KUSP Film Review

Dennis Morton Picks Three Favorites from 2015


By Dennis Morton

Long ago I realized that most of the films I enjoy never make it to that overly exalted Academy status. Occasionally I’m asked to name my favorite movies of the year. It’s not an easy question. I don’t pay much attention to lists like that. I don’t even know which films have been nominated for this year’s Academy Awards.

But this year, just for kicks, I decided to make a list of the movies I most enjoyed in 2015. I came up with nine or ten that I knew I’d never tire of re-watching. Let me share with you the three at the top of that celluloid heap (oops – it’s a digital heap now).

I’ll toss third place laurels to Amy Schumer’s comic masterpiece – Trainwreck. She wrote the script and stars in the film. She even names her character Amy. For most of her post-pubescent life, character Amy has followed her Daddy’s dictum, i.e. – that ‘monogamy isn’t realistic’. Amy maneuvers through a small army of sexual partners. She lives and works in The Big Apple, so the pickings are good. But one day, on assignment for the trashy magazine she writes for, she meets a sports doctor. Among his current patients is LeBron James. Egged on by LeBron, the doc and Amy enter into strange territory. Trainwreck is not about a wreck, but about re-training oneself. It’s smart and hilarious.

Second place on my list goes to the recently released Youth. Director and script writer Paolo Sorrentino is a brilliant man and he imparts much of that quality to more than a few of the characters in Youth. The film is primarily about the lives of two highly accomplished old men – one, a retired composer/conductor and the other, a still working film director. Life long friends – even the lives of their grown children are deeply entwined. Youth brims with scintillating conversation. But what I like best about the film is how cleverly Sorrentino demolishes popular myths. To name a few: that movie stars are dimwits, that children are incapable of serious and informed conversation, and that beauty queens haven’t a brain in their gorgeous noggins. At one point, the newly crowned Miss Universe praises an actor for what he considers one of his lesser roles. He says something rather snide to her and she responds that she appreciates irony, but not when it’s drenched in poison. Youth is filled with moments like that. It’s a great film.

And finally, at the top of the heap, is Ex Machina. This is a film about a moment that many of us are fascinated with, but also full of dread about. A bright young man, a code writer for a super successful computer company, is summoned to a luxurious estate in the country. Part living quarters and part laboratory, it belongs to the company’s owner. The young man’s assignment is to determine if a robot has been sufficiently endowed, not just with A.I., but also with a level of consciousness that it can pass as fully human. Oscar Isacc plays the inventor, a fellow without apparent emotion attempting to impart genuine emotion into a machine. How well he succeeds is at the heart of the film.

Many directors attempt to create a titillating moment by having a character disrobe. But in Ex Machina, the sexiest moment occurs when the robot is putting her clothes on. Consistently fascinating, I think Ex Machina is the best film of the year.

Film Review: ‘The Prophet’


Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above, and read it below.


Khalil Gibran is one of the most famous poets in history. His book, ‘The Prophet’, has been translated into dozens of languages and reportedly has sold over 100 million copies. To put that in perspective, consider that the typical first printing of a book of poems in The United States, even books written by relatively well known poets, ranges from 500 to 1,500 copies. And while it’s true that poetry is not America’s favorite literary genre, to say the least, the numbers do give you a sense of Gibran’s enormous popularity.


Maps to the Stars


Listen above, to the review by Dennis Morton – and read it below.

Maps To The Stars is a very strange film. It’s filled with subjects and situations that most of us don’t talk about, at least in public. It’s described as a comedy, and indeed, there are laughs. But the humor is almost unrelentingly dark. If I had to describe it in a sentence, I’d say the movie is a vicious satire on the self-obsession that sometimes accompanies fame. Unsurprisingly, it’s set in Hollywood?


Two Days, One Night


Listen to the review by Dennis Morton, and read it below.

Two Days, One Night is a film by the Dardenne brothers, Luc and Jean-Pierre. They wrote and directed it. Its star is Marion Cotillard. She plays a woman named Sandra, an employee of a company that produces solar panels.




Listen above to the review by Dennis Morton, and read it below.

Whiplash is a film that raises lots of questions but leaves many of them unanswered. And if, at times, we viewers feel that we’ve been lashed with a whip, well, rhetorically speaking – we have.

The story is rather simple. Andrew, a young guy in his first year at a prestigious music academy in New York City, wants to become the best jazz drummer in the world. Terence Fletcher, on the faculty of the academy, is the school’s best instructor. Andrew’s nascent talent comes to Fletcher’s attention.

The problem for Andrew, and all the students under Fletcher’s purview, is that Fletcher is a mean and nasty guy. He brooks no deviation from his expectations. He is preposterously demanding and to say that he is verbally abusive is a massive understatement. His rants range from sexist to homophobic. He’ll pretend, for a moment, to be interested in the personal life of a student, but it’s just a gathering of ammunition to be fired at an opportune time.

Because there are several moments when Fletcher is, or appears to be, human and vulnerable, we wonder how he came to be the ugly man he seems to be. Writer / director Damien Chazelle does not provide us with the answer. Like his students, we, the viewers, must accept Fletcher as he is. And it is J.K. Simmons brilliant performance that makes it possible for us to do that.

Whiplash is a two person show. Miles Teller, who plays Andrew, is equally brilliant in his role. The big question regarding Andrew is: how much abuse can he tolerate from Fletcher. Ultimately, director Chazelle does provide that answer.

We do get a few brief hints about the events that have shaped Andrew’s life. These are provided at a family dinner. Present are Andrew’s ubiquitous father, his two cousins and presumably, his aunt and uncle. The cousins arrive a bit late. Just prior to that, Andrew is answering a question about how things are going at music school. His response is interrupted when the cousins show up. Immediately, all attention if focused on them. One has just scored a 93 yard touchdown. The other has just learned that he’s being considered for a Rhodes Scholarship. So much for Andrew, it would appear. But not so. Unexpectedly, in a one-sided bout of verbal fisticuffs, Andrew demolishes his cousins’ achievements. And we are left to wonder if, somewhere under the skin, there’s a bit of Fletcher lurking in Andrew.

There are a few scenes in Whiplash that strain credulity. On the way to a big band competition, an unlikely series of automotive mishaps threatens Andrew’s timely arrival. But perseverance prevails and a bloodied Andrew arrives in the nick of time.

Notwithstanding who prevails or who loses, and when – it’s J. K. Simmons and Miles Teller that make Whiplash a worthy investment of your movie going time. Their performances are simply magnificent.

‘Rotten Tomatoes’, a website that gathers movie reviews, reports that Whiplash is a huge success, among critics and viewers. An astonishing 96% of critics and 96% of viewers have given it positive ratings. Don’t miss Whiplash.

Force Majeure


Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above / read it below.

‘Force majeure’ is a phrase I’d never heard of. So, I looked it up. In general, it’s a legal term – in contract law. It refers to a major event, unforeseen by the parties to an agreement. A ‘force majeure’ can render a contract void should one of the parties successfully claim it as a reason for not being able to fulfill the terms of an agreement.
It turns out to be a perfect title for Swedish director, Ruben Ostlund’s latest film.

Force Majeure is a study of human behavior in the aftermath of a perceived mortal threat. The idea for the film came from an incident in the lives of friends of the director – a married couple who were vacationing in Latin America. One day, from seemingly nowhere, gunmen appeared and began shooting. The husband bolted for cover, leaving his wife unprotected. They both survived, but when they returned to Sweden, if the wife had consumed a glass or two of wine, she told the story over and over, simply couldn’t get it out of her mind.

In Ostlund’s film, we closely observe five days in the life of a Swedish family on a skiing vacation in the French Alps. Ostensibly, the purpose of the vacation is to provide the father, a successful businessman named Tomas, some down time to spend with his family. The locale is a bit upscale and the mountain-scape exceedingly gorgeous. Tomas, his wife Ebba, and their preteen children, Vera and Harry, are more than passable skiers. Watching the family zig zag down the slopes is a minor, but enjoyable part of the film.

Day One goes fine. The family skis. The food is good. And Ebba meets an unnamed woman, about her own age, who is vacationing solo – having left her hubby and kids back home. Ebba is astonished to learn that her new acquaintance is an eager practitioner of free love. And, she is eloquent in defense of her life-style.

Day Two begins just as fine as Day One. After a morning on the slopes, the family has lunch on the balcony of their hotel, overlooking the unspeakable majesty of the snow covered mountains. Lunch is momentarily interrupted by the sound of an explosion. Tomas tells Ebba not to be concerned. The purpose of the explosion, he explains, is to precipitate a ‘controlled avalanche’, one that will prevent a spontaneous, and potentially dangerous, real avalanche. What happens next is at the core of the film, and I shall remain mum about it.

But the aftermath of the event consumes the emotional lives of every member of the family for the duration of their vacation. We are treated to ruminations about the psychological consequences of society’s expectation of heroism. Significant and articulate ponderings of gender roles, cowardice, and the intuition of children are explored. And, perhaps the biggest subject that director Ostlund takes on is the torturous path to forgiveness.

For me, one of the things that makes Force Majeure such an intelligent and powerful film is that it doesn’t really end after the credits have rolled. I left the theater wondering how I might react if confronted with a ‘force majeure’. And, it’s not that I want to find out, but, I haven’t stopped wondering. This film ‘has legs’, and it’s following me. I highly recommend it.



Listen to a review of this film by Dennis Morton above, or read or below.


Any movie that opens with Pete Seeger’s version of Solidarity Forever would have my immediate attention, and I’m very happy to say that throughout the new British release, Pride, my attention never flagged. In fact, I grew ever more rapt as the movie rolled on.

The film opens in the summer of 1984, in London. A gay pride parade is about to commence. One of the leaders of the march, Mark, a young fellow in his twenties, has just coldly flipped off an importunate lover. Mark’s attention is focused, instead, on a news show on the telly. He, and we, learn that a national coal miners’ strike is now in its fourth month, and that 20,000 jobs are in limbo for the interim. Margaret Thatcher defends her government’s reactionary stance to the strike and tells the country the following: I can’t change my style. I’m here to be a good firm leader.


The Skeleton Twins


Listen to the review by Dennis Morton, above.

Land Ho!


Listen to the review above, by Dennis Morton.



Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above, and watch the trailer below.

Richard Linklater’s latest film, Boyhood, was a very risky venture. You’ve likely heard that it took over twelve years to make, and that he used the same cast throughout. That, in itself, was daring  – taking the chance that each of the cast members would be available for a twelve year shoot.

But, I think there was an even greater risk. Generally, movies succeed on the basis of disguising themselves as reality. We don’t want to enter the theatre and be reminded, over and over, that what we are watching is an assemblage of hundreds of hours of preparation and execution designed to fool us into believing that we’re witnessing a few seamless hours in the lives of the characters.

Linklater must have known that if he succeeded in getting to the finish line, the reality that he’d have created something never attempted in the annals of film history would likely ensure that most folks would be very aware that they were watching a movie. Which is to say – the desired outcome of ‘getting lost’ in the film might well be diminished.

Fortunately, sometimes great risks produce great outcomes, and I am happy to report that Boyhood is among them.

So, what is Boyhood about? Ostensibly, it’s about the childhood, pubescence,  adolescence, and early adulthood of a bright guy named Mason, and about the lives of his closest family members. But I think it’s also a film about time – about how humans negotiate it, use it, abuse it, and, especially, about its velocity.

That Boyhood is about time and its manifestations is no surprise. Prior to Boyhood, my favorite Linklater films were the ‘Before’ trio: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. Obviously, Linklater is artfully obsessed with time.

The film opens with six year old Mason lying on his back on a schoolyard lawn,

gazing pensively into the sky. His mom, Olivia, arrives to take him home. In the car, she asks him several questions generated by his teacher’s concerns. Mason’s simple answers establish immediately that he is a bright and unpretentious kid – a magnet for our attention and affections.

Next we are introduced to Mason’s precocious sister, Samantha. Samantha is played beautifully by Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei. And we fall in love with her, too.

We now are beginning to know three of the four major characters – sister, brother, and mom. And soon we will meet the estranged father of the family, Mason Sr., played with characteristic excellence by Ethan Hawke.

We discover that mother Olivia, played by Patricia Arquette, has a penchant for choosing partners with unhealthy habits. Mason Sr. is an inveterate smoker. He is followed in Olivia’s chain of love interests by an abusive alcoholic, who, in turn, is followed by a guy with an incipient drinking problem.

Boyhood is a powerful portrait of the all too familiar problems faced by many single parent families – divorces, frequent moves, financial difficulties, a disarming rootlessness. Linklater, the endearing Ellar Coltrane, who plays Mason Jr., and the entire cast have made a memorable, perhaps even, a great film. Don’t miss it.