“Lady Chatterley’s Lover”

December 1st, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Lady Chatterley’s Lover””

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a banned book for decades in the US, Canada, Australia and more as well as the subject of litigation due to its explicit and “obscene” nature, written by D.H. Lawrence, has been adapted (again) for the silver screen. While the subject of classism is certainly a theme found in many movies recently (“The Menu,” “Parasite,” “Us,” “Sorry to Bother You,”), “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is just as poignant as it is risqué…and it is quite the latter. If you’re not familiar with the tale, it’s a love story from the early 1900’s as a newly wedded upper class woman to an aristocrat falls in love with her estate’s married gamekeeper. Of course, there’s more to it than meets the eye (and oh, do we ever get an eyeful), as screenwriter David Magee and Director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre (“The Mustang” 2019) stay true to Lawrence’s tale of star-crossed lovers.

We meet the young couple, Connie (Emma Corrin) and Lord Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett) on their wedding day. It’s also the day before Clifford is to go back to the front lines during WWI. His fear of what lies ahead becomes painfully true and while he does return, he does so in a wheelchair. Unable to produce an heir, he encourages his beautiful, vibrant young wife to find “an appropriate” match to father a child, of course keeping it a secret. Angered by this, Connie begins to see Clifford and all men in a different light. But it isn’t until her burning desire to be with a lowly estate worker Oliver (O’Connell), that she is emotionally, intellectually, and physically awakened.

Her disappearances into the woods for hours on end alarm the rest of the staff, all suspicious of her whereabouts until the situation comes to a head. Decisions must be made and, at a time when marriage was more of an arrangement for finances and status and not for love, it’s a difficult one to make.

The story takes place during a time when women didn’t talk about their needs, especially their physical ones, being met. This independent spirit and bold look at this aspect is still one that perhaps some will find taboo particularly as we watch Connie and Oliver dive deeply into one another. (Think “Outlander” here.)

Gorgeously shot, we feel the constraints that Connie experiences while wasting away inside the cold and ominous castle they call home. Drifting further and further away, Clifford lives like a bachelor, hanging out with his mates each night, drinking and ignoring his wife. Duckett plays his role as Clifford elegantly as we feel his anger about being in a wheelchair, unable to care for himself and unable to perform his husbandly duties. Slowly, we also begin to find him as a cad which helps us, the viewer, justify what Connie has chosen to do.

At the heart of the story is love versus obligation and with a deft hand, Clermont-Tonnerre elicits these two polar opposite tones with ease making it a relevant story for the 1920’s and the 2020’s. Of course, a story like this doesn’t work unless you’ve got chemistry between the main characters and the magnetism we feel between Oliver and Connie is palpable. Corrin is outstanding as Connie, walking the fine line between a proper aristocrat and an emotionally starved woman. She lets us in, allowing us to hear her voice as she struggles with her experiences.

The final product is searingly sexual as it takes its time to create a believable storyline about life, marriage, and the obstacles placed before us. While this may not be for everyone as the scenes are quite suggestive, it stays true to the original tale and speaks to equality on every level for a woman.

3 stars

“Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me” – Pam: Recommends

December 1st, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me” – Pam: Recommends”

Pam says:

The weight of the world falls on this young woman’s shoulders and in recent times, the weight has crushed her; sometimes from the inside out.  “Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me” candidly explores Gomez’s youth through footage and clips as early as the age of seven from the “Barney” show and in recent tours and shows.  We meet childhood friends from the past and those who have stayed close, and we travel this journey of self-discovery with Gomez to honestly pull back the layers of her life.

The boldly open interviews with Gomez reveals powerfully troubling times that she has, of recent times, found answers to questions pertaining to both physical and mental health.  And it is with this openness that we not only understand this musical icon and actress better, but she opens the doors of communication and realization that mental health issues shouldn’t be something to be embarrassed about, but to be recognized and addressed…she may be accomplishing one of her most important and lofty goals; saving people.

On the surface, most of us think Gomez has it all…fame, fortune, the world at her feet.  But as the cameras reveal, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.  Obnoxious paparazzi bombarding her at every waking moment, journalists asking insipid questions (I hope I’m never one of them), and social media hounds attempting to devour her confidence.  There are two sides to the “fame coin” and Gomez invites us in to see them both.

Admittedly, as a film critic and someone to lives under a rock when it comes to music, I only knew Gomez as an actress and became quite impressed with her in the Hulu hit and award-winning series “Only Murders in the Building” which she also executive produced.  There’s so much more to this beautifully talented woman who dares to speak about what obstacles she has overcome and those she continues to address.  At the ripe old age of 30, Gomez has accomplished more than most do in a lifetime and now she needs and finds a new purpose for her next chapter…helping others.

3 Stars

“The Race to Alaska”

November 23rd, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Race to Alaska””

“The Race to Alaska,” if you’re not a sailor, is the best way to experience one of the most bizarre sailing races in the world. Started by Jake Beattie, officially wearing the title “The Guy Who Thought of the Race to Alaska,” the rules are simple. Race from Port Townsend, WA to Ketchikan, AK using any boat but it cannot have a motor aboard. If you know anything about sailing, wind is a must, but let’s face it, Mother Nature isn’t predictable nor is she reliable and a back up power source is a must. If not a motor, then what? The first year seemed to invite all the “boat dorks of the internet,” as sailors designed their sailing boat contraptions complete with bikes that pedaled a propeller to oars with a roller blading seat. The dangerous straits proved even more formidable as only the strong, resilient, and creative crossed the finish line 750 miles away.

We meet the co-founders of the race Josh Colvin and Jake Beattie, and the “Race Boss” Daniel Evans, along with many former participants who describe the beauty and the horrors of the race. We also ride along with them as they sail the Seymour Narrows and the Queen Charlotte Sound; the whirlpools pulling them in, the stormy seas about to devour them, and of course, the calm waters and sunsets you can never tire of seeing. It’s a dream followed by a nightmare and back again; a roller coaster of a sail trip that just might entice you to call your local sail club to learn more!

“The Race to Alaska” finds humor with not only the race itself, but with its cast of “characters” including an all female team and a stand up paddler competing for first or second place. The prize? No one really wants first place, the $10000 prize. They’re all vying for second place, the set of steak knives. The extreme challenge beckons all who want a unique challenge, bored by the typical or traditional sailing races. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it is for true sailors.

Director Zach Carver brings you not only into the race, but allows you to meet and get to know the participants. As it buoys your heart, it also makes it race as you watch the small boats get tossed and the larger boats heel much too close the the water. As terrifying as it is, it’s invigorating and entertaining thanks to the cinematography that captures all the beauty and horror of the open seas.

If you’re a sailor, you’re going to love watching this crazy race filled with a wide array of participants. It might even motivate you to give sailing a try. To watch this movie, go to R2AK

3 1/2 Stars

“The Greatest Beer Run Ever” An Unlikely but True Tale

September 28th, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Greatest Beer Run Ever” An Unlikely but True Tale”

If this wasn’t a true story, you’d think it is just too preposterous of a tale to tell.  “The Greatest Beer Run Ever,” was initially a documentary about Chickie Donahue who, during the Vietnam War, travels to the remote and dangerous areas in Vietnam to bring his hometown buddies a few American beers.  Zach Efron takes on the lead role of Chickie in this narrative film, creating a character you initially question but begin to love as you watch him grow to understand the world around.  And while there are a few laughs along the way, this isn’t the comedy the poster and the title would infer.
We meet Chickie, a Merchant Marine, living at home with his parents as he burns the midnight oil, drinking all night with his buddies.  Dad is none too happy with his son’s choices, and with the tally of neighbors’ and friends’ deaths during the war adding up, Chickie, “only 5 beers in,” vows to bring some of the neighborhood tavern’s favorite beers (Pabst Blue Ribbon) to a few friends fighting the fight.  In the light of day, Chickie begins to rethink his plans, but it’s too late…the neighborhood has hope.  As luck (or not) would have it, a ship is ready to set sail to Vietnam in mere hours giving Chickie little time to pack his bags filled with the working class refreshment.

Arriving in this foreign place, dressed like a golfer on vacation, Chickie’s dumb luck lands him in his first friend’s camp.  As the laughter ensues, there’s an overtone of worry, not just about the obvious, but about Chickie’s best friend Tommy who is MIA.  Undeterred about the dangers ahead, warned by the American journalists and the military alike, Chickie uses his street smarts to find his next friend whose response isn’t quite so welcoming.  As a commanding officer states, “He’s too dumb to get himself killed,” Chickie is on a time clock, needing to get back to his ship and ultimately back home.

The 1960’s were tumultuous times politically and “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” doesn’t shy away from the issues at hand.  Families and friends are divided in a country which mirrors their situations.  Conversations hit hard, hearing both sides of the rationale behind sending our US troops to battle.  From old-timers like the tavern owner/bartender The Colonel (Bill Murray) and the younger generation who parrots what they hear on the television, to groups of protestors looking into the truth and the consequences, we see that times haven’t changed at all.  Conspiracy theorists, nationalists, and news shows who skew the information all contribute to the unrest in the US.  Sound familiar?  This reverberation of opinion is at once disconcerting as it is enlightening as the film gently pushes us to look at today’s world.

Efron depicts a loving yet uninformed Chickie who’s light-bulb-moments occur very subtly throughout the film as he appears to mentally perform a 180 degree turn.  He’s growing and maturing while he’s learning and Efron finds a nuance to create this reality.  Russell Crowe has a pivotal part as Coates, an American photojournalist who, thanks to editing and direction, hones in on the brutality of war.  Murray’s character is reminiscent of the men of the Greatest Generation, as does Chickie’s father (Paul Adelstein), proudly stating the young men in his NYC neighborhood died with honor protecting their country.  

“The Greatest Beer Run Ever” is a surprising drama with moments of humor as the story tells an unlikely true tale.  Although it is missing a few key notes such as why Chickie and his bar buddies aren’t serving — perhaps this would have been an entire sub-story within the film — and the dialect the actors attempt generally feels contrived, it’s still a story that will amaze and defy all your sensibilities.

3 stars

“My Policeman”

September 22nd, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““My Policeman””

Young love. It’s a beautiful thing, but what happens when that love is forbidden? “My Policeman,” starring Harry Styles, Gina McKee and David Dawson explore this concept in this heartbreakingly beautiful story of love, lies, and forgiveness.

We meet Marion (McKee) greeting a new houseguest who is wheelchair-bound. Their connection is unclear, but we know she will be this man’s caretaker as her husband, Tom (Linus Roache) is unnerved by it. This man who has suffered a stroke rendering him all but mute, and with him, he brings a box, all that remains from his life’s work. Marion opens it slowly, as if she knows what it might contain…detailed and eloquent diaries from a life all but forgotten. We are then transported back to post WWII Britain, the younger versions of these characters living life filled with potential.

The relationship of this triad comes into focus, but the honesty of their love for one another isn’t immediately evident. Based on the book by Bethan Roberts, screenwriter Ron Nyswaner carefully and masterfully explores each of the character’s lives and how they intersect, revealing only enough information to create multiple scenarios in our minds.

This is Marion’s story, seen through her eyes, as she grapples with her own decisions which ultimately created the consequences she lives today. Initially, a young, innocent schoolteacher wanting the simple things in life, her choices have long-term consequences many of which are made clearer as she reads the difficult words handwritten on the dusty pages of the journal. It’s a heart-wrenching image of an unforgiving era.

McKee’s understated performances brilliantly portrays the myriad emotions of life’s regrets. McKee allows her character to find a strength and new kind of love gradually coming to the forefront. The film’s only flaw is that McKee doesn’t garner enough screen time. Styles and Dawson also shine as two young men battling their own intrinsic demons.

“My Policeman” is gorgeously set, but it’s the story and evocative yet subdued performances that capture and break your heart.

3 1/2

“Don’t Worry Darling” A mastery of time and space

September 22nd, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Don’t Worry Darling” A mastery of time and space”

The tongue-wagging gossip has superseded Director Olivia Wilde’s new film “Don’t Worry Darling,” starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles. The series of unfortunate events bogged down the director’s premier at the Venice Film Festival and continues to plague the film as critics unsuccessfully push the tabloid dribble to the back of their assessment of the film. Admittedly, it’s difficult to do this, but it’s also unfair not to do so. As I watched with a jaded lens for the first 10 minutes, I forgot all the bristling tittle-tattle and was pulled into the story, its visual prowess washing over me, as I attempted to find the story’s puzzle pieces and put them together.

The story is set in the “idyllic” 1950’s where men went to work and women scrubbed and cleaned the bathrooms then made a four-course meal for the breadwinner who arrived home with a drink placed in his hand by his perfect wife. (Idyllic from whose perspective?) And this is where the sci-fi aspect begins to meld into the story. Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) seem the happy young couple, making their way in a planned experimental development helmed by Frank (Chris Pine) who is lauded like a savior of souls. Parties, day drinking, and catty groups of women shop and chat all day long, that is, after their daily tasks have been completed, but Alice senses that something is off as she envisions horrific events in her dreams and then her waking hours. Pushed to the edge, Alice must fight to save her life as the throngs threaten to thwart her understanding and independence.

If that sounds cryptic, it’s meant to be. The story has its twists and turns which are what keeps our minds reeling and our eyes glued to the screen. As we watch Alice careen around dangerous corners, learning bits and pieces of the truth, the puzzle pieces begin to fit together. Unfortunately, there are a few pieces missing creating holes in the overall plot development and a slightly dissatisfied feel to the ending.

The aesthetics of the film, however, couldn’t be more gorgeously created as we are thrown back in time. The colors, the decor, the costuming, and the cars. No detail is too small to transport us back to this era. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s skilled and creative lens elevate the visual feel and Wilde’s direction allow this aspect of the film to reach new heights. As the story becomes more surreal, staccato images and special effects remind us that this is no ordinary planned urban development. Wilde holds strong as a director, a visionary, delivering a captivating film even with a few flaws that slightly take the wind out of the story’s sails.

The actors, overlaid on this beautiful visual canvas, find just the right tone to bring us an edgy, and tension-filled mystery. Pugh shines in anything she does, connecting this time to a bright young woman conflicted by her memories or dreams. Together with Styles, his character a rising star amidst the group, the couple is immediately engaging as the story focuses upon Alice. Wilde even has a small but fun role as Bunny, a no-edit-mode mother of two who drinks her days away as she waits for the bus to drop off her kids. While Pine delights in his role as a leader, delivering inspirational speeches, Nick Kroll never seems confortable in his role as Dean, Bunny’s hubby. Equally odd in casting is Timothy Simons as Dr. Collins, a menacing company doctor doling out unspecified drugs.

The mystery is there. The lead actors shine. The directing and cinematography both round out the feel of the film, but the story loses its pacing midway through, relying on your ability to focus on the aesthetics instead of the story. Additionally, those holes in the plot leave a bad taste in your mouth leaving more questions than answers to this promising sci-fi film.

3 Stars

“Relative” Michael Glover Smith’s relationship film is a true gift

July 4th, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Relative” Michael Glover Smith’s relationship film is a true gift”

Writer and director Michael Glover Smith’s third feature film demonstrates his prowess in understanding the delicate balance of relationships with “Relative.” Taking place in the North Shore of Chicago, we meet an older couple, Wendy and David (Karen Frank, Francis Guinan) whose son Benji (Cameron Scott Roberts) is graduating from college. There’s an obvious age disparity as the couple readies for a celebratory party with the family and discuss their future plans. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to just focus on themselves. This is the pivotal relationship that supports the spiraling whirlwind that crashes the event, launching each sibling to confront their own lives and dependency upon their parents.

With heartbreaking finesse, Wendy and David’s Northshore lifestyle and abode has been the safety net for all of their children, but the expense and inability to start their own next chapter in life needs to start. Wendy, fearful of her children’s reactions to this news, is in emotional turmoil as we watch her walk that tightrope with each adult child. Wendy and David are always there for their kids, no matter their situation. They give everything they have, metaphorically and literally, to help their children succeed, but it is at their emotional and developmental expense. And within this realm, each adult child wrestles with how Mom and Dad’s news will impact them.

Benji, ready to start his own life has his issues with his eldest brother Rod, an unemployed ex-husband and father living in his parent’s basement. Evonne (Clare Cooney) and her wife Lucia (Melissa DuPrey) create their own explosive situation as the pair share their news, and adding into this already fiery situation, Benji brings home a girl who has swept him off his feet, Hekla (Elizabeth Stam). And this lucky girl witnesses the typical family dysfunction on full display.

Smith takes such simplistic elements of life and creates a complicated and layered story that allows you to relate to each character, no matter your age, gender, orientation or race. And somehow, Smith tackles it all with ease and grace. Taking place over a concise weekend time period, the everyday preparation and tasks allows each of the characters to introduce themselves, their situations, and then grow with one another or in many cases, explode to find a conclusion.

Dialogue is key in this type of a film and Smith nails it. Standout scenes create indelible images and emotions such as Benji and Rod’s midnight argument and Wendy and Evonne’s heart to heart. Of course, life is full of irony and humor and Smith intertwines this into his family story as well. Stam seems to carry the comedic weight with her energy and natural vibe that fills every corner of the screen. But it is Evonne and Lucia’s story that leaves you wanting more. Their lives are complicated and we are immediately drawn to these actors and how they portray their characters. Perhaps Smith will open that door with a sequel.

Relationships are messy and family makes them even messier. “Relative” exemplifies just what happens behind closed doors even when those doors are in the affluent North Shore of Chicago. Take your pick with which character you most relate and see yourself in “Relative.” It’s truly a gift.

3 stars

“Montana Story”

June 2nd, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Montana Story””

Summertime usually means big blockbuster popcorn or super hero movies. Rarely do you get a meaningfully deep film that visually and emotionally pulls you into it. But this summer we are in luck as The Paramount is showing“Montana Story” starring Owen Teague as Cal and Haley Lu Richardson as Erin, half-siblings, who must confront their past actions, guilt, and relationship with their dying father. Set in the remote, desolate, yet breathtakingly beautiful mountains of the Big Sky state, Richardson and Teague create an authentic story of life’s difficulties and its consequences.

The writing team of Scott McGehee, David Siegel, and Mike Spreter drop the viewer into the story as Cal (Teague) arrives to say his farewells to his father, now on a ventilator attended by a hospice worker, Ace (Gilber Owuor). The tension Cal feels toward his father is palpable as well as his obligatory presence. We aren’t privy to what happened to this father or his backstory until much later in the film as the writers reveal only bits and pieces, hooking you to understand why Cal is estranged from his own father. The pace of the film picks up as soon as Erin (Richardson) storms into the picture. Her anger and discomfort of being in this situation, conflicted about even showing up, sets you on edge and we have to find out more. Who is Erin? What happened? What did Cal do? What happened to the father?

Without giving too much away, as this is an integrated approach to watching a film as we are a fly on the wall figuring out how all the dialogue and actions fit together to complete the puzzle, Erin and Cal battle over what is happening to their family home and its contents, now in bankruptcy; more specifically, the beloved old horse named Mr. T. Cal, set to euthanize him, finds that Erin will do anything to save this horse including buying a truck and trailer and hauling him to her new home across the country. Saving this horse is the vehicle by which the two confront their past, their demons, and ultimately pave a new path for their futures.

Gorgeously shot, “Montana Story” transports you into this story as we get to know Erin and Cal. The road map by which the writers tell this story delicately twists and turns, but always stays on the right path to propel it forward. We hear the wind whipping through the mountains and across the desolate fields speckled with boulders and we can almost feel the chill in the air it creates. Equally visceral are Richardson and Teague’s performances. Once we understand their characters’ relationship and discover a pivotal event, it connects us to each of them more deeply. All of this together allows an honest and raw portrayal of trauma, healing, and resiliency.

The small ensemble cast is stellar in supporting these characters, gently touching upon the way of life in the West. Kimberly Guerrero as Valentina, the family’s caretaker, subtly represents the difficult financial aspects while her son Joey (Asivak Koostachin) reminds us of what it means to feel a part of a place. It is Owuor’s performance, however, that stands out as he is the touchstone for Cal and Erin to see their past and confront it.

“Montana Story” is a gem of an independent film that will envelop you, pulling you into the story and making you a part of it. Seeing it on the big screen will make it an experience you won’t soon forget.

4 Stars

“Top Gun: Maverick”

May 25th, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Top Gun: Maverick””

36 years. That’s how long it’s been since the first “Top Gun” movie starring Tom Cruise; the film that is still quoted, referenced, and catapulted the young heartthrob to ever-lasting stardom. The sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick” picks up decades after the tragic ending of the original. Maverick (Cruise), the nickname defining him, continues to buck the system and all who regulate it as the first scene shows the veteran pilot taking a plane to unprecedented speeds, Mach 10 (plus) against orders. This lands him not in trouble—thanks to Ice (Val Kilmer)— but back at the Top Gun training facility in charge of 10 new green-pilots who must complete a death-defying mission to save the world from eminent nuclear threat.

Maverick’s unorthodox training methods allow him to earn the trust of his new students…all but one: Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, Goose’s son. There’s a beef between the two of them, something more than the fact that Rooster’s father perished in a tragic accident that perhaps was Maverick’s fault. This will become an integral storyline later in the film, driving the relationship between the two men to a crossroads.

This story predominantly highlights the skill of naval pilots, one which leaves you breathless and in awe. Beneath the surface, however, there are several relationships which mirror the original film almost exactly. There’s a love story with Penny (Jennifer Connelly) with a backstory, and an antagonistic one between Rooster and Hangman (Glen Powell). And “Top Gun” wouldn’t be complete without the taskmaster who doesn’t believe in Maverick now played by Jon Hamm as Adm. Beau Cyclone Simpson.

These relationships, while not the entire focus of the film, are what hook you, but the flying is what keeps you on the edge of your seat. Knowing that this is not a special effect or a green screen elevates your admiration to stratospheric levels. And the reactions of the pilots are actual reactions to pulling G’s makes your own heart rate skyrocket and sink to your stomach all at the same time. It’s cinematically stunning to have captured all of this as it stitches together the story of a final mission racing against the clock and enemy attack.

Cruise’s confidence pours over the film as he speeds in any vehicle he’s given. He is meant for this role and to reprise Maverick in this sequel. The supporting cast of pilots is balanced even with Hangman’s one-dimensional character. His non-stop cocky smirk grates on your nerves, knowing that that’s exactly what the director (Joseph Kosinski) wants you to feel. Teller, on the other hand, seems a bit awkward in this role as he flounders to find the right tone. And I question the use of the mustache to tie him to his dear old dad…was that really necessary? It makes him look like a character out of the ’70’s or worse. However, Connelly and Cruise give us an authentic relationship that is sweet and sincere particularly as Connelly’s character teaches this naval pilot how to sail the rough waters. Additionally, having Kilmer make an appearance is priceless.

“Maverick” exceeds expectations and takes the “Top Gun” franchise to a new level with a similar (and dare I say exact replication) of the first one, but the relationships and interactions create a better one. This is NOT to be seen at home! The cinematography that captures the intricacies, dangers, and precision of flying are meant to be seen on the big screen.

3 Stars

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is as flat as a pancake

May 3rd, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is as flat as a pancake”

For the record, I don’t hate super hero movies. I actually like several of them and, believe it or not, I have rewatched quite a few as well! What I do whole-heartedly dislike is a film without substance and story and from my perspective, most of the DC and Marvel movies fall into that column including our latest installation of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” (We will refer to it as “Madness” from this point on to save typing time as I already wasted so much in the theater watching this.)

“Madness” catapults us immediately into a chase/fight scene to introduce us to Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and a young girl who we later learn is America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). The two battle a demon that may be the end of them both, desiring to harness America’s special gifts. Awakened to learn it was only a nightmare, Strange goes about his day, which of course, quickly devolves into battling (you guessed it) another demon. He also sees and saves young America only to learn that she can hop through different multiverses where alternate Dr. Stranges exist as do every other character. Searching for the root of all this evil, Strange and America, accompanied by variations of Wong (Benedict Wong), Christine (Rachel McAdams), and Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), begin the onslaught of special effect battle scenes against Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen).

Here’s what’s cool about this film: the special effects. The various multiverses are so imaginative and creative that you look forward to this new dynamic duo jumping through the magic space to free fall into the next universe. Great attention to detail makes these lands of make believe (Sorry Mr. Rogers), feel vibrantly real. And the “magic” takes on a whole new realm as Strange crosses into forbidden areas in order to save not just the world from Wanda and her deep-seated desire to live happily ever after with her make believe children, but all the multiverses.

The story itself has interesting perspectives about a being’s alternate self and how Strange looks at the world through his eyes and his alternative selves. That love story that slowly burns just below the surface as we witness the various iterations of the couple of Strange and Christine is there, but just never explored to any meaningful depth. But to its credit, “Madness” incorporates more diversity which is a promising trend.

And here’s where the movie falls apart: story and substance. The characters are all one dimensional, especially Strange. This character who showed up in “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” delighting and entertaining all who watched, was no where to be seen in “Madness.” The “comedy” falls flat every time, but what was most disappointing is the role of America Chavez who is given nothing more to do than run and look scared. The entire film is flatter than a pancake and as flavorless as one without butter and maple syrup.

Of course, comic book fans will love the appearance of beloved and thought-to-be-lost characters, but for those of us not invested in DC or Marvel, it lacks impact. As a movie with entertainment value, director Sam Raimi delivers a sophomoric attempt at bringing comic books to life. Not even Olsen’s dual personality can elevate this never-ending story that never takes off.

If you love explosions, special effects, and these characters, “Madness” will be up your alley, but if you’re looking for a story filled with meaning or even just entertainment, skip this one.

1 1/2 stars

“The Survivor”

April 28th, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Survivor””

“The Survivor,” directed by Barry Levinson and starring the incomparable Ben Foster, depicts the true life story of Polish-born Auschwitz survivor Harry Haft as he fights his biggest opponent, his memories, while he searches for his lost love. It’s a haunting tale of humanity and survival and the price of both.

The opening scene is a gut punch as we watch a young couple, happy and in love, living life on the brink of war just prior to the Nazi invasion of Poland. As the two are separated, we follow Harry’s life both in his present post-World War II days and flashbacks to his past. Recollecting how he survived 6 months at this death camp to a reporter, Emory Anderson (Peter Sarsgaard), and being privy to Harry’s memories that infiltrate his day, we better understand the atrocities he endured, and the choices he made forcing him to chose between death and survival. And while he survived, he paid and continues to pay a price particularly as “his story” is published in the newspaper.

Harry is a successful fighter, driven by rage and his longing to find Leah (Dar Zuzovsky) in the hopes that somehow she too survived the horrors of the War. His ineffective daily requests from Miriam (Vicky Krieps) at a government agency on Leah’s status push him to find an alternative way to locate Leah; fight the heavy weight legend Rocky Marciano. As Pepe (John Leguizmo) and Charlie Goldman (Danny DeVito) train Harry, his eye remains on the prize— not winning, but finding Leah.

Foster’s transformative performance brings Haft’s story to life. Ratcheting between the current times and the past, there is an unmistakable pain behind his gaze, filled with tragic power that eats away at his psyche and our hearts. While in the concentration camp and forced to fight or die, Foster’s character is emaciated but unwilling to leave this world. His endurance and will to live is unparalleled. And Foster brings that same drive and tenacity to the current day character allowing us to understand the trauma and its effects on not only his life but future generations.

Taking a piece of global history to depict the inhumane treatment of a people while at the same time remembering that there is hope in healing, is a difficult balance to maintain. Too much in either direction and the story fails. “The Survivor” solidly and steadily walks this fine line as we connect with the character and sit on the edge of our seats wanting to know if he ever finds his love. And more importantly, can he ever forgive himself for the “choices” he made so many years ago?

This non-linear style of story-telling is key to giving us just a perfectly measured amount of information to engage us in the most empathic of ways. And with this empathy, the sights and sounds are sometimes too much, but are vital to telling this man’s story. These horrific images are burned into our minds to remind us of what people are capable of, but again, the story offers life, love, and hope.

Writer Justine Juel Gillmer known more for television series writing, creates a powerful tale brought to life by not only a talented ensemble cast, but also the keen and seasoned vision of Levinson…and we’d expect nothing less.

4 Stars

“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” A hilarious action-drama-comedy-bromance

April 20th, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” A hilarious action-drama-comedy-bromance”

Nicolas Cage: icon and movie hero, a legend who “is back” with the hilarious new film “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.” He stars as himself, but an exaggerated (maybe?) version who has money issues, family troubles, and a consuming desire to work, work, work. Dejected from a role rejection and now, in an effort to pay off a $600k hotel bill — his home after divorcing his wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan)—his agent, Richard (Neil Patrick Harris) gets him a birthday party gig which pays $1M. Reluctantly accepting, Nick flies to Mallorca, Spain, meeting his birthday boy, Javi (Pedro Pascal) whose ties with the mob land him in a role he’s never played before…CIA agent who must fight for his life and his family’s.

Let me start by saying you have to be a Nicolas Cage and film fan to truly appreciate every hilariously nuanced line and situation in “Massive Talent.” But if you are, you’re in for a cinematically thrilling roller coaster ride filled with shock, laughter, and intrigue! There are so many layers — and themes to appeal to every movie goer — that it is impossible to dissect them all, but I’ll give it a try so you’re compelled to head to the ticket box and see this on the big screen.

Cage (the character) needs to work and is always looking for the next role of a lifetime even at the expense of his marriage and his relationship with his daughter, Addy (Lily Mo Sheen). As opportunities dwindle and his life seems to parallel his current career, Cage accepts a “role” in going to a millionaire’s birthday party in Spain. Javi, a screenwriter wannabe, corners Cage but not before the CIA plants a tracker on him and convinces him that Javi is one of the really bad guys responsible for a high profile kidnapping of a dictator’s daughter. Taking on this new “role” as CIA operative, he gets to know Javi as the two become screenwriting partners. Their “process” to augment their “craft” creates a hilarious journey which ultimately becomes a bromance…that is until they both come to a crossroads that will bury them or make them heroes.

“Massive Talent” is brilliantly creative in finding ways to showcase Cage’s cinematic career as well as highlight his perceived real life pitfalls. And Cage (the actor) rolls with every punch, pouring earnestly into this role to make us not only laugh, but connect with this man whose talents until recently with “Pig,” have been sorely overlooked. The role is a self-deprecating one in many ways, but Cage leans into it with ease to give us one of the funniest and highly energetic films I’ve seen since “Knives Out.”

Cage isn’t the only one who is having fun (at his own expense?). Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz pair up once again, this time as the CIA operatives who set up several of the comedic situations that both Cage and Pascal handedly utilize. And Horgan, known for her comedy, shows us that she can do an action flick as the stereotypical ex-wife of an actor whose fed up with her ex’s antics. The entire cast has fun and delivers a stellar performance and when the cast is having fun, we are, too.

Tom Gormican, the co-writer and director and relative newcomer to the writing and directing arena, is skilled beyond his years. Every line, every movement, and every interaction is impeccably delivered to give us total entertainment. And with the massive talent within this film, we ultimately have a dramatic, comedic, thrilling, bromance like no other before it.

See “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” on the big screen…put down your phones, block out life’s distractions, and be immersed in the world of Nicolas Cage for a couple of hours. It’s worth it!

3 1/2 Stars

“Dealing with Dad” finds heart and humor in this universal story of family

April 11th, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Dealing with Dad” finds heart and humor in this universal story of family”

Tom Huang’s feature film debut “Find Me” remains a favorite indie film of mine and now with his sophomore film “Dealing with Dad,” Huang polishes his edges, refines his themes and brings us yet another universal story—dealing with an aging parent who is depressed.

Margaret Chang (Ally Maki) is a smart, savvy, assertive working mom who is estranged from her parents. Learning that her father isn’t doing well, Margaret coordinates efforts to help with her brother Roy (Peter Kim) and younger brother Larry (Hayden Szeto) who still lives at home. This good-hearted deed will not go unpunished as we see this Asian-American family’s dysfunction get in the way.

“Dealing with Dad” is one of those films that has characters we can all relate to—the penny pinching mom who brushes everything rug, the brutally honest aunt, a brother who just can’t grow up, and another who wallows in self pity (and donuts). And then, of course, there’s the daughter, Margaret, who is the epitome of a woman who is still struggling with unresolved issues with her father as well as herself. With humor and love, we see Margaret find her way in life but not without several bumps in the road, many of which make us laugh, and all of which endear us to her.

Huang has a signature style of filmmaking as he finds a way to bring personal issues into a story with humorous and poignancy. Creating a family whose children are first generation Americans brings its own dynamic to the group. Huang then embeds in this tale how difficult it is to not only grow up and see our parents and our siblings for who they have become, but to also see our parents for who they used to be…the people who had lives and adventures long before you knew them as Mom and Dad; the people who sacrificed their hopes and dreams when they did earn that title and name that would stay with them forever; the people that aren’t perfect. But when you can see them from a new perspective, you also see yourself differently and that is what Huang shows us with “Dealing with Dad.”

To create what feels like a simple story but what is actually a rather complicated one complete with layers of humor takes just the right cast and Huang has found them. Maki shines in her role. We love her from the first scene as she takes charge in her son’s classroom parent meeting. She creates a fractured character who eventually binds all the pieces together as she juggles financial issues, a husband her family doesn’t respect, and the inherent racism of her parents toward their own grandson. There are heartbreaking moments, resentment, and yearnings for a different relationship with her family members and Maki finds the empathic ability to create a realistic Margaret.

Both Peter Kim (Roy) and Hayden Szeto (Larry) add the elements of humor in this family dynamic. Kim’s forlorn reactions to his wife’s divorce papers and how he reacts to his mother’s blind date for him is priceless. And Szeto fills the screen with his personality to give us more than comedy; he gives us someone we know. Page Leong takes on the role of the Mom with incredible ease as she utters dialogue in not-so-perfect English that will make your jaw drop. While you’re picking it up, she’s already on to her next line, completely unaffected by what she just said. She brings a level of credibility to her role that connects all of “the kids” to create that family.

Of course, “Dealing with Dad” has to have the perfect Dad and it does with Dana Lee as the depressed and difficult father. Huang adds a level of depth to this character as we see Dad in flashbacks as he interacts with his daughter. We also discover cultural differences and expectations when it comes to girls and to being the oldest.

Huang’s “Dealing with Dad” just may allow you to see yourself or your family just a little differently while it entertains and makes you laugh. Relationships are difficult and families can be crazy, but seeing the Chang family work through their issues may help open the doors of communication for yours.

“Dealing with Dad” will be the closing night film for the Asian American Showcase with Huang in attendance. To purchase your tickets, go to Siskel Film Center

3 1/2 stars

“Ambulance” crashes and burns

April 6th, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Ambulance” crashes and burns”

“Ambulance,” the new Michael Bay film (that should be a clue right there as to whether or not you want to waste your money on this one) stars Jake Gyllenhaal (Danny Sharp) and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Will Sharp) as two estranged brothers, reunited to complete a bank heist. It’s a dizzying (think carsick) foray filled with never-ending car chase scenes, incompetent police officers, medical inaccuracies that even a child would notice, and, of course, Bay’s signature style of constant explosions. By the end, with your head between your knees to hold back the natural reaction, it’s a race to the exit as you try to recapture your lost 2 hours and 11 minutes … to no avail.

“Ambulance” starts off strong with two paramedics, fledgling Scott (Colin Woodell) and seasoned and hardened Cam (Eiza Gonzalez), saving a young girl in a car accident. This scene, using quick edits and unique camera angles, takes you into the action. It’s a critical situation and we feel the importance of every moment as the jaws of life come out to pull the innocent and brave victim from the clutches of death, then raced to the hospital in the hopes that she will live. We learn early on that Cam is the best in her profession but she’s got more armor than a medieval knight during a joust, protecting her from any and all emotion. These facts, of course, will come into play as she is taken hostage after Will and Danny, the only two survivors after their bank heist goes sour, and she attempts to save a shot police officer in critical condition on the gurney.

We also get a glimpse into Will’s life which targets a common theme in films right now; how our discharged military men are discarded with no support as he and his wife fight for basic healthcare to save her life. It’s a touching part of the film, that is drown out by all the ineptness of each and every situation to follow.

As strong as the film starts, it quickly plummets into the abyss of nothingness creating a repetitive action film showcasing how Bay can put on an explosion show with car chases and accidents all with a nauseating hand-held camera. If only there was one iota of common sense woven into the film. If only the studio could have hired a real police officer and doctor to offer some suggestions…I’m sure the budget was too tight after spending money on explosive devices.

This is Gyllenhaal’s second recent foreign flick remake. The first most recently was “Guilty” and while the American version of this film was good, it couldn’t touch the Danish version. My guess is that “Ambulancen,” also a Danish film, was heads and shoulders above Bay’s remake of it as well.

Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen II (“The Trial of the Chicago 7” “Candyman”) somehow find a way to create intense characters amidst the chaos and mess of a threadbare story. However, thanks to the writing, Danny’s background feels disingenuous, but the cool anger Gyllenhaal gives him is real. Abdul-Mateen’s sensitivity, natural pauses, and gaze connects us to this man barely holding it together. Unfortunately, Bay discards Abdul-Mateen’s skill as he’s lost in his own world that has nothing to do with storytelling. Gonzalez, throughout this rough ride remains beautiful and determined as the heroine who won’t leave her patient behind, although she does try a couple of times.

Bay has taken a bank heist story with relevant underlying issues about healthcare and our government’s treatment of our service men and blows it out of the water as we all drown in a sea of ridiculousness. What could have been a thrilling and entertaining story became just another, well, Michael Bay film.

1 Star

“Julia” is simply delightful

March 31st, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Julia” is simply delightful”

The female icons who paved the paths for all to follow a smoother, less barricaded one seem to be back in the spotlight again, decades after their rise to fame. Lucille Ball is on the airways and the topic of both fictionalized and documentary films and we see Julia Child’s name rising once again as well. The topic of Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s 2021 documentary brought us into Mrs. Child’s life from infancy to her final days on the WGBH public television set “The French Chef”, cooking up a proverbial storm. And now, HBO Max and Daniel Goldfarb bring us the fictionalized version of the French Master Chef in “Julia” with the first of 3 episodes available to stream now.

If you know nothing about this culinary creator other than an SNL spoof, that’s ok. And if you’re not into cooking, that’s ok, too because this is a story about a woman who had the audacity to become one of the most renowned television stars in her 50’s. Not unlike Lucille Ball who had very little success as a star until she was in her 40’s, Julia Child’s passion for teaching, creating, sharing and entertaining could not be quelled. We find out about the bold, vibrant, and even spicy personality behind the apron as Julia pushes the gender and age boundaries of the 1960’s.

Goldfarb doesn’t attempt to have too many ingredients in his recipe for this series’ success, adding just the right amount of flavor to each of his characters. The first three episodes introduce us to Julia (Sarah Lancashire), her hubby Paul (David Hyde Pierce), sister-in-law Avis (Bebe Neuwirth), and her two producers Russ (Fran Kranz) and Alice (Brittany Bradford), all who in subsequent episodes have their own stories to tell. (And “Lilith” and “Niles” still have that chemistry we loved in “Frasier” so many years ago.) These ancillary stories never overshadow Julia’s tale, but lift it and shed light on the times at hand.

Goldfarb only tackles the portion of Julia’s life as it relates to her public television show, the first of now a myriad number of cooking shows on the air. Logistical issues are tantamount, many of which Julia and her team’s innovative thinking created new ways of filming that are still used today. Again, it’s quite similar to the Lucy and Desi story of broadcasting hurdles and solutions. And “Julia” is at its heart, a love story…a love of her husband, life, friends, family and the treasure of French food.

Lancashire is simply brilliant in the role of Julia as she becomes this legendary television host. Giving life and light to Julia, we feel we get to know her, who she really is and what makes her tick. Her passion for life and love and, of course, food, connect us with her. As she cooks and tastes her way through life, we experience her every culinary adventure almost motivating us to try a coque au vin which I will forever pronounce quite differently in my mind from now on. And she’s funny! Her quips and raucous laughter is infectious making our appetite for more insatiable.

The entire ensemble cast illuminates the story of Julia bringing us back in time to experience life in a different way. The story finds love, laughter, and drama in the perfect amount to deliver a series that satisfies your palate. “Julia” is also full of surprises even if you’ve seen the documentary. It’s like biting into a chocolate dessert only to be surprised by a zip of heat from a chili pepper…it’s simply delightful!

Live, laugh, and love with “Julia,” now streaming on HBO Max.

4 Stars

“The Contractor” can’t find its target

March 30th, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Contractor” can’t find its target”

“The Contractor” has an all-star cast which, lucky for writer J.P. Davis and director Tarik Saleh, elevates the familiar and predictable story with a few poignant messages interwoven into this thinning veil of a story. Chris Pine stars as James Harper, a dishonorably discharged Special Forces officer who, when struggling to make ends meet and provide for his wife and son, joins forces with fellow former officer Mike (Ben Foster). Connections are everything and Mike’s confidant and employer Rusty (Kiefer Sutherland), also ex-military, who could use a skilled militia man like Harper to execute his next directive. This mission, going blindly and following orders as a soldier is trained to do, pushes Harper to his limits as he awakens to the realities that lie just below the surface.

Harper’s discharge from the military is shrouded in a cloud of uncertainties. Unable to verbally defend himself, he is left to tell his wife he no longer can provide for them as they slowly drown in a sea of debt. Rusty promises to make all this stress go away with the completion of one mission in Berlin. Mike and Harper along with countless masked and unnamed men and women coordinate the plan but of course, everything goes awry. Mike is injured and Harper is left on his own where he finds he can trust no one.

“The Contractor” initially finds an elegant tone to convey some of the disservices our service men receive. Pine’s character lives to serve and when his one and only road is blockaded, he must pave his own path with no backup. Harper plunges into the depths of government espionage, secrets, and political mayhem while soldiers are pitted against one another all for the almighty dollar and power.

Unfortunately, the writer feels that a tense drama must have more gun fighting scenes than the Netflix film “Extraction.” OK, perhaps not that many, but the writer didn’t allow the material to develop as he interjected dizzying battles and chase scenes that make you forget why we are rooting for our hero.

Pine pulls off the confused and conflicted role with ease, but always edging too closely to imitating a Jack Ryan-type of character. His skills are as dizzying as the machine gun battles repeat and we see Harper dodging bullets, and swimming underwater and through sewers better than a NYC rat. Foster also brings his A game to a C level script adding depth to a character who could have easily been one-dimensional. His own family issues and the path he has taken seem almost justified as long as he keeps his head down and his brain turned off.

Finances, support, mental health, treating our returning service people with honor and teasing out who the “bad guys” really are, is at the heart of the film, but it’s overshadowed by the need to be more action than thriller with its countless battles and explosions. “The Contractor” is a predictable, formulaic story that has the bones upon which to build an interesting story, but drops the ball, lacking confidence in itself to do so.

2 stars

“Butter” melts your heart

February 25th, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Butter” melts your heart”

“Butter” is not a sequel to the 2011 Jennifer Garner film (although that one is well-worth seeing), but finds a unique story as it duplicates that title. Tackling the topic of obesity and suicide through insight and comedy, writer and director Paul A. Kaufman adapts Erin Jade Lange’s book of the same name into a movie that is funny yet poignant.

Butter (Alex Kersting) is a a teenage boy’s nickname, obtained in a bullying attack that literally will have you choking. We meet this young man, a morbidly obese yet talented jazz saxophonist, who lives his life in his room on the internet and through his music. But like any youngster, he dreams of love and a different life. In a desperate attempt to do so, he announces publicly that he plans to eat himself to death on New Year’s Eve.

As the deadline of the event draws near, Butter has somehow found the life he wanted. No longer is he invisible or worse, the brunt of all the kids’ ridicule and jeers. He now has friends. They invite him to hang out, to party, and to live. He also has befriended his love from afar, Anna (McKaley Miller) who, unbeknownst to her, is also the boy with whom she is having an anonymous on-line flirtatious conversation.

Butter narrates much of the film as it allows us to understand not only his feelings and perspectives, but also his relationships with his parents and teachers. His mother (Mira Sorvino) inadvertently contributes to the obesity problem while his non-communicative father dwells in the outskirts of his life. Professor Dunn (Mykelti Williamson) bridges the gap of school and reality, and his doctor (Ravi Patel) both provide a safety net of adults with whom to go, but Butter just can’t see through his own pain and how to reach out for help.

On the surface, “Butter” is certainly a comedy, but at it’s heart, it’s a drama as it explores a time period in our lives that most of us wouldn’t go back to for any amount of money; high school. Navigating this time is difficult enough without being obviously different; being excessively overweight. As we begin to know Butter better and have hope that he will see his own value, the emotions run high and we brace for the ending.

Kersting is a treasure in this role as Butter with his comedic timing and expressive face and voice. His interactions with his classmates, his awkward love interest, and the adults in his life are all quite authentic even when some of the others feel a bit contrived. Jack Griffo (Parker) and Matthew Gold (Tucker) stand out as Butter’s new-found friends and Miller finds the right notes to play the pretty girl who has her own issues to unwrap.

Kaufman takes our hand to lead us along Butter’s journey, exploring what happens psychologically and physically to someone in emotional pain. Kaufman also beautifully allows his main character to find not only who he really is and can be, but how to take control of his life.

Butter is a film that dares to talk about these tough topics that may help start your own conversations with your teens at home.

3 stars

“The Last Bus” The ultimate love story

February 16th, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Last Bus” The ultimate love story”

“The Last Bus” starring Timothy Spall takes us on a journey in and through time as a man attempts to fulfill a promise. Writer Joe Ainsworth and director Gillies MacKinnon deliver the ultimate love story filled with life’s treasures and regrets as Tom (Spall) treks from Northern Scotland to Southern England via bus.

We meet the youthful versions of Tom (Ben Ewing) and Mary (Natalie Mitson) decades ago, filled with hopes and dreams for their future together. That time morphs into the present as Tom, now an elderly gentleman, thoughtfully gazes out into the now abandoned raised garden that Mary once tended. Seated at a desk with pencil in hand, he traces a path on a map, carefully laying out his bus route from home to Land’s End, plotting his arrivals and departures to the second. Toting just a small weathered briefcase and dressed as a proper gentleman, he begins his adventure at a bus stop.

Meeting an eclectic array of fellow bus riders and residents in various towns and villages, Tom forges ahead along his lonely journey driven by a promise to which we are not yet privy. There are plenty of bumps and unexpected detours along the way, all of which trigger memories from both happier and more painful times. Gently and methodically, much the way Tom travels, the viewer understands Tom’s current situation and the meaning behind each and every stop he makes. We also keenly understand who Tom is as he defends others or is taken advantage of by less savory scalawags. And with these interactions, bus by bus, travelers take and post photos and videos resulting in Tom’s journey becoming a newsworthy one, and he, the unwitting subject.

The strangers he meets along the way, many of whom show kindness and love, renew our faith in humanity. And with every stop Tom makes and those he misses, our love and appreciation of him grows exponentially. His life was full, but it wasn’t perfect. By his side, his love — again, not perfect — Mary was with him. She held his hand. They danced. They loved. And they cried.

To elicit such a visceral reaction requires not only a great script and direction, but an intuitive performance. Spall is magical. Using minute nuances, he is transformed into this character. Spall understands his character from the inside out as he embraces Tom’s memories and emotions. Because of this, “The Last Bus” (the name has even more meaning than I could have imagined) is the ultimate story of love and life.

4 Stars

“Book of Love” Unrealistic yet fun

February 4th, 2022 Posted by Review, women reviews 0 thoughts on ““Book of Love” Unrealistic yet fun”

Just in time to set the mood for Valentine’s Day is “Book of Love,” starring the newest version of Hugh Grant, Sam Clafin as Henry Copper, a young, uptight published author who gets schooled on writing his own book thanks to his Spanish translator Maria (Veronica Echegui). The story may be rather predictable, but it has heart and charm as it closes one chapter and begins another.

Copper’s British sensibilities harken back to the repressed Victorian ages which allows him to write one of the worst books on the shelf, “The Sensible Heart.” “Buy 1, take 3” says the sign punctuating this author’s failures until his publisher Jen (Lucy Punch) calls him in to convey the good news: he’s the number one author in Mexico. (Punch is a highlight in this film which could have used a few more scenes with this comic genius.) Jen sends Copper on a book tour of the Mexican regions, guided by his book’s translator, Maria, as he learns that she has turned his book into a racy romance novel. Of course, Copper is livid, but there are sparks flying between the polar opposite writers as, you guessed it, they fall in love despite their superficial animosity.

The story is most certainly flawed with its rather contrived concept and execution, but there’s something about the premise and its characters that is endearing. The performances are frequently over the top, but again, this is total escapism and fun to watch the ups and downs of this relationship, and you stick with it to find out how the screenwriters, Analeine Cal y Mayor and David Quantick, are going to tie up all the loose ends.

Clafin’s charming yet unassuming persona as Henry whose ideals sever him not only from meaningful relationships but also with reality, has the right element to make us cheer for him…chemistry with his costar Echegui. And Echegui’s Maria, a strong, divorced mom who cares for both her grandfather (Fernando Becerril) and her son, finds that perhaps love is a possibility if she’s willing to see it right in front of her. She’s a ball of fire and helps keep the energy and pace of the film going.

Both characters, accompanied by Maria’s son and grandfather, travel a physical and an emotional journey as we watch them all grow. Director Cal y Mayor takes full advantage of the Mexican landscape with all its bright colors and equally vibrant characters, and we forgive the story for any of its exaggerations so that we may relish in the concept of love.

Sit back and pour a glass of wine to watch “Book of Love,” escaping into a land of unrealistic yet entertaining love.

2 1/2 stars

“June Again”

January 15th, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““June Again””

Writer and Director JJ Winlove takes us on a journey we all fear and many of us have experienced from the periphery: watching a loved one decline from dementia. But what if one day your loved one “woke up” from that debilitating disease and had a fleeting chance to be whole again? This is the premise of “June Again” starring Noni Hazlehurst.

We meet June in a nursing facility, privy to her memories of a cherished time many decades ago. Unable to process what’s happening around her, we watch as a speech therapist assesses her basic linguistic skills of identifying a common object. The frustration and embarrassment is obvious, but one day, June’s condition is in complete remission and she is lucid once again. Taking advantage of her situation, she escapes from her confines and steps back into her life that stopped 5 years ago.

She quickly learns that while her life was on hold, her adult children’s lives were not. The business she started and left in the capable hands of her daughter Ginny (Claudia Karvan) is failing. And her son’s life has seemingly spiraled out of control. The world she left behind is a different one and June dives in to right the sinking ship.

Winlove allows us to view June’s world through her eyes. We understand her confusion and her longing to take advantage of this indeterminate time she has been given. What we don’t predict is that the story morphs into a love story — a beautiful, heartbreaking love story.

For those of you who are questioning the premise of the story, I can personally attest to its validity. Winlove did his homework about types of dementia and cerebral vascular events. And as a former speech-language pathologist and daughter of a woman who experienced “terminal lucidity,” this fleeting time of seeing your mother become mom again can be deemed a curse or a gift which is exactly what is accentuated in the film.

Winlove’s keen understanding of relationships and life’s unfair hands that are dealt to each of us eloquently and even comedically unfolds in “June Again.” Hazlehurst is perfectly cast as she becomes June, an intelligent, insightful yet controlling woman with regrets in life who rides an internal emotional rollercoaster. Karvan and Hazlehurst deliver a mother-daughter performance that rings true, connecting us more deeply to the situation and the characters.

“June Again” finds all the right notes to tell a story of love in unexpected ways. It’s a surprising story that tugs on all your heartstrings, making us laugh and cry, and reminds us of the precious gifts that we have in our lives.

3 1/2 Stars

You can stream “June Again” on major digital platforms.

“American Underdog”

December 21st, 2021 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““American Underdog””

“Destiny belongs to the underdogs,” a quote from the newest film “American Underdog” directed by the duo Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin and starring Zackary Levi (“Shazam”) and Anna Paquin as Kurt Warner and Brenda Meoni. It’s a Cinderella story of a man with a dream of being the next Joe Montana who loses his way only to find his way back through the love of Brenda and the coaches who see how special he is. The true life story of this MVP Hall of Fame winning quarterback is uplifting and inspiring even with its rather contrived musical score.

Warner’s story is a familiar one, but this one accentuates on man’s vulnerable psyche and how others play a vital role in his resiliency and success. It’s a lesson for us all as we attempt to accomplish our own dreams and goals and have the opportunity to help others do the same.

Warner’s rags to riches story takes us back in time to Warner’s college days where he shined. The stars of fate weren’t yet aligned and he found himself hopping from job to job, near poverty level. Meeting the woman who would later become his wife, Brenda, and her two children one of whom is blind, Warner finds new inspiration in life and living. With Brenda’s faith, the two still struggle, but they do it together.

We watch as his dreams are shattered year after year, stocking shelves on the graveyard shift at a grocery store to help makes ends meet, but as luck would have it, he gets an opportunity to Arena Football coached by Jim Foster (Bruce McGill). Thinking this may open doors, and they do, many are still slammed shut for this man some of which he helps close due to his lack of self confidence. It isn’t until Warner finds his way to the St. Louis Rams, coached by Dick Vermeil (Dennis Quaid) and Coach Mike Martz (Chance Kelly), that Warner is allowed to become the shining star he was destined to be.

The story, as many of you know, has a brilliant ending, and as newscasters and coaches actually said, “A better script couldn’t have been written,” screenwriters took this story and transformed it into a heartfelt drama filled with love and a message.

Casting actors who appear to be doppelgängers of the real life characters (be sure to stay all the way through the credits to see actual footage and photos), Levi easily embodies the star football player with a heart. His easy-going demeanor and ability to allow us into his mind and feel his emotions is exactly what this role requires. Levi is immediately likable and we are connected, the very essence of what the film relies upon to carry it. Paquin’s spunk and spark ignite the story as her character creates the stress and tension of real life. Protecting her children (and herself from more heartache) we feel this push and pull between the two making it believable.

“American Underdog” reminds us of the importance of believing in yourself, finding the courage to do so and those who lift us when we cannot walk alone. Warner’s story is an inspiring one as he defies the odds, going from a grocery stock “boy” to 5 years later, winning the Super Bowl as an undrafted player and achieving more accolades than imaginable.

3 Stars

“Being the Ricardos”

December 21st, 2021 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Being the Ricardos””

I love Lucy. You love Lucy. Let’s face it, we all love Lucy and the title of Lucille Ball’s first television series couldn’t have been more aptly named. Aaron Sorkin writes and directs a slice of Lucy and Desi Arnaz’s life amidst one of the most pivotal week’s in this couple’s history with “Being the Ricardos.” That week Lucy was named a communist. The fallout could have been the end of her, her marriage, countless employees of the show, and her future…but it wasn’t. And this is their story.

Sorkin takes us back to1953 as the “Red Scare” continued to plague Hollywood elites rendering many of the writers, directors, and actors without a job; black listed. Radio show host and gossip monger Walter Winchell made the announcement that Lucy was a Communist on a live broadcast on a Sunday night just before the beginning of Lucy (Nicole Kidman) and Desi’s (Javier Bardem) work week to create another episode of the sitcom that changed how people viewed and made TV shows.

Before we enter the tumultuous week which brings us behind the scenes to the hardened and serious business of making people laugh, Sorkin creates “interviews” with the movers and shakers of the time. Madelyn Pugh (Linda Lavin), a female screenwriter, recounts her memories of that week and Lucy’s impact upon the world. Intermittently, but with no predictable timing, we hear from the heads of companies and studios — all portrayed by actors — to give us a retrospective of that week and of Lucy. We are also privy to Lucy’s memories and visions which takes us into her thought processes. All of these aspects give us an intricately complete picture of her life, her history, and her future.

For fans of Lucy — and I am an avid one having grown up in the same area of gorgeous Chautauqua Lake, NY — we see a different side of this woman. She’s tough as nails and isn’t afraid to show it. She’s cutting and demanding. And she’s progressive in her thinking as obstacles, to her, are nothing more than things to be pushed aside. But most of all, she loves her husband and her work.

Learning about the making of this one week’s episode and the burden both Lucy and Desi carried as they attempted to pull out all the stops to put the Communism theory to rest once and for all, we are introduced to both critical and ancillary people within her life. Jess Oppenheimer (Tony Hale) valiantly yet quite ineffectively attempts to reign Lucy in as she announces her pregnancy; a word and concept never before addressed on television. Within the comings and goings over the course of 5 days before performing and recording in front of a live television audience (Desi pioneered this concept), we get a glimpse into the turmoil of “Fred and Ethel” and the overall pragmatics of this foursome who entered 60 million homes every week.

The stress of the situation is palpable, but Lucy’s strength and tenacity shines through thanks to Kidman’s version. We see Lucy and Desi as a solid team, never to be shaken by the likes of Hoover or the shenanigans of the ensemble cast and crew. Bardem becomes Desi in mannerisms and charisma. He finds a way to demonstrate Desi’s intelligence and passion with sheer credibility. It’s a memorable performance that will certainly capture voters’ attention during the Awards season. With equal fervor is J.K. Simmons’ performance as the cranky curmudgeon William Frawley who felt that happy hour began at 10 am. Not for a minute did I think I wasn’t watching the real Frawley. And the antagonistic relationship between he and Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda) allows you to watch with awe how they found a way to make us all laugh.

Kidman is the lead and it’s a heavy burden to carry. Playing one of the most influential female comic actors and a woman who paved the way for other females in the industry isn’t an easy task, but Kidman, for the most part, adequately does so. Occasionally, her look is identical and even with her voice, but her dialect took me out of the character. Lucy lived briefly in NYC, but was raised in NY State and her dialect was wrong and took away her believability. Perhaps it was Kidman’s own Australian dialectical differences that she imbued, but it doesn’t work. We never forget that it’s Kidman playing the part of Ball.

Sorkin tackles a very complicated story and using flashbacks and memories he is able to tell a much more elaborate one. The unexpected “real time” interviews, however, is jarring and takes us out of the story. Had these interviews occurred on a predictable timeline, perhaps the stylistic choice of doing so would have had a different result.

I do love Lucy and while there are some flaws within the making of “Being the Ricardos,” the overall effect pays homage to this brilliant pioneer of television.

If you want more, be sure to listen to TCM’s “The Plot Thickens.”

3 Stars

“Nightmare Alley” visually beautiful with a story that slogs along

December 15th, 2021 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Nightmare Alley” visually beautiful with a story that slogs along”

“Nightmare Alley,” directed by the Academy Award-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, is a remake from the 1947 film of the same name starring Tyrone Power, both based on the novel by William Lindsay Gresham. The latest version, starring Bradley Cooper as the huckster carny Stanton Carlisle whose need for greed takes him down dangerous paths of love and lust, is almost unmemorable story if it weren’t for del Toro’s stylized vision.

It’s an all-star cast lead by Cooper as his character stumbles into the home of Zeena the Seer (Toni Collette) who’s been to this carnival scene many times before. Carlisle has a sordid past, but is welcomed by Zeena and her con-artist/magician hubby Pete (David Strathairn) as they take Carlisle under their wing, Zeena a little more tightly than is appropriate. Learning, improving, and honing the tricks of the trade of mentalism, he falls in love with the talented Molly (Rooney Mara). The pair are convinced there are bigger targets to be had and run off to this better life. But greed smothers all other aspects of Carlisle’s life as he swindles a wealthy, powerful and “innocent” man named Ezra (Richard Jenkins).

The web del Toro weaves is a complicated one as it plummets into the abyss of greed and characters who are moralistically bankrupt. Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of the intelligent, intuitive, and manipulative psychologist is the epitome of this type of character, matching Carlisle blow for blow. Unfortunately, it takes much too long to get to these seedy yet high profile and vibrant characters as the film slogs along back at the carnival, spinning its wheels as it readies itself to take off to the meat of the story.

Visually, however, del Toro keeps us entertained even when the story flounders. He takes us back in time to an era none of us have experienced and to places we are unfamiliar. Amplifying colors and palates he introduces us to this world of despicable behavior, some overt, some hidden, and places his characters in a variety of situations. The burden, however, lies with Cooper to give us a man who is broken and defies his fate. We just never hate him enough or care for him enough to feel that we have stakes in his game of life. Blanchett, on the other hand, is chillingly captivating, appearing to bask in this character’s charade, but she arrives on the scene a little too late.

Fine performances from an almost unrecognizable Jenkins as a man with a deplorable past seeking forgiveness finds a way to be the story we really want to know. And there are several subplots and ancillary characters that are introduced and then taken away making them just that, ancillary.

Guillermo del Toro’s vision in storytelling is unparalleled, but he stumbles in pushing his narrative and allowing his main character to be who really is; a sociopathic narcissist. While the all-star cast shines, the story dampens them as it focuses on being artistically beautiful and not what matters—telling the story and keeping the pace.

2 stars

“Don’t Look Up”

December 7th, 2021 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Don’t Look Up””

Michigan State University PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and supervising professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) have unexpectedly discovered a comet the size of Mt. Kilamanjaro hurtling toward Earth with an expected global destruction impact date in 6 months. They must alert the US Government and ultimately the general public in an effort to save our planet, but the hurdles they encounter just may make it impossible to do so. Thankfully, we are laughing out loud almost the entire time, a surprising effect, as the masterful writer and director Adam McKay finds a way to make annihilation hilarious while not so subtly burying the issue of climate change just below the surface to open our eyes.

From the opening scene portraying Kate’s revelation, and confirmation by Mindy, of a comet that will destroy Earth is accurate, the reactions of these ordinary — yet brilliantly intelligent — people is what sets the comedic tone to the film. The pair set out to alert NASA who then alerts the president of the United States, President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), with whom the pair will meet and explain and hopefully prevent the end of mankind. After waiting hours in uncomfortable rooms and purchasing cheez-its (this becomes a running joke), Mindy and Kate finally get a chance to explain their findings. While not falling upon deaf ears, although it is the Midterms and Congress may never pass the budget she and her Chief of Staff (and son) Jason (Jonah Hill) who has a few mommy issues, the most powerful woman in the world attempts to find a way to spin this whole thing into a profitable position with the help a major contributor who is also a leading scientist and business man Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance).

Mindy and Kate have hit a dead end and with the help of Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), head of NASA, they hit the streets to let the public know about the comet. Getting some air-time on a popular morning show hosted by the effervescent Jack (Tyler Perry) and the superficial alcoholic Brie (Cate Blanchett), Kate finds her performance to be as catastrophic as the comet named after her. And this is just the beginning of their 6 month-long adventure into chaos, turmoil, and life in the fast lane which neither Kate nor Mindy navigate well.

McKay’s attention to detail in comedy is extraordinarily precise while always feeling free-flowing and fun. Never missing an opportunity to weave social narratives into the picture, the film, surprisingly written before Covid hit, finds ridiculousness in our truth while exaggerating it slightly to entertain us. McKay’s loose yet focused direction gives each of his actors an opportunity to explore, develop and ultimately run with their characters bringing aspects to life that no one could have written. We experience Hill’s oedipus complex with Streep’s expressive comedy as pure gold. Their performances lend a hand to the frustrated character of Dr. Mindy as DiCaprio hones in on his passion of saving the Earth as the fictional character of Mindy. McKay also takes full advantage of our instantaneous and reactionary population as Lawrence’s demonstrative effects find their way into memes, gifs, and notoriety.

“Don’t Look Up” is a complicated and tangled story weaving together so many characters (even Ariana Grande’s performance and improvised lyrics make you laugh), but never losing focus and strategically circling back to the path we’ve already traveled. This makes for not only great storytelling, but great comedy.

With a cast like this, there’s not a weak link in it, all having performances of a lifetime, and even more evident, having fun! However, Mark Rylance as the Elon Musk-type of character is one of the most surprisingly hilarious performances. His teeth alone will make you laugh, but his mannerisms are what makes our jaws drop as he expresses his thoughts and decisions about how to avert imminent doom and make a few bucks. On that same note, Blanchett finds a way to make Brie a caricature of a television host who lives for the day into a mesmerizing yet deplorable woman. And then there’s Timothee Chalamet in a role that he was meant to play, a skateboarder named Yule, who brings the entire story together.

McKay ushers us into our comfortable seats to see his film, but we quickly find that we are in the launch position of a rocket. We are strapped in for an incredible ride filled with laughter and revelations, the comet as a metaphor for so much of what’s happening in our world today. Hang on tightly! This is a ride you don’t want to miss.

4 Stars

“House of Gucci”

November 22nd, 2021 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““House of Gucci””

“House of Gucci,” directed by the renowned Ridley Scott, has taken a lot of heat about his actors’ inability to nail an Italian “accent.” The story, however, is what should bind this film together like gorilla glue so that we don’t even notice the atrocious inconsistencies and inaccuracies in their dialectical difficulties. Unfortunately, it does not. The story is nothing more than a dull mess that spins its wheels as the actors appear to have all been given different interpretations of the script. Lady Gaga gives us a soap opera-esque rendition of “Patrizia,” her character, and Jared Leto and Al Pacino (the most entertaining of the massive ensemble) thought it was a comedy, while Adam Driver delivers a subdued dramatic performance in his supporting (?) role. He has the lead, he just doesn’t know it. The list goes on and on, and while these different tones in a film can add depth and layers like a symphonic harmony, “House of Gucci’s” mixed tones creates a cacophony like toddlers given percussion instruments.

The story begins, warning us that the name Gucci is cursed, back when this fashion forward family ruled the industry. With its roots strongly held in Italy, the family branched out to the United States with Aldo (Pacino) at the helm here. The family dynamics alone should have and could have been a salacious joy ride, but becomes nothing more than a journey on a jam-packed Greyhound bus…you’ll want to get off as soon as possible without reaching the end.

Scott takes his time in setting up the relationship between Patrizia and Maurizio Gucci (Driver). It’s a sweet and innocent courtship that results in Maurizio leaving his father, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) and his entire family fortune behind to marry the love of his life. Warning his new head-strong wife that money is the root of all evil, Patrizia re-establishes relationships across the sea with Aldo, estranged from his brother Rodolfo and whose son Paolo (Leto), a bumbling idiot and complete disappointment, lures the young married couple back into the Gucci privileged lair. With plenty of backstabbing and undermining relatives to relinquish their stock shares in the company, along with affairs, legal issues, and death, the curse continues on the Gucci name. The rest, if you recall from the news, is history, but this is Patrizia’s story of her demise and its cause.

The film is based on the book by Sara Gay Forden with the screenplay by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna. As is typically found in adaptations, you can’t include every detail from the book on the screen, but Scott seems to try with the running time of 2 hours and 37 minutes. With so many characters who had the potential to be developed more completely, this easily could have been a limited television series. However, we get disjointed and incomplete stories and subplots and characters with whom we have no connection.

Lady Gaga is physically transformed into Patrizia, but it is Leto who is unrecognizable as Paolo. He and Pacino — both have totally different speech styles — are the highlight as the father and son who ride an interesting and gut-wrenching roller coaster of life. Together these two actors and their characters attempt to resuscitate the film, but alas, it is too much for them. Not even Salma Hayek’s Pina the Tarot Card Reader can stop the inevitable catastrophe of the film.

“House of Gucci” tries too hard to be too much in too little time. With distracting accents, no real focal point, too many tones, and actors appearing to have little direction, the film slogs along to its bitter end.

1 1/2 Stars

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