Friday, April 29, 2016


Salma Hayek     Vincent Cassel     Toby Jones     John C. Reilly     Shirley Henderson     Christian Lees     Jonah Lees

           This could be one of those fairy tales that doesn’t turn out happy ever after…except maybe sometimes.  Matteo Garrone, director and his fellow writers (Edoardo Albinati, Ugo Chiti, Massimo Gaudiso) based their production on an Italian folklorist (Giambattista Basile) who wrote 50 tales, and this is three of them.  (Basile pre-dated the Grimm brothers in Germany.)  
    Garrone (Gomorrah), who is known for weaving in the fantastical with the mythical/psychological, does so again here inTale of Tales.  The tales all involve kings who embody the human condition of chasing after the elusive, being thwarted by fate/magic, and being ultimately undone (or not). 
       The three kingdoms of the kings are Longtrellis, Highhills, and Strongcliff.  The first king, played by John C. Reilly, has a barren wife, and in deference to her, is willing to do anything to produce an heir.  They are visited by a seer who says, “You want a child?  Every new life is cause for a life to be lost.”  Heedless of the caveat, they say they will do anything.  Little do they know what costs will be extracted from them and that the twins, born to different mothers, have an extraordinary connection to one another.  This will be significant in that one twin’s mother is the queen, but the other one’s is a scullery maid.  (More than a touch of magic here.)
         The second king, played by Vincent Cassel, expecting any woman he has a yen for to succumb to him, is bested by deceit and duly horrified.  But soon, he thinks he has found his true love.  Only…he doesn’t know how that love came to be. 
        The third king, played by Toby Jones, has a beautiful daughter whom he dotes upon, but in getting preoccupied by a flea and tending to it, he loses track of priorities and puts her at great risk.
        Themes running through Tale of Tales are meaningful (thoughtless parenting, sibling rivalry, bargains with the devil, obsession, and the main one, narcissism), but they are presented as more of a curious look at human behavior than illustrating moral principles.  That conclusion is left up to the viewer. 
         I did enjoy humorous aspects of the film (a woman thrown out of a castle window being caught up in tree limbs with her lover’s crimson bedsheet still around her, a flea turning into an exotic beast as a result of the king’s fascination, a woman desperate for regaining her youth willing to do anything), but the lack of integration among the three stories and the absence of any obvious moral principle made the film seem less important.
         Cinematography by Peter Suschitzky and music by Alexandre Desplat more than made up for this drawback.  Hayek, Cassel, Jones, and Reilly were regal figures with very human qualities; they can be considered masters of acting.

Retelling three ancient fairy tales.

Grade:  B                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Patrick Stewart   Imogen Poots   Alia Shawkat   Anton Yelchin   Callum Turner   Joe Cole   Mark Webber   Macon Blair

          In Green Room, you get to follow five members of a punk rock band (The Ain’t Rights) across the country trying to land a gig wherever they can.  Resources are scant, they sleep on the bus if need be, and they may have to siphon off gas from cars in parking lots for fuel.  We first see them play to an almost empty house for just a few bucks, so in desperation, when they get a tip for a club in Portland, Oregon, they head for it. 
       They’re greeted and play a set just 20 minutes after they arrive, and the audience, initially cold, warms up to them.  (Pay attention to the appearances of those attending; it will give you a clue as to what’s in store.)  After they perform, the band is shown to a room where they can relax and prepare for the next set, but…they come across a body on the floor with a knife sticking out of her head, her  hysterical blonde Amber (Poots) who seems to be familiar with the club, and a huge man with a gun who locks the door. 
         At first, band members have no idea what is going on, but they are sharp, and quickly realize that they need to take steps to protect themselves and wait for the police to arrive.  Part of the horror of the film is our being shown what is going on outside the room and outside their awareness while they wait.  The room becomes significant, because during the course of the story, it becomes a safe harbor.  Green Room” has a number of connotations.
What we are shown outside is Darcy Banker (Stewart), the owner of the club, and his extensive operation.  The plot thickens when we learn the nature of his business, what he wants from the band, and their intuitive sense that they are in sinister circumstances.
        This is an extremely violent film with multiple grisly murders.  Horror movie fans will find much to their liking, but others should think twice before attending.  Fortunately for my ears, there are only brief intervals with The Ain’t Rights’ screeching music with unintelligible words.
       Green Room is being praised as the feature following Jeremy Saulnier’s well-received previous film, Blue Ruin.  It is high on suspense, and some of the actors and their characters spark interest.  Foremost, of course, is Patrick Stewart in a completely new role as the club owner, a white supremacist named Darcy.  He’s as creepy as they come with his oh-so-reasonable attempts to persuade the band to come out of the Green Room.  Also impressive is Imogene Poots as a seemingly quirky dumb blonde who turns out to be not only cool and calm, but sharp and skilled as well.  She drew laughs more than once with her deadpan utterances.  Macon Blair, the star of Blue Ruin, is perfect as Darcy’s reluctant assistant, the only character among the thugs that seems to have a conscience. 

There is suspense, blood, and gore aplenty in this newly released horror film.

Grade            B-                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Julia Roberts   Kate Hudson   Jennifer Anniston   Jason Sudeikis   Timothy Olyphant   
Britt Robertson   Margo Martindale   Aasif Mandvi

          Mother’s Day is for people who like sitcoms, and this will be a treat for them because it extends for two hours.  Sitcoms are noted for their canned laughter tracks, but this film has a script that is canned.  Pick any incident/joke/situation in sitcoms, and it is plugged in here somewhere, pulling your heartstrings one moment, making you laugh at another, pulling for worries and tears at still another, and on and on.  When a character goes to a vending machine for candy, it reminded me of how the filmmakers seemed to have gone to a machine for script scenes and pushed just about every button.
       We see a newly divorced couple where the ex-husband has taken a younger, more attractive wife, a successful career woman who has yet to experience the ultimate satisfaction of motherhood (but at least she’s not the stereotypical b----), a mixed race marriage, an adopted child as an adult looking for her mother (she can’t commit to a relationship until she finds her), and a Lesbian couple.  They all run into the usual problems—clearly of their own making—develop insight, make discoveries, and all of it is wrapped up into a tidy bow at the end. 
      On the more positive side, the actors’ skills in their art/craft are readily apparent.  Foremost is Julia Roberts (Miranda) as the charming, attractive product pusher on television.  She is Pretty Woman become wiser and more sophisticated.  (As an aside, Garry Marshall directed that and this picture.)  Britt Robertson (Kristin) is captivating in her portrayal of complex emotions and ambivalence.  Jason Sudeikis (Bradley) and Timothy Olyphant (Henry) are convincing as men at sea, feeling out of control in life.  Jennifer Anniston (Sandy) and Kate Hudson (Jesse) have been well schooled to expertise in their roles.  Margo Martindale (Flo) always meshes hand-in-glove with mothers of a certain type (although she is not by any means restricted in her range, e.g., on television’s “The Americans”, in which she plays a Russian spy.  Other supporting characters’ performances are exemplary, which may speak to Marshall’s direction and to Gail Goldberg’s and Barbara J. McCarthy’s casting.
      I have no idea what the premise is of Mother’s Day—it’s certainly not a weighty message.  I think that to some extent, it is Hollywood producers’ fantasy that somehow life bumps along, and everybody gains insight and a good heart and it will all turn out in the end.  Mothers will be tolerant and forgiving, divorcees will pull together putting the past behind them and becoming loving friends, and above all, mothers and children will be reunited lovingly. 
        So spake Zarathrustra.  Not.  Alas for this script, Zarathrustra observed that to plunge the depths of the world, creativity is required; a “recipe” as presented here is not sufficient.

A collection of stories that may or may not ring true.

Grade:  C-                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Voices of:  James Arnold Taylor   David Kaye   Jim Ward   Rosario Dawson  
Paul Giamatti   Armin Shimeman   John Goodman   Sylvester Stallone

          Ratchet and Clank are two entertaining characters in this beautifully animated movie based on a videogame—not usually one of my favorite activities.  But this one has some good messages for children having to do with loyalty, hubris, and ambition.  Betrayal, vainglorious boasting, and impulsivity are boldly displayed and then shown to be mistakes, and it becomes clear how one becomes a true hero.
          Ratchet (Taylor) is the only one of his kind (his planet was destroyed and he is the only survivor), called a “lombax”, and embodies classic ADHD qualities—attention deficit and impulsivity.  He is brave, and despite his small size, longs to be a ranger like Quark (Ward), captain of the Galactic Rangers.  Ratchet shows that sometimes it’s possible to achieve great feats with enough grit and determination, but other times it is simply risky behavior.  He’s a good model for children with ADHD, because he pulls it all together in the end.
          Suddenly, Clank (Kaye), a robot, appears in Ratchet’s world, and the two become a working pair, realizing that there is a dangerous weapon set up and already in motion to destroy whole planets.  This “Planet Destroyer” is commanded by Drek (Diamatti), and is the brainchild of Dr. Nefarious (Shimeman). 
          The games about Ratchet and Clank are known for the fancy, exotic weapons, which are explained in detail and demonstrated in rapid succession in the movie, including the one that pixilates a man into a sheep.  Viewers fascinated with weapons will be caught up in the excitement of them.
          The story is a familiar one about evil men with inordinate greed and lust for power and control.  Here, it’s taken to a galactic level, with some coming off as surprising heroes and some being brought to their knees.  In the process, some learn a valuable lesson:  “To be a hero you don’t have to do big things; just the right ones.”
The graphic animation and CGI effects are colorful and impressive, and the voices of Taylor, Kaye are excellently rendered; those of Giamatti, Goodman, and Stallone—whose voices are usually highly recognizable—are disguised enough to make them sound different from their usual. 
       I would think the film is not for very young children, although those who play videogames may easily follow it.  Most likely children ten+ years will enjoy it.  Save your money; the extra for 3-D is probably not worth it.
Surprisingly good entertainment based on a videogame. 
Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland


Giovanni Ribisi     Adrian Sparks     Joely Richardson     Minka Kelly

            Papa Hemingway is something of a “stranger than fiction” story about Denne Bart Petitclerc, journalist, and screenwriter for this film.  As a young child he had been abandoned by both his parents, ran away from the orphanage where his mother had placed him, and managed to get a job as a sports reporter.  However, his spelling and grammar were so atrocious, he was fired. Undeterred, he bugged his employer for so long, he got his job back with strict terms, and to educate himself, he wrote out Hemingway’s stories, which taught him spelling, grammar, how to tell a story, and “to see”, he said.
            So Hemingway was his idol, and to let him know how much he had influenced his life, he wrote a letter of appreciation to the famous writer.  To his surprise, Hemingway called him on the phone, complimenting him on the letter and the articles he had written for the Miami Herald, where he was employed at the time, and inviting him for a visit to Havana, Cuba, where Hemingway and his wife Mary (Richardson) lived.
            The Petitclerc character in the film is named Ed Myers (played by Ribisi), but when he arrives in Havana, Hemingway calls him “The Kid”, and that’s pretty much his name throughout the film.  This is except for an office romance with Debbie (Kelly), who perceptively recognizes that he is afraid to send the letter to Hemingway so mails it without telling him, and the two develop a strong bond. 
            Both the Hemingways are entranced with and admiring of the young journalist, and invite him back to their luxurious home on the island over and over again.  This part of the story, which takes place in the late ‘50s, is during the time Batista is in power, just before and during the revolution led by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.  The film gives us a picture of political unrest (for which Hemingway says there is no solution—“Hay no remedio”), but which, interestingly, parallels a violent unrest in the marriage of the Hemingways as well.  Young Eddie is appalled, but like many children who feel some responsibility for their parents’ well being, he tries desperately to help.  Papa Hemingway (and actually Mary too) have become the parents he never had.
            America’s involvement in the Cuban revolution and its support of the Batista regime is touched upon in the movie, with the FBI cast in an unflattering light (likely true, however).  Someone high in the U.S. government is after Hemmingway and wants him to be discredited, and we find out why—one of those dark pages in American history.
            I found this film engaging and interesting.  Not only does it fill us in on a bit of political history and shed light on a famous author, it has soul, in that it has something to say about life and the things we need to treasure, like family, friends, and loyalty—as well as Hemingway’s dictum:  “The only value we have as human beings is in the risks we’re willing to take.”
            The movie was filmed in Cuba, including within the Hemingway’s house (now a museum), and the landscape is as beautiful as a travelogue.  Cinematography by Ernesto Malara and music by Mark Isham contribute to the quality.  Rabisi and Sparks embody their characters poignantly, along with Shaun Taub as Evan Shipman, the poet.  Although Joely Richardson is a fine actress, her portrayal of Mary was rather lifeless during distressful moments (not convincing as a woman whose aggression comes out with alcohol), but during sunny moments, she was alluring.

An intriguing look at Hemmingway by a journalist/friend.

Score:  B+                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Ferdia Walsh-Peelo   Aiden Gillen   Maria Doyle Kennedy   Jack Reynor   Lucy Boynton

          Sing Street will make you laugh and keep you entranced, but with melancholic shifts, bits of horror, and wincing at the nitty-gritty of long-term relationships.  Semi-autobiographical by the writer/director/producer John Carney (Once, Begin Again), it tells the story of a teenager trying to find his identity and make his way in life despite numerous obstacles.  His parents quarrel frequently, his mother is depressed, as is his older brother, and the father is going through hard times financially.  For that reason, he takes his younger son out of an expensive school and enrolls him in public school.  Conor (Walsh-Peelo) is bullied at his new school, not only by a punk, but also by the head of school, Brother Baxter. 
          Serendipitously, a friend with ambition appears, giving advice about how to deal with a bully, and when he finds out Conor likes music and sings, he has the idea that the two of them should form a band.  They recruit successfully, and give themselves the name Sing Street.  Conor’s bossy older brother Brendan (Reynor) coaches him by critiquing the band and giving helpful advice like developing their own sound and making videos.  He can be pompous at times, and revels in his pop-psychology pronouncements (He has a picture of Freud on his wall.), but Conor is oblivious to the bluster, and takes Brendan’s advice on his own terms.  We get it; music will be his salvation.
          Much of the charm of this delightful film is the apparent happenstance that occurs over and over again.  For instance, Conor gazes across the street one day and sees a beautiful brunette (Boynton) sitting on the front steps.  He develops an instant crush, goes to talk to her, and when he finds out she is a model, he asks her to be in his video.  She is one year older than he is—and much more experienced—but is charmed by his sincerity and creativity, and decides his name should be ‘Cosmo’, a more suitable name for someone in a band.  She agrees to be in the video, and when she arrives at the shoot, she is not only a hit visually, but knows something about staging and costumes, which the band needs.  (This is all the encouragement Conor needs to experiment with different “looks”, which he borrows liberally from the rock music LP covers that his brother lends him.)
          The rest of the story charts the ups and downs of the band, the romance between Cosmo and Raphina, the gradual dissolution of Conor’s family, and Brendan’s confessions of how he sees himself vis a vis his brother.  Sing Street has a victorious concert towards the end when Cosmo roasts Brother Baxter with:  “You wear a dress and tell me not to wear brown shoes.”  Carney is a master at writing script; there are sage pronouncements sprinkled throughout the movie.
          Carney was interested in casting unknown actors, so much of the cast is just that, except for Aiden Gillen (Game of Thrones, Calvary), Maria Doyle Kennedy (Jupiter Ascending, 1,000 Times Goodnight, Downton Abbey), and Jack Reynor (Macbeth, Doll House).  But Walsh-Peelo especially shows a great deal of talent in acting and singing, and his buddies in the band (Ben Carolan, Mark McKenna, Percy Chamburuka, Conor Hamilton, Ian Kenny, and Karl Rice) are firm back-ups.  The 1980’s music is nostalgic (Duran Duran, The Cure, The Jam, Hall & Oates), and Carney composed eight numbers with Gary Clark that mesh nicely with the better-known works.
How the formation of a band solves numerous adolescent challenges.
Grade:  A                                  By Donna R. Copeland

Friday, April 22, 2016


Don Cheadle     Ewan McGregor     Emayatzy Corinealdi     Michael Stuhlbarg     Keith Stanfield

          Miles Ahead is an impressionistic picture of the life of Miles Davis during troubled times when he is trying to make a comeback after a five-year hiatus from music.  It hits the high points without being constrained by chronological order, which perhaps is meant to reflect his personality and his ever-evolving work—temperamental, controlling, short of temper, yet at times, very sweet and smooth.  This is also the time in the 1970s when he is madly in love with his second wife, Frances Taylor (Corinealdi), who ends up leaving him.  (Most report that she is his first wife, but he was previously married at 18 to Irene Cawthon, and they had three children.) 
          Don Cheadle, the co-writer with Steven Baigelman and director and producer of Miles Ahead, has an uncanny resemblance to Davis, and is at the top of his game in acting out the role.  McGregor plays a good newspaper reporter, but unless Davis was actually friends/accomplices with someone like that, he seems nonessential to the story, and inserted as a technique to link events together..  Corinealdi is beautiful and appealing as Frances, and the film is probably accurate that Davis kept yearning for her long after she was gone. 
          I very much liked Robert Glasper’s treatment of the music; enough was included to get a real sample of Miles Davis’ playing and work with other musicians.  (Davis’ own playing was dubbed into the film.) 
       The film does a good job in showing how much a famous artist has to fend off interlopers who use every kind of ruse they can think of to get their hands on his work.  Much of the film is about that—different people trying to get to and manipulate Davis into “coming back” and getting their hands on one of his beloved unreleased reel tapes.
         What I could have taken much less of is the jerkiness in telling the story—flashing back and forth among many, many incidents across decades, although mostly in the ‘70s, apparently a fad these days with writers, directors, and editors. In this case, with all the important events and hordes of people running through the film, it gets tiresome trying to keep everything straight in one’s head.  The constant fisticuffs got tiresome as well.  Even if they did really happen with that rapidity, I don’t see the point of including them. 

Cheadle shines as Miles, but the film is undone by its scattered approach.

Grade:  C-                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, April 21, 2016


Gabriel Byrne     Isabelle Huppert     Jesse Eisenberg     Devin Druid     Amy Ryan     David Stathaim

            Louder than Bombs refers to the needs of this family of males crying out very loudly—not with their voices, but in their actions/inaction.  The mother in the family, Isabelle (Huppert) is dead, and clearly, from the flashbacks, she had an emotional connection with each of the males, but we see little of the family all together.  The marriage was clearly troubled, but this is not a family to reach out for help.  Both sons are sorely in need of therapy as well.  It’s a heartbreaking story for a psychologist to see, recognizing how much they could be helped if they only knew how.
         Isabelle is an internationally recognized news photographer who is away from home a lot.  She is typical of those we hear about who get such adrenaline rushes from their work, it keeps calling them back and they cannot resist, no matter how high the risks to family (Think Jeremy Renner in Hurt Locker and Juliette Binoche in A Thousand Times Goodnight).  Isabelle’s husband (Byrne) is loathe to ask her to stop, even though he apparently sacrificed a promising acting career for the sake of his family.  He is now a schoolteacher.
        Jonah (Eisenberg), the oldest son, seems to have been closest to his mother, and their emotional exchanges show how much empathy he feels for her.  He also has rapport with his father, and they have meaningful conversations, although Jonah doesn’t confide in his father about his marriage, even when he is going through a difficult time with it.
       Conrad (Druid) is the most taciturn of all, seldom speaking to anyone, even the girl he has a crush on and walks home from a late-night party.  He certainly won’t talk to his father, and rushes away any time his father tries to talk with him.  Not surprisingly, his fantasy life is full of violence.
        Among all these people, so much is left unsaid—even when they’re in excruciating pain—it’s astounding.  These people are like ships passing in the night, and it’s hard to believe they’re under the same roof.  But of course, there are families like this; they’re not a figment of the filmmakers’ imaginations. 
       I like the way the film shows each of the main characters’ points of view to show how different realities can be constructed and to encourage empathy with all of them.  It illustrates the knowledge and sensitivities of Joachim Trier (writer/director) and Eskil Vogt (writer) about people and families. 
    Byrne has a history of expert renditions of soulful, informed characters (e.g., In Treatment) trying to reach people who are closed off to him.  Huppert is one of those consummate portrayers of characters that get under the skin (The Piano Teacher) and incite controversy (Amour).  Eisenberg is in a period where he is exploring all kinds of different roles, and here, he is skillful in showing an older brother with conflict in every realm of his life, yet coming across as sincere to everyone.  Perhaps the youngest—Devin Druid—had the most difficult challenge of conveying so much with so little dialog, similar to Leonardo DiCaprio in the Revenant.
     I congratulate Joachim Trier and his collaborators on bringing out once again the experience and repercussions of death—particularly one that is self-determined.  This may be in the context of an unusually repressed family, but aspects of it will ring true to almost everyone.

Reverberating repercussions of a death, something you don’t want to see but should.

Grade:  A By Donna R. Copeland


Chris Hemsworth     Emily Blunt     Jessica Chastain     Charlize Theron

            The film, loosely based on the Snow White fairy tale, is a prequel/sequel to the 2012 Snow White and the Huntsman.  It opens with a brief flashback showing Ravenna (Theron) killing her husband, the king (Robert Portal), who is also Snow White’s father.   And it gives a picture of the relationship between the two sisters Ravenna, older and dominant, and Freya (Blunt) submissive and emotionally positive.  After Ravenna destroys Freya’s chance for happiness, Freya, feeling betrayed and cynical, takes off to the north to set up her own kingdom.  Her new ability to magically create ice gives her the reputation of the “Ice Queen” and serves as a special power (Yup; think Frozen, 2013).  Her castle containing an enormous ice tower juts up into the high mountains covered with ice and snow.
            To build her army, Freya kidnaps hundreds of children and brings them to her castle to be trained for warfare by her huntsmen.  Two children are standouts for their superior combat skills:  Eric (Hemsworth) and Sara (Chastain).  Unfortunately, these two eventually fall in love, which is against Freya’s law prohibiting it.  Love is a sin, the Ice Queen has decided.  What happens to them is the major action of the ensuing story.
            With such a talented cast, excellent cinematography (Phedon Papamichael), production design (Dominic Watkins), and costumes (Colleen Atwood), it’s a shame that the story lacks substance.  It’s as if the writers (Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin) put the few elements of the Grimm brothers’ Snow White into a bottle with whatever came to mind, shook it up and threw the contents out on the table, putting them back together in such a way the plot comes out rather jumbled and marked by unfortunate stereotypes of women.  Give them power and they become controlling and mean (Ravenna).  If they start out being loving, they become controlling and icy and/or they get duped (Freya).  They’re unmerciful if they’ve felt betrayed or were misled into believing it to be so (Sara).  Out of all this mishmash, the gist of the tale is “Love conquers all”, which is stated sarcastically in the beginning, but expressed genuinely by the end, as if that is the conclusion the audience is supposed to draw.  However, what transpires in between is not convincing. 
            Light moments in the film that are intended as jokes seem out of place and out of context.  When one character gets proof that her betrayer actually loves her—a tender moment she shows with tears in her eyes—the mood is broken by the question, “Are you crying?”  And we’re supposed to chuckle at this misplaced joke.  There are numerous jolts like this which are intended to be funny, but that take the focus away from a fairy tale atmosphere to present day culture.
A story more a jumble than a fairy tale.

Grade:  C-                        By Donna R. Copeland


Tom Hanks     Ben Whishaw     Sarita Choudhury     Tom Skeritt

          A wry peek into the experiences of a washed up American executive attempting to score an IT contract for the king’s project in Saudi Arabia.  Tom Tykwer and Dave Eggers are a winning combination, the former as director/writer/composer (Cloud Atlas, Paris, je t’aime, Run Lola Run) the latter as novelist (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, The Wild Things) and screenwriter (Where the Wild Things are, Promised Land, Away We Go).  Their work has constant subtle jokes and odd combinations that make it wonderfully entertaining.  Unfortunately, many viewers will miss the comedy, partly because of the extended frustrations in the beginning of the film, and partly because it requires alert listening.
          In A Hologram for the King, Alan Clay (Hanks) has wangled a job with an IT company pursuing a contract to equip a city the king of Saudi Arabia plans to build.  Clay comes across as a rather disgruntled middle-aged man trying to adjust to a divorce and money problems following a lucrative career with Schwinn Bicycles.  The film opens with his plane trip and getting settled into a hotel.  He seems very inept as he oversleeps, misses the shuttle to the work site, and has to hire a driver—who will actually be with him during most of his stay because Clay gets into various dilemmas.  The driver Dave (Whishaw) is one of the many characters that provide color and humor in the contrasts/conflicts shown between eastern and western cultures. 
        Clay has no end of troubles when he arrives on-site to join his team of young computer whizzes helping him with his audio-visual presentation to the king.  But days go by, as the king’s visit is postponed and Clay is given incomplete or wrong information about the facilities and who is available for assistance.  Complicating matters is a huge bump that has appeared on his back near his spine. 
        The film has no end of complications, humorous incongruities, and blessings.  It artfully presents all the characters from their own points of view so that blaming and identifying the “bad guys” simply doesn’t exist; the film is very forgiving of human foibles.  Clay’s character is a good mixture of someone trying to do well and right, being astute and observant, yet bumbling from time to time.  It seems hard for him to pull up his assertive self and make things happen; he only does this after numerous frustrating events.  But when he does hop to it, we see that things get much better. 
        This is a film for those who listen carefully to the dialog and catch the running humor in almost every scene, reflecting an American in a Moslem country, the efforts of a man who must re-invent his life, the unexpected admiration—and suspicion—of so many American actions by Muslims in other countries, and the inefficiency of bureaucracies, all interwoven into the human need for social connection and meaningfulness.
        Another truly rewarding part of this film is the interaction between the actors playing the two main characters.  Hanks and Whishaw are entirely in sync, showing the joy of male bonding and friendship, no matter what their differences.  The addition of Choudhury as a supportive, romantic interest enhanced the film as a whole. 
        I especially liked one of the points of the film about the admiration of America alongside suspicion toward us.  We deserve both aspects of our reputation.

An American in-----Saudi Arabia.

Grade:  B+                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Michael Shannon   Kevin Spacey   Alex Pettyfer   Colin Hanks   Tracy Letts 

             This well conceived parody about the art of pandering to celebrities and politicians and the self-entitlement that is inherent in both groups is subtly clever and funny.  Apparently this is the second film of the rather bizarre but real encounter between President Nixon and Elvis Presley, and just as interesting is the fact that the picture taken of the two on that occasion is the photograph most often requested from the National Archives.  (The previous film, called a “mockumentary” and entitled Elvis Meets Nixon, was directed by Allan Arkush and released in 1997.  I didn’t see that film, but it looks like maybe both are similar in their capturing the essence of the encounter.  For some reason I do not know of, the current film is said to be the first account of the meeting, disregarding the previous film.)
            The current Elvis & Nixon captures the American idolization of celebrities, giving it a ‘70’s flare with screeching young females ready to throw themselves at Elvis’ feet at the mere mention of his name.  But they’re not the only ones—a President’s aide can be just as enthralled, and come up with “politically reasonable”, convincing arguments as to why the President should meet with him.  The President is skeptical, and initially refuses; but when he learns that he can impress his daughter Julie, he relents. 
            Other arguments for the meeting (made principally by Elvis) appeal to Nixon’s sense that the Communists are behind the protest movements against the Viet Nam War and drug use among the “Lefties.”  It is with a sense of purpose that Elvis wants to “infiltrate” their organizations and be the one to catch them in illegal acts.  His arguments for this include the fact that as an actor he is an expert in costume and disguise(!).
            In his appeal to Nixon’s suspicious nature and his pandering to his vanity, Elvis pulls off something few would deem probable.  Badges mean a lot to Elvis (and he collects them, showing his Memphis Sheriff’s badge for his identification at airports, etc.), and he wants one from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.  Illustrating/lampooning how that administration found it so easy to break the rule of law, Elvis was indeed given the badge.  (Not a spoiler; it’s in the National Archives.)
            The writers (Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal, Cary Elwes) and director (Leza Johnson) should be credited with making an informed, entertaining film that is not just a parody of the main characters, but as well a look at American culture, politics and government, some of which still holds true today.  Just like back then, we get the impression that the American populace and some politicians can be drawn in with facile arguments that single out group(s) to be the “enemy”… and that the rule of law is not necessarily something to be taken seriously in all circumstances.
            Without the two main actors (Spacey as Nixon and Shannon as Presley), who are chameleon in their abilities, this film probably could not have been so successful.  It’s uncanny to watch each of them portray their characters’ gestures, voices, and manners—exactly as those of us from the ‘70’s recall seeing on television.  Supporting actors Alex Pettyfer, Colin Hanks, and Tracy Letts also deserve their due in making this a strange but believable film.

A film not so distant from current cultural and political realities.

Grade:  B+                                    By Donna R. Copeland