Welcome to my website!
Have you ever wondered why some critics review films? They don't even seem to like movies that much from what they write. I LOVE movies, and think about them long after the last credits roll across the screen. My reviews are meant to inform, entertain and never have a spoiler.
Enjoy my reviews and please comment and come back frequently! Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Zookeeper's Wife

The Zookeeper’s Wife is based on a true story about the Nazi occupation of Warsaw Poland during World War II. It is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, violence, brief sexuality, nudity and smoking, and was filmed in the Czech Republic.

Antonina Zabinski (Jessica Chastain) and her husband Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) are the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, the grounds and animals beautifully depicted at the beginning of the story. They live with their young son at the zoo, and lovingly tend to the animals.

The Nazi invasion of Warsaw causes death and destruction to the zoo and the animals, and the Zabinski’s see their Jewish friends abducted and placed in camps, known as the Warsaw ghetto. Jan and Antonina soon devise a way to free some of the people in the camp and take them to their home where they effectively hide them.

Complicating their secret is the head of the Berlin Zoo and Hitler’s zoologist, Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl). He sees himself as friends with the Zabinski’s. He often visits unannounced and makes unwelcome advances towards Antonina. His aspirations include the genetic manipulation and breeding of animals that places some of their zoo animals in jeopardy.

The film is as expected, danger at being found out, and the deprivation that war brings. Jan’s success at removing Jews from the camp made the guards in the camp look really stupid for not detecting them hidden in his vehicle and leaving through the gates to freedom.

I think that if this same situation occurred today, it would be completely different. Technology the way it is, it would be virtually impossible to effectively hide anyone in your home safely or free them in the way Jan was able to do. The Zabinski’s risk their lives to save others, and this is the redeeming message of the film.

I liked the cinematography and the musical score. The costuming was I’m sure authentic, and the story was effectively developed over the years of the war up until the ultimate ending and rebuilding of Warsaw.

Despite the action occurring in Poland, the film is in English, the actors speaking in German and Polish accents. This is my one criticism of the film. It should have been spoken in the Polish people’s native language with English subtitles. It seems disrespectful to the survivors and victims of the Holocaust to make this film in English.

I saw it in my local theater this week, so it is still likely to be showing in your community. I can see this being a somewhat gentle introduction to the Holocaust for children 13 and up. Combined with an intelligent discussion after the film about hate and how such horrible tragedies occur, whether it be to Jews, Muslims, indigenous peoples or to anyone else, it would be both a good story to watch with your children, and an educational lesson in compassion. The ending was a tearjerker for me and the other moviegoers. I recommend you go see it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Great Wall

The only reason my friend and I went to see The Great Wall at the dollar theater is because it starred Matt Damon. We are fans of his and so even though this film didn’t have the best reviews, we wanted to see it on the big screen. Yimou Zhang directed this action adventure fantasy movie. It was filmed in China taking place on the Great Wall.

The opening sequence states that there are legends about the Wall, and this is one of them. Taking place in the 11th century, The Great Wall promised outstanding computer graphics of battle sequences where innovative weaponry (for the times), and superior strategies of warfare are used to fight horrible beasts that storm the wall every 60 years. The queen of these beasts communicates with her offspring via a sort of vibrating membrane on her head. Kind of reminded me of ant colonies where there’s a queen above directing her worker ants. But I won’t give any more of that away.

William (Matt Damon) and his traveling companion Tovar (Pedro Pascal) arrive at the Wall in search of the mysterious black powder rumored to make anyone possessing it the victors in current warfare. Conveniently, Ballard (Willem Dafoe) has lived onsite for many years and has taught English to the Chinese military. So we get to hear mostly English and read some subtitles for Mandarin now and then. But the leaders speaking English so fluently is really a stretch.

The magnetic stone William possesses gives them an advantage in fighting off the monsters. Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) and William kind of spar off to see who is the superior fighter. Something I did like about the film was the women who held positions of authority over the military, and the women who fought beside the men in very dangerous maneuvers.

As long as you aren’t expecting too much, you might enjoy it. The special effects were pretty good, and the imagery of the weapons used in the fighting sequences was inventive. The music is not bad and the silk-screened effect of the end titles is really beautiful. You can probably tell I am attempting to be kind to this film.

Matt Damon took a lot of criticism for starring in The Great Wall. It’s the argument about giving roles to white actors instead of to someone of the ethnicity the film is about. I don’t believe this argument holds up because in the story William is an Englishman. There were probably explorers to China in those days, so I don’t see what the big deal is.

It is rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy action violence. Perhaps teenage boys would like this film; teenage girls might like it even more. That’s because of the strong female characters, and although there is violence, it’s not as bad as some films I’ve seen of this genre. If you just want to chow down on theater popcorn and numb your mind, The Great Wall is for you.

Monday, May 08, 2017

A to Z Reflections Post

Today is the day bloggers post their reflections on the Blogging Challenge experience. I’m glad I participated this year, and met so many talented people through their blogs.

I particularly enjoyed others’ movie blogs, blogs about literature, poetry, or just people writing about their travels. I liked meeting people from other countries, and learning about their culture. One person I happened upon was writing short essays on current events, political topics, and I enjoyed reading the posts and the comments that followed.

What didn’t work for me was when I would attempt to post a comment on someone’s blog, work to word it just right, and then it wouldn’t post. The Blogging A to Z staff emphasized at the start that people were to remove any impediments to commenting, and not everyone took this advice. It made it frustrating for me, and in some cases, I just didn’t return to their blog. If I make a comment, I want it to show up right away. You can always delete a comment if it’s inappropriate or spam.

What worked great was the discipline of churning out 26 blog posts in such a short time. Writing the movie reviews for my blog was a great experience, and I learned so much from researching and watching the films. I enjoyed the comments I received, and always made a reply to my readers.

I did not miss having the “Linky List.” It worked great for me to look at blogs from the main page after I had left a link to my blog in the comments section, and to also look at the Facebook page and find the blogs from there.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to put this event together and who participated. There are some greatly talented people out there sharing their knowledge. Some blogs I am continuing to follow, so I hope to see you posting all year. I will continue to review films and post about once or twice a week.

Happy creating!

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Blogging From A to Z SURVIVOR

I shall remember April 2017 as the month I posted 26 movie reviews. Averaging about 500 words per review, this was no small feat. My theme was reviews of Academy Award winning films for Best Original Screenplay.

I want to thank everyone who took the time to read my reviews, and especially to those who left their comments on my blog. I had a great time writing the reviews, and learning about some films I had never seen before.

After a short break to catch my breath, I’ll start posting reviews again, probably once or twice a week. If you’d like to subscribe to my posts via your email, there’s a link on the right to enroll.

Thanks again, and happy movie watching!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Zero Dark Thirty

There were no movies that won for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards that began with the letter Z. So I searched for one that was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and came up with Zero Dark Thirty. Released in 2012, it is the story of the decade long hunt for Osama bin Laden. It is rated R for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language. The film won an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing, and lost to Django Unchained for the Best Original Screenplay award.

I have mixed feelings about this film. For one thing, it is two hours and thirty-seven minutes focused on the hunt for bin Laden by a CIA operative, Maya (Jessica Chastain), and encompasses the search over several years. I don’t like films about war that much, and when you add in some really excruciating scenes of torture right at the beginning, I nearly turned it off.

But film reviewers sometimes have to watch films that are not pleasant or all that great so I persisted. After about an hour or so, it began to be more interesting for me as Maya persists in her nearly one-woman quest to find the wanted terrorist.

Jessica Chastain won a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her performance in this film. Although she did a good job, it is mostly her thinking quietly or shuffling papers and looking at a computer screen the whole time.

Zero Dark Thirty is all about hunting, a very long hunt and we know the ending. Navy SEALS were consulted and were actors in the film. Although based on actual events, it is bound to have been fictionalized for Hollywood filmmaking and release to the public. Honestly, I’m not sure who liked this film. Teenage boys would get bored with the way it begins, other than perhaps the torture scenes. And very little, at most, the last 30 minutes, is the actual operation where the SEALS invade the compound bin Laden is hiding in.

Kathryn Bigelow, who won Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards for the film The Hurt Locker, directed this film. She was the first female to win the prestigious Best Director award. If I would recommend one of these two films that Kathryn Bigelow directed, watch The Hurt Locker. It is more personal, following the lives of soldiers in Iraq, and the opening quote explains all to follow: “The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” (Chris Hedges)

But one of the reasons I feel a little soft on Zero Dark Thirty is because of the Navy SEALS in it. One of them, Tim Martin, died an untimely death after returning to the U.S. after active duty. I’ll close with a plea to keep funding in place for the treatment and care of veterans returning from the war zone. PTSD is a real psychological disturbance, and we cannot leave these men and women suffering alone.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Y Tu Mama Tambien (And Your Mother Too)

Y Tu Mama Tambien (And Your Mother Too), is a 2001 film by Alfonso Cuaron that was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards (lost to Talk to Her). I couldn’t find a winner of that award that began with the letter Y, so am including this excellent film about two teenage boys and a 20-something woman taking a road trip.

Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) are best friends. They meet Tenoch’s older cousin Luisa (Maribel Verdu) at a wedding, and chat about taking a trip to Heaven’s Mouth on the Pacific Ocean. Her husband out of town, she leaves with the two young men. Once the road trip commences, we are taken along on a journey from Mexico City through Oaxaca towards the blue sea. They don’t really know exactly how to get to Heaven’s Mouth. It is questionable whether they’ll ever end up there.

The film is rated R for strong sexual content involving teens, drug use and language. The boys are obsessed with sex, drugging, and drinking. They are looking towards college, and with their girlfriends in Italy for the summer, are free to take this trip.

Y Tu Mama Tambien takes a drive through the beautiful Mexican countryside, the rural culture, the animals, religion, poverty, and beauty that is Mexico. Some customs I saw are not unfamiliar to me living in New Mexico: elaborate roadside memorials of crosses, flowers and candles marking someone’s untimely death, the Day of the Dead altars and offerings for the deceased, with all the dearly departed favorite things. The people who live in these rural areas somehow make a life for themselves, through animal husbandry and a bit of farming.

Alfonso Cuaron has written a unique screenplay, and that is part of the film’s charm. Throughout the action, time will almost stop, and the narrator tells about something we cannot see happening, but that gives the story new meaning. It’s like the ghosts of people who have lived on this planet before us are being given a voice.

If you are a student of film, watch this movie. There is lots of drama, sexuality, and building and tearing down of relationships during the journey for all three unlikely companions. It is not until the very final scene that the big reveal happens. Everything has been leading up to it, and when it is made clear, it is like Pow! It hits you the viewer as much as it does our characters.

Alfonso Cuaron is the recipient of two Academy Awards, for Best Film Editing (shared with Mark Sanger) and Best Director for the fine film Gravity in 2013. He was the first Hispanic/Mexican to win for Best Director at the Academy Awards.

You will no doubt know Gael Garcia Bernal as a fine actor with many movies to his credit, and with a current award winning TV show, Mozart in the Jungle. He and his two fellow actors make this movie one you will not forget.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Ex Machina

There were no winning films for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards beginning with the letter X, so I chose Ex Machina to review as it was nominated for the award. It is a science fiction film that was released in 2014, and is rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence. Ex Machina won an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. The winner of Best Original Screenplay that year was Spotlight.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), an employee at BlueBook, wins a staff lottery to spend a week at the CEO’s private mountain residence. Nathan (Oscar Isaac) is a reclusive man, and Caleb is flown by helicopter to his estate. The setting for this part of the film was in Norway, and is truly breathtaking.

Once at the residence, Caleb is told he will be assisting in the testing of an AI (artificial intelligence) that Nathan has created. Caleb is all too happy to be part of this historic event, and meets Ava (Alicia Vikander), the AI who appears to be part human, part machine. Nathan has made her face and hands human, and Caleb and Ava interact with glass walls between them. Does Ava have consciousness? This is the question Caleb is to ask.

The film works as we become aware that all is not what it seems at Nathan’s house. There is a Japanese woman, Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), who serves them, but other than her, no one else occupies the home. Kyoko doesn’t speak, and Nathan explains that she doesn’t understand English.

As the week at the estate progresses, Caleb becomes suspicious of Nathan, but the viewer is suspicious of everyone, including Ava. Who will be the one to double cross the others? Is Ava capable of humanlike thought, planning, emotion, compassion? Or is she just programmed with traits that Nathan inputted? Who is evil and who is good?

These are all questions you will need to see answered for yourself. I enjoyed the film. Younger adults especially will like Ex Machina for its tech talk, which is of course totally made up and not really that important to the story. The film is quite philosophical on some levels. There are very interesting conversations between Nathan and Caleb. Tension builds as Caleb and Ava learn about each other, and Caleb begins to doubt why he is there. I liked that it was an intelligent mystery to solve, and that it didn’t involve a whole lot of battles or warfare, so common in a sci-fi film.

Alex Garland directed the film and wrote the screenplay. He is the writer of the film 28 Days Later, a very scary horror story, but very well done.

There is a HORRIBLE song featured while the ending credits are scrolling. Feel free to turn it off. I just decreased the volume, as I wanted to confirm where the film was shot (Norway). You don’t need to watch the credits; just enjoy the film’s mystery, beauty and fascinating premise.