Archive for 2018

I, Tonya

March 2nd, 2018 — 9:40pm


I, Tonya

This is a fascinating well-done but very sad movie. If you were on the planet in 1994 and vaguely aware of current events, you would have some idea of who Tonya Harding is and how she is linked to another ice skater by the name of Nancy Kerrigan. The story, which unfolds in this movie, presents an in-depth understanding of the character and the development of Ms. Harding from childhood to the present. Tonya is played by Margot Robbie. There are some younger versions of Ms. Harding also shown as well as some footage of what must have been the real Ms. Harding doing her jumps and twists. A key player in this movie is the “mother from hell” magnificently portrayed by Allison Janney who is up for an Oscar for her performance. While it is possible to generate a touch of sympathy for this horrific mother, we wouldn’t wish her on anyone. But we have to grant that her unflinching determination with no sympathy for her daughter’s feelings is what made Tonya a magnificent skater who was the first to land a triple axle jump in American Figure Skating competition.

There is also Jeff Gillooly (Stan Sebastian) who is Tonya’s boyfriend, then husband and then ex-husband. He is depicted as a violent lover of Tonya who ultimately wanted to scare Tonya’s Olympic opponent but supposedly didn’t really want to hurt her. There is also Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) the “brains” behind the plan to do damage to Ms. Kerrigan” but really is depicted as not very bright. This film also raises the underlying question of what was the role of Tonya in the terrible deed. Perhaps as it was shown, she didn’t know about the plan but alas she didn’t say anything about it when she found out after it had occurred. In any case, Tonya was the big loser in court and essentially in life. She lost her skating career.

While we can’t say if the script got it exactly right, but in this movie we certainly come to understand Tonya and what made her Tonya. We also have insight to how the “big incident” may have gone down and would say a pretty good feeling for the struggle that people go through when they try to become the best in a sport from no matter where they may start.

Director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers and screenwriter Steven Rogers deserve the credit of putting together a complicated and intriguing story that still is as fascinating as it was when the real event took place more than 20 years ago. (2018)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History, Sport

On Borrowed Time

March 1st, 2018 — 9:23pm


On Borrowed Time

Four older men in an assisted living home in Dubai seemed to be losing interest in life when one of them gets a notice that he has inherited lots of money. This leaves them to begin a foray outside their living arrangement. The story ends up being an uplifting film which deserves to be seen not only by the Arab speaking world but also by others who will use subtitles (which could be slightly improved).

The movie gives an insight into contemporary life in an Arab country along with several seeming paradoxes, which intrigued us. The older folks wore traditional garb while the younger people were in modern western dress and went to nightclubs. The living facility was all men – not co-ed although the capable physician was a young attractive woman in western dress. We were surprised to see these vibrant men ending up in this facility when we know of the strong Arab tradition of families caring for their elderly. But perhaps that is what made the story so interesting and drove the plot. The theme of living life to its fullest at all ages is universal.

The acting was top-of-the-line and superb. Kudos should go to Saad Al Faraj, Mansour Al Feeli, Salloum Haddad, Marei Al Halliam, Fouad Ali and Layla Abdullah. The writer-director Yasir Al Yasiri did an excellent job. The film was based on a short story by Karim Al Iraqi. One of the producers, an American, Caleb Wilson was at our screening and shared with us that this film is one of many coming down the pike that was made in the Arab world but should have great appeal to Western audiences. This movie might not be available in your local theater but you should be able to find it on Netflix or the like. If you are a student of film, it wouldn’t surprise us if this one might end up being an important movie in reflecting the changing scene of international film making from the Arab world. (2018)

Comment » | 4 Stars


February 8th, 2018 — 9:15am



When a filmmaker decides to make a two-hour and seven minute film in Russian (with the subtitles of course), he has to have a storyline that is going to grab and hold the audience. This movie is a Russian finalist and is nominated for the Best Foreign Film of the Year. It featured Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Matvey Novikov and Marina Vasilyeva and was directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev who wrote the screenplay with Oleg Negin. It was a beautifully made movie which examined marriage and how it can fail. It remind us how a destructive marital relationship can devastate a child who may feel that he has no place to go especially when the parents don’t show the caring and love a child deserves.

Early in the movie we see the child become literally lost and the audience is taken on the long search for him. It seems that we experienced every rock that is lifted, every brush that is moved aside and every deserted building, which is explored. We are impressed that there is the mobilization of volunteers to search for the boy We are also led to believe that the parents are desperate to find the lost child, although we really don’t understand the dynamics behind why they should care when we saw how they didn’t really give a hoot about him before he became lost. Of course we understand how guilt can completely takeover in situations like this. But guilt is not love. The title and theme of this movie is “Loveless.” We are following people who had a limited capacity for love for each other and even for their next partners. We get a glimpse of the dynamics of where this might originate in one of the characters. (Would it surprise you to learn it has something to do with the mother?) In situations like this the audience usually will not like or identify with the main characters. So we’re going to need something more than beautiful photography, a skillful sound background and a little suspense. After all, 127 minutes is a good chunk of time. We felt in the end, the film didn’t deliver. (2017)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign

Basmati Blues

February 1st, 2018 — 5:21am


Basmati Blues

Even before La La Land, which won five Oscars last season was released, the team behind Basmati Blues was planning this old fashioned musical. It was co-written and eventually directed by Danny Baron who worked with producers Monique Caufield, Jeffrey Soros and Ruedi Gerber, all experienced movie makers. Their idea was not just to make a Hollywood musical, but to come up with one that had a storyline which would take place in India and would meld that country’s culture, dance and music along with the traditional American musical. They put together a very talented casts starring Brie Larson, who won the Oscar for Best Actress in 2015 for Room. Miss Larson proves herself not only to be a talented actress but to be one who can sing and dance. She is paired with Utkarsh Ambudkar who is an All-American actor with an Indian heritage. The cast also includes Scott Bakula and Tyne Daly who are quite capable of singing and dancing along with Donald Sutherland who plays his villain type.

The storyline shows an American, very large seed manufacturing company that wants to sell its new product to the farmers of India. They send the young, brilliant, beautiful scientist (Larson) to India to convince the farmers to use this product (which did have a serious flaw). There is an Indian science guy (Ambudkar) who thought that he had a better idea. There is drama, intrigue, a little romance and of course, music, dance and song. It was a little disturbing that the people of India were being conned and weren’t as smart as they should have been. But you know (no spoiler alert here) that in the end there is a crescendo with happy, enjoyable music, dance and song in a beautiful setting. Everyone seemed to be leaving the theater with a big smile on his and her face which is the way it should be (2017).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Musical

Divine Order

January 28th, 2018 — 6:48am


The Divine Order

The suffrage movement, women’s rights and women’s liberation is one of the most dramatic and heartwarming stories of American history. It also resonates in a country such as Switzerland where women did not have the right to vote until the 1970s. Screenwriter and director Petra Volpe shows to focus on the particular process around a countrywide referendum whether women should have the right to vote. The story takes place in a small town in Switzerland and follows Nora (Marie Leuenberger), her husband Hans (Max Simonischek), her sister-in-law Theresa (Rachel Braunschweig), their family and mainly the women of this town. The story touches upon the changing traditional roles between men and women. It highlights generational differences and even puts the focus on women’s new awareness of their own bodies. The moving storyline about the interpersonal relationships as well as the emerging self-awareness of both men and women will push your buttons and touch your emotions. This has all the hallmarks   of a well done successful movie which is worth seeing now and preserving for future generations. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History, Politics

Wonder Woman

January 16th, 2018 — 5:11am


Wonder Woman – rm

You take a $149 million budget (which thus far has earned six times that amount), pull together a cast and crew with behind the screens technicians probably totaling at least a thousand people (based on the credits), put it together in at least four different countries (USA, Italy, Hungary and New Zealand) and build a story around a character who has been a heroine to at least three generations of girls and you get magnificent Wonder Woman! (Gal Gadot) She, of course, can leap buildings in a single bound (like Superman did), can stop bullets with her wristband or even catch them, has super strength and of course she has a magic lasso which will make anyone tell the truth.

We meet our heroine as a young girl as she is training to be an Amazon (all powerful women) on a secret island. It is during World War I and a British pilot (Chris Pine) on a spy mission is being chased by a flotilla of German boats with lots of German soldiers. He crashes into the water and is saved by our heroine who fights off the pursuing Germans until the other Amazon women come to help and wipe them all out. But our spy knows that the Germans have a new secret weapon that involves a deadly gas and he must, get the news back to the Allies. They’re in a tremendous battle, a confrontation with the evil of all evil men and many other things that you can imagine.

But the real heroes and heroines of this film have to be the behind the scenes technicians who produced the tremendous special effects that are throughout just about every scene with appropriate sound effects and music. This is all under the direction of Patty Jenkins with a screenplay and story by Zack Snyder and Allan Heinberg. There was an excellent supporting cast including Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, David Thewlis and many others.

We understand that most women viewers have been quite touched and even tearful at the end of this film and the female member of our duo was also moved. We don’t know if many guys felt that way and it could be a whole new discussion figuring out what this film is tapping into. But all should agree that we are seeing a classic and there will probably be a sequel (2017).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

I Am Not Your Negro

January 9th, 2018 — 9:14am


I Am Not Your Negro-sp

In 1979, the esteemed writer, James Baldwin, proposed a book to his agent which would deal with the life and death of Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King. He only got around to completing 30 pages of this book and he died eight years later in 1987. Director and Screenwriter, Raoul Peck, picked up the ball and constructed this documentary film using the beginning 30 pages plus clips of Baldwin and other important voices on the subject and brought in Samuel Jackson to do the voice over. He constructed a story that highlighted the oppression of blacks in this country dating back to slavery and moving forward to the modern civil rights movement in which Malcolm X, Evers and King made such major contributions each in his own way.

This is more than a review of history. It captures how Baldwin and others have felt as they were denied the freedoms (overt and subtle) that so many Americans take for granted. His passion comes across so clearly whether it is in viewing clips of interviews with him on the Dick Cavett Late Night Television Show or the voice of Samuel Jackson as he speaks through the written words of Baldwin and the director/writer Peck. There are appropriate film clips from classic American films which include well-known actors, as well as newsreels which show Evers, King and Malcolm X making their indelible mark on American history.

We would like to say that this is all past history. Baldwin died 30 years ago and the three subjects of his proposed book are gone even longer. While these great men and many others have brought us much closer to a time when racial discrimination would be ancient history, we are not there yet. This documentary film which was nominated for an Oscar as best documentary film last year will allow its viewers to reflect about contemporary times and consider what still has to be done. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, History

The Florida Project

January 8th, 2018 — 12:23am



The amazing aspect of this movie is the great accomplishment of director Sean Baker, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Chris Bergoch, in assisting six or seven-year-old Brooklyn Prince to play Moonie, the perky daughter of an immature but loving tattooed mother (Bria Vinaite). They live in a motel named Magic Castle Motel, a stone’s throw from Disney Land. You may remember Mr. Baker’s previously well-received low budget movie titled Tangerine which was about transgender prostitutes and was shot with cell phones. The budget for the current film has obviously been upped and brings aboard William Dafoe who does a great job as the kind, compassionate motel manager. There are a bunch of cohort children living in the motel and they are partners in crime with lovable Moonie. Mr. Baker has once again shown us the underbelly of society which is before our very eyes but most of us never see it. We wanted the film to end in a happy romp in Disney World but imagined some terrible accidental or purposeful tragedy would occur. We didn’t leave the theater with any satisfaction but imagine some of you might find it in the spotlight that the movie puts on our societal shortcomings. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, History

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