Tuesday, April 9, 2019


Last year Jordon Peele won a writing Oscar for the popular thriller GET OUT, which I thought was well deserved.  He's back this year with his new directorial and writing effort called------ US------and while there are some similarities (like tension, horror aspects, and a very diverse cast) this new film is very different from his more subtle past effort.  When the mother becomes uncomfortable with a seaside vacation she persuades  the rest of the family to head home in the morning.  Unfortunately it is too late as the family's doppelgangers ("lookalikes" but with malicious, murderous intent, hence the title ---US---) attack their house, sending them fleeing for their lives.  They soon discover an insidious plan to overtake their world, and we slowly learn the reason why mother is so disturbed and frightened, which is due to a 15 minute incident when she was a child while lost at the same beach side resort.  The complex plotting has references galore:  apocalyptic themes, zombie movies, Hitchcock moments (especially scenes set in carnival situations, and also THE BIRDS) and paranoid characters, and actors doing stupid things in the gravest moments, as well as the obligatory twists and turns of plotting and surprise endings.  Happily the shocking ending leaves the audience in a catatonic state of shivering bliss--- even if borrowed from THE BIRDS.  The shocks are well prepared, and the actors, especially Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o as the mother, deliver the goods.  Nyong'o's role is massive (she plays two parts and does most of the "talking") and the film pivots beautifully around her disturbing story.-------------------------------GRADE--------A-

I didn't think I wanted to see a reenactment of the terrorist attack about 10 years ago that took place at various places in Mumbai that killed several hundred people at the luxury Taj hotel, but the film making is gripping, relentless and skillful, making this  docudrama HOTEL MUMBAI hard to watch.  Dev Patel, Armie Hammer and Anupam Kher give fine humanistic performances which fight against the horrific tragedy.    ----------------------------------GRADE---------B+

FIVE FEET APART is one of those sick teens in love stories that normally I detest, but in this case, the actors are so lovely and witty that I was able to forgive the stupid ending because I was so moved for the first 90%.  Perhaps it helped that I was not familiar with either actor, although both have appeared on TV shows.   The dialogue was smart, witty and amusing and there are many fine, emotional moments--my favorite is the scene in the pool room.  These two teens cannot be within 5 feet of each other because of the infectious nature of cystic fibrosis, yet you can feel the yearning and tragedy of being unable to touch each other.  -------------------------------GRADE----B+

This new Julianne Moore film is wonderful to watch, specifically because Julianne Moore is so effervescent and enthusiastic.  This remake of a Spanish film (GLORIA from several years ago ) works our sympathies as GLORIA BELL seeks to maneuver the dating scene for the 50 plus crowd, and the mostly disco songs from the nightclub she inhabits frequently becomes the soundtrack to her (and our own) life.  Also features Michael Cerna, John Turturo, Holland Taylor  and Brad Garrett provide sterling support.  When she finally does find love, it comes with a lot of messy complications.                            ------------------------------GRADE-------B 

Looking very much like a Tim Burton film, Burton's new work DUMBO, based on the simple 65 minute animated Disney film from 1941 is now remade, extended to over two hours and populated with live action characters (as well as some animation) and  given a sweet, bizarre, sometimes creepy gloss, and I didn't mind it a bit.  This DUMBO is still funny and innocent and full of wonder, although I 'm not sure small children will be so captivated.  There are more subplots and characters, more jokes and bits of circus scenes, but still in keeping with the innocent themes of parental loss and teasing.  I liked this new DUMBO, even as it introduces adult themes of motherless children, an armless veteran father returning from war, insidious evil capitalists, some grotesque animals and characters and many scenes of animals and children in peril.  ---------------------------------------------GRADE-------------B

The new Marvel comic character to come alive on the movie screen is CAPTAIN MARVEL and it has some issues as well as some fun.  In a complicated and chaotic manner, the first 20 minutes of the film is flashback/flash forward/flashback/flash in all directions--I had not much certainty in what was happening, but eventually it all works out by the end.  My patience was quite limited by then--not the best way to start a new character back story.  Finally the film starts into a forward plot about creatures from another universe looking for a place to relocate, and I liked the new character as she tries to figure out who and what she is.  Brie Larson is the new CAPTAIN MARVEL, and a young looking (via special effects) Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson) work well together too, and the support cast is effective--especially the cat who steals complete scenes.      --------------------------GRADE---------B 

Based on a true story, FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY tells of a British family really into big time wrestling, and the efforts of the two teenagers in the family to become professional.   The girl manages to get her chance at the big time,  but her brother does not, and that causes some family conflict.  The writing is cheeky and entertaining, and there's some kick ass wrestling moments. The best of the actors include Dwayne Johnson, Vince Vaughn, and as the teens--Jack Lowden and Florence Pugh are amazing.      ----------------------------------GRADE--------B 

I really loved the first two films made of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, so this third film called HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 3: THE HIDDEN WORLD  is a bit of a comedown.  It is however, still full of exciting and funny moments, and has some every emotional scenes, especially the final ten minutes.  It might be time to stop with the sequels while they are still ahead.           -----------------------------GRADE-------B

The newest DC Comic superhero to hit the silver screen is SHAZAM! which features a young teenage boy who changes into an adult hero complete with a massive physique and red body suit and white cape.  He must figure out his special powers in a hurry, because there is another evil superhero already on his tail.  There is a lot of fun in that section of the film, especially the sarcastic scene at an all night grocery story.  The film takes a long time to get off the ground with not just one but three preambles, as it were, but these scenes were important to the characters, and adds a lot of humanity to each character.  The film at times seems chaotic and uneven, but the mood is mostly light, and there are some very sweet moments, and I do look forward to future episodes.  Asher Angel and Zachary Levi play the teen and adult versions of SHAZAM! in amusing, charming fashion, even if they don't much look alike, and the rest of the cast is very effective.       -------------------------------GRADE-----------------B 

The newest Neil Jordan film (THE CRYING GAME) is a smooth, tense stalker movie called GRETA featuring the amazing French actress Isabelle Huppert, who plays a lonely older woman who befriends Chloe Grace Moretz, but the relationship soon sours because GRETA's behavior becomes obsessive, and the younger woman tries to break it off.  The film's style is seductive, and it takes a while for us to figure out what is happening, but the film does have a satisfying and intense ending.                  ---------------------GRADE------B

EVERYBODY KNOWS is a Spanish language film featuring the iridescent  Penelope Cruz and the handsome Javier Bardem as two ex-lovers who meet up again at a family wedding where a tragedy occurs during the celebrations, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that Cruz and Bardem might still have a thing going between them---something that affects the tragedy.  The film is a slow burner, but the fine direction and acting keep this drama engrossing.          ----------------------GRADE--------B 

A very small budget actually helps this independent western film THE KID work very well, as it tells the story of the last days of Billy the Kid, his gang, sheriff  Pat Garrett and the young boy who seeks his advice on how to grow up.   The fine cast includes Vincent D'Onofrio (who also directed the film,)  Ethan Hawke, an unrecognizable Chris Pratt, and an amazing turn by  an up and coming actor Dane DeHaan who plays the youthful Billy the Kid.   --------------GRADE------B 

Here's a modest drama about THE AFTERMATH of WWII, and the effects on the winners and losers of the war.  Housing is a problem since so much was destroyed in the bombings of Hamburgh.  An English officer shares a large house with a widowed German archetect and his disturbed daughterTensions bubble to the surface as well as passions.  It might not be much of a surprise to see how this drama developes, but the film is well cast, the direction is smooth and appropriate and the set design and cinimatography are crisp and engrossing.  -----------------GRADE------------------C+

I wish I could say that the new film based on the exploits of Nancy Drew: Dectective novels was a great new development but the film is only slightly amusing, mysterious and slightly effective.  The updated (meaning skateboarding, computers, texting and sophisticated revenge tactics) Nancy Drew, although well played by red headed Sophia Lillis with Linda Lavin as the older auntie dealing with weird happenings at her house are having lots of fun, and with the help of the local mean girl, Drew and her friends solve the modest mystery of NANCY DREW AND THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE.  I just wish it were more memorable and effective.  ---------------------GRADE-----------------C+--- 

For a science fiction thriller, CAPTIVE STATE is neither thrilling or mysterious enough to keep our  attention in a captive state.   The film features a lot of hand held camera work, and many scenes are filmed at night or in dark buildings so it is hard to follow, and the plot itself is too subtle to care much.  Earth had been overtaken by aliens, and a resistence has arisen to try to destroy the alien invaders.  The film tries to feel like a spy drama but it needs a good dose of alien shock and awe.              -------------------------------------GRADE-----------------C

 VIEWED ON TV/DVD---------------

NORTHWEST BY NORTHWEST--- Perhaps Alfred Hitchcock's most sucessful suspense/comedy, this is a classic chase mystery, where the innocent man (Cary Grant) goes on the run, and becomes persued by the sexy spy (Eva Marie Saint) and the FBI and the bad guys.  The classic scenes include driving drunk down a steep, winding road, being framed for murder at the United Nations, having a tension filled dinner and night with Saint, nearly murdered in an empty field, and scaling Mount Rushmore in dress shoes.      -------------GRADE--------A

SHADOW OF A DOUBT---It was a double feature Hitchcock night.  This one, set in a small town deals with a family member who may be a murderer.  Hitch's favorite film, and skillfully done, with the usual doses of humor.       ------------GRADE-------B+

THE VANISHING OF SIDNEY HALL--Currently on Netflix--this is a fine mystery of an arthur who drops out of  writing, only to be draged back in by another writer.  The fine lead is played by Logan Lerman (INDIGNATION 2016) and Elle Fanning.     ------------GRADE------B+




Monday, February 18, 2019


Three great films opened this past week--an encouraging start to the new cinematic new year:

THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD---This new documentary was filmed in digital and in 3D--a format that I usually don't appreciate--by New Zealand director Peter Jackson (LORD OF THE RINGS, THE HOBBIT etc).  I saw the 3D version and I was impressed.  He was given many hours of World War I footage, and transformed it into incredibly crisp, clear, like-new footage, then added amazing sound and some music and changed some of the black and white into color--the best technical result I've ever seen.  These scenes of World War I have never been seen before, and brought to  immediate vision the emotional reality of trench fighting that was astonishing and fascinating.  You could sense the audience was transfixed.  This 90 minute film is followed by a short 30 minute documentary about how the film was made, with Jackson himself expounding--another fascinating experience.  For me this was THE MOVIE EVENT of the past several years.

ALITA:  BATTLE ANGEL--This new science fiction action film was directed by Robert Rodriguez and produced by James Cameron (TITANIC), and was only available in 3-D at the theatre where I saw it, but the film was technically vivid and impressive.  The 3-D glasses don't fit over my regular glasses very well, and so I often get a headache by the end, but this experience was better than most, and I'm happy to recommend it to interested science fiction geeks.  ALITA is a hand made cyborg girl, sort of a daughter figure to a doctor who pieces her together, and they soon discover that she has amazing powers that help her survive in this dismal, violent  futuristic world.  The film is live action, but ALITA does have some sort of special effects featured on some body parts, and her eyes have been enlarged with an other worldly glow.  It's definitely a fish out of water story with a lot of fights, chases and thrills, and I was fascinated throughout.

COLD PURSUIT--  I wasn't expecting much from this latest Liam Neeson as action figure hero film,  avenging the death of his twenty something son by drug dealers, but within 15 minutes this film morphs into something uniquely quirky, with drool humor, bits of witty violence, and unexpected plot twists.  More than once I felt I was watching a companion film to the Coen brothers classic FARGO with bits of the recent Taylor Sheridan films WIND RIVER and HELL AND HIGH WATER and a dash of Hitchcock tossed in for good measure.  This film is a remake of a Scandinavian film that I've never seen, and is sure to end up on many a top 10 list for this new year.                            GRADE--------------A-

OSCAR NOMINATED ANIMATED SHORT FILMS----This program featured all five of the Oscar nominated animated shorts, plus a couple more gems, and they all were pretty good.  The first shown was BAO--a film that had wide exposure as it played this last summer with the new INCREDIBLES 2, but all were unique and, surprisingly  moving.  Unfortunately this program (along with the unseen by me Oscar nominated live action shorts) played just one short week during the massive (for the Pacific Northwest) snow storm, which made for sparse attendance.  Pity if you missed it, but hopefully these programs will come back soon on DVD or the SHORTS channel.                               GRADE------------B+

ON THE BASIS OF SEX----Based on the early career of Ruth Bader Ginberg and her husband, this modest film which features Felicity Jones and Arme Hammer is pleasant and enlightening enough, but lacks the bold, provocative energy that highlights the current Oscar nominated documentary RBG about Ginsberg's life on the Supreme  Court.                GRADE----------B

SERENITY---Matthew McConanghy and Anne Hathaway  star as ex's in this stylish film noir--she hunts him down so he will take her violent new husband out on a fishing expedition to throw him overboard.  The film is slick to watch, but plays more like a potboiler than thriller, and you will either love or hate the  surprise ending, or simply go what?  Some interesting scenes and the ocean setting is attractive, but it doesn't quite come together.   At least it wasn't dull.              GRADE----------B-

ISN'T IT ROMANTIC---Rebel Wilson, who often plays the overweight best friend supporting roles (like all three PITCH PERFECT films) gets to be the lead here.  She awakes from a head injury in a fantasy world where everyone loves her for herself and she gets the handsome man.  The film is a parody of romantic comedies, with singing and dancing thrown in.  Unfortunately its also a giant cliche, and becomes tiresome to watch, except for the occasional sight gag or line which she handles mostly with aplomb.  I wanted to like it more, but not this time.                      GRADE-----C+          

MISS BALA----Michelle Rodriguez goes to Tijuana to visit a close friend, but ends up getting kidnapped by drug dealers, and forced to be a "mule."  There's a lot of unbelievable situations she must get out of, and this is a film that showed too much in the trailer of coming attractions .  Also, the camera work was hand held, adding to the unpleasant visuals.               GRADE-----------C+

GLASS--Except for THE SIXTH SENSE, I have not been impressed with director M. Night Shalmalan's other films---too long, too obtuse, to dull, too confusing, etc.  Yes, that is exactly what I though of GLASS, and that ending was pointless to boot.              GRADE-------------C-

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

LEAN ON PETE----2018-- A little film which snuck into town earlier this year, this is the little story that could, and does.  Teen age Charley doesn't have much family support, but ends up with a horse as his best friend--that is until the horse is scheduled to be slaughtered.  The adults he has contact with don't understand him, but he tries very hard to please.  He is a very sympathetic character, but as his life starts a downward spiral (in a Dickensonian manner) you become anxious for his happiness.  The modest, subtle film gains a lot of power, and contains several throat choking moments.  One scene in particular had me gasping in shock--I don't know how they did that.  In spite of being sad at times, the film has a strong redemptive power--it treats it's characters with a great deal of respect.   With strong support from Steve Bucemi, Chloe Seviigny, Steve Zahn, and a star making turn by Charlie Plummer as "Charly"                         GRADE--------------A-  

ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ --2017---Here's an excellent example of a film that has some problems with story and believability, but is incredibly compelling because Denzel Washington has such command over his acting skills that he carries us over any potholes that surface.  It wasn't until the film was over that I realized that some of the actions and plot twists were bogus at best.  Well worth seeing for Washington.             GRADE------------B 

PITCH PERFECT 3---2017--Not as fresh as the first two, but there are some silly yet funny scenes and the singing is still watchable.  Rebel Wilson is given a little more to do than previous editions.                      GRADE-----------B-

HARPER----1966 --I've seen some detective films with Paul Newman before that have been more interesting--I thought this one was a bit slow and too droll, but the cast (including Arthur Hill, Lauren Bacall, Janet Leigh, and especially scene stealer Shelley Winters) does what it can.          GRADE----------------C+


Drama/Comedy in no particular order



Favorite Documentaries


Best Foreign Films

ROMA (Mexico)
THE GUILTY (Denmark)

 Guilty Pleasures


Did not like these films

VICE  (I wanted to scream profanities at the screen....)

0SCARS 400 PM SUNDAY 24 FEBRUARY--red carpet

Best Picture:  My favorites are THE FAVOURITE and GREEN BOOK but I suspect A STAR IS BORN or BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY or BLACK PANTHER might win, or ROMA which I think should win best foreign film.

Best Actor:  My favorites are Viggo Mortenson for GREEN BOOK or Rami Malek for BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY but Christian Bale might win for VICE--he was good but the film pissed me off.

Best Actress:  My favorite is Glenn Close for THE WIFE--it would be a crime if she didn't win.

Supporting Actor:  My favorite is Richard E. Grant for CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME but Mahershala Ali was good in GREEN BOOK.

Supporting Actress:  Regina King--IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK has a deserved lock.

Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron for ROMA seems assured, though I also liked Yorgos Lanthimos for THE FAVOURITE.

Best Cinematography: THE FAVOURITE.


Best Foreign film:  ROMA and SHOPLIFTERS but ROMA has the edge.

Best Original Score:  My Favorite is MARY POPPINS RETURNS, but IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK is lovely.

Best Song:  All songs were fine this year, but Shallow... Lady Gaga's tune from A STAR IS BORN seems to have a lock.

Best Animated feature:  SPIDER MAN: INTO THE SPIDER VERSE has a lock, I think.

Best Screen play:  FIRST REFORMED is stunning, but FAVOURITE, GREEN BOOK, and ROMA seem a more predictable choice.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Favorite is IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, but CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME and STAR IS BORN might be close behind.

Some of the smaller technical awards are up for grabs.  I think that FIRST REFORMED should have been nominated for actor director and picture .

I got the name incorrect on my favorite film this month---the correct name is THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD.  I apologize for any confusion during the previous 4 days.  That was a major senior moment/boo boo I think.


Wednesday, January 16, 2019


Lots of good stuff came out this holiday month, and here's my favorites......

THE FAVOURITE---A funny, farcical chamber comedy drama set in the court of Queen Anne of England during the early 18th century war between England and France.  When a stranger (played by Emma Stone) arrives at court, she weasels her way into the favor of the Queen, much to the chagrin to the Queen's long time friend and lover (Rachel Weisz)--and the two of them play one upmanship games to win as the Queen's FAVOURITE.  Anne is delightfully portrayed by Olivia Colman, and all three women are destined to be nominated for acting awards.  Much of the humor is dry, cruel and unfair, but the actors keep the mood light and curious.         GRADE-------A-

ROMA---A Mexican black and white film based on childhood memories of its director Alfonzo Cuaron (best director for GRAVITY) is wistful and engrossing as it follows the year in the life of a maid in the early 1970's.  Many scenes have resonated in my memory over the last month--some curious, moving or just funny.               GRADE----------A-

MARY POPPINS RETURNS----A delightful remake of the original 1964 film, with new and a few returning characters.  The songs were written by one of the original song writers, and the film mixes whimsical sequences featuring charming songs, comedy, dancing and sight gags and  animation.  I had a big stupid grin on my face the entire film.              GRADE--------A-

SPIDERMAN: INTO THE SPIDER VERSE---I had no interest in seeing another film about Spiderman--especially animated.  But several months ago at the end of VENOM they screened a long 10minute clip of this new film, and I was intrigued.  The animation allows the filmmakers to really do different things with the action, and it looks so wonderfully chic and modern.  My only complaint to this version is the final 20 minutes which becomes so chaotically abstract that I lost my train of thought.  Still, it is classically brilliant in an exciting new way-with it's hip soundtrack and graffiti images it heralds a new way of presenting animation.                       GRADE-----A-

THE SHOPLIFTERS---This Japanese film tells of a poor, make shift family created organically by strangers who band together, adults and children, living in an abandoned house, stealing food and supplies to get by, and creating a loving bond. The film is gentle and beautifully composed, with generous feelings of love in spite of the criminal activity that seems to be promoted.                  GRADE-----------A-

THE UPSIDE----This remake of THE INTOUCHABLES--a 2011 French film--works quite well for American audiences mainly due to the chemistry between a rich, white paraplegic man and the ex-con black man who "accidentally" becomes his care giver, and luckily the two leads are played by Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart, who finally gets a great part to match his sarcastic urban wit.  I was moved and humored by the film, even though I'd seen the original French version twice, and the audience was having as good a time as I was.  The film has become a surprise hit grossing over $20 million it's first weekend, finally bumping AQUAMAN off the number one slot after 4 weeks.  If you are ready for a moving comedy, THE UPSIDE is the film for you.               GRADE--------------A-

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK---This film version of James Baldwin's novel is a beautiful experience--the direction and script is smooth and insightful, with each character making a solid and vivid impression of their plight.  Set in the late 60's, the film tells of two young black lovers who become pregnant just as the young man is imprisoned  for a crime he clearly didn't commit and the two poor family's must struggle to free him.  This director, of the luminous MOONLIGHT, Barry Jenkins gives his new film the same glow as before, and in spite of some tragic themes, ignites the film with hope and love and dignity.                        GRADE------------B+

AQUAMAN---The film has been receiving mixed  reviews, but any film that features a 10 legged octopus playing the drum set and the bongos with all legs can't be all bad, right? There's an explosion or fight scene every couple minutes, and some of those long haired underwater heroes pop in and out of the water with a flick of the hair and some self deprecating movements make things pretty fun.  The underwater world reminded me of the wonders of BLACK PANTHER--things I've never seen before. I had a lot of fun at this movie.  It didn't matter to me that there was a lot of mambo jumbo political talk or the usual bad man trying to run the universe that every comic book movie seems to have.  I  just had a good time.                GRADE---------B+

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS--Here's an engaging historical drama with two fine actors--Saoirse Ronan plays Mary, and Margot Robbie plays her cousin Queen Elizabeth I.  The cinematography, music and costumes are a pleasure to watch.  After viewing I read up on the history/story behind the production, and somethings I wasn't sure of--seems like they skipped and some things were made up, but the entertainment factor was there and I try to give the writers the benefit of the doubt----since who really can know exactly what was said or done with any specificity.                 GRADE---------B

THE MULE---I'm no fan of Clint Eastwood's politics, but I do know that he makes smooth, non fussy films as a director--he gets to the point and moves on, and as an actor he does the same, being cast in appropriate roles and making each characterization look simple.  THE MULE is based on a true story and it is very effective as a film.  Eastwood plays a 90 year old man who has been a loser as a provider for his family and has never been around for them.  He "accidentally" takes a job as a mule for a drug cartel--transporting increasingly large amounts of drugs from place to place, with increasing tension.  He always surrounds himself with good actors, in this case like Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishbourne, Michael Pena, Andy Garcia, and especially Dianne Weist, who manages to steal with great efficiency and emotion, the few scenes she has as his estranged ex-wife.             GRADE--------B

MORTAL ENGINES--An awkward title for this science fiction film set in the apocalyptic future about a large mobile city London (!) that gobbles up small mobile towns.  There's a complicated chase --something to do with a mad man trying to "rule the world" while trying to kill the girl whose mother he had killed.....any way, the film is rather unique in a lot of ways, mostly to do with special effects, and surprisingly engaging.  It helps that the film was written and produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh (LOTR director and writers) and filmed in the always beautiful and unusual New Zealand landscapes.  A very solid guilty pleasure.                   GRADE-------B

PERFECTOS DESCONOCIDES (PERFECT STRANGERS)---This Spanish film is a big guilty pleasure--and I just realized it was directed by one of my favorite Spanish directors, Alex de la Iglesia.  Seven friends at a dinner party agree to play a party game where all cell phones are in the center of the table, and all messages, tweets and calls are read aloud or listened to on speaker.  This of course causes all sorts of misunderstandings, embarrassments and surprises, and although the mood starts out mostly light and amusing,  as the game takes some serious turns and becomes almost cruel, the stakes become higher as secrets start to spill out. There are four or five serious twists and double twists by the end.  Loved it.              GRADE-----------B

AT ETERNITY"S GATE--This fictionalized documentary covers much the same ground as the specialized hand painted animated film from last year LOVE, VINCENT.  In a strong performance, Willem Dafoe plays van Gogh, Rupert Friend plays brother Theo, and Oscar Isaac plays Gauguin.  The director Julian Schnabel blurs some scenes purposefully at the top or bottom or in the middle (thought I'm not sure why--it just makes the film hard to watch at times) and uses a lot of hand held camera work, which I'm not a fan of, so my one great take away is Dafoe.        GRADE-----B-

THE FRONT RUNNER---This low key film has some interesting moments--it is based on the true experience that candidate Gary Hart had while he was running for president in 1988.  He is (falsely) accused of infidelity--the relationship blown out of proportion by the news media.  He is forced to quit the race.  Recent events have shown that the pictures that hit newsstands were fabricated--set up by political enemies to disgrace him.   It's a sad story but the film makers don't give the film any punch, and as a viewer, we hardly care by the end.              GRADE---------B- 

VICE----The actors in this biographical drama are all excellent--too excellent. Christian Bale heads the film as Dick Cheney, Amy Adams is his wife, and Sam Rockwell plays Bush,  all a little too well.  This film brought back all the anger and hostility I had towards this administration, and by the end of this film I was wanting to yell profanities at the screen, which I had to keep in by biting my tongue.  This film made be feel angry, betrayed, hostile, and itchy.  I HATED WATCHING THIS FILM.    (I'm sure I'll feel the same way in 5 years time when they make a TRUMP film.  Hopefully it will be funny.)                     GRADE------------C

VOX LUX---There's an interesting film here struggling to get out.  Two teen sisters live through a horrifying experience at school.  A dozen years later one has achieved great personal success as a singer because of a song she wrote about her experience, but she has become a selfish, vain diva and takes her unhappiness out on all who try to help her.  Natalie Portman gives it her all as the older diva,and Jude Law is almost unrecognizable (in a good way)as her manager.  The film ends with a 20 minute concert that she pulls together after a wild scene of drugging and sex.   It's not a likable film, but the music is a redeeming factor with several songs written (and sung) by the artist SIA.

BUMBLEBEE-- This new film is really a remake of the transformer stories from a few years ago, but softer, gentler, and with a girl teenager as the lead.  It starts off nicely, as she is gifted a junker VW Bug as an 18 year birthday present, then discovers it will transform into a gentle giant machine, but it quickly becomes pretty predictable during the last half with a lot of screen time taken up with giant machine fighting even larger giant machine, and the military men very quick to shoot first and ask questions later.                                GRADE---------C

REISSUES, NETFLIX, DVD's, or shown on TV--------------------

SCHINDLER'S LIST 1993---This award winning Steven Spielberg film is 25 years old, and I saw a new reissue in glorious black and white (color would have made viewing it too painful) and on a large Dolby stereo screen, but unfortunately there were not many people watching with me.  It was easier watching this second time--the first time I was so nervous and distressed.  What really stood out for me was the fine actors Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes and Ben Kingsley, and the beautiful John Williams score.  There are some horrible scenes of Holocaust cruelty and violence , but  many more memorable scenes of hope and dignity and faith.  It's still a chilling, sober film very well done.                  GRADE-------------------A-

STRUGGLE: LIFE AND LOST ART OF SZUKALSKI--This Netflix original documentary was about the life of an artist and sculpturist from Poland who inadvertently becomes involved with the Nazi movement in the late 1930's before he is able to escape to the United States.  Nearly all of his major pieces were destroyed or bombed in Germany, even though critics  around the world labeled him a genius.  He is little known today except through a few discovered works and some photographs.                                              GRADE-------------------B+ 

HAROLD AND LILLIAN:  A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY 2017--This couple, the Michelson's, were married more than 60 years and worked together in Hollywood behind the scenes.  Harold was a story boarder, who worked with Hitchcock, Polanski, Mel Brooks, Kubrick, and many others through most of his career, drawing picture story boards that led to directorial decisions.  She became one of the first (and few) film research librarians, assisting directors, set designers, costumers, and others to find accuracy in costumes and sets for period pictures.  For movie fans, this Netflix documentary film is fascinating.                   GRADE------------B

SANTA CHRONICLES--A new Netflix film featuring a jolly Kurt Russell as Santa whose sleigh gets damaged by two pre-teen kids who end up helping him beat the clock on Christmas EveIt's harmless fun for all ages, with miniature elves, 50's music, bad guys, and a very sexy Mrs. Clause. I had a reasonably good time with this one.             GRADE---------------B

DUMPLIN'--A new Netflix film has Jennifer Aniston playing the mother of a full size daughter who tries out for a beauty pageant, encouraging other "different" teens to also try out.  The film is improved by six new Dolly Parton songs on the soundtrack, but this is still very familiar stuff.                   GRADE--------------B-

RUMOR HAS IT 2005--A modest comedy starring Jennifer Aniston who suspects her dead mother and her very alive grandmother (Shirley MacClaine) may be the basis for THE GRADUATE novel and movie (as Elaine and Mrs. Robinson characters) and sets out to find the Dustin Hoffman character, played by Kevin Costner.  The film has some great laughs, but it remains modest in all respects.             GRADE--------B-

THE DEAD POOL 1988---A modestly effective Clint Eastwood ("Dirty Harry")cop thriller set amongst the Hollywood scene.  This has some early, amusing guest shots of a young Jim Carrey as an over the top rocker, and one of Patricia Clarkson's early roles as an ambitious reporter.                  GRADE------B-

THE WILD PARTY 1975--Based on a legendary party that ends in an orgy and murder and inspired by the Fatty Arbunckle scandal, this low budget production was an early film directed by James Ivory (HOWARD'S END, REMAINS OF THE DAY, MAURICE, etc.) and stars Raquel Welch, James Coco and Perry King.  It's not very good, but it has some odd and curious scenes, and the three leads are very watchable.         GRADE-------------B-

VALLEY OF DECISION 1945--A rich man and his poor maid fall in love, but their fathers are enemies, causing lots of tension and guilt.  Greer Garson, Gregory Peck, Lionell Barrymore and Donald Crisp have key roles.  Soapy and melodramatic at times, but the cast is interesting.         GRADE---------B-

THE MAN WHO SAVED CHRISTMAS 2002--A made for TV movie with Jason Alexander as a pre-war  toy maker who is convinced by the government to stop making toys and make weapons instead when WWI breaks out.  He takes the blame for canceling Christmas, then must convince the president that toys are necessary.  Slow and dull film tries hard to please.         GRADE------------------C+

POTTERSVILLE 2017--Despite strong comic cast (Michael Shannon, Judy Greer, Ron Perlman, etc) this Netflix film made me wince many times, and moves too slow, and was not very festive in spite of being set at Christmas. Plus the plot was stupid.                 GRADE---------------D+


Wednesday, November 28, 2018


Tis now the season of the holiday films and potential best films of the year, and I've been busy at the movies.  Here's my viewing list with some of my favorites nearer the top than others. It's been a plethora of the good stuff this month.

FREE SOLO---Here's an independent documentary about climbing steep mountains without a rope, and the fact that climber Alex Honnold succeeded in a gigantic climb of El Capitan in  Yosemite National Park should be reason enough for seeing this terrific, breathtaking film.  The photographer  and solo climber himself, Jimmy Chin captures incredible visuals and vivid angles of this amazing feat.  Here's the amazing story of Alex, his friends, and the appeal (and terror) of this challenging sport, done with great skill, tension and fascination.  Check out the spectacular trailer for more motivation to see this excellent film.                   GRADE------A

TEA WITH THE DAMES--Another independent documentary made especially for fans of great acting in movies and theatre, this British film gathers together four extraordinary actors who all are friends, they all worked with the great Laurence Oliver, and they have all been proclaimed DAMES by the Queen of England, and they all sit around talking (and gossiping) about the earlier days and their work, and co-stars.  Most of this is fascinating and funny stuff, including some wonderful film clips and pictures, and some choice witty comments.  Leading the bunch are two icons of theater and films, Dame Judy Dench and Dame Maggie Smith, who both have won Oscars (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, / THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE and CALIFORNIA SUITE) and they've all been nominated numerous times).  They joke about growing old, losing their sight, their past actor spouses and some of the backstage shenanigans that occurred.  Also included are Joan Plowright (TEA WITH MUSSOLINI and ENCHANTED APRIL to name a few) who was Oliver's last wife.  She movingly tells of losing her sight (as does Dench) and Eileen Aikins known mostly for her prolific work in British theatre along with films COLD COMFORT FARM and GOSFORD PARK, which also included Smith.  This a riotous romp--a perfect anglophile fantasy.           GRADE------------A

THE GREEN BOOK--Based on the true story of the relationship between African American classic piano genius Dr Don Shirley and Tony "Lib"--an Italian American body guard/bouncer and set in the 1960's when black travelers need a Green Book which advised them which hotels and restaurants were "safe" for them to stay at, this follows the theme of the road trip as they work their way into the deep south on a concert tour, with some tension and humor and tough situations.  Sometimes the film feels like it backs away from some "hot" issues, but bookended by strong, contrasting characterizations by Viggo Mortensen as Tony and Mahershala Ali (Oscar winner for the recent MOONLIGHT) as Dr. John, this likable film has the charm and heart and humor and tension to carry it across the Oscar finish line in February.                        GRADE-------------A-

THE PRICE OF EVERYTHING--A US documentary (coming soon to HBO) about the art world and how money affects every artist and art piece, for better or worse.  Many artists and money people are interviewed and many stories bring some shocks and clarity.  Especially effective is the rich Jewish collector who tells of owning the child statue.......              GRADE------A-

HALLOWEEN (2018)---I never saw the original except for clips and snippets, and so I was surprised at the effectiveness of this simple story of an insane murderer who escapes from prison and heads back to his home town to finish off a woman who as a teenager escaped his wrath and has since grown into an intense, slightly paranoid grandmother (an on the money Jamie Lee Curtis) on a mission.  There's not a lot of scenes that haven't been seen before in other thrillers, but there were plenty of chills and surprises as to how the characters handled themselves and for those interested, it's an amusing and effective thriller.           GRADE-------B+

WIDOWS----Based on a novel by the popular British crime writer Lynda laPlante (PBS--PRIME SUSPECT and many other novels) this well directed crime thriller finds three widows whose husbands have all been killed in a job gone bad banding together for a last job and to seek revenge, and to pay off the crime boss who was stiffed by their husbands---yeah, it's a complicated situation, and to the credit of the large cast (including Viola Davis, Colin Farrell, Robert Duval and Liam Neeson and others) the pace moves along  intriguingly, and there are a couple witty surprises.  Director Steve McQueen won an Oscar a couple years back for 14 YEARS A SLAVE.         GRADE--------B+

BOY ERASED--Based on a true story, this tells of a pastor and his wife who send their teenage son off to a gay conversion therapy facility, which causes all concerned to question their own view of sexuality.  The acting trifecta of Russell Crowe, Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and actor/director Joel Edgerton give the story a lived in and chilling feeling.                    GRADE------------B+

INSTANT FAMILY--When a childless couple fast approaching middle age realize their time clock is ticking  they decide to look into adoption, and end up with three siblings  The comedy drama keeps one foot in reality and really struck cords with me, which resulted in a rush of laughter and tears, mainly because the (based on true) story keeps it real.  Watch for a small, moving scene stealing two minutes from the great comedian Joan Cusack near the end.                   GRADE-----B+

THE HATE U GIVE---Based on a popular young adult novel, this concerns the consciousness raising of a black teen  who witnesses the shooting death of her unarmed black boy friend, and the moral decisions she must wade through to try to tell the truth despite pressure from all sides, including within her own community.       GRADE---------------B+

CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME--A down on her luck writer who lives in New York City earns money by writing fake letters supposedly from successful past writers.  Based on a true story, Melissa McCarthy is splendid as you've never seen her before, and her gay friend and cohort is played by the excellent Richard E. Grant.  I predict Oscar nominations for these two.                         GRADE----------------B+

THE HAPPY PRINCE--The last days of writer Oscar Wilde, after his release from prison on charges of immorality, is depicted in this well acted but grim saga, written, directed and starring Rupert Everett, and featuring Colin Firth and Emily Watson and Tom Wilkerson.  I saw the film in Vancouver in a packed theater while sitting against the side wall and I had a hard time understanding some of the dialogue.  Hopefully your experience will improve that situation, since dialogue witticisms are everything in this film.                     GRADE-----------B

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY--This film bio-pic is a lot of fun, especially because actor Rami Malek looks so much like Freddie Mercury, and the group Queen produced so many great songs, which make this film an uplifting experience.                 GRADE-------------B

 THE GRINCH ---It's a familiar story written by Dr. Seuss, and I didn't even mind the hoards of kids surrounding me during a vacation day matinee (mistake on my part), because the cotton candy visuals of Christmas paraphernalia are so eye catching, and the clever, easy laughs keep the action goingCould put you in the holiday spirit if you aren't too "grinchie."              GRADE--------B

THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS--Now playing on Netflix, this new light, violent  fantasy western by Joel and Ethan Coen features six different stories, each loaded with sarcasm, irony, wit and horror.  Prepare to be surprised, moved, disturbed, angry, but probably not bored.          GRADE---------------B

THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER--Maggie Gyllenhaal is charmingly quirky as the teacher who thinks she has discovered a poetic genius in her class, and goes to some extremes to advance his talents.  Currently streaming on Netflix.          GRADE-----------------B 

VENOM-----Here's the latest movie based on a Marvel Comic character.   I like Tom Hardy--too bad he is inhabited by a hideous looking creature much of the film.  The film does have some humor, lots of action/chase scenes, and it is set up nicely for many a sequel--he's got a love/hate thing for the taste of human meat which may be amusing in the future.                     GRADE--------------B-

TO ALL THE BOYS I LOVED BEFORE---Here's a charming little comedy about a girl whose fantasy letters not meant to be read get mailed out to the boys they were addressed to.  She ends up starting a fake relationship with one for the purpose of getting his girl friend jealous.  Teens have such complicated lives.   Now on Netflix.                      GRADE----------B-

THE FIRST MAN----This story based on the life of Neil Armstrong features Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy as Mr and Mrs Armstrong.  The film is solid and at times interesting as it deals with man's first moon landing, and the effect on their marriage, but the pace seemed a bit slow and other space films like THE RIGHT STUFF felt more compelling than this one.  I was a bit bored.

THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS---Lushly designed and photographed, with a lot of great Tchaikovsky music and a couple solo dances featuring Misty Copeland can't hide the fact that the plot is a mess---boring and meaningless, and even an over the top performance by Kiera Knightly as the Sugar Plum Fairy can't rescue this waste of time.           GRADE----------C+

NOBODY'S FOOL---Tyler Perry's writing lets him down--the jokes have not been streamlined or developed, although the cast does their best with this silly plot of a woman on the corporate rise who may be "catfished" by a man she's only met online and not in person.Tiffany Haddish throws it all up on the wall--sometimes it sticks.  Also with Tika Sumpter, Omari Hardwick and Whoopi Goldberg.                 GRADE---------C+

ONE OF US----This Netflix documentary about Hassidic Jews trying to leave the church has the same effect as any other person leaving the fold of any other organization--shunning, loneliness, persecution and in the case of a woman with children, poverty.  This didn't tell me much that was new---just more grim stuff, and the narrative felt chaotic at times.            GRADE------------C

ROBIN HOOD--This new version started off lively enough, with arrows flying through the air (some in slow motion to see how close they come to you) and I did like the energy that Jamie Fox brings to his role, but soon the action scenes become a hand held frenzy that is impossible to see what is happening, and there are a lot of  "yeah, right" moments.  One in particular has Hood shot through the chest, but Marion pulls the arrow out (with a kiss!) and  "minutes later" he is involved in a big showdown with the evil Sheriff of Nottingham.  This one is for the naive among us, or those who have never seen this story before.  I was also confused by the costuming---some wore pheasant rags, some wore fancy soldier outfits, and the elite wore leather and gold outfits that felt like they came from J. Jacobs in the 1980's.                       GRADE----D+

VIEWED ON DVD OR TV-----------------------

SWEET NOVEMBER (1968)---A kooky woman picks up a different man every month to help him socially and/or sexually---then moves on to another.  This is a sweet fantasy--at times very funny, at times moving, and tinged with sadness.  Fortunately, the woman is played by the eccentric Sandy Dennis who pulls off this odd situation as if it were the most natural thing in the world.  Her Mr. November is played with smoothness and charm by the British singer Anthony Newley (he only sings over the credits)--he is a pleasing surprise as an actor.  I'd call this a lovely guilty pleasure.                    GRADE--------B+

20th CENTURY WOMEN (2017)--A progressive woman ( Annette Benning) is trying to raise her teen age son as a feminist, in her house with several woman tenants, including Greta Gerwig, in this quirky comedy/drama.             GRADE-------------------  B+

TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM (2013)---Inspiring and wistful documentary about aspiring singers who end up as back up singers for bigger stars.  The film interviews a handful of these singers like Merry Clayton, who never quite made the big time despite having fabulous voices, and bigger singers like Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, the Rolling Stones, etc who appreciate the back up talent and know how hard they have to work.                GRADE---------B+

THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL(1959)--The king of the movie gimmick (smell-o-rama. electric shock, flying skeletons in the theatre) William Castle directed this effective Vincent Price thriller about a rich man offering 10000 dollars to anyone able to spend the entire night in a haunted house.  There are some very chilling and effective moments, and a number of decent twists, and I was going to give this late show just 15 minutes before I would turn it off, but I lasted the whole 95 minutes.                         GRADE------------------B+

THE BEGUILED (2017)--This recent remake by director Sophia Coppola of the old  Clint Eastwood version focuses on the women in a lonely southern mansion in the South during the Civil War and becomes something of a feminist tract.               GRADE-------B

EAST SIDE WEST SIDE (1949)--Barbara Stanwyck is the faithful wife jilted by her smooth husband James Mason--for Ava Gardner, no less, and everyone ends up with what they deserve, in this watchable melodrama.                           GRADE---------------B

CROOKED HOUSE (2017)--This Agatha Christie novel was made into a Netflix movie, and even though there is a clever twist ending, and some good actors (Glenn Close and others)--the film needed some jazz, some oomph, some energy.                  GRADE-----------C+ 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018


It was a busy month for film going--I saw 18 films at the Vancouver International Film Festival.  I will write about them when and if they arrived in Seattle for regular runs, but here is a brief listing of what I saw:    DAUGTHER OF MINE (Italy), LIQUID TRUTH (Italy), MUG (Poland), FIRECRACKERS (Canada), MORI THE ARTIST (Japan), MICROHABITAT (South Korea).BECOMING ASTRID (Sweden), A FAMILY TOUR (Hong Kong) GRIZZLES (Canada), DOGMAN (Italy), COLD WAR (Poland), MANGO SHAKE (USA), THE PRAYER (France), THE HAPPY PRINCE (Great Britain0, ASH IS THE PUREST WHITE (China) and my three favorites PRICE OF EVERYTHING (USA), THE EYES OF ORSON WELLES (both USA documentaries),  and YOMADINNE (Egypt).

Here's what I've caught in theatres and Netflix and on DVD.....

COLETTE---This also played at VIFF but I knew is was also opening in Seattle.  It is a beautifully acted. directed, costumed, scored film--possibly the best role Kiera Knightly has had, and she really dominates.  Dominic West as her husband is just as compelling, as this tells the story of Colette, the French writer,  and her early years of her marriage with a domineering man and she has to really struggle to assert herself and find her own writing voice.   Ironically, she does find her voice because her husband likes to lock her in her writing room, forcing her to write before he lets her out!  The film also shows her sexual experiences with other women and the open marriage that this couple finds themselves in.                    GRADE-------------A-

THE SISTER BROTHERS---This film has some technical issues like some distracting hand held scenes, and many scenes filmed at night, where it is difficult to see what exactly is happening.  (I actually miss the old night filter that used to be used---even though it was obvious that a filter was being used, at least you could see what was happening.)  That being said, THE SISTER BROTHERS is a western that you've never seen before--the characters are so well fleshed out, and it shows that many men had deeper feelings (and ways to communicate that) than most of the westerns have demonstrated before.  All the major characters go through some major changes and sympathies that might leave you uncertain and shaken and we come to know them well.  We still are dealing with themes of cowardice, murder, guilt, greed and passion, but the film feels extremely fresh and at times it is quite moving.                      GRADE--------B+

OLD MAN AND THE GUN--If this is truly Robert Redford's final film as he has claimed, he is certainly going out on a very high note.  This smooth, entertaining robber versus police film is a pleasure to watch, and the supporting cast (including Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tom Waits and Casey Affleck) are all incredibly likable.  There is nothing here you haven't seen before in some other format, but I had a grin on my face most of the time.                  GRADE-------B+

SEARCHING--Here's a modern telling through the use of email, Internet, audio camera, etc of a father desperately searching for his missing daughter--they are known to be very close, and when she suddenly disappears he is frantic with worry.  The more he searches for her online, the  more he realizes that he doesn't really know that much about her.  There are some great twists here, and although there is not much humor, the film is fascinating to watch.  John Cho and the police woman Debra Messing have great chemistry as they communicate (mostly by Facebook) in their desperate attempt to locate the missing girl before too much time has passed.  Great twists occur in this one too, making it a fascinating watch.                           GRADE----------B+

THE WIFE---Glenn Close plays the long suffering wife of a famous writer, putting her own career on hold to raise a family and backup her husband as he accepts a world wide honor--the Nobel Peace Prize for writing  The film slowly reveals more details in flashback to what for some will be a big surprise ending (me included) but the main attraction here is Close who has her characterization down in a stranglehold of tension and mystery and grace.                         GRADE------------B+

 A STAR IS BORN---This is the 4th version of this story, and damn if it isn't one of the better ones--the special feature here is the astonishing character portrayed by singing star Lady Gaga.  I've been a fan of her voice for a couple years now, but I was unprepared for the raw, naturalistic manners of her character, and how she plays so easily against the growling Bradley Cooper.  The songs are mostly pleasant and memorable and the drama of one talent falling and one talent rising fast is still a very  effective  conceit in this new modern setting.                    GRADE-----------B+

JULIET, NAKED---Based on a comic, dramatic novel by Nick Hornby, this film is a naturalistic slice of life.  Rose Byrne plays the long suffering girlfriend of Chris O'Dowd, who is obsessed with a reclusive, faded rock singer (Ethan Hawke) who had one good record over 25 years ago.  When Byrne accidentally connects with Hawke on line, this sets up a life changing experience that will affect all three characters.  The gentle film manages to be serious, funny and profound, many times at the same time.  A pleasure for sophisticated viewers.                        GRADE-------B+

A SIMPLE FAVOR---More twists and turns occur in this comedy thriller with some clever dialogue as a single mother finds that her new mysterious friend has left her child in her care, and has promptly disappeared.  She takes it upon herself to try to find her, along with the husband of the missing woman.  Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively and Henry Golding get weirdly close and personal, and some of the supporting cast get some juicy lines in this wild and entertaining romp.                GRADE------B 

PRIVATE LIFE---Now playing on Netflix, this well acted story of a soon to be middle aged couple struggling with issues of infertility with all the issues that entails, has some nice scenes of anger, humor and pathos to keep us involved.  I know from personal experience that this merry go round is exhausting, demeaning and insulting, and my wife and I didn't last but a couple months before we jumped off.  These poor people seem to be addicted to the long term frustrations.  Fabulous actors include Paul Giamatti,  Kathryn Hahn, Kayli Carter, Molly Shannon and Denis O'Hare.          GRADE-------B

PAPILLON---I never saw the 1973 version, but I could see Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman in the characters portrayed here by Charlie Humman and Rami Malek, respectively.  The story of these prisoners repeated desperate attempts to escape Devil's Island and the horrible beatings and cruel actions kept me engrossed, and has inspired me to read the novel (I'm half way through) to fill in some of the details.               GRADE----------B

OPERATION FINALE---Based on a true story, this tells of the Israeli attempt to catch and return to Europe the Nazi criminal Adolph Eichmann for trial.  The main actors are good, including Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley as Eichmann, the the film is solid, but could use a little more punch to make it more memorable.                   GRADE-----------B

SIERRA BURGESS IS A LOSER----Playing now on Netflix, this sweet natured teen comedy drama steals some themes from Cyrano deBergerac, as a homely, full bodied girl tries to woo over the phone a popular football player who thinks he is speaking to a hot, but vapid cheerleader.  The main charm of the film has Sierra trying to make the cheerleader seem smarter and more  witty than she is, and the unexpected feelings that develop between all three.   Although not quite as effective as an earlier film this year called LOVE, SIMON---this one has its charm in a low key way.                                    GRADE---------------B

THE LITTLE STRANGER---Based on a novel by Sarah Waters, this low key Gothic thriller is too low key to make much of an impact, although the house is spooky, and the main characters work hard at interesting characterizations, including Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson and Charlotte Rampling.        GRADE--------------B-

WE THE ANIMALS----Viewed originally last June at SIFF, this arty independent film about three wild boys who test the limits of their poor, struggling parents is an interesting , thought provoking idea, and one of the boys seems to be more sensitive and drawn towards sexual conflicts.  Unfortunately, the film is shot with aggressive hand held camera work that pulls the viewer away from the drama, and gave me a headache.                             GRADE-------------------C+

THE LAND OF STEADY HABITS---Playing now on Netflix, this film about a divorced man unhappy with his life comes off as an unpleasant character study--he behaves badly with his son, his ex-wife, and friends and neighbors.  It was easy to see why he is somewhat shunned in this small town and there seems to be no change or positive resolution to the situation.  The actor's (including Ben Mendelson, Edie Falco and Connie Britton) do their best, but the script seems to let them down, and I felt rather depressed after watching this.                     GRADE------------C

THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN THE WALL---This one is a poor, poor man's Harry Potter imitation, and even the lively Jack Black and the intriguing Cate Blanchet aren't given much to do.  I was rather bored, although some of the humor was amusing.   When I saw it, it was playing with a 3-D presentation of the 20 minute film of Michael Jackson's THRILLER, which I'd  never seen all of, so that made the morning a bit more special.                    GRADE-------C

GOOSEBUMPS 2: HAUNTED HALLOWEEN--Here's another ho hum "kids movie" based on an R.L Stine book.  An evil mummy makes Halloween creatures come to life, but I found it all a missed opportunity and not very entertaining.  Even my 9 year old grand daughter was non plussed.          GRADE-----C 

THE HAPPY TIME MURDERS---The film noir dialogue and characters (some human, some puppet) are OK, but the story seems obsessed with degrading sexual scenes involving the puppets, and some of the lines are really dirty and unfunny.  Melissa McCarthy plays a similar character in some of her other films, and here it is all wasted.  There were some teen age boys in the theater that gave some of the smuttiest jokes a dirty sneer but after a while even they fell silent.  Yuck.              GRADE------------------D

Viewed on DVR-------------------

NOVEMBER MAN (2014)---Ex James Bond Pierce Brosnan is back as a secret agent with a license to kill in this novel based on a series of spy thrillers, and it wasn't half bad.  The director Roger Donaldson keeps the action swift and tense, and there are some memorable chase scenes.  Brosnan is probably getting too old for this action stuff now, but I'd love to see NOVEMBER MAN become a series much like 007.                      GRADE----------B

INGRID GOES WEST (2017)---Ingrid has some issues--she is mostly friendless, but when she moves to LA she stalks a person famous on instagram only, and tries to befriend her, with mixed results.  The film pokes fun at the vapid values of the iphone culture and has some scathing things to say about millennials.  Aubrey Plaza is very funny as the stalker, and Elizabeth Olsen shines as the oh so correct glamour pus of the iphone.  This is a minor masterwork.            GRADE-----------B                

FIRST DO NO HARM (1997)---I hadn't heard of this made for TV film, but there was a nice picture of Meryl Streep hugging a sweet looking boy on the cover so I took a chance, since Streep can not make a bad film.  Fred Ward co stars as her husband--they are a working class couple who discover their son has an extreme form of epilepsy and they seek to find a solution since drugs do not work for him--much like the film LORENZO'S OIL Meryl Streep finds a possible cure in the ketogenic diet which is very effective in most cases of epilepsy.   Obviously a labor of love, but the actors are nicely drawn and I'm happy to say Streep was very good as usual.                  GRADE-----------------B

HOLE IN THE HEAD (1959)---The cast is good (Frank Sinatra, Thelma Ritter, E.G.Marshall, Eddie Hodges, Carolyn Jones) and the director Frank Capra is no slouch.  This was a Broadway play that feels like a filmed play.  Sinatra is a "big" man with no money who stays in a hotel on the beach and has a son (Eddie Hodges).  Together they sing the Oscar winning song "High Hopes" (Well we've got hiiigh hopes, we've got hiiiiigh hopes, we've got high apple pie in the skyyyyyy hopes....) and Sinatra argues with his brother and sister in law a lot---they want him to settle down and open a store but he's got hiiiiigher hopes than that.  I wanted to like it more than I did, but it was a bit dull and not much happens.                     GRADE-----------C+




Monday, September 3, 2018


Catching up on summer openings--and now I've switched to the AMC A-List program--it's more expensive ($21 a month) but allows you to see up to three films per week FOR ANY SHOW IN ANY AMC THEATRE IN ANY SCREEN SIZE AT ANY TIME.  Movie Pass has changed their policy to exclude opening week or weeks, certain times of the day restrictions, dropped theaters, and only allows 3 films PER MONTH, still for $10.  Those restrictions are prohibitive for me.

It may be the sixth film in the series, but MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT is the spy action thriller of the summer, with incredibly spectacular organized stunts, a plot that zips throughout the exotic world at record speed, memorable characters (good and bad) and a solid directorial action style that makes it easy to follow and enjoy.  All technical credits are first rate, and this places MI:FALLOUT as the best action thriller of the summer.  Even those who do not like Tom Cruise soon become caught up in the spy story--soon you realize that like the James Bond character, the MI series will continue (probably sooner than later) with a new main actor (or actress!) in the lead.                       GRADE-----A-

So far the most intriguing and effective documentary of the summer is THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS--the true story of triplets separated at birth, and adopted out to three different families--lower class, middle class, and upper class.  As the film progresses from happy reunion to shocking revelations, a sense of anger, dread and mystery envelopes the viewer.  THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS fulfills the drama and fascination  of the best type of story telling.

One of the delights of the summer for those who love ABBA music from the 1970's is the sequel (and, in flashback, prequel) to the original MAMMA MIA film from 2008, called, naturally, MAMMA MIA:  HERE WE GO AGAIN.  Despite plumbing the most popular ABBA songs for the first outing, the producers have come up with some great turns from some lesser known tunes, and again used the music and lyrics to progress this new story--after Donna's (Meryl Streep) death, her daughter remodels the old hotel into a wonderful vacation spot, and while preparing for the opening day celebration with returning old friends and family, the flashback explains how the young Donna first came to the island and met her three boyfriends--all possible suitors and possible father for her baby out of wedlock.  (Of course, a simple DNA test would destroy the need for the original and the sequel---but no one wants to know the truth.....)  The young Donna and daughter are well played (and sung) by great look a like actresses Lily James and Amanda Seyfried,  the adult friends/family are all returning actors, and highlights include grandmother Cher singing FERNANDO to an old flame and a brief appearance by Meryl Streep breaking down our tear ducts at a baptism.  And just in case you couldn't get enough in the first film, the MAMMA MIA and DANCING QUEEN songs are repeated in all their singing and dancing glory by the newer cast.   In many ways this film is a superior musical to the original, and for those who liked the first one, this one exceeds expectations.                           GRADE----------------------A-

The glitzy and glamorous soap opera drama CRAZY RICH ASIANS hits all the right notes--a young New Yorker who was raised as a baby in America, travels with her Chinese boyfriend to meet his family in Singapore, and they don't take well to American Chinese who have no concept of tradition and culture.  She does her best to be likeable, but she has to worry about Mother and other relatives who don't want her marrying into the rich family.  The cast is attractive and appropriately good or evil, and the film has a slick, colorful look to it.  It might cover vapid situations, but the entertainment value is high, and I wouldn't mind seeing these characters again--which I will when they make the sequel to CRAZY RICH ASIANS--already announced--for next year.         GRADE------------B+

I've always liked most of Spike Lee's films--well made and engrossing, but my main (minor) complaint always seems to be the same --a couple of times he becomes wincingly preachy in each film.  Now, he has every right to do so, but I have to say that as a film goer, his preachy moments stop the film for me for a few minutes until he gets back on track with his visuals, drama and story telling.  Here's the good news/bad news for me.  In his new film, BLACK k KLANSMAN, he gets preachy right at the beginning  with a racist monologue by Alex Baldwin, and then followed up with two short film clips.  One from GONE WITH THE WIND where Scarlett wonders through a large area of wounded or dying soldiers after a major Civil War battle and the camera pulls back, way back, and she's shouting the name of her lover--what the hell is Lee trying to say. anyway?  The next scene is much more obvious--perhaps too much so--an extended clip of (KKK) bigots watching and vocally enjoying the murder and violence of black people by white soldiers and police from the early film BIRTH OF A NATION, which I have never seen or wanted to see.  Lee seems to be auditioning for the role of Captain Obvious, here.  Finally, after nearly five minutes, the film starts--based on a true story of a black undercover cop who with the help of his white Jewish partner infiltrates the KKK resulting in some murder convictions.  That story is compelling, well acted, intense and probably the best work Lee has done in his long career.  He manages to lace humor into the dramatic proceedings, and the film become a likeable, proud achievement in the struggle for justice for all people.  Too bad about the first five minutes!                                                     GRADE--------------B+

Here's a sweet, thoughtful, low budget film about a  girl just finishing EIGHTH GRADE who is shy and uncertain about her life in general, but starts to come out of her shell by making a daily blog of how to survive junior high.  She seems to know more about that than her real life.  Her concerned single father gives her encouragement, and by the time she makes some older friends (from 9th grade) you know she will be all right in the coming new year.  It's a gentle film, without any major surprises--enough to know that a lot of truths are being revealed.   I'm not sure why, but the film won best film and best actress at the Golden Space Needle awards at SIFF (playing at the final weekend) earlier this summer.                                  GRADE----------B

It's Denzel Washington again (his son David stars in the BLACK k KLANSMAN, above) repeating his role as a mild mannered, self made, one man avenger who tries to right wrongs  with guns and violence in THE EQUALIZER II, and I will be the first to admit that I enjoy him very much in the role, even if some of the action seems rehashed from other films of the same ilk. This time he loses his close friend to violence in what seems like a conspiracy, natch, and after some legwork figures out who done it and seeks retribution.  Simple but effective.                     GRADE----------B

Kelly MacDonald stars as a put upon mousy house wife.  The first scene has her hosting a big party in her home---cooking, baking, cleaning up--and we suddenly find out that this is her own birthday party.  One of her gifts is a 1000 piece PUZZLE, which she finds out she is very good at, and this propels her to discover new people and adventures which change her life.  It's a gentle story with some modestly profound moments.                                                GRADE---------B

The comedy/drama spy thriller  called THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME is better than it has any right to be, and that's because it has some wonderful comic turns from Mila Kunis, and especially, specifically Kate McKinnon, from Saturday Night Live.  They play an odd couple of best friends who become involved with Kunis' boy friend who has dumped her via e-mail because he is a spy in danger for his life.  This sets them on a dangerous course of trying to hide and deliver a crypted file, and their ineptitude puts their lives in danger.  They also have a way with a smart comeback and a wisecrack  so the humor keeps the film from becoming a spy cliche.    I had a good time with this one.                                GRADE----------B

It's been 14 years since the original animated film THE INCREDIBLES became a big big hit, and the new film THE INCREDIBLE II is not as funny and witty, but it has many great gags, especially with the new baby Jack-Jack who is just discovering his talents.  In this one the mother is on the mission with the father staying home with the family, and much humor is gleamed from the fish out of water situation of the father trying to control the baby and the baby's new powers.  Still, just a few weeks after seeing it I feel the film has slipped from my memory in any unique way.          GRADE-----B-

Nearly 45 years ago, JAWS changed the way we watched and reacted to horror films, with skillful scenes of tension and terror.  Since then, more than a dozen knock offs have been bombarding us.  Now comes the biggest of them all--THE MEG which features the biggest shark of all--nearly 12 times the size of the original JAWS.  The plotting is pretty predictable but fortunately the film has a lot of humor, and in spite of the cliches, the film is mostly fun to watch.              GRADE--------B-

We've seen all the plot points before, rehashed in various other JURASSIC films, but I always  enjoy dinosaurs eating stupid humans, and that keeps me watching.  I mostly laughed at the new JURASSIC WORLD:  FALLEN KINGDOM.                             GRADE----------B-

This low budget film is well intentioned, but THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST suffers from the tentative handling of a controversial subject.  At a camp to reassign teens from gay to straight, three friends try to adapt to the cruelness of their surroundings, but the film backs off from showing too much, instead having it both ways.  Feels like a messed opportunity.    

In this sequel, the nasty, profane humor is still nasty and profane, still making me feel like I need a shower after watching this violent, creepy DEAD POOL 2.  At least the jokes, dirty as they are, are sometimes funny, and I wasn't bored--but I vow--no more DEAD POOL movies for me.

It is pretty to look at, and has steady, beautiful cinematography, but this simple film about a lost teen who bonds with an injured wolf called ALPHA is pretty simple and very predictable.

For a while, this docu-drama about girl skaters called SKATE KITCHEN is fascinating--the camera  gets in close as we watch teen girls skate, skate skate, but even though they bond nicely with the runaway, there is not much plot here, and the camera movements are mostly hand held and giggly, and I got really bored after an hour.                                           GRADE--------------C+

This Japanese courtroom drama about the "why" of a brutal murder is drawn out in slow motion, with long takes of talking or silence, and I was really bored by half way through this film called THE THIRD MURDER.   The oblique ending doesn't help--it made the audience groan with dissatisfaction.                   GRADE---------C- 


Thursday, July 19, 2018


I've been traveling (on a bike and barge tour) to Belgium and France--gone for over three weeks, so I'm a bit behind on many new summer movies, but here's what I've been seeing.  Some I saw at SIFF just before leaving, several I saw on board the planes, and some I've been catching up with on my MOVIE PASS--highly recommended for movie buffs seeing four or more films per month.  (Although MOVIE PASS allows you to see only one movie per day--you could see up to 30 a month, but there aren't that many movies worth seeing in a month!)

A big sentimental and dramatic favorite at SIFF, the Argentinian film THE LAST SUIT hits the tear ducts in a major way.  The main character, a cranky, elderly man that his adult children want to move into a senior home, grabs a suitcase and a garment bag and heads to Spain to visit one of his daughters, on his way to Poland.   He's hard to like, but as the film progresses we find out that he has very good reason to be cantankerous, and his back story becomes very moving.    One of the top ten for the Fool Serious pass holders, as well as the audience awards.               GRADE---------A

Released back in January but viewed on the plane, HOSTILES is an engrossing account of an angry, bigoted Army officer who is assigned the task of returning a dying Indian chief and his family through hostile territory back to his newly formed reservation in Montana.  Along the way he picks up a white widow whose family has been slaughter by hostile Indians, and this small group learns to trust each other in order to survive.  Tear ducts opened for me on this one also.      Christian Bale and Rosamond Pike are the leads here.            GRADE----------A-

Released in February but viewed on the plane, this short (a brief 71 minutes) but devilishly stylish dark comedy THE PARTY directed by Sally Potter, features a treasure trove of skillful performances by Kristin Scott Thomas,  Timothy Spall, Patricia Clarkson, Cherry Jones, Bruno Ganz, Emily Mortimor and others.  When Thomas wins a prestigious post in British government (Ministry of Health), she throws herself THE PARTY for her long time friends, but this cracks open some festering wounds that her long time husband releases when he announces some startling news.  Old friend Clarkson has some of the wittiest lines, but everyone seems to be having a good, good time.          GRADE--------A-

A small, but intimate drama filmed in the Pacific Northwest, this new film LEAVE NO TRACE from the director of WINTER'S BONE (Debra Granik) focuses on a father/daughter relationship.  The father has been traumatized by war and wants to live off the grid in the woods, but the teen daughter has other ideas, and this causes some tension and conflicting  ideals.  Actors Ben Foster and new comer Thomasin Harcourt are wonderful together.  The film reminded me of the Viggo Mortensen film from two years ago called CAPTAIN FANTASTIC.  Both films concentrate on relationships between families and nature.               GRADE------------A-

This musical comedy/drama features a widower and his daughter--he wants to start a band with her before she leaves to college--a way to keep her close to him even when she's far away.  HEARTS BEAT LOUD has some great music and a wonderful cast, including Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson, Blythe Danner and Toni Collette, and it reminded me of the serious ONCE from a few years back---where a man and woman meet, fall in love, make a lot of music, but HEARTS BEAT LOUD has the drama and comedy to go with the music.                      GRADE------------B+

The new Marvel comics movie has ANT MAN and the WASP together again, and I think that this film has got to be the funniest of the superheroes films in years. It helps that Paul Rudd has a winning and amusing delivery, and the plot has to do with quantum physics and trying to rescue the WASPS mother (and Micheal Douglas' wife) and not some mad man conquering the world.  The supporting cast is also amusing, with Randall Park and especially Michael Pina  in fine form.    GRADE------B+

Here's Toni Collette again, under a lot of pressure as her mother has just died, and now her young daughter is acting very strange indeed.  A horrifying accident fractures the family, building to a bizarre, frightening finale.  This film HEREDITARY will appeal to movies goers who like suspense and occult and seances and evil spirits, and people walking on ceilings,  etc.                GRADE--------B

Sandra Bullock plays the sister of the deceased George Clooney character from OCEANS 11,12,13 and whatever.  So now we have an excuse for having eight smart, stylish women come together for a major crime--OCEANS EIGHT.  It seems pretty routine, with each woman a specialist in their field (computer/hacker expert, diamond artist, fashion designer, etc) and these wonderful actors really won me over, including Cate Blanchet, Mindy Kaling, Anne Hathaway, Rihanna, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham Carter and others.  We may have seen this type of caper many times before, but this was fun to watch by the end.                    GRADE--------B-

An odd documentary mixing Elvis Presley and Route 66 and fancy cars and Nashville and American politics, this film is a curious thing--not exactly dull, but I was never sure just what the purpose was.  Apparently, the film was originally about Donald Trump, but when he won the election, the film maker went back, re shot and re-edited the entire film, and called it THE KING.                  GRADE-------------B-

Sometimes outrageous, sometimes hilarious, sometimes I winced, some of the jokes fall flat, the film making is weirdly rough around the edges---bottom line is I wanted to like this film more than I did.  This independent low budget film called SORRY TO BOTHER YOU has a lot of creativity and ideas, (perhaps too many) but it doesn't all work for me,  and it can't decide whether it's a comedy, satire, fantasy, science fiction thriller, or social drama, and it leaves a LOT of loose ends.  It has all those factors in it, but they don't all jell together.  One thing for sure--I can't wait for director Boots Riley's NEXT film--it could be the masterpiece that this one wants to be.                GRADE--------C+

Here's a fine actress literally holding this film together:  Julliette Binoche plays a gallery worker and artist who floats from man to man (many of them are married--and she wonders why her relationships aren't working out!).  In LET THE SUNSHINE IN she has an elegance and maturity about her, but the writer/director Claire Denis does her no favors with the story and dialogue.  Her final scene with Gerard Depardieu merely cements in our minds what a total flake she is.                GRADE---------C+

We've seen this movie before---a high rise (always the tallest in the world!) is on fire and only one heroic stud can rescue the family caught on a  SKYSCRAPER higher floor (his, naturally!).....This is a tired concept, and although Dwayne Johnson gives his athletic best to the role, I forgot about this film two days after seeing it.  Twenty years ago, Neve Campbell was a rising teen age star.  I haven't seen her in a while, but she is the best thing is this dull film--a smart powerful wife who knows as much as her husband, and literally saves the day!  You go girl!                        GRADE---------C

VIEWED ON TV/DVD------------------------------------

BABY DRIVER 2017--Fast cars, zippy music, evil characters (Kevin Spacey), wild car chases, and a lovely romance between Ansol Elgort and Lilly James, this is an entertaining popcorn movie --fun to watch and not too serious.           GRADE-------B+

IN BRUGE--2008---Two assassins hole up in picaresque Bruge when a hit job goes wrong.  Witty, profane dialogue and great visuals keep nice balance between humor and suspense.  We saw this just before going to Bruge--the start of our bike and barge tour.  Director Martin McDonagh went on to write and direct THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI this past year.                GRADE-----B+

BRIGHTON ROCK 2011--Remake of Graham Greene's noir novel about young man's rapid rise in crime--he woos a young woman who has incriminating evidence against him.  John Hurt, Helen Mirren, Sam Riley, and Andrea Risebourge star in this cynical drama.        GRADE-----------B    

I'M ALRIGHT JACK-- 1959--Satire about union restriction on workers and the conflict between rich and working classes, with Peter Sellers, Terry-Thomas, Richard Attenborough, Ian Carmichael.       GRADE-----------B 

CONVOY--1978--Sam Peckinpah film about a convoy of truckers trying to escape the clutches of an evil sheriff who is chasing them from state to state.  More entertaining than it should be, in a low brow manner. Kris Kristofferson and Ali McGraw play the leads and Ernest Borgnine is the evil cop.       GRADE----B

SMALLEST SHOW ON EARTH--1957--Young British couple (Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, who later starred in the epic hit BORN FREE) inherit a run down theatre and decide to reopen it with the hopes of selling it for a profit.  With Peter Sellers, Margaret Rutherford and Bernard Miles.                          GRADE------------B-

TABLE 19--2017--Strangers all stuck at a wayward wedding table bond over their conflicts with the wedding party.  Lowkey film doesn't always work, but the cast is charming--Anna Kendrick,  Lisa Kudrow,  June Squabb, Craig Robinson, Tony Revolore and others, and there are some sweet and funny scenes of wedding action.               GRADE-------B-

CARLTON-BROWNE OF F.O.(Foreign Office)--1959--(aka MAN IN COCKED HAT--US title)--British film that needed subtitles about a small island being divided by Great Britain and Russia over minerals,  which causes problems with the locals, who are having their own political issues.  Some scenes were amusing, but I didn't really know or care about what all was happening.  With Terry-Thomas, Peter Sellers, Luciana Paoluzzi, Ian Bannen.               GRADE--------C