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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!

Monday, November 28, 2016

First Daughter

My Netflix queue delivered First Daughter, a 2004 comedy/romance starring Katie Holmes. I was surprised to see that Forest Whitaker, Academy Award winning actor who was the butler in the last film I reviewed, directed it. I discovered he also directed one of my favorite movies, Waiting to Exhale! What a talented man. The story for First Daughter was partially attributed to Jerry O’Connell, the child actor of Stand By Me who grew up to be a handsome man in such films as Jerry Maguire. It’s great how these actors are able to follow their creativity where it leads them.

Samantha MacKenzie (Katie Holmes) is the daughter of President MacKenzie (Michael Keaton) who is seeking a reelection. She has already lived in the White House for four years, and is now of college age. Longing to break out and see the world on her own, she is less than thrilled with the prospects of going away to school with Secret Service men trailing her at every turn.

She does, however, leave her famous parents in DC and travel to California to be a college girl. Samantha finds that anonymity is nonexistent and that living with her first roommate, Mia Thompson (Amerie) is a challenge. She tries to fit in with college life, and falls for James Lansome (Marc Blucas), a handsome student she meets in her dorm.

The witty dialogue between Samantha and James is really quite entertaining. The story sets them up with a natural affinity for one another, and the chemistry between them is really great. Other than that, the story is somewhat predictable, Samantha taking risks with her behavior that the media pounces upon in order to cast aspersions at her father seeking a second term. I had not seen Katie Holmes in any movies that I could recall. I was actually impressed by her acting.

It was a cute little film, entertaining, funny, romantic, and I admired the set dressing. There were several times where the beauty of the shot impressed me, like when Samantha appeared in a purple gown and the flowers she was standing next to had light purple blooms. I notice these things; the colors they used in her wardrobe, and how the set complemented her costumes. While the settings should be subtle and not detract from the story, there is a balance to be had where the set dressing enhances the story and the character in it.

The film is rated PG for language, sexual situations and alcohol-related material. I can see why teenage girls might really like this film. It is kind of a princess story, as Samantha, as the first daughter, has to go to elegant functions dolled up in gowns with her hair piled on her head in elegance and grace. Young girls might truly identify with her character, wanting both the privilege and benefits of the family she’s been born into, as well as understanding her desperate quest for freedom, wishing the same would come from their own family.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Lee Daniel's The Butler

Lee Daniel’s The Butler was my selection to watch the evening of Election Day. Loosely based on the life of Cecil Gaines, who served as a White House butler under administrations from Eisenhower through Reagan, it was the perfect film for this election year. It is rated PG-13 for some violence and disturbing images, language, sexual material, thematic elements, and smoking,

Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) had a circuitous route to the White House. Born in Mississippi to sharecropper parents, he was picked to work for the woman of the house as a servant (although she didn’t use such a kind word to describe his job).

Having learned his duties well, Cecil eventually ended up in DC where he waited on wealthy and politically connected whites in upscale hotels. Married to Gloria (Oprah Winfrey), with two children, he jumped when offered a position to work in the White House.

His employment enabled him to rise above poverty to have a nice home for his family and seemingly everything he could wish for. But he finds that even if you’re getting paid for a job in service, it has its down side.

Well-known actors play the Presidents, only one of which I couldn’t place. I asked who was playing Johnson? He didn’t even seem to look familiar to me and then when I read the credits, realized it was Liev Schreiber, an actor I am very familiar with. He so transformed into LBJ, I couldn’t tell it was Liev.

The butler’s eldest son Louis (David Oyelowo), growing up in the turbulent sixties, puts himself on the line in the civil rights movement. It was very disturbing to watch protestors, both black and white, sitting at the lunch counters in the white section, waiting to be served when violence broke out. They were severely abused by the white patrons, while the protestors never lifted a finger or said a cross word. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have it no other way and taught that a peaceful movement would create change; violence never does.

Putting themselves in harm’s way on the freedom buses, and being ambushed by the KKK was a grim reminder of the hate that the civil rights movement had to endure in their quest for equality.

Chilling indeed to contrast this with present day reality, when hate apparently still runs through the cold, dark hearts of many, where diversity is feared, not celebrated. It saddens me to realize that some citizens in America have not evolved in their acceptance of difference and may still discriminate on the basis of color.

This was an excellent film, and I highly recommend it. You will cry, especially if like me you grew up in the 60’s and watched as JFK, Bobby Kennedy, and MLK were assassinated. This should be mandatory watching in high school history class, maybe even junior high school. The film effectively shows what class and race divisions have done to America, and hopefully will inspire the present generation to not let their ancestors’ sacrifices go unrewarded.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Movies for Election Day

For the last two presidential elections, on Election Day I have stayed home in the evening and watched a DVD. I don’t care for all the endless election returns on the telly all night long. I choose politically based films to watch instead.

Eight years ago, I watched Dave, an excellent comedy starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. It’s a good film with Dave as a regular citizen who ends up being forced to impersonate the president when the real one becomes ill. Sigourney Weaver plays the real president’s wife. Lots of room for comedy and it has a good message.

Four years ago, I watched Swing Vote starring Kevin Costner. Kevin is just so darn appealing, and played the role of a simple, country man so well. The presidential election all comes down to his single vote, and the two candidates proceed to woo him for his support. A bright, fun film, and a bonus for me was that it was filmed largely in New Mexico, where I am living now. Type Swing Vote into the search box on the upper left hand side of my blog to read my review of this comedy.

This year, I am staying home and have picked out something to watch on streaming Netflix. It’s a film from 2013, Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker plays a butler in the White House who serves different administrations over decades, and watches presidents and their staffs come and go. It sounds like a winner, focusing also on the civil rights movement, possibly one of the most important times in American history. I’m really looking forward to seeing this and will write a review for you after I have watched it.

A local theater in Albuquerque is showing Air Force One on election night, for one night only. This film stars Harrison Ford as the President, and sounds like it would be good for those who like a little more action in their movies.

Another great film that is a riotous comedy is Election. It stars Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon, and was written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor of Sideways fame. If you haven’t ever seen it, this year might be just the right time. Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) is a teacher at a high school. An election at the school for class president unfolds with student Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) driven to win no matter what. It is rated R and deserves that rating. The election process at the school mirrors the process of elections in American politics.

A more serious film is The Contender starring Joan Allen. She is a vice presidential candidate who finds her past being dragged through the dirt. This is a serious drama that has parallels to modern day politics. It’s a very good political thriller.

Skip the network news on election night and tune in to a film about an election or a presidency, just for fun. Let me know what you watched!

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Before the Flood

Leonardo DiCaprio, winner for Best Actor at the last Academy Awards for his performance in The Revenant, has had a long history of environmental activism. In 2014, Leo was granted the position of United Nations Messenger of Peace with special focus on climate change. He is passionate about the environment and a caring, humane man. His research has culminated in the documentary feature Before the Flood. This film is available on YouTube free of charge for the next few days Before the Flood. I highly recommend you watch it. Have a viewing party with your friends.

Leonardo interviews such notable world leaders as Pope Francis, Barack Obama, an economist, and leading scientists among others. He travels to India, China, Greenland, Kiribati (a group of islands in the South Pacific), Indonesia, and the Arctic. His concern: global climate change. Although he frequently refers to it as global warming, I prefer the former title for what is occurring at a more and more rapid rate due to overpopulation and lack of foresight in controlling where humans get their energy.

The fossil fuel industry is looked at, as is newer technologies of solar and wind. The drastic crises of those less privileged populations, the poor in India, those living on islands in the oceans, and even Americans, the streets of Miami flooding regularly, are highlighted. He admits his carbon footprint is bigger than it could be, and in the film talks about what is necessary for us to care for the planet and life on earth.

The film begins with a graphic of the famous Hieronymus Bosch painting, Paradise, Garden of Earthly Delights, and Hell, that I discussed in my recent review about Bosch a few weeks ago. Leo grew up with this image gracing the wall of his childhood room and was fascinated by the depictions. He does a great job of pulling the meaning out of this Medieval work of art and applying its message to the present.

I found this documentary to be easy to watch in that it held my rapt attention, but hard to hear the harsh reality of our situation on planet Earth, our only home.  Whereas the solutions Al Gore promoted in his documentary An Inconvenient Truth in 2006 were more personal, the recommendations this film makes are more focused on legislation and changes to how corporations are taxed, particularly for the carbon footprint left behind. Action must be taken to influence the policy makers in governments around the world, and America should be setting an example for the more impoverished countries.

Before the Flood is rated PG for thematic elements, some nude and suggestive art images, language and brief smoking. This film will help wrap your mind around the reality of global climate change as it takes you from the abstract to the concrete. I welcome comments about this film in my blog comments section. What will each of us do to turn things around? It’s not too late, if we begin today.