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Country Music (2019)
8/10
Another riveting documentary mini-series from Ken Burns & Co.
16 September 2019
"Country Music" (2019 mini-series; 8 episodes) is the latest documentary mini-series from Ken Burs. This time around, Burns and his team are bringing us the story of country music. As "Episode One - The Rub: Beginnings - 1933)" opens, we are given some introductory comments from various country celebrities (Kris Kristofferson: "Country is a white man's soul music"), and then we go back to the 1920, when almost in parallel paths, the rise of both radio and the phonograph were instrumental to the rise of country music to a wider audience. Along the way, we get a country music instruments 101 on the fiddle, the banjo (did you know the banjo was brought over from Africa?), the mandolin and the guitar (mobility of these instruments was key--hence no role in country music for the piano). The second hour of the first episode zeros in on the origins of the Grand Ol' Opry, the Carter family (yes, of June Carter fame), and Jimmie Rodgers.

Couple of comments: "Country Music" aims to achieve what Ken Burns did with the "Jazz" documentary mini-series hoped to achieve. "Country Music" comes in 8 episodes of 2 hours each. That gives Ken Burns and his team a lot of room to explore. I love how the film makers set us up for the detailed account of what happened in the summer of 1927 in Bristol, TN when the Carter family and Jimmie Rodgers are discovered. In the end, a great documentary is all about great story-telling, and Ken Burns and his team have proven, time and again, that they are masterful at that. Having researched this meticulously (and finding a treasure trove of historical recordings, pictures and footage, only enhances the viewing experience.

"Country Music" premiered last night on PBS, and will continue with new 2 hour episodes this week and next through Thursday the 26th. I absolutely loved Episode 1, and can't wait to spend 7 more evenings watching this unfold. If you like a great documentary or are a fan of music history, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it on TV, on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion. "Country Music" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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7/10
A welcome reminder of and tribute to Linda Ronstadt's musical life and times
15 September 2019
"Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice" (2019 release; 95 min.) is a documentary about Linda Ronstadt's remarkable trajectory in the music business. As the movie opens, we see her at the peak of her commercial success, performing "You're No Good" in concert as we are reminded the song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, one of just many accomplishments. We then go to "Banamichi, Mexico", where we see Linsa catching a local show. We then go back in time to how her parents met in Tuscon (her dad was Mexican, even if "Ronstadt" doesn't sound Mexican), and how Linda and her siblings grew up surrounded by music (her dad sings the Mexican traditionals, while her mom was more into Sullivan & Gilbert). No wonder then that Linda and a friend started a band, but quickly ran out of challenges in remote Tuscon. It is 1964 and Linda, then just 18, relocates to southern California. At this point we are 10 min, into the documentary.

Couple of comments: this is the latest documentary from Oscar-winning co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman ("The Times of Harvey Milk"). Here they examine the music career of Linda Ronstadt. Typically these rockumentaries are best in the first half or first third, as we examine the roots and early successes of an artist. It is remarkable that in this case, the reverse is true: the first half of this documentary recaps Linda's hugely successful "country and rock" phase (up to the early 80s), until Linda decides that she is tried of doing the same songs over and over again, and decides to make a complete break, starting with the "Pirates of Penzance" opera and then the first of the Nelson Riddle albums (doing songs she finds in her mother's album collection). On on and on it went, taking left turns upon left turns (and I don't mean her politics). Along the way, the film makers interview all of the "big names" in the music industry, but in the end it's all about Linda and her voice (sadly she lost her singing range due to Parkinson's a decade ago). This film is a wonderful reminder and tribute to someone who had the courage and urge to go her own way in the music business, and then did it.

"Linda Ronstadt: The Sounds of My Voice" premiered at this year's Tribeca film festival to good acclaim. This weekend it opened at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati and I couldn't wait to see it. The Sunday early evening screening where I saw this at was attended just okay (8 people in total). If you are a fan of music history or simply a Linda Ronstadt fan, 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.
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7/10
Jillian Bell's performance is worth seeking out
15 September 2019
"Brittany Runs a Marathon" (2019 release; 103 min.) brings the story of Brittany. As the movie opens, it is "Autumn" and we get to know Brittany: she is sleeping in late, she drinks a lot, she parties even more. Then one day at a doctor's appointment, her doctor tells her that as a 28 yr. old, Brittany has "too much body volume" and he orders her to lose 50 pounds. Brittany decides to start running, and before we know it, on a dare, Brittany and several friends decide to train for the New York City marathon... 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 movie is the feature length debut of writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo. Here he brings, as it turns out, the real life story of Brittany, an overweight 28 yr. old woman who struggles with self-esteem and finding a general purpose in life. It that sense, the movie is very much reminiscent of Amy Schumer's "Trainwreck" a few years ago. Same theme, same context: "getting one's life in order as a young woman in the 21st century". The movie's chance of success live and die with Jillian Bell's title role performance. She is fabulous, and she frankly carries the movie on her shoulders from start to finish. Even though we have seen her in smaller roles in films like "Office Christmas Party" and "Rough Night", playing Brittany truly is a breakout role for her. SNL alum Michaela Watkins plays Brittany's upstairs seemingly "together" neighbor Catherine with just the right amount of compassion and support as Brittany struggles through her daily grind. Utkarsh Ambudkar as Brittany's accidental roommate/potential romantic interest is outright funny and hilarious.

"Brittany Runs a Marathon" premiered at this year's Sunday film festival to positive acclaim and Amazon Studios immediately picked it up for a staggering $14 million. The movie finally made it into US theaters this weekend. The Friday evening screening where I saw this at was not attended all that well (about 10 people). Maybe this will find a wider audience as it is released on other platforms. Regardless, if you are interested in the life and struggles of a 28 yr. old woman in New York as she pursues personal happiness, or simply are a fan of Jillian Bell, 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.
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7/10
Kiera Knightley's powerful performance carries the movie
14 September 2019
"Official Secrets" (2019 release from the UK; 112 minutes) brings the story "based on actual events" we are reminded, of British whisleblower Katharine Gun. As the movie opens, it is "25 February 2004, London", and Gun is appearing in court. "As to the charge regarding the Official Secrets Act, do you please guilty or no guilty?, the court asks her. We then go "One Year Earlier, Cheltenham", as we get to know Gun, as she is watching Tony Blair on TV making the case for the war on Iraq. She works a the Government Communications Headquarters. Gun happens to get some very sensitive information regarding attempts to influence the votes of certain members of the UN Security Council. Gun is very upset and decides to leak the information... 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 fort yourself how it all p[lays out.

Couple of comments: the movie is directed by veteran South African director (and co-writer) Gavin Hood ("X-Men Origins: Wolverine"). Here he brings the real life story of what happened to Katharine Gun. As we all know at this point, the Bush administration outright lied and manipulated the data so as to make the case for invading Iraq. The Blair administration wasn't much better. The movie is hence on the right side of the truth, but of course that is easy to do with 20/20 hindsight. Apart from the whistleblower case, the movie also brings to the front what happened at the Observer, the British newspaper that published the sensitive data. I quite enjoyed it all, and not only because I couldn't wait to find out how it would all end for Gun. Kiera Knightly plays Katharine Gun, and she plays it with passion and with determination. She is an absolute delight to watch her carry this movie on her shoulders. Ralph Fiennes is equally up to the task (as the non-profit lawyer representing Gun).

"Official Secrets" premiered to positive acclaim at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The movie opened on 2 or 3 screens in all of Greater Cincinnati this weekend. The Saturday early evening screening where I saw this at was attended very nicely (about 25 people). If you have any interest in whisleblower cases or how the US and UK administration misled the public about the war in Iraq, I'd readily suggest you check out "Official Secrets", be it in the theater, on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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7/10
Stuyvesant HS alumni reflect on what happened on 9/11
12 September 2019
This year marks the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and per the usual, there are a number of new documentaries to mark the occasion. One of those is this short documentary, now showing on HBO On Demand.

"In the Shadow of the Towers: Stuyvesant High on 9/11" (2019 release; 31 min.) brings the accounts of a handful of Stuyvesant High School kids (interviewed all these years later) who lived through the events of 9/11. As the documentary opens, we are given a very short introduction to Stuyvesant HS, located just a few blocks south of the World Trade Centers, and how it attracts the best and brightest kids from all over New York, with a particular emphasis on second generation immigrants: kids whose parents came to the US to pursue the American dream. Among the Stuyvesant kids we get to know, their parents hail from Ukraine, Pakistan, India, Korea, and yes, the Bronx (a foreign country--wink, wink--within the New York boroughs),

The first-hand accounts by those high school kids of what happened on 9/11 are gripping: a "swell of emotion" when the second plane hits the Towers, confusion whether it is safer to stay inside the building or to flee, etc. When you combine that with the still unbelievable camera footage of that day, it makes for compelling viewing (check the dust clouds mushrooming over Manhattan after the Towers crumble). "It was life-altering as a person and as a nation", comments one of them (all are now in their early-to-mid 30's). If there is one complaint that I have about this documentary, it is that at a mere half-hour, it easily could've been extended to an hour or even more, as each of the Stuyvesant are interesting to listen to, and I would've enjoyed more of these conversations.
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Jay Myself (2018)
6/10
Is Jay Maisel an artist? a genius if reluctant real estate investor? or both?
8 September 2019
"Jay Myself" (2018 release; 76 min.) is a documentary about the life and works of Jay Maisel, noted photographer (in particular of all things New York), and reluctant real estate guru. We get to know Maisel through the lens of Stephen Wilkes, who comments that in 1979 he became an apprentice of sorts of Maisel, and had the great fortune of working under him and being mentored. All of this was taking place in "the Bank", a 6 story building in Manhattan's Bowery, and which Maisel had purchased in the mid-60s for next-to-nothing. Now 50 years later, Maisel is selling the Bank for tens of millions of dollars. But it also means he needs to clean up 50 years' worth of art, artifacts and memories... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie.

Couple of comments: this is the feature length documentary debut of Stephen Wilkes, who was for all practical purposes given full access to that amazing building. Along the way we get an up-close assessment of Maisel's output as a photographer, which is nothing short of amazing. Maisel and Wilkes discuss all of this as if among friends (which they probably are). We also get a good sense of the changes that New York, and in particular lower Manhattan, have gone through during these decades. In that sense the movie is a but nostalgic, in the best possible way, as if Maisel took it upon himself to chronicle New York's changing fortunes. But in the end, this movie feels being almost as much about the Bank than it is about Maisel. Please note that this movie is quite short, as in literally less than an hour and 15 min. (if you exclude the credits).

"Jay Myself" opened out of the blue this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. I figure this will not play very long, so I went to see it right away. The Sunday matinee screening where I saw this at was attended dismally (3 people including myself). If you like documentaries, or photography, or New York, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater (not very likely), on VOD. or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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Ready or Not (I) (2019)
5/10
Is this supposed to be scary? or funny? It's neither
8 September 2019
"Ready Or Not" (2019 release; 95 min.) brings the story of Grace and the Le Domas family. As the movie opens, we see two young boys running around in a large mansion, only to see a guy get shot by bow and arrow. Is it real? or just play? We then go to "30 Years Later", and we get to know Grace, who is rehearsing her wedding vows. She is set to marry Alex Le Domas, on of the boys we saw in the opening scene. After the wedding ceremony, Alex informs Grace that according to family tradition, they will play a game starting at midnight. By luck of the draw, Grace gets "Hide and Seek"... 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 up-and-coming Matt Betinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who previously brought us "Devil's Due". Here they bring what turns out to be a traditional "horror" movie, albeit with a slightly black comedy twist. From the get-go it all appears so straight-forward, and hence I expected a major plot twist or some other significant departure from this tried-and-true genre. Alas, it didn't happen and hence I felt a bit let down: was this supposed to be scary? or funny? Bottom line is that it is neither. The movie benefits significantly from Australian actress Samara Weaving's breakout role as Grace. Surely we have not seen the last of her. Check out Andie McDowell (in the role of Alex's mother), who remains as lovely as ever. But other than that, this movie just felt average to me: not really bad, but nowhere near as good as, say, the similarly themed "Get Out".

"Ready Or Not" was released wide a few weeks ago, and now in its third weekend, I finally went to see it here in Cincinnati. The Saturday matinee screening where I saw this at was not attended well (6 people in total). This movie has been getting great reviews (it's currently rated 87% Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), and I must admit that I am a bit dumbfounded by that as for me there really was nothing special about this movie. But if you like horror-with-comedy films, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on COD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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Luce (2019)
7/10
Intense drama and social commentary on race and perceptions
25 August 2019
"Luce" (2018 release; 109 min.) brings the story of Luce (pronounced "loose"). a HS senior who was adopted a decade ago from war-torn Eritrea by a white couple. As the movie opens, Luce is giving a speech to the school body (students, teachers, parents). Afterwards he is congratulated by everyone. He seems to be the poster boy for racial advances. Then one day, his (African-America) history teacher calls in his mom, as the teacher is concerned about a paper written by Luce that seems to advocate violence, and moreover she found illegal fireworks in Luce's locker... 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 (African-American) writer-director Julius Onah ("The Cloverfield Paradox"). Here he goes in a very different direction, as we get to know this HS senior who seems to be the perfect student, carefully protected and coached by his parents. But of course not everything seems the way it is. Given the plot-heavy nature of this film, I really don't want to say anything more. The film worked like an onion for me, carefully revealing layer upon layer as you yourself search for answers. The movie benefits enormously for a top-notch ensemble cast, none more so that Kelvin Harrison Jr. in the title role. Harrison brings the Luce character with restraint and a quiet confidence. Naomi Watts as Luce's mother is her usual, and I swear she hasn't aged a day it seems in the last 20 years. Tim Roth is the dad, and Octavia Spencer is the history teacher who may or may not be on to something about Luce. Just a heads up that "Luce" is a slow-moving film (which doesn't bother me in the least, but it might bother some).

"Luce" premiered at this year's Sundance film festival to positive acclaim, and is now getting a limited theater release. The movie opened this weekend at my local art-house there in Cincinnati, and the Sunday matinee screening where I saw this at was attended better than I had expected (about 15 people). This movie is about as far away as you can get from the latest Marvel franchise movie or Disney "re-imagining" or sequel or prequel nonsense. If that sounds like it might appeal to you, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater (if you still can), on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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9/10
One of the best films of the year so far, period
24 August 2019
"The Peanut Butter Falcon" (2019 release; 98 min.) brings the story of Zak and Tyler. As the movie opens, Zak, a 24 yr.old with Down Syndrome, is plotting to escape the facility where the state has put him (we later learn his family abandoned him). Meanwhile Tyler, caught stealing crab traps, is fired from his job and on the run. With the help of another resident, Zak finally manages to escape, in his underwear and without any money or outside help... 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 feature-length debut of co-writers and co-directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. The bring us the story of two misfits who somehow end up together on the adventure of a life time. Just as it takes time for these two to warm up to each other, it takes us the viewers also time to warm up to these characters. But as the movie plays out, the bond between the viewer and these characters grows very strong, and we are "all in". It took me a good 40 min. before I realized that the Tyler character is played by Shia LaBeouf, and played brilliantly at that. Ever since leaving the "Transformers" franchise, the guy has blossomed like never before. Dakota Johnson also shies in the side role of Eleanor, a staff member of the facility that Zak escaped and now sent to look for him. But surely the movie's limelight is stolen by Zack Gottsagen, playing Zak. It defies the impression/expectations so many people have about those with Down Syndrome. The movie is set in North Carolina's Outer Banks, and it looks gorgeous (and is filmed with many warm colors). Last but not least, there is a boatload of wonderful music, both as to the original score and other song placements, bringing a mix of bluegrass, folk, spirituals and much more. I will absolutely be seeking out the soundtrack of this film.

"The Peanut Butter Falcon" premiered at this year's SXSW, to immediate acclaim. The movie expanded this weekend into Greater Cincinnati. The Saturday early evening screening where I saw this at was very nicely, I am happy to say. When the end credits started rolling, the audience burst into a spontaneous applause, a rarity these days. But there is a reason that this movie is certified 94% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. If you are tired of the umpteenth Marvel franchise movie or Disney "re-imagining" or sequel or prequel nonsense, and instead are looking for a top-notch ORIGINAL indie movie that happens to be one of the best movies of the year, by all mean 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.
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Good Boys (II) (2019)
7/10
"Beanbag Boys for life": 6th graders rule!
24 August 2019
"Good Boys" (2018 release; 89 min.) brings the story of 6th graders Max, Lucas and Thor. As the movie opens, Max is looking at things om his computer that he wouldn't want his dad to walk in on. Dad promptly walks in... We then get to know the boys better, as they are hanging out at school and elsewhere, trying to fit in and be cool. Then Max, who has a crush on his classmate Brixlee, snags an unexpected invite to a party, and not just any party, a kissing party, and Brixlee will be there! But max doesn't know how to kiss... 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 directorial debut of Gene Stupnitsky, who also co-wrote this with Lee Eisenberg. They are both long-time TV comedy writers ("The Office", etc.). Equally important, Seth Rogen co-produced this and has his fingers all over this one. The plot, such as it is, is merely an excuse to come up with situations where the 6th graders are in way over their heads, and being crude and funny at the same time. So yes, it's a 6th grader sex comedy. I actually found myself laughing at all of it regularly, because it is so over the top and frankly impossible. The three leads are terrific (Brady Noon (as Thor) reminded me of The Wonder Years' Fred Savage. But it must also be said that nothing in this movie will leave a lasting impression, unlike another grade movie, last year's outstanding "Eighth Grade".

"Good Boys" premiered at this year's SXSW, to good acclaim, and opened wide last weekend in line with box office expectations. It is not in its second weekend, and the Friday evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati in a medium-sized theater was attended okay but not great. I think that there is a limited audience for hard R rated comedies like "Good Boys". If you like previous movies like it (think "Superbad" etc. or are a fan of Seth Rogen's comedies, 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.
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5/10
What have you done, Mr. Linklater?
18 August 2019
"Where'd You Go, Bernadette?" (2019 release; 109 min.) brings the story of Bernadette and her family. As the movie opens, we see Bernadette by herself i a kayak in what we later learn is Antarctica. How and why did Bernadette get there? We then go to "5 Weeks Earlier", and we are in Seattle, where Bernadette is stressing out from a number of things. Not to mention that she is an insomniac. Her daughter Bee is an 8th grader with perfect grades, and she reminds her parents that they had promised her a pony if she kept straight As. Bee has a better idea: a family trip to Antarctica! Even though Bernadette hates traveling, she and her husband Elgin reluctantly agree... 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 Richard Linklater, who is my estimation is one THE premier American directors out there. 2014's "Boyhood" and 2016's "Everybody Wants Some!!" are two of the best movies from this decade. (Not to mention his "Before Sunrise"/"Before Sunset"/"Before midnight" franchise.) Here he brings the novel of the same name by Maria Semple to the big screen. Let me be upfront: I'll go see anything directed by Linklater. And with a top-notch leading actress like Cate Blanchett attached to this, this was going to be a slam-dunk, right? Alas, it pains me to tell you that this turned out to be a big disappointment. This film is done strictly by-the-numbers. At no point did I feel emotionally connected to Bernadette. We learn at some point that Bernadette years ago was the "it" woman in the architecture industry. Who knew? and why is it relevant? As the movie takes a decisive turn, you can see a mile away (make that 10 miles away) how this is going to play out, and that is EXACTLY what we get. No surprise, but also no reward, sadly. Blanchett does the best she can with what she is given (which isn't much). Billy Crudup is her husband Elgin, the (fictitious) Microsoft software developer workaholic. Kristin Wiig is Bernadette's neighbor. The best of the lot turns out to be newcomer Emma Nelson as Bee. Surely we have not see the last of her. Bottom line: this is an unexpected and rate letdown from Richard Linklater, who seems to have gone too conventional this time around. Let's keep it weird(er) again the next time around, shall we, Mr. Linklater?

"Where'd You GO, Bernadette?" was released wide this weekend. The Sunday early evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati was attended okay but not great (about 15 people). It is reported that the film underwhelmed at the box office in its opening weekend, grossing only $3.5 million. Regardless, if you are a fan of either Richard Linklater or Cate Blachett, I'd suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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Brian Banks (2018)
2/10
Inspiring story not done justice by dreadful movie
17 August 2019
"Brian Banks" (2018 release; 97 min.) is"based on a true story" we are reminded at the beginning, and that is of course Brian Baker's incredible story. As the movie opens, we get to know Brian as an insanely talented line backer at Long Beach Poly Tech who is falsely accused of rape by a 16 yr. old class mate. Back in the present, Brian is called in by a parole officer, and a new state law forces him to wear an ankle GPS tracker, which ruins his dreams of perhaps making it to the NFL. Banks decides to call on the California Innocence Project to clear his name once and for all... 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 veteran director Tom Shadyac ("Ace Ventura: Pet Detective", "Bruce Almighty"). Here he brings the incredible story of Brian Banks. By all means, the movie should be a riveting and critical look at the justice system and how a rogue accusation of rape forever alerts a young man's life and dreams. Instead, what we get is a movie that is riddled with cliches and wooden performances. The writing is so poor that it makes you want to laugh. When Brian wants to take a date out to an art museum but doesn't have the money, his mom gives him $100 and says "The car payment can wait, your happiness can't. No, really, I'm not making this up! I feel sorry for Aldis Hodge (playing the title role), who does the best he can with what little he is given. Hodge looks utterly lost on the screen. Greg Kinnear doesn't fate much better as the guy heading up the CA Innocence Project. Morgan Freeman plays a small (and uncredited) role as the "wise man" in juve. I wish I could be more positive about this film, but sadly it is one of the worst I've seen this year (and I see a lot of films). A darn shame that this turns out to be so lame, when the source material by all means should've made for a riveting and, if nothing else, an entertaining movie.

"Brian Banks" premiered at the 2018 LA Film Festival, yes almost a year ago. It's now getting a limited theater release. The movie opened this weekend here in Cincinnati and the Saturday matinee screening where I saw this at was attended poorly (7 people, including myself). Given that this movie will not generate much of a positive word of mouth, I cannot see this playing in theaters much longer. Of course, if you are interested in movies dealing with men falsely accused of a crime, I'd suggest you check this out, be it in the theater (if you still can), on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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The Cheshire Murders (2013 TV Movie)
7/10
Death penalty? or jail for life without parole?
17 August 2019
"The Cheshire Murders" (2013 release; 118 min.) is a documentary about the vicious murders committed in Cheshire, CT in 2007. As the documentary opens, it is "July 23, 2007", and it is chaos. A bank teller has called 911 that a woman named Jennifer in the bank claims her husband and 2 daughters are being held hostage at their home. Shortly thereafter, we see the cops at the home, confirming there are 3 fatalities and that they have apprehended 2 suspects. We then step back and get to know Cheshire better. "A phenomenal town", says one. We then switch to "Chapel Hill, NC", where the parents and sister of Jennifer start commenting about what happened in 2007. At this point we are 15 min. into the film.

Couple of comments: this is another true crime documentary, looking at the gruesome murders committed by 2 savage men. There never is any question that they done what they have done, so this documentary is different from, say, the recent "Who Killed Garrett Phillips?", where we literally didn't know who did what. Instead, this documentary looks at the issue of death penalty vs. jail for like without a chance for parole. In an liberal-leaning state like Connecticut, one would expect that the death penalty is not well regarded, and indeed the Connecticut legislature passed a law banning the death penalty in 2009 but the governor vetoed it, citing the Cheshire murders. Here is the kicker: within weeks of their arrest, the defense lawyers of the murderers offer a plea bargain of life in jail without a chance for parole, and the prosecutors REJECT the plea bargain, instead deciding to go for the death penalty. This sets into motion a series of events that you'll just have to see for yourself in this gripping documentary... As a complete aside, the Cheshire police's role in how the events played out on July 23, 2007 looks shady, to say the least, hinting of incompetence. But the documentary never really pursues that angle (and notes that the Cheshire police department declined any and all requests for interviews).

As you may know, HBO has been showcasing a batch of brand new true crime documentaries this summer, all of which are worth seeking out ("I Love You , Now Die", "The Talwars: Behind Closed Doors", "Who Killed Garrett Phillips", just to name those). It was while watching these that I saw "The Cheshire Murders" mentioned. Even though this documentary is now 6 years old, it is still very relevant, and of course you can get an update on what has happened since then from many sources (including Wikipedia). If you like documentaries, and true crime in particular, I'd readily suggest you check this out on VOD, and draw your own conclusion.
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Our Boys (I) (2019)
8/10
Tense and compelling TV mini-series on the Jewish-Arab conflict
16 August 2019
"Our Boys" (2019 release; US-Israeli co-production; 10 episodes; 580 min.) reminds us at the beginning that these are "dramatized events that took place in Greater Jerusalem in the Summer of 2014". As the series opens with "Chapter 1: Out Of the Depth: I Cry For You", three Jewish boys aged 19, 16 and 16 are missing, and a nationwide manhunt is soon developing. There are mass prayers held at the Western Wall and other places "to protect and bring back our boys". Meanwhile it is "June 29, 2014" and we get to know a guy at the Shabak (Israel's equivalent of the FBI) headquarters in Jerusalem. He is pessimistic... At this point we are less than 15 min. into the series, 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 mini-series featured on HBO. Almost from the get-go, there is so much tension in the air that it is at times almost too much. The kidnapping of the three Jewish boys sets in motion a series of events that pit Israel's Jewish (both secular and Orthodox) population vs. the Israeli Arab population, and the picture that emerges is complex and nuanced, at least as portrayed in this mini-series. (Keep in mind that one-fifth of Israel's population is Arab. ) The production of this mini-series is top notch. It's impossible to tell whether some of these events (like the mass prayers) were re-staged and/or whether some existing TV footage was used. (It's probably a bit of both.) This mini-series really does give a good sense how close up these various factions live within just Jerusalem (East Jerusalem, which is majority Arab, and West Jerusalem, which is majority Jewish). (I had the great fortune of visiting Jerusalem some years ago. What an amazing place it is!)

I saw the first two (of the 10 total ) episodes earlier this week (these 2 episodes are now available on HBO On Demand), and I am completely in the grip of this mini-series. I cannot even begin to imagine what all is going to happen still in the remainder 8 episodes. This is tense and compelling TV watching. If you have any interest in the Jewish-Arab conflict in the Middle East, I'd readily suggest you check this out and draw you own conclusion. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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8/10
Poignant documentary about the rapidly changing ways to bury loved ones
15 August 2019
"Alternative Endings: Six New Ways To Die In America" (2019 release; 67 min.) is a documentary about the rapidly changing ways in the funeral and burial industry, and how Americans are looking at the end of life and remember loved ones. As the documentary opens, we are in "Boston, MA", where the funeral industry is holding a trade show (the largest in the country, we are told, and it certainly looks massive). "Let's Rethink Funerals" reads one banner. We then go to "Gulf of Mexico" where we meet Leila Johnson, whose dad has recently passed away. He loved the ocean, and she and her family have decided to put his ashes in a Memorial Reef that will strengthen the dying coral reef... At this point we are 10 min. into the documentary...

Couple of comments: this is the latest entry from HBO Documentary Films, and I continue to be amazed at the general high level of quality of these films. This particular entry looks at the new ways that many Americans are approaching the end of life, and in particular alternative ways to traditional funerals and burials. In that sense, the documentary is really misleadingly titled "Six New Ways to Die". I have to admit this film was at times difficult to watch, not because it isn't any good (in fact, it is very good), but because of the heavy emotional toll this is bound to take on many viewers. While of course we are reminded time and again that "death is part of life", and that more and more people remember loved ones in a "celebration of life" rather than a traditional funeral, the fact remains that someone is passing away or has passed away and that loved ones are left behind. Along the way we explore some of those alternative endings, including "Green Burial", "Space Burial", etc. The segment called "Medical Aid In Dying" is bound to be controversial for a number of reasons. I found it incredibly hard to watch. Even though the documentary last just over an hour, I was emotionally spent and drained at the end. And I can tell you that it has given me pause as I consider the fact that one day I will be facing these very same issues...

"Alternative Endings: Six New Ways To Die In America" premiered on HBO earlier this week, and is not available on HBO On Demand and other platforms. If you love documentaries and have any interest in this particular (if difficult and emotional) topic, I'd readily suggest you check this out on VOD and draw your own conclusion.
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Maiden (2018)
8/10
Wonderful documentary is inspiring on so many levels
11 August 2019
"Maiden" (2018 release; 97 min.) is a documentary about the all-female crew of the Maiden in the Whitbread Round the World sailing competition. As the movie opens, it is "September 2, 1989, Southampton", the day that the Whitbread race begins, and we get to know Tracy Edwards, the 27 year old skipper of the Maiden. We then go back in time to Tracey's upbringing, where her parents instill a sense of determination in her. It eventually leads her to want to compete in the Whitbread race, and in 1986 she announces her intent to do the 1989 race with an all-female crew... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie.

Couple of comments: this is the latest documentary from Alex Holmes. Holmes one the one hand uses the ample archive video and TV footage from that era, and also interviews the 12 member crew of the Maiden, who all look back to what took place in the late 80s with a sense of pride and amazement. Tracy Edwards makes a great subject matter and interviewee. When you see this young woman not only have the dream of doing this, and then actually DOING it albeit not without problems and challenges, you feel so inspired. (One of the biggest challenge turned out to be finding a sponsor for the boat: Edwards approached literally hundreds and hundreds of companies, and NOT ONE SINGLE company was interested in stepping up. How she managed this financially is explained in the film.) There is an amazing amount of footage from on the ship itself, and it raised the hairs on my arms as you see them sailing on the Southern oceans. I am going on record already to predict that "Maiden" will get an Oscar nomination for BEst Directory early next year.

I had seen the trailer for "Maiden" and couldn't wait to see it. The film opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. The Sunday early evening screening where I saw this at was attended poorly (5 people in total). That's a darn shame. Hopefully this film can find a much deserved wider audience as it launches on other platforms. If you like a good documentary whose timing in today's climate of gender equality is perfect, 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.
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7/10
Terrorism and incompetence make for a deadly cocktail
10 August 2019
"Beslan: Three Days in September" (2006 release; 79 min.) is a documentary about the attack by Chechen terrorists on a school in Beslan, Russia, and the response to those attacks by the Russian authorities. As the movie opens, we are told that it is "September 1, 2004", as Beslan's School No. 1 celebrates the start of a new school year. Hundreds of kids grades 1 through 11, along with parents and friends, are gathering. In parallel, we see a group of Chechen terrorists, 30 men and 2 women, getting ready to drive in from the woods, and beforewe know it, they have taken over 1,200 hostages, packed like sardines in the school's gym... At this point we are 10 min. into the documentary.

Couple of comments: this documentary is directed by Joe Halderman, best known for his TV work on shows like "48 Hrs.". As it is explained to us, the film makers struck gold when archive footage is unearthed that the terrorists themselves filmed on video during those three days and the video camera was found after the conclusion of those 3 days by kids. Sometimes if is difficult to distinguish the intrinsic merit and value of a film or documentary as opposed to the subject matter of the film or documentary. In this case, though, I can state unequivocally that the documentary is well done, while at the same time it is just appalling to see the ruthlessness of the terrorists AND the parallel incompetence of the Russian authorities to respond to the hostage crisis. It absolutely blows the mind. When the situation comes to its devastating conclusion on Day 3 (by which time there is ample press coverage and hence ample archive video footage), you can't but shake your head in contempt and disgust. Julia Roberts narrates, and along the way the film makers interview a slew of people involved, in particular family members that were directly affected in one way or another.

"Beslan: Three Days in September" is not a new release obviously. I happen to stumble upon it on Showtime On Demand the other night. Glad I did. Ideally this documentary would receive an updated release with a "Where are they now" segment added at the end. In any event, I encourage you to check this out if you get a chance, and draw your own conclusion.
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David Bowie: Finding Fame (2019 TV Movie)
7/10
Revealing documentary of David Bowie's early years
10 August 2019
"David Bowie Finding Fame" (2019 release from the UK; 95 min.) is a documentary about Bowie's early years. As the movie opens, we are given a quick glimpse at his 1973 Ziggy Stardust persona, at which time Bowie finally found the mega-success he pursued in vain for so many years. We then go back to "1965" when Bowie, then aged 18, admits he is "writing not very good songs". He ends up joining a band called The Third Level, one of many bands he joins in those years. Along the way we also get some insights on his upbringing in the Bromley neighborhood on the outskirts of London, with his cold and distant parents who don't care much for hugging or affection... At this point we are 15 min. into the documentary.

Couple of comments: this documentary is directed by Francis Whately, who in 2017 released an excellent documentary called "David Bowie: The Last 5 Years", providing great insight in Bowie's last years, most of which out of the public eye (and with shock releases of 2 great albums). This documentary can be seen as the flip side of that, giving us insights as to Bowie's first (slightly more than 5) years. As a pretty big Bowie fan myself, I knew he toiled in obscurity for years before breaking big, but I must admit I really didn't know much of the details. This documentary fills in all the blanks in one fell swoop. The film makers seem to go out of their way to track down band mates of Bowie's earliest bands (The Third Level, The Buzz, The Riot Squad, Feathers, etc.) and the verdict is pretty much unanimous: Bowie is determined and ambitious and loves himself more than anything or anyone else. "He wasn't lost, he just wasn't found yet", is how one of those band mates puts it. (Did you know that Bowie's very first album, "David Bowie", was released on June 1, 1967? Yes, the very day that the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" was released! "Bowie didn't stand a chance", comments a former band mate.) The documentary is chock-full with rare and never before seen archive footage.

"David Bowie Finding Fame" premiered earlier this year on the BBC to great acclaim, and finally received its US premiere on Showtime, where I saw it. I found it thoroughly enjoyable and revealing in ways I did not expect. Whether you are a casual (?) or die-hard Bowie fan, or simply interested in rock music history, I'd readily suggest you check this out, and draw your own conclusion.
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XY Chelsea (2019)
6/10
Flawed documentary about compelling subject matter
8 August 2019
"XY Chelsea" (2019 release from the UK; 90 min.) is a documentary about Chelsea Manning, the gender-transitioned erstwhile Bradley Manning, who in 2010 leaked 750,000 secret and sensitive documents and videos about the war in Iraq, where Manning was an intelligence analyst. As the movie opens, it is "January 17, 2017" and Manning's lawyer get a call (and we later see Pres. Obama explaining) that Manning's prison sentence is commuted (but not pardoned). The film crew follows Manning around upon the release from prison, and then the movie goes back in time for a look at Manning's upbringing and eventual joining the Army... At this point we're 15 min. into the movie.

Couple of comments: it is not always easy to distinguish the intrinsic value and merit of a film as opposed to the subject matter of the film. Even though in retrospect the title of this documentary should've been a dead giveaway, what I had expected was an objective (BBC-like) review and analysis of the leaks and the subsequent trial. And certainly there is some of that, but not nearly enough in my opinion. Instead, for the movie makers the leaks and the trial seem to be mere peripheral issues and instead they are focusing on the gender-transitioning of Manning and what life is like for Manning after being released from jail. This eventually includes media appearances, and, oh, magazine photo shoots, many, many photo shoots. I suppose that there is nothing wrong with showing the human side of Manning, but I had hoped for a far more objective portrait about what really happened with the leaks and at the subsequent trial.

"XY Chelsea" recently premiered on Showtime and I caught it on Showtime On Demand the other evening. I must admit that about halfway through I came close to turning this off, but then the second half got better and I did watch it until the very end. Still, I think this documentary is a missed opportunity, and given the complex if not compelling subject matter, it's probably only a matter of time that someone else will do a documentary about Manning. Of course I encourage you to check out "XY Manning" and draw your own conclusion.
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7/10
Delightful (if a bit Andy Partridge-centric) rockumentary
7 August 2019
"XTC - This Is Pop" (2017 release from the UK; 75 min.) is a rock documentary about the British band XTC. As the film opens, we see Andy Partridge egging on the viewer about how much he disdains "rockumentaries" in general (but then of course he goes on to fully participate in this one). We then go back in time to Partridge's upbringing in Swindon (80 mi. west of London) as an only child, leading him to entertain himself much of the time since Mum wouldn't allow other kids to the house. It eventually brings him to discover music: "I wasn't good enough to learn other people's music, so I starting writing my own songs", ha! It leads to the mid-70s punk-ish start of the Helium Kids, which then morphed into XTC...

Couple of comments: this documentary does a nice job of tracing the origins, and evolution, of "smart pop" band XTC. I grew up in Belgium and they've been a favorite of mine since their 1979 hit "Making Plans for Nigel". While there are lots of "talking heads" in the film (I particularly enjoyed the Police's Stewart Copeland's comments about their touring together in the early 80s--his brother Ian apparently was manager of both bands), it needs to be pointed out that the documentary is definitely Andy Partridge-centric. But in the end I mostly enjoyed this for the band members reminiscing on how great songs like "Making Plans for Nigel" and "Senses Working Overtime" came about. Everyone has their favorite XTC album, and mine is 1986's "Skylarking". I had no idea how much Partridge butted heads with producer Todd Rundgren (as sis made clear in this documentary), but in the end it all worked out as it is a brilliant album and remains so now 30+ years later...

"XTC - This Is Pop" premiered on Showtime in 2018, and I completely missed it at that time. I finally stumbled on this and watched it on Showtime On Demand the other night. Whether you are a casual (?) or die-hard fan of XTC, I'd readily suggest you check this out, and draw your own conclusion.
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Shadow (2018)
6/10
Chinese period film with Byzantine plot and ballet-like fight scenes
5 August 2019
As "Shadow" (2018 release from China; 116 min.) opens, we are thrown in what seems like the middle of a story line. A kingdom's King and his Commander are arguing about the Commander's unauthorized challenge to a rival kingdom. The King is not pleased as this may undo the truce and alliance between the two kingdoms. But the real challenge is how to take back Jing City, held by yet another rival kingdom for the last 20 years. At this point we are 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil you viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this is the latest opus from Chinese writer-director Zhang Yimou, best known in the US for his masterful "House of Flying Daggers". Here he brings us a Chinese period piece with a Byzantine plot that I was able to follow only in the big picture. I am certain to have missed lots of nuances. But it really doesn't matter, because what we, or certainly I, came to this movie for are the carefully orchestrated, almost ballet-like, fight scenes, and on that level I was not disappointed. Both the one-on-one fights and the massive battle scenes are a thing of beauty. None is better than the invasion of Jing City in the movie's second half, as the battle takes place in the pouring rain. I don't really understand why the movie uses hardly any colors (it's not quite B&W but it's not far from it either), I imagine there is some artistic explanation for it.

"Shadow" premiered at last year's Venice film festival to good acclaim. Yes, almost a year ago. It is now playing a limited run (only 4 days) at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. The Saturday matinee screening where I saw this at was not attended well (exactly 6 people). That is a shame. If you are in the mood for another epic and Shakespeare-reminding film from China, I'd readily suggest you check out "Shadow", be it in the theater (if you still can), on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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Serengeti (2019– )
9/10
Stunning footage unlike ever seen before (sorry, Sir David Attenborough)
5 August 2019
"Serengeti" (2019 release from the UK) is a new television series about life in the famed Tanzania wild life. As the series opens, we are informed that this is a 'dramatized story" of animals in the Serengeti, and that this is "the season of plenty", after the rainy season. We are introduced to Kani, a lioness with 4 cubs who is cast out and hence needs to fend for herself and her cubs, against great odds. Next we get to know the baboons living on the Great Rock, and things are shaken up as well within the colony... At this point we are 10 min. into the documentary.

Couple of comments: this is a stunning new nature documentary series created by none other than Simon "American Idol" Fuller, and directed by veteran documentarian John Downer. As you may know, the long-standing "gold standard" for nature documentaries has been the string of BBC series hosted over the years by Sir David Attenborough (Blue Planet, Planet Earth, etc.) Now comes "Serengeti", a new series showing commercial-free on the Discovery Channel (I watched the first episode last night). To say that this is a spectacular nature documentary would be the understatement of the year. In the initial 60 min. episode alone, there are so many jaw-dropping moments that I quite couldn't believe my eyes. The central "character" (yes, all of the animals get a name, as if they are human beings) is the lioness Kani, who is fighting mighty great odds to survive on her own (along with her 4 cubs). There she is fighting a lion! Then she hunts down a zebra! Here she comes in a dramatic standoff with hyenas! (Turns out that hyenas pretty much rule the Serengeti universe.) Along the way we watch flocks of elephants (the footage of the new-born baby will melt your heart), leopards, buffalos, and on and on. At then end of the first episode comes a 3 min. "behind the scenes" look of how the film makers were able to capture some of this stunning footage, and it is revealed they used, among others, remote mobile cameras and drones.)

Please note that the documentary is narrated by Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o (who spent considerable time growing up in nearby Kenya). Even better is the original score, composed by Will Gregory of Goldfrapp, which plays pretty much non-stop, and with leads vocals from Lola Lennox (daughter of Annie Lennox). I will certainly be checking that out as well (assuming it's available as a standalone CD or digital release). "Serengeti" has been touted as the "real life Lion King", and based on this stunning first episode, I can wholeheartedly agree with that. I cannot wait to see the upcoming episodes! The series airs Sunday evenings 8 pm Eastern on the Discovery Channel. If you love nature documentaries, I'd readily encourage you to check it out on TV, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.

*UPDATE 8/12/19* Last night I saw Episode 2 "Confrontation". We get more astonishing footage, including from female cheetah Kike and her cubs, the courtship (and hilarious dancing) of two ostriches, and the continuing adventures of lioness Kani and her cubs, and many other animals introduced in Episode 1. Note: Episode 2 was not commercial-free. That said, I still found it to be must-see TV.
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The Farewell (I) (2019)
7/10
Strong family themes resonate but the film itself falls a bit short
4 August 2019
"The Farewell" (2019 release from China; 98 min.) is "based on an actual lie", we are reminded at the beginning. As the movie opens, thirty-something Billi is on the phone when Nai Nai, her grandma back in China. (We later learn that Billi and her parents moved to America 25 years ago when she was 6.) Nai Nai is at the hospital with her sister for some tests. Turns out that Nai Nai has terminal cancer with only 3 more months to live, but her sister tells her instead that the tests went well and that Nai Nai ha a lean bill of health. Billi's parents are informed of this, but everyone agrees to keep the bad news from Nai Nai. Instead, the family takes the upcoming wedding of Billi's cousin as an excuse for one final family gathering presided by Nai Nai... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie. Will someone spill the beans to Nai Nai? 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 second feature-length from writer-director Lulu Wang, and bringing the true story of the lie told to her real life Nai Nai. The movie is mostly set in Changchun, China (where Wang's family hails from) and plays out over a period of less than a week. Wang lets us experience the different cultures and collective thinking that exists in China vs, the US ("in the West you think your life belongs to you, but in the East your life is merely a part of family, of society"). If you have been to China, you know that meals are an important part of the family culture (and business world), hence no surprise that meals are featured prominently in the movie. The role of Billi is played by Awkwafina, who has with this film yet another trophy on her belt (after "Ocean's 8" and "Crazy Rich Asians"). Yet for all the great stuff that can be and already has been said about this movie (more on that later), I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed, in that the movie plays out EXACTLY as one would've suspected it. Not a single surprise along the way, not one.

"The Farewell" premiered at this year's Sundance film festival to immediate acclaim and a bidding war (A24 won). The movie was released a month ago in LA and NY and is slowly expanding every weekend, with sensational box office results along the way. The movie opened this weekend on 2 screens at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati and I couldn't wait to see it. The Sunday matinee screening where I saw this at was PACKED. All this buzz, and also carrying a 99% certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, led me to have significant expectations going in, which the film didn't quite meet for me. If you are curious about "The Farewell", I'd readily suggest you check it out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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Rosie (I) (2018)
7/10
Sharp and blistering indictment of social and economic inequality: desperate times in Dublin
3 August 2019
"Rosie" (2018 release from Ireland; 86 min.) brings the story of Rosie and her family: 4 kids ages 3 to 13, and her partner John Paul. As the movie opens, we hear in voice-over TV clips about the shortage of affordable living in Dublin, with lease rates skyrocketing. We then see Rosie and her 4 kids in a car, as Rosie calls around to various cheap hotels for a room, but to no avail. Meanwhile, Jean Paul is working as a dish washer. Just as the situation looks to be really bleak, Rosie manages to find a hotel room for one night. The whole family crashes in the hotel room, and from the looks of the hotel, they are not the only family staying there... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie but to tell you of the plot more 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 Irish director Paddy Breathnach. Here he brings the story of one fictional family whose lease was terminated by a landlord looking to sell and cash in on the red hot real estate market in Dublin. With a shortage of affordable housing, Rosie and her family are unable to find another place to rent, and now rely on government assistance to stay in cheap hotels, assuming they can find a vacancy. This is truly a family that is barely, but just barely, hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Along the way the family encounters social issues, such as the kids that go to school, where it is quickly noticed that something isn't quite right. At one point the school's head mistress asks Rosie point blank: "Are you living in your car?", to which Rosie with indignity responds "we are not homeless! we're just lost for a bit". As much of the film plays out in the car, Breathnach does a great job giving us a sense how difficult and cramped everything is. Sarah Greene as Rosie is nothing short of masterful as she conveys the frustration, anger, shame and love for her family. Please note that the acting performances are in full-blown Irish accents, and there were a number of conversational exchanges that went completely over my head.

"Rosie" premiered to great acclaim at last year's Toronto International Film Festival, yes almost a year ago. The movie popped up out of the blue at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati, and I couldn't wait to see it. The Friday early evening performance turned out to be a private screening: I was literally the only one in the theater. Given the bleak nature of this movie (there is, literally and figuratively, not a ray of sunshine in this movie), I cannot imagine this can last more than a week in the theater. That said, there is a reason why this movie is currently rated 97% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. I found it a challenging movie, in the best possible way, and about as far away as possible from this summer's never-ending wave of super-hero movie, sequel, prequels, Disney re-imaginations, and on and on. "Rosie" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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Share (I) (2019)
7/10
Tense HS social anxiety and sexual assault drama
2 August 2019
"Share" (2019 release; 89 min.) brings the story of Mandy, a junior at the (fictitious) Alexander Gardner High School. As the movie opens, Mandy is unconscious and laying on a lawn at night. As she awakens she has no idea what happened that night or how she got to the lawn. She does notice a large bruise on her left arm. At basketball practice the next day, something is clearly off with Mandy, but what? Then later that day, Mandy gets multiple texts containing a blurry video with what appears to be her being sexually assaulted. She still has no recollection of what happened... 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 feature length debut of writer-director Pippa Bianco (working from her short film of the same name). She tackles an all-too-common problem among teenagers: a young woman taken advantage off after she has had too much to drink, with a video subsequently uploaded and shared. Mandy immediately faces tremendous peer and family pressure about whether or not to press charges, or to just forget about the whole thing and "move on". Sadly, no matter what she decides, there are no good options for Mandy, and as the film amply demonstrates, the consequences for Mandy are heartbreaking, no matter what. This is just the latest release that looks at peer pressure, and in particular social anxiety, among teenagers in today's environment (check out as well the recent documentary "I Love You, Now Die", among others). At one point Mandy asks a friend "why didn't you help me?", and the friend responds "you said you were fine", which Mandy doesn't recall saying... Newcomer Rhianne Barreto is outstanding as the vulnerable Mandy, and surely we have not seen the last of her. Also kudos to the outstanding score for this film, courtesy of electronic musician Shlohmo (the stage moniker of Henry Laufer).

"Share" premiered at this year's Sundance film festival to immediate critical acclaim. It is now showing on HBO (where I saw it). If you are in the mood for a tense high school social anxiety and abuse drama, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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