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Equal rights - a significant impact
19 January 2020
Daniel Stiepleman wrote the screenplay for this fine film and Mimi Leder directs a strong cast, greatly contributing to the major impact this focus on the contributions of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has made and continues to make on society in America.

Setting a solid foundation for the eventual message of the film, the docudrama opens in 1956 when Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) is one of six women in her class at Harvard Law School. Her husband Martin (Armie Hammer) helps her get ready for a dinner at the Dean's house welcoming the women to the class. When she arrives, Dean Griswold (Sam Waterston) callously makes each of the women stand up and explain why they're in law school. Ruth remains unfazed - she continues excelling in classes, and when men like Professor Brown (Stephen Root) won't call on her, she still manages to make her points. While playing charades at a social gathering with friends, Martin doubles over in pain. At the hospital, the doctor explains that he has testicular cancer and that the chances of survival are at six percent. Ruth assures Martin that he's going to live. She begins attending Martin's law school classes in addition to her own, typing both of their essays, and taking care of sick Martin and their young daughter Jane (Cailee Spaeny). And with that ground zero set, the remainder of the film is well known to all - but rarely has a social change been so well constructed as the final scene as Ruth makes her powerful case for equal rights before the judges.

In addition to the strong acting of Felicity Jones as Ruth, Armie Hammer as Martin, and Justin Theroux as Mel Wulf the supporting cast includes fine cameos by Sam Waterston, Chris Mulkey, Kathy Bates and others. The cast as lead by Director Mimi Leder brings this important moment and this important figure stunningly to life - and impact is very strong. This is a film that merits repeated viewings.
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'The best laid plans of mice and men...'
7 January 2020
Highly respected writer/director Michael Winterbottom created this fast-paced, near inscrutable thriller that allows the viewer to follow the strange trail of a hired kidnapper whose assignment goes oddly off center.

The visually stunning and emotionally tense story is viewed through the actions of Jay (Dev Patel), a man with a secret who travels from Britain to Pakistan on an assignment from one Deepesh (Jim Sarbh) to attend a wedding - armed with duct tape, a shotgun, and a plan to kidnap the bride-to-be. Despite his cold efficiency, the assignment quickly spirals out of control, sending Jay and his hostage, the bride-to-be Samira (Radhika Apte), on the run across the border and through the railway stations, back alleys, and black markets of New Delhi - as all the while attractions simmer, loyalties shift, and explosive secrets bubble to the surface. Murder may appear to be the nidus of the reason the assignment fails, but the oddly complex interaction between Dev and Samira - and Deepesh - sets an entirely different tone to the adventure.

As much a diatribe about men's control over women (forced/arranged marriages by fathers, abandonment by lovers, secrecy and emotional aloofness by escorts) as it is a suspenseful unwinding of an assignment gone wrong, the unspoken aspects of this story make it at times problematic while at other times completely engrossing as a thriller. Fine acting on the parts of the three main characters as well as from the cameo roles complete the success of this unique film.
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The Goldfinch (2019)
Life as Art
1 January 2020
Donna Tartt's enormously successful novel THE GOLDFINCH has been successfully transformed for the screen by Peter Straughan and as directed by John Crowley (Brooklyn, Boy A, Closed Circuit) it becomes an engrossing, very long, richly detailed composite of art, classical music, antiques, and life - as travelled by a young lad into adulthood.

The time frame is from childhood to adulthood and the extremes of roles as played by the actors is noted here (child actor to adult actor). Theodore "Theo" Decker (Ansel Elgort) was 13 years old when his divorced mother (Hailey Wist) was killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During the bombing Theo is cautioned by Welty (Robert Joy) to save his daughter Pippa (Aimee Laurence > Ashleigh Cummings) and an old painting, and Welty's partner in life and antiques - Hobie (Jeffrey Wright) - cares for Pippa after the bombing. The tragedy changes the course of his life, sending him on a stirring odyssey of grief and guilt, reinvention and redemption, and even love. Through it all, he holds on to one tangible piece of hope from that terrible day...a painting of a tiny bird chained to its perch. The Goldfinch. Theo is taken in by the wealthy Barbour family (Boyd Gains, Nicole Kidman, Carly Connors > Willa Fitzgerald, Jack DiFalco > Luke Kleintank, Collin Shea Schirrmacher > Austin Weyant) until displaced by his alcoholic father (Luke Fisher) and girlfriend (Sarah Paulson) and moved to Las Vegas where Theo is befriended by Boris (Canadian actor Finn Wolfhard > Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard) until Theo flees back to New York to join Hobie in his antiques restoration business - and the complex life that follows.

The tenor of the novel is very well captured by the fine cast, the exceptionally fine musical score, the stunning cinematography, and the sensitivity to all forms of art. The prolonged enactment of this near inextricable story allows the viewer to grow with the characters - and discover valuable insights as to art and life and their intersection or conjunction. Highly recommended on many levels.
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Greta (2018)
'I think there's something you need to know about Greta'
1 January 2020
Writer/director Neil Jordan (the Crying Game, The Borgias, Michael Collins, etc) co-wrote the screenplay of this dark thriller by Ray Wright and the result is a gripping study in post mortem need and anguish - and derangement.

Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz), a sweet, naïve young woman trying to make it on her own in New York City with her close friend Erica (Maika Monroe), doesn't think twice about returning the handbag she finds on the subway to its rightful owner. The owner is Greta (Isabelle Huppert), an eccentric French piano teacher with a love for classical music and an aching loneliness. Having recently lost her mother, Frances quickly grows closer to widowed Greta. The two become fast friends, find a fine pet dog, enjoy similar interests - but Greta's maternal charm begin to dissolve and grow increasingly disturbing as Frances discovers that nothing in Greta's life is what it seems. What begins as a promising relationship becomes a true nightmare - with a dark history.

Isabelle Huppert is brilliant as is Chloë Grace Moretz, and the two pull off this macabre tale with credibility. Seamus McGarvey is the notable cinematographer, able to capture the suspense well. This is film noir at its finest.
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Judy (II) (2019)
'I'm only Judy Garland for an hour a night'
29 December 2019
Peter Quilter's play "End of the Rainbow" has been transformed into a screenplay by Tom Edge and the biographical film is directed by Rupert Goold. Judy Garland (1922- 1969) is the raison d'être for this cinematic outing, despite the fact that it focuses only on the very sad ending of her life.

Some sense of Judy's Wizard of Oz beginnings is offered in a sluggish and heavy handed opening - Darci Shaw is the early Judy being confronted by Louis B Mayer (Richard Cordery) about proper behavior and attitude- and then the film dives into the end of her career and life of the important artist as she struggles with a failing marriage and lack of enough funds to support her two children Lorna and Joey, her 'chance' for final success in London, and her very real problems with alcohol and drug addiction and stage misadventures. Renee Zellweger is the impersonation of Judy Garland and conveys her appearance and mannerisms and singing well. The voice in the film is Renee's, and while she doesn't have the infamous wobble/tremulo of Garland's vocalizing, the sight and sound work well.

The 'tribute' to Garland is unfortunately restricted to the final year of Judy's amazing career - making the temperament, drugs, alcohol, and unreliability of performance the emphasis. Yes, Zellweger offers a fine performance, but for those who remember the stature of Judy Garland, this film will be a sad experience.
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A Holiday Reminder
26 December 2019
Some feel that this perennial favorite film, LOVE ACTUALLY, is a response to the global devastation and fear that the September 11, 2001 created - a deeply felt longing for a return to peace and for acknowledging love. That may have influenced writer/director Richard Curtis to create this series of stories, but whether that is the case or not, this cinematic miracle has become a holiday must see and relive-experience for many of us.

The stories - and there are many of them - are set in England the month before Christmas and are as varied as the feeling of love itself: a has-been rock star ultimately discovers his true love is his male manager (Bill Nighy and Gregor Fisher), the Prime Minister finds attraction to a feisty employee (Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon), a desiring female longs for a fellow employee but owns her love for her ill brother (Laura Linney and Rodrigo Santoro), a married couple deals with adultery (Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson), a writer discovers true love in a Portuguese maid (Colin Firth and Sienna Guilory), a newly married couple cope with an ambiguous friend's attraction (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Keira Knightley and Andrew Lincoln), a father advises his young son about going for love (Liam Neeson and Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and more.

Not only is the story well written and directed and full of Christmas spirit, but it also is superbly acted by an outstanding cast. Get the feeling of love that we need to embrace: try LOVE ACTUALLY. Highly recommended for repeated viewings.
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Ad Astra (2019)
'Most of us spend our lives in hiding'
25 December 2019
James Gray both wrote (with Ethan Gross) and directed this psychological science fiction story that has polarized viewers: while many love the film, as many loath it - and for various reasons that can be read as private opinions. In short, the story relates one Astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) who undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father Colonel Clifford Mc Bride (Tommy Lee Jones) and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe and the survival of earth. In the treacherous opening Roy falls from an incredibly tall space tower all the while maintaining normal vital signs and mental stability - traits that accompany him through the film's adventure until the ending. Along the way he encounters older astronaut Thomas Pruitt (Donald Sutherland) and a few other persons both of the astronaut bent and those living on other planets - very small parts in this essentially one man film.

The focal point of the film is the father/son relationship altered by space and time and that allows the story to rise above routine sci-fi elements. Brad Pitt is excellent, if a bit monochromatic, and the technical, visual, and graphic elements of the production are exceptional as is the cinematography. This is a fine example of intelligent science fiction that retains nods of insight into the mind states of those who explore space as well as the quite possible future of space exploration with the accompanying benefits and potential problems. A bit too long and in need of editing, AD ASTRA is still a worthwhile evening's entertainment.
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Hustlers (2019)
'Doesn't money make you horny?'
24 December 2019
Lorene Scafaria wrote the screenplay for this 'factual' tale based on Jessica Pressler's New York Magazine story (Jessica -as Julia Stiles - plays a small role in the film) and directs this overly long crude look at the world of women strippers. The fact that Jennifer Lopez not only stars but is also the producer may dismay her fans, but her acting is convincing, as is that of Constance Wu.

The précis: women strippers make loads of money until their Wall Street clients belly up during the 2008 crash and they must turn to hustling with the use of drugs to gain 'vengeance' on their male clients. It's about 'family' of like minds (and habits) and the bulk of the film is focused on near nude stripping/dancing and a barrage of use of the F word. Poorly written and inconsistent, the film is entertainment for those who love exaggerated pole dancing. For everyone else - not so much.
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Downton Abbey (2019)
Pomp - and many circumstances...
23 December 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Everyone who has enjoyed the series Downton Abbey on television will find satisfaction in this cinematic extension of the famous home and its inhabitants - both upstairs and downstairs. Julian Fellowes filled this version with all of the favorite characters and added a visit from the King and Queen to heighten the pleasures. As with the usual message, there is a disparity between the household and the 'servants' - one that is more linked to terms and traditions than to the fine rapport between the two factions.

The theme and variations include the schism between the royal staff and the Downton staff and how the plane is evened, a suspicious thief that light-fingers trinkets only to be caught and make amends, a further exploration of 1927 homophobia as new butler Barrow discovers a gay bar, the beginning of a new love affair between Branson and a freshly discovered heir, some new about the health of Violet Crawley, a grand ball - and much more. The manner in which Fellowes makes each new twist and interaction between royalty, the wealthy owners, and the accompanying support staffs is indeed clever and refreshing. The entire film, including the chats with the starts at movie's end, feels like a warm reunion - with viewers an integral part of it all. This is a fine way to spend a winter evening.
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'It's official, old buddy. I'm a has been'
13 December 2019
Viewing ONCE UPON A TIME...IN HOLLYWOOD is a visit to the 1960s - California/Hollywood style. Quentin Tarantino both wrote and directed this very long and lugubrious film that features some very fine acting but requires more than a dollop of patience to make it to the clever final scene.

The 'idea' is to recreate Hollywood and the months leading up to the entrance of Charles Manson's tribe, as the infamous night in 1969 becomes a theatrical twist of facts. Leonardo DiCaprio is convincing as a has-been action star Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt is excellent as his stunt double Cliff Booth. Tarantino convincingly intertwines tidbits of the life of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and their third party Jay Sebring (Emil Hirsch), leading us to think the film will end with the Tate et al murders, but the road to that end is twisted and cleverly altered - like Hollywood. Other key actors include the very fine young Julia Butters, Al Pacino, Bruce Dern, Luke Perry, Timothy Olyphant, Margaret Qualley et al.

The movie is very long, spending an excessive amount of focus on cigarette smoking and the use of the 'f word' and endless cinematic production takes, but the overall effect of the film - in retrospect - is how clever Tarantino used these 'flaws' to bring the 60's Hollywood to life. This may not be a film for everyone, but the piece works - it just needs patience.
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Papi Chulo (2018)
'Sometimes a stranger makes the best friend'
18 November 2019
John Butler both wrote and directed this sensitive film that tenderly explores the space that friendship secures despite hypothetical barriers of language, culture, gender identification and social mores. This is a film that is not only entertaining and well acted and directed, but also is a much needed platform for examining the prejudices that at times interfere with civility when those responses can be (and so often are) healing. Sean (a luminous Matt Bomer) is a gay Los Angeles television weatherman whose anguish over a 6-month separation of his ex-lover Carlos results in an on-camera breakdown. His TV crew encourages him to take a rest - a break from his broadcast duties - and spend some time talking to someone for support in his chronic loneliness. Sean decides to change his life, at least as far as his home atmosphere, by giving away Carlos' potted tree on his deck - the removal of which leaves a painted blemish that Sean decides to correct. This mission opens the gate to his picking up a middle-aged migrant Latino day worker - Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño) - to help him, and despite the language barrier the two become friends: Sean over-talks on hikes, rowing on MacArthur Park Lake, parties, eateries, and gay parties and Ernesto sensitively provides listening companionship. When Ernesto doesn't appear one day, Sean turns to drinking and trying to find Ernesto in his Pico Rivera living area, only to fall (literally) into Ernesto's backyard during a Quinceanera party and is cared for by Ernesto's family - a kindness Sean later repays as 'room and board'. During Sean's recovery he tries Grindr, and the hunky Ryan Guzman appears at his door: Sean is emotionally unable to respond to the encounter. Time passes. All's well that end's well - as when Ernesto's child knocks on the front door, followed by Ernesto, to fix the still unpainted deck. 'Sometimes a stranger makes the best friend.' A small but very fine cast support Bomer and Patiño and the result is a touching film that offers a fine view of interpersonal relationships - despite some barriers.
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'You should tell the bees your secrets. Then they won't fly away.'
15 September 2019
Fiona Shaw's novel has been adapted for the screen by Henrietta Ashworth and Jessica Ashworth and as directed by Annabel Jankel the result is a luminous and tender visit to the mid 1950s Scotland, and an examination of the homophobia made even more stressful with the impact of the end of WW II returning mind-damaged soldiers.

Single mother Lydia Weekes (Holliday Grainger) who is abandoned by her husband Robbie (Emun Elliott), meets the small village's Doctor Jean Markham (Anna Paquin) who has recently returned to her hometown after her father's death, leaving her a spacious home she cherishes, when Lydia's son Charlie (Gregor Selkirk) is taken to the doctor after being bullied in school. Charlie grows to see Lydia as his best friend, sharing her fascination with the bees she shelters in her backyard. When Lydia and Charlie are evicted because Lydia's earnings from her work are not adequate to pay the rent, Jean invites them to stay in her home and she and Lydia soon develop a friendship and something more. The village frowns harshly on Jean and Lydia's lesbian relationship and Jean's medical status is threatened until she salvages a botched home-abortion, regaining her respect as a physician. Pending the threat of losing her son to the abusive Robbie, Lydia and Charlie depart the village - with plans to return - to Jean and true family.

The fine musical score by Claire M Singer and cinematography by Bartosz Nalazek add to the impact of this sensitive, very well acted film, and the result is a beautifully delivered romance that manages to survive against all odds. Recommended.
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The Aftermath (II) (2019)
Love lingers longer
10 August 2019
James Kent directs this adaptation of Rhidian Brook's boo THE AFTERMATH and manages to add sensitive dimensions to this WW II romance. The excellent cinematography by Franz Lustig heightens the drama as well as remind us of the utter destruction Germany suffered as the war ended, both in devastation of buildings and of lives.

The story takes place in Hamburg, Germany in 1946 as the Allied Forces struggle to deal with the homeless people and the remaining anti-western sentiment. Rachel Morgan (Keira Knightley) joins her husband Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) after their son is destroyed during the London blitz. They 'share' a stately mansion owned by architect widower Stephen Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) who agrees to have the British citizens move into his home he shares with his daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann) and their minimal serving staff. Lewis struggles with the cruelty of war damaged youths and men and women, always dedicated to his military job. Rachel feels isolated, still grieving for her lost son, and gradually finds consolation in the arms of Lubert. Friction between the Germans and Brits continues, involving Freda and her Nazi boyfriend, and in time Rachel and Freda and Lubert grow close and they plan to leave Hamburg. Lewis discovers their plan and is devastated - the loss of his son weighs heavily on him and Rachel's decision to leave him is critical. At the train station there is a change of commitment and the story ends on an unexpected note.

The cast is strong, the passion is palpable, and the visual effects of the decimated Hamburg and its citizens are achingly real. The way war affects us is the overall message - one that is wise to heed. This is a film worth experiencing.
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Gloria Bell (2018)
Looking for love in all the wrong places
7 July 2019
Director Sebastián Lelio reprises his Chilean cinematic success GLORIA, and with the help of Alice Johnson Boher's adaptation of his own screenplay, gives us GLORIA BELL.

The story is as complex in psychological insights as it is simple in storyline. Gloria Bell (Julianne Moore) is divorced, alone, working a boring insurance job, with children growing away, ad finds herself frequenting dance clubs/bars. She hungers for romance and almost accidentally finds it in divorced Arnold (John Turturro). The manner in which they court is at once tentative and aggressive: Arnold feels compelled to 'be there' for his two grown unemployed girls and allows that situation to alter his attention to Gloria, and Gloria wants it all. In an on again off again romance the problems of loneliness and aging take focus, and while the story is rather upbeat in stagecraft and flamboyant in sex scenes, the undertone is sad.

The cast includes actors/actresses who are in the age category the film addresses - Holland Taylor, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Rita Wilson, Brad Garrett, Chris Mulkey - as well as some fine young cast members. The story focuses on Los Angeles nightclubs and Las Vegas glitz and the action is swift and well focused, especially by Julianne Moore, who proves she can inhabit this sad role credibly, enhancing the impact of the aging and lonely but beautiful single woman stance. A comedy it isn't, but the film offers insight into a realm of the population who continue to seek elusive love.
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From the Over The Hill Gang!
24 June 2019
Director David Lowery wrote the screenplay for this homage to the elderly based on a true story written as an article in the New Yorker by David Grann about the Over the Hill Gang leader Forrest Tucker. Assembling a large cast of aging stars and a splendid sense of goodwill attitude, this is a film for relaxing - and wondering...

The plot is brief - 'Based on the true story of Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford), from his audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of 70 to an unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities and enchanted the public. Wrapped up in the pursuit are detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who becomes captivated with Forrest's commitment to his craft, and a woman (Sissy Spacek), who loves him in spite of his chosen profession. '

Other significant contributing actors include Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Keith Carradine, Ari Elizabeth Johnson, Tika Sumpter, and Barlow Jacobs among others. Daniel Hart provides a homespun musical score and the elegant cinematography is by Joe Anderson.

The film may not be deep, but it carries a great feeling of the importance of attitude and generosity of friendship - and Robert Redford simply make it work!
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The Mule (2018)
'The only people who want to live to 100 are 99 year olds'
17 June 2019
Octogenarian Clint Eastwood both directs and stars in this winning film that honors not only his cinematic past but also the plight of senior citizens. THE MULE is based on a newspaper account of a 90-year-old drug mule for the Sinaloa Cartel as adapted and written by Sam Dolnick and Nick Schenk. The result - a sparkling, entertaining and insightful movie that deals with not only the ongoing drug smuggling from below the border, but also the meaning of family, of growing older, and the intersection of these elements.

Horticulturist Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is 90, broke, alone, and facing foreclosure of his business when he is offered a job that simply requires him to drive. He is amenable to the job but doesn't immediately know that he's actually signed on as a drug courier (aka 'mule') for a Mexican cartel. He is proficient in his task, his cargo increases exponentially, and Earl is assigned a handler (Cesar De León). But he isn't the only one keeping tabs on Earl; the mysterious new drug mule has also hit the radar of hard-charging DEA agents Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) and Treviño (Michael Peña). Earl makes friends with the Mexican boss Laton (Andy Garcia) and encounters the more evil of the cartel crew. But as h makes (and gives away) large sums of money, his past life of minimizing the impact of his family (Diane Wiest, Allison Eastwood, Talissa Farmiga), and his new position makes him long for the return to that family, even as his ex-wife dies. The end? Watch the film to discover the resolution.

Beautifully filmed, superb acting by a very well selected cast of actors, and a story that goes far beyond simply another drug cartel venture, THE MULE is excellent on all levels, proving the Clint Eastwood continues to be a major talent in cinema.
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'Why did you help everyone but me, sister?'
3 June 2019
Remember the terrific 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' films and the fine roles created by Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig or Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist? Well, this third version of the capers of Lisbeth Salander, yes, still written by the same group (David Lagercrantz, Stieg Larsson et al) and now directed by Fede Alvarez, doesn't come close to those films, but does provide some technical prowess and a rather breathless showcase for Sweden.

In Stockholm, Sweden, vigilante hacker Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) is hired by computer programmer Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) to retrieve Firefall, a program capable of accessing the world's nuclear codes that he developed for the National Security Agency, as Balder believes it is too dangerous to exist. Lisbeth successfully retrieves Firefall from the NSA's servers, with some assistance from journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason), attracting the attention of agent Edwin Needham (LaKeith Stanfield), but is unable to unlock it, and the program is later stolen from her by mercenaries led by Jan Holtser (Claes Bang), who also attempts to kill Lisbeth. When she doesn't attend their scheduled rendezvous, Balder mistakenly believes Lisbeth decided to keep Firefall for herself and contacts Gabrielle Grane (Synnøve Macody Lund), the deputy director of the Swedish Security Service (Säpo), who moves Balder and his young son August to a safe-house. Meanwhile, Needham tracks the unauthorized login to Stockholm and arrives to seek Lisbeth and Firefall...The odd opening sequences introduce Lisbeth and her sister Camilla in the home of their brutal father, and later the mature Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks) draws focus as the instigator of troubles for Lisbeth.

Sound jumbled? It is, and while the special effects/CGI drama plays very well indeed, the story falters. Beautiful cinematography by Pedro Luque and musical score by Roque Baños become the elements that are impressive. A good diversion for an evening - just don't expect too much.
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Domino (I) (2019)
Worthy of Brian De Palma? Not so much...
1 June 2019
A funny thing happened on the way to the screen...DOMINO never finds its way to a story. A screenplay by Petter Skavlan in the hands of Brian De Palma doesn't gel, and the audience is left wondering why. Nice cast - and perhaps it is the popularity of Games of Thrones' stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Carice van Houten that will draw some people to the theater. But the film is not Brian De Palma vintage!

Somewhere hidden in the bizarre camera work and odd colorations of the film is a tale about police officer Christian (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) and his fellow officer Lars Hansen (Søren Malling), married to MS stricken Hanne (Paprika Steen), and the hunt for the perpetrator of Lars' murder. Fellow officer Alex (Carice van Houten), who just happens to have been Lars' secret girlfriend, helps Christian search for the killer as does officer Joe Martin (Guy Pearce) - all of whom cope with the identities of Eriq Ebouaney and Thomas W. Gabrielsson as suspects. And if the aforementioned sounds iffy, that is the film's major problem. Couple that with the very strange cinematography by José Luis Alcaine and the inappropriately 'pretty' musical score by Pino Donaggio and a sound track that presents challenges, and DOMINO!

Somewhere a movie got lost in the shuffle.
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Cold Pursuit (2019)
'Your mother's womb must be twitching in regret at bringing you into the world'
18 May 2019
Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland revisits his own Kraftidioten of 2014 with this very brutal film about revenge - a movie that begs the audience's patience while unfolding near countless beastly murders. If taken for what it is, subject matter wise, the film achieves its goal of examination of the extremes to which men can go in the name of revenge.

As the official synopsis (a bit enhanced) states, 'Quiet family man and hard-working snowplow driver Nels Coxsman (Liam Neeson) is the lifeblood of a glitzy resort town Kehoe, Colorado in the Rocky Mountains because he is the one who keeps the winter roads clear. He and his wife Grace (Laura Dern) live in a comfortable cabin away from the tourists. The town has just awarded him "Citizen of the Year." But Nels has to leave his quiet mountain life when his son Kyle (Micheál Richardson) is murdered by a powerful drug lord. As a man who has nothing to lose he is stoked by a drive for vengeance. This unlikely hero uses his hunting skills and transforms from an ordinary man into a skilled killer as he sets out to dismantle the cartel. Nels' actions ignite a turf war between a manically unpredictable gangster known as Viking (Tom Bateman) and a rival gang boss White Bull (Tom Jackson). Justice is served in one final spectacular confrontation that will leave (almost) no one unscathed.'

Spectacular scenery and a sophisticated cast serve as backdrop to this seething serial killing spree. Each murdered victim - all with odd names - is memorialized at the end of the deaths in a manner that helps keep the viewer informed as to the progress of the revenge. Some of the characters are suitably loathsome - in particular Tom Bateman as the racist vicious swine Viking, Michael Eklund as the atrocious Speedo, etc etc etc, while others are so underdeveloped that they practically disappear into the snowy atmosphere. Liam Neeson maintains his quality acting reputation, and that is a reasonable justification for watching the movie.
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'¿Quien está detrás?' - 'Who did it?'
13 May 2019
Writer/Director Asghar Farhadi's latest contribution to cinema is a film in Spanish with English subtitles that manages to win over audiences who are unfamiliar with the language because seeing and hearing the mesmerizing story unfold in the hands of a splendid cast in the language of the country where the story takes place (Spain) makes it glow even more.

The story opens in a festive atmosphere as Laura (Penélope Cruz) arrives from Argentina with her two children Irene (Carla Campra) and Diego (Ivan Chavero) to visit her family outside Madrid and participate in a wedding of her sister. After adjusting to the fact that her father (Ramón Barea) has aged decidedly and perseverates on his lack of an estate, sold by Laura to her ex-boyfriend Paco (Javier Bardem) year ago, the wedding festivities dominate. Paco has since married Bea (Bárbara Lennie), as has Laura- to ex-alcoholic Alejandro (Ricardo Darín) who arrives in Spain after Laura, still without employment. The wedding is joyous and while all are dancing and dining, Irene is kidnapped, an event that sets the family on edge - for more reasons than are apparent at first. The breathless hunt for Irene is complicated by strange messages about ransom, the interplay between Laura and Paco and Alejandro as long buried secrets emerge and must be faced in light of the entire family involvement in the mystery. To add more would be unfair to the velocity and twist and turns to the mystery.

A very strong cast brings this fascinating story to life with the sure guidance of director Asghar Farhadi. For those not fluent in Spanish the film still is bracing, as the subtitles are excellent. Almost without a soundtrack this film would still impress!
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Serenity (2019)
'On Plymouth Island, No One Ever Dies...Unless You Break the Rules'
5 May 2019
Writer/director Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises, Locke) has brewed a film that, like the theme of the film, is not what it seems at first. The transition from reality to non-reality is unsettling - a sunny tropical island populated by interesting people becomes a computer game of rules involving death, or does it? That is left to the observer to decide.

Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) is a fishing boat captain leading tours with his sidekick Duke (Djimon Hounsou) off a tranquil, tropical enclave called Plymouth Island. He earns money as an escort for island lady Constance (Diane Lane) when his income from fishing is down. His quiet life is shattered, however, when his ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) tracks him down with a desperate plea for help. She begs Dill to save her - and their young son Patrick (Rafael Sayegh) - from her new, violent husband (Jason Clarke) by taking him out to sea on a fishing excursion, only to throw him to the sharks and leave him for dead. Karen's appearance thrusts Dill back into a life he'd tried to forget, his service in Iraq and loneliness for his son Patrick, and as he struggles between right and wrong, his world is plunged into a new reality that may not be all that it seems. The strange unreal world seems to be known by the mysterious Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong) who follows Dill before his mission is revealed.

We are left to wonder if the confusion of the story is intentional - and if it is, the message is a bit too jumbled to make sense - or is that the intention? This is an odd movie with a very strong cast - it just gets a bit lost in the second half.
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Destroyer (2018)
'There's nothing to lose when you've already lost everything'
29 April 2019
Director Karyn Kusama (AEon Flux, Girlfight, The Invitation) has created a film that may be difficult to watch because of the manner of relating the story by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, but the overall atmosphere and scenic moods captured make the impact of the film significant.

As a young cop LAPD detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) was placed undercover with fellow detective Chris (Sebastian Stan) with a bank robbery gang lead by Silas (Toby Kebbell) in the California desert with tragic results. When the leader of that gang re-emerges many years later, she must work her way back through the remaining members and into her own history - her daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn) by Chris, her ruined marriage to Ethan (Scott McNary) to finally reckon with the demons that destroyed her past. Impressive performances by 'gang members' Tatiana Maslany, Beau Knapp, and Zach Villa et al enhance the grit of the story. To share more about he plot would be a spoiler, robbing the new viewer of the surprises of the ending.

Nicole Kidman adds another dimension to her acting talent with an unflatteringly old face and body Erin, but the character she inhabits becomes a bit monochromatic. The camera work by Julie Kirkwood is dazzling and the musical score by Theodore Shapiro captures every facet of the moods of the film. All of the ingredients are fine - the pacing is sluggish and at times confusing - and simply for a new style of cinema the film is worth seeing.
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Colette (I) (2018)
An important figure on several levels
22 April 2019
The fascinating life of Colette, one of the important figures in both literature and gender definition, is brought to the screen by director Wash Westmoreland ('Still Alice', 'Quinceañera', 'Totally Gay') who also wrote the screenplay with Richard Glatzer and Rebecca Lenkiewicz. The result is a visually fine period piece with excellent performances by Keira Knightley and Dominic West yet somehow falls short of its potential by focusing on excesses.

The true story is that of the gifted country girl Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley) who is swept off her feet by writer Henry Gautier-Villars (aka Willy), taken to Paris where Willy's philandering and writing needs are a source of contention with his publisher. Discovering that his wife Colette has a gift for writing, Willy talks her into being a ghostwriter for him, successfully publishing a series of books about the life of 'Claudine' - a reflection of Colette's real life. Riding on the success of the venture, Colette begins to acknowledge her desire for female partners, sharing one wealthy American Matilde (Sloan Thompson) with Willy and finally pairing with the wealthy Missy (Denise Gough) in her decision to 'make it on her own' both as a writer and as performer with Missy. To everyone's surprise she uses her fame to advance acceptance of same sex gender identification, unique fashion, and literature by female authors.

The film is enhanced by the musical score by Thomas Adès and the cinematography by Giles Nuttgens. Minor roles are well performed and the overall recreation of Paris at eh turn of the century is excellent. For some reason, despite Keira Knightley's fine acting, the film fails to convince fully, but for the importance of this story on many levels it is a film very much worth viewing.
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'I hope that nobody has ever had to look at anybody they love through glass.'
31 March 2019
James Baldwin's sensitive novel has been committed to the screen by writer/director Barry Jenkins and the result resembles a soft blues ballad that is both eloquent and challenging in its careful examination of racial injustice and lasting love.

The film uses the current time/past history format and does that well: at times the progress of the story gets lost in the technique but the overall flavor of the theme is maintained. Baldwin's poetry is intact - a brave stance for the director and cast and one they respect and honor with performances that are consistently excellent.

African-American teen sweethearts Alonzo aka 'Fonny' (Stephan James) and Tish (KiKi Layne) are ripped apart when Fonny is wrongly arrested for the rape of a Puerto Rican woman (Emily Rios) because of the machinations of a racist cop (Ed Skrein). While seeking justice for Fonny, a pregnant Tish relies on her Harlem community, including her sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris) mother Sharon (Regina King), father Joseph (Colman Domingo) and future in laws (Aunjanue Ellis, Michael Beach, Ebony Obsidian). The early years of Fonny and Tish are well played and the change from friendship to passionate lovers is played very well. Of note the most prejudiced character in the story is not a white person (though the policeman is wholly obnoxious) is Fonny's mother - a move that makes the story even more poignant.

The acting is first rate, the cinematography by James Laxton and the musical score by Nicholas Britell are appropriately moody, and Barry Jenkins is most impressive as the director. This is a solid film that deserves the attention it is receiving.
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First Man (2018)
'It'll be an adventure'
17 March 2019
One of the most memorable quotes in the past hundred years is the familiar 'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind' - the words we all heard when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969. James' R. Hansen's book has been adapted for the screen by Josh Singer and the film is directed by Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash).

The film covers the years 1961 - 1969 in the life of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), beginning with Armstrong's trials as a pilot and proceeds through his training for the Gemini mission and the famous moon landing. Along the way the psyche of the astronaut is explored by revealing his interactions with his wife Janet (Claire Foy) and terminally ill daughter Karen (Lucy Stafford), his friend and fellow astronaut Ed White (Jason Clarke) and his wife Pat (Olivia Hamilton) whose lives alter Neil's perception of his mission. Nods are given to Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll), Elliot See (Patrick Fugit) and other very small cameos.

Much of the film is very loud, with all the harrowing tension that accompanies the launching and flight of spacecraft extended to near the breaking point. The facts are there but what is missing is a storyline that allows the audience to accompany Armstrong's historic mission. It is a noisy adventure with rather flat performances by the main characters, but it does encourage recall of that momentous day in 1969 with reality.
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