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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, December 04, 2018

A Christmas Carol


My husband really appreciates the talent of Jim Carrey, so when I discovered Jim had starred as Ebenezer Scrooge in a 2009 animated version of A Christmas Carol I rented it. The stylization of the animation reminded me of The Polar Express, a film that came out in 2004. They clearly used the same computer process to create their films. This is not a cutesy version of the classic Victorian era Christmas ghost story. It is rated PG for scary sequences and images.

The tale is one that should be familiar to all of you as it is based on the classic tale A Christmas Carol written by Charles Dickens. The miser Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, who foretells that he will be visited by three otherworldly spirits throughout the night. Because this is animation, the ghosts and the experiences they take Scrooge on are magical, delightful to watch, and sometimes downright scary.

Jim Carrey provided the voice of Scrooge at all the ages he is depicted (young boy, teenage boy, young man, middle aged man), and all three ghosts (Ghost of Christmas Past, Ghost of Christmas Present, and Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come). It may not be the best film version of A Christmas Carol, but it was entertaining and will appeal to a younger audience that is used to animated features. Not too young though, as some of these situations the ghosts take Scrooge on are really very frightening.

Colin Firth is the voice for Fred, Scrooge’s very kind and forgiving nephew, and Gary Oldman provides the voices for Bob Cratchit, Marley and Tiny Tim. Robin Wright is Belle. All the actors’ voices fit the characters well.

Written and directed by Robert Zemeckis, whose credits include Back to the Future among others, you can be sure if you watch this version of the classic tale of hope and redemption that it will be a wild ride.

Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas in 1843, and the story of how this classic was created was the subject of a beautifully written and directed film from 2017, The Man Who Invented Christmas. I wrote a review of it last year (my review of The Man Who Invented Christmas). I enjoyed how it got into Charles Dickens psyche as the characters and action are brought to life. I think the reason this particular story is still so popular today and has had so many versions of it filmed is because we need to believe that even a lifelong stingy and hateful person can have an awakening and work for the good of all society. Dickens certainly had that hope and wrote about that theme often.

Which is your favorite film version of A Christmas Carol? Have you seen it performed in live theater? What are your favorite holiday movies? I hope you enjoy your favorites again this year.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

Enchantment reigns at each performance of the seasonal ballet The Nutcracker. With music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and the original choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, it is a holiday classic and the fuel that allows most every ballet company to exist throughout the rest of the year.

Disney has jumped to the challenge of making a film about the characters brought to life in this classic ballet. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, currently in theaters, is an adventure fantasy that takes liberties with the story even while using familiar themes and characters throughout the revised tale. The film is rated PG for some mild peril.

With heavy use of special effects, Clara (Mackenzie Foy), the heroine of our story, ventures into the Four Realms (Land of Snowflakes, Flowers, Sweets and the scary fourth realm of Mother Ginger). She discovers that her now deceased mother visited these realms herself many years ago.

The story works well, and will bring a tear to anyone who is not hard hearted as we follow Clara as she grieves the loss of her mother. Herr Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman) is an inventor extraordinaire, and knew her mother well. He is the catalyst for Clara’s journey.

Once through the Land of Snowflakes, where Clara surprisingly walks in frigid weather in a world blanketed by snow in just a flimsy looking gown, she meets Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley). I would love to have Sugar Plum’s coiffure of cotton candy like hair! The costuming throughout this tale is equally exquisite.

Helen Mirren plays Mother Ginger. Good and evil are not at all what they first appear to be, and Clara learns about herself and her mother during her adventure. The beautiful and talented Misty Copeland of the American Ballet Theatre dances both during the film and through the final credits.

I would recommend this film to old and young alike, if you appreciate ballet and the story of The Nutcracker. Do you personally enjoy The Nutcracker each year, and do you know of any other films that celebrate this classic ballet?

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Leap

I am a ballet fan. I love everything about this form of dance, so when I saw available on Netflix Leap, an animated feature film about a girl who wants to be a dancer, I was intrigued. The film is rated PG for some impolite humor, and action.

Not a great story, but an interesting one, Felicie (voiced by Elle Fanning) and Victor (Dane DeHaan) are two older children in an orphanage in Brittany, France. They want to escape, and go to Paris to fulfill their dreams. Here is my first complaint. Why would anyone care if a few children escaped from an orphanage? It’s not like they were toddlers after all, but the Mother Superior sends Luteau (Mel Brooks) to pursue them and bring them back.

Eventually, the two friends do make a successful escape and arrive in Paris, a city where dreams come true. Felicie ends up at the Grand Opera House in pursuit of her dream to become a dancer, and Victor finds a job as an assistant in the workshop of the architect of the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty, both currently under construction.

I found the city of Paris during these famous changes to the skyline to be enchanting. Felicie encounters Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen), (named after the ballerina in Swan Lake), a woman with a limp who is housemaid to a “dance mom” and her daughter Camille (Maddie Ziegler). Camille trains incessantly so she will win a role in the upcoming Nutcracker performance. Felicie steals the acceptance letter for Camille and enters the school of ballet under false pretences. At first awkward and a complete beginner, she prevails and begins to learn, especially when Odette begins instructing her.

The music of the film was taken from famous ballets, and that part was fun. Let me be clear: if you are a young girl who loves dance and especially ballet, you will like this film. If you are someone like me who is an adult and loves ballet, this little film may amuse you. Anyone else, please don’t bother.

The ending message is to not give up, and to follow your dreams, noble thoughts, but the stealing of the letter to get into ballet school is clearly not the way to go.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Renoir

I am an art lover, and Renoir is one of my favorite impressionists. Last year I read Luncheon of the Boating Party, a novel of historical fiction by Susan Vreeland. It is about Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s creation of the famous painting of the same name, painted beside the river Seine in France near Paris. It’s an excellent, intriguing book depicting how the painting may have come to life.

Not long after I read the book, an artist friend recommended the film Renoir. My artist husband and I watched it. It is a French film with English subtitles, and is rated R for sequences of art-related nudity and brief language.

The film is set in 1915, during a time that the elderly Renoir (Michel Bouquet) lived in the French Riviera. He has three sons who are at different stages of life. The youngest, Claude “Coco” (Thomas Doret) is portrayed as a little disturbed, and his older brother Jean (Vincent Rottiers) has enlisted in the military. His oldest son Pierre was injured in the war. A young redheaded woman, Andrée Heuschling (Christa Théret) arrives in the life of the family, and the elderly, crippled Renoir uses her as a model.

Jean returns from World War I after being wounded to convalesce at the home of his father in the Côte d’Azur. Jean soon falls in love with Andrée, even as she faces prejudice from the all-female household staff for her perceived special treatment. She is a strong-willed young woman, and causes no lack of drama in the home. Renoir’s wife Aline, who was much younger than him, has recently passed away. I remember reading about how he first met her while she was a model for him as he painted Luncheon of the Boating Party (she was the one with the little dog held in her hands).

The film’s color cinematography is exquisite, really capturing the light on the landscape that the great artist chose to immortalize in his work. The other portion where the film shines is in featuring Jean, and learning about his life and what shaped his choices. I had not realized that Jean Renoir was a great French filmmaker, and his wife Andrée an inspiration to his films. I read that he is considered one of the four best filmmakers in the history of cinema.

I felt a great deal of compassion for the elderly Renoir, as he is so crippled with rheumatoid arthritis that he has to have his paintbrush tied to his hand in order to use it to work with. He passed away at the age of 79.

If you enjoy art, or just good filmmaking, watch Renoir. It’s a glimpse into another age and the masters that lived during that time.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Artist and the Model

The Artist and the Model is a delightful black and white film with the backdrop of 1943 World War II occupied France as the setting. A well-regarded aging sculptor, still having the artistic yearning within him, uses a young model found by his wife to pose for his work. The film is rated R for sequences of graphic nudity. Languages spoken are French and Spanish, with English subtitles.

Léa (Claudia Cardinale) spots Mercè (Aida Folch), a young Spanish woman, on the streets while at the market, and befriends her. She gently suggests to Mercè that she pose as a model for her husband Marc Cros (Jean Rochefort). They will pay her and give her room and board during the time she is with them. Léa has to convince the young woman that no wrongdoing will occur during her nude modeling.

The couple lives in the countryside where nature provides the music to the silence of the art as it is undertaken. A bit frightened at first, Mercè becomes more comfortable with her body, and Marc finds inspiration, an idea for a new sculpture, from observing Mercè.

Amongst all of the modeling and sculpting, which seems to take several weeks at least, World War II continues. The Germans are nearby and pose a distinct threat. Allied paratroopers float into the woods, and Mercè reveals herself as a braver woman than her initial reticence at nude modeling might suggest.

I found the friendship between the German soldier Werner (Götz Otto) and Marc quite touching. Werner is an arts scholar writing a book about Marc, and his affection for the older man is genuine. That they can bridge the gap between whose side each is on is admirable.

Marc is philosophical and shares his thoughts on God and creation with Mercè, one of the more enchanting scenes in the film.

I didn’t care much for the ending. My husband, who is an artist, very much appreciated the film and seemed to have more of an understanding of what the artist did at the end once his sculpture was finished, once Mercè is on her way to Marseilles to a new life.

The black and white cinematography is exquisite in its play of light and shadow.  Fernando Trueba along with Jean-Claude Carrière wrote the screenplay and Trueba directed.

I recommend this splendid European film, a work of art in itself. You probably wouldn’t see a film like this come out of the U.S. or Hollywood. Too much repression, and artists are not really held in high regard here like they are in Europe. Most films glorify violence, not sensuality or the beauty of the human body like this one does.

I have seen the animated film Chico and Rita also by Trueba and his colleagues, which is a wonderful romantic adult animated feature film. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, the first nomination for a Spanish full-length animated film. I highly recommend you watch that delightful film as well.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Fahrenheit 11/9

What do Fitbits, the U.S. Army bombing an American city for training, and greed have to do with the USA?

Michael Moore’s documentary film, Fahrenheit 11/9, will give you the answers. (His previous film, Where to Invade Next, is a good look at what could be improved in the USA and warrants a viewing if you haven’t yet seen it.) Michael Moore won an Academy Award in 2003 for Best Documentary Feature with his film Bowling for Columbine, and Fahrenheit 11/9 lives up to the high standard of that award winning film.

I almost didn’t attend the movie because I thought it would be too depressing. I’m glad I saw it. The film will affect you emotionally as it did me. I was aghast and angry with some of the things I saw on screen. Later, my husband fact checked a few situations, and found it was all true. The things that are happening with health care, the safety of drinking water, and engendering fear in order to control the population is truly disturbing.

The film is rated R for language and some disturbing material/images. I need to warn you that at the very end of the film, you’ll think something is wrong with the DVD or at the theater. What is shown is intentional and you need to just sit out the very powerful ending.

Watch this film as soon as you can, then take action by voting and becoming involved while it can still make a difference.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story was not what I expected. Casey Affleck dressed in a white sheet like it’s a little kid’s Halloween costume? Unusual. I watched it with my husband anyway, and it’s the kind of story that I appreciated more when it came to a conclusion than I did while I was watching it. The film is rated R for brief language and a disturbing image.

C (Casey Affleck) and his wife M (Rooney Mara) are getting ready to move when his life is abruptly and unfairly cut short. He becomes a ghost and returns to the home they shared together. I can’t give the story line away in case you decide to watch it, but I will say that the writer and director, David Lowery, took some risks as a storyteller with his extreme uses of SILENCE, and very long scenes of not much happening at all. The reasons for the silence and stillness become clearer as the story goes along.

I asked my husband to be a guest reviewer, as he really liked the film, and had a different take on it than I did. Here is his review:

My wife, who writes movie reviews, and I (an artist) watched this movie together. My wife thought it was "weird" and she seemed disturbed by it enough to say she probably won't write a review. It must have hit a sensitive spot, one that is otherwise impervious to blood and guts and depraved acts that appear regularly on the silver screen. For my part, the longer I watched the film, the more intrigued and captivated I became — probably because I'm lost in some existential limbo land myself. There are a number of impressions the film left me with, but a couple of things I would like to mention, which I haven't read in any of the reviews are these: A Ghost Story might be too slow for today's short attention span audiences. Too bad. Second, I think the use of the sheet for the ghost was perfect and worked in a way that any other depiction of a ghost would not have. It hid all facial expressions of the ghost that might otherwise have cued the audience for a specific response. What’s more, the living can't know what the dead are feeling. Therefore, the sheet served as a blank surface for the viewer to supply his or her own emotional response. The sheet also represented a literal and figurative veil or barrier between the world of the living and the dead.

What the film is ultimately about, is time. Is time really a linear concept like we in the western world like to schedule our lives around ? Or is it a circle like native cultures profess? Is all of existence occurring simultaneously? Do ghosts really exist, and why do they hang around on earth when they could head into the light?

All of this and more is what A Ghost Story asks.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

The Desert of Forbidden Art

The Desert of Forbidden Art is a fascinating documentary film about the Nukus Museum in Soviet Uzbekistan that houses thousands of works of art by Russian artists. The man responsible for this extraordinary collection was Igor Savitsky, whose mission was to acquire and safeguard important works of art that had been condemned by the Soviets. The film is rated PG.

Beginning in the 1930’s, the Soviet government forced artists to depict images that promoted Soviet tenets. Some artists complied and painted canvases of factories and farm workers, happy comrades and families existing under the regime of Stalin. Other artists who would not paint along party lines were arrested and locked up as dissidents, or worse yet executed, with others sent to Gulags or mental hospitals.

Igor Savitsky was an art lover and collector extraordinaire. Fascinated by the art created by Russian artists who were suppressed by the Soviet government, he bought thousands of works of art from the creators or their family members. Savitsky was perceived as honorable and trustworthy, convincing the families of the artists to sell the works to him for safekeeping and eventual display in a less dangerous place. The art had often been hidden in a family’s attic or storeroom to evade confiscation by the KGB.

Savitsky transported the art, often under arduous conditions by rail and car, to the remote northwestern desert town of Nukus. He had visited Nukus in Uzbekistan on an archeological expedition, and decided this was the perfect remote place to keep the controversial pieces of art safe.

The art we see in the film is indeed beautiful, some very unusual, most with a political statement in their character. The fact that the government did not wish these artists to express themselves is a testament to the repressive conditions that countries endure under corrupt and fearful leaders.

The director of the museum, Marinika Babanazarova, has guarded this collection for three decades. The museum’s works include the early 20th century art by these Russian innovators in the style of Fauvism, Expressionism, Futurism and Constructivism. Savitsky eventually accumulated approximately 40,000 works of art that he brought to the remote desert location, far, far from the KGB.

The vocal talents of Edward Asner, Sally Field and Ben Kingsley (as the voice of Igor Savitsky) add to the pleasing quality of the film as they voice the diaries and letters of Savitsky, and of the artists that he approached for his collection. The story is told well, and the cinematography, especially of the art itself, is first rate. There are many interviews with experts in the field of art, and great archival footage.

What Savitsky did to safeguard art for future generations unfortunately does not end with the museum he filled. The art remains endangered, the threats being Islamic fundamentalists, art profiteers, and corrupt bureaucrats. I highly recommend The Desert of Forbidden Art. Whether you are a lover of art, a lover of travel, or of the truth, this documentary has something in it for you.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Skyfall

Finally. A Daniel Craig/James Bond film I really loved! Skyfall is the best of at least the first three Bond films Craig has been in (I haven’t watched Spectre yet). Skyfall is rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking. It was released in 2012, and won two Academy Awards: Best Original Song written by Adele and Paul Epworth, and Best Sound Editing. Skyfall is the opening song sung by Adele.

I felt like I was back in a classic Bond film, with the technology and cinematography updated a bit of course, but with a solid story this time. I can’t find fault really with any of it. There is an opening chase scene, but it is not obnoxious. Another agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), takes aim at the man she and Bond are chasing, and the bullet strikes Bond instead. Bond takes a plunge into the river and is presumed dead.

Meanwhile, a terrorist attack inexplicably targets MI6 Headquarters in London. M (Judi Dench) seems to be the main target for whoever is trying to destroy her and her staff.  Bond resurfaces, just in time to hunt for the terrorist who knows far too much about MI6, and is thus suspected to be a former operative. Arriving on the scene is Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, who questions how M is handling the hunt for the terrorist group.

During the film, we are introduced to Q (Ben Wishaw) the purveyor of fancy cars and hidden weapons to Bond. We also meet other characters who are classic to the story of British intelligence. See for yourself. We see iconic trademarks of the Bond story sprinkled in amongst the action, details that were welcome and made me smile. If you are a James Bond fan and have seen previous films through the years, you will pick up on and be delighted by these tidbits. There’s a bit of humor throughout, a convincing back-story, and excellent direction by Sam Mendes.

The cinematography is stellar, and the locations grand. Just what a good spy story should provide. We go to Shanghai and Macau with Bond in pursuit of Patrice (Ola Rapace) hoping to get information about the terrorist he works for.

A villain needs to have an eccentric personality, yet not be so demented that we can’t relate to him. Silva (Javier Bardem) is that villain, a good foil for Bond, and a very worthy opponent. Bardem was relatively fresh off his Academy Award win for Best Supporting Actor for the 2007 film No Country for Old Men when Skyfall was filmed. The role of Silva was superbly cast, and I can’t imagine watching anyone but Bardem play the very threatening and crazy villain. He and Bond play off each other very well, and it makes the whole film work.

Have you seen Skyfall? What did you think of it? Next time, my review of the final (to date) Daniel Craig Bond film, Spectre.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace is the second of the James Bond films starring Daniel Craig. It picks up just after where Casino Royale left off, a crazy car chase underway. The automobiles careening around mountain curves and through tight tunnels does serve to capture the audience’s attention right from the outset, setting them on edge, but I personally found it rather boring, and a poor way to begin the film. Quantum of Solace is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sexual content. It was released in 2008.

I did some research while writing this review, and discovered there are purported to be 250 instances of violence in this film compared to just 105 in Dr. No. This is concerning, considering Quantum of Solace is the shortest of the Bond films. It was an overly violent movie, and I thought it to be without much substance in terms of a coherent story.

The action moves from Italy to England, Austria back to Italy, to Bolivia, and to Russia (although locations used for filming were Mexico, Panama, Chile, Italy, Austria and Wales). The screenplay was poorly written, the plot of the film was difficult to follow, and all in all, this film was generally disappointing.

The title Quantum of Solace refers to Bond’s seeking revenge for the killing of his lover Vesper, which occurred at the end of Casino Royale. Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) is seeking revenge for her family who was murdered by Bolivian General Medrano (Joaquin Cosío) in order to overthrow the government and become President. Bond teams up with Camille. She is not a true Bond girl though, as they are not “romantically” involved.

In some respects, the main nefarious situation posed in this film is one that could well take place in our own times on planet Earth. The villain, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), is scheming to hold Bolivia captive by controlling all the water to its people. I’ve heard water will be the next resource that is coveted by all nations, rationed, stolen, etc. if it hasn’t started to be already, just on a smaller scale. Greene and General Medrano are working together for their own ends, and their suspicions of each other’s motives are well placed. That part was believable. But I found Bond’s seeking revenge somewhat hollow. He cared for Vesper, even loved her, and still the emotion behind his seeking revenge seems weak, at least as for how it is acted out. Camille has more of a stake in her revenge fantasies than James does, and her motives are more transparent and real.

Save your time and skip this forgettable film. Go right to Skyfall, the next in the series and one I thoroughly enjoyed watching. My review of Skyfall will be posted next Tuesday. Did you see Quantum of Solace, and if you did, would you please leave me, as well as other readers, your opinion of the film in the comments section? Thanks for reading my review.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Casino Royale

My nephew assured me that Daniel Craig is every bit as good as Pierce Brosnan in the 007 Bond series of films. Given this recommendation, I decided to watch the four films Craig has starred in where he played the infamous secret agent.

The first, Casino Royale, was released in 2006. It is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content and nudity. In other words, a typical Bond film. Casino Royale was the first Bond novel published by Ian Fleming in 1952. This film thus begins at the place in the creator’s mind where the famous spy series began.

James Bond (Daniel Craig) is new to the job, and M (Judi Dench) is watching him closely, for performance issues you might say. The action takes us from Uganda to Madagascar to London to the Bahamas to Montenegro, all with the requisite unreal chase scenes and fight sequences where men take on superhuman qualities without the benefit of being superheroes. The lack of authenticity here in their not getting severely injured during their race on foot, fleeing or being chased, is really quite annoying. Such action is, however, typical for this type of film.

After leaving Madagascar, Bond ends up back in London for a tête-à-tête with M, briefly goes to the Bahamas, and then is sent to Montenegro to play poker in an attempt to win a small fortune from a banker, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), who takes terrorists money and invests it for them. Bond’s contact for this setup is the beautiful and mysterious Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). Here is where this particular film gets boring for me. I don’t play poker and I have no interest in the game. In between playing poker, Bond is poisoned, nearly dies, fights off and kills some bad guys, and gets back to the game.

Vesper (where do they get these names?) coaches James in how to succeed at being a suave, cool guy with money to lose or win at the poker table. In the process, they fall in love. Our final travel excursion for the two is to Venice, city of water and inevitable decay. Has James met his match in Vesper? Did he save the day? And will M be impressed enough with him that he has a permanent job as a spy?

Some things have to be a mystery or you wouldn’t watch! What I liked about the film was the traveling to exotic locations. That’s part of the reason I like the Bourne films with Matt Damon. It’s kind of like a travelogue. What’s different between Bourne and Bond though is that one has a conscience and the other is a cold-blooded killer. If you’ve seen the Bourne films, the distinction should be obvious.

Do you agree with me on that point? Or not? I will watch and review the other three Daniel Craig 007 films and let you know how I liked them over the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Book Club

I had the good fortune to view Book Club at a special screening three days prior to its release to the general public. The theater was packed, not an empty seat, and from what I could see, the audience was mostly women of all ages. There were a few men, but the film’s trailers kind of screamed chick flick, and so it drew that type of crowd.

There was so much laughter during this 1 hour and 44 minute film that at times it was difficult to hear the dialogue. But we all knew what was going on! Four intelligent female friends started their first book club in the 1970’s beginning with reading Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. Great choice (and a book I read way back then!). Now it is many years later and the four women who have remained friends continue to maintain their book club.

It appears that they have just finished reading Wild (you never really see the book, but how they talked about their latest read led to me to believe that was the one). It hadn’t gone over so well with them, and Vivian (Jane Fonda) brings four copies of the famous Fifty Shades of Grey for them to read next. Now these are grown women, successful in life and have, at one time or another, been in love. If you’ve read this trilogy by E. L. James, you know it’s not for everyone, and has some rather shocking elements to it which awakens the women shall we say.

Diane (Diane Keaton) is a recent widow with two cloying and overprotective daughters, Jill (Alicia Silverstone) and Adrianne (Katie Aselton). Vivian is a successful hotel entrepreneur. Sharon (Candice Bergen) is a federal judge, long divorced from Tom (Ed Begley, Jr.) whom she hasn’t quite gotten over. And Carol (Mary Steenburgen) is still married to her husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) of 35 years. All of these roles are brilliantly cast and they deliver their often witty and sarcastic dialogue splendidly.

An old flame in the person of Arthur (Don Johnson) shows up in Vivian’s life, rattling her independent, single woman status. Some of the funniest moments are between Carol and Bruce, whose long marriage could use a little bit of freshening up. When Sharon discovers that her ex-husband Tom is getting remarried, it sets her into dating again, and there are a couple of great scenes with her, Wallace Shawn and Richard Dreyfuss.

Diane meets Mitchell (Andy Garcia) while traveling by plane, and he is quickly attracted to her quirky persona. Thus begins a courtship that provides plenty of great moments. The settings for the entire film are exquisite; from Los Angeles to Scottsdale and Sedona, Arizona, we couldn’t ask for better scenery to feast our eyes upon.

Book Club is rated PG-13 for sex-related material throughout, and for language. I enjoyed this film so much, I will watch it again when I want some good laughs about friendship, love and romance, at any age.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Gemini

One of the reasons I went to see the independent film Gemini was that it starred Lola Kirke. I was familiar with her acting as she plays Hailey Rutledge on the Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle. The series ran four seasons, and was not renewed for a fifth, which is a shame as it was one of the best shows on streaming I have seen in a long time. No violence, and an interesting story about a conductor and his symphony in New York City. If you haven’t seen it, you should. I appreciated Lola’s talents, and wanted to see how she’d do carrying a full-length film, a mystery/thriller so different from her role in Mozart in the Jungle. Gemini is rated R for pervasive language, and a violent image.

Jill LeBeau (Lola Kirke) is the personal assistant of celebrity Heather Anderson (Zoë Kravitz). Heather is burned out by everything in her life: her work, her fans, Los Angeles, and the sameness of her day-to-day existence. Jill keeps Heather safe while she goes out with her closest friends, and keeps her out of the line of fire of her ex, business associates and overzealous fans.

After partying one night with friend Tracy (Greta Lee), Heather retires to her unwelcoming and cold home accompanied by Jill. In the morning, Jill goes to her apartment to shower and change for the coming day’s appointments. Upon returning to Heather’s mansion, Jill finds her lying on the floor dead.

Detective Edward Ahn (John Cho) labels Jill a suspect, a development she finds distressing. In order to clear her name, she sets out on her own to find the people in Heather’s life who would like to see her dead.

The film has a noir quality, which works well. I really appreciated the acting done by the two main characters played expertly by Zoë Kravitz and Lola Kirke.  Both women’s faces are so expressive. They convey their feelings and deepest thoughts just through their facial expressions. No talking necessary. The role of Detective Ahn is not given a wide enough emphasis, but it’s a good role. Too bad John Cho didn’t have more to do, but Jill, who is determined to clear herself of any suspicion of the crime, spurs all the detective work on.

The encounter Jill has with filmmaker Greg (Nelson Franklin) amused me. He said if he were writing the story, referring to Heather’s death, he’d look for someone with motive, opportunity and capacity. Jill reminds him Heather’s death is not fiction. It’s a good encounter between the two of them and moves Jill’s amateur investigation along.

The film was written, directed and edited by Aaron Katz, and I really enjoyed this quiet mystery. The idea of setting the film within the world of a young celebrity inundated with responsibilities and pressures probably never imagined as she worked to get where she is today is a good one. You might still be able to see it at your local art cinema. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge is a film based on the true story of Desmond Doss, who carried 75 men to safety during the taking of Hacksaw Ridge on Okinawa during World War II. What made this all the more extraordinary, especially for the military men he had to work with, was that he was a conscientious objector. Hacksaw Ridge won two Academy Awards: Best Achievement in Film Editing, and Best Achievement in Sound Mixing. The film is rated R for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images.

Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) grew up in Virginia, and had a difficult childhood. Several experiences depicted shaped him into the man he became, and when World War II erupted, he enlisted into the Army. His father Tom (Hugo Weaving) was an alcoholic, prone to violence, and his long-suffering mother Bertha (Rachel Griffiths) took the brunt of his abuse, as did his two sons.

Desmond enlists and tells his recruiting agent that he will not carry a gun, and that he wants to be a medic. He gets a rude awakening in boot camp. Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn), along with other superiors, tries to break him, as do his boot campmates. But Desmond remains strong. He is a Seventh Day Adventist, and will not pick up that gun.

He is shipped to the Pacific in May 1945 to Okinawa where the Japanese forces have hunkered down on the island in bunkers, and where the US Army has been unable to gain a foothold and overcome them.

The film does not spare us of the violence of war, nor should it. There is no glamorizing what war is here at any time. It is a brutal, cruel, awful thing to watch men being ripped apart, burned to death, and dying in agony. War is bad. I’m not saying World War II shouldn’t have happened, given the events of the Holocaust and the Japanese attacking the United States. But I will say that the wars that are happening right now on this planet are not for noble reasons, but for protecting natural resources, and sadly, not for the common people of the world, but so that major corporations can grow wealthier and plunder the planet in the way they are accustomed to. Please do not enlist. To borrow an old song’s refrain from the sixties, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?”

At any rate, Desmond Doss is to be remembered not just for saving the lives of 75 men on that Pacific oceanside cliff in 1945, but for NEVER being swayed from his belief that to kill another human is the worst of all sins. He was a conscientious objector, and that is what is to be honored above all. He stuck to his values. If only we all did that instead of giving lip service to that commandment of thou shalt not kill.

The film and especially Desmond’s story are worth watching, if you can tolerate explicit war violence.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Greatest Showman

The Greatest Showman was a Golden Globe winner for Best Original Song, This Is Me. It was more of a musical than I thought, not just a song or two in the story, but rather a full musical. I liked it when I saw it recently on the big screen in my dollar theater. So much going on during Awards season, I hadn’t gotten around to seeing it just yet. It is rated PG for thematic elements including a brawl.

Phinneas “P. T.” Barnum (Hugh Jackman) is the son of a tailor and a poor one at that. He becomes enamored at a young age with Charity (Michelle Williams), a beautiful girl from a wealthy family. She marries him despite his lack of prospects as her father would put it, and they soon have two beautiful daughters that enrich their lives.

Phinneas is a dreamer, and his imagination proves to be everything to him. Remember, this is based on the true story of the man responsible for the Barnum and Bailey Circus. We watch how his inspirations become reality when he opens his museum of oddities in New York City, and how it expands to the live acts his troupe was known for.

There is also the scandal that occurs when he puts Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), an opera singer from Sweden, on tour. She is dubbed the Swedish Nightingale, and the lengthy tour away from home almost costs him his marriage. Helping him through the rough spots is his right hand man, Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron). Phillip finds Phinn intriguing and inspiring, and working with him gives Phillip the joy in his life that coming from a staid, wealthy and boring family could never provide.

The film is also a romance, not just between Phinn and Charity, but also between Phillip and Anne Wheeler (Zendaya), the trapeze artist. From different worlds, Phillip and Anne find it difficult to bridge the gap in class and color that prejudice and privilege have created.

All in all, I really enjoyed the choreography and the singing and dancing. The sets are colorful and beautiful, and the cinematography first rate. Where the movie really shines is in its message: This Is Me. We are not freaks, we are human beings, deserving of respect and not disdain or horror. That could be said for anyone who has a disability or some trial to overcome. And where Phinn was out to make money and perhaps to gain respect that way, he also managed to give his unusual employees a sense of purpose, and a dose of self-esteem and self-acceptance.

I must have seen a circus during my childhood as the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus had its headquarters in Baraboo, Wisconsin. I just don’t have a clear memory of it, but I think I remember the colorful railroad cars that transported the circus to the towns.

Did you go to the circus when you were a kid? What did you think of the experience?

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Invictus

Invictus is a film from 2009 directed by Clint Eastwood. It is based on the true story of Nelson Mandela, newly elected President of South Africa, who takes an interest in the nation’s rugby team, encouraging them to win the Rugby World Cup in 1995. It is rated PG-13 for brief strong language.

President Mandela (Morgan Freeman) is a wise leader, seeking to promote reconciliation and forgiveness to heal his country. He asks staff of the former leader to stay on and work with him. He seeks to mirror unity and cooperation amongst his staff first and foremost as an example of how the country should proceed.

Mandela sees an opportunity in the sport of rugby to further unify the citizens of South Africa. He summons Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) to meet with him. Francois is understandably impressed with Mandela and his quiet, firm leadership. As Captain of the Rugby team, Francois takes on the task of nurturing a winning team.

This is a true story, and we know who won the World Cup in 1995. Mandela learns about rugby, a sport described as, “ . . . a hooligans game played by gentlemen.” I am not much of a sports enthusiast, at least for those that are watched in a stadium or obsessively on TV. I found rugby to be a brutal game, even worse than football. There are no helmets, no protective gear to shield the men from what is very much a contact sport.

I think men would enjoy this film. Women, rent it for your spouse or boyfriend and watch it with him. He’ll like the sports scenes while you will like the progression of the action as the team improves, leading up to the final game against the Maoris of New Zealand.

I have heard the Maoris described as fierce warriors and these seasoned rugby players certainly looked the part. They were a formidable opponent to the South African team who had just recently experienced a winning streak.

I would say that Invictus is not a great film, but just a good one, for the only reason that it shows what Mandela strove to do in order to build unity among their citizens. What I found most interesting was how the film showed snippets of Mandela’s life and how he struggled with family issues, overwork, and the running of the government to the point of exhaustion.

I also found myself, perhaps not surprisingly, thinking of a certain leader in the U.S. and how he could use some lessons from Nelson Mandela and the type of leader he was. Where slavery was part of history, much healing needs to happen. It is not helpful when a leader shows bigotry and hatred towards the citizens he is elected to serve. What will happen? I don’t presume to know. But I find myself wanting to know more about South Africa as a result of this film.

Have you seen Invictus and what did you think of the film?

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Reflection

Another successful Blogging A to Z Challenge! This was my third year of blogging 26 days in April. I thank everyone who came to my blog and read my Best Original Screenplay movie reviews. Thank you to all who took the time to leave comments!

I enjoyed meeting some new bloggers, and will be following you via email now the challenge is over. I will begin posting movie reviews again on Tuesdays, and sometimes on Saturdays depending on what’s playing in theaters and how many films I’ve seen.

Thank you to the organizers of this annual challenge. I hope the challenge will return in 2019. In the meantime, keep writing and posting!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Z is for Z


Z is for Z, a 1969 film by Costa-Gavras that is now considered to be a classic suspense thriller. The story is based on true events that occurred in Greece in May1963 when a pacifist statesman was assassinated (real name Grigoris Lambrakis). Z was highly regarded for its time for using unique filming techniques, and a storytelling style that was considered avant-garde. It is rated PG.

The film won Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Film Editing at the Academy Awards. It was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (lost to Midnight Cowboy). The famous French actor, Yves Montand, plays the progressive public figure that is assassinated. The Democratic politician is left leaning, charismatic and inspires the populace, just what the government doesn’t want to have happening. He is assassinated as he is making an anti-nuclear weapons speech. Initially, it appears he died as the result of an accident, but we find in the telling of the story that was not the case.

As the action and the investigation of the crime progressed, I thought to myself that this film has parallels to present day. Corruption is in every level of government including the military, the police, politicians, and their silence can be bought.

The other thing I noticed was that when the people were demonstrating, it began as a peaceful gathering, and then when the police intervened with their clubs and force, things got out of hand. There were no guns being brandished about, and even the assassination was not by gunshot. It was actually refreshing, and I thought how much better the world would be without everyone waving a gun around.

I liked the way the film had us learning about the way the assassination was carried out as the investigators found the truth for themselves and the investigation was brought to a conclusion. Not that it ended there, and this is not a story where justice is served. That in itself was depressing.

I also enjoyed the unique way they showed the widow Hélène (Irene Papas) as she recalls moments with her husband after his death. It served to emphasize his humanity, and show how cruel it was to silence him by assassination, taking him from the people who loved him the most and were closest to him. Corruption is ever present yet again, and those in power want to keep the control to themselves and stop at nothing to keep it that way.

The ending was chilling, as it listed the things the military regime banned after this incident. Not the finest moment for Greece, that is for sure.

I highly recommend Z (you’ll have to watch the film to the very end to discover why it is named this; I won’t give that away). If you’re at all interested in the history of film, the history of Greece, or if you want to see a cautionary tale for our times as events similar to this one could happen at any time again, sorry to say.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Y is for Young Frankenstein


No Best Original Screenplays beginning with the letter Y, so I give you: Young Frankenstein that was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards (lost to The Godfather: Part II). It is a film from 1974 directed by Mel Brooks, and written by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder. The film is a comedy and a satire of the Frankenstein story that was written as the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and first published anonymously in 1818. The film bears little resemblance to the famous story of the mad scientist piecing together parts of dead bodies and bringing the sad individual back to life.

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), a young neurosurgeon, is a descendant of the famous Dr. Victor von Frankenstein who lived and worked on his scientific experiments in Transylvania. Frederick is engaged to Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn), an interesting and slightly eccentric young woman. He takes leave of Elizabeth and his teaching career at the university to travel to the country where his grandfather, the famous Dr. Frankenstein, lived as he has inherited the man’s castle.

He has quite the journey ahead of him as he comes to know himself and his ancestors once he arrives. He acquires a beautiful lab assistant, Inga (Teri Garr), and has the hunchback servant Igor (Marty Feldman) also at his side. The evil seeming housekeeper Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman) is no friend to them. Frederick comes upon a diary/journal where Victor has described how he brought dead people back to life, and when a poor villager dies, the good doctor decides to bring him back to life using a brain he sends Igor to fetch for him from the morgue. This of course results in misfortune, for the wrong brain is delivered.

Peter Boyle is absolutely wonderful playing the Monster. As he awakens to his life, he is of course confused, runs off, and a truly hilarious bit occurs when he happens upon the Blind Man (Gene Hackman) who invites him into his cottage for a bite to eat. The Monster is mute and therefore has trouble communicating his thoughts and feelings to others, setting up all sorts of not so funny predicaments for him, but lots of humor for us!

The slapstick comedy doesn’t truly begin until about halfway through the film, and I confess that during the first half of the story, I was kind of bored, wishing it would move along. But when it does, it really moves!  Mel Brooks had a crazy sense of humor and the situations Dr. Frankenstein and his progeny encounter are inventive and very funny. Mel Brooks went on to create other innovative comedy films, such as Blazing Saddles.

The film is rated PG and is in black and white. I recommend you see Young Frankenstein if you are interested in comedy that goes a step beyond. It was truly groundbreaking in its time, the actors are great, and it’s a good way to spend an evening when you need a good laugh.

Friday, April 27, 2018

X is for SeX, Lies, and Videotape


X is for SeX, Lies, and Videotape, a film from 1989. It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards. Written by Steven Soderbergh, it lost to Dead Poets Society that year. If you’re an intelligent person who is not afraid of sensitive subjects, you may enjoy this finely acted film. This is an adults only movie, and is rated R. There isn’t much sexual activity in the film, but there is a lot of talk about sex. It’s a morality tale about double standards and the secrets that intimates keep from one another.

Ann Mullany (Andie MacDowell) lives with her husband John (Peter Gallagher) in what seems to be an average sized city in Louisiana. Ann’s sister Cynthia Bishop (Laura San Giacomo) lives nearby, and works as a bartender. The two sisters are polar opposites: Ann a repressed housewife, and Cynthia a free spirit.

John is an attorney, an adulterer, and a liar (like some members of Congress). His friend from college, Graham Dalton (James Spader), comes for a visit and is the catalyst for many changes within this strange family.

John is having an affair with Cynthia. Ann is in therapy and discloses to her shrink the details of her seemingly dying relationship with her husband. Graham has a strange hobby being an amateur filmmaker of sorts. He interviews women, not just about anything, but about their sexual histories. It all shakes loose when Cynthia introduces herself to Graham, and he videotapes her. Secrets should be thrown into the title of the film as well as lies, as there are plenty of clandestine thoughts and actions going on.

This is an interesting film if you enjoy stories about the human psyche. It’s almost as if Graham is a psychologist, only in a very different manner, encouraging people to talk about their innermost thoughts and feelings and about subjects they’d never discuss with any of their friends or family. He’s like a therapist, just doesn’t tell the women he interviews what to do, and shrinks sometimes tell their clients what to do. What I found interesting about Graham is that he shows such unconditional positive regard for the women and their stories. His motivations are questionable, but I wondered if the women’s intimate partners would be so accepting if they told the truth like they do with Graham.

Sex, Lies, and Videotape was directed by Steven Soderbergh, and is a groundbreaking indie film. The actors all do a great job with their roles. Peter Gallagher went on to star in the TV series, The O. C., one of my favorites, and Laura San Giacomo played Vivian’s best friend and fellow hooker in Pretty Woman, not to mention her role in the TV series, Just Shoot Me. Andie MacDowell has had a full acting career. One of my favorite films of hers is Groundhog Day, all sweetness and light, kind of like her role in this film.

Have you watched Sex, Lies, and Videotape? What did you think?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

W is for Woman of the Year


W is for Woman of the Year, a romantic comedy from 1942 directed by George Stevens. The film is not rated and is in black and white.

Sam Craig (Spencer Tracy) and Tess Harding (Katharine Hepburn) are both columnists at the New York Chronicle. Sam is a sportswriter, and Tess is an international affairs correspondent. They come to each other’s attention quite accidentally, and a feud between them in their columns develops. They had worked on different floors of the newspaper, and met for the first time being reprimanded by their boss. Attraction is instantaneous and the courtship begins.

Tess is a worldly woman, having lived in China, traveled extensively, and she speaks several languages fluently. Sam is just a small town kind of guy who decides to ask Tess to a baseball game for their first date. One of the funniest segments of the film is Sam patiently attempting to explain baseball to Tess while at the game, difficult in that she has never attended a game in her life. It is truly comical as she is so very, very naïve.

Despite Tess inviting Sam to a party at her apartment where he can interact with virtually no one due to language barriers between him and the guests, he persists to woo her, and they eventually are married. No time for a proper honeymoon due to their career commitments. The arrival of a Dr. Lubbeck at Tess’s door on their wedding night escalates to their bedroom filling with her friends, and then Sam’s friends that he invites in response to the growing entourage of Dr. Lubbeck’s. This leads to some funny slapstick humor involving Sam’s friends, one of whom has been a boxer.

They finally make a go of their relationship, not without bumps in the road. Tess is chosen as “America’s Outstanding Woman of the Year,” and Sam has really had it by this time with his assertive career woman. Whether they will make it or not is something you’ll have to see for yourself.

Interesting about this film is the era, World War II, in which it was created. I noticed an altered map in Tess’s office showing Europe, outlining which countries Hitler had invaded and occupied. Women became part of the workforce during World War II, and were becoming more assertive and independent, characteristics that Tess possesses to the extreme. On the other hand, she has no skill in the kitchen, and there is a really funny scene near the end of the movie where Sam quietly reads the paper while she attempts to cook him breakfast with disastrous and very amusing consequences.

Woman of the Year won Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards for Michael Kanin and Ring Lardner, Jr. It deserves the award, as the writing is clever, the comedic situations really priceless, and it’s basically a sound story. This was the first of nine films Tracy and Hepburn would star in together and the one said to have launched their romantic relationship.