Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
'What's done is done when we say it's done.'
Yes, everyone knows and has probably seen at least one (if not all) of the MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE films and Tom Cruise remains in his signature role. This episode was written by Bruce Geller and director Christopher McQuarrie and not only is it the most interesting and well cast of the series, it also feels entirely fresh.
A brief overview - Two years after Ethan Hunt Tom Cruise) had successfully captured Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the remnants of the Syndicate have reformed into another organization called the Apostles. Under the leadership of a mysterious fundamentalist known only as John Lark, the organization is planning on acquiring three plutonium cores. Ethan and his team (Luther - Ving Rhames, Benji - Simon Pegg) are sent to Berlin to intercept them, but the mission fails when Ethan saves Luther and the Apostles escape with the plutonium. With CIA agent August Walker (the very well cast Henry Cavill) joining the team, Ethan and his allies must now find the plutonium cores before it's too late. Along with these characters are the very important roles by Angela Bassett, Vanessa Kirby, Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Monaghan as well as Wes Bentley, Alex Baldwin, Kristoffer Joner, and even Wolf Blitzer playing himself.
The tension is high, the scenery is spectacular, the stunts are breathtaking, the musical score by Lorne Balfe enhances every moment, and the cinematography by Rob Hard is spectacular.
This is a long film that speeds by like lightening - and brightens up the current run of competitors with brilliance. Bravo!
An Ordinary Man (2017)
The effects of isolation on a hunted war criminal
Writer and director Brad Siberling offers a very strange essentially two character film that immerses the viewer in the terror - and humor - of isolation, demonstrating how the presence of a companion allows connection in a world that no longer makes sense. Filmed in Serbia the actual languages and change sin viewpoints (and accents) can be confusing at times, but this not the point of the film - simply an observation.
In the opening screen remarks we are informed that War Criminals are usually caught in time, except one, this one: The General. And apparently the area of location is Yugoslavia and we meet the General (Ben Kingsley) being escorted to yet another hiding place by his handler Miro (Peter Serafinowitz). When the General is dropped off at his current safe house he encounters Tanja (Hera Mimar), a maid, who provides the responses to the General's endless chatter. Tanja is his only connection with the outside world and the various walks and endangerments they face form the crux of this mysterious story.
The acting by Ben Kingsley (sporting a confusing but consistent strange accent) is brilliant. A stylish, dense, and in many ways illuminating film about the effects of war on the individual.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
'God forbid we lose the ancient Chinese tradition of guilting your children.'
Director Jon M. Chi was born in Palo Alto, California and takes on the task of explaining Asian psychology and behavior in Singapore is this rather flimsy but overall entertaining trinket of a film written by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim based on Kevin Kwan's very popular novel CRAZY RICH ASIANS. The cast is well selected and the music is overloud but the idea of looking into the traditions of family wealth in Asia is an entertaining one.
The story follows Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an American-born Chinese economics professor, who travels to her boyfriend Nick's (Henry Golding) hometown of Singapore for his best friend's wedding. Before long, his secret is out: Nick is from a family that is impossibly wealthy, he's perhaps the most eligible bachelor in Asia, and every single woman in his ultra-rarefied social class is incredibly jealous of Rachel and wants to bring her down.
The 'caricatures' emphasize the clothes on their backs but there are some solid actors in the mix - Michelle Yeoh is the maternal dominatrix, and the other family members and associates are Lisa Lu, Gemma Chan, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Nico Santos, Awkwafina, and more.
The film is loud, overdressed, at times obnoxious, but is an inside look at financial dichotomy well played. Grady Harp, November 118
Loving Pablo (2017)
'He asked me to tell his story. He just didn't tell me who to tell.'
It is rare when a film about a real life notorious monster can be offered in a biographical film that pulls the audience in to see all aspects of the character. Virginia Vallejo's book about the notorious drug lord of Colombia - Pablo Escobar - so aptly titled LOVING PABLO, HATING ESCOBAR - did that and she co-authored the script with Director Fernando León de Aranoa. The result is the same. It is a see all hear all examination by a journalist strikes up a romantic relationship with notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar.
The story has been well outlined - 'In 1981, Virginia Vallejo (Penélope Cruz) is a famous Colombia's journalist and TV news anchorwoman who is invited to a VIPs party in the ranch of Pablo Escobar (Javier Bardem) a low-born man who gained money and power with drug trafficking together his friends, turning them in the new generation of rich men of the country. Seduced by his charisma, Virginia starts a passionate love affair with Escobar despite he's a family man married with María Victoria (Julieth Restrepo). Along the 80's years, Escobar becomes famous in his try to better the life of the low-born people of Medellín and raising a politician carrier in the Colombia's congress, but Virginia starts to understand Escobar's real power controlling an empire of crime in Colombia and spreading his drug by all USA. It causes that the DEA's agent Shepard (Peter Sarsgaard) interests by his business and by Virginia, contacting her looking for a way to stop him. With the President Belisario Betancur allying with USA to stop Escobar and extradite him to judge outside Colombia, this last one starts a war in the country to eliminate all his enemies, politicians and non-politicians, unleashing his thirst for blood and his ambition to rule everything. Virginia, seeing as her carrier and her reputation are destroyed by Escobar, faces a extreme situation: to die at the hands of Escobar or by his enemies as an act of reprisal, or save herself helping Shepard to stop Escobar before he kills her.'
Javier Bardem (apparently required to add fat to his character's body) is superb as is Penélope Cruz. The minor roles are very well played and while the crossover between Spanish and English confuses everyone no matter their linguistic skills, the story works on every level.
Bel Canto (2018)
Ann Patchett's novel has been 'altered' by Anthony Weintraub and director Paul Weitz and the result is a barely recognizable resemblance. It is obvious that the screenwriters wanted to take the movie into the current discussion of immigration and the journey through Central America by focusing on the dysfunctional governments in South America (and North America now.....) in their mistreatment of refugees and immigrants who are imprisoned and separated from their families. And if the film focuses our attention on a problem that most assuredly needs changing then the story works well.
In Patchett's sensitive novel, a world-renowned opera singer Roxanne Coss (visually Julianne Moore, sonically Renee Fleming) becomes trapped in a hostage situation when she's invited to perform for a wealthy industrialist in South America. There is a love affair between Roxanne and the important Hosokawa (Ken Watanabe) as well as one between the translator Gen (Ryo Kase) and a female soldier Carmen (Maria Mercedes Coroy) but those affairs get lost in the darkened rooms of the mansion where the hostage holders struggle with the government - the only speaking source of intervention is a Red Cross worker Messner (Sebastian Koch).
The message of hostages begins a few minutes after the opening arrival of Roxanne and remains until the end - too much too long. A fine cast just can't fin their way out of this flimsy script. If you loved the novel, pass....Even the excerpts of Renee Fleming's vocals fail to impress.
A Chorus Line (1985)
'Can't you talk? All of you, just talk, to me, to each other!'
No one who has ever seen A CHORUS LINE either on Broadway in the original 1975 version (extended for years), this 1985 film version or the subsequent revivals on Broadway, or on stages throughout the world (there is a superb recording of the Vienna production in German, and a Japanese version to mention only a few) both professionally or in amateur, college, or high school recreations can forget the wondrous music, the fabulous dancing and the tear a your heart moments as well as the pizzazz and hilarious moments. Own the DVD and watch it regularly - just for an uplifting evening of polished professionalism.
Marvin Hamlisch understood the stage and how it could be used to communicate both big moments and intimate ones. It is doubtful that A CHORUS LINE will ever be silent. One of the special features of this work is that it is rarely performed by a famous group of singers/actors/dancers - it doesn't need anything but committed performers. Watching the show and hearing the music make you think 'I can do that!"
'This family needed that wee bear every bit as much as he needed you. There. Said my piece.'
Paul King wrote (with Hamish McColl) the screenplay based on Michael Bond's lovable character Paddington and also directs this warmly sentimental, entertaining film that carries as many observations and comments about human behavior as it does in making a little bear come to life in a very human manner.
A young Peruvian bear lives with his uncle (Uncle Pastuzo - Michael Gambon - voice, and Aunt Lucy - Imelda Staunton - voice) and is discovered by an Explorer Montgomery Clyde (Tim Downie). The young marmalade loving bear (voice Ben Whishaw) has a passion for all things British, travels to London in search of a home. Finding himself lost and alone at Paddington Station, he begins to realize that city life is not all he had imagined - until he meets the kind Brown family (Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, and mad Julie Walters), who read the label around his neck ('Please look after this bear. Thank you.') and offer him a temporary haven. It looks as though his luck has changed until this rarest of bears catches the eye of a museum taxidermist (Nicole Kidman). But love and acceptance and familial needs rise to the point where this little wisp of a fairytale comes into bloom quite nicely.
The actors are excellent and the CGI effects that create Paddington are superb. In all this is a film to see repeatedly whenever our frustrations with social faux pas becomes distasteful. Recommended.
A Precursor to Sleeping Beauty
Linda Woolverton has adapted Charles Perrault classic novel 'La Bell au bois dormant' and provides a background for the famous fairy tale. Robert Stromberg directs
A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land's fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal - an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces a battle with the invading king's successor (Sharlto Copley) and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora (Elle Fanning). As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom - and perhaps to Maleficent's true happiness as well.
A colorful cast acting out this very Disneyesque movie is tremendously aided by the production design by Dylan Cole and Gary Freeman and the CGI effects. For a film in this genre it is strong if a bit beyond credible too often. But then it is make-believe.....
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
'Trust. Truth. I think it's like most opinions - best unexpressed.'
'Trust. Truth. I think it's like most opinions - best unexpressed.'
Tom Clancy's now famous character creation - CIA analyst Jack Ryan - has been through many transformations actor wise and the tales are uniformly engrossing and entertaining. In this 2014 version adapted by Adam Cozad and David Koepp the title role is assigned to Chris Pine who brings a fresh, young, somewhat laidback version to Jack's bright mind an allows his vulnerability to love and friendship to alter his manner of approach to deadly problems. For this viewer, the more human quality works very well - especially when comparing Pine's interpretation to the many other snarly similar characters that continue to flood the screens. Kenneth Branagh brings polish to the direct as well as to the 'other' important character of the story.
Jack Ryan (Chris Pine), as a young covert CIA analyst, uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack. He begins attending the London School of Economics. 9/11 happens - he drops his studies enlists in the Marines, sustaining severe injuries when the chopper deploying him to Afghanistan is shot down. While in intense rehab, nursed by med student Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), he grabs the attention of Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), a man who works for the CIA and who would like Jack to finish his studies, get a job on Wall Street, and seek out terrorist plots through their financial transactions. Ten years later Jack finds anomalies in the accounts of a Russian named Cherevin (Kenneth Branaugh) and thinks he should go to Russia to check out what's going on. He's told not to tell anyone who he is, including his girlfriend Cathy, which makes her doubt his fidelity when she catches him in some lies. In Russia, Cherevin assigns someone to assist Jack, but when the two are alone, the man tries to kill Jack instead, so Jack kills him. Obviously, Cherevin is hiding something. Jack goes to meet him and says he'll bring his fiancée along, but the tables are not set for quiet dining but for further dangerous intrigue.
Supported by a strong cast including Colm Feore, Peter Andersson, Lenn Kudrjawizki, Eleana Velikanova, Nonso Anozie among others, the pace is steady, allowing character development instead of just explosions and killings. The musical score by Patrick Doyle is mood enhancing and the cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos is atmospheric. In all, this is a very fine 'JACK RYAN' feature - and it is sad that it did not do well in the theaters. Grady Harp, September 18
Ocean's Eight (2018)
'If you're going to have a problem with stealing, then you're not going to like the rest of this conversation.'
Gary Ross created the story, wrote the screenplay (with Olivia Milch) and directed this very entertaining female version of the immensely popular OCEAN'S ELEVEN etc films and it works well. The cast places women in the roles of the grand heist caper and to the person each member of the cast is memorable (and beautifully gowned!).
Danny Ocean's younger sister Debbie (Sandra Bullock) has just been released from prison and attempts to pull off the heist of the century at New York City's star-studded annual Met Gala. Her first stop is to assemble the perfect crew: Lou (Cate Blanchett), Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), Nine Ball (Rihanna), Tammy (Sarah Paulson), Amita (Mindy Kaling), and Constance (Awkwafina). Each of the Ocean's 8 has a special skill and the skills are coordinated to pull off the heist of multi-million dollar diamond necklace - and a few more things... The men in the cast are minor except for the love interest Claude Becker (Richard Armitage) with bit parts doled out to Elliott Gould, Conor Donavan, ad James Corden. Gust moments by Marlo Thomas, Dana Ivey, Mary Louise Wilson, and Elizabeth Ashley.
Well captured on film by Eigil Bryid and with excellent 'costumes' by Sarah Edwards, this is a colorful, clever, witty and hilarious story beautifully presented on every front.
On Chesil Beach (2017)
Life and love are not defined by sex
Ian McEwan, on e of today's most important authors (Atonement, The Good Son, Enduring Love) has adapted his very successful book ON CHESIL BEACH into one of the more impressive films of the past few years. Directed by Dominic Cooke (The Hollow Crown) and with an impeccable cast, this film is deeply moving on many levels - not the least of which is an examination on the role sex plays in the live of us all - especially n the era of 1962 when the story begins. McEwan illuminates the collision of sexual longing, deep-seated fears, and romantic fantasy on a young couple's wedding night.
In 1962 England, conservative, demure violinist Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and brash, working class graduate student Edward (Billy Howle) fall in love despite their different backgrounds. They get married, but things fall apart on their honeymoon at Chesil Beach. As they dine, the expectation of their marital duties become overwhelming. Unbeknownst to them both, the decisions they make this night will resonate throughout their lives. When the newlyweds are unable to enjoy physical intimacy because of their opposing attitudes about sex. The resulting fight changes the course of their relationship.
Saoirse Ronan continues to build her career with extraordinary roles played to perfection (she is even convincing as the first chair violinist in her award winning quartet). Billy Howe as her unfulfilled husband is excellent as are the members of his very strange family - Anne-Marie Duff as the mentally challenged mother and Adrian Scarborough as the father. Emily Watson in the mother of Florence and Samuel West as her father.
The story ends in 2007 and the changes in the lives of both Florence and Edward are surprising. In all this is an excellent film on many levels. Recommended.
Lady Bird (2017)
'People go by the names their parents give them, but they don't believe in God.'
Writer/director Greta Gerwig has very successfully captured the aura and the terror and the reality of coming of age in 2002 in Sacramento California with this gleaming little film LADY BIRD. The cast is uniformly excellent and the musical score is a fine homage to Stephen Sondheim's genius. This is a fast paced, funny, touching, and realistic story about a very odd young high school senior trying to find her niche in life.
Christine "Lady Bird" MacPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is a high school senior from the "wrong side of the tracks." Her parents - mother (Laurie Metcalf) and father (Larry McPherson) - work to keep their two children (Lady Bird and Miguel - Jordan Rodrigues) afloat during very difficult financial times: the mother works as a psych nurse and the father is job hunting after being let go from his employment. Lady Bird longs for adventure, sophistication, and opportunity, but finds none of that in her Sacramento Catholic high school. LADY BIRD follows the title character's senior year in high school, including her first romances (Danny - Lucas Hedges who is gay and Kyle - Timothée Chalamet who has played the field), her participation in the school play, and most importantly, her applying for college. The film also includes substantial comments on losing virginity, homosexuality, coming of age, obesity, and family conflicts. Her best friend is Julie (Beanie Feldstein) and her mentor is Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith) - all of whom offer splendid performances.
Coming of age stories are common - but this one is special on so many levels. The film deserves all the awards for which it was nominated. Recommended.
Damascus Cover (2017)
Who is The Angel?
Spy films work or not - often depending on the main character actor in the story. In the case of the DAMASCUS COVER that role of Mossad spy is assumed by Jonathan Rhys Meyers - in one of his finer roles. The film is based on the novel by Howard Kaplan. adapted for the screen by Daniel Berk and Samantha Morton and directed by Daniel Berk.
The year is 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the focus of the film is espionage. A spy with two names - Ari Ben-Sion and Hans Hoffman (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) - navigates the precarious terrain of love with a journalist named Kim (Olivia Thirlby) and survival during an undercover mission in Syria. Ari/Hans interacts with all fronts of the Syrian terrain of rules, regulations, and intrigue looking for The Angel that is the source of the counterterrorism and for the entire film we are not sure who is this creature until the end. The cast includes John Hurt as the important Miki, Navid Negahban, Igal Naor, Hassani Shapi, Wolf Kahler and a large cat of Middle Eastern actors.
The pacing is slow at times but the cast is strong and together they make this film credible. This is no t a splashy high cost production film, but its smaller scale make it that much more credible.
The Last Emperor (1987)
'The Americans believe everyone is born good. You must be judged.'
Bernardo Bertolucci's 1987 extravaganza THE LAST EMPEROR is rich in spectacle, costumes, cinematography, massive crowd scenes, and history, and yet for all its grandeur some of the most touching moments are form the language of eyes, simple words of a child, and especially worlds form the teacher RJ Johnston - 'The Emperor has been a prisoner in his own palace since the day that he was crowned, and has remained a prisoner since he abdicated. But now he's growing up, he may wonder why he's the only person in China who may not walk out of his own front door. I think the Emperor is the loneliest boy on Earth.' And 'Words are important. Pu Yi, at 15: Why are words important? RJ Johnson "If you cannot say what you mean, your majesty, you will never mean what you say and a gentleman should always mean what he says.'
Re-visiting THE LAST EMPEROR 30 years after the film was made is a refreshing experience. Yes, the costumes are grand, the mass scenes are impressive, the music (the Chinese music - not the indulgent American music of the period) is special, the cast is solid, but the impressive aspect of the film is the opportunity to re-visit history in this manner. Especially, today when we are constantly reminded of China's influence in global affairs, it is interesting to recap how that country went from being ruled by a child emperor to the influx of Japan and the wars and the destruction of many of the most beautiful antiquities of China, and became the Republic of China.
John Lone is especially well suited as Pu-Yi as an adult as is Peter O'Toole as his teacher RJ Johnson. As one observer noted, 'This sweeping account of the life of Pu-Yi, the last emperor of China, follows the leader's tumultuous reign. After being captured by the Red Army as a war criminal in 1950, Pu-Yi recalls his childhood from prison. He remembers his lavish youth in the Forbidden City, where he was afforded every luxury but unfortunately sheltered from the outside world and complex political situation surrounding him. As revolution sweeps through China, the world Pu-Yi knew is dramatically upended.'
This is a film to visit again and again - for so many reasons.
Deadpool 2 (2018)
'Put your hands behind your knees and get down on your head now!'
DEADPOOL 2 is a spoof of MARVEL comic book characters, directed with panache by David Leitch, rich in one-liners written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and surpirise! Ryan Reynolds! It is apparently based on the Marvel Comics character by the same name (Deadpool is a fictional antihero Initially Deadpool was depicted as a supervillain but later evolved into his more recognizable antiheroic persona. Deadpool is a disfigured and mentally unstable mercenary with the superhuman ability of an accelerated healing factor and physical prowess. He is known as the "Merc with a Mouth" because of his talkative nature and tendency to break the fourth wall, which is used by writers for humorous effect and running gags). Even for those saturated with the endless expensive overblown repetitious Marvel Comic films that flood the market (making billions of dollars), This film is funny, not only due to the comedic writing of Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and Ryan Reynolds, but also due to star Ryan Reynolds inimitable talent for admixing silly banter with heroic handsome good looks and fancy footwork.
Very briefly (because there isn't much story), After losing the love of his life, 4th wall-breaking mercenary Wade Wilson aka Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) must protect Russel (Julian Dennison) must assemble a team of mutants and protect Russel from Cable (Josh Brolin), a no-nonsense, dangerous cyborg from the future and Deadpool must learn the most important lesson of all, to be part of a family again.
Much of the success of this film is due to the cast - Ryan Reynolds of course, but also a fine role for Josh Brolin as Cable, T.J. Miller, the every glamorous Morena Baccarin (of Homeland fame), as Vanessa, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, Karan Soni, Leslie Uggams as Blind Al, etc.
The film does go overboard in noisy destruction and massive killings and foul language, but hey, this is a Marvel Comics outing - so you expect something different? Entertaining if quite a bit too long. Grady Harp, August 18
Final Portrait (2017)
Sitting for a portrait and observing the mind and live of an artist
Stanley Tucci adapted James Lord's memoir and directs this vantage into the life of one of the great artists of the last century - Alberto Giacometti. A strong cast brings life into this rather tedious and repetitive tale - but the material, though interesting, becomes indulgent.
The film is based on a true experience as documented by actor/author James Lord in his book 'A Giacometti Portrait'. The time - 1964 - and while on a short trip to Paris, the American writer and art-lover James Lord (Armie Hammer) is asked by his friend, the world-renowned artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush), to sit for a portrait. The process, Giacometti assures Lord, will take only a few days. Flattered and intrigued, Lord agrees. So begins not only the story of an offbeat friendship, but, seen through the eyes of Lord, an insight into the beauty, frustration, profundity and, at times, downright chaos of the artistic process. FINAL PORTRAIT is a portrait of a genius, and of a friendship between two men who are utterly different, yet increasingly bonded through a single, ever-evolving act of creativity. It is a film which focuses on the artistic process itself, by turns exhilarating, exasperating and bewildering, questioning whether the gift of a great artist is a blessing or a curse. The others in the cast include Giacometti's wife (Annabel Mullion), his prostitute Caroline (Clémence Poésy), his brother Diego (Tony Shaloub) and Pierre Matisse (James Faulkner).
Geoffrey Rush and Armie Hammer are excellent and the film, though very slow, is worth watching for the realistic reconstruction of the art of making art.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Louder, Longer, Less plot - Groot has the best tool: an iPod..........
Louder, Longer, Less plot - Groot has the best tool: an iPod..........
There is an audience (and a massive one willing to pay big bucks and stand in long lines ) who champion all of the Marvel Comics films. AVANGERS INFINITY WAR is no exception. At over two and a half hours even the huge cast of gifted actors - at their bet when being funny - explode, blow up things, zoom into outer space for a mission to find Thanos who goal is to rule the universe by obtaining all the funky jewels for his glove - all seem to wear thin from the plodding 'plot' and turn to dust.
The true 'stars' of this huge effort are f course the CGI team - the special effects are truly spectacular, at least for the first hour. The characters don't get much time to develop but the actors assigned to the strange roles make the Avengers and their enemies entertaining. The 'plot'? 'As the Avengers and their allies have continued to protect the world from threats too large for any one hero to handle, a new danger has emerged from the cosmic shadows: Thanos. A despot of intergalactic infamy, his goal is to collect all six Infinity Stones, artifacts of unimaginable power, and use them to inflict his twisted will on all of reality. Everything the Avengers have fought for has led up to this moment - the fate of Earth and existence itself has never been more uncertain.'
Cast includes Robert Downey Jr., Chris Helmsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland Chadwick Boseman, Zoe Saldana, Tom Hiddleston, Paul Bettany, Anthony Mackie, Idris Elba, Peter Dinklage, Vin Diesel, Benecio Del Toro, Chris Pratt, William Hurt, Josh Brolin, Gweneth Paltrow, Bradley Cooper etc etc etc. Definitely a film for those who follow Marvel Comics - or those who need an escape form the chaotic world we inhabit. 'That's entertainment?'.
The Catcher Was a Spy (2018)
"The strangest man ever to play baseball." - Casey Stengel
Director Ben Lewin has created a sensitive portrait of a very private 'public' person Moe Berg - a celebrated American catcher and coach in Major League Baseball who later served as a spy for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. Not only a famous baseball hero Moe's education included degrees from Columbia University, New York University, Princeton University, Columbia Law School, he spoke several languages and regularly read 10 newspapers a day. His reputation was fueled by his successful appearances as a contestant on the radio quiz show Information, Please, in which he answered questions about the derivation of words and names from Greek and Latin, historical events in Europe and the Far East, and ongoing international conferences. As a spy working for the government of the United States, Berg traveled to Yugoslavia to gather intelligence on resistance groups the U.S. government was considering supporting. He was then sent on a mission to Italy, where he interviewed various physicists concerning the German nuclear program. After the war, Berg was occasionally employed by the OSS's successor, the Central Intelligence Agency. Nicholas Dawidoff wove these facts into his novel by the same name as the film and Robert Rodat adapted it for the screen.
The film works on many levels - and one of the primary reasons is the presence of Paul Rudd in the title role - quite easily his finest role to date. He is credible as Moe the athlete, the possibly sexually ambiguous man, the multilingual brilliant student, and the in the role of spy for the OSS assigned to murder the German physicist Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong) who was considered to be creating an atomic bomb for the Germans. The supporting cast is excellent - Sienna Miller as Moe's favorite lady Estella, Guy Pearce, Paul Giamatti, Jeff Daniels, Tom Wilkinson, Giancarlo Giannini, among other. The musical score is one of Howard Shore's finest, and the cinematography by Andrij Parekh is excellent.
A complex man, probably more private than any famous figure, Moe Berg makes a very fine subject for this excellent film. And it is all true!
All I See Is You (2016)
Now you see me, now you don't
Producer, director, writer Marc Forster is best known for directing the films Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland, The Kite Runner, Quantum of Solace and World War Z wrote this screenplay with Sean Conway (TV series Ray Donavan and Shameless). ALL I SEE IS YOU is a theme with challenge to any writer: these tow men almost meet that challenge but seem to get lost in the process. The result is a very long, tedious, cinematographer's holiday (Matthias Koenigswieser) about the world we see and the world we don't see. Despite the presence of some fine actors the film is tedious and loses the audience after about thirty minutes of blurry (but colorful!) versions of the world passing by the eyes of a blind girl.
Apparently blinded since childhood when a hideous car-crash cost her her parents and her eyesight (a fact that is never explained - we must guess that is the case), beautiful Gina (Blake Lively) scarcely leaves their home in Bangkok, Thailand and is dependent on her attentive and doting husband, James (Jason Clark), who is her everything: her protector, her guide, and the sole intermediary with the outside world and who has never known the sighted Gina, and wants to make a baby. Medicine intervenes, a cutting-edge but highly experimental cornea transplant By one Dr. Hughes (Danny Huston) promises to restore Gina's vision, at least to her right eye--and when the bandages come off all of a sudden unexplored colors and senses begin to appear to her. But she is dependent on steroid drops in her eyes to assure the transplant takes. As a result, Gina will see her husband and her unknown reflection in the mirror for the first time, she befriends an unwanted dog, makes friends with dog walker cum sensual interest (Wes Chatham), and with time and some distance from James and an odd visit to her Barcelona sister Carla (Ahna O'Reilly) and her artsy husband Ramon (Miquel Fernández) Gina becomes pregnant (though James has discovered he is sterile!), and her vision is altered again - the reason is only suggested. And then the film ends.
Chunks of the story are missing (?intentionally?) and the constant cinematic version of the world through near blind eyes becomes as tiring to the audience as it must to the patient with altered eyesight. There are some odd sidebars of Gina playing the guitar with a young girl, surreal shots of Bangkok, strange S&M scenes unexplained that keep our attention at times. The concept regarding blindness and how it affects the victim are sound. It is the delivery of the 'story' that begs editing.
And the war continues....
Tony Gilroy wrote is psychological and character driven thriller and Brad Anderson directed - finding just the right amount of reality with devastating views of the life in Beirut during the ongoing civil war. Aided by a fine cast and superb cinematography by Björn Charpentier the film may be difficult to view because of the content of war, but it is important for al of s to see the ravages of terrorism and war that continues throughout the Middle East.
The year is 1972. Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) had a great life as a diplomat in Beirut. He and his wife, Nadia (Leila Bekhti), live in a beautiful house and have been mentoring a thirteen year-old Palestinian boy named Karim (Yoav Sadian). The opening scene is a party that the Stiles are hosting for other dignitaries. Karim is helping out serving the guests. When a CIA friend of Mason, Cal (Mark Pellegrino), comes to the party he is interested only in taking Karim in for questioning about an older brother Mason doesn't know about. What happens that night changes Mason's life forever, along several others at the party: terrorists attack, Nadia is killed, Mason is psychologically crushed and leave Beirut for the US where he divorces himself form diplomacy and becomes an alcoholic small time business negotiator. Jump forward to 1982 and because of an impending civil war the CIA operatives must send former U.S. diplomat Mason Skiles to negotiate for the life of his friend Cal he left behind. Skiles take the assignment reluctantly and discovers the now older Karim (Idir Chender) and his involvement in the war - and the important hostage he holds.
The fine cast is rounded b=out by Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris, Colin Stinton, Shea Whigham, and many others. Raw, a bit difficult to follow at times, this film show not only the effects of war on the victims in the countries where the fighting occurs, but also on the soldiers and diplomats who are sent to 'aid' the situation. We need to see films such as this to keep aware of the horrors of war.
'May you lhave a long life'
Naomi Alderman's impressive novel has been adapted for the screen by Sebastián Lelio and Rebecca Lenkiewicz and under Sebastián Lelio's direction and very sophisticated cast of actors bring to life a love story that is at once daring and powerful and deeply moving. Chilean writer and director Sebastián Lelio garnered many awards for his recent film A FANTASTIC WOMAN as well a GLORIA: he is rapidly becoming the leading name in fine challenging films.
Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) returns to England after hearing that her estranged father Rav Krushka (Anton Lesser) has died. He visits her old friend Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola) and discovers that he is now married to Ronit's long ago lesbian lover Esti Kuperman (Rachel McAdams); Ronit, Esti and Dovid has been childhood friends and when Ronit left her Jewish enclave to live in New York, the traditions and rules of the Jewish sector pushed Esti to marry - Dovid. Ronit is a fine arts photographer (her session photographing the tattooed Trevor Allen Davies is a treasured moment), Esti has become a shul teacher, and Dovid is now in line to take Rav's honored place in the synagogue. Under the eyes of Moshe Hartog (Allan Corduner), and his wife Frumka (Bernice Stegers), and the gossips Ronit gradually and subtly rekindle their old love in a richly and well-filmed passionate manner. The unification is challenged by gossips, rules, and Dovid's memories of Rav's final words that freedom is the most treasured aspect of life and the story ends with a sophisticated resolution.
Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola are brilliant and the film is one of cinematic wonder. The intact Hebrew chants and singing add immeasurably to the story, as does the musical score by Matthew Herbert and the cinematography by Danny Cohen. Subtle, rich in emotion and understanding of both Jewish tradition and lesbian love, this is a film to treasure. Highly recommended
Una Mujer Fantástica (2017)
'Love isn't something you search for.'
'Never was a shade of any plant dearer and more lovely, or more sweet' - the English translation of Handel's aria form his opera 'Serse' - Ombra mai fu di vegetabile, cara ed amabile, soave più plays a significant role in this Oscar and Golden Globe winning foreign film from Chile: it is heard throughout and closes the film with the main character Marina singing it to the audience. The music is exquisite as sung by Daniela Vega, a gifted mezzo-soprano and actress, who in life is indeed a Chilean transgender female.
The theme of the film - the pain and ridicule transgender people face by society - is daring and well handled. Marina (Daniela Vega) is a young waitress and aspiring singer whose lover is Orlando (Francisco Reyes), 20 years her senior, who owns a printing company. They are in love and planning for the future. After celebrating Marina's birthday one evening, Orlando falls gravely ill and as Marina prepares to take him to the hospital Orlando falls down the stairs. Marina rushes him to the emergency room, but he passes away just after arriving at the hospital. Instead of being able to mourn her lover, suddenly Marina is treated with suspicion. The doctors and Orlando's family don't trust her. A woman detective investigates Marina to see if she was involved in his death because of the bruises and bleeding resulting from the fall down the stairs. Orlando's ex-wife forbids her from attending the funeral. Orlando's son threatens to throw Marina out of the flat she shared with Orlando. Marina is a trans woman and for most of Orlando s family, her sexual identity is an aberration, a perversion. So Marina struggles for the right to be herself. She battles the very same forces that she has spent a lifetime fighting just to become the woman she is now - complex, strong, forthright and fantastic.
A strong cast, fine direction (Sebastián Lelio who wrote the screenplay with Gonzalo Maza), exceptional musical scoring (Nani García and Matthew Herbert) and cinematography (Benjamín Echazarreta) allow the impact of Daniela Vega's superlative performance to glow. The film is a bit slow moving, but that allows time for the interplay of Marina's strength and the family's prejudice to gain focus. A solid film. Grady Harp, July 18
The period or state of being a novice, especially in a religious order: Probation
Writer and director Maggie Betts makes an auspicious debut with this excellent film - beautifully written, bringing a significant moment in Catholic history into view, and blends a dramatic story about the conflicts and rewards of life inside a convent to our attention. Her cast is excellent, the cinematography by Kat Westergaard is splendid, and the impressive musical score by Christopher Stark (with exceptional integration of moments from the Faure Requiem and music by Arvo Pärt), and perhaps most important is Betts' uncompromising, ultimately compelling questions of faith and feminism among the members of the convent and the young girls entering the mystery.
The opening moments of the film offer statements about the impact of the 1960s Vatican II as instigated by Pope John XXIII on the life in the convents around the world. 1964. Cathleen Harris (Margaret Qualley), in her late teens, has resided at the Convent of the Beloved Rose in her home state in the American south for close to two years, first as a postulant for six months, before taking her first vows to become a novice. Unlike the other postulants and novices, Sister Cathleen was raised in a household without religion, let alone Catholicism. As such, her decision to become a nun, which went against abusive father (Chris Zylka) and her divorced mother's wishes (the mother is portrayed in a stunning manner by Julianne Nicholson), may be more secure in her mind than her colleagues for which this life course may be more bred within them. The convent is led by the Mother Abbess, Reverend Mother Marie Saint Clare (a brilliant Melissa Leo), whose entire life is this convent off of where she not stepped foot in forty years. Reverend Mother believes she is the voice of God within the walls of the convent, and thus does not tolerate any of the sisters questioning her authority. She also believes that the Catholicism which she has known all her life is perfect. When she receives an edict regarding the Second Vatican Council - more commonly referred to as Vatican II - which, opened in 1962 as a process to make the Catholic church more open to modern ideals, she refuses to implement any of the changes, let alone discuss the edict with any of the sisters, especially with the likes of Sister Mary Grace (Dianna Agron), the Mistress of Postulants and Novices who has more contemporary views of the church. Sister Cathleen's drive to become a nun is set against this backdrop, her process which is not as easy as it appears to the others, and whether she makes it to nun is affected by the Reverend Mother's strict methods and refusal to modernize. Her challenge to her beliefs and needs is brought into focus by the arrival of the sensuous Sister Emanuel (Nora Harris).
The ritualism, the meaning of bells, the confession of faults, and the interaction of the young girls waiting to become novices and postulates is all painted subtly and with style. This is an exceptionally fine film that deserves a large audience.
Man in an Orange Shirt (2017)
Outside and Inside forces against
Patrick Gale wrote this bipartite Masterpiece Theater series and Michael Samuels directed this sensitive examination of gay love from two separate historic times - WW II in England and contemporary time in England. There are many similarities between the two episodes that time can't erase (the character from Part 2 is a descendant from the character in Part 1) but the barriers to gay relationships differ. In Part 1 it is the law and the politics that keep two soldiers from embracing their love because of the criminal charges against gay life together with the ingrained belief that to be a real man one must marry and sire children. In Part 2 - 60 years later - it is the cruel but very present dependency on social media app dating the prevents men from the idea of tossing the cell phone in favor of one-on-one meaningful lasting relationships.
During and after WW II Michael Berryman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) befriends fellow soldier Thomas March (James McArdle), they fall in love, but Michael is engaged and after the war carries through with that rather loveless engagement and marries Flora (Joanna Vanderham) and they have a baby - a fact that distances Thomas, leaving him with the life of an illegal gay person to be committed to prison for a year. The little cottage where Michael and Thomas meet when possible is a preserved by a memory in a painting Thomas makes (together with a painting of Michael in an orange shirt). We the fast forward to contemporary times and find Adam (Michael's grandson) gay and living with the elderly Flora (Vanessa Redgrave), depending on social media apps for dates with men. He meets Steve (David Gyasi) who is in a living arrangement with an older man Caspar (Julian Sands). The two eventually fall in love but Adam's dependency on social app dates is rejected by Steve who has left Caspar and is rebuilding the cottage Adam has inherited from Flora. Coming out in present times is equally as difficult - for different reasons - than in wartime England.
A strong cast and a fine script make this a rich film. The main problem with the two part series is the lack of character development and social milieu that seems to be rushed and not examined thoroughly enough. Pairing the two 1 hour episodes has merit: it seems the film would have been more satisfying had each segment been allowed an additional hour to fully explore the subject of gay relationships from the two perspectives. Still recommended.
Mary Shelley (2017)
A legend blooms out of darkness
Emma Jensen took all the facts about the history of the creation of FRANKENSTEIN and with additional writing by Haifaa Al-Mansour, the first Saudi female director ever to direct a Hollywood film, the two ladies have created a marvelous period piece that is a dark psychological study of Mary Wollstonecroft Godwin as she comes to grips with a fragile love relationship (in a time when the concept of feminism didn't exist) and self discovery to write one of the great books of history - that infamous love affair between poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and 18 year old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, which resulted in Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein.
As the film's synopsis states, She will forever be remembered as the writer who gave the world Frankenstein. But the real life story of Mary Shelley-and the creation of her immortal monster-is nearly as fantastical as her fiction. Raised by a renowned philosopher father (Stephen Dillane) in 18th-century London, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Elle Fanning) is a teenage dreamer determined to make her mark on the world when she meets the dashing and brilliant poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth). So begins a torrid, bohemian love affair marked by both passion and personal tragedy that will transform Mary and fuel the writing of her Gothic masterwork. Imbued with the imaginative spirit of its heroine, Mary Shelley brings to life the world of a trailblazing woman who defied convention and channeled her innermost demons into a legend for the ages. The other characters who play a major role in this story include Dr John Polidori (Ben Hardy), Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge), Mary's sister Claire (Bel Powley), Percy's wife Harriet (Clara Charteris), and publisher Thomas Hogg (Jack Hickey)
Though the story appears pushed into darkness a bit too often it does indeed create an atmosphere conducive to the genesis of Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN and the story is an important one on many levels. A very well done period piece.