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!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a film by Guy Ritchie. It is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language. Admittedly, I had only seen one Guy Ritchie film to date, and that was Swept Away starring his then wife Madonna. I actually quite liked it, possibly one of a very few people who got what they were trying to say in the film.

I learned of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table when I was a kid or teenager. I can only imagine the attention the legend commands in its native England. From watching the trailer, I knew this film would have monsters in it and would be more supernatural than the tale I had first heard.

As for King Arthur, aside from the monsters, which I really don’t care for, I soon became entranced by the way Ritchie tells a tale. It is established early on that Arthur narrowly escapes with his life as just a toddler, and ends up in the city where good-hearted women who work in the brothels take him in.

I really enjoyed the way we see Arthur grow up, in little segments showing how he gets his street smarts and fighting skills as he matures. This wasn’t the only time the director used this technique and it worked to full advantage.

Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is soon an adult, is captured and transported to the kingdom where his uncle Vortigern (Jude Law) lives and rules. The famous sword, Excalibur, waits in the stone for the heir to the throne to arrive and pull it out. Men are traipsed through there and of course, no one is able to lift it free, until Arthur comes on the scene.

The magic begins, but not without Arthur denying who he really is. His search for himself and his lineage progresses with the help of The Mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), a fearsome woman who is ruthless in her tutelage of Arthur.

Basically, I liked the film, although tiring of the fighting sequences as it progressed. This is allegedly the first installment of a six film series. I would like to see the round table and the knights again, not so much the monsters and the fighting. Surely they must have just talked once in awhile. And then there’s the love interest with Guinevere.

King Arthur was said to live in the late 5th, early 6th century and led the defense of Britain against Saxon invaders. Scholars debate his historical existence, but it makes for a good story. He is said to have established an empire over Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Norway and Gaul (a region of Western Europe).

The legend lives on and has been rewritten many times over the centuries, storytellers taking great license in the retelling of the gallant tales. This version, King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword, is no exception. I saw it in the dollar theater, and that’s where it’s probably best seen.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Learning to Drive

Learning to Drive is a romantic comedy with dramatic overtones that takes place in Manhattan. A new divorcee, Wendy (Patricia Clarkson), decides to learn how to drive. Driving is not something everyone in New York City chooses to do, and despite her fears, she employs the services of Darwan (Ben Kingsley), a Sikh gentleman who is a taxi driver and instructor in the ways of the road for wannabee travelers.

I enjoyed the way we stepped into both Wendy’s and Darwan’s lives, comparing and contrasting the cultures they live in. Darwan is brand new into an arranged marriage with someone from India he’s just met, while Wendy is newly divorced from her husband Ted (Jake Weber) of 21 years. They find they have significant commonalities, as Darwan is an educated man who was a professor in India, and Wendy is a very intelligent woman who works as a book reviewer.

They support each other emotionally, and as Wendy learns to drive, she learns to take the driver’s seat in her life. Her daughter Tasha (Grace Gummer) is living in Vermont, which is the impetus for Wendy wanting her driver’s license to be able to go visit her.

I also liked the way the film addressed racial profiling, and the trials of immigrants in the United States. It is up to you the viewer to decide for yourself what the most appropriate policies are about immigration and how the people in this film were treated.

My husband watched the film with me, staying for the whole movie so I think it’s a film both men and women would appreciate. It’s an intelligent film and when he saw the name Katha Pollitt as the inspiration for the screenplay, he recognized the name as someone who writes for The Nation. Sure enough, he was right, and she wrote the short story upon which the film is based. Katha is a progressive author and journalist. Nice to see thoughtful films actually being made, even if they don’t make a ton of money at the box office.

Something that troubled me a bit was the casting of Ben Kingsley in the role of Darwan, an Indian Sikh man. Ben is British. I suppose they selected him for the name to promote the film more effectively, but I really think an Indian man should have played that role. However, he did play Gandhi for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor. Darwan’s wife Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury) is a beautiful woman and I loved the way she dressed. I have a fascination for Indian culture I admit, and her clothes were absolutely gorgeous.

I recommend Learning to Drive. It is rated R for language and sexual content, probably mostly for a brief sexual encounter between Wendy and a friend of her sister’s that is actually quite comical.

As an aside, Grace Gummer is the daughter of Meryl Streep. She is a good actress, and I particularly enjoyed her role in The Newsroom. Check it out.

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!