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, January 31, 2017


Divines, a French film, was nominated for Best Motion Picture-Foreign Language at this year’s Golden Globes (lost to Elle). Houda Benyamina, who won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for this work, directs it. The Camera d’Or award is for the best first film from the official selection. It is a prestigious award and I am not surprised Divines took a prize. The story engrossed me from beginning to end. The way the movie was filmed adds even more to this story of poverty, dreams, and friendship.

It takes place in a very poor slum in Paris somewhere, a place I never saw when I visited the grand city. Dounia (Oulaya Amamra) and her best friend Maimouna (Deborah Lukumuena) are shoplifters and schemers, despite the guidance of Maimouna’s father who is a priest.

Dounia becomes impatient with having so little money, and the family often does not have enough to eat, so she seeks out the tutelage of a drug dealer, Rebecca (Jisca Kalvanda). The money starts rolling in.

Dounia becomes attracted to a dancer, Djigui (Kevin Mischel), whom she sees auditioning and rehearsing on stage at a theater. He would have been a good influence on her had they gotten together sooner I think.

She makes some bad choices, very bad choices, so don’t expect a happy ending. Her mother is a basket case, and she has no father. School bores her and she doesn’t see anything positive coming out of her attendance.

The film is subtitled and easy to follow, and I found it fascinating. The world that the best friends live in is multi-cultural, multi-racial, diverse in terms of religion, and supremely poor. It was definitely a part of France I was unaware of. They get by as best they can. There are no other shining examples of success to lean on. The makeup of these people is the same as in any impoverished country; no hope, no role models, little in the way of assistance for anything. I found particularly distressing the lack of water in their little tin shacks they called home.

The contrast between Djigui and Dounia is striking. He has hope for his future, whereas she does not. His dancing is raw and passionate, kind of like Dounia herself. Djigui is able to go after his dreams in a culturally acceptable way as a dancer; Dounia does not.

Divines is filmed engagingly, the interactions between the characters are realistic, and the acting is very good. It will definitely make you think about the world many people live in, and consider the extreme poverty some people are born into and their almost futile attempts to make it out. Houda Benyamina made me care about these girls, so that when tragedy strikes, it is heartbreak.

Even though I am calling Divines a tragedy, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it. I admired the storytelling that illuminated a little piece of life on earth I didn’t know existed. You can watch it on streaming Netflix.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

La La Land

La La Land is a love letter. A love letter to Hollywood, to romance, to following your dreams. It’s an old fashioned musical, and a tribute to jazz.

This amazing film took home all seven Golden Globe awards it was nominated for. Now nominated for 14 awards at the Academy Awards, everyone is asking: Will this be the year that a musical wins Best Picture? There have only been 10 musicals that won Best Picture. If La La Land wins, it will join such illustrious movie musicals as An American in Paris, West Side Story, and The Sound of Music. The last musical to win for Best Picture was Chicago.

La La Land is rated PG-13 for some language, and has absolutely nothing objectionable in it. You can take all your children, especially the ones who are interested in theater arts and music. The opening scene is a bit surreal. People jump out of their cars in a traffic jam on the Interstate, dancing and singing joyfully under the smog free horizon of the beautiful mountains towering over the city of angels.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) are two dreamers. He is a musician enamored by classic jazz, she an aspiring actress. They both have their dreams, Sebastian to open his own club, and Mia to be an actress in the movies.

They fall in love, and what transpires between them is truly magical. Particularly beautiful is their dancing at the Griffith Observatory, the graphics perfectly complimenting their falling in love, dancing amongst the stars in the galaxy. It’s indescribable, magical and totally fits the story line.

I really loved the ode to jazz that this story is for Sebastian. Keith (John Legend) whisks Sebastian away to life on the road, and I knew Sebastian had a higher purpose for this detour all along. Mia keeps on too, and turns out to have a creative streak in her, something that goes above and beyond the actress who embodies other’s words. She’s a woman with her own words and ideas.

I noticed the reactions from the audience as we watched the film together in the darkened theater. At the rather surprising ending, we were silent, touched by what the screenwriter let us see, touched by the honesty of the choices the two lovers had made, and the reality of what happens when two people have the intensity to make their dreams come true.

The screenplay was written and directed by Damien Chazelle. So glad he went after his personal dreams. I’d watch this again and again. I admit I am a huge fan of jazz, and when Sebastian talks about how no one appreciates it any more, my heart kind of jerks open. La La Land is a love letter to jazz, to dreams, romance and most importantly, to Hollywood, where dreams come true.

Good luck at the Academy Awards beautiful La La Land. I hope you’ll go down in history as number 11 of the Best Picture musicals.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy

“There are no victimless billionaires.”
The Best Democracy Money Can Buy

Greg Palast is an investigative journalist who has worked for the BBC and The Guardian. The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, is a documentary feature that chronicles his search for the truth about voter suppression in America.

The film begins at a frenetic pace, lots of flashy graphics and cartoons, but if you stick it out, it calms down. They likely put the film together in this way to appeal to the Facebook/Twitter/Instagram addicted people in society, short attention spans and a need for stimulation. Keith Tucker was in charge of animation. He also worked on the Roger Rabbit comic.

Greg Palast looks every bit the newspaperman going after a story, with his fedora and trench coat, crashing elegant parties for the rich, asking the tough questions until overweight white bouncers escort him out. I appreciate a journalist who is willing to put himself on the line for searching out the truth, and then presenting it to the public in a documentary such as this one. Today’s news outlets could use an army of such muckrakers.

I went to see it in the theater with my husband and two friends. It made us sad, and it made one of my friends cry. Palast reveals details about the program called Crosscheck, which was initiated by moneyed white men and carried out by elected white officials. It’s to benefit Republicans who fear they can’t get elected any other way. More depressing than anything I’ve seen lately, it shows how minorities in America were put on lists claiming they voted twice, with the result being their single vote was not even counted.

This is voter fraud in the worst way, and a large part of how Trump got elected. Rich white men who want unlimited wealth see to it that Democrats, those politicians who would actually work to secure the rights of underprivileged poor people, especially African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans, are not voted in. If all the minority votes count, no Republican would ever get in office!

If someone showed me these lists, and said these people voted in two different states, I’d say your sampling techniques and data collection are flawed. People with even a high school education should be able to figure this one out. I’ll leave the details of the scam for you to see for yourself in the movie.

This was a chilling tale and left us feeling helpless and hopeless. But knowledge is power. Even if we don’t know how to combat voter suppression at this time, just knowing more about it is a start. It may also make you angry, but I urge you to find it on Amazon or Vimeo, and educate yourself. Have a viewing party with your friends and talk afterwards about what you can do to make a difference. Ask your representatives to have the Department of Justice open an investigation on the Crosscheck system for starters, and don’t let up.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Captain Fantastic

Viggo Mortensen was nominated for Best Actor at the Golden Globes (he lost to Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea) for his role in the film Captain Fantastic. Captain Fantastic is not a film about super heroes. It is about an unconventional courageous family meeting tragedy head on. Comedy/drama best describes this film, which is rated R for language and brief graphic nudity.

Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Leslie (Trin Miller) have six children. Leslie has been ill and away from them for three months. They live in the forests of the Pacific Northwest in isolation, and have a way of life that is a mix of survivalists and philosophers. The children, three boys, three girls, are home schooled, and would put any college student to shame.

When Mom dies, they travel in a bus named Steve down to New Mexico, appropriately stunned by the “civilization” that they pass through on their trip. Jack (Frank Langella) has never approved of his daughter’s lifestyle with Ben and doesn’t let Ben or the children forget it.

I found one scene when a police officer pulls over the bus for a minor infraction really interesting. The kids on cue from Dad launch into some sort of Jesus song, scaring the officer to death, but you also realize that society is much more accepting of Christians being home schooled, and not so much kids who read the classics, question authority and learn to be rational, critical thinkers. That’s why they hid who they really were.

The life the family leads is extreme, but necessary in the story so that what we take for granted in everyday American life can be seen for the unhealthy, often sick routines that most Americans do every day. I liked this family. I wouldn’t want to live so isolated, having to kill my own food every day, but those kids were self-sufficient, smart and strong, something most American kids are not anymore.

I’ve liked Viggo Mortensen ever since I saw him opposite Diane Lane in A Walk on the Moon. He’s a good actor and an intelligent person, writing poetry and being involved in other artistic pursuits. He was cast well as Ben.

If you watch this with a group of friends, it should inspire lots of dialogue afterwards. The story brings up questions of respecting one’s final wishes, and how much book learning versus daily interaction with others builds a well-rounded person. There are also things Ben encourages that are not okay to emulate. A disdain for capitalism leads to unusual behavior that takes advantage of others.

Some of the movie was filmed in New Mexico, and it was easy to recognize the locations. I highly recommend Captain Fantastic. There’s only one place where I thought the film went a little overboard. You’ll have to see it to guess what it is I’m referring to. It’s an intelligent comedy/drama that may inspire you to consider any blind acceptance you have of the way things are.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings received a nomination at this year’s Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture - Animated. It lost to Zootopia, and I am not surprised. My review of Zootopia sings its praises; Kubo and the Two Strings did not come up to that level.

This is a curious little film, as it is an American production, yet the story takes place in ancient Japan. Magic figures heavily from the very beginning, when we see Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) and his mother on a small boat being tossed about by gigantic waves. They survive the storm and live isolated in a cave outside of a small village.

Kubo earns money for food by being a storyteller. He plays a stringed musical instrument, and the origami figures he creates come to life as he relates a story to his eager audience. Always told by his mother to return to the seaside cave before dark, one evening he does not, and meets the specters of his two deceased aunts, the Sisters (Rooney Mara). This begins a dangerous journey for him where he meets Monkey (Charlize Theron), and giant Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) and they venture forth together.

Travel through the spirit world is a huge part of Kubo’s quest, and it is not until the very end that I saw the lesson, if you will, of the story. Kubo meets the spirit of his grandfather, Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), and then has an epiphany about people who pass away and what happens to their souls. It seems quite Buddhist in nature and I really liked that part of the story.

The animation skills were quite extraordinary, and I recommend viewing any special features about the making of this film that would be included on the DVD. George Takei has a small role as a townsperson, Hosato. That is the only other voice I recognized in the film.

If you like magic and fantasy, you might find this story to your liking. It seems rather scary for small children to watch, and is rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril. If I was a parent, I’d be cautious about allowing younger children to watch this film. Kubo’s grandfather stole his eye, his mother’s Sisters and the Moon King are out to steal his other eye, and it is just really a terrifying tale to subject little children to.

The film was in English and as I said previously, it was a Japanese tale. I almost would have preferred it be Japanese with English subtitles. Some themes reminded me a bit of the classic and, much better animated feature, Spirited Away. Lots of magic and questing in that film too, but where Spirited Away had a plot that was well-defined, Kubo’s adventure and motives were not always clear, and that was a failing.

Would I recommend this film to you? Unfortunately not. I liked Zootopia much better. Coraline by the same studio (Laika) would be more worth your time.

Saturday, January 07, 2017


The delightful animated feature Zootopia is nominated for a Golden Globe award. I can understand why. I enjoyed this film from beginning to end. It is a tale for our times.

Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) is a bunny with a dream. She wants to be the first bunny police officer in the bustling metropolis of Zootopia. The choice of the city’s name as Zootopia being a play on “utopia” was something that did not escape me. There, all the animals live in harmony, predators and prey alike.

Her parents reluctantly bid her goodbye after she graduates from the police academy. When Judy arrives in Zootopia, she is in for a rude awakening. Although qualified to be an officer, she is relegated to writing out parking tickets by the chief of police, Chief Bogo (voiced by Idris Elba).

Zootopia is a magical place. There are sections to the city, boroughs if you will, each having a different climate: subzero temperatures in Tundratown, a teeny tiny town of Little Rodentia for rodents, a rainforest, etc. Judy will of course visit all these places when she takes on a missing otter investigation. She even goes to (horrors!) a nudist colony manned by a yak named Yax (voiced by Tommy Chong). These scenes are priceless, as in most cartoons the animals wear clothing, and to find there is a park for nudist animals in Zootopia is just hilarious.

Along the way she meets a sly con man of a fox, Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman). He is a likable enough guy, despite his moneymaking schemes. Judy and Nick become friends, and team up to find the missing Mr. Otterton.

Meanwhile, something is wrong in Zootopia. Some of the predators are going crazy and attacking prey. “Why” is the question that everyone from Chief Bogo to Mayor Lionheart (voiced by J. K. Simmons) is asking. Will living in peace be something in the past, or will they find out what’s going wrong and fix it? You will have to watch to find out.

Parents and grandparents will recognize some not so subtle nods to popular film and TV culture during Judy’s hunt for the missing otter, and this just made the story that much more fun. Little kids won’t catch the references, but Judy will enchant them as she proves that she is much more than a little bunny, and that dreams do come true. You can grow up to be whatever you want!

I found the messages of tolerance and acceptance of diversity very welcome in this crazy year. Animated features often have a moral message of some sort and this is a good one.

The film is rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor, and action. Take your kids and grandkids to see it, or at least rent it for a night at home with the usual popcorn and healthy drinks. You will be smiling, I guarantee it, just as much as the kids will, over this heartwarming story.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Hell or High Water

Up for three awards at this year’s Golden Globes, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay, Hell or High Water was filmed entirely in New Mexico (although the setting is said to be West Texas). It is a story of two brothers desperate to save their mother’s farm after she passes way. So desperate, they concoct a scheme to rob the Texas Midland Bank to secure their future. The film is rated R for some strong violence, language throughout, and brief sexuality.

The story takes place in rural areas fraught with financial problems for everyone we encounter. Except for perhaps the law-abiding Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges, nominated for Best Actor at the Golden Globes for this performance). He endlessly ridicules his Hispanic/Native American partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham), and becomes obsessed with finding whoever is robbing these banks.

Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) have a bond that has transcended Tanner’s criminal career and subsequent time in prison. Toby is a divorced father intent on leaving his sons better off than himself. The Texas oil fields, grazing land for cattle, and desolate little towns with little more than a diner and a tiny bank branch are sad, depressed places. The residents are bitter and angry at the hand big banks have dealt them.

The story touches on so many moral dilemmas. Citizens caught in the crossfire of the robberies, taking the law into their own hands, vigilante style, don’t seem to be having the lifesaving effects their concealed or not so concealed weapons should offer them.

Townspeople who don’t even know the two-brothers/bank robbers are not cooperating with the investigation. Seems they don’t have any sympathy for the banks being robbed. After all the banks have been robbing them blind for years. Signs along the highway for “fast cash, get out of debt quick” remind us that these people are not better off than their parents or grandparents were.

I appreciated the screenwriting that allows the viewer to ponder the morality of the tale. As the story moves along, we are drawn to have sympathy for the bank robbers, wanting them to escape to safety, and not so much for the law to apprehend them.

Chris Pine does a good job as the quieter, calmer brother Toby. Tanner is a live wire, unpredictable and almost with a death wish. Marcus is really quite unlikable; his bigotry is not even thinly disguised in the racist sarcasm he dishes out to his quiet, long suffering partner.

We don’t know until the very end what the ultimate intentions of Toby and Tanner were, and how they plotted for a very specific outcome for the stolen funds. One of them or perhaps both of them really thought through their plan very well. Yes, crimes need to be punished, but the writer has formed it so that we sympathize with the modern day outlaws. I’d recommend this film to you. If you’re from New Mexico, you’ll recognize a few settings, and the story is excellent.