crisis. But rather than developing a believable central storyline, the mystery elements of the tale are thrown together rather haphazardly and advance through overt coincidence and happenstance but not much logic or reasoning. Mankell admitted that he wrote the story with a certain anger as his primary motivator and, thus, the end result is far more preachy than convincing. Subtlety is always your friend! And the pay-off for "Kennedy's Brain" (not to mention the rather tenuous connection to the title itself) simply failed to make much of an impact with me. I mention the book as the build-up to my comments about the two-part German miniseries adaptation because most of the same critique applies to the rather convoluted story presented in this well acted and handsome interpretation.

Running just shy of three hours (presented on two DVDs or on-deman), this TV presentation from 2010 certainly appears to be promising. As the mystery unravels across a global stage both in Sweden and in Africa, the German production is assured and convincing in its location shooting. This miniseries really does look great! The cast is strong, including one of my favorites Mikael Nyqvist. And lead actress Iris Berben gives a ferocious performance that's almost compelling enough to make you overlook the plotting which is both too coincidental AND too far-fetched (a near deadly combination).

Berben plays renowned archaeologist Louise Cantor. "Kennedy's Brain" opens with the rather grisly death of her adult son. Unhappy with the police theories surrounding her son's demise, Louise does what any good mother would do--she embarks on a relentless quest to prove that he was murdered. This leads her (with her poor husband in tow) to Africa where it seems that her boy was about to uncover a scandalous truth revolving around the worldwide AIDS crisis. But is Louise getting in too deep? The secret itself might have been enough to get her son murdered, those seeking to protect it go very high up into international positions both in the government and the medical field. As she gets closer to seeing the full implications of the discovery, she and those around her may pay the ultimate price. In truth, none of it is very convincing from a plotting standpoint, but Berben is like a force of nature and reason enough to give this a look.

Thematically, "Kennedy's Brain" has a lot in common with John le Carré's "The Constant Gardener." If you know that book or movie, that will clue you in to the tone of this piece. But le Carré's piece (in both versions) is superior to "Kennedy's Brain" in realizing a complete story and making its point without completely bludgeoning the audience with a message. Still, if you are just focused on the passion and fervor of Berben's mother love, there are pleasures to be found in this movie. Overall, though, the mystery gets overshadowed by weightier issues. I like a scathing indictment of corruption and malfeasance as much as the next person, but this format lacks the subtlety and balance necessary to be truly thought-provoking. Nicely acted and well made, I just became less and less invested as the primary story unfolded. KGHarris, 3/14.

Cenk Batu, Undercover Agent (English subtitled)
Cenk Batu, Undercover Agent (English subtitled)
Price: $19.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Six German Movies That Mix Surprising Emotional Context Into Standard Undercover Crime Drama, July 30, 2015
Cenk Batu: How would like a name like that? Fortunately for the titular lead of the German series "Cenk Batu: Undercover Agent," he doesn't use his real name very often. Batu, you see, is a deep cover operative that has just the right amount of cunning, smarts, and toughness to infiltrate any unlawful organization. Led by his trusted handler Uwe, Batu gets down and dirty for the six movies presented in a three disc DVD set or on-demand. "Cenk Batu" is part of the extremely popular and long-running Tatort franchise in Germany that specializes in gritty crime drama (kind of like the Underbelly series in Australia, one of my absolute favorites if you're interested). I had to look up Tatort after witnessing the strange opening of every movie that looks like a sweaty sixties James Bond montage. At first, this frightened me a little. But no worries. "Cenk Batu: Undercover Agent" is a fitfully entertaining series of stories that can be enjoyed all at once or even independently. Although there is a bit of carry-over from case to case, each movie stands on its own rather well.

Each presentation is just about 90 minutes. Obviously, as I've mentioned the show is German, you'll realize that it is presented with subtitles. As episode descriptions are provided in the listing, I won't go into the details of each movie. I'll just do a quick rundown:

1) On The Sunny Side
2) Urban Warfare
3) Forget Me Not
4) A Life For A Life
5) The Path To Paradise
6) The Ballad of Cenk & Valerie

Generally speaking, I found this series to be quite involving. It's certainly not without flaws, though. A lot of shortcuts are taken to get Cenk situated into his new undercover environments. In the first episode, for example, he saves a young man and suddenly gets treated like family without ever once having a real conversation with the guy. More far-fetched: in the second episode, Cenk must get close to a possibly dirty cop. The movie skips forward in time and has that cop asking Cenk to be his daughter's godfather! Wow! Talk about a success. But how'd he get so close, so quick, we'll just leave that to the imagination. Despite the ease and contrivance, however, of some of these set-ups, it actually adds a nice level of emotion to the proceedings. I enjoyed that Cenk was personally and emotionally invested in his cases and this close involvement really sells the drama.

Mehmet Kurtulus plays Cenk and I attribute much of the success of these shows to his versatility. He has a real every man quality that fits each new assignment well. He can be an intellectual or a thug, ruthless or tender. He's believable in almost any role. This is a testament to the actor. I particularly liked his relationship with Uwe through the course of the episodes, as well as his connection to his dad. It is this added human element that takes what might have been a fairly routine show and elevates it. If you like international crime drama, this is a trip well worth investing in. KGHarris, 5/14.

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