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The Post (2017)
Many Messages - government corruption, the truth about the Vietnam War, a fine feminist statement
Steven Spielberg steps up to focus on the ills and hopes of American government and view of life in this multifaceted film about a cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents and pushed the country's first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between the press and the government. It is an unseemly complicated script by Liza Hannah and Josh Singer but with a cast that includes some of the best actors in film today Spielberg makes the story works well.
Appropriately, the film opens in South Vietnam in late 1965 - the middle of the war. Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) is at a campsite with other soldiers to observe any progress in the battle for his work at the Embassy. At night, the soldiers walk through the forest before they are shot at by unseen enemy soldiers. On his flight home, Ellsberg speaks to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) and talks to the Chief of Staff regarding the progress in the war. According to Ellsberg, nothing has changed, which McNamara states means things are just getting worse. Upon landing, McNamara speaks to the press, lying to them and saying that things are getting better. Unable to tolerate the tenor of the progress and history of the war Ellsberg later sneaks out of the Pentagon with classified documents on the Vietnam War. He meets in secret with two of his colleagues as they make copies of the papers. Ellsberg reads them, and it reveals that four U.S. presidents (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson) were covering up certain facts regarding the war, contrary to what they had told the press. Jump forward to Washington, D.C., 1971 and Publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) meets with a colleague as she is set to take her company, The Washington Post, public. Graham gets a call from the Chief of Staff to inform her that President Nixon does not want The Post to cover his daughter's upcoming wedding. Graham later meets with her managing editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), to discuss this. Graham makes suggestions to Bradlee about expanding their coverage on certain topics to attract a wider demographic of readers.
And the rest is history. The leaks, the shutdown of the New York Times by Nixon, the transfer of the documents to the Post and the Post's decision to go forward with exposing the lies that span for presidents about the very wrong Vietnam War.
As we all know now, in the end the Supreme Court allows publication by the Post, offering the judgment -'In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.'
A fascinating reenactment of history, but the most poignant moment is the statement for Feminism made by Meryl Streep's walk through crowd of finally proud women at film's end. Well worth watching.
Molly's Game (2017)
'You know what makes you feel okay about losing? Winning.'
Aaron Sorkin is one of the finest writers for the screen today - Charlie Wilson's War, The Social Network, Moneyball, Steve Jobs, The American President, A Few Good Men, The West Wing for television - and while the topics he elects to write are controversial, he always comes through with brilliant dialogue and dizzying pacing to that actors who are given the opportunity to bring his work to our eyes and minds are challenged to create their best work. To add to the success of MOLLY'S GAME Sorkin also directs and the result is a film that dazzles.
Molly's Game is based on the true story of Molly Bloom Jessica Chastain), an Olympic-class skier, driven by her father (Kevin Costner) to succeed, who ran the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker game for a decade before being arrested in the middle of the night by 17 FBI agents wielding automatic weapons. Her players included Hollywood royalty, sports stars, business titans and finally, unbeknownst to her, the Russian mob. Her only ally was her criminal defense lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) I, who learned that there was much more to Molly than the tabloids led us to believe. The final scene between Molly and her father is one of the most gripping on film.
In addition to the bravura performances by Chastain and Elba and Costner, there are many superb cameos by such actors as Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O'Dowd, Brian d'Arcy James, Bill Camp, Graham Greene, Justin Kirk, Samantha Isler (as the young Molly), et al. Truly one of the most powerful and disturbing films of the year.
Phantom Thread (2017)
'It's comforting to think the dead are watching over the living. I don't find that spooky at all.'
Paul Thomas Anderson both wrote and directed this strange film that is apparently Daniel Day-Lewis' swan song from film - throughout his cinematic career he has always played strange roles, but this role is perhaps is most bizarre. It is a tale of the committed artist who lives a unifocused life in the middle of the 20th century and the effect his obsession with is chosen career has on family and everyone with whom he associates. It is also a very strange love story.
The time: 1955. Confirmed bachelor Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day- Lewis) is a famed London couturier, designing elegant gowns for the rich and famous. His business is a one-man show on the design side. His genius can only be achieved within an environment he controls to his complete sensibility. On the business side is his spinster sister, Cyril Woodcock (Lesley Manville), who maintains order within the household to allow Reynolds to work within his controlled environment. She will, however, not allow anything or anyone to upset his world, including Reynolds losing sight that it is a business, and not just a means to design and create fashions solely for his own satisfaction without regard for the clients. That balance in their work/live relationship has the potential to take a turn when Reynolds meets waitress Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps). She not only becomes his muse but his assistant and lover. The entrance of Alma into Reynolds' life and the business changes the balance between Reynolds and Cyril, especially as Alma has her own sensibility of herself in Reynolds' life and in his business, which is often at odds with that control that Reynolds and Cyril have worked so hard to create and maintain. Insert attempts at poisoning, strange outings to New Year's Eve Balls, and stunning views of England, the countryside and the extravagant homes of the wealthy and the result is a treat for the eyes as well as a challenge for the intellect and for credibility.
The cinematography is beautiful and the musical score - Jonny Greenwood's manipulation of fine classical music performances - adds considerably to this very long film. Tough story but worth enduring for the performances of Day-Lewis, Krieps, and Manville. Grady Harp, April 18
The Greatest Showman (2017)
'No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.'
THE GREATEST SHOWMAN will likely come as a surprise favorite of audience - especially people who avoid sappy musicals. As written by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon and directed by Michael Gracey, this biography of the life of Phineas Taylor Barnum is a treasure. Rarely doe a movie full of glitz and glamour and over the top antics and dances and big ensemble numbers make sense, but this film does.
The film opens with Phineas Taylor "P.T." Barnum (Hugh Jackman) joining his circus troupe in a song ("The Greatest Show"), playing to an enthusiastic crowd as he and his performers put on a dazzling show. Cut to Barnum as a young boy (Ellis Rubin) in the 1800's orphaned, penniless but ambitious and with a mind crammed with imagination and fresh ideas, the American Phineas Taylor Barnum (Hugh Jackman) will always be remembered as the man with the gift to effortlessly blur the line between reality and fiction. He marries the girl of his dreams - Charity (Michelle Williams) - and has two daughters who play a major impact on Barnum's life. Thirsty for innovation and hungry for success, the son of a tailor will manage to open a wax museum but will soon shift focus to the unique and peculiar, introducing extraordinary, never-seen-before live acts on the circus stage. Some will call Barnum's wide collection of oddities, a freak show; however, when the obsessed showman gambles everything on the opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) to appeal to a high-brow audience, he will somehow lose sight of the most important aspect of his life: his family. In many ways the show take a turn for the better when wealthy young Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) joins the company. But the joy of the show is in part due to the ebullient cast of circus players (Zendaya, Keala Settle, Sam Humphrey, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, etc).
Sparkling, a bit long on the repetitions of the songs, but a show with a message that leaves your heart hopeful and luminous.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
'A creepy old man cut my hair off!'
Another THOR movie, this one written by a cadre of 6 and directed by Taika Waititi and a few added movie stars, this time some humor, and a lot of CGI and the taste is about the same.
Story (what there is of it) - Thor (Chris Hemsworth), held captive on the planet Sakaar without his hammer, must win a gladiatorial duel against the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and assemble a team (made up of Hulk (Ruffalo), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Thor (Hemsworth), and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to stop the villainous Hela (Cate Blanchett) and the impending Ragnarök, the doom of the Asgardian civilization. New characters pop in and out - Skurge (Karl Urban), Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Surtur (Clancy Brown), and of course Heimdall (Idris Elba), and Odin (Anthony Hopkins). BTW, Ragnarök is not a character, just the doom of the Asgardian civilization - in case you're wondering.
Does it make sense? Of course not, but then this is a comic book.... If THOR is your thing you'll have a grand time - if you can see through all the aether and other CGI clutter.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
'Well done, you just decapitated your grandfather!'
Nine screenwriters assemble the dissociate jumbled element of this second installment in the THOR series (the first being directed by Kenneth Branagh and this one directed by Alan Taylor) and despite the presence of a very similar cast this version depends more on spectacular CGI effects than on acting. It is a movie for lovers of comic book tales and it just bounces between firestorm and dissolution of nine realms to London and back.
The plot? This synopsis makes a little sense of it: ' Thousands of years ago, a race of beings known as Dark Elves tried to send the universe into darkness by using a weapon known as the Aether. Warriors from Asgard stop them but their leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) escapes to wait for another opportunity. The warriors find the Aether and since it cannot be destroyed, they try to hide it. In the present day, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) awaits the return of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) although it has been two years since they last saw once another. In the meantime, Thor has been trying to bring peace to the nine realms. Jane discovers an anomaly similar to the one that brought Thor to Earth. She goes to investigate, finds a wormhole, and is sucked into it. Back on Asgard, Thor wishes to return to Earth but his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) refuses to let him. Thor learns from Heimdall (Idris Elba), who can see into all of the realms, that Jane disappeared. Thor then returns to Earth just as Jane reappears. However, when some policemen try to arrest her, an unknown energy repulses them. Thor then brings Jane to Asgard to find out what happened to her. When the energy is released again, they discover that when Jane disappeared, she crossed paths with the Aether and it entered her. Malekith, upon sensing that the time to strike is now, seeks out the Aether. He attacks Asgard and Thor's mother Frigga (Rene Russo) is killed protecting Jane. Odin wants to keep Jane on Asgard so that Malekith will come. Thor disagrees with his plan, so with his cohorts, he decides to take Jane away. He enlists the aid of his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Unfortunately, Loki's motivations remain unknown.' The other good folks on Asgard are portrayed by Jamie Alexander, Zachary Levi, Ray Stephenson, Tadanobu Asano, and the folk down on earth are Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings, Jonathan Howard, and Chris O'Dowd. Oh and there is a cast a thousands of Asgardians and Dark Elves to tear up the screen. The real star is the team of CGI artists.
For THOR addicts, this is an entertaining film. For others, not so much...
Bonjour Anne (2016)
A trip though the French countryside
A very slow, sweet, ultimately uninvolving film written and directed by Eleanor Coppola, wife of Francis Ford Coppola, is given its best chance for survival by the presence of the always reliable and lovely Diane Lane.
The story - 'The wife of a successful movie producer takes a car trip from the south of France to Paris with one of her husband's associates.' Or to be more complete, 'Anne Diane Lane) is at a crossroads in her life. Long married to successful, workaholic and driven but inattentive movie producer Michael (Alec Baldwin), she unexpectedly finds herself taking a car trip from Cannes to Paris with Jacques Clement (Arnaud Viard), a business associate of her husband. What should be a seven-hour drive turns into a carefree two-day adventure replete with diversions involving picturesque sights, fine food and wine, humor, wisdom and romance, reawakening Anne's senses and giving her a new lust for life.' And boom, it stops there.
Despite the gorgeous scenery and culinary delights (only given French names so that we have no idea what the food is) the film is sweet but drags on and on with the same scenes re-played in different restaurants. In this time of CGI explosive blockbusters this little film is a respite. It cold have been more....
Atomic Blonde (2017)
'There's only one question left to ask. Who won? And what was the game anyway?'
Yet another graphic novel ("The Coldest City") written by Sam Hart and Antony Johnston has been adapted for copious explosions and brutal violence by Kurt Johnstad and the end product is directed by David Leitch. If comic book heroes and villains are your cup of poison, then drink deeply.
The crown jewel of Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service, Agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is equal parts spycraft, sensuality and savagery, willing to deploy any of her skills to stay alive on her impossible mission. When she's sent on a covert mission into Cold War Berlin, just at the time the Berlin Wall is doomed for destruction she must use all of the spycraft, sensuality and savagery she has to stay alive in the ticking time bomb of a city simmering with revolution and double-crossing hives of traitors. Broughton must navigate her way through a deadly game of spies to recover a priceless dossier while fighting ferocious killers along the way - types such as Percival (James McAvoy), Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), Watchmaker (Til Schweiger), Kurzfeld (John Goodman), Gray (Toby Jones), Delphine (Sofia Boutella) etc.
Very loud, very brutal, there is more violent behavior and killings then storyline. But the cast is a well-known and respected group of actors so they do what they can with a shaky, very long movie.
Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)
'After the war there was so much sadness... that hardly anyone could remember what happiness was like'
The true story of A.A. Milne's writing of the infamous WINNIE THE POOH stories has been successfully adapted for the screen by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan. Simon Curtis directs a capable cast in a film that is both nostalgic and reflectively disturbing - as much a psychodrama as a biography. Interestingly enough, one of the primary memories the film touches is the devastatng effect war has on both soldiers and the general populace.
First published in 1926, Winnie-the-Pooh brought hope and comfort to England after the First World War and became one of the best-loved children's books of all time. The film version of the life of A.A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson), his son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston then Alex Lawther), his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) and the nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald) is a rare glimpse into the relationship between father and son and the impact of Milne's experience as a soldier in WW I. After a series of PTSD episodes Milne convinces his shrewish wife to move to the country for solace. Daphne becomes pregnant, detests ,the agony of childbirth, and enters her own shallow world of luxury while the recovering Milne ultimately writes children's stories based on his son Christopher Robin and his toys. Along with his mother Daphne and his nanny Olive, Christopher Robin and his family are swept up in the international success of the books; the enchanting tales bringing hope and comfort to England after the First World War. But with the eyes of the world on Christopher Robin the instant celebrity erodes Christopher's relationship to his parents, distances Milne, and feeds the need for society acceptance of Daphne.
The cast is strong, the flashbacks of the war are gruesome making Christopher's decision to join the military when WW II comes round painful to watch and the film about the most popular children's stories ever written ends with a twinge of sadness. Still
The Shape of Water (2017)
'If we do nothing, neither are we.'
Another Guillermo del Toro masterpiece - story, screenplay (with Vanessa Taylor) and directed by - (Pan's Labyrinth, Pacific Rim, The Hobbit, Hellboy, Cronos, etc) deserves the Oscar he won for this fine and daring film. How this man is able to take imagination and make it so plausible is a gift - and one we can only hop he continues to share.
THE SHAPE OF WATER, an otherworldly fable set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962 opens windows on racial prejudice as played in that period, the constant threat or thought that everything evil must originate in Russia, the demeaning role of women, people with special disabilities and how they cope with them, and the cruelty of secret service police, tec. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation, living with the artist Giles (Richard Jenkins). Elisa's life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment - an 'alien' amphibian man (Doug Jones) whose ability to be both water born and land born introduces fears of higher intelligence that must be a Russian plot. The cruel officer Michael Shannon Shannon), is assigned to destroy amphibian just as Dr. Robert Hofstetter (Michael Stuhlberg) is determined to protect him from the Russian underground. In the scurry of the secrecy Elisa befriends Amphibian Man and a curious and tender relationship is created between a mute woman and a creature unable to speak.
Odd references to old movies as shared by Giles and Elisa grow into a dramatic ending. Sally Hawkins is extraordinary as is the entire cast. Alexandre Desplat's musical score
Justice League (2017)
'There are heroes among us. Not to make us feel smaller, but to remind us of what makes us great.'
Thought Superman was dead? Well, this film brings him back to life by a company of dazzlingly brilliantly costumed actors - a fine cast who seem to take the whole adventure too seriously - and a director (Zach Snyder) that prefers CGI wowzers to storytelling, perhaps because of the screenplay pasted together by a cast of eleven (count 'em, 11!) writers. But comic book heroes continue to sell well and keep the theaters full - very possibly because these noisy action packed movies are a way to escape the realities of the world in which we live.
The 'plot' is well summarized - Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman's selfless act, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), to face an even greater enemy. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to find and recruit a team of metahumans to stand against this newly awakened threat. But despite the formation of this unprecedented league of heroes-Batman (Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) -it may already be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions. Amidst all the explosions, flying beasties, Amazons, and the evil Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) up rises Superman (a very buff bare-chested Henry Cavill) and his usual entourage (Diane Lane, Amy Adams) and with the help of J.K. Simmons, Jeremy Irons et al, everything is simply OK again ....maybe.... there will never be an end (or need) for superheroes.
For lovers of the comic book realm this one will please. Big on CGI (excellent) and not so much on story.
Call Me by Your Name (2017)
'Nature has cunning ways of finding our weakest spot.'
'Nature has cunning ways of finding our weakest spot.'
The brilliant novel CAL ME BY YOUR NAME written by André Aciman in 2007 has been adapted for the screen by the inimitable James Ivory and the result is a profoundly touching film as directed by Luca Guadagnino. All aspects of the film are well served - scenery, costumes, cinematography, musical score - and delivered by a sterling cast of actors. André Aciman also has a bit part that adds to the finesse of the film.
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is a sensual and transcendent tale of first love. It's the summer of 1983 in the north of Italy, and Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a precocious 17-year-old young man, spends his days in his family's 17th century villa transcribing and playing classical music, reading, and flirting with his friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). Elio enjoys a close relationship with his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an eminent professor specializing in Greco-Roman culture, and his mother Annella (Amira Casar), a translator, who favor him with the fruits of high culture in a setting that overflows with natural delights. While Elio's sophistication and intellectual gifts suggest he is already a fully-fledged adult, there is much that yet remains innocent and unformed about him, particularly about matters of the heart. One day, Oliver (Armie Hammer), a 24-year-old American college graduate student working on his doctorate, arrives as the annual summer intern tasked with helping Elio's father. Amid the sun-drenched splendor of the setting, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.
In addition to a delicately rendered first love story, the interaction between Elio and his parents (especially the very special father/son relationship) adds depth to the story. The splendor of the foods prepared by Mafalda (Vanda Capriolo), the discovery of lost Praxiteles sculpture in the lake, the visits to the swimming hole, the visit by an elderly gay couple Isaac (Peter Spears) and Mounir (André Aciman) - make this a cherishable film. Or in Elio's father's words, 'How you live your life is your business, just remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. And before you know it, your heart is worn out, and, as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it. Right now, there's sorrow, pain. Don't kill it and with it the joy you've felt.'
Fifty Shades Darker (2017)
'...generally, a key part of good communication is that both parties be conscious.'
As is often the case with sequels (or parts 2, 3 and on) the initial impact of Part One (a fairly substantial examination of the dominant/submissive relationship complete with toys and lots of nudity and intercourse) overshadows the subsequent stories. So it happens with FIFTY SHADES DARKER (or DULLER).
New screenwriter this time round (Niall Leonard) adapting EL James infamous Chick Lit and a male director this time - James Foley. Not as strong a team as Round One. But then there are may little things that dim the lights on this outing - less sincere chemistry between the lead couple, too much meandering in wealthy parties, an unshaven Christian Grey (just to keep up with the styles) and the addition of some unsavory characters who attempt to add tension but without enough back story to make it work.
The plot - Christian (Jamie Dornan) and Ana (Dakota Johnson) decide to rekindle their relationship, except this time there are no more rules or punishments. As they begin to get used to their newfound relationship, Christian's past (fifteen prior women, childhood abuse, a nasty sordid affair (Bella Heathcote) and the threat of a strange woman (Kim Basinger) begins to haunt Ana as Christian struggles with his innermost thoughts. There is competition for Ana from her new boss (Eric Johnson) that provides a cliffhanger at the end of this far too long film. Gone is the novelty of the Red Room and sadism and life seems to be settling into ho-hum. Maybe things will pick up in the third installment...Grady Harp, March 18
Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
' Roll your eyes at me again and I will put you across my knee!'
Though a few years late in viewing this immensely popular film and not having read E.L. James series of novels on dominant and submissive sexual experiences, the 'better late than never' applies. No, this is not a 'great movie' but as adapted for the screen by Kelly Marcel it is entertaining (though a bit long) and it is cast with credible appearing characters (the central focus couple spends the better part of the 125 minute film without clothes and pushing the usual standards of X rated to the limits - almost). Sam Taylor - Johnson, the British female director manages the situation well.
Shy literature student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) rooms with the worldly Kate (Eloise Mumford) and goes to interview the wealthy Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) as a favor to Kate who is to interview Grey for the school paper. She encounters a beautiful, brilliant and intimidating man. The innocent and naive Ana starts to realize she wants him. Despite his enigmatic reserve and advice, she finds herself desperate to get close to him. Not able to resist Ana's beauty and independent spirit, Christian Grey admits he wants her too, but on his own terms. Ana hesitates as she discovers the singular tastes of Christian Grey - despite the embellishments of success, his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, and his loving family, Grey is consumed by the need to control everything. He gradually introduces (? seduces) into the realm of submission and dominance - and the film ends with a cliffhanger that guarantees the continuation of James' novel.
Johnson and Dornan have fine chemistry and make the affaire noir credible. The others in the cast who contribute well are Jennifer Ehle (Ana's mother), Marcia Gay Harden (Christian's mother) and bit parts by Victor Rasuk, Max Martin and Luke Grimes among others.
Be prepared for a lot of visual body contact - but of course everyone knows the story and its reason for being because of all the flutter about James' novels.
Darkest Hour (2017)
'You can not reason with a Tiger when your head is in its mouth.'
History wrote this story but Anthony McCarten translated it into a screenplay for Joe Wright to direct one of the truly great films of the year. The film is about the month of May in 1940, the odd rise to power of Winston Churchill, and the near miraculous survival of the island of England because of the rascal/devil obstinacy of Churchill's commitment not to give in to Hitler's sweep of the world into a globe of fascism. And crowning the importance of this film is the impeccable performance of Gary Oldman in the role of Churchill.
'Hitler has invaded Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, and Norway. 3 million German troops are now poised on the Belgian border, ready to conquer the rest of Europe. In Britain, Parliament has lost faith in its leader Neville Chamberlain. The search for a replacement has already begun...' So opens the film. With Europe on the threshold of World War II as Hitler's armies rampage across the continent's once proud nations, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), is forced to resign, appointing Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) as his replacement. But even in his early days as the country's leader, Churchill is under pressure to commence peace negotiations with the German dictator or to fight head-on the seemingly invincible Nazi regime, whatever the cost. However difficult and dangerous his decision may be, Winston Churchill has no choice, but to shine in his darkest hour. He gains the favor of King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn), the assistance from his secretary (Lily James) and wife (Kirsten Scott Thomas), and the tolerance of peacenik Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane). Of course the ending is known: Churchill overcame the darkest hour and saved England by refusing to stand down.
This is one of the most successful historical films to date and it is so very appropriate that it was released in the same year as DUNKIRK - the battle that involved the people and polished the British tenacity. Grady Harp, March 18
Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
'I can only see a world as it should be. It makes an imperfection stick out like the nose on your face.'
'I can only see a world as it should be. It makes an imperfection stick out like the nose on your face.'
Michael Green's adaptation of Agatha Christie's famous novel MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is updated and at times thinned out so that the Christie trademark tension slags a bit, but Kenneth Branagh does his best both as the director and the star of the film to recreate enough mystery and visual splendor to make the film work well.
Many of Agatha Christie's insightful comments are intact - such as 'You know, there is something about a tangle of strangers pressed together for days with nothing in common but the need to go from one place to another and never see each other again.' The plot (which must be guarded well for future viewers) is as follows: Having just solved a mysterious theft in Jerusalem, the famed Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh), is in need of balancing things in his life with a small vacation, in 1934 Istanbul. Instead, the vigilant detective will soon find himself aboard the luxurious Orient Express on a trip to Calais, sharing a carriage with an eclectic assortment of first-class travellers (Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe et al) and an invisible murderer who walks unnoticed among them. When a sudden massive avalanche blocks the tracks, trapping the passengers in the locomotive, the gruesome murder of a commuter in his cabin will force Poirot to solve a conundrum where everyone is a suspect. In the end, who could be the killer?
The cinematography by Haris Zambarioukos and the musical score by Peter Doyle add atmosphere. It is a worth re-statement of the Christie story if a bit too drawn out.
'All this anger, man, it just begets greater anger.'
Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) wrote and directed this very tough but brilliant story about anger, revenge, agony, prejudice - and redemption. Every character in this dramatic tour de force is drawn with equal parts hate and anger - with a dollop of hope and forgiveness and reconciliation in the end. It is a phenomenal achievement.
The language is saturated with foul/vulgar/trash type language but it fits the area and the particular character in this darkly comic drama. After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter's murder case, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the town's revered chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother's boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing's law enforcement is only exacerbated. Mildred's son (Lucas Hedges) is seemingly the only stable character despite his absentee father (John Hawkes) and 19-year-old girlfriend (Samara Weaving) antics and his mother's foul pained mood. The pinnacle of angry young men is policeman Dixon (Sam Rockwell in a brilliant performance) whose movements include severely harming the sign maker (Caleb Landry Jones) as well as violating all manner of laws. Peter Dinklage portrays James, the 'town midget' whose role is also key to the denouement of the action.
Rape, murder, arson and many other forms of violence fill the screen but McDonagh makes it all make sense. McDormand, Rockwell, and Harelson are astonishingly but then there isn't a weak member in this extraordinary cast. This is one of the best films of the year, despite the subject matter at the core of it.
Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)
'The real enemies aren't the ones on the outside, they're on the inside.'
California writer/director Dan Gilroy addresses more contemporary hot coal issues in this fine film and makes us sit up and pay attention - even if the direction of the film is a bit haphazard. The film remains very powerful primarily due to the soaring performance by Denzel Washington as an idealistic defense attorney whose philosophy includes human rights and extends beyond that to themes of morality and the flaws of our current legal system.
The story is a dramatic thriller set in the underbelly of the overburdened Los Angeles criminal court system. Denzel Washington stars as Roman Israel, a driven, idealistic defense attorney. When Roman's law partner dies he is without employment and without severance pay as his office has always supported clients whose legal needs cold not be monetarily reimbursed despite the justice the firm represented. He attempts to gain employment in a civil rights law firm headed by Maya Alston (a radiant Carmen Ejogo) who praises Roman's beliefs and work but has no salary to hire him. Through a tumultuous series of events, finds himself in a crisis that leads to extreme action. George Pierce (Colin Farrell) is the monied, cutthroat lawyer who recruits Roman to his firm. The manner in which Roman copes with a bad decision alters his role: to say more would be spoilers.
A quote by Roman speaks well to the core of the resolution of the film:' You know, all those years of practicing, scouring law books, achieving technical triumphs through loopholes and ambiguities, none of which were adequate to same me from the reality of my present situation. Then today, in the middle of nowhere, lost, I had a revelation; an insight so sweeping, so clear. It's me George. See, I didn't see it before because I never experienced the other side. I'm the defendant and the plaintiff simultaneously. I file against myself, I represent myself, I convict myself, hereby expanding the full scope of the legal desert, because the judgment's built in. The only thing left is forgiveness and I grant that to myself. An act doesn't make the person guilty unless the mind is guilty as well.'
Additional performances by Lynda Gravatt, Amanda Warren, Tony Plana. Sam Gilroy, DeRon Horton, et al are excellent. But the towering power comes from Denzel Washington - Oscar worthy!
Murder by Numbers (2002)
'All real freedom risks crime. Indeed, freedom *is* crime, because it thinks first of itself and not of the group.'
'All real freedom risks crime. Indeed, freedom *is* crime, because it thinks first of itself and not of the group.'
Intellectually challenging mysteries such as MURDER BY NUMBERS as written by Tony Gayton and directed with great skill by Persian director Barbet Schroeder are such a fulfilling evening of theater, especially when the story includes philosophy, the psychology of injured minds from past abuse, and the clever means of a planned murder! This picture from 2002 continues to satisfy on every level - especially with the superb performances by Sandra Bullock, Ben Chaplin, Ryan Gosling, Michael Pitt an done of the better supporting casts assembled by casting director Howard Feuer.
In a strange little coastal town in California Richard Haywood (Ryan Gosling9, a handsome, wealthy high school cool kid, secretly teams up with another rich kid in his class, brilliant nerd Justin 'Bonaparte' Pendleton (Michael Pitt), whose erudition, specially in forensic matters, allows them to plan elaborately perfect murders, just for the kick, for which they set up Richard's marijuana supplier, their school's janitor Ray Feathers, as a psychotic serial killer. The case is assigned to detectives Cassie 'the hyena' Mayweather (Sandra Bullock), a crime scene specialist who carries a huge chip on the shoulder from an abusive relationship that has haunted her for years, and her brilliant new partner, Sam Kennedy (Ben Chaplin), who just transferred from the vice squad; they can work together very well, and even fit romantically, but fall out over different professional attitudes towards the investigation, which Captain Rod Cody (R.D. Call) and her understandably vindictive abused ex, Assistant D.A. Al Swanson (Tom Verica), soon ban her from when she disobeys instructions and hand to him. When the plotting boys both attempt to attract classmate Lisa Mills (Agnes Bruckner), their unnatural bond comes under stress - and the manner in which the relationship crumbles and further deaths occur makes for a spine-tingling end.
The musical score by Clint Mansell and the cinematography by Luciano Tovoli enhance the mood of the film, but in the end it is a solid story acted by a very polished cast that makes this one of those 'must see again' type films.
Lions for Lambs (2007)
'Because we now know the enemy with broken backs can still crawl.'
Writer Matthew Michael Carnahan has written a screenplay that looks at all aspects of war and does so by superimposing alternative philosophies - theoretical, political, news reportage, and the lives of soldiers - in a manner that allows the viewer to hear all aspects of that never ending question of 'Is WAR necessary?'. Under Robert Redford's direction it not only works - it triumphs, in large part because the cast is so excellent. The thesis: Injuries sustained by two Army rangers behind enemy lines in Afghanistan set off a sequence of events involving a congressman, a journalist and a professor.
The three viewpoints are presented by 1) a Republican Senator (Tom Cruise) who's a presidential hopeful gives an hour-long interview to a skeptical television reporter (Meryl Streep), detailing a strategy for victory in Afghanistan 2) two special forces (Michael Peña and Derek Luke) under the guidance of a Lt Col (Peter Berg) ambushed on an Afghani ridge await rescue as Taliban forces close in; a poli-sci professor (Robert Redford) at a California college invites a promising student Andrew Garfield) to re-engage. Decisions press upon the reporter, the student, and the soldiers.
The war in question is the Afghanistan crisis post 9/11 but the tenants for all wars remain the same. Being able to follow the types of thoughts and responsibilities from the philosophy of political science, the manner in which the government is run, and the response of soldiers in battle makes an indelible impression. This is an excellent time to return to this 2007 film.
The man behind the moniker Deep Throat
Peter Landesman wrote (with the book by Mark Felt) and directed this film that takes a solid look at the manner in which our government has been revealed as corrupt under certain (if not all) presidents. It is interesting that THE POST, covering the same bit of history, is released at present and that he story has been well told before (ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN). But where MARK FELT gains credence is in the comparison to our present day governmental scourge from the President through Congress and through all the aspects of the derring-do of Twitter-controlled fake news politics that plays like an endless bad comedy television show daily
As has been outlined elsewhere, 'The Watergate scandal, which engulfed the entire American public at large, and the administration of president Richard Nixon, was the single greatest political scandal in U.S. history. But for a long time, one of the great mysteries of that scandal was that of the identity a mysterious informant who gave information about the scandal to writers Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, but was never identified by his real name, only by a code name called Deep Throat. This character was later revealed to be Mark Felt, a former top man inside the FBI dating back to the days when J. Edgar Hoover ruled the roost, and beyond Hoover's death in May 1972. The cast, led by an extraordinary performance by Liam Neeson, is pitch perfect - Diane Lane as Mark's wife, Marton Csokas, Tony Goldwyn, Josh Lucas, Michael C. Hall, Tome Sizemore, Bruce Greenwood, Noah Wylie, Ike Barinholtz, Brian d'Arcy James, Julian Morris, Eddie Marsan, Wayne Pere - each actor captures the essence of the characters they portray and make the movie speed by with finesse.
Despite the ugly story of our history and the proximity to the present situation, this film is one that deserves a broad audience. History repeats itself.
Get Out (2017)
'All I know is sometimes, when there's too many white people, I get nervous, you know?'
Multi-talented Jordan Peele both write and directed this controversial thriller that is likely to win awards in many categories. Not only has he selected a superb cast, but he also is willing to take the racial conflict where few have dared go - a story where the concept of being Black in a white atmosphere changes from being an advantage, a showcase for Black culture, to a nightmare of racism carried to the extreme.
The film opens strangely with an incident on the street of an apparent kidnapping of a black young man (LaKeith Stanfield). Jump some time later when Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young Black photographer, visits Rose (Allison Williams), his white girlfriend's family estate, he becomes ensnared in the more sinister, real reason for the invitation. The parents (psychiatrist Missy - Catherine Keener and neurosurgeon Dean - Bradley Whitford) are strange but apparently conspicuously non-racist. At first, Chris reads the family's overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter's interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he could have never imagined. The manner in which the Black 'help' - Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel) - interact with Chris is bizarre, as is the presence of some of the guests at a party held in the estate at night. Where it leads must be seen - otherwise the mood and story are spoiled.
Unique story, well written and directed and photographed and acted, this is a fine film that makes many necessary observations.
Alone in Berlin (2016)
'What more can a man donate than his child?'
What more can a man donate than his child?'
Hans Fallada's novel 'Every Man Dies Alone' has been adapted for the screen by Achim von Borries, Vincent Perez and Bettine von Borries: Perez also directs this mesmerizing film about resistance in Germany during Hitler's reign in World War II. Many films and books have been written about the holocaust, the obliteration of the Jews and the gays while Hitler's nightmare raged, but few have addressed the ordinary citizens of Germany - Berlin in particular - who did not align with the Nazi regime but instead quietly resisted in the only manner available: courage and secretive acts of rebellion.
In 1940, German soldier Hans Quangel (Louis Hofmann) is killed in action during the French campaign. His parents, coffin maker Otto and his wife Anna (Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson), are devastated by the loss, unable at first to even communicate with each other, and their crushing grief is placed in strong contrast to the joyful hysteria at Germany's victory. Deciding that Fuhrer Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime are responsible for this tragedy and much more, Otto cannot stand by any longer. As such, Otto begins to create handwritten cards denouncing the regime's abuses and lies, which he secretly deposits throughout Berlin while a disillusioned Anna insists on helping him. As the subversive cards pile up over the years, police detective Escherich (Daniel Brühl) is tasked to track down the ones responsible for the anti-Nazi cards while being pressured by his increasingly impatient SS superior (Mikael Persbrandt) for an arrest for this "treason," regardless of actual guilt. As the stakes rise even as Nazi Germany's day of reckoning approaches, Otto and Anna, quietly protective of endangered Jews (Monique Chaumette) are determined to spread the truth regardless of the odds even as their opposition awaits the fatal mistake that could doom them.
The entire film is wondrously underplayed - cinematography by Christophe Beaucarne, musical score by Alexandre Desplat - by the gifted actors Gleeson, Thompson and Brühl and the result is a near overwhelming sense of sadness and honor for those souls who had the courage to resist Hitler's horror. It is a very fine film that deserves a wide audience - especially now.
American Made (2017)
'I'm the gringo who always delivers.'
'I'm the gringo who always delivers.'
Based on a true story as written by screenwriter Gary Spinelli and directed with skill by Doug Liman, the facts are fascinating (the back story of the Iran-Contra affair), the multileveled changes to the story line pointing out the corruption and misdirection of the US in Central American affairs - all is brought to credible levels by the superb performance of Tom Cruise.
The film is cleverly related in video flashback segments made by the lead character Barry Seal. Opening in the year 1978, Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) works as a pilot for Trans World Airlines. He is married to Lucy (Sarah Wright) and has two children with her, with a third on the way. Barry was recruited by the CIA (via agent Monty Schaefer played well by Domhnall Gleeson) who offers Barry better money by taking on reconnaissance missions for the CIA in a smaller plane with cameras just south of the border. Schafer convinces Barry that he would be working for the good guys, but it would have to be kept completely secret, even from his own family. He then lets Barry take the plane out for a ride. Through a series of odd circumstances Barry becomes a drug-runner, catches the attention of the Medellín Cartel associated with Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia) who needs a man with his skill set. Barry becomes a drug trafficker, gun smuggler and money launderer. Schafer asks Barry to carry weapons for the Contras in Nicaragua. Barry invites pilots that are his friends and plots routes to smuggle drugs for the cartel. The CIA closes eyes to the scheme and Barry becomes richer and richer. He uses the Arkansas town Mena to laundry his money. But the DEA and the FBI are tracking him down. When the CIA shuts down the scheme, Barry is left alone and arrested by the agencies. Barry's wife's brother JB (Caleb Landry Jones) is a freeloader who adds to the mounting problems and tragedies.
To add to the sense of reality the film includes snippets of President Reagan's speeches and brig sin Oliver North (Robert Farrior), offers extended shots of flying the planes of the mission, and keeps the dialog in Central America in Spanish. The cast is strong, but the film goes on too long - the saving grace is the performance of tom Cruise who is wholly convincing as the now infamous Barry Seal> A bit of history that now somehow seems more credible than when it was first reported!
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
'He should have come out of that surgery alive, but he died.'
Writer (with Efthymis Filippou ) /director Yorgos Lanthimos (Kinetta, Dogtooth, The Lobster) has created another controversial film that is unsettling, slow, accompanied by an unlistenable musical score, disturbing, and over overwrought.
For those who can think along the same plains as Lanthimous the film may satisfy.
Summarizing the plot is a challenge - After the untimely death of 16-year-old Martin's (young Irish actor Barry Keoghan) father on the operating table, little by little, a deep and empathetic bond begins to form between him and the respected cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell). At first, expensive gifts and then an invitation for dinner will soon earn the orphaned teenager (Martin lives with his mother Alicia Silverstone) the approval of Dr Steven's perfect family (wife ophthalmologist Anna - Nicole Kidman, daughter Kim -Raffey Cassidy, and son Bob - Sunny Suljic), even though right from the start, a vague, yet unnerving feeling overshadows Martin's honest intent. Martin confronts Steven with a long-forgotten transgression that will shatter the Murphy family's domestic bliss. And then, unexpectedly, the idyllic family is smitten by a fierce and pitiless punishment - lower limb paralysis, anorexia, bleeding eyes - while at the same time, everything will start falling apart as the innocents have to suffer. In the end, as the sins of one burden the entire family, only an unimaginable and unendurable decision that demands a pure sacrifice can purge the soul. But to find catharsis, one must first admit the sin.
The bizarre story teeters on magic and mysticism but fails to engage the audience's compassion. The dialogue - even by great actors like Farrell and Kidman - is delivered in a rushed monotone and the screeching background music buries the story. If you have a lot of patience and strong endurance you may make it through to the unsatisfactory end.