Hidden Figures (PG)

Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe, Hidden Figures tells the story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson (respectively), three African American women who worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and were instrumental in helping America “win”the Space Race against the former Soviet Union.

For me, this movie is an instant classic; a film I will watch again and again. It is a movie I will encourage everyone to go and see regardless of age, gender or ethnicity.  The story has something for everyone because it not only includes the story of these three amazing women, but it also includes the simultaneous storyline featuring the recently dearly departed American hero, John Glenn and the Space Race.  This is not just a “girl’s movie.”  The entire audience applauded and cheered when the movie ended (and it was packed for a 9:15 a.m. showing).

The subject matter is important for all Americans to see. Men should see it so they gain a better understanding about what women have had to deal with in male dominated industries, up to and including in the present day.  Children and adults should see it so they understand that despite any and all obstacles life may hand you or throw at you, there are ways to achieve what you want through preparation, hard work, patience and perseverance.  And sometimes you have to pay attention, so you can see what is coming and get in front of it to create your own opportunity.  It is important for non-black people to see this movie so they may gain a better understanding about the problems that persist today in America between whites and blacks and get a glimpse inside of a piece of the African American experience.  It is important for black people to see this movie to remind us of the good stock we come from and to never short-change ourselves.  Much of our past in America has been “hidden,” but our contributions are far too numerous and significant to ever stay buried.  It is important young girls who have an aptitude for science, technology, engineering and mathematics see this movie so they understand what the women who paved the way had to go through, because not only did these women break racial barriers,  they broke gender barriers.  It is important for all Americans to know the names I never learned and I’m sure are still not being taught in school; Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson.  This movie is important.

What works in favor of this movie (along with so many other things) is that not many people had ever heard of or ever seen these women until recently. The problem of casting people who look like historical figures doesn’t exist here, so talent could be hired strictly on the basis of chemistry, fit and talent.  Kudos to all who were involved in the casting.  Golden Globe nominated Octavia Spencer was great.  She does what Octavia Spencer always does – ever the consummate professional – she always delivers.  The majority of the performances were excellent, but Taraji P. Henson steals the show and earned an Oscar nomination here.  You will laugh at her and she will genuinely bring you to tears.  Her character, Katherine G. Johnson, is so likeable.  She is humble and outspoken when she needs to be and balances her emotions in a segregated, prejudiced, sexist workplace like a champion.  She is smart, confident, ladylike, determined, and did I mention smart?  I am so proud of Taraji.  It is her time.

It was almost as if the music were a character on its own because it gave so much depth to the film. All the songs were very thoughtful.  You cannot go wrong with a musical team that includes Benjamin Wallfisch, Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer.  Every song fit right where it was supposed to and relayed exactly what it was supposed to.  The wardrobe, hair and makeup were done well.  The cinematography was lovely.  The movie was well directed with the proper mix of drama, supense and humor.  My only complaint would be that the writing for Katherine’s children was sappy and a bit corny.

Hidden Figures earned 9 out of 10 bloops – loosing an entire bloop for that bit of weak, sappy writing. Also, there are a few schmaltzy words/expressions/intonations that couldn’t be overlooked.  The cast does some strong acting overall, and Taraji P. Henson is excellent here with her acting earning 10 out of 10 bloops all day long.  The music is perfect.  It is a family film you can see with your children or your grandparents that you will all enjoy.  The subject matter is important, interesting, educational, and it is part of our American history that unfortunately is still quite relevant.

Bloops:

1   =   worst ever, avoid at all cost
2   =   very bad, forget about it!
3   =   poor movie, not recommended
4   =   not good, even for free – NO!
5   =   so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6   =   not bad, could have been better
7   =   good movie, worth seeing
8   =   great movie, don’t miss it!
9   =   excellent movie, a must see!
10 =   a masterpiece, go see it now!

My Welcome Message

More reviews:

Good Time
Atomic Blonde
Dunkirk
Girls Trip
Spider-Man: Homecoming
The Big Sick
Baby Driver
All Eyez on Me 
It Comes at Night 
The Wedding Plan 
Wonder Woman
Everything, everything
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Raw

Kong: Skull Island
Logan
The Girl with All the Gifts
A Cure for Wellness 
Get Out

Fences
Moonlight
Hell or High Water
Loving
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Nocturnal Animals
Captain Fantastic
Elle
Jackie
Florence Foster Jenkins
I Am Not Your Negro

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Why Him (R)

A Christmas gathering goes awry after it is revealed that 32 year old Silicon Valley millionaire, Laird (played by James Franco), is about to propose to 22 year old college student, Stephanie (played by Zoey Deutch).  Stephanie’s father, Ned (played by Bryan Cranston) strongly disapproves as Laird presents himself as some sort of foul-mouthed degenerate, but is actually a good guy with a good heart underneath.  Laird asks Ned to give him three days until Christmas to win him over and earn his approval.   Why Him is the story of what happens within those three days between the free spirited Laird and buttoned-up Ned.

The comedic stand outs here are Keegan-Michael Key, mainly during his interactions with Franco; and Zach Pearlman for his interactions with Cranston.  Despite how funny the individuals in the remaining cast are known to be, they all seemed to be trying too hard to get a laugh, and the jokes (as they were) felt forced.  There were some really cool stunts done and the best part of this movie was the physicality.  There are some mildly funny lines and gestures, but nothing to write home about.  If you enjoy silly, juvenile humor, this is your film.  If you like your humor more on the smart/sophisticated side, steer clear.

Jonah Hill’s co-writing with John Hamberg (Along Came Polly, Zoolander, I Love You Man) was stale.  There was nothing that hasn’t been seen or done before here.  Why Him mostly relied on profanity to make jokes, with no supporting joke underneath.  You really want to laugh out loud because you did come out to see what is supposed to be a comedy, but can only muster a chuckle, because the vulgarity or profanity makes you chuckle (sometimes uncomfortably), but the lines are just not funny.  A jaw drop or two, an OMG moment, but never a full on laugh.  By the time an event that could have caused a big laugh arrived, the audience had grown stoic.  Nobody cared anymore.

Some teenagers came to the theater who appeared to have smoked some weed beforehand (don’t ask me how I know, just trust me… I do), and they laughed from the beginning to the end. Maybe that’s the trick to it – don’t even bother to watch in a theater.  Watch it safely at home on Netflix so you can reach the proper level of impairment for it to be hilarious to you.  In my opinion, that’s not comedy.  Comedy is laughing out loud when I am sober.  Never got to laugh out loud once during this movie.  Not.  Once.  And neither did anyone else in the theater, except for that high group of kids.

Why Him earned 5 out of 10 bloops. It was not bad and did contain some good elements, I suppose, but I surely would not recommend you pay to go see it.  It could have been much better with some writing that was more focused on humor.  The references to the Pink Panther were cute and provided the best scenes of the movie, in my opinion.  The stunt work was truly, truly enjoyable.  Didn’t go to see stunts though, I went for laughs.  Unfortunately, this movie did not deliver.

Collateral Beauty (PG-13)

With a cast of stars that includes Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Peña, Naomie Harris, Helen Mirren and Keira Knightley, a lot was expected from Collateral Beauty.  Not from me, of course.  It looked like it was going to be corny as heck, so I had to do a lot of mind-clearing before sitting down for this one, honestly.  The reviews have not been kind, from what I’ve heard, and a lot of people seem to be really disappointed with the movie, as it has already landed on Yahoo’s list of the 10 worst movies of 2016. I had to see for myself.

Will Smith plays Howard, a man who has become despondent over the death of his 6 year old daughter. This detachment from life threatens to destroy the successful business he and his three friends (Norton, Winslet and Peña) have built up.  Howard’s coworkers hatch a plan (enlisting the assistance of Mirren, Knightly and this cute kid named Jacob Lattimore) to ruin Howard (pretty much) so they can save the business.

Obviously, the cast is chock full of talent. The concept of the story is actually interesting when you delve into the story and watch it.  The actors do a generally decent job, so it cannot be said that the movie fails in execution, exactly.  So what is the problem with this movie?

The main problem with the movie is in the writing. The story itself becomes so ridiculous at one point it is unfathomable. Even using my open-minded, movie-going mindset I could not get to a point where I could buy the nonsense they were selling.  Some things do not make sense in the real world or the fantasy world.  Anyone who read this script could have said, “This could actually be a great story, except for this stupid part right here.  There are no six adults with brains in their heads who would come up with such a silly idea and actually try to go through with it believing they would get away with it.  This needs to be rewritten.”  Even when the movie was actually filming, it had to feel wrong to everyone involved.  Actually, you can tell it felt wrong.  You can see it go wrong.  And that is what ruined this movie.

If you read me regularly, you know I cannot stand an otherwise “clean” movie that contains one cuss word. It speaks to the lack of vision for the type of movie one wants to create, in my opinion.  If there is just one curse word, surely the movie can be done just as well with none.

There were some chemistry and miscasting problems here, as well. In an effort to cram big names into a movie to get butts into seats at theaters someone dropped the ball on making sure a good story, that makes sense, and is worth telling was was being told.

The movie is set around the holiday season and attempts to mirror movies like It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol, with angels and spirits and such, and the learning of lessons like appreciating your life, being kinder, loving your loved ones, building relationships, the restoration of hope, etc.,  but Collateral Beauty deals with too many dark subjects, (such as death and dying and mind numbing, paralyzing grief, depression, mortality, infertility, illness, betrayal, to name just a few!), so it really never gets to give you the feelings those films do.  You get too bogged down in too much heaviness to ever be properly elevated to the light, uplifting part.

Also, Will Smith is billed as the main character, but he’s so busy being depressed and despondent, he doesn’t really talk very much here. He grimaces, he sighs, he sulks, he shakes his head yes or no in response to some questions, some of the time – if he answers at all.  He rides his bike…  He purses his lips.  He rides his bike…  He ignores people.  He rides his bike…  It’s probably not so, but it felt as though he had more camera time and less dialogue than anyone else in the movie, which really isn’t the most entertaining thing to watch.  It’s actually pretty frustrating.  The saving grace of the entire film was the beautiful shots of New York.

Alas… Collateral Beauty earned a somewhat painful 5 out of 10 bloops. I didn’t think it is a terrible movie, or even unwatchable.  It is a so-so movie that is worth watching if you don’t have to pay for it.  It really did have some redeeming qualities and even some good performances, but it could not overcome that horribly ridiculous writing.  And that’s a pity, because Will Smith’s performance (as little as he actually got to say) was pretty good, and this is coming from someone who is not his biggest fan. No need to go out into the cold for this one.  Stream it when it becomes available if you’re a fan of any of the many Oscar nominees and/or winners in this cast, so you can be equally as frustrated as I was by Smith’s brooding, sulking, silence/biking, and that utterly ridiculous portion of the story line that failed this talented cast.

 

Next up: Passengers

My Welcome Message

The Witness

In The Witness, William Genovese investigates the circumstances surrounding the attack and murder of his sister, Kitty Genovese, and attempts to uncover the truth regarding the story that dozens of locals witnessed her murder and did nothing to intervene.  It is an infamous case which has been continuously studied by criminal justice professionals after being misreported by the police sources initially, and by the press for decades.  Because of this case, the terms “bystander effect” and “Genovese Syndrome,” where created, where people witness a crime and do nothing, such as call the police, because no one else did, or because they believed someone else already surely must have.  It is said that Kitty Genovese’s case was the catalyst for what we now know as the 9-1-1 system, making it easier for citizens to reach out to police for help and have those calls documented.

To give some background on the crime (for those who may be unfamiliar with the crime or its details), on March 13, 1964 Genovese was attacked by a man on her way home to her Kew Gardens apartment after work, at about 3 a.m.  While Kitty was being stabbed repeatedly by a complete stranger in the street, one neighbor heard her cries and yelled out his window, scaring off the attacker. Others admitted they heard the commotion, but thought it might have been a brawl from a nearby bar, so they went back to bed. No one came outside to help.  It has been said that at least 38 neighbors ignored her cries for help.  Already fatally wounded, Kitty staggered around her building to the back entrance. Her attacker hid a couple of blocks away in his car. When the police failed to arrive about 10 minutes later, her attacker ventured out, searching for Kitty.  He found her in the lobby of her apartment building, stabbed her again, raped her, stole $49 she had on her, and left her to die.  There is a version of the story where he attacked her three times. Extremely morbid stuff…

William Genovese interviews many of Kitty’s neighbors, high profile journalists of the day, his family members; anyone who he feels might be able to shed some light on what really happened to his sister that fateful night. He even attempted to interview Kitty’s attacker.  If you have any interest in sociology, psychology, criminology, this film is for you.  We learn so much more about Genovese and her life, her aspirations, her family, her friends.  We also learn more about her neighbors, the attack and her attacker (who had the privilege of passing away in jail this year at the ripe old age of 81).  All these years later, The Witness is one man’s sad, touching search for the closure he never got.

The Witness earned 8.5 out of 10 bloops.  It isn’t the greatest documentary ever made, but the subject and what is uncovered makes it a must see.  Its attempt to get down to the truth and dispel some of the mythology surrounding one of the most infamous murders in New York City is nothing short of riveting; particularly for me as a native New Yorker.  The video footage of Kitty also makes The Witness worth watching, as you get to know her better.  William still may not have all the answers he would have liked to get, but comes as close to closure as he will ever be at this point.  If he cannot find closure, let us pray he finds peace after losing a family member to such random brutality.  The Witness can be seen at the IFC Center in NYC or streamed on Netflix currently.

Next up:  I will be reviewing Collateral Beauty or Passengers tomorrow, depending on which one motivates me to write about it more after seeing them both

My Welcome Message

 

 

Fences (R)

Directed by and starring Denzel Washington, Fences is a screen adaptation of the August Wilson play for which Denzel won a Tony Award for Best Actor in 2010.  Using the same core cast that appeared in that Broadway production, Fences co-stars Viola Davis, Mykeltie Williamson, Stephen Henderson and Russell Hornsby.

Wilson wrote a series of 10 plays which includes Fences.  Each work in the series is set in a different decade, and depicts comic and tragic aspects of the 20th century African-American experience from his perspective.  The other 9 installments will be executive produced by Washington in a deal made with HBO.  This is major.  Washington and HBO are partnering to make cultural experiences available to the masses, including those who cannot afford, or have simply never been to the theater.  I think it’s brilliant and important that people have the opportunity to be exposed to Wilson’s classics, and a new generation is introduced to his work.  While there is nothing like a live show on Broadway, hopefully this will become a trend in theater – that it all somehow makes its way to a more affordable medium so everyone can experience it and enjoy it.

For those who have never read the book or seen the play (like myself), Fences is a rather gritty picture of what a marriage can be like in real life along with the “love,” including failure, routine, disappointment, selfishness, control, close mindedness, bitterness, compromise, ego, self-loathing, obligation/responsibility feeling like a trap – the entire messy ball of wax; the bad with the good; the crookeds with the straights. Human flaws are examined, such as the audacity exhibited when judging others when you are in absolutely no position to do so, the ability to see every little fault in others while constantly justifying, excusing and overlooking your own bullshit, and being imperfectly human.  Troy is this larger than life, all-consuming personality at home, but a tiny man of little significance anywhere else – particularly in his own mind. So, to sum it all up – it’s about being a really shitty individual to the people who you’re closest to and the reasons you constantly push them away.  We’ve all been there, either as the shitty person or the one being shat upon.  Who cannot relate to that?

While making Philadelphia (1993), Tom Hanks said that working with Washington was like “going to film school” and that he learned more about acting by watching Denzel than from anyone else.  Denzel Washington is a consummate actor.  His performance here is nothing short of transcendent.  You would have to be dead not to be moved and thoroughly engrossed while watching him.  He pours himself into this role completely and the fit is perfect.  We’re only up to Golden Globe nominations, and I don’t know how things will turn out with the politics behind these awards and all, but I am here to tell you that nobody, but NOBODY in the Best Actor category for a Globe even comes close to this performance.  It is that powerful and rich and bold and masterful and colorful and diverse.  Troy is funny and tragic and pathetic and perfectly done.  I cannot comment on Viola’s chances at winning a Globe because I have not seen all the nominated films (specifically, Hidden Figures (Octavia Spencer).  But so far, as Rose, she has the meatiest role of the nominees and zero competition in my opinion.  Ms. Davis brings everything to this role and pours it out on the floor. She is a giver learning to set the necessary boundaries a taker never will.

I’m certain that it is difficult, if not nearly impossible, to find younger, less experienced actors who can stand out or even hold their own with this cast of veterans in this dramatic setting, but Jovan Adepo, who played Troy’s son, held his own in scenes with Denzel Washington.  These were some of my favorite scenes of this movie – to see the upcoming actor tangle with the master – particularly given the dynamic of the relationship between their two characters – What an incredible privilege for any young actor.

There is very little I can say I didn’t like about this movie. The “n” word is thrown around a lot, so if you’re easily offended by that, don’t bother.  August Wilson is the only credited writer here, so if you hear it, it is because the movie is in the original form of August Wilson’s words.  It is not tampered with to modernize it or tone it down or dress it up, and I love that.  My one complaint concerns an editing issue.  Although I understand why this scene was edited the way it was, I didn’t care for it.

Fences earned 9.0 out of 10 bloops. The work is elevated by the outstanding performances.  If you love a dramatic piece, it is an excellent, must see movie.  It doesn’t get much more dramatic than this, and at times it may be too much for some people, but not me.  Denzel Washington’s and Viola Davis’ performances each earned 10 out of 10 powerful bloops.  I would watch this movie again right now (although I have to admit, the story and performances have so much energy, I would be exhausted seeing it two nights in a row) and I am looking forward to the other 9 installments of Wilson’s works coming up on HBO.

Bloops:

1   =   worst ever, avoid at all cost
2   =   very bad, forget about it!
3   =   poor movie, not recommended
4   =   not good, even for free – NO!
5   =   so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay.
6   =  not bad, could have been better
7   =   good movie, worth seeing
8   =   great movie, don’t miss it!
9   =   excellent movie, a must see!
10 =   a masterpiece, go see it now!

My Welcome Message

Oscar reviews:

Hidden Figures
Moonlight
Hell or High Water
Loving
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Nocturnal Animals
Captain Fantastic
Elle
Jackie
Florence Foster Jenkins
I Am Not Your Negro

Miss Sloane (R)

Starring Jessica Chastain and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Miss Sloane is the story of a woman who is obsessed with winning at all cost.  Sloane is a D.C. lobbyist who takes on the gun lobby in order to get a bill approved which would require all gun purchasers go through a background check.  On its face and in light of modern-day events, one would not think this bill unreasonable, but to those who argue that a mandatory federal background check impinges upon their second amendment right to bear arms it is the first line of defense on a slippery slope against any further restrictions being handed down regarding gun control; so they fight against this bill vehemently.  As the “little guy,” Miss Sloan must plot strategically, and sometimes deviously, in order to win.  But can she?

Because this story relates so closely to the events of the day and paints a scarily accurate picture of our corrupt political climate, this movie didn’t really get a lot of press, publicity or support as it was released around, shall we call it, a very tense election season. It received so little support, in fact, that one might wonder why it was even released.  Miss Sloan shows the very nasty underbelly of politics that we all know exists and the pivotal role lobbyists play in political decision making.

Ms. Chastain does an excellent job in this role and carries the movie well with a stellar group of co-stars. She is fierce and fearless in her portrayal of a woman who simply loves to win.  She has no baggage, makes no excuses and offers no apologies for her ferocious drive.  She operates in a male dominated field competently and unapologetically.  Quite similarly to Isabelle Huppert’s character in Elle, Miss Sloan is methodical in her actions.  She is a strong, modern, confident, autonomous, woman, who is not really the most socially well-adjusted person.

The writing is really strong here, and the story kept me interested throughout the entire movie. Miss Sloane almost feels like a throwback to the days of movies like Fatal Attraction, Jagged Edge and Malice with its strong, controlling female lead and the suspense and the way the story slowly unwinds.  You get invested, you want to know more about these characters, including what Miss Sloan and those around her will do next.  You want to see how far things will go.

I have a slight spoiler alert here, which I rarely do, but I must.  So if you plan on seeing the movie just skip past this paragraph if you have that capability.  But the problem I had with this movie is that things did not go far enough.  This feels strange to write, almost, but I would have loved to see some murder here.  It would have given that full throw-back quality to the story and made the story more thrilling as it added another level of suspense, mystery and intrigue to the entire plot.  Now here is where the real spoiler is There was opportunity to inject such a murder that was not taken, and the possibilities surrounding how things could have played out after that were squandered.  This was not that movie, I suppose.  Not the movie I wanted it to be anyway, but damn it, it should have been.  Oh, how I wish it had been.

Anyhoo… Miss Sloan earned 8.0 out of 10 bloops. It’s a great movie worth seeing for Chastain’s Golden Globe nominated performance and the performance of the supporting cast, as well as the relevant subject matter, modern story and strong female lead.  While it was suspenseful and mysterious, I would have loved it if the story to have been “pushed” a bit more.

La La Land (PG-13)

Directed and written by Damien Chazelle, and starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, La La Land is the story of two Los Angeles lovers who are destined to be… or are they? La La Land follows these two as their dreams come true while their relationship simultaneously unravels.

I believe that the less exposure one has had to movie musicals the more one may enjoy this film. Having grown up watching original musicals or movie musicals adapted from plays featuring quadruple threats who would act, sing, play an instrument and dance, and do them all extremely well, I am a hard sell on a musical.  Being raised watching Singing in the Rain, Stormy Weather, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,  and the like, forgive me if I’m not bowled over by leads who can carry a tune, and dance as well as anyone else with the ability to dance who has had a few lessons. Fred and Ginger, these two are not.

If you do not have the experience with movie musicals that I have had or see them as I do, you might think La La Land is something wonderful and new and fresh. It is not.  It has been done before, and it has been done better.  I felt frustrated and would have liked to see this movie performed by people with more training and talent in this arena.  I felt like any one of the girls in the supporting cast could have played the lead female role just as well as it was played by Stone.  Maybe even better.  I was wondering why the volume on the young lady in the opening scene was so low.  It’s so she doesn’t out-sing Stone.

I wanted to see more real dancing and less synchronized numbers made to mimic dancing. I wanted to hear somebody belt out a song; not whisper /sing-talk.  The movie is billed as a “musical” for heaven’s sake!  Bring the music!  (Aside from the Jazz numbers, I wasn’t really feeling it.) And the dancing and the fun!  Where was the fun?  Maybe I was hoping for some red hot revival of the movie musical genre but I got a tepid disappointment instead.  La La Land had the potential to be this soaring musical movie that is lofty and idyllic, and then – it is anchored by the delicate voice of Emma Stone.  And don’t get me wrong, Stone’s acting was on point, but the “musical” side was weak.

Gosling and Stone were not bad, but who wants to go to the movies to see a “not bad” performance? Ryan Gosling plays the piano in this movie very well.  Was I blown away by his performance?  Not blown away, but I was impressed.  He was good, better than expected even, and I’m proud of him for stretching himself for this role in that way.  Him playing the piano was one of the highlights of this experience.  He said he studied piano when he was younger a bit and practiced for three months for this role.  Also, he took dance lessons.  But this is what I don’t understand and what frustrates me so about this film!  This could have been a much better movie with all unknown talent; talent who already had the skills necessary to really take these roles and run with them.  Oh wait.  I do understand.  To go with unknowns would have meant finding someone to finance a movie musical featuring unknowns; a nearly impossible feat in La La Land.  But wait a minute… isn’t this Chazelle guy the same dude who wrote and directed Whiplash and wrote the screenplay for 10 Cloverfield Lane?  This is not his first movie.  Surely he could have found a way to make this movie with stronger talent.  What a pity.  And what a missed opportunity.

While the camera work and editing were great at times, there nothing new or original about featuring music in a movie with fantasy sequences, spontaneous group dance, soliloquy songs or flying through and dancing on air. Again, it has been done before and it has been done better.

Having said this, this movie is a nice departure from remakes and sequels and prequels and such, and it is nice to hear some original music. I didn’t say it was great music.  Just original.  The songs were “nice,” the story was “cute” (and actually beautifully told, by the way), some of the scenes were “lovely,” and you get to see some landmarks, but I just never got swept away to La La Land like I wanted to.

And another thing… One curse word? Why would there be one curse word in a movie?  Ever.  It didn’t fit in with the feeling this movie is trying to evoke, which if my guess is right, that it would be a sort of modern day, old Hollywood musical.  Why would anyone do that to a movie so unnecessarily?  The word wasn’t even used in a moment of anger.  So, why use it at all?

La La Land earned 6 out of 10 bloops. It was alright, but it could have been much better.  It just left me feeling empty.  I wanted to like it so badly.  I wanted to love it.  Instead, I was underwhelmed. I’m not sure whether my bar is set too high or Hollywood’s bar too low, but either way this movie did very little to move me.  I wanted it to.  It just didn’t happen for me this time.

Bloops:

1   =   worst ever, avoid at all cost
2   =   very bad, forget about it!
3   =   poor movie, not recommended
4   =   not good, even for free – NO!
5   =   so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6   =   not bad, could have been better
7   =   good movie, worth seeing
8   =   great movie, don’t miss it!
9   =   excellent movie, a must see!
10 =   a masterpiece, go see it now!

My Welcome Message

Oscar reviews:

Hidden Figures
Fences
Moonlight
Hell or High Water
Loving
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Nocturnal Animals
Captain Fantastic
Elle
Jackie
Florence Foster Jenkins
I Am Not Your Negro

Elle (R)

Directed by Paul Verhoeven, written by Philip Djian and starring the amazing Isabelle Huppert, Elle is the story of a woman who has had to overcome an unimaginably difficult childhood and moved on to some level of success, only to be confronted by her past again.

First of all, I must tell you that THIS is an R rated movie. Not for the faint of heart, and only for grown ups.  To say the film features strong sexual themes doesn’t quite describe what goes on here.  There is nothing here for the children.  Understand?  I was questioning whether I am old enough to have seen it.  So if you don’t care to see sex on screen steer all the way clear.  This is not your movie.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Now let’s move on.

Elle is suspenseful, creepy, freaky, and will have you wondering aloud at one point or another, “What the expletive is going on here?!” To which a fellow moviegoer replied delightfully, “I don’t bleeping know!”  You can’t quite get a handle on what is going on, who is who, what is real and what is not, until near the very end, which makes Elle quite an enjoyable, crazy, unique ride.

According to IMDB, the initial plan was for this movie to be produced in the U.S., but a female lead could not be found after the script was turned down by Nicole Kidman, Diane Lane, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet. As the saying goes, one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure… Enter Isabelle Huppert, a superbly talented actress who was in nearly every frame of this picture and I just wanted to see more of her.  She is a captivating natural.  Although there was not one slouch in the strong supporting cast, honestly, Huppert was so good I could have cared less about anybody else who was in the movie.  She stole the show and totally owned it.  She is certainly a frontrunner for a Best Actress Oscar.  Not one actress in any movie I’ve seen this year has come close to this performance.  Not yet anyway – but the race is not over just yet.

The plot of Elle loses focus at times.  Going over it may require a chart of some sort using markers, push pins and post-its, and some other tools, because the plot is so intricate at times it becomes too much.  Also, I would have liked the same boundary-pushing energy that existed throughout the movie to continue on through the end of it.  I felt like it ended too “patly,” for a movie that was so daring right from the start.

Elle earned 8.5 out of 10 bloops. It is an exciting, original story.  Isabelle Huppert’s performance earned one outstanding 10.  I am looking forward to what she does next (she has 6 upcoming projects in the works for 2017).  I speak and understand about as much French as the average monolingual American, but I was pulled all the way into this suspenseful, mostly well written, well directed (boy-oh-boy), well-acted thriller.

Bloops:

1   =   worst ever, avoid at all cost
2   =   very bad, forget about it!
3   =   poor movie, not recommended
4   =   not good, even for free – NO!
5   =   so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6   =   not bad, could have been better
7   =   good movie, worth seeing
8   =   great movie, don’t miss it!
9   =   excellent movie, a must see!
10 =   a masterpiece, go see it now!

My Welcome Message

Oscar reviews:

Hidden Figures
Fences
Moonlight
Hell or High Water
Loving
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Nocturnal Animals
Captain Fantastic
Jackie
Florence Foster Jenkins
I Am Not Your Negro

Jackie (R)

Chilean director Pablo Larrain brings a new perspective to the Kennedy assassination with Jackie, starring Natalie Portman as First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The movie focuses primarily on the time between the assassination of JFK and the following weekend when Jackie gave an interview to TIME magazine reporter Theodore White (played by Billy Cudrup) in which she coined the term “Camelot” to describe the Kennedy presidency.

Understandably, during these few days Jackie is dazed, mournful, strategic and resolved, as she figures out how, when and where to bury her husband as she vacates the White House. Writer Noah Oppenhiem artfully weaves iconic, historical moments, preserved with archival pictures and newscasts into a movie that feels very much like what one would imagine it felt like for Jackie during those difficult days.

Jackie shows us a woman in crisis putting up a brave front while trying to hold herself together with dignity, grace and faith. Imagine having your charmed life ripped away from you in an instant.  Your husband, the father of your children and the President of the United States has been murdered right before your eyes and you are hit head-on with the fact that you are no longer first lady and that your husband is truly dead because you are attending the swearing in of the next president within the next two hours!  There are urgent decisions to be made about funeral arrangements.  How do you tell your children?  How do you deal with his family’s wishes?  How do you deal with the press and the public and the various advisors around you?

Natalie Portman gave this role her all.  There were times she was out of character and there were times she bordered on impersonating Jackie rather than embodying her, but overall it was a solid effort and a performance that will undoubtedly earn her an Oscar nomination; not only because the performance was good (not great, not outstanding, but good), but because there aren’t many female lead roles that are as meaty as this one this awards season to contend with it.  Although unevenly portrayed, Portman’s Jackie is vulnerable, naïve, tough, smart, and at times cold, calculating and focused.  While the acting of the supporting cast was solid, I feel like Portman’s role was so meaty the supporting cast had little opportunity to shine.  Among the standouts were Cudrup, John Hurt as Jackie’s priest and Gerta Gerwig as White House Social Secretary Nancy Tuckerman. Each of these supporting roles were significant and well acted.

Unless you are a complete JFK/Jackie historical enthusiast, you should learn something new about these hours surrounding the assassination or Jackie herself, or you may see something you already knew in a different light. The story is so intimate and detailed, even the things I knew and had seen recreated and reenacted many times before seemed more vivid in this movie.  All things JFK are touched upon only briefly, allowing the focus to remain totally on Jackie, even during flashbacks.

The scenery, set design and camerawork bring this film to life and take on a life of their own with powerful, sweeping shots of Jackie walking through various rooms in the White House, stoic and grieving. The make-up artists, hairstylists and wardrobe department all pitched in to provide finishing touches that make this movie feel as authentic as possible.

Jackie earned 8.5 out of 10 bloops. It really is a great movie.  The writing was superb as it showed so many sides of Jackie’s personality and the focus was kept totally on Jackie and her grieving process throughout the entire film. There was so much care put into the details.  The length of this movie is absolutely perfect.  At 1 hour 39 minutes the story is succinctly, richly and beautifully told.  Portman’s uneven portrayal aside (and I will chalk part of that up to the director because had he seen and corrected it this film might have been pretty close to perfect) I really enjoyed this movie and found that once I got into it (it didn’t take me long to get into it, but it wasn’t immediate) I was immersed up until the last frame.  It wasn’t the same old recycled Kennedy story.  It offers a fresh, detailed perspective on one of the most documented (no fewer than 25 films, miniseries and documentaries on the subject preceding it) events of modern American history and it is beautiful enough to make going to the movies to see it worth the money.

Bloops:

1   =   worst ever, avoid at all cost
2   =   very bad, forget about it!
3   =   poor movie, not recommended
4   =   not good, even for free – NO!
5   =   so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6   =   not bad, could have been better
7   =   good movie, worth seeing
8   =   great movie, don’t miss it!
9   =   excellent movie, a must see!
10 =   a masterpiece, go see it now!

My Welcome Message

Oscar reviews:

Hidden Figures

Fences

Moonlight

Hell or High Water

Loving

La La Land

Lion

Manchester by the Sea

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

Nocturnal Animals

Captain Fantastic

Elle

Florence Foster Jenkins

I Am Not Your Negro

Lion (PG-13)

Starring Dev Patel (The Man Who Knew Infinity), Lion is based on the story of Saroo Brierly, a 5 year old boy in India who gets separated from his family and is not reunited with them until 25 years later.  In the meantime, he goes through some trials before being adopted by an Australian family, being flown even further from his loved ones, and builds quite a nice life.

The start of the movie is very detailed. It involves a young Saroo being lost and wandering around Calcutta unsupervised, uncared for and unprotected for months before being taken to the authorities and placed in a foster care facility.  Of course, during this time, finding his mother and reuniting with his family is at the forefront of his mind.  But as time goes by he focuses on his own survival and makes the best of a dire situation.  At 5 years old.  Imagine that.

Saroo’s adoptive parents become his parents, nurturing and providing for him into adulthood. They love him unconditionally and he, them.  He lives a privileged life in comparison to his impoverished beginnings in India, so he is lulled into putting his past behind him for many years.  The gnawing to let his family know he is still alive returns when he goes to a friend’s house for an Indian dinner and is reminded by the food of this gaping hole that exists in his past.

Another movie about unconditional family love, Lion is by no means typical. We love our parents and siblings, but when the family fails for whatever reason, thankfully there are people to be found who make us a part of their family and provide the support system we would otherwise lack.  Saroo’s adoptive mother is so unselfish, giving and loving.  He was fortunate to be chosen by her and her husband for adoption.  Just because Saroo longs to know what happened to those people he knew long ago doesn’t mean he loves his adoptive parents any less, and their capacity to love one another was never impeded in any way by the fact that Saroo is “brown” and his parents are “white.”  Here, love is simply love.

Dev Patel is really becoming a rather good actor. This particular role requires a bit of “range” and what is required is done well.  Sunny Pawar, who plays young Saroo beat out over 2,000 boys to land this part and he makes the best of his acting debut.  He is one of the cutest children you’ve ever seen along with Abhishek Bharate who plays his older brother, Guddu.  Both young men are talented and charming.

Lion is a sweet, carefully told story, which ran just a bit too long. I say that often about one movie or another, but I never say it lightly.  I avoid going into a movie if I feel tired because I don’t want my tired state to affect my fidgeting or clock watching during a movie.  I want to be as present as I can be while totally relying on the movie to draw me in or not.  Today I was pretty refreshed and found myself staring at the clock at times during this movie.  As stated above, the first half was detailed and I was more than ready to be introduced to Saroo as an adult by the time it was over.  Many people had their coats on and were standing by the theater door in anticipation of the end so they could leave as quickly as possible.  This is a sign that the movie may have been a tad too long and I am not the only one who believed this to be the case.

In the vein of Deepwater Horizon, Queen of Katwe and Loving, the material and story are respectfully handled in Lion, including an introduction to the real life subjects each of these movies is about.  You get to see how carefully resemblances in appearance were considered in casting each role, or not.  Why so and so has on that odd wig, or hair is dyed, weight is lost, etc.  Showing pictures of the subjects at the end of these movies is part of what makes them special.  You feel as though you are part of these experiences and get to know some deeply personal things about a complete stranger because they shared a private portion of themselves with you. At least it makes me feel that way.  Thus, the people standing at the door with their coats on; they couldn’t leave because they did not want to miss the pictures featured at the end.  So they stood there, like hostages, until it was truly over.  I appreciate the personal pictures shown at the end and don’t think I will tire of them any time soon.

Lion earned 8.5 out of 10 bloops. It is a good movie with an original, moving story with a greater message behind it.  If you want to find out what that message is you will have to go see Lion or google it.  You won’t hear about it from me, except to say that the message enhances the movie.  Lion is rated PG-13 so it is somewhat of a family friendly film the older kids can go see and I think they will enjoy it.  It may even help them to appreciate how good they’ve got it a bit more, and it reminds us all what humanity is all about.

Bloops:

1   =   worst ever, avoid at all cost
2   =   very bad, forget about it!
3   =   poor movie, not recommended
4   =   not good, even for free – NO!
5   =   so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6   =   not bad, could have been better
7   =   good movie, worth seeing
8   =   great movie, don’t miss it!
9   =   excellent movie, a must see!
10 =   a masterpiece, go see it now!

My Welcome Message

Oscar reviews:

Hidden Figures
Fences
Moonlight
Hell or High Water
Loving
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Nocturnal Animals
Captain Fantastic
Elle
Jackie
Florence Foster Jenkins
I Am Not Your Negro