Thursday, March 30, 2017

Personal Shopper

Tonight I saw Personal Shopper starring Kristen Stewart.

Maureen (Stewart) is a personal shopper for a difficult, high-profile star in Paris. Though Maureen is American, she remains in France because her twin brother died there months ago, and they had a pact for whomever went first to send the other a message from beyond the grave. Did I mention they're both mediums?

She is growing impatient because odd things are happening (ghouls chase her when she's alone in the dark, faucets turn on, etc.) but she doesn't think any of them are her brother. Couple this with the fact that she's getting mysterious text messages from an unknown source (and for some reason, faithfully answering them) and we're left with a lot of unanswered questions.

Though I wanted to know what was driving the mysterious text message-sender, and I desperately wished for Maureen to hear from her suddenly gone brother, I didn't have patience for the pace or the meandering extra storyline and characters that may or may not have had anything to do with those elements.

If a script is going to be as provocative as this one, if the ends aren't going to be tied up, at least a few solid theories should be presented.

Instead of wanting more, I was really wanting it to end. Thankfully it did.


Going in Style

Last night I screened Going in Style, starring Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine.

Willie (Freeman) and Al (Alan Arkin) are roommates. Joe (Caine) is their best friend. They are all former colleagues who spent years in blue collar work only to learn that their pension was being taken away from them.

Desperate to save his home, which is going into foreclosure, Joe suggests the three of them rob a bank. He was recently witness to one, and admired the efficiency and skill of the criminals. At first the other two scoff at the thought, but when things get really tight financially and they consider how many years they may or may not have left, they decide to go for it.

From consulting with someone from the other side of the tracks to choosing clever masks for the heist that align to their generation, there is a lot of silly in the film. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. If you go see this and don't expect it to be light, you're not getting the point.

Of course the men are fabulous actors. Of course the situation they find themselves in has you rooting for them (even if what they're doing is morally wrong). Of course things won't go precisely according to plan.

Where the film could be better: the broad strokes it draws of its various supporting cast. Everyone is a caricature from the surly waitress to the deadbeat son-in-law to the '80s-sitcom-style seductress. If those characters hadn't been so blatantly written, it would have been more believable.

But if you just want a fun romp with more cameos than you can keep track of, you could do worse.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Beauty and the Beast

On Thursday I saw Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson and Luke Evans.

"There must be more than this provincial life," sings Belle (Watson) as she begins another day in her tired little French town. She, like so many, is dissatisfied with her surroundings. The books in which she escapes give her glimpses of places far more more interesting. She longs to be a part of them.

Her dad, Maurice (played by a perfectly cast Kevin Kline) is the town eccentric, and has doted on his daughter since she was born. Now, as an adult, Belle has become a feminist before her time, fending off the advances of the narcissist, Gaston (Evans) and dreaming of new possibilities.

When Maurice is taken prisoner by a ferocious beast (Dan Stevens) in a faraway castle, Belle attempts to rescue him and trades herself in his place. This is where the story truly begins.

What Belle doesn't know is that underneath the fur is a prince—one who behaved so badly a spell was cast upon him. The only way to break it is for him to fall in love and be loved in return. Conspiring to make a match between Belle and the Beast are various household fixtures like Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), who is now a teapot, but once was a normal woman.

It's a "tale as old as time" and one of the most beloved to say the least. As a huge fan of the animated classic, I cringed when I heard they were making this into a live action picture, but once I saw the cast I breathed a little and got over it.

I very much enjoyed this version; there is something in emotion that can't be captured in animation, so the love and romance is more effective here. Where I prefer the original is in the music.

As an actress, Emma Watson is brilliant. She's sincere, she's likable—her intelligence permeates every role she's in and Belle is no exception. But the shortcuts that were taken in her song arrangements left me wanting more. I found myself humming the ending bits that were cut off—in most cases the climactic notes of the songs.

I also felt a bit of the art direction could have been more spectacular. The sequence for "Be Our Guest" was a little too disco and starved for classy grandeur; the library that has Belle gasping at its magnificence we only see a few underwhelming frames of before the two are nose-down in books.

I will always make time for Beauty and the Beast no matter what its format. If you see this one, be sure to take in all of its strengths—Kevin Kline, Luke Evans, the chemistry between Watson and Stevens, and the clever winks amongst the household fixtures.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Sense of An Ending

Tonight I saw The Sense of An Ending, starring Jim Broadbent and Harriet Walter.

Years ago when a friend recommended the book of the same name, by Julian Barnes, I was taken by it immediately. Tonight, when I saw the film, I found it hard to stay interested.

Tony (Broadbent) is divorced from Margaret (Walter). They remain friendly and share a grown daughter, Susie (Michelle Dockery) whom they dote upon in equal measure.

When Tony receives a random inheritance from his college girlfriend's mother, a lifetime of memories come to the surface as he seeks closure he never properly confronted.

Yep, that's it.

And it's drawn out so slowly and with such dramatic exception that the "big reveal" (which I, as a reader, had admittedly forgotten) was quite anti-climactic. In a way you feel bad for the main character, but in a way you can see why everyone in his life seems to be frustrated with him.

All of the acting is fine, the flashbacks are believable, the story at its core is tragic—it was just missing the heart and the complexity of the original story here, which was quite disappointing.


Thursday, March 09, 2017

Kong: Skull Island

Tonight I saw Kong: Skull Island, starring Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson.

Self-proclaimed "crackpot" scholars convince the U.S. military to escort them to an uninhabited island in the South Pacific. They use topography as their excuse, but really at least one of them knows what may be out there.

After a harrowing helicopter ride—which we all feel we participated in—we meet Kong. Gigantic, ferocious, angry as hell, Kong. Perhaps the best beast of all time, and he's going strong.

Of course, you never want to poke the bear, which is what this group has unintentionally done, so they're in big trouble very early on.

The British officer, played by Hiddleston, isn't just all good looks—he's the brains when the team needs to develop a plan ASAP to survive. And he soon befriends an (equally gorgeous) anti-war photographer played by Brie Larson, to back him up.

Silly as it sounds, I enjoyed the heck out of this film.

Though the basic premise is obvious (do no harm; things aren't always as they seem), there are surprises along the way, both human and otherwise, that keep the story moving at a pleasingly fast pace. And the special effects are amazing.

The romance never quite develops between the two pairs that we start to suspect will unite, but my guess is that they're saving that for the sequel(s). Though, this kind of is one?

Regardless, if you want to lose yourself in something mindful, but not dumb, go ahead and make the leap with Kong. His sheer magnificence will impress you.


Friday, March 03, 2017

Get Out

Tonight I saw Get Out, starring Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams.

Rose (Williams) is excited to take her new boyfriend Chris (Kaluuya) home to meet her parents. They live on a lake a few hours from the city. Chris is nervous for their reaction because he's black and Rose is white, but she tells him not to worry—her parents aren't racist; just annoying.

The couple hits a deer on their way to the homestead and a cop comes to their aid. He asks to see Chris's identification, though Rose was driving when the accident happened. She defends Chris and the cop sends them on their way.

When they arrive at Rose's home, her parents are warm and welcoming, if not a little awkward. Chris is trying to stop smoking, so Rose's father (Bradley Whitford) suggests that his wife Missy (Catherine Keener), hypnotize the habit out of him. She's a gifted psychiatrist and has been successful with that in the past. Chris politely declines.

The first night there, Chris has trouble sleeping so he goes outside to get some air. There he has an odd encounter with "the help" (also black) and hurries back inside. Missy invites him to share a cup of tea with her and things get weird.

That's all I can say without spoiling the many twists and turns that follow. And boy, do they follow!

You may think you have the main "gotcha" revelation figured out, but you don't. Trust me, I thought I did too.

All I can say is, I was gripping my seat, my fellow theater-goers were gasping and screaming and I can't wait to go back for a repeat viewing to catch all the clues I missed about the reveal.

A satisfying, fun ride.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

My 2017 Oscar Picks and Predictions

Here are my final picks for tonight's ceremony:


Who Will Win: LION
My Pick: LION



Who Will Win: LA LA LAND
My Pick: SULLY


My Pick: PIPER

Who Will Win: LA LA LAND

Who Will Win: "How Far I'll Go" from MOANA
My Pick: "How Far I'll Go" from MOANA

Who Will Win: LA LA LAND
My Pick: LION




Who Will Win: JOE'S VIOLIN

My Pick: 13th

Who Will Win: LA LA LAND
My Pick: LION

Who Will Win: Damien Chazelle for LA LA LAND
My Pick: Mel Gibson for HACKSAW RIDGE

Who Will Win: JACKIE

Who Will Win: LA LA LAND
My Pick: LION

Who Will Win: Zootopia

Who Will Win: Viola Davis for FENCES
My Pick: Nicole Kidman for LION

Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali for MOONLIGHT
My Pick: Michael Shannon for NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Who Will Win: Emma Stone for LA LA LAND
My Pick: Ruth Negga for LOVING

Who Will Win: Denzel Washington for FENCES
My Pick: Andrew Garfield for HACKSAW RIDGE

My Pick: LION


The Red Turtle

On Friday I saw the animated film The Red Turtle, directed by Michael Dudok de Wit.

We don't see how our hero sets out on his oceanic journey; when we meet him, he's in the eye of a terrible storm getting tossed about the sea. He lands on a deserted island and soon adapts to a solitary lifestyle.

He eats coconuts and attempts to craft a raft to freedom as a colony of hermit crabs follow his every move. As he's making his way, a red turtle appears—potentially endangering his plans. What follows would be a major spoiler, so I will just say that the turtle has a spiritual and eventually physical symbolism in the story.

Without dialog, the story has to be told through the music and the emotive elements of the visual animation, which make this movie stunning. The drawings are simple, but powerful; the colors a blend of the most delicious sensory combinations that make up our wildest dreams.

Though the pace is undeniably slow (maybe too slow for small children), if you sit back and take in the vast landscape of the presentation, you'll feel as if you've escaped into a live painting.

I've made no secret of the fact that animation is among my least favorite genres, but if more films were on the same artistic and emotional level as this one, I may have a change of heart.

The Red Turtle is being showered with accolades and awards, and it deserves every one of them.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Hacksaw Ridge

Last night I saw Hacksaw Ridge, starring Andrew Garfield and Vince Vaughn.

Desmond Doss (Garfield) is a simple country boy from Virginia in the mid 1940s. He's fallen in love with a local girl and asked for her hand in marriage. She's agreed to be his bride, anxious to marry him on his first leave home from the service.

He's a dedicated soldier, but a tortured one. His religious beliefs prevent him from taking human life, therefore he is labeled as a Conscientious Objector. He won't operate a rifle, but he will attempt to save lives as a medic in combat.

And that combat becomes very real as Doss, along with his Sargent (Vaughn) and company, are sent to Okinawa, Japan to battle on Hacksaw Ridge. The soldiers before them didn't come out so well in the same location, and they are their replacements.

After his peers resented him for not having to participate in all the drills and training they did, they soon see his dedication to helping them in their most dire moments.

Garfield is inspiring as the humble Doss. The kindness glows from him as he defends his mother from his abusive father, falls head-over-heels for the town nurse and aims to calm his fellow injured soldiers. Any accolades he gets from playing this real-life hero are well-earned.

Director Mel Gibson should also be commended for his painfully real combat scenes and the excellent job he does creating a believable world in 1940s Virginia.

I was surprised by how much I liked this brutal war film.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Fifty Shades Darker

Thursday night I saw Fifty Shades Darker, starring Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson.

Life hasn't been the same for Christian (Dornan) since Anastasia (Johnson) left him. His intense need for sexual domination and tendency to "punish" his partners was too much for her to take. Ever since she gave him up, he's been trying to win her back.

Anastasia's moved on to focus on her career. She's now a personal assistant in the publishing industry, doing her best to learn the business.

When Christian tells Anastasia that he would rather give up his extreme sexual practices than live without her, they begin taking the steps (and showers, and romps) toward reconciliation.

There are aviation accidents, jackass bosses, psychopathic ex-girlfriends, domineering former sexual teachers, fancy boats, birthday parties and pleasure devices sprinkled amongst gorgeous money shots of Seattle.

But above all else, there's sex. If it's not in every scene, it's being talked about or imagined. The dialog is predictably laughable (but still better than the book) and the actors are incredibly appealing to watch, smirking as if they're in on the joke, laughing all the way to the bank.

You may not leave the film thinking you saw anything remotely cinematic, but you are bound to be ... satisfied.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Live Action Short Nominees (Oscars 2017)

Tonight I saw all five of the nominated films in the Live Action Short category. I'll present my reviews in the order they were shown.


The year is 1991 and a young girl moves to a new school in Hungary. There she joins the award-winning choir, but is told not to sing loudly like her new friend. Soon the students learn there are several children being "silenced" by their instructor, so they have to make a decision: respect the authority of their corrupt leader or resist. The results are delightful.


A young Danish woman is a worker in a homeless shelter when she comes upon a black man from Ghana being beaten in the park. She chases off his attackers and nurses him back to health, falling in love with him in the process. It seems like a match made in heaven until his secret is revealed, which changes everything. A selfless story about what true love looks like in a world coated in racism.


Luna and Diego are security guards at a public parking garage in Spain. When the supervisor asks Luna to check the surveillance footage for a possible incident with one of the parked cars, she obeys and discovers something extraordinary. What she does next will bring a smile to the face of anyone who has even the tiniest sense of humor. A refreshing comedy.


When an Algerian man who has lived in France his whole life applies for French citizenship in the 1990s, the interview quickly becomes an interrogation. Asked to give up the names of potential terrorists who have become friends to the man, he is faced with a terrible decision if he wants to continue life as he knows it. A frustrating, tense watch because the topic is so unfortunately timely.

LA FEMME ET LE TGV (Switzerland)

A lonely old baker finds joy each day at waving at the trains that pass by her house, as she's done since her now-grown son was a boy. One day as she's cutting grass, she finds a note in her yard that had been tossed out of one of the trains. It was written by a conductor that wanted her to know how happy it made him to see her wave as he went by on his lonely journeys. She responds and the two become pen pals, sending notes and gifts back and forth. I smiled throughout this entire film and found it especially wonderful that it was based upon true events. My favorite of the nominees this year.



This afternoon I saw Fences, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.

Troy (Washington) and Rose (Davis) are a working-class Pittsburgh couple raising their son, Cory (Jovan Adepo) one day at a time. Troy was once a brilliant baseball player, but those dreams passed him by so now he's a garbage man, fighting the white man for the right to be a garbage truck driver.

To say that Troy has a chip on his shoulder would be an understatement. His older son from a previous relationship, Lyons (Russell Hornsby), is a gifted musician who he won't make time to see perform; his younger son Cory is a star football player, but he's hell bent on preventing him from playing at the college level. He wants his sons to do better than he did, but resents them when they excel.

Rose is the ideal 1950s housewife—she cooks, she cleans, she loves. Loyal to a fault, she looks past Troy's fondness for gin and stays by his side while he rants his way through life. She's convinced the world is changing and has hope for the future; his glass isn't just half full: it may as well be empty.

The film acts as a soliloquy showcase for both Washington and Davis, and they both deliver perfection and then some. They both deserve their wins if they take home the Oscars later this month. The trouble is, Fences feels more like the play it once was than a film.

And it's long.

Clocking in at 2 hours and 19 minutes, it feels like 3. We're so tired of Troy's menacing, arrogant attitude by act 2 that when 3 and 4 are more of the same we just want Rose to leave him already. We get that the fence he persists in building is a metaphor for his relationship with God. It doesn't need to be spelled out over and over.

I won't deny the story affected me; I cried along with my theater seat mates during Rose's revelation and the final sequence. But it could have accomplished just as much with a few less speeches and a lot less minutes.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Documentary Short Film Nominees (Oscars® 2017)

Tonight I saw all five of the nominated films in the Documentary Short category. I'll present my reviews in the order they were shown.


Joseph Feingold survived the horrors of the Holocaust (though some of his family didn't). When he came to the United States after the war to begin a new life, he went to a flea market and bought a violin. It cost him only a carton of cigarettes and became his constant companion for over 70 years. When he heard an announcement that there was an instrument drive for local schools, he decided to finally part with it, and it landed at the Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls. There, 12-year-old Brianna Perez was chosen to borrow it during her time at the school. When she learned of the instrument's history, she invited Feingold to a performance. He went, and it was magical. This film is less than a half an hour long and I cried through at least half of it. Beautiful story, beautiful people, beautiful music.


Highland Hospital in Oakland, California treats patients of all walks of life in their Intensive Care Unit. This film showcases the work of Dr. Jessica Zitter, a palliative care specialist, and her team as they navigate their way through heartbreak after heartbreak, helping families make the toughest decisions of their lives. Their care, stress, compassion, intelligence and warmth are on raw display day after day, week after week. This short glimpse only captures a fraction of it, but reminds us who the real heroes are in this world.


Life as a Greek Coast Guard on the quiet island of Lesbos used to be stress-free for Captain Kyriakos Papadopoulos. That is, until the refugee crises began. Now his days are filled acting as a ferry between Turkey and his town as thousands risk their lives to cross the Aegean for a chance at a better life. He has no CPR or medical training, but continues to rescue and attempt to resuscitate those in need. Sometimes he succeeds; sometimes it's too late by the time the bodies float to his boat. Thinking of the times I splashed in that same Sea as a little girl, carefree and safe with my family in Greece, this film hit me especially hard. To see the terror in the eyes of parents not knowing if their children would live, or the fear in the children who were scarred by the horrors of war was borderline unbearable.


A Syrian couple tried to have children for eight years before conceiving, and then, God blessed them with four. Now their one son and three daughters dodge bullets and hide when shells come flying into their formerly peaceful neighborhood as their father, a Free Syrian Commander, dedicates his life to the revolution. Mom gives them cough syrup to relax, but they insist on staying by their father's side ... until their father is captured by ISIS. Unable to continue living in a constant state of chaos, the family seeks asylum in the small German town of Goslar. There they receive a clean home, a monthly salary and the warm welcome they so rightly deserve. They're grateful to their new hosts, but miss their family and homeland. The most in-depth look I've seen into the lives affected by the conflict, and one that will stay with me indefinitely.


As bombs fall onto their neighborhoods and explosions light up their Syrian skies, members of The White Helmets run toward the danger to rescue whomever survived or recover the bodies of those who did not. Members are former builders, former blacksmith—good, kind blue collar men that simply want to do the right thing in the midst of the most grim humanitarian conditions they'll ever face. Civilian volunteers with limited (or no) training who have saved over 58,000 lives to date. But those good deeds don't come without sacrifice. Each day they venture into the rubble is a day they may never come home. Many White Helmet lives have been lost "on the job." Despite this, they support each other like brothers (some even learn of their own deceased family members while being filmed for this documentary), crying, hugging and taking well-earned emotional breaks when they just can't keep going. Films like this should be mandatory in schools, in homes, in governments.


Saturday, February 04, 2017

20th Century Women

Today I saw 20th Century Women, starring Annette Bening and Lucas Jade Zumann.

Though the title leads one to believe this is a story about women, it's more accurately the tale of bringing up one young man—Jamie (Zumann) in the late 1970s. His mother, Dorothea (Bening), had him late in life and his father isn't around, so she fills in the parenting blanks with others. She does this by directly asking for their help in his development.

First on the list is Abbie (Greta Garwig), a cancer-fighting girl who is renting a room in her house. She's out of her teen years, but still young enough to be cool in the eyes of Jamie, and they enjoy a warm, brother-sister dynamic.

Next on the list is Julie (Elle Fanning), a girl Jamie is pining for who stops by almost nightly to sleep with him (but they don't have sex). She doesn't want to sacrifice him as a best friend and therefore refuses to be his girlfriend. Their intimacy is sweet and real and raw.

The consequence of three strong women mobilizing to guide a young man into adulthood? He runs the risk of becoming a rampant feminist, and therefore suffering the consequences of behaving like one.

The film is a humorous, albeit sometimes painful, exploration of that scenario and becomes even more powerful when we realize the story is based on the screenwriter's actual childhood.

Bening's performance is so good, I had to double-check the Oscar nominations when I got home because I was sure she received one (she didn't; total travesty). Dorothea is a loving, confused, misguided, sassy, intelligent, flawed mother ... and you feel everything she feels thanks to Bening.

The supporting players are also strong and well cast. Gerwig is a standout for playing an understated, tragic character.

The backdrop of Santa Barbara provides the tranquil, slow reality of this coastal family's existence.

I'm quite surprised this film isn't making more of a splash.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Hidden Figures

Yesterday morning I saw Hidden Figures, starring Tajari P. Henson and Octavia Spencer.

Katherine Johnson (Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) are friends who share something in common: brilliance. All three women helped NASA develop the space program at its most critical time and all three women were black. Did I mention it was the early 60s?

This film tells the story of these amazing ladies (several decades too late, if you ask me) and reaffirms what we already know: we need more women—and diversity—in tech! In every industry, really.

Despite it's overdue nature, it's refreshing to watch a story unfold that features such badass characters and know that they're based on truth. Even more gratifying? One of them (Mrs. Johnson) is still alive, well into her 90s! I can only hope she'll reap some of the glory she's so deserved all these years.

Anyhow, the three leads are charming and passionate and perfect in their roles; supporting actors like Kevin Costner and Kirsten Dunst are also fabulous. I'd love to find fault with the film so it would sound less like I'm gushing, but really I enjoyed it immensely from start to finish, so I'd be lying if I tried to nitpick.

It's light enough to bring a smile during the ladies' sassiest moments; sad enough to shed tears when one of the characters finally breaks down; inspiring enough to make you want to stop what you're doing and go change the world.

So, go see it. Then go change the world.


Saturday, January 07, 2017

My Golden Globe Picks

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Should Win: Sterling K. Brown
Will Win: Sterling K. Brown

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Should Win: Chrissy Metz
Will Win: Chrissy Metz

Best Performance by an Actor TV Series—Comedy or Musical

Should Win: Gael Garcia Bernal
Will Win: Jeffrey Tambor

Best Performance by an Actress TV Series—Comedy or Musical

Should Win: Rachel Bloom
Will Win: Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Best Performance by an Actor TV Series—Drama

Should Win: Matthew Rhys
Will Win: Rami Malek

Best Performance by an Actress TV Series—Drama

Should Win: Keri Russell
Will Win: Evan Rachel Wood

Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Should Win: Tom Hiddleston
Will Win: Riz Ahmed

Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Should Win: Sarah Paulson
Will Win: Sarah Paulson

Best Limited TV Series—Motion Picture Made for Television

Should Win: The People Vs. OJ Simpson
Will Win: The People Vs. OJ Simpson

Best TV Series—Comedy or Musical

Should Win: Mozart in the Jungle
Will Win: Transparent

Best TV Series—Drama 

Should Win: Stranger Things
Will Win: Game of Thrones

Best Original Song—Motion Picture 

Should Win: How Far I'll Go
Will Win: How Far I'll Go

Best Original Score—Motion Picture 

Should Win: Dustin O'Halloran, Hauschka
Will Win: Justin Hurwitz

Best Motion Picture—Foreign Language

Should Win: Elle
Will Win: Elle

Best Motion Picture—Animated

Should Win: Moana
Will Win: Moana

Best Screenplay—Motion Picture

Should Win: Kenneth Lonergan
Will Win: Kenneth Longergan

Best Director—Motion Picture

Should Win: Tom Ford
Will Win: Damien Chazelle

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role—Motion Picture Drama

Should Win: Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Will Win: Mahershala Ali

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role—Motion Picture Drama

Should Win: Nicole Kidman
Will Win: Viola Davis

Best Performance by an Actor—Motion Picture Drama

Should Win: Colin Farrell
Will Win: Ryan Gosling

Best Performance by an Actress—Musical or Comedy

Should Win: Meryl Streep
Will Win: Emma Stone

Best Performance by an Actor—Motion Picture Drama

Should Win: Joel Edgerton
Will Win: Casey Affleck

Best Performance by an Actress—Motion Picture Drama

Should Win: Ruth Negga
Will Win: Natalie Portman

Best Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy

Should Win: 20th Century Women
Will Win: La La Land

Best Motion Picture—Drama

Should Win: Manchester By The Sea
Will Win: Manchester By The Sea



This morning I saw Lion, starring Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel.

As a young boy, Saroo (Pawar - young; Patel - present day) helps his mother carry rocks in the tiny village in India where they reside. Their family is living in poverty, but he and his brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) find work where they can get it. One night, Guddu sets out for a job and Saroo begs to tag along. After at first protesting, Guddu gives in and they set out by train for their journey.

Once they arrive, Guddu goes to look for the job site and the brothers become separated. Saroo falls asleep on a train and wakes up in an unfamiliar place: Calcutta. He's traveled over 1200 miles. There, he forages for food, escapes a gang that's rounding up street kids and finally lands in the care of authorities, who arrange for him to be adopted.

He wants to go home, but they don't understand the pronunciation of his town and he doesn't know his mother's name. His mother doesn't read or write, so she doesn't see the newspapers printing the reports of Saroo being found. Adoption is his best chance at resuming a normal life.

His adoptive parents, Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham), are a kind, financially comfortable Australian couple. They love him the instant he arrives and he loves them right back. Soon they adopt another Indian child and Saroo has a new brother, all the while missing his real family.

Sunny Pawar, who plays the young version of Saroo melted my heart instantly. His sweet little face, conveying every ounce of horror and pain he was enduring was almost too much to take, but incredibly well done. Is he too young to qualify for an Oscar nomination? I hope not.

Speaking of nominations, I think this is Kidman's best performance in years. Perhaps her own experience of being an adoptive mother helped her prepare for the role, or she just embraced the story so fully she aced it; whatever the reason, her time on-screen is amazing.

But I digress; this true story unfolds in the most tender of ways and to say that I got a little weepy toward the end would be a gross understatement. As Oprah would say, I went into "the ugly cry." And so did most of the folks around me.

What a beautiful film about a beautiful story.


Friday, January 06, 2017


Tonight I saw Loving, starring Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton.

It was the summer of 1958 when Richard Loving (Edgerton) married the love of his life, Mildred (Negga). They had the ceremony in Washington, D.C. because their home state of Virginia had banned interracial marriage, and they were two different races: Richard, white; Mildred, black.

Just five weeks after their happy nuptials, the couple were arrested in their own bedroom for violating the Racial Integrity Act. Their choice from the judge, after pleading guilty, was to either serve a year in prison or flee the state. So, they packed up and moved a few hours away to Washington.

But life wasn't the same in the city as it was in the country. They weren't near their families; their three children had no yard to play in. They lived there for nine years, before their fight made any progress. Mrs. Loving wrote a letter to Bobby Kennedy, who was the Attorney General at the time, and he referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union. Lawyers with the ACLU took the case, and the rest is history.

What's wonderful about this film is the authentic feel it brings to the memory of this true-life couple. They were good, decent, simple people who just fell in love and wanted to do right by their feelings. No matter what hostility they faced from the law or from racists in their town, their decision to stay together was never in question. They were the very definition of the perfect American family: Dad had a respectable blue-collar job, Mom was an excellent homemaker, the kids were smart and well-behaved.

What Jeff Nichols conveys so well in both his screenplay and his direction is the very absurdity of the situation. While real crimes are being committed and a nation is struggling to recover from a beloved president's assassination, small-minded folks are concerned about a squeaky-clean family simply living their lives. He builds tension when they are hunted and displays tenderness in their quiet moments, all the while making you feel like you're surviving along with them in the humid summer heat. It's absolutely superb.

The performances from the leads are brilliant and a nice cameo from Michael Shannon as a Life Magazine photographer is a welcome addition.

Please go see this film. Especially in our country's current political climate—it unfortunately couldn't be more timely.


Tuesday, January 03, 2017


Tonight I saw Arrival, starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner.

Louise (Adams) is a language professor whose class is interrupted one day when news breaks that UFOs have landed in 12 locations around the world. There's one in the U.S. and it's hovering over Montana.

Because of her incredible capabilities as a linguist, Louise is soon recruited by the government to help them decipher the language of the aliens that arrived with the spacecraft. There she works with Ian (Renner), a scientist.

Instead of going on the attack, the U.S. and several of its allies decide to try to reason with the beings—to discover their purpose before jumping to conclusions. After what feels like weeks of decoding, some of the enemy countries have other ideas and jeopardize the relationship that's been built. Louise takes risks others aren't willing to take to get real answers.

To tell you anymore would be to spoil the film.

What I can tell you:

1) The pace is slow, even when the narrative is interesting.
2) Linguists have difficult jobs.
3) Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are both wonderful actors, but sadly don't have a lot of chemistry here.
4) The movie falls just shy of getting preachy with its metaphors and messages.

It's entertaining, but not earth-shattering. Adams is always a pleasure to watch, even if it's amidst a haze of octopus-like goo.

And most importantly, we should always think before we act.


Thursday, December 29, 2016


Today I saw Jackie, starring Natalie Portman and Peter Sarsgaard.

Most Americans of Gen X age or older are acutely aware of the details surrounding President John F. Kennedy's assassination. Say "grassy noel" or "Jack Ruby" or "Zapruder" and they'll offer up their theory on who was truly responsible for his murder. What they won't recall is what a living nightmare it must have been for his widow, Jackie, who literally caught his head as he was shot on that fateful day in 1963. This film tells her story.

Natalie Portman plays widow Jackie and the Jackie in flashbacks from that week, as she recounts the horrors of losing her husband to a journalist set to write a profile about her. She reveals the raw, awful details of everything she experienced, telling him he can't print any of it, but clearly wanting someone to know how badly she suffered.

And really, the clever way the story is told gives the public a wake-up call on what it must feel like to have to face an "audience" in the aftermath of a personal tragedy. Worrying about how you'll appear or how your actions will be interpreted is never something anyone who is grieving should endure, but for politicians and celebrities alike, that's their reality. When you're being taught how to screenwrite, a popular lesson is "show, don't tell," but in this case, it's the telling that works.

Portman nails the former First Lady's intonation and unique accent, pursing her lips the same way Mrs. Kennedy often did. I wouldn't say she "disappeared" into her the way that Daniel Day-Lewis disappeared into Abraham Lincoln a few years back, but her performance was stellar and it will be no surprise when she's nominated for another Best Actress Oscar in a few weeks.

Peter Sarsgaard is also a pleasure to watch as the president's brother Bobby, by Jackie's side throughout the whole ordeal, showing his distaste for the incoming administration.

All-in-all a solid, enjoyable film, though the subject matter will remain a sad one for centuries to come.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

La La Land

Today I saw La La Land, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.

I wish my expectations hadn't been so elevated going into this—I went thinking it would be the second coming of films; that the musical was "back." Instead I viewed a film that couldn't decide what it wanted to be and felt more like a series of scenes than a free-flowing story. I'll get to the music in a bit.

Mia (Stone) is a stereotypical aspiring actress in Hollywood. She works as a barista on the Warner Bros. lot and juggles the hours at the coffee shop with a series of dismal auditions. She meet-cutes Sebastian (Gosling) who is a passionate jazz pianist, stuck in the wrong era, longing for a time when the classics were what everyone wanted to hear.

Though their flirting is more like bickering in the beginning, these two definitely have chemistry working in their favor and they're all-of-a-sudden partners in life. To be clear, my dislike of this film has nothing to do with its leads; Stone and Gosling are very appealing and believable in their roles. It's just the rest that's the problem.

The music: With the exception of the lonely piano tune that first draws Mia to Seb in the first place, none of the songs struck a chord with me. There were no earth-shattering notes hit or incredible infusions of emotion to make me want to run out and buy the album. For a musical, that's not good.

The dancing: Though Stone and Gosling are both fine dancers, the choreography seemed like a mash-up of the most basic sequences from classic movies. Nothing terribly original.

The story: There were moments of sweetness in the romance, and humorous elements in their attempts to follow their individual dreams, but it felt like the big build up led only to a giant letdown.

I hated, hated, hated the ending.

Instead of resulting in the magic that could have redeemed some of the weaker elements, this went completely wrong, leaving me feeling cheated and longing to watch one of the films that served as inspiration for this tale.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Monster Calls

Tonight I saw A Monster Calls, starring Lewis MacDougall and Sigourney Weaver.

Time is on our side. Time heals all wounds. Time flies.

There are countless sayings about our only true measure of life; simply choose the circumstance to match the cliché.

In this film, time is in short supply as young, British Conor (MacDougall) has a mum (Felicity Jones) who is terminally ill. As if that isn't enough for a kid to deal with, he's also the target of the school bully and doesn't really get along with his Grandma (Weaver). Did I mention Dad has made a new life with a new family in America too? It's no surprise Conor suffers from terrible reoccurring nightmares.

As he attempts to cope with all of the turmoil in his life, he begins receiving visits—always at 12:07—from a tree monster (voiced by the magnificent Liam Neeson). The monster tells him a series of stories, empowering Conor to wreak havoc along the way, with the expectation Conor will tell him "his" story, or rather the entirety of his nightmares.

The adults do the right thing to try to help Conor: Grandma takes him home with her, Dad comes for a much-needed visit, Mum always tells him the truth (even if it's bad news). But that doesn't make his situation any less tragic.

No matter how old we are, dealing with loss/significant change is rough. Adjustments are painful even if they have a more pleasant existence on the other side. We may never truly learn to navigate the rough roads of life (or perhaps when we do, we die), but in the meantime we find ways to escape, distract and power through.

This film serves as a metaphor for those escapes, delivered through beautiful watercolor-inspired animation that's like no other I've ever seen. The tree monster is a bit scary for little ones (there were some toddlers crying/screaming in the theater when he lashed out with fire), but an appropriate match to the rage felt when one is in so much pain they can barely breathe.

The acting on all fronts is solid in the film and the grief very raw. Though stories of children losing their parents and bullies picking on the weakest of souls is nothing new, this story does find a new way of telling it with a somewhat magical "twist" ending.

Just don't forget your tissues. You'll need them.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Manchester By the Sea

This morning I saw Manchester By the Sea, starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams.

Lee (Affleck) is a divorced repairman who lives a quiet life alone until his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) suddenly dies, leaving him guardianship of his only son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Because the two never discussed this arrangement, he must decide whether to relocate himself or his nephew to make it work.

We learn from flashbacks that Lee once had a family of his own, and in fact the first person he thinks to call when he learns of his brother's passing is his ex-wife. We also find out that he left his hometown because of an event that he caused many years prior, so being around the old neighborhood triggers bad memories.

Patrick is basically a good kid, but he's a teenager, so he selfishly doesn't want his school or his friends or his hobbies to change at all. He also wants to hold on to an expensive boat his dad owned.

Lee wrestles with the decisions he will soon have to make for both of them, and the film is basically his journey getting there.

First, let me say that all of the hype about Affleck's performance is justified. For being a character who's meant to appear numb in the majority of the scenes, he does a phenomenal job of convincing us that underneath that layer of numb lies tremendous pain. There is never a moment where we as audience members don't know how he feels, yet the people in his life likely have no clue.

The script is brilliant in that it absolutely nails the stages of grief; not by telling, but by showing.

From the denial in the first moments, when gathering logistical chores actually dulls the reality of the situation, to the rage of overreacting to little things—it's all there. I also like how the screenwriter elegantly planted "triggers" that would set the characters off emotionally, just like loss does in real life.

The pain here was raw, but the sentiment sincere and never overdone. I barely noticed the score (a good sign in a heavy drama) and imagined the characters existing long after the screen went dark on their small Massachusetts town.

I'll be baffled if this movie doesn't score several Oscar nods, and disappointed if it doesn't win at least some of them.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Tonight I saw Moonlight, starring Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhode.

Chiron (played by all three actors mentioned above) is a kid living in the Florida projects. His father is absent and his mother is a crack addict. He is gay.

The kids at school mercilessly bully Chiron for his orientation, though he doesn't flaunt his sexuality or have boyfriends. After one particularly awful chase, he seeks refuge in a crack den where a kind older man finds him and takes him to his house in the suburbs. There he finds a sense of home with the man and his wife, though he later learns the man is one of his mother's drug dealers.

We follow Chiron at three stages of his life: youth, high school and adulthood. At each stage he's desperate to know how he's "supposed" to feel, confronted with the horror of simply being himself. At each stage his mother is a nightmare, alternating somewhere between remorseful and monster.

His self-esteem barely exists, but as he grows his rage becomes a powerful tool in combating the society that rejects him on so many levels. He doesn't make the best decisions, but how could he be expected to?

The film does a fantastic job of showing us how, here in America, there are still thousands, if not millions, of children who don't have a fighting chance. How in many communities there are divides of race and class that dictate one's place before they are old enough to speak. How in some places exposing your true self could cost you your life.

For such a heart-wrenching story, there were thankfully moments of relief: Chiron's kinship with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), the tenderness shown by his 'adoptive' parents, the strength he finds within himself to somehow go on.

But I do think the film could have been shorter and less contrived; the pace was excruciatingly slow in certain scenes and the score a bit overbearing during a few of the most dramatic moments.

Still very much worth a watch, though. And sure to attract Oscar attention.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Nocturnal Animals

This morning I saw Nocturnal Animals, starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Susan (Adams) is an affluent member of the art world, living day-by-day in an unfulfilling marriage to her second husband, Hutton (Armie Hammer). One day, she receives a manuscript from Edward (Gyllenhaal), who she left nearly two decades prior. It wasn't a pleasant break-up.

Home alone with Hutton traveling, Susan becomes riveted by the story spun by her ex, as the characters mirror those in her former life—plus, he dedicated the work to her.

As an audience, we enter the mind of Susan and become engulfed in the plot as she does. And it's a brutal one.

The father in the story (mirroring Edward) is driving his wife (mirroring Susan) and daughter to west Texas late one night. When another car drives aggressively on the highway, Edward tries to lose it, but is unsuccessful. What starts as road rage soon becomes far more sinister and the story becomes one nail-biting scene after another.

Tom Ford's direction is seamless. We only catch our breath when Susan does, as she looks up from the pages to digest what her mind's eye just witnessed.

The scenes within the manuscript with Gyllenhaal and later Michael Shannon, who's the detective assigned to investigate the crime, are heartbreaking, exciting and sometimes even morbidly funny.

I found myself holding my breath, gripping the armrests and having to look away throughout. The tension-build was unimaginable and the payoff horrific, if somewhat predictable.

I can't imagine this will be ignored during awards season; it would be a travesty to deny such an extraordinary ensemble.

I'll be rooting for them every step of the way.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

On Monday I saw the Harry Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them starring Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston.

Newt (Redmayne) is a magizoologist, who goes to great pains to protect the wondrous beasts of the magical world. Set in the 1920s, the Hogwarts graduate travels to New York City and quickly loses track of many of the creatures he's set out to protect.

Through a comedy of errors, he connects with a muggle baker (Dan Fogel) who accidentally sees too much and must be (at least temporarily) brought along for the ride. The two encounter magical sisters, Tina (Waterston) and Queenie (Alison Sudol), who are fond of the pair, though Tina's intention is to turn Newt in (she's an investigator in the magical congress).

Along the way they are confronted by evil in villains played by Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp, respectively. There's a lot of action, but not a whole lot of substance.

A few specific things bugged me:

  • At one point, Queenie flirts by saying that the baker "slays" her. Pretty sure the slang for that term has only been around for about a decade, if that.
  • The set design for the New York of the 1920s is gorgeous. We barely see it.
  • "Fantastic Beasts" is in the title, but they're only really the star in the very beginning and toward the end. I found the film overall to be creature-deficient.
Aside from that, the pace was way too slow, but that's probably because they're greedily squeezing five books out of one novella. 

The performances are great, and the supernatural elements are well done But overall the film lacks the special... dare I say... magic... of the Potter series.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Doctor Strange

On Saturday, I saw Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is a gifted neurosurgeon with a knack for music trivia. He's sharp, sarcastic and more than a little bit arrogant. He has an on-again, off-again relationship with fellow doctor Christine (Rachel McAdams), who at the very least trusts his professional genius.

When Dr. Strange is in a terrible car accident (caused by distracted driving, of course), he suffers severe nerve damage to his hands—his most precious instruments—and grows desperate for a cure. A discussion with a physical therapist attending to him leads to a conversation with a "miracle" patient who was healed through alternative means. From this patient he learns of a healer in Kathmandu, so he catches the next flight to Nepal.

There, he meets Mordo (Ejiofor) and The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who convince him to stop thinking scientifically about everything and embrace the powers of the mind.

Refusing to discard any chance of physical restoration, Strange dedicates himself to learning the spiritual arts of which they speak and finds himself in the midst of a supernatural fight between good and evil. He's a quick study, but he still doesn't seem to be learning the larger philosophical lessons that The Ancient One practically beats him over the head with each day.

The film does a great job of getting the audience invested in Strange. Even though he's not the nicest guy, it's hard not to admire his intelligence and perseverance in the face of a ruined career. Cumberbatch also expresses the pain, both mental and physical, so vividly that a part of you aches for a remedy right along with him.

Swinton is sufficiently creepy as the wise teacher, but considering the casting drama, it seems she was mostly chosen for her look. She works, don't get me wrong, but others could have pulled off the role too.

Ejiofor is a calming presence as the voice of reason, and every time we see him, a little sigh of relief escapes, and Mads Mikkelsen (has their ever been a better real name for a villain?) as Kaecilius does a sufficient job of bringing the anger.

My only issues with the film were the dizzying bendy scenes where mirrors cave in and cities crumble within themselves Inception-style. I was grateful to be at the back of the theater and to be at a non-3D showing, because I fear I could have gotten sick otherwise. It was too much, too often, once the action got going. Excessive and unnecessary.

Nonetheless, I very much enjoyed the film and the teaser for the sequel, which followed the credits.


Saturday, October 08, 2016

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years

Tonight I saw The Beatles: Eight Days a Week—The Touring Years, directed by Ron Howard.

Though I've probably seen every Beatles documentary in existence, I'm happy to report there are elements of this one that still feel fresh.

Director Ron Howard uses footage from familiar flashbacks such as the band's appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show to illustrate their journey from 1963 to the time they quit touring in 1966, spliced in with talking head interviews (both from the era and present day). He captures the intensity and madness that was Beatlemania, but without dwelling on the drama.

At the heart of the phenomenon were four friends: John, Paul, George and Ringo. As Lennon once said, "We were just a band who made it very, very big—that's all." Big indeed. In the three years covered in the film, the band performed over 250 concerts, each one arguably growing in fan intensity.

Before it became suffocating (and downright dangerous after Lennon's famous "bigger than Jesus" remark), the thrill of touring—and the fame that came with it—was intoxicating for the group. They were young men who got to use their collective creative genius to conquer the world. With that came money, women, adoration and years of fun.

Considering how they all sued each other and fought publicly in their later years, we sometimes forget how close these boys were in the beginning. They were basically brothers, and thankfully by the time two of the four passed, they'd found their way back to one another.

At one point in the film, their musical gifts are compared to Mozart. Some may call that exposition apples to oranges, but a good case is made as to why it's a just parallel. Above all else, the contemplation reminds us that extraordinary talents like John, Paul, George and Ringo, only happen once in a lifetime.


Friday, October 07, 2016

The Girl on the Train

Tonight I saw The Girl on the Train, starring Emily Blunt and Haley Bennett.

Rachel (Blunt) is a scorned woman, drowning her sorrows in drink following a divorce. Her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), has moved on and married his mistress. They live together in the house he and Rachel used to share. They have a baby daughter and seem the picture of happiness.

Megan (Bennett) nannies for Tom and his wife, and lives nearby. On the train Rachel takes each day to a job she lost over a year ago, she often watches Megan and her husband Scott on their porch.

One day, Megan goes missing and Rachel is one of the last people to see her. Because of her alcoholism, Rachel suffers blackouts and doesn't remember the events of that night.

Going any further with the plot will spoil many twists, so I'll leave the exploration at that. Though the film does stay true to the book it was based upon, it feels (painfully) slower.

Blunt is convincing as the tragic Rachel, who you alternately sympathize with and want to shake. Her portrait of alcoholism is faithful to sufferers of the disease, and her shock and horror as events unfold is believable. Unfortunately her wonderful acting skills, and the strong performances from the other leads and supporting characters, can't save the movie.

Instead of the page-turning crescendo of activity the book put us through, we're instead watching extended vignettes of Rachel and Megan in their various stages, acting out in whatever ways their characters act out.

Sure, it's powerful to see Rachel flashback to her marriage and let us see what brought her to such self-destruction, and Megan seductively sucking the fingers of one of her sexual partners is about as erotic as it gets for an R-rated movie. But what happened to all the suspense?

I'll just have to return to the pages of the novel to find it.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Bridget Jones's Baby

Today I saw Bridget Jones's Baby, starring Renee Zellweger and Colin Firth.

For a movie based on a character based on a book that doesn't exist, this film hit it out of the ballpark.

Bridget Jones's Diary was the ultimate rom com, based on the best-selling book of the same name. Its sequel, Bridget Jones Edge of Reason followed with a not-quite-as-good-but-still-entertaining book and film. The third book we won't even go into, since many devotees found it to be a sacrilege. This film falls somewhere between those last two.

Our heroine, Bridget (Zellweger, who originated the role), is in her early 40s working as a television producer. She's still quirky, and lovable and disheveled. Also: she's still alone.

Her ex, Mark Darcy (Firth) has moved on and married, though that marriage is in trouble. She runs into him at a Christening for a mutual friend's baby and they fall accidentally into bed.

Jack (Patrick Dempsey) is an American motivational speaker that attends the same music festival as Bridget and her buddy. When Bridget gets hammered and ends up in the wrong yurt, he is there. And they accidentally fall into bed.

A few months later, Bridget learns that one of these interludes has made her pregnant, but because the encounters happened in the same span of time, she doesn't know which.

And here's our second act: Who's the daddy?

An entertaining romp ensues and we're not quite sure who she wants the father to be (though they make Dempsey just plastic enough to have us rooting for Darcy). Both men, instead of running away, enter into an almost "competition" to prove who would make the best papa, and the results are hilarious.

This movie is no Citizen Kane, but it is a comedy that stays faithful to beloved characters and provides pure enjoyment along the way.


Saturday, September 17, 2016

My 2016 Emmy Picks

Tomorrow's the big night—the 68th Annual Primetime Emmys. Here are my picks for who should win...

Best Drama Series

The Americans (about damn time)

Best Comedy Series

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (I also love Transparent, but I see it more as a drama)

Best Actor in a Drama Series

Live Schreiber - Ray Donovan (consistent and complex)

Best Actress in a Drama Series

Keri Russell - The Americans (like Orphan Black's Tatiana, Russell plays multiple characters each week)

Best Actor in a Comedy Series

Jeffrey Tambor - Transparent (sad and sweet at the same time)

Best Actress in a Comedy Series

Amy Schumer - Inside Amy Schumer (playing different characters each week and making people laugh is not easy)

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Ben Mendelsohn - Bloodline (his Danny infuriates and draws immense sympathies)

Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Maura Tierney - The Affair (her pain becomes ours—even if we root for the other woman)

Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Tituss Burgess - Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (he makes me laugh out loud more than any of the other contenders)

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Allison Janney - Mom (I thought I'd never see her as anyone other than CJ... until I saw her in this)

Best Limited Series

The People v. O.J. Simpson (I was glued to every episode, even though I watched the real trial live when it happened)

Best Television Movie

Confirmation (again, I watched the real trial when it was on; this was no less gripping or infuriating)

Best Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie

Tom Hiddleston - The Night Manager (an underrated show, Hiddleston carried it as the lead)

Best Actress in a Limited Series or a TV Movie

Sarah Paulson - The People V. O.J. Simpson (she basically channeled Marcia Clark)

Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie

David Schwimmer - The People v. O.J. Simpson (Kardashian without being a cartoon)

Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie

Kathy Bates - American Horror Story: Hotel (creepy in only a way she knows how to be)

Best Variety Talk Series

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (genius, brilliant, hilarious—EVERY WEEK)

Best Variety Sketch Series

Portlandia (biased because it's my home town)

Best Reality Competition Program

The Voice (constructive criticism and real talent in the spotlight)

Best Writing for a Drama Series

Robert & Michelle King — The Good Wife (I already miss this show so much)

Best Writing for a Comedy Series

Rob Delaney & Sharon Horgan — Catastrophe (everyone should be watching this; so genuine, so real)


Sunday, September 11, 2016


This morning I saw Sully, starring Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart.

Anyone who was around in January of 2009 will remember the "miracle on the Hudson." The day that a US Airways pilot safely landed a plane on the Hudson River after both engines failed following a bird strike. The pilot, Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Hanks), quickly became a national hero, as there was no loss of life in the incident.

What the public never knew was the extensive investigation after the landing, which came close to implying Sullenberger put lives at risk with his quick reaction to the emergency.

The film examines what it was like for both Sully and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Eckhart), to navigate the post traumatic stress disorder from the accident as they were fighting to convince the NTSB they did the best thing possible for everyone on board.

Tom Hanks channels Sully in his portrayal; from the way he furrows his brows to the walk we all got used to seeing as the press fell in love with the real-life captain. He is thoughtful, soft-spoken, concerned and–yes, heroic. As usual, it's hard not to marvel at just how much Hanks can disappear into his characters, being one of the most familiar actors in the world. But he does, and although we know how the flight ends, the scenes where we see what it was like both for the flight crew and the passengers are harrowing.

This suspense is a credit to Director Clint Eastwood, who has a knack for building great tension (see: American Sniper, Play Misty for Me, etc.). Though much of the flight of which the film is focused is shown to us in flashbacks, it's no less frightening.

For over 90 minutes of watching something so forensic in exploration, it's a satisfying, thrilling ride, which will surely serve as a reminder of one of New York's best days for years to come.


Thursday, September 08, 2016

Southside With You

On Sunday I saw Southside with You, starring Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers.

The film tells the story of how Barack Obama (Sawyers) and Michelle Robinson (Sumpter) first fell in love ... long before they would become the President and First Lady of the United States.

We see their different lifestyles right off the bat: Barack is a chain smoker, has a habit of being late to things and drives a beat-up car with a hole in the floor. Michelle is the very definition of poised—treats her parents with great respect, dresses elegantly and carries herself in the classiest of ways.

Michelle and Barack met while working together, and Michelle was his superior. Therefore, she felt it would be inappropriate for them to be anything more than friendly colleagues. Barack saw no issues with the two of them dating and pursued her relentlessly. We all know that he prevailed in the end.

The charming thing about this movie is that both of the actors not only sound like their real-life characters, but capture the essence of their greatness that's made a country of citizens fall in love with them. There's a twinkle in Barack's eye and a spirit to Michelle that doesn't go unnoticed (and also reminds us why they make such a lovely couple).

This film is a pleasant walk through their beginnings (yes, most literally a walk) that is reminiscent of the great Before Sunrise.

I'm just so pleased that they got a happy ending, both in the film and in life.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Light Between Oceans

Last night I saw The Light Between Oceans, starring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander.

The year is 1923. Tom (Fassbender) and Isabel (Vikander) are a young couple in love, living a peaceful, isolated life in a lighthouse, where Tom is the sole caretaker. Devastated by recent losses, they're snapped out of their own grief when a dinghy washes up on the shore near their home. It contains a dead man and a very alive baby girl.

Though Tom's instinct is to log the discovery and immediately alert the authorities, Isabel thinks the "right" thing to do is to care for the baby as if she were their own and give the man a proper burial. So, that's what they do.

And they become the best parents the baby could ask for—doting on her endlessly; showering her with attention and love at every turn.

Life is undeniably good until they return to town to visit family and Tom discovers the woman who may be their new daughter's biological mother. He's immediately torn on what to do. Should he stay silent and continue his idyllic life, knowing this stranger is in unimaginable pain? Or should he do the "right thing" and confess to their crime, giving the child back to her rightful family, destroying every ounce of happiness that he and his family possess.

What should be a simple decision becomes a dreadful one, not only for the characters in this story, but for the audience having to choose sides. I fully admit: I was 100% on the fence.

Life's decisions aren't easy. And what the handbooks say (whether based on religion, ethics or society's moral code) may seem completely true on paper but totally backwards when coupled with the human experience.

Sometimes there aren't easy answers and sometimes unfavorable actions are truly motivated by purity or grief or love. It is possible.

Here, the pursuit of happiness wasn't even selfish; everyone involved cared most about the young girl. There were no bad people or villains in sight.

I can't share the decision that Tom made, for that would spoil the movie, but I can say that this film was so well-acted and real that everyone was left sobbing in their seats at the end.

All of us, crying together, about love.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Older Than Ireland

Tonight I saw the documentary Older Than Ireland, featuring a group of lively centenarians telling tales of life in the old country.

Some of them still smoke, one credits her longevity to the lack of vegetables in her diet—another claims he died when his wife passed. A colorful cast of characters indeed, and the one thing they all have in common? They were around before Ireland as we know it existed. One of them personally met Michael Collins; another watched the fires of Easter 1916 from a nearby tower; a different man (just a boy at the time) was an eye witness to Bloody Sunday in Croke Park.

They came from all walks of life with a range of careers and economic backgrounds, but all have lived to be at least 100 years old (the eldest of the bunch, who emigrated to America in the '20s, is 113).

The stories range from sweet to heartbreaking, but all are undoubtedly charming. They speak of religion, politics, family life and culture—some wistful for the days gone by; others proud of the social progress their country has made. The main takeaway: they're all continuing to live their lives, whether it be by playing cards, baking cakes or taking a bus to the market to buy their own groceries.

I think about the (much younger) lazy people I know and shake my head. If these folks, who lived through some of the most tumultuous times in modern history, can face the day with a smile and a purpose, what the hell is wrong with the rest of the world?

My only criticism of the film is that I don't feel they spent enough time on the "big" political topics, but perhaps additional footage will show up on a DVD version.

I can only hope so—I'd be glad to spend more time with this lovely bunch.


Friday, July 15, 2016


Today I saw Ghostbusters, starring Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig.

Years ago Erin (Wiig) and Abby (McCarthy) wrote a book together about the paranormal. Abby has continued her passion, working as a scientist alongside the eccentric Jillian (Kate McKinnon) while Erin shifted gears and pursued a career in education.

They're reunited when Erin gets a visit from a fan of the book, claiming a nearby mansion is haunted. She tracks Abby down, angry that she put their book on Amazon without asking, and they end up checking out the site with Jillian. Of course, it's legit haunted.

From there, we're taken on a predictable-yet-delightful ride through New York as the ladies form a real ghostbusting firm and set out to capture some spirits. Along the way they pick up Patty (Leslie Jones, who stole the show), a transit worker recently stirred by a ghost she witnessed on the subway tracks.

I'll admit: it was hard for me to watch this through anything but a defensive lens. Since the new cast was announced, certain types of men have been screaming about the travesty that is women remaking this beloved film. They didn't care that it was a re-make (though that would have been a valid concern because most re-makes suck). They only cared that the main roles were to be played by humans who possessed vaginas.

Well, chauvinistic pigs, you lose. Though it's of course not as magical as the original (how could it be?), this movie succeeds on many levels.

The special effects are far better thanks to technological advances that didn't exist in the '80s when the original was made. Though the story is recycled, it's told in a fresh new way that incorporates the essence of the old film beautifully (even the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man's cameo is clever); it's also really scary in certain sequences. And above all else: the women are hilarious.

I personally loved Leslie Jones the most. Her physical comedy is spot on and some of her expressions alone had me laughing out loud. That's not to say the others weren't great, because they were, but we've seen all of them enough to know their rhythms and strengths.

Also fun was the addition of Chris Hemsworth, who was objectified for his looks much like every woman who's ever played a secretary or assistant or flight attendant or waitress or librarian. I could go on, but I think you know where I'm going with that.

I also liked the winks to feminism via reverse psychology lines (jokes about girls being late, etc.)—it was just enough to stick it to the haters.

Overall, you'll have a good time at this film. Don't let a few vaginas—or dicks—get in the way of that.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Finding Dory

On July 4, I saw Finding Dory, starring Ellen DeGeneres and Ed O'Neill.

Dory (Degeneres) is a blue tang with a short term memory impairment. As a baby, her parents tried to train her to come home, but when she was young she got separated from them. She made friends along the way, but never got over the loss of her Mom and Dad.

As an adult, she sets out to find them using techniques she's learned and taking some friends with her—like Hank the Octopus (O'Neill)—to keep her focused.

Her voice, Ellen DeGeneres, hits all the right notes to trigger empathy and sympathy. You can't help but root for her as she navigates the wild waters she first explored with her friend Nemo (Hayden Rolence), who makes an appearance here as well. In fact, all of the voices are great from legend Diane Keaton (Dory's mom) to the 7-year-old Sloane Murray, who gives a precious performance as the young version of Dory.

It's frankly hard to find fault with anything that Pixar does and Finding Dory is no exception. Excellent animation? Check. Brilliant casting? Check. Screenplay that ignites tearful waterworks? Check. Charming jokes to keep us laughing as we cry? Check.

The film is thoroughly engaging and enjoyable—my only complaint would be that as a sequel, it took too long to come out after the original.

Let's hope we don't have to wait as long for the third.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Lobster

On Tuesday I saw The Lobster, starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz.

The world represented in the film looks much like ours except for one main thing: every adult who lives in the city is part of a couple. There are no exceptions to this rule and those seen wandering alone may be asked to show their "papers" to prove they have a spouse.

David (Farrell) is recently divorced and devastated by the breakup. He is immediately transported to an inn where he is expected to find a partner in 45 days. If he does not complete this task, he will be turned into the animal of his choice. He has decided on a lobster.

As he earnestly attempts to find a new mate, he witnesses the horrors of those who try to game the system. Punishments are delivered. People become animals. It's not pretty.

I can't go any further than that without spoiling the ending in major ways, so I'll start by saying Colin Farrell is fantastic. It's a very odd role for an Irish heartthrob to play, but one he owns beautifully. His tension (both social and sexual) is palpable and the longing you see in his eyes once he zeroes in on a possible object of affection is painful.

Rachel Weisz, who has significantly less screen time but just as important of a role is also solid as a "loner," who has left the inn and rebelled against the establishment. Her energy mixed with her restraint produces an impressive result that not every actor could achieve.

The movie is weird, and there are a lot of winks in the dialog that could be cheesy to some, but I actually enjoyed them.

If you've ever felt persecuted for being alone (or just simply being different), you may take great comfort in the satire of The Lobster. I know I did.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Conjuring 2

Tonight I saw The Conjuring 2, starring Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson.

After experiencing the evil energy of the famous Amityville haunted house, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren needed a break—the demonic presence that Lorraine sensed was just too disturbing. So they took one, until another high-profile case demanded their attention.

Reprising their roles from 2013's The Conjuring, Wilson and Farmiga feel so familiar as the real-life Warrens it's easy to buy the story they're selling.

From their cozy home in Connecticut, they travel to London to investigate the haunting of a house on Green Street in Enfield, occupied by a single mother and her four children. The second-oldest daughter, on the cusp of puberty, is the target of most of the paranormal activity.

After the police visit and watch a chair levitate and move across the room on its own, determining they can do nothing to help the family, the home becomes the focus of a media circus. Tabloid journalists descend upon the street to try to capture the happenings on film. Some they do; some they don't. And the debate rages on (to this day) as to whether or not this was a hoax.

In the midst of the chaos, the Warrens stopped by and spent time at the house, witnessing and documenting the alleged possession of young Janet (Madison Wolfe). Wolfe does a tremendous job of appearing both terrified and terrifying depending on who her body was representing, making this less a "gotcha" horror film and more of the psychologically troubling kind.

Speaking of psychologically troubling: the demon that Lorraine sees in her visions throughout the film looks like Marilyn Manson dressed as a nun for Halloween. More disturbing than cheesy, I still have to mention the reference, as I can't be alone in seeing this.

If you're looking for a movie that will scare you, this sequel will not disappoint you. I sat in the very back of the theater and watched folks (both male and female) jump out of their seats throughout. There's something much creepier about a story that could actually be true vs. something admittedly fictional.

So if you go—and I recommend strongly that you do—stay through the credits for a "real" surprise.


Saturday, June 11, 2016

I Am Belfast

Tonight I saw I Am Belfast, a documentary about the Irish city.

Conceptually, I was on board. An elderly woman narrates a historical travelogue about Belfast, personifying herself as the city as we see the visual representation of what she's referencing.

Cool, huh?

Well, yes and no.

Visually, I have zero complaints. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle of In the Mood fame does a marvelous job capturing the beauty and the horrors of this famous location. Whether it's a bombed-out street corner or a landscape of breathtaking proportions, Doyle puts us there, not as viewers, but as visitors.

The issues come with the scripting. Though I love the idea of the star of the film—Belfast itself—having a voice in human form, the commentary had a few too many winks to avoid being cheesy. The pace in the beginning was brutal too. With landscapes that calming, I was nearly tempted to doze off.

Because the film was more like poetry than prose, I expected more of a definite rhythm but instead got lengthy flashbacks and abbreviated stories. All of the humor sat near the end, when really the beginning needed it most.

I applaud the inventive approach, but feel the sentiment suffered as a result.


Big Sonia

Last week I saw Big Sonia, a work-in-progress documentary about a spirited Holocaust survivor.

Since it's not an officially "complete" cut of the film, my review will be preliminary bullet points:

  • Sonia is definitely a worthy subject of her own documentary.
  • The pieces about the Holocaust, though strong, feel discombobulated in places.
  • It feels as though many sections of Sonia's life are under-represented, while too much time is devoted to her career.
  • It would have been great to see her interacting more with her kids/grandkids instead of the majority of the interviews being separate.
  • The brief animations are great.
  • I want a sequel to see what happens next in Ms. Sonia's colorful life.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Beware the Slenderman

Today I saw Beware the Slenderman, a documentary about the stabbing of Petyon "Bella" Leutner.

Two years ago this week, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier had a sleepover at Morgan's house with the victim. They woke up in the morning, had doughnuts and strawberries for breakfast, and asked Morgan's mother if they could go to the park. Without hesitation, she told them they could. Once there, they initiated a fake game of hide-and-seek (though Bella didn't want to play) and brutally stabbed her 19 times, missing a major artery by just a millimeter. They left her for dead, but she crawled her way to an area where a bicyclist discovered her and called for help. When questioned about why they did it, they both blamed a fictional boogie man named Slenderman.

Bella is alive today—physically recovered from her injuries, but continuing to battle the emotional scars left by the event. Morgan and Anissa are being held in separate locations (Morgan in a state hospital; Anissa in a juvenile jail) as they await word on a decision about their case.

This film explores what led each of the accused to commit such a heinous act, with frank, tragic conversations by both sets of parents. In Anissa's case, it's the classic problem of being bullied; not having a lot of friends; feeling an outcast. She wasn't inherently evil; just a 'follower' prone to frightening easily. In Morgan's case, she is mentally ill and the parents saw signs at a young age. Additionally, mental illness runs in their family, so they knew she had a genetic predisposition for it.

The story is both fascinating and disturbing—how seemingly normal kids with loving families can go so horribly wrong in the blink of an eye. Extensive footage is shown of each girl's interrogation with detectives and there's a shocking lack of remorse in both instances. Anissa asks how far she walked out of the woods because she was "never very athletic" and Morgan questions Bella's condition without so much as a tear. Not what you'd expect from two humans who committed a vicious act of brutality just hours earlier.

My main issue with the film is the lack of information and attention for the victim. Sure, we're all interested in understanding why such a crime happened, but I inadvertently found myself sympathizing with the parents and friends of the accused rather than thinking of Bella. Perhaps her family didn't choose to participate in the documentary (that would be perfectly understandable), but there were still ways the filmmakers could have represent her more prominently, even in the absence of interviews.

I also could have done less with the dramatic music in certain sequences. Really, the true story is awful enough to invoke horror.


Saturday, May 28, 2016


Today I saw Summertime, starring Izïa Higelin and Cécile de France.

Delphine (Higelin) is a farmer's daughter in rural France who decides to move to Paris for financial and social independence. Once there, she embraces the spirit of the city, joining a feminist group and falling in love with Carole (de France), a straight girl who is transfixed by her new friend.

Everything is blissful until Carole leaves her boyfriend to pursue Delphine just as Delphine has tragedy strike back home. Will family duty get in the way of true love or will the couple find happiness?

This film gets a lot right: the chemistry between the two leads; the authenticity of the era; the sensual nature of erotic attraction—and of course—hate for the unknown.

Unfortunately, the pace of the story is very uneven. It speeds up and slows down almost as the rhythms of their relationship ebb and flow, and that makes the film feel a lot longer than it actually is. Plus, the scenes come dangerously close to being formulaic.

It gets points for its timely women's issues (despite the fact the film is set in the '70s) and superb acting. I just wish it could have condensed it's slower sequences to keep its viewers minds from wandering.


Friday, May 06, 2016

Purple Rain

On Tuesday I saw Purple Rain, starring Prince and Appolonia Kotero.

This was my second theater viewing of this film. The first took place when I was 9 years old—it was my first "R" rated film and the only film my older sister ever snuck me into. I'm still grateful.

With Prince's passing, the 'celebration' of seeing it has dimmed, but my friend and I still made quite a night of it, complete with cans (yes, cans) of wine, tears and enthusiastic singing. I can also not confirm or deny that I shouted "Fuck you, Tipper Gore!" during "Darling Nikki." But I digress.

In this 1984 classic, Prince plays The Kid, a young man obsessed with making it big in the music industry. His rival, Morris Day (playing himself), and his band The Time give The Kid a lot of grief, but here it's done in such a comical way that the banter is fun to watch.

There's also a girl, of course. She is supernaturally beautiful as well as talented. Her name is Appolonia (Kotero) and she also has her sights set on performing.

There are motorcycle rides and steamy sex scenes and domestic violence and above all else, epic music performances. Sure, the dialogue is cheesy, but the story—based loosely on Prince's real life—is solid.

In fact, it's hard to find fault with anyone as engaging and magical as Prince was. It's even harder to refer to him in past tense.