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, March 29, 2016


Tracks is an Australian adventure, biography, drama based on the real life adventures of Robyn Davidson. Robyn Davidson wrote a book of the same name about her journey in 1977, when she made a 1,700-mile solo trek west across Australia from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean, accompanied by four camels and her faithful dog. The film echoes the tales in The Way and Wild, two other movies depicting long distance journeys on foot.

Tracks was released in 2013, and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some partial nudity, disturbing images and brief strong language. Mandy Walker won 2014 Best Cinematography awards for Tracks from the Australian Cinematographers Society and the Film Critics Circle of Australia.

Robyn (Mia Wasikowska) desperately wants to walk across the western Australian desert. Her plan is to use camels to carry her water and supplies. She writes to National Geographic soliciting funds for her trip. An agreement is reached, and she is provided with the funding she needs with the stipulation that a photographer, Rick Smolan (Adam Driver), accompany her on portions of the trip to cover the story for National Geographic Magazine.

I admire Robyn for what she accomplished. Someday, I would like to do some long distance walking, possibly on the Camino in Spain or across England. The longest walk I’ve done to date is 18 miles round trip backpacking with two friends in the wilderness of Olympic National Park in Washington State. The walk in this film bears little if any resemblance to my little jaunt in the rain forest. Robyn walked across the Australian desert for 1,700 miles. Why? Why does anyone set a challenge for himself or herself that then becomes an obsession until completed? The desert doesn’t exactly hold the same draws as a rainforest, especially when it’s the Australian desert, a continent whose claim to fame is that there are more poisonous creatures there than on any other portion of the earth.
The same could be asked of Cheryl Strayed (Wild). Alone, carrying all she needed and more on her back, she walked 1,100 miles north on the Pacific Crest Trail from the border of Mexico to the Columbia River. I think the reason these women did these walks was that the solitude brings clarity and insight about the life their soul inhabits that cannot be found within the din of day-to-day discourse with other humans, days filled with tasks serving to dull the mind, and not giving enough space for true awareness. Robyn and Cheryl share commonalities in their life experience, grief that was transcended by doing their walks.
I first saw Australian actress Mia Wasikowska as the daughter Joni in the film The Kids Are All Right. Adam Driver stars as Kylo Ren in the ongoing Star Wars saga. They both seem to have promising careers ahead of them.

This is a really good film, one that hasn’t gotten much play or press. I recommend you watch it and pass it on if you find Robyn’s story resonates with you.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Lady in the Van

Veteran actress Maggie Smith is The Lady in the Van, which is a film that is noted to be a “mostly true story” in the opening credits. The playwright Alan Bennett (The History Boys) wrote this screenplay about the odd woman who parked her van in his driveway. He expected her residence to be only for about three months, and instead, she ended up staying there for 15 years. The film is rated PG-13 for a brief unsettling image.

The homeless Miss Mary Shepherd, (or is it Margaret? the neighbors ask as they soon discover that she has many secrets) is a cantankerous eccentric who stretches the good people of Camden to the ends of their compassion. (The film was shot at the same house on the same street where the real events took place.)

The screenplay took plenty of liberties with the character of Alan, a somewhat reclusive writer played by Alex Jennings, who we see as two people, the playwright typing the story out, and the compassionate man who allows Miss Shepherd to reside in his driveway. He talks to himself seemingly having no one else close to listen to him.

Bit by bit, Miss Shepherd’s tragic life is revealed to us, in part explaining how she ended up homeless, living out of her van. The homeless don’t get that way for no good reason; often they are plagued by mental illness, and substance abuse. Ms. Shepherd is no exception in that there are reasons for her present state.

The neighborhood portrayed was a shining example of how more people should accept and help those in need. This took place beginning in the 1970’s, and perhaps there was more tolerance in England then or even today (I can’t speak to England’s moral values), but in America, the media portray the homeless as if there is something morally wrong with them, and do not paint them in a sympathetic light for who they really are. Facebook is filled with tirades against helping the homeless or those out of work, showing little understanding of the emotional issues that helped them get that way. Poverty seems to be interpreted as a moral failing which informs the ignorant statements I see from time to time. I can only hope that anyone seeing this film will find their conscience and compassion activated by the story, and be more tolerant and giving to those in need.

Interestingly, in 1999, Maggie Smith played the same character in Bennett’s play of the same name on stage. Maggie Smith was nominated for a Golden Globe award for her performance in this film. Jim Broadbent has a role in the film as well, a mysterious character till the end when all is revealed.

If you’re an anglophile, you will love this film. If you are a fan of Maggie Smith, you will love this film. And if neither of those applies, you might like it just for the quiet, compassionate little mystery that it is.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


Amy was the fourth Academy Award nominated documentary feature that I watched this awards season. It is also the documentary that took home the prize. The film is rated R for language and drug material.
I remembered hearing Amy Winehouse for the first time when a coworker had purchased her CD and played the song Rehab for me. He said he liked it because it was so raw. I liked it too, but I now have a greater understanding of her music and I really, really like it. I love jazz and blues and this was her forte.
Amy was a British singer/songwriter with an incredible voice. Interestingly her idols were Tony Bennett and Sarah Vaughn. She came from a “broken” family, her parents separating early in her life. She seems to blame this for her subsequent alcoholism, substance abuse and mental health issues.
No doubt exacerbating her addictions was her meteoric rise to fame at a very early age. Barely out of her teens, Amy had a style all her own. I loved the way she did her hair in a beehive, her cat eyes mascara and eyeliner. She spoke what she thought and she wrote her life’s trials and tribulations into songs. The way she delivered a tune, her voice reminded me of Billie Holiday, another woman who had a troubled life and struggled with addiction.
Unlike the documentary about Nina Simone I reviewed earlier, where most visual details were from photos, Amy was filled with video footage, home videos and scenes of her everyday life taken off of her friends’ phones no doubt. It gave a very real and immediate feeling to the film, as did seeing her poems that became songs. I appreciated the visual aspect of this documentary, how it was pieced together, like piecing together the fabric of Amy’s short life, and I wholeheartedly agree with it being voted Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards. It’s worth your time.
Interesting that this year, 2016, two of the nominated documentaries had as subject matter, two very gifted female singers, and the two others I watched were about fighting for freedom, freedom from government control in the case of the Ukraine, and freedom from the drug cartels of Mexico in the other. This was a good year for documentary features.
Amy was a wounded young lady starved for love, starving her own body, betrayed by the disease of alcoholism, and finally used by those closest to her who didn’t want the cash flow to end. She lived on the edge until her heart gave out.  
She was a Grammy award winner, and I both recommend Amy's music and this documentary. Her poetry shines through in her lyrics, sharing the pain and joy that all humans share. I am reminded of Jim Morrison, another victim of alcoholism, who also died at the age of 27. He was a poet too. Perhaps all the best songwriters are. Rest in Peace and in song, Amy, wherever you've gone. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Cartel Land

The third Academy Award nominated documentary I’ve seen this year, Cartel Land held me riveted from the opening sequence. The drug cartels of Mexico are feared on both sides of the border, and this documentary focuses on a group of vigilantes along the border in Arizona, as well as a citizen group in the Mexican state of Michoacán, some thousand miles away, where the cartels murder indiscriminately, and cause much grief and suffering to the good people in the cities. Rated R for violent disturbing images, language, drug content and brief sexual material, it is not for the faint of heart.
I wondered how this footage was obtained. Granted, the meth cooks all wore masks or bandannas on their faces, but they were speaking to the filmmakers about why they cook meth, and why they will continue to do so. Sales are mainly to the United States, which makes the U. S. a part of the problem. Mexico is a land of poverty, another reason given for why some choose to cook drugs.
As the film progressed, it was clear there is evil in the hearts of those in the gangs of the cartels. It also became clear that even the ones who profess to do good and help, like Dr. Jose Mireles “El Doctor” are not the saints they were initially made out to be.
The politics of the situation were also shown as being complicated. The people are frustrated that the Mexican government does not arrest the members of the cartel, and turn a blind eye to their crimes. Taking justice into their own hands, the AutoDefensas was formed, and they systematically take over the cartel village by village, cleaning up the streets.
Meanwhile, back in America, the leader of the group in Arizona feels it is his duty to protect the border from smuggled aliens being led in. He believes he lost his job in construction to illegal immigrants who work for less money, and he reports, do a sloppy job of constructing houses. How much does this have to do with the housing boom and subsequent crash, when houses were initially reasonable to purchase and then with the turn of the economy, people lost their jobs and their cheaply made homes? This group turns the illegals over to border patrol to be taken where? Directly back across the border I am guessing.
I got the feeling having watched this documentary that it is an issue that cannot be solved just on one side of the border. As long as there is demand for the drugs, there will be a ready supply. And these cartels are likened to the mafia, where police are corrupt and can be bought.
It is a worthy film to watch, if for no other reason than to be informed of why the State Department warns US citizens about traveling in Mexico. It may also leave you questioning politicians who lamely talk about the “war on drugs” with no understanding of what’s involved in the solution.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

The Revenant

A revenant is a visible ghost or an animated corpse that has returned from the grave to terrorize the living. The Revenant is thus an apt title for a film where Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) just keeps on living and moving towards revenge on John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) who has left him for dead and killed his only son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). I knew all this from trailers I saw prior to going to the movie. I anticipated a violent film, but it was nominated for a staggering 12 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Supporting Actor.

I saw it just before the Oscars and was glad I did. It brought Leo his first Academy Award for Best Actor, Best Director for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and Best Achievement in Cinematography.

This film is one that will keep you alert for the entire two hours and 36 minutes it’s on the screen. Not once did I think about the time that had elapsed or had yet to pass. This drama is rated R for strong frontier combat and violence, including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity.

The time period is the 1820’s and the setting is the northern regions of mountains, with freezing temperatures and danger at every turn, from nature and from humans, the French, the white Americans, the Native Americans. What we go to see as tourists today, the mountain vistas, rivers and waterfalls, and the vast expanse of sky, was a forbidding environment that frontiersmen and women and tribal people had to survive back then.

It is an incredible film to watch. It has made me deathly afraid to hike in any area where there are bears. The suffering Hugh Glass goes through when the mama bear attacks him is depicted in excruciating detail. They must have researched what grizzly bears do when they attack a human, as it was surprising to me and had me squirming and vocalizing at the long incident just as much as the rest of the audience was.

21 Grams, and Amores Perros, are two other films directed by Inarritu I have seen. Both are riveting tales, and hard to watch at times, as he really goes for the jugular, sparing no gruesome details. Birdman, Inarritu’s other award winning film, is an excellent film too.

According to IMDb, there were 16 filming locations, most in Canada and some in Argentina, Mexico, and a few in the United States. Leonardo gave a great acceptance speech at the Oscars, asking for us to pay attention to global warming and do something before more damage is done to the planet. They had to travel to the ends of the earth just to get the amount of snow they needed for filming.

The Revenant is still playing in Albuquerque theaters, and may still be in your community. If it is and you’d like to see it, I’d recommend going to the theater. The landscape you’ll be seeing is best viewed on the big screen.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom

Freedom and human dignity. That’s what Ukrainians were fighting for in 2013-2014 when their president betrayed them by choosing to align with Russia over the European Union. Winter on Fire:  Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom is a documentary feature that alternates between film footage of the actual protests, and interviews with some of the participants who were there.
The people of Ukraine see themselves as European. When President Yanukovich sided with Russia, students spontaneously gathered in Independence Square in Kiev. When the police, heavily shielded in protective gear, came to disperse the group and began beating them with iron sticks, other citizens joined in. They were outraged that the government would harm their children, so people from all over Ukraine, many religions, many languages, many ages, came to support them.
This reminded me of Vietnam War protests in the 1960’s. It was chilling. Months and months passed with no movement by the government to give the Ukrainian people what was requested. Former military leaders helped the protestors organize and protect themselves, building barricades and providing support. Those who had cars formed a circle around the protestors camping out, and were an integral part of the protest.
The protestors were non-violent, and it was only when the police started shooting them with rubber bullets and then mixed live ammunition in, that the violence really escalated. I found myself thinking, this is real life, these are real people being injured and killed, standing up for their beliefs and against a dictator who lied to them again and again. This is not fiction, like some other violence addled fictional movies out there. If people want to watch violence, at least watch the real thing, people putting themselves on the line every day, not some stupid action movie with super heroes. All the people who protested are heroes; average young men and women, mothers and fathers, religious leaders, who all set aside their lives for this cause.
I highly recommend this film. It is a reminder that every nation is built on individuals who speak up for what is right, and put their lives on the line until justice prevails.
As I sat and watched the days tick by for the Ukrainian citizens in this struggle, I thought about what I was doing on that particular day; how could I have not known about this fight? We are so consumed with our day-to-day lives, we forget that this planet is filled with individual souls also dealing with their own personal struggles in the world. Everywhere there are real life dramas being played out. For the Ukrainians, some of their hopes were fulfilled, for others, the struggle continues.
I don’t pretend to know much about the politics of that region, but I can sympathize with the protestors. I think you will find this a moving documentary film. It was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at this year’s Academy Awards, but the documentary film Amy won that honor instead. Stay tuned for a review of that documentary as well.