Category Archives: Film

“MACBETH”— Ambition and Action

macbeth

“Macbeth”

Ambition and Action

Amos Lassen

When I heard that a new film of “Macbeth” was in the works, I could not help, like so many others, wonder why. There have been so many cinematic adaptations of the Shakespeare play that finding an original take on it seemed unlikely but Australian Justin Kurzel has managed to do so with his bloody and violent epic scale production. The story simply stated is about Macbeth, a Thane of Scotland, who receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself.

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Justin Kurzel’s version starts his awe-inspiring take on Shakespeare’s  most violent tale of Macbeth on the battlefield on the misty Scottish heath and it is huge and bloody. This sets the pace for what turns out to be one of the most enthralling looks at Shakespeare on the big screen. In this version we see Macbeth’s goaded on by his wife’s ambition and he reacts to it savagely and brutally letting us know that nothing is going to stop his quest in fulfilling the prophecy.

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Michael Fassbender is Macbeth and his performance is powerful and electric. His murderous plans succeed but they lead onto the need to kill over and over again to secure his Throne. His paranoia eventually turns him into a despot ruler and madness sets in. Fassbender makes Macbeth his own from being filled with rage on the battlefield to the quietness and majesties of the some of the more entreating soliloquies. Fassbender embraces Macbeth’s id-driven repulsiveness, downplaying the tragedy of a character whose skeletal definition has never warranted much empathy. Marion Cotillard  is a wonderful Lady Macbeth adding another dimension into playing one of the Bard’s toughest women. She actually males us tremble with are sleepwalking scene. She is the strong and almost silent power behind Macbeth and she also loses it herself (almost) when she has to watch the murder of Lady McDuff  (Elizabeth Debicki) and her three children. Cotillard, displays Lady Macbeth’s anguish and grief to perfection and then turns it into the murderous ambition that is destined to push her husband to his downfall. The chemistry between Macbeth and his lady is incredible.

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Visually this is a gorgeous piece of filmmaking and the sets help the viewer to understand the plot line. Here you do not have to have studied Shakespeare to enjoy this—it is totally accessible to everyone.

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Kurzel has made sense of some of the play’s unexplained questions such as the couple’s childlessness by inserting a scene of a baby’s funeral to underline Lady Macbeth’s later allusions to breast feeding.

Here we see “Macbeth” with new eyes and this is a film that deserves all of the applause it gets.

“SLEEP WITH ME”— Six Sequences

sleep with me

“Sleep with Me”

Six Sequences

Amos Lassen

“Sleep with Me” is an interesting film in that six different writers wrote a scene each of this romantic comedy featuring the marriage and uneasy relationship of Joseph and Sarah, with Joseph’s best friend Frank trying hard to cope with letting the love of his life marry his best friend. The cast is made up of well-known actors who I understand took cuts in their regular fees to make this unique movie. Overall, this is not a good movie but it does have some interesting moments that make it worthwhile to see.

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The basic premise is that Frank (Craig Sheffer) has long been in love with Sarah (Meg Tilly) who is now the wife of his best friend, Joseph (Eric Stoltz). In the opening sequence we see the three of them, good buddies, driving cross-country, with her head first on one guy’s shoulder and then on the other. Even on the day before her wedding, Sarah still has feelings for Frank. It could be that she is only teasing him but for him, it’s no joke.

Frank and Sarah might have ended up together has Frank told Sarah how he felt and he thinks that he can make up for that at a party where he tells her how much he loves her but this, of course, leads to bad feelings with Joseph and a messy ongoing situation in which he turns up unannounced at inappropriate moments. Once, he climbs in through a bedroom window at a party and pledges his love in the bathroom.

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However, I just really never became interested in the relationship. There are several funny scenes but as a whole the film does not work. Quentin Tarantino turns up as a guest at a party and recites a long soliloquy on why “Top Gun” is really “the story of a man’s struggle against his own homosexuality.” The more he talks, the more plausible his theory sounds.

But then the movie ends—yes, it just ends abruptly as if with all six writers, no one thought how this should end. Some of the film is truly exceptional but I felt I had to work too hard to get into it.

“SPEECHLESS”— A Romantic Comedy

speechless

“Speechless”

A Romantic Comedy

Amos Lassen

Kevin (Michael Keaton) and Julia (Geena Davis) are political speechwriters who fall in love with each other while they are working for opposing Senatorial candidates (but they are unaware of this at first).

Julia is an idealistic speechwriter for a liberal Democrat running for the Senate in New Mexico. One evening, while in an all-night convenience store, she meets Kevin and they immediately hit it off. Then, Julia finds out that he is a one-time comedy writer who has been hired by the Republican candidate to spruce up his senatorial race.

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Set in the world of spin and political speechwriters on the campaign trail, the film focuses on the romantic entanglements of rival speechwriters Geena Davis and Michael Keaton, and the various offs and ons they experience. We do see a bit of political corruption but only as a plot contrivance to bring the two together one final time.

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Kevin is not even quite sure at first of his candidate’s name. Unable to fell asleep, he finds himself in an all-night store and finds himself fighting over the Nytol with a woman named Julia. They fall in love at first sight and even though they fight about everything, they become romantic and end up making love.

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Come morning, the two separate still not realizing that they are political enemies. Their romance continues and they do not yet learn about each other’s jobs until l they both appear at a school Career Day. As can be expected they are quite angry about this although I would have thought it could have been funnier if they dealt with the issue right there.

After this Julia’s ex shows up (Christopher Reeve) and everything becomes quite predictable. Nonetheless, Keaton and Davis are smart actors and they are a good match in terms of physical and intellectual chemistry. Ron Underwood directed this and while the humor is a bit dated, this is a fun movie.

TOP 100 DRAMA MOVIES—- Best of Rotten Tomatoes

TOP 100 DRAMA MOVIES
Best of Rotten Tomatoes
(as of December 2015)

Movies with 40 or more critic reviews vie for their place in history at Rotten Tomatoes. Eligible movies are ranked based on their Adjusted Scores.

Genre: Drama Sorted by Adjusted Score
Rank Rating Title No. of Reviews
1. 100% Citizen Kane (1941) 70
2. 100% All About Eve (1950) 63
3. 99% The Godfather (1972) 84
4. 99% Metropolis (1927) 115
5. 97% Casablanca (1942) 73
6. 97% Gravity (2013) 306
7. 100% Repulsion (1965) 60
8. 98% Boyhood (2014) 267
9. 100% The Maltese Falcon (1941) 48
10. 99% La Battaglia di Algeri (The Battle of Algiers) (1967) 76
11. 100% Rear Window (1954) 63
12. 98% Sunset Boulevard (1950) 59
13. 100% Rashômon (Rashomon) (In the Woods) (1951) 49
14. 96% 12 Years a Slave (2013) 290
15. 98% The Bicycle Thief (1949) 54
16. 100% The 400 Blows (Les Quatre cents coups) (1959) 54
17. 99% Selma (2015) 214
18. 96% Argo (2012) 300
19. 99% Lawrence of Arabia (1962) 71
20. 97% L’Armée des ombres (Army in the Shadows) (1969) 73
21. 100% M (1931) 49
22. 100% The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) 44
23. 100% Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai) (1954) 57
24. 98% The Night of the Hunter (1955) 62
25. 100% 12 Angry Men (Twelve Angry Men) (1957) 47
26. 98% Vertigo (1958) 60
27. 100% Rebecca (1940) 47
28. 99% Apocalypse Now (1979) 77
29. 98% A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) 53
30. 100% The Conformist (1970) 49
31. 99% L.A. Confidential (1997) 108
32. 98% The Wrestler (2008) 219
33. 96% Touch of Evil (1958) 69
34. 100% The Grapes of Wrath (1940) 43
35. 98% The Hurt Locker (2009) 251
36. 100% The Last Picture Show (1971) 51
37. 100% Tokyo Story (Tôkyô monogatari) (1953) 41
38. 97% The Godfather, Part II (1974) 72
39. 100% The Wages of Fear (1953) 40
40. 98% All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) 40
41. 98% Taxi Driver (1976) 65
42. 100% Anatomy of a Murder (1959) 42
43. 98% Roman Holiday (1953) 51
44. 96% Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011) 306
45. 98% The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) 46
46. 100% The Leopard (1963) 45
47. 98% Chinatown (1974) 61
48. 97% The Artist (2011) 274
49. 97% Jaws (1975) 72
50. 100% Cool Hand Luke (1967) 47
51. 100% The Searchers (1956) 41
52. 100% Battleship Potemkin (1925) 44
53. 98% On the Waterfront (1954) 58
54. 98% The Rules of the Game (1950) 44
55. 98% Before Midnight (2013) 180
56. 98% Sweet Smell of Success (1957) 47
57. 98% Mr. Turner (2014) 178
58. 98% The Babadook (2014) 175
59. 96% The Red Shoes (1948) 53
60. 96% The Social Network (2010) 288
61. 99% Short Term 12 (2013) 151
62. 98% To Be or Not to Be (1942) 40
63. 98% Let the Right One In (2008) 176
64. 96% The Big Sleep (1946) 52
65. 98% The Wild Bunch (1969) 48
66. 96% Double Indemnity (1944) 54
67. 98% Mud (2013) 169
68. 98% Brooklyn (2015) 168
69. 98% The French Connection (1971) 54
70. 97% Breathless (1961) 60
71. 98% Spotlight (2015) 163
72. 98% Kumonosu Jô (Throne of Blood) (Macbeth) (1957) 42
73. 98% City Lights (1931) 42
74. 98% Badlands (1974) 50
75. 98% The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie (Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie) (1972) 46
76. 98% Eyes Without a Face (1962) 52
77. 96% True Grit (2010) 260
78. 98% Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) 54
79. 98% The Manchurian Candidate (1962) 51
80. 98% Mean Streets (1973) 50
81. 96% La Dolce Vita (1960) 57
82. 99% Gloria (2014) 124
83. 98% Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (Aguirre, the Wrath of God) (1972) 43
84. 100% The Sweet Hereafter (1997) 55
85. 98% The Conversation (1974) 46
86. 98% Forbidden Planet (1956) 42
87. 99% A Separation (2011) 150
88. 99% Leviathan (2014) 118
89. 97% Raging Bull (1980) 60
90. 97% The Queen (2006) 185
91. 98% 8 1/2 (1963) 44
92. 98% Manhattan (1979) 54
93. 96% The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) 247
94. 97% Chicken Run (2000) 170
95. 100% Three Colors: Red (Trois couleurs: Rouge) (1994) 47
96. 96% Spartacus (1960) 53
97. 97% Spirited Away (2001) 178
98. 100% Before Sunrise (1995) 42
99. 97% Two Days, One Night (2014) 153
100. 100% Three Colors: Blue (Trois Couleurs: Bleu) (1993)

“THE STEAMROOM”— The Importance of Friendship

the steamroom poster

“The Steamroom”

The Importance of Friendship

Amos Lassen

Four men discover the importance of friendship when one is faced with a life-altering decision. This happened in an old steamroom in an old gym where the four would meet to discuss their boring and uneventful lives. As they speak we get insight into their innermost feelings and truths that we do not usually hear from men or share with each other.

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The film mixes ‘shock’ comedy (mostly verbal), sentimentality about friendships and growing old, and dealing with death.

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The ensemble cast of Muse Watson, David Mattey, Brian Patrick Collins, Colin Follenweider and Morgan Fairchild is excellent throughout. Watson stands out as the racist Vietnam Vet with a heart of gold, Brian is great as an Ad Exec who hates his life and Colin shines as a horny young man going through identity issues. David is just a portly cog in the machine at his job; he has an overall endearing innocence.

“MOONLIGHT AND VALENTINO”— Making an Exception

moonlight

“Moonlight and Valentino”

Making an Exception

Amos Lassen

“Moonlight and Valentino” is very sincere and heartfelt that just does not make it It is also very discouraging for men, since it is about women who discover that sisterhood is all they really need – unless, of course, the house painter happens to be Jon Bon Jovi when they would be willing to make an exception.

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We see Rebecca Lott (Elizabeth Perkins) worrying when the film opens. It seems that her husband has not yet returned from being out jogging. When she goes to look for him, she discovers that he has been hit by a car and is dead. This means simply that she now begins life as a widow. She is very lucky to have her best friend Sylvie (Whoopi Goldberg) to depend on as well as her sister, Lucy (Gwyneth Paltrow) and her stepmother, Alberta (Kathleen Turner), all of whom her to get through the grieving process. What we get in this movie are long, heartfelt conversations between and among the women who are there for each other as they share lessons learned from life, love and sex. What should have fascinating viewing ala “Sex and the City” was actually boring and seemingly unending.

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The women deal with grief, anger, loss and the healing process as well as complain about men. Actually, the complaints are mostly Sylvie’s task. She gives her marriage only weeks to go, and is constantly complaining about her husband, even though they have three beautiful kids and he seems like a nice enough guy in the few moments he (or any man) is allowed to step into the picture. Rebecca (Lucy’s younger sister) has problems of her own. She is one of those students that today are called “Emos” and are dressed in black and look like someone has just given them the worst possible news they could get. Lucy’s real problem however, is inexperience and we really get this when she asks Rebecca how she should moan while having sex.

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What could have been very funny however, falls flat because the movie overall has no sense of humor.The scenes with unbilled Jon Bon Jovi have great potential but fell way shy of the mark. The film stands and falls on its four leading ladies, and they are all very good. It is a decent movie but not one to get excited about. It’s certainly recommended to fans of any of the four leading actresses, or of Mr. Bon Jovi. But it’s a film that’s not as funny, or as moving or as involving as it might be. It ends up being somewhere between mildly diverting and lukewarm.

“AMOS AND ANDREW”— Looking at Stereotyping

amos and andrew“Amos & Andrew”

Looking at Stereotyping

Amos Lassen

Andrew Sterling (Samuel L. Jackson), a successful black urbanite writer buys a vacation home on a resort in New England the police mistake him for a burglar. After surrounding his home with armed men, Chief Tolliver realizes his mistake and to avoid the bad publicity offers a thief in his jail, Amos Odell (Nicolas Cage) a deal. Amos is to pretend to take Andrew prisoner and hold him for ransom but let him go and escape. Amos and Andrew suddenly realize that the Chief’s problems are all gone if the two of them both die in a gun battle.

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Andrew has reached that point in his life that he began to experience success. He is a black playwright whose plays were produced on Broadway and his picture was on the cover of Forbes magazine. He has finally been able to buy the BMW he has dreamt about and a summerhouse on an island in New England where all of the other residents are very wealthy and very white. When he enters his new driveway in his new car for the first time, his racist neighbors (Michael Lerner and Margaret Colin) think that he is robber and assume that whoever is in the house has been taken hostage by him.

“Amos and Andrew” pokes fun at this more passive type of racism or stereotyping. All of the white people in this movie (with the exception of Amos) are comically small-minded characters stuck in a racist frame of mind that distorts everything they see. Because of their gross misinterpretations of events, the plot gets wildly out of control. Although the movie is a comedy, it makes having such sweepingly negative stereotypes look as irresponsible as it really is.

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We see the ambitious police chief (Dabney Coleman) go into a siege mentality and he informs the press that the owner of the house is probably being held hostage. One of the hotheads on his force actually starts shooting at Jackson. When the sheriff discovers his mistake, he realizes he’s in hot water unless he can come up with a fix, fast. It is here that the movie really gets going. The sheriff orders Amos to pretend to be a house invader and then pretend to take Andrew hostage and this will make his false story hold up in the town.

This is a farce and things get even crazier when the press respond to the police call. One of the cops sets off car alarm and when Andrew comes out to turn it off, the other cops open fire before they even know the whole story. Amos enters to house with a shotgun and in this way the sheriff can pin the whole mess on Amos.

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Jackson is perfect as the angry black man suffering injustice at the hands of a bunch of ignorant racists but he never quite reaches the level of furious ranting. I would have loved to see that. Cage has an easy time as the quirky failed criminal and Coleman gives a decent performance as the loathsome sheriff. There is some chemistry between the two male leads and they strike up an uneasy friendship bonded by their mutual disdain for the sheriff who seems intent on persecuting both of them.

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The action gets going when Amos escapes the clutches of the sheriff with help from Andrew and they end up grabbing more hostages. The cops are so inept that they are never really at risk and the gentle comedy is gently amusing. There is no real statement about racism and to avoid that, the farce continues. The film could have been a bit riskier (remember “Blazing Saddles” broke all of the rules about racism. It should have been considered offensive but we loved it and it is almost a classic). “Amos and Andrew” plays it safe and is actually quite a tame movie.

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I am not sure that everyone will find this very funny. The humor here is undermined by the sadness of the basic situation even though the movie has a lot of funny moments and some good performances.

“THE SEARCH FOR MICHAEL ROCKEFELLER”— An Unsolved Mystery?

the search poster

“The Search for Michael Rockefeller”

An Unsolved Mystery?

Amos Lassen

In 1961, Michael Rockefeller left on a voyage down the cannibal coast of New Guinea in a trading canoe. Several miles off shore, the sea became heavy and the canoe was swamped. After spending a night adrift, Rockefeller set out to swim to shore, leaving his companion after telling his companion, “I think I can make it…” He was never seen again.

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In 2007, filmmaker Fraser C. Heston (son of Charlton) discovered a cache of lost footage shot by the author Milt Machlin during his expedition to the cannibal coast of New Guinea in 1969 to search for Rockefeller. The film includes previously unreleased footage and eyewitness interviews, including some amazing revelations, which shed new light on the unsolved mystery of Michael’s disappearance. Fraser Heston, has created an entirely new film from Milt Machlin’s unedited epic documentary.

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Milt Machlin, he then editor of Argosy magazine, had heard from an eyewitness that Michael was alive, held against his will by natives on an island off New Guinea. He was determined to either find Michael, or find out what happened to him. Heston has hours of never-before-seen film footage shot all over New Guinea and his film pulls you in and keeps you riveted to the screen.

Michael Rockefeller was the fifth child of New York Governor Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller. He was a member of the fourth-generation of the Rockefeller family. His disappearance was during an expedition in the Asmat region of southwestern Netherlands New Guinea. There has been debate as to whether he drowned, or was later killed by villagers after swimming ashore. The film shows footage of this white man living among the villagers, as one of them, so there was remained the possibility that he was still alive.

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In the 1970’s Leonard Nimoy brought us “In Search Of…” of the 1970s, where Rockefeller was discussed previously. But Nimoy did not have the additional footage we have here, thus making the search even more interesting now.

“OVER COFFEE”— An Office Romance

over coffee poster

“Over Coffee”

An Office Romance

Amos Lassen

Carla (Jocelyn DeBoer) is an office administrator who has great responsibilities once of which is making sure that she gets her boss, Mr. Rice’s, complicated coffee request ready for him when he walks in the door. Andrew (Eric Potempa) has been eyeing Carla and really wants to be able her show how much he likes her. Another office worker, David, also is after Carla but with the sole reason of getting her into the sack. When Mr. Rice (Timothy J. Cox) came in with little advance warning one day, Carla had not had a chance to get all her other stuff done, including the very complicated coffee, Andrew got a chance to help her.

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“Over Coffee” runs only fifteen minutes yet is amazing to see how well director Sean Meehan has developed his characters. Another interesting aspect of this film is the way that Andrew approaches what he wants to be a future romance with Carla. We see him standing by her desk evidently too shy to make a move and waiting for the right moment yet the chance for him to do so also comes in that fifteen minutes. Because of the way the film is paced her gets the chance while letting us know that has been coming for a long time. With coffee being the catalyst, Andrew has to decide whether to return to his desk and get to work or to help Carla solve the coffee situation. For this to run smoothly would have been too easy so director Meehan adds a couple of problems including Laura, a shrewd businesswoman who has a rotten attitude and who takes the coffee for herself causing Andrew to shift into gear and get the cup of coffee back to Carla and “save” her job.

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There is some really clever humor here and Michael Oberholtzer as David is responsible for some of it as are the things that Carla has to do to satisfy her boss. The fact that Carla is not a wonderful secretary adds humor as well. Potempa as Andrew makes us like him immediately and we hope for his success. I love seeing him forget good manners as he rushes to take advantage of the situation that could cause Carla to notice and like him. We can see the actors really enjoying in the film.

Rice is not an easy boss to work for and he tends to make Carla’s office life miserable. Andrew, being the nice guy that he, is, shows us that nice guys do not always finish last.

“WHAT JACK BUILT”— Jack in the Basement

what jack built

“What Jack Built”

Jack in the Basement

Amos Lassen

Unlike horror stories that use the basement, in many cases, as a place of evil, here the basement is where Jack (Timothy J. Cox) lives. There seems to be something going on in Jack’s home in the basement because it does not seem that someone would actually enjoy living surrounded by junk. We want to believe that he is planning on using the random junk and odds and ends to build something.

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Jack seems to enjoy the way he lives amid the clutter and he spends his time reading blueprints and drilling holes in pieces of wood. He seems focused although we do not know on what. He is building his whatever it is and when he leaves the basement, he heads for the woods dragging pieces behind him and making us even more curious to what is going on. Before leaving the basement, he made sure that each piece would fit perfectly into his mystery project. It is then that whatever he had been working on began to work for him. When he arrived at the forest, he looked around to remain secret, tried out whatever he had been working on and went back home to the basement.

Matthew Mahler who is only seventeen-years-old directed this and he and his father, Ross Mahler wrote the screenplay. Mahler captured wonderfully everything he had to in his short film and he did so beautifully. In just eleven minutes, we are taken to the life of a man who dares to be different—a man who dared to try to change that which he should have left alone. We watch this through beautiful cinematography. We are immediately pulled in and stay with our very strange character through the end that leaves with on our faces and a laugh in our hearts. (You do not how difficult it is to write this without giving something away). This is the price we pay for being curious.

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Timothy J. Cox is brilliant as Jack—he so becomes the character that he need not say a word—we see who he is by his facial gestures and expressions. We so want to know what he is thinking about especially after watching his expressions. This is his movie and we assume that whatever Jack is making in his workshop is not being done for a reason or purpose. We watch him sawing, hammering, measuring, etc for whatever he is making and we never find out what it is. It seems to be done when he takes it into the woods and he stays and watches what it does at night. What is so amazing is there is only one person in the film and ne never utters a word. In the end our question of what is Jack building is not answered and we discover that we have more questions. With suspense, we come to the end of the film knowing exactly what we knew at the beginning. That we never learn what exactly it is Jack is building or after may cause discomfort for some viewers, but I loved the way it was presented.