This page contains reviews of films seen during the months of April to June 2017


“Paterson” - I saw a movie about a bus driver. In Paterson, NJ. Who also happens to be named Paterson (Adam Driver). He is married to a lovely and eccentric woman (Golshifteh Farahani) and has a bulldog named Marvin. Each night, after work, Paterson takes Marvin for a walk to a bar. Marvin stays outside. Tied up on his leash. Inside, Paterson drinks a beer and talks to his friends. Thankfully, Marvin stays safe. Paterson, the bus driver, is a poet who writes his thoughts in a small personal book. One of his poems, surprisingly, is about matches. His wife, who loves him, thinks he should publish his poems. I suspect Paterson feels inferior to William Carlos Williams, who wrote a book of poetry called “Paterson.” The film is written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. He is also eccentric, as a director of indie films. He tells slow-paced human stories. They are about humdrum events in ordinary lives. The acting is fine. Adam Driver is as far from Adam on “Girls” as one can get. B+ (6/22/17)


“Nocturnal Animals” - Susan (Amy Adams) is an art gallery owner in Los Angeles whose life isn’t quite what she expected. She looks unhappy, her husband (Armie Hammer) is a philanderer, and her environment seems cold and lifeless. And then she receives a copy of a novel written by and from her former husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), someone she hasn’t seen for many years. The book is dedicated to her. She begins to read, and the film turns to revealing Edward’s novel, entitled “Nocturnal Animals.” In it, Tony Hastings (Gyllenhaal) is driving through Texas with his wife and daughter when they are accosted on a dark highway by three creeps, an event ultimately resulting in two tragic murders. The film goes back and forth between Susan’s rather dull life and her memories of having fallen for Edward in college and then betraying him in more ways than one. The book she is reading is clearly some form of revenge (made rather obvious by a painting in her gallery consisting of the word “revenge”) against Susan for having no faith in Edward’s career and talent, and ultimately divorcing him. Unfortunately, “Nocturnal Animals,” directed by Tom Ford, is overall rather mediocre and the connection between Susan’s life and the story within Edward’s book seems quite tenuous. The latter is also rather hokey melodrama, although it has a wonderful performance by Michael Shannon as Bobby Andes, a Texas detective. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, a British actor who once played John Lennon (“Nowhere Boy”), is Ray Marcus, the lead creep responsible for the murders in the film. Why the casting director would choose a British actor to play a low-life with a Texas accent is beyond me. And what is even more shocking is that Taylor-Johnson’s fairly run-of-the-mill performance received a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. C (6/19/17)


“Toni Erdmann” - This is without a doubt one of the most unusual films I have seen in many years. Is it a comedy? Some say yes, and others vehemently deny it. This German film was nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars and was on the Top 10 lists of many leading critics. It is loaded with very strange behavior, serious social issues, and some rather astounding performances. It is also, unfortunately, a little too long at 2 hours and 45 minutes. Directed by Maren Ade, the film centers on Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek), a German schoolteacher with a mop of scruffy gray hair and a similarly scruffy beard who is divorced but friendly with his former wife, cares for his mother and his elderly dog, and loves to say things he later admits are just jokes, and also to play practical jokes on others. He makes a surprise visit to his daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller), at her job in Bucharest, Romania. Ines is about as different from her father as one can imagine. She’s perfectly coiffed and dressed and quite uptight and serious about her consultant career, but doesn’t seem too upset initially about her father’s appearance, immediately inviting him (despite his lack of dress clothes) to a gathering at the American embassy. It seems to take Ines a little too long to finally tire of her father’s free and easy approach to everything but he finally agrees to leave. But a short time later, when Ines is in a bar with two women friends, Winfried pops up again, this time in a suit but also with a long untidy black wig and false teeth in his mouth. He introduces himself to the women as “Toni Erdmann,” a life coach. “Toni Erdmann” is not only a character study (and these are some characters!), it is also a commentary on a humane easy-going approach to life in contrast to the life of a consultant (Ines) who works for cold-blooded and somewhat sexist capitalists who are ready to outsource jobs and fire those left behind. Without going into more detail, some rather almost surrealistic events occur late in the film reflecting Winfried’s view of life and Ines’ rather surprising reaction. This is not a film for the average viewer but rather one for connoisseurs of thoughtful and eccentric foreign films. (In German, Romanian, and English with English subtitles as needed). A- 6/17/17)


“Lion” - This is a tearjerker from beginning to end. Based on the true story of Saroo Brierly, we experience the traumatic events when Saroo was five years old (in the mid-1980s) living near Khandwa, in northern India, where he spoke in the Hindi language. Separated from his brother, Guddu, he fell asleep in an unoccupied train, and wound up in very distant Calcutta, unable to communicate in Bengali, the local language. The movie thankfully doesn’t linger long on Saroo’s homelessness in a country where many hungry children wander the streets. He wound up in a rather unpleasant government facility for orphans but was extremely lucky to be adopted by an Australian couple, ultimately growing up in Hobart, Tasmania. Sunny Pawar, in his first acting role, is truly amazing as the five year old Saroo. When many years pass and the film turns to the adult Saroo, Dev Patel (“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and “The Man Who Knew Infinity”) plays the role of a young man who becomes obsessed over finding his home, his mother, and his brother. Nicole Kidman is excellent as Saroo’s loving Australian mother, Sue Brierly. Also of note are David Wenham as John Brierly, and Rooney Mara as Saroo’s fictional American girlfriend, Lucy. Keep the tissue box on hand, especially for the end. (In English as well as Hindi and Bengali with English subtitles). B+ (6/16/17)


“Fences” - This is a tour de force for at least three people: the late August Wilson who wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning play as well as the screenplay; Denzel Washington who directed and brilliantly stars as Troy Maxson; and Viola Davis who gives what was an Oscar-winning performance for supporting actress as Troy’s wife, Rose. It is mid-1950s Pittsburgh and Troy Maxson is a middle-aged man who once dreamed of playing major league baseball but was denied because in his playing days, the major leagues denied African-Americans their chance to play. Troy, who works as a garbage collector, has rigid views of life which seem centered around the misfortunes he perceives, something he talks about with his best friend, Jim Bono (Stephen Mckinley Henderson), and which he imposes on those around him, including his oldest son, Lyons (Russell Hornsby), and his younger son (with Rose), Cory (Jovan Adepo). Troy also has to deal with a mentally disturbed brother, Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson). “Fences” is a tragic story of a man who is convinced that he is right about everything, even when he is hurting those around him, especially his wife and son Cory, and he does a darn good job of just that. Having been written by a great playwright, “Fences” is also a powerful story of an African-American family in mid-century, living in a lower middle-class Pittsburgh neighborhood, dealing with the problems of survival, both economic and human. The acting is memorable. The film deservedly was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and Denzel Washington was deservedly nominated for Best Actor and should have been nominated for Best Director. A (6/12/17)


“Carrie Pilby” - This indie film from first time feature director Susan Johnson, tells the story of a young British-born woman with a very high IQ who has graduated from Harvard at age 18, and is living an alienated life in New York City. Carrie is played by Bel Powley, a young British actress with a great deal of personality. Carrie is unfortunately not particularly happy with people or her life (apparently due to an unfortunate affair with a professor at Harvard) but, as in most films of this sort, although it’s a struggle, she gradually emerges from her funk. The problem with “Carrie Philby” is certainly not its cast, which includes the great Nathan Lane as Carrie’s very concerned therapist, and Gabriel Byrne as her father, but rather that the plot is simply fairly familiar material and not particularly enlightening. Bel Powley and the rest of the cast are charming. But is that enough? B- (6/5/17)


“Loving” - I had two reactions to this film about a real-life mixed-race couple in Virginia in 1958, who were arrested and prosecuted for having married each other. My first reaction was personal. I grew angry once again at the disgusting history of racism and hatred in America, and particularly the southern States, and I thought about the fact that I traveled through the South in 1958, at age 13, and then I shivered to think that I was actually living in Virginia in 1968, only one year after the momentous Supreme Court decision that resulted from this case (Loving v. Virginia, which ended anti-miscegenation laws in the US). My second reaction was to the film itself, which stars Joel Edgerton, an Australian actor, as Richard Loving, and Ruth Negga, an Ethiopian-Irish actress, as Mildred Loving. Both actors do a fine job of portraying people lost in the wilderness of southern Jim Crow hatred. I wish, however, that the filmmakers had allowed Joel Edgerton to show more emotion. He seemed to be hanging his head low and mumbling for much of the film. The Lovings were married in real-life for many years, including at least nine between their marriage and the Supreme Court decision and it’s hard to imagine that they would have lasted if Mr. Loving had always been so morose. My biggest problem with this film, however, is that it emphasizes the personal story of the Lovings as a couple and de-emphasizes the significant legal aspects of the story. The problem is that the Lovings’ story, as told in this film, is just not that interesting. One example will suffice to show the filmmakers’ efforts to make the story more interesting. At one point, the Lovings’ sons are shown playing in the streets and one son runs in front of and is hit by a moving car. Had this been a major moment in their lives, I could understand the scene. But in the next scene Mildred is shown telling Richard about the incident and informing him that the boy was fine. That’s the last reference to the accident. The street accident served absolutely no purpose in the development of the story of the hateful and cruel Virginia anti-miscegenation law and is indicative of the weakness of this film’s script. C+ (5/22/17)


“The Handmaiden” - Based on the crime novel “Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters (2002), this unusual and intriguing erotic film transfers the story from Victorian England to Japanese-occupied Korea. It wouldn’t be fair to describe the plot which has several flashbacks and surprises. But to summarize the essence (told in three acts): Sook-Hee (Tae-ri Kim), a pickpocket, is hired by a man who calls himself Count Fujiwara (Jung-Woo Ha), to enter the home of Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim), a wealthy woman, as her handmaiden to help Fujiwara convince Lady Hideko to marry him. He tells Sook-hee that he ultimately will place Lady Hideko in a mental hospital and steal her wealth. Needless to say there are enough twists and turns along the way to make this movie very well worth experiencing. The cast is excellent and the cinematography is outstanding. When I say this is erotic, I should note that the film has explicit language and scenes. Highly recommended. A (5/10/17)


“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” - This movie walks like “Star Wars,” talks like “Star Wars,” and looks a little bit like “Star Wars.” So is it “Star Wars?” Well not quite. A lot of the elements are there, including the Death Star, and cameo appearances by Darth Vader and Princess Leia, but it really feels counterfeit (the way a forger can copy a painting by a master and fool people into thinking it’s real, at least until it’s examined closely). “Rogue One” precedes in time the events in the original “Star Wars” film and involves the Rebels attempting to stop the Empire in its tracks. Felicity Jones does a nice job as Jyn Erso, daughter of the scientist (Mads Mikkelsen) forced into designing the Death Star. And there are appearances by Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, and Jimmy Smits. But when all is said and done, there is undoubtedly a sense that one needs to watch the real “Star Wars” (1977) again to see the characters and pizzazz that made “Star Wars” what it is today. C (5/4/17)


“La La Land” - Do you remember all the great Hollywood musicals starring Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart? No? You mean they actually used professional singers and dancers like Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Cyd Charisse, Bing Crosby, Leslie Caron, Mitzi Gaynor, and Rosemary Clooney? Well, at long last I have seen one of the most over-hyped films in Hollywood history and now am thankful that it was actually “Moonlight” and not “La La Land” that won the Oscar for best film for 2016. Is the film a complete dud? Well, no. It’s cute and has a simplistic romantic plot. And it has John Legend and some very talented jazz musicians. But let us hope that Damien Chazelle has some better ideas for his next film than a “musical” with a highly mediocre script and plot, and two stars who can barely sing or dance at even a high school musical level. And then there’s something else that has apparently been overlooked. Ryan Gosling, who plays Sebastian, looks like he was sleepwalking through this film. His performance was unenthusiastic and sometimes downright embarrassing. As for Emma Stone, well I love the way she radiates personality and charm. But “best actress?” Hollywood really needs to take another look at itself when it goes bananas over a clunker like this that has the nerve to put itself in the same genre as “Singin’ In The Rain,” “Top Hat,” and “An American in Paris.” C+ (4/26/17)


“Hidden Figures” - This is a delightful film which tells the story of three African-American women who played a significant role in the American space program of the 1960s. It’s also a film that is likely, if you have any concern for your fellow man, to make you angry. While there are several aspects of the film that aren’t particularly accurate (for example, Katherine Goble, aka Katherine Johnson, played wonderfully by Taraji P. Henson, is shown as meeting and marrying a military officer, Colonel Jim Johnson, played by Mahershala Ali, in the 1961-1962 period of the film, when, in fact, Katherine Goble married Mr. Johnson in 1959). But since Hollywood has rarely if ever made a film based on a real-life tale that was completely accurate, let’s move on to the essence of the film. What we see are three brilliant female mathematicians who took full advantage of their opportunity to take part in NASA’s preparations for the launches of Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, and John Glenn. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) were hired as human “computers” and, since the NASA facility was in Hampton, VA, in the early ‘60s, are treated as one would expect African-Americans and females to be treated in those days. This is brought out clearly in the scenes in which Katherine Johnson, needing to use the restroom, has to run a half mile to the “colored” ladies room in another building. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe are delightful as the three women who triumph despite the odds against them at the time. Kevin Costner is the fictional Al Harrison, the boss, and it’s one of his best performances in a long time. Also in the cast are Jim Parsons as the somewhat nasty and arrogant chief engineer, and Kirsten Dunst as a dour supervisor of the “colored computers.” A (4/25/17)


“Inferno” - Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon in another film based on a Dan Brown novel. Felicity Jones as Sienna Brooks, Langdon’s doctor who brings him out of an apparent coma at the beginning of the film. A setting, of course, in the world of Renassiance Italy, this time Florence. And lots of secret mysteries to be resolved in order to find a nightmarish virus that is about to be released on the world by a psychopath, Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) who thinks that killing half the people on the planet will save the human race. Aside from all the other nonsense in the film, why would a psychopath such as Zobrist leave clues to the location of his deadly virus, thus helping his enemies prevent exactly what he intended to accomplish? And the thought always occurs in such situations: don’t the villains realize that they could be among those killed by the virus? Of course, in this case, one of the villains is already dead and it wouldn’t matter to him. Directed by Ron Howard, who once made worthwhile films. In addition to Tom Hanks, who wastes his talent in this type of film, also the cast includes Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen (“Westworld” and “A Hologram for the King”) who seems to have made a career for herself in Hollywood after playing the dynamic Danish prime minister in “Borgen.” C- (4/17/17)


“Elle” - Isabelle Huppert is superb as Michéle Leblanc, the head of a computer games company that produces provocative video games, with a problematic past due to crimes committed by her father when she was a child. Michéle is attacked and raped at home by a man wearing a ski mask and then seems strangely calm and collected as she goes about her daily affairs. What exactly is Michéle up to? The answers are revealed slowly and carefully as the film ultimately reveals her attacker and her motivations. Is it a game she is playing or revenge? Directed by Paul Verhoeven (“Basic Instinct”). In French with English subtitles. B+ (4/10/17)

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