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'People seldom say no to Frankie' - an illuminating farewell
Director Ira Sachs (Kept the Lights On, Little Men, Forty Shades of Blue) wrote the screenplay with Mauricio Zacharias for this gentle whisper of a film that is one of the more subtle, visually impressive, and tender reflections on the subtleties of relationships and families to grace the screen.
Frankie (Isabelle Huppert) is a famous and much admired film actress who has gathered her dissipated family in Sintra, Portugal as a gesture of farewell: she is in Stage IV metastatic carcinoma. The ensemble includes her first husband Michel (Pascal Greggory) and her son by him Paul (Jérémie Renier), her present husband Jimmy (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Sylvia (Vinette Robinson) her husband Ian (Ariyon Bakare) and granddaughter Maya (Sennia Nanua), along with Frankie's longterm hairdresser (from films) friend Ilene (Marisa Tomei) who is with her co-worker Gary (Greg Kinnear). The interweaving of these interesting personalities creates intimate side stories as they gather in this picturesque locale, the home of a magical fountain of life. Frankie has envisioned the way she hopes old connections among this disparate group of people will correct, and while those ideas don't materialize, the mysteries of companionship and love continue to find their own destinies.
The spectacularly sensitive cinematography by Rui Poças and the special atmosphere the music of Schubert's Moments Musicaux and Debussy's Arabesques allow the film to be pensive and understated. The quiet prolonged ending of the film is worthy of awards, so well sculpted by director Sachs that it allows the messages of the film to absorb in stillness.
In an age when high tech CGI, noisy action, and crude physicality films dominate the screens, this little film is a gentle reminder of those aspects of living that deserve out appreciation.
An odd feeling of support for criminal acts emerges from this tense drama written by Chad St. John and directed by Pierre Morel. The story of the unmitigated revenge of a woman who is denied legal support from a corrupt system when her family is killed is at once terrifying and an act worthy of applause as she gradually destroys all the participants in the evil inflicted upon her.
The lead in to the story is solid - the violent loss of Riley North's (Jennifer Garner) family and the ill-fated trial of the perpetrators by a corrupt system - but the action truly begins when Riley steps out of five years' exile and gradually murders all the people responsible, from the presiding judge at the trial, to the various 'bad cops' and the drug cartel. Despite the constant barrage of realistic violence, the audience becomes supportive of Riley's mission - largely due in part to Jennifer Garner's fine acting and the supporting cast who make the incidents credible - John Gallagher Jr., Moises Beltran, Juan Pablo Raba, Ian Casselberry, et al.
When a film of such violent content can instill a sense of support for the lead character, the question arises - why do we tolerate injustice? This is a challenging film that places such questions before us.
Two of the most gifted artists of the time - choreographer/dance/director Bob Fosse and actress/dancer Gwen Verdon - are brought to life in this exceptional miniseries FOSSE/VERDON - a title that could just as easily been VERDON/FOSSE, so intertwined and interdependent were these two extraordinary people. Michelle Williams is pitch-perfect as Verdon - in looks, amazingly fine dancing and body movement and acting, and Sam Rockwell is equally impressive as Fosse, again able to dance extremely well and act a difficult part of a man at odds with his inclinations.
The series becomes a bit disconcerting at times, due to the seemingly haphazard fast forward and fast backward at crucial moments in the depicting the rocky relationship and marriage as Fosse and Verdon grow and deflate as a couple, in life and on stage. Fosse's genius is abetted by Verdon's input and influence, making the viewer at times puzzled as to the primary force in their position as pioneers in American entertainment.
The assorted entourage of actors portraying the people involved in the couple's lives offers strong support and the performing aspects of the songs and dance numbers exhumes great memories of shows such as CABARET, DAMN YANKEES, SWEET CHARITY. CAN-CAN, CHICAGO, and ALL THAT JAZZ. The psychological problems these two encounter are many, but Williams and Rockwell make them all credible. This is a fine biographical, musically enhanced 'docudrama.'
'Life is a cabaret old chum'
Perhaps one of the more impressive films to come out of Hollywood, CABARET soars as both entertainment and social comment. The original Kander/Ebb musical opened on Broadway in 1966 - an adaptation of John Van Druten's 1951 play I AM A CAMERA, which was in turn based on Christopher Isherwood's novella GOODBYE TO BERLIN.
Created in 1972, the significant setting in Berlin in 1931 provides the opportunity to re-visit the Nazi rise to power, the prelude to the Jewish Holocaust, and the worldview of homosexuality - all set in parody through the Kit Kat Club with the naughty Master of Ceremonies (the superlative Joel Grey), the lead performer American flamboyant but vulnerable Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), Sally's gay British roommate Brian (Michael York), her friend the penniless Jew passing as Protestant Fritz (Fritz Wepper) and his infatuation with wealthy Jewess Natalia (Marisa Berenson), and the wealthy bisexual Maximilian von Heune ((Helmut Griem). How these individuals interrelate is mirrored by significant 'songs' on stage in the Kit Kat Club.
Bob Fosse is the Oscar winning choreographer and director, and a more sophisticated recreation of a stage musical to the cinema has yet to be made. The performances are all brilliant, not only in execution and style, but also in the manner in which they underline the social commentary of 1931 Berlin - and the world. Repeated viewings serve to enhance even more. A little miracle of a film!
A film that induces the sense of solitary confinement
Henri "Papiilon" Charrière's 1969 autobiography hits the screen once again, this time written by Aaron Guzikowski and directed by Michael Noer, and while the acting is fine - Charlie Hunnam as wrongfully accused victim of a murder charge Papillon and Rami Malik as the counterfeiter Louis Dega - the film is thuddingly long.
While much of the film is brutal and realistic while depicting attempted escapes and the aura of prison, the important message of the value of friendship between Papillon and Dega does ring clearly. Far too much of the film focuses on the solitary confinement Papillon 'earns' from his escape attempts - a 2 year sentence then another five year sentence - and the dank and dark silent atmospheres results in audience participation: watching these passages is akin to actually being in solitary confinement!
The previous 1973 version of the true story - with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman - moved more rapidly and was far better paced. Hunnam and Malek (and an assorted ensemble cast) definitely create the mood of the book, but the direction and editing are sluggish. The resulting concern for the audience is simply hoping that the next escape attempt works - to end the film.
Torch Song Trilogy (1988)
'A problem is never as permanent as a solution'
A film that never grows old, TORCH SONG TRILOGY is Harvey Fierstein's gift to the world: he wrote and stared in the smash hit play on Broadway (Tony Awards) - a series of three plays (International Stud, Fugue in a Nursery, and Widows and Children First!) from 1978 - 1982, and transposed that success onto the screen in 1988. The primary role is Arnold Beckoff, a Jewish homosexual, drag queen, and torch singer living in the 1970s and 1980s in New York. Harvey also wrote the screenplay, and his glib dialogue and acerbic sense of humor as well as wise ramblings about love and endurance are intact on the screen. Paul Bogart directs.
Briefly, the plot follows Arnold (Harvey Fierstein), a famous drag queen, who tragically lost his lover Alan (Matthew Broderick) in a hate crime Alan tried to prevent. Arnold is now torn between his memories of fashion model Alan, his bisexual school teacher lover Ed (Brian Kerwin), their new adopted son David (Eddie Castrodad) and Arnold's never quite satisfied mother (Anne Bancroft, brilliant in a perfect performance!). In addition to the strong principals, the other impressive actors include Ken Page, Charles Pierce and Axel Vera as Arnold's fellow drag queens, and Karen Young as Ed's (eventual) fiancée Laurel.
Fierstein's portrayal of Arnold is one of the indelible creations of theater and film - a touchstone for many young people facing the conflicts of coming out - and a fine survey of the meaning of love and endurance. This is a film to own for frequent viewings - and sharing. Very highly recommended.
Michael Clayton (2007)
'I'm not the enemy'
Writer/director Tony Gilroy has created one mesmerizing and terrifying film in MICHAEL CLAYTON and every aspect of this superb peak into the inside of big law firms is so well constructed that in order to appreciate the movie, repeated viewings are recommended.
Opening the film with a moment in the present, accompanied by the ramblings of a manic depressive lawyer Arthur that make little sense (until the story is over) sets the tone for the suspense and intricate shenanigans that follow. Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a mega-sized law firm's fixer - a gambler with debts attempting to cover his brother's debts also - leaves a poker game, and in response to a telephone call drives at night, managing to avoid being blown up in his car as her silently converses with field horses. This incident is explained as the story unravels: Michael's law firm Kenner, Bach and Ledeen is negotiating a merger and the foil is a lengthy defense of a pesticide use, set in motion by Arthur (Tom Wilkinson - the speaker from the opening), whose off medication for his manic depression. The pending merger is with U-North, headed by Karen (Tilda Swinton) and the manner in which this plays out involves the derring-do of U-North 'disposing' of Arthur and planning the murder of Michael...Complicated? Yes, in a fine-tuned intellectual way.
Excellent cast, with fine support from the director and production team, this is an exceptionally fine film - worth repeated viewings not only for the entertainment value, but also for the social questions it addresses.
'Anything mentionable is manageable'
Mister Rogers (Fred McFeely Rogers - March 20, 1928 - February 27, 2003) is known to everyone - whether as a memory from childhood, or a memory from the childhood of our children or grandchildren. The Mister Rogers' Neighborhood preschool television series ran from 1968 - 2001 and was a rather profound influence on teaching children's emotional and physical concerns such as death, school enrollment, divorce, sibling rivalry, self esteem, dealing with anger - and puppets, friendship and songs of entertainment.
This film is based on a true story about a relationship between Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) and jaded magazine journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). Vogel is assigned to write a profile of Fred Rogers by his editor Ellen (Christine Lahti), and despite his dread of the assignment, with support from his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), he accepts the role and in doing so he overcomes his skepticism, learning about empathy, kindness, and decency from America's most beloved neighbor. The crux of Vogel's discontent is his memory of his absentee father Jerry Vogel (Chris Cooper), sharpened by the father's appearance at his sister's wedding. The end result - Vogel becomes the loving husband and father he wants to be and the 'relationship' between Rogers and Vogel works as well with adults as it did with children. And his father dies - reunited!
There are strong points to the movie - the cast, the miniature aspects of the television show, the actual filming of a show whose star prefers simpler things like taking photos of his guests (or new neighbors) - but the story ultimately becomes a bit sappy and rehashes the old 'absent father angry son' motif to the extreme. Nice idea, good memory jogger, but less than fully satisfying.
Lucy in the Sky (2019)
'You go up there, you see the whole universe, and everything here looks so small'
Based on real life events - astronaut Lisa Nowak's criminal activities around her relationship with fellow astronaut William Oefelein in 2006 - 2007 - and altered into the present form by writers Brian C. Brown, Elliott DiGuiseppi and director Noah Hawley, LUCY IN THE SKY is a controversial film. While the messages are mixed, one interesting idea rises: does space travel transiently or even permanently change thought perceptions, thinking and behavior?
Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) is a strong woman whose determination and drive as an astronaut take her to space, where she's deeply moved by the transcendent experience of seeing her life from afar. Back home as Lucy's world suddenly feels too small, her connection with reality slowly unravels, as her marriage to Drew Cola (Dan Stevens) and her love affair with Mark Goodwin (John Hamm), and the death of her cocky mother (Ellen Burstyn) implode. Lucy communicates with space, gets lost in words, and isn't able to cope, leading to dire circumstances.
The highlight of this overly long film is the CGI effects in space. While Natalie Portman shines as the very strange Lucy her obtrusive artificial accent and communication diminish her credibility as a character about whom we can care. Some good ideas her, but the film simply dissolves - drifting off into space...
An escape from reality - or not...
Strange time for this Fast & Furious presentation, an action comedy with the 'enemy' being a virus meant to eradicate the world to prepare for evolution!!!! The theme may initially offend some viewers, but forget about the current pandemic for a couple of hours and ride this fast escape into wild entertainment.
There is not a whole lot of plot - just a 'bad guy' (Idris Elba) touting a virus meant to alter the populace of the globe to prepare for further manifestations of his 're-invented' mechanical and indestructible self. The 'good guys' of the title are lawman Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and outcast Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) along with Shaw's duplicitous sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) and jailed mother Queenie (Helen Mirren) - and Hobb's daughter Sam (Eliana Sua). Along the way we meet mad scientist Professor Andreiko (Eddie Marsan), Eteon Director (Ryan Reynolds - at his best with quips and tongue in cheek dialogue), Air Marshall Dinkley (Kevin Hart) and a mass of Hobb's Samoan family.
It's all a matter of fighting and explosions and derring-do, much of which seems in place to honor CGI artists, but it works - because it is at once silly, entertaining and - at this moment in time with COVID-19, poignant. This is a fine diversion while we are in that stay at home status.
A Million Little Pieces (2018)
One day at a time...
James Frey's novel A MILLION LITTLE PIECES has been adapted for the screen by Aaron and Sam Taylor-Johnson and the result is a sensitive and absorbing view of Frey's struggle form addiction to sobriety.
The film opens in 1993 with a wildly chaotic and loud nude dancing sequence as James Frey (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) looses control and falls into rehabilitation, courtesy of his brother Bob Jr. (Charlie Hunnam). The story reflects the intimidation of being placed under supervision while coping with withdrawal and discovering the interstices of a rehab program. Frey gradually bonds with the outspoken and wise Leonard (Billy Bob Thornton), the fragile Lily (Odessa Young), the strange John (Giovanni Ribisi), his roommate Miles (Charles Parnell), the supervisor Lincoln (Dash Mihok), the counselor Joanne (Juliette Lewis) and others. The plethora of rancid language grows a bit tiresome, as does the constant smoking of the inmates et al, but the story is well played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson under the direction of Sam Taylor-Johnson - Aaron's wife.
A bit heavy handed at times but in all, the film works. This a fine insight into the world of rehabilitation and the Twelve Step Program.
A thoughtful biography
Director Laurent Bouzereau compounds excellent film clips, interviews, and historical data and enhances Natalie Wood's daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner to present her memoires and significant life incidents in this fine documentary on the life and talent and controversies of Natalie Wood. By including the conversations with Robert (RJ) Wagner, Richard Gregson (Natasha's biological father), Courtney Wagner (Natalie's child with RJ), along with insights form Robert Redford, George Hamilton, Katie Wagner (RJ's daughter from another marriage), Mart Crowley, David Niven, Jr, Mia Farrow et al we are given the opportunity to see the inception of Natalie's career as an actress as a child, her development as a sophisticated actress (complete with film clips of most of her many movies), her loving family life, her emotional ordeals, her impact on Hollywood as a feminist activist for women's rights, and finally, her death by drowning at the young age of 43.
The documentary is polished, focusing on the contributions and attributes of N Natalie Wood, giving the audience an even greater appreciation of the woman and actress. Many subjects are addressed that make her story of her life even more significant - a fine tribute to a remarkable person.
'Everybody is awful these days. It's enough to make anyone crazy'
For those wondering how a film about a comic book character, especially the Joker from DC Comics, could ever win an Academy Award, then join the doubters and watch this film JOKER: Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant in a role that is anything but comic in a film written by Scott Silver and Director Todd Phillips. Yes, the story, at the end, introduces the young Bruce Wayne aka Batman, in a subtle manner, but the message of the film is not the stuff of which DC/Marvel comics are made. This is a serious film about mentally ill people and the disinvolvement with a society that seems to care little about their status.
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) lives with his mentally impaired mother Penny (Frances Conroy) who is obsessed with communication with the mayor elect of Gotham City - Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen). Arthur works in a clown studio and we meet him in clown costume and makeup as he is parading a sign about a store that is closing facing financial failure. A group of kids steal the sign from Arthur and upon chasing them, Arthur is felled and beaten. Arthur is stricken with Pseudobulbar Affect - spontaneous uncontrollable laughter - a condition that alters his responses to almost everything. On a subway, in his clown outfit, he is maligned by three 'Wall Street rich guys' and Arthur murders them - the beginning of his downfall. The bud of the schism between the haves and the have-nots (financial inequity) opens, and in the process Arthur discovers his father may be Thomas Wayne (the reason for his ex-housekeeper mother Jenny's constant letters) and Arthur goes to Wayne's mansion to meet - a major mistake and another mishap. Finally caught by the police after Arthur's clown face is posted on the news as the clown subway killer, and after guest appearing on the Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro) comedy show, Arthur breaks and is institutionalized while a city of clown-masked protestors against the wealthy booms. The ending is particularly dramatic: Thomas Wayne's son Bruce (!) - Dante Pereira-Olson) - ignites.
Tough story to watch, but an important statement on many levels, this film deserves the honors it has received. Joaquin Phoenix is most impressive, as is the entire cast.
The Jackal (1997)
'Tell Declan he can't protect his women'
Sifting through old movies to occupy the mind during this pandemic, up comes this twenty-three year old jewel and the film is even better the second time around! The crisp writing by Kenneth Ross and Chuck Pfarrer and the spot-on direction by Michael Caton-Jones supply just the right platform for classy performances by Bruce Willis, Richard Gere, Sidney Poitier, Diane Venora, JK Simmons, Jack Black, Mathilda May, and others.
Some may find flaws in Gere's necessary Irish accent (he is an imprisoned IRA fighter released to assist in tacking down the assassin) but his character is so well developed and empathetic that the at times awkward delivery soon becomes minor. Bruce Willis changes appearances so frequently and masterfully that his character is mesmerizing. Sidney Poitier adds dignity to the story and the performances by Diane Venora as a Russian FBI agent and Jack Black as a loony genius are well sculpted.
While there is a schism between those who prefer the original The Day Of The Jackal to the latter The Jackal, for pure entertainment and driving suspense, this old movie delivers. For this viewer it is one of the most satisfying of the vast arena of espionage films. This is a very welcome diversion for isolation blues...
Red Joan (2018)
'Nobody would suspect us. We are women'
Jennie Rooney's novel RED JOAN, based on the true story of British physicist Melita Norwood, unmasked as the KGB's longest serving British spy in 1999 at age 87, is transferred to the screen by Lindsay Shapero and under the direction of Trevor Nunn the story becomes a time lapse chronicle of the young Joan acting out her convictions and the elderly Joan facing trial for those acts.
Very briefly, Joan Stanley (Judi Dench as the elder Joan, Sophie Cookson as the young Joan), a physicist in the 1903s, becomes employed as a British government civil servant and works with Professor Max Davies (Stephen Campbell Moore) and together they work on the concept of physics that deals with creating the atomic bomb. She is 'courted ' by her friend Sonja (Tereza Srbova) and her brother Leo (Tom Hughes), supporters of the Soviet party, and is convinced to share the information about the making of the bomb with Stalin's Russia - partly because Joan hypothetically believes all powerful countries should have access to the A bomb in order to maintain equality and prevent abuse of the bomb in the manner the US used in the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Mixed with love affairs and fear Joan transfers the secret information to Soviet Russia, and her secrecy lasts until 1999 when MI5 agents arrest her. The film opens with contemporary time and then flashes back and forth to the 30s and 40s in a manner that makes the story credible.
An excellent cast, especially Dench and Cookson, brings this story to life and the impact, whether you agree with the premise or not, makes the film absorbing. G
Bad Education (2019)
The infamous school fraud
Written by Mike Makowsky and directed by Cory Finley, this excellent film is based on a true story - the 2002 Long Island Nassau County Schools scandal - and that fact makes the film all the more fascinating: fact is stranger than fiction any day!
Dr. Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman in a brilliant performance) is the District Superintendent of School - a man loved by his students, faculty, board members and community: Tassone's exemplary leadership has not only increased the number of students accepted into the finest colleges, but has planned a Skywalk to credit the beauty of Roslyn High and all of this has resulted in property values skyrocketing, much to the glee of all! But there is something afoot. Gradually we learn that the Assistant Superintendent Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) has been shifting taxpayer dollars that support the school into her own personal pocket (and those of her family). When Tassone discovers this he faces a board who insists she be terminated - and there begins the downfall. Rachel (Geraldine Viswanathan), a student reporter for the school paper, uncovers facts that become the core of a controversial article, a revelation of Gluckin's fraud, but also an entry into the similar life of Tassone and his same sex domestic partner. The film follows the downfall of Tassone, his new boyfriend, his partner, and the reaction of not only the board, but also the townspeople, faulty, and students. It is a mighty fall!
Beautifully written in a way that keeps the suspense viable to the end, acted with brilliance, and directed and filmed with great flair, BAD EDUCATION is a brilliant work!
A spectacular success!!!!!
Co-writers/directors Benjamin Turner and Gabe Turner have delivered the definitive documentary about the musical phenomenon of Motown from its quiet birth by Berry Gordy in 1958 Detroit through its growth in global importance to its relocation to Los Angeles in the 1970s.
But the film is so much more than an overview of some of the most important singers and performers whose careers blossomed under the aegis of Berry Gordy (who narrates the film with Smokey Robinson!): it is a tribute to the impact that 'record company' had on the rise of black performers on the global stage. The script is witty, insightful, sensitive, and eloquent. The film shares films clips of performances by such stars as Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Mary Wilson, Martha Reeves, Little Richard, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Marvin Gaye - and on and on.
The manner in which Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson open the survey of the history of civil rights is distinguished and is one of the most accessible demonstrations of that deeply needed transition in cultural equality that has been created. Very highly recommended on many levels.
The Gentlemen (2019)
'There's only one rule in the jungle: when the lion's hungry, he eats!'
Guy Ritchie both wrote the story (with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies) and the screenplay and directed this peppery caper and the result - another unique Guy Ritchie film that continues his style of entertainment.
The very brief plot summary only hints at the momentum of the film: 'Mickey Pearson, an American expat (Matthew McConaughey), tries to sell off his highly profitable marijuana empire in London, triggering plots, schemes, bribery and blackmail in an attempt to steal his domain out from under him.' Spin that idea over two hours of action in the Ritchie style and the story explodes like a July 4th evening of color and noise. The language is typically raw and predominantly profanity - and that fits the style of the story.
The cast is a collection of some excellent actors: Hugh Grant 'narrates' much of the story to Ray (Charlie Hunnam), Mickey's consiglieri, and intertwines the myriad groups of eager procurers of McConaughey's marijuana estate - Jeremy Strong, Colin Farrell, Henry Golding, Tom Wu, Eddie Marsan, Jason Wong et al. Michelle Dockery is Mickey's hardnosed wife, the reason Mickey performs so well.
At times the strained Cockney accents and other permutations of the English language seem forced (or simply undecipherable), but the action never stops, and the script contains some pungent ideas. Noisy and naughty, it is pure Guy Ritchie - and that means, successful.
It is often amazing to discover a film that leaves such a profound impression never made it to the attention of the public, not to mention its lack of consideration for awards. THE DEATH AND LIFE OF JOHN F. DONAVAN is such a film, as written by director Xavier Dolan and Jacob Tierney. The story is extraordinarily creative and the cast is of the highest order.
The title of the book that is the core of the film - Letters To A Young Actor - indicates the intimacy of the story: Rupert Turner is an 11-year-old lad who corresponds with John F Donovan, a heartthrob actor known best for his television series Hellsome High who died alone and unexpectedly from a drug overdose following scandals.
One plot summary hints at the course of the film: In 2017, Times journalist Audrey Newhouse (Thandie Newton) interviews actor Rupert Turner (Ben Schnetzer) about his recently published book Letters to a Young Actor. The book collects letters he received from John F. Donovan (Kit Harrington), an actor he corresponded with as a child and who died from a drug overdose. In a flashback to the mid-2000s, Turner is a child actor who is bullied by his homophobic schoolmates. He idolizes Donovan, who plays the lead character in the teen drama series Hellsome High. The tabloid press frequently speculates that Donovan is gay and closeted; when gossip regarding Donovan soliciting male prostitutes makes headlines, his correspondence with Turner is made public, sparking malicious speculation about the nature of Turner and Donovan's relationship. Donovan writes his final letter to Turner, and dies shortly after. In the present, Turner says he does not know whether or not Donovan's death was related to the scandal. Newhouse muses that she initially dismissed Turner's book as "mishaps from the First World," but has reconsidered based on their meeting.
The submersion into the lives of both Rupert as a child (Jacob Trembly) and as an adult (Schnetzer) and Donavan is often like a reflection in the mirror of conflicted lives. Moments of special note are the conversations between Donavan and his mother (Susan Sarandon), Donavan and an old man in a diner (Michael Gambon), Donavan and his agent (Kathy Bates), Rupert as a child with his mother (Natalie Portman) and Rupert as an adult with Audrey(Newton) are beautifully acted and directed. Other excellent roles are offered by Jared Keeso as Donovan's brother, Chris Zylka as Donovan's 'date', among others.
This is one of the most satisfying films of the past few years. Xavier Dolan and his mighty cast deserve our attention.
The Kitchen (2019)
'It's a man's world'...NOT
A comic book series is the core for this dreary little film as written by Ollie Masters, Ming Doyle and director Andrea Berloff. 'Comic book' is a misnomer as this is one of the most darkly violent, crude, and degrading films to be released.
The story - in poorly strung together blocks of editing - is as follows: Hell's Kitchen, circa 1978: three women are married to members of the Irish mob: Kathy Brennan (Melissa McCarthy) and her husband, Jimmy (Brian d'Arcy James), have two kids. Jimmy is kind and wants to leave the mob. Ruby O'Carroll (Tiffany Haddish) is married to Kevin (James Badge Dale), who's the son of Helen (Margo Martindale) and heir to the mob empire. Claire Walsh (Elisabeth Moss) is married to Rob (Jeremy Bobb), who is abusive towards her. One night while robbing a convenience store, FBI Agents Silvers (Common) and Martinez (EJ Bonilla), who have been trailing them, bust them, and the three men are sentenced to three years in prison. The wives continue to operate their husbands' rackets after they're locked up and Claire has a change of personality when she pairs with Gabriel O'Malley (Domhnall Gleason).
The language is foul, the situations of the various couples' interaction are very dark, and the transition of abused women to abusing female racketeers is gruesome. But then that seems to be the point of the film - painting Hell's Kitchen as a pit of crime. Some strong performances despite the poor script and choppy editing. Definitely not for youngsters!
The Good Liar (2019)
'It seems like you've had quite a past.'
Nicholas Searle's fine novel THE GOOD LIAR has been adapted for the screen by Jeffrey Hatcher (Mr. Holmes, episodes of Upstairs Downstairs, The Mentalist, etc) and with two of the most distinguished actors of the day, Bill Condon directs a memorable film.
It is a pleasure to see two senior actors take full control of an entire film and make it ring. Though the opening half hour or so tends to be a bit tedious, the movie picks up speed about half way through and thunders to a fine climax - a surprise set of twists and turns that are unexpected and completely credible.
Very briefly, 'Roy Courtnay' (Ian McKellen) is a con artist - and a good one! - who works with his confrere Vincent (Jim Carter) to barter fraudulent deals with wealthy men - and women, as we discover when he plays a physically needy gentleman caller to Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren), prepping her for yet another shady deal to win her fortune. Their chemistry is palpable until Betty's 'grandson' Stephen (Russell Tovey) becomes dubious about Ray's qualifications and sets out to barricade the incipient 'relationship.' But secrets arise that explain the reality of the characters of the story, secrets that explode Ray's world of lies. And to say more would be a major spoiler.
With a fine supporting cast the varying locations of the story seem real and the quality of acting is top notch. It is refreshing to spend an evening in awe of McKellen and Mirren - and a story that is guaranteed to surprise. Recommended.
Official Secrets (2019)
'Someone in this building has betrayed their country.'
Hats off to director Gavin Hood for placing Gregory and Sara Bernstein's adaptation of the Marcia and Thomas Mitchell novel "The Spy Who Tried To Stop A War: Katherine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion' before the public in this excellent film - an act of bravery and commitment to truth.
Kudos to the excellent cast also - Keira Knightley, Jeremy Northam, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Ralph Fiennes, Indira Varma and all the supportive roles. Information such as this may be known to some - the 2003 debacle of the sanctioning of the invasion of Iraq exposed by whistleblower Katherine Gun as an illegal NSA spy operation - but seeing realized in such a skillful manner make the impact of this historical moment even more significant. The pacing of the film is on target, speedy but still allowing enough development of the individual characters involved to make the story all the more credible and fascinating.
Films such as this are invaluable reminders of how governments can ill-function at times and how war is never an event to consider lightly. Recommended for all viewers.
'You're a miracle elephant, Dumbo'
The 1941 Disney classic DUMBO, based on the book by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl, has been energized by Ehren Kruger's screenplay and Tim Burton's direction and the result is a live action plus photo-realistically computer-generated version that focuses a bit heavily on the evils of corporate greed...
Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) was once a circus star, but he went off to WW I and returned missing his left arm. His wife fell victim to the Spanish flu outbreak, but his two children (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins) greet him. Circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) hires Holt to take care of Dumbo, a newborn elephant whose oversized ears make him the laughing stock of the struggling circus troupe. But when Holt's children discover that Dumbo can fly, silver-tongued entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), and aerial artist Colette Marchant (Eva Green) swoop in to make the little elephant a star. From that point on the celebrity status turns sour when corporate greed in the form of both Vandevere and J. Griffin Remington (Alan Alda) destroy the magic. But Dumbo escapes to find his mother, Colette embraces the Farrier family, and of course it all turns out well.
The performances by the actors are fine and the production itself is colorful if a tad overdone in the final stages of the Dreamland circus of Vandevere, but the tenderness between the children and Dumbo and Dumbo's mother Jumbo, and the pro-animals messages save the sentiment of the original.
'He's about as flirty as the grizzly from The Revenant'
It takes courage to place this true story before the public at this time of the political climate during debates by presidential candidates and retorts from the sitting president who is famous for his association with Fox News. Charles Randolph (The Big Short, and The Life of David Gale) has written a penetrating screenplay about the 2016 explosion when Fox News persona Roger Ailes was finally exposed for sexual harassment by some courageous women. Director Jay Roach (Trumbo, Blown Away, Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery, etc) makes this story come vividly to life, unafraid to insert film clips of Donald Trump's appearances as the case unfolds, as well as including the lesbian relationships that give the story a new grounding.
The story of this Fox News scandal is true, so everyone knows the outline. As one distillation states, 'When Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) slaps Fox News founder Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) with a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment, not a soul could predict what would happen next. Her decision leads to Fox News correspondent Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) coming forward with her own story, as well as multiple other women, such as Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), inciting a movement that reverberates around the world.'
The cast is outstanding: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie each excel, but the other women in the film - Allison Janney, Connie Britton, Liv Hewson, Kate McKinnon, and Brigette Lundy-Paine - also impress. John Lithgow is very appropriately repugnant as Roger Ailes, as is Malcolm McDowell as Rupert Murdoch, and the clips of Giuliani, Trump et al. The tension never lets up as this scandal is related in fine form. Not only is the film excellent (though some may prefer the Showtime series THE LOUDEST VOICE account of the scandal), but also it offers award winning quality performances that allow the actors to step into different territories.
Last Christmas (2019)
Just when we think the gush of Christmas commercials and specials are over, along comes LAST CHRISTMAS, and if ever there were a film that could enchant, this is one that does. Written by Emma Thompson (who also plays a significant role in the movie) and Greg Wise with screenplay adaptation aided by Bryony Kimmings, the film seems a bit of fluff, overly decorated, until the messages begin to sink in. And by the end the film is elevating, thanks to some fine acting and direction. George Michael's music plays a primary role, also.
Katrina/Kate (Emilia Clarke) is a young woman subscribed to bad decisions. Working as an elf in a year round Christmas store owned by 'Santa' (Michele Yeoh) is not good for the wannabe singer. However, there she meets Tom (Henry Golding), a kind-hearted man with a mysterious past who challenges her cynical worldview. Kate slowly comes to realize that Tom is 'significant' and her life takes a new turn. For Kate, it seems too good to be true. Completing the entourage is Kate's Yugoslavian immigrant family - mother Petra (Emma Thompson), father Ivan (Boris Isakovic) and sister Marta (Lydia Leonard) - each with conflicts and problems of their own. It all comes together with a discovery (one that should not be shared) and the grand finale at the homeless sanctuary is rich in honest goodwill - 'helping each other.'
This is a feel good movie, well acted, and one that can be uplifting - if you've a mind to be uplifted!