Posts in Review

“Mean Girls”

January 11th, 2024 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Mean Girls””

“Mean Girls” from 2004 is still a favorite so why remake it? Well, because Tina Fey had the brilliant idea of reimagining it for today’s world and adding a bit of song and dance, that’s why! And she hits every note perfectly as the message still rings true in this new iteration.

We’ve got all the same characters and for those of you (us) who didn’t see the original, it’s not necessary, although perhaps there are a few missed nuances. Angourie Rice stars as Cady Heron, the young transfer from Kenya thrust into the suburban high school ruled by Regina George, ringleader of the group called “The Plastics.” Cady is befriended by Janis (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey), two outcasts or misfits in the school. Cady is quickly pulled in by The Plastics only to have her heart broken by her crush, Aaron (Christopher Briney), which ignites a mission of vengeance against Regina.

“Mean Girls” has been revised and updated to include today’s vernacular and technology adding another element to the difficulties of being a teenager. Rich characters like Regina played by Renee Rapp whose superficial upbringing by Mom (Busy Philipps) and her intense focus on cruelty to others comes quickly to roost after Cady institutes her plan to take Regina down. Of course, everything comes full circle as both girls must look in the mirror to see if they like their reflection.

Amidst all of the backstabbing and gossip, there’s drama and humor that drive the story forward. Damian and Janis’s stories intertwine to add depth and complexity to the growing pains of this awkward stage. And we have the flakey Karen (Avantika) whose bra size far outweighs her IQ and Gretchen’s (Bebe Wood) insecurities which reminds us all how difficult those high school years really are. Rounding out the cast are Tim Meadows as Principal Duvall and Tina Fey as Ms. Norbury, adding subtext and levity.

Interspersed at just the right moments are captivating choreography and catchy tunes that will delight your senses. Be sure to listen to the lyrics carefully for added entertainment. While some of the issues from the past have been tastefully omitted, Fey focuses on keeping it real with all the life lessons every teen should learn. From friendship and identity to honesty and compassion, this script and these actors tell a meaningful and vibrantly enjoyable story.

Rice and Rapp are the key players in this rendition of “Mean Girls” whose acting, singing, and dancing are fine-tuned. Rice creates Cady, the all-American girl next door, as she transforms before our eyes into someone completely different. These changes happen subtly both outwardly and from within. Rice’s skillful portrayal of her character allows us to better understand Cady and to root for her to be a better version of herself. This goes for Rapp’s Regina as well. We get a taste of her home life and her mother’s “parenting skills” which Regina must somehow overcome.

There’s not a dull moment in the movie thanks to quick wit, great editing, imaginative storytelling, and most importantly, a story with a meaningful message.

3 Stars

Top Films of 2023

January 1st, 2024 Posted by News, Review 0 thoughts on “Top Films of 2023”

While there have been literally hundreds and hundreds of movies released in 2023, the huge blockbuster movies seem to quickly dissipate from my memory.  This year, as I waited for “the one that knocks my socks off,” I have found that it’s been a year of the more quiet and thought-provoking films and not the sock-removal films.  After scouring the releases and putting together a list of 14 movies I truly loved, I noticed a theme: Quietness and Introspection.  Is this a reflection of my age? Perhaps.  Or perhaps I’ve been doing this for so long, it takes a lot to impress and surprise me.  Whatever the case, here is my list of Top Films of 2023.

10:  “Somewhere in Queens”

Ray Romano co-writes and directs this insightful film about an average dad whose relationship with his son isn’t what he thought it was.  Watching him grow and push away, attempting to cut the apron strings from his parents, Jacob (Matthew ‘Sticks’ Russo) wants to pave his own path in life as he falls in love with a girl who isn’t exactly Mom (Laurie Metcalf) and Dad’s (Romano) first choice.  And with this comes the burden of a mother who is battling and recovering from breast cancer.  This is a story of and for any family and Romano, wearing three hats as writer, director and actor, balances and brings love and levity in the most human way possible to this story.  Family, loyalty, love, and self are all familiar topics as they are integrated artfully into this story that will capture you and your heart.

9.  “Anatomy of a Fall”

A young visually impaired boy is “witness” to his father’s death high in the mountains as his mother, Sandra (Sandra Huller), is accused of murder.  Fighting for her freedom as the truth is unveiled, details of their marriage are peeled away to reveal a very different story.  We easily walk in Sandra’s shoes as she attempts to protect and care for her son, especially as the state steps in to do the same.  It’s a tightrope act for Sandra as we want so badly to believe her, but we also question the reality of the situation.  The ending isn’t what you expect and may leave some dissatisfied, however, it also opens the door to conversation as to what actually took place.

8.  “The Boys in the Boat”

Sometimes you just need a story to uplift and inspire and George Clooney finds just the right tone to do so with “The Boys in the Boat” starring Joel Edgerton as the University of Washington Rowing Team’s coach and Callum Turner as the young man to carry the team.  While it might be a predictable story, it is based upon the true story from 1936 as the team fought not only to win against the ivy league schools, but to also be a part of the Berlin Olympics.  Great performances are key as well as characters we care about and Clooney delivers.

7.  “Blackberry”

Truth is always stranger (and more entertaining) than fiction and Matt Johnson’s “BlackBerry” proves it.  Starring Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, and Johnson who also co-writes, we are taken back in time to the era of the BlackBerry phone and how it began, rose to being a powerhouse only to plummet to its death.  The story is a crazy one and Johnson finds a way to create characters that are over-the-top yet believable while he embraces the humor in the ridiculousness of it all.  This big business movie is mesmerizing and engaging as you wait for the final scenes.  You really don’t know the ending!

6.  “Past Lives”

Celine Song writes and directs an international story that everyone over 20 can relate to.  It’s the “what ifs” of life.  And if we could turn back the hands of time would we?  Greta Lee stars as Nora, a young Asian woman whose family moved to the States when she was a child, leaving her best friend and crush Teo Yoo (Hae Sung) behind.  Their lives take drastically different routes, but the roads soon intersect to see how they have changed as well as stayed the same.  This is a beautifully quiet and introspective film filled with emotion as we watch Nora and Hae find solace with their current lives and choices.  Additionally, John Magaro’s performance as Nora’s husband placed in a very uncomfortable situation is one of brilliant subtleties that connects us more deeply to the story.  Once you see this film, you’ll need to find the space and time to reflect on your own life’s choices and where you turned left or right at the crossroads.

5.  “Story Ave”

This film took a good 20 minutes to hook me, but once it did, you couldn’t pull me away with a team of wild horses.  Co-written and directed by Aristotle Torres, we meet a young teen, Kadir (Asante Blackk) whose guilt and circumstances drive him to the leader of a gang in NYC, Skemes (Melvin Gregg).  Thrown into making a poor choice, he finds himself guided by Luis (Luis Guzman) whose own ghosts haunt his life as he attempts to make a positive impression upon Kadir.  Together, Luis and Kadir navigate this rocky time, leaning on one another and pushing away to find the right answers for themselves.  The ending left me breathless with tears streaming down my cheeks, completely satisfied with the gorgeous and meaningful film.

4.   “Nyad”

Yes, it’s true.  I’m turning 60 and this movie is all about this time period in one woman’s life: Diana Nyad played by Annette Bening.  Refusing to succumb to the notion that the best is all behind her, she vows to do what she failed at doing 3 decades earlier; swim from Havana, Cuba to the Florida Keys.  An incredible feat that no one had done before, Nyad trains and fails, but doesn’t give up.  Accompanied by her coach, Bonnie (Jodie Foster) and a small support team, we too become a part of her team as she swims endlessly, battling both Mother Nature and her creations as well as the nay-sayers.  Bening’s sublime performance is unparalleled as she becomes the irascible yet tenacious middle-aged woman with a vision.  Cinematically stunning, “Nyad” pulls you into the rocky waters so that you almost feel the waves crashing over you.  

3.  “Barbie”

Never would I have thought I would have loved (and I mean loved) a big budget movie about a Mattel doll even if I did have my very own Barbie and camper as a kid.  This is a larger than life story written by Greta Gerwig and hubby Noah Baumbach, tackling societal stereotypes, and gender issues as well as the inherent inequities.  “Barbie” becomes an emotionally loaded yet still very funny look at our world and the expectations for women who have to “do it all” or “have it all.”  Costuming and production design are stellar, but the deft direction, intuitive acting, and a deeply meaningful script that consumed me and had me crying at least twice are what make this one of my top movies of the year.

2.  “Flora and Son”

John Carney writes and directs (and creates original songs) in a story of a young mom, Flora (Eve Hewson) who isn’t going to get the Mother of the Year Award any time soon as her teenage son Max (Oren Kinlan) finds himself on the verge of incarceration in Ireland.  Looking to connect with her music-loving and -producing teen, Flora buys him a guitar only to have it land in her hands.  She then finds more than music lessons on-line from the California guitarist Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as the lessons become a form of therapy.  We begin to understand Flora, revealing what it’s really like to be a mom in her situation, as she attempts to do better.  The brutal honesty of motherhood and living life portrayed in this film is sometimes a gut-punch and at others a wake up to reality.  There’s nothing flashy in this story and that is to its credit.  It’s beautiful, sweet, honest, and emotionally raw.  I dare you not to love this film!

“American Fiction”
This is the movie of the year.  Cord Jefferson co-writes and directs the story of Thelonious Monk Ellison (Jeffrey Wright), an author who is struggling with his second book; the first wasn’t exactly on the best-sellers’ list.  Aghast at what is actually selling, particularly Sintara Golden’s (Issa Rae) book about being poor and Black — capitalizing on the stereotypical Black experience as she writes in that vernacular — Monk uses a pseudonym and writes his own Black experience novel, seen through the eyes of a convict.  You guessed it…it becomes a best-seller.  Disgusted by this popularity, Monk attempts to reckon his own reflection and how he perceives himself.  We also delve into Monk’s family as his sister Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross) and brother Clifford (Sterling K. Brown), both with their own stories, wrestle with an aging mother (Leslie Uggams) who suffers from dementia.  If ever there was a movie that could open up the lines of communication to ask important questions about race and understanding, this is the one! With great performances and a complex script, this is a movie everyone should see.

Tied for 11th Place are:

“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”

“She Came to Me”

“Tetris”

“The Promised Land”

“The Boys in the Boat” A Perfect Holiday Film

December 26th, 2023 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Boys in the Boat” A Perfect Holiday Film”

If you’re looking for a feel-good, uplifting story for the holidays, “The Boys in the Boat” is just the ticket. Based on the true story of the 1936 University of Washington rowing team whose losing streak was an embarrassment, a group of rookie rowers just might be up for the task of winning it all…and that means going to the Berlin Olympics.

Starring Callum Turner as Joe Rantz, a boy from little money and a broken family, is working his way through college to become an engineer. Tuition is due and he’s short, but he and his buddy Roger (Sam Strike) learn that if they make the rowing team, tuition, room, and board may be covered. Working hard to make the team of eight, the pair land a position in the boat, but it’s a tough road ahead as Coach Al Ulbrickson (Joel Edgerton) is fighting not only for a win, but for his job.

If this wasn’t based in reality, this story would be seen as rather contrived, but knowing it’s true makes it downright heartwarming instead. While Joe and Roger work to put UW back on the map, fighting the ivy league wonders across the nation, there’s also a love story between Joe and his childhood crush Joyce (Hadley Robinson). Coach Ulbrickson has his own story of challenge within the bureaucratic system of higher education as he makes a few unpopular decisions.

Throughout the rowing season, we get to know these young men and, of course, root for them to succeed, but it is the relationships between Joe and each of our supporting characters that grounds the story. The school’s master boat builder George (Peter Guinness) has sage words of wisdom for both Joe and Coach, his wisdom building helping everyone to grow emotionally and professionally. As Joe deals with his own ghosts, this team, all very different, bond in ways we can only hope we could experience in our own lives.

While there are no huge obstacles or a proverbial “bad guy” in this story, life certainly throws a few punches to Joe and Coach Al. This camaraderie among men, the time period just before WWII, and the sense of community is a feeling of a by-gone era. George Clooney’s direction is key to develop this ambiance and has honed his skills as he sits in this seat. Walking a very thin line, tipping in one direction or another could have made “The Boys in the Boat” sappy or unbelievable. But Clooney gracefully walks that tightrope and creates a balanced story filled with emotion and heart

None of that is possible without the right casting and Edgerton, Turner, and Guinness easily carry this film. With Turner’s Richard Gere-esque looks and his understated performance, we immediately connect with him. There’s a realistic respect between he and Edgerton who becomes this 1930’s coach before our eyes, but it it Guinness and Luke Slattery who plays Bobby Moch, the leader of this boat of 8, that truly shine and elevate the story and the meaning of it.

Every year we need and want a feel-good film to give us hope in humanity and remember to support and help one another. “The Boys in the Boat” reminds us of the importance of all of this.

3 1/2 Stars

“The Marvels” is a complete disappointment

November 8th, 2023 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Marvels” is a complete disappointment”

I will admit it and I know it’s no secret that I am not a fan of super hero movies. They tend to be repetitive and redundant (see what I did there?) with nothing new or even creative. HOWEVER, to every seemingly hard and fast rule, there are occasionally exceptions…this time, with “The Marvels,” we do not find an exception. In fact, this one has absolutely nothing exceptional about it except the scene after the credits roll, or so it has been explained to me. (Some surprise character appears…couldn’t tell you who he/she/they were until a fan of the Super Hero Universes, both DC and Marvel ‘splained it to me.)

“The Marvels” is a female-centric story (making me want to like it) featuring Brie Larson as Captain Marvel aka Carol Danvers. Returning to the Captain Marvel universe is Monica (Tehona Parris) who is the grown up version of Carol’s former colleague and best friend who passed away. We see that the two of them have a few issues to resolve, and thanks to the third and newest character of Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), they get a chance to sort through it all. Of course, that’s not until after the two women and one teen find that their powers are all intertwined like your Christmas lights after being stored for a year. Nick Fury played comically by Samuel L. Jackson wrangles the three of them and they try to figure out what in the world is happening and why.

The Marvels (as Kamala is hoping to be called) soon realize that Kamala’s spangle-bangle bracelet from her dear old granny is what gives her powers and the leader of a planet destroyed by Captain Marvel aka The Anihilator has the matching wristlet. She’ll stop at nothing to complete her jeweled ensemble, giving her the ultimate power.

Does this sound familiar because it should. It’s the same premise we’ve seen literally dozens and dozens of times before. And then there are the numerous fight scenes that, you guessed it, you’ve seen too many times to count. To the film’s credit, these repetitive fight scenes do give you time to scoot to the bathroom or the concession stand or even to check your texts…outside of the theater, obviously. (Theater rules are a must to be followed.)

And now I need to mention a little musical number — remember this is made by Disney and this felt like the Disney Signature Stamp — but not even a planet filled with songbirds and crooners as this is their primary language, can breathe life into this, nor can a bunch of adorably menacing kittens.

Sadly, there are so many comedic opportunities completely lost, many of which Larson just couldn’t play, that “The Marvels” couldn’t find its way. While Jackson has a few moments and Parris with Vellani can be light-hearted, those moments are far and few between rendering the script DOA.

Skip this one as there isn’t a sage message at its heart or a lesson to be learned from any of the characters. But fans are fans and you will go, so if you do, stay for that final scene.

1 1/2 stars

“Nyad”- This year’s inspirational film

November 1st, 2023 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Nyad”- This year’s inspirational film”

As I approach my 60th birthday in less than 6 months, I find that “Nyad,” picks up at exactly that same spot for Diana Nyad. Seeing that more of my life is behind me than in front of me, Diana sees the world through the same lens. While I may not have been a champion or an award-winning anything, anyone who is a female and approaching this point in your life will connect with our main character played skillfully and evocatively by Annette Bening.

For those of you who don’t know this woman’s story, she dreamed of being the first person, male or female, to swim from Cuba to the Florida Keyes. That’s 103 miles and more than 3 full days and nights in the water. The ultramarathon swimmer, failing at age 28, and looking in the rearview mirror of life, wanted to fulfill that dream…at age 60. Partnering with her best friend and coach, Bonnie (Jodie Foster), “Nyad” tells her story of determination, resiliency, and most importantly friendship and self-worth.

In the first scene of the film, we see immediately that Diana is oftentimes an unlikeable character filled with an egocentric view of the world. But let’s face it, anyone who attempts a feat like this has to be. Her relationship with Bonnie is the key to the story and the film as Bonnie understands Diana and people’s reactions to her better than anyone. While they once were together for a short time as a couple, their friendship drives the narrative. Bonnie steps in when Diana becomes too self-absorbed and covers for her irascible personality. And she also knows how to push Diana when she infrequently sputters. Tell Diana she can’t do something and she will prove you wrong.

Without giving too much away — if you don’t know or don’t remember what happened — Diana’s journey is a harrowing one. Hiring a navigator who knows the water’s unpredictability and the experts with novel ways of deterring shark attacks are just two components and characters who enter Diana’s life and world of training. Box Jellyfish attacks, Man O’ War stings, wicked storms, and so much more are all a part of her numerous attempts to fulfill her dream. By the time we reach the end of this story, our chests are tight and we clench our jaws as the tears stream down our cheeks.

To reach this level of emotion requires a screenplay that digs deeply and doesn’t hold back and Julia Cox, screenwriter, does exactly that as she adapts Nyad’s book “Find A Way.” With Nyad also credited with the screenwriting and producing, the film finds a way, no pun intended, to show us the good, the bad, and the ugly with Nyad. In other words, she’s real. And who better to bring her to life than Annette Bening? Bening finds just the right notes to play Nyad in order for us to root for her even as she pushes us away with her harsh words shot like arrows through the heart to anyone who dares to care about her. It’s a bold performance with subtle nuances confirming what we all know about Bening…she can do anything. Additionally, Bening gives us a demanding physical performance as a swimmer, and with this ability, she brings it all home.

The entire ensemble cast of character also finds the right notes making this a symphonic delight. Bonnie is played deftly by Foster and we see a deeply genuine friendship between the two very strong, but very different women. While we aren’t privy to all they’ve endured, however there is a surprising and tragic event, we know their relationship has withstood the test of time.

The cinematography is the icing on the cake for “Nyad.” We are in the water, under the water, and aboard the boat which means we experience as closely as possible everything that actually happened. It’s simply breathtaking.

“Nyad” is this year’s inspirational film; especially for those of us hitting that scary milestone in life. And as I look ahead to April of 2024, maybe this 60th year will be my year to do the Park City Triathlon…it’s been my goal for over a decade. Thank you, “Nyad” for reminding me that age doesn’t matter and to keep trying to fulfill my dreams.

4 Stars

“She Came to Me” is Delightfully Bizarre

October 4th, 2023 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““She Came to Me” is Delightfully Bizarre”

There are two words that come to mind to succinctly describe the film SHE CAME TO ME…delightfully bizarre!

An opera composer Steven played by Peter Dinklage, has hit a wall in his career…writer’s block, if you will.  His wife, Patricia played by Anne Hathaway is on odd duck whose talented and brilliantly gifted son Julian (Evan Ellison) is madly in love with the cleaning lady’s daughter Tereza (Harlow Jane).   Steven, in the hopes of breaking his composing block, is sent out to walk the dog…direct orders from his therapist wife whose idiosyncrasies are a character study by themselves.  Steven, dejectedly obliging, walks the dog right past a bar which seems to beckon him in, like a siren’s song.  And singing that song is tug boat captain Katrina played by Marisa Tomei.

If you think this sounds like a Shakespearean play, you’re not far off!  Once we’ve been introduced to all the characters and Steven finds a muse with Katrina, none of their lives will ever be the same and eventually they will all intersect.  

This is sublimely clever!  Never did I anticipate where the story was going or where it would eventually land!  With Steven’s illicit and supposed one-night stand with Katrina backfiring, Tereza’s admission of guilt to her stenographer and lawyer-wanna-be step- father,  and Patricia’s obsession with the Catholic religion and the convent, the story beautifully spins out of control with utmost grace and elegance.

Each of the characters have their own story to tell, but at the center of it is Steven and his opera.  Never does the film get bogged down with others’ details, but still finds a way to weave these important stitches into the tapestry of the story.  This is a surprising gem that had me laughing, crying, angry, and most importantly, loving who these characters became.

3 1/2 stars

“Charlie Berens: Good Old Fashioned Tour” at the Den Theatre, Chicago

September 12th, 2023 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Charlie Berens: Good Old Fashioned Tour” at the Den Theatre, Chicago”

Charlie Berens’ performance at The Den theater in Chicago’s Wicker Park found a way to make even the Bears and the Packers fans happy last Saturday night. With over 7 million followers on social media, an Emmy Award in journalism, and creator of the “Manitowoc Minute” (look it up and thank me later), it’s no wonder The Den added a third performance to the booking. Berens’ act lovingly mocks what it means to be a Midwesterner; values we all embrace even if someone from LA or NY can pinpoint our origins within 30 seconds of speaking to us. Attending performance number two for the talented comic revealed that each time he steps foot on stage, it’s different as he hones in on his unique yet homogeneous audience.

Berens’ act, a clean, never off-color commentary about life in the Midwest, didn’t missed a beat as he read his audience’s reactions. His polished narration allowed for detours along the way, and with our show, he heard a small voice yell out his father’s name. This, of course, led to raucous family stories from Berens’ life amidst nearly a dozen siblings. Veering back onto the comic road, Berens found the mixed audience (Bears and Packers fans) to embrace his lack of love for all things Soldier Field then quickly presented his famously newsworthy segment the “Manitowoc Minute.”

The invitingly comfortable and intimate theater setting made it a perfect venue for this interactive comic who created non-stop laughs and even a few gasps as two audience members found themselves in a bidding war for used “merch,” the proceeds going to a worthy cause. His role of auctioneer and narrator depicting his (and our) thoughts of the antics kept us on our toes proving that he was always two steps ahead (or more) of us at all times.

Berens has a relatable quality, dressed in jeans and hiking boots (perhaps from Fleet Farm or as we in Illinois call it Farm & Fleet), he invites us into his life’s not so successful moments as well such as a golfing gig in Central Indiana. This self-deprecating style of humor along with his myriad facial expressions to punctuate the punch line, creates belly laughs while endearing us to him.

If you missed Berens at The Den, his tour continues through Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and more through early 2024. While he won’t be back at the gorgeously comfortable and unique Wicker Park theater, you can find more acts at The Den Theatre

“The Flash”

June 14th, 2023 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Flash””

“The Flash” finally makes its way into the super hero realm with its own story starring Ezra Miller as Barry aka The Flash. It’s an origin story and save-the-world story all wrapped into one dizzying, fast-paced affair. With special effects we all expect from this genre, “The Flash” adds a little more zip to the story to make it a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

We meet Barry, twitching, eyes darting, as he attempts to order his high-calorie breakfast sandwich which allows him to propel himself at the speed of light to save Gotham from its next deadly disaster. Barry is a bit of a twit; always late for work as a forensic technician and awkward in all social settings. His sad story of losing his mom and his dad innocently behind bars, accused of her death sets into motion the events that lie ahead. Barry realizes he can time travel and with this perhaps he can save not only his mom but his dad. Of course, as Batman (Ben Affleck) points out, it’s our pain and experiences that make us who we are. Change that, and we change not only our past but our futures. Nothing could be more accurate as we watch Barry change his world.

The first third of the movie entertainingly sets up the foundation for the craziness ahead. Barry travels back to change his mother’s destiny then interjects himself at a pivotal point in his life; the day he got his powers. And this is when the fun begins…Barry meets himself and must convince his younger version that they must work together to keep their lives safe. It’s an hilarious romp through the past as the details of all the important and insignificant things have slightly changed. Of course, there’s still “Back to the Future,” a reference made frequently both overtly and subtly, but the star is no longer Michael J. Fox. How could Barry’s influence have had that much of a ripple? The conversation and arguments over these little details continually sprinkled into the storyline create constant levity throughout the first two acts.

And then “The Flash” succumbs to what every other super hero movies falls prey to…it takes itself too seriously. However, even with the final fight scene that does go on too long, it also takes breaks to interject content so that your system doesn’t go on overload and you become desensitized to the action. Well done, director Andy Muschietti and writers Christina Hodson and Joby Harold! The writers also give us so many surprises throughout the film, all created by the spaghetti mess of timelines, that we are waiting with bated breath for the next gem to occur.

Finding novel ways to tell yet another super hero story is no easy feat, but somehow this one feels fresh. Miller creates two personas with ease and we believe we see two different people on the screen. I don’t want to give any spoilers away but just know that Batman is the highlight of the movie. Of course, the special effects are incredible, but it’s these effects in the first act that are most striking and unique. As Barry begins to understand time travel, he goes a little too fast and what happens makes you visually awestruck. Attention to this detail early on in the film allows you to easily immerse yourself into this world of make-believe.

“The Flash” will make you laugh and keep you engaged for most of the film, although, again, the writers fall victim to every other super hero movie in not knowing when to make it stop. At a running time of 2 hours and 24 minutes, it could have used a little more editing in that final act. If you’re a fan of DC (or is it Marvel?) Comics, stick around after the credits roll. And if you’re not, that final, final, final scene isn’t going to matter.

3 Stars

“Mafia Mamma”

April 12th, 2023 Posted by Review, women reviews 0 thoughts on ““Mafia Mamma””

When we hear the term “mafia” we think hulking characters the likes of James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano or Marlon Brando’s Don Vito Corleone or even jumping into reality to envision Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. Rarely do we conjure the image of a woman and never do we think about the likes of Toni Collette’s Kristin in “Mafia Mamma.” The gender flipping idea gives both the actors and the director a wide-open new road to travel creating a flippant, gruesome yet hilarious take on the mob world as we know it.

The film is based on Amanda Sthers’ story about a frustrated mother and wife living a dull and unappreciated existence only to send her son off to college and discover her hubby has had a few extracurricular activities. Coincidentally, Kristin is “invited” to her long-lost Italian vintner grandfather’s funeral in Italy. Taking a break from the reality of life just might be what she needs, but what she finds in a quaint Italian countryside is something much more sinister and demanding than she ever knew could exist.

Kristin is nothing short of mousy and lacks confidence in everything she does. Her husband and his lover take full advantage of her caring nature while best friend and self-defense class partner Jenny (Sophia Nomvete) pushes Kristin out of the box. Looking for love in Italy — she has read and seen “Eat, Pray, Love” although there’s a substitute word for “love” — Kristin meets her estranged family, the Balbanos, with by Bianca (Monica Bellucci) calling the shots. The two women have an immediate connection, but Kristin isn’t quite understanding that the “wine business” isn’t actually what they advertise.

Of course, when any head of an organization steps down (or is murdered), the throne is up for grabs. With plenty of family members vying for that seat along with competitive organizations hell-bent on getting rid of Kristin and taking over the Balbano’s territory, Kristin has to be a quick study or she will end up six feet under.

“Mafia Mamma” is in some ways a coming of age movie. Every mom and wife starts a new chapter of their lives around this time as they become empty nesters and look forward to what lies ahead. Kristin is no different and she taps into the family roots she never knew existed. She’s a Balbano and this blood runs through her veins, but she’s also her mother’s daughter and the mixture gives her a perfect balance in which to become a new version of herself. Of course, there’s a price to pay, particularly if you dare to cross her path maliciously. Her inadvertent reactions give us some rather brutally violent yet somehow still rather comedic situations that endear us more to her. And amidst all the chaos and turmoil, not only is there a sweet love story, but Kristin remains true to who she is at the core…a mom.

“Mafia Mamma” is downright fun escapism that gives us a balanced story adding just the right touch of comedy, drama, action, craziness, and somehow blends gore and humor together as well. Collette has a blast in this role — you can see it in her eyes — as her character dramatically and naturally morphs into who she is meant to be. Rarely does this actress get an opportunity to show us her comedic prowess until recently with the 2019 “Knives Out” and now this film. Her timing is impeccable with a command of all 43 facial muscles to give us a seemingly countless array of expressions. Together with Bellucci, a powerhouse herself, the pair give feminism a place at the cinematic lead table. And if you’re male, you may take issue with the way most (or perhaps all) of the male characters are portrayed, but I, personally had fun with that aspect as well.

A mob film wouldn’t be complete unless it was filmed in the heart of Italy amidst vineyards and “Mafia Mamma” takes full advantage of this as well. Pour a glass of wine, sit back, and enjoy the far-fetched antics in this coming of age film for a middle-aged woman entering her prime.

3 stars

“Creed III”

March 3rd, 2023 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Creed III””

It’s the 9th installment of the “Rocky” franchise with “Creed III” as Michael B. Jordan returns to his role as Adonis Creed, the heavyweight champion of the world. But this time, Creed needs to work through the demons of his past which still haunt him thanks to the unexpected arrival of Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors), a childhood friend who took on for the team. That sacrifice landed Anderson in the penitentiary and now it’s time for Creed to pay up.

The story begins as Creed and Damian are teens (Thaddeus J. Mixson and Spence Moore II, respectively), dreaming of becoming world champs in the boxing ring. Living in a dangerous area and Damian having involvement with entities unbecoming, a crossroads in life presents itself and the two young boys’ paths diverge until now. We fast forward to the current day, flashing back in time to reveal the entire youthful story which fills in all the blanks and explains Creed’s actions and reactions. But it is Damian’s persona that creates the unknowns to set up the ultimate boxing fight in the world.

The story takes much too long to get to the main event, spinning its wheels along the way and delivering seemingly two separate stories that just don’t intersect. It’s well over the one hour mark before we get to the pivotal point in Creed and Damian’s lives. It’s no surprise that Creed will attempt to make a comeback as he (and we) question whether or not he’s too old and too soft. Yes, there’s lots of training moments we get to witness as the champ attempts to get back in the ring. We also have a few side stories of Creed’s mom, Mary-Anne (Phylicia Rashad) whose secrets come spewing forth after a momentous medical event. (I wish writers would do the simple task of consulting with a doctor or even googling a term to properly portray it.) And Bianca Creed, Adonis’s wife played by Tessa Thompson whose career in music took an unexpected turn due to a hearing issue, finds that her hubby has some long-buried secrets that affect not only her but their adorable hearing-impaired daughter, Amara (Mile Davis-Kent).

“Creed III” follows the “Rocky” formula to a T, but unfortunately, there’s not much new. The director who happens to be the star of the film needs to lean heavily upon the film’s star power and the cinematic elements to make this movie worth seeing. It succeeds on both levels as Jordan’s “Creed” comes across as the highly successful boxer with an equally successful wife and a beautiful daughter who emulates her father to a fault. We like this family and we are invested in their trials and tribulations as the couple deals with Amara’s school issues and hearing impairment. Jordan also finds just the right notes to create a troubled man whose past is surfacing, not knowing how to adequately address the situation. But it’s Majors’ “Anderson” that provides the more complicated character and thus the more interesting role which allows us to take that roller coaster ride as we initially have sympathy for the man, but ever so gradually (too gradually), he shows his true persona. Majors is a master at this as we’ve witnessed in his skyrocketing career over the last year.

Where this film may give you a TKO is in the cinematography. Brilliantly filmed using multiple angles and slow-motion intermittently, it’s incredibly realistic…disturbingly so. Boxing is a violent sport, one which I personally don’t enjoy, and this cinematic element accentuates those feelings. However, “Creed III” isn’t a boxing story, it’s a story about relationships, loyalty, and sorting through the past to have a more positive future.

If you’re worried that you haven’t seen the eight previous films, do not worry as it’s not necessary. In fact, there are still a few loose ends that I still have questions about as I don’t remember some of the threads of “Creed II” from 2018 and “Creed” from 2015.

2 1/2 Stars

“Jesus Revolution” A pleasant surprise

February 23rd, 2023 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Jesus Revolution” A pleasant surprise”

“Jesus Revolution” isn’t what I expected and you might also be quite surprised. Based on the true story of the Christian movement in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Jon Gunn and Jon Erwin adapt Greg Laurie’s book to create an inspirational story that allows viewers to step back in time to discover a ripple of a story that became a tidal wave sweeping across America.

The era, as described by one character in the film, is a “dark and divided place.” While many of us may use that same phrase today, it was certainly fitting in that time period as well. As the Vietnam War raged on, protests dominated the daily news, and a new generation had blossomed in the form of “hippies.” “Peace not war,” and “Make love, not war,” were commonplace slogans seen everywhere and women were asserting their independence and equality. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie), a young man with long dark hair and brown eyes embodying the look and demeanor of what many imagine to be Jesus Christ, began to garner attention with his followers. Happening upon the sparsely attended church near Los Angeles lead by Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammar), the two find a common goal and build a new denomination of followers. This all-inclusive perspective is a new-fangled one and one that will change the destination of not only Smith and Frisbee, but all those close to these leaders.

Just below the surface of the primary story are several ancillary ones that allow us to better know Smith as well as Frisbee. Smith’s daughter (Julia Campbell), a rebel whose views differ from her father’s, is looking for answers that fit her life’s theories. There’s a sweet love story intermingled between Greg (Joel Courtney) and the girl of his dreams (Anna Grace Barlow), but her father does not approve.

As we watch the story unfold in precisely the way we knew it would, the characters actually evolve and devolve in unexpected ways. With fame, fortune, and most importantly, power, Smith and Frisbee find themselves battling their own demons of ego. The sugar-coated realities quickly dissolve to reveal humans exhibiting their weaknesss and recognition thereof.

Keeping in mind that this is based on a true story and the credits deliver the final tale, Grammer’s and Roumie’s performances create authenticity without disdain as we’ve seen in many other biopic about church leaders. Grammer’s character is looking at retirement just around the corner, but we see a sparkle in his eye as he sees a way to still make a positive difference in the world even if it bucks the norms. And Roumie’s smile and gaze makes you question his actual identity. To do this, even for a moment, and you know you have a meaningful performance.

Directors Erwin and Brent McCorkle are careful to never push the envelope with their actors. To do so would have created an artifice that would have turned off viewers, but under their care, we have an inspirational feel-good movie whose story was as meaningful 50 years ago as it is in today’s world.

3 Stars

“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantamania” figures out how to be just another super hero movie

February 17th, 2023 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantamania” figures out how to be just another super hero movie”

Dear Mr. Jack Kirby and Jeff Loveness (writers of “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantamania”),

After viewing the latest rendition of the “Ant-Man” series, “Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantamania” starring the familiarly jovial Paul Rudd, I felt compelled to write my review as a letter to you both as well as director Peyton Reed.

Each year, I subject myself to countless Marvel and DC movies, most of which blur together no matter the Universe. The storylines are all much the same; good guys fight (and fight and fight) the evil bad guy who is set on destroying the world(s). But there was always something different about “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Shazam” (the one with Zachary Levi, not The Rock), and “Ant-Man.” I actually look forward to these iterations of the commonplace super hero movies and now, “Quantamania” has fallen prey to these other formulaic, dull and predictable big budget movies.

What happened to the subplots? You remember them, the side stories of interest where we get to know the ancillary characters and their quirky backgrounds. For example, Luis (Michael Pena) who made us laugh as he recalled “Drunk History” style his antics with our still rough around the edges Ant-Man aka Scott Lang. Or Darren’s (Corey Stoll) complicated background which led him to his life of evil. And then there was the effervescent Judy Greer as Maggie, the frustrated ex-wife with her current hubby Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) who added grit and humor to the storyline.

And as I alluded to the humor of previous characters, the comic element is all but lost in this current movie. Rudd is fun and funny, but we only get a few glimpses of this in the beginning and the end…and that’s it. Did you forget to take full advantage of your star’s magic power of comedy? What about creating an interesting dialogue between Scott and his now teenage daughter? And let’s not forget one of the kings of comedy, Michael Douglas who is nothing more than a prop throughout the film. I was saddened to see this along with the strikingly beautiful and tough Michelle Pfeiffer who plays Janet, the first explorer into the Quantum Realm who had nothing more than a superficial performance thanks to the script and direction. Speaking of backdrops, did you forget to write lines for Evangeline Lily as Hope?

It pains me to say that your script becomes stereotypical; blending into all the other super hero movies that relentlessly hit the screen each and every year. You’ve even created a “Thanos” type of character in “Kang The Conqueror” (Jonathan Majors) who, in all honesty, was the most interesting character of them all as we learned about his past endeavors and conquests in this tiny world. But, alas, it’s not enough.

Yes, your special effects team creates a vibrantly creative world that tips its hat to sea creatures and “Star Wars” and they hone their skills in the countless fight scenes that, as all super hero movies do, lulled me to sleep. And while you attempted to use feminism as the focal point with both Cassie (Kathryn Newton) and Janet leading the troops with both strength and intelligence to save their world and return home together as a family, this, too, flatlined. I’ll give credit where credit is due, yes, you gave us female leads, but how much different are they than the male characters? The answer is, they are not.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantamania” is a complete disappointment. It let me down in story and character and with its lack of humor, I’m now cautiously anticipating “Shazam” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Jack, Jeff, and Peyton, I give your film 1 1/2 stars.

“Sharper”- A razor-sharp thriller

February 17th, 2023 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Sharper”- A razor-sharp thriller”

Sandra (Briana Middleton) meets a young bookstore owner Tom (Justice Smith) and the young lovers find themselves in a dire situation as Sandra attempts to bail out her brother from a mob to whom he owes a large sum of money…we then see the truth beneath the lies and the con has begun. But who’s scamming whom?

Sebastian Stan and Julianne Moore come into the story midway through as Max and Madeline, a duo whose relationship is a surprising one. And let’s not forget Jonathan Lithgow who gets tangled up in this sticky web as the arrogant hedge fund billionaire. Each character who is introduced creates yet another layer of intrigue and complexity making “Sharper” a cleverly twisted tale. Ultimately, the story weaves all the characters together, giving us insight by telling the story in chapters, from each character’s point of view. It’s this backstory that initially seems convoluted and preposterous, but it always keeps us on our toes and the finale is an unexpected one.

While the story is twisted, careening around every corner at high speed, the actors give us a top performance and we are on the edge of our seat awaiting the next shoe to drop.

“Sharper” doesn’t have a dull moment in it even if you do begin to question its rationale and logic. Just sit back and enjoy the ride filled with unexpected turns, bumps in the road, and plunging descents.

3 1/2 stars

The Top 10 Films of 2022

December 27th, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “The Top 10 Films of 2022”

Every year is different when it comes to not only film, but how I rate those top 10 of the year. Voting for the Chicago Film Critics Association and for the Critics Choice Association, I feel that it’s my duty to see as close to “everything” as I can and to make sure that I use my own voice when ranking the films. Frequently, I find that critics, including myself, get caught up in the buzz and allure of a film rather than finding a movie that truly speaks to you individually. Making a concerted effort to do just that, I have a unique list of movies that I proudly proclaim as my Top 10 Films of 2022.

1. The Good Nurse (now streaming on Netflix)
REVIEW
2. The Good Boss
3. She Said
REVIEW
4. Women Talking
5. Hustle (now streaming on Netflix)
REVIEW
6. Emily the Criminal (now streaming on Netflix)
7. The Menu
REVIEW
8. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (now streaming on Hulu)
9. Not Okay (now streaming on Hulu)
10. Glass Onion (now streaming on Netflix)
REVIEW

Tied for 11th: Bardo, Everything Everywhere, All At Once, The Incredible Weight of Massive Talent, 13 Lives, Lucy and Desi (documentary), I Love My Dad, Vengeance, Living, Emergency

An Interview with Richard Roye for “Buyer’s Remorse”

December 27th, 2022 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “An Interview with Richard Roye for “Buyer’s Remorse””

Richard Roye. You may not know that name now…but you will soon enough! Fitness and Mixed Martial Arts trainer turned stunt man and actor, Roye recently collaborated to create the award-winning 7-minute short film “Buyer’s Remorse” as a part of Chicago’s 48 Hour Film Festival. Tasked with using specific items, themes, and phrases, the group of 12 calling themselves the Stunt Muffins, wrote, directed, filmed, edited and starred in a hilarious movie about real estate open houses.

Talking with Roye via Zoom, he shared with me how serendipitous a window sticker could be as it changed the trajectory of his career life. Asked to move his car by another driver, the man who he later knew as Chris Nolte who trains stunt actors, noticed Roye’s MMA sticker and invited him to train. This paved the way for Roye to take his natural talents and re-create himself as a stunt man. Currently working to hone his knife throwing skills as well as dance moves, Roye learned about the 48 Hour Film Festival. Quickly gathering his eclectic group of talented stunt people, most of whom are of color, “Buyer’s Remorse” gathered steam as they wrote the script on Friday, shot the footage on Saturday, and edited on Sunday, with the premiere set in Chicago on a fall October evening.

The genre was “mockumentary” and a required line to be used was “let’s go back to the beginning.” What followed was a hilarious romp through a cast member’s house doubling as the open house for the story to unfold. Roye shared that after a few glitches on the opening night, the event was “surreal” with a “line outside” awaiting all of the short films to be shown. “Buyer’s Remorse” won for Best Choreography as the stunt actors were knocked off one by one in the story.

Delving more deeply into the making of this film, Roye shared that it “forced us to really step up … and see who’s down to work.” He continued, “I honestly could not have asked for a better group. Everyone there came ready to work. The actors that came to act were willing to hold lights, whatever needed to be done, everyone was willing to do it and that’s what made it run so smoothly.”

While these festivals take place all over the country, what makes Stunt Muffins so unique is that the majority of members are of color. Roye said, “Look at the faces and who they represent…film is very important because film can change certain narratives that are out there. Images are very powerful and what I hope to do as a person of color is to relay a better message than what’s out there.” This group organically developed out of a love of stunt work and film that will surely convene again to give us another entertaining film that leaves us yearning for more.

“Buyer’s Remorse” the director’s cut will be available to stream soon.

*Edits for space and clarity

“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” Finds the Key to Success

December 23rd, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” Finds the Key to Success”

FINALLY! The second installment of the “Knives Out Mystery” series can be seen on Netflix! “Glass Onion” is a stand alone film that nearly equals — and some say surpasses — its predecessor, “Knives Out” from 2019. As the mystery of how did Harlan Thrombey die and why did everything get left to his nurse is solved in “Knives Out,” the “predefinite” detective Benoit Blanc is bored. Sitting in his tub (again), playing an on-line version of the game of clue with none other than Angela Lansbury and Stephen Sondheim to name a couple, he needs a real mystery to solve, although Clue seems to elude his deductive reasoning skills. As luck would have it, there’s a knock on the door; a woman with a box and an invitation to the tech guru Miles Bron’s (Edward Norton) annual weekend get away on a secluded island in Greece.

Bron’s life-long friends and self-proclaimed “disruptors” are invited to an annual extravaganza at the millionaire’s home. Fashionista Birdie (Kate Hudson), Twitch social media star Duke (Dave Bautista), ex-business partner Andi (Janelle Monáe), Governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), scientist Lionel (Leslie Odom), and Whiskey (Madelyn Cline) all arrive at the island ready to have a weekend of merriment as they solve Bron’s “murder,” cleverly designed by the tech magnate himself (and oh, isn’t he proud). The game quickly devolves into something much more sinister as the real murder of one of the guests must now be solved. Who other than the southern—speaking sleuth to solve the murderous events!

Rian Johnson, writer and director of the fast-growing franchise of films, has created his own murder mystery kingdom. His panache for developing smart twists and turns, and unexpected ones at that, and placing uniquely vibrant characters together is unparalleled. We see the quirky, flakey Birdie misunderstanding so much of what is happening around her as the clear-minded and focused Claire worries about nothing but herself. Duke, the social media master and Whiskey, the gorgeous young woman who knows how to get things done, Lionel who systematically attempts to make sense of the situation along with Miles, the kind of guy we all love to hate, stir the proverbial pot until it is ready to boil over. But this is Andi’s story and as the secrets are revealed, the stakes quickly rise and we see each of these characters for who they really are. Of course, Blanc, sitting back and keenly observing everything and intermittently narrating what is quite obvious to him, is like having a physics professor lay out a new theory with the ease of a kindergarten teacher. His eloquence is engaging and humorous as he peels back each and every layer of that onion…the glass onion.

If you’re going to compare the two films, and you know you will, this new rendition has a different tone to it. While the laughs aren’t as continuous, it’s still quite comedic and you really can’t catch everything upon the first viewing. And that’s because the dialogue is smart, quick-witted, with edited with razor sharp precision. The solution to the mystery is evident earlier on in the film which does not take away the enjoyment of it, but adds to the fun. After several viewings of this movie, it just doesn’t get old. Johnson’s deft direction is key as is the talent of his cast all of whom are perfectly cast in their roles. As everyone in this small ensemble cast lifts their weight to tell this comedic tale, it is Monáe and Craig who are the stars of the story. Monáe steals every scene as does Craig and together they create a magical dynamic that you just don’t tire of.

Johnson (and Netflix) have a hit on their hands and lucky for us, there are two more in the pike. On a cold winter’s night, there’s nothing better to warm your heart than a good old-fashioned murder mystery filled with intrigue and laughter.

3 1/2 stars

“Something From Tiffany’s”

December 9th, 2022 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Something From Tiffany’s””

Just in time for the holidays is the new romantic comedy “Something From Tiffany’s” starring Zoey Deutch and Kendrick Sampson. Based on the book by Melissa Hill, the story strikes all the familiar chords we have come to expect in a rom-com including a mix up, meeting Mr. Right when you’re with Mr. Wrong (and vice versa), and following your heart. While the notes of this rom-com are a familiar one, Deutch and Sampson make it memorable with their chemistry and authenticity.

Deutch portrays Rachel Meyer, a restaurateur and baker who is dating Gary (Ray Nicholson), a leech of a man who doesn’t value Rachel’s spunk, intelligence, and determination. Of course, we know she’s meant to be with someone else, and that someone else is Ethan (Sampson) who literally bumps into Gary at Tiffany’s and inadvertently exchanges that precious little blue signature bag filled with goodies for the holidays for their respective partners. As the mix up of gifts becomes apparent, Rachel says “yes!” to the equally shocked Gary and Vanessa (Shay Mitchell) finds some “cute” little earrings inside that blue box, Ethan and his daughter, the effervescent Daisy (Leah Jeffries) attempt to right this wrong. And in the messy process, something beautiful comes…Rachel and Ethan discover that they are a perfect match no matter how much they resist destiny’s course.

No rom-com is complete without best friends to guide our leads and in this case, Terri (Jojo T. Gibbs) plays the part of Rachel’s best friend with sincerity and insight. Ethan has a built-in bestie in his daughter Daisy whose innocence and heart shine through. Of course, the setting is as much of a character which contributes to the magic and New York City, reminiscent of the most iconic of all rom-coms “When Harry Met Sally” nails the role.

What makes a rom-com work isn’t its originality, it’s the stars and Deutch and Sampson have what it takes. Deutch always delivers her A-game as we’ve seen in this year’s “Not Okay” and “The Outfit,” or a favorite of mine, “Buffaloed,” and now with “Tiffany’s” it’s no different. Her delivery is as natural and authentic as real life, creating her vibrant character of Rachel. Deutch makes this character her own, adding humor and a splash of adorableness as Rachel intellectually and emotionally bounces between her current commitment and the gift that lies before her.

Sampson is equally as genuine as Ethan, a successful single dad who finds love when he least expects it. His eyes tell it all no matter his situation. We see the love Ethan has for his daughter and the pain of realization that Vanessa isn’t his perfect match. And as he gazes into Rachel’s eyes or helps her at her pop-up Christmas shop, the spark is undeniable. Together, Sampson and Deutch create the Christmas magic we all still hope exists.

“Something From Tiffany’s” is exactly what we need and want this time of year…a little bit of a mess resulting in something beautifully magical.

3 Stars

“Lady Chatterley’s Lover”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 stars

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

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

Pam says:

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

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

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

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

3 Stars

“The Race to Alaska”

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 1/2 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 stars

“My Policeman”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 1/2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 stars

“Montana Story”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Stars

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