Saturday, October 26, 2019


On Wednesday, I screened Harriet, starring Cynthia Erivo and Leslie Odom, Jr.

Minty Ross (Erivo) was a headstrong slave in Maryland who yearned for her freedom. She decided that she would risk anything to achieve that liberty, so in 1849 she left her husband, parents and siblings behind to walk alone nearly 90 miles to reach the safety of Pennsylvania. Minty Ross would transform into Harriet Tubman.

In this film chronicling her journey and what happened beyond her arrival, we learn just how awful the family was who owned hers; how she couldn't rest until she went back for her family and so many others (she did, successfully) and how she believed the visions she saw were coming directly from God.

Cynthia Erivo is painfully convincing as this tortured soul who finds the strength not only to free slaves but to continue the fight for justice in many more ways, during the war and later during the women's suffrage movement. As an American child, I studied Mrs. Tubman, but never knew the raw details of what she actually faced.

The film is brutal during several scenes, but never gratuitous—if ever there was a time where we needed to see the effects of the violence of racism, that time is now.

Go see this film and rejoice on Oscar night when it deservingly wins some major awards.


Friday, October 18, 2019


Today I saw Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Robert De Niro.

Arthur (Phoenix) is a working-class clown who likes to make children laugh, cares tenderly for his elderly mother (Frances Conroy) and harbors an innocent crush on his attractive neighbor (Zazie Beetz). By all accounts, Arthur is a nice person just trying to life his life.

When he's attacked by some kids who steal the sign he's holding as part of his job, then beaten up by the same crowd when he attempts to retrieve it, it's easy to brim with sadness for him. Through a brief glimpse into one of his therapy sessions, we learn he's on a cocktail of drugs to aid in his mental health and that he dreams of being a stand-up comedian.

Arthur is also obsessed with a Johnny Carson-like talk show hosted by Murray Franklin (De Niro) and watches faithfully. He finally gets the chance to perform at a local comedy club and it doesn't go so well, but Franklin picks up clips from the disaster and uses them on his program, which leads to an invitation for Arthur to appear.

Meanwhile, a colleague gives Arthur a gun for protection, which he graciously accepts. You don't have to be a mathematician to realize that a mentally ill, constantly bullied man with a firearm is a bad idea ... but that's as far as I can go without spoiling.

I must say this, however: Joaquin Phoenix is nothing short of phenomenal in the role. Every expression, every ounce of pain Arthur experiences seeps from his pores onto the screen. When he aches, you ache for him, and when he rages; well—you sort of can't help but rage along with him.

It's truly an intense character study into the deterioration of the human spirit. Someone who could've had a shot at leading a decent life, but got kicked around too many times, and that coupled with other factors creates a monster, somewhat literally. The narrative got so intense I almost couldn't breathe, so I stepped into the lobby to take a moment. I can't remember the last time I film got to me in the same way.

Joker is tragic to claustrophobic proportions and more disturbing than it would be otherwise if our world wasn't presently so cruel.

Incredibly well done.


Thursday, October 17, 2019


Tonight I screened Countdown, starring Elizabeth Lail and Peter Facinelli.

A group of friends dare each other at a party to download an app that supposedly reveals your time of death and the person with the soonest fate has to drink the remaining drinks. Silly, right? Sure it is ... until that individual dies at the precise time that app said she would (and no, not from alcohol poisoning).

A story for modern times, for sure—with all of the tech nerd cheap shots they can fit–that examines our obsession with Smartphones and attempts to provide some jumps and scares in the meantime.

After one of her patients passes away, also at the time the app says he would, Quinn (Lail), a new nurse, downloads the app to her phone. She's alarmed when the time of death is just a few days away and begins seeing and hearing things that make her think there's more to it. She does what any sane person would do and attempts to delete the app from her phone, but that proves to be impossible.

She soon meets another app "victim" and they become friends, seeking ways to rid themselves of their certain fates. They enlist the help of an almost cartoonish young priest who is new to the demon-fighting trade and the film turns from wannabe-thriller to unsuccessful screwball comedy.

Did I mention there's a whole #MeToo side story in there too? I was excited to see Peter Facinelli emerge as the slimy doctor (I always loved him in a similar role on Nurse Jackie), but really as a fine actor, he deserved more.

Overall, this wasn't terribly scary, didn't ever really solve why the deaths were happening (what motivated the "demons") and gratuitously set up the sequel at the end. Thanks, but I'll pass.


Wednesday, September 18, 2019


Tonight I saw Maiden, starring Tracy Edwards and Jo Gooding.

In 1989, Tracy Edwards led an all-female team in the Whitbread Round the World Race, though she'd never been a skipper before. This documentary recalls the years leading up to the race featuring interviews conducted with original crew members and the journalists who covered them, in addition to archival footage.

Throughout her young life, Edwards had trouble committing to things. After an idyllic childhood cut short by her father's premature death, the young woman found herself always escaping. After being expelled from school and backpacking around Europe, she ended up on charter boats doing various jobs including cooking and acting as a deckhand.

After a chance meeting with King Hussein of Jordan during a trip to the U.S., she was helped by him to acquire a boat and organize a team to compete in the Whitbread Round the World Race. The team was all-female and struggled to find sponsorships because of those who underestimated their potential.

Finally, by 1989, the team and funding was in place and the women were able to compete alongside their male counterparts, gaining momentum with each milestone reached.

The film does a fantastic job of re-living their journey as it happened and relishing in every last victory these amazing women enjoyed.

A perfect movie for 2019.


Saturday, September 14, 2019

Downton Abbey

On Thursday night I screened Downton Abbey, starring Dame Maggie Smith and Allen Leech.

We rejoin our beloved upper-class British family in 1927 when they are set to host King George V and Queen Mary for a night at their estate. As preparations for the royal visit progress, the staff is excited for the opportunity to serve royalty and the Crawleys themselves are anxious, yet pleased.

True to fashion, things don't exactly go as planned. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is concerned that Barrow (Robert-James Collier) isn't up to the task of leading the team and requests that Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) come out of retirement to assure things run smoothly. Flattered, he agrees to do so. Then, the boiler breaks, and a sexy plumber (James Cartwright)—sort of a cross between Ben Affleck and Justin Hartley—arrives to save the day, making Andy (Michael C. Fox) furious with jealously, as Daisy (Sophie McShera) flirts up a storm.

Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) is awaiting the delivery of her ball gown and has a secret to share with her husband. Violet (Smith) is ready to cause trouble when a cousin comes along for the visit and doesn't plan to name Robert as the family heir. Items around Downton also mysteriously start to go missing.

As usual, there's a lot going on.

In addition, Tom (Leech) maintains a prominent place in the family, still raising his daughter at Downton and managing the property with Lady Mary. He is part of two main storylines here, but I can't mention them in any depth without spoilers, so I'll just say his presence is welcome and he's better than ever.

At heart, this felt like a very satisfying extended episode of the show we said goodbye to just a few years back. There's drama, romance, mystery and comedy. But is there anything particularly cinematic about it? Not really, but that's okay. Downton was grand as a television show with lavish costumes and sweeping landscapes, and it's even more of a pleasure to watch them on a big screen.

The show maintains its usual charm and wit, especially in Smith's delivery, then goes for an emotional sucker-punch (that I personally didn't see coming) at the end. If you're like me, you'll both laugh and cry as you acclimate to the comfort of spending time with characters who already feel like family.


Saturday, August 17, 2019

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Today I saw Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, starring Zoe Margaret Colletti and Michael Garza.

As a child in the '80s, many lunchtimes were spent huddled underneath a table in the school library with my friends, reading aloud from the book Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I remember some of the characters and stories so vividly I can still see them in my mind's eye.

So when I heard that an adaptation was coming to the big screen and Guillermo del Toro was involved, I got very excited. Unfortunately I later learned that this film would carry a PG-13 rating, which usually means it won't be allowed to be as scary as it could be, but I was still willing to give it a chance, so I did. Here's what I thought:

The pros:

The screenwriters do a nice job of weaving together the stories with one cohesive narrative. The kids visit a haunted house on Halloween and disturb the wrong entity. She starts writing stories in a book they have possession of to destroy each of them one by one.

The visuals are very close to what I remember of the book and come alive in horrifically magical ways.

The child actors are all quite good and not the least bit annoying. Together they have a "Goonies" vibe, which is a lot of fun.

The cons:

It takes them a while to get to the first story. Too long. And the Halloween sequence going after the bully feels too much like so many other movie scenes of the same nature.

It's almost gratuitous with gore. Sure, many of the stories (the toe, etc.) have gross elements to them, but I had to look away more than I'd have preferred.

They dialed down some of the most terrifying elements probably because of the rating, which is a shame because the book used to keep me up at night; this did not.

All-in-all it was entertaining, but in a sanitized-for-the-YA-crowd sort of way, which was disappointing. If they make a second, I hope they'll go for the R rating.


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Last night I saw Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.

This was the most fun I've had at a Tarantino film since Pulp Fiction.

The year is 1969 and Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) is a has-been television star that is struggling with the reality that his best days are behind him. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is his stunt double and best friend who has a tarnished reputation in the entertainment industry for allegedly killing his wife. They are both very "Hollywood" in their own right.

Rick lives next door to Roman Polanski (Rafał Zawierucha) on an affluent Benedict Canyon street. He hopes to connect with the famed director, but has yet to encounter him directly. Booth lives alone with his trusted dog and keeps a positive attitude despite his entire existence being dependent on Dalton's success.

We explore Dalton's pain—and hubris—through a series of meetings and parts he's won as he struggles to stay relevant. We understand just how much of a badass Cliff is based on his ability to protect himself in any given situation (even coming face to face with the Manson family on the abandoned ranch where they reside).

They're both hilarious in their own ways, sad as their situation may be, and as we watch them each navigate their self-imposed drama, we become distracted by following the idyllic life of rising star Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), who is married to Polanski and also lives next door.

Tate hangs out with friends, goes to see her own film at a nearby theater and generally seems like a lovely human being. Anyone who knows the real history of what became of her will feel a sense of dread as the summer progresses in the film.

It would be spoiling everything to go any further, but I will say that the "controversies" (Tarantino's treatment of women and representation of Bruce Lee) in this film I find to be silly. Every thing he does to every woman and the famed Asian star are part of the storytelling that's needed to shape his anti-hero (Booth). The laughs and gasps and reactions from the audience work because of this writing and I for one don't think he needs to apologize for it—he's not making a documentary, after all.

And men did call women "honey" in the workplace in the 1960s (for God's sake in some workplaces, they still do). As for the violence? Well, I knew what I was getting into when I bought a ticket to a Tarantino movie.

What a joy to watch DiCaprio and Pitt on-screen together, clearly having a great time; and what a thrill to see footage of the real Sharon Tate spliced in with Robbie's elegant portrayal of her.

I may just have to go see it again.


Monday, August 05, 2019

Late Night

Yesterday I saw Late Night, starring Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson.

Molly (Kaling) works at a chemical plant, loves comedy and wants to be a writer. She applies for a position at a Late Night television show where Katherine (Thompson) is an aging, out-of-touch host. Because they need a “diversity hire” she gets the job—never mind the fact she has no experience in the industry.

Soon she’s adapting to an otherwise all-male writers’ room full of egos and habits that are hard to break, plus the abuse that comes from the top, as the boss is resistant to change, though her ratings are steadily dropping.

Molly has fresh ideas and she’s not afraid to share them, which gets her into some trouble, but she is undeterred. As Katherine’s situation becomes worse and worse, she has to decide whether or not to listen to Molly or potentially lose her show.

Mindy's character has the potential to be annoying, but isn't in the least and Emma's has the potential to be one-note, yet is refreshingly multi-dimensional. And the men—even the bros—have redemptive qualities, though they could have easily been written as stereotypically awful.

Put simply: this perfectly paced, satisfying film was such a welcome reprieve from the world that I almost turned around and bought a ticket to see it again upon its end. It's that great.

We need more films like this. Films that have a basic beginning, middle and end yet don't feel like fluff and allow us to care about the characters because there is something about them that is worth caring about.


Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Wizard of Oz

Tonight I saw The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland and Margaret Hamilton.

I've seen this film countless times, of course, growing up with it on TV once a year, then owning a VHS copy, then a DVD version and attending multiple anniversary showings. Tonight's occasion was a Throwback Thursday presentation at a local indie theater. That was reason enough for me to attend.

Though made in the late '30s, the film's themes and sentiments continue to have relevance in present day. For example, when the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) mutters that "... some people without brains do a lot of talking" the audience clapped and cheered.

The story is simple: a young Kansas farm girl, Dorothy (Garland), gets caught in a tornado and passes out. While she's unconscious she travels to the land of Oz, a magical place where she's joined by three new friends, along with her dog Toto, on a journey to see the Wizard, who they hope can help them all in one way or another and send her safely home. A wicked witch (Hamilton) tries to stop them each step of the way, coveting Dorothy's new ruby slippers, which possess magical qualities.

Though the effects are of their time, the colors and sets still look beautiful all these years later and the heart of the film rings true: Courage, belief in self and goodwill toward others will lead you to your ultimate goal no matter what lies in your path. You just have to find the strength to overcome it.


Monday, July 15, 2019


On Saturday, I saw Pavarotti, a documentary about the life of the legendary tenor.

Some people have a presence. It’s an intangible x factor that only a select amount of individuals possess, but those who do are unforgettable—Luciano Pavarotti was one of them.

The story of the Italian opera great is told here in a linear way by director Ron Howard, who conducted over 50 interviews to arrive at the finished work. From his childhood in Italy to his profound success as perhaps the greatest tenor of all time, Pavarotti’s life is recounted in a beautiful narrative by the people who knew him best.

He was a family man, a mentor, a friend and a humanitarian. He was also a philanderer, a diva and a man plagued with self-doubt. I’m grateful Howard chose to show both sides. Sometimes when we get to know someone larger than life, it’s only their persona that’s noticed; here we get to explore the human for all of his flaws, and we’re better for it.

Aside from his technical talent, his charisma is remembered through scenes from his friendship with Princess Diana and hilarious stories told by Bono. Pavarotti seemed to love life—his women, his friends, his children, his colleagues, his fans, his food. This was reflected in the way he lived his life, to the fullest of course, and that made it all the more heartbreaking to reach the end of the film where the last months of his life, as he suffered from pancreatic cancer, are remembered.

Though not much of an opera fan, because of his undeniable popularity and yes, because of the U2 song “Miss Sarajevo,” I knew about Pavarotti before seeing the film, but never did I think I’d enjoy such an intimate look at him.

I only wish I’d seen him perform when I had the chance.


Saturday, July 13, 2019


On Wednesday, I saw E.T. in Concert with the Seattle Symphony.

My memory of seeing E.T. in the theater when I was 6 years old is vivid. My sister and my cousin took me. We sat closer than we normally would because the theater was full. It was crowded and hot and I didn't take my eyes off the screen for the duration.

I developed an instant crush on Elliot (Henry Thomas) and even though we're the same age, found Gertie (Drew Barrymore) to be adorable. I was scared of E.T. at first, but once they showed how gentle he was, and the scenes with the beer drinking and costumes surfaced, I was completely on-board with this new alien friend.

My other remembrance is how hard I sobbed when Elliott and E.T. suffered in the makeshift treatment facility that the government sets up in Elliott's house. Scarred me for life.

That said, the iconic bike scene and the legendary score by John Williams never left me, and I went on to consume many Reese's Pieces and buy E.T.-related memorabilia in the years that followed (I still have a pair of socks and earrings).

I was delighted when I saw this would return to the theater and be accompanied live by the Seattle Symphony last winter and quickly bought tickets. Unfortunately, our snow storm postponed the performance and we just now got to see it. I can safely say it was worth the wait.

The sweet tale of a family struggling with parental separation in the 1980s focuses on the bond between Elliott (the boy who finds the alien) and E.T. the Extraterrestrial. Instead of siblings that are always at each other's throats, the brothers and sister in this family look out for each other (and successfully hide E.T. for a period of time).

Drew Barrymore is the standout as young Gertie—an exceptional actress even then, she's alternately funny, vulnerable and sad.

I enjoyed seeing this Spielberg classic on the screen again and feel privileged I got to hear the amazing live music that accompanied it.

The narrative is simple: find alien, hide alien, attempt to reunite alien with his family before the government captures him to experiment on him, but the story is told with such heart that it's remained in our consciousness for over 40 years. It should—and most likely will—hold that legacy forever.


Friday, July 05, 2019

The Biggest Little Farm

Yesterday I saw The Biggest Little Farm, starring John and Molly Chester.

John and Molly are married, living a pleasant life in the city. Molly is a personal chef; John is a documentarian. On one of his assignments, he films a home with an animal hoarder and falls in love with one of the dogs. He and Molly end up adopting said dog, Todd, and soon run into trouble because he won't stop barking. After many unsuccessful attempts to correct the dog's behavior, they're evicted from their apartment and decide to build a completely new life.

The couple buy a farm an hour north of Los Angeles and with the help of a dedicated mentor, commit themselves to reviving the land by farming using old-school methods that are kinder to the environment. This documentary chronicles their first seven years on the farm and all of the tragedy and victory that came with it. From pigs that won't eat to coyotes that murder their ducks and chickens, there's never a dull moment

Throughout the story, thankfully told chronologically, we recognize how idealistic and naive the couple were to start this venture with no previous farming experience, but also root for them because they refuse to give up regardless of the challenges they face. There is never a direct reference to climate change, but I sat there silently thanking them each time they "won" a bit of nature back (i.e. area bees returning and thriving). What they're doing all farmers should be doing.

The animals become family members, the lush landscapes provide both a peaceful retreat and an endless supply of headaches (some more dangerous than you may think) and every moment is entertaining whether you've ever had the desire to live on a farm yourself (I personally, have not).

At one point when their pig, Emma, is giving birth to what seems like an endless amount of piglets, Molly smiles with delight and says "I love our life!"

I, for one, loved watching their life.


Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Toy Story 4

Tonight I saw Toy Story 4, starring the voices of Tom Hanks and Annie Potts.

Woody (Hanks) and the gang of toys who used to belong to Andy (John Morris) have settled in nicely with young Bonnie (Madeline McGraw) and her family. Bonnie is hesitant about starting Kindergarten, so Woody tags along for her orientation. That's where she creates a new toy, Forky, (Tony Hale) from a utensil that was thrown into the trash.

Forky helps Bonnie adjust to her new school and becomes immediately beloved, but Forky doesn't really want to be a toy and attempts to return to the trash every chance he gets. This keeps Woody on his toes, chasing after him at every turn to ensure he stays put. But Woody isn't always successful and Forky successfully escapes during a road trip. Woody goes after him and they both end up at an antique store where they encounter a doll named Gabby (Christina Hendricks) who has a broken voice box and is desperate to replace it with Woody's.

Meanwhile, Bonnie is devastated that Forky is missing and that sends the family road trip into chaos, with all of the remaining toys in the vehicle worried for Woody and Forky.

All of the usual wit and clever blink-or-you'll-miss-them funnies are as present here as they were in the first three films, as is the charm and heart. It's lovely spending time with characters like Woody and Little Bo Peep (Potts) who we've seen before and the addition of several supporting characters only add delight—Keanu Reeves is a standout as the always-posing stuntman, Duke.

Of course there's a huge action sequence at the climax of the plot, a little creepiness, some genuine sadness and even a budding romance. Really, for a film that's fourth in a franchise, it's incredibly satisfying.

Go see it. You'll still be smiling when you get home.



Last night I saw Yesterday, starring Himesh Patel and Lily James.

A world without The Beatles or Coca-Cola isn't a world I'd ever want to live in, but it's the warped reality that struggling English musician, Jack (Patel), experiences when he wakes from an accident. Jack was hit by a bus during a freak, 12-second worldwide blackout and seems to be the only person who remembers the most famous band that ever existed and the iconic soda.

Of course he doesn't have the formula for Coke, but he does remember a fair amount of The Beatles catalog of songs, so he begins to "write" them one-by-one and pass them off as his own. Of course, the world (again) loves them.

Side note: For those of us who are die-hard Beatles fans who absolutely hate covers of their songs, listening to him play their sacred hits throughout the film is as excruciating as you'd imagine.

By his side on his rise to fame is Ellie (James) who has known him since childhood and acts as his manager until he's recruited by a bigger fish, who arrives in the form of Kate McKinnon as Debra. She is a very welcome distraction, as is Ed Sheeran who portrays himself.

Although the film is marketed as this philosophical "what if" regarding the cultural shift that would happen if the band who influenced nearly every major rock act that came after them never happened, it's really just a mediocre romantic comedy about two people who don't have much chemistry and struggle to get past the friend zone. In fact, the film should have been called The Friend Zone.

As someone who counts Love Actually among the greatest rom coms of all time, I hoped that writer Richard Curtis would sprinkle his fairy dust on this couple as well, but instead all we got were a series of groan-worthy jokes (re-naming "Hey Jude" to "Hey Dude") and an odd twist at the end that contemplates what John Lennon would be doing today if he hadn't been murdered (for what it's worth, I don't think they even came close).

A film exploring an alternate Back to the Future-ish reality about how music would suck had rock 'n' roll never been blessed with John, Paul, George and Ringo? Now that would have been compelling.

Unfortunately, the greatest part of this film was the very end—when the real Beatles sing "Hey Jude" over the credits.


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Annabelle Comes Home

Tonight I saw Annabelle Comes Home, starring McKenna Grace and Vera Farmiga.

Paranormal investigators Lorraine Warren (Farmiga) and her husband Ed (Patrick Wilson) decide the best place to contain the evil that the Annabelle doll possesses is in their private museum at home. As they transport the doll to their residence, a number of bad things happen. And so it begins ...

The latest installment in the series that began with The Conjuring, which was based loosely on the real-life experiences of the Warrens, centers around a time when the couple has to go away for the night and their daughter Judy (McKenna Grace) is left in the care of a babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman).

Mary Ellen's friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) shows up and starts snooping where she shouldn't in the paranormal museum. Soon, all hell breaks loose and all three are put in grave danger from the Annabelle doll being released from her protective locked case.

On the fright meter, unfortunately this installment ranks pretty low. Sure, there are things that chase and things that jump, but overall it doesn't have the creepy factor that some of the other films in the series had. Also, it doesn't have enough of Lorraine and Ed.

Although this is one of the few franchises that I welcome more prequels and sequels from, this one didn't deliver the chills and thrills I've come to expect.

Hopefully the next will be a return to form.


Thursday, June 20, 2019


Tonight I saw Jaws, starring Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider in honor of its 44th anniversary.

The legendary score, the almost-laughable fake shark, the unlikely bonding of the bros who venture out to kill the beast—I simply never tire of this classic, which is just a few months older than me.

I've seen the film dozens of times, but I don't recall ever enjoying it on the big screen, so I was thrilled to see that one of my favorite indie theaters would host a complimentary viewing as part of their Throwback Thursday series. The crowd was in my age range (with many of their kids in tow) and the audience behavior was perfect. Absolute silence throughout, with the exception of claps and cheers when famous lines were spoken.

The thing I realized that had never dawned on me before was the emphasis on the 1%/educated character besting the blue collar warrior who at first seems to know far better in every circumstance. It's an interesting lens in which to see the film, especially in light of our class divisions present day, and one that perhaps deserves a closer look.

Nevertheless, the experience was a wonderful way to welcome summer and keep me out of the water for at least a few more days.


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Souvenir

Tonight I saw The Souvenir, starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tom Burke.

Julie (Swinton Byrne) is a film student in love with journalist Anthony (Burke), who also happens to be a heroin addict. It's England in the 1980s and she'll sacrifice everything for her art and her affair.

Who hasn't fallen for someone they shouldn't? Who hasn't made bad choices in the name of love ... or lust? Who hasn't stayed in toxic situations because of the emotions attached to them? These themes, along with a passionate thirst for the craft of film, are the tapestry that weaves this narrative together. Sort of.

I say 'sort of' because although the story is easy to follow, it's anything but linear, and the pace is agonizingly slow. Still, you can't look away. Swinton Byrne, who shares the screen with her real-life Mother (portraying her mother here too), Tilda Swinton, is phenomenal as a naive, yet fiercely dedicated film student. Tom Burke, as her tortured and torturous, addicted beau is equally compelling.

The way the film is shot captures the feel of the era it represents and what's left unsaid becomes just as important as the dialog that's spoken.

I wouldn't say I enjoyed the film, because it's a truly tragic story (and drawn from the real life of its creator, Joanna Hogg), but I certainly appreciated it and all that it represents.

If you're wondering why it's achieved almost universal acclaim, it's because of the lingering feelings  about the powerful characters you're left with long after you leave the theater.


Sunday, June 09, 2019


Yesterday I saw Rocketman, starring Taron Egerton and Bryce Dallas Howard.

I can see why Elton John gave this film his blessing. The ride through his life that covers the time between childhood and sobriety is tender, thrilling and above all, honest. A fitting tribute to such an interesting icon.

Young Elton is played by Matthew Illesly who bears such a strong resemblance to him, I want to see what he looks like in 40 years. We see Reggie (his given name) as a young piano prodigy, who's talent is celebrated by his grandmother (Gemma Jones) and merely tolerated by his mother (Bryce Dallas Howard). He has an inherent enthusiasm for music and thankfully follows his instinct to pursue it despite his dysfunctional family life.

His instructors immediately recognize his gift, and as he grows older (and is then played by Kit Connor), it's clear this will be how his life plays out.

By the time we reach adult Elton (Taron Egerton), we know he's gay and that he's found a lifetime friend and creative partner in Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). The road to success was paved with drama and pain and joy and hard work and as a result of all of it, an addiction has has taken over his spirit.

The film is shown in flashbacks from his point of view at a rehabilitation meeting and structured in a traditional musical sense: The characters break into song frequently in the middle of otherwise linear scenes and sometimes recreate classic performances or videos.

At first, I found the format jarring, but as the film went on and I grew to expect it, I liked it. What was especially fun was seeing photos from the real situations in comparison to the film reenactments at the end. It makes me sorry I only had the privilege of seeing Elton live twice in my lifetime.

All in all, it's a very satisfying, enjoyable look at the remarkable life of a musical genius.


Sunday, June 02, 2019

Wine Calling

Today I screened Wine Calling, a documentary about French wine producers who are committed to producing their wines with natural methods.

Even if you're not a wine snob, you can probably appreciate the elegance of a great glass of vino, made with care in one of the most beautiful regions in the world. If so, you may enjoy this casual journey to meet some of the passionate winemakers in the French Riviera, dedicated to leaving the unnatural "extras" out.

What I enjoyed: The people behind the wines who in many cases started from scratch and built up their brands with good, old-fashioned hard work. Hearing from the makers directly and realizing how down-to-earth they truly are resolves any perception of pretentiousness. They also make a great case for their reasoning behind natural wine production.

What I didn't enjoy: A lot of B-roll with dogs playing, kids frolicking, grassy hills, etc. set to music that didn't always match the vibe the narrative was creating. I'm not adverse to non-linear storytelling, but sometimes the jumping from one frame to another seemed unnecessary.

I did, however, want to drink an entire bottle of wine once the film concluded, so perhaps it was more effective than I'm giving it credit for delivering.


Wine Calling screened at the 45th Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Top End Wedding

On Sunday I screened Top End Wedding, starring Miranda Tapsell and Gwilym Lee.

Lauren (Tapsell) and Ned (Lee) are in love and planning a whirlwind ceremony for their nuptials in 10 days, hut there's a complication—Lauren's mother is missing. They must find her or their perfect Top End Wedding will not happen.

What starts as a plane trip becomes a road trip and a journey deep into family dynamics and secrets from the past emerge, as if on cue. It's all executed in a comedic, fun way, but the real themes that anchor the story keep the film grounded enough to have meaning.

It's also an exploration of the merging of cultures (the bride's mother comes from an indigenous Australian tribe) and the traditions that come along with being part of something so sacred.

I very much enjoyed the fast-paced vibe of this film set in gorgeous remote areas of Australia. The characters were likeable (even those who were specifically supposed to serve as the opposite) and
the scenery breathtaking.

A satisfying romp with genuine roots.


Top End Wedding screened at the 45th Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Emma Peters

Tonight I screened Emma Peeters, starring Monia Chokri and Fabrice Adde.

Emma (Chokri) is a thirty-something actress who spends her days juggling auditions for parts she doesn't get with a dead-end job at an electronics store, where she miserably succeeds in becoming the top salesperson. She decides that life is no longer worth living and begins an elaborate plan to commit suicide on her birthday.

As preparations begin, she encounters an enthusiastic funeral director, Alex (Adde), who comments that she doesn't appear sick. One thing leads to another and they become close as her self-imposed deadline approaches.

Sounds pretty grim, right? Well, it could be, but here it's more of a morbid-black-comedy vibe than a sad one, no matter how depressing her progress becomes.

Throw in a persistent cat named Jim (after Morrison), clueless parents and selfish friends and you can sort of see why Emma is disillusioned. That said, the thought of suicide isn't pleasant and the closer she gets to going through with it, the more you pray as an audience member that the happy ending film formula will win out and save her life.

You'll have to see the film to learn how it turns out, but I personally could have done with less squirming along the way.


Emma Peeters screened at the 45th annual Seattle International Film Festival.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Banana Split

Today I screened Banana Split, starring Hannah Marks and Liana Liberato.

April (Marks) is devastated by her breakup with Nick (Dylan Sprouse). It's the summer after high school graduation and instead of focusing on her upcoming entrance to college across the country, she instead focuses on learning more about Nick's new flame, Clara (Liberato).

Determined to loathe her, April has friends spying on Clara's Instagram account and is displeased when they end up at the same party. Until she gets to know Clara. And likes her.

The two girls unexpectedly form a genuine friendship, but choose to keep their association from Nick. Throughout the summer they visit each other's homes, go out to eat, take trips and behave just as besties do. And really, it shouldn't be so surprising—they fell for the same boy, so it's not weird they enjoy the same types of things, right?

Right. Until said same boy gets in the way and things get complicated all of a sudden.

I won't spoil the ending, but it's realistic and satisfying in a way that many films are not. And that's my take on the entire movie: it's realistic and satisfying in a way that many films are not. It examines the complicated friendships women sometimes enter into coupled with the complicated feelings of young love. The characters speak the way real people speak and the story progresses like life.

Don't miss this one—especially if you have (or ever were) a teenage girl.


Banana Split screened at the 45th annual Seattle International Film Festival.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Gloria Bell

This morning I saw Gloria Bell, starring Julianne Moore and John Turturro.

Gloria (Moore) is a fifty-something divorcée working in a standard job, living her best life in the after-hours, dancing the night away at Los Angeles clubs. It's at one of these clubs that she meets Arnold (Turturro), a more recently divorced father of two with a demanding ex-wife and two grown children who are just as needy.

At first, they find bliss in each other's arms, then Gloria grows tired of the hold Arnold's family has over him and from there they begin a frustrating pattern of wanting to be together, but often abandoning plans (sometimes in the middle of said plans). All the while Gloria is navigating a disturbingly loud neighbor, a hairless cat that keeps sneaking into her apartment and her own grown children, who have issues too.

The film seemed to repeatedly remind us that in life, "It's always something."

Moore is fantastic as this independent woman, prone to sing-a-longs and demanding more from the world. Her face never betrays her intentions and her intentions are often bold. That's not to say she doesn't have moments of weakness—one of the best scenes in the film happens when she's most vulnerable and her mother, played by the always-amazing Holland Taylor, comes to pick up the pieces. In those moments of quiet, we really saw the essence of the woman.

That said, the film sometimes meandered too much for my attention span and scenes lingered longer than they needed to for sufficient effect.

Still, you could do worse than spending a few hours with these characters.


Friday, March 22, 2019


Last night I saw Us, starring Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke.

Gabe (Duke) wants to take his family for a relaxing vacation in Santa Cruz, California. They're game ... as long as they can bring along their phones and magic tricks. His wife Adelaide (Nyong'o) has reservations because of an incident that happened to her on the same beach when she was a young girl and voices her apprehension. But they go anyway.

After they meet up with friends and enjoy some sun, the family heads back to their summer house to call it a night. The kids are tucked into bed and the couple is chatting when a family appears at the end of their driveway. At first, Gabe tells everyone not to worry and tries to approach the four with kindness. When they don't respond, things escalate and soon they become hostages in their own home.

Each of the figures who appeared in the driveway appear to be clones of Gabe's family and attack their identical counterparts. Soon the entire group is in chaos, spread out inside and outside of the house and into the neighborhood.

From this point on, the battle continues as more about these "tethered" people is revealed and the family sees what they're up against.

Those who say Writer/Director Jordan Peele has invented his own sub-genre of horror are correct. He doesn't just use psychological tricks, he blends the unknown with a welcome humor to appease the audience at just the right time before launching another "gotcha" moment and finishing with a twist. His techniques are more satisfying than traditional horror because their smarter.

I had a lot of fun at this film and seeing it in a sold-out theater amongst jumpy, squealy filmgoers only added to the experience. Make sure to see this one on the big screen if you can.


Thursday, March 14, 2019

Captain Marvel

Tonight I saw Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson.

Carol (Larson) wrecks in an unknown place while in-flight with her fellow pilot/mentor/hero, Dr. Lawson (Annette Bening). Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) takes her under his wing to train her to defend her new people. After a harrowing mission, she crash lands into earth and discovers she's been there before.

As Carol navigates her once-known territory, she gets help revealing her long-forgotten life from human Nick Fury (Jackson), who acts as a right-hand-man and takes a liking to Goose, the cat that's along for the ride.

For me, who isn't much of an action fan, there was perhaps too much action upfront to allow me to embrace the characters. I felt like I was supposed to like Carol, and rooted for her, but the flashbacks of her origin story weren't really enough for me to attach myself to with any solid emotion.

Couple that with a literal darkness that enveloped the space and fight scenes, and I found it hard to stay with in certain sections.

What went well? The chemistry between Larson and Jackson; the brilliant 1990s soundtrack that had me singing along with it throughout and the sarcasm/clever one-liners that Marvel is so good at. There are definitely moments to savor. Of course, the ass-kicking woman is the greatest element.

That said, this is no Wonder Woman.

When I left that film after the first viewing, I wanted to go don a metal outfit and start taking over. When I left this film, I had a pleasant feeling, but it didn't stay with me far beyond the parking lot.

I'm hoping the next installment really shows what Brie can do in Carol's skin.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

My 2019 Oscar Picks and Predictions

Here are my final picks for tonight's ceremony:






Who Will Win: SKIN

My Pick: BAO


Who Will Win: "Shallow" from A STAR IS BORN
My Pick: "Shallow" from A STAR IS BORN


Who Will Win: VICE
My Pick: VICE

Who Will Win: ROMA

My Pick: VICE

Who Will Win: LIFEBOAT

Who Will Win: FREE SOLO
My Pick: RBG

Who Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron for ROMA
My Pick: Spike Lee for BLACKKKLANSMAN


Who Will Win: ROMA


Who Will Win: Regina King for IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali for GREEN BOOK
My Pick: Richard E. Grant for CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

Who Will Win: Glenn Close for THE WIFE
My Pick: Melissa McCarthy for CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

Who Will Win: Rami Malek for BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
My Pick: Christian Bale for VICE



Saturday, February 23, 2019

Isn't It Romantic

Today I saw Isn't It Romantic, starring Rebel Wilson and Adam Devine.

Natalie (Wilson) is an under-appreciated architect who hates the clichés of romantic comedy narratives. When she gets mugged in a New York City subway station, she awakes to a new world where the streets are clean and the world is painted in colors of love.

After reluctantly entering into a relationship with colleague Blake (Hemsworth), she realizes that to break out of this fantasy world she finds so uncomfortable, she must actually fall in love with who she's meant to be with to break the spell and return to her normal life, so she begins pursuing her best friend, Josh (Devine).

Of course, Rebel Wilson is a pure delight in the lead role and her two suitors are well-cast. Basically this is a fun, clever, classic dig on traditional romantic comedies as it unfolds into one itself.

A welcome reprieve from real life for just under two hours.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Documentary Short Nominees (Oscars 2019)

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


A first-person narrative by an African boy whose mother moved their family from London to Essex to be less susceptible to racist violence. Unfortunately, the area they moved to was run by racists and he suffered terrible bullying at the hands of the street kids. His solution was to become more like them so they would leave him alone ... and it worked.

A classic story of becoming a monster to defeat a monster. 


An intimate look at several patients who are near death and their many caretakers working to make their last days and weeks the best they can be. By the time the credits are rolling you are invested in what happens to each and every one of these lovely people.

A testament to the good that remains in our world and the agony of the tough decisions that have to be made as we all exit this earth.


Archival footage provides the burden of proof that 20,000 Americans gathered to celebrate the Nazi movement rising in 1939. This short film reminds us that even in our most diverse of cities, hate can fester and grow.

Chilling, horrific and sadly timely for today.


The organization Sea Watch, a German nonprofit, is responsible for saving over 35,000 people by rescuing refugees from the rough Mediterranean waters. This film explores the lengths they go to on a daily basis to perform those rescues and the severe trauma of the journey.

This serves as a sad reminder of what refugees face as they flee their unsafe home countries.

Women in a small Indian village are shamed by their menstruation cycles and finally they may be taking steps to overcome this—by producing modern sanitary napkins and selling them to area women. 

An inspiring, uplifting look at female empowerment, entrepreneurship and necessary cultural shifts.


So, what's my pick to win? End Game will undoubtedly stay with me the longest, so that gets my vote.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Live Action Short Film Nominees (Oscars 2019)

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

MADRE (Spain)

What begins as a mundane day for Marta (Marta Nieto) rapidly unfolds into a nightmare as her 6-year-old son Ivan (Alvaro Balas) calls to tell her he is alone on a beach in France (she and her mother, who is with her, are in Spain). His father left to retrieve a forgotten toy and he has yet to return. Concern turns to panic when Marta can't deduce exactly what beach Ivan is stranded on and the police are of no help. Did I mention Ivan's phone battery is running low?

An intense back-and-forth commences right up until the end. A well-done suspense tale that will keep your heart racing throughout.

FAUVE (Canada)

Friends Tyler (Félix Grenier) and Benjamin (Alexandre Perreault) are out exploring their surroundings as young boys often do. Benjamin "cries wolf" faking an injury, then swears he sees a fox, but Tyler doesn't believe him and they go on about their day. The end up running around a surface mine and when Benjamin gets close to the water, his feet slide into the moving earth and he yells out for help. By the time Tyler realizes he's not again crying wolf, it's too late for him to retrieve him without being sucked into the mud/sand himself, so he leaves the mine to seek help from an adult.

Grenier deserves an Oscar of his own for the way his face changes when he realizes his friend is in real danger, and his shell-shocked manner in the events that follow. Difficult to watch, but brilliantly executed.


Marguerite (Béatrice Picard) is elderly and in poor health. She requires in-home care. Her nurse, Rachel (Sandrine Bisson), is wonderfully attentive, bathing her and administering all of her necessary tests. The two develop a lovely friendship as Marguerite nears the end of her life and begins to reflect on her younger years.

Though this is the slowest-paced film of the five, it's no less poignant as the two characters realize they share a bond they didn't know they had. Beautiful story.


Based on a true story, this film recounts the questioning of the killers following the horrific kidnapping, torture and murder of toddler James Bulger (Caleb Mason) in Liverpool, England. The tragic twist? The murderers were kids themselves. The transcripts of the two ten-year-olds, Jon (Ely Solan) and Robert (Leon Hughes), confessing to the crime is how the filmmakers tell the story. It was almost unbearable to watch, so good were these young actors.

A college student when this happened in real life, I don't recall hearing about it on the news at the time, but it stands as one of the most notable murders in modern U.K. history because of the age of the killers. These images won't leave me anytime soon.


The worst of America is represented in the small-minded, trashy community surrounding Johnny (Jonathan Tucker). The white group of friends teach their young how to be sharpshooters and how to hate people of other races.

One night when a black man makes Johnny's son laugh in a grocery checkout line, Johnny snaps, calls for "backup" and beats the man to a pulp in the parking lot as his wife and child look on in horror. They get away with it until ... it's payback time.

The audience I watched with in a Seattle theater literally clapped when Johnny got what was coming to him (which very much re-defines the Biblical "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth") — a powerful psychological exercise that should perhaps be used in schools today.


So, what's my pick to win? These were all strong contenders in their own right, but I feel as if Detained will linger in my psyche longer than the rest.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Free Solo

Today I saw the documentary, Free Solo, about the life of Alex Honnold.

You know a documentary is good when you have absolutely zero interest in the topic, yet it grabs you from the first few frames and keeps you until the final credits. That was my experience here, watching nearly two hours of scenes about rock climbing.

Alex Honnold is an almost-fearless climber. He has turned his hobby into his career and as a result has very few human connections. He remarks that friends and former girlfriends have concluded he's not normal (which he attempts to validate with an MRI that admittedly has telling results), but he proclaims this with more curiosity than contempt.

Digging into Honnold's past, we learn that his immediate family was never affectionate and that he had to 'learn' to be a hugger in his '20s. His relationship with his current girlfriend (who he met in Seattle at his own book signing) shows that he still struggles with emotional maturity, but he's chosen a wonderful, patient partner to navigate that with him.

His main quest throughout the film is to 'free solo' (climb without using ropes) the vertical El Capitan peak at Yosemite National Park. This is challenging for countless reasons: it's never been done before; the camera crew interferes with his concentration and sometimes his physical movements; there's a section of the rock that's slippery, etc. The part about falling to his death if he screws it up seems to be the least of his concerns, though his loved ones—especially his girlfriend—understandably agonize about it frequently.

If you've watched the news in the past year, you know how this ends, but the journey of it is no less nail-biting as even his own film crew turns around at a certain point because they can't bear to watch if he doesn't make it.

It's a thrilling path to watch, though one I'd never have a desire to replicate. However, the human spirit setting an unimaginable goal and reaching it? That's the stuff of [good] movies.


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

At Eternity's Gate

Tonight I saw At Eternity's Gate, starring Willem Dafoe and Rupert Friend.

The famed painter Vincent Van Gogh (Dafoe) was not accepted as the artistic genius he was during his time on earth. The connection he felt to nature and the closeness he felt to his work weren't fully appreciated while he was alive, but this film aims to validate those aspects of his career.

Filmed on location in Arles, France, where Van Gogh spent his final weeks, Director/Co-Screenwriter Julian Schnabel puts the viewer in a stream-of-consciousness time machine that offers a glimpse of how the artist absorbed and visually shared his surroundings. A friend described the movie as "hypnotic" and that to me was the perfect interpretation of the vibe.

Dafoe, moving easily between English and French throughout the narrative, was captivating as the troubled painter. Aside from physically resembling the real artist (which undoubtedly helps), his manner, the confusion behind his eyes, his passion—it all made us viewers sure we were stealing an intimate look at one of the most fascinating characters in all of art history.

Though the pace is slow and the story not entirely linear (except that it's chronological), it keeps your attention, as you want to know why Van Gogh felt the things he felt and acted the way he did.

There's tragedy in the suffering his mental illness causes; there's sadness in the lack of recognition he received while he was in his prime, but most off all there's light in the beautiful landscapes and people he brought to life through his timeless paintings.

That's what's illuminated so magically in this film.


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Green Book

Today I saw Green Book, starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali.

Tony (Mortensen) needs a temporary job while the club he works for undergoes renovations; Dr. Shirley (Ali) is a pianist who needs a driver who can double as a bodyguard for his upcoming tour. Tony is Italian; Dr. Shirley is black. It's the 1960s and America isn't the safest place for black citizens.

As they embark on their journey, the differences between the two men become clear: Dr. Shirley is an educated man who takes pride in behaving with dignity; Tony is a tell-it-like-it-is guy with an uncommonly large appetite and low threshold for BS. At first, this personality contrast divides them, but as their trip carries on they begin to mutually appreciate each other's differences.

So why is the film called Green Book?

That's the travel guide black families used in that era to determine safe places to sleep and eat across America. It's the book these two utilized when they took their actual trip (the film of course is based on a true story). It's absurd that the guide ever existed—that it ever had to—but it's also a symbolic reminder of how far we've come as a nation, though our nightly news would indicate otherwise.

Though the film was undeniably formulaic and predictable (even if you hadn't read up on the real story), it was enjoyable from start to finish. The two lead actors disappeared into their roles and delivered award-winning performances.

It's a long movie that doesn't feel long, which drives home a lesson that a nation should have long ago learned: we're all more alike than different.


Sunday, January 13, 2019


Today I saw Titanic, starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.

I’ve reviewed the film twice before, so I won’t do another formal write-up, but I will say that seeing this film on the big screen never gets old or disappoints. Hearing the crowd react to the various now-legendary scenes is always a delight.

I can’t wait until the theaters find another excuse to host an additional showing.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

If Beale Street Could Talk

This morning I saw If Beale Street Could Talk, starring Kiki Layne and Regina King.

Tish (Layne) is in love with Fonny (Stephan James), a childhood friend she's grown up with in their predominantly black New York City neighborhood. They have a bright future ahead of them with Tish employed by a perfume counter at a high-end department store and Fonny getting his own career off the ground as they prepare to set down roots with a space of their own.

When they make love for the first time, Tish becomes pregnant with their child, which is unexpected but welcomed by the couple. Fonny's mother and sisters aren't so accepting (and the announcement to them about the pregnancy is perhaps the best scene in the film).

Unfortunately, Fonny has been arrested for a crime he did not commit and is placed in prison while Tish's family desperately tries to find and convince the accuser to recant her lineup identification. All the while, Tish faithfully visits and updates him on her pregnancy.

Some viewers may be frustrated by the slow pace of the film, but I actually appreciated it. We really got to know these characters and believe in their love as they battle the injustice of their situation.

Regina King who plays Tish's mother, Sharon, is especially phenomenal, showing every ounce of pain and concern as she comforts and helps her daughter. King deservedly won the Golden Globe for this performance and I'm hoping the takes the Oscar for it as well. She's that good.

Also important is the timing of this story. As our country seems to be enduring an unwelcome revival of hate crimes and racism, these are the narratives we need too see via art to help turn things around. Granted, the folks who need to see films like this probably won't. But for the few that may, it will have been worth it.

Another excellent chapter from Barry Jenkins.


Wednesday, December 26, 2018


Today I saw Vice, starring Christian Bale and Amy Adams.

If you're a staunch republican, you may not like this film, but if you're a liberal (or even perhaps an independent) you may chuckle along with the rest of the audience at this exaggerated—but undoubtedly entertaining—look at the life of Dick Cheney (Bale).

Christian Bale transforms physically and verbally into the former vice president so convincingly, you'd probably forget it was a fictional take were it not for the breaking of the fourth wall, the snappy cutaways and wink-y storytelling approach.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy every minute of it.

Then again, I'm the Pacific Northwestern liberal target audience they were probably banking on selling tickets to, so I didn't have a hard time buying what they were selling. What they were selling was of course how miserable of a human being Dick Cheney truly is, save for his one redeeming quality. He really seems to love and advocate for his lesbian daughter (although his other daughter does not). Other than that, it appears that his wife Lynne (Adams) calls the shots, and they aren't always in the best interest of the country.

If you're not of the belief that the story is true, at least see the film for the performances. If you do believe, well, be prepared to laugh (and possibly cry) at what a mess this man made of the world.


Monday, December 24, 2018

The Favourite

Today I saw The Favourite, starring Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.

Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is a mess—physically, mentally, politically. She has a close confidante/lover/advisor in Lady Sarah (Weisz) and utilizes her to truly run the country.

Along comes Sarah's cousin Abigail (Stone) to throw everything off course.

She enters the castle as one of the "help," but soon has her eyes set on a better title, knowing she'll need to get close to the Queen to do so. Lady Sarah is very threatened by Abigail and in turn lets her know it. Sarah underestimates Abigail's capacity for self-preservation and Sarah soon finds herself ill from a poisoned cup of tea.

Abigail gets closer and closer to the Queen and soon marries, rapidly regaining her "Lady" status. However, she maintains a sexual relationship with the Queen and remains by her side at all times. This infuriates Sarah, who does everything in her power to put things back the way they were.

This film can easily be described as a "romp" and that's not a bad thing. It's fun to watch these women get caught up in each other's drama and compete for the attention of a crazy, aging royal. All three leads are perfectly cast and leave you believing the nonsense. Funny thing? Much of the story is actually true, which only makes it more fun.

If you want a good, racy laugh delivered by fine actors in amazing costumes, this is the film for you.


Sunday, December 23, 2018

Mary Poppins Returns

Today I saw Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The Banks children need some assistance. Michael (Ben Wishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) are going to lose the family house to the bank if they don't come up with its full value because Michael repeatedly forgot to pay the mortgage.

The mean banker (Colin Firth, playing against type) doesn't want them to find the missing share certificates that will save them because he's hungry for more property. Out of the sky, Mary Poppins (Blunt) arrives to save the day.

Blunt is fantastic, as is lamplighter Jack (Miranda) and if only there were more of those two in the film, perhaps it could've met my expectations, but alas it did not.

The positives? The film is visually stunning. The sequences that include animation (the bath, my favorite) are nothing short of brilliant, with bright colors popping like a Target commercial and crisp, beautiful illustrations to match. This is the only place where, due to technology, the present-day film surpasses the classic.

Also great are the cameos by Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury and Meryl Streep. Each gets an ample amount of time to do their thing and they all, of course, do it well.

The issues? The "magic" is few and far between. We feel it in the opening sequence with Jack singing about London; when Mary emerges from the clouds; when the kids dive into their first psychedelic-ish experience (in the bathtub); when the lamplighters do their dance near the end. But that's about it. The songs aren't really that memorable (through no fault of the singers) and way too much time is spent dwelling on the looming bank deadline.

While I'm on the topic of time: This film did not need to be as long as it was. It could have easily been a 90-minute delight. But no ... sequences drag on (I'm looking at you broken bowl) and character development somersaults until we're sick of hearing Michael yell and of watching the kids lose track of Georgie (Joel Dawson).

Also frustrating is the romance that is teased between Jack and Jane for the duration of the film, but never truly realized. They make a cute couple—why not give us that one?

All in all, the message is lovely and if it sparks a new generation of kids to go back and see what the original was all about, then it was worth it.

If you're hungry for a happy ending, then go forth and enjoy. But if you're looking for something transcendent, you may come away wishing for more.


Thursday, November 29, 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody

Today I saw Bohemian Rhapsody, starring Rami Malek and Lucy Boynton.

The life of Freddie Mercury (Malek) is explored with great flair in this loose retelling, which chronicles his rise to fame with Queen through to their landmark performance at Live Aid.

First of all, it can't be understated how good Malek is at capturing Mercury's movements and mannerisms. If you squint you may just not be able to tell the difference. He was a joy to watch because you could tell he was having a ball portraying this legend.

Second, Mary (Boynton), who many claim was the true love of Mercury's life, is given a respectable place in his history (though before this film casual fans may never have heard of her).

Third, the finale, which replicates the famous Live Aid performance is stunning. Note-for-note, prance-for-prance, it's all there in its incredible glory. I went right home afterward and watched the real performance and marveled about how close the film truly got to it.

Now, for the issues: the creative team took liberties with some key facts, which is forgivable if it makes the story better, but I'd argue that Mercury's story was plenty interesting as it really occurred.

Also, the film is called "Bohemian Rhapsody," and we get teased by seeing how the song came to fruition, but we never get a full performance of it, which I thought was a missed opportunity.

And while we're on the topic of songs, I sort of felt like this was a wanna-be musical that would only tease us with the beginnings of the hits (i.e. "We Will Rock You") and then move on to the next scene before our thirst for the music was quenched.

It was also too long. This is a trend in movies these days, to exceed the standard 2-hour running time, but really, less is more. It could've been shorter or they could have used some of the time they took to remind us of his bisexuality and just played the title song.


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Can you ever forgive me?

This morning I saw Can you ever forgive me? Starring Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant.

Lee Israel (McCarthy) was an acclaimed writer of biographies in a bit of a slump. Her agent wasn't doing anything to promote the book she was working on and her financial situation was dire. One day as she was doing some research at the library, a personal letter by the author of the book she was reading fell out. She kept it and sold it to an independent bookstore that dealt in collectibles. Amazed by the amount of money she received for it, she came up with a plan to make more.

Because she was such a gifted writer, Israel was able to mimic the style of several long-gone authors and forge believable letters, which she would then "weather" to appear old. She found a few reliable dealers who would purchase from her and made a good living, affording her to catch up on her rent and save her ill cat.

When a savvy customer catches on to her deception, she is blacklisted around town and enlists the help of her only friend Jack (Grant) who enjoys stepping in to take the reigns. Soon enough they're in real trouble and must face the consequences.

Although there were perhaps too many scenes of her sickly cat and too many references to the bugs in her apartment (it's clear that her situation was bad), McCarthy is never boring and the uneven pace is forgivable just to watch her magic. She makes a very unlikable person sympathetic and convinces you to root for her, though she way she treats people (including herself) is awful.

It's sad that someone so talented couldn't sustain success under her own name, but of course the ordeal gave her enough material to write the book upon which this film is based. If she were alive today, I'd bet she'd get a kick out of McCarthy's portrayal of her.


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians

Today I saw Crazy Rich Asians, starring Constance Wu and Henry Golding.

American Rachel (Wu) is happy to head to Singapore to meet the family of her boyfriend, Nick (Golding) for a wedding. He doesn't talk much about them, so she's unaware that they are one of the most prominent, wealthy families in the city.

Upon her arrival, she's received in a very cold manner by Nick's mother, who doesn't believe Rachel is good enough for her son. Coupled with that are all the jealous women in Singapore who resent an American claiming the heart of one of their most eligible bachelors. She has to overcome this and Nick has to prove to her he won't side with the community that created him.

The entire film is a sometimes funny, sometimes sad look at the cultural boundaries that often end relationships that would otherwise thrive. The diversity of a fully Asian cast is undoubtedly refreshing (and I love what the success of the film will hopefully do for more non-white filmmakers), but the story is incredibly formulaic and predictable, no matter how appealing the actors are (and they're very appealing).

I enjoyed this for what it was, and would rate it on par with any average romantic comedy. Other than that, it's nothing special.


Wednesday, November 07, 2018


Tonight I screened Widows, starring Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki.

Veronica (Davis) is married to Harry (Liam Neeson), who is a criminal. He orchestrates a heist that goes horribly wrong and his whole crew is killed as a result. When the dirty politician he did business with comes to collect his debt, Veronica is forced to take matters into her own hands.

She enlists the help of her fellow widows from the heist crew to assist her in carrying out a final "job" using meticulous instructions left behind by her husband. Alice (Debicki) and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) are hesitant at first, but are also desperate to stay afloat financially, so they agree to the plan. Amidst the back-and-forth are several (unnecessary) supporting characters that don't do much except chew scenery (Colin Farrell and Daniel Kaluuya). There are crooked representatives, white collar men who pay for escorts, saintly drivers, innocent children—you name it, the gang's all here.

Of course Davis can carry any film, no matter how flawed. She's extraordinary alternating between grieving wife, angry widow, badass leader-of-the-pack and fierce opponent. Just to sit and watch her work is worth the price of admission. And there are many clever twists that were fun to absorb although the overall story had too much going on to be truly effective.

I'd say if you just want a ride that bumps and crashes and moves at a fast pace, you may leave satisfied, but if you're craving substance or something more clever than your average thriller you may be disappointed.


Sunday, October 28, 2018

Tea With the Dames

Today I saw Tea With the Dames, starring four British Dames.

Four women have been friends for decades and regularly get together in the English countryside for tea and conversation. It's only an afterthought that all of these individuals happen to be official Dames. Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Eileen Atkins and Dame Joan Plowright (who is also a Lady as a result of her marriage to Sir Laurence Olivier), to be exact.

Four women who are all stars of the stage and screen. Four women who have worked together, competed for roles and raised their families alongside one another. To say that their conversations are interesting would be an understatement. Though they may struggle with hearing at times, and Joan has lost much of her eyesight, they are as sharp (and hilarious) as ever.

The filmmakers did a lovely job of splicing in clips of the theater performances, films and television shows that they discuss, as well as footage of them with their husbands, families and each other over time. It's like watching a living scrapbook, complete with narration by its subjects. 

I'm familiar with much of the work of these wonderful ladies, but I had no idea how personally intertwined they all are and am happy knowing that they've had other similar women to lean on all these years.

If you're in the mood for something light yet sentimental, give this a go. You'll leave the theater smiling.


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Halloween (2018)

Last night I saw Halloween, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Judy Greer.

It's been 40 years since Laurie Strode (Curtis), a young babysitter, survived an attack by killer Michael Myers (Nick Castle) in her Illinois town. Now, he's being transferred from one prison facility to another, and Laurie is ready for him.

Laurie's severe PTSD from the incident has plagued her for decades, causing her to lose her family due to her paranoia. She lives outside of town in a house she's converted to a bunker of sorts, complete with an arsenal of weapons to protect herself. Her daughter Karen (Greer) keeps her distance and encourages her own daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) to do the same.

Unfortunately, something goes horribly wrong during the transfer and Myers is again a free man, roaming the same streets he once terrorized so many Halloweens ago. Laurie, along with members of law enforcement who were on the hunt for him in 1978, set out to get justice—one way or another.

This sequel to the original (which pretends none of the other sequels happened) is satisfying on many levels: seeing the original actors return to reprise their roles is a delight and the realistic way they've advanced the characters is a relief. Honestly, I couldn't find much wrong with this. It was suspenseful, clever, fun, jumpy and terrifying just like the first one.

Michael Myers strikes again.


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Pick of the Litter

Today I saw the documentary, Pick of the Litter, starring Patriot, Potomac, Primrose, Poppet and Phil.

The story follows five puppies from birth through training, right up to decision day as part of the Guide Dogs for the Blind program. The nonprofit places qualified dogs with visually impaired persons to help them navigate life.

Dogs are bred specifically for the purpose of breeding or becoming guides, and those who do not make the cut after rigorous conditioning are "career changed" (which is a polite way of saying they're fired and going to live their lives out as a normal pet, or perhaps passed along to another organization who will work with their shortcomings to make them useful in other scenarios). Some of the most delightful of dogs are "career changed."

The puppies begin with "puppy raisers" who provide a loving, disciplined home for their first few months of life and record their behaviors to report back to the folks at the nonprofit. If the experts don't think the 'child-rearing' is preparing the puppies well enough, they will be re-assigned to raisers who have more experience. We see this happen during the film and it's hard on all involved, though it's most likely what's best for the animal.

After they have lived out their youth with their host families, they return to the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus for one-to-one training with an expert who schools them in everything from obedience to traffic reactions. Once those classes are complete, they are tested in five areas of excellence and must pass all five to become official guide dogs. Only a few from the group we take the journey with will make it.

We also see the impact to the recipients of the dogs; a man who has been blind since 18 months and a woman who lost her sight over several decades. Both are thrilled to be receiving these helpful friends and have waited great lengths of time to meet them.

Basically, this is the perfect film for the state of the world we're in right now. You'll laugh, you'll cry (in a cathartic way), you'll audibly "awww" several times and have your faith in humanity restored. Plus, you'll learn a lot about the wonderful people and animals who work every day to make this place a better world.


Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Bookshop

Last night I saw The Bookshop, starring Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson.

Florence (Mortimer) is a British widow who decides to take back her life after grieving her husband's death. She makes her dream of opening an independent bookshop a reality in the small village of Hardborough.

The town reacts positively to the shop, visiting in droves to buy forbidden titles such as Lolita. Florence also develops a friendship with a wealthy recluse (played by the always-great Bill Nighy) who has her send him as many Ray Bradbury titles as she can find.

Trouble brews when the town powerhouse, Mrs. Gamart (Clarkson), wants to use the building Florence opened the shop in for an arts center. Florence must decide whether or not it's worth it to deplete her resources and take on the legal battle, or let it be and move on.

Though the pace of the film is incredibly uneven, there are many enjoyable aspects to it. Watching Clarkson as a villainess is fun, as is seeing Nighy in a more understated role. Perhaps the most compelling touch is the fact the film's story is told like a book, complete with voiceover narrations and actors who behave like caricatures.

More importantly it's an assessment of the toxicity that can surface in communities when gossip and abuse of power rule.

See it for the performances, the ambiance and the satisfying twist ending.


Tuesday, October 09, 2018

A Star Is Born

Last night I saw A Star Is Born, starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.

Jackson (Cooper) is a star of the stage—unfortunately he's as good at drinking as he is at singing and playing guitar. Ally (Gaga) is an amateur with an amazing voice who performs as the only "real" girl at drag shows. Jackson stumbles into one of those shows one evening and experiences love at first sight.

Soon, Ally is piggybacking her talent onto his successful music career and getting noticed in her own right. All the while, Jackson keeps drinking, keeps drugging.

Even if you've seen any of the previous versions of this story, you'll be able to predict where it's headed. Her star shines bright, his addiction worsens, etc.

At the heart of it, it's a story about the endurance of love through tough times. Anyone who has suffered from addiction, or suffered because of someone else's addiction will be able to relate. Anyone who's been so deeply in love with another soul will relate. Anyone who has struggled to reach their dreams will relate.

With the two leads having insanely strong chemistry (not to mention brilliant singing voices), it will be terribly surprising if they aren't both Oscar-nominated for their performances. It just works on so many levels.

If you can stand blinking through your tears, go see it. You won't regret it.


Sunday, September 09, 2018

The Sound of Music

Today I saw The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, as part of the 70mm film festival at Seattle's Cinerama theater.

I was raised on this film. Every year, around Easter, the movie would be shown on television and we'd put sleeping bags on the living room floor and pop popcorn to properly watch as a family. When I got to high school, my best friend and I would make treats and have our own film fests watching it. As an adult, I bought every anniversary edition of the VHS, then DVD & Blu-ray that was released. It never got old and I never got tired of it. The songs, which I sang endlessly, helped me become a better singer.

I've probably seen the film over 30 times (no exaggeration), so each time I watch now, I try to hone in on something I've never concentrated on in the past. Today, I decided to focus on the relationship between Maria (Andrews) and Gayorg (Plummer).

The theater representative shared that the film was originally shot in 70mm, so we were seeing it today "as it was intended." It was a gorgeous print, almost dream-like hazy, with colors that radiated the screen with life in every frame.

I must admit, I'd forgotten how devastatingly handsome Plummer was in the role—his chiseled features and piercing eyes were the perfect type of sexy for the role in which he portrayed. Never mind that the real Gayorg was a sweet man all along, and was much more in love with Maria than she with him (at least, at first). But that dance they do at the party ... oh, that dance.

It helps to see these films with a crowd from time to time. I loved the fact that the audience was made up of probably 75% adults and 25% children, yet once the film started not one person, large or small, made a peep. I also enjoyed the women and gay men gasping at the aforementioned hottie Captain and the audible groans and sighs from just about everyone each time the nazis appeared.

The songs still bring a smiles and the story still moves rapidly, though the running time of the film is over 3 hours.

My discovery today was that aside from being a legendary musical, this is one of the most romantic films ever made. From the flirtatious banter to the climactic dance to the kiss in the gazebo to the divine wedding—we should all be so lucky to find a partner that connects with us so strongly.

One of the best films ever made.


Saturday, September 08, 2018

Eighth Grade

Last night I saw Eighth Grade, starring Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton.

Kayla (Fisher) is a typical eighth grader in the modern world—she's always on her phone, engrossed in her laptop and hosts her own YouTube channel. She's awkward and anxious and lonely, but she desperately wants to fit in with the 'cool' crowd.

There are wonderful things about this film and not-so-great things about this film that keep me from agreeing with the general consensus (that it's fantastic).

First, the positive:

  • The lead actress is phenomenal. Right down to the body language, how she hunches her shoulders as she walks, Fisher conveys the lack of self-esteem that plagues young women today and wears every scar in her downward glances.
  • It's refreshing to see a coming-of-age film about a girl instead of a boy.
  • In subtle ways, this film tells more about the horrors of the digital age than any previous fictional exploration.
Now, the negative:

  • Kayla's dad (Hamilton) is practically a caricature of the embarrassing parent. He tries too hard, says all the wrong things and shows up when he's least welcome. He would have been a lot more effective if he'd been less blatant.
  • The 'mean girls' that serve as the popular kids Kayla attempts to mingle with at a pool party are very one-dimensional. Sure, a pack of nasty girls can blend into one throbbing nightmare for any adolescent outcast, but the audience knows there is always more than meets the eye. 
  • In contrast to the girls her own age, Kayla's high school mentor is almost too nice to the young girl, inviting her to hang out amongst her pals after hours.
The pace is also frustrating because it's so uneven. We may get two or three comedic elements and then a long-drawn out dramatic sequence. I did look at my watch more than once.

So ... who should see this? Sure, parents should have a look. But really, it would be best if they took their adolescents with them and paid attention to the scenes that may trigger them. Have conversations about what to do if put in similar situations. Use it as an opening for dialog.

It is in those parent-child conversations that its best purpose will be served.