Monday, September 30, 2013

Breaking Bad

Season 5, Part 2 (2013)
Hank’s revelation about the dark truth concerning his brother-in-law causes him to go rogue and spurs a collision course leading to a catastrophic showdown between Walt, Jesse, and everyone else that comes in their path. The ultimate show for the instant gratification generation comes to its conclusion in a leave nothing to the imagination fashion that is sure to please its attention deficient minions (thank God they didn’t leave things open and make you think like The Sopranos!). For the high dramatics required for this concluding half season, Aaron Paul and especially Dean Norris are not up to the task while Bryan Cranston, an actor I’ve criticized for his one-note portrayal, pulls off something wondrous in generating sympathy for his despicable character. Vince Gilligan and company continue to misuse their female actresses while presenting flashy photography and plotlines that get way more credit than they deserve. All said and done, I must admit that it has been fun these last several weeks to have a TV event that seemingly everyone has been discussing, but now that the dust is settling it will be a relief to see the conversation draw to a close.
** 1/2

Season 5, Part 1 (2012)
With the eradication of Gus Fringe, very little (some questions of supply, and about a baker's dozen of Fringe's constituents) stands in way of Walter's ascension to the methamphetamine throne of the southwest. Now his real contenders are his disaffected wife, persistent brother-in-law, increasingly conscious driven partner and, of course, himself. The first half of the final series (why they're splitting a show that covers such a short time span is beyond me - Walter Jr. looks like he's 30 for god's sake) is essentially just fallout and wheel spinning from the spectacular finale of the altogether lackluster previous season. Walter continues to evolve into an increasingly dubious and unrealistic creature and I still stand by my statements that Bryan Cranston is a one trick pony not up to the task (same still holds for Aaron Paul too). Anna Gunn's melancholic turn has also brought her likewise insufferable character to a whole new level of unbearableness. Creator Vince Gilligan continues to shoot himself in the foot (e.g. a well constructed train heist followed by a ludicrously abominable act) and mask his lack of artistry and vision with a series of kitschy time-lapse montages which have typified the series. Great moments of frenzy and disorder, where the show should rest its focus, are few and far between and Gilligan opts for sheer improbability and implausibility in both plotting and characterization.

Season 4 (2011)
The fallout from season 3 places Walt and Jesse in a contentious spot, not only with their employer Gus, but also amongst themselves. As Walt continues his approach into utter amorality and Jesse into a spiral of addiction and despair, the crippled Hank begins to pick up the scent, and a major confrontation looms for all involved in the Albuquerque crystal meth trade. For "Breaking Bad", the motto has become "shock at all cost, character development and believability be damned". Although containing few great moments, the series is beginning to resemble a Saturday morning cartoon more so than a great piece of art, which many would have you believe. Although we remain invested in the characters of Walt and Jesse, Bryan Cranton and Aaron Paul's performances have grown redundant and tiresome and their characters have grown so erratic, I have a hard time buying any of their choices. I don't find Giancarlo Esposito's Gus to be as passively menacing as commonly held and Jonatahan Banks' more fleshed out role is not as refined as I had earlier supposed. Anna Gunn continues her turnaround and delivers good work this season, Dean Norris is viable as Hank, Bob Odenkirk continues to amuse as Saul the attorney. I thought creator Vince Gilligan wrapped things up well (perhaps a bit too neatly) but overall this past season functioned in fits and starts. With 16 episodes to go, hopefully Gilligan can deliver something that is not only hard hitting and riveting, but also in the limits of believability. 
** 1/2

Season 3 (2010)

Albuquerque is in mourning following the plane crash. Walt is now separated from Skyler and Jesse is struggling with his loss as well as sobriety.  Not wishing to cook anymore, Walt finds it hard to turn down a lucrative offer from Gus, and events from the past invite two strangers from south of the border who may not only jeopardize Walt's life, but may also threaten his family as well. Season three of Breaking Bad sees the show getting full of itself and getting out of hand. I did not believe one of the turns of the show and found myself shaking my head in disbelief more often than not, not being able to buy any of the character's choices. Bryan Cranston's much praised work I find to be one note (although he hits it well) and his character's transformation is so ridiculous that his antics in these scenes almost mirror his character in Malcolm in the Middle. Also, the scenes involving the two Mexican brother assassins is just too close to "No Country for Old Men" not to say anything. There were some elements I liked, including some intense sequences handled extremely well. The cast is very good as well. Aaron Paul continues his fine work. I was surprised to appreciate Anna Gunn and Betsy Brandt, whose work I had disapproved of in the prior two seasons. Dean Norris continues his stellar work as well and Bob Odenkirk continues to be a hoot as the slickster attorney. Finally, Giancarlo Esposito does nice work as an atypical drug lord and Jonathan Banks is effective as a "cleaner." As far a television goes, Breakinng Bad is still a good show. The problem is that the people behind the show know it's good and let it show.
** 1/2

Season 2 (2009)
The second season of Breaking Bad picks up with Walt and Jesse's premium batch of crystal meth being a booming success and everything else going wrong. They both have to contend with their psychopathic distributor who has big plans for his employees. Problems accrue with all members of their distribution crew, leading to their retainer of a high priced shyster attorney. Women problems occur for both men, one even turning tragic. Walt is still battling his severe lung cancer while Jesse battles drug addiction. Then there are those mysterious teasers that play before the credits, building up to an unpredictable occurrence. Vince Gilligan's series steps its game up for its second time at the plate. Bryan Cranston is still great in the lead, always wearing that sense of dread. Aaron Paul makes strides as Jesse, as his character sinks into addiction and a toxic relationship. Dean Norris is great as well as his DEA character gets a promotion that may not be all its cracked up to be and the series benefits greatly from the additions of Bob Odenkirk as the scumbag lawyer and John de Lancie as the father of Jesse's new girlfriend. I still have a problem with some of the contrivances of the show and it should be mentioned that the credited females on the show, Anna Gunn, Betsy Brandt, and Krysten Ritter, are terrible. Still, Breaking Bad is among the upper echelon of television programming and is a tense and entertaining way to spend 47 minutes.

Season 1 (2008)
Walter White's life is not going as he would like it too. Once a chemistry prodigy with a successful future ahead of him with limitless possibilities, he is now reduced to teaching the Periodic Table to bored high school students in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He even has an after school job at the car wash to help make ends meet. The passion has gone out of his marriage and his disabled son mouths off to him so when his doctor informs him he has stage 4 lung cancer, he seems curiously impassive and more concerned with the mustard shirt on the doctor's smock. Not wanting to leave his family in dire straits, and with a little inspiration when hearing about a drug bust from his DEA agent brother-in-law, Walter decides to seek out one of his old students and current drug dealer and cook crystal meth. Breaking Bad is a strange show that doesn't (really) moralize the situation its lead character has thrust himself into. Bryan Cranston, a TV veteran whom most remember as the dad in Malcolm in the Middle, hits all the right notes as the internalized and Aaron Paul is just as fine as he reveals an intelligent person in his seemingly idiotic drug dealing character. I wouldn't call the writing great and situations are often contrived, but this is highly original, entertaining, and engaging programming.
sidenote: This inaugural season was a victim of the writer's strike and was unfortunately cut short to 7 episodes. It does feel somewhat condensed and does not have the feel of a full season.

Sunday, September 29, 2013


Undefeated tells the story of the Manassas Tigers, a high school football team in a highly impoverished area of Memphis who has never inhaled a whiff of success on the playing field and whose prospects aren't much better off of it. Filmmakers Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin, who won a Best Documentary Oscar for their work, follow dedicated and overextended team coach Bill Courtney as he turns the team around by taking a vested interest in his players. Undefeated is an inspiring story above all other things but, like many first person documentaries, there is some playing to the camera which must be taken with a grain of salt.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

World War Z

A formerly ousted U.N. medical technician (Brad Pitt) must abandon his family to globe trot in an attempt to find a solution to the ensuing zombie apocalypse. World War Z shows up to the zombie party listless, empty handed, and several hours after the cops have broken it up. That is to say that Marc Forester's drab, big budget clunker, based on a purportedly excellent novel by Max Brooks, comes well after the undead deluge without bringing anything new to the table and is made in the dim, lifeless (not an asset despite the subject matter) style that tarnishes much of the director's work (I thought either there was a problem with the theater lighting or that the ticket tearer had forgot to issue the 3D glasses). Pitt is reliable, as is usually the case, and there is a well mounted concluding sequence at the World Health Organization, but these elements are not enough to carry an otherwise tiresome and disappointing film.

Friday, September 27, 2013

This Must Be the Place

An aging, downtrodden ex-rocker (Sean Penn sporting long hair, makeup, and a high-pitched, nasally voice) living peacefully in Dublin with his firefighting wife (Frances McDormand) learns his father is dying and returns home to the States to seek out and confront his Nazi persecutor. Bizarre doesn't begin to adequately describe Paolo Sorrentino's film, which pushes the envelope on several occasions, but finds its base on another incredible performance from Penn, one that I personally didn't think I would be able to take seriously at the start of the picture. Another highlight is David Byrne, whose title tune and other tracks populates the soundtrack, and who also makes a welcomed appearance playing himself.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station takes place on the last day of 2008, also the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, an ex-convict seeking to reform his life who was shot dead by a transit police officer after an altercation on an Oakland bound train. Making his directorial debut and also manning screenplay duties, Ryan Coogler goes to great, even manipulative lengths (presented as a true life docudrama, do we actually have details such as Grant comforting a wounded pit bull to its death?) to humanize his protagonist in this extremely personal drama. What gives the film weight, however, is the remarkable performance of Michael B. Jordan (familiar perhaps through TV's Friday Night Lights and The Wire) who digs deep and finds the core of his character. Also impressive is Coogler's direction, told through non-distracting handheld photography, and a fine supporting performance from Melonie Diaz who plays Grant's loving, worn out girlfriend.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio

Ken Burns' Empire of the Air follows the lives of Lee de Forest, Edwin Armstrong, and David Sarnoff, three men who were responsible, respectively, for the invention, expansion, and industrialization of that mass form of communication known as radio. I was expecting something of a broader scope from this minor entry in Burns' canon, but even with the narrowed scope, the documentary is thoroughly researched, presented, and illuminating nonetheless. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


The deliberate, seemingly random murder of a beloved local priest stirs a quaint, New England community into a panic causing law enforcement to pin the murder on an itinerant, whose only hope is his dogged attorney (Dana Andrews) who is assured of his innocence. Boomerang! is a considerable misfire coming from legendary director Elia Kazan. Filming this real life story on actual locations and presenting it in a docudrama style, the film comes off as stilted and not nearly as interesting as it sounds. Lee J. Cobb, playing a surly police captain, is one of the few saving graces of the picture.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Dont Look Back

Don't Look Back is D.A. Pennebaker's coverage of Bob Dylan's 1965 concert tour of Britain, where the documentarian was granted what appears to be total access to the iconic folk singer at the apex of his popularity (and on the cusp of his much maligned shift to electric). This grainy, incredibly photographed film features great concert footage and offers an otherwise unflattering portrait of Dylan who, whether humiliating reporters, evading their questions, or acting rude to hotel workers or his coterie, comes off as smarmy, petulant, and irritating.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

My Name Is Ivan

A 12 year old kid, spurned by the murder of his family, assists his fellow Russians fighting off the invading Germans, as he stealthily moves amid the dismal swamps they are defending. Based on a true WWII story, My Name is Ivan (aka Ivan's Childhood) was Andrei Tarkovsky's debut film and like much of his other work it features great imagery and camerawork but is also awfully dense and occasionally dull, although the ending is a knockout.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Silicon Valley

In the late 1950s, a group of forward thinking inventors defected from their company, moved to an undeveloped portion of Southern California and formed a new organization where they would invent and refine the microchip which, among other things, pushed Americans to the forefront of the Space Race and led to the technological breakthroughs which would be mounted in the area over the next several decades. Silicon Valley is an informative and somewhat redundant entry in PBS' American Experience series as told by many who were present in those early days who helped to shape our modern society.

Friday, September 20, 2013


The daughters of a rural Pennsylvanian handyman (Hugh Jackman), his wife (Maria Bello), and their next door neighbors (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) vanish without a trace during a dinner party. When the lead detective on the case (Jake Gyllenhaal) interrogates a suspicious, feeble minded suspect (Paul Dano) to no avail and is forced to set him free, the father takes it upon himself to get answers from the suspect. Prisoners is a B thriller, dressed up with A money and a star cast, and drawn out needlessly to two and a half hours which are compounded by unrelenting suspense music, Roger Deakins photography that calls attention to itself, and Hugh Jackman. Gyllenhaal, one of the more reliable working actors, carries the ball about as far as he can and Howard and Davis are strong in throwaway roles.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Shortly after the Russian Revolution, three bumbling Soviet agents are dispatched to Paris to hock the crown jewels while the former owner (Ina Claire) sends an operatve of her own (Melvyn Douglas) in an attempt to retrieve them. When the Kremlin catches wind of the ongoings, they send a frigid, no nonsense beauty (Greta Garbo) to bring the jewels and the agents home and not fall prey to the duchess' seductive emissary. Ninotchka is an absolute delight, with director Ernst Lubitsch at the top of his form and working from a snappy screenplay by his protege Billy Wilder, Charles Bracket (who would go on to coscript some of Wilder's best films), and Walter Reisch. Douglas and Garbo (who is positively radiant) have dynamic chemistry in this completely charming picture.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry tells the story of the irascible, rabble rousing artist (his giant bronze Zodiac sculptures are currently on display at the Cleveland Museum of Art, click here for more information), and his constant clashes with the Chinese government (one of which resulted in a lengthy detainment, another a severe beating) as he partakes in his many endeavors, which include his Earthquake Names Project which sought to name all the casualties in the 2009 Sichuan catastrophe. Ai Weiwei proves an engaging subject, often coming off as a deliberate instigator, but still engaging nonetheless.

My Man Godfrey

While searching for a homeless person as part of a scavenger hunt, a mercurial socialite (Carole Lombard) finds her query in the form of Godfrey (William Powell), a charming, down on his luck fellow upper classer (though unbeknownst to her) whom she brings home to wait on her eccentric family. My Man Godfrey is a beloved screwball comedy and considered by many to be the definitive entry in the genre. Though gorgeously filmed and containing nice performances from Powell, Lombard (if pressed, I would probably pick Howard Hawks' Twentieth Century, which she also starred in, as a favorite farcical comedy of the period), and Eugene Pallette, I found the film somewhat stilted and awfully contrived.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Elvira Madigan

Elvira Madigan was a tightrope walker in the late 1800s who ran off with a Swedish military officer and attempted to live simply in the Dutch countryside before realizing the harsh societal truths and deciding their ultimate fate. Director Bo Widerberg seems contented here with his luminous photography, which is gorgeous and was highly praised in its day, but lacks a narrative thrust or anything else really that would make this stilted period piece of interest.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Red Hook Summer

A single mother from suburban Atlanta drops her preadolescent son off at her estranged father's (Clarke Peters) sparse Brooklyn apartment where the young lad is forced to surrender his iPad and other middle class possessions and contend with the sermonizing of his ministerial grandfather. Red Hook Summer is a personal and probably somewhat autobiographical film from Spike Lee, who was given assistance on the screenplay by James McBride, which seems like it intended to capture the spirit of his earlier films (Lee's Mookie from Do the Right Thing even shows up sporadically to deliver pizza). I enjoyed some of how it was filmed, the unique color hues are appealing, but the film is so matter of fact and and the acting so amateurish (aside from Peters, who excels) that it is hard to take everything at face value. There is also a major revelation followed by a complete tonal shift which doesn't help matters either. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

Back once more in the desolate, post-nuclear Australian wasteland, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) finds himself pitted against the regent (Tina Turner) of a desert community and forced into a death match in an unforgiving cage against an imposing two person amalgam. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome is a silly, far out sequel which is not quite as much fun as its hypercharged predecessors (many would disagree with me), but is still highly imaginative featuring its patented, top of the line stuntwork and damned impressive chase sequences. Gibson is solid once more and Turner is a lot of fun in her over-the-top role.
** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, September 13, 2013

Rust and Bone

A self-involved MMA fighter (Matthias Schoenaerts) goes from oddjob to oddjob in between neglecting care for his young son as he routinely picks up women from nightclubs. One night he escorts a beautiful orca trainer (Marion Cotillard) home to her boyfriend's place and reacquaints with her several months later after having her legs amputated following a work related injury. Rust and Bone tells the story of two emotionally and physically wounded people finding a connection with each other and thrives not thanks to cheap sentiment but due to its forthrightness, top quality filmmaking, and affecting performances from Schoenaerts and Cottilard, whose names were confoundingly absent from the list of nominees at this past year's Academy Awards.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Invisible War

Kirby Dick's The Invisible War, a treatise on the little known and extensive, disturbing trend of sexual assault in the armed forces, features several victims telling their own personal horror stories before testifying before Congress. The film was so shocking, it stirred Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to issue a direct policy change order regarding how military assaults were reported, just the day after he viewed the documentary. While it has been a success in this commendable aspect, that is as art serving as an agent for social change, the film is very sensationalistic in covering a subject that puts it beyond critical reproach, and is as stilted and amateurishly composed as the Army promo video that opens it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


The Woodstock Music Festival, the "3 Days of Peace and Love" celebration at Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, New York, was not just an ultimate sendoff to the 1960s but also an instance of mass harmonious cooperation that was nothing short of remarkable. In his landmark documentary, director Michael Wadleigh employed a squadron of cameraman (which included Martin Scorsese, who was eventually booted from the project but received billing as an editor) and cut his film from miles and miles of footage into a documentary that often features several split screens and viewpoints. Not only does the film cover the spirited performances (Richie Havens, Sly and the Family Stone, and Hendrix's finale are highlights), but also captures the various facets of the festival, such as interviews with the unenviable sanitation workers or the sweet-natured locals who, for the most part, didn't mind lending their backyards to the half a million festival goers for the time of their lives they would never remember. That is had it not been for the movie.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


An enigmatic loner (Franco Nero), traveling alone through the desert and dragging a coffin by his back, stumbles upon a woman being tortured by a gang of soldiers, saves her life, but finds himself the target of their barbarous leader. After being betrayed by a separate band Mexican rebels, he must devise a plan to pit the two factions against each other. Sergio Corbucci's Spaghetti Western, which inspired a series of successors, is cheeseball central and not even the fun variety. Django is an ultra violent, unabashed Sergio Leone ripoff, replete with a graveyard showdown finale and a "man with no name" lead character whose only difference is that he tells the audience everything that Clint Eastwood's iconic antihero was thinking. Seeking this out after watching Django Unchained, I can't see what inspired Quentin Tarantino to craft his considerable film (there's also other probable seeds of inspiration here, including a graphic ear severing sequence), but the best thing I can say about Corbucci's film is that it inspired at least one worthy incarnation.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Queen of Versailles

The wife of the "Time Share King of Las Vegas" takes us on a tour of her life with her eight children as she prepares an expansive construction detail that will become the largest privately owned home in America at the same time her husband takes a devastating hit from the downturned economy. The Queen of Versailles is an all access, imperceptive, and witless portrait of excess and glut which begs the question of which is more baffling: why the filmmakers thought this would make for an interesting documentary or why so many critics and audiences actually thought that it did?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sleepwalk with Me

As a floundering stand-up comic's career begins to gain momentum, his relationship with understanding girlfriend begins to sour and his sleepwalking condition begins to reach heightened and bizarre levels. Mike Birbiglia's largely autobiographical account is amiable and often very funny, but doesn't have enough material or focus to sustain even its 80 minute running length. 

I wanted to take this opportunity to raise an issue without knocking this movie, because it is a sincere and humorous effort, but over the last few years my complaint that too many movies seemed unnecessarily dragged out to a two hour running length has now morphed into many movies not even being able to carry themselves through a duration of three quarters that time. If you don't have enough material for two hours, it should be shortened and if you don't even have enough for less, than perhaps you don't even have a movie.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Prince Avalanche

A nerdy, self-sufficient highway road painter (Paul Rudd) takes on his girlfriend's slovenly, obnoxious brother (Emile Hirsch) as as an assistant and the two work, bond, argue, and cope with the heartaches of love amid the solitude of their desolate Central Texas locations. After several pocket padding detours into inane, big budget studio comedies, David Gordon Green returns to the type of film by which he first built his name as a director, an observant and picturesquely filmed minimalist story. Here his well-established leads are very hard to take, even in goofball roles, and probably do him a disservice where unknowns would have possibly sufficed. Green also pulls off a curious feat where not only does it seem that we are offered half a movie, but also that it feels way, way overlong at that.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Twelve Chairs

On her deathbed, an old Russian woman reveals to both her son-in-law (Ron Moody) and her priest (Dom DeLuise) that she has sewn a small fortune of jewels into the seat of one chair of a twelve piece set which, as luck would have it, has been dispersed across a vast expanse of the empire. Working against the priest, the son-in-law, a hapless nobleman, is joined by a shifty con artist (Frank Langella) on his wild goose chase. The Twelve Chairs is an often humorous and occasionally meandering early film from Mel Brooks who adapted, of all things, a 1928 Russian novel. The film features hilarious performances from DeLuise and especially Moody.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Three Days of the Condor

A nerdy reader for the CIA (Robert Redford) steps out of his mundane New York City office for lunch and returns to find all of his coworkers brutally executed leaving him, an agent so hapless he's not even sure of his code name or how to tell military time, to untangle the conspiracy before suffering the same fate as his coworkers. From a spy novel by James Grady (whose Condor had three extra days), Three Days of the Condor is an intense thriller and another entry in a series of fine collaborations between Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford, the latter whom offers his expected moralizing in a nonetheless compelling performance. Max von Sydow and Cliff Robertson are likewise excellent in supporting roles. The picture has an armrest-gripping beginning and conclusion, which makes it all the easier to forgive a few missteps in its middle.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Flash Gordon

The New York Jets star quarterback (Sam J. Jones) is Earth's only hope from the destructive maniacal wiles of Ming (Max von Sydow), the diabolical and all-powerful ruler of the planet Mongo. Adapted from the 1930s comic strip, Flash Gordon is campy fun that wears thin after awhile, probably would have played better in a shorter form, but is a personal disappointment for the Queen score which provides an extremely limited vocal sampling. Jones is utterly terrible in the lead role, to the point of enjoyment, and Max von Sydow is fun as the heavy, that is after I stopped asking myself why he was in the movie.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


A social debutante (Lea Massari) goes yachting on the Mediterranean with her lover (Gabriele Ferzetti) and a friend (Monica Vitti) and disappears without a trace during a brief island stop. Almost immediately, the two remaining party members forget their crucial task and begin a physical relationship. Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avenntura (Italian for The Adventure, and kind of a backhanded joke for literal minded movie seekers by title) shook up the film world upon its initial release, enthralling and perplexing half of movie audiences while putting the other half to sleep. This is the epitome of a difficult film. It took two long viewings and some further readings for me to even scrape its surface and gain a tenuous grip on it and still, in the end, I was left feeling as ambivalent about the picture as its vacuous characters.

Monday, September 2, 2013

War Witch

In a war-torn, unspecified African country, a preadolescent teenager is abducted and forced into the life of a child soldier, where she falls in love with a fellow mercenary and bears witness to the atrocities that envelop her. War Witch, an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Film out of Canada, is a competently made picture that hopes to serve as exposé by drawing you into the life of its young protagonist through an unflinching gaze at the unending brutalities she must continually endure.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Simple Life

An generous and fiercely independent woman (Deanne Yip) has worked for the same family through four generations and six decades. Currently in the service of a young filmmaker (Andy Lau) she has raised since birth, she suffers a debilitating stroke and is forced into assisted living where her young master finds the opportunity to repay his family's debt. Ann Hui's A Simple Life is a poignantly observant and exceedingly well made drama that actually earns the cliched praise of heartfelt. Deanne Yip generates great empathy in her role, and the cast and filmmakers elevate this picture to levels you wouldn't expect from reading the plot line on the back of the DVD case.