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, August 22, 2017

Like Water for Chocolate

Like Water for Chocolate (Como agua para chocolate) is a delightful film from 1992. Watching it is a wonderful way to spend an evening. The screenplay is based on a novel by Laura Esquivel. I was given the DVD by someone from work and had never gotten around to watching it until a couple days ago. The film is rated R for sexuality.

It is the tale of a Mexican family living near the Texas border in the early 1900’s. Tita (Lumi Cavazos) is the youngest of three daughters. Her mother, Mamá Elena (Regina Torné) tells her that she will never marry and must care for her as long as she lives. Her mother is a domineering woman and not likable at all. They live on a farm and appear to be well off, although Tita is kept busy in the kitchen and in meeting her mother’s unreasonable demands.

Tita and Pedro Muzquiz (Marco Leonardi) have fallen in love, but when Pedro is denied her hand in marriage, he agrees to marry her sister Rosaura (Yareli Arizmendi) just so he can be close to Tita. This is a setup for all sorts of troubles, and Tita takes out her sadness in the kitchen. She is a fantastic cook and baker having been trained by her beloved Nacha (Ada Carrasco). Tita also expresses her joy and love for Pedro through her cooking, just one of many exquisite moments in the film, and a fine example of magical realism in a story. The quail in rose petal sauce she prepares looks incredibly delectable, especially from the reactions the diners give while savoring it.

The film is subtitled in English, but since some of the action takes place in Texas, most notably with a physician, Dr. John Brown (Mario Iván Martínez), who is in love with Tita, some dialogue is in English. The film is noted for being erotic, and it is erotic in some places early on, but in scenes where they are eating, not ones involving sexuality. I am surprised this film wasn’t nominated for any Academy Awards, but it did receive a nomination for Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globes that year.

Laura Esquivel was married to the director of the film, Alfonso Arau. It must have been a wonderful experience for them making this film together. Laura wrote the screenplay. The actors are all suited to their roles, and the themes of love and obligation to family, and the failings of many of the family members in faithfulness to their chosen ones in marriage, is a familiar one. The third sister, Gertrudis (Claudette Maillé) is a beautiful and vibrant young woman who has an interesting life unfold for her. I won’t say more as I don’t want to spoil the surprises for you.

This is a movie I may just keep and not discard. It’s very rich in metaphor, and the magical realism that is just right in depicting the mysticism of the folk culture of that era.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Farewell to Arms

I opened the drawer that has some games and DVDs stored in it, and wondered how we collected all of them. I am acquainted with people who buy DVDs frequently, and on the other side of the spectrum, a friend who only owns three.

We are somewhere in the middle. I noticed a couple we had inherited from my husband’s mother, and some that were gifts. Still others were an impulse buy at the bookstore or wherever DVDs are typically sold.

I decided to watch some I had never seen, review some favorites and then sell them to my local rental store. Decluttering always feels good! And in the age of streaming services, and DVDs on Netflix, I don’t need to own these at all.

The first one I pulled out was a gift from my sister of A Farewell to Arms, a 1932 black and white feature based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway. Frederic (Gary Cooper) is an American ambulance driver in Italy during World War I when he meets Catherine (Helen Hayes), a British nurse, and falls in love. They secretly marry, and due to the nefarious scheming of Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou), who is also in love with Catherine, the newlyweds are separated.

The screenplay is not that well written, but it is after all fairly early in the history of filmmaking, and writers had a lot to learn. The cinematography however, is brilliant, and I was pleased to discover after I had watched the movie that A Farewell to Arms won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for Charles Lang. I can see where the award was a good choice. The camera angles, use of shadows, and choice of subjects during certain scenes was inspired. Charles Lang had a long, illustrious career in filmmaking, and I think you’d be surprised if you look up his other feature films. A Farewell to Arms also won an Academy award for Best Sound Recording.

Gary Cooper is very tall, six foot three inches of handsomeness, and with little petite Helen Hayes at just five feet, they make an unusual pair walking along the streets of Italy. Both actors had long filmmaking careers; this is an early one for both of them.

I have not read Hemingway’s highly regarded novel of A Farewell to Arms, but I have read several of his short stories, and his storytelling abilities and writing is impressive. I think that his novel just didn’t translate to the screen very well, and that his story on the page was likely much more detailed and significant than this film.

The ending, for both my husband and I, left us wanting. He said it was “maudlin” and I just found it cloying and unrealistic. But like I said, it was 1932 after all.

If you are a student of film, you may enjoy watching it for the groundbreaking cinematography by Lang. Otherwise I wouldn’t recommend you take 90 minutes out of your cinema viewing time to watch it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Brainwashing of My Dad

Jen Senko is a documentary filmmaker who watched her tolerant and loving father turn into a bigoted, angry person beginning in the 1980’s when he began watching Fox News and listening to Rush Limbaugh. Alarmed, along with her mother, at the change in their father/husband, she set out to try to understand what had happened to him.

The Brainwashing of My Dad is her documentary feature film about her journey to discover what happened to her father to create such an angry man. The film features interviews with psychologists, media specialists, scholars, and historians, and is presented along with tons of information about the media and how laws being repealed made it easier to report false and inaccurate information on the airwaves. We see how the media was manipulated in order to effectively blast right wing propaganda to the masses of America. The history of how exactly the Republican agenda came to be broadcast to those gullible citizens lacking in critical thinking skills is what this film is about. And for Jen to find her father again.

Jen’s father was a World War II veteran and a long time Democrat, not particularly political during her childhood, which occurred during the volatile 1960’s and the Vietnam era. Her father is shown in home movies as a man happily raising his children, being an all-around stellar, likable, fun-loving father and husband. The turning point for him occurred when he encountered a long daily commute alone in his car, listening to radio talk shows, including the voice of the pompous Rush Limbaugh, and he began to change.

Particularly interesting to me in the film were the interviews with other people, recovering talk show addicts if you will, who were younger, even significantly younger than her father and who were also brainwashed by the propaganda machine. My husband and I know people in our family who have succumbed to this brainwashing too. It is well known to us that simply presenting the facts to them will not get them to change their belief system, so we don’t even bother to talk to them about those touchy subjects. The film shows what parameters are in place by those in power in order to manipulate the masses, and how the brainwashing works on a psychological level.

Jen researched this film very well, and my husband and I watched it on Hulu. It is also available through other video on demand sources: http://www.thebrainwashingofmydad.com/vod-platforms/

In these times that are growing more volatile, I think it is important to watch a documentary such as this one because it may be someone you know who is being brainwashed along with Jen’s dad. Education is vital to understanding what is happening in America.

Is there a happy ending for Jen’s father? I’m not going to say, because I think you should watch the film, and I hope not just “liberals” will do so. Challenge yourself to get educated, because you need to know what you’re up against and how to respond.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

The very funny Swedish adventure/comedy film, The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, is well worth your time. The film is partially narrated in English with subtitles for the dialogue. It is rated R for language and some violence. The screenplay was based on a novel by Jonas Jonasson.

It was the third highest grossing film in Sweden, and I can see why. (First and second highest grossing films are the Swedish films The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and The Girl Who Played with Fire.) The format of the film reminded me a bit of Forrest Gump, the Tom Hanks movie where the unlikely character of Forrest meets famous people throughout his life as he traverses some very volatile times in America.

This film follows the life of Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) in flashbacks and in the present. He also has met famous people through the years, but in this case, they are dangerous world leaders during the World War II years and Cold War times. Like Forrest Gump, he is a bit of a simpleton too, but one who skates through his life untouched and unharmed even when others are falling like leaves around him.

We see him first as he is soon celebrating his 100th birthday while living in a nursing home/retirement home, and who’s to know why he suddenly decides to climb out of the window of his small room and take off walking down the road. Adventures follow, as his 100-year old mind is not the brightest or clearest these days, especially when we see later that he’s been a bit daft his whole life.

The people he gets mixed up with are badass gang members who pursue him until the end for a suitcase of theirs with some valuable contents that Allan has unwittingly walked off with. He also has police trying to find him, as it doesn’t look so good for the retirement home to simply lose a resident. Allan essentially ends up being on a road trip, hooking up with other willing travelers who assist him in various ways. Julius (Iwar Wiklander) is the first to join him, and eventually includes Gunilla (Mia Skäringer) with her pet elephant. It is all very comical, and I smiled or laughed throughout the entire film. My husband enjoyed it too.

The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared  was nominated for an Academy Award in 2016 for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling. Robert Gustafsson was born in 1964, so is clearly not 100 years old, not even close. Most of that expert makeup and hairstyling was for him, as he depicts several different decades of Allan’s life during the movie. There is a sequel that came out recently, The 101-Year-Old Man Who Skipped Out on the Bill and Disappeared. More silliness I’m sure, and I hope it doesn’t suffer the fate of many sequels that all too often come up short, not living up to the original.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a film by Guy Ritchie. It is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language. Admittedly, I had only seen one Guy Ritchie film to date, and that was Swept Away starring his then wife Madonna. I actually quite liked it, possibly one of a very few people who got what they were trying to say in the film.

I learned of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table when I was a kid or teenager. I can only imagine the attention the legend commands in its native England. From watching the trailer, I knew this film would have monsters in it and would be more supernatural than the tale I had first heard.

As for King Arthur, aside from the monsters, which I really don’t care for, I soon became entranced by the way Ritchie tells a tale. It is established early on that Arthur narrowly escapes with his life as just a toddler, and ends up in the city where good-hearted women who work in the brothels take him in.

I really enjoyed the way we see Arthur grow up, in little segments showing how he gets his street smarts and fighting skills as he matures. This wasn’t the only time the director used this technique and it worked to full advantage.

Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is soon an adult, is captured and transported to the kingdom where his uncle Vortigern (Jude Law) lives and rules. The famous sword, Excalibur, waits in the stone for the heir to the throne to arrive and pull it out. Men are traipsed through there and of course, no one is able to lift it free, until Arthur comes on the scene.

The magic begins, but not without Arthur denying who he really is. His search for himself and his lineage progresses with the help of The Mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), a fearsome woman who is ruthless in her tutelage of Arthur.

Basically, I liked the film, although tiring of the fighting sequences as it progressed. This is allegedly the first installment of a six film series. I would like to see the round table and the knights again, not so much the monsters and the fighting. Surely they must have just talked once in awhile. And then there’s the love interest with Guinevere.

King Arthur was said to live in the late 5th, early 6th century and led the defense of Britain against Saxon invaders. Scholars debate his historical existence, but it makes for a good story. He is said to have established an empire over Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Norway and Gaul (a region of Western Europe).

The legend lives on and has been rewritten many times over the centuries, storytellers taking great license in the retelling of the gallant tales. This version, King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword, is no exception. I saw it in the dollar theater, and that’s where it’s probably best seen.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Learning to Drive

Learning to Drive is a romantic comedy with dramatic overtones that takes place in Manhattan. A new divorcee, Wendy (Patricia Clarkson), decides to learn how to drive. Driving is not something everyone in New York City chooses to do, and despite her fears, she employs the services of Darwan (Ben Kingsley), a Sikh gentleman who is a taxi driver and instructor in the ways of the road for wannabee travelers.

I enjoyed the way we stepped into both Wendy’s and Darwan’s lives, comparing and contrasting the cultures they live in. Darwan is brand new into an arranged marriage with someone from India he’s just met, while Wendy is newly divorced from her husband Ted (Jake Weber) of 21 years. They find they have significant commonalities, as Darwan is an educated man who was a professor in India, and Wendy is a very intelligent woman who works as a book reviewer.

They support each other emotionally, and as Wendy learns to drive, she learns to take the driver’s seat in her life. Her daughter Tasha (Grace Gummer) is living in Vermont, which is the impetus for Wendy wanting her driver’s license to be able to go visit her.

I also liked the way the film addressed racial profiling, and the trials of immigrants in the United States. It is up to you the viewer to decide for yourself what the most appropriate policies are about immigration and how the people in this film were treated.

My husband watched the film with me, staying for the whole movie so I think it’s a film both men and women would appreciate. It’s an intelligent film and when he saw the name Katha Pollitt as the inspiration for the screenplay, he recognized the name as someone who writes for The Nation. Sure enough, he was right, and she wrote the short story upon which the film is based. Katha is a progressive author and journalist. Nice to see thoughtful films actually being made, even if they don’t make a ton of money at the box office.

Something that troubled me a bit was the casting of Ben Kingsley in the role of Darwan, an Indian Sikh man. Ben is British. I suppose they selected him for the name to promote the film more effectively, but I really think an Indian man should have played that role. However, he did play Gandhi for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor. Darwan’s wife Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury) is a beautiful woman and I loved the way she dressed. I have a fascination for Indian culture I admit, and her clothes were absolutely gorgeous.

I recommend Learning to Drive. It is rated R for language and sexual content, probably mostly for a brief sexual encounter between Wendy and a friend of her sister’s that is actually quite comical.

As an aside, Grace Gummer is the daughter of Meryl Streep. She is a good actress, and I particularly enjoyed her role in The Newsroom. Check it out.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Independence Day: Resurgence

I’m a big fan of the film Independence Day that was released in 1996. The perfect cast starred in this apocalyptic kind of tale where the world must come together to combat the aliens that are intent on doing humanity and all earth’s creatures in.

Now, 20 years later (2016), we have Independence Day: Resurgence. The film is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and destruction, and for some language. Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) has unfortunately died, but his stepson Dylan (Jessie T. Usher) has become a fighter pilot in his footsteps.  His mother Jasmine (Vivica A. Fox) seems to have dropped her career as a stripper to become a nurse.

We have former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman), who seems to be suffering from a type of dementia, and new hotshots Jake (Liam Hemsworth), and the President’s daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe), now all grown up. David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is in Africa where he meets an old flame, and a strong African man who has noticed signs of the resurgence. Seems the world has hung together over these twenty years in anticipation of the aliens striking again. Good thing we did, because yes! They are back!

I only saw this recently on DVD, and must say that some of the same themes are revisited. There are portions that seem old, but ultimately the story and the action won me over and I was on the edge of my seat, hoping that my favorite characters wouldn’t bite the dust during the inevitable fighting that occurred. Some of the communication themes kind of reminded me of Arrival, a messy film I reviewed earlier on my blog.

Sequels are difficult to make. A lot of them go flat because they use the themes and what worked from the original blockbuster rather than taking on new, fresher material. But Independence Day: Resurgence was okay for an evening’s entertainment. The call to action for the people of the world to bond together to fight a common foe doesn’t get old. Isn’t that what we still need to do today? Come together to fight greed and corruption in government, to assure that the planet is not further destroyed by global climate change, to combat the centuries old archaic religious beliefs that only serve to divide humanity instead of illuminating our commonalities.

The special effects were pretty good, but I was only watching it on my screen at home. Those aliens had the biggest space ship I’ve seen in an alien type film. I noticed that earth’s ally was a smooth sphere, and the aliens were gangly, ugly monsters. One intelligent and serene looking, one stupid and aggressive. This didn’t seem to me to be simply a random choice!

There is a little romance going on here and there, and people coming together to survive some really horrifically devastating destruction when the aliens attacked. You might find it fun to watch the first one and then this sequel directly afterwards as a double feature.