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




Monday, June 18, 2018

Final SIFF Screenings Sat 6/9 and Sun 6/10 and BEST OF SIFF 2018

PRAYER BEFORE DAWN--Thailand/Great Britain--A last minute addition to the Festival, this TBA offering is a hard hitting film with no subtitles about a drug user who is confined in a Thai prison, and uses his boxing skills to get into a better position.  Based on a true story, this is tough to watch sometimes due to prison violence and fighting, but it was not boring.           GRADE-----B+

CHAMPIONS--Spain--It is a comedy that plays by the numbers----arrested assistant coach with a major attitude problem is assigned to work with mentally disabled athletes, and makes them a winning team.  I will admit there were some funny scenes in the early going, and the ending was the most surprising and funny and moving fifteen minute scene I've witnessed.  Saved by the ending.         GRADE------------B

EIGHT GRADE------A modest low budget comedy about a shy middle schooler trying to broaden her horizons and learning about life.  The lead is sweet and funny and the film goes more for truth than laughs.  Winner of best actress and best film for the Golden Space Needle awards, although I can name a dozen or more better actors and films than EIGHT GRADE.            GRADE-----B

SOUFRA---In a refugee camp near Beirut, women with no jobs or future try to make a new beginning with selling food--something they know about, first at a local food market, and then by using a food truck, which requires a lot of double talk with an unsympathetic government.  Fairly smooth and competent, but it lack some needed punch.            GRADE-----------B

RETURN TO MOUNT KENNEDY---USA---Some of Robert Kennedy's family and friends attempt a summit climb 50 years after Sen Kennedy climbed to the top with Jim Whitaker.  Well filmed but less than amazing.            GRADE--------B-

WRATH OF SILENCE--China----Lots of running around, sometimes carrying a child in a bag, lots of shady characters and corruptions, but not much style.  The chatting elderly Chinese speakers behind me, and then the cell phones that kept ringing, finally drove me home to an early night.

HERE ARE MY FAVORITE FILMS FROM SIFF 2018--all rated A or A- with a couple B+

Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion, Disco--documentary
Ballet Now--documentary
Belle de Jour--revival
C'est la vie!
The Children Act
First Reformed
The Guilty
Hearts Beat Loud
The Last Suit
Leave No Trace
Mademoiselle Paradis
My Name is Myeisha
Naila and the Uprising--documentary
Naples in Veils
On Chesil Beach
Sancho the Bailiff--revival
See You Up There
Three Identical Strangers--documentary
Thunder Road

I'll write more about them as they open---but quick, FIRST REFORMED is a stunner by long time director Paul Schrader, with a fantastic Ethan Hawke losing his religion, and ON CHESIL BEACH packs a subtle punch---both are Now Playing.   Hurry to see them.

Saturday, June 9, 2018


MY NAME IS MYEISHA--USA--Based on a stage play, but this stunner is about the life and death of Myeisha, a 19 year old black woman who was shot by police 12 times while sleeping upright in her  stranded car, and it is all preformed in rap and dance sequences.  A profound and disturbing experience.        GRADE--------A

NAILA and the UPRISING---Palestine/USA--Clear headed and well chronicled account of woman who heads the Woman's resistance against the occupation of Palestine by Israelis.        GRADE--------A

THE HEIRESSES---Paraguay and others---When her long time lesbian companion goes to jail for fraud,  the quiet one regains self confidence as she transports older women around town, and becomes attracted to a younger bisexual who proclaims at one point "That was the first time I had a three-way!" in this well acted, moody drama.                    GRADE---------A-

BALLET NOW--USA--Lead dancer Tiler Peck from New York City Ballet curates and directs and dances in a group of new dances representing all different sorts of dance, including hip-hop, tap, classical, modern and classic.  The first half of the film shows her hectic schedule as she tries to coordinate the 22 different dancers, and second half shows parts of the finished product.  Well shot and directed, and an inspiration to watch.                   GRADE----A-

THUNDER ROAD---USA--A cop who has just lost his mother seems to be suffering from a nervous break down as he muffles, dances, cries and nearly collapses during her funeral, then must deal with his wife who is suing for divorce and sole custody of their child.  His life is  a mess, and we see that and sympathize with him, while laughing at his misery and insanity. Writer, director, and actor Jim Cummings gives a bravado performance.                   GRADE----------B+

PUZZLE-------USA--  A simple housewife, dedicated to her family and church, discovers her unique talent at putting together jigsaw puzzles, and this changes her attitude of life and family when she discoverers the competitive side of this activity.      GRADE------------B

RETABLO---PERU and others--Beautifully filmed story of master artist who is training his teen aged son to become an artist like him, but the last 30 minutes turns cruel, violent and homophobic, ending badly for the characters and the audience.              GRADE----------B

THE CHANGELING--USA---A restored, better than average horror film with a restrained George C. Scott in the lead, about his efforts to find out about the haunted house he is renting.  Filmed in Vancouver B.C. but set in  Seattle, with many splendid shots and chilling scenes.      GRADE------B

CHEDENG AND APPLE--Philippines--Charming but leisurely comedy of two best friends on the run after one murders her husband and keeps his head in a designer bag.      GRADE--------B

ANCHOR AND HOPE--United Kingdom and Spain--Two lesbians seek the sperm of a Spanish friend to start their family, but it is not clear what part each character will play in this "family to be" comedy/drama.  The moody and bitter sweet feelings dampen the comedy, but is is pleasant enough to engage.                 GRADE-----B

THE SILK AND THE FLAME--USA/China----A single, middle aged man travels to visit his family in rural China, with the film documentarian friend.  He cannot tell his family he is gay, just saying he is seeing a woman (who may become his beard and he hers).  The black and white film  emphasizes the cold brutal living quarters and poverty the family experiences, in spite of the fact that the gay son financially takes care of them all (nearly a dozen family members!)----Yet, no one seems very happy about the situation.           GRADE----------B

The following films are rated B-   WILD NIGHTS WITH EMILY (USA),  and TASTE OF BETEL NUT (HONG KONG)--both are nice tries with small budgets.

Rated C+------MY BIG GAY ITALIAN WEDDING (ITALY)--it nearly has a fun redeeming finale just not enough fun up to that point.

Rated C----SUSU and ONE FOR THE LADIES---both have some surprising visuals but the results are muddled.

Rated C-    RUSH HOUR (boring and pointless) and EMPTY HANDS (dull and empty headed)

Rated D+    TYREL (way too much wild hand held camera work and obnoxious drunken shouting) and LITTLE TITO and the ALIENS--I could not engage with this juvenile family film and slept for a good hour during it--yeah.

Monday, June 4, 2018

SIFF Screenings Wed 30 MAY through Sun 4 JUN Highlights----------CHILDREN ACT, HAL, NAPLES IN VEILS, JINN, C'est'la vie!, and QUEERAMA

THE CHILDREN ACT--United Kingdom--based on a novel by Ian McEwan and featuring a wonderful turn by Emma Thompson--this is a regal courtroom drama what left me very moved.    GRADE----------A

HAL---USA--Excellent documentary about classic director/editor/writer Hal Ashby,  who was responsible for such great films as BOUND FOR GLORY, SHAMPOO,  THE LANDLORD, THE LAST DETAIL,  HAROLD AND MAUDE, and COMING HOME, among others.           GRADE---------A

NAPLES IN VEILS---Italy--Directed with his usual elegance, this mystery thriller by Ferzan Ozpetek suffers only by a strange and ambiguous ending, but it's a pleasure to watch.            GRADE------A-

JINN--USA--Mom becomes a Muslim and her teen daughter rebels, but this is an excellent family drama about relationships, religion, love and respect.        GRADE----------A-

QUEERAMA---Great Britain---Extended British film clip compilation crossed with unique music and dialogue showing the change and growth of gay lifestyles in Europe.  The most unique experience of SIFF, and a must for any cinema lover.                       GRADE---------A-

C'EST'LA VIE!---Elevated French fluff comedy that features some great characterizations and very funny scenes, as a group of caterers try to service a fancy wedding.           GRADE----------B+

NUMBER ONE--France--Woman is groomed to take over top CEO of top company, but faces many obstacles. It's dramatic but plays at times like a thriller.                GRADE----------B+

WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY----Norway and others----Pakistani teen living in Norway has conflicts with her demanding, conservative parents, which greatly change her life.           GRADE-------B+

Following fine films all rated B-------CATWALK: TALES FROM THE CAT SHOW CIRCUIT,  DOUBTFUL,  POET and the BOY,  VIRUS TROPICAL,  1985,  LEMONADE,  and with a B- score are MOST DANGEROUS YEAR and THE KING.

Following films are C+-------CONSTRUCTION ALBERT and ELLEN