Thursday, December 28, 2017

All the Money in the World

Yesterday I saw All the Money in the World, starring Christopher Plummer and Michelle Williams.

The film is based on the true story of Paul Getty's kidnapping in 1973. Getty (Charlie Plummer) was of course the grandson of JP Getty (Christopher Plummer), the billionaire oil tycoon.

Gail Getty (Michelle Williams) receives a call one day that her son Paul has been abducted and the kidnappers are demanding a ransom of $17 million. Though she's not in contact with her drug-addicted ex-husband, she does appeal to his wealthy father for the money, which he flatly refuses, suspecting Paul staged the kidnapping himself to extort cash from him.

As the weeks go on, it's evident the abduction is real, but Getty still can't be convinced and getting tired of waiting, the captors sell him to another group of criminals who aren't as nice (the first group let him listen to the radio, fed him relatively well, etc.)—everything escalates and a violent action is taken to prove they're serious.

It's only then that the victim's grandfather considers the situation 'real' and decides to help ... with conditions.

The film is heart-pounding suspenseful, even if you know the outcome. To say the acting is good would be an understatement, especially considering that this film was "in the can" so to speak when Kevin Spacey's controversy emerged and director Ridley Scott decided to replace him with Christopher Plummer.

How they seamlessly re-shot all of the senior Getty's scenes and edited them into the final print in time for their original release date is baffling to me, but they did. And they did it well.

No one would ever know that Plummer came in on the fly or that any of the scenes were filmed out of sync with the rest. It's flawless and the story is so strong, you forget about the "replacement" about 5 minutes in.

I loved this movie because it's a good movie, but I recommend it with twice as much emphasis because of the circumstance.


The Shape of Water

On Christmas Eve I saw The Shape of Water, starring Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon.

Elisa (Hawkins) is a mute cleaning lady at a scientific facility in the early 1960s. She leads a simple life: sleeps alone in a modest apartment; watches TV with her neighbor and prepares the same lunch every day. Her best friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) can easily communicate with her despite the fact she doesn't speak. She seems content with her situation.

One day, the horrible boss (Shannon) brings in a male sea creature that captures Elisa's attention. Though he's chained to his survival tank and has displayed violent behavior to the team, she is unafraid and begins sharing her lunch with him.

The two different species develop a friendship and soon enough Elisa is obsessed with saving the creature from a miserable fate. She enlists the help of Zelda and her neighbor (Richard Jenkins, at his comedic best), risking her job and perhaps her life.

This is a movie with everything. It has humor, sadness, fright, romance, fear—seriously, everything.

As a huge fan of director Guillermo del Toro's Pan Labyrinth, I was expecting to be entertained in an intelligent, unique way, but this soared well above and beyond even that level of greatness. Though there was more blood than I typically tolerate, none of it was gratuitous, nor was the sex or the language (and there's that too).

It's just a brilliantly acted, beautifully shot masterpiece with a beating heart.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Tonight I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi, starring Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.

The film picks up soon after The Force Awakens left off showing us Rey (Daisy Ridley), a cliffside compound and the legendary Luke Skywalker (Hamill). Instead of the badass we know him to be, Luke has retreated to a monk-like lifestyle, watching over the ancient Jedi texts as he reflects on his regrets regarding nephew, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). He has no desire to return to battle.

Meanwhile, the Resistance is facing more drama and they're in desperate need of some backup. After perhaps too many characters get a few moments in the spotlight, everything scatters into chaos. There are welcome additions, however, like the spritely Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) who meshes well with Finn (John Boyega).

I could have done with less of them, though—and Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern). Though they're all good characters portrayed by good actors, I'd just have preferred a shorter movie that had less going on the side. The core of the film is Luke and Leia (Fisher) and Ren and Rey. And they can hold their own.

That said, I still think this was a great movie. The original Star Wars was the first film I ever saw in a theater and I will always get goosebumps when that iconic score bursts into sound, no matter what installment of the story I'm watching. I haven't loved all of them, but this one to me felt like the classic in many ways, and for that I am grateful.

Yes, the characters tell us throughout that the torch is being passed. The title itself implies the Jedis are on their way out. A new generation is taking over, blah blah. But I'd argue that the real message here was that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Through all that transpires (and I won't spoil for those who have yet to see), it all goes back to Luke and Leia. C-3PO and R2-D2 pop in, along with Chewbacca and Yoda. In the traditional sense, some of those appearances are cameos, but they don't feel that way. Their presence (whether literal or metaphorical) is a comfort; something that's always been there and that will continue to be when all of us kids from the '70s—who were the first to freak out in this alternate reality—are long gone to enjoy it.

I liked the strong message about the future being female (listen closely to Carrie Fisher's last line), the nod to children and the younger characters emerging strong. But what I liked more was the sense of history and lineage that permeates the franchise and has never been more evident as it is now.

The Force will always be with us.


Friday, December 15, 2017

Victoria & Abdul

Today I saw Victoria & Abdul, starring Dame Judi Dench and Ali Fazal.

Queen Victoria (Dench) made friends with one of her Indian servants, Abdul Karim (Fazal) toward the end of her life and ruffled many feathers in her household.

The film is based on a true story, though the disclaimer at the beginning admits it gets it "mostly" right. Knowing that, I decided just to sit back and enjoy the ride, and I very much did.

Dame Judi Dench, who has played this queen before, has her down pat. Based on how the history books describe the legendary Victoria, she exemplifies the best and worst of her without making her a caricature. Ali Fazal in the role of Abdul is handsome and likable, though probably not quite as arrogant as the real man was.

Their chemistry was real and their pairing unlikely, but the two developed a genuine kinship that so annoyed her family and staff that they burned all of her letters to him upon her passing. What survived was Karim's diary, which was passed down in his family and only revealed to the public in 2010.

Though the content is indisputably light, the story has darker tones of racism and class divisions that absolutely contributed to the controversy surrounding their friendship.

What a shame that so many years later, we still have similar issues.



Today I saw the documentary Voyeur.

In the late '60s, Gerald Foos bought a motel in Aurora, Colorado for the sole purpose of voyeurism. He built a platform in the attic and drilled a viewing panel underneath fake air vents so he could see his guests, but not be seen by them.

On this platform he spent endless days and nights witnessing random private behaviors, intimate sexual acts and once, even a murder. He doesn't express remorse or guilt over all of this because he saw himself at the time as a researcher, not unlike famed doctors Masters and Johnson (though their subjects always knew when they were watching).

Of course, his "research" wasn't always clinical, as he did confess to the sexual pleasure derived from witnessing it. But he did keep meticulous records of the guests and their actions (orgasms included).

In the early '80s, Foos wrote a letter to journalist Gay Talese, who had authored a saucy book, The Neighbor's Wife, about the fluid sex lives of Americans. Foos confessed his practices and offered the story to Talese because he felt it needed to be told. Talese kept the knowledge of this tricked-out motel confidential (even visiting and witnessing acts himself) and spent decades learning all about Foos and his obsessions.

A documentary crew got involved and chronicled the journey of Talese writing the book and regularly meeting with Foos, and that's the finished film we get here.

Though it sounds X-rated, this movie plays it safe with only brief nudity and references to sexual behaviors as part of the reenactments. Really, it's primarily talking head video of the journalist and his subject, the friends they become and the battles they get into as the years go on.

I was intrigued by the subject matter (and the fact Foos was never convicted of any crimes) but must admit after the story was told, I began to find all of the major players quite sad.

It's interesting enough not to walk away from, but not captivating enough to leave you wanting more.


Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Lady Bird

Today I saw Lady Bird, starring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.

When discussing films in the coming-of-age genre, with few exceptions we typically refer to films about boys: Stand By MeThe Goonies, etc. Perhaps that's why it's so refreshing to see a girl figuring things out in this brilliant directorial debut from Greta Garwig.

Christine (Ronan) demands to be called Lady Bird and wishes to leave what she calls "the Midwest of California" (a.k.a. Sacramento) in the dust for a New York college. She's bored at Catholic school (although she doesn't do so well in it) and falls in and out of love with boys who seem to like her back. Her family is refreshingly real (Dad's out of work; Mom is overly critical) and her best friend is sweet and supportive.

As Lady Bird makes her way through her senior year of high school, she's both clever and clumsy in her quest to reach her goals. Her honesty sometimes gets her in trouble, but we continue to root for her regardless.

But her story is admittedly not terribly compelling. What's so well done here is the character exposition. We feel as if we know each of the players intimately, but none of them are shoved in our face. What isn't said between Lady Bird and her mother is far more powerful than what is, and the performances by Ronan and Metcalf are a huge part of that success.

It's been a while since a movie made me laugh and cry in equal measure—I'm thankful Ms. Gerwig brought that kind of emotion out in me. And I can't wait to see what she does next.


Monday, November 27, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express

On Tuesday, I saw Murder on the Orient Express, starring Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer.

A story that has survived since Agatha Christie's book of the same name was published in 1934, this Murder may have been better off left in the past. With an all-star cast and a star director (Kenneth Branagh), it was almost doomed to fail. And unfortunately, fail it did.

The mystique and character of a Christie novel is admittedly hard to bring to life, but you'd think with such a talented bunch it would happen. It didn't.

Instead of truly "wondering" who committed this heinous act on a glamorous train filled with people of status, the audience spends time hoping something—the train, the plot, the dialogue—will speed up. The quiet, slow pace isn't suspense-building (as it may have been intended); instead it's nerve-wracking.

The cinematography is beautiful, and the actors do their parts well, of course. It just wasn't enough to save it (or the victim) in the end.


Monday, November 20, 2017

The Man Who Invented Christmas

On Wednesday, I saw The Man Who Invented Christmas, starring Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer.

Based on a script that was based on a non-fiction work, this film tells a dramatized version of the weeks leading up to the publication of Charles Dickens' masterpiece, A Christmas Carol. As a Dickens freak myself (first stop on my first trip to London was a visit to his historical house), I couldn't have been more excited when I heard this was coming out, with Downton Abbey's Stevens in the lead role. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the outcome.

The film attempts to tell, in an overtly manic way, how chaotic Dickens' life was when he was dreaming up this story. People constantly coming in and out of the house, more children than they knew what to do with and a father that just kept "taking" from his famous son. It can't have been easy to concentrate on writing, and if that was the goal of the movie, then it was well achieved.

The problem is, it's rather annoying. Most importantly, the narrative is devoid of the magic expected in a presentation about a work of literature that changed the way the British (and later the world, it could be argued) celebrated Christmas.

Christopher Plummer isn't in it enough as Scrooge, and the minor characters are perhaps too minor to care out.

A shame, because the topic is such a rich one.


Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Tonight I screened Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, starring Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell.

Mildred (McDormand) seeks justice for the rape and murder of her daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton) in the small town of (fictional) Ebbing, Missouri, where the police—in her view—spend more time hassling minorities than they do solving crimes.

Because the case has gone dormant, she pays to post three billboards asking the police chief (Woody Harrelson) why. This upsets the tight community and she gets grief from the local priest and other townspeople.

The chief is truly on her side, but after suffering another tragedy, she feels she has nowhere to turn and seeks revenge instead of justice. A series of bloody, scary, hilarious (yes, it's all those things) events follows and McDormand pretty much seals up her Oscar nomination.

But she's not the only great player here. Harrelson is tough, yet sincere as the chief whose hands are tied by circumstance; Sam Rockwell as the dim-witted Officer Dixon keeps his character from becoming a caricature by adding dimension through emotion, and Peter Dinklage is the welcome town oddity as the "midget" who is hot for Mildred.

I'd say the stereotypes are a bit much, but I did live in Missouri for five years, and for better or worse, I encountered people who resembled every last one of these folks.

In addition to addressing the horrific themes of sexual assault, racism and domestic violence—so timely considering our current national conversation—it reminds us that not every good person makes smart choices and not every bad apple is without a conscience.

Writer/director Martin McDonagh was inspired to write the film after driving past similar billboards in real life. I shudder to think what prompted their placement. The movie based on them isn't easy to watch, but you won't be able to take your eyes off of it.


Saturday, November 04, 2017

A Bad Moms Christmas

Last night I saw A Bad Moms Christmas, starring Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn.

Amy (Kunis) is determined to have a normal Christmas without interference from her mother Ruth (Christine Baranski), who is visiting for the holiday. Simultaneously, her friends Carla (Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell) are having issues with their own mothers, also in town.

The film, a sequel to last year's Bad Moms, focuses not on the drama of other parents, but solely on the complicated family ties that bind or break during the Christmas season. I'd love to say this was complete fluff and nonsense, but the story actually touches on some very real issues for women.

From one mother who has no boundaries to another who is a financial mess, to the seriousness of a mom who doesn't think anything her daughter does is good enough, the film is bound to touch a nerve with many.

That aside, it's also laugh-out-loud funny throughout.

Kathryn Hahn is a national treasure. I feel the need to say that, though it's probably already been said. Her timing, her physical comedy, her impeccable delivery—all hysterical, especially when she falls for exotic dancer Ty (Justin Hartley). 

The laughs are plenty, the situations (while intentionally inflated) are relatable and at the core of the movie is a lot of heart.

You could do worse at the theater this holiday season.


Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Today I saw Dunkirk, starring Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance.

The true story of Dunkirk is miraculous, and an often overlooked moment in history. Director Christopher Nolan does a brilliant job of not re-telling the story, but bringing the human pieces of it into a relatable, terrifying narrative.

Instead of bringing us war scenes as we are used to seeing them, he goes one step further. He takes us to the ground, to the water, to the sky into the adrenaline rushes of the men suffering through it.

We don't know their backstories or see them longingly looking at photos of wives back home; we see them catching leaflets telling them they're surrounded moments before being shot at (and in some cases killed). We see them suffocating inside a shot-down plane as they try to break out using the lens of a camera. We see them numb from PTSD, just moments after being pulled to safety.

We experience war, we don't watch it.

Though the tension was excruciating and the sounds of the haunting score will probably echo in my nightmares, I appreciated the first-hand approach.

If only those in power would realize the eternal damage war does to the collective human spirit and put an end to it for the rest of time.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Last night I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street, starring Heather Langenkamp and Robert Englund.

Nancy (Langenkamp) attends a sleepover with a friend only to wake in the middle of the night to the sounds of that friend's murder. They both had the same nightmare about a burnt-faced man with knives on his fingers. Nancy fears because of this commonality, she is next.

After more nightmares and an eventual confession from her own alcoholic mother, Nancy learns the man in their dreams is Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), and gets his backstory. With this new information, she, along with her boyfriend across the street, Glenn (a very young Johnny Depp), attempt to defeat this monster with a mix of sleep deprivation and calculated nightmare-planning.

This film came out in 1984. I first saw it a year later at a friend's slumber party, much to the dismay of my mother, who forbid me from such parties when I came home afterword, terrified. I refused to sleep for days.

"1 ... 2 ... Freddy's coming for you, 3 ... 4 ... " The song the kids sing as they jump rope in the background of the film stayed with me all these years, and hearing it again gave me a visceral reaction.

It's funny what you remember and what you don't.

For example, I had clear recollections of Freddy: everything from his voice to his nails to his legendary sweater. I also remembered that Nancy was a "good girl" and her house was nice, in a good neighborhood.

What I failed to remember was Nancy's alcoholic mother, the sexual jokes and references (perhaps they just went over my head in youth) and the somewhat shocking ending. All were hilarious and satisfying last night.

The score by Charles Bernstein is a big factor as well—each time the music enters, it's hard not to put your guard up; you know something is coming.

Wes Craven knew how to do horror.

As silly and dated as many of the references and occurrences are, the film holds up. It is spooky, it is creepy, and it makes you jump. The origin story of the villain is also horrific and effective.

A classic already, and surely for years to come.


Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Fright Night

Last night I saw Fright Night, starring Chris Sarandon and William Ragsdale.

Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is a typical 1980s teenager—he enjoys late night television, making out with his girlfriend and spying on neighbors. One evening, he sees the guys next door carry a coffin into their yard and suspects they may be vampires. His fears are confirmed as he witnesses an intimate moment between one of them and their partner. The trouble is, they're onto him.

Soon enough said vampire, Jerry (Chris Sarandon), covets Charlie's naive mother and all hell breaks loose. Charley attempts to kill Jerry unsuccessfully, so he solicits the help of a late night show host who claims to be a vampire killer. Along with him, Charley's recruits his best friend and girlfriend, and the group attempt to eliminate this neighborhood threat.

Here, the film surpasses all attempts at actual horror and becomes a full-on camp fest. But that's not a bad thing—the special effects are so over-the-top, they leave you fascinated by the work that must have gone into creating them.

As for the acting, Sarandon chews scenery like the best of them, smirking and flirting his way across the screen, seducing the audience along with his desired victims. They couldn't have cast a more perfect, pompous vampire. And William Ragsdale's Charley is desperate and scared and paranoid just as a hormonal teenager with a great imagination would be (even though he turns out to be right).

Over 30 years later, I still enjoyed this ride and will continue to return to it in the Octobers to yet to come.


Thursday, September 14, 2017


Last night I saw It, starring Jaeden Lieberher and Sophia Lillis.

Based on the famous Stephen King novel, It certainly delivers on its promise of shivers and scares.

When we first meet the residents of Derry, Maine, it's because we're watching a sick Bill (Lieberher) finish making a paper boat for his younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) to float out in the rainstorm. He can't go out in the storm to supervise because of his illness and mom is busy playing the piano.

Once ready to set sail, Georgie takes the boat outside and giggles happily along the street as he communicates via Walkie Talkie with Bill, who is watching out his bedroom window. Of course, before long, Georgie veers out of view and the boat sails right into the sewer. Worried that his brother will be angry with him, Georgie attempts to retrieve it and is met by a "friendly" clown, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), who offers to hand it back to him.

We know where this is going before it happens, but it's still jarring to see the young boy snatched up by this menacing monster. The story continues as other kids disappear, and one of the new students in town does historical research on the town. He discovers that awful things have been happening every 27 years.

The group of Bill's friends, made up of kids who consider themselves "losers" because they are bullied, teased, abused, etc. bands together to confront the evil—and in the process face their own demons.

There are many opportunities for the film to go cheesy, but it really never does. Skarsgard's Pennywise is angry and creepy, but not the least bit campy. The other manifestations a la Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, such as a painting that comes to life, are even more disturbing.

What's great about the film is the heart of the kids we get to know and the faithful nod to the era of Walkmans and Rubik's Cubes.

If you can stand the occasional gore and potential nightmares, nothing should stop you from seeing It.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Home Again

On Friday I saw Home Again, starring Reese Witherspoon and Pico Alexander.

Alice (Witherspoon) is a single mother, separated from her husband, who is a big-wig in the music industry. To make a fresh start she moves back home to L.A. with her two girls. On a night out with her friends, she meets Harry (Alexander) and two of his friends; all are trying to break into the film business. Her father was a legendary filmmaker. Before long, the three are living in Alice's guesthouse and she and Harry are falling for each other.

Things get complicated when her husband, Austin (Michael Sheen), decides he'd like to reconcile and makes his way to L.A. Alice is torn between starting over and returning to a comfortable familiarity for her kids.

This is a textbook rom-com with a convenient love triangle, which addresses age, commitment and societal norms. That said, it is also thoroughly enjoyable. Predictable, sure—but enjoyable.

Witherspoon is delightful as a genuinely good mom who only wants what's best for her kids, and the supporting players all foster her decision-making by staying true to their personas. The girls who play her daughters, Lola Flanery and Eden Grace Redfield, are also spectacular. They hit just the right notes of confusion and joy as their lives take a topsy-turvy turn.

If you're looking for something deep or dark, this isn't the film for you. But if you want to take a break from our fractured world and breathe for a while, I can safely say you'll be in good hands with this sweet flick.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Lady Macbeth

Last night I saw Lady Macbeth, starring Florence Pugh and Cosmo Jarvis.

Katherine (Pugh) is sold into a loveless marriage with an abusive, sexually challenged husband. His father who lives with them is also horrible, and coupled with the unhappy help, this all makes for a pretty miserable home.

Based on Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, which was inspired by the famous Shakespeare work, this re-telling softens nothing. The audience feels every lashing that Katherine's dark-skinned lover Sebastian (Jarvis) gets and absorbs the emanating hatred Katherine has for the family she married into. In fact, the only one seemingly immune from all this brutality is a thin, sherbet-colored cat that pops up almost humorously, scene after scene, observing the chaos with typical curiosity.

But don't be fooled; there's not much comedy here. After her father-in-law allegedly sends her husband away, Katherine becomes obsessed with Sebastian, who works on the property. They don't do much to conceal their lovemaking and word travels fast. When her father-in-law confronts her with this news, the results are tragic—but Katherine is the one with the upper hand.

She's a force to be reckoned with, and anyone or anything that gets in her way from that point forward is put in clear and imminent danger.

The transformation of this character is a credit to the genius work of newcomer Pugh. Her ability to show the audience what simmers beneath the surface, yet behave as she's expected for the other characters is fascinating to watch. She's the star, after all, but I have a feeling I wouldn't have taken my eyes off of her even if she wasn't.

Lady Macbeth is a sexy, frightening, vivid interpretation of a life lived out of desperation. If you don't mind frequent violence (and a lot of nudity), give it a shot.


Thursday, August 17, 2017


Last night I saw Detroit, starring John Boyega and Will Poulter.

The 1967 Detroit Rebellion was a reaction to a police raid of an after-hours unlicensed black bar, where a celebration was being held to welcome back soldiers. Over 40 lives were lost and nearly 2,000 people were injured during the five days of riots.

One incident that erupted during that unsettling time happened at the Algiers Motel, where a group of young black men and two white women were held hostage by white police and tortured because of a gunshot the cops thought they heard coming from the property. By the end of the incident, three unarmed black men were dead. No weapon was ever found.

In Kathryn Bigelow's fictionalized version of that event, she retells what happened with minor poetic license. Though most are represented accurately (according to survivors and witnesses), dialog of course has to be imagined with the exception of phrases/insults that were recounted in court transcripts at the murder trials.

The film is long, but so was that night for the innocent victims who suffered at the hands of brutal racists. Watching their agony and seeing the merciless actions of the white men continue is just a painful reminder that we haven't come so far since then. Police brutality is alive and well in America, as is racism, so we must force ourselves to sit through art such as this to see why we can't let these injustices continue.

The performance Will Poulter gives as Krauss, the ringleader of the whole operation, is Oscar-worthy, as you can barely look at him by the time the film concludes. Also stellar is John Boyega as Dismukes, a black guard who witnessed the incident, but remained unharmed because he "befriended" the cops. The struggle to stay silent is reflected in his eyes as the horrors play out.

Though it was unpleasant and uncomfortable to watch, I truly hope that high schools around the country will show this film as part of their Civil Rights lessons and show how a dark period in America's past played out. If we don't convince the youth to be color-blind, we'll find ourselves right back in that horrible place in no time.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Beatriz at Dinner

Tonight I saw Beatriz at Dinner, starring Salma Hayek and Connie Britton.

Beatriz (Hayek) is a Mexican healer who gives her affluent client Cathy (Britton) a massage after a losing a beloved pet. She can't hide her grief, but Cathy is compassionate and listens to her as she tells the story of an angry neighbor who killed her goat. As she's leaving the mansion, her car breaks down so she calls a friend to come and fix it. It will be a few hours until he can get there, so Cathy invites her to stay for dinner.

At the meal are Cathy and her husband, plus two couples. Both of the men work with her husband in the real estate development business. All of them are white.

Beatriz awkwardly greets the dinner party visitors with warm hugs instead of the cold handshakes they're used to and the night is off to a weird start. The more wine Beatriz drinks, the more honest she becomes and soon the polite conversation turns contentious.

John Lithgow is condescending and cool as the mogul Doug, who everyone seems to be kissing up to. Immediately he stereotypes Beatriz, asking her first to get him a drink (mistaking her for the help), then joking that maybe she once danced in Vegas when she mentions he looks familiar. 

During the meal, Beatriz has a small meltdown when she mistakes Doug for a corporate animal who ruined her home town in Mexico. She leaves the group to rest and uncovers something more. The story continues with her return to the party.

The film is very light on actual action, but the dialog here crackles so easily that's it's hard to notice. Every note of every word is carefully chosen either by the two who are sparring or those aiming to diffuse them.

It's hard to take your eyes of off Hayek, as her performance has so many dimensions. She emotes from deep within her eyes and carries herself as a confident holistic healer offended by soulless people would.

Alternately, Lithgow makes small sparks of his character redeeming, yet we can't help but shake our heads in disgust at his behavior.

A quiet—but no less powerful—commentary on our culturally volatile times.


Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Beguiled

Yesterday I saw The Beguiled, starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman.

Corporal John McBurney (Farrell) fell into the Union army by way of desperation—he'd just arrived from Ireland without a penny to speak of, so while he was up for the job, he didn't have a specific affinity to either American side. When he is wounded in battle, a young girl finds him bleeding and helpless in the woods. She does the "Christian" thing (as they often mention), although he is from the opposite side, and brings him to safety at the girls' seminary where she lives.

The seminary is run by strict headmistress Martha (Kidman) who immediately mends his wound, cleans him up and transforms the music area into a makeshift bedroom for him. Soon all the young girls, and their teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), are smitten with their guest, bending over backwards to see to his comfort.

He is grateful and gracious—gentle with the young girls and flirtatious with the women. His wound heals nicely and it is determined that it's not appropriate for him to remain, so (sexual) tensions rise as the group knows their time with him will end soon.

There is rivalry, violence, betrayal and heartbreak as the truth unfolds. To say any more would be to spoil, so I'll just mention that the soft, pearly light that Sofia Coppola always casts over her movies with works well here. Instead of being a raw, dusty war-time drama, it feels more like an occasional thriller with some splashes of romance that hang in the air like a misty Southern fog.


Sunday, August 06, 2017

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

On Friday, I saw the documentary An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.

Anyone who watched the Oscar-winning first installment, An Inconvenient Truth, could tell that former Vice President Al Gore would make saving the environment his life's mission. This film confirms that.

Although there are flashbacks to his time in office, and scenes of him lamenting the results of the election that could have made him president, he has moved on with a Jimmy Carter-like spirit for making the most of his post-political career.

The crew follows him to Paris when the original Paris Agreement was made in the shadow of the horrific terrorist attacks of 2015. He was in the heart of the city when those incidents occurred, and his remarks afterward will make even the toughest among us shed some tears.

The triumph of that global victory was unfortunately short-lived due to our current Commander-in-Chief pulling out of said Agreement just two months ago. Mr. Gore shows us why that was such a devastating blow to the progress that had been made and what we must do as citizens to continue the fight.

He can't resist bringing along his beloved PowerPoint presentations again to share some shocking bar graphs. He advances the slides that prove his point with blatant satisfaction—trouble is, we wish he weren't so right.

This is a crises of epic proportions. Future generations (if we haven't killed the human race by then) will shake their heads in disbelief at America's stupidity if we don't turn things around and make this right.

My favorite part of the film shows Gore meeting with a conservative Texan mayor who is on the right side of history, making his town an environmentally friendly model for the rest of the nation. Though he may disagree with liberal politics, he says that taking care of our earth is just "common sense," and has found a fiscally responsible way of doing it.

Unfortunately, the people who need to see this film probably won't. But if it gets just a few people to change their votes, to write some letters, to make some noise, it won't all have been for nothing.


Thursday, August 03, 2017

Annabelle: Creation

Last night I screened Annabelle: Creation, starring Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson.

A couple who suffered a tragedy years ago opens their home with good intentions to a girls' orphanage, but soon things go awry. Though the Mullins ask the girls to respect their privacy and stay away from their deceased daughter's old room, the toys inside prove too tempting for Janice (Bateman) and Linda (Wilson), so all hell breaks loose.

To top it off, as if being an orphan shunned by the "cool" girls isn't enough, Janice is disabled, wearing a brace on her leg and using a cane. She has to reach her bedroom upstairs by a chair lift, reminiscent of the one in Gremlins.

After a horrific encounter seemingly sparked by a doll (the famous "Annabelle" one from the prior film), Janice ends up paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. Because this is the 1950s and we're at a faraway farmhouse, the chair looks like something from the 1800s.

Anyway, much ensues—mysteries surrounding the bed-confined Mrs. Mullins are revealed, Linda proves to be a loyal friend to a fault and I spent the better portion of the movie trying to place the accent of the resident nun, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman). Post-film research reveals in real-life she is from Mexico, but I'm not sure her character was supposed to be?

So, here's what you need to know: the film does have scary, jumpy moments; the acting (especially by the two child leads) is excellent and the ending ... well, leads us exactly to where we began with the film Annabelle, since this was a prequel.

I enjoyed it, but missing were our trusted anchors—Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren, for whom this franchise centers. Their absence was palpable and I hope the team doesn't complete another film without them.

This installment wasn't as good as the others, but it wasn't bad. Go see it for the "gotcha" moments or rent it on a dark night, holding a doll for good measure.


Monday, July 17, 2017

The Big Sick

On Saturday I saw The Big Sick, starring Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan.

Kumail (Nanjiani) is a struggling stand up comic doing his best to avoid his mother's attempts at setting him up with a Pakistani wife. One night he gets heckled by Emily (Kazan), a white girl who lives nearby and they have a meet cute and fall in love.

Unfortunately, their path to happily-ever-after wasn't so simple: his parents weren't okay with him falling for a white girl so he broke up with her and Emily became severely ill, going into a coma shortly after their courtship fell apart.

While she's unconscious, Kumail realizes his feelings for her and visits her hospital room often. He gets to know her parents (played here charmingly by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) and grows on them. By the time Emily wakes up, he's ready to resume their relationship, but she hasn't had the same time to process her feelings. So another roadblock emerges.


Sad as this all sounds, the film is a comedy. And, remarkably, it's also true—co-written by the real-life couple (Kumail and his wife Emily V. Gordon).

I have to admit, I'm still on the fence about this one.

I wanted desperately to like it because I tend to embrace stories of love overcoming all odds to prevail. I also appreciate when people with deep cultural values can learn to embrace new ideas and ideals for the sake of love. This has all of that ... but it's not perfect.

First, Kumail playing himself takes me out of the story. Maybe it's because I know him from Silicon Valley or because he always seems to have a smirk on deck even if the scene isn't comedic, but him being him made the rest of the cast feel like they were trying too hard (and they're all amazing actors who delivered stellar performances). I believed Emily was very ill. I got that Emily's father had greatly hurt Emily's mother. But that all felt like a play because Kumail was always there, hanging out, reminding us this was his life we were seeing.

I also found the roommate to be too dumb. They dedicated a lot of screen time to emphasizing how much of a loser he was, then made the audience feel guilty for not feeling worse when he didn't get chosen to be part of something the rest of them did. I would have much rather had that time with the other comedians or happy moments with the couple when all was said and done.

Annoying as well were the moments with Kumail's family. They seemed very one-dimensional since we seldom see them away from the dinner table.

I can't imagine what it must be like to see your life rewound on the big screen and I applaud the couple for the courage to tell their story.

i just wish it went lighter on the stereotypes and deeper into the heart of their love.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Girls Trip

Tonight I screened Girls Trip, starring Regina Hall and Queen Latifah.

Ryan Pierce (Hall) is a successful self-help author on her way to keynote the Essence Festival in New Orleans with her three best college pals in tow: Sasha (Latifah), Lisa (Jada Pinkett-Smith) and Dina (Tiffany Haddish).

Sasha is a celebrity gossip blogger who gets a tip that Ryan's husband Stewart (Mike Colter) is having an affair. She and the other girls share this with Ryan, who already knows about the infidelity, but is keeping up appearances for the sake of their joint brand.

Determined not to let the looming threat of a leak ruin their weekend, the women press on, partying in VIP circles, drinking, dancing and trying to get (uptight) divorcée Lisa laid. To complicate matters, Ryan's agent has set a meeting during the event with the head of a major retail store that's looking to make a lucrative deal with Ryan and Stewart.

That's all I can say without giving it all away, so I'll just say this: although there is one gross scene I desperately wish I could un-see, this isn't your average we-drank-too-much-and-will-pay-for-it party movies. It's a fun, feasible movie about four women with a host of issues just trying to get through life with a little help from their friends.

Because the screenwriters didn't just focus on Ryan's story, the audience develops empathy for all the players, giving each more dimension than a traditional "supporting" cast.

This film had a lot of laughs—but more importantly—a lot of heart.


Sunday, July 09, 2017


Today I saw Maudie, starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke.

The film tells the story of real-life Canadian folk artist, Maud Lewis (Hawkins).

Born Maud Dowley, the artist was severely arthritic, which limited her dexterity but didn't stop her from loving to paint. After a comfortable upbringing, Dowley was forced to find work when her brother took all of their inheritance and left her with nothing. She became a housekeeper for Everett Lewis (Hawke), though she wasn't able to perform most chores.

Lewis was a grumpy fish peddler who lived a modest life in a tiny home on the outskirts of Marshalltown. Though it annoyed him she couldn't be a totally effective housemaid, he did allow her to paint the house, greeting cards and anything else she could get her hands on. The two later married and shared a simple, but arguably content life together.

Just a few years before her death, her paintings got international attention and she and her husband sold them out of their house. Most were $2 or $5. Really special ones went for $10.

Aside from being heartbreaking at many turns, it's delightful to watch such a sweet spirit make so much of what anyone else would consider a meager life. Hawkins is Oscar-worthy as the title star—everything from her physical posture to her delicate voice so closely mimics that of the real person, when they show footage of Lewis at the end of the film, you have to do a double take to be sure it's not still her.

Hawke is also strong as an unlikable, yet somehow redeeming mean husband who clearly loves his wife but wants no part of admitting to that.

You'll laugh, you'll sob, you'll scour the internet to see where you can find prints of her work (hint: The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia)—you'll be absorbed into this most emotional, tender look at an artist not to be forgotten.


Friday, July 07, 2017


Last night I saw Snatched, starring Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn.

Emily (Schumer) endures a break up with her latest flame right before they're due to take a non-refundable vacation to Honduras. Since none of her friends are readily available to go in his place, she decides to invite her mother, Linda (Hawn), who reluctantly accepts.

Though the dynamic of the trip has changed, Emily is still intent on having a good time, so while her mother rests in their resort room, she hits the bar, striking up a conversation with a local hottie. After a night of fun, it's decided the two will re-convene in the morning and bring mom along for a day trip. All goes well until the host decides to go off the beaten path and the women are abducted by (presumably) a drug lord.

The remainder of the film is the adventure of the two attempting to escape and make it to Bogota, Colombia where the U.S. State department can send for help. Aiding in their retrieval are a nerdy brother/son, a random American they meet at a jungle bar and a pair of eccentric fellow travelers (these two were my favorite, as they're portrayed by Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack).

There is swearing and exposed body parts and murder and drinking and dancing. There is chemistry between the two leads, excellent comedic timing and way too much screen time allotted to the "angry" state department worker.

I both laughed out loud and shook my head lamenting just how much better it could have been.

If you're looking for a stereotypical, predictable comedy, you could do worse. But lacking in heart, it shouldn't be at the top of anyone's list.


Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Paris Can Wait

Today I saw Paris Can Wait, starring Diane Lane and Arnaud Viard.

Anne (Lane) is the wife of a successful film producer, Michael (Alec Baldwin). They are headed to Paris via Budapest from the South of France when Anne's ears begin bothering her and the pilot of their private plane advises against her flying. Michael's business associate, Jacques (Viard), offers to drive her straight to Paris since he's headed there anyway. She accepts the offer.

At first, Jacques sightseeing stops along the way feel spontaneous, but Anne soon realizes he has no intention of getting to Paris that evening. At what can only be described as an 'intimate dinner' they share, the wine flows and things are revealed and Anne begins to see her travel companion in a different light.

From there they experience car trouble, money issues, a former girlfriend, cultural pit stops and a staggering amount of delicious French cuisine. Throughout the journey you wonder if the feelings they have for one another are mutual; you wonder if they'll act on them; you wonder if they'll ever make it to the City of Love.

The elegance of Diane Lane helps the tension stay enjoyable and Arnaud Viard is a feasible smitten bachelor, completely unbothered by the fact the woman he courts is married to his friend.

Watching this will make you want to take a road trip through the back roads of France to smell the lavender, drink good wine and fall in love.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Baby Driver

Tonight I saw Baby Driver, starring Ansel Elgort and Jon Hamm.

Baby (Elgort) isn't your average getaway car driver. He's young. He's distracted (by music of his own choosing). He's got a seemingly endless supply of sunglasses.

He's not meant for a life of crime.

This story, really mostly about him, is a ride in itself—a genre-bending, hilarious, tragic, sentimental, endearing, tense thriller that doesn't give you much of a chance to breathe between scenes.

Baby's boss, Doc (Kevin Spacey), promises him he can leave the life once he's settled a debt that's unbeknownst to us. He achieves this in a heart-thumping heist scene and calmly returns home, where he cares for Joseph (CJ Jones), an elderly deaf man, in a run-down apartment. He also gets friendly with waitress Debora, who works at a nearby diner.

All along, Baby has a continuous soundtrack playing in his ears. The excuse given is tinnitus, but his knack for making music from his secretly taped conversations leads us to believe there could be more to it.

He gets to know many of the criminals he drives for along the way. Smoldering Buddy (Hamm), evil Bats (Jamie Foxx) and others. They are suspect of his youth and his earbuds and his incredible skill at operating motor vehicles.

There are too many twists and turns to properly take the story any further without spoiling, so I'll leave it there and simply say: Edgar Wright has outdone himself.

I'm a fan of his other work (Shaun of the Dead probably the most recognizable), but this is better. It's smarter. Sharper. Faster.

Above all else, it has rhythm. Since the storytelling is woven through music that our protagonist selects for his various moods and jobs, the film radiates with a series of songs that wouldn't feel out of place in the world of Tarantino. And yes, there's violence. And some language too.

But it remarkably doesn't feel gratuitous, and the Georgia accent on our hero makes him all that more appealing. There's even a love story for the romantics to fall for.

I may have to see it again.


Sunday, June 04, 2017

SIFF Sighting: WINNIE (documentary; France)

Last night I screened Winnie, a documentary about South African leader Winnie Mandela.

Though I'd seen countless documentaries and films about her former husband Nelson, I'd never seen a film dedicated to Winnie's story alone, so it's good I began with this one.

Things I learned:

  • She was much angrier than her husband, even at the time of his imprisonment.
  • She was treated horribly, with repeated arrests and harassment throughout the saga.
  • She makes no apologies for her actions, but admits the years of bloodshed should never have happened.
  • She is blamed to this day for a murder by activists loyal to her (some claim she ordered it).
  • She has no desire to slow her activism, though she is now over 80 years of age.
It was a solid film, though difficult to watch in many places because of the archival footage. I especially appreciated the candid insight from Mandela herself and her daughter.


Winnie screened at the 43rd annual Seattle International Film Festival.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Wonder Woman

Today I saw Wonder Woman, starring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine.

Diana Prince (Gadot) lives on the all-female island of Themyscira with her fellow Amazons, but she's the youngest. Youngest of them all when her aunt (Robin Wright) begins secretly training her for combat.

You see, these ladies are no fragile flowers—they're fully capable of defending themselves (plus anyone they deem worthy of defending) and Diana is special. They know they need to prepare her for greater obstacles someday.

The film gets us to "someday" rather quickly. Blue-eyed spy Steve Trevor (Pine) crashes his plane into the ocean that surrounds their land and Diana pulls him to safety. He is soon followed by angry Germans (this is WWI, after all) and it's on.

Diana accompanies him back to England, and from there on out, they're a team. He is working to stop the development of chemical warfare that will alter the rules of engagement; she is out to stop war(s) altogether. They make quite a pair.

Of course, there's romance. And I won't go as far to say that the two have a "crackling chemistry" or make you believe they are two halves of a full heart, but they do complement each other nicely (note: the one snarky line about marriage got a huge round of applause in my theater). I was fine when the two were together and I was fine when they were apart. I was grateful they didn't make the whole plot center around their attraction. In fact, the fight scenes rival that of any great action flick and that's more what I came away remembering.

But let's talk about Gal Gadot. Set aside for a moment that she's naturally gorgeous and flies around the screen with acrobatic grace, kicking the ass of anyone who gets in her way.

What do I love most about her performance? The warmth and intelligence she brings to our legendary superhero. This is no flake who bats her eyelashes, or waits for a man to protect her. This is a sweet, kind soul who just happens to fuel her intensity and power with love. Gadot comes to the role with just the right amount of innocence to be believable, yet she's strong enough to earn her superhero title. They really couldn't have cast a better actress to play her.

In fact, everyone here is well cast. The only character who really bothered me was Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya). She was a little over-the-top for my taste. So much, that I wouldn't have been surprised if she threw her head back and cackled or started petting a cat.

That said, the flaws are minor and the film is fantastic. It's hard to believe that this is the first major superhero movie to ever be directed by a woman, but Patty Jenkins was the right choice, hands down. The genius of it is that the focus really isn't on gender. It's just on this powerful being from a faraway place who happens to be female.

At heart, Wonder Woman just proves what we already know to be true: that love is the greatest force of all.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

SIFF Sighting: A DATE FOR MAD MARY (Comedy, Ireland)

Tonight I screened A Date for Mad Mary, starring Seana Kerslake and Tara Lee.

Mary (Kerslake) has just been sprung from prison—she's been there for six months on an assault charge. When she gets out, her community doesn't exactly welcome her with open arms, but she does her best to acclimate.

Her friend Charlene (Charleigh Bailey) is getting married and Mary is the maid of honor. Though Mary has this prestigious job in the ceremony, Charlene has elected not to give her a plus one. Mary wants to prove that she needs the invite, so she invents a boyfriend and quickly begins looking for a man who will go as her date.

As they say, hilarity ensues.

When she thinks she may have found a good fit, things go awry and a new friend vows to help her find someone else.

At this point, we see there's more to Mary than the cursing, angry-at-the-world girl that's been on display for the first half of the film, and we begin to sympathize with her.

The story goes from a comedy that's rough around the edges to a sweet romance, to a heartfelt drama.

I enjoyed the emotional roller coaster and very much hope to see the film's lead in more things—she's definitely a rising star.


A Date for Mad Mary screened at the 43rd Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

SIFF Sighting: ORIGINAL BLISS (Drama; Germany)

Tonight I screened Original Bliss, starring Martina Gedeck and Ulrich Tukur.

Helene (Gedeck) is suffering a crisis of faith. She's lost God, and as a result, she battles insomnia, which takes a toll on the rest of her life. She goes through the motions like a robot, every day watching her marriage fall apart even more.

When she hears the calming voice of a famous psychologist on the radio, she fakes a visit with her sister and embarks on a trip to Hamburg to meet him. There, they develop an unconventional friendship that could be the best thing that ever happened to her or her worst nightmare. You have to stay to the end to find out which.

In the meantime, there's graphic sex, domestic violence, death, humor and even a bit of twisted romance in this film. I can safely say I wasn't bored (though at times I questioned what the hell I was watching).

Fans of the phenomenal film The Lives of Others will remember the leads from that, and marvel at how great they're acting is, since they're playing such wildly different characters here.

Go see it. You won't be able to look away.


Original Bliss screened at the 43rd Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

SIFF Sighting: THE ODYSSEY (Drama; France)

Last night I screened The Odyssey, starring Lambert Wilson and Pierre Niney.

Anyone who grew up in the 70s or 80s undoubtedly remembers the magical underwater expeditions of famed French explorer Jacques Cousteau. He was the first to take television cameras deep into the ocean and share a world only a fraction of the population would ever get to fully experience.

This film shows what the real man was like, how he treated his family and his crew.

Jacques (Wilson) did truly love his craft. He lived for the adventure and the thrill, and thrived on the fame his films and programs brought him. Unfortunately, much of that was at the expense of his wife, Simone (Audrey Tatou) who stayed by his side despite his serial infidelities, and his sons—one who shared his adrenaline-fueled passions and one who did not. At some point it became more about the money than anything else, and money sometimes brings out the worst in people.

The story here (as you may have guessed from the title) focuses mostly on the fractured relationship between him and his son Philippe (Niney), who became a key part of his productions yet resented his father for all of his faults along the way. Philippe operated with a code of integrity that his father didn't appreciate until much later in life.

The actors here portray their subjects in an intimate, authentic way and the screenplay—based on a book written by Cousteau's surviving son—helps guide their performance.

Aside from some pacing issues, this is worth a look; if not just for the family story, but for the gorgeous underwater scenery that is laced throughout.


The Odyssey screened at the 43rd annual Seattle International Film Festival.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

SIFF Sighting: HELLO DESTROYER (Drama, Canada)

Tonight I screened Hello Destroyer, starring Jared Abrahamson.

When an introverted hockey player, Tyson (Abrahamson), is pressured into playing the game violently, the consequences he suffers last long after the game is over.

In this quiet, dark film from Kevan Funk, it's evident that he went to art school instead of film school. The scenes following the violent event the movie centers around are intentionally devoid of color and claustrophobic; the time the camera spends meditating on angles is a bit much.

That said, the story is solid and the acting is good. Tyson is so emotionally scarred from what he's endured that he serves as a stain on the community, which quickly casts him aside and assumes no responsibility for his actions.

We're silent observers to his crescendo of pain, which builds like a disease for which there is no cure. Unfortunately, though the story is fictional, it's completely believable and similar situations probably happen more often than we realize.

The filmmaker mentioned in the Q&A following the screening that he wanted to emphasize institutionalized violence (choosing hockey as the metaphor because of his mostly Canadian audience). 

I'd say he accomplished his mission.


Hello Destroyer screened at the 43rd annual Seattle International Film Festival.

SIFF Sighting: THE UNKNOWN GIRL (Thriller, Belgium)

The Dardenne brothers are incapable of making a boring film and this one is no exception.

When a woman becomes obsessed with a young girl's death, her preoccupation with the event gets her into trouble.

Their gift for capturing life as it is—getting interrupted while cooking, answering someone too quickly—is unparalleled and it shines here.

Don't let the slow pace discourage you from seeing it. The end is worth the wait.


The Unknown Girl screened at the 43rd Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Boss Baby

On April 15, I saw Boss Baby, starring the voice of Alec Baldwin.

In the factory where babies are made, certain souls are set aside for a greater purpose. This is the case for the Boss Baby (Baldwin) who arrives at his new brother Tim's (Tobey Maguire) house in a taxi, briefcase in hand, ready for business.

You see, he's a spy and he's tasked with stopping an evil plot (to tell you more would be to spoil, so I'll leave it at that). Of course, his big brother is ready to "out" his true identity and blow his cover, but the Boss Baby soon wins him over and they work together to stop the bad guys.

There are a lot of cute moments in this animated film (I laughed especially hard when a nude shot occurred and they fuzzed out BB's teeny penis), and really no one is better suited for the voice of a spy baby than Baldwin.

So if you're taking the kids and want to know if adults will get bored, the answer is no. If you're not taking kids, but are just going as a filmgoer, this is not terribly high caliber entertainment. But it's enjoyable for what it is.


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.