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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 07, 2018

The Desert of Forbidden Art

The Desert of Forbidden Art is a fascinating documentary film about the Nukus Museum in Soviet Uzbekistan that houses thousands of works of art by Russian artists. The man responsible for this extraordinary collection was Igor Savitsky, whose mission was to acquire and safeguard important works of art that had been condemned by the Soviets. The film is rated PG.

Beginning in the 1930’s, the Soviet government forced artists to depict images that promoted Soviet tenets. Some artists complied and painted canvases of factories and farm workers, happy comrades and families existing under the regime of Stalin. Other artists who would not paint along party lines were arrested and locked up as dissidents, or worse yet executed, with others sent to Gulags or mental hospitals.

Igor Savitsky was an art lover and collector extraordinaire. Fascinated by the art created by Russian artists who were suppressed by the Soviet government, he bought thousands of works of art from the creators or their family members. Savitsky was perceived as honorable and trustworthy, convincing the families of the artists to sell the works to him for safekeeping and eventual display in a less dangerous place. The art had often been hidden in a family’s attic or storeroom to evade confiscation by the KGB.

Savitsky transported the art, often under arduous conditions by rail and car, to the remote northwestern desert town of Nukus. He had visited Nukus in Uzbekistan on an archeological expedition, and decided this was the perfect remote place to keep the controversial pieces of art safe.

The art we see in the film is indeed beautiful, some very unusual, most with a political statement in their character. The fact that the government did not wish these artists to express themselves is a testament to the repressive conditions that countries endure under corrupt and fearful leaders.

The director of the museum, Marinika Babanazarova, has guarded this collection for three decades. The museum’s works include the early 20th century art by these Russian innovators in the style of Fauvism, Expressionism, Futurism and Constructivism. Savitsky eventually accumulated approximately 40,000 works of art that he brought to the remote desert location, far, far from the KGB.

The vocal talents of Edward Asner, Sally Field and Ben Kingsley (as the voice of Igor Savitsky) add to the pleasing quality of the film as they voice the diaries and letters of Savitsky, and of the artists that he approached for his collection. The story is told well, and the cinematography, especially of the art itself, is first rate. There are many interviews with experts in the field of art, and great archival footage.

What Savitsky did to safeguard art for future generations unfortunately does not end with the museum he filled. The art remains endangered, the threats being Islamic fundamentalists, art profiteers, and corrupt bureaucrats. I highly recommend The Desert of Forbidden Art. Whether you are a lover of art, a lover of travel, or of the truth, this documentary has something in it for you.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Skyfall

Finally. A Daniel Craig/James Bond film I really loved! Skyfall is the best of at least the first three Bond films Craig has been in (I haven’t watched Spectre yet). Skyfall is rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking. It was released in 2012, and won two Academy Awards: Best Original Song written by Adele and Paul Epworth, and Best Sound Editing. Skyfall is the opening song sung by Adele.

I felt like I was back in a classic Bond film, with the technology and cinematography updated a bit of course, but with a solid story this time. I can’t find fault really with any of it. There is an opening chase scene, but it is not obnoxious. Another agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), takes aim at the man she and Bond are chasing, and the bullet strikes Bond instead. Bond takes a plunge into the river and is presumed dead.

Meanwhile, a terrorist attack inexplicably targets MI6 Headquarters in London. M (Judi Dench) seems to be the main target for whoever is trying to destroy her and her staff.  Bond resurfaces, just in time to hunt for the terrorist who knows far too much about MI6, and is thus suspected to be a former operative. Arriving on the scene is Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, who questions how M is handling the hunt for the terrorist group.

During the film, we are introduced to Q (Ben Wishaw) the purveyor of fancy cars and hidden weapons to Bond. We also meet other characters who are classic to the story of British intelligence. See for yourself. We see iconic trademarks of the Bond story sprinkled in amongst the action, details that were welcome and made me smile. If you are a James Bond fan and have seen previous films through the years, you will pick up on and be delighted by these tidbits. There’s a bit of humor throughout, a convincing back-story, and excellent direction by Sam Mendes.

The cinematography is stellar, and the locations grand. Just what a good spy story should provide. We go to Shanghai and Macau with Bond in pursuit of Patrice (Ola Rapace) hoping to get information about the terrorist he works for.

A villain needs to have an eccentric personality, yet not be so demented that we can’t relate to him. Silva (Javier Bardem) is that villain, a good foil for Bond, and a very worthy opponent. Bardem was relatively fresh off his Academy Award win for Best Supporting Actor for the 2007 film No Country for Old Men when Skyfall was filmed. The role of Silva was superbly cast, and I can’t imagine watching anyone but Bardem play the very threatening and crazy villain. He and Bond play off each other very well, and it makes the whole film work.

Have you seen Skyfall? What did you think of it? Next time, my review of the final (to date) Daniel Craig Bond film, Spectre.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace is the second of the James Bond films starring Daniel Craig. It picks up just after where Casino Royale left off, a crazy car chase underway. The automobiles careening around mountain curves and through tight tunnels does serve to capture the audience’s attention right from the outset, setting them on edge, but I personally found it rather boring, and a poor way to begin the film. Quantum of Solace is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sexual content. It was released in 2008.

I did some research while writing this review, and discovered there are purported to be 250 instances of violence in this film compared to just 105 in Dr. No. This is concerning, considering Quantum of Solace is the shortest of the Bond films. It was an overly violent movie, and I thought it to be without much substance in terms of a coherent story.

The action moves from Italy to England, Austria back to Italy, to Bolivia, and to Russia (although locations used for filming were Mexico, Panama, Chile, Italy, Austria and Wales). The screenplay was poorly written, the plot of the film was difficult to follow, and all in all, this film was generally disappointing.

The title Quantum of Solace refers to Bond’s seeking revenge for the killing of his lover Vesper, which occurred at the end of Casino Royale. Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) is seeking revenge for her family who was murdered by Bolivian General Medrano (Joaquin Cosío) in order to overthrow the government and become President. Bond teams up with Camille. She is not a true Bond girl though, as they are not “romantically” involved.

In some respects, the main nefarious situation posed in this film is one that could well take place in our own times on planet Earth. The villain, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), is scheming to hold Bolivia captive by controlling all the water to its people. I’ve heard water will be the next resource that is coveted by all nations, rationed, stolen, etc. if it hasn’t started to be already, just on a smaller scale. Greene and General Medrano are working together for their own ends, and their suspicions of each other’s motives are well placed. That part was believable. But I found Bond’s seeking revenge somewhat hollow. He cared for Vesper, even loved her, and still the emotion behind his seeking revenge seems weak, at least as for how it is acted out. Camille has more of a stake in her revenge fantasies than James does, and her motives are more transparent and real.

Save your time and skip this forgettable film. Go right to Skyfall, the next in the series and one I thoroughly enjoyed watching. My review of Skyfall will be posted next Tuesday. Did you see Quantum of Solace, and if you did, would you please leave me, as well as other readers, your opinion of the film in the comments section? Thanks for reading my review.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Casino Royale

My nephew assured me that Daniel Craig is every bit as good as Pierce Brosnan in the 007 Bond series of films. Given this recommendation, I decided to watch the four films Craig has starred in where he played the infamous secret agent.

The first, Casino Royale, was released in 2006. It is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content and nudity. In other words, a typical Bond film. Casino Royale was the first Bond novel published by Ian Fleming in 1952. This film thus begins at the place in the creator’s mind where the famous spy series began.

James Bond (Daniel Craig) is new to the job, and M (Judi Dench) is watching him closely, for performance issues you might say. The action takes us from Uganda to Madagascar to London to the Bahamas to Montenegro, all with the requisite unreal chase scenes and fight sequences where men take on superhuman qualities without the benefit of being superheroes. The lack of authenticity here in their not getting severely injured during their race on foot, fleeing or being chased, is really quite annoying. Such action is, however, typical for this type of film.

After leaving Madagascar, Bond ends up back in London for a tête-à-tête with M, briefly goes to the Bahamas, and then is sent to Montenegro to play poker in an attempt to win a small fortune from a banker, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), who takes terrorists money and invests it for them. Bond’s contact for this setup is the beautiful and mysterious Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). Here is where this particular film gets boring for me. I don’t play poker and I have no interest in the game. In between playing poker, Bond is poisoned, nearly dies, fights off and kills some bad guys, and gets back to the game.

Vesper (where do they get these names?) coaches James in how to succeed at being a suave, cool guy with money to lose or win at the poker table. In the process, they fall in love. Our final travel excursion for the two is to Venice, city of water and inevitable decay. Has James met his match in Vesper? Did he save the day? And will M be impressed enough with him that he has a permanent job as a spy?

Some things have to be a mystery or you wouldn’t watch! What I liked about the film was the traveling to exotic locations. That’s part of the reason I like the Bourne films with Matt Damon. It’s kind of like a travelogue. What’s different between Bourne and Bond though is that one has a conscience and the other is a cold-blooded killer. If you’ve seen the Bourne films, the distinction should be obvious.

Do you agree with me on that point? Or not? I will watch and review the other three Daniel Craig 007 films and let you know how I liked them over the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Book Club

I had the good fortune to view Book Club at a special screening three days prior to its release to the general public. The theater was packed, not an empty seat, and from what I could see, the audience was mostly women of all ages. There were a few men, but the film’s trailers kind of screamed chick flick, and so it drew that type of crowd.

There was so much laughter during this 1 hour and 44 minute film that at times it was difficult to hear the dialogue. But we all knew what was going on! Four intelligent female friends started their first book club in the 1970’s beginning with reading Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. Great choice (and a book I read way back then!). Now it is many years later and the four women who have remained friends continue to maintain their book club.

It appears that they have just finished reading Wild (you never really see the book, but how they talked about their latest read led to me to believe that was the one). It hadn’t gone over so well with them, and Vivian (Jane Fonda) brings four copies of the famous Fifty Shades of Grey for them to read next. Now these are grown women, successful in life and have, at one time or another, been in love. If you’ve read this trilogy by E. L. James, you know it’s not for everyone, and has some rather shocking elements to it which awakens the women shall we say.

Diane (Diane Keaton) is a recent widow with two cloying and overprotective daughters, Jill (Alicia Silverstone) and Adrianne (Katie Aselton). Vivian is a successful hotel entrepreneur. Sharon (Candice Bergen) is a federal judge, long divorced from Tom (Ed Begley, Jr.) whom she hasn’t quite gotten over. And Carol (Mary Steenburgen) is still married to her husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) of 35 years. All of these roles are brilliantly cast and they deliver their often witty and sarcastic dialogue splendidly.

An old flame in the person of Arthur (Don Johnson) shows up in Vivian’s life, rattling her independent, single woman status. Some of the funniest moments are between Carol and Bruce, whose long marriage could use a little bit of freshening up. When Sharon discovers that her ex-husband Tom is getting remarried, it sets her into dating again, and there are a couple of great scenes with her, Wallace Shawn and Richard Dreyfuss.

Diane meets Mitchell (Andy Garcia) while traveling by plane, and he is quickly attracted to her quirky persona. Thus begins a courtship that provides plenty of great moments. The settings for the entire film are exquisite; from Los Angeles to Scottsdale and Sedona, Arizona, we couldn’t ask for better scenery to feast our eyes upon.

Book Club is rated PG-13 for sex-related material throughout, and for language. I enjoyed this film so much, I will watch it again when I want some good laughs about friendship, love and romance, at any age.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Gemini

One of the reasons I went to see the independent film Gemini was that it starred Lola Kirke. I was familiar with her acting as she plays Hailey Rutledge on the Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle. The series ran four seasons, and was not renewed for a fifth, which is a shame as it was one of the best shows on streaming I have seen in a long time. No violence, and an interesting story about a conductor and his symphony in New York City. If you haven’t seen it, you should. I appreciated Lola’s talents, and wanted to see how she’d do carrying a full-length film, a mystery/thriller so different from her role in Mozart in the Jungle. Gemini is rated R for pervasive language, and a violent image.

Jill LeBeau (Lola Kirke) is the personal assistant of celebrity Heather Anderson (Zoë Kravitz). Heather is burned out by everything in her life: her work, her fans, Los Angeles, and the sameness of her day-to-day existence. Jill keeps Heather safe while she goes out with her closest friends, and keeps her out of the line of fire of her ex, business associates and overzealous fans.

After partying one night with friend Tracy (Greta Lee), Heather retires to her unwelcoming and cold home accompanied by Jill. In the morning, Jill goes to her apartment to shower and change for the coming day’s appointments. Upon returning to Heather’s mansion, Jill finds her lying on the floor dead.

Detective Edward Ahn (John Cho) labels Jill a suspect, a development she finds distressing. In order to clear her name, she sets out on her own to find the people in Heather’s life who would like to see her dead.

The film has a noir quality, which works well. I really appreciated the acting done by the two main characters played expertly by Zoë Kravitz and Lola Kirke.  Both women’s faces are so expressive. They convey their feelings and deepest thoughts just through their facial expressions. No talking necessary. The role of Detective Ahn is not given a wide enough emphasis, but it’s a good role. Too bad John Cho didn’t have more to do, but Jill, who is determined to clear herself of any suspicion of the crime, spurs all the detective work on.

The encounter Jill has with filmmaker Greg (Nelson Franklin) amused me. He said if he were writing the story, referring to Heather’s death, he’d look for someone with motive, opportunity and capacity. Jill reminds him Heather’s death is not fiction. It’s a good encounter between the two of them and moves Jill’s amateur investigation along.

The film was written, directed and edited by Aaron Katz, and I really enjoyed this quiet mystery. The idea of setting the film within the world of a young celebrity inundated with responsibilities and pressures probably never imagined as she worked to get where she is today is a good one. You might still be able to see it at your local art cinema. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge is a film based on the true story of Desmond Doss, who carried 75 men to safety during the taking of Hacksaw Ridge on Okinawa during World War II. What made this all the more extraordinary, especially for the military men he had to work with, was that he was a conscientious objector. Hacksaw Ridge won two Academy Awards: Best Achievement in Film Editing, and Best Achievement in Sound Mixing. The film is rated R for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images.

Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) grew up in Virginia, and had a difficult childhood. Several experiences depicted shaped him into the man he became, and when World War II erupted, he enlisted into the Army. His father Tom (Hugo Weaving) was an alcoholic, prone to violence, and his long-suffering mother Bertha (Rachel Griffiths) took the brunt of his abuse, as did his two sons.

Desmond enlists and tells his recruiting agent that he will not carry a gun, and that he wants to be a medic. He gets a rude awakening in boot camp. Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn), along with other superiors, tries to break him, as do his boot campmates. But Desmond remains strong. He is a Seventh Day Adventist, and will not pick up that gun.

He is shipped to the Pacific in May 1945 to Okinawa where the Japanese forces have hunkered down on the island in bunkers, and where the US Army has been unable to gain a foothold and overcome them.

The film does not spare us of the violence of war, nor should it. There is no glamorizing what war is here at any time. It is a brutal, cruel, awful thing to watch men being ripped apart, burned to death, and dying in agony. War is bad. I’m not saying World War II shouldn’t have happened, given the events of the Holocaust and the Japanese attacking the United States. But I will say that the wars that are happening right now on this planet are not for noble reasons, but for protecting natural resources, and sadly, not for the common people of the world, but so that major corporations can grow wealthier and plunder the planet in the way they are accustomed to. Please do not enlist. To borrow an old song’s refrain from the sixties, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?”

At any rate, Desmond Doss is to be remembered not just for saving the lives of 75 men on that Pacific oceanside cliff in 1945, but for NEVER being swayed from his belief that to kill another human is the worst of all sins. He was a conscientious objector, and that is what is to be honored above all. He stuck to his values. If only we all did that instead of giving lip service to that commandment of thou shalt not kill.

The film and especially Desmond’s story are worth watching, if you can tolerate explicit war violence.