About Double Feature

Double Feature is the title of a column that I write for the newsletter of Lehigh Pocono Mensa, the local group to which I belong. It gets published monthly in "Magniloquence." I used to belong to Central PA Mensa, so I offer the column to the editor of "Penn Central" and it shows up there pretty regularly.

As the title implies, each Double Feature column features brief reviews of two movies that I have seen. I try to find a connection between the two films - subject matter, stars, awards, etc. - but, since it's my column, I reserve the right to occasionally choose two films that have no connection to each other at all.

The reviews found in the Movies section of this Web site serve as the basis for Double Feature. I try to keep each column somewhere around 500 words (which fills about one page in the newsletter), so I usually have to edit the original reviews to fit into the space allotted.

If you'd like to read the individual reviews for the films mentioned in Double Feature, you can do so here.

The rating scales are a little different. The conversion chart is as follows:

  • **** = Loved it
  • *** = Liked it
  • ** = Ehhh, it was OK
  • * = Hated it

Current Column

March 2019 - A tried and true cinematic plot pits the haves versus the have nots, the rich against the poor. Here are two examples proving that the formula does not always have the desired dramatic effect.

In Elysium, Matt Damon allows himself to be transformed into a cyborg so that he can try to give his fellow 22nd Century Earthlings a better life. Jodie Foster and her hired hitmen try to stop him in this R-rated sci-fi thriller from 2013.

The year is 2154 and the planet Earth is in a shambles. That's why anyone with money and power lives far above it, on a pristine space station called Elysium. There the grass is green, the houses are large, and anyone who's ill need only lie in a special bed called a Med Bay for a few moments to be diagnosed and cured. With perks like that, it's no wonder that the citizens of Elysium have set up strong defenses to keep out any riffraff from Earth.

That riffraff includes Max (Matt Damon), a parolee who works at a factory where robots are made. It also includes Spider, who does his best to help the infirm get to Elysium for a shot at a cure. An unfortunate incident at the factory leaves Max with only days to live, so he turns to Spider for help. Spider is willing, but first Max must meet certain conditions – conditions that could end up costing him his life.

Overall review: Ehhh, it was OK. The movie, I think, gets too caught up in action sequences to make any meaningful statements about social justice and income equality. Best to sit back and enjoy the action without thinking too much about what's actually going on.

2015's The Lady in the Van tells the story of a playwright in 1970's London who lets a homeless woman park her van in his driveway. Dame Maggie Smith plays the homeless woman. Alex Jennings is the playwright, Alan Bennett, who wrote the script for this PG-13 film.

As the movie opens, we see Smith in a nun's habit. She's behind the wheel of a van that has obviously hit something, and she succeeds in giving a copper the slip. Next thing we know, Miss Shepherd and her van are hanging out in the upwardly mobile Camdentown section of London, where Bennett has just bought a house.

Soon enough, Bennett finds Miss Shepherd's van outside his house. Eventually, it's towed away. But the resourceful Miss Shepherd somehow scrapes together enough money to buy another van, and she convinces Bennett to let her park it in his driveway on a temporary basis. That temporary basis turns into 15 years, during which time Bennett argues with himself about just how much he should involve himself in Miss Shepherd's life.

Overall review: Ehh, it was OK. The film had some good scenes, but they didn't quite come together as a whole. I could never figure out how much time had passed, and I could never figure out how Miss Shepherd managed to afford a "new" van and a TV. At one point, we saw her selling pencils. I guess she sold a lot of them.

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"No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough." »» Roger Ebert