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Seven Worlds, One Planet (2019)
Outstanding new nature documentary from the BBC
"Seven Worlds, One Planet" (2019 UK release; 7 episodes) is the latest nature documentary from the BBC, and once again hosted and narrated by Sir David Attenborough. The premise of the series is that some 200 million years ago, what once was one geographic area started to break up and eventually became the 7 separate continents as we know them today. The series is intended to showcase how the animal kingdom adapted to/was influenced by the breaking apart into these seven continents.
In Episode 1 (as aired in the US--more on that later), we take a loom at "Australia". As the episode opens, we are introduced to the cassowary, an extremely dangerous (and rare) bird in northeastern Australia's jungle, an area that has been unchanged for millions of years. The photography is absolutely astonishing, and eye candy from start to finish. Check out the amazing footage of crocodiles snatching flying foxes (a/k/a bats) as they fly over the river to get some water. Or the amazing wombats. Or best of all, never before seen detailed air footage of the white dingo chasing down a horde of kangaroos. Absolutely breathtaking.
Couple of further comments: this series premiered last Fall in the UK (on the BBC, obviously). It premiered in the US on BBC America last weekend, with new episodes coming on Saturday evenings 9 pm. For whatever reason, the series is airing in the US in a different sequence than it aired in the UK. The first episode aired in the UK was "Antarctica" but in the US it was "Australia". No idea why that happened. Regardless, if Episode 1 is any indication (and I don't know why it wouldn't be), we are in for 6 more episodes of must-see nature documentary TV (and eventually DVD). "Seven Worlds, One Planet" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Just Mercy (2019)
Underlying story line will make your blood boil, but the movie itself is too long and too uneven
"Just Mercy" (2019 release; 136 min.) is "based on a true story" we are reminded in the beginning. As the movie opens, we get to know Walter McMillian a/k/a Johnnie D. and before we know it (as in: literally the first few minutes of the film), he is wrongly accused of a white woman's murder he didn't commit and is on death row. We then get to know Bryan Stevenson, an African-American law student at Harvard Law who is interning for the summer at a social justice place. Stevenson meets Johnnie D., who is disappointed that he is "just" a law student, and not a lawyer. Nevertheless they hit it off. We then go to "Two Years Later", and Stevenson, newly graduated from Harvard Law, is saying goodbye to his family in Delaware and about to drive down to Alabama, where he plans to work at the new Equal Justice Initiative... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: in films like these, it is not always easy to distinguish the underlying story and the inherent quality of this as a movie-viewing experience. Let's be very clear: the underlying story will make your blood boil. Remember this is set in the late 80s and early 90s, and the systematic, pandemic and institutional racism and bigotry that existed in Alabama in those days is nothing short of appalling and shocking. Anything goes, and does. But did it translate into a top notch movie? The answer is... at times. There are some magnificent scenes in the movie, but there are also too many uneven moments. It is a darn shame that this movie wasn't edited a bit tighter, because its running time of 2 hrs. 16 min,. is way too long for its own good. I venture to say that a good 20-25 min. could have been cut without the movie losing and of its essence, and it probably would've made this a truly compelling viewing experience. (There is a reason this movie didn't gain a single Oscar nomination when they were announced earlier this week.) The movie is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, who has previously given us Short Term 12 and The Glass Castle (all starring Brie Larson, who also appears in "Just Mercy"' (albeit in an unremarkable, almost bland, role). Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx carry the movie on their shoulders as Stevenson and Johnnie D., respectively. Make sure you stay all the way through the movie's end credits, as we learn what has become of these people and where they are today.
"Just Mercy" premiered at last Fall's Toronto International Film Festival to good acclaim and after a limited release in December, the movie went wide last weekend. I finally saw it this weekend. The Friday early evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati was attended okay (about 20 people). If you are interested interested in social (in)justice, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
The Outsider (2020)
The mysterious case of the seemingly conflicting evidence
"The Outsider" (10 episodes, currently airing on HBO) is a "who dunnit" murder mystery mini-series. As Episode 1 "Fish In a Barrel" opens, a man is jogging in the park with his dog. There they stumble upon the mutilated body of a young boy. Turns out to be 11 yr. old Frankie Peterson. When the cops start investigating, several witnesses identify as having seen Terri Maitland near the van and in the park, heavily bloodied no less. The cops have no doubt this is their man, and arrest him... At this point we are 15 min. into the mini-series.
Couple of comments: this mini-series in based upon the Stephen King novel of the same name. I have not read the book, and hence cannot comment how closely the TV series remains to the original book. All I can say is this: the basic premise is that all the evidence points to Terri Maitland, a well-liked man in the community who coaches his daughters' baseball team. Yet Terri claims it couldn't have been him, as he was attending a teachers conference out of town the day Frankie was murdered, and he has the video footage to prove it. How is this possible? What is going on here? This is what I suppose will play out over the last 9 1/2 hrs. of this mini-series, after the initial half hour sets up the basic premise. This being an HBO series, no money or talent was spared, with Jason Bateman starring as Terri, and also producing series and directing the initial 2 episodes. Ben Mendelsohn stars as the cop who is leading the investigation. This being a Stephen King story, I expect that at some point there will be an enormous plot twist and hence I'm already trying to figure out what that could be. But for now, the focus is on the investigation.
"The Outsider" premiered last night on HBO, with the initial 2 episodes, and is now available on HBO On Demand and other streaming services. New episodes will air on Sunday evenings for the next 8 weeks. I am really liking the series so far, and am fully commit to check out the remaining 8 episodes. If you like a good crime series that will you have on the edge of your seat , I'd readily suggest you check this out, and draw your own conclusion.
Best movie of 2019... They Shall Not Grow Old-meets-Dunkirk
As "1917" (2019 release; 119 min.) opens, we are told it is "April 6, 1917", and Lance Corporals Schofield and Blake from the British army are summoned by the General: the two soldiers must deliver an urgent message to 2 battalions who are about to fall into a massive German trap. Blake's brother is among the 1600 soldiers in peril. Off they go, Schofield and Blake. At this point we are less than 10 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out...
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from British director-writer-producer Sam Mendes, who brought us the 2 most recent James Bond films, and American Beauty way before that. Here he brings a WWI story to the big screen as it was relayed to him by his grandfather, who served in WWI. I don't want to spoil anything by revealing more of the plot. Instead let me make the following general observations: as the movie opens, we watch as Schofield and Blake walk to the General's camp, get his orders, and get underway, and after a couple of minutes, I realized that all if this was being shown in one continuous take. Then it became 5 min., then 10, then 15 min., and I thought to myself, how much longer can this be just one continuous take? (Sorry, I'm going to to tell you.) The movie is just epic on so many levels. There are some stretches where there is little to no dialogue and it is then how critically important the movie's sound design is. You may recall that in 2018 there was a fabulous documentary called "They Shall Not Grow Old" (directed by Peter Jackson), in which WWI archive footage is restored gloriously. And in 2017 there was Christopher Nolan's epic WWII drama "Dunkirk". To me "1917" recalls both those films in the best possible way. Kudos also to Thomas Newman for the massive original score, which plays almost non-stop during the movie.
"1917" went wide this weekend, and i couldn't wait to see it. The Friday evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati in a mid-size theater was pretty much sold out, I am very happy to say. Winning Best Picture and Best Director at last weekend's Golden Globes will only reinforce the strong word-of-mouth this movie surely will generate. I am going on record that this movie will get multiple Oscar nominations (and then win them). If you like an epic war movie, you are in for a treat, and I would readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
A movie lover's delight from start to finish
"Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound" (2019 release; 94 min.) is a documentary about the importance of sound in movies. As the movie opens, we get a quick introduction and we then dive straight into some notorious sound designed movies such as the original Star Wars and Saving Private Ryan.
Couple of comments: the is the directing debut of Midge Costin, himself a veteran and well-accomplished sound editor and designer. While we get a chronological recap of the advance of sound in movie history (going from silent movies to "talkies", etc.), the documentary really focuses on three big names in the movie sound universe: Walter Murch (Francis Ford Coppola's sound guy), Ben Burtt (George Lucas' sound guy), and Gary Rydstrom (Steven Spielberg's sound guy). Of course a LOT of other people pipe in as well. For us movie lovers, the main fun and enjoyment is to see how sound is not just merely recording what happens on a movie set, but that in fact sound is built up from the ground in its many different aspects (voice, sound effects, music), and that there is indeed a "sound script" just like you have a "movie script". The documentary is chock full of movie clips, one more enjoyable than the other, but with the extensive looks at how Star Wars and Apocalypse Now were sound designed stealing the limelight (for me anyway).
"Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound" showed up last week out of the blue for what turned out to be a one week run at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. The Wednesday evening screening where I saw this at was attended poorly (6 people in total), but enjoyed immensely but the small crowd. If you are a movie lover in any way, shape of form, I would readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater (if you happen to get the chance), on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Little Women (2019)
Enjoyable ensemble cast performances
"Little Women " (2019 release; 135 min.) brings the story of the 4 March sisters (Amy, Jo, Meg and Beth) in the 1860s. As the movie opens, Jo is offering a short story to a New York publisher, who to her delight offers to buy it, albeit with serious edits. Meanwhile Amy is in Paris with her aunt, where she runs into her friend Laurie. Back to Jo, who gets a letter that her younger sister Beth is very ill, so Jo returns home. We then go to "Seven Years Earlier, Concord, Massachusetts"... At this point we are 10 minutes into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest adaptation of the famed 1868 novel by Louise May Alcott. However, it is the first directed by a woman, namely Greta Gerwig. Following her strong 2017 directing debut "Lady Bird", Gerwig returns as director (and script writer). Gerwig confirms that she is a director to reckon with, as the movie is as pleasant as it is timely and contemporary (among others, examining the role of women and marriage). Saoirse Ronan, also the lead in "Lady Bird", is the central figure as (as Jo), and the main glue that holds together the large ensemble cast. The other sisters are played by Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlan. Laura Dern is delightful as the gruels' mom. Timothée Chamelet, typically so solid, looks lost most of the time as his character tries to decide which of the sisters he really likes best. Meryl Streep gets about 10 min. of screen time as the crabby Aunt March. Last but not least, there is a wonderful orchestral score courtesy of Oscar-winnning composer Alexandre Desplat, and I wouldn't be surprised one bit if he gets another Oscar nomination for this.
"Little Women" opened wide on Christmas Day and has done very well, both critically (it's currently rated 95% Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and at the box office against formidable competition (the latest Star Wars). I saw it this past weekend and the Saturday early evening screening was PACKED (just short of a sellout). If you are in the mood for another take on "Little Women", or simply are a fan of Greta Gerwig or Saoirse Ronan, I readily suggest you check this out, be in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Uncut Gems (2019)
Adam Sandler shines in loan shark drama on steroids
"Uncut Gems" (2019 release; 135 min.) brings the story of Howard Ratner. As the movie opens, it is "Welo Mine, Ethiopia, Fall 2010", where a miner is hurt but along the way a massive uncut gem is unearthed. We then go to "New York City, Spring 2012", and we get to know Howard, a questionable wheeler and dealer with a gambling problem. He is confronted by loan sharks who are demanding their money. Then Howard's luck may turn, as a mysterious package arrives while he is hosting Kevin Garnett in his showroom... at this point we are less than 15 minutes into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest film from co-writers/co-directors (and brothers) Josh and Benny Safdie, whose precious film was the excellent "Good Time" (starring Robert Pattinson). As in that film, "Uncut Gems" is art in the shady world of gritty urban crime. The character of Howard Ratner is an in your face, talk 100 mile a minute, dubious guy who is frankly not very likable. This actually goes for many of the movie' characters. From the get go, there is yelling and screaming which never lets up, and the frequent up-close handheld camera work only reinforces that this is a loan shark drama on steroids. Frankly this makes for an exhausting movie experience That said, Adam Sandler, in a rare non-comedy leading role, shines throughout. Kevin Garnett, now retired from the NBA, plays himself as a 36-year-old aging Celtics veteran. Kudos also to composer Daniel Lopatin for bringing us a dark and at times pulsating electronic score.
"Uncut Gems" premiered to nice acclaim last summer at the Telluride film festival. It is now going wide in theaters. The New Year's Eve matinee screening where I saw this at was attended so-so (about 10 people). If you liked "Good Time" or are simply interested in a gritty urban crime drama on steroids, I encourage you to check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Kind of a mess, but still a beautiful mess
"Star War - The RIse of Skywalker" (2019 release; 142 min.) is the 9th and last (?) chapter in the original Star Wars sage, always envisioned by creator George Lucas to run over 9 chapters.
Couple of comments: to say that The Rise of Skywalker has gone through development hell would be a major understatement. Rian Johnson, who had directed The Last Jedi, was to write the script but he came and went. Even more troubling was that Colin Trevorrow was bought on as director, but he eventually (a year into this) was dismissed, following unresolvable "creative differences" with producer Kathleen Kennedy. What next? J.J. Abrams (who directed The Force Awakens) to the rescue! As to the film itself, I have to say that the first half of The Rise of Skywalker is a mess, frankly. I had no idea what in the world was going on. Particularly keeping in mind the final scene of The Last Jedi, you'd think that we's find out what happened when Ren meets Luke Skywalker in that scene. But noooo... It's as if that never even happened. Instead there are so many other things going on that it is impossible (for me anyway) to wrap your arms around it. To Abrams' credit, the second half of The Rise of Skywalker is much, much better, once we finally understand to what kind of a final showdown we are working towards. The space action scenes (of which there are surprisingly few, considering everything) are "out of this world", pun intended. Where there once were some battleships in, say, A New Hope, there are now, literally, HUNDREDS of them, swarming like a bunch of mosquitoes. And the final, final scene is a worthy one too. (Please also note that composer John Williams, now a crops 87 yrs. young, already has announced that no matter what, this is his final Star Wars movie. Say it ain't so!
"Star Wars - The Rise of Skywalker" opened a week ago, and we finally went to see it on Christmas day. The early evening screening where we saw this at in a mid-size theater here in Cincinnati was sold out to the last seat. But in the bigger picture, The Rise of Skywalker has not done well--taht is, within the context of the Star Wars universe. And let me ask this: given the enormous financial stakes for Disney, does anyone really believe that we have seen the last of Ray, Finn, Poe, C-3PO, Chewbakka, and the rest of the gang? I personally don't believe for a minute that The Rise of Skywalker was really the last of the "original" Star Wars trilogy of trilogies. Bottom line: The Rise of Skywalker is a bit of a mess, but still a beautiful mess for Star War fans alike, be they long time fans and new fans. Of course I encourage you to check it out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
A Hidden Life (2019)
2nd best movie of the year (after "1917")
Couple of comments: this is the latest opus (don't just call it a film) from writer-director Terrence Malick. His recent work has been decidedly mixed, including 2016's "Knight of Cups" and, even worse, 2017's "Song to Song". I am very pleased to tell you that "A Hidden Life" finds Malick back at his very best (think: "Days of Heaven", "The Tree of Life"), as he brings the true story of the WWII Austrian conscientious objector. First, Malick in his well-know way of free-flowing photography manages to create a bond between the characters and us, the viewers. As we watch the seemingly idyllic yet harsh life for Franz and his family in the small Austrian village, we very much care what might (or might not) happen to them. The movie's first hour is almost dream-like (or as my friend with whom I saw the movie said: "it's a one hour trailer"). Second, the movie sports a fabulous orchestral score, courtesy of veteran Hollywood composer James Newton Howard, that matched, or underscores, the movie's overall feel and mood perfectly. Third, the mostly no-names ensemble cast is absolutely delightful. I admit not being familiar with the led performers' prior work, but August Diehl (as Franz) and Valerie Pachner (as his wife) are absolute tops. Keep your eyes out for a brief (maybe 10 min.) appearance by Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts as the Nazi Captain who first interrogates Franz as to why he refuses to pledge his loyalty to Hitler. Last, but certainly not least, one cannot escape or deny that this film is incredibly timely and political, as the parallels between what happened in Nazi Germany and what is going with the current POTUS are undeniable and, frankly, scary. Not pledging loyalty to Trump is what erstwhile FBI director James Comey got him fired in 2017, if you'll recall. For Trump, it's all about me! me! me!, nothing less and nothing more. Just another cult of personality.
Finding the Way Home (2019)
Moving documentary about kids in orphanages finding a home
"Finding The Way Home" (2019 release) is a documentary about kids in orphanages. As the movie opens, we are informed that there are 8 million kids around the world living in orphanages, even though most of them are not orphans, but simply abandoned. Science is clear that these kids would be much better off with family (real or foster). The documentary then goes about telling the stories of 6 such kids. The first story comes from Moldova, where we get to know 11 yr. old Maria, who was abandoned at birth by her mother due to having celebral palsy and left in a state institution for severely disabled kids. Eventually a single mom who volunteered there, adopted Maria... At this point we are 10 min. into the documentary.
Couple of comments: this is the latest documentary from veteran film makers Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill, whose most recent documentary was 2017's excellent "Rock and a Hard Place". Here they look at the dismal situation faced by millions of kids around the world: mostly abandoned and left to their own device in state institutions where they are lucky to survive at all, but given a chance (in a family setting), these kids will thrive and love. We get stories from Moldova, Haiti, Bulgaria, Nepal, Brazil and India, and frankly, all of them are moving and heartbreaking in one way or another. Your heart aches for the many kids in orphanages who do not get the opportunity to find a better chance. It makes at times for difficult viewing, for a number of reasons. Please note that the version of "Finding the Way Home" which I saw on HBO ran 65 min., but that this film is listed on IMDb as running for 97 min. I have no idea if in fact there are different versions of the film out there, although it did strike me that 65 min. seems like an odd running time.
"Finding the Way Home" premiered last week on HBO and is now available on HBO On Demand and other streaming services. If you are in the mood for a moving and well done documentary about the fate of kids in orphanages around the world, and what can be done to makes their lives better, I'd readily suggest you check this out and draw your own conclusion.
Black Christmas (2019)
Don't bother with this slasher...
"Black Christmas" (2019 release; 92 min.) Brings the story of a sorority at Hawthorne College. As the movie opens, the sorority sisters are having a "secret Santa" Christmas party. Lindsay leaves early as her grandmother is expecting her. On the way, Lindsay gets stalked by a weirdly hooded and masked character, who ends up killing Lindsay. The next morning we get to know Riley, another sorority sister who three years ago was sexually assaulted by Brian... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest scary movie from Blumhouse Productions, which has built a nice reputation for being creative in making low-budget yet inventive scary movies. However, this film misfires badly. Loosely based on the 1976 film of the same name, it is a straight-forward slasher movie that is never scary. Unless of course your idea of scary is a character jumping out of the dark, accompanied by the necessary loud scary music. Not helping matter for the no-name ensemble cast is the lightweight script. This was quite disappointing. I had hoped for something like "Happy Death Day", which at least had some original moments and didn't take itself too serious. Amazingly, this movie was filmed this summer (in New Zealand) and now just 4 months later is already in the theaters.
"Black Christmas" opened wide last weekend. I went to see it in its second weekend. The Saturday early evening screening where I saw this here in Cincinnati was not attended well (8 people to be exact). If you are in the mood for a scary movie with a Christmas team, you may want to check out something different (say "Krampus" or "Silent Night, Deadly Night" just to name those). Of course I invite you to check out "Black Christmas", be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu=ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Watch it for the sizzling lead performances
"Bombshell" (2019 release;109 min.) is a "dramatization inspired by real events", we are reminded at the beginning. As the movie opens, we get to know Megyn Kelly, the successful news anchor at Fox News. We also meet Gretchen Carlson, another news personality. The sexism and misogyny are pervasive, from the top down (that would be Roger Ailes, who runs Fox News with an iron fist... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from director Jay Roach (Trumbo; Austin Powers) and, more importantly from writer Charles Randolph, who won an Oscar for co-writing "The Big Short". If you have seen that movie, "Bombshell" will feel familiar in style: a lot of nervous energy, as if you are in the middle of the newsroom yourself. But truth be told that much of the credit must go to the three lead performances: Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson, and Margot Robbie as (fictional) Kayla. And kudos also to John Lithow, who plays the utter despicable Roger Ailes. You just want to throw up when you see all of the things that were happening, and everybody knows whats is happening but nobody dares to speak up for years. Until someone finally did in 2016... I am rating this "only" 7 stars, as it does feel like something is off at times, but still I'm glad I saw it.
After a limited release last weekend, "Bombshell" went wide this weekend, and I couldn't wait to see it. The early Friday evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati in a small theater was a neat-sellout, I am happy to report. If you are interested in finding out what the atmosphere was like to work at Foc News, I'd readily suggest you check it out, be it n the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
What a wild, WILD ride this turned out to be! Loved it
I just finished watching Watchmen (on HBO; 2019 release; 9 episodes of about an hour each). Let me state upfront that I knew nothing about the prior history of Watchmen. In fact, I am in general not a fan of yet more Marvel and DC superheroes on TV or in the theater. But the preview of Episode 1 of Watchmen looked intriguing, and I gave it a try.
Holy cow! Within 15 min. of watching Ep 1, I knew that I would love this, and that was indeed the case. The entire 9 episodes make for a wild, WILD ride, way out there on so many levels. I have zero doubt that as a non-expert in Watchmen, I missed a bunch of things or certain references simply went over my head and I didn't even realize it. But it didn't stop me from enjoying this. I'll probably watch it again at some point, simply because there was so much to take in. As to the so-called "political" undercurrent of the series that is referenced in a number of prior Amazon reviews, frankly it didn't even occur to me as I was watching it, and I think people are reading way more in to it than is the case. It's entertainment, folks! You know what I was thinking while watching some of the scenes? "Wow, I wonder what the production budget was for this series, because it certainly does look like an expensive production".
I have no idea whether HBO plans on bringing this back for another season, or whether this was it. Certainly the very last episode felt like it didn't resolve a number of the side stories that emerged over these 9 episodes. And the very last scene leaves the door wide open... Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed this.
Knives Out (2019)
It's okay but I don't understand the hype
"Knives Out" (2019 release; 130 min.) looks at the demise of Harlan Thrombey, the 85 yr. old patriarch and successful novelist. As the movie opens, the housekeeper finds him dead on a couch, an apparent suicide. We then go to "One Week After the Demise of Harlan Thrombey", as the police have gathered several people for interrogating them as to what exactly has happened, including Marta, the nurse caretaker, Linda, the patriarch's daughter, and Richard, Linda's husband. We soon are introduced to yet more central characters... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest film from writer-director Rian Johnson, best known for directing the 2017 "Star Wars - Tee Last Jedi". Here he brings us a murder mystery in line with those "who dunnit" mysteries from Agatha Christie and the like. Much of the movie takes place in the patriarch's Massachusetts house and in that sense the movie feels very much like a theater plat at times. It takes a nit of work to fully understand who is who and who may have done what. All if it is tied together by Daniel Craig's character, a private investigator who was hired by someone in the family (but we don't know who). I am not spoiling anything when I say that it is absolutely impossible to figure out who the true culprit(s) is/are, so you just sit back and wait for the last 20 min. or so when all is revealed. Marts is played by rapidly riding Cuban actress Ana de Armas, whom we also saw in "Yesterday" not long ago, and will seemingly be everywhere in 2020. Jamie Lee Curties has a second-tier role as Linda, as does Don Johnson as Richard. And Christopher Plummer has an even smaller role as the patriarch. Please note that the movie's title is indeed taken from the Radiohead song of the same name (Rian Johnson being a huge Radiohead fan), but that's where the connection stops (the Radiohead song does not play in the movie).
"Knives Out" premiered at this Fall's Toronto International Film Festival to positive reaction and opened wide in late November. The movie has performed much better than expected at the box office, being a genuine box office hit, and it is currently also rated 97% Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. I really didn't plan on seeing this but seeing those numbers and sky-high ratings made me change my mind. The Sunday early evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati was attended nicely (a good 30 people in a small theater). After all this, I'm sorry, but am I missing something? I mean, sure, this is a pleasant divertisment, nothing less, nothing more (for me anyway). But this is just okay and nowhere near as good as a bunch of other films I have seen this year (Apollo 11, The Mustang, The Lighthouse, The Report, The Two Popes, The Irishman, The Peanut Butter Falcon, Parasite, Waves, Richard Jewell, etc.). Of course I encourage you to check it our, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Richard Jewell (2019)
Watch a man get mauled by overzealous FBI and frantic media
"Richard Jewell" (2019 release; 125 min.) brings the story of the suspected 1996 Atlanta bomber. As the movie opens, it is "1986 Atlanta" and Jewell is working as a supply room manager in a small law firm. He gets to know one of the lawyers,, Watson Bryant. We then go to "1996 Piedmont College" where Jewell is working as a security officer but he really sees himself as a law enforcer. Eventually, just months before the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, he is fired by Piedmont's President... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from director/producer Client Eastwood. Here he brings the story of Richard Jewell, whom you may recall was a security officer at Atlanta's Centennial Park the night a bomb attack killed 2 and wounded many more. For reasons the movie reveals in great details (but I don't want to spoil for you), Jewell becomes a "person of interest" and the frantic media jump on the story. It is frankly incredibly frightening when you put it all into context and see how a man's life gets mauled. Per the usual, Eastwood does a great job to keep the movie going forward. The all- star ensemble cast is incredible: Paul Walter Hauser IS Richard Jewell, and Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm and Olivia Wilde are equally outstanding. This movie was filmed in the Spring of this year, and now barely 6 months later, it is already in theaters.
"Richard Jewell" premiered wide this weekend, and I couldn't wait to see it. The Saturday early evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati was attended dismally (4 people exactly), much to my surprise. If you have any interest to see how the 1996 Atlanta bombing played out, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Imagine: Mel Brooks: Unwrapped (2018)
Entertaining documentary on the free-wheeling comedy genius
"Mel Brooks: Unwrapped" (2019 release from the UK; 70 min.) is documentary about the free-wheeling genius of comedy that is Mel Books (real name: Melvin Kaminsky). As the movie opens, we are in Mel's office, and he reluctantly agrees to director Alan Yentob's request for an interview. We are next in "London 1991" where Brooks storms the BBC reception, wanting to see "the head of BBC 2", i.e. Alan Yentob. We then go even further back in time to "Hollywood, California 1981", where Brooks gets worked up (in a comical way) about some repairs being done in the hallway outside of his office. At this point we are 10 min. into the movie.
Couple of comments: this is the latest collaboration between Brooks and Yentob and the essence is always the same: let Brooks be his free-wheeling self, stay out of the way, and watch some golden nuggets of comedy come about. Sure, Brooks also talks about some of his works, starting here with Young Frankenstein and the 2017 musical of the same name, the The Producers, then High Anxiety ("I thought it would be funny if I sang a song exactly as Frank Sinatra would've", comments Brooks), and last but not least Blazing Saddles ("It is all about racial prejudice", comments Brooks). But it's in the bits of comedy (seemingly improvised) that make this worth watching. Check out in particular the Cary Grant story, which had me laughing out loud and is just bloody brilliant.
I can't say there are a lot of new revelations or new perspectives, but I can say with certainty that this new documentary is enjoyable and entertaining, and before you know it the all-too-brief 70 min. have come and gone. This documentary premiered on BBC earlier this year, and recently started airing on HBO. If you are a fan of Mel Brooks, I'd readily suggest you check this out on Amazon Instant Video or other streaming services, and draw your own conclusion.
The Two Popes (2019)
Outstanding film on so many levels, with both Pryce and Hopkins deserving Oscar nominations
"The Two Popes" (2019 release; 125 min.) brings the story of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio and Pope Benedict XVI. As the movie opens, it is "Buenos Aires 2005" and Cardinal Bergoglio is celebrating mass and walking among the people. Someone comes up to him and tells his the Pope has dies. We shift to Vatican City, and in a closer than expected contest, Cardinal Ratzinger is elected over Cardinal Bergoglio, taking the name Benedict XVI. We then shift to "Buenos Aires 2012"... At this point we are less than 15 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from Brazilian Oscar-winning director Fernando Meirelles ("City of God", "The Constant Gardner"). Here he brings the amazing tale of the unlikely bond between two top figures in the Catholic church. The script is from Anthony McCarten, based on his book "The Pope" (which is now republished as "The Two Popes" listed here on Amazon). There are so many stunning moments in the film, I don't even know where to start. From the get-go, you get the impression that you are witnessing things that you shouldn't be allowed to, or couldn't have imagined. It also seems as though many scenes in and around Vatican City are filmed on location, including the Sistine Chapel. Is that even possible? But in the end, much of the credit for making the movie into the remarkable film that it is must go to the two lead performers: Jonathan Pryce IS Cardinal Bergolglio, and Anthony Hopkins IS Pope Benedict XVI. The highlights of the movie come when these two are by themselves and simply discussing things, whether they agree or disagree (but always respectfully, of course). It's like being a fly on the wall, dropping in on a private conversation. The movie is "inspired by true events", we are reminded at the beginning, which I take to mean that much of these conversations that we see playing out are simply imagined by McCarten, but the thing is that these conversations feel authentic. A special kudos to The National's Bryce Dessner for a wonderful original orchestral score (available here on Amazon).
"The Two Popes" premiered at this year's Telluride Film Festival to immediate critical acclaim, and is now playing in a very limited theatrical release before going wide on Netflix in the near future. The movie opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati and I couldn't wait to see it. I must admit, it surpassed all my expectations, and then some. Whether you are Catholic or not, if you have any interest in learning more about two very public figures of which we know so little, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Deeply personal and moving documentary about deafness
"Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements" (2019 release; 89 min.) is a documentary about and up-close assessment of what it's like to be deaf. As the movie opens, we see a young boy (we later learn it is the 11 yr. old son of the movie's director) perform Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. As it happens, the boy (Jonas) is deaf. We then go back in time to when Jonas was just a baby, not born deaf but becoming deaf by age 4 and eventually undergoing surgery to get hearing aid implants. "This deafness, it's a hand-me-down", the director shares with us in the movie's voice-over. Astonishingly, we learn that both of the director's parents are deaf... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie,, but to tell you more of the narrative would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest documentary from seasoned editor-writer-director Irene Taylor Brodsky, whose most recent work was 2016's excellent "Beware the Slenderman" documentary. Here Brodsky goes in a very different direction, examining the streak of deafness that runs in her side of the family: her own son Jonas, and her aging parents (both well into their 70s). To tell her parents' story, Brodsky relies heavily on archive photos and 8mm footage. For the story of her son Jonas, we benefit from a wealth of (I'm guessing iPhone) footage. Woven together, these are deeply personal and moving stories, in particular as it relates to Brodsky's dad (you'll just have to see yourself why). Incidentally, Beethoven composed Moonlight Sonata while he was sliding into deafness himself. This documentary flew by in no time, and it took me a while afterwards to deal with the emotions from having seen this.
"Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements" premiered this week on HBO and is now available on HBO On Demand and other streaming platforms. In my book, "Moonlight Sonata" is a WINNER all the way. If you like non-fiction film, I'd readily suggest you check this out and draw your own conclusion.
The L Word: Generation Q (2019)
Reunited! (And it feels so good)
The original L Word TV series ran from 2004 to 2009, and now after a 10 year hiatus is BACK! Well, sort of. As the slightly different titled "The L Word: Generation Q" implies, we are dealing with a revamped cast, including a younger generation.
The good news is that three key characters from the original series (Bette, Alice and Shane) all are back.. In Episode 1, there is quite a bit of emphasis on Bette (played by Jennifer Beals) is running for the office of Mayor (of LA). Alice (played by Leisha Heiley) has her "Alice" TV talk show, which apparently is doing quite well. And Shane (played by Katherine Moennig), well, that's not quite as easy. Shane lands in LA in a private jet, after years away from LA. But how exactly Shane is able to afford a private jet or the luxurious pad she buys in LA isn't made clear. Besides those 3 returning characters, we are introduced to a bunch of new characters. Episode 1 keys in on Dani Nunez, who is the director of communications at her dad's (big pharma-like) company. We also spend a lot of time with Angie, Bette's 16 yr. old daughter.
As the Peaches & Herb song goes: "Reunited, and it feels so good!". The original "L Word" TV series was at its core a soap opera, and the same is true for the new "L Word: Generation Q". The themes are updated to account for the 10 year gap, but that is really the only difference. New episodes of "The L Word: Generation Q" air on SHO on Sunday evening and then are of course available on demand. Bottom line: if you enjoyed the original series, you'll enjoy this too.
Honey Boy (2019)
Feel-bad movie of the year (with apologies to Mr. LaBeouf)
"Honey Boy" (2019 release; 95 min.) brings the story of James and his son Otis. As the movie opens, it is "2005" and Otis works on a movie set. Later he drinks heavily and eventually gets in a car crash, resisting arrest and berating at the cops. He ends up at a rehabilitation camp, which can still turn into a 4 year prison term if he fails that camp. We then go to "1995", where 12 yr. old Otis is working on a movie set, and eventually goes home with his dad, home being a cheap motel near the 101 Freeway. We get to know James, who in no time becomes insufferable... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience.
Couple of comments: this is the long-rumored semi-autobiographical movie written by and starring Shia LaBeouf (playing the role of his dad, no less), examining the relationship with his dad. Let me pause here for a second. I typically like "emotionally heavy" movies. But I was not ready for the relentless onslaught of emotional and physical abuse that the 12 tr. old boy suffers from his dad. I mean, I cannot recall a less sympathetic character in the movies in a long time. He carries so many burdens that supposedly he can't but help himself, bit is that really this case? Anyway, for me this was the feel-bad movie of the year, and I came close to leaving before the end. When we did come to the end, I was more than ready to leave the theater. My apologies to Mr. LaBeouf, who poured his soul into this project. All of the technical aspects of the movie are top-notch, with great performances from Shia LaBeouf, Noah Jupe (as the 12 yr. old), Luca Hedges (as the 22 yr. old), and check out as well English singer FKA Twigs as the "Shy Girl". All of them are great, but it didn't make me feel any better...
The movie premiered at this year's Subdance film festival to immediate buzz (Amazon Studios ended up buying the film). It finally opened this weekend on 3 screens here in Greater Cincinnati. The Sunday early evening screening at my local art-house theater was attended so-so (7 people to be exact). Let me immediately add that this film is currently certified 93% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, so a lot of people think highly of this film, and I can understand why that is, but I just didn't enjoy the viewing experience. If you are into emotionally heavy movies, or are simply a fan of Shia LaBeouf or Lucas Hedges, I'd certainly invite you to check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu=ray, and draw your own conclusion.
"true love waits", and one of the best movies of 2019, period
"Waves" (2019 release; 135 min.) brings the story of Tyler, an African-American HS senior somewhere in South Florida. As the movie opens, we get glimpses of Tyler's day-to-day life, going to classes, working out with his varsity wrestling teammates, going out with friends. We also get to know his family: his dad, while domineering, leads a construction company where his mom also works, and his sister is also in HS. And then there is Tyler's beautiful girlfriend Alexis. Then one day during a doctor's visit for a pain in his shoulder, Tyler is told to immediately stop wrestling or his shoulder will never heal. Tyler ignores the advice... At this point we are 15 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the third movie from writer-director Trey Edward Shults, and this guys just keeps getting better and better: 2015's "Krisha" was a promising indie movie, 2017's horror movie "It Comes At Night" was a critical and unexpected commercial success, and now this epic drama that frankly blew me away. The movie consists of two parts, the "before" and :after", and of course you are wondering before and after what? Sorry, I'm not going to spoil it. The movie technical features are dazzling: the photography is eye candy, and the sound even more so. In addition to the always impressive score from NIN's Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, there are a ton of great song placements. Check out how Shults uses Tame Impala's pulsating "Be Above It" early in the movie to maximum effect. When later in the movie we get Amy Winehouse's "Love Is a Losing Game", I thought that summed up the film quite well, at least to that point. But it is towards the very end that we get Radiohead's "True Love Waits" (the "Moon Shaped Pool" version), which truly brings it all home for me. Shults gets great lead performances from Kelvin Harrison Jr. (as Tyler), Taylor Russell (as Tyler's sister Emily) and Sterling Brown (as Tyler's dad). Lucas Hedges (as Tyler's wrestling teammate) gets 5 seconds of screen time in the "before" section of the movie, but is front and center in the "after" section. What a film and what a viewing experience "Waves" turned out to be! I couldn't help but be reminded of Terrence Mallick while watching this.
"Waves" premiered at this year's Telluride film festival to positive acclaim and got a limited release in November. It finally opened this weekend on a handful of screens in Greater Cincinnati. The Saturday early evening screening where I saw this at was not attended well (about 10 people), which is a darn shame. Hopefully the great word of mouth this movie should generate will result in more foot traffic. If you are interested in an epic family and relationship drama, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Dark Waters (2019)
Mark Ruffalo shines in David v. Goliath legal battle
"Dark Waters" (2019 release; 126 min.) brings the story of Cincinnati lawyer Rob Bilott's long legal battle against DuPont. As the movie opens, it is "1975 Parkersburg, West Virginia" as we see several teenagers (one of them a young Bilott) go swimming in a lake that we later see being sprayed with chemicals. We then go to "1998 Cincinnati, Ohio", and Rob has just made partner at Taft, one of the large law firms in Cincinnati. Then a stranger shows up who is from Parkersburg and knows Rob's grandmother. The stranger, Wilbur Tennant, claims that chemicals have ruined his farm, he has the VHS tapes to prove it, and can Rob please represent him.... At this point we're 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all turns out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from Todd Haynes, whose prior movie, the excellent "Carol" was coincidentally also filmed here in Cincinnati (where I live). But that is where the comparisons stop. Here, Haynes brings to the big screen the long legal battle that Bilott fought against chemical giant DuPont. The film starts a bit tentative in my opinion, but after the first half hour, the tension doesn't let up as DuPont is fighting with all of its might against Bilott. This movie is a labor of love for Mark Ruffalo, who stars and also co-produces. I've seen a lot of the films that Ruffalo has made in his career, and I don't know that he's ever been better, playing the almost mousy yet determined lawyer. Anne Hathaway seems underused as the supportive spouse but as the movie goes deeper, her role expands. The movie was filmed in early 2019 in and around Cincinnati, and the downtown area is featured extensively, including Fountain Square, the Queen City Club, the Hall of Mirrors at the Netherland Plaza, etc.
The movie had a red carpet premiere here in Cincinnati in mid-November, a week before it got a limited theater release. This weekend it got a wide release, and the Friday early evening screening where I saw it at my art-house theater here in Cincinnati was attended okay (about 20 people). This movie will surely create strong word of mouth, and if it manages to pick up some award nominations (as it is expected), this could have a decent run in the theaters. If you are interested in a tense legal drama where Mark Ruffalo shines, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray.
Queen & Slim (2019)
Road movie and relationship drama with social undercurrent
As "Queen & Slim" (2019 release; 132 min.) opens, we get to know these two characters, as they are on their first dinner date in Cleveland. Afterwards, they get pulled over by a blatantly racist cop. The tension mounts and when the cop shoots Queen, Slims dives into the cop and in the ensuing struggle, shoots and kills the cop.Terrified by what has happened, they decide to takeoff and drive to New Orleans, where Queen's uncle lives... At this point we are 10 minutes into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you will just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the feature length debut of director Melina Matsoukas, well known for her many music videos (Beyoncé, Jay Z). Here she brings the courtship of Queen and Slim In the form of a road movie, pure and simple. After the initial shock of the opening 10 minutes, the movie takes a decidedly different tone as this is more about the budding relationship between these two then it is about excessive police force against unarmed African Americans. In that sense, the movie's trailer is a bit misleading as that clearly emphasized the racial tensions and related social issues. The other issue I have is that at two hours and a quarter hour, the movie is just too long for its own good. A tighter edit could've trimmed 15 to 20 minutes without the movie losing any of its essence. Daniel Kaluuya as Slim and newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith as Queen are terrific in the lead roles. Keep your eye out for a short (less than 5 minutes) appearance by Chloë Savigny and an almost unrecognizable Flea as her husband.
"Queen & Slim" Open wide on Thanksgiving weekend. The Thanksgiving day matinee screening where I saw this at was attended dismally (two people including myself), which quite surprised me. If you have any Interest In seeing a road movie of a very different kind, with strong romantic and social undercurrent, I readily suggest you check this out, be at in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD and Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Midway (2019) vs. Midway (1976): and the winner is...
"Midway" (2019 release; 138 min.) brings the story of the WWII battle of Midway. As the movie opens, it is "December 4, 1937", and British, US and Japanese dignitaries are exchanging toasts in the name of peace. We then go to "December 7, 1941", as the Japanese are starting to attack Pearl Harbor... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this movie is directed by Roland Emmerich, yes, he of "Independence Day" (and its sequel), "2012", "White House Down", and so on. That is really all you need to know to put this latest version of "Midway" into perspective. Character development is minimal, but who cares anyway, as we all await the battle scenes. Once they come, starting with Pearl Harbor and culminating in the movie's last hour with the actual battle of Midway (on June 4, 1942, amazingly only 6 months after Pearl Harbor), all restraint is thrown overboard, and it's almost an assault on the senses. And yes, quite enjoyable. The thing is that the battle scenes are perfect, frankly too perfect. Think of it like watching video games on steroids. I can't help but think back to the 1976 movie of the same name covering the same events (starring Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda), when CGI was not available and the movie makers used other means (including actual archival footage from the battle). While I enjoyed the Roland Emmerich re-imagination of Midway better than I expected, I nevertheless feel that the 1976 movie is slightly better, or perhaps I should say that it feels more realistic. Please note: Emmerich financed this $100 million production movie independently outside the Hollywood studio system, and he ended up getting a sizable part of the budget financed through Chinese investors. That comes at a cost of course, and hence the script makes a couple of unnecessary, if not questionable, detours into China's role (?) in the battle of Midway. A darn shame.
"Midway" opened wide several weeks ago, and I finally got around to seeing it. The Friday matinee screening where I saw this at the day after Thanksgiving was attended okay (about 20 people in a large theater). If you have an interest in WWII and/or in big budget war movies, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
Cover the same ground as last year's "Wont You Be My Neighbor?" documentary
First of all, let's be clear, "A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood" is a heartwarming look at the extraordinary person that Fred Rogers was, on so many levels. And it is equally clear that Tom Hanks brings us another outstanding acting performance in his illustrious career. I mean, how many top-notch roles has he played over the decades? I am going on record already and predict that Tom Hanks will get a Best Actor Oscar nomination for this.
All that said, is anyone else besides me struck by the fact that this movie in all but the details covers the EXACT SAME territory as last year's outstanding "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" documentary? Except of course that in the documentary you get to see the real Fred Rogers and the actual archive footage and video clips. So what is the added value of "A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood"? I couldn't think of much (except that it is heartwarming, but that was already the case with last year's documentary).
"A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood" was released wide in theaters this weekend, and did quite nicely at the box office, coming in at $13.5 million (just below the studio's own projections). Based on the strong word of mouth this movie is generating, I expect it to show strong legs at the box office in the weeks to come. If you haven't seen "Won't You Be My Neighbor"? yet, I'd suggest you check that out as well (available on VOD and DVD/Blu-ray), and then compare it to "A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood", and draw your own conclusion as to the intrinsic strengths and qualities of these movies.