Category Archives: Drama Films

Battle of the Sexes-2017

Battle of the Sexes-2017

Director-Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Starring-Emma Stone, Steve Carell

Reviewed October 11, 2017

Grade: A

Battle of the Sexes is a film that achieves worth on many levels- equal parts sports film, drama, and biography, the film excels across all genres, with exceptional acting and crowd pleasing storytelling. To boot, the film is a true story based not only on the very famous pro tennis match of 1973, termed the “Battle of the Sexes”, but a story of the sexual identity conflict of one of the opponents, in a time where being ones true self was not easy, especially for a public figure.

Emma Stone might very well have given her best portrayal of her young career as Billie Jean King, the talented tennis pro featured in the film. She is kind and fair, but a fierce proponent of women’s rights in a time in the United States when feminism was beginning to first take shape and women, and their male supporters, demanded equal treatment. At first uncertain whether Stone could pull the role off (not because of lack of talent, but the women seem so different), she truly shines as the tomboy athlete with shaggy, feathered locks, and a toothy grin.

Equally worthy of praise is Steve Carell, who bolsters his film credo by tackling the role of King’s opponent and foe in the big match, Bobby Riggs. Portrayed as a certifiable “jerk” and a sexist pig, Carell somehow pours the perfect amount of sympathy and likability into the part. We witness scenes of Riggs’ playfulness with his young son and tender yet troubled relationship with his wife, Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue in a well cast role), that never seems neither trite nor contrived, but rather quite genuine.

In fact, the acting in Battle of the Sexes is across the board good. Sarah Silverman drips with confidence and humor as Gladys Heldman, founder of World Tennis magazine and leader of the troupe of female tennis players she parades around southern California seeking the same respect and pay as their male counterparts. Bill Pullman, makes the most of his one dimensional role of Jack Kramer, a wealthy and male chauvinistic  promoter, while the talented Andrea Riseborough is brilliant as Marilyn, the bisexual, closeted lover of Billie Jean- giving a blend of vulnerability and toughness to her role.

The romantic scenes between Stone and Riseborough smolder with tenderness and heart as they forge ahead with their forbidden romance. The film makes clear that a same sex romance in those days, while accepted by those around them, would be met with shame and rejection by a large part of King’s legions of fans- this is a heartbreaking reality. One of the most tear-jerking scenes comes at the end of the film, when a victorious King is unable to acknowledge Marilyn- her openly gay male dresser earnestly whispers to her that one day she will be free to love who she truly loves- the scene is poignant.

Directors Dayton and Faris carve a finale that is careful not to fall into cliched territory. Given that Battle of the Sexes is a sports film, this is a real risk, as typically these genre films teeter into the “good guys beat bad guys” fairy tale land. Rather, while the film does champion King in the end, the moment is laced with good humor, drama, and sentimentality that does not seem forced, but rather honest and real- I enjoyed the final act immensely.

As the film progressed I found myself drawing parallels to the ever dramatic and historical 2016 Presidential election- sure to have films made in years ahead-and King in many ways mirrors Hillary Clinton while Riggs resembles Donald Trump in the sexist department. The political and sports “Battles of the Sexes” warrants an amount of analysis. My point is a sad one and as much as I love the film, I was left with a cold feeling that forty five years after the famous Billie Jean King versus Bobby Riggs match, male superiority and chauvinism is alive and well in the United States- we still have so much progress to make.

Battle of the Sexes is a film with fantastic acting, stellar casting, passion, excitement, and a telling of a historical, true story. In short the film contains all of the elements of a compelling cinematic experience.

Black Narcissus-1947

Black Narcissus-1947

Director-Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring-Deborah Kerr

Reviewed October 5, 2017

Grade: A

A British film made in 1947 that is way ahead of its time, Black Narcissus is a brilliant foray into the mysterious entity of nuns and the bitterness, both from humanity and from the elements, a group of nuns must face as they attempt to establish a new school atop the hills of the Himalayas. The look of the film is as fantastic as the story itself, with incredible cinematography, and a foreboding eerie quality to it. Black Narcissus is one of the great treasures of classic cinema.

Based on the 1939 novel written by Rumer Godden, Black Narcissus tells the story of revolving jealousy, rage, lust, and tension, amid a convent of nuns living in isolation. Deborah Kerr, wonderful in the lead role of Clodaugh, Sister Superior, and leader of the group, faces the temptations and anger of men, while dealing with an unbalanced nun, Sister Ruth, played terrifically by Kathleen Byron.

The cinematography and the art direction first and foremost must be praised as the lavish sets are just that- sets. However, the average viewer will be whisked away on a magical experience where it seems the sets are real locales- high atop the Himalayan mountains. Scenes contain howling wind, mist, and fog that are believable- all of the sets are built and structured and Black Narcissus was filmed entirely on a set. This tidbit is unbelievable given the realism that is the end result, especially since the film was made in 1947.

The lighting in the film is unique, specifically the vibrant colors of the pink flowers, and later, the closeups of Sister Ruth. A fantastic example of this is her decent into madness during the final act as her face, maniacal, yet lovely, is heavily featured. Her face appears bright and hypnotic.

The main event, though, belongs to the tales that the film tells, which are quite edgy for the year the film was made. The subject matter of religion is always a risky matter, and the treatment of the nuns as real human beings with true emotions, even lustful ones, is brazen. Specifically, Clodagh (Kerr),  is an interesting study as the character teeters on a romance with charismatic, handsome, local British agent, Mr. Dean (David Farrar) while attempting to forget a failed romance during her youth in Ireland. Meanwhile, Sister Ruth spirals out of control leading to a dire climax involving a enormous church bell atop the restored structure.

A slight misstep the film makes is casting mostly white actors with heavy makeup in the Indian roles instead of actors with authentic ethnicity. This detail is glaring because the makeup used is not overly convincing and especially guilty is the casting of the gorgeous Jean Simmons as Kanchi, a lower class dancing girl, who the Prince becomes infatuated with in a sub-plot. Still, this pales in comparison to the fantastic story and look of the film.

Black Narcissus is a classic film that contains a bit of everything- drama, thrills, intrigue, gorgeous sets, lavish design, even a bit of forbidden passion- and executes all aspects of the film in brilliant fashion. A film admired by critics and directors through the ages, specifically championed by Martin Scorsese, the film has the unique quality of getting better and better with each viewing.

The Red Shoes-1948

The Red Shoes-1948

Director-Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring-Moira Shearer, Marius Goring

Reviewed September 19, 2017

Grade: A

Certainly the best of the bunch in the collection of cinematic ballet films, 1948’s The Red Shoes is a highly artistic and influential film undoubtedly studied in film schools everywhere. One cannot view The Red Shoes without amazement and the realization that this piece must have been dissected by legendary director Darren Aronofsky before he created his creepy 2010 psychological thriller, Black Swan, is evident.

The Red Shoes is a British film which gives it a clear element of grace, class, and sophistication, perfectly enveloping the themes of love, ambition, and jealousy- the Brits simply do it right and director, Michael Powell, later crafting the odd and controversial 1960 film, Peeping Tom, certain to have wholly ruined his career, brings his A game to this 1948 work. Decades later, Powell now is considered a genius director.

The film is laden with foreshadowing, at least a handful of times during its running time, as we meet our heroine, Vicky Page (Moira Shearer), a bright-eyed young woman with flowing red locks and aspirations of grandeur as she emerges as a fledgling ballerina in the Covent Garden area of London. Partially due to her aristocratic upbringing and her assertive and snooty aunt, she lands an audition for the ballet company, led by sophisticated Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). he is immediately enamored by her yet gives her the cold shoulder, making her question her talent. The incorporation of trains in multiple sequences is the key here.

As Lermontov and Vicky’s lives begin to intertwine, a young music student named Julian (Marius Goring) is perturbed by the plagiarism of his music by his own professor, having conducted Heart of Fire under the guise of it being his own work. When Julian expresses his displeasure to Lermontov, he is hired to perform with the orchestra. The addition of Julian to the plot kicks off a compelling triangle between the three characters- their lives overlapping in a mixture of young love, passion, and jealous rage.

The action takes off even further as the film moves to the gorgeous setting of Paris and Monte Carlo, a treat for any worldly or aspiring world traveler, as the photography and cinematic angles of the lush locales are simply breathtaking. As former prima ballerina, Irina Boronskaya, decides to leave the company to be married, Lermontov decides to create a new ballet, The Red Shoes, starring Vicky, with music composed by Julian. This creates enormous pressure for all involved as the film then takes a dark turn.

Dashes of influence surrounding the exquisite performance of the famous Swan Lake dance number heavily influenced 1950’s classic, An American in Paris. The long, colorful, and dramatic sequence is splendid, emitting lush, vivacious music and performance. This “time out” from the heavy drama encompassing the rest of the film is beautiful and peaceful and one of the sheer highlights of The Red Shoes.

The heart of the film really belongs to the dynamic between the three principal characters as the performance of each actor is spot on and rich with flare. Especially profound are the performances by Shearer and Walbrook, as each actor gives their respective character a perfect amount of fury, ambition, and tension, but Goring as Julian is equally worthy of mention and kudos.

I adore witnessing Moira Shearer dance as her talent and tenacity are astounding. An internationally renowned British ballet dancer and actress, the role of Vicky is perfectly carved out for her as the character must have been close to her heart.

Who can forget the most famous scene of all in The Red Shoes as a determined and crazed Vicky finishes her stage performance, Powell firmly holding the camera on her makeup stained face, her blue eyes wide and hair wild. Her look of triumph and insanity, lost in the moment, is a grand moment and unforgettable image seen time and time again in cinema reference books.

Equal parts dramatic, romantic, eerie, lustful, and wise, The Red Shoes is a classic film made way ahead of its time, with startling visuals and treasured art and set designs, to say nothing of powerful acting and a story that compels. No wonder this film easily influenced other masterpieces to come.

Reflections in a Golden Eye-1967

Reflections in a Golden Eye-1967

Director-John Huston

Starring-Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor

Reviewed September 3, 2017

Grade: A

Reflections in a Golden Eye is a film made during the beginning of a rich and creative time in cinema history (the latter part of the 1960’s and the beginning part of the 1970’s), where films were “created” rather than produced. Less studio influence meant more creative control for the director- in this case, John Huston, who cast the immeasurable talents of Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando in the key roles. Worth mentioning is that Montgomery Clift was the intended star, but died before shooting began. Richard Burton had turned the role down.

The film is an edgy and taboo story of lust, jealousy, and sexual repression set amid a southern military base. Novel for 1967, repressed homosexuality is explored in full detail, as well as heterosexual repression and voyeurism. Originally a flop at the box-office, the film has since become and admired and a cherished part of film history. Reflections in a Golden Eye is based on the classic 1941 novel, written by Carson McCullers.

Major Weldon Penderton (Brando) resides with his spoiled wife Leonora (Taylor) at a US Army post somewhere in the south during the 1940’s and 1950’s era. A neighboring couple, that of Lieutenant Colonel Morris Langdon (Brian Keith) and his depressed wife, Alison (Julie Harris) are also featured and the trials and tribulations of Army life are exposed. Playing key roles are the Langdon’s effeminate houseboy, Anacleto, and a mysterious Private Williams, played by a young and dashing Robert Forster.

Weldon is a repressed homosexual, rigid, and very unhappy with himself and his life, despite being successful professionally. To make matters worse, he is repeatedly needled and tormented by Leonora, who is having an affair with Morris. Leonora adores her prized horse Firebird, who becomes a major part of the story. When Weldon and Leonora spy Private Williams completely naked in the woods riding bareback, Weldon feigns disgust, but his secret desires for the young man are revealed. The two men then begin a secret cat and mouse game of spying and following each other around until a tragedy occurs.

Reflections in a Golden Eye is not a happy film, but rather a depressing piece of troubled lives and emotions. Passions are unfulfilled and repeatedly repressed as each character is able to be dissected in complex fashion. I am intrigued most of all by the character of Private Williams. A bit of an oddity, he mainly watches the action from afar learning Weldon and Leonora’s secrets- they keep separate bedrooms and repeatedly squabble. We wonder- is Williams obsessed with Weldon or Leonora? Or both? He sneaks into her room and rummages through her lingerie and perfume drawers. Would he, in a different time, consider himself to become transgender? Or merely intrigued by cross-dressing?

Weldon can also be carefully examined- he has fits of rage and violence frequently erupts. Poor Firebird suffers a violent beating at his hands to say nothing of a main characters fate at the end of the film. Having a macho and masculine exterior, his job is that of a leader, but the perception of a homosexual male during that time period- if it was thought of at all- was more like the femininity portrayed by Filipino male, Anacleto. Huston wisely casts both males well in this department as the men, along with Williams, could not be more different and nuanced.

A wise and telling aspect of the film is how it was originally shot with a muted yet distinguishable golden haze- appropriate to the film’s title- and much of the action seems to be viewed from the viewpoint of the horses. The color theme was reportedly changed because it confused audiences, but my copy has the intended golden haze and I find this tremendous and works brilliantly with capturing Huston’s original intentions.

The film is reminiscent of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the former made only one year earlier. Arguably Taylor’s character in that film is very similar to Leonora. In ways, Reflections of a Golden Eye could have been a stage production. One thing is clear- the film explores deeply the human psyche. I look forward to repeated viewings and further digging into the feelings and motivations of every principle character in a groundbreaking film by Huston.

The Beguiled-2017

The Beguiled-2017

Director-Sofia Coppola

Starring-Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell

Reviewed July 4, 2017

Grade: A-

A remake of the 1971 film (also adapted from an earlier novel) starring Clint Eastwood, The Beguiled is a 2017 release directed by Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), a director ready to burst onto the front lines. Coppola carefully chooses her films, but each one is different from the others and The Beguiled is no different. A piece fraught with atmosphere and tension, Coppola does a wonder from a directing standpoint. The story has tons of unchartered potential and drags at times, but overall The Beguiled is a hit, if nothing more than to look at in wonderment.

The film gets off to a moody start as we follow a young girl, eerily humming as she picks mushrooms, along a deserted southern road. It is Civil War times (1864), and the setting is a mostly deserted all-girls boarding school in southern Virginia. The girl (Amy) is startled when she discovers an injured, handsome Union Army soldier, Corporal John McBurney (Farrell). Sympathetic, Amy helps the soldier back to the school, led by headmistress, Martha Farnsworth (Kidman). Slowly, the females in the school become enamored with John as they develop rivalries with each other in order to gain the upper hand for his affections.

There is something so sinister and wickedly foreboding about almost every scene as we shrink at the thought that something bad will happen at any moment- sometimes it does and sometimes it does not. Almost like a horror film would, the camera angles are such that something or someone is bound to suddenly leap out and grab a character.

The colors are muted and almost pastel and there is commonly fog floating through the exterior scenes. Coppola does a fantastic job of portraying a deserted southern landscape. The lighting of the film is also intriguing as lit candles serve to enhance the dimness and the final dinner scene (poison mushrooms anyone?) is gloomy and Shakespearean.

Beyond the look of the film, The Beguiled is well-acted. With heavyweights like Farrell, Kidman, and frequent Coppola star, Kirsten Dunst, as the vulnerable and unhappy teacher, Miss Morrow, the acting is stellar and believable. The audience is unsure if John is manipulating the women for his own gain or if he has developed feelings for any (or all) of them. The lovesick teen, Alicia (Elle Fanning), with hormones clearly raging, sets her sights on John almost from the beginning, sneaking out of musical lessons, to kiss an unconscious John goodnight.

The story, while compelling, is quite slow moving and left with oodles of possibilities when the conclusion finally happens. Other than the tart, Alicia, endless romantic potential could have been reached with both Miss Morrow and Miss Farnsworth. I was left wondering throughout the film when a romance would develop between Martha and John, but only towards the end of the film was this ever addressed and barely skirted over, as the take charge and stoic Martha slowly began to let her guard down. In this way, the film could have added some further romantic complications and beefed up the very short running time of ninety three minutes.

As Nicole Kidman is one of my favorite film stars of all time (she can tell a story by facial expressions alone), she has wisely begun to choose fantastic supporting roles as she ages in Hollywood (2016’s Lion immediately comes to mind). Dunst has aged gracefully into a middle-aged actress chomping at the bit for meaty roles, and Colin Farrell is as ruggedly handsome as ever sprouting a dark and bushy beard for most of the role. The acting in The Beguiled is fantastic.

The Beguiled is a film to watch if only to escape to the joys of great, atmospheric, film-making, and to appreciate the wonderful talents of one of the few prominent female director’s of today (hopefully the mega success of 2017’s female directed Wonder Woman will begin to change this). The story has a few issues, but overall The Beguiled is worth the money spent.

Valley of the Dolls-1967

Valley of the Dolls-1967

Director-Mark Robson

Starring-Barbara Parkins, Patty Duke, Sharon Tate

Reviewed July 3, 2017

Grade: A-

Based on the best selling novel written by Jacqueline Susann a year earlier, the film version of Valley of the Dolls has become rather a cult classic in the years following release- it has earned the dubious description of “it’s so bad it’s good”.  The film dives head first into the soapy and dramatic world of Hollywood and Broadway and the trials and tribulations that three young women encounter as they try to “make it” in the back stabbing business. The film teeters on camp, but is a favorite of mine, as I love the theme of aspiring stars in La La land. The set design and groovy styles of the late 1960’s are also note-worthy.

Bored with her life in sleepy New England, Anne Welles decides to move to the bright lights of Manhattan seeking fame, fortune, and excitement. After she lands a secretarial job for an entertainment lawyer, who handles temperamental Broadway star Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward), Anne meets and befriends two other struggling young actresses. Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke) is a vivacious, gifted singer and Jennifer North (Sharon Tate) a gorgeous blonde with limited talent, but looks to die for.  The three women wrestle with their ups and downs of show business as they each achieve various levels of successes and failures.

The film centers on both the loves and the losses of each woman and at times the film is rather soap opera-like, especially the bitchy feud between Neely and Helen, but the film is a fun, entertaining experience.  Various men come in and out of the trios lives. The “dolls” referenced in the title are a nickname for pills that the girls readily pop and alcohol is also used in the film.

One interesting aspect to the film that I am fond of is that the three women are vastly different from one another.  Anne is the most sensible of the three and arguably the most intelligent. Neely is wild, reckless, and constantly battles drugs and alcohol, yet she is both the most successful and the most talented. Jennifer is gorgeous, but lacks the talent or the vigor to succeed in Hollywood. Two of the three women do not experience happy endings to their respective stories.

Some of the film is admittedly a bit uneven, especially the performance of Duke as Neely. She plays the role wildly over the top especially during her shrieking, drug saddled tirades, but rather than find the performance irritating (some certainly might), I find the role loud, bombastic, but yet sympathetic. We root for Neely because she has talent despite her personal shortcomings and she is a likable character to me as I want her to find happiness. Also playing up the camp is Hayward, as she fills Helen with fire, spite, and gusto, doing everything to make the audience view her as queen bitch. Helen was scheduled to be played by illustrious star Judy Garland (she would have been perfect!), but was reportedly fired for showing up for work drunk.

An enjoyable aspect to Valley of the Dolls is the humor, though sadly the laughs are not always intentional. The finale involves a cat-fight between Neely and Helen in the classy ladies room of a famed theater. With sheer delight, Neely yanks off Helen’s bright orange wig to reveal her natural head of hair. In campy fashion, Helen’s real hair is perfectly fine- more shocking would have been if she were bald or had thinning hair, but her hair is bleached blonde and full. In melodramatic fashion, Helen waltzes out of the theater sans wig.

Valley of the Dolls is a late-night treat that can be enjoyed and not taken overly seriously- the film differs vastly from the actual novel and even the time period (the 1960’s versus the 1940’s through the 1960’s) is changed. The film was followed by a much more campy and satirical film,  Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, made in 1970 and directed by Russ Meyer.

Fences-2016

Fences-2016

Director-Denzel Washington

Starring-Denzel Washington, Viola Davis

Reviewed June 11, 2017

Grade: B+

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis both give dynamic performances in Fences, a film directed by Washington himself, and based on a stage play, written by August Wilson. The film reunites several actors from the stage version and, while compelling, Fences does not translate as well onto the screen as hoped. Throughout the film, I kept surmising how much better Fences would be on the live stage. Still, a tremendous acting tour de force transpires, which is well worth the price of admission.

Set in 1950’s Pittsburgh, Troy Maxson (Washington) is a struggling fifty-three year old black man, working as a trash collector alongside his best friend, Jim Bono. Married to Rose (Davis), they share a teenage son, Cory, an aspiring high school football player. In the mix are Troy’s younger brother, a mentally impaired World War II veteran, and Troy’s older son, Lyons, a fledging musician. Everyone lives in a close-knit community and there is a sense of comradery, though the principal characters are frequently at odds with each other as dramatic situations slowly arise.

Troy is a very angry man, frequently going on rants about his time playing in the Negro baseball league and complaining about the unfairness of the world, specifically the racial injustice of the time. The friction between Troy and Cory is thick as Cory wants to dedicate his life to football, while Troy feels his son will ultimately be disappointed. When Troy drops a startling bomb on Rose, their lives are forever changed as they work to mend the damage inflicted between them.

Fences is at its core a family drama and the story offers tons of conflict. Almost all of the action takes place in the Maxson family home- a two story brick house- and scenes frequently play out in the backyard. In this way, the film stays very true to its roots as a stage production, which is good and bad. The film feels like a play, so therefore I found myself fantasizing about how good the production would be on the stage rather than on the screen, especially since some of the actors (namely Washington and Davis) starred in that version. What a blessing and a curse.

The film feels a bit too limiting at times and contains a glossy “Hollywood look” to it. This is all well and good, but the stage version would undoubtedly be more bare bones, giving the production more of a raw feel- especially important in several key dramatic scenes between Troy and Rose.

Despite other opinions, I did not find Troy to be a likable character at all. Certainly, Washington infuses power and good acting grit into the character, but I found few redeeming qualities. To say nothing of the situation with Rose, he does not treat son Cory with much respect. I found Troy’s repeated verbal rampages and stories irritating after awhile, and began to wonder, “why should we root for this man?”

Viola Davis deserved the Best Supporting Actress award she received for her turn as Rose. Dutiful, loving, and woefully under appreciated, her character rises well above a traditional housewife, as during one pivotal scene, she explodes with rage. Davis, a fantastic “crier”, saves her best tears for this part, as it is a weepy portrayal. But more than that, she exudes a strong woman, in a time when black women had it particularly tough.

I would have preferred an edgier film than the final result of Fences brings to the big screen, but the wonderful performances more than compensated for what the film otherwise lacks in darkness. At times too safe and slightly watered down, the stage version may be the one to see.

Hacksaw Ridge-2016

Hacksaw Ridge-2016

Director-Mel Gibson

Starring-Andrew Garfield

Reviewed June 9, 2017

Grade: B+

Hacksaw Ridge is considered somewhat of a comeback film for troubled director Mel Gibson, having not directed a film in over ten years. The film received several Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (Andrew Garfield). While the film has a few minor flaws, and despite being yet another exhausting war film, Hacksaw Ridge is quite powerful, mostly because of the warmth and convictions that Garfield breathes into the central character, and real life hero, Desmond Doss. The film also leans anti-war and pacifistic, needed components in these troubled times.

During World War II, Desmond is a young man living in Virginia. With a brother around the same age, they deal with an abusive, alcoholic father and a passive mother. Desmond realizes he has a talent for medical care and, after falling in love with a small town nurse, he decides to enlist in the Army as a non combat medic. After refusing to use weapons and train on Saturdays, he is met with contempt by his commanding officers and fellow recruits. When, inevitably, Doss and his troops are deployed to the Pacific theater during the Battle of Okinawa, Doss becomes a hero when he saves numerous lives on the frightening  “Hacksaw Ridge” in courageous form.

For the first half or so of the film (save for a peculiar opening battle sequence that comes into play during the second half of the film), the action largely either takes place in Desmond’s hometown  of Virginia or at a basic training facility.  We get to know a bit about Desmond’s childhood experiences, his love life, and his love of country and duty. His father, a retired military man himself is damaged- he drinks, beats on his wife, and hits the boys, though Gibson tones down the abuse by not showing much of it. He saves the real gore for later in the film.

The film during the earlier portions has a very mainstream, safe feel to it and I found more than a couple of aspects to nitpick. Desmond’s fellow training recruits are laced with too often used stereotypical, stock characters- the brooding one, the cocky one nicknamed “Hollywood” for his good looks and tendency to walk around naked, the funny one, the strange one, the list goes on and on. Predictably, drill Sergeant Howell (played by Vince Vaughn, now parlaying from comedy roles to drama) is tough as nails. This is a character we have seen in dozens of war films before it and it feels stale as do all of the characters. Some of the jokes used are cheap one-liners like, “we are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy” to describe new surroundings- Duh, really?. Additionally, there is glaring machismo in the first half that is a negative to the film and it makes the film feel like nothing more than standard fare.

However, the second half of Hacksaw Ridge really drew me in- much more than the first half did. Now in Okinawa, the film grips a much darker tone with the inclusion of battle scenes, some very gruesome with the loss of limbs and life. Technically speaking, the cinematography and camera work are shaky and move very quickly, causing an effective shift from the sun and peace of the United States to the dark and fog of unfamiliar territory.  A sweet scene between Desmond and brooding former rival, Smitty Ryker, inside a foxhole, is wonderful as we get to know each character much better within that one scene. Both men discuss their pasts and grow a new affection for one another. It is humanistic and character driven and thereby makes the film much more powerful.

Andrew Garfield is a marvel in the film and deserves the attention received for the role. Coming into his own as an actor after suffering hiccups with Spider Man, he has thankfully returned to character driven and empathetic roles. The role of Desmond is a truly heroic role for him and he is wonderfully cast.

A war film with a distinct anti-war message, Hacksaw Ridge  is overall a “guy’s film” with the female characters taking a backseat to the men, and suffers from some tried and true aspects, and some of the hairstyles seem awfully 2016, but in the end the film depicts a wonderful human being and tells his heroic story, so that makes the film a good watch.

Sully-2016

Sully-2016

Director-Clint Eastwood

Starring-Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart

Reviewed March 10, 2017

Grade: B

I think most film critics would agree that each modern film directed by Clint Eastwood would accurately be described as compelling films yet safe films and the 2016 Eastwood offering, Sully, fits into both of these categories in snug fashion- just as Sully feels like a snug film. Everything seems to fit into a nice package by the time the credits roll and while the film is sympathetic and has leanings of a character study, it is also shrouded in a wholesomeness that is incredibly safe and “Hollywood”. This is not a knock or a demerit towards the film as it is very good and well made with a high budget, but edgy is not its thing in the least and it might have gone for a bit more grit.

The quite recent perilous United Airways flight 1549 that now famous Captain Sully successfully landed into New York’s frigid  Hudson river one January morning, is recounted in the film. Tom Hanks plays the role of the subdued and unassuming hero to perfection as his calm demeanor and grounded persona makes him quite a likable chap to say nothing of the fact of saving 155 lives aboard the would be doomed flight that day.

Instead of going in a purely linear direction, building up the events (gravitating passengers, takeoff) in sequential order, until the inevitable crash, Eastwood wisely decides to begin directly after the crash has already happened.  Captain Sully, clearly jarred by the events, is startled awake by nightmares as he dreams of crashing into midtown Manhattan instead of safely landing the jet. The hero is clearly beginning to suffer from symptoms of PTSD. He is kept in New York City for days on both a press tour, interview after interview, as well as being questioned by The National Transportation Safety Board, who wonder why Captain Sully did not return to a nearby airport for an emergency landing as simulated computer recreations show that he could have. This leads to both Sully and First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) put under a microscope and questioned.

I was a bit caught off guard, and getting slightly bored, as the film takes about thirty minutes to even focus on the actual crash or show and airplane scene, rather building up the events by focusing on Sully and Skiles mental health, but in retrospect this is actually a wise decision by Eastwood. The entire film in itself is barely over ninety minutes total so the action does come fast and furious mid-stream.

Still, the film is not quite all that it could have been. Despite the potential horrific consequences faced with an airplane blowing both engines due to the flocks of birds, I never got many extremely perilous moments during the film. In fact, the danger scenes as Sully navigates the plane into the river, while technically well done, lack much in the way of punch. Sure, there are a few quick shots of passengers praying or appearing frightened, but we never get to know any of the passengers very well. A “don’t blink or you might miss it” scene of an elderly mother and her daughter shopping for a snow globe at the airport or three men rushing to catch the plane in order to catch a golf game in Charlotte are not enough for the audience to become to enveloped in their characters. In fact, they almost seem thrown in last minute as a way of personalizing the passengers.

To my mention above, the point of the film certainly surrounds Sully (and arguably it should; nothing wrong with that) and to a lesser degree Skiles, the supporting characters contain no character development and even Skiles’s personal life is not explored well. Scully’s wife is only seen by way of phone conversations (played by Laura Linney) that he is happily married with two daughters. There is brief talk of some money trouble, but the wife is underdeveloped. Additionally, the NTSB agents are portrayed as quite antagonistic towards Sully and Skiles (rumors abound that this was embellished for movie making), which makes sense.

I enjoyed the ending of the film- in tandem with the credits rolling- of seeing not only the real-life Sully, but his wife, and the passengers and crew of the real United Airlines flight 1549, through interviews and photographs. This offering in true life biography films is now a standard feature to look forward to as it brings a humanistic conclusion to the story just watched.

The focus of the film centering on Captain Sully is fine by me- the man is a hero- but as a film, and more than a biography, it might have added depth to have richer supporting characters and a stronger background of the man that is Sully. A few rushed childhood aviator and battle plane scenes seemed rather out of place. Still, as a whole the film is nice and quite watchable, just nothing that will set the world on fire or be remembered as much more than a decent film based on a true story.

Hidden Figures-2016

Hidden Figures-2016

Director-Theodore Melfi

Starring-Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, Octavia Spencer

Reviewed February 26, 2017

Grade: A-

Hidden Figures is a mainstream, “Hollywood” style film that is produced, written, and acted very well. It is a film that tells of three female African American mathematicians who faced many struggles and were rather overlooked at the time, the early 1960’s. The women achieved historical success and were instrumental in allowing John Glenn to orbit planet Earth. From a film perspective, the story is feel-good, but does not feel contrived- in fact it feels quite fresh, and features a wonderful ensemble cast with nice chemistry. I enjoyed this film immensely.

Blessed with good smarts, Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer), Mary Jackson (Monae), and Katherine Johnson (Henson), are fortunate enough to work for the Langley Research Center – the time is 1961. In those days, segregation still existed and the women worked as temporary workers and used separate “colored” bathrooms and were largely excluded from the white workers. The three women are best friends and drive to work together- each of them has an individual specialty and the film focuses on each woman’s story.

The larger role and main story is about Katherine. Since the Russians had achieved success in outer space already, the race was on for the United States to follow suit. Katherine is assigned as a “computer” in the Space Task Group, led by Al Harrison (Kevin Costner). Initially, Katherine is dismissed by her colleagues, but eventually is accepted due to her smarts. In sub-plots, Dorothy struggles to be given a Supervisor position, and Mary aspires to be the first female engineer, despite needing entry into an all-white school to take necessary classes.

My favorite of the three performances is of Taraji P. Henson. The actress impresses with her spunky, well-mannered, portrayal, and specifically her fantastic scene when she has simply had enough of the segregation and the difficulty in performing her job. She loses it in front of the entire team and rails against them- expecting to lose her job, instead her boss Al, (a fantastic nice-guy role for Costner), sees her point and declares NASA will see no distinction of color. Henson is the lead actress in the film and carries it well.

The chemistry between the three actresses is what allows Hidden Figures to work so well and come off as believable. The women always have each others backs and are friends outside of work- attending church and picnics together. In fact, the film is smart to feature the women’s lives outside of their professions. A nice side story of single mother Katherine (her husband having died) meeting and being courted in lovely fashion by handsome National Guard Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali) is a sweet story, genuinely told. The two also have nice chemistry together.

The films finale as the attempted launch of John Glenn is met with problems, is compelling. Due to the genius of Katherine, she must save the day as Glenn trusts only her judgment and calculations of the ever so important numbers. The scene is a “just desserts” moment for Katherine as the country rallies behind the events in patriotic fashion.

Hidden Figures plays it safe and the true struggles of the real women undoubtedly had darker and meaner situations as the discrimination they faced had to have been more intense, but the film strives to downplay some of the grit in favor of light hearted, crowd-pleasing fare, but I fell for it hook, line, and sinker, and enjoyed the film ride that I was given.

Florence Foster Jenkins-2016

Florence Foster Jenkins-2016

Director-Stephen Frears

Starring-Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant

Reviewed January 30, 2017

Grade: B

Director Stephen Frears certainly loves to direct films that are starring vehicles for mature actresses- Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, and now Meryl Streep have benefited vastly by his direction (all received Oscar nominations). In Florence Foster Jenkins, Frears crafts a warm hearted tale of a famous real-life opera singer, the title character, played by Streep. The film is likable, but not up to par with other Frears gems, specifically Philomena or The Queen. The film is a tad too safe for my tastes and should have been darker given the subject matter.

Florence Foster Jenkins is a New York City socialite and heiress living and flourishing during the year 1944. She is the founder of the Verdi Club and does a world of good for music, specifically the world of opera, which she adores. Nicknamed “Bunny” by her husband Bayfield, played by Hugh Grant, he reveres her, but not in the physical sense- he resides elsewhere with a girlfriend. This is due to Bunny being afflicted with long-term syphilis, causing her to be medicated and rendering her bald and unable to engage in sexual relations.

Bunny is a wretched, flat singer, despite her passion for singing, yet everyone convinces her how wonderful she is because she is so well regarded in her social circle. Many people are paid off in exchange for their support. Due to Bunny’s medication, it is assumed that she cannot hear properly leaving her unaware of how bad she really sings. Bunny now determined to sing at Carnegie Hall, Bayfield must scramble to make sure no critics are anywhere in site for the big show, saving his wife from humiliation.

Any film starring Meryl Streep is assured to be fantastic from an acting standpoint and, per usual, she does not disappoint. Streep envelopes the role of Bunny- giving her charm and a vulnerability that only Streep can do. The character knows what she wants and is stubborn, but there is a kindness to her and we see the passion ooze from her pores. Clearly Streep is the highlight and the draw of the film.

Hugh Grant is worthy of kudos himself and I rather liked the chemistry between the two actors. Seeking physical relations with another woman may risk making him appear a cad, but Grant also gives Bayfield a sensitivity and genuine care for his wife. They have “an arrangement” but he hides his girlfriend when Bunny shows up unexpectedly- not wanting Bunny to be embarrassed. Grant’s and Streep’s scenes together are tender and believable.

Simon Helberg, as Bunny’s pianist, McMoon is also a positive of the film. Hired to accompany Bunny’s singing, he is first appalled, bemused, and finally understanding of Bunny, coming to love and respect her for who she is. The character is clearly gay (the film never comes out and says this), but gay themes are common in Frears films and it is a non-issue among the principal characters- wonderful, but perhaps unrealistic for that time.

A flaw of the film is the lack of any purely great moments during the film. I suppose the climax at Carnegie Hall should have been it, but I did not completely buy the entire film. Even the laughter and the mocking of Bunny by the crowd seems done in a soft, light way. The film is a decent offering, nonetheless, and Streep the ultimate selling point. Great costumes, too.

The Lady in the Van-2015

The Lady in the Van-2015

Director-Nicholas Hytner

Starring-Maggie Smith

Reviewed January 19, 2017

Grade: B

As far as I am concerned Maggie Smith can do no wrong and I will happily enjoy watching her in anything- anytime. Around in film since the 1950’s this lady deserves starring film role.  Utterly distinctive she is- as legendary actress Bette Davis was- Smith has a style purely her own- her facial expressions and exasperated gasps make her one of the great film stars. The Lady in the Van is specifically made for her, I have no doubt, but besides her talents the movie is a decent offering, but very safe. It lacks the depth that it could have had.

Written by Alan Bennett, the film tells the true story of Mary Sheperd, an elderly woman living in a broken down van, who befriends Bennett, and eventually lives in his driveway for fifteen years before her inevitable death. Set in northern London, a quaint and gorgeous part of the world, Mary harbors a deep secret involving her van, and is revealed to have been a star piano pupil in her day.

Smith has no qualms about playing unflattering characters. Sheperd is grizzled, abrupt, and rude, but Smith puts a lot of heart into her too, so that the audience senses her vulnerability and falls in love with her. With her sad protruding blue eyes, wrinkles for miles, and chirpy voice, Smith is fantastic at giving her all to the role. The rest of the cast, however, adequately play their roles, but are limited and out-shadowed at every turn. Most notable is the wasted talents of Jim Broadbent, appearing in a small and quite meaningless role.

Besides Smith’s brilliant performance, The Lady in the Van lacks any layers. The story is well and good, but we never see many of Mary’s struggles- how does she afford food? how is she not sick? The film skims over the darker elements of being homeless in favor of a lighthearted tale. Fine, but what about her inevitable issues?

Other less important stories are mentioned but not fully explored. Alex speaks to what looks like his twin brother, but is it his alter ego? Young men come and go at night, so the presumption is that Alex is gay, and in the end we do see Alex living with a man, but why is this so vaguely written? Why mention it at all? This story would have been interesting to delve deeper into especially given the fact that the real Alex Bennett wrote the film.

Other side stories are introduced, but remain on the surface. Alex’s mother clearly suffers from Alzheimer’s, but this is not explored much, and Mary’s brother, who institutionalized her at a young age, offers no explanation as to why this was done- obviously she had mental illness- but the brother’s motivations are not clear. I wanted more from the supporting characters than was offered.

Still, the bottom line is that The Lady in the Van is a Maggie Smith film, and any film in which she has the lead role, is pretty damned good for that reason alone.

Closer-2004

Closer-2004

Director-Mike Nichols

Starring-Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman

Reviewed August 8, 2008

Grade: B+

Closer is a very odd, offbeat sort of film, yet it is strangely fascinating and reels you in as the story unfolds and more is revealed. One will become engrossed in the characters as the film is rich in nuanced character development. Closer is very adult and certainly not for everyone, but if you enjoy character driven films this one is worth checking out.

Based on a play of the same name and featuring a star studded cast to go along with several Oscar nominations, Closer tells the story of companionship, isolation, and betrayal. It centers on four characters, (Anna-Julia Roberts, Dan-Jude Law, Alice-Natalie Portman, and Larry-Clive Owen), each of whom spends the film either bedding, scheming, or jealous of each of the others. Purely a character study, we see many different emotions from each, which is the films strength.

To the films credit, it is shot much like a play, however, is just a tad on the slow moving side. However, I adored the London locales, and the films successful attempt at makes the viewer uncomfortable and just a tinge disturbed.

The Reader-2008

The Reader-2008

Director-Stephen Daldry

Starring-Kate Winslet

Reviewed January 20, 2009

Grade: A

The Reader (2008) is by far my favorite of all of Kate Winslet’s film roles-and that is saying something! It is her most challenging and provocative to date, and will ruffle some feather for sure based on the subject matter of the story. The subject of a grown woman in her thirties involved in a steamy and passionate love affair with a young boy half her age, is too much for some, but I found the films bravery admirable.

To be fair, the film is a slow build-up type of story and it takes a little while to get going, but if you stick with it, it will be worth your time. Winslet plays a woman (Hanna) living in 1950’s Germany, living an ordinary life. She is a poor woman and a young boy she meets changes her life for the better. He teaches her readings and other educational things and they are inseparable. When she leaves twn one day, the boy is devastated.

The film then fast-forwards thirty years to the 1990’s and the boy, now grown up and played by Ralph Fiennes, comes upon Hanna is a most unusual, dramatic, and devastating way. The film is told from the perspective of Fiennes character, which is a wonderful decision.

The Reader is very heavy on the sex and nudity (I mean lots!), so if anyone is offended by that you might want to skip it. The story was riveting and the acting topnotch. An excellent film.

Revolutionary Road-2008

Revolutionary Road-2008

Director-Sam Mendes

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

Reviewed January 26, 2009

Grade: A

Revolutionary Road is an outstanding film- and what superior, human, raw acting by stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. The duo reunite in film over ten years after the monstrous success of Titanic.

The trailers might lead one to believe that this film is a romantic comedy or some type of love story- it is a love story, but a very real, dark one. Both characters are certainly flawed.

Set in affluent New England, somewhere in Connecticut to be precise, April and Frank seemingly have it all. He a successful doctor, she the perfect housewife, they live a happy existence free of problems- or do they? Slowly, the audience sees their lives spin out of control and varying emotions between the pair emerge to the surface.

Great supporting turns by Kathy Bates and Michael Shannon as characters presenting roadblocks to April and Frank’s happiness.

If you are looking for a film with true, gritty, layered acting, this is it, and Revolutionary Road is a much more complex film than the previews would allow you to think. It really shows the depth of DiCaprio’s  and Winslet’s acting ability. Some might feel it is a bit slow moving, but the payoff is definitely worth it.

Frost/Nixon-2008

Frost/Nixon-2008

Director-Ron Howard

Starring-Frank Langella, Michael Sheen

Reviewed January 31, 2009

Grade: B+

Adapted from a Broadway play, director Ron Howard creates a powerful film surrounding the infamous 1977 interview between shamed former President Nixon and interviewer David Frost. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen star.

For someone who was too young to really remember Nixon or the Watergate scandal, the film was very enlightening and historical for me on a personal level. Frost/Nixon is also a very human story and well made.

The interview scenes are fantastic as the constant back and forth, cat and mouse, each man looking for an opportunity to either pounce, avoid, or gain the upper hand are rich with character driven possibilities. The scuttlebutt and the behind the scenes scrambling by Nixon’s men is good drama.

In particular, Frank Langella steals the show as President Nixon. He is confident, strong, yet vulnerable, and sad. An acting Tour De Force by Langella.

An Education-2009

An Education-2009

Director-Lone Scherfig

Starring-Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard

Reviewed November 12, 2009

Grade: B+

An Education, a British film released in 2009, is a small, little gem of a film. The story-telling and the acting are very good. Since it is a British film, the accents can be a little distracting for some, but I enjoyed it very much.

It tells the story of an intelligent, college driven teenager, named Jenny, who falls in love with an older, charismatic man (Sarsgaard). She is faced with conflict from her family and teachers, most notably her father, played by Alfred Molina. The individuals in her life have differing opinions in which path Jenny should choose in her life. This leads to the main conflict in the film.

The setting is rainy, cold, London in 1961. Certainly headed for Oxford and a successful career (not common for a female in those days), Jenny is willing to risk it all for love, but is she being taken advantage of?

The film is romantic, comical, and serious all rolled into one. The story is nothing original, to be frank, but specifically, the excellent acting makes it worth seeing. An Education proves film makers can take a good story, told before, and make it compelling to an audience.

Carey Mulligan deservedly received an Oscar nomination for this film and made her debut as a high caliber young actress to watch.

The Blind Side-2009

The Blind Side-2009

Director-John Lee Hancock

Starring-Sandra Bullock

Reviewed December 8, 2009

Grade: B-

The Blind Side is a 2009 film that garnered huge buzz and accolades largely  based on rave reviews for Sandra Bullock’s performance. Bullock subsequently went on to win an Academy award for the role (I personally would have awarded any of the other four nominees instead).

The story is surmised as a rich, white couple from the suburbs “rescues” poor black football player and gives him a decent life that he otherwise would not have been able to have.

I was impressed with Bullock’s performance, but I left the theater a little disappointed. I know this is a true story, but do we really need yet another movie about a poor black kid being “rescued” by rich, white people? Think Finding Forester. This film is riddled with the typical stereotypes (rednecks, racist friends, political/religious views)that seem a bit overdone.

Disturbing to me are folks that think The Blind Side is the best film in decades- no- it is certainly not. It is definitely a feel good, warm, fairy tale sort of movie, that, besides Bullock’s performance, seems rather ordinary.

I was expecting a bit more due to the success of the movie and would recommend this as a rental only or anyone who aspires to watch all of the Oscar nominated features.

Invictus-2009

Invictus-2009

Director-Clint Eastwood

Starring-Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman

Reviewed December 15, 2009

Grade: B

As sports films go, it is very difficult, especially a sports film based on real life actions, for a director to avoid cliches and make the film not a sappy, saturated mess. I will point out some of the latter day Rocky films as examples of cheese, not that those are true stories.

Nevertheless, Clint Eastwood has given us Invictus, and while the film is certainly predictable and sappy, somehow it also works as an above average offering.  This is undoubtedly helped by the superior acting of stars Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman, who give both compelling and nuances performances.

While not a masterpiece, for the sports genre, it is above average, as it combined a South African history lesson along with good drama. Freeman portrays the famed Nelson Mandela, during the period when he took over as President and subsequently ended apartheid. He used the 1995 World Cup rugby matches as a way to unite his people. Damon stars as a key rugby player.

Invictus is a rousing, triumphant sports film with a happy ending one can see for miles away. There is particularly a rooting value and rallying cry to the film since the subject matter is an important social issue and historically significant.

I wish that the film might have contained more character driven elements, but it was clear the type of film that it was. Nothing very surprising ever developed as the film was certainly straight-forward. Still, a worthy effort that is a feel-good film.

Jackie-2016

Jackie-2016

Director-Pablo Larrain

Starring-Natalie Portman

Reviewed January 1, 2017

Grade: A-

Natalie Portman clearly carries the 2016 biographical-drama film based on the life on Jackie Kennedy, and the events directly following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. The film is not a retread of conspiracy theories nor does it feature more than a few glimpses brief of JFK himself, but rather, it is Jackie’s story and what she faced throughout the ordeal. The film wisely uses flashbacks to show the famous tour of the White House, which Jackie gave shortly before the President’s death. A bravura performance by Portman as Jackie.

Director Pablo Larrain, primarily known for achievements with foreign language films (the Chilean film, No comes to mind), rather than the American History genre, is successful in his work with direction. The film is a gloomy one, both in tone and with the terrific brooding musical score-composed by Mica Levi, with its loud, abrupt  sound effects. The overall feel of the film is foreboding and dark.

The main activity is told through a famous Life interview that Jackie Kennedy gave a week after the assassination- the reporter was Theodore H. White, who was slightly less than sympathetic in demeanor toward the First Lady. Held in Massachusetts, Jackie is away from the limelight in peaceful tranquility, but is still pained.

Portman is very successful at revealing two sides of Jackie Kennedy to the audience. Not simply a smiling debutante that she always portrayed to the world publicly, Jackie was also a complex, feisty woman, who vehemently wanted the world to see how brutal the assassination was, how proud she was of her husband, and how she would not back down from holding a lavish and public funeral procession for her deceased husband. Jackie was met with harsh criticisms and defiance for desiring to do so. A proud woman- she did not wish to run off and hide from the terrible events that occurred.

Jackie is mostly a quiet, introspective film. Much of the film is Jackie being interviewed, or flashbacks of her giving the White House tour. Typically Portman plays Jackie as prim, proper, and demure- she is always filled with class and grace. In one riveting sequence though, we see Jackie walking through the White House, smoking cigarettes, and drinking vodka. She appears alone and vulnerable, having just lost her husband. Portman embraces her pain and the audience grieves with her- she is alone in more ways than one. We see her not only as a First Lady, but as a sad woman,  in her agony. Portman is really fantastic in her mannerisms and tone of voice.

I loved the continuous usage of flashbacks to tell the story, but the film does not delve into an unneeded history lesson- we all know what happened- the point of the film is to answer curiosity about Jackie.

What is most effective is the focus on Jackie’s reactions and how Jackie handled the events. In a grotesque scene, rivaling any horror film, we are right there with Jackie in the car that fateful day as a shot rings out, blowing JFK’s head wide open. Sinking into Jackie’s lap, she later candidly describes to the Life magazine reporter, how she attempted to hold the remains of his head together. We then see her wandering around, her beautiful pink suit smeared with blood.

A quiet yet compelling and mesmerizing film, Portman is the main draw. She channels emotions of heartbreak, sadness, and composure. A fantastic First Lady, Jackie always was graceful and proper, but Portman shows another side to her, very few people knew of. In addition to this fine acting, Jackie is a dark, brooding film that successfully tells this woman’s story.

Up in the Air-2009

Up in the Air-2009

Director-Jason Reitman

Starring-George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick

Reviewed January 16, 2010

Grade: A

Up in the Air is a fantastic film, but for some odd reason, circa its release to theaters in 2009 some reason it was categorized as a romantic comedy. While there is a bit of romance involved, the film is really a dark romantic drama. The content is absolutely perfect for this period in history- the terrible economy, and the unemployment rate rising sky high. The acting by the principles is excellent, and is worth watching, but do not expect a happy, uplifting film.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate “downsizer”, who travels the country firing employees from companies that hire him. Ryan has no qualms about what he does and enjoys traveling around the country. He mentors a young employee, Natalie, played by Anna Kendrick, who is more sympathetic to the people whose lives she changes. Ryan meets another frequent flyer, businesswoman Alex (Vera Farmiga), and they begin an affair. He becomes a more sympathetic character as he develops real feelings for Alex, but will Alex return the affections?

The tone of the film is sarcastic and sardonic, and Clooney is dynamic in the lead role- carrying the film. He is charismatic and energetic, performing his work duties in an emotionless way. We slowly get to know him better and realize, through Alex, that he does have a heart. Alex is a more mysterious character, and Farmiga is equally as engaging in the role. When a big reveal is learned about Alex, the audience does not see it coming.

As the years go by, my hope is that Up in the Air is remembered for being a film that was released at the perfect time, given the difficulties many were going through. I love how the film carries smart dialogue- the characters questioning each others motivations and becoming intertwined. Jason Reitman and the screenwriters craft an exceptional film.

The Last Station-2009

The Last Station-2009

Director-Michael Hoffman

Starring-Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren

Reviewed February 17, 2010

Grade: A-

The Last Station is a wonderful film. It contains many worthwhile elements- history, culture, good drama, and great acting. Starring seasoned veterans such as Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren, the fantastic acting is as good as it gets.

The film tells the story of the final year in the life of famous Russian author Tolstoy and the relationship he has with his family- specifically his wife, Sofya, and his disciples. The year is 1910 and Tolstoy is ailing. He has had a stormy yet passionate relationship with his wife for decades, which is explored in the film. The film’s main point is of greed and in-fighting for control of a great literary figures legacy and money.

The main strong point of The Last Station is the relationship between Tolstoy and Sofya- both characters are headstrong, opinionated, but also madly in love, which lead to many sessions of battle.

This is a film of substance. Director Michael Hoffman also mixes some humor in with heavy drama. At the conclusion you might need to use some hankies.

Never Let Me Go-2010

Never Let Me Go-2010

Director-Mark Romanek

Starring-Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley

Reviewed October 22, 2010

Grade: A-

Offering a unique experience in creative story-telling, Never Let Me Go is an excellent film that I was happy to discover. A mixture of romance and science-fiction, it tells of young love and tragedy in an interesting way- sacrifice and science can lead to dire results. Based on a 2005 novel of the same name.

A small British drama about a private school where the children are raised as typical children, but at a certain point are expected to donate organs to save other lives, the concept is quite fresh and original. The film deals with both the moral and psychological effects of the chosen ones as they attempt to allude ending their lives- if they can prove they are in love.

My initial reactions were multiple in emotion-thought-provoking, touching, and sad are what I felt. This film will make you think. It is equally evocative and thought-provoking- many times I imagined myself in a similar situation. As Andrew Garfield’s character gets out of his car on the side of the road and screams up at the sky, it is the most powerful scene in the film.

Excellent acting by the three leads (Mulligan, Garfield, and Knightley), with special praise for Carey Mulligan. Charlotte Rampling as the mysterious headmistress of the school is brilliant.

Women in Love-1969

Women in Love-1969

Director-Ken Russell

Starring-Glenda Jackson, Jennie Linden

Reviewed December 5, 2010

Grade: A

Women in Love is a shamefully, by and large, forgotten gem- except for the obscure cinema lover- made in 1969. The film is a British art film and way ahead of its time. Despite the title it is anything but a romantic comedy- quite dark in content actually. The film is adapted from a D.H. Lawrence novel of the same name.

The story is of two sisters, Gudrun and Ursula, living in a small mining town. They gather at the wedding of a friend and each become enamored with a member of the wedding party. Later, at a swanky dinner party, the girls meet the men. The film tells of the sisters individual relationships with each of the men (played by Alan Bates and Oliver Reed) as well as the men’s relationship with each other. All of the relationships are very complex and filled with emotion-some tender and some quite violent.

Women in Love is one of the first films to feature tons of nudity, but not so much in  a gratuitous fashion. The film’s theme are love, hatred, and the trials and tribulations of the English upper class are explored. The film is a love of mine since it is character driven, told from each of the characters perspectives, and is quite the intense experience. Glenda Jackson won the 1970 Best Actress Oscar- deservedly so.

Picnic-1955

Picnic-1955

Director-Joshua Logan

Starring-William Holden, Kim Novak

Reviewed December 9, 2010

Grade: A-

Picnic is a dear, classic film, from 1955 that is just wonderful to watch over the Labor day weekend holiday, or anytime throughout the humid summer season. The film perfectly depicts summertime in a very small town. Set in Kansas, it is a slice of life story that tells what life was like in middle america during the 1950’s, trials and tribulations notwithstanding.

William Holden stars as a “wrong side of the tracks” type guy who arrives in a quiet Kansas town on Labor Day weekend, disrupting the town events and causing scandals for the townspeople. he is a hunky former college football player and exudes sexuality. He then falls in love with his best friends girlfriend, Madge Owens, played by Kim Novak. The chemistry between the two stars is readily apparent and the main appeal of the film.

The supporting cast really makes this film special (Arthur O’Connell and Rosalind Russell stars as townspeople, who are in a relationship of their own). Picnic also contains a gorgeous and lovely musical score, specifically “Theme from Picnic” and “Moonglow”.

Beautifully shot on location in Kansas, mostly in and around Hutchinson, and is considered classic summer enjoyment. Based on the Pulitzer-award winning play.