Posts tagged "Netflix"

“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

“Malcolm & Marie” A Bold and Flawless Portrayal of Love

February 4th, 2021 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Malcolm & Marie” A Bold and Flawless Portrayal of Love”

Malcolm (John David Washington) and Marie (Zendaya) have just returned home from Malcolm’s big movie premiere. What should have been one of the most enjoyable and celebratory nights of their lives, turns into a brutal and emotionally raw argument that makes Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”masochistic verbal pummeling look more like an episode of “Leave It to Beaver” as June and Ward Cleaver. Awaiting the first formal review, Malcolm and Marie peel away the layers of their lives to discover the ugly pain that lies beneath the surface.

First, I must relay that I am a white (middle aged) female film critic writing for a newspaper…the very enemy—albeit on a smaller scale — that is referenced in this rivetingly accusatory (deservedly-so) film that feels more like a theatrical stage production than a movie, but in all the right ways. Now that that admission is clearly on the table, dare I say that “Malcolm & Marie” is an incredibly “authentic” story filled with emotional turmoil that rings true? Yes, I will because it’s accurate. It is also gorgeously shot, in black and white, narrowly but crisply focusing on the truths which opens old wounds and then pours salt in them, watching how it effects the recipient.

The story unfolds over the course of less than 12 hours, but what it reveals about each of the characters and who they are at their core allows us to know them but also to see them grow…for better or worse. And the range of emotions takes us as high as a mountain and down to the lowest valley as this young couple who knows one another better than any married couple of a half a century attempts to wade thorough the muck and mire of their past. We see Malcolm puff his chest omnisciently, looking down upon Marie as she soaks in a tub, seemingly unprotected, as he fires off threats of being able to break her like a twig with his verbal onslaught. It’s rough, powerful, and disturbing, but just as we begin to feel the pain of Malcolm’s shots, Marie, who has the emotional exterior of an armored knight, fires back. One minute the hatred and resentment that is spewed from their mouths is then tempered with acceptance and understanding. It’s truly a roller coaster ride as both characters are not only honest with each other but also with themselves.

The “authenticity” (I use quotes as this is directly from the film) is the fact that Malcolm and Marie bring you into their fight as I found myself saying the exact words Marie was about to say aloud to Malcolm. Both characters are smart and tough and neither is ever emotionally highjacked for long allowing for calm moments interjected to create a balance in the story and in the relationship. Marie is angry and from a woman’s point of view, I completely understood her immediate and long-buried issues. As the water for the mac-n-cheese begins to boil, so too does her temper. Marie’s body language says it all, but the words pulsate with intensity until she reaches the ultimate crescendo. Matching that, Malcolm fires back like a fully loaded verbal machine gun with the accuracy of a sharp shooter. They know each other’s strengths and weakness.

It’s a perfect portrayal of Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus as issues of infidelity, race, entitlement, drug usage, recovery, plagiarism, credit, and empathy are masterfully woven into the story, seen from each perspective. Marie feels she has received no gratitude for her part in his successes or their relationship. And Malcolm, accused of being narcissistic, compartmentalizes the argument so that he can eat his boxed macaroni and cheese. And as the make up and clothes come off, their true selves are more accurately displayed and they are no longer actors on the screen and we are flies on the wall, riveted by what we see and hear. The story and our beloved characters fight with love in order to be able to love possibly more deeply or perhaps to their demise. This narrative arc rises and falls creating an unparalleled story of passion and understanding amidst the chaos.

Davidson and Zendaya are captivating as they must be to carry the entire weight of the film. Of course, Zendaya is gorgeous to watch, but her talent goes much deeper. Her responses, both verbally and physically create a myriad of emotions and we feel them all. Davidson is her equal, giving us a performance of a lifetime and together they are mesmerizing. The film is simply just a conversation that leads to an argument between the two of them, but the dialogue is strong and magically eloquent. The pacing quickly races as do our hearts as the heat rises. It is with awe that I watched, realizing the daunting task of memorizing the lines of dialogue, resembling soliloquies at times, but the emotion, never too much and never too little, is an integral part of each and every word uttered. The pain that is inflicted upon them both from their razor sharp tongues filled with gut-wrenching honesty is visible with just a flinch of an eye or a downward gaze. While the story replicates many familiar age-old arguments with timeless issues among the clutter of their lives, this bold and flawless film dares us all to be honest in love to see where the chips fall.

“Malcolm & Marie” premieres on Netflix Friday, Feb. 5

4 Stars

“The Dig” A Masterful Work of Art

January 27th, 2021 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Dig” A Masterful Work of Art”

Don’t let the title, “The Dig,” scare you away. It’s a riveting artistic period piece that will surprise and enthrall you as you discover a well-buried treasure which is exactly what this film is about. Carey Mulligan stars as Edith Pretty, a young mother to Robert (Archie Barnes) and a widow, a result of WWII, who feels beckoned by her land’s century’s old mounds of earth to dig deeply. Edith hires a knowledgeable man, Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes), who may not have a formal degree in archaeology but knows the area’s land better than anyone. Together, this odd pair forge not only a deep friendship, but unearth the secrets from the past.

Based on a true story and the novel by John Preston, Moira Buffini’s screenplay brilliantly imbues her characters with a richness that comfortably seeps onto the screen and into your soul. We meet Edith, a stoic woman who’s youth defies her persona as she raises her son alone. Hiring Brown for a pittance, but to his delight, Edith directs him to several mounds on her land. Keeping one another at an arm’s distance, Robert finds a new father figure in Brown and we get to learn much more about the background of this learned but stifled man thanks to his station in life.

In true British style, the emotional elements of the film and of the characters are buried as deeply as the 7th century bones yet to be discovered, but like these artifacts, the layers are pulled away every so carefully to reveal complexly beautiful characters. Of course, in any entertaining story there is a villain and this story is no exception, but remember, this is based on true events. The villains in this case come in the form of leading museum directors who covet what’s been discovered. This becomes a territorial fight as Edith, who refuses to be steamrolled by the patriarchal society in which she lives, must make the right decisions for herself, her son, and the educational realm.

The story becomes even richer as it interjects a love story between the married assistant Peggy (Lily James) and Edith’s nephew and photographer Rory (Johnny Flynn), carefully touching upon a forbidden love of that time period. Additionally, the tender and connected moments between Brown and Robert make this story even more satisfying and powerfully authentic.

This is Edith and Brown’s story to tell and thanks to not only their talents but the skillful direction of Simon Stone, we find that the subtleties and moments where not a word is spoken, there is so much actually conveyed. Mulligan and Fiennes shine in these refined yet evocative roles. As their friendship and connection slowly grow, spilling over to give you a sense of warmth and satisfaction, you enter their world and become a part of their every emotion, no matter how small, feeling the utmost importance. Both actors have an incredible range, particularly if you’ve seen Mulligan recently in “Promising Young Woman” and Fiennes transforms himself into a shy man who lives for the land just like his father and his ancestors before him. Lacking confidence, his mannerisms and body language shout louder than any voice as his character is subjugated by the upper class. And with all of this, we remain connected with Brown and Edith—indelible emotions and characters.

“The Dig” is a work of art, both visually and emotionally thanks to a beautifully complex script, masterful direction, and, of course, a talented cast lead by incomparable lead actors. This heartbreakingly endearing story is one not to be missed and is streaming on Netflix Friday, Jan. 29, 2021.

4 Stars

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Streaming on Netflix Friday, October 16, 2020.

4 Stars

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

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

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

Watch the trailer here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 1/2 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Streaming on Netflix beginning Sept. 23, 2020

4 Stars


4 Stars

“Outer Banks” – Binge-worthy episodic teen series

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Stars

TOP 10 FILMS OF 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Question: Did you film in the Sistine Chapel?

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

“The Irishman” – Rich, complex, a masterpiece

November 26th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Irishman” – Rich, complex, a masterpiece”

“The Irishman,” Martin Scorsese’s reunion with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci and the theme of The Mob, has been garnering praises from critics and viewers alike. This 3 and a half hour Netflix masterpiece could not have been created without the years of experience from these Hollywood icons who are able to look in the rearview mirror of life for a clear picture. While many hold “The Godfather,” “The Godfather II,” and “Good Fellas” in the highest regard, “The Irishman” is like the fine wine of this genre; aged, rich, and much more complex which in turn elicits an evocative and insightful story.

“The Irishman,” based on “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt, a true crime novelist, is recreated for the silver screen by Steven Zaillian. No stranger to transforming hefty written material to film (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “Gangs of New York”), Zaillian creates the consummate screenplay, but no one but Pesci, De Niro, and Pacino, all in the hands of Scorsese, could have possibly brought it to this pinnacle of filmmaking.

The story is Frank Sheeran’s (De Niro) as he tells us his version of his life in the mob and how he is responsible for the mysterious disappearance of Teamster Leader Jimmy Hoffa. Sheeran narrates the film intermittently, initially introducing us to himself as a seasoned veteran in the crime service, his wife, Russel Bufalino (Pesci) and his wife as they road trip from New York to Detroit, making a few important work-related stops along the way. To get us up to speed, Sheeran takes us back in time to meeting Bufalino as Sheeran’s meat delivery truck breaks down. This is the crossroads in Sheeran’s life and the point at which we get to see movie-making magic take place with the de-aging technique.

From this point, the film bounces back and forth through the decades, allowing us into Frank’s life as Bufalino’s right-hand man who follows order as if he were still in the military. We see how his past paved the road for his current career choice and how it impacts his relationships with his wives and children. Sheeran explains his decisions and opens the door to the mob, revealing the inner-workings from his point of view. Bufalino introduces Sheeran to Hoffa (Pacino) and the complexities of this triad is what makes this mobster movie a uniquely emotional one as it allows the viewer to connect with these morally deplorable people. It’s simply incredulous that I felt myself almost walking in Sheeran’s shoes, feeling his discomfort and conflict, but it is just this emotion that gives credit to the extraordinary writing, directing and acting: I am not a mobster, yet I can still relate to this man. Incredible.

The film takes its time, that is obvious by the running time, but in no way could this complicated and multi-layered story been cut to anything less. Scorsese peels away each layer of not just the story, but each character to reveal and more potent level beneath the exterior. And Scorsese’s direction pulls us into each and every scene. We feel that we are a part of the film, tagging along, walking through the hallways and trying to peer around the corner as we hold our breath. It’s this intensity and a personal point of view that punctuates the connection with the characters, particularly Sheeran.

De Niro has never been better. This role was meant for him and like that fine wine, I drank in every savory moment to better understand this man and his situation. He portrayed utter perfection as Sheeran as we read his subtle expressions conveying intense meaning ranging from hope, regret, remorse, and love of a friend. While obviously never condoning what he did, I did understand it. The era and the pressures are as much a part of the film as the story itself. Women were not a big part of it, but interestingly, Frank’s oldest daughter seemed to be a haunting figure for him. Perhaps she is his conscience and morality barometer, and while her character never developed fully, she certainly has a profound impact upon her father.

Pesci and Pacino are the complete package with De Niro. Pesci surprisingly has a more understated role, but an extremely powerful one. He’s the reigning lion and no one wants to intentionally anger him. The communication among all of them, relatively brief, but wholly succinct. It was a different era—a handshake, a man’s word—a time of loyalty and camaraderie. Pacino is also at the top of his career as he delves deeply into one of the most influential teamsters and organizers our country has ever seen. With his charisma and personality quirks, Hoffa is brought back from the dead for us all to see and understand. It’s a history lesson most of us never fully knew or understood.

The entire all-star cast seems to understand the depth of the film, giving outstanding performances no matter how small their part. Bobby Cannavale as Felix ‘Skinny Razor’ DiTullio fits comfortably in his role and Ray Romano as Bufalino’s lawyer son Bill works with the precision of a surgeon, slicing words to make them work in a court of law. Of course there is humor woven into this story, but its found in unlikely places. Also expected is violence and there is, but unlike the aforementioned mobster films, the violence is a part of the story, propelling it forward and feeling real and not gratuitous. It is not violence for violence sake making “The Irishman” a cut above them all.

“The Irishman” is a compellingly complex narrative that takes us into a world we know little about as it uncovers and discovers Sheeran’s involvement in history. With exceptional performances, deft direction, and exquisite writing, this is a film that will find its place in its own history. It’s a masterpiece of filmmaking made possible only by the actors who have the experience and wisdom to do so.

4/4 Stars

Netflix’s “Bird Box” serves as a powerful addition to the platform’s original films

December 18th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Netflix’s “Bird Box” serves as a powerful addition to the platform’s original films”

“Bird Box,” based on the novel by Josh Malerman, is written by Eric Heisserer and directed by Susanne Bier and stars Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes and John Malkovich.

While the film opens in theaters this weekend in New York and Los Angeles (think Oscar, here), this Netflix dystopian horror film then will become available to stream to your home via the digital platform on Dec. 21.

“Bird Box” delivers a powerful punch in the first scene as we see two young children blindfolded and being directed as to what’s expected of them. Your mind races, wondering if these children have been kidnapped as they are addressed as “Girl” and “Boy.” It’s gut-wrenching to watch these terrified-yet-precious little faces react to harshness from a woman, but then we are spiraled to five years earlier, and we find out how we got to this lowly place.

To read the review in its entirety as published in the Saturday, December 15th, 2018 edition of The Daily Journal, go to

“Roma” creates intimate memory of love, paying homage to the women in Cuaron’s life

December 14th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Roma” creates intimate memory of love, paying homage to the women in Cuaron’s life”

“Roma,” the new Netflix film which opened in theaters in order to qualify for Oscar, will be available via the online streaming service beginning today. The film already has begun gathering awards and nominations from prestigious film critic organizations across the country, including the Chicago Film Critics Association.

This artistic masterpiece has found an unusual storytelling method to create an homage to the women in writer/director Alfonso Cuaron’s (“Gravity”) life as a child: his mother, his grandmother and his housekeeper.

“Roma” takes us back to Cuaron’s childhood in Mexico City during the 1970s to tell this very intimate memoir as we meet his family during a time of personal and political chaos.

During the course of one year, we watch, like a fly on the wall, Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and Antonio’s (Fernando Grediaga) marriage unravel, the children’s lives affected in various ways, but most importantly, the life of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) and how this impacts and creates unexpected bonds.

To read the review in its entirety as it was published in the December 14th, 2018 edition of The Daily Journal go to


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