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Tell It to the Bees (2018)
'You should tell the bees your secrets. Then they won't fly away.'
Fiona Shaw's novel has been adapted for the screen by Henrietta Ashworth and Jessica Ashworth and as directed by Annabel Jankel the result is a luminous and tender visit to the mid 1950s Scotland, and an examination of the homophobia made even more stressful with the impact of the end of WW II returning mind-damaged soldiers.
Single mother Lydia Weekes (Holliday Grainger) who is abandoned by her husband Robbie (Emun Elliott), meets the small village's Doctor Jean Markham (Anna Paquin) who has recently returned to her hometown after her father's death, leaving her a spacious home she cherishes, when Lydia's son Charlie (Gregor Selkirk) is taken to the doctor after being bullied in school. Charlie grows to see Lydia as his best friend, sharing her fascination with the bees she shelters in her backyard. When Lydia and Charlie are evicted because Lydia's earnings from her work are not adequate to pay the rent, Jean invites them to stay in her home and she and Lydia soon develop a friendship and something more. The village frowns harshly on Jean and Lydia's lesbian relationship and Jean's medical status is threatened until she salvages a botched home-abortion, regaining her respect as a physician. Pending the threat of losing her son to the abusive Robbie, Lydia and Charlie depart the village - with plans to return - to Jean and true family.
The fine musical score by Claire M Singer and cinematography by Bartosz Nalazek add to the impact of this sensitive, very well acted film, and the result is a beautifully delivered romance that manages to survive against all odds. Recommended.
The Aftermath (2019)
Love lingers longer
James Kent directs this adaptation of Rhidian Brook's boo THE AFTERMATH and manages to add sensitive dimensions to this WW II romance. The excellent cinematography by Franz Lustig heightens the drama as well as remind us of the utter destruction Germany suffered as the war ended, both in devastation of buildings and of lives.
The story takes place in Hamburg, Germany in 1946 as the Allied Forces struggle to deal with the homeless people and the remaining anti-western sentiment. Rachel Morgan (Keira Knightley) joins her husband Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) after their son is destroyed during the London blitz. They 'share' a stately mansion owned by architect widower Stephen Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) who agrees to have the British citizens move into his home he shares with his daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann) and their minimal serving staff. Lewis struggles with the cruelty of war damaged youths and men and women, always dedicated to his military job. Rachel feels isolated, still grieving for her lost son, and gradually finds consolation in the arms of Lubert. Friction between the Germans and Brits continues, involving Freda and her Nazi boyfriend, and in time Rachel and Freda and Lubert grow close and they plan to leave Hamburg. Lewis discovers their plan and is devastated - the loss of his son weighs heavily on him and Rachel's decision to leave him is critical. At the train station there is a change of commitment and the story ends on an unexpected note.
The cast is strong, the passion is palpable, and the visual effects of the decimated Hamburg and its citizens are achingly real. The way war affects us is the overall message - one that is wise to heed. This is a film worth experiencing.
Gloria Bell (2018)
Looking for love in all the wrong places
Director Sebastián Lelio reprises his Chilean cinematic success GLORIA, and with the help of Alice Johnson Boher's adaptation of his own screenplay, gives us GLORIA BELL.
The story is as complex in psychological insights as it is simple in storyline. Gloria Bell (Julianne Moore) is divorced, alone, working a boring insurance job, with children growing away, ad finds herself frequenting dance clubs/bars. She hungers for romance and almost accidentally finds it in divorced Arnold (John Turturro). The manner in which they court is at once tentative and aggressive: Arnold feels compelled to 'be there' for his two grown unemployed girls and allows that situation to alter his attention to Gloria, and Gloria wants it all. In an on again off again romance the problems of loneliness and aging take focus, and while the story is rather upbeat in stagecraft and flamboyant in sex scenes, the undertone is sad.
The cast includes actors/actresses who are in the age category the film addresses - Holland Taylor, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Rita Wilson, Brad Garrett, Chris Mulkey - as well as some fine young cast members. The story focuses on Los Angeles nightclubs and Las Vegas glitz and the action is swift and well focused, especially by Julianne Moore, who proves she can inhabit this sad role credibly, enhancing the impact of the aging and lonely but beautiful single woman stance. A comedy it isn't, but the film offers insight into a realm of the population who continue to seek elusive love.
The Old Man & the Gun (2018)
From the Over The Hill Gang!
Director David Lowery wrote the screenplay for this homage to the elderly based on a true story written as an article in the New Yorker by David Grann about the Over the Hill Gang leader Forrest Tucker. Assembling a large cast of aging stars and a splendid sense of goodwill attitude, this is a film for relaxing - and wondering...
The plot is brief - 'Based on the true story of Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford), from his audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of 70 to an unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities and enchanted the public. Wrapped up in the pursuit are detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who becomes captivated with Forrest's commitment to his craft, and a woman (Sissy Spacek), who loves him in spite of his chosen profession. '
Other significant contributing actors include Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Keith Carradine, Ari Elizabeth Johnson, Tika Sumpter, and Barlow Jacobs among others. Daniel Hart provides a homespun musical score and the elegant cinematography is by Joe Anderson.
The film may not be deep, but it carries a great feeling of the importance of attitude and generosity of friendship - and Robert Redford simply make it work!
The Mule (2018)
'The only people who want to live to 100 are 99 year olds'
Octogenarian Clint Eastwood both directs and stars in this winning film that honors not only his cinematic past but also the plight of senior citizens. THE MULE is based on a newspaper account of a 90-year-old drug mule for the Sinaloa Cartel as adapted and written by Sam Dolnick and Nick Schenk. The result - a sparkling, entertaining and insightful movie that deals with not only the ongoing drug smuggling from below the border, but also the meaning of family, of growing older, and the intersection of these elements.
Horticulturist Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is 90, broke, alone, and facing foreclosure of his business when he is offered a job that simply requires him to drive. He is amenable to the job but doesn't immediately know that he's actually signed on as a drug courier (aka 'mule') for a Mexican cartel. He is proficient in his task, his cargo increases exponentially, and Earl is assigned a handler (Cesar De León). But he isn't the only one keeping tabs on Earl; the mysterious new drug mule has also hit the radar of hard-charging DEA agents Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) and Treviño (Michael Peña). Earl makes friends with the Mexican boss Laton (Andy Garcia) and encounters the more evil of the cartel crew. But as h makes (and gives away) large sums of money, his past life of minimizing the impact of his family (Diane Wiest, Allison Eastwood, Talissa Farmiga), and his new position makes him long for the return to that family, even as his ex-wife dies. The end? Watch the film to discover the resolution.
Beautifully filmed, superb acting by a very well selected cast of actors, and a story that goes far beyond simply another drug cartel venture, THE MULE is excellent on all levels, proving the Clint Eastwood continues to be a major talent in cinema.
The Girl in the Spider's Web (2018)
'Why did you help everyone but me, sister?'
Remember the terrific 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' films and the fine roles created by Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig or Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist? Well, this third version of the capers of Lisbeth Salander, yes, still written by the same group (David Lagercrantz, Stieg Larsson et al) and now directed by Fede Alvarez, doesn't come close to those films, but does provide some technical prowess and a rather breathless showcase for Sweden.
In Stockholm, Sweden, vigilante hacker Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) is hired by computer programmer Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) to retrieve Firefall, a program capable of accessing the world's nuclear codes that he developed for the National Security Agency, as Balder believes it is too dangerous to exist. Lisbeth successfully retrieves Firefall from the NSA's servers, with some assistance from journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason), attracting the attention of agent Edwin Needham (LaKeith Stanfield), but is unable to unlock it, and the program is later stolen from her by mercenaries led by Jan Holtser (Claes Bang), who also attempts to kill Lisbeth. When she doesn't attend their scheduled rendezvous, Balder mistakenly believes Lisbeth decided to keep Firefall for herself and contacts Gabrielle Grane (Synnøve Macody Lund), the deputy director of the Swedish Security Service (Säpo), who moves Balder and his young son August to a safe-house. Meanwhile, Needham tracks the unauthorized login to Stockholm and arrives to seek Lisbeth and Firefall...The odd opening sequences introduce Lisbeth and her sister Camilla in the home of their brutal father, and later the mature Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks) draws focus as the instigator of troubles for Lisbeth.
Sound jumbled? It is, and while the special effects/CGI drama plays very well indeed, the story falters. Beautiful cinematography by Pedro Luque and musical score by Roque Baños become the elements that are impressive. A good diversion for an evening - just don't expect too much.
Worthy of Brian De Palma? Not so much...
A funny thing happened on the way to the screen...DOMINO never finds its way to a story. A screenplay by Petter Skavlan in the hands of Brian De Palma doesn't gel, and the audience is left wondering why. Nice cast - and perhaps it is the popularity of Games of Thrones' stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Carice van Houten that will draw some people to the theater. But the film is not Brian De Palma vintage!
Somewhere hidden in the bizarre camera work and odd colorations of the film is a tale about police officer Christian (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) and his fellow officer Lars Hansen (Søren Malling), married to MS stricken Hanne (Paprika Steen), and the hunt for the perpetrator of Lars' murder. Fellow officer Alex (Carice van Houten), who just happens to have been Lars' secret girlfriend, helps Christian search for the killer as does officer Joe Martin (Guy Pearce) - all of whom cope with the identities of Eriq Ebouaney and Thomas W. Gabrielsson as suspects. And if the aforementioned sounds iffy, that is the film's major problem. Couple that with the very strange cinematography by José Luis Alcaine and the inappropriately 'pretty' musical score by Pino Donaggio and a sound track that presents challenges, and DOMINO!
Somewhere a movie got lost in the shuffle.
Cold Pursuit (2019)
'Your mother's womb must be twitching in regret at bringing you into the world'
Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland revisits his own Kraftidioten of 2014 with this very brutal film about revenge - a movie that begs the audience's patience while unfolding near countless beastly murders. If taken for what it is, subject matter wise, the film achieves its goal of examination of the extremes to which men can go in the name of revenge.
As the official synopsis (a bit enhanced) states, 'Quiet family man and hard-working snowplow driver Nels Coxsman (Liam Neeson) is the lifeblood of a glitzy resort town Kehoe, Colorado in the Rocky Mountains because he is the one who keeps the winter roads clear. He and his wife Grace (Laura Dern) live in a comfortable cabin away from the tourists. The town has just awarded him "Citizen of the Year." But Nels has to leave his quiet mountain life when his son Kyle (Micheál Richardson) is murdered by a powerful drug lord. As a man who has nothing to lose he is stoked by a drive for vengeance. This unlikely hero uses his hunting skills and transforms from an ordinary man into a skilled killer as he sets out to dismantle the cartel. Nels' actions ignite a turf war between a manically unpredictable gangster known as Viking (Tom Bateman) and a rival gang boss White Bull (Tom Jackson). Justice is served in one final spectacular confrontation that will leave (almost) no one unscathed.'
Spectacular scenery and a sophisticated cast serve as backdrop to this seething serial killing spree. Each murdered victim - all with odd names - is memorialized at the end of the deaths in a manner that helps keep the viewer informed as to the progress of the revenge. Some of the characters are suitably loathsome - in particular Tom Bateman as the racist vicious swine Viking, Michael Eklund as the atrocious Speedo, etc etc etc, while others are so underdeveloped that they practically disappear into the snowy atmosphere. Liam Neeson maintains his quality acting reputation, and that is a reasonable justification for watching the movie.
Todos lo saben (2018)
'¿Quien está detrás?' - 'Who did it?'
Writer/Director Asghar Farhadi's latest contribution to cinema is a film in Spanish with English subtitles that manages to win over audiences who are unfamiliar with the language because seeing and hearing the mesmerizing story unfold in the hands of a splendid cast in the language of the country where the story takes place (Spain) makes it glow even more.
The story opens in a festive atmosphere as Laura (Penélope Cruz) arrives from Argentina with her two children Irene (Carla Campra) and Diego (Ivan Chavero) to visit her family outside Madrid and participate in a wedding of her sister. After adjusting to the fact that her father (Ramón Barea) has aged decidedly and perseverates on his lack of an estate, sold by Laura to her ex-boyfriend Paco (Javier Bardem) year ago, the wedding festivities dominate. Paco has since married Bea (Bárbara Lennie), as has Laura- to ex-alcoholic Alejandro (Ricardo Darín) who arrives in Spain after Laura, still without employment. The wedding is joyous and while all are dancing and dining, Irene is kidnapped, an event that sets the family on edge - for more reasons than are apparent at first. The breathless hunt for Irene is complicated by strange messages about ransom, the interplay between Laura and Paco and Alejandro as long buried secrets emerge and must be faced in light of the entire family involvement in the mystery. To add more would be unfair to the velocity and twist and turns to the mystery.
A very strong cast brings this fascinating story to life with the sure guidance of director Asghar Farhadi. For those not fluent in Spanish the film still is bracing, as the subtitles are excellent. Almost without a soundtrack this film would still impress!
'On Plymouth Island, No One Ever Dies...Unless You Break the Rules'
Writer/director Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises, Locke) has brewed a film that, like the theme of the film, is not what it seems at first. The transition from reality to non-reality is unsettling - a sunny tropical island populated by interesting people becomes a computer game of rules involving death, or does it? That is left to the observer to decide.
Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) is a fishing boat captain leading tours with his sidekick Duke (Djimon Hounsou) off a tranquil, tropical enclave called Plymouth Island. He earns money as an escort for island lady Constance (Diane Lane) when his income from fishing is down. His quiet life is shattered, however, when his ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) tracks him down with a desperate plea for help. She begs Dill to save her - and their young son Patrick (Rafael Sayegh) - from her new, violent husband (Jason Clarke) by taking him out to sea on a fishing excursion, only to throw him to the sharks and leave him for dead. Karen's appearance thrusts Dill back into a life he'd tried to forget, his service in Iraq and loneliness for his son Patrick, and as he struggles between right and wrong, his world is plunged into a new reality that may not be all that it seems. The strange unreal world seems to be known by the mysterious Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong) who follows Dill before his mission is revealed.
We are left to wonder if the confusion of the story is intentional - and if it is, the message is a bit too jumbled to make sense - or is that the intention? This is an odd movie with a very strong cast - it just gets a bit lost in the second half.
'There's nothing to lose when you've already lost everything'
Director Karyn Kusama (AEon Flux, Girlfight, The Invitation) has created a film that may be difficult to watch because of the manner of relating the story by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, but the overall atmosphere and scenic moods captured make the impact of the film significant.
As a young cop LAPD detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) was placed undercover with fellow detective Chris (Sebastian Stan) with a bank robbery gang lead by Silas (Toby Kebbell) in the California desert with tragic results. When the leader of that gang re-emerges many years later, she must work her way back through the remaining members and into her own history - her daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn) by Chris, her ruined marriage to Ethan (Scott McNary) to finally reckon with the demons that destroyed her past. Impressive performances by 'gang members' Tatiana Maslany, Beau Knapp, and Zach Villa et al enhance the grit of the story. To share more about he plot would be a spoiler, robbing the new viewer of the surprises of the ending.
Nicole Kidman adds another dimension to her acting talent with an unflatteringly old face and body Erin, but the character she inhabits becomes a bit monochromatic. The camera work by Julie Kirkwood is dazzling and the musical score by Theodore Shapiro captures every facet of the moods of the film. All of the ingredients are fine - the pacing is sluggish and at times confusing - and simply for a new style of cinema the film is worth seeing.
An important figure on several levels
The fascinating life of Colette, one of the important figures in both literature and gender definition, is brought to the screen by director Wash Westmoreland ('Still Alice', 'Quinceañera', 'Totally Gay') who also wrote the screenplay with Richard Glatzer and Rebecca Lenkiewicz. The result is a visually fine period piece with excellent performances by Keira Knightley and Dominic West yet somehow falls short of its potential by focusing on excesses.
The true story is that of the gifted country girl Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley) who is swept off her feet by writer Henry Gautier-Villars (aka Willy), taken to Paris where Willy's philandering and writing needs are a source of contention with his publisher. Discovering that his wife Colette has a gift for writing, Willy talks her into being a ghostwriter for him, successfully publishing a series of books about the life of 'Claudine' - a reflection of Colette's real life. Riding on the success of the venture, Colette begins to acknowledge her desire for female partners, sharing one wealthy American Matilde (Sloan Thompson) with Willy and finally pairing with the wealthy Missy (Denise Gough) in her decision to 'make it on her own' both as a writer and as performer with Missy. To everyone's surprise she uses her fame to advance acceptance of same sex gender identification, unique fashion, and literature by female authors.
The film is enhanced by the musical score by Thomas Adès and the cinematography by Giles Nuttgens. Minor roles are well performed and the overall recreation of Paris at eh turn of the century is excellent. For some reason, despite Keira Knightley's fine acting, the film fails to convince fully, but for the importance of this story on many levels it is a film very much worth viewing.
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
'I hope that nobody has ever had to look at anybody they love through glass.'
James Baldwin's sensitive novel has been committed to the screen by writer/director Barry Jenkins and the result resembles a soft blues ballad that is both eloquent and challenging in its careful examination of racial injustice and lasting love.
The film uses the current time/past history format and does that well: at times the progress of the story gets lost in the technique but the overall flavor of the theme is maintained. Baldwin's poetry is intact - a brave stance for the director and cast and one they respect and honor with performances that are consistently excellent.
African-American teen sweethearts Alonzo aka 'Fonny' (Stephan James) and Tish (KiKi Layne) are ripped apart when Fonny is wrongly arrested for the rape of a Puerto Rican woman (Emily Rios) because of the machinations of a racist cop (Ed Skrein). While seeking justice for Fonny, a pregnant Tish relies on her Harlem community, including her sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris) mother Sharon (Regina King), father Joseph (Colman Domingo) and future in laws (Aunjanue Ellis, Michael Beach, Ebony Obsidian). The early years of Fonny and Tish are well played and the change from friendship to passionate lovers is played very well. Of note the most prejudiced character in the story is not a white person (though the policeman is wholly obnoxious) is Fonny's mother - a move that makes the story even more poignant.
The acting is first rate, the cinematography by James Laxton and the musical score by Nicholas Britell are appropriately moody, and Barry Jenkins is most impressive as the director. This is a solid film that deserves the attention it is receiving.
First Man (2018)
'It'll be an adventure'
One of the most memorable quotes in the past hundred years is the familiar 'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind' - the words we all heard when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969. James' R. Hansen's book has been adapted for the screen by Josh Singer and the film is directed by Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash).
The film covers the years 1961 - 1969 in the life of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), beginning with Armstrong's trials as a pilot and proceeds through his training for the Gemini mission and the famous moon landing. Along the way the psyche of the astronaut is explored by revealing his interactions with his wife Janet (Claire Foy) and terminally ill daughter Karen (Lucy Stafford), his friend and fellow astronaut Ed White (Jason Clarke) and his wife Pat (Olivia Hamilton) whose lives alter Neil's perception of his mission. Nods are given to Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll), Elliot See (Patrick Fugit) and other very small cameos.
Much of the film is very loud, with all the harrowing tension that accompanies the launching and flight of spacecraft extended to near the breaking point. The facts are there but what is missing is a storyline that allows the audience to accompany Armstrong's historic mission. It is a noisy adventure with rather flat performances by the main characters, but it does encourage recall of that momentous day in 1969 with reality.
Green Book (2018)
'You never win with violence. You only win when you maintain your dignity.'
Director Peter Farrelly co-wrote with Brian Currie and Nick Vallelonga, brother of the main character, this true story adaptation for film. It succeeds on many levels, not the least of which is a reflection on the racism of the 1960s era as a too close comparison for the current status of prejudice. It is a powerful movie that makes its point simply and strongly, largely due to the very fine performances By Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali.
Briefly, the story takes place in 1962 when Tony "Tony Lip" Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), a tough bouncer at the Copa, is looking for work when his nightclub is closed for renovations. The most promising offer for employment is to be the driver for the African-American classical/jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) for a concert tour into the Deep South states. Although hardly enthused at working for a black man, Tony accepts the job and they begin the concert tour armed with The Motorist Green Book, a travel guide for safe travel through America's racial segregation. They are accompanied in a following car by the other two members of the Don Shirley Trio (Dimiter B. Marinov and Mike Hatton). Together, the snobbishly erudite pianist and the crudely practical bouncer can barely get along with their clashing attitudes to life and ideals. However, as the disparate pair witness and endure America's appalling injustices on the road, they find a newfound respect for each other's talents and start to face them together. In doing so, they would nurture a friendship and understanding that would change both their lives.
One reason the film works so well is the use of bipartite examination of the response of each man to the stat us of the other: Don Shirley gains respect for the importance of family milieu (especially the Italian-American version) as Tony learns by direct observation the African American plight in a world of prejudice. Of note, a post-script after the film reveals that in real life, Tony became the maitre'D of the Copa, and Dr. Shirley continued being successful in music. They remained friends for the rest of their lives.
Both Ali and Mortensen provide outstanding performances and head a cast that is consistently of high caliber. This is a powerful film with a very important message. Recommended.
Ben Is Back (2018)
Insights into drug addiction in an impressive cinematic exploration
Peter Hedges (About a Boy, Pieces of April, What's Eating Gilbert Grape) both wrote and directed this excellent film and in doing so alerts us to the rising problems with the opioid pandemic that continues to grow in both our youth and adult population. The problem is exceptionally disturbing: the film captures that, and in doing so offers some of the finest writing and acting of the past year.
The plot follows the charming yet troubled Ben Burns (Lucas Hedges), who returns home to his unsuspecting family one fateful Christmas Eve. Ben's wary mother Holly Burns (Julia Roberts) welcomes her beloved son's return, but soon learns he is still very much in harm's way. During the 24 hours that may change their lives forever, Holly must do everything in her power to avoid the family's downfall. The family is biracial, a strong addition to the impact of the film, with Courtney B. Vance as Ben's stepfather Neal - Ben and Ivy (Kathryn Newton) are by Holly's first marriage while Lacey (Mia Fowler) and Liam (Jakari Fraser) are the product of her marriage to Neal. The cast also includes excellent cameos by David Zaldivar, Rachel Bay Jones, Alexandra Park and others.
The impact of the film is extraordinary: Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges (whose father is Peter Hedges!) bring credibility to the roles of the mother son relationship, including the hope and perseverance of belief that allows us to understand the mindset of drug addiction better than any film to this date. Why these two exceptional performances were overlooked at Oscar time begs explanation.
BEN IS BACK solidifies the importance of Lucas Hedges as an actor of immense stature. This is one of last year's finest motion pictures, with a very important insight to a major problem. Highly Recommended.
The Favourite (2018)
'Oh it is fun to be Queen sometimes!'
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos has directed dance videos, television commercials, music videos, short films, theater plays and a few movies. He has a strange view of history and finds the secrets and bad habits of 18th century England under the brief rule of the gouty, slightly mad (in the film's stance) Queen Anne and with the screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara we have an entirely unique view of England's royalty and court manners (or lack of them).
The production company offers a rather clean overview of the "story" - 'Early 18th century. England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, duck racing and pineapple eating are thriving. A frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne's ill health and mercurial temper. When a new servant Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing and Abigail sees a chance at a return to her aristocratic roots. As the politics of war become quite time consuming for Sarah, Abigail steps into the breach to fill in as the Queen's companion. Their burgeoning friendship gives her a chance to fulfill her ambitions and she will not let woman, man, politics or rabbit stand in her way.'
What actually happens on the screen is naughty, spicy, indulgent and colorful X-rated survey of the sexually discordant reign of Queen Anne. Not only is there excessive raw language (were those words even in the vocabulary in the 18th century?) and considerable acting out of various forms of sensual release and nudity, but the pace is spinning, accompanied by an at times unbearably raucous 'musical score' (except for the actual insertion of classical tunes) by Komeil S. Hosseini. Granted, Olivia Colman has the work's version of Queen Anne down pat, including the post CVA weakness in her left side at film's end, and both Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz make their strange roles credible (well...?...). They are supported by James Smith as Godolphin, Nicholas Hoult as Harley and Joe Alwyn as Masham, as well as some of the most beautiful castle interiors - in lush color and bizarre lens distortion - on film.
The film feels much longer than two hours, but then the time spent on the sexual proclivities maintains a strange sort of voyeurism-type attention. A funky look at Olde England...Oscar worthy?, meh...
The Happy Prince (2018)
"I'm dying beyond my means"
"I'm dying beyond my means"
Rupert Everett wrote, directed and stars in this visit to the life and fame of Oscar Wilde. Though the film has strong moments the manner of relating this view of Wilde's latter days is somewhat jumbled by the preponderance of French dialogue, strange insertions of the story The Happy Prince as related by Wilde, and somewhat clumsy use of flash-forwards and flashbacks that take the focus of the film's message of how Wilde dealt with his sexuality.
The film suggests the untold story of the last days of brilliant writer Oscar Wilde who in the last part of the 19th century succumbed to his sexual proclivities in homophobic England, where homosexuality was punishable by imprisonment, his prison time, and the striving to find his place upon release from prison. As the synopsis states, 'In a cheap Parisian hotel room Oscar Wilde (Rupert Everett) lies on his deathbed. The past floods back, taking him to other times and places. Was he once the most famous man in London? The artist crucified by a society that once worshipped him? Under the microscope of death he reviews the failed attempt to reconcile with his long suffering wife Constance (Emily Watson), the ensuing reprisal of his fatal love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas aka Bosie (Colin Morgan), the warmth and devotion of Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas), who tried and failed to save him from himself, and constant friend Reggie Turner (Colin Firth). Travelling through Wilde's final act and journeys through England, France and Italy, the transience of lust is laid bare and the true riches of love are revealed. It is a portrait of the dark side of a genius who lived and died for love. A touching moment takes us off guard as Father Dunne (Tom Wilkinson) offers last rites at story's end.'
Rupert Everett is impressive in his complete submersion in the character of Oscar Wilde. The supporting cast is also very strong. There seems to be a disconnect between the concept and aim of the film and its execution: it wanders a bit much but is still full of entertaining and touching moments.
Robin Hood (2018)
Making 'Robin Hood' cool......
ROBIN HOOD is a classic character familiar to most everyone, but the version of the tale has been reworked into a modern cinematic dynamic (heavy in raw language, exploding cart races instead of automobile firebombs, change of focus to be on the plight of the poor) by Ben Chandler who also wrote the screenplay with David James Kelly. The "period" upgrade spectacle is directed by Otto Bathurst. Does it work? That depends on the tolerance of the viewer for violence.
The plot summary - 'Robin of Loxley (Taron Egerton with a very au courant 5 o'clock shadow look), a lord living in Nottingham, enjoys a good life with his lover, Marian (Eve Hewson) before he is drafted by the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) to fight in the Third Crusade against the Saracens. After four years away from England, Robin becomes disillusioned with the Crusades when he fails to prevent his commander, Guy of Gisbourne (Paul Anderson), from executing prisoners, namely a teenage boy, despite the pleading of the boy's father, which prompts Gisbourne to send Robin back home. When he returns to Nottingham, Robin learns from his old friend Friar Tuck (Tim Minchin) that the Sheriff had him officially declared dead two years prior in order to seize Robin's land and wealth to continue funding the war effort at the behest of the corrupt Cardinal (F. Murray Abraham), kicking the citizens from the city and into the coal mine town across the river. Investigating 'the Slags', Robin witnesses the commoners planning to rise against the government that oppresses and exploits them and learns that Marian is now involved with their aspiring leader, Will Tillman (Jamie Dornan). Robin is prevented from making contact with her by the Arab whose son he tried to save. The man introduces himself as Yahya (Jamie Foxx) - which he says can be translated to "John" - and proposes that he and Robin work to end the war by stealing the money taken from the people to fund the church's war. Marian seeks Robin upon learning that he is alive, but he chooses not to tell her of his plans for her own protection.'
The film is dark, loud (musical score by Joseph Trapanese), and seems intent on showing as many deaths by bow and arrow as possible. Despite all the overindulgences, the cast is strong from Taron Egerton and Jamie Foxx on down the line. For those who love fire explosions and battles this film will please as a 'period' piece. It is a spectacle...Grady Harp, February 19
A Star Is Born (2018)
'An octave has 12 notes and then it repeats itself'
Bradley Cooper makes a bow as writer/actor/director for this re-visit to the perennial favorite story A STAR IS BORN. Whether or not the viewer likes the music as performed by both stars - Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga - is probably secondary to the visual spectacle and the intensity of the performances.
A quick overview of the well-known plot is supplied by Warner Bros: Seasoned musician Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) discovers-and falls in love with-struggling artist Ally (Lady Gaga). She has just about given up on her dream to make it big as a singer - until Jack coaxes her into the spotlight. But even as Ally's career takes off, the personal side of their relationship is breaking down, as Jack fights an ongoing battle with his own internal demons.'
Lady Gaga shines in both acting and singing - a sensitive and multifaceted screen performance. Bradley Cooper has early moments of credibility but the constant in-your- face dreary alcoholic behavior grows old quickly. The big Grammy Awards scene when he practically destroys Ally's fresh career is most disturbing to watch - as it should be.
The supporting cast is exceptional - Sam Elliott, Anthony Ramos, Dave Chappelle, Rafi Gavron, Barry Shabaka Henley, and Michael D. Roberts are especially fine. The cinematography by Matthew Libatique is exceptionally fine - both in the spectacle of the performances of the songs and in the intimate moments.
The plot drops out of focus too often for the length of this film, but A STAR IS BORN once again proves that the tale of rising from nothing to stardom merits retelling. Grady Harp, February 19
"Now the best thing we have going for us, is being who we are."
Writer/actress Lynda La Plante's story "Widows" has been transformed into a screenplay of the same name by La Plante, Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen: McQueen also directs. The result - an engrossing if at times confusingly complex film that places the power of women responding to the crises of deceased criminal husbands in a manner that is rarely seen in cinema. It is larger than monster anime and far more terrifying. - and impressive as a view of female empowerment.
A very condensed plot is offered by 20th Century Fox: ""Widows" is the story of four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands' criminal activities. Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, tensions build when Veronica (Viola Davis), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) take their fate into their own hands and conspire to forge a future on their own terms."
The criminal men include Liam Neeson, Jon Bernthal, Manuel Garcia-Ruffo and Coburn Goss, while the Chicago political/criminal characters are portrayed by Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, James Vincent Meredith, Brian Tyree Henry, Lukas Haas and a huge supporting cast of excellent actors including stand out performances by Jon Michael Hill as the Reverend and Garret Dillahunt as Bash, the driver for the women's caper.
The film's language is as harsh as the subject matter and it fits the film. The four lead actresses are uniformly excellent and the manner in which the repair/revenge of their husbands' shocking activity is powerful. Not a film for the faint of heart but a very impressive cinematic tribute to the empowerment of women.
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
'The human condition requires a bit of anesthesia.'
This lavishly creative cinematic jewel honors the legend of Freddie Mercury and so much more. The story was written by Peter Morgan and Anthony McCarten (who also wrote the screenplay) and Bryan Singer directed the film with finesse.
The title of the film is perhaps the most famous song that Queen created - the members of Queen being Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek)- lead vocalist, Brian May (Gwilym) - guitar, Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) - drums/percussion, and John Deacon (Joe Mazzello) - guitar. The essence of the film is well described by 20th Century Fox: 'Bohemian Rhapsody is a foot-stomping celebration of Queen, their music and their extraordinary lead singer Freddie Mercury. Freddie defied stereotypes and shattered convention to become one of the most beloved entertainers on the planet. The film traces the meteoric rise of the band through their iconic songs and revolutionary sound. They reach unparalleled success, but in an unexpected turn Freddie, surrounded by darker influences, shuns Queen in pursuit of his solo career. Having suffered greatly without the collaboration of Queen, Freddie manages to reunite with his bandmates just in time for Live Aid. While bravely facing a recent AIDS diagnosis, Freddie leads the band in one of the greatest performances in the history of rock music. Queen cements a legacy that continues to inspire outsiders, dreamers and music lovers to this day.'
Yet even that description barely hints at the grandeur and sensitivity of this spectacle. The early Freddie is shared with his family, the Bulsaras (Meneka Das, Ace Bhatti and Priya Blackburn) - a fine bow to his Pakistani heritage, and his early love affair with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton). Then the rise to stardom begins and Rami Malek soars as Freddie Mercury. The music is lip-synched to the original with great skill and the performances by Malek and his Queen family are outstanding.
Supporting roles by Allen Leech, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers and Aaron McCusker are strong as is the cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel. But the crowning element of film is the extraordinarily fine performance by Rami Malek. He MUST get the Oscar!
The Wife (2017)
"I am a kingmaker."
Meg Wolitzer's novel THE WIFE has been well adapted for the screen by Jane Anderson and the film is directed by Björn L Runge. The film has very fine performances by a stellar cast and introduces a few new faces while unraveling a marriage worth close examination.
The film opens with a telephone call announcing the Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to author Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) and the story takes flight with the trip to Sweden for the awards dinner. Behind any great man, there's always a greater woman - Joan Castleman (Glenn Close) is a highly intelligent and still-strikingly beautiful, perfectly devoted wife. She has spent forty years sacrificing her own talent, dreams and ambitions to fan the flames of her charismatic husband and his skyrocketing literary career, ignoring his infidelities and excuses because of his "art" with grace and humor. Their fateful pact has built a marriage upon uneven compromises. Joan reaches her breaking point. On the eve of Joe's Nobel Prize for Literature, the crown jewel in a spectacular body of work, Joan's coup de grace is to confront the biggest sacrifice of her life and secret of his career. The past is revealed in flashbacks and in discussions with Joe's possible biographer Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater) whose prying allows us to see the origin of this marriage in the 1950s when the young Joe (Harry Lloyd) marries his writing student Joan (Annie Starke). The manner in which the story ends is sensitively dramatic. Supporting cast members are excellent - Elizabeth McGovern, Max Irons (as the underappreciated son - with many parallels with his father), Karin Franz Körlof among them. Glenn Close delivers a beautifully sculpted performance quietly revealing the complexities of The Wife. Jonathan Pryce is most impressive in a trying role.
Far from being the usual film that moviegoers flock to see, this is a fine and very mature story well told with many ramifications for thought.
Boy Erased (2018)
A very disturbing but very important film
BOY ERASED is a true memoir written by Gerrad Conley about his experiences with conversion therapy - that church oriented isolation of gay men and women intent on restoring them back from their sinful ways and Satan's influence. As adapted for the screen by Joel Edgerton (who also directs an plays a very prominent role of the man who is in charge of the conversion school), the film is intense and revelatory about a near cult-like 'business' of correcting the 'disease of homosexuality.'
As the synopsis states, This film tells the courageous story of Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges), the son of a Baptist pastor Marshall Eamons (Russell Crowe) in a small American town, who must overcome the fallout of being outed to his parents - his mother Nancy Eamons (Nicole Kidman) is supportive of her husband's response. His parents struggle with reconciling their love for their son with their beliefs. Fearing a loss of family, friends, and community, Jared is pressured into attending a conversion therapy program. While there, Jared comes into conflict with its leader Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton) and begins his journey to finding his own voice and accepting his true self.
The sessions in the therapy program dominate the film, with flashbacks of Jared in college and his rare gay acting out episodes with Henry (Joe Alwyn) and Xavier (Theodore Pellerin), misconstrued by invasive research by Sykes and his entourage. The fellow gay people are very well portrayed by Troye Sivan, Britton Sear, Emily Hinkler among others and one of the more realistic - about LGBTQ issues - characters, a Dr. Muldoon, is beautifully portrayed by Cherry Jones.
Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe and Joel Edgerton are all outstanding. The jolts of the film are many - including the facts about the characters as they are living now - and it is not an easy film to experience the truths about conversion therapy. But this is not only a fine film but also an important one for the public to learn about a process that still exists in some states.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)
'You want to be a sicario... let's talk about your future...'
Written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Stefano Sollima, SICARIO: Day of the Soldado is the third Sicario film that addresses the very current topic of immigration and the US/Mexican border corruption and tragedies. Of the three films this one is the more poignant as it deals with some sensitive personal issues among the characters. A 'sicario' translates to a 'hitman'
The film opens with considerable excellent and moody cinematography rambling with helicopter views of the border art night as well as a suicide bombing in a Kansas City grocery store that kills fifteen people. The United States government responds by authorizing CIA agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to apply extreme measures to combat Mexican drug cartels, who are suspected of smuggling the terrorists across the border. Graver and the Department of Defense decide the best option is to instigate a war between the major cartels, and Graver recruits black operative Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro) for the mission. Gillick assassinates a high-profile lawyer of the Matamoros cartel in Mexico City while Graver and his team kidnap Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), the daughter of the kingpin of their rival, in a false flag operation. Graver, Gillick, and their team take Isabel to Texas and stage a "rescue" with the DEA and local police to make her think she was kidnapped by her father's enemies. Gillick bonds with Isabel and the team makes plans to transport her back to Mexico, intending to leave her in territory controlled by her father's rivals in order to further escalate the conflict. However, the Mexican police escort for their trip back across the border double-cross them and attack the American vehicles. Graver and his team kill dozens of Mexican policemen to escape the ambush.
Full of twists and turns the cast is uniformly excellent with additional roles enacted by Elijah Rodriguez, Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine, Jeffrey Donovan, Manuel Garcio-Rulfo, David Castañeda, Shea Whigham among others. The film is intense but moves well and inserts an ending that is particularly impressive and poignant. This is not an easy film to watch but it points out issues too few of us know.