Category: History


The Two Popes

November 7th, 2019 — 6:28am

*****

The Two Popes-sp

At our preview screening of this movie, we had the pleasure of hearing the screenwriter Anthony McCarten describe how he created his vision of the relationship between these two Popes. Mr. McCarten who also wrote the screenplays for The Darkest Hour (Winston Churchill), “Theory Of Everything” (Steven Hawking) and “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Freddie Mercury and his band Queen) built the story based on little known facts about the interactions between the current liberal Pope Francis and the previous conservative Pope Benedict. The story imagines a meeting between the two of them prior to the resignation of Pope Benedict, which may have actually taken place. Through the use of flashbacks in time, we learn about Pope Francis as a young priest in Argentina and how he dealt with the influence of Peron in his native country. During the imagined meeting between the two Popes, prior to the time that Pope Benedict steps aside, there is a suggestion that both of them have regrets in their lives. Although it is not mentioned directly, the older Pope is said to have been a member of the Hitler Youth Group in his native Germany. Certainly, both men come across as very empathic servants of God who care greatly about people and are deeply religious.

Aside from the fascinating interaction between these two historic figures, the scenes inside the Vatican, which has been recreated (no actual filming is allowed inside) are magnificent. The acting by the two great actors Jonathan Pryce (Pope Francis) and Anthony Hopkins (Pope Benedict) are quite masterful. The direction of the movie and photography led by Fernando Meirelles is outstanding. This film definitely deserves your attention.

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Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History

Harriet

November 5th, 2019 — 7:27am

*****

Harriet-rm

If you know anything about the story of Harriet Tubman, you will be expecting an exciting adventure about a woman slave who escapes to freedom and then goes on to rescue many others through the famed Underground Railroad. You will not be disappointed as British actress Cynthia Erivo does a remarkable job of inhabiting the famed heroine. The movie was directed by Kasi Lemmons, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Gregory Allen Howard.

The story begins as our heroine, who is then known as Minty, decides to escape from her owner’s son who is supposed to have freed her. She actually runs 100 miles, much of it being chased and hunted, until she reaches Philadelphia where slavery does not exist. She meets an abolitionist, (Leslie Odom, Jr.) and others. She takes on her freedom name of Harriet Tubman and returns to the South in order to rescue her family and many others. This becomes her life calling as she is active in the Underground Railroad. We experience her dangerous adventures and confrontations and see how she becomes one of the great American heroines for these actions as well as her exploits during the Civil War. The movie is highlighted by a moving musical score by Terence Blanchard.

Ms. Tubman lived to the age of 93 and we cannot help but be reminded that Harriet Tubman’s image was scheduled to replace that of Andrew Jackson on the United States $20 bill. However, it was recently announced by President Trump and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, that this plan was being delayed for several years for “technical reasons.” We wonder why?

Despite this “delay” in establishing the well-deserved honor, the film is playing now and provides a strong and moving account of a true American heroine.(2019)

 

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Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History

The Current War: Director’s Cut

October 17th, 2019 — 7:09am

***

The Current War: Director’s Cut- sp

No, this is not about the current fighting between Turkey, Syria, and the Kurds. It is actually a very American story where “current” means “electricity” and the main characters in the movie are Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch), George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) and Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult).

This 2016 film got lost in movieland politics involved with Harvey Weinstein. However, its director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon was able to hold on to the film and bring back some of the stars and redo parts of the movie. The result is a very interesting story that we assume most of us knew very little about and that is that there was a historical battle about which kind of electricity would win the right to light up the Chicago World’s Fair and ultimately, win the race to light up the United States. Would it be direct current (DC) favored by Thomas Edison or alternating current (AC) championed by George Westinghouse? We also get some insight into the private lives of these men and their wives played by Katherine Waterston and Tuppence Middleton.

This is not a documentary film and not exactly a docudrama. However, it is a fascinating story about very interesting people. The main characters are household names not only associated with electricity but in the case of Edison, he is known for bringing us recorded sound and he essentially invented motion pictures.

While this movie might not have provided the deep insight that the director was striving for, it certainly personified these men and told the fascinating tale of the historical contributions to the world that they made.(2019)

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1 comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History

Hacksaw Ridge

July 26th, 2019 — 6:58pm

*****

Hacksaw Ridge-rm

I always thought that my favorite World War II action films were Sands of Iwo Jima with John Wayne and Battleground with Van Johnson, both of which I must have seen as a youngster; however, today many years later on an international plane flight, I chose to watch Hacksaw Ridge. This movie certainly had as realistic and action packed World War II battle scenes that I have ever seen. The director was an action movie star himself, Mel Gibson. Interestingly, however, is the fact that the hero of this film is not a combat soldier but a conscientious objector who enlisted to fight in World War II, not with the gun, but as a medic, which he was finally allowed to be after almost being court-martialed for refusing to train with the weapon. The film also included a romantic element as the young man fell in love with his first girlfriend. The most amazing part of this movie is that it is a true story. The hero, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), the medic solider, was a real person who ultimately was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery. He and some of the soldiers portrayed in this film were shown at the conclusion of the film adding to the outstanding cinematic experience (2016).

 

Comment » | 5 Stars, Action, Drama, History, War

Best of Enemies

April 8th, 2019 — 7:44pm

****

Best of Enemies-rm

This is ultimately a feel good movie, but it is hard to believe whether this is a true story that went down as it is depicted in the film. Truth is stranger than fiction and the movie is based on a  story, which was confirmed at the end of the film by showing us some clips of the real people.

The setting is Durham, North Carolina in the 1970s. The Ku Klux Klan is active and we meet the local Klan leader, C. P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell). We also meet a local black activist, Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson). Both of them are about to clash after a fire makes the black grade school uninhabitable. There is great conflict as the local city council has to decide what to do since the white folks do not seem to want to share their grade school with the black children who have lost their school.

We never heard the term “charrette” before. It refers to a meeting in which the various sides of a conflict get together to resolve the conflict and work out a solution. The local city council brings in a “charrette expert”, Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay) who sets up a committee to discuss and vote a solution. The “coaches” of the committee were appointed to be the clan chief and the black activist. We get a glimpse of the back story of some of the characters especially the clan leader who has a hospitalized developmentally disabled child. We also meet a local white pharmacist who is the member of the committee and he himself has hired a black Vietnam war buddy to be his assistant manager in his pharmacy. We see that the local clan group likes to practice shooting guns and are prone to intimidate white people who are sympathetic to blacks.

You might say that the story line is somewhat predictable, but it still created a strong emotional impact on us, which was made even more powerful as we learned more about the real people upon whom these characters were based as we saw them speak during the credits.

Director, Robin Bissell certainly knew how to pull our emotional strings and Mr. Rockwell and Ms. Henson may get some award nods for their performances (2019).

 

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Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

Bohemian Rhapsody

January 22nd, 2019 — 2:50am

*****

Bohemian Rhapsody-rm

If you or your children were following the contemporary music scene in the 1970s and the 1980s, you had to be familiar with the sound of Queen and must have rocked or swayed to “We Will Rock You”. However, you may not know all the details and the ins and outs behind the scenes of this band especially the story of lead singer, Freddie Mercury.

We also suspect that the making of this film must be a fascinating story in and of itself. Originally, Sacha Baron Cohen was scheduled to play Freddie Mercury, but after he dropped out, Rami Malek was given the part. The original director, Bryan Singer apparently only completed two-thirds of the film before he was replaced by Dexter Fletcher after various conflicts which we don’t understand.

These issues aside, there is no question that Rami Malek was terrific in the lead role. He was given a dental prosthesis which gave him a physical appearance closely resembling the real Freddie Mercury. He also took singing and piano lessons as well as having an accent coach. As indicated in the final credits, a very large technical staff was able to synchronize the actual singing of Mercury,Queen and their music to the actors’ performances which had to be quite an accomplishment. The other band members were played by Ben Hardy, Joe Mazello, Gwilym Lee and Brian May. According to the photos and film clips shown of the real band members at the end of the film, the appearance of the actors were dead ringers for the real band members.

However, the success and brilliance of this movie aside from the projection of the original music was a telling of the sensitive and complicated story of Freddie Mercury. Born to Pakistani parents, he had the confidence in his music ability to become the lead singer in the band which he joined as a young man and led them to their meteoric rise. Of course, there were conflicts with managers, record companies and among themselves. However, the biggest conflict was the turmoil within Mercury himself. Engaged to his beautiful girlfriend, Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), he reluctantly had to confront the fact that he was gay (and of course this is in the age of AIDS).

The film concludes with the focus on the famous 1985 Live Aid concert for famine relief in Africa. All of the top singers in the world were there and many people felt that Queen stole the show. Their performance was recreated in a magnificent cinematic accomplishment. The actual Live Aid concert raised $125 million in famine relief for Africa. Incidentally thus far (prior to the Oscars in which this movie is likely to be a contender) this film has grossed $743 million which is five times more than the money raised in the 1985 Live Aid concert.(2019)

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Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History, Musical

Vice

January 20th, 2019 — 9:59pm

***

VICE-rm

If you remember Dick Cheney, you will have to agree that Christian Bale is a dead ringer for President George W. Bush’s vice-president in appearance, speech and mannerisms despite the fact that in real life Bale looks nothing like him. This is a great tribute to the actor and the film makers.

Depending on your political point of view, you will probably decide if the depiction of Cheney is true to life. He certainly is shown to be a power-hungry, manipulative, opportunist. Sam Rockwell does an excellent impersonation of President GW Bush who is shown to be somewhat weak and under the spell of his vice-president. Steve Carell plays Donald Rumsfeld who was a person involved in Cheney’s career early on as well as in his later years but we could not forget that it was Carell and we were expecting him to breakout into some comedy lines.

The movie highlights the importance of the influence of Cheneys’s wife, Lynne (Amy Adams) in his life. Perhaps the most moving and sympathetic moment in the film in regard to Cheney, was how he was able to accept his daughter’s coming out as gay whereas his wife seemed not to be able to do so. Otherwise, there is not much sympathy for this character who was shown to have led the country into the Iraq War as well as many other questionable decisions including favoring Halliburton, the company for which he had previously worked.

As realistic as the depiction of the main character was in this film, there were some distractions with flashbacks and other cinematic effects. Although well-done, we thought they took away from the flow of the movie. Also, you may recall that there was an incident where Cheney accidentally shot someone with a rifle. This event was briefly shown but there was no explanation of how it came about or who was the victim.

The movie was directed by Adam McKay who is known for the Big Short, Anchorman I and II and more recently Holmes & Watson. The producer team included Brad Pitt as well as Will Ferrell and there was a whopping 40 million dollar budget for it. One more thing, don’t leave the theater whenever you begin to see the credits come on the screen. Each time there is more to come. (2019)

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Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History, Politics

Green Book

January 19th, 2019 — 5:39am

*****

Green Book-rm

This is a fresh original look at the unbridled racial prejudice that was still present in the South in the early 1960s. It is directed by Peter Farrelly, who co-wrote the movie with Nick Vallelonga and Brian Currie. It is based on the true experience of a well-known black musician known as Dr. Don Shirley (who is played by Mahershala Ali). Shirley is invited to go on tour in the South and play in various theaters and at the homes of wealthy people although he could make more money performing in the NY area. He agrees to take this tour knowing well and perhaps because of an event that happened in the mid-1950s when famed black singer Nat King Cole was racially attacked on stage during one of his tours in the South. Shirley is about to take his tour into the South with his trio and he engages a tough guy known as Leo the Lip, (played by Viggo Mortensen), a guy, with an Italian background who was on a hiatus from his job, as a bouncer at the famed New York Copacabana Nightclub to be his driver.

What emerges is a magnificent character study of both men as they go on this journey into the segregated South that clearly existed in the United States in the mid-20th century. Through their eyes and their feelings, the movie viewer gets an insight into the prejudicial society that they were encountering. While the performance of Ali as a skilled pianist was excellent, it was Mortensen’s performance and his ability to show the subtle insights that his character developed, that made this an outstanding film

Although it is no longer necessary to have a “Green Book” to find a hotel that will accept people of color, we know that prejudice towards people who are different still exists. Therefore, it is a movie such as this one that is always helpful in making us takes take stock of our own values and the bigotry around us. (2019)

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Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History

Mary Queen of Scots

December 5th, 2018 — 6:02am

**

Mary Queen of Scots

Unless you are an Anglophile, and deeply understand British history, do not even think about this movie. Even if you do think you know enough to be interested in the story, we doubt you will be able to follow it. It did appear that Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie were really into their roles as Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I, but we could not distinguish the mostly bearded men who were around them, nor figure out exactly what was their point of view. The intense confrontation scene towards the end of the film between the two women monarchs is probably the highlight of the film, although apparently some historians say they never actually met in person and thus it is poetic license, which is acceptable but in our opinion does not save the movie (2018).

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, History

On The Basis of Sex

November 29th, 2018 — 6:46am

****

On the Basis Of Sex

This film follows on the heels of “RBG”, a very well-received documentary film about the iconic Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg. However, this movie is a dramatization of the early life of Judge Ginsburg starting with her entry into Harvard Law School and following her as she married her lawyer husband Martin, had her two children, battled prejudice and discrimination as she tried to get her first job and then ultimately took on a game-changing case in which she established the modern legal basis for equal rights for women and foiled attempts at discrimination based on sex.

Felicity Jones is excellent as RBG as is Armie Hammer as her husband and Justin Theroux as Mel Wolf, head of the ACLU. Mimi Leder, a veteran TV director, returns to film directing which she did earlier in her career. This movie not only provides superb entertainment and an opportunity for discussion but it also gives us insight into relevant contemporary social issues. (2018)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, Politics

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