Posts by pamela

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Stars

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

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

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

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

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Stars

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

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

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

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Abe” creates food for thought in this family film

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

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

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 1/2 Stars

“Outer Banks” – Binge-worthy episodic teen series

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

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

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

WATCH THE TRAILER

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

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

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

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

“The Lost Husband” exceeds expectations thanks to talented cast

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

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

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 1/2 STARS

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

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

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

WATCH THE TRAILER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Stars

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

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

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

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

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

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

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

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

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

4 Stars

“Inside the Rain” A bipolar rom-com

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

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

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

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SXSW “Critical Thinking” Spotlights Premiere of Director John Leguizamo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 1/2 Stars

“Extra Ordinary” blends rom-com-horror perfectly

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

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

Watch the trailer here

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 1/2 stars

Tye Sheridan shines in “The Night Clerk”

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

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

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

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

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

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

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

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

3 1/2 stars

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

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

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

 WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

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

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

****SPOILER ALERT****

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

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

3 1/2 Stars

“Human Capital” A morally complex and intriguing story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/4 Stars

“The Gentlemen” is pure fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 1/2 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOP 10 FILMS OF 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

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

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

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

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

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

An interview with writer Andrew McCarten for “The Two Popes”

December 18th, 2019 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “An interview with writer Andrew McCarten for “The Two Popes””

Academy Award nominated writer Andrew McCarten (“The Theory of Everything,” “The Darkest Hour,” “Bohemian Rhapsody”) undertakes one of the most elaborately creative stories imaginable…the changing of the Catholic Guards. As the conservative Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) begins to consider stepping down, a feat not undertaken for centuries, he discusses his hopes for a future of Catholicism with future Pope Frances (Jonathan Pryce), the antithesis of Benedict. “The Two Popes,” streaming on Netflix beginning December 20th and in theaters, is a surprisingly touching and eloquently imaginative film that restores your faith not only in religion, but in finding peace between one another.

Creating this script that is unexpectedly funny takes the genius of someone like McCarten whose credits exhalt him to the highest level. In a recent opportunity, I, along with several other film critics, attended the LA premiere and chatted with this gifted and down-to-earth writer about the inspiration and background of the film. Here’s what he had to say:

Pamela Powell (PP): How do you consistently create such multidimensional portraits of characters?

Andrew McCarten (AM): It’s something that’s evolved since doing Stephen Hawking and then Churchill. It’s a bit like you put a canvas there and your subject’s there. (Motions with his hands.) The first thing you have to do is study the subject and you can’t stop digging at a superficial level, you have to go into their deepest stores and imagine what their fears are, what they had for breakfast, what are their mannerisms, what are their foibles, and eccentricities. You get to a certain point you think can I start work and you go, yeah I think we’re good to go. Then you start playing with it a little bit. I need to know what Frances thinks about homosexuality, but I also need to know what he likes for breakfast. Does he eat with a knife and a fork? We’re all very rich and multidimensional.

Paul Salfen (PS): The other films were biopics and [this film] doesn’t fit that genre.

AM: I’m not sure everyone would agree with you, but I would. This is bigger role in terms of the style of or the extent to which I’m using artifice because we don’t know that these two had these debates in these rooms. They probably didn’t, but what I did is take what one said in one room and what another said in another room and I open two doors and bring them in and put those stated positions into play with each other. So that’s the artifice of the [film] and it seems to work.

Question: We’re curious about the whole pizza, the Fanta, or even the beer and watching the World Cup.

AM: Here’s the origins of those things. My wife is German and so I can make jokes about Germans. Laughs. She had a personal friend who once had dinner with Pope Benedict when he was archbishop of Munich and everyone was drinking wine and he called for a Fanta. When asked why he said that’s all I drink with evening meals because during WWII Coca Cola was banned and for some reason they allowed Fanta. So kids who grew up there in that period of Nazi Germany were all addicted to this fizzy orange drink and he’s still addicted to it.

The football thing was, Pope Francis was a world famous futbol fan…there was one picture of the two of them from behind watching TV. You couldn’t see what was on the TV and I remembered thinking, I hope that World Cup Game between Germany and Argentina happened just after Frances became pope because that would be a wonderful way to end. I remember googling it and going PLEASE! And it was played two months after he became pope. And I think it’s justified by that photo of them watching TV

Question: Your background is Catholic. Tell us about its influence on the film.

AM: I lived it. I grew up in this. It’s a culture you grow up in and it was all-ecompassing. Church was the center of the community. We went to church every day or two it seemed. I was an alter boy to the preposterous age of 15! The little surplus thing came down to here. I used to look at my mother like Come on! And she’d go no, it’s great, it’s great. I used to do it for her because it made her happy.

I’m very sentimental about the institution and I know it from the inside. I was raised by nuns and catholic brothers and I saw these honest, well-intentioned, good workers, humble workers in the vineyard of the Lord, and they were selfless. They gave their lives to other people. And when I open every newspaper, it’s a horror show and no one’s ever told the story for a long time about what’s really going on in that institution that’s 2000 years old. It does a ton of good work, but no one’s hearing about it.

I’m showing two insiders and they obviously are not going to say, “Let’s burn the place down. He’s a revolutionary. The center of the whole thing is between a liberal and a conservative. I think the reason it’s having the impact it is is because it’s speaking to the fiery debate that’s happening in the world. We can’t seem to find the middle ground. The middle seems to have collapsed to me. We have to regain the high ground in the middle.

Question: How did Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins prepare for these roles?

AM: I can only tell you about their preparation because I’ve sat on panels and listened to them. I think the way they express it is that Anthony Hopkins is a classical pianist and Jonathan Pryce is a jazz pianist. 5 months before they started filming Anthony Hopkins said at my age I’m going to learn these lines once, ok? Don’t change anything. And Jonathan is more improvisational so I’ll learn the lines, but I’m going to play and be open and be loose. So these two styles meet and it’s actually so fitting for this movie where you’ve got a traditionalist and a progressive and you see that, actually, in the score of the piece where you’ve got classical music and then [jazz]. The idea is to bring jazz into the classical arena. That’s what he represents is someone who is a populist.

Question: What’s the Catholic Church’s reaction to the film?

AM: Various members of the clergy whenever we were screening, they come up with a mixture of gratitude and relief. I mean, they must be expecting the worst and if you see any Hollywood movie about the Catholic Church so I think they stagger out of there quite relieved.

Question: Did you film in the Sistine Chapel?

AM: No, we built it. It’s actually 5 inches bigger than the real Sistine Chapel. I think there was a joke on the part of the designers, they wanted the world record for the biggest Sistine Chapel. (Laughs)

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” a mere shell of a story

December 18th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” a mere shell of a story”

The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more in the final chapter of the Skywalker saga.

***Capsule Review: Full review coming in this week’s edition of The Daily Journal***

This is a special effects film that far exceeds expectations in that category. If only it could have been equivalent in the story telling category as well! This lackluster continuation of a saga that has been a part of generations pulls at our nostalgic heartstrings, but even this isn’t enough to keep us focused on the shell of a story and its “new” characters. When you connect more with Chewbacca and the emotional trauma he or any of the droids go through than with the humans, it’s not a good sign. While Daisy Ridley portrays Rey, a strong woman attempting to be the next Jedi, her co-horts comprised of Poe (Oscar Isaac) who is completely miscast, and Finn (John Boyega) who finds one note throughout the film and plays it, unfortunately she can’t carry the film. General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) have some of the best scenes, but there aren’t enough of them. With a couple nostalgic twists and turns, this newest and very long final (?) installment will be as memorable as “The Phantom Menace.”

1 Star

“Bombshell” blows the lid off what happened behind the closed doors at Fox News

December 17th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Bombshell” blows the lid off what happened behind the closed doors at Fox News”

Fox News’ Roger Ailes continues to make headlines years after his dismissal from the Fox Network in Jay Roach’s ( “Austin Powers,” “Meet the Parents”) new film “Bombshell” with the all-star cast including Charlize Theron (Megyn Kelly), Nicole Kidman (Gretchen Carlson), Margot Robbie (Kayla), and John Lithgow (Roger Ailes). The story focuses upon three women; Kelly, Carlson, and the fictitious amalgam character Kayla, who all come forward to tell the truth about the years of lascivious behavior Ailes and the men who learned from this master.

Roach and writer Charles Randolph (“The Big Short”) take a unique approach to telling this tale which begins before the 2016 election when Kelly first challenged Donald Trump during the presidential debates. The film “breaks the 4th wall,” a technique not new, but certainly associated with “The Big Short,” as Kelly gets us up to speed about the history and work environment at Fox. We meet the main characters whose stories are initially independent, but ultimately intertwine. Carlson is at a breaking point and has slapped Ailes with a lawsuit, and Kayla is diving into unknown waters as she climbs up the competitive anchor ladder. We watch as each of these women battle Goliath, but it is Kelly’s story that is the primary focus here.

Kelly, as most of you know, was a leading powerhouse at Fox. She lets us inside her world and we are privy to the set up of women being pitted against one another and the sexual expectations and consequences of non-conformity. With the confident Kelly at the top of the heap, we get a sense that she somehow skirted around Ailes misconduct. The story unfolds at rapid-fire pace as the three women’s stories become connected, not only does it anger us, it enlightens us through inventive and insightful storytelling.

While all of these women at Fox suffer from the Ailes dictatorship regarding looks, dress, and if you want to be a star, you pay the price, it’s the language these women all report to have heard that is simply heartbreaking and disgusting. We see that if they don’t buy in, they’re out.

There are two scenes in this film that will forever haunt me; Kayla as she is asked to twirl and show her legs, higher and higher for Ailes, and Abby Huntsman’s (Ashely Greene) bar scene as she lets us in on her thoughts while dancing around turning down her boss’s proposition. This, in fact, is Rudi Bakhtair’s true story and one of the most insightful ones of the film as we understand what she’s thinking and feeling and how she tries to retain her job without offending her boss’s proposition. She is fired and this promising reporter never works in news again.

All of these women’s stories along with a myriad number of other reports so creatively stitched into the film eloquently tell the ultimate demise of the king of media. Taking into consideration that the women at Fox, lead by Gretchen Carlson’s initial leap, all occurred before the #MeToo movement began and the Harvey Weinstein unveiling, we better understand the courage these women had to pave the path for us all.

The story can’t hold water, though, unless it has credible performances and without exception, “Bombshell” certainly does. Kidman’s authentic and tenacious portrayal of Carlson gives us a firm foundation of what it took to take on one of the most powerful men in the industry. Additionally, Theron and Lithgow’s transformation is jaw-dropping as they become their characters. Using extraordinary make up is one key element, but more than that, these actors have thoroughly studied their characters. We see them using unique mannerisms, expressions, and even vocal quality to bring Kelly and Ailes to the screen. Lithgow’s performance sends chills down your spine and this new spin on Kelly allows us to have compassion for her even if you’re not a Fox News fan. Robbie’s portrayal of sweet Kayla who dreams of not just being an anchor but a Fox News anchor, has her eyes opened to the dangers of being a beautiful female who is ambitious and talented. Her scene with Ailes is devastating to watch, powerlessly, as she loses her self worth.

The number of recognizable stars in this film is overwhelming, hinting at the strength of the story and the importance of its message. Kate McKinnon, Mark Duplass, Allison Janney, Malcolm McDowell, Connie Britton and many more play supporting roles and bring the film’s message to light. In a recent interview with Roach, he shared that, “…women should be safe at work…” and that is the heart of the message.

“Bombshell” finds the right pacing and tone to deliver and tell the tale of women in media, the men who kept it going, and what it took to bring it all tumbling down. The key flaw, however, with this story is it feels one sided, not “fair and balanced,” as many of us watched Megyn Kelly during this time period. She is made out to be a hero and while she may be in this particular situation, there are plenty of viewers that recall how she stirred the proverbial political pot, creating her own brew of disaster. Overall, the film is an exceptional insight into women in media and why things are finally changing.

3 1/2 stars

“Richard Jewell” A story from the past and for our current times

December 10th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Richard Jewell” A story from the past and for our current times”

Just in time for Oscar consideration, Clint Eastwood throws his hat into the ring with “Richard Jewell,” the story of the security guard who was unjustly blamed for the 1996 bombing in Centennial Park during the Olympics in Atlanta. Eastwood knows exactly what makes a good film—start with a good story and then tell it well. There are no fancy bells and whistles, just a jaw-dropping series of events, all derived from Marie Brenner’s 1997 Vanity Fair article and Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwin’s book “The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle.”

We meet the hapless Jewell portrayed by Paul Walter Hauser who you may remember from “I, Tonya” as he works as a supply clerk in a law firm. His off-beat eccentricities make people uncomfortable, but the driven loser has his eyes on the prize—becoming a police officer. Time goes by and his “eccentricities” get him ousted from law enforcement, a devastating blow for him. Living with his mother Bobi (Kathy Bates), he works as a security guard during the Olympics. His intense focus and “by the book” inflexibilities actually allows him to identify the bomb placed in the park during a concert, resulting in hundreds of lives being saved. He’s a hero…for a day. The FBI, ATF, and other agencies attempt to find the bomber only to leak information to an unscrupulous reporter, Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) who detonates her own written bomb. And this is where the story really begins.

Jewell’s personality and lifestyle tick off all the requisite boxes describing a bomber. He’s a loner, lives with his mother, collects guns, is a wannabe police officer, etc. Unbeknownst to Jewell, he is now a primary suspect and is duped by the FBI (Jon Hamm and Ian Gomez) to “make a training video.” Jewell begins to realize he’s the suspect and calls Watson Bryant, the only lawyer he knows having met him 10 years prior during his days as a supply clerk. The FBI attempts to make Jewell fit the profile with Bryant trying to protect him. If only Jewell’s trusting and respectful nature and need to talk incessantly wouldn’t get in the way of it. As we get to know and understand Jewell, we see him as a harmless teddy bear bringing in an element of ironic humor in an otherwise intense drama.

At the heart of the story is the lack of journalistic integrity and the fallout from it. The intensity with which the story is told is captivatingly disturbing. The unethical behavior from not just the journalists, editors, and FBI, but major networks who are running with a story that gets viewers’ attention adds to the disappointment in these entities. It’s a devastating series of misfortunate events and while many of us remember the ending, there are still plenty of surprises for you.

To say that this is a strong cast is stating the obvious, but Hauser is not only a dead ringer for the real life Richard Jewell, he demonstrates the emotional and physical characteristics of this man. He’s meek yet seeks an authoritarian role, but never really earns the respect of others. His odd interactions and physical attributes find him at the butt of everyone’s jokes. And within all of this, we are sympathetic to him as we watch his emotional status devolve. Hauser is Jewell and shows us he can skillfully lead and support a complicated film. Of course, having Sam Rockwell as your right hand man can’t hurt. Rockwell, again like Hauser, fits Bryant’s description to a T. He creates a laid back Southern lawyer who ironically has utter disdain for authority and rules. Together, Rockwell and Hauser create the perfect pair allowing us to understand this series of unfortunate events.

Wilde is wild in her role as Scruggs. She’s incredibly energetic, disrespectful, and uses her wily ways to gain access and information. Bates comfortably melds into her role as the loving, protective yet strict older mom. Any mother will relate to her as the increasing helplessness overwhelms her. And Nina Arianda as Nadya, Bryant’s assistant, adds a bit of levity to the film as she becomes more involved in helping with the case and its inconsistencies.

“Richard Jewell” is a story from the past, but one for our current times as well. It reminds us all of the importance of journalistic integrity and our need for trust in authoritarian agencies such as the police and FBI. Eastwood tells this almost-forgotten story with style, but never in a heavy-handed way. Allowing the details to unfold effortlessly while the actors give evocative performances is exactly what the film requires to engage and entertain its viewers. Eastwood is a master of finding a personal story and telling it well. No fancy bells and whistles are needed when you have a good story and “Richard Jewell” is a great one.

4/4 Stars

*Eastwood is currently being sued by the Atlantic Journal-Constitution newspaper for falsely portraying the paper and its personnel.

“Dark Waters” finds new depths in corporate greed

December 5th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Dark Waters” finds new depths in corporate greed”

Trust. It’s a word that seems to represent a sparse commodity these days and director Todd Haynes takes New York Times’ journalist Nathaniel Rich’s article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” and shows us just how very true this is.

Mark Ruffalo stars as Rob Bilott, a Cincinnati lawyer whose firm represents large chemical companies, but a visit a farmer, Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) from Bilott’s hometown in West Virginia turns Bilott’s world upside down as he finds himself on the other side of the legal bench, fighting against one of the most powerful chemical companies: DuPont. The story becomes a legal thriller as Bilott uncovers and discovers the coverups from this massive industry who appears to value the bottom line over human welfare.

Bilott is an unassuming and seemingly typical lawyer in the corporate world, but immediately upon his exchange with Tennant, we see he is a man with integrity. It helps that Tennant knows Bilott’s grandmother, affectionately referred to as “Gramers,” and Bilott strives to appease her. Bilott ventures from Cincinnati to Parkersburg, WV to visit Gramers and then Tennant’s farm filled with haunting scenes of catastrophic proportions as Tennant shares his theory of DuPont poising the creek water that runs through his farmland. This is when the mystery begins and Bilott plunges in head first. This will become a decision that will affect him, his firm, family, and ultimately an entire community and their futures in ways he could have never predicted.

Taking place over decades, Bilot carefully gets his feet wet, slowly wading into the tidal wave of information as we witness the youthful Bilott initially trusting all with whom he contacts in DuPont. This youthful naïveté is soon shaken as Bilott is then swamped by an endless number of boxes containing the requested “disclosures” from the chemical giant. Meant to deter him from proceeding, Bilott just dives right in, his tenacity keeping him afloat as he strives for justice. From our vantage point, these discoveries are encouraging but at the same time simply horrifying.

Director Haynes dissects this story with the precision of a surgeon, slicing ever so delicately to expose the truth creating one of the most compelling storytelling styles imaginable. The film is an intellectually stimulating one as we, along with Bilott, learn the necessary components of chemical bonding and product development as well as the regulations of the EPA. It’s engrossing and captivating, and sadly, as this film is based in truth, we see the dire consequences of big money steam rolling over the everyday Joe. On the other hand, the film gives us knowledge and with that comes power; the power to make changes and raise awareness to protect ourselves.

Ruffalo is the star and champion, bringing Rob Bilott’s personality to life. This humble and driven man isn’t your typical hero, but his integrity, loyalty, and willingness to go against the grain in order to protect those who cannot protect themselves makes him one. His body language, never confident and certainly not stereotypical of a high-powered corporate lawyer, endears us even more to him. Anne Hathaway portrays Sarah, Rob’s wife, and while her role is small, it’s vital in giving Rob a fully developed character. Their home life is affected by this case and we see the sacrifices she has made for him, the children, and herself in order to support her husband. Without her realistic performance, Bilott’s character would have felt more two-dimensional.

Adding to the authenticity of the film and the dire feeling of what is revealed is the cinematography. Creating and capturing those hauntingly disturbing images of affected livestock, children, and even pets, is punctuated by the endlessly grey skies. The sun seems to never shine, creating an atmosphere that is as haunting as the images we see.

This isn’t the first film about how large chemical companies disregard regulations or put their bottom line before the health and safety of its workers and communities and it won’t be the last. However, not since “Erin Brockovich” (2000) have we had an important narrative feature film about the subject. There are innumerable documentaries which address similar subjects all around our country, but perhaps we needed the star power of the man who is more widely known as The Incredible Hulk to shed a light on what’s happening in our own back yards and help prove that “better living through chemistry” isn’t true.

“Dark Waters” is a powerful, compelling, and necessary story to tell as it has you on the edge of your seat, mesmerized by each and every scene. With incredible performances that are never showy and a story that is gripping, it’ll change how you view your own world and your own definition of “trust.”

4/4 Stars

Archives

    

Know if you should go, subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Thanks for visiting! Please join my email list to get the latest updates on film, my festival travels and all my reviews.

CONTACT

Bourbonnais, Illinois
www.reelhonestreviews.com

site design by Matt K. © All rights belong to Reel Honest Reviews / Pamela Powell