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, 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.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Bad Education (La Mala Educación)

Bad Education (La Mala Educación) is a film by Pedro Almodóvar, Spanish writer and director. It stars Gael García Bernal in a gender bending performance. He shines as characters Juan, Àngel, and as Zahara, a transgender candidate.

This film depicts the sexual abuse of young boys by priests in an all male school, thankfully, not in a graphic manner. The film is rated NC-17, for a scene of explicit sexual content, the first to receive that rating that I have ever reviewed here. It was released in 2004 with English subtitles. There are other scenes later in the film of gay sex that are somewhat explicit.

Bad Education shows the evolution of Ignacio who is unfortunately the prize pupil of Father Padre Manolo (Daniel Giménez Cacho) who is a sex offender. Ignacio and another young student Enrique grow to care for each other, and when Padre Monolo realizes this, he sends Enrique away from the school in a jealous fit, wanting Ignacio only for himself.

It is a sordid world at this all boys school where the priests abuse the boys at will and wreck each of their lives. We come to know the story onscreen when Àngel/Juan visits the adult Enrique (Fele Martínez) who is now a filmmaker, and pitches to him a screenplay he has written called The Visit. Almodóvar is inventive in the way he travels to and from the past through the evolving screenplay of the story unfolding at a Catholic boys school, and the present reality of Enrique and Juan who have met and are creating the film.

Also in the film in a minor role as Paco/Paquita is Javier Cámara who was later in Talk to Her and Living is Easy with Eyes Closed. Gael García Bernal delivers an incredible performance acting as transgender Zahara. He is so authentic, and he really carries the film.

Almodóvar breaks all the rules, and I am always amazed at his creative talents to tell a story in a unique manner. This film is not for everyone obviously. If you will be upset by a true to life tale of the molestation of young boys by priests, don’t watch. If you are offended by the thought of gay male sex, don’t watch. If you want to watch really good acting, and are not afraid of these subjects, tune in.

It really is heartbreaking to think that the sexual abuse of children still occurs at the hands of the clergy, where it is not only an abuse of the child, but also a spiritual abuse due to the perceived authority of the priest. This film makes clear how lives are ruined due to the Church not doing enough to prevent it or prosecute those who are sex offenders. An excellent film I reviewed here is Spotlight, which is about the journalists in Boston who discovered the cover up by the Catholic Church of abuse that was occurring. It’s a film you should see for the fine acting and story.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

My Cousin Rachel

Rachel Weisz is My Cousin Rachel in this adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 novel of the same name. I became enamored of Ms. Du Maurier’s writing when I was a teen, reading the esteemed novel Rebecca that had been made by Hitchcock into a brilliant film. She also wrote the short story The Birds, once again garnering Hitchcock’s attention resulting in a stunning film; Don’t Look Now, a short story that was made into a film starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland; and the novel Jamaica Inn, also made into a film by Hitchcock, but with a lesser degree of notoriety.

My Cousin Rachel is a Victorian period film of the drama, mystery, romance genre, taking place in breathtakingly beautiful Cornwall, England. Ambrose Ashley has gone to Italy for his health, leaving his cousin Philip (Sam Claflin) at the estate to oversee the day-to-day work on their extensive land holdings. Ambrose adopted Philip at the age of three when he was orphaned, and they have been very close. Ambrose writes Philip telling him that he has married Rachel (Rachel Weisz). Philip becomes increasingly worried about Ambrose’s health through his letters that describe Rachel as a sinister woman he believes is poisoning him.

When Philip travels to Florence Italy to rescue Ambrose from the hands of Rachel, he finds that he has already passed away. So begins his intense hatred for Rachel, whom he is certain has caused his cousin’s death.

Philip returns to England and after a period of time, Rachel comes for a visit. Philip is distrustful of her and angry, but the intrigue mounts as he questions her motives for being there, and as she begins her smooth seduction of Philip.

Philip’s good friends Nick Kendall (Iain Glen) and his daughter Louise (Holliday Grainger) see the changes in Philip as Rachel works her feminine wiles on him, but Philip seems to be clueless. The question to ask is, “Did she? Didn’t she? Who was to blame?” It will keep you guessing.

The film is rated PG-13 for some sexuality and brief strong language. This film won’t be for everyone, but for a certain group of Anglophile and romance lovers, this may be just what you need over the summer. Having seen the film, now I’d like to read the novel, which is no doubt a much more nuanced story. Roger Michell adapted the book for the screen and directed the film. I liked his romantic comedy Notting Hill, which is quite different from this one, but if you like romance, Julia Roberts and/or Hugh Grant, you will like that movie too.

I saw My Cousin Rachel in the theater a few days ago, so it may still be playing in theaters near you. Rachel Weisz won a Best Supporting Actress award in 2006 for her performance in The Constant Gardener. She is a very talented actress. Look for her in a film called Agora from 2009. She plays Hypatia of Alexandria, and it is an incredible film.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Mary Poppins

My favorite uncle took my two younger sisters and me to the theater to see Mary Poppins when it first came out in 1964. It made an impression on all of us, and later, I took two of my young nieces to see the film when it was re-released a decade or more later. Mary Poppins was a story that Walt Disney had long tried to make for the screen. He had to first convince the author, P. L. Travers, to allow him to undertake the project. This is chronicled in a recent film, Saving Mr. Banks, starring Tom Hanks as Disney and Emma Thompson as Travers. It’s a film worth watching.

But back to Mary Poppins. The film was a critical success, starring Julie Andrews in the title role. Dick Van Dyke plays the chimney sweep Bert, and sings and dances his way into our hearts, as does the perfection of young Julie.

There is magic galore in this story of a nanny who cleans messy nurseries with a spoonful of sugar, and impresses her young charges Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael (Matthew Garber) by allowing them all to jump into Bert’s chalk paintings on the park sidewalk for a lovely holiday. The whole experience with animated creatures and the four of them cavorting through this magical world is not skimpy on time, and the whole film in its entirety is long by today’s standards, 2 hours and 19 minutes. (It is rated G and is suitable for any age child, or just the young at heart.)

Mr. Banks (David Tomlinson) tries to run a tight ship, and is not really all that great of a father. His wife (Glynis Johns) is active in the suffragette movement, a wonderful role model for her young daughter, but also lacking a motherly instinct, leaving the children in the care of a nanny. A financial institution employs Mr. Banks, and the greed of his capitalistic associates is simply a precursor to today’s wealth obsessed corporations. No surprise there. Mrs. Banks is the better role model.

There are memorable songs throughout the film, and tunes you will keep humming once the film is over. Good dance sequences as well, most notably on the rooftops of London by Bert’s fellow chimney sweeps. Uncle Albert (Ed Wynn) loves to laugh and his joy transports him floating up to the ceiling, in one of the movie’s greatest sequences.

Some of the special effects are a bit dated, but this was after all, 1964. The film won five Academy Awards: Best Actress for Julie Andrews, Best Film Editing, Best Special Visual Effects, Best Song for Chim Chim Cher-ee, and Best Original Score.

For me, Bert is the most fascinating character. Sure, Mary Poppins is a magician, but Bert is a storyteller, and paired with Dick’s physical agility and a face like silly putty, he steals every scene he’s in.

See it with your kids if you haven’t already; just learning how to say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is reason enough!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Paris Can Wait

I remember watching Diane Lane for the first time in A Little Romance when she was only 13 years old. I’ve been a fan of hers ever since. So it was a no brainer when I noticed that she was starring in Paris Can Wait, and I went to see it in the theater.

It’s a sweet little film set in France. Anne (Diane Lane) and her husband Michael (Alec Baldwin) are in Cannes. Michael is a high-powered movie producer and due to illness, Anne cannot fly with him to Budapest. A business associate, the Frenchman Jacques (Arnaud Viard), offers to drive her to Paris where Michael will meet her later. Paris Can Wait is rated PG for thematic elements, smoking and some language.

So the joy of driving across the countryside of France begins. They cruise in Jacques’ Peugeot, taking their time, seeing the sights, and slowly Anne begins to relax and let down her armor. They eat, they drink, they see things tourists do, and meet up with a couple of old flames of Jacques.

Paris is still waiting, as Jacques is in no hurry to deliver Anne to her flat in Paris. The film moves a bit slowly at first, but as Anne warms to Jacques, and we see him acting the stereotypical flirting Frenchman that they are rumored to be, it is all very intriguing and romantic.

Close quarters have them finally sharing their deepest secrets with one another. Will this lead to a sexual fling for Anne, or will she stay loyal to her flawed husband of 20 years? You’ll have to watch to find out. I found myself gently smiling throughout the entire film. Diane Lane gives a beautifully nuanced performance. You can read her emotions just by looking at her face.

You’ll like this gentle film if you: 1) like Diane Lane; 2) are a Francophile; 3) are a romantic; 4) like good food and wine (You’ll want to go to a French restaurant once you leave this film.); or 5) like character driven films that show the humanity in all of us.

Eleanor Coppola of that famous Coppola family wrote the screenplay and directed the film. If you don’t already know, there is her husband Francis Ford, her daughter Sophia, and the cousin Nicholas Cage, who changed his name to distance himself from the famous clan to make it on his own. Creativity knows no age boundaries, as she was 80 years old directing her first feature film. Bravo!

Diane Lane was in another beautiful film, Under the Tuscan Sun, from 2003. I recommend that film as well as many others she’s been in. She is just a wonderful actress. I found it amusing that in this film she takes a lot of photos, and when she played Dalton Trumbo’s’ wife in Trumbo, she took a lot of photos playing that woman too.

See Paris Can Wait in the theater for the best scenery you’ll likely see all year at the movies.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Blue Bird

The Blue Bird has got to be one of the strangest movies I have ever seen. Starring Shirley Temple, the film was released in 1940. My husband happened upon it one late evening, and intrigued by the couple of segments he saw, asked me to watch it with him in its entirety on YouTube. I consented.

The Wizard of Oz had been released the previous year, and trying to cash in on the genre, Twentieth Century Fox released this fantasy. Mytyl (Shirley Temple) and her younger brother Tyltyl (Johnny Russell) live in an idyllic town with their devoted parents, Mummy and Daddy Tyl (Spring Byington and Russell Hicks), a dog and a cat. (Yes, you read the names correctly.)

The experiences Mytyl and her brother have are somewhat like that in A Christmas Carol, sort of visiting the past, present and future. There’s a bit of magic thrown in by a fairy, who looks a lot like the good witch in The Wizard of Oz. She changes their dog and cat into humans. I especially liked their cat Tylette (Gale Sondergaard), as she is as crafty as a human cat should be. The group together looks for the bluebird of happiness.

The kids visit their grandparents in the land of the past, the lap of luxury in a mansion with a couple of spoiled adults, and then end up in danger in the forest where the trees are alive (clever actually, I liked that part). There are a few scenes that seem too scary for kids, with a serious storm underway and the trees attempting to kill them. Scarier than anything on the way to Oz.

Finally, they journey to the future to the most surreal part of the story. They meet children of all ages, waiting to be born and go to earth. A lot of time is spent here talking to a few of the children, who seem to know what will happen to them once they get to earth. Some are scared at their destiny, others thrilled, and a young couple in puppy love despair at ever being able to see each other again.

Mytyl and Tyltyl awaken in the morning from their apparently shared dream experience, with the caged bird they had captured the day before now a bright blue. They have found the bluebird of happiness and Mytyl especially is no longer the ungrateful little girl she started out to be.

Shirley Temple would have been about 12 years old filming this. The setting kind of reminds me of the story Heidi that she starred in just three years earlier. I heard that she was offered the role of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and turned it down. So, quick, make another film! The Blue Bird didn’t do nearly as well as the classic Oz story.

The Blue Bird was actually nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Cinematography and Best Special Effects! If you like Shirley Temple, maybe you’ll appreciate this surrealistic little film.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Wizard of Oz

My husband had never seen the movie Mary Poppins. His favorite movie from childhood is The Wizard of Oz, so we made a deal to watch both of them together (on separate nights). The film was released in 1939 and is rated G.

I was probably a teen the last time I saw Dorothy (Judy Garland, 17 years old at the time the film was made) whirl away from Kansas and land in the magical world of Oz. I was babysitting a little girl, and she became quite frightened. Not enough to turn it off, however.

I enjoyed the sepia tones of the cinematography at the beginning of the movie. The main characters are introduced, including the three hired hands, Dorothy’s dog Toto, Auntie Em (Clara Blandick) and Uncle Henry (Charley Grapewin), and of course the wicked Miss Gulch (Margaret Hamilton, also the Wicked Witch of the West) who rides away on a bicycle with the very scruffy and not at all pretty Toto.

Dorothy never gets dirty on her journey, not one bit, even when she tips over into a pigsty. The crew should have paid more attention to this mistake. The story is cute, and the colorful world of the Munchkins a sight to see. Their world is all quite plastic looking, and magical to Dorothy as is Glinda, Good Witch of the North (Billie Burke). Dorothy sets off on her journey, following the yellow brick road in hopes that the Wizard will be able to get her back to Kansas. Along the way she meets the Scarecrow who needs a brain (Ray Bolger), the Tin Man (Jack Haley) who would like to have a heart, and the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) who just wants some courage.

Her red shoes are really smart. While at the Smithsonian in Washington a few years back, I saw those red shoes, and they do indeed sparkle. The music and singing in the film are superb. This film introduced songs that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. There are many memorable quotes from this film, and many memorable songs. The Wizard of Oz won Best Original Song at the Academy Awards for Over the Rainbow, as well as Best Original Score.

A quote not often repeated, but that I loved is, “A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others,” so speaks The Wizard.

No one interested in film can get away without seeing this movie. Even though it didn’t win Best Picture, it’s a really great film (lost to Gone with the Wind). The story is good, the journey of people on a quest to find the all-powerful wizard, who turns out to be wise, but not exactly the savior they expected.

The film previewed in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on August 12, 1939 at the Strand Theatre. I like including this as I am originally from Wisconsin. There is a memorial in this small town that commemorates The Wizard of Oz world premiere.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Cafe Society

Café Society is a classic Woody Allen offering. Taking place in the 1930’s in Hollywood and in New York City, he used the old jazz tunes he loves so much as background to this story of love, betrayal, and hope. Woody himself narrates the film.

Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) travels to Hollywood, leaving his somewhat enmeshed family behind in New York, and visits his uncle Phil Stern (Steve Carell) in hopes of obtaining a job. He eventually becomes a sort of errand boy for his wealthy relative, and meets Vonnie (Kristin Stewart) who shows him around Hollywood. Bobby soon falls in love with her, but she is seeing a married man, and is not interested in him. Jesse Eisenberg plays a typical Woody male lead, talking and moving about rapidly, and the rest of the cast talks over each other in typical Allen film format. 

The intrigue of romance and unrequited love commences, and the twists and turns we see happening are not yet evident to the players. My husband and I both noticed that the cinematography is sometimes tinted a yellowish hue, and I am suspecting that it has something to do with the relationship between Bobby and Vonnie. The cinematographer was Vittorio Storaro, who has won three Academy Awards for his craft, for Apocalypse Now, Reds and The Last Emperor. He did beautiful work in this film as well.

How many people fall in love and never get together for various reasons, and yet hold some tenderness in their hearts for one another? There is some philosophical discourse in this film, so typical for Woody, who constantly questions the meaning of life and death in his art.

I think that must have been where Woody was coming from in writing this screenplay. It also helps to illuminate people’s similar behavior currently, as a film in the 1930’s has enough distance from today to seem quaint and glamorous, and yet the emotions depicted between the family and lovers is just the same as any love triangle might experience today.

It also seems to be both a fond reminiscence of these two great cities in that era, when film was new and exciting, and stars held the commoners in awe of them, as well as a scathing look at the mob in New York and the vapid social climbing of those with wealth and notoriety.

Woody’s films always begin the same way with simple credits, actors listed alphabetically by main roles, and secondary roles. It is kind of comforting to see that each time, like he’s letting us into his innermost thoughts that get put down first as the screenplay and then becomes a fully developed movie, when something of Woody’s vision appears on the screen.

The film is rated PG-13 for some violence, a drug reference, suggestive material and smoking. Café Society was released in 2016. And there is a great deal of smoking. People just don’t smoke as much anymore, but it is culturally accurate for the times.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Cezanne et Moi

The French film Cezanne et Moi recalls the friendship of artist Paul Cezanne, and writer Emile Zola. The film is rated R for language, sexual references and nudity. I saw it at my local art cinema this last month. It should still be playing in that type of theater. The film has English subtitles.

The frenetic pace of the film in the beginning showcases the two friends meeting as boys at school, and then continues back and forth over the years of their volatile relationship in the late 1800’s. The frenetic pace settles down after a bit into the story, but I still did not appreciate so much back and forth through time, although labeled quite clearly on screen. Less bouncing around would have helped the story feel less disjointed.

Cezanne (Guillaume Gallienne) is every bit the tortured artist, throwing temper tantrums when his painting doesn’t live up to his high standards, often kicking a foot through the canvas. Zola (Guillaume Canet), once he attains success and fame as a writer, is a bit more stable. If you go to see this film expecting to see much of Cezanne’s finished works, or learn more about what Zola wrote and published, you will not.

It is very much a character driven film about two brilliant men, and their deep devotion to each other that at times brings a distance between them. Their relations with women are troubled to say the least, and Cezanne resents the easy life he perceives Zola to have achieved in his palatial home on the outskirts of Paris.

Cezanne is one of the first plein air artists (to paint outdoors). This is a thriving pastime in the US and elsewhere that I know about since my husband, a studio oil painter of landscapes, also paints plein air. It is not an easy vocation, or avocation for that matter. The elements and changing light make it difficult to finish a work in one sitting; at most only a couple of hours at a time can be used effectively.

Emile Zola is well regarded by the French, and some of his works were about the trials of the working class. He was the subject of an early Academy Award winning black and white film, The Life of Emile Zola, starring Paul Muni, a film I regret I have not seen as yet.

Watching Cezanne et Moi may inspire you to learn more about the men who influenced art and literature so completely that their names are recognized a full century plus after their deaths. I appreciated the way the scenery was filmed in the beautiful countryside of Provence, and the costuming of the actors.

At the end, we see a photo of a mountain frequently painted, with different artists' takes on the subject. What makes art so interesting is that even when artists are trained similarly, when they paint the same subject, it is always unique. Just as there will never be another Cezanne, no two artists' works are alike.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Zookeeper's Wife

The Zookeeper’s Wife is based on a true story about the Nazi occupation of Warsaw Poland during World War II. It is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, violence, brief sexuality, nudity and smoking, and was filmed in the Czech Republic.

Antonina Zabinski (Jessica Chastain) and her husband Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) are the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, the grounds and animals beautifully depicted at the beginning of the story. They live with their young son at the zoo, and lovingly tend to the animals.

The Nazi invasion of Warsaw causes death and destruction to the zoo and the animals, and the Zabinski’s see their Jewish friends abducted and placed in camps, known as the Warsaw ghetto. Jan and Antonina soon devise a way to free some of the people in the camp and take them to their home where they effectively hide them.

Complicating their secret is the head of the Berlin Zoo and Hitler’s zoologist, Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl). He sees himself as friends with the Zabinski’s. He often visits unannounced and makes unwelcome advances towards Antonina. His aspirations include the genetic manipulation and breeding of animals that places some of their zoo animals in jeopardy.

The film is as expected, danger at being found out, and the deprivation that war brings. Jan’s success at removing Jews from the camp made the guards in the camp look really stupid for not detecting them hidden in his vehicle and leaving through the gates to freedom.

I think that if this same situation occurred today, it would be completely different. Technology the way it is, it would be virtually impossible to effectively hide anyone in your home safely or free them in the way Jan was able to do. The Zabinski’s risk their lives to save others, and this is the redeeming message of the film.

I liked the cinematography and the musical score. The costuming was I’m sure authentic, and the story was effectively developed over the years of the war up until the ultimate ending and rebuilding of Warsaw.

Despite the action occurring in Poland, the film is in English, the actors speaking in German and Polish accents. This is my one criticism of the film. It should have been spoken in the Polish people’s native language with English subtitles. It seems disrespectful to the survivors and victims of the Holocaust to make this film in English.

I saw it in my local theater this week, so it is still likely to be showing in your community. I can see this being a somewhat gentle introduction to the Holocaust for children 13 and up. Combined with an intelligent discussion after the film about hate and how such horrible tragedies occur, whether it be to Jews, Muslims, indigenous peoples or to anyone else, it would be both a good story to watch with your children, and an educational lesson in compassion. The ending was a tearjerker for me and the other moviegoers. I recommend you go see it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Great Wall

The only reason my friend and I went to see The Great Wall at the dollar theater is because it starred Matt Damon. We are fans of his and so even though this film didn’t have the best reviews, we wanted to see it on the big screen. Yimou Zhang directed this action adventure fantasy movie. It was filmed in China taking place on the Great Wall.

The opening sequence states that there are legends about the Wall, and this is one of them. Taking place in the 11th century, The Great Wall promised outstanding computer graphics of battle sequences where innovative weaponry (for the times), and superior strategies of warfare are used to fight horrible beasts that storm the wall every 60 years. The queen of these beasts communicates with her offspring via a sort of vibrating membrane on her head. Kind of reminded me of ant colonies where there’s a queen above directing her worker ants. But I won’t give any more of that away.

William (Matt Damon) and his traveling companion Tovar (Pedro Pascal) arrive at the Wall in search of the mysterious black powder rumored to make anyone possessing it the victors in current warfare. Conveniently, Ballard (Willem Dafoe) has lived onsite for many years and has taught English to the Chinese military. So we get to hear mostly English and read some subtitles for Mandarin now and then. But the leaders speaking English so fluently is really a stretch.

The magnetic stone William possesses gives them an advantage in fighting off the monsters. Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) and William kind of spar off to see who is the superior fighter. Something I did like about the film was the women who held positions of authority over the military, and the women who fought beside the men in very dangerous maneuvers.

As long as you aren’t expecting too much, you might enjoy it. The special effects were pretty good, and the imagery of the weapons used in the fighting sequences was inventive. The music is not bad and the silk-screened effect of the end titles is really beautiful. You can probably tell I am attempting to be kind to this film.

Matt Damon took a lot of criticism for starring in The Great Wall. It’s the argument about giving roles to white actors instead of to someone of the ethnicity the film is about. I don’t believe this argument holds up because in the story William is an Englishman. There were probably explorers to China in those days, so I don’t see what the big deal is.

It is rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy action violence. Perhaps teenage boys would like this film; teenage girls might like it even more. That’s because of the strong female characters, and although there is violence, it’s not as bad as some films I’ve seen of this genre. If you just want to chow down on theater popcorn and numb your mind, The Great Wall is for you.

Monday, May 08, 2017

A to Z Reflections Post

Today is the day bloggers post their reflections on the Blogging Challenge experience. I’m glad I participated this year, and met so many talented people through their blogs.

I particularly enjoyed others’ movie blogs, blogs about literature, poetry, or just people writing about their travels. I liked meeting people from other countries, and learning about their culture. One person I happened upon was writing short essays on current events, political topics, and I enjoyed reading the posts and the comments that followed.

What didn’t work for me was when I would attempt to post a comment on someone’s blog, work to word it just right, and then it wouldn’t post. The Blogging A to Z staff emphasized at the start that people were to remove any impediments to commenting, and not everyone took this advice. It made it frustrating for me, and in some cases, I just didn’t return to their blog. If I make a comment, I want it to show up right away. You can always delete a comment if it’s inappropriate or spam.

What worked great was the discipline of churning out 26 blog posts in such a short time. Writing the movie reviews for my blog was a great experience, and I learned so much from researching and watching the films. I enjoyed the comments I received, and always made a reply to my readers.

I did not miss having the “Linky List.” It worked great for me to look at blogs from the main page after I had left a link to my blog in the comments section, and to also look at the Facebook page and find the blogs from there.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to put this event together and who participated. There are some greatly talented people out there sharing their knowledge. Some blogs I am continuing to follow, so I hope to see you posting all year. I will continue to review films and post about once or twice a week.

Happy creating!

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Blogging From A to Z SURVIVOR

I shall remember April 2017 as the month I posted 26 movie reviews. Averaging about 500 words per review, this was no small feat. My theme was reviews of Academy Award winning films for Best Original Screenplay.

I want to thank everyone who took the time to read my reviews, and especially to those who left their comments on my blog. I had a great time writing the reviews, and learning about some films I had never seen before.

After a short break to catch my breath, I’ll start posting reviews again, probably once or twice a week. If you’d like to subscribe to my posts via your email, there’s a link on the right to enroll.

Thanks again, and happy movie watching!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Zero Dark Thirty

There were no movies that won for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards that began with the letter Z. So I searched for one that was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and came up with Zero Dark Thirty. Released in 2012, it is the story of the decade long hunt for Osama bin Laden. It is rated R for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language. The film won an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing, and lost to Django Unchained for the Best Original Screenplay award.

I have mixed feelings about this film. For one thing, it is two hours and thirty-seven minutes focused on the hunt for bin Laden by a CIA operative, Maya (Jessica Chastain), and encompasses the search over several years. I don’t like films about war that much, and when you add in some really excruciating scenes of torture right at the beginning, I nearly turned it off.

But film reviewers sometimes have to watch films that are not pleasant or all that great so I persisted. After about an hour or so, it began to be more interesting for me as Maya persists in her nearly one-woman quest to find the wanted terrorist.

Jessica Chastain won a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her performance in this film. Although she did a good job, it is mostly her thinking quietly or shuffling papers and looking at a computer screen the whole time.

Zero Dark Thirty is all about hunting, a very long hunt and we know the ending. Navy SEALS were consulted and were actors in the film. Although based on actual events, it is bound to have been fictionalized for Hollywood filmmaking and release to the public. Honestly, I’m not sure who liked this film. Teenage boys would get bored with the way it begins, other than perhaps the torture scenes. And very little, at most, the last 30 minutes, is the actual operation where the SEALS invade the compound bin Laden is hiding in.

Kathryn Bigelow, who won Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards for the film The Hurt Locker, directed this film. She was the first female to win the prestigious Best Director award. If I would recommend one of these two films that Kathryn Bigelow directed, watch The Hurt Locker. It is more personal, following the lives of soldiers in Iraq, and the opening quote explains all to follow: “The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” (Chris Hedges)

But one of the reasons I feel a little soft on Zero Dark Thirty is because of the Navy SEALS in it. One of them, Tim Martin, died an untimely death after returning to the U.S. after active duty. I’ll close with a plea to keep funding in place for the treatment and care of veterans returning from the war zone. PTSD is a real psychological disturbance, and we cannot leave these men and women suffering alone.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Y Tu Mama Tambien (And Your Mother Too)

Y Tu Mama Tambien (And Your Mother Too), is a 2001 film by Alfonso Cuaron that was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards (lost to Talk to Her). I couldn’t find a winner of that award that began with the letter Y, so am including this excellent film about two teenage boys and a 20-something woman taking a road trip.

Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) are best friends. They meet Tenoch’s older cousin Luisa (Maribel Verdu) at a wedding, and chat about taking a trip to Heaven’s Mouth on the Pacific Ocean. Her husband out of town, she leaves with the two young men. Once the road trip commences, we are taken along on a journey from Mexico City through Oaxaca towards the blue sea. They don’t really know exactly how to get to Heaven’s Mouth. It is questionable whether they’ll ever end up there.

The film is rated R for strong sexual content involving teens, drug use and language. The boys are obsessed with sex, drugging, and drinking. They are looking towards college, and with their girlfriends in Italy for the summer, are free to take this trip.

Y Tu Mama Tambien takes a drive through the beautiful Mexican countryside, the rural culture, the animals, religion, poverty, and beauty that is Mexico. Some customs I saw are not unfamiliar to me living in New Mexico: elaborate roadside memorials of crosses, flowers and candles marking someone’s untimely death, the Day of the Dead altars and offerings for the deceased, with all the dearly departed favorite things. The people who live in these rural areas somehow make a life for themselves, through animal husbandry and a bit of farming.

Alfonso Cuaron has written a unique screenplay, and that is part of the film’s charm. Throughout the action, time will almost stop, and the narrator tells about something we cannot see happening, but that gives the story new meaning. It’s like the ghosts of people who have lived on this planet before us are being given a voice.

If you are a student of film, watch this movie. There is lots of drama, sexuality, and building and tearing down of relationships during the journey for all three unlikely companions. It is not until the very final scene that the big reveal happens. Everything has been leading up to it, and when it is made clear, it is like Pow! It hits you the viewer as much as it does our characters.

Alfonso Cuaron is the recipient of two Academy Awards, for Best Film Editing (shared with Mark Sanger) and Best Director for the fine film Gravity in 2013. He was the first Hispanic/Mexican to win for Best Director at the Academy Awards.

You will no doubt know Gael Garcia Bernal as a fine actor with many movies to his credit, and with a current award winning TV show, Mozart in the Jungle. He and his two fellow actors make this movie one you will not forget.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Ex Machina

There were no winning films for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards beginning with the letter X, so I chose Ex Machina to review as it was nominated for the award. It is a science fiction film that was released in 2014, and is rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence. Ex Machina won an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. The winner of Best Original Screenplay that year was Spotlight.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), an employee at BlueBook, wins a staff lottery to spend a week at the CEO’s private mountain residence. Nathan (Oscar Isaac) is a reclusive man, and Caleb is flown by helicopter to his estate. The setting for this part of the film was in Norway, and is truly breathtaking.

Once at the residence, Caleb is told he will be assisting in the testing of an AI (artificial intelligence) that Nathan has created. Caleb is all too happy to be part of this historic event, and meets Ava (Alicia Vikander), the AI who appears to be part human, part machine. Nathan has made her face and hands human, and Caleb and Ava interact with glass walls between them. Does Ava have consciousness? This is the question Caleb is to ask.

The film works as we become aware that all is not what it seems at Nathan’s house. There is a Japanese woman, Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), who serves them, but other than her, no one else occupies the home. Kyoko doesn’t speak, and Nathan explains that she doesn’t understand English.

As the week at the estate progresses, Caleb becomes suspicious of Nathan, but the viewer is suspicious of everyone, including Ava. Who will be the one to double cross the others? Is Ava capable of humanlike thought, planning, emotion, compassion? Or is she just programmed with traits that Nathan inputted? Who is evil and who is good?

These are all questions you will need to see answered for yourself. I enjoyed the film. Younger adults especially will like Ex Machina for its tech talk, which is of course totally made up and not really that important to the story. The film is quite philosophical on some levels. There are very interesting conversations between Nathan and Caleb. Tension builds as Caleb and Ava learn about each other, and Caleb begins to doubt why he is there. I liked that it was an intelligent mystery to solve, and that it didn’t involve a whole lot of battles or warfare, so common in a sci-fi film.

Alex Garland directed the film and wrote the screenplay. He is the writer of the film 28 Days Later, a very scary horror story, but very well done.

There is a HORRIBLE song featured while the ending credits are scrolling. Feel free to turn it off. I just decreased the volume, as I wanted to confirm where the film was shot (Norway). You don’t need to watch the credits; just enjoy the film’s mystery, beauty and fascinating premise.

Thursday, April 27, 2017


Witness is a movie that more than one screenwriter instructor has touted as one of the best written screenplays in film. It won Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards as well as the award for best film editing. Released in 1985, Witness is rated R.

John Book (Harrison Ford) is a police officer in Philadelphia. He and his partner are investigating the murder of a fellow police officer. The only known witness is a young Amish boy, Samuel (Lukas Haas). He and his widowed mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis) were waiting for a train when he unfortunately saw the deadly crime.

In order to protect young Samuel, the three flee to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to the German speaking farms of the Amish. The beauty of the countryside and the kind ways of the clan are expertly showcased.

John sustained a gunshot wound, and is nursed back to health by Rachel. An attraction soon develops. This is a common thing I’m sure, the bond that comes between patient and nurse. Some of the sweetest moments in the film are between the two of them, and Harrison Ford is in his prime for this film. Kelly McGillis is well cast as the sweet Amish woman just trying to protect her son.

I spotted a young Viggo Mortensen as one of the Amish, and Danny Glover is a police officer in Philadelphia. This is a great film in terms of suspense, and one of the reasons it is highly regarded by screenwriters. The action is slowly drawn out in so many scenes. We really get to stay with the emotions of the characters in everyday situations, in romantic encounters, and in terror filled chase scenes.

I didn’t miss the car chases and crashes that so often accompany films of today. In 1985, maybe there were fewer special effects, but even if they were available, I’m glad the filmmakers did not go that route. None are really needed in this story. But then the Amish are a simple group, choosing to live thoughtfully and peacefully on the earth, and shunning the violence that permeates so much of American culture.

Daniel (Alexander Godunov) is one of the Amish interested in Rachel. And yet there is no overt jealousy or threatening behavior between him and John. It’s a triangle for sure, but none of that macho man BS that goes on in modern society or on the screen.

I love this film. It has just the right amount of romance, drama, and crime solving throughout. Harrison Ford was nominated for Best Actor for his performance, and I really wish he had won. He is a good actor and this is one of his best roles. The film was directed by Peter Weir, also know for The Truman Show, The Way Back and many, many other great films (30 in all).

Witness would be a good date night movie, as there are plot situations both men and women would find entertaining. I hope you enjoy it together.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Vera Drake

Vera Drake, released in 2004, was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards, but lost to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I am reviewing Vera Drake, as there were no films beginning with the letter V that won Best Original Screenplay. Vera Drake is rated R for depiction of strong thematic material.

This is one of those films that are controversial. Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) is an Englishwoman arrested in 1950 for contributing to the miscarriage of a young girl. During that time in England, this was an illegal procedure.

Vera is a kind woman who is a nurturer and a caretaker. She lives in a tiny flat with her husband Stan (Phil Davis) and two grown children, Sid (Daniel Mays) and Ethel (Alex Kelly). She is caregiver to her elderly mother, does domestic housekeeping for the wealthy class, and unbeknownst to her family, induces miscarriages at women’s requests. She is contacted by Lily (Ruth Sheen), who schedules Vera for the procedures, done in women’s apartments and homes. During a procedure, a girl’s mother recognizes Vera from another setting, and when it later goes all wrong, the police get the woman to disclose Vera’s name to them.

Imelda Staunton was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, and I can see why. She conveys her emotions without words, and her composure, or lack of it, upon the police getting involved, is simply amazing.

Mike Leigh wrote and directed this film, and was nominated for Best Director in addition to Best Original Screenplay. He is one of my favorite directors out of England, having also been at the helm of the films Mr. Turner, Topsy-Turvy, and Secrets & Lies, among others. I read that he filmed without a script, and didn’t tell the actors, other than Vera of course, that she would be arrested and taken to jail. They only found out when their scenes with the police arriving and her disclosure is made known to them. Mr. Leigh had to write up a screenplay after he received the nomination to turn in to the Academy.

A part of the film I appreciated was the inclusion of a woman from the wealthy class, and how she was treated upon choosing to terminate her pregnancy, and how different it was in comparison to the poor women whom Vera helped. Money buys anything, including an additional measure of safety.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I was as surprised as Vera’s family when the full truth comes out. I was a bit disturbed by the initial lack of representation by an attorney for Vera, but the film’s time period is supposed to be well researched, so it must have been the way things were back then.

Whether you agree or not with what Vera did, I think you’d find the film thought provoking. Another film that has to do with this issue is the excellent The Cider House Rules, based on a novel by John Irving.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Usual Suspects

I remember seeing The Usual Suspects when it was first released in 1995. It begins in a kind of film noir setting, the music befitting the line of fire reaching across a boat to an explosion. I didn’t remember all the details of the story before watching it again for the Challenge, just the aha moments.

This time around, I can’t say I liked it any better. The aha moments were still there, but it grew tiresome with the explosions, gunfire, death and crime.

Actors who appear in this film went on to bigger and better films, especially for Kevin Spacey and Benecio del Toro.

Basically, you get five men in a lineup, supposedly randomly thrown together in a jail cell, where they plot their next big job. An unlikely grouping, there is Roger “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey), a man with cerebral palsy that others think is stupid, Fred Fenster (Benecio del Toro), Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin; whatever happened to him?), Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), and Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollack).

Verbal gets interrogated by a couple of police officers, Jeff Rabin (Dan Hedaya) and Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) about an incident, and the story unfolds. Verbal narrates throughout the film, a device that doesn’t always work in a good film, but it does here.

Kevin Spacey won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his performance. I think the reason this screenplay won at the Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay is because it had so many twists and turns to the plot. Just when you think you know what’s going on, another piece of information arises from the police or a victim, or from Verbal himself. And there’s this man named Keyser Soze who comes up.

Who is Keyser Soze? You will wonder about this. Is he like the La Llorona legend in New Mexico? Kids are told scary bedtime stories about someone you don’t want to cross or you’ll have a stroke of misfortune. Someone who doesn’t really exist, just a phantom to give you nightmares.

Or if he really does exist, he is one bad dude and you still don’t want to cross paths with him.

This film received a lot of prestigious nominations for the screenwriter, Christopher McQuarrie, and included his winning an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The Usual Suspects is rated R for violence and a substantial amount of strong language.

Out of the films I’ve reviewed so far, I don’t recommend it. I’ll give you a list at the end of my 26 posts of what I do and don’t recommend for your edification.

I’m just tired of violent films with the f-word thrown around like it’s part of our language. Tired of gun battles and casual murdering of people, as bad as they might be. We need more screenplays that tell good stories about more realistic situations we may encounter, not like these criminals that most of us aren’t.

Did you see The Usual Suspects, and what did you think of it?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Talk to Her (Hable con elle)

Talk to Her (Hable con elle) is a Spanish film from 2002, written and directed by Pedro Almodovar. It won Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards, and Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes. It is subtitled, and is rated R for nudity, sexual content and some language.

This is one of the most interesting films I have ever seen. Benigno (Javier Camara) is a nurse working in a private clinic. He is one of two caregivers for the beautiful Alicia (Leonor Watling) who is in a coma following an accident. It has been four years for Alicia in this state, when Lydia (Rosario Flores), a bullfighter, is brought in after being gored. She is in a vegetative state, and her boyfriend Marco (Dario Grandinetti) is distraught at her condition. A friendship develops between Benigno and Marco, the kind nurse attempting to lift Marco’s spirits and get him to just talk to Lydia, despite her comatose state.

Alicia was a ballerina prior to her accident: active, loving travel and cinema, and Benigno lives her life for her by going to dance performances, watching films, doing these things she loved, in a way doing them for her. He tells her all about these experiences in the quiet hours of caring for her.

The dance sequences in the film are fascinating, and the esteemed ballet dancer and choreographer, Pina Bausch, dances in one of them. Alicia’s ballet teacher Katarina (Geraldine Chaplin) visits her often at the clinic. (Geraldine Chaplin is the daughter of Charlie and Oona Chaplin, and the granddaughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill. She has had a long career in film, beginning early on with a role in Doctor Zhivago.)

Javier Camara plays Benigno with such innocence and openness, you can’t help but feel for him. I saw another film he was in, Living is Easy With Eyes Closed, reviewed on this site (enter the film’s name on the blog search feature above, and it will take you to my review). This was an excellent film also from Spain I recommend to you.

Pedro Almodovar is known for innovative, unusual film subjects. Talk to Her is no exception, filled with metaphor and symbolism in the way he writes and films his story. The story of Benigno, Alicia, Lydia and Marco unfolds as it moves forward, and also informs us of how these relationships were initiated by taking us into their past. Past and present gives the story is a sort of timelessness. The cinematography is first rate as well.

Will Lydia and Alicia awaken from their comas? How will Benigno and Marco cope with them lying so still in a coma? Almodovar has written a beautiful screenplay about being human, about art and expression, love and relationships, selflessness, and hope.

If you like art cinema and foreign film, you will enjoy Talk to Her. I didn’t care for the bullfighting, but what was shown was minimal and not like it would have been depicted in a more graphic film.