“Hillybilly Elegy”

November 24th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Hillybilly Elegy””

Escaping one’s background for a better future is a common theme and one perhaps you also have experienced. Director Ron Howard brings one such story to life; Kentucky-born attorney J.D. Vance. Vanessa Taylor adapts the novel written by Vance to take us to a small town in Southern Ohio where Vance grew up amidst poverty, drug abuse, and lack of education. It’s a familiar looking town—one that typifies much of America. Director Ron Howard navigates the muddy waters of life with Gabriel Basso portraying Vance as he attempts to not only keep his head above water, but breathe in a new world no matter how strong the family current pulls him out to sea.

We meet the younger version of J.D. (Owen Asztalos) as he attends a family reunion in the “hollows” of Jackson, Kentucky. This kid receives the lion’s share of bullying not only from the nearby kids, but his own family. It’s the school of hard knocks. Living is tough. Jobs are scarce, and poverty is pervasive. But we quickly see that J.D.’s different. He has a heart of gold as he saves a turtle with a cracked shell, but the harshness of his environment is seen as his mom, Bev (Amy Adams) and tough, foul-mouthed grandmother, Mamaw (Glenn Close) cut one another with their razor-sharp words.

This raw and unrefined foundation sets the tone for J.D.’s upbringing as we get a brief glimpse of J.D.’s fractured family life in Middletown, Ohio–a town representative of every dying blue collar town. We fast forward to see that the caring and intelligent young man has escaped his past as he is in the final year of law school at Yale. His bright future is evident; he’s got a girlfriend and promising interviews for clerkships. But, of course, he can’t totally sever the ties that bind him and he is called home to intervene with his mother and her addiction.

“Hillbilly Elegy” allows us to step into J.D.’s shoes, if only for a short time, to feel the intrinsic struggle of family love and obligation as it thwarts his desire to move forward. It’s a classic tale of overcoming the station of life in which we were born, leaving only the strongest and most resilient to succeed.

The story is told in a non-linear form as we flash back to pivotal points in J.D.’s life. These moments give us insight into J.D.’s upbringing as it delves into Bev’s failings and Mamaw’s regrets. We better understand the dynamics among the characters in this family where everything presents as an obstacle to climb over until most give up.

Basso gives us a strong performance as J.D., a young man who isn’t quite confident or comfortable in his own skin yet. On the surface, he’s strong, but inside, he’s constantly focused on his inadequacies and lack of experiences that most Ivy Leaguers have. His choices are sometimes cringe-worthy, but of particular importance is his exchange with his future employers as he explains and almost defends his upbringing. It is at this point that we find a true sense of empathy with J.D., conflicted by his own thoughts and behaviors.

Howard has a cast that most directors could only dream of with Adams and Close as supporting actors in this film. Adams portrays Bev with a gruff but loving hue while she wrestles the dark demons of addiction. However, it is Close who at first is all but recognizable, that is the highlight of this film. Yes, costuming and prosthetics create a different outward appearance, but it is her body language—posture, walk, reactions—that give Mamaw that intimidating yet beleaguered persona. She has plenty of opportunities to shine in this film as she truly is the matriarch of the family and Close takes full advantage of them while never pushing the envelope of believability. Her life, a series of errors with heart, help place focus on J.D.’s ability to see and reach for a better future. Of course, Close also has some classically creative lines like “I wouldn’t spit on her ass if her guts were on fire” that will make your jaw drop as you chuckle.

“Hillbilly Elegy” has a familiar feel, especially if you weren’t raised in the city and didn’t have access to all “the best.” This family is in every town and this town is in every state. It’s a slice of life and one man’s story of finding himself as he reclaims his background, better understanding who he is and where he came from.

Howard always finds a story that has heart, but this time he’s found a story that is the heart of America. While the term “hillbilly” is one that denotes a negative tone, the title of the film is of appreciation for it. Howard makes it clear that this is a story that is representative of many; we all strive to be better and do better, but we cannot forget our past and our roots. With eloquent performances, particularly from Close, it’s a story that will resonate with many.

Now streaming on Netflix.

4 Stars

“The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special” Finds the Force

November 18th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special” Finds the Force”

After countless hours of watching every single “Star Wars” movie ever made, I am almost inclined to say “The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special” is the most entertaining one!  Disney’s Lego artistry is of course incredible as characters embrace their swiveling hair and pincer grip hands, but it’s the writing that makes it stand out. Making fun of the concept, the never-ending saga of “Star Wars,” and the evil, good, or strange characters’ personalities, writer David Shayne incorporates every character and confusing story line and brings it to life in this time travel saga.

We begin this holiday rendition, narrated in classic syntactic style by Yoda, with Rey struggling with her inabilities to teach Finn how to be a Jedi. Questioning her own credibility, she ventures off to find answers.  Accompanied by BB8, Rey discovers a time travel key in a mysterious temple which unlocks the doors to see and meet the greats of “Star Wars” past.  From young Anakin Skywalker and Han Solo to Darth Vader himself and even baby Yoda, Rey interacts with and learns valuable lessons along the way. But…one past version of Darth Vader sneaks back to the future with Rey and begins to wreak havoc. Now, young Rey must set things back in order and get back to the present in time to celebrate the infamous Life Day.

Writer Shayne capitalizes on the “Star Wars” soap opera-like confusing genealogy of the characters, and crazy as it sounds, he creates a bit more background from these animated plastic characters, especially the relationship between the evil Supreme Leader and Darth Vader. The conversations that ensue shed light upon the character’s personalities and why they chose between the dark and the light side. In fact, many of these conversations and parenthetical comments, especially among the Supreme Leader, Darth and Kylo are laugh out loud funny. These strange little plastic figures with changeable printed garments come to life with voice overs which conjure the real life actors. They deliver dialogue that is incredibly smart and funny, particularly if you’ve been subjected to the myriad number of hours of “Star Wars” movie viewing.  

The action and vivid animation is there to hold younger fans’ attentions, even if they don’t quite understand all the “Star Wars” references, but it’s those references and attention to visual detail that we adults will appreciate. And somehow, Shayne squeezes in or makes a nod to almost every relevant “Star Wars” character or convoluted story line in the short running time of 44 minutes while it creates a captivatingly entertaining story with a complete narrative arc and lesson.

Be sure to check out “Lego Star Wars Holiday Special” available on Disney+.

3 1/2 Stars

“Freaky” Over the top gore tempers Vaughn’s comedy

November 11th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Freaky” Over the top gore tempers Vaughn’s comedy”

Body swapping films aren’t a new concept. In fact, there have been more than a dozen over the last several decades including the most famous one “Freaky Friday” starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan upon which the newest Vince Vaughn horror flick by Blumhouse Productions loosely borrows their title. Looking back through history, from the original 1973 version of “Freaky Friday” starring Jodie Foster and based on Mary Rogers’ book to Tom Hanks in “Big,” Jennifer Garner in “Going on 30,” and even Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s “Jumanji” series, all of these films are comedies at the heart. “Freaky,” on the other hand, is a gruesome horror movie from start to finish with just a touch of comedy if you can stomach the rest.

“Freaky” not only borrows a portion of its title, it appropriates many of its horror concepts such as the mask-wearing villain replicating Jason in “Friday the 13th,” and any and every horror trope from “Scream,” “Saw” (all the versions), and “Halloween.” While there’s really nothing new here, Blumhouse ups the ante with its shocking visual brutality and special effects.

Of course, as any scary movie should do, the film’s premise starts with a folklore of the villain. In this case, it’s the Blissfield Butcher (Vaughn) who, on Homecoming night, brutally murdered several of the town’s youth. As the celebratory dance looms overhead, two teen couples recount the lore, dismissing it as nonsense. And, you guessed it. They all bite the bullet or should I say the wine bottle. Writers Michael Kennedy and Christopher Landon who also directed this movie, make no bones about their intent to shock you as we watch horrific scenes unfold in the first 10 minutes making you cringe, gasp, and ultimately look away.

Now for the body swapping. We meet the meek and innocent Millie (Kathryn Newton) who is bullied not just by the mean girls and the misogynistic jocks, but also the shop teacher (Alan Ruck) who gets in on the action. This sets the tone for the obvious and inevitable revenge plot after Millie and The Blissfield Butcher trade places.

Millie’s spirit is now in the 50 year-old 6’4” muscular male physique of The Butcher giving Vaughn plenty of latitude to have fun performing as a petite teenage blonde. And Newton tries her best to be the sinister and menacing Butcher who finds being female to be not so much fun. But what makes body swapping films fun? It’s not just the trading of bodies, it’s the switching of personalities and that’s where this film truly lacks. While we know Millie has a tough home life, her shy personality never rings through to Vaughn’s portrayal of Millie’s psyche and Newton’s one-dimensional villain schtick gets old pretty quickly.

As we’ve seen with many body swapping films, there’s a race against time in order to prevent each character from being permanently changed. Millie has exactly 24 hours to not only switch back, but to save the town from another brutal massacre. The Butcher, however, uses his new body to earn the trust of the other kids resulting in slicing, dicing, blood spurting and bodies piling up.

We’ve seen it all before, but we’ve never seen a body swapping horror movie. With Vaughn as a main character, we are unintentionally promised a comedy. While we do chuckle at how he portrays his new character running, enjoying a new found way to use the bathroom, and falingl in love with a boy, the comedy is a low priority in this film. Supporting characters of Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) are over-the-top as Millie’s best friends, but it is Osherovich’s performance that gives us that welcomed reprieve and allows us to let our guard down to laugh at his physical comedy and humorous responses to situations.

Blumhouse is known for its recipe for horror movie success, but this one just goes a little too far with showing us every gruesome attack leaving nothing to the imagination. That does, however, allow for some remarkable special effects which are a standout in the film. Editing is also key in horror films to make you jump or squeal even when you know the scare is just around the corner. That’s what makes horror films fun.

“Freaky” gives you plenty of jump-scares, many of which make you laugh at yourself, and Vaughn appears to have a little fun with his role, but in the end (and even this ending is like every other horror movie) it’s just another horror flick that is way too graphically violent.

Playing in Theaters Friday, Nov. 13

2 1/2 Stars

“Let Him Go” leaves out too much

November 3rd, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Let Him Go” leaves out too much”

The best-selling novel, “Let Him Go,” by Larry Watson, has snagged an all-star cast including Diane Lane, Kevin Costner and Lesley Manville to bring this dramatic crime thriller to life. Unfortunately, this visual version of the story has too many missing pieces which are probably left back on the pages of the book to make it one that is satisfying.

Margaret Blackledge (Lane), a no-nonsense horse trainer and her husband George (Costner), a retired police officer, live in the remote West, living a simple life with their son, James (Ryan Bruce), daughter-in-law, Lorna (Kayli Carter), and infant grandson until one tragic day hits and James is found dead. We quickly fast-forward to many years later and Lorna is remarrying Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain). It’s an awkward ceremony for obvious reasons as Margaret and George attend, but there’s something else more deeply disturbing about it. Quickly, we understand as Margaret witnesses shocking physical abuse from Donnie toward not only Lorna, but little Jimmy. And then the family disappears into thin air leaving Margaret and George devastated.

Margaret is a head-strong, independent woman who convinces her begrudging husband to join her in a mission to find Jimmy and bring him home to live with them. The preposterous idea that Lorna will cooperate is laid out on the table by George, but nevertheless, he and Margaret hop in the car to venture into unknown territories. George, using his law enforcement connections, uncovers clues as to their whereabouts, but the close-knit communities are the likes of whom they’ve never seen. The Weboy family has its clutches in every business and family within a 100 mile radius and have no intention of helping Margaret and George who will face life and death decisions as they attempt to save Jimmy.

Screenwriter and director Thomas Bezucha carefully lays the foundation for this story, deliberately building the tension, and leaving several unanswered questions which are seemingly for dramatic purposes. These questions, unfortunately, are never answered and while a movie can never cover everything in a novel, these elements created a mystery that could have made for an even more explosive ending. Instead, the gaping holes in the story line just made it frustrating.

Additionally, while Lane’s character is bold, determined, and strong, with the heartbreak and compassion clearly just beneath the surface, her choices are sometimes in conflict with who this character is. Costner’s portrayal of George is steady and consistent as the level-headed protector who learned years ago that when Margaret makes up her mind to do something, she does it. Both Lane and Costner bring an element of believability to their roles as a long-married couple who are facing a very different retired life than they planned. Lane gives Margaret the backbone she would need in the era, defying gender stereotypes yet still relying on her husband for emotional support. This is her story to tell and while we feel every step she takes, the conflicting and missing story elements disconnect us from her character and the film.

While “Let Him Go” tries your patience at times, the premise of the film continually cuts through your gut as you place yourself in their shoes. Would you do anything to save a grandchild in peril? What if that child was your only connection left with your deceased son? It’s harrowing and Bezucha never lets up on the conundrum George and Margaret face which forces the viewer to confront that issue as well.

Where the story takes on a less credible element occurs as the couple encounters the smarmy, sneaky, and underhanded Weboy family. The family, lead by matriarch Blanche (Lesley Manville) is over-the-top yet captivatingly entertaining. Surprisingly, this character has more layers and Manville hones in on them with subtle brilliance. Blanche’s number one son, Bill (Jeffrey Donovan) sends chills down your spine with his sardonic smile slowly curling up on his face. The rest of the family is exactly what you would picture a backwoods, uneducated group to look and act like. And obviously, George and Margaret are fish out of water here making it a good guys versus bad guys with no shades of grey type of story.

“Let Him Go” is a gritty yet gorgeously shot period piece which becomes nothing more than a preposterous thriller. With its equally ridiculous ending taking away from the seriousness of Lorna’s situation and the unanswered questions which could have added so much to the story, not even Costner and Lane’s heartfelt performances can make this a memorable film.

2 1/2 Stars

“Come Play” A surprisingly complex horror flick

October 29th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Come Play” A surprisingly complex horror flick”

Young Oliver (Azhy Robertson) is a little different and that make him a social pariah at his elementary school and the victim of bullying. His overprotective yet extraordinarily caring mom, Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) harbors the guilt of responsibility, undeservedly so, for the severity of his situation as Oliver isn’t speaking and can’t make friends, a result of autism. But most of all, the fact that Oliver does not make eye contact, connecting emotionally with his mother, is simply gutting for Sarah. Oliver’s disconnected loneliness makes him the target of Larry, a “misunderstood monster” and this is where the horrors of friendship begin.

Oliver is a bright yet non-verbal boy who uses a communication board on his iPad to express himself. And on that iPad, a new book pops up one night—“The Misunderstood Monster.” Drawn to the images, Oliver begins to read. The lightbulbs begin to pop and strange noises are heard. Unable to scream for help, Oliver hides beneath the covers, shuddering as to what is lurking behind the doors or in the closet. It’s absolutely chilling as writer/director Jacob Chase takes full advantage of every childhood memory of being scared of things that go bump in the night.

Larry is the book’s subject, a monster who is attempting to cross into Oliver’s world as he just wants a friend. The more Oliver reads, the closer Larry gets, but try as he might, he can’t shut Larry off. Oliver’s ability to communicate with his mom is rudimentary but Sarah begins to see the light…and Larry. However, it’s not until she follows Oliver’s speech therapist’s direction, Dr. Robyn (Eboni Booth), to help Oliver establish friendships that Larry begins to become a bigger part of everyone’s lives.

Making friends for someone like Oliver is obviously difficult, but the cruelty of a group of boys led by pack leader Byron (Winslow Fegley) is heartbreaking. Of course, Mom unwittingly invites Byron and the boys over for a sleepover to help Oliver make friends, but what happens when Larry invites himself creates a total nightmare for everyone.

To give anymore of the story away would take away the chills and thrills as well as the key points of an unexpectedly engaging story. Chase ticks all the boxes of what makes a horror movie captivatingly chilling, but he does much more than that. He blends a narrative arc of reality with our silly and irrational fears of childhood with characters who we not only care about but identify with. These elements combined with precision editing of both sound and sight give us a horror film that will haunt you long after the credits roll.

Are there stereotypical elements of classic horror movies that make you jump and chuckle at yourself for falling for it? Of course, but isn’t that the fun of a horror film? Additionally, Chase is skillful in his writing and directing as he holds out seeing Larry until just the right moment, late in the film. He teases us as he uses the illustrations in the book to give us a sneak peek into what awaits us. Little by little, we see more of Larry, and it’s scary, but not having the complete picture from the beginning creates incredible tension, building incrementally until the story’s climax.

A film isn’t complete with just the story, its cast of characters, in this cast rather small, is vital to the film. Each actor, no matter their age, skillfully plays their parts, but a heavy load is placed upon the shoulders of Robertson as he has no dialogue playing Oliver, the lead role. With his huge round brown eyes, he’s is like a sweet innocent doe who is hunted by a monster. He conveys every emotion and thought non-verbally or laboriously with his communication device. He has a firm grasp of some of the possible attributes of someone with autism, primarily the lack of connecting eye contact, and with Chase’s direction, Robertson all the necessary tools to create a believable Oliver. The role of mom is quite important in Chase’s story and Jacobs who exudes an air of authenticity in every role she has portrays Sarah, a guilt-ridden mom who’s on overload and wants nothing more than to have a “normal” son, with exceptional skill. While the remainder of the small cast is certainly noteworthy, young Fegley as Byron the bully stands out. To create characters and have performances which feel real and natural in a monster movie is certainly quite a feat and a team effort all led by the director.

“Come Play” is a smart horror film capitalizing on the familiar while making a few pointed jabs at our social dependency on electronics and the dangers within. But on the surface, it’s a fun horror movie with an ending that may just pull on your heartstrings. How many times can you say that about a horror movie?

Opening in theaters October 30th.

3 1/2 stars

“Bad Hair” never looked so good

October 23rd, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Bad Hair” never looked so good”

If you think you’re having a bad hair day, wait till you see Justin Simien’s newest film “Bad Hair,” starring Elle Lorraine and Vanessa Williams. This film gives the term a whole new meaning! As Anna (Elle Lorraine), a young Black woman in the late 1980’s struggles for recognition as a television host for cutting edge music, she finds that looks matter more than talent in this industry. With a corporate shake up lead by Zora (Williams), Anna (Lorraine) is encouraged to do something with her hair if she wants to succeed. Succumbing to the pressure, Anna pleads with a hip salon to put in a weave to make her hair luxuriously beautiful. The results are unexpectedly horrific and oftentimes jaw-droopingly comedic as she climbs that corporate ladder.

We meet Anna (Zaria Kelley) as a youngster, adopted into a loving yet high-pressured family. Her sister Linda (Corinne Massiah) is busy helping to relax Anna’s hair using the chemical process of the day. This becomes a traumatic event which will impact her and the story well into her adult life. Dad (Blair Underwood), an accomplished historian shares with his girls a story of their African ancestors. Anna, ever the rebellious one, questions these folklores which sets her adoptive parents into a tizzy. Fast forward about twenty years later and Anna’s working in one of the most prestigious L.A. music television stations, surrounded (and taken advantage of) by high profile talent and industry leaders. But Anna isn’t getting anywhere in this company no matter how many great ideas she has–she’s always overlooked. Lacking confidence, she’s like a quiet mouse but when Zora shows up, there’s a connection and admiration which inspires her to change.

The groundwork is slowly, perhaps a bit too slowly, and methodically set up for the first half of the film, but as soon as Anna sits in that salon chair to have that hair weave brutally installed (yes, installed), the tone shifts dramatically and we have a horror story unraveling before our eyes. Anna’s hair is straight, long, and luxurious. She’s turning heads everywhere she goes. Her confidence rises but still plagued by financial issues and imminent eviction from her dilapidated apartment by her slimy landlord, the hair begins to have a mind of its own and the blood begins to spill.

To give you any more information would ruin the fun of this film, but suffice it to say, the landlord isn’t the only victim of Anna’s bad hair. This film artfully combines gruesome over-the-top horror with an underlying story of how Black women were/are perceived. And the lengths they go to in order to change their appearance and be accepted in a white world is astounding. Acknowledging the inequities and pressure to assimilate, the film blends lore and superstition into a world of reality to give us a unique horror story that sticks with you.

Simien brings us back to L.A. in the ’80’s complete with shoulder pads, crazy colors, and the music of the day. The cast of characters embrace their roles and this era to bring it to life, never missing an opportunity to make us laugh as we witness some of the horrors. Lorraine’s reactions are priceless as her character discovers a new part of herself. She invites us into her mind as she struggles with what’s happening and the conundrum of succeeding because of it. Balancing Lorraine’s depiction of the innocent Anna is Williams’ evil persona of Zora, but there’s more to her than meets the eye. Williams holds nothing back which is perfect and she’s having fun in this role. In fact, no one holds anything back which speaks to the fine direction of Simien resulting in a thrill ride of a film.

“Bad Hair” is a unique horror film which makes you laugh, gasp, cringe, and understand more about perception and struggle for equality in the work place not just as a woman but a Black woman. While it’s quite gruesome, it may not be for everyone, but there are plenty of comedic and dramatic elements to counterbalance that horror.

**Streaming now on Hulu**

3 1/2 Stars

“On the Rocks” – A bumpy father-daughter story

October 20th, 2020 Posted by Review, women reviews 0 thoughts on ““On the Rocks” – A bumpy father-daughter story”

While best known for “Lost in Translation” starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen, winter/director Sophia Coppola’s credits are significant and now she is reunited with Murray in her newest film“On the Rocks.” This time, Murray is paired with Rashida Jones as a father-daughter duo tackling life and the ghosts that haunt their relationship.

We meet the happy young couple, Laura (Jones) and Dean (Marlon Wayans) upon their wedding day with a bright future ahead of them. Fast forward nearly a decade later and we are thrust into their chaotically busy life filled with two kids, a traveling husband, and a former writer trying to get back in touch with her passion. It’s a familiar scene of striving for balance in life but achieving it is another story.

Laura begins to have doubts about her relationship with her husband and reaches out to her father, Felix (Murray) whose previous actions with women may help her decide. The story becomes a study of this particular father-daughter relationship as the two attempt to reconnect as they play private detective.

The film is very narrowly focused on this duo, but make no mistake, this is Laura’s story. We get a glimpse into her life of being a mom and wife as she constantly transports kids, waits for them at school, and briskly interacts on the run with other moms all while trying to write her next book. It’s anxiety producing and for many of us, it brings back memories of a time that are merely a blur as we tried to juggle it all.

The heart of the film comes from Laura and Felix’s interactions. Felix, ever a flirt, seems to happily flit through life, superimposing his own morals and values upon every male including his son-in-law. This personal moral compass of his significantly and negatively impacted his relationship with his daughter and may continue to do so as we watch the story unfold.

On the surface, the question of “is Dean having an affair with his gorgeous assistant” is always looming overhead, but as we dig deeper into the story, it’s about Laura coming to terms with who her father is and if she will allow those attributes to effect her life now. It’s a slow burn and sometimes a bit too slow, but that initial question keeps you hooked. You have to find out if Dean is having an affair.

“On the Rocks” is a small slice of one woman’s life as she yearns for the relationship and identity she once had while her relationship with her father comes to a head. We immediately know Felix has disappointed Laura in the past, but she holds out hope that maybe this time he’ll be different. It’s apparent that these unresolved issues must be confronted before she can independently and emotionally move forward.

Jones creates a believable character to carry this significant load, skillfully finding the right subtle actions and reactions to show us her longing for her image of a father to guide her. It’s an understated performance, and while she and Murray find a connection, the rhythm just isn’t consistently there. Murray seems to be constricted as he portrays the less than likable dad with a cavalier and self-absorbed perspective. He seems to pull back in this film, however when he does relax, as he does in the scene to talk his way out of a ticket, it’s wonderfully engaging.

The film is beautifully shot as the pair zip through New York City in a convertible or have an intimate drink and dinner at a familiar-feeling restaurant. This personal perspective to the film allows us to have empathy with Laura as the turmoil in her life culminates. Where the story suffers is its attention to character development with the supporting cast. We never get to know Dean or Laura’s annoying “friend” Vanessa (Jenny Slate) who adds a touch of humor to the dramatic film. There are a few unanswered questions , but ultimately, the film poses an introspective question for us all—how much do we let others’ baggage influence us?

While it’s a slow-moving film with a feeling of tying things up too neatly and quickly at the end, Jones and Murray create an intricate story of how our past influences our future.

3 Stars

“Where We’re Meant to Be” – Change how you see the world

October 15th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Where We’re Meant to Be” – Change how you see the world”

*Repost from September 2016*

When you think independent film, you envision a creative filmmaker scraping together funding, asking friends to borrow homes or other settings for a day of filming, and even enlisting talented friends who might know sound engineering or those that can act. I think this wonderfully written and well-executed production just might fit this rather romanticized version of an indie film. Shot in North Carolina over a 23 day period for a mere $25,000, Michael Howard brought his words from the page to full living color with the help of talented individuals who believed in his project. With the cooperation of the town to use churches, warehouses, and even the police department to shut down streets and use squad cars, Howard shows us that you don’t need a multimillion dollar budget to have a quality production.

“Where We’re Meant To Be” is a series of several vignettes which all overlap in seemingly random ways. It is this coordinated “randomness” that brings to the forefront of our thoughts how meaningful those smallest of moments in life just might be. As we find ourselves watching Charlie (Blayne Weaver) and Anna (Tate Hanyok) interact on a blind date, their journey sets the ball in motion, if you will. Their actions reverberate like ripples in the ocean, setting the scene for the next story. The domino effect of actions continues to stitch together several more stories revolving around death, God, happiness, murder, and even a first sexual experience. All of these lives are intertwined, sometimes marginally, but always beautifully and powerfully to send home the message that our actions have a lasting impact.

The stories are all very poignant, but the two that stand out, because of the incredible acting, are the blind date and the kidnapping. Weaver (“Favor”) and Hanyok (“Shameless”) portray that natural chemistry and awkwardness of a blind date that’s going quite well. Their cowwmtb-film-shot6mmunication, both verbally and non-verbally, brings you to the table to experience their thoughts and feelings, always with a smile on your face. It would be easy to listen to the two talk for hours as we learn about their lives and their older and wiser take on what the future holds. The film then takes a darker turn as we witness a kidnapping and crime with an undercover cop. It’s a brutal and harsh scene that will quite literally take your breath away. Howard takes on the role of John, revealing that this talented filmmaker is comfortable both behind and in front of the camera.

While there are some pacing issues, particularly as the sister deals with the guilt and aftermath of her brother awwmtb-film-shot3nd nephew dying, the heftiness of the topic may deserve the time allotted. The musical score in this film augments the stories perfectly, creating hopefulness as well as emphasizing some of the more dire situations. Overall, this film allows you to not only see the value in your actions and your words, but in the serendipitous nature of all the positive things in our world.

“Where We’re Meant To Be” is a thoughtful, beautiful film full of love and emotion. Creating such a philosophical and entertaining film on this budget should be lauded as a true accomplishment. Be sure to catch this film…it might just change how you see the world.

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” – Brilliantly and heartbreakingly timeless, exceptionally entertaining

October 14th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Trial of the Chicago 7” – Brilliantly and heartbreakingly timeless, exceptionally entertaining”

Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network,” “A Few Good Men”) creates yet another incredibly gripping and captivating story based upon the catastrophic events in Chicago in 1968 with “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” With an all-star cast including Eddie Redmayne, Sasha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mark Rylance and many more, Sorkin takes us along the political and racial journey of nearly 50 years ago, bringing it to life and making it resonate in today’s world.


With Sorkin-esque style, we are introduced to the characters one by one just days before the 1968 Democratic National Convention was to begin near Grant Park in Chicago. Each of the key figures in this story has a unique reason for going to protest, and each has a different response to the dangers that may lie ahead. But never did any of them consider the possible turmoil that would soon unfold nor the dire straights in which they would find themselves as they defended their actions to a corrupt judge and court proceeding.

Sorkin seamlessly edits each individual’s story and then stitches it back together allowing us to see the grand picture. Taking us into the White House, we are privy to the turmoil of the changing of the guard as John Mitchell (John Doman) expresses his grievances and direction to the newly charged head counsel Richard Schultz (Gordon-Levitt), a by-the-book lawyer. Quickly cutting across the nation, we meet Tom Hayden (Redmayne) and Rennie Davis, political activists of the Students for a Democratic Society, “counter-culture Yippies” Abbie Hoffman (Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), MOBE organizer and Boy Scott leader, Dellinger’s cohorts John Froines and Lees Weiner, and Bobby Seal (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the Black Panthers Party Chairman. Sorkin’s script takes us inside these men’s lives briefly, but meaningfully, to understand their personalities and their motivations for demonstrating in Chicago.

It’s when all of these men and their respective followers among many others who congregated during the pivotal days leading to their arrest that the tension builds like a rumbling volcano. We know historically what’s going to happen, but this film brings us into a personal level as we witness the brutality of the police and the consequences the protesters suffer.

The first half of the film gives us all the educational aspects of how these eight men (the number seven is explained later) were targeted, arrested and now put on trial as a group for “conspiring to incite a riot outside the Democratic Convention.” The second half of the film is set in the courthouse as the corrupt and racist Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) sets the cringe-worthy and at times devastating tone for the remainder of the film.

Again, editing is key in telling this elaborately detailed story and Sorkin expertly utilizes this element as we flash back in time to crucial events or to Abbie Hoffman’s comedy show. We see the behind the scenes actions and watch Abbie recount the confounding events which took place in court that week. His perspective throws an ironically humorous spin but never discounts the harsh realities of what has happened. And pacing is never an issue in this over two-hour film as we are kept on the edge of our seats needing and wanting to know what happens next even if we are already familiar with the story. There’s not a wasted scene, character, or piece of dialogue in this film— all of it necessary to accurately tell this intricately layered story with painstaking precision.

Of course, the script cannot stand alone and this all-star cast of actors passionately create personalities to bring it to life. The actors, all perfectly cast as their characters, each have their own moment to shine, but not one actor is the star. Supporting one another, we get the sense that they are there to solely tell a story, an important and still relevant one today. Rylance finds an understated tone to deliver a remarkable performance and Baron Cohen couldn’t have channeled the personality with the sarcastic wit and the intelligence of Abbie Hoffman any better. The subtle and nuanced performance of both Redmayne and Gordon-Levitt create authentic characters who tap into their moral compass for direction and Langella gives us a disturbingly haunting performance of a lifetime.

While the actors all shine, it’s the story that hits home particularly in our volatile political world today. Sorkin doesn’t shy away from the ugly truth and the heartbreaking injustices of the ’60’s. The scene with Bobby Seale in the courtroom, bound and gagged as a punishment for invoking his constitutional rights is simply gutting. Recalling this scene as I write this brings me to tears.

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” is one of the best films of the year and may be one of Sorkin’s best of all time. His vision and direction has created a brilliantly timeless and extraordinarily entertaining story that unfortunately mirrors the unrest and inequities of today.

Streaming on Netflix Friday, October 16, 2020.

4 Stars

“She’s In Portland” – An indie gem paying homage to our youth and the one that got away

October 8th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““She’s In Portland” – An indie gem paying homage to our youth and the one that got away”


Two college friends, now in their thirties, admire each other’s lives and feel trapped in their own. Wes, tied to a demanding career and responsibilities to family, extends a work trip to drag his dispirited artist friend Luke to find Luke’s “one that got away”.

This is an unexpected gem of a buddy road trip film.  Accentuating the difficulties in adulthood seen through Wes (Tommy Dewey) and Luke’s (Fancois Arnaud) eyes as they travel the Pacific Coast Highway to find a long-lost love, skeleton’s in each of their closets are revealed to one another.  Meeting unique characters along the way provides the opportunities to discover what’s happened over the last 10 or so years, but it also gives the writer a way to inject a bit of humor as well.  This is a true indie with lead actors who elevate the story and our connection with it.  Beautifully shot and written, this homage to the coastal byway and our changing friendships is a love story like no other.  

Now streaming on all major digital platforms including Amazon Prime Video.

3 Stars

“Pouffe!” The Sundance gem “Save Yourselves!” is now streaming

October 8th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Pouffe!” The Sundance gem “Save Yourselves!” is now streaming”

The writing and directing team of Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson create one of the funniest apocalyptic films imaginable in “Save Yourselves!” starring the comedic duo Sunita Mani and John Reynolds. Portraying a young couple obsessed with technology, Jack (Reynolds) and Sue (Mani) decide to unplug for a week and head Upstate for a reprieve and to rejuvenate their relationship. Turning off their phones, their optimism for a spectacular week of reconnection can be seen in their eyes…if only they would have looked up.

Watch the trailer here

“Save Yourselves!” sets up everything you need to know in the first scenes, before they head to their serene, forested lodging devoid of Siri and Alexa. So pay close attention to all the dialogue and all the details as they come into play every bit of the way, especially the non-conformist/anti-Hollywood ending.

Sue is an organized control freak who has just lost her job. Struggling to make sense of things, she’s got the entire week planned. This is in juxtaposition to her laid back significant other, Jack. And together they are comic gold as they play off of each other’s characters and personalities. With Sue’s seriousness and measured panic as they discover the world as they know it is ending thanks to an invasion by “pouffes,” Jack’s inadvertent physical humor as he plunges into the unknown is simply hysterical. And this type of comedy ramps itself up, never letting you down for the entire film.

While the initial scenes feature more than just Reynolds and Mani, it becomes a two-person film taking place primarily in one location. Mani’s ability to counterbalance Reynold’s physical humor as well as his incredibly varied facial and vocal reactions to augment his lines is spot-on perfect with timing and reaction. Their natural interactions and conversations feel ad libbed but with complete structure creating the illusion of a real couple. They are the perfect yin-yang and with that, they gently pull you into their world. With that invitation, we find ourselves immersed in Jack and Sue’s world, but the camera allows us to see what they cannot…something big is happening all around them. Their eventual discovery is slowly revealed as they relish in being a couple—drinking wine, gazing at the stars many of which are shooting (hint, hint) and basking in a boat on a pond. This relaxed demeanor puts the audience on edge, knowing of an invasion, but all in good time they begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together. And every step they take could be their last, but even if it is, you know that Fischer and Wilson will make us laugh about it.

Fischer and Wilson seem to have the Midas touch when it comes to finding humor in any and every situation, but the panache for making us gasp and scream out loud while laughing just as hard is brilliant. As you can tell, this is no ordinary apocalypse film or story. It’s really more about a relationship and how one couple deals with the extraordinary circumstance with which they face—living or dying thanks to a foreign critter with a nasty needle-sharp bite. Sue and Jack respond so very differently to the situation which in itself lends itself to funny scenarios, but it is the accumulation of issues that snowballs and becomes an avalanche of irony and even comic horror. From Jack’s inept ability to chop wood and be a “real man” and his alcohol induced night terrors to Sue’s controlled panics and detailed discussions of processing what she’s seeing, Reynolds and Mani take what’s written on the page and deliver a story worth seeing several times. With their natural chemistry and familiarity paired with great writing and directing, it’s total entertainment even if there are a couple of flaws within the plot. (I’ll watch it a few more times to double check this!). The final third of the film becomes a race to, away, or from (no spoilers here) with an ending that is the perfect icing on the cake and just as satisfying. But be warned, while there is some gore in this film, it’s never the focal point and you’ll find yourself laughing even during the bit of blood you see.

“Save Yourselves!” now showing streaming everywhere. Movies Anywhere

3 Stars

American remake “The Lie” stays true to the original German film “We Monsters”

October 6th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “American remake “The Lie” stays true to the original German film “We Monsters””

“The Lie” has its origins in the 2015 German film “We Monsters (“Wir Monster”) and this remake stays true to its origins as it depicts the lengths parents will go to protect their child. Starring Joey King, Miereille Enos and Peter Sarsgaard, it’s a chilling concept of love, loyalty, and truth.

Watch the trailer here

Kayla (King) is a typical teen being raised by divorced parents, shuffled between the two and struggling to come to terms with the situaiton. Rebecca (Enos), a successful high-powered corporate lawyer drops off her daughter with her ex, Jay (Sarsgaard), a hipster struggling musician. It’s the dead of winter in Upstate New York and the chill in the air is no coincidence as it foreshadows the events to come. As Dad and Kayla drive the country backroads on their way to a dance camp, they pick up Kayla’s best friend Britney (Devery Jacobs). The girls’ banter is conflicting as it devolves into a flirtatious encounter between Britney and Jay. Requesting a stop along the way to relieve herself, Britney and Kayla exit the car into the woods, but only Kayla returns. The bloodcurdling scream and the reactions that follow change not only Britney’s life forever, but everyone’s.

In a split second decision to not call 911, Jay takes the road less traveled as he learns that his daughter has intentionally killed Britney, pushing her over the bridge and plunging into the harsh and frigid rapids below. Hatching a plan on their way back to Mom’s, the cover up begins and as they say, “Lies beget lies.”

Rebecca learns of the truth and the conundrum in which she is placed goes against every moral grain in her body, but she must protect her daughter. Of course, all of this spirals out of control as the situation devolves, but always beneath the surface is Rebecca’s questioning of her own daughter’s odd reactions. Jay, however, justifies Kayla’s nonchalant and inappropriate expressions as she is able to go about her life as if nothing happened. No remorse or sorrow is found in this girl as she fixes breakfast, watches television, laughs, and interacts normally.

Rebecca’s internal struggle is immediately evident in her appearance as she questions whether or not she has raised a sociopath. And as Britney’s father and the police begins to ask questions, the chips begin to fall. Rebecca and Jay can’t keep track of all the lies which leads to more grandiose actions taken to cover up the initial crime.

“The Lie” asks the question of how far would you go to protect your child if he/she was guilty of a crime? Could you do the unthinkable? How would you react? These are difficult questions and both characters of Rebecca and Jay handle it differently. Additionally, beneath the obvious surface is the impact of divorce upon a teenager as Kayla’s motivation is revealed.

The questions this film brings to light are compelling ones that both Enos and Sarsgaard eloquently approach. “The Lie” becomes their story as they reconnect and remind one another of why they got divorced. Enos shines in her role as we physically watch her appearance unravel and her body language subtly reveals that she is in constant heightened anxiety. Sarsgaard’s polar opposite character balances the anxiousness as he attempts to lead the family back to a smooth road of normalcy. King, unfortunately, never seems to find the right direction in allowing us to more accurately read her situation. With an unexpected ending, we can see why she is all over the board, but her every reaction is more of an overreaction.

The connection between Enos and Sarsgaard carries the film to give it a sense of reality. Their characters were once in love, but their differences made marriage impossible and we see these aspects arise as they attempt to come together for the good of their child. And as the original title of the film suggests, there are monsters in this film, but who is the true monster?

3 Stars

Streaming on Amazon Prime beginning Tuesday, October 6.

“The Forty-Year-Old Version” Brilliantly funny and poignant coming of age film

October 6th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Forty-Year-Old Version” Brilliantly funny and poignant coming of age film”

“The Forty-Year-Old Version” is an unexpectedly universal story filled with comedy yet a brilliant poignancy that is simply delightful. Writer/Director/Star Radha Blank finds herself in a rut as she approaches her 40th birthday. Desperately wanting to be that person she thought she could be ten years ago, she attempts to reinvent herself from playwright to a rap artist. This charming and relatable film, whether you enjoy rap or not, is filled with heart, soul, and a little bit of rhythm to reawaken your own future self.

Watch the trailer here

Living in New York City in an unsavory part of town and barely making her rent, Radha teaches inner city college students how to write plays. The kids are tough, frequently lashing out at Radha and calling her on the carpet to remind her of her unsuccessful and stalling career. It’s brutal, but Radha handles the situation with grace. The accusations cut through her and like a bubbling volcano, she eventually erupts in the most inconvenient of places. Archie (Peter Kim), her long-time friend and now agent has gained an opportunity for Radha to meet with the king of Broadway producers, Josh Whitman (Reed Birney). His smug, condescending inability to understand a Black woman’s point of view as he critiques her latest submitted play is maddening and Radha, on her last nerve, loses it. As we watch her lunge, it’s shocking and surprisingly funny at the same time. And by this time in the film, we are completely connected to this woman who has lost sight of her dreams as the passing years sweep by.

The remorseful Radha who is still in a state of mourning after losing her mother, digs deep into her former self who was a rhyming master in her youth. Still having the knack for it, she pours her thoughts and troubles into her lyrics as she reaches out to D (Oswin Benjamin) an underground beat mix artist to help her develop. This adventure has its own troubles, successes, and even sparks of love as Radha battles her failures and how she can move forward as RadhaMUSPrime, an aging rapper.

Blank’s exceptional use of humor throughout the film carries us through awkward and cringe-worthy scenes as well as those of Radha’s personal disappointments. The deeply textured characters shine in a complex and layered script allowing us to not only know, but connect with the main character. In many ways, Blank has created a coming of age film that any woman over the age of 39 can completely relate.

Wearing three of the most important hats in a film — writer, director, and star — is a balancing act most cannot attain, but Blank deftly does so. Filmed in black and white, this accentuates the shades of grey within us all as we grow, but we also hone in on the characters more clearly. There is also an occasional gritty texture within the black and white film which punctuates the issues at the forefront. And Blank isn’t afraid to tackle topics of race, poverty, and struggle, with all its inequities, but somehow she is able to do so with humor as she finds a way for everyone, no matter our race or socioeconomic class, to understand and relate. It’s a brilliant combination that comes as a welcomed surprise.

As Blank portrays Radha, her performance finds an unguarded genuineness giving it a tone which creates not only a memorable character, but a lovable one. The baggage she carries as we unlock the suitcase and peer inside, is filled with common issues such as loss and regret, but there are also unique items that only a woman can carry and those which only a Black woman shoulders. And while the exterior of the baggage isn’t shiny and new, the complexity of what’s inside is what makes this character so beautiful.

Blank’s cast supports and lifts her character and the story which allows us into Radha’s world, rolling out the red carpet and welcoming us to see her point of view. Archie reminds Radha (and us) of the importance of compromise while Radha digs her heels in in an effort to not sell out. Each of Radha’s relationships, from her students to friends, and those on the periphery of her circle, are key to Radha’s growth, the story’s narrative arc, and of course, to add incredible interest. Imani Lewis (Elaine) and Haskiri Velazquez (Rosa) stand out as students who are angry and trying to sort out why and Oswin Benjamin helps us to see beyond our expected stereotypes of rappers. Blank even finds a way for all of the supporting characters to travel along their own story arc without taking away from the focal point of Radha’s character.

“The Forty-Year-Old Version” finds and implements the right rhythm and pace to tell a familiar and relatable story of a woman trying to find her own voice as she recalls her youthful goals. With a powerful ending filled with awe and even a touch of humor, Blank reminds us of the importance for all of us to “find your own voice.” #FYOV

3 1/2 Stars

“The Artist’s Wife” – Brilliant perspective of a wife’s love, loyalty and need for independence

October 3rd, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Artist’s Wife” – Brilliant perspective of a wife’s love, loyalty and need for independence”

*Capsule Review*

Behind every great man is a great woman…or does that actually meant that the woman is being taken for granted? That’s the question in this film as we see Claire’s (Lena Olin) response to her commitment and love of her husband after his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Richard (Dern), a brilliant abstract artist, is struggling to create his final exhibition. Keenly aware of his initial cognitive decline, he lashes out at anyone who reminds him of his difficulties resulting in dire consequences. His relationships in work and home suffer, but ever the care-taker, Claire steps in to smooth over the bumps in the road.
Attempting to help mend Richard’s relationship with his daughter, Claire struggles but never succumbs, however within her, she yearns to find her own voice. She once had dreams, long forgotten, but within her the spark of her former self surfaces. It’s a battle between her loyalty and independence and the intrinsic need to be the caretaker.

Bruce Dern convincingly plays Richard, a crotchety old man who’s in the beginning stages of dementia. He delivers his cutting dialogue with a razor sharp edge. It’s a figurative bloodletting in one memorable and incredibly hurtful scene between Richard and his daughter, Angela (Juliet Rylance) that makes an indelible impression. But this is Claire’s story. We see what’s happening to Richard through her eyes. And the sacrifices she willingly made through the years to help her husband succeed are now more evident than ever. Olin’s evocative and layered performance is captivatingly painful and beautiful at the same time as she brings to the surface the conflict married women have dealt with for decades. Hopefully, in today’s generation, this concept will be a thing of the past.

“The Artist’s Wife” is a complicated story that weaves together issues of father-daughter relationships, the role of a step-mother, and the need to be wanted as Claire’s artistic talents are reawakened. While it’s premise is similar to “the Wife” starring Glenn Close, the emotional depth and character development which pulls you into the story makes each scene more urgent and engaging than its predecessor. And the ending is superb!

Now streaming from The Siskel Film Center: HERE

4 Stars

“Seniors: A Dogumentary” is pawsitively uplifting

September 30th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Seniors: A Dogumentary” is pawsitively uplifting”

Puppy love. We all ooohhh and ahhh when we see a fluffy little four-legged fur ball, but the heart and soul can be seen through the eyes of an older dog as they melt our hearts and connect us to our best friends. Director Gorman Bechard takes us on a journey to explore one couple whose primary mission in life is to give these abandoned older canines a chance to live out their lives in the midst of loving families.

Watch the trailer here

“Seniors: A Dogumentary” features the photography of Jane Sobel Klonski whose book “Unconditional” from National Geographic and the research from Dr. John W. Pilley, Jr., an animal psychologist as they both lovingly capture how an older dog can be taught so much more than a new trick—they can love and be loved. The focal point, however, is Zina and Michael Goodin, the founders of the organization “Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary,” a center for abandoned older dogs, as they search for the perfect new location for their center. Given 90 days to relocate from their original center, it’s a race against time while also caring for and finding “forever foster homes” for these special dogs.

If you’re thinking, “This is going to be a tear jerker,” you’re right, but in a good way! The film is an uplifting one as Klonski showcases and narrates her photos, emphasizing the relationship between older dogs and their humans. In addition to the emotional stories, we also are privy to Pilley’s canine cognitive research with his own best buddy Chaser, coined “the smartest dog in the world” as she knew more than 1000 words and could discriminate between nouns and verbs. Watching the elderly researcher lay on the floor and asking Chaser to imitate him is incredible making you question whether or not you have been underestimating your own dog’s potential and comprehension.

While the stories of how these dogs ended up at the sanctuary are momentarily heartbreaking, the new lives they lead thanks to the Goodin’s are heartwarming ones. We meet the face of “Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary” Lucy Lu who taught the Goodins that no matter what an older dog had experienced, they deserved and could give all the love in the world. We see the crazy antics of Springsteen vs. a paper towel roll and meet Izzy, a nursing home dog, and Leo who was an inspiration for a video game. Of course, meeting all these memorable older dogs gives us not only a better understanding of the depth of emotional relationships that are possible, but the important role an older dog can play in our lives. Goodin’s Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary located in Mount Juliet, Tennesee not only touches lives locally, it has been an inspiration around the world.

Watching this film will change how you see dogs and perhaps even your own buddy thanks to Bechard’s keen perspective bringing this film to life. The interviews, the canine close ups, and the fly-on-the-wall vantage point, brings us a true understanding of the reason why dogs are considered “(wo)man’s best friend.” And Bechard readily captures the human component to make this film a pawsitively uplifting one. As I sit here with Charlie, my mini Aussie, who is now 7 years old laying comfortably on his pillow next to me, I look into his eyes a little differently thanks to “Seniors: An Dogumentary.” Yes, you’ll need a tissue or two, but be prepared for many more involuntary smiles that go from ear to ear.

3 1/2 Stars

You can stream this on all major digital platforms.

“First One In” Aces humor and heart

September 11th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““First One In” Aces humor and heart”

Thrown off a popular reality show in disgrace, unemployed real estate agent Madi Cooke (Kat Foster), teams with a group of misfit tennis players in a do-or-die match against Bobbi Mason (Georgia King)–an overachieving, tightly wound, real estate shark–and her tennis-playing minions.

“First One In” is an over-the-top and incredibly fun film as it exemplifies women’s relationships, our competitiveness, and the importance of friendship all within the sport of tennis. Gina O’Brien writes and directs Kat Foster as Madi, a struggling realtor who, after a hilarious stint on a “Survivor” type of reality show, kills an endangered animal and must now figure out how to rise above the ridicule. Foster finds heart within this crazy character who is balanced by her tennis compadres Jane (Catherine Curtin), CeeCee (Emy Coligado), Preeti (Aneesh Sheth), and Valentina (Karina Arroyave), all lead by a sweet but frustrated tennis coach Fernando (Josh Segarra). Within each of these characters we can either see ourselves or one of our friends, allowing us to laugh and connect with them as they grow and support one another. Georgia King’s performance steals the show as the uptight Bobbi, successful realtor and intimidating boss.

I loved every minute of the chaos and turmoil which doesn’t take itself seriously, yet finds a way to pull at your heartstrings and remind us to lift one another. With a great story arc, “First One In” is an ace! And be sure to watch the credits for a bonus! Now streaming on all digital platforms.

3 Stars

“The Dark Divide” – A healing yet humorous adventure

September 11th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Dark Divide” – A healing yet humorous adventure”

Based on the story of renowned butterfly expert Robert Pyle (David Cross) who embarked on a life-changing trek through one of America’s most important unprotected wildlands in the summer of 1995.

This sweet, comedic adventure film based on the memoirs of Pyle is reminiscent of “Wild” as Pyle embarks upon an adventure he is neither physically nor emotionally trained to do.  His pitfalls find humor and his spiritual growth is inspiring as he copes with the death of his soulmate, Thea (Debra Messing).  Cross is perfectly cast as the awkward adventurer who is focused on finding new butterfly species in the Pacific Northwest.  Capturing the moss covered trees, the damp but fresh forest air, and the rugged and unforgiving mountainous terrain, “The Dark Divide” provides a healing adventure filled with humor but more importantly, a poignant resiliency which nature provides for all mankind.

3 1/2 Stars

Stream this on iTunes and Amazon

“The Broken Hearts Gallery” A surprisingly fun rom-com

September 11th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Broken Hearts Gallery” A surprisingly fun rom-com”

“The Broken Hearts Gallery,” written and directed by Natalie Krinsky is a light and easy romantic comedy that tackles our obsessions with past relationships. Geraldine Viswanathan stars as Lucy Gulliver, a young woman who takes and hoards memorabilia from boyfriends past, but this obsession gets out of control. Seeking a way to move on, she inadvertently creates a gallery for others like her to leave a momento from a relationship allowing them to move on.

We meet Lucy as a teen, bookended by her besties Amanda (Molly Gordon) and Nadine (Phillipa Soo), as the ever-romantic Lucy has yet another breakup. Fast forward 8 years and still, surrounded by her BFFs, Lucy gushes about her current and unknowingly soon-to-be ex boyfriend Max (Utkarsh Ambudkar). The inevitable happens, but serendipity also intercedes as Lucy, distraught from her discovery that Max is cheating on her, finds Nick (Dacre Montgomery).

The circumstances under which Nick and Lucy meet begin our comedic romantic journey. The two find a friendship and help one another work toward a common goal, mutually beneficial as Lucy’s background in art enables Nick to continue his dream of building a boutique hotel and she, a place to house her new-found and growing exhibition. Their relationship begins as friends, allowing them both to be open and candid about their pasts. Nick calls Lucy out on her crazy hoarding and Lucy is the positive influence Nick needs to get over barriers. It’s a natural feeling interaction with a sweetness that hooks you.

Interspersed within this story are outtakes of interviews with people who are donating their cherished items to the Broken Hearts Gallery. They tell their stories of loss and their newly found ability to look to the future. It’s a charming addition to this rather predictable story, adding an element of connection to the overall theme.

Viswanathan, full of energy and ready to shine as the lead actress in this film, shows us she can carry this load. Her natural, off-the-cuff style gives her a credible and realistic performance; she could easily be your quirky friend in real life. Unfortunately, Viswanathan’s power frequently overshadows Montgomery who has a much softer and low-key type of performance. He’s handsome and exhibits a vulnerability which counterbalances the character of Lucy, but he needed a bit more amplification to level the scales.

The supporting cast is there to do exactly that, support, but Arturo Castro who plays Nick’s best friend, is a gem on the screen, stealing every scene he’s in. Pairing him with Randy (Megan Ferguson) as his wife was genius as they play off one another to create more hilarious spots. And Gordon and Soo find the right tone to remind us about the importance of girl friends even though much of their performances are exaggerated and sometimes raunchy for comedic effects.

The film is definitely written from a female’s perspective. Lucy, Amanda, Nadine, and Randy, Marcos’ pregnant wife, vocalize the inner thoughts and conversations that women have. It was a struggle at times to believe some of the reactions from the characters of Nick and Max as the actors didn’t even seem to believe what was coming out of their mouths. Krinsky also throws a few political punches which will either make you laugh or anger you, depending upon which side of the fence your beliefs lie.

“The Broken Hearts Gallery,” like all rom-coms, isn’t meant to be real. It’s what fairy tales are made of and it’s pure escapism. While the running time is a bit long, the story does take all the expected turns while we laugh and chuckle along the way, rooting for Lucy to make the right choices and live happily every after.

*In theaters only

3 stars

“Gather” Serves up the history of Indigenous Americans in perfect proportions for everyone

September 10th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Gather” Serves up the history of Indigenous Americans in perfect proportions for everyone”

History is served up one dish at a time in the documentary “Gather,” directed by Sanjay Rawal. The film takes us on a deliciously informative journey of American Indigenous people who attempt to regain their culture and independence through “food sovereignty.”

Watch the trailer here

The pilgrimage begins in San Carlos, Arizona, through barren, dry lands once a rich, lush forested area. An Apache woman teaches a young girl how to gather grains as she introduces their cultural ways of preparing and eating foods native and once plentiful for their tribes. The breathtaking camera work immediately pulls you into the nature of the film as it captures something beyond the visual beauty. But it is Chef Nephi Craig of the White Mountain Apache Nation who is teaching a cooking class at the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture in New York State on the Traditional Lenape Land guiding us along an overgrown path of historical significance and potential healing for a group of Indigenous Americans who were all but wiped out by means of American colonialism.

Within the horrors of the atrocities from centuries ago, food counters the ugly truth as it provides a platform for healing and a sense of beauty. To reconnect to ones’ roots in this way provides more than a physical nourishment, it’s an emotional and spiritual one as well. Director Rawal finds the heart of these people and introduces us to key figures within the communities as they tell their stories of living on the reservations, the difficulties they have witnessed and encountered as well as the hope for their own future and for their traditions.

Rawal takes us across the country to lands and rivers once populated by bison and salmon where Native Americans hunted, fished, and gathered while living in harmony with what Mother Nature provided. From the Yurok Nation along the lush and gorgeous Klamath River in California to the New England area, we meet people like Samuel Gensaw III who embrace their culture and those who bring a sense of evangelism in communicating the efforts from around the country to retain what is so fragile and close to being lost.

Rawal creatively uses voiceover storytelling by bison rancher Fred DuBray with archival newsreels explaining the history of the Plains and how the land changed from having millions of Bison roaming to near extinction thanks to the cattle industry. As recently as 1990, the land has been sought to be protected and brought back to its original form. The connection between the people and their land which provides the food, as DuBray states, is palpable. While the struggle continues, there is a sense of hope thanks to the initiatives around the country. Educating the young about their culture and history is the path to lead these people to a healthier and more prosperous way of living, connected to one another and to nature.

It’s an inspiring film on the whole, but it is the young Elsie DuBray that ignites the possible spark for understanding and integration into the future for Native Americans and this country to understand the difficulties and the solutions. As a teen, her keen insight and knowledge far surpasses most teens as she grasps her cultural background’s centuries old forced tragedies and current health dilemmas while searching for solutions. Rawal focuses upon this aspect of the story for good reason as Elsie and those of her generation are the keys to opening the doors of a better way of living not just for the Indigenous Americans but perhaps all Americans.

Weaving together this story of history, tragedy, and hope as Chef Craig serves up uniquely native dishes and tells us his own unfortunately common story captures your heart and invites you to learn more. The stunning cinematography accentuates every aspect of the story, the beauty of our land, and the need to understand the gifts we have all been given to live a life of truth about our pasts and create a new path for the future.

4 stars

Now streaming on all digital platforms

“Enola Holmes” A smart, vibrant, and fun adaptation of the YA novel

September 8th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Enola Holmes” A smart, vibrant, and fun adaptation of the YA novel”

Brava! Netflix keeps the content coming with this incredibly fun young adult adaptation of Nancy Springer’s novel “Enola Holmes.” Who knew that Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill) not only had an older brother, but also a baby sister named Enola (Millie Bobby Brown)? This is her story and her fight for independence while she solves riddles to find her missing mother. The apple, as they say, doesn’t fall far from the tree and Enola’s power of deduction might just be a match for her big brother.

Enola introduces herself to us, breaking that fourth wall to connect directly to the viewers, as she’s riding her bicycle through the countryside. Out of breath, she narrates the beginning of her life, the meaning behind her name, and how she came to this point. Her energy is contagious and her smile infectious as we find out that her upbringing wasn’t an easy or a typical one. Her father passed away when she was an infant and her brothers left soon after. Enola and her mother (Helena Bonham Carter) have a unique but extraordinary relationship, and with her non-traditional upbringing which eschewed the era’s expectations for women, Enola soon finds that her education in martial arts, chemistry, and anagram solving will benefit her greatly.

Of course, as Enola is only 16, her estranged and famous brothers are summoned to come to her rescue, but Enola finds their “help” to be quite the opposite. Venturing out into the world alone, she attempts to put together the pieces of the puzzle and find Mother.

The story is Enola’s to tell and Brown gives her character a vivacious and vibrant personality filled with youthful exuberance and intelligence. Her presence on the screen calls us to attention, hanging on her every word as she unabashedly and eloquently speaks to the audience so that we can keep up. This is a character any young girl could admire and any adult could cherish.

Cavill expertly portrays the brilliant Sherlock Holmes and Sam Claflin gives Mycroft, the uptight and unapologetically controlling older brother the edge and counterpart to Sherlock that’s needed. Bonham Carter is suited perfectly as Enola’s progressive mother who thinks outside of society’s current restrictions and together, this cast supports one another and allows Enola’s character to shine.

The rest of the story incorporates puzzle solving and deductive reasoning skills amidst a deadly cat-and-mouse chase with a new-found “friend,” Lord Tewksbury (Louis Partridge) who is also on the run. Their paths cross in ways neither of them could have predicted which adds an element of mystery and of course, a charming love story. Murder, motive, and mayhem are woven together with the precision of an Orb spider creating her new lair. And within all of this, writer Jack Thorne educates us of the time period when women in the U.K. were still fighting for the right to vote. To incorporate the thrill of a mystery lead by a teenage girl who can outwit and out fight any male while remembering the tone of truth during an oppressive era is sheer brilliance.

Equally masterful is the pace of this story. There’s never a dull moment, but that doesn’t mean the action is non-stop. There is a perfect balance to the story as we get to know our main characters and the relevance of each of the supporting roles while also getting a rush of adrenaline as the ubiquitous train car jumping and hand-to-hand combat scenes are interspersed. With precision editing and choreography, our hearts race as we watch Enola use her head and her mastery of martial arts to defeat her foes. Of course, in any period film, costuming and set design are a must and the team not only brings this period back to life, but draws your attention to the mindset of things like corsets and complicated undergarments. While we chuckle at such absurdities of the era, there’s the undertone that “we’ve come a long way,” but we aren’t there yet. With deft writing lending itself to a suburb screenplay, it’s no wonder the cast is comprised of so many seasoned actors.

“Enola Holmes” is a smart and fun film which keeps us on the edge of our seats as we watch Enola solve puzzles, crimes, become smitten, outsmart her brothers and the proverbial “bad guys” as she challenges the world to see women differently. It’s a sure-fire win for both teens and adults!

Streaming on Netflix beginning Sept. 23, 2020

4 Stars


4 Stars

“The Argument”- A relatable and tension-filled comedy

September 4th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Argument”- A relatable and tension-filled comedy”

Writer Zac Stanford and Director Robert Schwartzman bring us a hilariously intimate look inside the minds of one couple during a momentous evening while entertaining friends. Insecure Jack (Dan Fogler), the struggling screenwriter, is planning a gathering at their apartment following his girlfriend Lisa’s (Emma Bell) performance in the play “Amadeus.” He’s got a huge surprise to unveil, but the jealousies, miscommunications, and misunderstandings of the evening get in the way of this surprise. Instead, an argument ensues, putting an end to the festivities and both Lisa and Jack will admit to no wrong-doing. To sort out who’s right and who’s wrong, they agree to invite the witnesses, er, um, the unwitting guests back the following night (and several nights after) to recreate the scene of the argument.

“The Argument” is a little bit of “Groundhog Day” meets “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Initially, the guests are perplexed as to why they’ve been invited back as Jack leads the conversation, trying to recreate every action and word spoken the night before.
The tensions soon rise and everyone’s true colors show as the characters learn of their purpose that night. And the next. And the next. It’s a brilliant take on a commonplace situation; an argument. We all wish we could have a reenactment to prove how right we were, but alas, the truth is muddled in perception and sometimes even deception.

Stanford’s precision writing is executed perfectly by each of the ensemble cast members. Their personalities, all very different and on the surface over-the-top and one-dimensional, but quickly, the surface melts away to reveal more complexities and realities. Their insecurities, backgrounds, and the depth of character are both intriguing and consuming as we see how these attributes affect their reactions.

Dan, always questioning Lisa’s relationship with Paul (Tyler James Williams) and Lisa’s over-the-top flirtation certainly gives Dan some credibility with his suspicions. Paul’s date Trina (Cleopatra Coleman) with her high pitched voice brings us back to old-time radio shows when the girls were gals and didn’t have a single intelligent thought…but looks can be deceiving. Sarah (Maggie Q) is all business with a photographic memory that comes into play but it is her incredibly condescending attitude that throws her significant other Brett (Danny Pudi) over the edge. The mix of these personalities creates a party that you’d never want to attend, but would pay money to be a fly on the wall to witness!

As the film takes place in one apartment, primarily the living room, giving it the feel of a play and there’s good reason for that, but I don’t want to spoil anything. We experience the same scenario, tweaked and varied which makes it incredibly funny, night after night as the characters do their part to recall what they said and what they did…and like a jury during a trial, misgivings and mistakes in testimony are called out, but when they all hit a wall, Jack brings in the big guns. This is an unexpected turn compounding the already high tension comedic elements in the story making it incredibly enjoyable as a viewer.

Stanford keeps us on our toes throughout the film, challenging us to be a part of this fast-paced memory game and to get to know the guests at the party. Pacing is everything in this film and thanks to exacting direction, Schwartzman pushes his cast to deliver the goods. While Fogler is the lead, the entire cast is integral to every scene and each actor stands out as they embrace their character’s position in this tangled web of truth. Maggie Q appears to find absolute pleasure in her performance as the uptight, driven breadwinner, belittling not only her hubby, but anyone who dares cross her path. Pudi plays off of this high tension, making us laugh aloud at the awkwardness he tries to brush under the rug. Williams’ and Bell’s embellished portrayal of their characters as actors brings to the surface so many stereotypes that you read or hear about, but it is Coleman’s unique throw-back performance that really stirs things up and makes it all vividly memorable.

Finding various types of humor from irony and observational to slap-stick physical and cutting sarcasm, Stanford creates a brilliantly funny script from which the actors work. It’s a masterpiece in storytelling utilizing small casts, skillful editing, dexterous direction, and of course the actors’ polished performances. Laughing and relating to each and every scene and each character in one way or another, “The Argument” is arguably one of the top films this year.

4 stars

“The Social Dilemma” Dissects the morality of social media with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel

September 2nd, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Social Dilemma” Dissects the morality of social media with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel”

Rarely do you come across a narrative film or documentary that screams from the mountain tops of how important and timely it is to see. “The Social Dilemma” is this film and it is one that cannot and should not be missed by anyone. Strongly stated, I admit, but it’s necessary.

The opening scene is a quote by Sophocles. “Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse” and this describes the beginnings of technology what it has become. This film, while admitting to the greater good these advances in technology has brought us, it focuses upon how we, as a community, a country, and a world have been unwittingly duped into becoming fodder for sale. Our time, our eyes, our future desires and thoughts are all for sale. But the fallout is far greater as the curtain has been pulled back to reveal what’s really happening. And the social ramifications of programmers and their algorithms have reached catastrophic proportions. “The Social Dilemma” not only connects all the dots, it explains them.

The film is filled with interviews with the founders, innovators, and developers of the biggest social media platforms and companies in the world, such as Tim Kendall, Former Director of Monetization of Facebook, Justin Resenstein, Former Google Engineer, and others who created Facebook Pages and the “like” button, Twitter’s Head of Consumer Product, and others. We meet the lead in the film, Tristan Harris, Co-Founder and President of the Center for Humane Technology and former Design Ethicist at Google. He takes us back to that point of no return; when algorithms began to not only monetize attention to ads and particular information, but predicted it and changed who saw what. He cautioned, “If you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.” With billions of users, this meant that each one of us, our anticipated wants and needs, were for sale and that we could be cultivated to desire things and have our own sense of individualized reality. One expert likened it to “The Truman Show” as we accept the reality that we are presented with. We cannot be objective if we are all getting different news.

The rapid fire growth in tech, sales of intangible items (aka our attention), is just the beginning of how our world has changed in “gradual and imperceptible ways” resulting in changing how we think and what we think. On the surface, it’s obvious that this is not for the better; just read the headlines every day for proof. Additionally, our emotional health and well-being has been jeopardized by the silly little thumbs up sign that was, according to its developer, intended to make people feel good, not compete and influence a youngster’s self-worth and identity.

This isn’t the first film to pinpoint how social media has had a negative impact on our lives, but it is the first to explain the issue from the developers point of view. As they divulge that they could no longer ignore their own moral compass for the sake of the almighty dollar, these tech geniuses resigned.

The entire film is mind-blowing as we see the correlating statistics about young girls’ suicides and social media’s presence. We see how false news become someone’s reality, and we watch from the catbird seat how the divisiveness created by these technologies are eroding our society. As each of the experts explained their former positions and how they helped develop a “digital pacifier” and “sell certainty” to advertisers as Shoshana Zuboff, PhD and Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School stated, the writing team of the film interjects dramatic short episodes of a story to represent the complexities of what they have developed and how it impacts you and your family.

The fictional story line stars Skyler Gisondo as Ben, the teen who is attached and addicted to his phone. The algorithm “team” or A.I. played by Vincent Kartheiser in three roles, manipulates Ben as he begins to question his addiction and need for connection via the phone. This narrative exemplifies what the Silicon Valley tech and business gurus have explained making it all disturbingly crystal clear.

“The Social Dilemma” accentuates that we, as individuals, are not equipped to battle the algorithms within our phones and social media. In fact, they point out that these algorithms continually morph to become more expeditious and efficient, and programmers are now behind the eight ball as they watch their creations become more independent. Is it Frankenstein gone wrong? The film does, although not to a deep enough level, touch upon possible solutions to give us hope. Perhaps the sequel to this film will be “The Social Solution.”

“The Social Dilemma” expertly tells a complicated story while using an entertaining fictional narrative to exemplify their findings. To watch a documentary about technology could easily be profoundly dull, but thanks to the writing team of Jeff Orlowski, Davis Coombe, and Vickie Curtis, it’s incredibly engaging and quite riveting as we see ourselves in this film. Integrating graphic art and the short fictional episodes is a brilliant way to augment the interviews with the experts. And it is with this innovative style that elevates not only the story, but the film overall.

We are all a part of the tech system, both for the good and the bad, and while this seems horrifying, it gives us knowledge and with that comes power. Perhaps we can also gain compassion and empathy as we look in the mirror before we accuse or judge others for their “wrong point of view.”

Available on Netflix beginning Sept. 9, 2020

4 Stars

“Measure for Measure” A deeply satisfying dramatic love story

September 1st, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Measure for Measure” A deeply satisfying dramatic love story”

“Measure for Measure,” based upon the Shakespearean play of the same name, is written by Damian Hill and Paul Ireland. While the writers change some key elements and bring the premise into today’s violent and unpredictable world, the complexity and depth of story remains making it a captivatingly entertaining film. And no, you don’t have to be a fan of or even understand Shakespeare to appreciate this well-acted and deftly directed movie.

A ripple effect is at play when a shooting spree near a tenement area in a city forces many worlds to collide. Duke (Hugo Weaving), the patriarch of one underground criminal faction, and his lackey, Angelo (Mark Leonard Winter) who has been groomed to take over his spot when he retires, witnesses the brutal attack beneath the penthouse windows near the housing complex. The attack continues, placing Claudio (Harrison Gilbertson), a young talented composer who innocently is nearby, in harm’s way, but he bravely saves the next victim by tackling the out of control gunman. After the emotional trauma of near death, Claudio and the woman he saved, Jaiwara (Megan Smart), connect. Their love grows but like many Shakespearean scenarios, the two families are from different worlds and their love is forbidden.

The story takes another violent turn as Farouk (Fayssal Bazzi), Duke’s rival in the criminal world and Jaiwara’s brother, finds out about the relationship and sets up Claudio for a crime he did not commit. Claudio’s life has become a living hell and his only hope is a long-lost connection to Duke. The storylines intersect as Duke tests Angelo, revealing his true colors.

This film, at its core, is a troubled and perhaps a doomed love story as it questions whether or not Jaiwara and Claudio can overcome racial prejudices and religious restrictions. As Jaiwara is placed in inconceivable situations, she is at a crossroads which force her choose between love and life, much like Romeo and Juliet. Staying true to Shakespeare, there is plenty of backstabbing and even a bit of poisoning but we always feel that we are watching a current day story. It’s a brilliant amalgam of one of history’s greatest writers with complicated and intersecting storylines meeting today’s issues of gun control, drugs, religion, racism, and poverty.

Weaving is more than comfortable as the head honcho who has his own sordid and sorrowful backstory that has lead him to his current situation. His deep voice with his signature pacing and articulation adds to his credible performance of an old-school mobster; wise, regretful, with hope waning. The relationship between his character and that of Angelo is as troubled as the young lovers’ relationship and Winter finds just the right pacing with an understated performance to create a smarmy, conniving, directionless man with a moral compass that cannot be corrected.

As the love story is the heart and soul of the film, Gilbertson and Smart have to have an on-screen chemistry that will sweep you away…and they do. As we witness the characters’ relationship and love grow, we, too, are enamored with them both. It’s a pure love that perhaps only exists in movies and plays, but it’s one that we want to believe is possible. And our hearts break as the outside world places undue stressors upon that love. Individually, Smart expertly depicts the daughter of an immigrant family whose assimilation into her new country is looked down upon. She’s an intelligent and devoted family member who struggles to find a balance between her wants and those of her mother and the golden son, Farouk. Smart’s interpretation of Jaiwara is soulful with her eyes conveying everything and we feel her every thought and emotion. Gilbertson is equally engaging as his charisma is immediately evident. His youthful round face conveys an innocence as his character is a creative one and he shines brightly when in the presence of his character’s love. Gilbertson finds an incredible depth of character when Claudio is placed in jail, beaten, threatened and making a choice that could change both he and Jaiwara forever. The emotional turmoil he exhibits overtly as well as subtly, is expertly conveyed and connects us more deeply to him.

“Measure for Measure” is a gripping and tension-filled drama which blends a classic tale of love, betrayal, and honor into the reality of today’s world. The writers, taking a few liberties with the Shakespearean version, make it a more credible story and one from which you cannot look away. You become invested in this couple and Duke, hoping for the best and fearing for the worst. You’ll be on the edge of your seat, involuntarily holding your breath as you await the final scene and it’s a doozy. With extraordinary performances, never overstated, and a complicated yet realistic story, the film version of “Measure for Measure” would have made Shakespeare proud.

You can stream “Measure for Measure” on all major digital platforms and on-demand.

4 stars

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” Questions life’s choices, regrets

August 31st, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““I’m Thinking of Ending Things” Questions life’s choices, regrets”

The avant garde writer and director Charlie Kaufman (“Adaptation” 2002, “Being John Malkovich” 1999) has a new project, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” which may be one of his most challenging and haunting films to date as he adapts Ian Reid’s book of the same name. Feeling more like a stage play than a film, Kaufman takes the essential elements of story telling and burns the images from dialogue into our minds to create a visceral and evocative film.

The stage is set in the front seat of a car where an unnamed woman (Jessie Buckley) and Jake (Jesse Plemons), a young couple, drives in inclement weather to Jake’s parents’ farmhouse. We are immediately taken inside of the woman’s mind, privy to her deep thoughts and judgments about her possibly new but seemingly unfulfilling relationship with Jake. Her insights are often poetic and then abruptly interrupted by conversational attempts from Jake. He has a calm demeanor, a soft but insightful voice and together the pull you into their world as if wrapped in a warm and snuggly blanket. We hear their conversations and more importantly, we hear her intrinsic commentary as she contemplates ending “it.”

The dialogue allows us to begin to get a grasp as to who these young people are, but just as we think we know their background, the story takes a sharp left turn and we find ourselves unable to put our finger on who they are. And just as you wonder if the entire film is going to be one long conversation about life, literary references, and meeting the folks for the first time as the young woman is warned about the mother’s illness with the bar of expectations set exceptionally low, we arrive at the farm. The eeriness and strange actions and reactions ramp up making it feel more like a horror movie as they tour a barn, serenaded by horrific stories of life (and death) on a farm. Inside, as we await the parents to make a grand entrance from the second floor, Jake and the woman engage in uncomfortable fits and starts of awkward verbal exchanges.

Jimmy the dog appears out of nowhere, incessantly shaking off water followed by Mom (Toni Collette) and Dad (David Thewlis) making a splash. The young woman, strong and independent, is taken aback by Jake’s parents’ comments and outlooks. His mother is a strange bird with her insipid comments and confusions which drive Jake nuts. Dad, a bit more subdued, is odd as well and both parents have little respect for their son and his life’s choices. The subsequent observations following dinner make us question not only where we are but when we are. The young woman questions her own sense of reality and identity with the answers arriving only at the very end of the film.

“I’m thinking of Ending Things,” without giving too much away, takes us on an unexpected journey of looking back on life’s choices filled with regrets and unreached potential. The eloquence with which each of our main characters portrays their unique and ever-changing perspectives is like listening to a symphonic harmony; complex and beautiful. Our mind’s eye is always in clear focus looking back, but our wants and desires blur the lines of reality as it melds together what was and what could have been. The end of the film confirms your suspicions as it leaves you breathless and tears slowly rolling down your face.

The young woman, dressed in a way that could have been from any era with Jake’s wardrobe equally non-identifying, only gives us a hint at being in today’s world with her iPhone. Her manner is defiant as she states her mind, never succumbing to Jake’s explosions or his parents’ judgmental behavior, but her inconsistencies in her background give us the first of many clues that something is amiss. Kaufman never underscores these inconsistencies in dialogue or visual contradictions as he expects, or perhaps demands, the viewer to work for it and figure out the riddle.

And this is one intricate riddle to solve as both Plemons and Buckley recite pages of individual dialogue resembling more of a soliloquy which gives it a stage production feel. The literary choices and cultural references are more clues to where, when, and why we are, but again, this isn’t clear until near or at the end of the film. Both actors deliver understated performances which increases the intrigue of it all. Collette is extraordinary with her unexpectedly jarring vocal responses and body language creating that eerie and anxious feeling. It’s an antithesis to Plemons’ portrayal of the calm son whose blood is about to erupt.

The powerful performances of all the actors is augmented by dream-like sequences and memories that elude to another time and place filled with the promise of hopes and dreams yet to happen. The vivid colors—memories of theatrical productions and visits to a throw back ice cream shop—key us in to the past filled with hope. The current day—cold and snowy, blurring the mind—is dull and muted, perhaps representing the aging process as the synapses misfire and our memories become more fiction than truth.

The symbolism within the film is myriad and requires multiple viewings as this is an incredibly cerebral film which recognizes mortality and that we have only one chance to make the most of our lives. Although I have not read the book and it’s quite possible I am bringing my own baggage to the interpretation of the film, the beauty of the writing and the eloquence within is at the forefront. Plemons and Buckley take on a Kaufman’s Shakespearean load while delicately and deftly delivering a precision performance.

4 Stars

Available on Netflix Friday, Sept. 4, 2020

“American Street Kid” – Hope within hopelessness

August 28th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““American Street Kid” – Hope within hopelessness”

Filmmaker, Michael Leoni heads to the streets of LA to shine a light on the epidemic of homeless youth in America. Once inside their world he realizes he can no longer be an observer; every day is a matter of life or death and he’ll do anything to get them off the streets.

Capsule Review:
To most of us, the thought of kids and teens being homeless is unthinkable, but Leoni takes us into the unknown and tells us the story of just a handful of homeless teens. The dangers of living on the street and the hopelessness that pervades their every waking moment is crushing, but it’s the impetus for Leoni to be both filmmaker and savior. In very untraditional documentary style, Leoni becomes the one support system upon which these kids can rely, but it’s not always enough as we watch the stories unfold. It’s an emotional set of stories that enrages you as you realize that you’re oblivious to this heartbreaking and systemic problem. Leoni highlights the inadequacies of agencies and interventions, but also shines a light on how much of a difference just one person can make.

3 stars



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