Posts tagged "Movies"

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”


“The Promised Land”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Stars

“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.


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

“Late Night” Is a bold new comedy for today’s world

June 12th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Late Night” Is a bold new comedy for today’s world”

Check out Mindy Kaling’s newest creation “Late Night” starring Emma Thompson as Katherine Newbury, a woman who is about to be ousted from her comfortable seat as a late night talk show host. Why? Because there’s a new, young, hip guy, Daniel (Ike Barinholtz), waiting in the wings to push her right off and teach this old stick-in-the-mud a few lessons on what it means to be funny. Of course, that’s all before Kaling’s naively bold and talented character fo Molly enters the scene. With a dream of writing for her idol, she inadvertently lands the job only because she’s female. What happens after this all rings true of society today, the issues at hand, and somehow still makes us constantly laugh till tears stream down our cheeks.

With Kaling in the writer’s chair and handing the director’s seat to Nisha Ganatra, the duo prove to be creatively powerful as they find the perfect chemistry needed to pull of a sometimes politically incorrect yet insightful perspective on sexism, agism, and racism not only in the country, but particularly in the entertainment industry.

Kaling, perhaps from real life experience of being the only female in a male dominated environment, is in the catbird’s seat as she skillfully and innocently portrays Molly. Her earnest outlook on her new job and why it was offered to her is the spice that this all-male team of late night writers needs to stir things up. Kaling’s performance is extraordinary as she allows us to watch her youthful character change and grow, seeing the world in a different light. Kaling is a comedic genius not only with writing, but with acting. Her depth of character, as with great comedy, peels away the layers to make her vulnerable and while we are laughing, we are also relating. It’s an extraordinary feat, yet Kaling makes it look easy.

While there are plenty of side stories taking place, this is Molly and Katherine’s story and how the two women learn and grow from one another. Katherine faces the reality of who she once was and who she now sees in the mirror, but Molly, who helps Katherine redefine herself, also has some growing to do. Together, they are magic on screen and the polar opposite personalities and looks just add to the fun chemistry and occasional explosions.

Thompson absolutely shines in this role, pushing her skills to showcase her comedic timing and her dramatic skills to create a well-rounded and realistic woman who has been at the top of her game and now faces almost-certain retirement. Thompson appears more than comfortable as the late night talk show host, carrying a burden of guilt from the opportunities that fame sometimes affords, which plunges her character into confronting other relationships in her life. Thompson is strong and powerful, yet there’s a sense of fragility within her character that allows us to connect with her.

John Lithgow is Walter, Katherine’s husband, and the one person who truly knows her and has the chutzpah to express his honest opinion. These are the moments that break your heart and inspire you as you see who this woman is and what she has experienced. The team of writers on the set of this late night show, from Max Casella to Denis O’Hare, give the film another element of authenticity. It is this honesty, sometimes a bit harsh, that elevates this film from just another comedy to one that is meaningful and even has an important message.

Ganatra directs this talented cast to give exceptional performances and deliver comedy with precision timing. It’s a difficult balancing act when you combine drama with comedy and Ganatra never loses sight of the comedic undertones, even when we are shedding a few tears.

We’re seeing more and more stories where women are the focal point which allows for new perspectives and ideas to be shared. “Late Night” is a film for everyone to see the world through a different and very entertaining lens.

To read the review in the Friday, June 14, 2019 edition of THE DAILY JOURNAL go to THE DAILY JOURNAL
4/4 Stars

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK: An interview with Barry Jenkins

December 25th, 2018 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK: An interview with Barry Jenkins”

Barry Jenkins, Academy Award-winning director of the Best Picture Award in 2016 for “Moonlight,” is back in the writer’s and director’s chairs to give us a screen adaptation of James Baldwin’s book, “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

The film depicts Tish and Fonny, two young black people in love, “soul mates” as Jenkins describes them, who experience heartache when Fonny is falsely accused of rape.

It’s a gorgeous portrayal of first love and family, as well as a brutally realistic representation of racial perception and the injustices of the judicial system, all seen through the lens of a young woman.

The film opens Christmas Day, starring Stephan James as Fonny and Chicago’s very own KiKi Layne as Tish. Film critic Chuck Koplinski and I had the pleasure of sitting down with this soft-spoken and engaging writer and director to learn more about the making of this evocatively relevant and poignant film.

To read the review in its entirety, go to

“Robin Hood” misses the mark

November 23rd, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Robin Hood” misses the mark”

The story of the thief who robbed from the rich to give to the poor, aka Robin Hood, has been around for centuries, literally. In film form, Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland continued the legend in 1938, and since that date, there have been a myriad number of pastiches keeping the legend alive for kids and adults alike.

Even Ridley Scott jumped on the bandwagon with his version starring Russell Crowe as Robin Hood, but alas, this was not the last, as co-writers Ben Chandler and David James Kelly give director Otto Bathurst a chance to recreate the origins of the tale, starring Taron Egerton (“Kingsman: The Secret Service”) and Jamie Foxx (“Baby Driver”).

In the beginning of the film, the narrator advises us to forget history and all we thought we knew about the legend of Robin Hood. We need to understand it is a “… story of a thief, but not a thief that you know.”

To read the review in its entirety, go to THE DAILY JOURNAL


Instagram With Pam


Know if you should go, subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required