IMDb member since January 2018
    2019 Oscars
    2018 Oscars
    2016 Oscars
    2014 Oscars
    Lifetime Total
    IMDb Member
    2 years, 1 month


Before Midnight

This film continues the great love story between American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Frenchwoman Céline (Julie Delpy) that began with Before Sunrise (1995) and continued with Before Sunset (2004). Now in their early forties, the pair must deal with the realities of reaching middle-age.

Hawke and Delpy are co-screenwriters along with director Richard Linklater. Hawke and Delpy are also in nearly every scene, most of the time being the only two people on screen. A "talky" film could be dull in most cases but this super-talented pair are stunning and brilliant in their abilities to bring real life to the screen so well.

Whether philosophizing about life over dinner with friends, joking around, looking back on life, concern about the lives of their young children, or having a terrible argument, this film has such depth and truth, it is mesmerizing.

The long argument scene is so effective it is easy to switch sides one would take as an observer. The acting and writing are so powerful that way. Also, considering that so many of these long conversation scenes were done in single takes (including a car ride with sleeping kids in the back seat), it is not an exaggeration to call this film a masterpiece.

Considering the genius of the two prequels, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset (also very highly recommended), Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy already deserve a special place in film collaboration history. But let's hope they're not finished. One can hardly wait for another installment in 2022.

Rating: 10 out of 10

Outstanding Achievements:

  • Screenplay by Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy

  • Performances of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy


This film recounts the story of the great painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir and his son, Jean, the great film director. The film takes place when Pierre-Auguste continues to paint despite health problems and Jean is returning home on leave as a soldier in World War I.

The film has remarkable beauty about it. This is well helped by the photography, scenery, settings, and music. There is also a charming performance by Christa Theret as a painting model (Andree Heuschling) who would later be an actress in Jean's films. The reference to her history in the post-script is quite saddening.

The slow pace of the film is pleasant but makes one wonder if the film could have been shorter at this pace. It's still a pleasant experience.


Mostly entertaining
In Maine, an elderly, closeted lesbian couple must deal with a granddaughter who wants to send her grandmother to a nursing home. The couple believes they must escape to Nova Scotia where they can marry under Canadian laws.

The first half of the film is great comedy. As the stronger half of the couple, Olympia Dukakis is perfectly foul-mouthed as a ferocious bulldozer. She makes one want to smack her except she makes us laugh so much. Her monologue of defending her frequent use of the c-word is to die for.

While Brenda Fricker is also fine as Dukakis's partner, the film is weaker in the second half. A broad farcical scene in a farm home seems out of place as do many other scenes before the film's end. While the film ends on a moving note, it's too bad it didn't maintain its initial strength.

Upstream Color

A drug trip without the hangover
Through an odd scientific experiment, a woman in an unnamed U.S. city is brainwashed and manipulated. She later hooks up with others who've been manipulated the same way.

I could only understand the majority of the plot by checking Wikipedia - one of the Internet's greatest blessings. Otherwise, I was lost for most of this film.

Shane Carruth directed, wrote, and starred in the film. His directing style is bizarre enough to give the viewer a feeling of having had a drug high without paying the price of a hangover. This could be taken as both an insult and a compliment. It's an accomplishment to take the viewer on such a wild trip. But without giving the average viewer better clues of what's happening in the story, the overall result is less than satisfactory,

The Sapphires

Great singers and a great story
The film is based on a true story of four teenaged girls from an Australian aboriginal community who have great singing talent. They are recruited to perform for U.S. troops in Vietnam in the late 1960s.

This is an ambitious film that covers many interesting topics: the Vietnam war, the volatile times of the 1960s, and racial prejudice in Australia particularly the evil government policy (now defunct) of stealing white-appearing aboriginals (the Stolen Generation) away from their communities and forcing them to integrate into the white mainstream.

The musical numbers (and great singing voices) are grand and help create nostalgia for the cultural side of the 1960s. The film is good overall but it seems that the directing by Wayne Blair doesn't fully live up to the excitement of the story's various elements.

The side story of the Stolen Generation reminded me of another Australian film on that subject, Rabbit Proof Fence (2002), a better film where tension and suspense are concerned. But The Sapphires is still insightful and well worth seeing.

Frances Ha

This modern comedy-drama centres mostly around young New York adults who have their ups and downs around work, money, status, sex, and love. The main character, Frances Hadley, is played by Greta Gerwig who co-wrote the screenplay with the film's director, Noah Baumbach.

Baumbach does fine work as a director as most scenes are short and energetic. It is tempting at times to compare his style and subject matter (neurotic New Yorkers) with those of Woody Allen. He is well aided by a very good cast highlighted by Gerwig.

Around the second half of the film, it's difficult to empathize. The main character gets lost in a series of lies and compulsive debting for the purpose of keeping up appearances and social climbing. Such a character would be interesting in a story as a supporting character - someone who could provide laughter and insight while displaying their obnoxious behaviour. But this doesn't bode well when it is the main character which takes potential away from what seemed like a promising film. It even gets painful to constantly watch someone self-destruct.


An entertaining adventure
This Norwegian film (mostly in English) is a fictionalized story of the 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition on a large raft lead by Thor Heyerdahl. The raft departs from Peru in the hope it reaches Polynesia in order to prove the likelihood that Polynesians descended from Peruvian natives.

The film loses some authenticity when Norwegians are speaking to each other in English though this happens in only a few scenes. There's some Hollywood cheeziness with loud music intended to manipulate the viewers' emotions during high moments. But the film still provides solid entertainment with some well executed suspense during the journey.

Scenes involving sharks and whales are especially memorable. The inevitable personality differences among the crew also bring out the right tension.

While this is not the greatest adventure drama, it's still entertaining enough.

63 Up

A fine film in an amazing series
In 1964, the short film "Seven Up!" appeared on British television. Its focus was on fourteen seven-year old children of different class backgrounds expressing their aspirations in life. Every seven years, a sequel was made re-interviewing the subjects as they expressed their current (at the time) life situations, concerns, and again, their outlooks for the future. "63 Up" focuses on most of the original fourteen post-middle age.

This film is part of a superb periodic series which uses great editing from its prequels to show the passage of time. The current film has special relevance as it is at the time of life when mortality is rearing its head.

Most of the subjects have lead rather conventional lives but there are a few exceptions particularly a man (Neil) who had great difficulties in his twenties and has had fascinating, unpredictable changes since then.

"63 Up" not only covers changes in the lives of the subjects but occasionally the changes in the world itself or at least in the UK. This includes discussions of the subjects' adult children who will likely face financial difficulties compared to their own prosperity as baby-boomers. In some ways, there could have been more talk on such worldly changes although Tony, a taxi driver, is blunt in describing how the rise of Uber has affected his livelihood.

The rare time an interviewee is asked about Brexit, it was always a man. There are only a handful of women (four out of the fourteen) interviewed and the omission of asking them questions on the state of the world reflects an attitude in earlier clips when as girls or young women, they were asked only about ideals of boyfriends, husbands, and children. Thankfully, an older clip is included in which one of the gals confronts the interviewer/director (Michael Apted) on this - and quite strongly, too.

While many of the stories have much in common and occasionally seem ordinary, it is still easy to care for these people after all these years. - dbamateurcritic

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open

Unique and Powerful
Two young First Nations women meet at an east Vancouver bus stop: Rosie (Violet Nelson) is pregnant, poor, and trying to get away from her common-law boyfriend who has beaten her; Aila (Elle-Maija Tailfeathers, one of the film's writer-directors) lives independently and does not have the hardships that Rosie has. Aila does all she can to rescue Rosie from her situation.

Writer-directors Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn made a clever choice in filming most scenes in real time while occasionally keeping the camera focused on only one character for several minutes. The impact is strong while such choices often fail in other films.

Aila is a genuinely helpful person whose great intentions may not succeed. In real life, they rarely do. It doesn't help that Rosie sometimes appears unworthy of the generosity Aila gives her. Further credit to the filmmakers on this characterization: while Rosie is clearly a victim in life, she has some serious flaws as well.

The highlight of the film is a visit to a women's shelter in which two of the support staff (played by Charlie Hannah and Barbara Eve Harris) interview Rosie. The caretakers show an exemplary combination of compassion and intelligence. They avoid flinching when Rosie casually tells them details of her very difficult life situation. Instead, they respond with calmness and warmth as they continue to ask her questions. They are the kind of people any one of us would want be on our side during difficult times.

There is no doubt that real-life shelter workers are as remarkable as those portrayed in this film. One reason this scene is so exceptional is that women's shelters are rarely, if ever, settings in movies. Further to that, the movie stands out overall as it humanizes those whose hardships are often merely summarized statistically in newspaper headlines. And let's not forget: the cast is great. - dbamateurcritic

Varda par Agnès

A magnificent final act
During her last year at age ninety, the prolific and renowned Belgian/French director, Agnès Varda, reflects and philosophizes in her final documentary. The main structure has Varda lecturing young film students in a master class while flashbacks reflect her film career, her history of feminism, and memories of her beloved late husband Jacques Demy, another renowned French director.

It is miraculous that this fine film was completed. To be so energetic at age 90 when it would be a matter of months before her passing, Varda proved to be extraordinary in so many ways. Despite her health, she remained articulate, intelligent, and mobile to the end - despite her admission that she felt pain everywhere.

This film includes moments from her past films plus past video/art installations at museums and outdoor spaces. They all reveal a vast sense of creativity, insight, talent, and ambition with a solid heart at the centre. The film also represents film history as it includes many film clips of Varda's past contemporaries most of whom have predeceased her. There are also enjoyable histories of the hippy movement of the 1960s followed by the feminist movement of the 1970s.

Near the end, there are many clips from Varda's previous film "Faces Places" (2017). At first, it seems these scenes are unnecessarily long. But those film clips lead to a sublime conclusion that is unforgettable, reminding us that Varda was at least as astute about life as she was about cinema and art. This moment is haunting while being a great finishing touch to a great film, a great career, a great life, and a great person. - dbamateurcritic

The King of Comedy

A brilliant collabration between Scorsese and Zimmerman
In New York, Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) is a delusional wannabe comedy star. After he connives to meet superstar talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), he pushes further to arrange to do a comedy routine on Langford's late-night show.

"The King of Comedy" may very well be Martin Scorsese's best film even if it happens to be one of his most under-rated. Working with a brilliant screenplay by Paul Zimmerman, Scorsese has created a film that reflects various collective obsessions about fame including the belief that fame can be the solution for an unsatisfying life (Pupkin) while also showing fame's downside and its associated lack of personal space and safety (Langford).

Scorsese's skills as a crime film director come into play in the second half when a very unusual twist takes place. What began as a comedy later becomes a thriller. The frequent scenes in which Rupert visits the office of The Jerry Langford Show are also greatly orchestrated. All of the staff act politely and professionally toward Rupert even while they are gradually cluing in that he is a wacko who must be resisted.

The two main stars succeed well in playing against type. Lewis is a cool-as-a-cucumber, been-there-done-that, jaded type. De Niro courageously takes on the part of someone who is as repulsive as he is pitiful. (The inclusion of fantasy scenes in which he is professional pals with Jerry add greatly to the exposure of a contorted mind.) And as Rupert's partner-in-crime, Sandra Bernhard is hilarious especially in a scene near the film's end.

For anyone familiar with the entertainment scene in the 1980s, it is fun to see the list of guests (popular at the time) on Jerry's show. A few even show up in the film.

Underappreciated in its time, "The King of Comedy" has proven its worth over the years and decades since its release especially as the collective preoccupation with fame and celebrities is at least as insane today as it was in the early 1980s. The film was released before the creation of reality shows, selfies, and social media. Yes, it clearly exposes the collective mental foundation of what would be expanded decades later. - dbamateurcritic

RATING: * * * 1/2


Directing by Martin Scorsese

Screenplay by Paul Zimmerman


A mixed result
In a Montreal suburb, the title character (Nahéma Ricci) is a teenage immigrant from Algeria living with her grandmother and three siblings. After her family faces a double tragedy, Antigone is determined to help a troubled family member even if this means making a great sacrifice. The film is an updated adaptation of the ancient Greek play by Sophocles.

The beginning sequences are very touching for not only revealing the troubles in the present but also the tragedies faced by the family before moving to Canada. The film's pivotal scene takes place in a prison. While the scene is bizarre to the point of being almost unbelievable, it deserves the benefit of the doubt as it is well orchestrated. To give the film further credit, scenes taking place in courtrooms and prisons have just the right amount of bleakness as they would in real life.

Later sections in the film are mixed, sadly with good intentions that go awry by taking on too much. Many subplots and issues are under-explored leaving an empty feeling by the end. Those that do work include a fascinating plot twist near the end that leaves the main character dumbfounded about her great intentions. Those that are less effective include a social media movement that unintentionally turns Antigone into a star. The sequences are entertaining but there's too little exposure of the origin of this movement. Also, the character of Antigone's boyfriend is so under-developed that he is downright annoying.

"Antigone" seems to have joined "Incindies" (2010) and "Monsieur Lazhar" (2011) to create a new film genre: the experiences of Middle Eastern/North African immigrants of tragic pasts integrating in the Montreal region. The earlier two films are stronger though "Antigone" certainly has its assets including a fiery lead performance by Ricci.

Downton Abbey

Carrying on from the British TV series (2010 - 2015): it is now 1927; the aristocratic household is sent into disarray as the King and Queen of England have invited themselves to stay at the estate for a brief visit during a tour of the Yorkshire region. Most of the disruption is felt by the household staff who must deal with the arrogant royal servants who have decided to take over the estate during the royal visit.

The first half of the film is energetic with charm and wit to spare especially during the bantering sessions between Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) and Lady Merton (Penelope Wilton). Director Michael Engler uses sweeping camera movements that highlight the beauty of the mansion's interior as well as the beautiful countryside that surrounds it.

The second half certainly does not wither but it is less spirited than the earlier half. The many sub-stories are comprehensible overall - at least to someone like myself who never watched a full episode in the series - but it is occasionally difficult to keep up.

One of the more surprising sub-plots involved a homosexual character and the underground gay life of the time. During that era, gay life - and any history of it - was so muzzled that it's difficult to know how accurate the depiction was in this film. To give the movie credit, its portrayal of a situation normally forbidden to be portrayed seems realistic while also showing a bit of hope within a dismal situation.

Overall, this film is entertaining with beautiful camerawork as a highlight. If it is this good to someone not acquainted with the TV series, it must have been a true joy to the series' fans.

Marriage Story

Brilliant work especially by Baumbach, Driver, and Johannson
Charlie and Nicole Barber (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson) are a New York couple working together in the theater world and in the process of ending their marriage in an amicable manner. After Nicole takes their young son with her to Los Angeles to live with her mother, she begins divorce proceedings.

In a five-year period beginning in the late 1970s, there were three exceptional domestic American dramas that won many hearts and numerous awards: "Kramer vs. Kramer" (1979), "Ordinary People" (1980), and "Terms of Endearment" (1983). "Marriage Story" has revived this genre (at least the part of it that wins much positive attention) and raises the bar.

Director/writer Noah Baumbach has succeeded in making a divorce story that is sad, gripping, funny, and even somewhat of a thriller at times. There is so much to ponder in every scene whether it be subtle or harsh. And as it reflects modern life so accurately, its impact is stunning and lasts well after the film's conclusion.

Baumbach is blessed with a superb cast especially in his leading players who each have a standout individual scene plus a dialogue scene that hits it out of the park.

Near the beginning, Johansson is exceptional in a scene in which she summarizes her life situation to her lawyer. Near the end, Driver is extraordinary in a revealing scene in which he struggles to fight back tears. But each is at their best in a confrontation scene that lasts several minutes. That scene alone belongs on a special "best of all time" list and should be mandatory material for future acting students. It is at least equal to the renowned confrontation scene between Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann in "Scenes from a Marriage" (1973).

The film is also blessed with a great supporting cast. As Nicole's lawyer, Laura Dern is cleverly devious as someone who can barely conceal her shark teeth behind a seemingly smiling demeanor. As another family lawyer, Ray Liotta easily matches the Dern character's disregard for humanity. (The legal profession is ripped to shreds in this film.) On the lighter side, Julie Hagerty is funny as Nicole's flighty mother; so is Martha Kelly in a small role as a mousy court evaluator who must observe how each parent relates to their son.

The power of "Marriage Story" could easily make it the best film of 2019; it could even be the best film of the decade. - dbamateurcritic

RATING (out of four stars): * * * *


Directing by Noah Baumbach

Screenplay by Noah Baumbach

Acting by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson


Yoav (Tom Mercier) is a young Israeli man who has recently arrived in Paris with the intention of becoming a French citizen and renouncing his Israeli identity. Upon his arrival, he befriends a young couple: Emile (Quentin Dolmaire) and Caroline (Louise Chevillotte).

"Synonyms" has an enjoyable, cosmopolitan vibe. There are also some interesting scenes in which Yoav is participating in language classes that immerse new French citizens. Unfortunately, there are too many limitations in the film that diminish the viewing.

It is clear that Yoav has mental health issues but there isn't enough background given about him to help sympathize with his plight. There is also little to no information on why he hates Israel so much and wants to abandon his family. A scene between Yoav and a family member was touching but too brief.

Overall, too much in the film does not make sense.

Jojo Rabbit

A different mix of comedy and drama
In an unnamed German city, Johannes Beltzer aka Jojo Rabbit (played by Roman Griffin Davis) is a ten-year-old boy enlisted in the Hitler Youth organization during the later years of World War II. Despite his naive dedication to Nazism, his clumsiness leaves him unsuitable for the harder aspects of junior war duty.

While the spoken language in the film is English, notes, posters, and pamphlets are in German. This mix is questionable but less questionable than the film's mix of satirical humour with genuine drama.

Jojo has an imaginary adult Nazi friend named Adolf (a light caricature of Hitler) played by the film's writer/director, Taika Waititi. Much of the humour (attempted or otherwise) seems to be at Jojo's expense in a sometimes sadistic way. Interestingly, the dark humour / satire aspects of the film's first half seem unnecessary as well as silly. Its dramatic side (more prominent in the second half) is quite touching and could have stood alone without earlier attempts at lightness.

All scenes involving Jojo's mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) raise the film to a higher level. This is not just due to the performance but also the very different character: someone who tries her best to shed light on her and Jojo's situation while her country has sunk to the lowest depths.

There are also three exceptional scenes. One involves an unusual revelation of a death that is shocking and heartbreaking. Another involves an unexpected visit by the Gestapo to inspect Jojo's home. A surprising twist occurs in that scene - one that creates much fear and tension. And finally, the scene that indicates the end of the war is very powerful. That scene includes humour that is actually quite fitting via Jojo's friend Yorki, (Archie Yates), another Hitler Youth misfit who spews out absurd Nazi lies including outrageous assumptions about British soldiers.

Portraying a teenaged Jewish girl who has experienced far more than any young person should have, Thomasin McKenzie shows great talent. In silence, her face shows many pent-up, conflicting emotions. Hopefully, she will be in many more movies in the years ahead.

The Irishman

Good but with missed opportunities
Based on the novel "I Heard You Paint Houses" by Charles Brandt: beginning in the 1950s, Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is a meat delivery truck driver with a young family in Pennsylvania. Gradually, he is recruited into the world of organized crime via Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and later via Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Legendary director Martin Scorsese does a great job in orchestrating the many scenes in this crime saga of three-and-a-half hours especially scenes involving violent crime. And his trio of legendary lead actors also live up to high expectations. Pacino is especially a joy. No other actor can shout and swear as well as he does. He can make the viewer envious with the desire to rant as perfectly as he does.

Despite the massive length of the film, there is never a dull moment including a superb dialogue scene between De Niro and Pacino during an awards ceremony. However, the film has missed various opportunities. Little is done to explain or even hint at how working-class family man Sheeran could convert to a life of crime without even the appearance of inner-conflict. A Wikipedia article on Sheeran explains how his experiences in World War II were "when he first developed a callousness to the taking human life". Exploration of this connection would have given the film more depth.

Something else is missing that would have made the film richer: more feminine presence. The best films in the organized crime genre include "The Godfather" (1972), "The Godfather Part II" (1974) and Scorsese's "Goodfellas" (1990). While men were clearly in the spotlight in these films as in "The Irishman", the older films gave prominence to female relatives of the main characters including roles played by Diane Keaton and Talia Shire in the "Godfather" films plus Lorraine Bracco in "Goodfellas". The inclusion of solid, supporting female roles enhanced those older films adding to the many other riches that made those films great. The female presence is lacking in "The Irishman". The role of Peggy, one of Frank's four daughters, is one that clearly could have been expanded. As a girl, she has a quiet charm that attracts special attention from her "uncles" Russell and Jimmy. She also seems to have an intuition as to what her father does for a living and she does not approve. But she is rarely on screen and when she is, she says too little. In the film's later section, there is good discussion between Frank and one of his other daughters (Dolores) but by this time, it feels like too little, too late.

Where "The Irishman" seems to advance the genre is in scenes of Frank as an older man looking back on his past trying to reflect and take stock. This element is welcome in a genre that rarely reflects the damage of lost lives: not just those who were killed and brutalized but also those whose souls were lost in perpetrating the wicked acts.

Dolor y gloria

A moving film
Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is a successful film director living in Madrid. In later stages of middle age, his physical and mental health are declining as he attempts a new creative project. The film is written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar and is based on his life.

"Pain and Glory" mixes flashbacks (Salvador discovering his creative talents during his impoverished childhood; connecting with his elderly mother in later years when she was ill) with current struggles (mobility problems, drug use, creative troubles, angst, and despair). In all cases, Almodóvar continues to show his special touch that he's demonstrated so often during his prolific career. Every scene is beautifully expressed with just the right amount of heart and sentiment that leave the viewer sympathetic with the characters despite their obvious flaws.

Most touching are a couple of one-on-one scenes involving Salvador: one with his elderly mother played by Julieta Serrano (Penelope Cruz played the same role in the childhood scenes); and one in which he is reunited with an ex-lover from his past (Leonardo Sbaraglia). The latter scene stands out in its balance in generating sensuality with restraint and tenderness. And Banderas must be given credit for a powerful performance with a broad range. The only flaw in his casting is one that is complimentary: he is in such good shape that it is difficult to believe he has mobility problems.

While each sub-story is touching, they don't fully connect to a unified theme by the end which leaves a few loose ends. But the film's warmth is consistent while always keeping the viewer engaged.


Amazing Bizarre and Bizarrely Amazing
In an unnamed South Korean city, a family of four (a middle-aged couple and their adult son and daughter) all struggle with low-paying jobs to get by in the cramped basement apartment in which they live. After the son has the good fortune of getting a well-paying job in the home of a wealthy family, his other family members manipulate their way into similar good fortune. Massive chaos follows.

Among universally acclaimed films, "Parasite" is unique: it is actually worthy of its acclaim. It could be described as bizarrely amazing or amazingly bizarre. Maybe both. The first half succeeds as a farcical comedy before going dramatic with many plot twists and turns, suspense, thrills, and a class war to top it off. The film also wins with its flexibility and mystery as to who are the potential villains. And it has a climax that must be among the best of all time.

While most of the dramatic surprises are welcome, some seem unnecessary and over the top (non-spoiler hint: the scene with the aftermath of a huge rainfall); there are also a few false endings. But these pale compared to the film's many assets the best of which is its uniqueness and originality. The cast is great too especially Song Kang-ho as the patriarch of the poor family. His face registers so much pent-up emotion. And director Bong Joon-ho has talents that are comparable to those of Alfred Hitchcock.

It is easy to compare "Parasite" with last year's "Burning", another South Korean film that digs deeply into modern class conflicts in explosive ways. While these are only two examples, it seems South Korean cinema leads the way in acknowledging contemporary class struggles - a problem that has exacerbated everywhere for the past three decades or so. Hopefully, these fine examples will inspire many more film-makers in all countries.

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice

Mostly Good
The life and career of the renowned singer are highlighted in this documentary.

The footage is amazing in this film. It not only includes many excerpts of Ronstadt performing at her best (what an amazing voice!) but there is also footage of her years as a young child with her very musical family. While her well-known hits are performed (and enjoyed), there are a couple of pleasant surprises: she has a superb opera voice that was used in a production of "The Pirates of Penzance"; and her take on traditional Mexican music (reflecting part of her heritage) also made great use of her very powerful vocal talents.

Much of the footage, like in most documentaries, includes praise from Ronstadt's contemporaries. While the praise is certainly worthy, it sometimes feels like there is too much of it and not enough of the downside that is inevitable in a life of constant success. To be fair, Ronstadt did rather well compared to others who rose to fame in the 60s and was a superstar in the 70s. Her drug use was minimal and she successfully avoided traps that snagged many others. Also, there is no coverage of a time during the Iraq War when she expressed her political views onstage and was banned at the Las Vegas venue where she was performing at the time. Inclusion of this part of her history would have added more variety to the film.

But something even more important is missing through much of the film. Ronstadt's voice is rarely heard during the many interviews. Most of the time, her face is never seen. The final segment of the movie makes up for the imbalances and gaps of the majority of the film but it would have been a richer experience if the film had dwelt more on what was revealed at the end regarding her current life situation.

Nevertheless, the film is a fine tribute to a great artist.

All About Eve

A masterpiece
A major star of the New York stage takes a smitten fan under her wing only to learn later that the fan has ulterior motives.

This brilliant classic could possibly boast "best of all time" in the categories of screenplay (by director/writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz), ensemble acting, and a single performance by Bette Davis though other performances are also highly noteworthy.

The story is loaded with superb, stinging, intelligent wit with many memorable lines delivered perfectly by a superb cast. It was written at a time when profanity was not allowed in movies but within this limitation, its use of the English language has far more sting than swearing ever could. Even without the wit, "All About Eve" is a strong story that exposes the consequences of a hyper-ambition that borders on evil and how evil attracts more evil. Adding to this is a great exposé of the joys and insecurities of the theatre world.

As a grand stage star who might be considered "too old" at the age of forty, Davis is stunning. Whether displaying neurosis, anger, drunkenness, egotism, sentimentality, or light-heartedness, she is at the very top in all of these emotions.

As the upstart Eve, Anne Baxter does superbly in a very difficult role. Not only does she not get to deliver any of the script's sharp lines (most of which are directed against her character), she does what few can do: be believable when pretentiously simpering and groveling; then, in seconds, ably displaying the evil behind the mask.

As an acid-tongued theatre critic, George Saunders adds his own special venom to the brilliant lines he spouts. He is the human version of a predator animal.

Other members of the great cast include Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, Thelma Ritter. and Barbara Bates. And Marilyn Munroe also shows her best in a very small role.

Rating: 10 out of 10

Notable Achievements:

1) Directing by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

2) Screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

3) Acting Ensemble highlighted by Bette Davis, Anne Baxter (both leading) and George Saunders (supporting)

Computer Chess

Amusing and anti-nostalgic
In 1980, a convention in California takes place among computer experts who have each programmed a machine to win at chess. Their machines are set up to compete against each other in a contest.

The film is made in a cheap black-and-white photography that is likely meant to reflect the technology of the time. The film also uses devices to reflect the times such as overhead projectors which went out of style once Powerpoint was king.

The movie is amusing regarding the subtle clashes of personalities. Most amusing is another convention taking place at the same hotel: a New Age marriage encounter group. The accuracy in this group's depiction is funny and scary at the same time.

Overall, the film is mildly amusing and anti-nostalgic at the same time

Lemale et ha'halal

Uniquely sweet and simple
In a Haredi (most conservative Orthodox) community in Tel Aviv, Israel, a family faces an unexpected tragedy; then tries to encourage a recent widower to stay within the community. The film is written and directed by Rama Burshetein who is an Orthodox Jew herself. The story takes place strictly within the Orthodox community with no interactions at all with the secular world.

Gratuitous sex and violence are so common in movies today, they almost seem mandatory to the point of being nearly repetitive and predictable. Their complete absence in "Fill the Void" is a plus for this film for being unintentionally outside the current mainstream.

The story itself is rather simple and ordinary. It misses the impact of a similar film "Kadosh" (1999) which demonstrated tension and rebellion within the Orthodox community. However, Burshtein's use of misty cinematography plus a fine cast makes this film sweet and special in its own way.

The Act of Killing

Not for the faint of heart
This Danish-British-Norwegian documentary exposes the chilling history of Indonesia in the mid-1960s during which about half a million people were murdered by a movement started by the Indonesian Army. The main targets were Communists and ethnic Chinese. Some of the gangster-murderers are interviewed and asked to use actors, props, and settings to re-enact the murders they undertook.

This sinister approach has some interesting payoffs. The thugs, who were never persecuted, believe that they and their history are being glorified. The paramilitary organization in which they continue to take part is exposed as radical, subversive, and dangerous.

For me, the initial shock of being in the presence of such evil wore off after about twenty minutes or so. Then, the interviewees became dull and uninteresting which could only be expected from those who badly lack conscience and soul.

The ending is quite riveting and makes it almost worth having waited the two hours for it. However, two hours still seems like a long ride for a journey that feels grueling.

It is a good history lesson but not for the faint of heart.

Hannah Arendt

A film that leaves much thought afterward
This film is a based on the life of the title character, a Jewish German who escaped the Holocaust and became a renowned political theorist in the United States. The film takes place in the early 1960s when Arendt was assigned by the New Yorker magazine to cover the trial of Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann. Her articles caused great controversy.

Often photographed in dark tones, this film has that "exotic European" feel to it in a good way. It's difficult to know whether the film sides with Arendt or her detractors which, of course, is a plus. In this way, the movie would be a great lead-in for much philosophical discussion following the movie.

With so much intellectual and philosophical discussion, the film exhausts the mind occasionally but only rarely. With the great German actress Barbara Sukowa in the title role, the film shines even more, whether Sukowa is expressing herself in German or in English. Her passionate defense of her writing in a scene near the end is a great movie moment.

See all reviews