Wednesday, April 4, 2018

LOVE, SIMON, UNSANE, RED SPARROW, FANTASTIC WOMAN, MARY AND THE WITCHES FLOWER, GOLDSTONE, ISLE OF DOGS, THUROUGHBREDS, GAME NIGHT, A WRINKLE IN TIME plus James Bond film from 1970-1995

Here's a charming, smart teen age love story with a refreshing twist.  Simon thinks he's the only one with  a secret in his high school---he's well adjusted, comes from a close and loving family, he's popular and gets good grades, but feels alienated because he is gay, and thinks he knows no one else like him.  He connects with another gay guy anonymously through this computer, but the other guy will not come out, and when another student outs Simon he is afraid that he will lose the friendship of this other mystery guy.  Here's a solid comedy drama that is both entertaining and vividly acted--there may be over a dozen main characters here, but each one, whether family or friend comes across as compelling and likeable.  Several high profile actors and directors have loved LOVE, SIMON  so much that they have bought out  theatres where it is playing, hoping to have audiences experience the film for free, trusting that word of mouth will make this a big hit.  They should have an easy time---here's this year's first major crowd pleaser.                        GRADE-------------A-

Director Steven Soderbergh (SEX LIES AND VIDEO TAPE, ERIN BROCKOVICH, TRAFFIC, BEHIND THE CANDELABRA, etc.) teams up with Claire Foy (TV'S THE CROWN) and a surprisingly effective iPhone, to make a thrifty thriller about a young woman, disturbed by an insistent male stalker, who finds herself involuntarily committed to an asylum for observation for a week, only to find her stalker works there.  The film UNSANE is a "is she or isn't she" conceit, and "is he or isn't he''mystery, and even when you think you have it sorted, there are still some twists to come.  It is not a perfect film, but it builds paranoia and suspense in a Hitchcockian sort of way, and in spite of being low budget and simplistic in story line, it feels surprisingly satisfying--and Claire Foy is remarkable.
                GRADE----------B+

This cold war thriller has Russian Jennifer Lawrence being recruited by her ruthless uncle to become a sparrow spy, a young person who uses sex to get spy secrets from anyone she can.  The film RED SPARROW is dark and moody, and there are some very effective (and creepy) scenes, and although the film was engrossing,  it is more SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD instead of JAMES BOND 007.  The excellent cast includes Joel Edgerton, a US spy who tries to turn her, Jeremy Irons as her superior, Mathais Schoenaerts as her evil uncle, and a nasty Charlotte Rampling as her teacher/trainer.                     GRADE----------------B

This film A FANTASTIC WOMAN from Chile won the best foreign language film  Oscar this year, mostly as a tribute to the vivid performance by Daniela Vega, who plays a transwoman who loses her lover to a heart attach early in the film.  This issue becomes the defining event to the older man's friends and family, and the police and the medical workers who assisted him.  There are many scenes of discrimination and indignities she must endure, which leave her little time to mourn her man.    It is a sad film but she is buoyantly positive throughout, lifting the film to another level of feeling.            GRADE----------------B

The clever animation,  witty dialogue, and quirky sensibilities of this new Wes Anderson film  ISLE OF DOGS make it very watchable, but the plot is convoluted and wacky and arbitrary, and although set in Japan, the Japanese speakers speak without subtitles (although mostly none are needed)  and there are so many characters (over 20 speaking parts for dogs and nearly as many for humans) that all the special  famous character actors that appear in the film seem wasted since you can't tell which actor is speaking most of the time.                      GRADE---------------B

Japanese animae continues to be more beautiful and creative than just about anything Pixar comes up with visually (COCO excluded this year) so it was fascinating to watch MARY AND THE WITCHES FLOWER, which has a young girl learning about some unknown powers she might have.  The plot is a bit convoluted but it was nearly a pleasure for the eyes throughout.                 GRADE--------------B

From Australia come this modern film noir about a new sheriff arriving to a small out back town  trying to solve the murder of a young Chinese woman who was working as a prostitute.  GOLDSTONE the town has a lot of characters who don't want this newcomer to be poking his nose in their business.  Of course, there is a big conspiracy to unravel, and although the film doesn't take advantage of some dynamic potential resolutions,  it is satisfying nonetheless.                    GRADE-------B-

The clever conceit of GAME NIGHT made this comedy a pleasure through the first 40 minutes of this film about a group of friends who meet  regularly to play different games, but one night the games take a deadly turn when it is announced by one player"s  party crashing brother that tonight will be based in reality.  As the plot turns deadly violent, I lost some of my fascination with the action, although there are some bright scenes, clever turns and wild resolutions.  It's a nice try, but maybe the story needs some edgier plotting.                GRADE------------C+

Another nice try, THOROUGHBREDS is a low budget film about two deadly nihilistic teen girls who don't really like each other, but become fixated on murdering a step father.  This is the last film of Anton Yelchin, who steals the film as a drug dealing potential  partner in crime who has a gun.  Yelchin has made over a dozen of films, but his biggest impact is in the three newly updated STAR TREK reboot films as  Chekov.  In 2016 he was killed involving a freak car accident when he tried to stop a car on a hill that lost its breaks.                       GRADE--------------C+

Ten minutes into A WRINKLE IN TIME I wanted to walk out, but then the three adult "witches" turned up and I thought this would  give me something to interest me.  Well, the make up and costumes did interest me for a few minutes. But every scene after their arrival is a wild, bizarre and abstract location with no relationship to reality or the plot (which is basically just jetting all over the "universe" (in their minds) and although you could take a photo of each location and hang it from a museum wall and it might make for an interesting discussion, this film made no sense to me.  No plot, no characters of depth or interest, the dialogue was full of simple platitudes and meaningless proclamations and I was so bored I fought napping, and I couldn't wait for this torture to be over.  The pre teen sitting with her mom in front of me kept twirling her SUN GLASSES!  between her thumb and forefinger, and that interested me more than this turgid turkey.  If it wasn't for the bizarre settings and costumes, I'd rate this film an F!            GRADE---------------D+




Viewed on DVD----------------------------------

SPY 2015--Melissa McCarthy and Jason Statham make a fine pair of spies with different styles.  McCarthy has been a desk agent who provides back up to street agents, but must go undercover when all the spies in her office are compromised.  Statham tries to go by the book but exaggerates so much it's hard to know what is true or not.  McCarthy is in fine timing form, and Stratham is great as a physical klutz.  Allison Janney does a lot with her role of chief spy and the supporting cast is also very funny, especially Rose Byrne and Miranda Hart who is a staple on PBS show CALL THE MIDWIFE.   I've been seeing so many James Bond films lately that this is a nice parody of the spy thriller.                                             GRADE--------------------B

THE INCREDIBLE HULK 2008--This was the second Marvel produced superhero movie (after IRON MAN) and actually does feature Robert Downey Jr. near the end to explain that a group (of superheros) is getting together......This Hulk is a lowkey affair, featuring mostly a lot of running away from evil government agents (headed by William Hurt and Tim Roth) by Edward Norton who is enamored of Hurt's daughter Liz Tyler.  There is a climactic fight scene by Norton (who transforms into the green HULK) to fight the supersized Roth who has taken a multi dose of the serum.   In 2003 director Ang Lee created a HULK film with Eric Bana that centered on the early life of the Banner/Hulk event.  In recent Marvel super hero films, Mark Ruffalo becomes the Banner/Hulk creation.             GRADE-----------------------------B-


THAT DARN CAT! 1965---Disney modest suspense comedy about a cat who could possibly lead the FBI to a kidnapped woman and two bank robbers that might be holed up nearby.  There are two things that help rise this lame feature above others.  One of course is a striking looking cat who is definitely not sweet or cosy, in fact the cat seems to be snarling and lounging out and hissing at every actor that had to deal with it.  But the cat had great vivid blue eyes, and was able to follow direction well.  The main goody  is that Brit Haley Mills, in her teen years here, is as compellingly blunt and charming as she ever was in the dozens of Disney mush that she participated in.  With Dean Jones, Dorothy Provine, Roddy McDowall, Elsa Lanchester and William Demarest who steals all his scenes by insulting his wife Lanchester.                     GRADE--------------------C


James Bond 007 in order (see previous month for earlier films...) 

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER 1971--After passing on Bond due to other commitments and having George Lazenby step in (for ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE for what I thought was a superior episode...)Sean Connery is ready to quit Bond, but the money was "tremendous" say sources.  The film is set for the first time in the USA--mostly Las Vegas,  and the head of a local film teamsters recommends a small part for his friend Jill St. John.  She had been a friend of Henry Kissinger, and had dated the previous Bond George Lazenby for a while.  The producers argued for a while before deciding on St. John--for the lead!!! ahead of Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda and Raquel Welsh!  I've never cared for the sexual brashness of St. John, but in this role she is rather on point, as the film is populated with teamsters, crooks, card sharks, tough guys and money men.  There are some memorable car chases through the streets of downtown Las Vegas, and the sets feature a lot of Mid century modern houses and buildings. A brief scene featuring a singing Sammy Davis Jr. was filmed but ended up on the cutting room floor.  In an attempt to copy the GOLDFINGER sound, Shirley Bassey recorded the Diamonds Are Forever song and had a modest hit with it.  In what I felt was a rather chaotic and unmemorable finale on an oil rig, this modest feature finally ended.        GRADE---------------------B-

LIVE AND LET DIE--1973--Connery is resisting Bond again, so the producers suggest Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood , John Gavin and Burt Reynolds, but they finally decided they wanted to stay with a British actor.  They decided on Roger Moore who they'd rejected 10 years earlier for looking too young.  Moore was initially intimidated by taking over for Connery--he even felt he was delivering his lines with a (Connery) Scottish accent, but soon found his own style by not taking Bond too seriously, and he does give the role an easy touch.  This plot has Bond in New York, Florida and Jamaica, tracking down a drug lord Mr. Big who seems to have dispatched three previous agent to death.  While most of the characters are black, this was the first major role for British actress Jane Seymour (Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman on TV)who plays a mystic oracle card reader/fortune teller for Mr. Big, played by Yaphet Kotto, a dynamic black actor who at the time was well into Black Power/Panther and pride politics, and had some conflicts with the director over some of his direction and dialogue. There was also a lot of prejudice while filming in the South.  The producers offered a white land owner well over a million dollars to film the epic boat chasing sequences--the most they'd ever offered to rent sets or land.  These boats would come out of the water--fly over the land, and then back into the lakes or bayou.  After settling on the amount, the land owner said that he'd noticed a lot of black men in the cast and crew and that would not be acceptable.  When the producers threatened to cancel the deal, the land owner backed down. The producers then decided to have every boat involved in the massive boat chase to be driven and maintained by black crew members.  Still, there was a lot of concern that Bond has an affair with a black agent near the beginning of the film (although action occurs off screen), and Seymour is portrayed as the mistress of Mr. Big.  Even though Black Cinema was exploding on movie screens in the U.S. (like SHAFT, WATERMELON MAN and others) the producers were nervous that theatres in small town America would not screen their film for social or political reasons.   International dancer  Geoffrey Holder also has a memorable early role as a Jamaican voodoo priest, and he choreographed several dance sequences.  There's also a memorable scene that has Bond trapped on a small island in a lake full of crocodiles, which he cleverly maneuvers, natch.  At the end of shooting, Paul McCartney called to offer a completed song to the producers--and was nearly turned down.  The producers kept thinking that they needed a woman to sing the song but the deal was that Paul and wife Linda and their group Wings were a packaged deal.  The producers and directer were not sure they liked the song, but hey--it's a Beatle!  Every one was astonished when the song became a world wide best seller, and was nominated for an Oscar.  The film also out grossed every past Bond film, so worries about the racial tensions dissipated easily.               GRADE----------------B

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN--1974--The producers didn't much like this story from this book which was published  three months after Ian Fleming death, so they "winged" it.  The film is memorable because it was filmed mostly in Thailand and the climax was filmed in Phuket, which at the time only had a brothel as a major business, so the producers bought out the entire place for the crew, and the prostitutes took an extended vacation.  Christopher Lee was distantly related to Ian Fleming (cousins) and was offered the part to get the Dracula out of him, since at the time he'd done a lot of Hammer horror films, and Maud Adams and Britt Ekland were both separately, oddly offered parts without actually auditioning, and they both spoke Swedish, so they made the best of friends while on locations.  Also cast was the short actor Herve Villechaize who later played a continuing character on TVs LOVE BOAT series, as Lee's manservant.  There is another chase on the water that features a spectacular stunt as Bond must use a motor boat to cross a bridge that is collapsed halfway across the water, and it does sort of a corkscrew maneuver to get across.  Other wise, this is a modest film that doesn't work as well as it should, mostly due to the haphazard plot that was pieced together, with only Lee and Villechaize truly memorable.  There's also a red neck southern sheriff left over from LIVE AND LET DIE who turns up on vacation in Thailand, who recognizes Bond from his previous boat chase and lends an amusing hand.           GRADE-----------------B-  

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME 1977--The two main producers for Bond films, Albert  Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had been sharing lead producer responsibility on alternate Bond films, as well as their own films, but their relationship was being fractured by casting decisions, story conflicts and other issues, and they would soon split up their working relationship forever.  Saltzman was "bought" out by Broccoli--at the time it was a large amount of money, but in retrospect, because the Bond franchise was continuing to be increasingly successful, Saltzman got the raw end of the break up.  To this day Broccoli and family have been the sole executive producers of the 007 adventures.  Broccoil brought in his son in law Michael Wilson to co produce, and although they loved the title THE SPY WHO LOVED ME they didn't care much for the story, and there were some legal challenges, so it was rewritten.  The spectacular ski chase scene-- a long long downhill escape for Bond  takes up nearly five minutes of pre title action, and features the wow of having Bond skiing off the edge of a cliff and plummeting down several seconds to his possible death, only to have a parachute open at the last second featuring-------the UNION JACK.  This was the only scene I had remembered from 40 years ago, that and the wonderful theme song NOBODY DOES IT BETTER sung by Carly Simon that became a big smash hit for her.  The film is actually pretty rousing, with Bond teeming up with a Russian spy equivalent woman--whose fiance Bond had killed back during that first first ski chase scene.  She is played by Barbara Bach, who had previously only appeared in French and Italian films, but was considered a great beauty and model(--born in the Oregon!) in those countries..  She does a lovely job, and four years later became the celebrated wife of Beattle Ringo Starr.   This was also fan favorite bad guy's first major movie role for giant Richard Kiel, who appeared as JAWS--his mouth full of nasty metal teeth--a character he repeated in the next Bond film MOONRAKER.   At one point during production,  famed director Stanley Kubrick offered  some cinematography advice to the director and photographer about submarine and underwater shots and lighting.                    GRADE--------------------B+ 

MOONRAKER 1979--  I vaguely remember  this film as the most disappointing Bond ever--where the story spends a lot of time in outer space, and I felt that was not so believable--it had become too fantastical--more like a science fiction actioner than a spy film.  Still on second viewing, there are many pleasures---starting with another spectacular opening scene where Bond is left  without a parachute, then is pushed out of a plane to his certain death.  He dives toward the closest parachute and tries to steal it from him, which he does, of course, leaving Jaws to plummet towards HIS certain death, but there is an amazing "save" that is both shocking and funny.   There is also an exciting cable car sequences with Bond and Jaws fighting high above ground on swinging cars.  It ends, ironically, with a big crash, where Jaws meets the woman of his dreams, and by the end changes his allegiances to Bond.  I'm still not pleased with the final actions in the space station, but the film is still watchable, and future  007 adventures bring Bond back to earth since.  Lois Chiles tries to give her character some back bone and seriousness, but the director shot her down, causing a crying confrontation, but it's clear that Bond women are changing--for the better.                GRADE------------------------B-     

FOR YOUR EYES ONLY 1981--Moore has been Bond for nearly 10 years, and MOONRAKER is the highest grossing 007 film yet, so he is wanting a lot more money, causing producers to start checking out other actors, including the next Bond Timothy Dalton and Michael Billington, who was tested to play Bond more than any other actor, without success.   The new story comes from a couple of Ian Fleming's short stories that were merged together. When a couple--friends of James' boss "M" are murdered, Bond teams with their daughter to find the killers who are heroin smugglers. French actress Carole Bouquet plays the daughter, but there were some issues with her boyfriend who caused her to often be late to the set, and she thought that Moore, who had finally, coyly, agreed to one more outing as Bond, and now age 53, reminded her too much of her father.   Ironically, the daughter is so determined to find the killers that she has no time to be seduced by Bond.  They meet in a wild car chase--for once the car  is a small clunky European sedan (a Citroen 2CV--tiny!) with no special equipment.  There are some great moments as they careen down a steep slope narrowly missing their pursuers (and farmers) , who amusingly end up atop a large olive tree, being showered with olives. 
Professional ice skater Lynn Holly Johnson plays a young Olympic hopeful ice skater with an unhealthy fascination with the much older Bond, and the finale takes place in a small stone monastery on top of a mountain peak, with some exciting cliff climbing moments. Unfortunately, the two monks that showed  up as extras were real monks, who sabotaged the use of the interiors, so the crew was forced to build a monastery "set" in another location. Most of the sets were in Athens (too much smog for good photography,) and on Corfu, and there is another snow chase scene in the Italian Dolomite mountains but a mild spring caused the crew to ship in tons of snow from another mountain top.
The producers were impressed with the powerful voice of Sheena Easton, and wanted her to sing the driving ballad, that went on to become nominated for an Oscar and became a giant international hit.  Easton became the first and so far only singer to appear in the opening titles, superimposed with the writhing naked (in back lit profile) women who have appeared in every Bond film except the "illegitimate" film NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN--see below.                    GRADE--------------B

OCTOPUSSY 1983--The company responsible for distribution, United Artists, is having growing pains (Michael Cimino's HEAVEN'S GATE  has been a major financial disaster for the company, although I saw it about 15 years ago, and it is a decent attempt at a personal western), so they team up with MGM, so now UA/MGM help Broccoli with financial production.  It is announced at the time that Sean Connery has been offered $5 million to star in an "unofficial James Bond" film that will be direct competition using a similar story as THUNDERBALL but they cannot use many of the Bond trademarks, so Roger Moore coyly balks again, causing the producers to screen test Oliver Tobias, Michael Billington, and American James Brolin, who is surprisingly good (his screen test appears in the bonus material of OCTOPUSSY).  This new film  went through a number of rewrites, but a concerted effort was made to keep the action grounded---more in the FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE mode.  The plot involves jewelry smuggling into Russian, which it was soon discovered to be for fact than fiction as Brezhnev's son in law was involved in a similar scandal.  A nuclear explosion at an army sight in Germany was also planned that would increase global tensions.  For the female lead, Faye Dunaway, Barbara Parkins, Persis Khambatta and Kathleen Turner were all considered, among others, but the decision was made by Broccolli who had watched MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN on TV the night before, and thought Maud Adams was so good that she should be used again.(!)
Writing a song that included the name OCTOPUSSY (a nick name because she loved octopus and her father called her that with a "Y")--lyricist Tim Rice (JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, EVITA, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, LION KING, ETC)  took the lines from dialogue, "two of a kind" and wrote TWO OF A KIND, sung by Rita Coolidge.  The song had only modest success, but when I heard it again last week, I remembered it well, and liked it all the more.                        GRADE------------------B

NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN 1983-- After 12 years, Sean Connery, who worked with novelist Len Deighton on James Bond research, was offered $5 million and a percentage to make one more Bond film, using the character but not the other trademarks, and he insisted that he have a lot of artistic control.  What the film lacks is the bombastic Bond theme and titles of naked writhing women, but otherwise the film has the same familiar fights, double crosses, near escapes, and exotic settings.  Klaus Maria Brandauer, Barbara Carrera and Max Von Sydow make convincing bad guys, and Kim Bassinger plays the good girl who who gets her man by the final scene.  The photography is exotic, and the fighting action is above average.     Unfortunately, the title song is a dull dud.  Connery looked good for an older guy, but he also looked a little tired.  This was his last Bond.  Released over the same summer, OCTOPUSSY grossed about S10 million  more than NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, but those grosses together were tremendous.   1983 was the year of BOND.        GRADE----------------B-

A VIEW TO A KILL 1985--The thing that I remembered most vividly here is the performance of bad guy Christopher Walken, who had recently won a supporting Oscar for THE DEER HUNTER who plays a psychotic killer who schemes to take over the Silicon Valley by being the sole distributor of computer ware, and he's going to cause the Valley to flood, killing millions of people, by causing a major earthquake with some dynamite in a cavern......!?!  Weird.  And stranger still is Grace Jones  who plays his lover and assistant--she's got quirky mannerism and odd deliveries of lines.  Tanya Roberts is an innocent caught up in his/her scheme, but ends up being an asset to Bond a number of times, especially as she is climbing high above San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge, where the climax takes place.  Both Walken and Jones come across as psychotic without any problem.   To me, this is the least likable, least memorable Bond film of the bunch, although there are still some fine special effects including an amusing sequence with Bond hanging on to a fire truck ladder as it swings and sways will being chased through the wild and busy San Francisco streets.  During the filming it became clear that this would be Roger Moore's final Bond, and Broccoli also called stalwart actress Lois Maxwell who had played Miss Moneypenny from the start to personally let her down.
The song was written fast by Duran Duran and pieced together.  It was apparently a big hit in the USA  but I found it unmemorable and boring while watching the film on DVD last week.                                        GRADE ----------------------C+

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS 1987--The script was being written based on a Fleming short story, and expanded by writer Richard Mailbaum who had worked on a few previous scripts, and Michael Wilson (Broccolli's son in law, ) who is now completely involved with all aspects of each project.
The story deals with an attempted assassination--Bond stops it by shooting the arm of a cellist--scaring "the living daylights" out of her, he hoped. It turns out she is connected with a drug smuggler and arms dealer, and the story takes off from there.  With Moore out, their next option was Pierce Bronsnan, who the producers had met a few years earlier while filming FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.  At the time Bronsnan was an unknown up and coming actor and they all thought he would be a perfect Bond, but now he was involved with a TV show Remington Steele and they told that after 6 segments of the show he would be released, but at the last minute, NBC demanded a 22 episode contract, so Bronsnan was officially out as Bond.  Ironically, shortly after the six episodes completed, NBC suddenly canceled the show entirely.  Timothy Dalton had been approached several years ago, and he was available now between theater and another film, so when the final decision was made he jumped to it, having been a big fan of Fleming's  novels.  With minor adjustments the script was adjusted for Dalton.  Although the title song was sung by The Pretenders, the song never took off. With an new more serious understated Bond on board, and a more dramatic, believable story line, this new Bond grossed slightly better than VIEW TO A KILL, and everyone involved was hopeful for the future.                                 Grade---------------------B-

LICENCE TO KILL 1989--Director John Glen was signed for a record breaking 5th time to direct a Bond film, and with this new actor was determined to make these film with a harder edge, but film budgets were being cut, and movie audiences were dwindling due to TV, DVD, and computers.  In this one, Bond is out to revenge a vicious attach on his good friend's wedding day.  The film has a solid story, a moody edge and some well directed action scenes.  Carey Lowell from TV's LAW and ORDER series is a good, serious match for Timothy Dalton.  Because Bond is on a revenge mission, he is compromised, and the original title LICENCE REVOKED became more accurate, but it was changed midway through filming to feel more threatening.   The killer is a drug lord, with a wide spread of friends, so manages to escape captures.  This film became an early role for Benicio del Toro, who plays a heavy, and Wayne Newton gave up his Las Vegas gig for $1million a week to play the role of a corrupt evangelist in Mexico, and for him it felt like a vacation.                          GRADE----------------B




Tuesday, February 27, 2018

BLACK PANTHER, early James Bond films, TOP FILMS OF 2017 plus OSCAR picks (OSCAR show next Sunday 4 March!)

Plenty has been said already of the new Marvel comic book version of BLACK PANTHER--a film that has received the most buzz and comment of any film for many months, and most of that acclaim has been well deserved, especially for the themes the film espouses.  Sometimes overstuffed with ambition, the film deals with pride, betrayal, customs,  racial politics, tradition, and honor, all the while surging forward with exciting action sequences of good vs bad and life vs death.  Many characters have attributes of several things all at once, including villain, royalty, warrior, genius and revolutionary, and the cast is splendid on many levels.  Chadwick Boseman as the BLACK PANTHER has appeared in a number of excellent films--most memorable as baseball great Jackie Robinson in  42 from 2013 and this year as the first black Supreme Court Justice Thurgood MARSHALL.  Michael B. Jordon is also quite effective as the "villain" (although that would be open for discussion) Erik Killmonger--he appeared to fine effect in FRUITVILLE STATION from 2013--a startling film directed by BLACK PANTHER director Ryan Coogler.  Oscar winner from 12 YEARS A SLAVE Lupita Nyong'o shines and current Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya from GET OUT is effective as well.  Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman, Forest Whitaker, and Angela Bassett all have some regal moments.  This film feels so different from any other Marvel comic story that if feels fresh and innovative, even though there are the typical moments--the hero is at one point presumed dead, but......  Some of my reservations fall to the wayside just because the film, steeped in African tradition, culture and pride, is something we've rarely witnessed before in a super hero film.                   GRADE-------------B+


WATCHED ON TV/DVD---------------

MR. TURNER (2014)---A biographical impressionistic film about British painter  JMW TURNER during the last 20 years or so of his life does not ingratiate audiences much because of his grunts, gropes or bellyaching, and the pacing is very slow.  But the cinematography and settings are lovely, and actor Timothy Spall has never been better, and the cast and direction, once you start to get into the flow, casts a magical glow, as his masterful impressionistic paintings take center stage.  It made me want to learn more about him.            GRADE--------B+

THE FUGITIVE KIND (1960)---This film version of Tennessee Williams stage play ORPHEUS DESCENDING is probably the best that could have been done to Williams' odd, challenging drama, and features fascinating work by Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani Joanne Woodward and director Sidney Lumet.  Brando was at his peak at the time--this was his first time earning one million dollars for a film, and although the film bombed financially, but you can still be gripped by his performance.  I'm aware of Anna Magnani, but have never seen her other films (my bad, I know) but her presence here is magnetic, and I will look forward to seeing what else she is capable of.  (She won her best actress Oscar in 1955 for THE ROSE TATTOO--another Tennessee Williams play/movie.)  Woodward was younger here than I've ever seen of her roles, and a revelation.  Ditto with Maureen Stapleton--a memorable portrayal.  Especially impressive is the direction--it's an imperfect drama, but very effectively rendered by one of the great directors Sidney Lumet.  Here's a list of just some of the great films he made--and many of them won Oscars for the leading actors:  12 ANGRY MEN, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, THE GROUP, THE PAWNBROKER, LONG DAYS JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, RUNNING ON EMPTY, THE VERDICT, DEATHTRAP, SERPICO, EQUUS, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU RE DEAD, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS 1974 and my favorite, NETWORK.                                    GRADE--------B+

SNATCHED (2017)---It might seem to be inspired casting to have a rarely seen Goldie Hawn playing the mother to the hot new comedian Amy Schumer, and physically they do match up at times, but this not so funny comedy about a kidnapping in South America that turns all wrong and violent has a mess of a script. It's like the writer set up a situation, then didn't know how to resolve it, so the scene just ends and picks up the characters later--no explanation as to what happened in between times.  Fortunately, a mute Joan Cusack has some amusing physical slapstick moments, and Wanda Sykes and Christopher Meloni have some wry, funny supporting scenes.                GRADE-------------C





IT'S BEEN OUT FOR NEARLY 10 YEARS, BUT I JUST BOUGHT THE FULL JAMES BOND 007 BLU RAY SET (ALL 25 FILMS), AND I'M STARTING AT THE BEGINNING.

DR. NO--1962---This first adventure is a bit restrained from the later episodes, but all the amazing features are in place---an evil mastermind SPECTRE scientist (Dr. No, who has strong steel hands that can kill with a blow---unfortunately they are no good at climbing out of treacherous waters full of phirana fish since steel poles and steel hands don't work well together.....)---a beautiful young woman rises out of the water wearing an ivory colored bikini (model turned actress Ursula Andress, and side note, in 2001 her "rag" of a bikini sold for over 41000 pounds!)------extreme car chases against a tricked out Bond vehicle end tragically for the bad guys------deadly but sexy women try to seduce, then try to kill Bond---this film was the first of the three girl scenario--the first woman he meets at the casino who technically becomes the FIRST Bond girl is Sylvia Trench, then he beds the "great in a towel"  evil Eurasian secretary, and finally the "good"Andress-ETC. This new film is a surprise big hit--the buzz started in the theatres when Bond utters "The name's BOND, James Bond"  and in London the film plays for 11 months!  The casting of Bond was convoluted--Cary Grant was considered too expensive,  producer Broccoli felt David Niven was not tough enough, and he felt Roger Moore was too young and pretty! Patrick MacGoohan declined on moral grounds (!)  Other names tossed around included Trevor Howard, Richard Johnson and Michael Redgrave.  The producers liked new comer Sean Connery in his first leading role for Disney, DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE, and Dr. NO director Terence Young had worked with Connery before, so it was finally decided.  The only top tier decider who didn't want Sean:  writer Ian Fleming who had created the  James Bond books about 10 years earlier, because he didn't like Connery's Scottish accent!    GRADE-----B


FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE(1963)---There's a better plot, and more characterization to the characters--the evil seductress may not be so bad after all, and the active bad guy is a young, blond brutal killer Robert Shaw (who later played Quint in JAWS)--he and Connery were friends and had worked together, giving their scenes some extra tension, especially in the wild, tense fight scene in a small cabin aboard the Orient Express train.  Lotte Lenya plays a cruel spy for SPECTRE who has deadly poison in knives in her shoes.  Over all, the film plays like more of a cold war thriller and is more satisfying than DR. NO.  One note:  at age 31 when he started Dr. NO, Connery was already balding, and plays all of his Bond films in a toupee.  It's a wonder they could all stay on his head with scenes that include thrilling running scenes, wild boat chases, train chases, car chases, etc.  English singer Matt Monro sang the first theme song, but not too memorably in this film.                  GRADE----------B

GOLDFINGER (1964)--This film broke open the popularity of Bond films in general, grossing nearly twice what the first two films grossed, and it is still a high water mark for the number of memorable scenes.  The spy in the center of the circle was there from the beginning, but now the other graphics became more explicit, with a woman in gold paint writhing in back lit profile (which foretells the death of one woman early in the film) and that booming music sung by Shirley Bassey which has to be the most popular and iconic sound from any of the other popular Bond songs.  (According to Rolling Stone, and something I'd never thought about before, the Goldfinger song is actually based on Moon River, the theme from BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S--and if you hum it you realize that is true.)
Other amazing scenes involve hit man Oddjob and his killer hat, Goldfinger himself and his sneering deliveries.  "I don't expect you to tell me anything, Mr. Bond--I expect you to die!!!! while Bond is ready to be lazered in two by a new deadly beam, and  the updated special car that can shoot, protect, shoot fire, and eject from the passenger seat! and the climatic air plane fight that has the large Goldfinger ejected from a window  while airborne.  Certainly one of the more unusual Bond woman is Pussy Galore whose name provides many snickers from the viewers, and whose lesbianism seems a mere convience for the erotic tension.                                   GRADE---------A-

THUNDERBALL (1965)-- The only thing I remembered from this film was the general atmosphere--nearly half the film takes place under water of the Caribbean where Bond is trying to track two stolen atom bombs by a diabolic mad man trying to control the world (a typical plot repeated a number of times in future films.)  Visually on land it looks exotic, but under water it is hard to watch as the water is dark and murky at times, and when the characters are all wearing wet suits and masks it can be tough to tell who is who, although conveniently the good guys wear red wet suits and the bad guys wear black suits.    Tom Jones sings the OK theme song.   Still a bit tedious at times.                             GRADE---------B-

YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE 1967--This smart looking film is filmed almost entirely in Japan, and starts with a startling scene where Bond is killed,but of course, just kidding.   Nancy Sinatra sings the hummable title song.  While not continuously  exciting, there are a number of good set pieces--a car chase scene and an ambitious ninja attach inside a volcanic mountain cum evil fortress.               GRADE------B

ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE 1969---Holding out for more money and a shorter work schedule, Connery did not appear in this film--which featured the one time newcomer George Lazenby as a more than adequate Bond--in fact on seeing this for the first time in over 40 years, I wish that he would have made some more Bond films.  He is a masculine, physical presence, he throws out the sarcastic bon bons as well as Connery and the plot is filled with great moments like trying to escape from a mountain top chalet by skiing down hill with more than a dozen gunmen coming after him--and then one of his skis breaks, and he must slalom the rest of the way!   There's a fantastic car chase on  icy roads that ends up in a car rally on ice, and a spectacular snow avalanche that endangers several participants.  Best of all is the choice of the leading lady--Bridget Bardot and Catherine Deneuve were both considered, but both fell through due to other commitments.  Fortunately, they all wanted Diana Rigg--fresh from the TV smash THE AVENGERS, and she is definitely the most memorable of  Bond women--plus Bond asks her to marry him!  She was well known for her work in British theatre, and they felt her professionalism would help Lazenby, which it seemed to do.  They had a lot of chemistry, and their relationship packs a punch.  Lazenby also has a great sequence in which he plays a stuffy Scottish professor while imprisoned in an all women's hospital clinic where he amusingly comes across to the woman as gay, but of course he doesn't hold out very long.                         GRADE-----------------------------A-  


FAVORITE 2017 FILMS

No  specific order--favorites first

THREE Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri--funny, fierce, literate.
LADY BIRD--smart, funny, moving--and the car jumper lives!
DARKEST HOUR--I didn't want it to end.
MOLLY'S GAME--literate script and fascinating Jessica Chastain
STAR WARS: LAST JEDI--one of the best episodes
WIND RIVER--compassionate murder mystery
MAUDIE--moving artist bio-pic w/Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke
DUNKIRK--war story deconstructed
ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD--engrossing based on true story w/ nominated Christopher Plummer and Michelle Williams
PARIS OPERA--beautiful documentary
COCO--best animation with thoughtful memory theme
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME---literate gay love story/drama, moving and thoughtful
THE POST--another triumph for Meryl Streep--truth better than fiction
ONLY THE BRAVE--moving true story of firefighter heroes
THEIR FINEST--nostalgic film of London in WWII
UNITED KINGDOM--true story of interracial love in 1950's in Africa
GET OUT--excellent mixture of GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER and THE STEPFORD WIVES
I, DANIEL BLAKE--social injustice personified
GHOST STORY--patience rewards for thoughtful memory film

Flawed but very interesting-- close to perfect movies:  THE BIG SICK, WAR OF PLANET OF APES, BRISBY BEAR, STRONGER, VICTORIA AND ABDUL, GOD'S OWN COUNTRY, JUSTICE LEAGUE, WONDER WOMAN, BATTLE OF THE SEXES, MEYEROWITZ STORIES, DOWNSIZING, THE FLORIDA PROJECT, PHANTOM THREAD,  BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

BEST GUILTY PLEASURES--MOTHER!--modern abstract version of book of Genesis--audacious and fascinating. Also PERSONAL SHOPPER--a  sort of ghost story, with great glamorous clothes, motor bike rides, stressful jobs and sexual tension--and a fabulous Kristen Stewart.





OSCARS------Sunday 4 March ====PREDICTIONS

BEST PICTURE----Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is the strongest choice, but I loved LADY BIRD and wouldn't mind if that won.

BEST DIRECTOR--Greta Gerwig for LADY BIRD and Christopher Nolan for DUNKIRK are the strongest to me, but with 13 nominations I suspect Guillermo Del Toro will win for THE SHAPE OF WATER.

BEST ACTOR--All good, but this is the role of his lifetime--GARY OLDMAN for DARKEST HOUR.

BEST ACTRESS--FRANCES MCDORMAND for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is heads above the others, but Saoirse Ronan is splendid for LADY BIRD.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY--Martin McDonagh for THREE BILLBOARDS seems strongest, but Greta Gerwig for LADY BIRD and Jordan Peele for GET OUT are very worthy.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY--James Ivory for CALL ME BY YOUR NAME has a lock on this one (three time nominee but no wins, yet), but I also love Aaron Sorkin for MOLLY's GAME.

BEST ANIMATED FILM--COCO has a lock on this one.

BEST SONG--I liked THIS IS ME from THE GREATEST SHOWMAN but also REMEMBER ME from COCO is a strong choice.

SUPPORTING ACTOR--Sam Rockwell is very deserving for THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI

SUPPORTING ACTRESS--Allison Janney from I, TONYA was remarkable, but Laurie Metcalf from LADY BIRD is competitive.

 MAKE UP/HAIR--DARKEST HOUR

 EDITING--DUNKIRK

 VISUAL EFFECTS--STAR WARS LAST JEDI

 MUSIC SCORE--I loved Hans Zimmer for DUNKIRK, but also very good was Alexandre Desplat for SHAPE OF WATER

BEST SOUND EDITING--DUNKIRK

 COSTUME DESIGN--Toss up--PHANTOM THREAD, DARKEST HOUR, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

CINEMATOGRAPHY--DUNKIRK

PRODUCTION DESIGN--DUNKIRK or BEAUTY AND BEAST








Sunday, February 11, 2018

THE DARKEST HOUR, STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI, THE PARIS OPERA, MOLLY'S GAME, PHANTOM THREAD, PETER RABBIT, THE FLORIDA PROJECT, THE POST, THE SHAPE OF WATER, TOM OF FINLAND

Just about caught up on the Oscar nominees except for the shorts, documentaries and a few that aren't playing currently (I missed Denzel Washington's turn in his nominated ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. role from earlier this year, and so far it has not come back into town.  In the mean time, here's what I've seen this new year so far.

Here's a film that I didn't want to end:  the excellently produced and directed and acted historical drama THE DARKEST HOUR with a remarkable Gary Oldman giving the performance of his life as Winston Churchill, and numerous others in fine support including Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane and others.  Stylishly directed by Joe Wright (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE 2005,  ATONEMENT 2007, ANNA KARENINA 2012--and these three all starred the compelling Keira Knightley), this film builds much tension out of history that many might know already, but keeps it compelling and new.  The film ends with the go ahead to send small private boats to pick up stranded British military troops from the beaches of Dunkirk.  THE DARKEST HOUR would make an outstanding double bill with this summer's fine film which continues the story called DUNKIRK.  Oscar nominations for picture, actor, cinematography, production design, make up. DUNKIRK recieved Oscar nominations for picture, director and many technical categories.                      GRADE-------------------A

I saw THE PARIS OPERA at SIFF this past spring, and it had a brief run in Seattle recently, and it is a wonderful impressionistic view of what it takes to run the many facets of THE PARIS OPERA.  Some amazing sequences include the surprised young Russian opera singer winning a coveted lead in a new opera--and he doesn't know any English or French!  Another production must include a  dangerously frisky bull brought onto the stage with a live audience, and still another sequence tries to whip a group of young child musicians into their first live experience.  All the while, the heads of the various Opera departments argue and maneuver through the politics of money vs art.  This is a documentary, with no logical stream of plot, put rather it puts you squarely into the milieu.  This is a must for any one interested in Paris, music, opera or art.   BRAVO!              GRADE----------------------A

After nearly a dozen STAR WARS films, what more can one say about them--either you're a fan or not.  STAR WARS : THE LAST JEDI  is as good an episode as any I've seen--and certainly better than the last two by a few hairs.  There were laughs, thrills, fights, tears, tensions, betrayals, philosophical discussions, close calls--you name it, there is was.   And I got to spend $15 per person to have (loud ear splitting) Dolby sound and a neck wrenching gigantic screen that felt too big even though we were sitting near the back of the auditorium.  But the important thing was that I enjoyed myself immensely.        GRADE------------------A-

Whether the film is good or bad or dull or distasteful, if Jessica Chastain is in it, she will probably be the best thing about it.  When I first saw her in her first film, JOLENE 2008 I was thunderstruck.  With her vivid red hair and the closeups of her pale freckled skin, she fascinated me-- a someone to watch. even though the film was rather lurid.  Since then she's appeared in nearly 20 films, and is often the most watchable.  Here in MOLLY'S GAME she is helped by a sharp, tasty (adapted) script by TV writer Aaron Sorkin (an Oscar nominee) who also directed her fireball turn as a self made poker game "madame" trying to stay out of jail.  (Just two years ago she starred, grippingly, as a lawyer trying to take on the NRA in MISS SLOANE, and very nearly succeeding.  As an abused white trash character in THE HELP, she received an Oscar nomination.)  For first class writing and acting, MOLLY'S GAME can't be beat.                 GRADE------------A- 

I loved the natural mixture of animation and live action in the new film based on the children's story of PETER RABBIT.  The film reminded me of BABE where animal and human interact, and the characters are given clever, witty dialogue, and it helps that  PETER RABBIT is voiced by James Corden, who gives a sarcastic, self righteous inflection to his reading as the naughty bunny who causes a lot of trouble to himself and his siblings.  The film has been "updated" with some pop music, and there is a distinct violent theme with different characters smacking into each other, electrocutions, traps catching different body parts and explosions, but I laughed myself silly at most of them, although some have objected to the exploiting of an allergy to impose pain on a main character.  Well, times have certainly changed, and I felt that the film becomes more sophisticated and accessible with these changes.  Here's a film that adults can enjoy as much as older children.                   GRADE---------B+

An elegant looking film, PHANTOM THREAD features  classy performances by Daniel Day-Lewis, who claims this will be his last, and Lesley Manville, a fine British actor who has appeared in a number of Mike Leigh films.  They play siblings who run a posh designer clothing company that deals with important women (actresses, government wives, etc).   He falls in love with one of his models, and a strange relationship ensues.  The film has moments of romantic Hitchcock like NOTORIOUS or REBECCA, and portends to be a romance tale, but there are also moments of GASLIGHT, and there is rarely any humor.  The siblings are both so humorless, in fact, and dry that it becomes hard to feel much for them at all, and the film, although lovely to watch, becomes rather unsatisfying.  The film has received Oscar nominations for the two leads, best director Paul Thomas Anderson, picture, music and costumes.              GRADE--------------B

The low budget film, made near Disney World, called THE FLORIDA PROJECT depicts a sad world of mostly unaccompanied children who run around a lower class hotel (there are many near Disney World) entertaining themselves as best they can, and causing trouble for the kind hearted manager (Willem Dafoe) who looks after them, trying to keep danger away.  One young girl lives with her loving but drugged out mother, who sells stolen perfume and gifts for profits, and turns tricks for extra money.  The most loving relationships for the children come from the manager, and each other.  When one of the kids has a horrible break down, another takes her to the "happiest place on earth."  The film has a shocking, but moving finale, hopeful but depressing nonetheless.  The film has received an Oscar nomination for Dafoe in the supporting actor category.              GRADE----------------B

Any film featuring Meryl Streep is a worthy watch, and in THE POST add to that project co star Tom Hanks, director Steven Spielberg and the political thriller of the Pentagon papers that Nixon was trying to keep secret during the 1970's.  The film is paced fast, the dialogue is quick and sharp, and because there are a lot of characters, it is important to listen carefully to completely follow the action.  Still, if you know nothing about that scandal, you know that a great deal is at stake simply by watching the agony and concern that Streep must be going through--she is the new owner after her husband's death of the Washington Post, and when the New York Times is prohibited from printing the truth about the Vietnam War and it's unwinability, she must put her paper on the line to continue to defy Nixon.  She is nominated for her thoughtful performance.                   GRADE----------B

This perfectly charming remake of dozens of science fiction thrillers from the 1950s-1960, THE SHAPE OF WATER suffers mostly from  being a too familiar redo of the creature features from that time.   Smart sea monster is captured by government agents who want to study/kill it.  Lovesick woman falls for monster and tries to save it.  Guns are drawn, friends are threatened, people are killed.  This old chestnut of a plot has holes that trucks can drive through.  That's not to say that there are some nice, charming moments.  Sally Hawkins is more emotive than many other lead actresses even portraying a non speaking mute, and the supporting cast is very game.  The set design is evocative of the mid century period, and there is a mysterious feel to the film as a whole.  But best picture???  The film has 13 Oscar nominations in total including best actress, director, script, supporting actors (2), music, and several other technical nods.
GRADE--------------B-

Here's a Finnish biographical film about a gay artist who felt very oppressed after returning from action in WWII, and begins to sketch and paint portraits of hyper sexualized muscle men, selling them "under the table"--and ultimately becoming quite successful.  In later years he becomes symbolically the father of the modern gay liberation movement.  His professional name becomes TOM OF FINLAND, but the film, while handsomely made, becomes, ironically, dull because of the restraint shown by the film makers.  For a film about sexual liberation, this film has no passion or titillation, and becomes a drag--no pun intended.               GRADE----------C+




__________________________

Movies viewed on TV/DVD



THE PRODUCERS 1967--A masterwork of comic characterization (Zero Mostel and a young Gene Wilder are priceless), witty dialogue and tasteless lines, pratfalls and slapstick, touching friendships and Springtime for Hitler!, anyone!  The film received mixed reviews at the time but actually won the best original script Oscar to Mel Brooks, and has since become one of the top laugh out loud comedies of all time.  I laugh loudly every time I see it.        GRADE--------A 

UNDER CAPRICORN 1949--Here's one of a small handful of Alfred Hitchcock films that I'd never seen--there are very few of his films that are not widely available on DVD, and this has been one.  The costume/drama film is in color, but it would be nice to see a superior reproduction of it.  This is not Hitchcock's best film by any means, but the strong cast including Joseph Cotton, an ex con from Ireland, who has married a lady Ingrid Bergman. She's become an alcoholic and seems on the brink of madness, and into their new lives in Australia in the 1830's comes an old friend from Ireland, keen on rekindling his friendship of Bergman, played by Michael Wilding.  There is obviously some romantic tension, and a possessive house matron (Margaret Leighton) reminds us of Mrs. Danvers from REBECCA, and there are some twists in the plot.  Bergman is spectacular at times in a very difficult role.  Hitchcock's direction is smooth and visually effective, and I look forward to viewing it again in a few months, since even modest Hitchcock is better than much of the drivel out there these days.             GRADE---------B 

3 DAYS OF THE CONDOR 1975--Smart, paranoid thriller where Robert Redford finds all his fellow office CIA workers murdered when he returns from a lunch run one day, and soon discovers that they wanted to get him too.  He soon realizes he has no one to trust.  Max Van Sydow is effective as an assassin, and Faye Dunaway is good as a woman forced to help him.       GRADE------B

ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE 2016--Based on a British series that I've never seen before, I found myself laughing at the silly, slapstick situations that these vain women get them selves involved in.  Major guilty pleasure.            GRADE----------B-

APRIL FOOLS 1969--The likeable Jack Lemmon and gorgeous  Catherine Deneuve are the leads in this light comedy romance.  Two strangers, both in loveless marriages, discover they want to leave their spouses in one night and move to Paris.  Myrna Loy and Charles Boyer lend some amusing support, and character actor Jack Weston has one of his funniest roles as a drunken neighbor to Lemmon.  Pleasant but very minor.         GRADE---------C+



COMING END OF FEBRUARY-----TOP FILMS OF 2017---and Oscar countdown.   Of the OSCAR nominated films, here are some of my favorites:

ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD
COCO
DARKEST HOUR
DUNKIRK
MOLLY'S GAME
STAR WARS: LAST JEDI
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI 
plus a dozen more......







Saturday, January 6, 2018

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI, COCO, ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, MUDBOUND (on Netflix), DOWNSIZING, I TANYA, LOVING VINCENT, THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, plus some older Christmas chestnuts on DVD.

December slipped by so quickly I realized I hadn't posted for the month until this past week, so here goes.

I love a good, tough, smart script, and when it is headlined by one of the greatest living actors working today, an intensely angry, Oscar-worthy Frances McDormand, up pops  THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI.  Here is basically a revenge, character study thriller with lots of wicked humor to soften the edges, as McDormand plays an angry mother frustrated that the local police have not caught the man responsible for the rape and murder and burning of her teen age daughter.  Woody Harrelson is the police chief, and he too is annoyed that he cannot find the killer, and horrified when McDormand purchases three old billboards to criticize the police for their lack of results.  His racist, idiot deputy, played just this side of cariciture, is inhabited by the excellent character actor Sam Rockwell, who should get a well deserved supporting actor nomination for this role.  Don't expect a tidy ending to this thriller, but there are quite a number of hilarious, outrageous, twistedly moving scenes along the way.                   GRADE-------------------A-

Disney's Pixar unit for animated films manages to top themselves with nearly each consecutive film, and the newest called COCO is again a marvel of animation, story, characters, music and color.  My only objection would be that the ambitious plot and themes may tend to overwhelm the less sophisticated of audiences.   In a small Mexican village, a young boy dreams of becoming a singer and guitar player, but his family actively prohibits this.  Through some magical process during the Day of the Dead activities, he crosses a bridge to the Land of the Dead to find his singing ancestor and seek permission to play and sing, but finds that if he doesn't return before sunrise, he will join the Dead.  Most of the animation is realistic and at times colorfully and beautifully surreal.  The music is mostly charming, if a little old fashioned, and there's a lot of intriguing themes about death, life, dying, remembrances, customs and honor.  In some ways    COCO  is the most challenging "family" film I've ever seen, in that it may be more enjoyable for adults than for some kids.                  GRADE-------------A-

When the sex scandals exploded across society this fall, the director Ridley Scott of the new thriller ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD decided to cut out of the finished film an accused actor Kevin Spacey, who played the major role of John Paul Getty, and replace him with Christopher Plummer.  There were about 20 some scenes that had to be reshot to include Plummer, and I can report that they are seamlessly inserted into this engrossing, based on a true story thriller.  Michelle Williams has the major role of Getty's son's divorced wife, Gail, as she tries to get back her kidnapped son.  When the elder Getty refuses to pay the 17 million dollar ransom, she tries to negotiate with her ex-father in law, and ends up working through one of Getty's money men,  played by a mellow Mark Wahlberg.  In spite of the fascinating and effective story line, the film manages to also be a strong character study of a stingy, rich old man with only half a soul, and of a passionate, determined mother who was not afraid to stand up to wealth and power.                                  GRADE-----------------B+ 

I saw this at VIFF in October, but the pleasures of the photography, music, actors and script have lingered in my mind more vividly than most any other film I've seen this year.  CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is a lushly romantic "first love" story set in 1983 in Northern Italy, written by James Ivory (one of the best directors in the 1980's and 1990's for, among others----REMAINS OF THE DAY, HOWARD'S END, MAURICE,  ROOM WITH A VIEW etc) that features a talented and mature teen age boy who becomes infatuated with an older (8 years) man during a dreamy summer in Italy.  It's a simple story, but the direction by Luca Guadagnino, who also directed A BIGGER SPLASH last year, and I AM LOVE 2010 has engulfed this story in sunshine, mystery, intelligence, eroticism, innocence, longing and love.  In spite of three previous Oscar nominations, I see an Oscar win for James Ivory's script coming soon.                        GRADE--------B+

It's playing in theatres in larger cities, but you can also catch this new  film MUDBOUND on Netflix if you belong.  This film about two poor families living on the same southern farm just after WW2 shows the different lives of a black veteran and a white veteran who have both just returned from war.  Their war experiences have bound them together as friends, but the rest of the family members still struggle with prejudice and hatred, in spite of having more in common than you'd imagine.  A large cast is perfectly in tune to the times, and the director expertly crosses their paths to compelling effect, and because of the frequent rain showers throughout the year, the film is called MUDBOUND, which is also symbolic of their struggles.                    GRADE------------------B+

Director Alexander Payne and writer Jim Taylor are nothing if not ambitious, and their new film DOWNSIZING is chock full of many fascinating ideas.  Matt Damon plays a struggling middle class man who allows himself to be downsized--shrunk to just 5 inches tall, in order to live large on planet earth, which is quickly becoming over populated and polluted.  There are however, no silly sight gags or looming cats chasing him around.  Instead, the serious film shows us that the grass is not always greener, and Damon becomes dissatisfied with his new life, until he meets a political dissident from Vietnam who was forcibly shrunken, and realizes that her new life of human service is the life that is now attractive to him.  Hong Chau plays this new woman, and she is the most humane character in the film, setting him on new adventures and life pursuits.  The trailer stresses the comedy in the film, but the film raises some disturbing issues of trust, loyalty, politics and love.  Some may be disappointed that the humor was not amplified, but let's leave that for another type of fantasy film.
            GRADE---------------------B

This new film cannot decide whether or not it is a drama, thriller, comedy, satire, or docudrama--sometimes it is all the above.  Based on the true story, I, TONYA tells of the events before and after the attack on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan in the year 1994 leading up to and after the Olympic Games.  The film is funny one scene, and then the next scene shows Harding as being shockingly abused by her husband (played well by Sebastian Stan) or tormented by her cruel mother (an extraordinarily effective and disturbing Alison Janney in fervor mode.)  The plot is so weird as to be unbelievable.  Harding is played fiercely by Margot Robbie, who may not look exactly like Harding, but captures the angry, hautie pout that this so called "trailer trash" girl exhibited.  I did not enjoy watching some of this film, especially because  of the cruelty, violence and abuse that she had to put up with, and because the audience feels uncertain how they are supposed to feel toward her, but I can safely say that I was not bored, either.      GRADE--------------B

Not exactly animation, but a live action film where the film makers painted over every scene with oil based paints to make it all look like a van Gogh painting, LOVING VINCENT is an amazing visual experience to behold.  Dramatically, however, the plot is based on a possible mystery about Vincent van Gogh's death, possibly suicide or murder, and the plot never resolves itself, and we really don't get to understand much about Vincent's life.  Well worth seeing, especially for art and van Gogh fans, and those interested in visual creativity.         GRADE-----B

Set in the early 1900's, this film THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, based on the life of P.T. Barnam feels schizophrenic from the start.  The sets and costume design feel authentic, but this being a musical, every time someone opens their mouth to sing, the songs and choreography look and sound like music and movements from current pop culture today.  In addition, the film feels forced to appear BIG--big moments, big drama, big feelings.  There is very little subtlety in this film.  BUT, that is not all bad, because I enjoyed the music and most of the songs were good.  The cast, including the lead Hugh Jackman, preform with great conviction, and the small audience (10am on a Friday morning) I saw it with seemed to be really enjoying it.   I'd label this one a solid guilty pleasure.                    GRADE----------B-

Based on a short period of Charles Dickens life when was having trouble with writer's block, THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS is a modest but likable film set just before Dickens wrote and published A CHRISTMAS CAROLHe meets and is inspired by some of the characters that populate A CHRISTMAS CAROL--some from his family, his publishers, his neighbors, and random street people.  They in turn "hang around" in his mind while he struggles to write what some feel is his masterwork--a fiction that redefined the Christmas spirit.   The film pleases on a sophisticated level, and the fine British cast includes Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) as Dickens, Christopher Plummer as Scrooge as well as stalwarts Jonathan Pryce and Miriam Margolyes, among many others.                                       GRADE-----------------B-



MOVIES VIEWED ON DVD/TV-------------Mostly Christmas stuff!


SCROOGE (aka THE CHRISTMAS CAROL in the USA) 1951--Considered by many including myself that this is a superior version of the oft filmed THE CHRISTMAS CAROL, of which there are nearly a dozen versions.  The highlight here is the daffy, lovable Alistair Sims as Scrooge, who makes you believe in the spirits that he meets and mostly you enjoy his conversion more than many.                                            GRADE----------------A


LOVE ACTUALLY 2003--I've seen this film half a dozen times, and quite enjoy the large cast--in spite of the horrors that director Richard Curtis spent editing the huge plot and characters.  (The amazing cast includes Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Martin Freeman, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Keira Knightly, Hugh Grant, Laura Linney, Rodrigo Santaro, Alan Richman, Rowan Atkinson, Billy Bob Thornton and dozens of others!!!!!!)  This time I realized just how sexist some of the story lines are--how smarmy and inappropriate some of the dialogue sounds--mostly because of the explosion of sexual harassment incidents in the media this fall.  There's also a lot of scenes that don't make a lot of sense, logically.  Still, because it is all set at Christmas, and there's a lot of music and comedy, this film is a guilty pleasure.                 GRADE---------B+

A CHRISTMAS MEMORY 1997--Based on a Truman Capote short story, this lovely film spends a great deal of screen time making and delivering 30 loaves of fruit cake to various friends and neighbors in the small southern town this story is set in.  Patty Duke, Piper Laurie and Jeffrey DeMunn are featured in this version (there are more than three other versions that I could find) and the moving story ends when the 10 year old boy (based on Capote's life) is sent away to a boys boarding school.                                   GRADE--------------B

CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT 1945--More than 30 years ago when I first saw this comedy screened as a Christmas special for the long defunct Seattle Film Society, I was underwhelmed, and at the time had not gained much insight into the sly and skillful Barbara Stanwyck style.  I've seen it 7 or 8 times since then, and I have come to adore the clever plotting, the growing love affair between her and a dashing Dennis Morgan, and the wonderful supporting cast who handle the story like they were in a Feydeau bedroom farce.  It's a wonderful Christmas movie treat.                         GRADE-----------B

REMEMBER THE NIGHT 1940--Featuring two strong leads Barbara Stanwyck and Fred McMurray just a couple of years before they made the classic DOUBLE INDEMNITY, they play a shoplifter and the lawyer who is trying to convict her.  The case is on hold until after the holidays, and McMurray ends up taking her with him to visit his family for Christmas.  There are many lovely scenes, especially at his mother's house, and the attraction to each other becomes pretty obvious to all concerned.  The rapid fire dialogue was written by soon to be director Preston Sturges, and the comedy film features fine turns by Beulah Bondi (as mother, natch) and Sterling Holloway.            GRADE------------B

A CHRISTMAS CAROL 1984--This version of the oft filmed Charles Dickens book features George C. Scott in the title role and features Frank Finley, Susannah York, David Warner and Roger Rees.  It looks good, and there were things I like about it, but it is inferior to the 1951 versions on several levels.                                       GRADE-----------------B-

NORA PRENTISS 1947--Ann Sheridan plays Nora, a night club singer who becomes involved with a married, straight laced doctor (Kent Smith) who loves her but cannot leave his wife and family.  When a patient's fluke death gives him a change to fake his own death and leave his family, he does so, but finds that the grass is not always greener, and he becomes a suspect of his own death.  Mildly entertaining, but predictable.               GRADE-----------C+ 



coming soon----top films from 2017........




















 








Tuesday, November 28, 2017

LADY BIRD, THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES/ New and Selected, GODS OWN COUNTRY, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, JUSTICE LEAGUE, THOR: RAGNORAK, WONDERSTRUCK, THE SQUARE, 120 BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE),

Quirky independent actress Greta Gerwig is now a triple threat film maker.  In her first effort, she has written and directed the most insightful comedy drama of the year, called LADY BIRD, and that film zooms to the top of the best films of the year.  Not only is this a possible best picture nominee, but she should be acknowledged for her direction and original script, and the film contains at least two actor nominees with the lead Saoirse Ronan (from BROOKLYN) and as her mother Laurie Metcalf (best known as  TV ROSEANNE's sister).  Ronan plays a high school teen trying to figure out her educational future, and she butts heads with her mother in a love/hate relationship that any mother/daughter can relate to.  The supporting cast is also superior--Lucas Hedges from last year's MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is her first love, Timothy Chalamet from the fine upcoming film CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is her second love and the always resourceful Tracy Letts plays her mild but wise father and there are another half dozen actors equally fine.  There are a lot of teen age coming of age films out there, but this one gives a fresh perspective to the material, and with such an excellent cast and direction (and great musical score and editing) pushes LADY BIRD to the top.        GRADE-----------------------A

Now playing on Netflix and in theatres in major large cities, is the new film by Noah Baumbach with the long title THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES/New and Selected.  The interesting actors include Adam Sandler--surprisingly effective,  Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Candice Bergen, Rebecca Miller, Elizabeth Marvel and many others.  The story is about a dysfunctional, New York Jewish family that gathers together to celebrate the elder father's (Hoffman) career as an artist, but it soon morphs into some surprising conflicts as the three children (from two different mothers) become embroiled in estate planning and secrets and health issues.  These are not necessilary lovable characters, but as things unfold, I found myself fascinated by the family dynamics and the way each member works at "fitting" into the family unit.  Other films directed by Baumbach include KICKING AND SCREAMING 1995, SQUID AND THE WHALE 2005, FRANCES HA 2012, WHILE WE'RE YOUNG 2014 and MISTRESS AMERICA 2015, and he has written the scripts for LIFE AQUATIC with STEVE ZISSOU 2004, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING 2007, GREENBERG 2010 and MADAGASCAR 3--2012.  Greta Gerwig has appeared in several of the above films, especially effective in FRANCES HA and MISTRESS AMERICA and they are now a couple.  Her new film LADY BIRD seems to have eclipsed his own impressive achievements.  See above.        GRADE-----------------A- 

It's rough windy sheep herding country where an isolated farm is run by an older man and his son--the lonely son goes to town regularly to binge drink and for violent sex.  When the old man becomes disabled, a younger Romanian worker is hired on, and slowly an intense friendship develops between the two young men that leads to some surprising changes in the young alcoholic's attitude toward life.  The film called GOD'S OWN COUNTRY, is one of the better love stories of the  year--sort of a BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN set in Yorkshire.      Beautiful scenery and strong acting help offset some hand held camera distractions.            GRADE--------------B+

Here's another version of Agatha Christie's classic (and astonishing!) murder mystery thriller MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS which features over 15 passengers and crew trapped in snow on a stranded train in the first class cabins when a murder is committed, and it's up to world class detective Hercule Poirot  to solve the mystery before the train can reach the next country.  There is the usual assortment of could be killers, all played by a large able cast, including Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, Judy Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer and Kenneth Branagh who plays Poirot with a ginormous mustache--he also directed this stylish production.  What makes this version so special, even if you know who done it (and if you don't know who done it, what are you waiting for?????), is that this case affects Poirot so deeply that the film, despite some amusing, clever moments, becomes a tragedy for him, and manages to move the audience more than any other of Christie's many stories.                GRADE------------B+

I never liked the first two THOR films much--to dark, too preposterous, too confusing with plot, etc....but the latest called THOR:RAGNORAK has a cheeky sensibility and a playful touch, and the characters don't take themselves too seriously, providing a lot of humor, and how can you go wrong with Cate Blanchet playing the delightfully evil Queen of Death (!), growing giant "horns" just before unleashing waves of death---to all her subjects!  How will she ever take over the universe when she kills all her warriors when she is displeased?   The reliable Mark Ruffalo has a big role as HULK, and Jeff Goldblum hams it up as the GRANDMASTER.   The director from New Zealand, Taika Waititi often takes on roles in a lot of his films--two of his most recent ones I liked are HUNT FOR WILDERPEOPLE  2016 and EAGLE VS SHARK 2007.           GRADE-----------B+  

Last year the dismal BATMAN VS SUPERMAN, which I felt was bombastic and dull and I couldn't buy into the premise that Batman would (or could) want to kill Superman was directed by Zach Snyder, and when I heard he was directing the followup superhero film JUSTICE LEAGUE I became concerned.  Just before finishing the filming, Snyder left the production due to a family tragedy, and Joss Whedon (AVENGERS 2012 and 2015, and new BATGIRL) was put in to finish it, and refilmed some major scenes.  This seems to have induced some humor, casualness and smartness to JUSTICE LEAGUE.  I also loved the new characters, especially Ezra Miller as Flash--who plays it like a cocky comedian.  Jason Momoa makes for a wild, beefy Aquaman.  The new character Cyborg doesn't get to make quite an impression due to having to share his scenes with his doctor/scientist father, but hopefully future films will give him more to do.  I look forward to the next installment, which apparently has a lot to do with the return of Lex Luther (yawn)......         GRADE---------B+

The best film winner at this year's Cannes Film Festival,  THE SQUARE, written and directed by  Swedish director Ruben Ostund (FORCE MAJUERE 2014) is a satiric comedy drama about a wealthy museum director who makes some poor choices when confronted with some right or wrong

options when dealing with human issues and  museum events.  Much like the opening segments of his last film FORCE MAJUERE, where the father figure grabs his phone and leaves the restaurant and his family to fend for themselves when it appears a large landslide will wipe out the outdoor seating--this museum director makes some questionable choices when he is robbed, presented with an easy sexual conquest, and tries to entertain his benefactors prior to the opening of a controversial new show--by insulting his guests.  I liked how the film makes you very uncomfortable, even when there is much humor and satire here.                    GRADE---------------B 

The new film by Todd Haynes and based on a popular novel is called WONDERSTRUCK, and it is problematic, to say the least.  Telling two different stories set decades apart, and working with two child actors and telling what at first appears to be unrelated stories, the film is ambitious in that a main theme--the difficulty of a non-hearing person in society and using a deaf youngster (a very distinctive Millicent Simmonds)--much of the dialogue is interpreted or put into subtitles or hand written on a tablet.  This manages to slow down (or nearly stop) the action of certain scenes, and despite many wonderful and magical sequences, the tone of the film feels uneven and viewers become impatient.  Julianne Moore is luminous in two key roles, and the speaking youngster who must later "play" deaf, played by Oakes Fegley, is admirable as well. I do recommend this unusual film especially for film buffs and those interested in hearing issues, even though it is often frustrating for a more casual viewer.                 GRADE----------B-

Another very ambitious film, from France, and based on a true story is the impressive but very overlong docu-drama 120 BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE) which tells the French version of the ACT-UP  political movement.  Set in Paris, this group of doctors, educators, AIDS patients, homosexuals, politicians, and concerned public members, met regularly to force their government to first of all acknowledge the AIDS crisis that most governments in the 1990s refused to deal with, and secondly to get doctors and scientists to find a cure for AIDS.  They took to the streets with parades, riots, protests, town halls and articles in public news papers.  The film zooms in on the relationship between two activists, and a highlight scene--nearly 10 minutes-- is a relatively explicit sex scene between the two, complete with explicit and informative "pillow" talk.  There are a number of excellent scenes, and a few turgid ones, including an overlong death finale.  I appreciated the honesty and straightforward efforts of the protests--much of what was also occurring in the USA in most major cities.                           GRADE-----------------B- 

A French film from 2014 but only now getting a minor release across the USA, THE PRICE OF FAME (LA RANCON DE LE GLOIRE)  tells the "based on a true story" of two friends who decide to steal the recently deceased body of actor Charles Chaplin and hold it for ransom.  The film is quite leisurely, and much of the dialogue feels a beat or two too slow, and the film drags because it tries to be as accurate as possible.  I saw this several years ago at SIFF and don't remember much about it that would be memorable.              GRADE---------C


VIEWED ON DVD/TV

UP THE RIVER 1930--Here's an early John Ford film about a man and woman who are trying to start a new life after prison, and the two convicts who try to help them.  Not bad.  A very young Humphrey Bogart and Spencer Tracey star.        GRADE-----------B-

EFFIE GRAY  2014--She was married to art critic John Ruskin for six years, but divorced him because the marriage was never consummated, and later married artist and Ruskin friend John Millais.  It should have been a juicy scandalous story, but the film is painfully austere and nearly uneventful, in spite of the writing and acting efforts of Emma Thompson.             GRADE--------------C






 



 


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

ONLY THE BRAVE, VICTORIA AND ABDUL, BATTLE OF THE SEXES, MARSHALL, AMERICAN MADE, OUR SOULS AT NIGHT, THE DEPARTURE, THE KING'S CHOICE plus PATERSON (2016)

October is movie month for me--I saw 15 new films at the Vancouver International Film Festival including advance screenings of CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, THE SQUARE, HAPPY ENDING, QUEEN OF SPAIN, BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE), A FANTASTIC WOMAN, VALLEY OF THE WOLVES--these were the best ones, plus a couple that I did not care for.  I will write about them as they open up around the country.  First up in opening is THE SQUARE, from the director of FORCE MAJEURE.  It won this years best picture at Cannes, and is now playing in New York.  The Seattle opening is in another month or so.  In the meantime, here are some of the current films now playing that I saw this month.


The title is rather generic and the trailer seemed hokey and contrived, but ONLY THE BRAVE, based on the true tragic story of fire fighters who meet their Waterloo in an Arizona mountain wild fire is packed with naturalistic, likeable performances from Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly, Taylor Kistch and many others.  The film strives to enlighten viewers on the training each firefighter receives, the conditions they must work in, and gives some dramatic insight into their personal lives, and by carefully avoiding any sentimentality, delivers the most heartfelt tribute to a group of heroes that I've seen on screen in a long, long time.  I was pleasingly surprised and very moved throughout this excellent film.                 GRADE-----------------------A

Another film based on a true story, and one that I remembered from the early 1970's, was the silly challenge that sexist, desperate aging tennis player Bobby Riggs delivers to the professional top woman tennis player Billie Jean King, trying to drum up interest in a male vs female match for big bucks, and to prove that men are better than women in this growing sport. It's all there---the Virginia Slims cigarette tie ins, the Sugar Daddy candy spoofs, the Riggs struggle for a comeback, the King sexuality crisis--the film BATTLE OF THE SEXES is perhaps the most entertaining comedy-drama of the year, with Steve Carell and Emma Stone nailing their characterizations.            GRADE-----------------B+

The film is definitely pro-British in it's politics and social drama, and there's a nasty bias towards the Hindus that counters the charm and humor of seeing this relationship of an obese and elderly Queen Victoria as she gets to know her new Indian servant and teacher and opens her eyes to parts of the British empire that she had little knowledge of, but the film VICTORIA AND ABDUL gets a lot of mileage from the regal artistic presence of 82 years old Judi Dench and handsome newcomer Ali Fazal  that makes the film a diverting and thoughtful entertainment.  The well made film is another in the extraordinary canon of films from director Stephan Frears--just contemplate some of his greatest films:
FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS 2016, PHILOMENA 2013, THE QUEEN 2006, PRETTY DIRTY THINGS 2002, HIGH FIDELITY 2000, DANGEROUS LIAISONS 1988, THE GRIFTERS 1990, MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDERETTE 1985---and a dozen others!!!!!         GRADE---------------B+

A more than competent action director, Doug Liman made SWINGERS 1996, GO 1999, BOURNE IDENTITY 2002, MR AND MRS SMITH 2005 and EDGE OF TOMORROW 2014 among others.  His latest is AMERICAN MADE with Tom Cruise, based on a true story about a pilot who becomes entangled in nefarious dealing with gun running, drug and immigrant smuggling, and all at the direction of the FBI, CIA and other government officials.  At one point he has made so much cash money that it bulges out of boxes, bags and closets.  The film is engrossing in the way that life is stranger than fiction, and the Tom Cruise smirk is kept  in check because the plot gallops on before him.  My main complaint is that nearly half the film features that chaotic hand held camera look that some directors seem to think makes the picture cool, but mostly gives viewers a head ache.   I'd give AMERICAN MADE a higher grade if the photography were calmer.            GRADE----------B

Here's an effective, straightforward biography film on the early career of Thurgood MARSHALL, about the first major case that he won.  A wealthy white woman accuses her black chauffeur of rape, and the film is mostly a court room drama  with some back story scenes enacted.  Even though the film takes place in the early 1940's, and does not include the major achievements of MARSHALL's
life (including taking on school discrimination and other major wins, and he later becomes the first black man to become a Supreme Court Judge), the film clearly illustrates that times have not changed legally for black defendants today. Chadwick Boseman, who stars next in the new superhero film BLACK PANTHER gives a fine, low key portrayal, Gosh Gad plays his white Jewish assistant, Kate Hudson is the sympathetic, confused rich socialite, and Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens is the prosecutor, all very excellent.              GRADE--------------------B 

It played several international film festivals earlier this year, but you can see OUR SOULS AT NIGHT now on Netflix.  The main attraction of this modest romantic drama is the fourth reunion (THE CHASE 1966, BAREFOOT IN THE PARK 1967, ELECTRIC HORSEMAN 1979) of two stalwart actors:  the always effective team of Jane Fonda and Robert Redford.  They play neighbors, a widow and widower, who decide to try living together, and we find ourselves rooting for them in spite of this simple story line.                         GRADE---------------B   

Viewed earlier this month at the Vancouver International Film Festival, THE DEPARTURE had a brief run in Seattle last week, but it is certainly worth tracking down.  Filmed in Japan with subtitles, but produced and directed by Americans, this tells the story of a very modern Buddhist monk who rides a motorcycle, dances to electronic and techno music in clubs, and tries to dissuade his depressed clients from suicide.  This job is growing heavy on his mind, and when a health crisis occurs, he must  learn to swallow his own medicine.  This thoughtful, subtle and moving film deserves a wider audience.            GRADE----------B  

I saw this last June at SIFF, and it played at VIFF, and is currently opening around the country, and it has been a popular choice for foreign film audiences, but this engrossing true story about Norway's reaction to Nazi occupation during WWII, called THE KING'S CHOICE left me with a headache, because EVERY SINGLE SCENE IN THIS FILM (check out the trailer if you don't believe me) is hand held--sometimes excessively so.  (It didn't help that I was sitting in the third row looking up!)
If you can sit in the back and a jiggly camera doesn't bother you, there is an effective narrative and good acting and other pleasures to distract you, but I will never see this one again.            GRADE-------------------C+         (I would rate it higher if the photography was calmer.)




VIEWED ON TV/DVD 


PATERSON 2016--Here's a modest but effective gem--a small independent film by director Jim Jarmusch about a bus driver poet who lives in the small town of Paterson (and that's his name also) and systematically follows routine daily, all the while composing poems in his head and/or committing them to a notebook based on people he sees or the conversations he overhears.  He lives in nearly an altered state--his sweet loving wife is an artist of sorts--she decorates and paints the house in various versions of black and white.  Even her cupcakes are black and white.  DO NOT WATCH THIS FILM if you are tired and prone, as the pacing is slow and carefully drawn, and you might just slip off to sleep (guilty!) but I adjusted my seating and suddenly the film becomes curiously engrossing--it's a poetic and beautiful poem vision, and even though it's set in a modest (and rundown) part of Paterson NJ, the diverse characters are all portrayed as loving and thoughtful--the perfect utopia of humanity, something of a fantasy--an unusual departure from realism that makes you hopeful and happy.                    GRADE-------------A

PURGE: ELECTION YEAR 2016--I saw the first PURGE 2014 and thought it was an interesting idea to attempt----one night a year, any crime and murder  is legal, and the suspense comes when some family members get caught outside  their safe home when the chaos begins.  ELECTION YEAR is the second sequel, and a senator running for President wants to discontinue the purge because it discriminates against the poor and black neighborhoods, and decreases the need to help the disadvantaged people since their numbers are reduced  during that horrible night.  Of course, she is targeted by the politics of the purgers (a not so subtle political party made up of rich and white--Republicans!?! and much tension is created as she finds herself (with her security guard) out on the street at the mercy of the punkish killers and other enemies.  Although the film deals with some low brow violence, there are some interesting ideas and situations to make the film worthy of cult status.  I, so far, missed the first sequel (PURGE: ANARCHY) and just read that a fourth PURGE film will be a prequel, to show just how the PURGE situation came about.       GRADE-------B 

BROADCHURCH 2013--Just finished binging on the first season of this British TV murder mystery mini series (nearly 500 minutes!) and my main concern is that every hour long episode (there were 8 in the season) felt rather protracted about 15 minutes more than it needed to be. By the start of Episode 6 I became exasperated that the rather incompetent two main detectives on the case (an insecure first time woman and a sickly man who collapses on nearly every episode from a heart problem!)  never followed up on obvious clues that were introduced several episodes earlier.  By the start of Episode 7 my spouse and I  both decided who the murderer was (independently of each other) and unfortunately we both were correct, although the motive remained murky.  They even managed to make the last Episode 8 drag on for more than 30 minutes more than was needed.  Still (!!!!!!) I liked the setting (reminded me of a cross between GEORGE GENTLY which I've seen all of, and perhaps some VERA--also a favorite) and hopefully this series will grow on me in seasons 2 and 3.             GRADE--------B-

THIRTEEN FOR DINNER 1985--This made for TV movie features Peter Ustinov as famed Belgium detective Hercule Poiret, created in novels by Agatha Christie, and also featured  David Sachet, who shortly thereafter became the definitive Poiret on  several years worth of PBS shows about the famous detective.  I've seem most of the Christie productions, and thought this might be a new one, but 10 minutes into the film, which also features Faye Dunaway, I realized that I'd seen the Sachet version of this story called  LORD EDGWARE DIES.  Neither version is particularly memorable.            GRADE-----------C