“Greyhound” a gripping & harrowing WWII tale as Hanks becomes “Sully” of the high seas

July 8th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Greyhound” a gripping & harrowing WWII tale as Hanks becomes “Sully” of the high seas”

Tom Hanks, writer and star of the new Apple TV+ distributed film “Greyhound,” gives us a fictional look into the dangers and pressure one captain experiences as he leads a convoy of Allied ships across the Atlantic Ocean during WWII. This isn’t the first WWII film Hanks has starred in (“Saving Private Ryan”) and it isn’t the first film he’s written a screenplay (“The Larry Crowne Affair”), and thankfully, Hanks also brings a familiar and welcomed character to his portrayal of Capt. Ernie Krause. Think of him as Sully of the High Seas.

It’s 1942 and Capt. Krause is departing to lead the Allied ships from the US to England. With aerial coverage unavailable for a great portion of the middle of the voyage, Krause must battle German U Boats known as the infamous submarine group, The Wolfpack. Krause is a natural leader with a steady moral compass as we are privy to his private moments, flashbacks to the love of his life, and how he deals with two sailors who came to fist to cuffs the evening before. He instills a confidence in us immediately as we must place an inordinate faith in this man, much like his sailors, as they slice through the waves destined to battle the enemy and find their way to England.

Taking place over the course of a few days, the uncertainty of success looms over the ships like a dark cloud. As an enemy submarine is spotted on radar, the next course of action is life or death. With Krause’s calm, cool, and collected demeanor and his precision thinking, one battle is won. It is at this point, as the German sub explodes, that we see Krause’s emotional depth. While he’s happy to have evaded death and kept his crew safe, he also acknowledges the loss of life on the other side. 50 souls are lost. This sounds familiar as Capt. Sully Sullivan in “Sully” also used the same terminology. And it is at this moment that we are more deeply connected to Krause, hoping our confidence in him will allow everyone to be safe. Of course, this is WWII and that cannot be the case.

As the days turn into nights and Krause and his sailors navigate the waters, the harsh elements create even more difficulties as the pack of German submarines attempt to sink as many ships in the convoy as possible. The obstacles encountered seem tantamount to failure with radar and equipment malfunctions due to extreme cold, lack of sleep, and no matter how hard Chef Cleveland (Rob Morgan) tries, Krause cannot eat. The intensity of this situation skyrockets as torpedos are launched during which time Krause must develop a course of action and turn back to save the lives of bombed ships. Technicians quickly and precisely relay coordinates to ensigns who repeat the information exactly to their Captain, and we can see the wheels turning in his head as he outsmarts and outmaneuvers the enemy. The intensity is so great that we feel the chill in the air as we are on the edge of our seats, plunged into the murky dark environment and holding our breath as the ship lists to one side. It’s chillingly breathtaking.

The film is based upon a book by C.S Forester called “The Good Shepherd,” and while it is not a true story, it could easily be interpreted as one. We see the youth and trust these boys, and they are boys, have in their leader as they follow his every order. A few questioning glances allow us to see the youth and fear these young men have, yet their courage and training takes over to help them work together like a well-oiled machine. What makes this film different than many other WWII or any war movie is the human factor and the connections we have to not just our main character, but his connection with each supporting character. All of this is not only engaging, but also connects us to everyone aboard the ship.

Hanks, not surprisingly, is extraordinary in this role as he deftly develops a character with integrity, strength, compassion, and intellect. The finely tuned and nuanced performance gives his character layers, depth, and a sense of reality. And paired with the direction of Aaron Schneider, the film becomes a detailed exhibit of the humanity and destruction of war along the seemingly endless nautical miles of the perilous deep blue sea. Of course, to experience this so completely is thanks to skillful cinematography. Camera angles, sweeping shots, and special effects bring us onto the ship to stand next to Krause and his crew, making this a gripping adventure with an unknown outcome.

4 Stars

“No Small Matter” – Beginnings can be make it or break it in child development

July 1st, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““No Small Matter” – Beginnings can be make it or break it in child development”

Writer and co-director Greg Jacobs shines a bright light on what everyone can agree upon—we all want the best for our children. But what happens when parents can’t afford “the best” and can’t provide opportunities for their babies and children? The answer is astounding as it lays the foundation for incredible disparity between success and failure.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE
As a former speech-language pathologist who focused upon the 0-3 year old population or as it’s also referred to as “early intervention,” it comes as no surprise that babies who have a stimulating environment from the beginning typically thrive later in life. Playing catch up is not an easy task, but what prevents some children from attaining their potential? “No Small Matter” dissects that question with the utmost care as Alfre Woodard’s voice guides along, providing numerous examples and scientific research in neurological development to give us the answers.

Times have changed and Jacobs demonstrates this as he takes us back in time to when educators, parents, and doctors didn’t realize what babies comprehended. Today, thanks to interventions and techniques readily available, we now know so much more about how babies and children learn and what’s happening with their neurological systems. It’s simply fascinating as doctors, researchers, and developmental specialists share information that any parent, teacher, or grandparent needs to know. But what happens when the parent needs help and education. This is also explored in Jacobs’ documentary as parents learn to rise to their potential as well.

The filmmakers take us into the early education system and introduce us to Deborah Giannini and her class. It’s one of the most thriving and lovingly stimulating preschools that any parent would want for his or her child. We delve into an intimate look at just what goes on with our little ones as the teachers “sit and play.” And play is so much more than meets the eye. It’s an integral part in helping children develop key skills for later social, academic, and life success. With honest and forthright interviews with these teachers, it’s no wonder the U.S. educational system isn’t as competitive as it once was as we see these teachers needing to get a second job just to pay the bills.

Providing and finding day care and educational options for typical two-income families is a struggle, to say the least. We meet parents who are in the midst of this dilemma and feel the anxiety it produces. Day care is inordinately expensive and the demand is even higher than it was several decades ago. We see the detrimental and domino effects upon our society and why there’s a vast disparity among children whose parents have the resources to provide and those who do not.

What stands out most in this documentary besides a myriad number of adorable smiling babies’ faces, is the fact that the failure of equitable beginnings actually is a failure that impacts all of us, whether or not our own children or we have succeeded. Children who are in substandard day care centers and preschools are at higher risk for poor academics and have a greater chance of being a part of the criminal justice system later in life. Additionally, children in stressful and non-nurturing environments have a greater risk of developing medical and mental illnesses. The list of negatives is astounding and with that comes a high financial cost, but the cost of leveling the playing field and allowing every child to flourish is ridiculously cost-effective.

Jacobs methodically explains and explores the importance of great beginnings for every baby and child. While early education isn’t going to solve all of society’s woes, Jacobs makes a valid case for a potentially positive impact. Aren’t our children and future worth taking a chance on a better start in life?

Check out this film on VOD, Google Play, and Amazon now.

4 Stars—it’s a must see for any parent, physician, and educator!

“My Spy” a familiar yet surprisingly funny summer flick

June 25th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““My Spy” a familiar yet surprisingly funny summer flick”

Tough guy Dave Bautista is following in the footsteps of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenegger as he teams up with a whip-smart youngster to solve a serious crime. While this has been done many, many times before, the formula, if you have the right actors, never loses its charm. Bautista and co-star Chloe Coleman along with a cast of talented comedic actors is exactly the right mix to make this a fun film even if you know exactly what’s going to happen.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

The opening scene showcases Bautista’s braun as he poses as a Russian mobster, meeting with like thugs and trading nuclear paraphernalia. Of course, things go south, but it’s the way that things take a negative turn for JJ (Braun) as he’s called out for his inability to properly do a Russian accent. The exchange around this obvious error is hysterical as JJ’s performance is compared to Micky Rourke’s in “Iron Man 2.” And then we have action! There slow motion gun fight paired with music that doesn’t quite fit adds another element of humor to the scene, but on top of all that is the CIA lead by David Kim (Ken Jeong) and tech geek Bobbi (Kristen Schaal, who are watching this all unfold via hidden cameras. Their commentary makes this opening scene keep your fingers crossed that the energy and ability to make fun of itself continues. It does.

JJ, after killing every bad guy in his situation except the one who escaped unscathed with the sought after nuclear element, is demoted to surveillance duty and partnered with Bobbi who thinks JJ walks on water. As they set up their cameras and learn about their “targets,” Sophie (Coleman) and her mom Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley), we find out this duo on the run is related to the evil henchman in search of that nuclear item. Sophie quickly discovers JJ and Bobbi and blackmails them into helping her fit in to her new school in Chicago and teach her how to do spy things like pass a lie detector test.

Let’s get this out there right now. The premise and everything that happens is totally ridiculous, but that’s ok. Bautista and Coleman are great together and as Bautista’s hardened shell begins to melt, even though we knew it would, it’s still sweet. It’s Coleman’s portrayal of Sophie that really drives the narrative as she struggles in her new school, is bullied, and is also trying to play matchmaker between her mom and JJ. We can see her wheels turning at every step of the way, always outsmarting her newly found mentor and best buddy, JJ, much to Bobbi’s chagrin.

Bautista finds the right rhythm in this film, unlike his recent performance in “Stuber” with Kumail Nanjiani, seeming to recognize the fact that he’s known for his muscle but he can do a bit more than just look tough. The script is a lot of fun, even if it isn’t an original story, and the interactions, pacing, and comedy stitch this story together to make it one you want to see how they wrap it all up. With this, the supporting cast is a highlight in the film. Schaal, a recognizable face, but maybe not her name, shines in her role as the slighted and overlooked fumbling CIA agent. She has a physical comedic skill that makes you laugh even harder as she delivers her lines. And when you add Jeong to the mix, you’ve struck gold. He can turn a running commentary of deaths into a belly laugh. His delivery, timing, and reactions make you want to see more of him as you know you’re in for fun when he’s in a scene.

“My Spy” misses a few chances to be a little bit more than a typical tough guy meets smart kid movie as there aren’t really any plot twists or surprises along the way. But thanks to the skillful direction of Peter Segal, this film delivers comedy, has character chemistry, and entertaining performances so we can forgive that omission.

“My Spy” is exactly what you think it’s going to be…silly fun. This is total escapism using a familiar story line, but the actors make this one worth watching.

Stream now on Amazon

3 Stars

“Irresistible” pulls the curtain away on politics

June 24th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Irresistible” pulls the curtain away on politics”

Politics. We’ve all had it up to our ears with who’s right and who’s wrong, and pitting family members against one another all for the sake of a political party. But talk show host and comedian Jon Stewart takes the concept of Republicans vs. Democrats and flips it on its head creating a bipartisan edgy, raw, and dark comedy that will have you laughing and shocked at the antics of both parties.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Set in the rural town of Deerlaken, WI (it’s not a real place, but certainly feels like a familiar little town just north of our border), a former marine and local dairy farmer, Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), stands up to a mayor at the village hall meeting. His eloquence and experience ooze from his weathered but strong voice making this a social media sensation. When the Democratic Strategist, Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) gets wind of it, he has hit gold in the swing state of Wisconsin. Of course, he swoops in to take over the campaign to help his new friend defeat the incumbent (and Republican) Mayor Braun…until Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), the Republican Strategist lands and sinks her talons into Braun to help him win. It’s a tug of war as D.C. hijacks this sleepy little town.

Zimmer attempts to be incognito in Deerlaken, but anyone who knows towns like this knows that’s just not possible. He quickly is the talk of the town as he walks the red carpet looking down on these welcoming and seemingly simple people. Hastings, the sensible, seasoned, and quiet veteran is bulldozed into participating in politics the D.C. way as he attends fundraisers and gets the backing of Washington big wigs. As the buzz of this sleepy little town gains even more press, Brewster “helps” Braun in much the same way and the town is overrun by campaign workers lead by two strategists who despise one another. Hellbent on winning (more for their own pride than the party’s), the antics increase, soaring into the stratosphere of dirty politics and a chance to make the viewer cringe and laugh.

“Irresistible” is like no other political farce as it takes the proverbial curtain behind which both parties hide and reveals what the system is really all about…money. And this portrayal, dare I say, is fair and balanced, never showing either party in a more positive light. Additionally, because it’s written and directed by the satirical genius of Stewart, it’s funny. Of course, having Carell and Byrne in the lead elevates the comedic undertones as there’s an element of “City Slickers” in the film. Only Carell could try to manipulate the positioning of cows during a commercial and make us believe he doesn’t understand anything about rural life. There’s also a scene between Hastings’ daughter (Mackenzie Davis) and Zimmer that boldly and accurately draws a line to accentuate the differences between “regular” people and those who are in power.

As I stated, Carell brings his familiar comedic chops to the role of Zimmer, but with a nasty edge as he creates a despicable character. He is truly unlikeable with his condescending and demanding demeanor and presumptuous behavior. Equally, Byrne brings the same tone but with a feminine quality as her character slices through Zimmer with her sharp tongue. And with Byrne’s portrayal of Faith, we almost feel sorry for Zimmer, but not for too long. Together, while reprehensible, they are magic. Cooper’s “Jack” is the positive force within the film as he could easily be your next door neighbor. He’s honest. He fought for our country. He wants what’s best for his small town. Living a simple life where many of the stores and businesses are struggling, it’s an accurate representation of many small Midwestern towns. This aspect of the film makes it relatable as we root for Jack to win the election.

Stewart brilliantly weaves together a succinct story the unveils what drives the political machine no matter where you live and which party you most readily identify. The comedy is there in unsuspecting ways, sometimes dark and frequently pointed, Stewart, like a magician, has you looking one way only to surprise you with a wickedly funny twist.

Take a trip to Wisconsin and pull back the curtain on politics. This is a film that both Democrats and Republicans can agree upon. That’s certainly a unique position for ANY film dealing with politics!

4 Stars

“Judy and Punch” An unrestrained imaginative origin story

June 3rd, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Judy and Punch” An unrestrained imaginative origin story”

Imagine a world where people took the law into their own hands and the ideals were archaic, ostracizing and accusing people based on superstitions and hearsay. No, I’m not describing our world today, but I am describing the new film “Judy and Punch” starring Mia Wasikowska and Damon Herriman. I’m sure all of you over the age of 40 will remember a children’s puppet show from the 1950’s called “Punch and Judy” where the bizarre puppets beat each other up. The puppet show and concept originated in 16th century Italy and is now flipped on its head thanks to the unrestrained imagination of first-time writer and director Mirrah Foulkes.

WATCH THE TRAILER

The story is set in the town of Seaside,“nowhere near the sea,” in 17th century England, and begins with a casual suggestion of a stoning and who will throw the first one. After recovering from the fact that yes, they are actually talking about stoning someone and it being a privilege to cast the first one, you understand that this darkly Monty Python-esque film promises to take you to some very humorous yet unexpectedly dramatic places and it does not disappoint.

Judy (Wasikowska) and Professor Punch (Herriman) are trying to resurrect an entertainment career with their magical puppet show which wildly entertains the raucous and unruly crowds. If it weren’t for the fact that Punch has a few “issues” that have sabotaged their stardom, this puppeteering duo would have been all the rage. For those of you familiar with the original series, Foulkes maintains the “simplistic set of stock characters” as she referred to them. She also keeps a through line of using a baby, a dog, and sausages. While this sounds bizarre, and it is, these elements set the tone for what becomes a story of a woman scorned.

“Judy and Punch,” as the word order would suggest, follows Judy, giving us a back story or perhaps an origin story, seeing the world through her eyes. She and many of the townspeople are wronged by her lying, cheating, manipulative husband portrayed expertly by Herriman and Judy is set to right those wrongs, but not before all hell breaks loose in the town thanks to Punch’s cowardice.

While these descriptions of the film sound quite menacing, and they are, there is plenty of humor interwoven throughout the film. Foulkes, as she recently told me in an interview, likes to “mess with an audience” by using slapstick sequences followed by violence which forces the audience to confront our attraction to violence. These shifts in tone are like a roller coaster ride as you find yourself aghast at what happens to the baby, but laughing just moments later. You feel as if you’ve been a part of a magic trick, unsure as to how this magician just made you cringe and gasp aloud and then laugh just as audibly.

This incredibly imaginative script plays out in an equally unique set which transports you to an era you’ve only read about. With bawdy pubs darkly lit, stone walled homes and churches, dirt pathways and costuming to suggest the period, Wasikowska’s brilliance as an actor shines through. She’s immediately likable and we see her struggle with her husband, but not long into the film, we find that her tolerance for Punch’s behavior can no longer be tolerated as Punch’s true colors are blinding. Wasikowska finds the right levels of each emotion as she plummets from sweet mother to an empowered vengeful woman who has suffered more atrocities than any woman should.

Herriman, no stranger to playing the bad guy, hones his skills in this role. While he portrays a character who is truly unlikeable, Herriman finds a way to allow other aspects of Punch’s personality to come to the surface as a nervous, narcissistic, and controlling man, who is ultimately nothing more than a coward. Together, although Wasikowska and he aren’t on screen at the same time for a significant part of the film, these actors find the spark in the story and light it on fire.

The entire cast supports the narrative bringing an almost theatrical feel to the film. Terry Norris and Brenda Palmer are an absolute delight adding just the right touches of comedy in just the right ways and the young Daisy Axon creates subtle tones of humor balancing some of the horrors that we behold. Within the deft acting skills and direction of this film, there are also plenty of special effects that will make your heart race or perhaps elicit a gasp. Either way, it’s a credit to the impressive yet never over-the-top special effects crew.

“Judy and Punch” is a fairytale of a film with a succinct and riveting script and paired with great performances resulting in total entertainment throughout the entire film, laughing even amidst the darkness.

You can stream “Judy and Punch” on all major digital platforms beginning June 5. To read the interview with Foulkes, go to FF2 Media.

4 Stars

“Working Man” Timely, relevant look at purpose and compassion

May 27th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Working Man” Timely, relevant look at purpose and compassion”

Robert Jury’s debut feature film “Working Man” stars Peter Gerety as Allery, an older, quiet factory worker whose manufacturing plant is closing. This small town business is one of the last to go, devastating an already depressed town and leaving its workers and the community at a dire loss. Allery isn’t ready to stop working, though, and as he continues his routine, his co-workers band with him and change this town. The consequences are far greater than anyone could have imagined, shaking the foundation upon which Allery and his wife Iola (Talia Shire) stand.

To say that this is a quiet film is an understatement, but actions speak much louder than words. Allery’s quiet demeanor has a sadness behind it as he shuffles down the sidewalk, walking to work after methodically and almost mindlessly packing his own lunch, much to his wife’s surprise. The dilapidated homes and the boarded up shops punctuate the depressed affect we are seeing in Allery. But this town, like so many similar Midwestern towns suffering from industry shutdowns, is close knit. Everyone knows each other’s business and when Walter (Billy Brown), a newer resident and factor worker, begins to accompany Allery to “work,” a feeling of hope and solidarity arise.

This is a story of the need for purpose in life as well as, ultimately, compassion. The friendship between Walter and Allery is an unusual one and Jury makes sure that we root for success for each of them, although never allowing ourselves to relax and breathe as there is so much more than meets the eye. The relationship between Iola and Allery is forced to be examined thanks to Walter’s unexpected influence, emphasizing the need for facing our past and our demons.

Jury captures the heart and soul of so many towns like this one, but it is the heart and soul of Allery, with very little dialogue, that is so profoundly portrayed. Allery is suffering and initially we think we know why, but again, what we see on the surface is just covering up what truly lies beneath. While Allery is our focal point, Walter, a handsome, gregarious, and charismatic but somewhat mysterious man, reveals his backstory, but the fallout has already occurred, driving Allery to a final decision. He has changed and we see this happen like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.

This ensemble cast is stellar, lead by Gerety whose subtle actions and reactions are immensely powerful. A glance or an aversion of his eyes with a slight intake of air tells you more than a thousand words could ever do and these actions connect you to him as you want to find out more. Jury never reveals too much in his script, like a carrot dangled before you, pulling you toward an emotional discovery. Together with Shire and Brown, the main characters are supported skillfully by the rest of this talented cast.

Visually, the cinematography captures the essence of Middle America as it is filmed in Illinois. Jury found neighborhoods, bridges, and landscapes near Joliet and many of the supporting cast is from the Chicago area. Finding an ideal location like this augments a storyline that seems more relevant today than when Jury initially wrote the script nearly 10 years ago. With a real environment and local actors, the credibility of the film soars.

Jury’s gorgeously shot and written “Working Man” is a topical film with evocative performances reminding us of the importance of having a purpose in life, and compassion for others.

4 Stars

“Working Man” is available on all major digital platforms.

“Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” is a zesty and flavorful delight

May 21st, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” is a zesty and flavorful delight”

Imagine being introduced as “The Mick Jagger of Mexico” or thought of as the “Indiana Jones of Food.” These are just a couple of the descriptors top chefs and food critics from all over the world have used to describe Chef Diana Kennedy in the new film “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy.” Director Elizabeth Carroll introduces us to the always feisty, sometimes foul-mouthed, award-winning chef and 95 year-old author Diana Kennedy as she readies herself to drive an old stick shift Nissan truck over rocky terrain to a fresh market to shop.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

The opening scenes gives us the spicy flavor of the film, immediately connecting and endearing us to this woman who has, as she says, “cooked my way through 80, 90 years of life!” Kennedy imparts her words of wisdom as Carroll takes us back in time to when Kennedy lived in Britain, well before she became the Mexican food expert and chef. Her independence and rebellious spirit was evident in her youth, bucking the system during WWII and joining the Timber Corps. Reminiscing about her past and learning about the importance of nature still seeps into her life and her cooking even today.

The film takes us on a fast pace, trying to keep up with this woman who starts her day speed hiking along the trails near her home, her “Mexican cooking center,” located about 100 miles west of Mexico City. Retracing her steps that lead her to her renowned status, various chefs and restauranteurs share how Kennedy changed the way they cook. Rick Bayless, Alice Waters, as well as Nick Zukin who coined her the “Indiana Jones of Food,” and many more all share their share their gratitude for Kennedy’s ability to understand Mexico’s regional cooking, the flavors, the cultures, but most importantly the people and their traditions in their entirety.

Using footage from home films, we see Kennedy’s zest for life even when she found herself in New York City, surroundings which were not comfortable. Thanks to her connections with the New York Times where her husband worked, food critic and author Craig Claiborne pushed her in the direction she needed, always at the right moment and the right way. Additional footage from national cooking shows including her own as well as shows like Martha Stewart’s, Kennedy created cuisine magically before our eyes, narrating in her own original style while teaching viewers about authentic Mexican cooking. From tamales and papadzules to the real way to make guacamole, you’ll laugh at her insights, but you’ll also take away a new found appreciation for Mexico, its regions, and its food.

The film is gorgeously shot, creating a feeling of being a guest in Kennedy’s ecological and sustainable home as she roasts her coffee beans or takes us on a tour of her own garden or to the markets. And she’s not shy about critiquing what she sees, tastes, and buys! This Brit is true to Mexico and makes no bones about it, emphasizing she does not make her own variations of the foods she discovers. She learns the truth about the food and the region and keeps the art alive.

Carroll beautifully weaves this nine decade-long story into a humorous and engaging one that will make you cherish the contributions of Kennedy. You might also be inspired to create your own culinary masterpieces, understanding that cooking takes time and it’s not just eating food. And please, please, please, do NOT put garlic in your guacamole!

You can see “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” on virtual cinema platforms such as Siskel Film Center on Friday, May 22. For more information and a complete list of participating theaters, go to Diana Kennedy Movie

This film is available to be purchased as a gift to stream at the Siskel Film Center. Plus, “Screen to Screen” offers a Q&A On Saturday, May 23, 7 pm CDT with famed chef Alice Waters (Chez Panisse), The New York Times City Kitchen columnist David Tanis, two-time James Beard semifinalist Gabriela Cámara (A Tale of Two Kitchens), and director Elizabeth Carroll.

4 Stars

SCOOB! Scooby Doo and the gang are back and just in the nick of time!

May 15th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “SCOOB! Scooby Doo and the gang are back and just in the nick of time!”

SCOOB! “opens” on all digital streaming platforms on Friday, May 15, bringing back those “meddling kids” for an all-new adventure in solving mysteries, saving the world, and of course, devouring some Scooby Snacks!

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Scooby has been a part of at least two generations of kids growing up and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who can’t sing the intro song. (My apologies as this will probably be like an ear worm for the rest of the day.) But with this history, comes pressure as writers and actors alike must keep core of this story alive. Humor, friendship, life lessons, slapstick comedy, and of course as many puns as possible must accompany the story. And if the tone and pacing are lacking, it’s not going to work—but this works. It’s like walking back in time for me to the 1970’s, eating my bowl of Quisp cereal, and making sure I smiled during the intro when the camera “took my picture.”

SCOOB!, the newest version for our favorite doggie detective, brings us back in time to tell an unknown part of the gang’s history. We find out how they all first met, including Shaggy (aka Norville) and Scooby’s origin story. The adorable partnership endears us even more to this dynamic duo and the camaraderie among the crew’s initiation on Halloween night, no less, gives us just the right amount back story before plunging us into the current day where the Mystery, Inc. needs a fresh start. Who better to invest than Simon Cowell (voiced by Simon Cowell) who gives his brutally honest opinion, but these words then set the tone for what’s to come for this group of crimebusters.

Licking their emotional wounds, Scooby and Shaggy encounter Dick Dastardly’s cataclysmic coterie of tiny transformers only to be rescued by the new heroic characters, Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg), Dynomutt (Ken Jeong) and Dee Dee Skyes (Kiersey Clemons). But that’s not the last they’ll see of Dastardly as they learn of his malevolent plan to take over the world and Scooby is at the heart and soul of it. How can the gang band together to not only save humanity, but Scooby, too!

As alliterations abound, the verbal agility interwoven into the quickly delivered dialogue keeps the adults attention as the visual pace keeps little ones captivated. With over the top situations and sub-stories of both Shaggy’s jealousy and Dick’s longing for his “flatulent fleabag” who was once his “criminal coconspirator,” it’s an entertaining cacophony for all ages.

Tony Cervone directs this fun-filled sci-fi animated comedic adventure film as he weaves together elements from the past series into a current-day story with relevant references. The voices, particularly in an animated feature, create personality and in this case, the voices not only convey meaning, but memories of characters. It’s imperative to find just the right fit, but in particular to find Scooby and Shaggy as this is their story. Scooby finds his voice in Frank Welker who was Fred’s voice from the original 1970’s series, but it is Will Forte’s cracking vocal quality and tenuous cadence with every sentence starting with “like” that is perfection. He is Shaggy. In fact, the entire ensemble of old and new voices/characters alike work together harmonically.

SCOOB! captures all the emotional resonance from the original series while stepping up the story line to embrace the current times. With a “moral of the story” to impart, SCOOB! addresses the importance of loyalty and friendship for this group of “meddling millennials” as it rides the wave of corny jokes with plenty of puns as we watch goodness prevail.

Grab your canine companion and kids, then rent or purchase SCOOB! on all digital platforms like Amazon Prime Video, VUDU, and Fandango Now.

“Driveways” A thoughtful and loving film of regret and forgiveness

May 11th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Driveways” A thoughtful and loving film of regret and forgiveness”

Home truly is where the heart is as we see in Andrew Ahn’s independent gem “Driveways,” starring the incomparable Brian Dennehy. Cody (Lucas Jaye) and his mom, Kathy (Hong Chau) travel to clear out her recently deceased sister’s home in a small town and as Cody ventures next door, he encounters Del (Dennegy). These three lives, separate for now, will intersect, creating a connection that has both short and long-term effects.

The initial scene is a quiet one as Cody and his mom are on a long distance trip. Driving for hours, with only an occasional stop, not a word is uttered yet we see Cody and Kathy take care of one another—he puts out her discarded cigarette, she splurges on a meal for him with nothing for herself at a restaurant. Arriving at their destination well after dark, Kathy and Cody can’t get into the house. And next door, a lonely man sits in solitude eating his dinner.

Kathy, Cody, and Del all have their own issues and all are explored with the utmost of care thanks to the introspective writing of Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen. Cody struggles with making friends, Del is looking in the rearview mirror of life, and Kathy is always runninng. As different as they all are, they must all find the strength to face the future and what it holds while the adult characters face their regrets.

Cody and his mom are an entity, but due to the stressors Kathy must now face, she relies on Cody to entertain himself. He’s seemingly rather lonely and gravitates to the crotchety Korean War veteran who lives next door. Del can’t maintain that facade for long and quickly softens his gruff and irritable exterior, and we witness the caring friendship begin to develop. Del who is struggling with the beginnings of dementia finds solace in this young boy’s perspective and Cody sees the inner strength and wisdom this man has to share. Del lets down his guard as this young boy gives him not only friendship but validation that he still has purpose and value in this world. The authenticity of this relationship is what creates such an emotional connection to each of the characters and we truly care what happens.

While Kathy is more of a periphery story, she is the driving force and Chau’s performance gives this complicated character the no-nonsense demeanor it demands. Kathy is hardened by her upbringing and situations and we find that she never stops long enough to appreciate what’s in front of her. Death, fear of the future, and regret hang over her like a dark grey cloud. Although Kathy has built a tough shell to protect herself, it begins to fade away as she learns about her sister and ultimately herself.

“Driveways” will be one of Dennehy’s final films and one in which he shines. He creates a character filled with wisdom yet wrought with anxiety as he embraces his new-found friendship with Cody, sharing his past as well as his own regrets and fears. As Del’s daughter arrives on the scene, it’s obvious that that gruff exterior previously went more than skin deep as the tension and animosity is palpable. Again, regrets loom over these characters, but cracks in the facade may allow the damage to begin to repair. And all of these emotions are sublimely conveyed by Dennehy’s deft performance and with a genuine relationship between he and Jaye, the film never feels heavy handed.

Lovingly told, “Driveways” is an exploration in the pivotal moments in one’s life. All three characters, all at different stages, have an opportunity to reflect on their understanding of life and its meaning and then grow as they open their eyes and their hearts to let others in.

“Driveways” can be seen on all major digital platforms.

“Abe” creates food for thought in this family film

April 16th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Abe” creates food for thought in this family film”

Food. It’s an art form, a science, and a language, many say a language of love. Young Abe (Noah Schnapp “Stranger Things”) tries to use his yet-unrefined but passionate culinary skills to bring his Jewish mom and Muslim father and their in-laws together. Will his love of food communicate the desired effects? This sweet and succulent film delves into the difficulties of uniting polar opposite religions, but somehow keeps it relatively light as Noah finds his identity.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Abe, an introverted yet bold 12 year-old boy, lives in New York City with his parents. We meet Abe making his own birthday cake, a task he relishes. With voice over, we get a glimpse into his personality and his intellect as he recites the substitution of cream of tartar and baking soda to replicate baking powder. As his parents seem to give him great leeway in what he does and identifying Abe’s desires to become a chef, they enroll him in a kids’ cooking class. Abe, however, is no ordinary kid and ditches the camp, unbeknownst to his parents, and instead seeks out his cooking idol, Chico (Seu Jorge), a Brazilian fusion chef.

Cooking is an escape for Abe as he attempts to make his very divided family happy. Raised in a secular home, but continually exposed to the pressure of choosing Judaism over being Muslim or no religion at all, it seems Abe can’t make anyone happy including himself. As any youngster can attest to, watching your parents fight is difficult, especially as Abe feels he is the focal point of the arguments. And with this guilt, Abe tries to fix it through food.

“Abe” thoughtfully uses food as a vehicle to learn about two warring countries, Palastine and Israel, and the traditions important to each of them. As Abe’s love of cooking seems to be a part of his DNA, he spends time with his paternal grandmother and also embraces the recipes and memories left behind by his maternal grandmother. Abe is always thinking and creating. He’s certainly ahead of the curve compared to other 12 year-olds, but his understanding of the world and his experiences confirm his age as he pushes the boundaries, rebells, and grows.

Relationships are at the core of this film, but it is the relationship between Chico and Abe that is the glue that binds this story together. Chico reluctantly allows Abe in his pop-up kitchen to learn the ropes, but Chico teaches him much more than just how to wash dishes, take out the trash, and begin to do the prep work. Abe learns about cultures, traditions, and how to meld them together into palate-pleasing works of art. Chico is that one steady person in Abe’s life to give him the guidance and resiliency to deal with his family’s escalating situation. And one person dependable person is exactly what Abe needs.

Schnapp portrays Abe skillfully. His awkward confidence rising to the surface, Schnapp gives Abe the right balance of emotion and internal conflict while never going over-the-top. Mark Margolis’ role of Benjamin, his Jewish unflinching and bitter grandfather adds the element of unforgiving cynicism countered by the hilarious off-the-cuff comments from Ari (Daniel Oreskes), his Jewish uncle. Seu Jorge, however, stands out in this film as Chico as he develops not only a believable character as a new-age chef, but as a mentor and friend to Abe.

“Abe” isn’t your typical family film as it does something most do not—addresses the complicated topics of history, politics, and religion and their effects upon relationships. The balance in the story is key to making sure that we understand the inner workings of this family, but also find solace, just like Abe, in cooking and learning about the craft. There’s plenty of humor in this film as well as Abe posts on Instagram and makes a few mistakes along the way. With all the right ingredients, “Abe” is an uplifting and entertaining film with just the right amount of zest. It just might inspire you to try a few new dishes at home given your new-found culinary knowledge!

3 1/2 Stars

“Outer Banks” – Binge-worthy episodic teen series

April 13th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Outer Banks” – Binge-worthy episodic teen series”

This is a case of “slip and fall” as I’m diverging from movies and accidentally slipping into and have fallen for the Netflix series, “Outer Banks.”

Growing up in a small summer tourism town, I went back in time as I watched the cliques of kids drawing lines in the sand, never mixing. The series takes place in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, or the OBX as they refer to it, comprised of two groups of people–the haves and the have-nots. Their terms, the poor kids live “in the cut” and are called Pogues and the wealthy country club kids are the Kooks. It is this delineation that plagues each group as they attempt to make their final days of summer “epic.”

WATCH THE TRAILER

The story revolves around John B. (Chase Stokes), his missing father, and a sunken treasure ship from more than a century ago called The Royal Merchant. John B. and his friends, all misfits in their own unique ways, band together to support John B. in continuing the research his father started. Of course, this leads to murder, mystery, and mayhem far beyond the simple jealous antics of teen angst. Well, there’s plenty of that as well.

“Outer Banks” is a lot of fun, even if you can predict what’s going to happen as the characters are fun to get to know. There’s the hot-headed boy JJ (Rudy Pankow) who has a lot of family issues, Pope (Jonathan Davies), the bright boy who is counting on a scholarship to get himself out of “the cut,” and Kiara (Madison Bailey), the intelligent, caring, environmentalist Kook who went to the dark side to hang out with this group of Pogues. Balancing out this group are the condescending rich kids Sarah (Madelyn Cline), Topper (Austin North) and Rafe (Drew Starkey). The two polar opposite groups have plenty of issues to confront and are not limited to just social class.

What makes this even more fun is the chemistry among these kids. They’re engaging and invite you to care about them and their situation. Their friendships test the limits as they focus on an end goal and jump through more hurdles than you can imagine. And there’s plenty of really bad guys in this show. Their stereotypical portrayal would be comical if there wasn’t the blood and brutality, but like most kids’ movies and television, there’s no mistaking who the bad guys are! It’s a lot of over-the-top character portrayals, but who cares? The actors make you believe they really are in these situations and you can’t wait to see what happens next.

“Outer Banks” has been my go-to series while I run on the treadmill. I owe a big thank you to Netflix for helping me attain my exercise goals each day and for providing a series I look forward to. My only warning is that even though this is a teenager-centric series, there’s a lot of drug use. As my 25 year-old daughter said, “Why does Hollywood think every high school kid should be portrayed with this kind of access to drugs and alcohol?” And as a mom, that was music to my ears!

“The Lost Husband” exceeds expectations thanks to talented cast

April 10th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Lost Husband” exceeds expectations thanks to talented cast”

While the theaters remain closed, theatrical releases continue to premiere on easily accessed digital platforms. “The Lost Husband,” starring Josh Duhamel, Nora Dunn, and Leslie Bibb is available to stream on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, and a host of other outlets including several cable options such as Comcast and Spectrum. It’s a perfect escapism film filled with love, loss, secrets, and hope for the future as Libby (Bibb), a young widow with two children who loses everything she owns, ends up at her long-lost Aunt Jean’s (Dunn) farm where she meets the Farm Manager James (Duhamel).

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

The mere description seemingly says it all, and it does say a lot as you can accurately predict what will happen, but there are a few surprises along the way. We meet Libby as she is escaping the suffocating confines of her wealthy yet emotionally unsupportive mother, Marsha (Sharon Lawrence). Traveling thousands of miles with the few items this small family owns, they show up on the doorstep of Aunt Jean whose no-nonsense yet kind arms welcome them all. Libby’s relaxed attitude takes a quick left turn the following morning as she learns she will be James the Farm Manager’s apprentice to help Aunt Jean run her goat farm. Initially, James and Libby repel one another like oil and water, but you guessed it, the two begin to blend perfectly.

“The Lost Husband” provides plenty of sub stories throughout including young Abby (Callie Hope Haverda) being bullied in school, and Libby’s inability to let go of her departed and rather flawed husband as she is consumed by guilt. Aunt Jean and James have their own stories as well, allowing all the characters to have a substantive storyline to contribute to the overall film. While much of this probably sounds very ordinary, it is, but what isn’t is the heart of the film thanks to the chemistry and talent of the actors.

Bibb and Duhamel elevate their love story by never overplaying their roles. There are comedic moments and beautifully romantic and poignant ones as well, but again, there is never a moment of eliciting an eye-roll response. And Dunn, quite expectedly, is pure gold in this as she teaches Bibb how to heal all while making goat’s milk cheese and planting the perfect vegetable garden. The only aspect of incredulousness is the picture perfect Pottery Barn-looking farm house. But I’ll forgive that and focus only on the story and performances which far outweigh that one unbelievable element.

For the first half of the film, much of what happens is quite predictable, but during the second half, we lean in more to Bibb’s antagonistic relationship with her mother and the fallout Marsha and Aunt Jean had upon the passing of Libby’s grandfather. There are emotional puzzle pieces that we and Libby now see and she must put them together to allow herself and her children to finally stand on solid ground.

“The Lost Husband” is not a Hallmark movie as many of us might initially think. It’s much more than that as the script is not totally formulaic and the actors gel using their talents to never overact. And within the main story, we are transported to a more fundamental and basic lifestyle that gives meaning and independence. While it may romanticize the arduous actuality of farming, it’s also inspiring in this way. I’m sure that wasn’t an expected outcome of this film, but given our times, it evokes just that.

Check out “The Lost Husband,” a charmingly entertaining movie that just might surprise you thanks to wonderful performances and a script that takes the time to create surprises and develop a satisfyingly layered story.

3 1/2 STARS

“Trolls World Tour” delivers a message amidst fun music and animation

April 10th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Trolls World Tour” delivers a message amidst fun music and animation”

“Trolls World Tour,” the sequel to the rocking hit kids’ film “Trolls” from DreamWorks, is now available to watch on Amazon Prime Video and other digital platforms in the comfort of your home, skipping its theatrical release due to Covid-19. And parents, this is going to make your life a lot easier for a couple of hours as this newest rendition is just as vibrant and shining as its predecessor. With much-needed messages of acceptance, acknowledgment, and understanding of one another’s differences, it’s a story that will keep the little ones’ attention and older kids alike.

WATCH THE TRAILER

Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and Branch (Justin Timberlake) pick right up where they left off. Poppy is now the queen and Branch wants to tell Poppy how he feels about her, but his plans are thwarted by the eminent arrival of Barb, the Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll who wants to take over the world. Poppy, the Queen of Pop (and all thoughts positive) can’t begin to understand that Barb would see music as anything other than a way to unite others, but as she travels to the other Troll countries including Techno, Country, and Classical (Symphonyville), she learns that Barb’s evil ways may lead to the loss of all types of music.

The focal point of the film is pretty straight-forward and hard to miss as every scene hammers home the concept of tolerance and acceptance of those who appear different. And that’s not a bad thing. From Cooper (Ron Funches) and his need to feel that he’s not alone in this world to Hickory’s (Sam Rockwell) Country Music heart allowing appreciation for other genres, it’s a message you couldn’t miss if you tried. While this certainly is a kids’ movie, there are plenty of adult-only references that will make you laugh out loud. Yes, pop lyrics do “crawl into you head like an ear worm,” history does seem to repeat itself and assistants typically don’t get paid, they only get college credit, are just a few of the fun snippets that only those of us over the age of 25 will understand. Of course, there’s plenty of classic rock and hit pop song medleys that will get your toes tapping, too, bringing back a flood of memories—for those of us who remember the ’70’s and ’80’s.

The music is the beat that drives the plot and characters, but the animation in all its vivid glory will keep the younger viewers glued to the screen. The introduction to a variety of types of music such as funk, hip-hop “Hamilton” style, disco, country, and even smooth jazz with all their stereotypes accentuated, give both kids and adults reasons to pay attention in this rather simplistic storyline.

This is Poppy’s coming of age film as she wrestles with her preconceived notions and the pressure of being a good queen for her people. Unsure of what that really means, Poppy, with the help of Branch and Biggie (James Corden), opens her eyes to a new way of seeing and begins to actually listen. Poppy is naive, but that naiveté allows her to see others without prejudice. One of the most poignant lines in the film comes from King Quincy (George Clinton) who reminds Poppy that all Trolls are not the same, but that’s a good thing and should be embraced. Again, messages that are not only appropriate but needed for all age groups.

With music at its core and recognizable hits like Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” changing to “Trolls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “Gangnam Style” by PSY as well as Kelly Clarkson’s “Born to Die” (also voicing the Dolly Parton-looking character Delta Dawn) and “Barracuda” by Heart, there’s also original vibrations going on as well. And when you assemble some of the most talented and varied musical artists such as Timberlake, Mary J. Blige, George Clinton, and classical violinist Gustavo Dudamel among many others, you really do have perfect harmony. As they say in the film, you can’t have harmony with just one.

“Trolls World Tour” is a spirited and lively animated feature that delivers exactly what its precursor “Trolls” did—fun music that gets your toes a tapping, brilliantly rich animation, and positive life lessons. It’s definitely a kids’ movie, but adults can have fun with this one, too.

Be sure to check out the Home Premiere Party Pack at TrollsPartyPack or go to Youtube to learn how to draw Poppy, Branch and the newest little Troll, Tiny Diamond.

Or join the WATCH PARTY at noon today on Twitter hosted by Director Walt Dohrn & The McElroy Brothers! TROLLS WATCH PARTY
3 1/2 Stars

“Tigertail” – Soulful tale of life’s choices and regrets

April 10th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Tigertail” – Soulful tale of life’s choices and regrets”

Alan Yang writes and directs the story of Grover (Tzi Ma), a middle-aged Taiwanese immigrant who left his life in China for a better one in America as a young adult. Now, filled with regrets, Grover takes us back in time to his childhood to better understand himself and perhaps change his own future.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

The film takes a non-linear story-telling style and we meet Grover as a young boy, left by his parents in a chaotic and dreadful time with his Grandmother who hid him from the government. This small glimpse back in time sets the tone for Grover’s life as we then meet him as a teen. He’s filled with energy and falls in love with Yuan (Yohsing Fang) only to dramatically leave her behind when his arranged marriage to Zhen Zhen (Kunjue Li) occurs and he escapes to a better life in the United States. Finding that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, both Grover and Zhen Zhen struggle in their new homeland and roles as husband and wife.

The story takes us back and forth from the current day to the past as various interactions trigger a memory from Grover. Songs, thoughts, situations all bring him back in time: working in a factory with his mother; listening to music; dancing; sneaking off to meet Yuan; and sharing your hopes and dreams. The sadness in Grover’s eyes as he recalls his past is palpable, but it is with each of these memories that the complicated layers of his life are peeled away to reveal what lies beneath—a man filled with life’s regrets.

Grover, seemingly successful financially, is anything but that in other aspects of his life. Divorced with two adult children, he struggles immensely with his relationship with his daughter, Angela (Christine Ko). The story rocks us gently, back and forth, between the very distant past, the current day, and the recent past to pull back the curtains to better see Grover, his choices, and most importantly, the consequences of those choices.

Incredibly, a story of a man from China is one in which we can all relate. We have all made choices, taken a left instead of a right at one of life’s crossroads, and then had regrets. But we all continue on the path ahead, no matter how bumpy it becomes, knowing that there’s another crossroad ahead. Yang finds a way to bring an element of hope to the story as Grover learns from his pattern of choices. There’s a hope in his future as he begins to reconnect with that younger version of himself and remember the importance of relationships.

Within the context of regrets, Grover is at a pivotal point in his relationship with his daughter, but with years of disconnection, it is difficult for him to find a way back. As we witness the pain Angela is experiencing in her life coupled with her inability to relate to her father, Grover takes us back in time to his own relationship with his mother. Again, this timeline transporting gives us such keen insight into how his past directly influences who he has become.

While the story is a universal one, there are additional elements that are not. These aspects give the viewer a sharper grasp as to what it means to emigrate to a foreign land. Working non-stop, having a wife who speaks little English, and then with a baby on the way, Grover is on the brink of failure. They live in a squalid apartment the size of most closets, making the best of things, but again, there are consequences. Leaving home and everything you know, from the language and customs, to the food and friends, “Tigertail” accentuates what it takes to emigrate to another country.

Ma brings a soulfully thoughtful perspective to his portrayal of Grover as we find ourselves connecting with him on so many levels. With great editing and this non-linear storytelling style, Ma shines as he gently lets us into his character’s inner world filled with love and loss, but finally a exhibiting a glimmer of hope. This hope culminates in the final act in the film, one of the most poignant and emotionally loaded endings I’ve seen this year. Both Ma and Ko create the precise levels of subtle emotional tension and apprehension that bring a brilliant crescendo to the film, taking my breath away.

“Tigertail” is an unexpected treasure with a complexly layered story, standout performances thanks not only to the talented cast, but also to deft direction, precision editing, and back to basics story telling. This is one man’s story; a study of life and regrets. It is a story we all know with its universalities, but never has it been so gorgeously displayed.

4 Stars

“Vivarium” A chillingly twisted and smart “Twilight Zone” type of movie

April 2nd, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Vivarium” A chillingly twisted and smart “Twilight Zone” type of movie”

Fans of Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” rejoice! “Vivarium” will sate that craving for that odd, twisted, sci-fi story. Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots star as Tom and Gemma in this thriller as a young couple on a quest for the perfect house to purchase in a seller’s market. What they find is a home that “has all you need and all you’d want” but it will plunge them both into a nightmare they could have never dreamed. This is a smart, chilling, and captivating film that orchestrates psychological dilemmas that are eerily relevant to our sequestered lifestyle today.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

The opening scene is straight out of National Geographic as a mother bird is off to find food for its newborns, but a cuckoo comes along and shoves the babes out of their nest and takes it over, only to be fed by this unwitting and unrelated “mother.” And this is the first foreshadowing of much more to come. We cut to a cheerful scene as Gemma, an elementary school teacher, helps the children act as trees with the wind blowing and then wildly swing their “branches” to replicate a storm…another glimpse into the future. Gemma and Tom, a landscape maintenance man, head to a real estate office where a peculiar man named Martin (Jonathan Aris) convinces them to check out the homes in Yonder…it’s not too far and it’s not too close.” Gemma, not wanting to be rude, agrees to check it out. Driving into a development where the green identical houses line the street, Martin’s odd mannerisms as he shows Gemma and Tom the home rise to the surface a bit more and then he disappears. And try as they might to leave this place, all the roads lead back to number 9; their place.

It’s not until a cardboard box with a baby boy inside with instructions to “raise the child and be released” that they realize they are in a dire situation. The boy, or “it” as Tom will only refer to him, grows at an exponential rate, but he’s just as odd as Martin and even creepier! His uncanny ability to mimic Tom and Gemma give us a glimpse into what’s been going on over the last 98 days during which time Boy as gone from infancy to pre-teen. The emotional turmoil is unraveling them at their seems and the strangeness increases exponentially. There are so many great surprises and twists and turns that punctuate our own psychological needs in this film as it explores gender roles, expectations, and programming. Colors and sounds play an important role in this film as well, both aspects of living that make it complete for most.

This ensemble cast is exceptional. Poots and Eisenberg balance one another perfectly as the happy yet familiar couple who are thrust into not only living together but parenting unwillingly. Their love is certainly tested and as they devolve and evolve in this situation, it is genuine and believable. Neither Poots nor Eisenberg is afraid to show their unattractive side for these roles, but it is their interaction with Boy (Senan Jennings) that is mind-blowing. We watch Poots portray Gemma as a sweet teacher who loves children morph into a child-hating mother figure…perhaps Boy represents the cuckoo bird in the beginning. Jennings is incredible, taking on such a nuance-heavy character. I’m sure he’s a very sweet boy, but this kid gave me the creeps immediately! His body language, facial movements, and speech cadence and style all contributed to a performance that sends chills down your spine.

Lorcan Finnegan and Garret Shanley co-wrote this twisty narrative, placing a heavy load on three main characters and all three of them rise to the occasion. Finnegan directs “Vivarium” (look up the meaning of the word for more clarity), with absolute precision. There can be no errors from his chair or the entire feel of the film is lost. As a fan of Serling’s “Twilight Zone” especially Billy sending people to “the field,” “Vivarium” has exactly the same eerie and chilling notes.

Check out “Vivarium” on all major streaming platforms including Amazon and iTunes for only $6.99. It’ll raise a lot of conversation points!

4 Stars

“Inside the Rain” A bipolar rom-com

March 30th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Inside the Rain” A bipolar rom-com”

Living with bipolar disorder is deftly portrayed in Aaron Fisher’s film “Inside the Rain.” We are privy to a slice of Ben Glass’s (Fisher) early college life which takes decidedly wrong turns every step of the way and he finds himself expelled. He must now find a way to defend himself and re-enter college.

With hovering parents, Ben pushes them away to embark upon a new stage in life. We can see immediately that Ben does not fit in. His open, honest, and frequently raw and bitter display of who he truly is just doesn’t set well with his peers. While he navigates these choppy waters, he has the support of the candid and brutally honest guidance of his therapist, Dr. Holloway (Rosie Perez). It is this key relationship that allows us to not only better understand Ben and his mental disorder, but to connect with him as a very typical young college student.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Along the way, Ben finds love, but not in an expected way—naturally—he finds it at a strip club. We know from the outset that this is most certainly doomed, but Emma (Ellen Toland) has more to her than meets the eye. It is this connection that allows Ben the courage to find a way to fight the system and defend himself on his day of judgment. His artistic abilities push their way to the forefront and he creates a film to depict the fatal day that landed him in the hospital and expelled from school.

In many ways, this is a comedy of errors. Ben is predetermined to make mistakes, but what is engaging is the fact that he learns and grows from them. College is a time of extreme growth for everyone, but with someone who has internal struggles, it makes that time period even more excruciatingly difficult and perhaps even more important. Ben ultimately finds himself and his passion, exhibiting the ultimate growth and every parent wants that for their child.

Relationships are key in this film and Ben’s relationships with all the women in his life are crucial. His mother, his therapist, and Emma all influence the steps he takes and the directions he turns at every crossroad. Perez’ performance as Dr. Holloway is genuine and we hope that all therapists have the knowledge and the courage to tell the truth. Her depth of caring is immediately evident, but she doesn’t take any BS from Ben. She’s experienced and he benefits from this. It’s a role that is well developed and Perez fits it like a glove.

Toland’s character of Emma is a difficult one as we, the viewer, prejudge her based on what she does for a living. She’s tough yet sweet, hardened yet compassionate. And her kindness may just give Ben a few mixed messages which creates yet more awkward and uncomfortable situations that ultimately connect us to this young man. There are a few surprises and her decisions actually help Ben continue on his path of self-discovery and acceptance. Toland’s performance as Emma is crucial to enable Ben to grow and she does so with aplomb.

Fisher, wearing three hats—writer, director, and star—finds balance in doing so. The pacing feels off at times, but this is a direct reflection of his character’s imbalance in navigating life. Perhaps we feel a bit of what Ben is feeling. Fisher has written this story as his own as he suffers from bipolar disorder and many of his own experiences are interwoven into this story. This, of course, allows us to better understand the disorder at this stage in life. In any slice of life, there’s always drama, but Fisher finds a way to blend the element of comedy within it as well, generally a dark tone, but with his lovely parents played by Catherine Curtin and Paul Schulze, there’s lightness as well.

“Inside the Rain” is a sweet and insightful film giving us a glimpse into the life of a college student with bipolar disorder. With so many films depicting mental disorders, this is one to see thanks to the refreshingly unexpected romantic comedy elements.

***Due to Covid-19, the film, initially scheduled to open theatrically, will be released digitally on all major platforms.
3 Stars

SXSW “Critical Thinking” Spotlights Premiere of Director John Leguizamo

March 24th, 2020 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “SXSW “Critical Thinking” Spotlights Premiere of Director John Leguizamo”

John Leguizamo makes his directorial debut with “Critical Thinking,” a story of an inner-city chess team fighting stereotypes, gang violence, and more in an effort to win the U.S. National Chess Championship. The film was set to premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, but due to Covid-19, the film’s theatrical premiere will have to wait which is unfortunate because works of social awareness and inspiration like this need to be seen.

Dito Montiel adapts the true story of a Miami Jackson High School teacher, Mario Martinez (Leguizamo) who leads troubled and misfit teens to this championship. Given little resources which is typically the case for inner-city schools like this, Martinez’ class is the dumping ground for these teens many of whom have less than desirable home lives much less any support from any adult. It’s a bleak environment, but Martinez’ passion and hope shine through, giving these young people a bit of balance and stability.

While the story sounds familiar, and it has been done before in many forms, the brutal honesty in which these students are portrayed has never felt so real. Teaching takes a special person, but in today’s society and the problems of poverty in the inner-city, being a teacher is not for the faint of heart. “Critical Thinking” conveys this expertly within the first 20 minutes as we meet the character we think will be our protagonist. Abruptly, we find this is not the case.

Each of the teens has their own issues and while we delve into each of them, the main focus is on Martinez and his impact upon their lives. Playing chess to many of us is just a pastime or even an enigma for those of us who don’t/can’t play, it becomes a life ring that keeps them all afloat together or as Martinez says, “Chess is the great equalizer.” This concept is put into play at each and every championship match as they are pitted against more prestigious schools. They are certainly the underdog and the prejudices and confidence levels are as palpable as their beating hearts. The tension rises as the stakes become greater, but so, too, do the obstacles. It’s this intensity that connects us even more to the kids and Martinez.

Corwin C. Tuggles portrays Sedrick Roundtree, a complicated young man who shines in this film, leading the group into an emotional final scene. His understanding of this character and the bond he develops with his fellow “students” as well as Leguizamo’s character of Martinez is exceptional. Leguizamo naturally falls into the role of the teacher who understands the plight of these kids and never judges them. We feel his compassion and his hope for these kids to not only survive but to eventually thrive despite their situation. And within all of this, we, too, have hope for the future of these young men who represent a multitude of others struggling in similar situations but perhaps don’t have a Mr. Martinez or chess to guide them.

Leguizamo takes on a heavy task of a lead character as well as director, skillfully navigating the waters to sail smoothly with both. As I watched the film, I wondered if Leguizamo’s portrayal of Martinez was similar to his own skills as director with these young men depicting students. The performances he elicits allow every actor to shine in their own role, all supporting one another much like the story itself.

“Critical Thinking” is an inspiringly uplifting film reminding us of the potential of each and every student out there. Additionally, it punctuates the difficulties and dangers faced by teachers, administrators, and students as they fight an uphill battle to teach and learn. When you see this film, stick around for the credits as we get to meet each of the real characters.

3 1/2 Stars

“Extra Ordinary” blends rom-com-horror perfectly

March 15th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Extra Ordinary” blends rom-com-horror perfectly”

What happens when the lives of a paranormal communicator, a widower, and a narcissistic musical has-been converge? You get an “extraordinary” story filled with laughs and love sprinkled with a peppering of gruesome gore.

Watch the trailer here

Mike Ahern and Edna Loughman team up to direct Maeve Higgins as “Rose,” a lonely, guilt-ridden Irish driving instructor who wants to forget about her “talent” of reaching out to the dearly departed. Her talents are needed, however, as Martin Martin (Barry Ward) asks for help in exorcising his nagging dead wife. Initially refusing, Rose feels a spark between herself and Martin, but when his daughter becomes a possible virgin sacrifice for the one-hit wonder Christian Winter (Will Forte), Rose dives in head first, attempting to rekindle her skills she learned from her father, the former leader and television star in paranormal activity.

This dark comedy hits all the right notes from start to finish. The confusing initial scene, soon explained, introduces us to Rose’s father who also had the talent of perceiving those left behind in a state of limbo. We then meet Rose and her sister Sailor (Terri Chandler) reminiscing about their father’s untimely death. Rose, a sweet woman who could be everyone’s best friend, lives a simple life as a driving instructor, but the townspeople know she is destined to walk in her father’s footsteps. Flashing back in time, we learn more about her upbringing and her relationships which are all filled with bittersweet humor connecting us even more deeply with Rose. And when she falls for Martin Martin, she becomes our hero, and we root for her every step of the way.

The story unfolds in three parts: Martin’s ghostly situation which effects his teenage daughter; Winter’s deal with the devil; and Rose’s life intersecting with both Martin and Winter. This is when the horrific yet comedic story shifts into high gear.

“Extra Ordinary” is a quirky yet exceptionally engaging film thanks to a succinct script and skilled performances. Higgins, Ward, and Forte as well as Claudia O’Doherty who portrays Winter’s wife, gel as a well-formed comedy troupe, all playing off of one another’s chemistry with perfection. Forte’s over-the-top “Winter” is hysterical, particularly as his tolerance is pushed by his wife’s superficially selfish demands. Ward stands out in this film as he embodies or takes on the attributes of many different characters. Using nuanced physical and vocal attributes of others is key to believing that what you’re seeing and hearing is actually another person.

The balance in the story, particularly if you’re not a huge fan of the horror genre, is what makes this a film that will appeal to everyone. It’s really more of a comedy, with an underlying love story and just the right amount of horror. And with a few references to “Ghostbusters” and other iconic supernatural movies, this horror film is refreshingly fun. There aren’t many films in this genre you can say that about!

The film is currently playing in theaters and is still available to see at the Gene Siskel Film Center with limited seats and “social distancing” procedures in effect. For more information go to: Siskel Film Center

3 1/2 stars

Tye Sheridan shines in “The Night Clerk”

February 22nd, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Tye Sheridan shines in “The Night Clerk””

Bart (Tye Sheridan) is an unusual boy, living in his mother’s basement, dining alone while she does the same just a floor above. His atypical characteristics don’t stop there, but it’s not until he goes to his job as a night clerk at a hotel that we witness just how different he is and why. Bart, rigging up video surveillance systems in several rooms, places beautiful women in each. His motives aren’t what you think, but he unwittingly witnesses a murder. Unsure of how to process what he’s seen, Bart digs himself a deeper hole as the police become involved.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

There are several stories taking place at the same time in “The Night Clerk.” The first is a race against the clock to clear Bart’s name. The second is a love story, but it’s the third story that adds a twist to the first two. Bart is on the spectrum of autism. His voyeuristic tendencies aren’t malicious. In fact, he uses this technique to help him learn and rehearse interactions allowing him to sound more “normal” in situations. It is his strained relationship with his mother (Helen Hunt) that gives us the additional information we need to better understand Bart and the story to come.

Following the murder, another guest checks in, Andrea (Ana de Armas). In an effort to protect her from her predecessor’s fate, Bart shares his deepest secrets. In return, Andrea’s kindness and understanding of Bart is misinterpreted which elicits emotions and reactions that are at best confusing to him. His black and white world has been flooded with color that he is ill-equipped to process.

Writing a story where the main character has Asperger’s Syndrome is no easy task. The dialogue and Sheridan’s performance carry the load of success for “The Night Clerk.” The perfectly placed conversations between Bart and Andrea gives us great insight into what being on the spectrum means. He sees and processes information differently, but his need to love and be loved is exactly like anyone else’s. Sheridan’s portrayal of this seemingly emotionally flat character connects us to him to not only understand him but to also care about him.

“The Night Clerk” also uniquely sets up situations which allow us to see the world through Bart’s eyes. Gaining that specific knowledge base, we are in tune with Bart and when he makes those awkward and sometimes very dangerous wrong decisions we understand why he’s doing it. And as the cops, lead by Detective Espada (John Leguizamo), close in on the prime suspect, the intensity increases as we only want Bart to be safe, but with his communication style and inabilities, it’s a tension-filled final act.

Although “The Night Clerk” is a crime thriller at the core, its branches spread much wider as we walk in another’s shoes, gaining understanding and empathy. Sheridan’s deft portrayal of someone “on the spectrum” takes us into an interior world previously unknown to us and by the end of the film, we have emotionally connected with him. When a film can open our eyes and our hearts to perhaps be more compassionate to others while it entertains us with a uniquely suspenseful story, it’s a film worth seeing.

3 1/2 stars

“Top End Wedding” delivers laughter, tears, and life’s true riches

February 11th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Top End Wedding” delivers laughter, tears, and life’s true riches”

If you’re expecting a typical rom-com, you’re going to be disappointed because “Top End Wedding” is so much more than that. Sure, it’s a love story between two young people, Lauren (Miranda Tapsell) and Ned (Gwilym Lee) as they  plan a wedding, but more so, this is a love story of family and heritage.  In between uproarious laughter  you’ll be shedding tears of joy as you embark upon this journey with Lauren in search of her mother who has gone AWOL.  It’s a treasure hunt that ultimately delivers more of life’s riches than you could have ever dreamed.

 WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Lauren and Ned are two young professionals until Ned decides being a lawyer just isn’t his calling.  Lauren is in a high-powered profession with a boss, Hampton(Kerry Fox) aka Cruella Daville, and is at work’s beck and call.  Ned works up the gumption to propose, but “forgets” to add in the fact that he is now unemployed.  Thinking long engagements are silly, Lauren is graced with 10 days of unpaid vacation to get it all wrapped up.  Northern Australia is calling her home and this is where she wants the wedding to take place, but as she and Ned arrive home,  Dad (Huw Higginson) is in a nearly catatonic state.  Mom has run away because even her own daughter won’t answer her calls. (There’s a guilt trip for all you daughters reading!)  Lauren and Ned follow the clues that Mom as left behind and they begin to discover much more than just why Mom left home.

“Top End Wedding” starts off as you would expect–light, fluffy, and oftentimes silly.  Lauren’s boss Hampton creates much of the humor as the uptight controlling woman expecting perfection from Lauren.  Lauren, however, isn’t perfect as we see in the first scene, breaking her heel and eating a powdered sugar pastry with a black suit on just before one of the most important meetings of her young professional career.   Many of the characters are over the top, but this just adds not only to the appeal, but also to the balance of the story.  There are tragedies within many of the characters’ background, reeling us back into a reality that connects us with them.  And just as quickly as we find that connection, we are let loose on funny bits such as a grieving man who misses his wife and hides in the pantry as he listens to a Chicago song repeatedly.  (You’ll never listen to “If You Leave Me Now” the same way again!)  As our emotions ride this roller coaster, the story also finds a way to weave into it a through line of the importance of family and our ancestry.  Lauren and Ned, of course, find quite a few literal and figurative bumps in the road as they track down dear old mom, but as Lauren gets into close proximity, this is where the heart and soul are splayed open, inviting you to relish in the wonder of love and forgiveness.

****SPOILER ALERT****

The film could be a travel journal as Lauren explores the “Top End” of Australia.  It’s beautiful in its own way and the camera captures the land, the vistas, and the people.  As we get to the Tiwi Islands, Lauren’s family is comprised of many of the aboriginal people here.  We see their culture, their ceremonies, their artistry.  It’s an homage to ancestry and the importance of maintaining language and traditions.  Co-writers Tapsell and Joshua Tyler develop a heart-felt and stunning story of true love while remembering the humor that is an integral part of life.  Tapsell has both a comedic delivery as her character, but there’s also a physical one.  She allows her character to develop, turning inwardly to discover the layers beneath and then growing emotionally.  It all happens seemingly naturally, not at the drop of a hat and while there are plenty of stereotypical rom-com scenes, there are just as many non-traditional ones that make this a leader in the  genre.

Tapsell and Lee have the chemistry it takes on screen to make us believe they are a couple who know each other from every angle and still love one another.  They’re not perfect which creates a lot of the humor, but it’s all relatable humor.  And when we can laugh at ourselves as we watch this, it makes it all the better.  Tapsell and Lee have a rhythm which invites the other characters to enter their orbit and add their own flare.  Higginson as Trevor (Dad) is a sad sack, but he’s also hilarious in his sadness.   The disdain he has for his future son-in-law is evident immediately, but again, there is humor in this.  Sometimes Higginson is able to speak paragraphs with just a single look!  With a strong supporting cast, Tapsell and Lee have the perfect groundwork beneath their feet to truly soar.  Additionally and perhaps more importantly, what will remain in my heart and my memory is the beauty of the people of the Tiwi Islands.   I can’t remember a film where I was so emotionally impacted that I was speechless and happily so!

3 1/2 Stars

“Human Capital” A morally complex and intriguing story

February 7th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Human Capital” A morally complex and intriguing story”

Stephen Amidon’s novel has been recreated once again for the silver screen, but for American audiences this time. Initially an Italian film, it depicts the destinies of two families from vastly different socioeconomic classes whose lives are irrevocably changed after a cyclist is hit and killed just before Christmas. The American version, rewritten by Oren Moverman, stars Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, and Marisa Tomei, and creates a similar scenario where two families’ children and their underlying stories are intertwined on that fateful night of an innocent cyclist being killed in a hit and run accident.

The story is told from several different perspectives, Rashomon-style. We are introduced to Drew (Schreiber), a real estate agent and father as he drops off his teenage daughter, Shannon (Maya Hawke). It’s obvious from the beginning who the have’s and the have not’s are in this scenario and Drew’s unrefined interactions with Jamie’s (Fred Hechinger) parents, Carrie (Tomei) and Quint (Sarsgaard). This sets the foundation for the ensuing tensions and poor decision making that put all the pieces into place and drive the story forward.

As part of the 99%, Drew thinks he has hat the jackpot and asks Quint to get in on his action–hedge funds. Leveraging every cent and item he has, the game has begun, but this is a big boy’s game and Drew isn’t ready. Needless to say, life devolves, spiraling out of control for him. Later that evening, after both families have gathered at a school event, the accident takes place. Each and every character may have done it, and they all have their own version of what happened that night.

From this point, we get Carrie’s, Quint’s, Shannon’s and Jamie’s perspective of what happened over the course of the previous 24 hours. Sharing all their inner-most thoughts and secrets, like a fly on the wall, we see the events of the fateful night unfold. Putting the pieces of the puzzle together is chilling, unearthing the depths to which humans will go to save themselves and/or their loved ones.

It’s an interesting cast, all playing pivotal roles and having their time to shine in the spotlight. Sarsgaard portrays a pompous, deleterious narcissist, who cherishes money more than his wife. Tomei, a side character for much of the film, has a few scenes that give us more depth to peel away the superficial layers of her character. She proves that money cannot buy happiness and her performance connects us with her, creating sympathy for her situation. Hawke and Alex Wolff, a troubled teen, bring us all back in time where we made those bad decisions in love. Their honest portrayal is simply engaging with a storyline that could be in any town, highlighting the social issues that plague our current day. Schrieber’s former character of “Ray Donovan” is difficult to shake as his character of Drew is the antithesis of Ray. Initially awkward, Schrieber eventually finds the right tone and I’m able to see him as a man-child who is impulsive and not the brightest bulb in the box. This is a stretch for him and always walking a tightrope of authenticity.

This version of “Human Capital” takes us along a little different path, but the results are the same–it’s fight or flight as our autonomic nervous system kicks in. This engaging film, filled with social issues and consequences, is at once thought-provoking as we are challenged intellectually and emotionally. Ultimately, we place ourselves in each of the roles, predicting our own responses and when a film can do that, it’s worth seeing.

3/4 Stars

“The Gentlemen” is pure fun

January 30th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Gentlemen” is pure fun”

We start this tall tale, “The Gentlemen,” with a “pint and a pickled egg” and the strange word combinations, analogies and euphemisms continue throughout this sly action crime thriller written and directed by Guy Ritchie. With his signature style splashed lovingly throughout the film, like the blood that splatters across a table after a hit, Ritchie creates a complicated, sometimes convoluted but necessarily so, storyline that keeps you on your toes and even if you think you’ve guessed the ending, you’ll be blown away by how you got there.

Michael Pearson aka Mickey (Matthew McConaughey) is a street smart, high-volume and high class weed grower and dealer. His entrepreneurial skills, honed at a young age across the pond, allowed him to climb the social and financial ladder, but not without enemies who are always trying to knock this king off his throne. We meet Mickey at what appears to be close to the end of the film, but then thanks to Fletcher’s (Hugh Grant) storytelling to Mickey’s right hand man, Ray (Charlie Hunnam), we begin to meet the vast number of characters as he recounts the events of the last several weeks. And with the precision of a scalpel, Ritchie neatly intertwines every character’s story.

Fletcher is a part of the lower class attempting to rise and we see this with his different English accent and his less than fashionable attire. He’s slimy, but maybe, just maybe, he’s one up on the elite thugs. He seems to be everywhere and to know everything as he attempts to extort Ray for millions of British pounds, threatening to reveal all these luscious details he has painstakingly gathered. As Fletcher reveals his knowledge of the events over several expensive glasses of Glenfiddich, told in proper writing style as he points out our main protagonist and how stories should be told—old school—we find that Mickey may not have covered all his bases and the cast of characters may not survive the finale.

“The Gentlemen” is a good old-fashioned story told with more style than Tom Ford. The pace is fast which not just encourages you to pay close attention, it demands it. The layers of this complex story are peeled away, layer by layer, revealing only what Ritchie wants you to see, making sure he is at least one step ahead of you. The cuts or as the character “Fletcher” refers to them as “smash cuts” thrust you into the next scene and we begin to piece the puzzle together until the core is revealed. This is pure fun.

McConaughey’s Mickey is our main character, but the entire narrative is driven by Grant’s performance as Fletcher. Changing his accent to fit the bill and finding the subtleties required to become this sleezy character, Grant shines as the host of the story, finding all the right beats to create an engagingly repulsive character. McConaughey’s performance doesn’t push the envelope although it is a believable one as the charming, whip-smart king of the proverbial forest. Henry Golding gives us an intimidating tough guy persona that ultimately allows you to despise him and that’s a tough feat. Hunnam’s performance as the calm, cool, and collected “Ray” is the glue that binds it all together, but it is the initially unrecognizable Colin Farrell as “Coach” that will shock and make you laugh aloud as you support his tenacity and integrity even amidst some unfathomable acts.

“The Gentlemen” isn’t for the faint of heart. It is a crime and action flick so there’s a bit of violence and blood, but it is all a part of the story, driving the plot forward. And Ritchie doesn’t give us one character who’s above board, but that’s ok because we find the best of the worst and connect with them. With quick dialogue and narration which is a stylistically perfect choice paired with Ritchie’s quick editing and unique visual interjections we laugh aloud at the preposterous situations. Ritchie even finds a way to squeeze in gun and drug law issues, too.

There’s also great attention to detail in this film from set design to costuming which punctuates the class and type of characters in the story. Standing out in this is Coach and his cohorts, the choreographed hip hop dancers/fighters all dressed in plaid who bring an element of humor to what would have been just a group of thugs. It’s these little surprises throughout the overall feel of the film and that’s fun.

Guy Ritchie doesn’t disappoint in “The Gentlemen.” Great action, smart dialogue and story development give way to a suspenseful, oftentimes humorous, old-fashioned thriller that will keep you engaged and entertained.

3 1/2 Stars

“Three Christs” makes you a believer in the need for compassion

January 9th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Three Christs” makes you a believer in the need for compassion”

“Three Christs follows Dr. Alan Stone who is treating three paranoid schizophrenic patients at the Ypsilanti State Hospital in Michigan, each of whom believed they were Jesus Christ. What transpires is both comic and deeply moving.”

Based on the book “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti” by Milton Rokeach, Director Jon Avnet takes an incredibly talented cast and creates a mesmerizing tale of three men all identifying as Jesus Christ in a mental institution in the 1950’s. As Dr. Stone (Richard Gere) bucks the system of over-medicating and using electroshock therapy, his revelatory and purely experimental therapy techniques push the professional limits and moral boundaries. Fighting against the administration and the use of physically punitive measures, Stone protects these three men and attempts to intervene, using them as a part of a research study. Placing them together, they must confront their true identity and this is where the story picks up the pace and the complexity of human nature and varied personalities makes this story one worth watching. Joseph (Peter Dinklage), Leon (Walton Goggins), and Clyde (Bradley Whitford) all believe they are the savior, but it is Stone who must delve into his own psyche to not only better understand himself but his patients.

“Three Christs” delicately balances humor and the dramatic need for human connection as it expertly explores the disorder of paranoid schizophrenia. There is a gentle and almost charming friendship that develops among not only the three patients, but also with Stone. Goggins is almost unrecognizable as Leon and Whitford’s verbal eloquence even as he demeans his roommates, floods your senses with a certain calmness. Dinklage has a standout performance and we connect most with him as he searches for a part of himself that is forever lost.

There are a couple of side stories that seem somewhat irrelevant, however they make Stone a more well-rounded character. It is the naturally developing relationship among all four men that is most intriguing and at times, heartbreaking and we root for approval of Stone’s more humane approach to intervention and expelling the barbaric therapeutic techniques used in this era.

“Three Christs” finds an unpredictable path to take in telling this true story and as mental health continues to be at the forefront of our society, we can better understand the need for compassion for those who suffer.

TOP 10 FILMS OF 2019

December 31st, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “TOP 10 FILMS OF 2019”

The 2019 Year in Film has come to a close and while the domestic box office totals are down about 4%, that still means it was an $11.4 billion year. Of course, Disney’s “Avengers: Endgame” ($357.1M) and the live-action remakes many of which pulled in more than $100M, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” ($363M), and Warner Bros. “Joker” ($1.06B), contributed mightily to the year-end total, but none of these films made my Top Ten Films of 2019 list. To me, the big box office hits aren’t necessarily my favorites. 2019 was a year of literary adaptations and films based on true stories and these are the stories that hit home. Without further ado, and starting with #1—I know you’d glance at the bottom of the list for #1 so why not start with it?—the Top Films of 2019.

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD: This is a story about Lloyd Vogel, a jaded and emotionally hardened journalist whose life is touched and forever changed by the children’s television icon Fred Rogers. The story is an unusual one from an equally unlikely perspective that makes us laugh and cry, but more importantly, it reminds us of the power of kindness and the healing attributes of love. Imaginatively created, Marielle Heller takes the director’s reigns and allows Tom Hanks to bring Rogers to life while capturing this compelling and entertaining story based on the Esquire Magazine article by Tom Junod. (In theaters now) WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

THE IRISHMAN: A surprisingly emotional mobster story about right-hand man Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) who looks back on life through his own rearview mirror, recalling his relationships with mob leader Russel Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Based on Charles Brandt’s true crime book “I Heard You Paint Houses,” Martin Scorsese directs this compellingly complex narrative, taking us into a lesser known world while allowing us to somehow develop a connection with Sheeran, a man with regrets and lacking a moral compass. While it is violent, it’s a part of the story and never gratuitously, but somehow it also frequently finds humor as well. (Now on Netflix)
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

DARK WATERS: This isn’t the first film about how large chemical companies disregard regulations or put their bottom line before the health and safety of its workers and communities and it won’t be the last, but Rob Bilott’s (Mark Ruffalo) story in “Dark Waters” will change your life. As a film, it’s a slow-burning thriller keeping you on the edge of your seat as you watch the events unfold feeling consumed as if by a tidal wave of emotion and information. It’s a current-day “Erin Brockovich” that doesn’t effect just one area of WV, but each and every person in the U.S. Based on Nathaniel Rich’s article in the New York Times Magazine, you’ll think twice when you hear DuPont’s familiar slogan, “Better living through chemistry.” (Available on Amazon and iTunes Dec. 31)
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

JOJO RABBIT: Only director Taika Waititi could take author Christine Leunens’s book “Caging Skies” about a little Nazi boy during WWII whose pretend friend is Hitler and make it into a socially relevant dark comedy that both entertains and educates. Roman Griffin Davis stars as Jojo who finds that there’s a young Jewish girl hiding in his attic. Wrestling with being a good little Nazi, Jojo grows up and opens his eyes to the reality of the world surrounding him. Thomasin McKenzie and Scarlett Johansson co-star in this utterly bold and daringly funny coming of age story. (In theaters now)
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

FORD v FERRARI: The mere title alone makes you think this is a car racing movie, but it is so much more than that. Based on the true story of race car driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) and Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), director James Mangold revs up our engines as we witness history and the true meaning of friendship and loyalty. It’s a fast-paced story allowing both Bale and Damon’s chemistry to shine and give humor and depth to this story. The stellar cinematography puts you in the passenger seat making this film a winner. (In theaters now)
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

PAIN AND GLORY: Like “The Irishman,” this film looks back on a life filled with uncompromising and raw honesty, but unlike the Netflix film, there is beauty and love packed into this suitcase of life and regrets. Pedro Almodovar writes and directs this film, a depiction of his own life, as Antonio Banderas has the lead role of Salvador Mallo, and it’s one of the most evocative performances of his career. This multidisciplinary approach to film with layered complexities about social acceptance, expectations, relationships and following our hearts allows us to know Salvador as we reflect on our own lives. Flashbacks develop situations that will become heartbreaking in the current day, but in the end, we see that this has made Salvador who he is today. Isn’t that all of our stories? (Available on Amazon Jan. 14, DVD Jan. 21)
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

THE MUSTANG: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s prison story stars Matthias Schoenaerts as Roman, a violent criminal who is given the opportunity to participate in a horse rehabilitation program. This revelatory and gorgeously shot film reassesses humanity and our need for connection seen through the lens of the withdrawn inmate. Schoenaerts captures the dark void of hopelessness and slowly finds a connection and life through a wild mustang. Bruce Dern has one of his best performances in recent years as a horse trainer, giving heart to his gruff and jaded exterior. (Available on Amazon and on DVD now)
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

JUST MERCY: Attorney Brian Stephenson’s novel is adapted for film starring Michael B. Jordan as the litigator fighting for the rights of wrongly accused men on death row. Like the book, which I highly recommend, the film portrays many men’s stories, but the focal point is Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) whose story is comprised of racial bias and blatant racism. Jordan’s understated performance and Director Destin Daniel Cretton bring this true-life gripping crime story to full light, opening your eyes and your heart. (Opening in theaters Jan. 10)
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

OPHELIA: Shakespeare and feminism rarely go hand in hand, but thanks to the clever adaptation of Lisa Klein’s book, Director Claire McCarthy allows Ophelia (Daisy Ridley) to tell the classic tale of “Hamlet” from a different point of view. With plausible backstories of Claudius (Clive Owen) and Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts), the plight of Hamlet and Ophelia not only makes sense, but is a captivatingly tragic love story. And the ending would make Shakespeare himself proud. (Available on Amazon Prime now)
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

THE REPORT: Adam Driver has had quite a year, but his performance as Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones is a standout. Based on the true story of a nearly 7,000 page document called “The Torture Report,” writer and first-time director Scott Z. Burns brings this chilling tale of discovery from our not so distant past to life. With incredible relevance to today’s political world, we dig deeply into the underpinnings of our system. It’s a complicated one, but thanks to the deft writing and storytelling, we understand the truth behind what was meant to never be seen. It’s an all-star cast comprised of Jon Hamm, Annette Bening, Corey Stoll and Driver who give performances of their career. (Available on Amazon Prime now)
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Tied for 11th Place: “Knives Out,” “Richard Jewell,” and “Clemency.”

“Corpus Christi” a tale of Christ in today’s dark world

December 22nd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Corpus Christi” a tale of Christ in today’s dark world”

Poland’s official submission to the 92nd Academy Awards is the powerfully intense “Corpus Christi” written by Mateusz Pacewica and directed by Jan Komasa. The story wrestles with the reality of one man’s life and its intersection with the Catholic Church. The parallel lines the film draws between Jesus and Daniel are unmistakable, no matter how darkly masked and steeped in the harsh setting of today’s world the story becomes. It’s a disturbingly beautiful portrayal of denial, compassion, forgiveness, and love set in an unlikely place by an equally unlikely character.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) is at a juvenile detention center with some of the most barbaric young men imaginable. During the attendance of a required mass, Daniel has an epiphany; a transformation which sets into motion a dire need to change his life’s direction. He feels he is called to become a priest. Unfortunately, and quite ironically, the young man is denied access and entrance to applying due to his past crimes. As he is released on parole, Daniel evades officers and becomes an impromptu stand-in for a small town’s parish priest.

This street-smart kid finds a new purpose in life as he is charged with doling out the responsibilities of a priest who needs assistance in this little town. Learning about the tragedy of a car accident killing six youth in a head on collision with a lone driver, the town is torn, angry, and resentful. It’s the perfect set up for Daniel to take advantage of and make a profit from, but the wheels are turning differently in his head now. Something has changed. We see him tempted by the cash from the offering plates as it calls his name, but there is a louder voice that now leads him; one that is from his heart or high above. Circumstances beckon him to not only perform the duties of a priest, but he follows his voice to help this town heal in very unorthodox ways.

At each and every turn, we are filled with turmoil, the tension building to insurmountable levels as this complicated and layered story unfolds. In our minds, we worry that he will be found out to be a fraud, nervous that he won’t know how to deliver someone’s last rites or that his past will catch up with him. But more than this, we want him to succeed and help this town forgive and learn to love again. Daniel has tapped into a part of himself he didn’t know he had, leading and teaching the townspeople, but more importantly, teaching himself. The road by which Daniel gets to this final point is a rough one filled with detours, but all a part of the necessary ending as it perfectly bookends the beginning.

Bielenia’s intensely captivating performance finds a rhythm and tone which creates an authentic and evocative character. His understanding of his character’s background and situation is evident in every word he utters and move he makes which in turn, allows us to know him as well. As Bielenia’s “Daniel” evolves, there’s a never fading shadow cast over him, allowing us to see that his mistakes will always be a part of him and perhaps he isn’t above making new ones. We see it in his huge, intensely expressive eyes, frequently darting from side to side as he awaits the next shoe to drop. Rarely do we see Daniel’s mind, body, and soul relax, but when he does, we mirror that feeling, letting down our guard for a moment and connecting more intensely to him. But we are mere helpless bystanders, unable to interfere as we predict his next move. He must make his own choices and pay for his past sins. Bielenia finds an unparalleled raw strength in a final pivotal scene, reminiscent of “First Reformed,” as his character’s world and all who are a part of it experience devastation, relief, and completion.

“Corpus Christi” powerfully sets up what is seemingly a simple story of a teen running from his fate, but quickly we see that it is so much more than that. Writer Pacewica masterfully lays the ground work with a succinct and captivating story and Komasa deftly directs not only Bielenia, but the entire cast to create more than just a story; it’s a hauntingly and impactful experience.

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