Category: 4 Stars


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 Post

December 29th, 2017 — 7:29pm

****

The Post

This movie tells a great classic American story with outstanding lead actors a strong supporting cast and of course it has Steven Spielberg as director. We approached this film with very high expectations. After its sluggish start, where we weren’t sure who were all the characters and what exactly was going on, we soon got with the flow and we were not disappointed. We trust the filmmakers, so we believe this is a true behind-the-scene story which those of us who can recall the time and the events, did not know all the details.

If you know anything about these historical events, a government worker by the name of Daniel Ellsworth (Matthew Rhys) leaked secret documents to the New York Times and Washington Post which reveal a government study showing that the United States could not expect to win the Vietnam War. This had tremendous implications since this would mean that subsequent United States military deaths and casualties would serve no purpose.

The drama centered around Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) who inherited the ownership of the Washington Post and had to make the decision whether or not to publish these papers and Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) the heroic editor of The Post who advocated publishing the story despite possible risks to the newspaper and staff. There was an important back story as the viewer came to appreciate that Graham found herself in the unexpected role for a woman of her time and rose to the occasion. One of us was disappointed that part of the story, which involved Daniel Ellsworth’s psychiatrist, was not explored. Much of the drama in the movie involved phone calls often in the evening, which will have to be explained to any younger generation you might bring to the theater as they used “dial phones” “Princess phones” “payphones” which will be totally unknown to anyone under 40 who of course only has been familiar with cell phones (2017).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama

The Shape of Water

December 19th, 2017 — 7:35am

****

The Shape of Water

This is an unusual conglomeration of a movie set in the 60s, combining a science fiction and fantasy genre with a classical cinematic musical, mixed with a cold war spy thriller. Much of the story takes place in some kind of a government facility where Eliza (Sally Hawkins) a mute cleaning woman works. She happens in on a government research project where a gentle monster of an amphibian man (Doug Jones – not the politician) is being housed. They communicate with silent gestures as two kindred souls. Meanwhile in the background there is a tough government official (Michael Shannon) who seems to be against everyone who is not patriotic. There is the spy but really a good person (Michael Stuhlbarg), a sympathetic fellow cleaning lady (Octavia Spencer) and a lonely neighbor artist (David Hewlett). We get the feeling that perhaps this is a satire, which is confronting a political climate where people who are different are marginalized. (Sound Familiar?)

This unusual story is written by Guillermo del Toro, who directed the film and also co-wrote the screenplay with Vanessa Taylor. Sally Hawkins did a knockout job despite playing a mute woman (she did appear to sign quite proficiently and actually had a chance to do a spot of singing and dancing quite beautifully in a fantasy scene). The story will pull you in and touch your emotions with its content and with the period music. It goes to show you that despite the unlimited choice of entertainment on television, movies are still better than ever. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Wonder

December 6th, 2017 — 7:18am

****

Wonder-rm

 

It might not be too difficult to remember your feelings or your children’s anxiety at the time of the first day of school. In this case it is magnified exponentially as we see the situation through the eyes of a young boy who has facial deformities since birth. In addition he has been home schooled by his mother (Julia Roberts) until he is now starting fifth grade. This movie is based on a bestselling novel by R.J. Palacio, which has been extremely popular with both parents and children.( See Book review by Leo Blumenfield  Age 10 in 2014) In fact after Ms. Roberts read this story to her children and heard that the movie was being made, she wanted to play the mother.

The storyline follows the experience of this young boy Augie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), as he encounters his new classmates. We also appreciate the complicated reactions of other kids both boys and girls in this New York City Prep School. In addition, we gain insight into his oldest sister (Isabella Vidovic), who has been growing up with a brother she loves, but yet whose circumstances have indelibly shaped her relationship with her parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson). We see how not only does Augie and his family have to deal with the challenges of the boy’s life circumstances but so do his teachers, the school principal (Mandy Potankin), classmates and some of their parents.

Accolades have to be given to Jacob Tremblay, the star of this movie who was ten years old when the film was made. In his young career he has been in several well-received movies including The Room for which he received critical acclaim. Director Stephen Chbowsky also deserves recognition not only because that should be the case whenever a young child actor stands out but also because he co-wrote the screenplay and directed a very complicated emotional story.

We both felt  that we were not only experiencing a very well done movie that was examining children and adults’ complex understanding in responses to one of the sad and unusual variations of the human condition but we also were deeply and visceral touched and brought to tears by how the story was played out on the screen. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Family / Kids

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

November 20th, 2017 — 7:26am

****

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri – rm

“Hate begets hate” is one line in this film which summarized this very well-acted, quite intense drama. The production is the creative work of Martin McDonagh who wrote the screenplay and was a very skillful director.

Frances McDormand stars as a mother who challenges a local police chief to solve the murder of her daughter who she blatantly states was raped while she was dying. She does this by putting up the above-mentioned provocative three billboards just on the outside of town. This is the second film that we have seen in the past couple of weeks which featured Woody Harrelson. (see review of LBJ).    He does an excellent portrayal as the local police chief. Two other familiar faces who appear are veteran Sam Rockwell, and relatively new comer but excellent actor Lucas Hedges.

We believe that a high quality of a movie can be judged when there is development with growth and change of the various characters which is what we see in the people we meet in this small town. The storyline is different and not predictable. The acting is superb. This movie definitely rates your attention. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Uncategorized

Lady Bird

November 4th, 2017 — 7:48am

****

Lady Bird-sp

This film has nothing to with LBJ’s wife and the movie previously reviewed. It does have a great deal to do with the accomplished actress and writer 33-year-old Greta Gerwig (Francis Ha, Greenberg and many other films) who is making her directorial debut in this film for which she is also the screenwriter. It appears that Ms. Gerwig has drawn upon her experience growing up in Sacramento, California and having attended a Catholic High School around the year 2002. We won’t speculate how much of the rest of the film is autobiographical nor is it important. However, this talented writer/ director has captured the painful and glorious experience of a high school girl coming of age. This young woman Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) tries to break through what is expected of her and finds and shows her individuality. Ms. Saoirse is near perfect in realistically bringing this character alive with the words and direction of Ms. Gerwig. There is equally well-written character portrayed in an outstanding performance by Laurie Metcalf as Lady Bird’s mother who is a nurse (as was Ms. Gerwig’s mother). The friction and interaction between mother and daughter will be familiar to many. The father is sensitively played by actor-play writer Tracy Letts.

One major conflict that is played out very well and may reverberate with many viewers is Lady Bird’s desire to go to an expensive East Coast College with a plan that is rejected by her mother. Will she be accepted and will her parents support this dream? This conflict along with typical ups and downs of friendships among girls and the problems of negotiating her own sexuality and her relationship with boys are universal and will reverberate with the audience. In the end, we believe this film will stand out and be well-remembered. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

The Mountain Between Us

October 4th, 2017 — 5:49am

****

The Mountain Between Us-sp

This film successfully blends a survival film genre and a subtle love story. Add a very appealing dog and set the film in a deserted snow field freezing mountain range and you have a riveting movie based on a best selling novel. Seven-time Oscar nominated actress Kate Winslet may be up for her eighth nomination and perhaps her second win as she plays a professional photographer, Alex Martin, who gets shut out of her commercial flight on the way home to get married. She is paired perfectly with Idris Elba who plays Ben Bass, a neurosurgeon who shares a quickly arranged but ill-fated flight in a small private plane with Alex.

Aside from the slow burning chemistry that develops between the two main characters who inhabit the film together for most of the 111 minutes, it is the vision and creativity of director Hany Abu-Assad that makes this movie worth seeing. We had an opportunity to hear a firsthand description by the director how he put aside utilizing CGIs (computer-generated images) for most of the film and instead took his film crew high into the freezing cold beautiful mountain country and had his two actors and a dog slip and slide struggling through freezing ice cold snow. He even had his actress fall into a deep crevice of icy water.

Whether you identified with the journey of these two characters or mainly admire the skill of this film production, you will appreciate that this is a movie well worth seeing. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Romance

Gook

August 17th, 2017 — 5:37am

****

Gook-sp

Be prepared for a powerful penetrating examination of the conflictual relationship between the Koreans and the Blacks in Los Angeles in 1992 just as the riots following the Rodney King incident exploded. This is cinema realite as this black and white film follows a handful of characters who have their own personal interactions as their city is about to burn.

The story revolves around Kamilla, a 10 or 11-year-old adorable Black girl (Simone Baker) who lives with her older brother and sister, goes to school and spends most of her spare time helping out in a shoe store run by a two Korean brothers, Eli (Justin Chon) and Daniel (David So). Kamilla’s brother, Keith (Curtiss Cook Jr.) comes into a major confrontation with the Korean brothers that is symbolic of what is about to happen in the City of Angels. This movie is written and directed by Justin Chon who plays Eli. He stated in a post-film interview that he wanted to present a balanced view of the Black and Korean conflicts at this time. We will forgive him for clearly being more sympathetic to the Koreans but nevertheless providing insight into both sides. There is a Korean store keeper, Mr. Kim (played by the director’s father, Sang Chon) who provides a sense of the previous generation who came to the United States hoping to provide a better life for their children, and then finds themselves and families engaged in a bitter conflict in a city that is erupting into an even larger polarizing battle.

The contrast between the innocence and hopefulness of Kamilla and the venomous curse words spouted out by the warring factions is as stark and bleak as is the black and white film that is shown on the screen. We cannot help but be reminded how there are contentious and polarized groups in this country today. But hopefully this movie has also shown how fruitless it can be for individuals and groups to hate each other. That is the big message of this small independent movie and it is well worth viewing. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

The Only Living Boy in New York

August 2nd, 2017 — 5:19am

 ****

The Only Living Boy in New York-sp

This movie has some shades of a Woody Allen film in its character studies of people and in capturing the atmosphere of Manhattan. It examines family and sexual relationships between a husband and wife as well as extramarital love and sex. It looks at a young man’s struggle with his sexual and romantic feelings. This is a psychological drama that highlights guilt, jealousy and even an important aspect of the oedipal complex. It is complicated and heavy stuff and it all flows from the pen of screenwriter Allen Loeb, who had written several successful movies before this earlier script ultimately came to fruition. This didn’t happen until Marc Webb became attached to it as director and a terrific ensemble cast was put together which includes Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon, Kiersey Clemons and Kate Beckinsale. However, the character who ties the plot together is relative newcomer, Callum Turner, who plays Thomas, the 25-year-old son who ultimately makes deep seated discoveries about himself and each of his parents before he can move on with his life.

This Coming of Age  movie that will capture your attention and make you ponder each character’s motivation. The story has depth, poignancy and surprises which will grab hold you and won’t let go throughout the film. It certainly kept us thinking and talking as we left the theater. (2017) – Scheduled for release August 11th

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Romance

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