Category Archives: Amazon Prime

Puzzle Review: A Woman Discovers Herself By Solving Puzzles

Marc Turtletaub, who produced notable indie features such as Safety Not Guaranteed and Little Miss Sunshine, is the director of Puzzle, an interesting, low-key drama about a woman who discovers that she has an unusual skill -solving jigsaw puzzles incredibly fast. As we’re introduced to Agnes (played by Scottish actress Kelly MacDonald), she is celebrating her birthday with friends and family with the look of someone enduring more than enjoying the occasion. Her life is conventional in a traditional working-class manner —living in the suburbs, cooking for her husband (auto mechanic Louie, played by David Denman) and sons, and active with the church.

One of Agnes’s birthday gifts is a jigsaw puzzle, which she effortlessly completes. After finding that the puzzle was purchased in downtown Manhattan. She takes the Metro North train (I’m not sure if she’s in Westchester, upstate NY, or Connecticut) for the first time and even finds buying a train ticket confusing.
In addition to buying some new puzzles, she finds a flyer someone posted advertising for a “puzzle partner.”

Agnes’s puzzle adventure really starts when she meets her puzzle partner Robert (the late Irrfan Khan, who sadly died not long after Puzzle was released), an eccentric, independently wealthy inventor who uses puzzles as a way to discipline his wandering mind, as he explains it (paraphrasing here). The world-weary intellectual Robert is about as far from Agnes’s home life as could be imagined. Agnes hides her new pastime and friendship from Louie, telling him that she’s caring for a sick relative. Somewhat predictably, as Agnes and Robert practice for a puzzle tournament, they become attracted to each other.

Despite her feelings for Robert and her enthusiasm for the new world he helps her discover, Agnes is not quite ready to leave her old life. She’s very attached to her sons, especially the sensitive and confused, and floundering Ziggy (Bubba Weiler). And, despite rebelling against Louie’s extremely old-fashioned values (when Ziggy talks about becoming a chef, Louie objects that it’s not a very manly profession), Agnes still has feelings for him.

What really matters in Puzzle isn’t so much what people do but how they do it. I wasn’t originally keen to see Puzzle as jigsaw puzzles don’t seem promising as a subject for a movie. Chess is another cerebral activity that has inspired a couple of good films, such as Searching For Bobby Fischer The Queen’s Gambit. But even chess, as a competitive strategy game, has more opportunity for drama than the basically solo activity of puzzle-solving. Fortunately, the movie doesn’t spend too much time actually showing people do puzzles but is much more concerned with why they do them.

Puzzle manages to avoid the expected sports movie formula (that can also apply to other competitive pursuits such as chess, dance competitions, etc) as the prodigy wins one tournament after another until he or she faces down the big rival in the final scene. Puzzle succeeds as an original and compelling drama largely because the actual puzzles remain mostly in the background. While the journey of a woman who discovers there’s more to life than being a wife and mother is familiar, Puzzle, largely due to magnetic performances by MacDonald and Khan, manages to break through and tell a compelling and original story.

Puzzle is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Bisping: Documentary of the UFC Fighter

Bisping: The Michael Bisping Story is a documentary about a popular mixed martial arts fighter who became the UFC Middleweight champion. It’s an exciting look at a fast growing sport as well an engaging biography of an athlete who was determined to overcome all obstacles to achieve his dream.

I started out as a boxing fan and am only a rather casual and recent fan of mixed martial arts and the UFC (if you read comments on YouTube or forums, “casual” is one of the worst insults anyone can deliver), so I never knew about Michael Bisping until fairly recently when I discovered his YouTube channel.

Bisping looks at the fighter’s origins growing up in a working class area in England, where he frequently got into fights in the street and at pubs. He also started training in martial arts at an early age and began competing in tournaments. After a brief period in jail following a fight, Bisping resolved to turn his life around and began pursuing a martial arts career in earnest.

This documentary provides some great footage, not only of Bisping’s notable fights but also many other UFC stars with whom he fought or otherwise crossed paths. Featured in the film are his arch rival Luke Rockhold, Dana White, Joe Rogan, Micky Rourke, Rashad Evans, and even actor Vin Diesel, who was in a movie with Bisping.

The trajectory of Bisping’s career, which had many ups and downs, has the dramatic feel of a fictional movie. Some of the exciting matches covered in the film include Bisping vs. Luke Rockhold (twice), Anderson Silva, Dan Henderson, and George St. Pierre. One dramatic plot is how Bisping was injured and ended up losing an eye following a brutal knockout at the hands of Vitor Belfort, who, it turned out, was using steroids. Bisping continued to compete, hiding the fact that he was blind in one eye, and still managed to win the Middleweight championship.

Bisping is an inspiring story of one man’s journey to excel and overcome challenges. It’s a must see for UFC/MMA fans. It will also appeal to anyone who appreciates a real life “Rocky” story.

Bisping is currently available on Amazon and other streaming services. For more information see:

https://www.bispingdoc.com

Who You Think I Am: Catfishing French Style

Who You Think I Am (2019) is a French film directed by Safy Nebbou and starring Juliette Binoche, currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

The simple description of Who You Think I Am is that it’s a modern internet tale of catfishing. Binoche plays Claire, a professor in her 50s who takes on a new identity on social media, pretending to be much younger and romancing a young man. Claire already has a much younger boyfriend Ludovic (Guillaume Gouix) at the start of Who You Think I Am. However, he is extremely casual about their relationship and doesn’t even return her messages. This motivates her to create a fake profile. Claire isn’t simply trolling social media randomly. She targets Ludovic’s roommate Alex (François Civil) and the two quickly begin chatting and talking on the phone. Claire is doing full-on catfishing here as she uses a photo of a young woman and tells Alex that she’s 24.

The film is told largely in flashbacks as Claire recounts (not always reliably, as it turns out) her actions to her therapist Dr. Bormans (Nicole Garcia). Anyone who has seen the Catfish movie or TV show heard about (or perhaps even experienced) online deception knows that the biggest red flag is when the other person can never meet in person for complicated reasons. Alex does become frustrated and even suspicious as Claire (calling herself Clara) is never able to meet. She finally agrees to a meeting but only watches Alex from a distance; he, of course, doesn’t recognize her as he’s going by a fake photo. She then makes up a fake excuse, saying she lives with someone.

Who You Think I Am has several twists that I won’t reveal. Unlike the contrived twists that often occur in mysteries and thrillers, where the whole point is to fool the audience, the twists in this psychological drama are actually plausible. In any case, the film is more of a character study than a commentary on contemporary social media or even catfishing. Juliette Binoche, who has been an iconic presence in French cinema since the 1980s, does a brilliant job portraying a woman who is, at once, troubled, confused, and yet confident enough to pull off a grand deception.

Later in the film, things get a bit confusing as scenes not only move back and forth in time but also include bits of Claire’s imagination. Yet, for a character who is constructing an imaginary identity, it’s actually fitting that she moves seamlessly between fact and fantasy.

If this topic was covered in a typical American film, it would be either a cringe rom-com or a suspense thriller where someone was an obsessed stalker and at least one brutal murder. Fortunately, Who You Think I Am is a more complex and nuanced look at modern relationships as influenced by social media culture.