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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, January 16, 2018

First They Killed My Father

Angelina Jolie has created an excellent and heartbreaking film based on the true story of Loung Ung, author of the autobiographical book First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia. Angelina and Loung wrote the screenplay that is about Loung’s experiences as a young girl during Cambodia of the 1970’s. It is unique in that the film is seen entirely through the eyes of seven-year-old Loung (Sareum Srey Moch). There is no preachiness in this film; it simply shows us what she and her family endured as a consequence of the United States bombing Cambodia (even though they were a neutral country), and the subsequent rise of the Khmer Rouge.

First They Killed My Father was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes this year although it did not win. I watched it on streaming Netflix, and it is rated TV-MA. There are English subtitles that are easy to read.

Once the Khmer Rouge comes into power, those Cambodians living in the city are made to leave their homes and walk on foot deep into the country where they are forced to work in what are essentially slave labor camps. Loung doesn’t really understand why they are growing all this beautiful food - eggplants, string beans, and rice - and then given meager rations while the food is sent off elsewhere. The people are nearly starving, and to make matters worse, her father Pa (Phoeung Kompheak), who has previously worked for the government, is taken away and murdered.

This is a large family with seven children, and their mother, Ma (Sveng Socheata), attempts to hold the family together, but the three oldest children are sent off somewhere for fates unknown, leaving the four younger children with her. Loung is a bright, assertive little girl, and is eventually selected by those in charge to be sent to a special school where she learns how to bury land mines, shoot a gun and otherwise become a mercenary. It is chilling to watch how the authorities work to brainwash the residents of this work camp to be just like one another, everything from their hair to their clothing, and in referring to them as comrades.

Exquisitely filmed, I liked how we see the land of Cambodia from above, a bird’s eye view perspective, as well as on ground level though Loung’s eyes.
I thought this film was respectful of the culture and people that were so cruelly victimized. Angelina’s oldest son Maddox Jolie-Pitt was adopted from Cambodia, and he was an executive producer of the film. Another adopted son, Pax Jolie-Pitt from Vietnam, did the still photography.

I highly recommend watching First They Killed My Father. At first I thought it would be a documentary, but it wasn’t and I liked it better than what a documentary would have been. It was a well-designed story about the times and struggles of the Cambodian people, especially the children who endured very difficult times of death and deprivation during this era.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water is a beautiful, beautiful film. I initially wondered about what I’d encounter in a “monster” movie by Guillermo del Toro, his Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone notwithstanding, as I enjoyed both of those films. I loved it even more than I could those two films, and I feel that The Shape of Water is his masterpiece to date. The writer/director has stated this is a fairy tale for troubled times, an apt description. The film is rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language.

Taking place in Cold War era 1962, an Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) from the Amazon is brought to a secure government facility in Baltimore for testing and observation. The humble cleaning crew, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) and Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer), are tasked with wiping up the messes that occur in the lab where the creature lives in a deep pool of water, or in an upright tank.

Elisa is mute, and communicates through sign language. She lives in a building above a cinema, as does her friend Giles (Richard Jenkins), who understands her silent language. Zelda can also read her sign language and is her confidante and friend at work.

In charge of the lab is Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), a hard, no nonsense and cruel man who has a hatred for not just the creature under his jurisdiction, but it seems everyone else as well. Also deeply involved with the Amphibian Man is Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), who comes to see that the wild creature everyone is afraid of is intelligent and capable of learning.

Elisa is not at all afraid of this unusual life form, and befriends him. When his fate is determined to be certain death by the hands of government officials, she mounts a daring plan to abscond with him from the lab so he can be free again.

The Shape of Water won Best Director for Guillermo del Toro at the Golden Globes, as well as Best Original Score for Alexandre Desplat. The music beautifully sets the scene, whether it is during a tender moment between Elisa and Amphibian Man, or during the white-knuckle scenes where she seeks to free him. I felt that Sally Hawkins should have been awarded Best Actress in a drama at the Golden Globes, and I can only hope that is rectified at the Academy Awards, her performance is so strong. The cinematography of the film is excellent with beautiful colors and shapes throughout what could often have been just a stark and antiseptic setting within the lab. The building where Elisa and Giles live with the cinema below is filled with color and mystique. It was a delight to watch.

How will this fairy tale end? You’ll have to watch it to see. I’ll watch this film again once it comes out on streaming, I admire it so much. If you’ve seen the film already, why do you think it is named The Shape of Water?

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Mudbound

Mudbound was not an easy film to watch, particularly in the second half of the movie. Man’s inhumanity to man is how my husband described it. It is still a very worthwhile film if you can stand the heartache.

The story takes place around the time of World War II in the Mississippi River delta. Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) marries Laura (Carey Mulligan) late in life, and takes her and their two young girls, and his father Pappy (Jonathan Banks) to a farm he has purchased deep in the south. They interact daily with the black family living on the land, who pick the cotton and do everything else a farmer does. This place is truly mud bound, with torrential rains nearly flooding their land, and making the crops tentative every year.

Henry’s brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) has been in the air force during the war and arrives at the farm, as does Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), the son of the sharecroppers, Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence (Mary J. Blige). They strike up a friendship despite their differences in color, having a mutual understanding of the death and hardships they survived in Europe.

The South being what it is, disgusting white men take it upon themselves to punish Ronsel, bringing in members of the Ku Klux Klan for really degrading torture. They drag Jamie over to where the torture is taking place and he has to decide Ronsel’s fate.

It was horrible to watch this, but I never turn away from what’s on the screen. The story was really well thought out, and told from the viewpoints of several characters. Carey Mulligan does a fantastic job as the reluctant yet desperate wife of Henry. She married him not wanting to be an old maid at 31. Even though they try to make her appear homely, she is anything but. When she smiles, a radiance comes over her that can melt anyone’s heart.

Mary J. Blige was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Globes, as was the song Mighty River that she sings (neither took the award). You wouldn’t know Ms. Blige to look at her; she gets into the character of Florence so deeply. All the actors did a fine job, even the ones we hate. The film is rated R for some disturbing violence, brief language and nudity.

We watched it on streaming Netflix. We still need to keep telling these stories. Ronsel was treated better in Europe than he is in the US. We should remember this disgusting part of American history so perhaps the current bigotry can be called out for what it is, and shown where it can lead if allowed to be taken to extremes. America may have a history of slavery, injustice and cruelty, but it doesn’t mean we have to allow it today. Hate crimes need to be punished severely. I don’t want to go on and on here, but the only things I’m intolerant of are hate, cruelty, and intolerance.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour is the story of Winston Churchill, just elected prime minister of Britain, who has some serious decisions to make almost immediately. Hitler had invaded several countries in Europe, and thousands of British troops were stranded in Dunkirk, France. In parliament, there were those who wanted to negotiate with Hitler, and those who believed a like response to his aggressions would be necessary.

Which way would Churchill go? If you’ve ever been in history class, I’m sure you know the answer to that question, but you likely do not know the process by which Britain entered World War II. This film spans just a month or so, and shows us the inner workings of the monarchy, parliament, and 10 Downing Street.

Winston Churchill (Gary Oldham) is an older man who is eccentric, drinks too much, and is motivated to rise in British government. He moves into the position of prime minister accompanied by his wife Clemmie (Kristen Scott Thomas) who proves to be the woman behind the man in some respects.

Churchill nearly terrorizes his new secretary, Elizabeth (Lily James) who has a brother in the military, and is understandably concerned about his welfare and those of the others stationed with him.

Churchill’s opposers in Parliament, especially Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) work behind the scenes to try to get him removed as soon as possible, and meanwhile, the decision for war or peace looms over Churchill’s head.

The film is rated PG-13 for some thematic material. Gary Oldham was nominated for Best Actor in a drama at the Golden Globe Awards for his performance as Churchill. Truly, there were times I really forgot I was watching a movie and not a newsreel of Churchill himself. It is a masterful performance. My husband commented on how well Kristen Scott Thomas played his wife. To be a loyal support to him through all the years of service to England could not have been easy, and she makes Clemmie believable.

I hope people do get out and see this film. Remembering history and lessons to be learned from the past mistakes or triumphs of those who came before us and took the risks for mankind is vitally important now. I also find it interesting that the film Dunkirk came out this year as well. I haven’t seen the film yet, but am intrigued now.

Churchill had his darkest hour as he had to decide whether to negotiate peace with a raving genocidal maniac, or send thousands of British and others in the fight to death. Not an easy choice. It was quite moving when during a scene in Darkest Hour, Churchill boards the tube and rides to Winchester Cathedral with commoners. He asks for their opinion, and resoundingly, they denounce Fascism and voice their support of the fight. Never succumb to the Fascists.

Perhaps we will need to be so bold again. Hopefully not to the extent of a war, but rather to the extent of resistance.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Lady Bird

Lady Bird has received many accolades for being an all around great film. I looked forward to seeing it when I heard it was written and directed by Greta Gerwig. I have been a fan of hers ever since I saw her film Frances Ha. (My review of Frances Ha is here on my blog, and you can view it by typing the name in the blog search engine.)

Christine, aka Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), is a senior at a Catholic all-girl high school, the kind where the nuns closely monitor the length of the skirt on your uniform. Her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) is an intelligent young lady with a smart mouth.

About all the teen issues you can think of come up in this film, set just after 9/11 in Sacramento, California. Ms. Gerwig is from Sacramento, thus the easy depicting of the area in and around the city.

Lady Bird’s mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) is a bitch. Sorry, it’s an honest assessment. I find it interesting as well as troubling that so many moms we see in films are not that great, and so many troubled relationships between mother and daughter are the focus of stories. I’m one of the lucky ones I guess, because my daughter/mother relationship was a stellar example of how it should be.

Lady Bird’s long-suffering father Larry (Tracy Letts) is there to help ease the conflict between her and her mother, and lucky for Lady Bird, he is there for her. Also in the home are adopted son Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues), and his live-in girlfriend, Shelly (Marielle Scott).

The family lives on the other side of the tracks, and Lady Bird longs to fit in with the more monied class of Sacramento, seeking out Jenna (Odeya Rush) to be her friend. She joins theater at school that pulls in boys from another Catholic school for performances, and meets Danny (Lucas Hedges). Falling in love has never seemed so sweet, but there are complications as in any first love. The bad boy she falls for next, Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), is just too cool and Lady Bird is setting herself up for heartbreak, you just know it.

Her decision about where to attend college is fraught with drama, as her mother wants her to go to school in California, and Lady Bird wants to get as far away from Sacramento as possible. Why her mom wants her nearby when they are such a bad fit for each other remains a mystery for a long time.

The film is rated R for language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and teen partying. I loved Lady Bird. Saoirse Ronan is a little old to be playing a teen, but she does a good job and was nominated for Best Actress in a Comedy at the Golden Globes, along with Best Supporting Actress for Laurie Metcalf, Best Screenplay for Greta Gerwig, and Best Comedy. I will not be surprised when Lady Bird receives many awards this year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Downsizing

I thoroughly loved the comedic sci-fi drama Downsizing. Scientists in Norway have discovered a way to impact global climate change by shrinking humans to dollhouse size, so less resources are being used. Fewer resources depleted, less garbage is created and pollution is a thing of the past, at least in the small world that the downsizing humans inhabit. It seems like a winning solution to an unprecedented growth of human numbers on earth, and to a crisis of climate change.

Paul Safranak (Matt Damon) is an occupational therapist, quiet, compassionate, and caring. He is married to Audrey (Kristen Wiig) who seems nice enough. They decide to join what is ultimately 3% of the world population who becomes small and lives in special communities where money goes far, and leisure time is great.

Complications arise, however, when Audrey chickens out at the last minute, leaving Paul high and dry. I wouldn’t normally tell you that, but I saw it in a trailer that I watched prior to seeing the film. Paul being suddenly single again figures prominently in the rest of the film as he sorts out his life in Leisureland.

He meets fellow small people from other parts of society, including Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz) who is a freewheeling entrepreneur partying like it’s 1999, and taking Paul under his wing to show him a good time. But who cleans up these mansions the small people live in? Marginalized ethnic groups, that’s who. Paul meets a Vietnamese woman, Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) who was injured being illegally smuggled into the U.S. and she introduces him to the reality of the lives and lower class housing of those that do the work.

In this world of small people, there really isn’t much difference from our present society. You have the workers, and the wealthy. Certain groups of people are still seen as being somehow inferior, and there continues to be corruption in governments who use the process of downsizing in unethical ways.

I loved the character of Paul, and Matt Damon is able to portray this thinking and compassionate man very well. Christoph Waltz is wonderful as free spirit Dusan, and adds a lightness to Paul’s existence. Hong Chau was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Globes this year for her performance as Ngoc Lan Tran. I liked her, but the way they had her speak English was annoying. The director had her speak in very broken English, and I think if she’d been in America long enough, she’d have picked up better sentence structure, and not been so limited linguistically. That’s about the only criticism I have of this film, and one that not everyone will likely agree with.

Downsizing is rated R for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use. It brings to awareness the dire predicament the world is in. The ending is quite sobering and touching. If you enjoy other films from Payne/Taylor (Election, Sideways, The Descendents) you will enjoy Downsizing too.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week-The Touring Years

I was around eight years old or so when the Beatles came into their touring years, which is what the film Eight Days A Week is about. I recall some friends of mine in grade school asking me if I’d seen the Beatles on TV, likely on The Ed Sullivan Show, and I replied with something like, “Who’d want to watch a bunch of bugs?” So due to my younger age at the time, I missed out on that screaming, fainting phenomena of teenage girls who swooned over the Fab Four in such great numbers and so often it was called Beatlemania.

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week-The Touring Years, was released in 2016. The documentary is not rated. I wonder at this point during my writing if I have to say who the Beatles are. I hope you already know them. John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr made up the legendary Beatles hailing from England. If you didn’t know that, I am sorry for you. (I listed them in order of my favorites!)

Ron Howard has created this documentary about the Beatles touring years with many interviews, still photos, and live performance film that will have you remembering the sixties all over again. Because I did become aware of the Beatles shortly after learning about them in school, and I loved their music, I did the Twist along with my girlfriends, sang along endlessly to their love songs on the radio, and matured year by year just as their music did.

I liked that the movie did not skimp on the music, often allowing an entire song to be played by the band for our viewing pleasure. Paul McCartney and John Lennon mainly composed the songs during that time period, and had quite the collaboration going for them. The Beatles toured all over the world, and I even knew an older neighbor girl who saw them perform in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was a bit of a legend in our rural community because of that.

This film will leave you feeling nostalgic if you are of a certain age, and if you’re even younger, it should be an education about not just the Beatles rise to fame and fortune, but to a world that was haunted by racial tensions, a deceitful war, women’s rights, and young people coming into their own power. I even shed a tear or two at the memories so eloquently brought to life once again through the interviews with the Beatles and the films from the times.

John and George were taken from us too soon. I still miss them, but at least have their music to listen to. Only Paul and Ringo are left behind. If Ringo shows up in Albuquerque again with his All-Starr Band, I’ll go see him. I came to appreciate his music more with the years.

See Eight Days A Week (we saw it on Hulu). And put some old Beatles music on. Your heart will appreciate it.