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The Mauritanian

'In Arabic, the word for free and the word for forgiveness is the same word'
A very timely release for THE MAURITANIAN - the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack coupled with the controversial withdrawal of troops and civilians from Afghanistan as that twenty year long war ends. Finally we are offered insight into the Guantánamo imprisonment of 'suspected initiators' of terrorism through this true story as offered in Mohamedou Ould Slahi's book GUANTANAMO DIARY written in 2015.

Kevin Macdonald directs this well-written screenplay (Michael Bronner, Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani) that places before us the tragic treatment of detainees at the prison in Guantánamo. The gifted actor Tahir Rahim (A Prophet, The Past) brings a stunning performance as Mohamedou, facile in English, French, and Arabic, and grows into the role so well that he captures not only the right to be released as innocent after 14 years of torture and misery as an uncharged detainee, but also our hearts and minds. He is championed by his lawyer Nancy Holland (Jodie Foster) assisted by her associate Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley). The testy prosecution attorney Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch) is ultimately able to unlock the files that reveal Mohamedou's innocence and has the courage to bring this into the courtroom at last

The entire cast is excellent, including the prisoner's family, and even the guards mistreating Mohamedou are convincing in their depiction of the horrors of the prison, and the musical score by Tom Hodge incorporates music of both sides of Mohamedou's life without overwhelming the film. This is a difficult film to watch because it is true - and still happening! But this is an important film for all of us to experience and then strive for correction of this dark and ugly problem.

Judas and the Black Messiah

'Anywhere there is people, there is power'
Learning more about the Black Panther movement is one of the reasons to watch this fast-moving film directed By Shaka King. While most history books paint the Black Panthers in a negative light, the admirable politics and ideology of that movement are finally given a chance to surface here for the general populace.

Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), a young, charismatic activist, becomes Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party - putting him directly in the crosshairs of the government, the FBI, and the Chicago Police. But to destroy the revolution, the authorities are going to need a man inside - that man is career thief William O'Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) placed by his handler Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons). The result of that insertion is the tragic death of Hampton.

The blaccent dialogue speeds out and is at many times blurred: subtitles save the day in many of the especially fast scenes. Casting Martin Sheen as J. Edgar Hoover is questionable, but he is on screen for only moment. The cast is uniformly excellent - especially Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, and Dominique Fishback (who plays Hampton's wife). To understand the dialogue requires intense concentration, even from British actor Kaluuya. Despite flaws, the film is important to see and to view the Black Panthers in a better light.


'You don't need a history to have a future'
The Valiant comic book of Kevin VanHook comes to life via the screenplay by Jeff Wadlow and Eric Heisserer and the direction of Dave Wilson and the result is one creative and entertaining bizarre glance at the possibilities of nanotechnology.

Quite briefly, 'Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel), an elite soldier who was killed in battle, is brought back to life as Bloodshot by an advanced technology (RST) that gives him the ability of super human strength and fast healing. With his new abilities, he goes after the man who killed his wife, or at least, who he believes killed his wife. He soon comes to learn that not everything he learns can be trusted. The true question is: Can he even trust himself?' The solid cast includes RST creator Dr, Emil Haring (Guy Pearce) and his sidekick tech Eric (Siddharth Dhananjay), their 're-creations' KT (Eiza González) and Jimmy Dalton (Sam Heughan of Outlander fame), the strange and hilarious Wilfred Wigans (Lamorne Morris), among others. Vin Diesel is full-court press as Bloodshot, occupying the role completely, and the supporting cast is excellent. The real 'star' of this film is the special effects team; they have created wonders! For escapist entertainment, BLOODSHOT satisfies!

Giant Little Ones

A beautifully sensitive film about self-discovery - a complex portrayal of sexuality
Written and directed by Keith Behrman, GIANT LITTLE ONES excels in sharing a refreshingly complex and contemporary take on teenage sexuality. Instead of the usual gay images and activities portrayed in other films that survey the coming out as LGBTQ+ teenagers, this film refuses to settle for easy answers or opinionated definitions.

Franky Winters (Josh Wiggins) and Ballas Kohl (Darren Mann) have been friends since childhood and in high school both are on the swim team. Their parents - Carly (Maria Bello) and Ray (Kyle MacLachlan) Winter (who after having his family came out as gay) and Angie (Stephanie Moore) and Nic (Peter Outerbridge) Kohl - likewise have been friends. Both Franky and Ballas begin the film with steady girlfriends: Ballas in an act of classic machismo, talks constantly of how many times they've had sex, egging Franky on to do the same. After Franky's 17th birthday party the two boys have a hidden sexual experience with each other, and Ballas, who initiated their fateful encounter, pulls away from Franky and accuses him of making the first move, which results in his being bullied at school. In the end, Franky becomes close with Ballas's sister Natasha (Taylor Hickson), who experienced her own ostracization after being slut-shamed, as well as with Mouse (NIamh Wilson), a possibly transgender friend who brings considerable comedy and tenderness to their friendship. Wiggins imbues Franky with insight and plenty of charm, a fallen golden boy and star swimmer who nonetheless remains comfortable with his own identity throughout. The film is less one about coming out than it is one of gentle, nuanced self-discovery. Franky's sexuality is never firmly settled and that ambiguity is part of makes the film feel so brave.

Not only is the film beautifully written and directed, but the cast is golden - not just the teenage roles (superb as they are) but also the roles of the parents and the swim coach: each role, especially those as depicted by Maria Bellow and Kyle MacLachlan, are Oscar worthy. Josh Wiggins is exceptionally impressive as the understated closeted gay teen, never pushing either side of the sexual playing field. In all, this is one of the finest and most genuinely sensitive films about LGBTQ+ crises and satisfactions of discovery.


Gender choices and challenges: understanding self
Writer and director Jamie Patterson is the co-founder of Jump Start Productions and has both written and directed many British films. He brings to life the world of drag queens in this sparkling film released in 2017 in the UK, winning awards in the 2018 Los Angeles Outfest Film Festival.

The film opens in a LGBTQ+ nightclub with elderly Jackie Collins (Derren Nesbitt) lip-syncing a song then delivering some of the funniest audience-focused jokes of any stand up comedienne. Jackie is not gay: he has always had an affinity for dressing in women's clothes, was married to a woman who died of cancer, and has a estranged daughter Lily (April Pearson) whom he has not seen in years. Jackie encounters a young drag queen Faith (Jordan Stephens), sees that Faith is sleeping in his car, and invites him home. The pair's discussions about their gender - Faith is a male who prefers to be seen as female but is tenuous as to gender declaration - provide a very fine exploration about gender assignment and choice. Their friendship grows in importance. Jackie has been informed that he has only six weeks to live (terminal carcinoma) and decides to continue his life as a performing drag queen to fill his time, and while Faith advises him to contact his daughter about his diagnosis, Jackie declines. April, whose wedding is approaching, appears at one of Jackie's shows and the result provides a touching conclusion.

Derren Nesbitt is superb in this tough role, allowing us to appreciate his character's conflicts while performing some of the most hilarious stage jokes on film! Jordan Stephens, an established recording artist, offers a strong portrait as Faith. The two actors employ Jamie Patterson's story to offer a fine overview of how to be themselves in a lifestyle few understand. The film is both an excellent LGBTQ+ story and an excellent, entertaining and touching experience.


'One mistake can change your life' - femme fatale
Writer David Loughery (The Intruder, Lakeview Terrace, Obsessed) spins out another intriguing mystery and director Deon Taylor (The Intruder, Traffik, Black and Blue) polishes the story to a fare thee well. The result is a well-woven thriller that is fast-paced and entertaining.

Derrick Tyler (Michael Ealy) is a successful businessman with his partner Rafe Grimes (Mike Colter) and lives the good life with his also successful businesswoman wife Tracie (Damaris Lewis). Their careers seem to have interfered with their intimacy and Derrick, believing his wife may be having an affair, goes to Las Vegas for a bachelor's night out at the encouragement from his friend Tyrin (Tyrin Turner). In Vegas he meets Valerie (Hilary Swank) at the bar and, with encouragement, has a one night intimate affair. On returning home Derrick and Tracie witness a nighttime intruder and the detective that appears on the scene is none other than Val - aka Detective Val Quinlan! Here begins a series of events that eventually lead to multiple murders and discoveries that all touch on Val's persona (a femme fatale) as an ex-alcoholic, divorced mother of a child in custody of her ex-husband (Carter Heywood), and to reveal more would be committing spoilers!

The movie is well played by a fine cast, including in addition to the above, Lexa Gluck, Denise Dowse, Lance Stephenson, Sam Daly, Geoffrey Owens among others. Dante Spinotti provides the excellent cinematography and Geoff Zanelli is responsible for the at times unnerving musical score. This is a fine 'didn't see that coming' intrigue thriller. Grady Harp, June 21.

Charlie Wilson's War

'Congressmen aren't elected by voters, Joanne, they're elected by contributors!'
Director Mike Nichols makes the book by George Crile, adapted into an irresistible, screenplay by satiric writing genius Aaron Sorkin sail across the screen in this multilayered political comedy that delivers on every angle.

Based on a true story, the plot flows as follows: 'In the early 1980s, Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is a womanizing US congressional representative from Texas who seemed to be in the minor leagues, except for the fact that he is a member of two major foreign policy and covert-ops committees. However, prodded by his major conservative supporter, Houston Socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), Wilson learns about the plight the people are suffering in the brutal Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. With the help of the maverick CIA agent, Gustav "Gust" Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Wilson dedicates his canny political efforts to supply the Afghan mujahedeen with the weapons and support to defeat the Soviet Union. However, Charlie Wilson eventually learns that while military victory can be had, there are other consequences and prices to that fight that are ignored to everyone's sorrow.'

The supporting cast is very strong with Amy Adams as Charlie's assistant, Mary-Bonner Baker, Wynn Everett, Rachel Nichols and Shiri Appleby as Charlie's office girls, Om Puri, Emily Blunt and on and on. Philip Seymour Hoffman offers the finest performance of his too short career, Tom hanks shines as Charlie in all aspect of the character's qualities, and Julia Roberts is a haughty sensation. This cast allows the viewer to laugh at the shenanigans of the Washington DC political crowd - a very timely film to see today as the disruptions of the Middle East continue to fester and Congress just continues to be 'Congressional'.... For those who applauded the release of the film in 2007 and for those who have never experienced this little satire, now is a great tie to view it.

The Rhythm Section

'He believes in profit...not "the Prophet"
Mark Burnell transformed his novel into a screenplay: one would hope the novel was more sensitive and expletive than the rambling and somewhat disjointed screenplay. Reed Murano directs and the producers are the James Bond crew, so the foundation is solid and the film tries very hard to warrant viewership.

The cast is excellent and works diligently to make each character memorable - if even just through the perplexing timeframe of the film's story! Quite simply distilled, the plot concerns a woman Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively), addicted to drugs and working as a prostitute in a state of fragile reality as a result of the death of her family in a plane crash - a trip on which she was supposed to join with them, who discovers the plane crash was planned as she encounters the kind 'client' Keith Proctor (Raza Jeffrey). She gathers her senses and with the training of the odd ex-MI6 agent Iain Boyd (Jude Law) she becomes an assassin, committed to kill the man who planned and executed the tragic plane crash, Another 'aid' in her plan is Marc Serra (Sterling K. Brown), and despite futile attempts to assassinate the true propagator of the aerial crime, the identity of the that person is confusing to both Stephanie and the audience!

Despite the incongruities of the story, the film is entertaining, allow the viewer to appreciate the performances is not the plot. Grady Harp, June 21.

The Last Vermeer

'Inspiration is fleeting. You do not waste it.'
Recounting a true bit of history with the class and style this motion picture achieves is a rarity: bringing to the general public's attention as beautifully as this film delivers is a viewing opportunity that deserves very wide attention. Based on the true history of one of the most famous art forgers in history - Han Van Meergeren - the screenplay was written by John Orloff, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby as adapted form the Jonathan Lopez novel 'The Man Who Made Vermeers,' the sensitive direction is by Dan Friedkin with ample assistance from Remi Adefarasin's cinematography, Arthur Max' production design, and the hauntingly beautiful musical score by Johan Söderqvist.

WW II soldier Joseph Piller (Claes Bang) investigates Dutch artist Han Van Meegeren (Guy Pierce) who is accused of conspiring with the Nazis in selling a rarely known painting by Vermeer to Hermann Göring. Piller questions Van Meegeren and gradually becomes convinced of the artist's innocence. In a fast paced struggle in and out of courtrooms and dark political situations, Piller, aided by his fiend, the bouncer Esper Dekker (Roland Møller), and female associate Minna Holmberg (Vicky Krieps), ultimately bring a 'qualified' degree of innocence to the artist only to make a strange discovery that make s significant impact on the story!

Or as the synopsis states well, 'While Joseph Piller a Dutch Jew, was fighting in the Resistance during the Second World War, the witty, debonair art connoisseur Han van Meegeren was hosting hedonistic soirées and selling Dutch art treasures to Hermann Göring and other top Nazis. Following the war, Piller becomes an investigator assigned the task of identifying and redistributing stolen art, resulting in the flamboyant van Meegeren being accused of collaboration - a crime punishable by death. But, despite mounting evidence, Piller, with the aid of his assistant Minna, becomes increasingly convinced of Han's innocence and finds himself in the unlikely position of fighting to save his life.

Danish actor Claes Bang offers an exemplary presence as the soldier who believes in truth and Guy Pearce is superb in the role of the strange and mysterious artist. The entire cast is excellent and the ensemble crew associated with the creation of this important film deserves kudos. This is one of those little films that somehow got lost in the pandemic isolation: it deserves wide viewing on wither DVD or Amazon Prime! Very highly recommended for history and art lovers!

The Little Things

'It's the little things that get you caught'
John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, Snow White and the Huntsman, Saving Mr. Banks) wrote, directed and produced this strange film that in ways appears to be a parallel path between two law enforcement officers who have deep scars from their own performances in the line of duty.

The plot, loosely related - Joe 'Deke' Deacon (Denzel Washington), a burned-out Kern County, CA deputy sheriff, teams up with Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek), a crack LASD detective, to catch Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), 'a serial killer.' Deke's keen sense for the "little things" proves accurate, but his willingness to circumvent the rules pushes Baxter into a frightening dilemma, while, Deke must wrestle with a dark secret from his past.

Washington, Malek, and Leto give fine performances, aided by some stand out support by Michael Hyatt (wholly credible in her role as a medical examiner bonded to Deke), Chris Bauer, Terry Kinney, Isabel Arraiza and more. There is a problem with the writing and the directing in that the storyline wanders and the impact of Deke's former actions that mirror Baxter's current obsession lessens as the film flows on: both beg for some tightening in execution. The concept is solid: the end result is flawed. Grady Harp.

Marriage Story

'I never really came alive for myself; I was only feeding his aliveness'
Noah Baumbach both wrote and directed this perfectly developed piece of cinematic art - one of the most incisive examinations of the love core of marriage and the peripheral inanities that dissolve the legal union while allowing the sense of 'us' as a family to persist. The cast is rich in peak performances: Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as the couple with Azhy Robertson as their son (a key reason for the importance of family), Merritt Weaver and Julie Hagerty as the maternal family, and Laura Dern, Ray Liotta and Alan Alda as the three egregious lawyers who staple together a costly divorce.

Not only is the subject of marriage and divorce as superbly explored by Johansson and Driver insightful, but also the role of lawyers enacting the harsh realities of divorce is as polished as it is harsh. The musical score by Randy Newman underlines the drama without ever inundating it, and the cinematography by Robbie Ryan is exemplary.

But in the end the kudos belong to Noah Baumbach: he has created an important and impressive film that will likely become the definitive dissection of marriage and divorce and the lasting glue of family. Grady Harp, May 21.

The Irishman

'You always charge a guy with a gun! With a knife, you run away!'
Martin Scorsese is a unique film director and he has left is impressive stamp on Hollywood for the ages. Having surveyed mob crime thoroughly in his past films, here he cuts to the core of the subject matter in his direction of Steven Zaillian's screenplay of homicide investigator Charles Brandt's book I HEAR YOU PAINT HOUSES based on five years of interviews with Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran.

Very briefly, the plot synopsis: 'Left behind by the world, former hit man and union truck driver Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) looks back from a nursing home on his life's journey through the ranks of organized crime: from his involvement with Philadelphia mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) to his association with Teamsters union head Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) to the rift that forced him to choose between the two.'

The film is three and a half hours in length and is so well scripted that it transports the audience into the various locales and situations the story surveys. The dialogue is filled with 'mob talk' - which understated, at times intentionally obtuse, language that sounds so natural that the film rings with credibility. The three principle roles are superbly acted by De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci and the supporting cast is vast and exceptionally strong.

But the hero of the film is Scorsese, who captures all the tenor of the period surveyed and draws incredibly fine performances from his able cast. There are moments when the nonlinear flow of the story is confusing, but that, too, adds to the suspense of Scorsese's relating the history. Even the musical score by Robbie Robertson with a montage of 1950s - 1970s popular tunes, enhances the film. Superb work, this is a film that is becoming a legend - already!


'I don't think you know what a bad day is! But you'll find out'
Though the public is eager for new cinema, silent during the lockdown due to coronavirus, this recent release, UNHINGED, is hardly the type of 'escape from reality' that most seek from the movies. With tension high and temperaments fragile, this story visualizes the extremes of hate and violence and rage and vengeance that are at the narrowing periphery of our view of the current world situation.

The story, by Carl Ellsworth, is directed with near intolerable propulsive energy by Derrick Borte and cast is excellent. The concept is that of the effect of rage on several characters. An anxious but thoughtless young mother, Rachel, (Caren Pistorius) is having a rough day as she drives her son Kyle (Gabriel Batemen) to school. As she hurriedly honks at a paused vehicle driven by an unstable man (Russell Crowe), she ignites the man's rage and from that point on the story is one of the man's vengeance to make her 'apologize' for her discourtesy - a diatribe that includes murdering and torturing Rachel's family ties and friends. The manner in which the gruesome chase ends is best left to each viewer to discover.

Russell Crowe invests his performance with venomous authority, both in physical girth and in manner of speaking. He epitomizes road rage and its consequences in a manner that make this well created film almost unbearable to watch. Given our current milieu this extreme form of response is all too credible - and perhaps the film serves as a warning of just how grim the uncontrolled anger can be!

The Children Act

'I'd say you were an interfering busybody'
Ian McEwan adapted his 2014 novel THE CHILDREN ACT for the screenplay for this deeply moving film, and while the themes and characterizations are well developed, the manner in which the film concludes is less than satisfying - could this possibly be director Richard Eyre's decision rather than McEwan's usual sensitivity?

British law is front and center. The brilliant high court judge Fiona Maye, also referred to as Mrs. Justice Maye and My Lady (a radiant Emma Thompson) is assigned cases that deal with children, as in whether or not it is a crime to surgically excise ('murder') one Siamese twin so that the other can survive. Fiona is a rather cold woman in a static marriage with Jack Maye (Stanley Tucci) who desires an extramarital affair and confronts the shocked Fiona with that news. Jack leaves and Fiona is called to adjudicate a case of a 17 year old lad Adam (Fionn Whitehead) facing death from leukemia: the medical need and the hospital's decision is a blood transfusion which his religion as a Jehovah's Witness forbids, a decision Adam's parents (Ben Chaplin and Eileen Walsh) demand. Unable to weigh the case without knowing the patient's wishes, Fiona breaks court and goes to the hospital to discuss the verdict choice with Adam, and thus begins a revelatory relationship for both Adam and Fiona. 'Life is more precious than dignity.' It is this simultaneous, though separated by distance, relationship in which both Adam and Fiona find themselves, and that relationship and the morality of religious beliefs form the core of the film. The presence of Jack as he fluctuates between his sexual needs and his love for Fiona seems intrusive and non-contributory to the otherwise very sensitive story, an ending that it is doubtful McEwan.

Emma Thompson is brilliant is this challenging role as is Fionn Whitehead (a very fine new actor!) as the young lad Adam. Jason Watkins as Fiona's clerk adds the much needed wit to the story, and the rest of the cast is uniformly excellent. The musical score includes Bach Partitas, underlining the sophistication of the themes. This is a very fine film, flawed slightly by an intrusive use of a saccharine closure.

Dark Waters

'We protect us. We do. Nobody else'
During this time when we all are questioning everything - the pandemic, social injustice, the disparity between the wealthy and the rest of us, the legal system, media information, environmental changes and so forth - along comes a brave film that substantially offers a sense of hope and positive change. Based on a true event as portrayed by Nathaniel Rich in a New York Times magazine article and adapted for the screen by Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan, this power play as unwound by a humble lawyer is obviously an important statement that captured the interest and commitment of Producer/Actor Mark Ruffalo. The result is an impressive film that is a wake-up call for many issues. Todd Haynes directs with sensitivity and authority.

Very briefly, Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) is a new lawyer who signs on with major law firm headed by Tom Terp (Tim Robbins) and almost immediately is called into the service of a farmer (Bill Camp) in West Virginia (because of a relationship with his grandmother) and slowly discovers the terror of Teflon (the source of the C-8 chemical that threatens health) which has been secretly dumped by the maker DuPont at their factory site in West Virginia. The discovery process is slow, but as Bilott pursues the truth he is nearly submerged by the power of a big corporation able to deny and then elude the consequences of the tragedy. In the end it is the fortitude and passion of Bilott (aided by his firm and his wife (Anne Hathaway) that ultimately brings justice for the health-affected people of West Virginia over the course of twenty years from beginning to end!

The cast is large and consistently excellent, including some of the actual people of the town of Parkersburg, WV. Mark Ruffalo delivers a staggeringly fine performance, and the additional elements at film's end underline his commitment to the story and the importance of telling that story. This is both a fine film and an important social document, one that should be seen by everyone. Grady Harp, November 20

Zero Days

'To this we've come' - Fact stranger than sci-fi fiction
Alex Gibney wrote and directed this most disturbing documentary examining claims of American/Israeli jointly developed malware Stuxnet being deployed not only to destroy Iranian enrichment centrifuges, but also threaten attacks against Iranian civilian infrastructure, while drawing our attention to the obvious potential blowback of this possibly being deployed against the US by Iran in retaliation.

The 'cast' is a collection of the most famous leaders throughout the world, along with those in high positions in security,as well as reporters. The clips of moments from televised meetings and speeches underline the validity of the concept, but the single most impressive 'character' is a voice-disguised, face disguised-woman who speaks in a raw contemporary manner, underlining the important points the documentary is making. Her 'identity' is revealed at the end of the film.

Cybersecurity - a term that is becoming more frequently used in today's world - is something that now indicates the possibility of malware war (cyberwarfare): destroying countries with a virus that can wipe out power, communication, finances - lives! This is the takeaway from this documentary: the facts about the American/Israeli creation and use of the virus Stuxnet have been before the public for several years now. But It is the possibility of the use of created malware as a war tactic that makes us gasp.


'Love is everything'
Now and again a film comes along that steps into unfamiliar and testy territory and offers an opportunity to reflect on life. BLACKBIRD is such a film. Well written by Christian Torpe and directed by Roger Michell, the film sports a fine cast and manages to tackle a theme of planned termination of life in a very sensitive manner.

The concept of the plot is rather straightforward: Lily (Susan Sarandon) has ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease) and elects to terminated her life before she becomes unable to function. Her physician husband Paul (Sam Neill) has secured a vial of pentobarbital and Lily is scheduled to drink it to end her life, She invites her family to spend a weekend with her to say goodbye: Her rather rigid daughter Jennifer (Kate Winslet) and husband Michael (Rainn Wilson) and son Jonathan (Anson Boon), her daughter Anna (Mia Wasikowska0 and her lesbian lover Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus), and her lifelong best friend Liz (Lindsay Duncan). The rather testy congregation allows secrets and conflicts to come forth - sibling rivalry and misunderstandings, relationship differences, responses to Lily's planned exit - and Lily wants a 'Christmas' as her final moments with the family. The Christmas works well until some core facts surface that threaten the wishes of Lily to have a peaceful ending. But Lily manages to assuage all problems and bids her family farewell on her terms. 'Life is all about love - love is everything.'

Susan Sarandon offers a stunning performance worth of the highest awards, and the entire cast is superb. This is a sensitive film on many, many levels - one that deserves a very wide audience, especially in these isolated times when the meaning of family is even more precious.

Hope Gap

'You don't tell love, you feel love.'
William Nicholson both wrote and directed this artistic and sensitive little cinematic masterwork. The story examines relationships and the breakdown of marriage in a manner that is heartbreaking yet beautifully introspective.

Grace (Annette Bening) is a religious woman married to Edward (Bill Nighy), a professor at a local school who is not religious, and their marriage seems stable though with little communication on Edward's part. They are approaching a twenty-ninth wedding anniversary and the ties that bind their marriage appear fragile. Their son Jamie (Josh O'Connor) is involved in the tech industry and seems aloof. Edward shares his affair and love for another woman and tells Grace that he is leaving her. The life change plays out with each of the three - Grace is furious, hurt, and in denial, while Edward is having difficulty with the machinations of the end of their marriage, and Jamie is torn between his love for both parents and the crush of his beliefs systems that appear to unravel. Grace ultimately regains her footing and discovers a new, powerful voice and ultimately finds a way to be happy.

The cinematography by Anna Valdez-Hanks heightens the emotional impact of the film as does the musical score by Alex Heffes. Annette Bening, Bill Nighy, and Josh Charles offer polished performances and the small attending cast members are excellent. The addition of poetry greatly enhances the film's messages. But the primary contributor to the success of this film is the script and direction by Nicholson, who to date has written such films as Les Miserables, Unbroken, and Gladiator. He is a major talent. In all, this is a small but vibrant film that deserves a very large audience.


A cinematic miracle
Director (and co-writer) Sam Mendes has created a most memorable film based on a story shared by his grandfather who served in WW I and the manner in which he accomplishes his desire to re-open the history of WW I is one of the most creative and successful cinematic achievements to date.

World War I April 6, 1917 Two British soldiers Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofeld (George MacKay) are ordered by General Erinmore (Colin Firth) to cross no man's land to deliver a message to a the 2nd Devons regiment to defer their planned attack - the attack is a trap set by the enemy. On their way Blake, whose brother is with the Devons, saves his friend's life during a tripwire explosion, and is later killed by the enemy, leaving Schofeld with the responsibility of delivering the urgent message as well as informing Blake's brother of his death. Schofeld encounters many obstacles in his path through fields, deserted farms, a village, a river and a little town, until he reaches the Devons. Literally at the lost minute, he delivers his message to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the mission is accomplished. Schofeld finds Blake's older brother (Richard Madden) and informs him of the tragic news and the story ends.

Not only is the film brilliantly written (Sam Mendes with Krysty Wilson-Cairns), but the casting choices to place major actors such as Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Richard Madden and Andrew Scott is minor but pivotal roles adds to the impact of the experience. Much of the film's success is due to the brilliant cinematography by Roger Deakins and the impressive musical score by Thomas Newman - and the many associates who aided these two men in their crafts. Brilliant - on every level!

Knives Out

'You have a regurgitative reaction to mistruths'
Rian Johnson both wrote and directed this tantalizing mystery KNIVES OUT that resurrects the memory of Dame Agatha Christie, the Queen of mystery writers. For those who disbelieve his stature in this film, see it now. He has created a detective figure in Benoit Blanc that rivals Hercule Poirot!

As much a story about a dysfunctional family's greed as a detective tale, the story (as briefly as is possible without committing spoilers) is condensed by Lionsgate as follows: 'When renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead at his estate just after his 85th birthday, the inquisitive and debonair Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is mysteriously enlisted to investigate. From Harlan's dysfunctional family to his devoted staff, Blanc sifts through a web of red herrings and self-serving lies to uncover the truth behind Harlan's untimely death.' But that outline fails to focus on the intricate personality dissections of Harlan's family - and house staff: the shrewish Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her cheating husband Richard (Don Johnson) and their finagling son Ransom (Chris Evans); the vitriolic son Walt (Michael Shannon) and his wily wife Joni (Toni Collette) and their children Meg (Katherine Langford) and Jacob (Jaeden Martell) and Donna (Riki Lindhome); and Harlan's ancient mother Greatnana Wanette (K Calllan). Add to the mix the policemen (LaKeith Stanfield and Noah Segan), the house staff- healthcare nurse Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) and housekeeper Fran (Edi Patterson) and everyone has a fine reason for wanting to see Harlan Thrombey dead!

Daniel Craig shines as Benoit Blanc, despite an at times annoying overly Southern drawl, as does Ana de Armas, and the manner in which he pieces together the mystery is spot on. Excellent concept, spirited dialogue, and exceptional acting and cinematography make this a complete winner of a movie.

Woman Walks Ahead

'Your society values people by how much you have. Ours, how much you give away'
British screenwriter Steven Wright and British director Susanna White hold the mirror up to American history with this moving exploration of Native American abuse - a film that is most appropriate during this time of reevaluating racism.

The story is based on fact and made even more dramatic by enhancing the tale with a romantic eye. Fact: Caroline Weldon was a Swiss-American artist and activist with the National Indian Defense Association whom became a confidant and personal secretary to the Lakota Sioux Indian leader Sitting Bull during the time when Plains Indians had adopted the ghost Dance movement - 1889 - 1890. From that slice of history the film unveils a solid story.

Altering the first name of the character, 'Catherine' Weldon (Jessica Chastain) leaves New York and travels to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in the Dakotas, her goal: to paint a portrait of Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes). Her mission is a struggle due to the interference of the military - Col. Silas Groves (Sam Rockwell) and the Indian Agent James McLaughlin (Ciarán Hinds). But with the help of Indian Chaska (Chaske Spencer) she meets Sitting Bull, learns about the Lakota language, is given the name 'Woman Walks Ahead' and eventually paints Sitting Bull's portrait as they bond and learn to trust each other. Catherine aids Sitting Bull in rejecting the grossly unjust expropriation of Indian lands (and rations!) by the government only to witness the Wounded Knee massacre.

The actors are excellent and the cinematography is magnificent. For some reason the very long passages of Lakota language are not supported by subtitles: some feel this is to honor a Native tongue, but the information shared in that language is not explained to the viewer. The film is compelling and offers yet another examination of American history of which we must not be proud: it is very important for all of us to know the message and to share it with children and young adults who may have missed this potion of history

Richard Jewell

'I'm sorry the world has gone insane'
The truth is stranger than fiction - a phrase that could be applied to this cinematic portrayal of an actual event and person. Clint Eastwood produced and directed this rather extraordinary film that, aside from relating an historic event, sheds light on the machinations of the press and the government when an explosive event occurs: the rush to judgment to satisfy the public, the police, the ultra-hungry press, the Georgia Board of Investigation, the FBI and more can obscure solid facts and investigation when a 'possible terrorist' is suspected as the perpetrator.

Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) is an obese, flawed man, unable to gain or maintain his desired place in law enforcement who lives with his mother Bobi (Kathy Bate) in Atlanta. The year - 1996 - the year of the Summer Olympic Games o the XXVI Olympiad. Richard is a security guard at Centennial Park, notes a suspect backpack, alerts the unbelieving security police and TV film crew until finally his suspicions are heeded. The bomb in the backpack explodes and Richard does his best to protect the crowd, becoming a celebrity overnight due to the attention of the television media etc. One headline hungry reporter (Olivia Wilde) pastes together rumors and weak ideas and convinces the FBI (Jon Hamm) that Richard is a terrorist - a false accusation that creates an implosion of Richard's life, his only support system beside his mother is a lawyer friend Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), an anti-establishment crusader, who with his assistant Nadya (Nina Arianda) stays with Richard until the false case is dropped.

The entire cast is excellent - many small but significant roles assigned to fine actors - but the performance by Hauser is a star turn. Not only is the film solid, but it also has some keen points to make about our legal system and the press. Everyone should see this movie.

A Perfect Murder

'Artists are always appreciated more after they're dead'
Frederick Knott's 1952 London based stage thriller DIAL M FOR MURDER has made an impression on audiences: Alfred Hitchcock transformed it into a 1954 film, and screenwriter Patrick Smith Kelly provided a new version of that play for Andrew David to direct in 1998 - A PERFECT MURDER. The story seasons well, an intricately detailed plan for murder that slips out of the carefully designed format to become a ploy for survival.

The names and some details have changed, but the intensity survives. Millionaire industrialist Steven Taylor (Michael Douglas) is a man who has everything but what he craves most: the love and fidelity of his wife Emily (Gwyneth Paltrow). A successful player in the New York financial world, he considers her to be his most treasured acquisition. But she needs more than simply the role of dazzling accessory. Brilliant in her own right, she works at the U.N. as a multilingual translator and is involved with struggling artist David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen) who fulfills her emotional needs - yet has a dark past of his own. When her husband discovers her indiscretion, he sets out to commit the perfect murder and inherit Emily's considerable trust fund in the bargain. The only person who appears to recognize the flaws in the planned murder is Detective Mohamed Karaman (David Suchet) - a keen mind with a penchant for seeing into Emily's plight.

The story is very well acted and directed: no one is the 'primary villain' as both Steven and David vie for top rank as evil perpetrators. The original play translates well in both cinematic versions - a lasting impression of exceptional mystery thrillers.

Jojo Rabbit

'Nothing makes sense anymore'
Taika Waititi wrote the screenplay version of Christine Leunens' best selling novel CAGING SKIES, directed, and stars in this parody of Nazi Germany (Waititi actually portrays Adolf Hitler - as an imaginary companion to the lead young boy) - a fresh bit of thoughtful parody from New Zealand!

Approaching the grim aspects of WW II Nazi Germany and the Holocaust and the youth movement that influenced young people to become committed to Nazism - as viewed through a child's eyes, makes for an at times disturbing film while at other times a bit over the top parody. As the film company's synopsis outlines, 'A World War II satire that follows a lonely German boy named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) whose world view is turned upside down when he discovers his single mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi), Jojo must confront his blind nationalism.' Add to this cast the presence of Sam Rockwell as the flexible Captain Klenzendorf, Jojo's best friend Yorkie as portrayed by Archie Yates among others and the film's impact is both entertaining and gripping.

At times a bit overwrought (but that is to be expected in a satire), the overall response is one of quiet nodding about he atrocities that happened and the understanding of that time we must all remember.

Ocean's Eleven

An amazingly involving escapist film!
OCEAN'S ELEVEN may be a near twenty year old film, but its potency is durable. Director Steven Soderbergh paces this well-crafted film with firecracker action and laces it with enough humor and passion that it satisfies on every level.

The plot - an ingenious plan created by recently released ex-con Danny Ocean (George Clooney) to rob the conjoined vault of the MGM Grand, the Bellagio, and the Mirage casinos in Las Vegas, all owned by smarmy Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). Danny partners with Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) and the two create a team of eleven assorted personalities - Bernie Mac, Elliott Gould, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Eddie Jemison. Shaobo Qin, Carl Reiner. Matt Damon, Don Cheadle - each with a special gift to carry out the heist. Oh, and Benedict is with Tess (Julia Roberts) who happens to be Danny's ex-wife - and a key reason the caper is planned!

Filled with some of the most interestingly complex concepts for staging an impossible robbery, the film keeps the viewer completely involved in the suspense through the intricate planning and rehearsal and final deed, all the while offering dialogue that is smart, funny - and on point! The climax and ending place a crown on the film - a very solid story offered with sophistication by a superb cast and director. For those who love slick flicks, this is a terrific diversion for these endless quarantined nights at home!

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