Wednesday, July 27, 2022


 Morgan Freeman     Juliette Binoche     Cameron Monaghan     Hala Finley     Frank Grillo

            This is a crime drama as thrilling as any you would want to see, with the best of writing and directing by Anna Gutto and a cast containing the illustrious Juliette Binoche in a completely divergent role from her past and the inimitable Morgan Freeman being in his quintessential role of the quiet, irritating upsetter.  Close behind them is young Hala Finley who is already a master at showing how children can portray depth of character and artistry while still maintaining childhood innocence.  

            This is not your ordinary crime drama—no screaming car chases, no grossly bloody scenes, no mano-a-mano male combat for a finale—it shows ordinary people confronting life dilemmas and careful, committed FBI work that would do our country proud.  One might think this was not “exciting” enough, but in actuality, it was so intense at times I needed to take a break from my home screening.

            The story begins with a novel characterization of a female truck driver Sally (Binoche) talking to her friends on the road—other female truck drivers—indicating her dubious ties to her brother Dennis (Grillo).  He is in prison, and after a lifetime of protecting her from an abusive father, he is able to get her to help him in alleviating some of the abuse he is experiencing in prison.  This involves her transporting “packages” for him from one place to another.  

            When one of these “packages” turns out to be a young girl (Finley), the plot heats up.  This is especially since the writer of the drama is giving credit to how smart and streetwise young girls from her background are today.  We the audience learn something about the knowledge and understanding victims of poverty and trafficking acquire in their brief lives.

            Now, Sally has to deal with situations in her life for which she is completely unprepared.  For the first time, she must take into account someone other than herself and her devotion to her brother.  That journey will be much more difficult than anything she’s had to face before.

            I contrast this production with male-dominated stories of daring-do in which “action” scenes predominate.  Here, you find two unlikely females developing a tentative bond, an unlikely FBI pair trying to work together, and the unexpected disruptions of a child.  The bottom line is that it becomes interesting—even engrossing—while revealing much about human relationships, trafficking of children, the prison system, and intelligent police work.


A thriller well worth your time and interest, Paradise Highway shows us important considerations in life.


Grade:  A                              By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, July 14, 2022


 Ryan Gosling     Chris Evans     Ana de Armas     Rege-Jean Page     Billy Bob Thornton


           How to get the attending audience not to see your movie.  Make scenes so dark viewers can’t tell what’s going on or who the characters are, especially in the fight scenes.  Make it so loud that dialog can’t be heard above the din of sound effects.  Include characters that are so sadistic it’s unbearable to watch (e.g., pulling out fingernails one by one) and forces you to look away.  Write the plot so it contains implausible situations, such as the wounded continuing to fight long after they would most likely have succumbed, have a character with a heart condition be terrified time and again without having a heart attack.  And finally, mixing up the time frames by going backward and forward.

            The CIA must be grumbling about how it’s portrayed in The Gray Man (largely written, directed, and produced by Russo brothers Anthony and Joe), showing two leaders in the upper echelons of the CIA who are completely illegal and immoral.  Movies are notorious among professionals for portraying their disciplines unrealistically, and (at least I hope) this is another instance.  Of course, we know of real situations where the CIA used bad judgment, but I hate to see even those instances glorified in media.

            The star of this production is one of my favorites, Ryan Gosling, as an unfairly discredited agent being recruited to perform special jobs that are top-secret by their nature of bordering on the illegal.  Six, as he is called, does not even have a file.  Gosling is up to his usual fine performance of being extraordinarily gifted/trained in combat, and still gentle with a heart of gold.  Chris Evans is good as well as a fiendish, sadistic evil man, and it’s hard for me to believe that “Captain America” would take on such a role, but he is believably bad here.  Ana de Armas likewise plays a strong role demonstrating her fighting skills against much stronger men.  She is certainly convincing as a very bold driver.

            On the whole, the cast and its skills are the best feature of this production that looks and feels like a video game, more intent on the craft of special effects than the art of story and character.  The Russo brothers have become famous perhaps primarily for their success in the Marvel world of film, which I have enjoyed from time to time.  Here, I think they go over the top in so many ways, with no recognizable artistry.  The craft as they see it takes over the film.  The erratic editing simply provides more evidence of the film’s lack.


I can’t think of any reason anyone would want to see this film.


Grade:  D                              By Donna R. Copeland


 Lesley Manville     Isabelle Huppert     Lucas Bravo     Ellen Thomas

Jason Isaacs     Anna Chancellor     Alba Baptista     Rose Williams

            This is a feel-good movie through and through, although rather pie-in-the sky.  I gather the point of the story is that kindness begets kindness from a London dance hall to the House of Dior in Paris…except when it doesn’t.

            Mrs. Ada Harris (played superbly by Lesley Manville) is a kindly, sparkly cleaning woman who gets a glimpse of a Dior gown at Lady Dant’s (Chancellor), one of her wealthy employers.  Another theme of the drama is about one’s dreams and the importance of following them through to reality.  With something more than a mere glimpse of the dress, Mrs. Harris envisions herself wearing it, which brings on dreams of being able to buy such a work of art.  She immediately takes on extra work and devises other ways to earn enough to go to Paris to achieve her dream.

            This will be no easy challenge, and Mrs. Harris runs into many obstacles as well as the kindness of others to achieve her goal.  Just getting her foot in the door of the Dior establishment will be one of her biggest discouragements.  Obstacle is personified by the intimidating directress Mrs. Colbert (Huppert), the woman behind the success of Dior himself, along with snobby self-entitled wealthy clients who disdain her being in their midst. 

            The creators of Mrs. Harris are clearly in sympathy with workers who are exploited by their employers, so that theme is woven into the action as well.  With all the varied issues at hand, Director Anthony Fabian with three co-writers (including the author of the novel on which it is based, Paul Gallico) are successful in meshing together all these themes to create an entertaining story.  To do this, they have included many coincidental meetings and unlikely stories of generosity, but the uplifting messages can be inspiring, even the part about Sartre and Existentialism.

            The two well-known actresses Manville and Huppert are again remarkable in capturing the essences of their characters and sustaining the most entertaining aspects of the drama.  Strong support is provided by Lucas Bravo as Dior’s accountant and Ellen Thomas as Ada’s faithful friend back in London.   


For a light, sometimes very funny, movie experience, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris will surely entertain those who have even a passing interest in haute couture. 


Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, July 13, 2022


 Daisy Edgar Jones     Taylor John Smith     David Strathairn

Michael Hyatt     Sterling Macer, Jr.     Harris Dickinson

            A beautifully rendered film about a remarkable child abandoned by her family and growing up alone in a shack in the marshland of North Carolina.  Isolated from most of the town of Barkley Cove, she is called “the marsh girl” by townspeople who make up all kinds of negative stories about her.  

            There are kindly people who help Kya (Jones), like young Tate (Smith) who is a friend of her brother’s and has seen her in the marshes.  As a teenager he offers to teach her to read.  Also, the black couple, Mabel (Hyatt) and Jumpin (Macer) who own a small grocery seem to understand that she is abandoned and help her in dignified ways.  But most of the people in the town regard her with suspicion and make fun of her.  

            So when swaggering young hotshot Chase Andrews (Dickinson), whom Kya had had a brief affair with turns up dead, Kya becomes the prime suspect in his murder.  

            The film is well paced, leisurely giving a detailed picture of Kya’s family and early life showing how she became so independent and merged with the natural environment surrounding her.  So knowledgeable about birds and the animals she comes to know so well, Kya becomes an illustrator, thanks to the encouragement of her friend Tate, her first love.

            When the tale transitions to the mystery of Chase’s death, the pace quickens and we see more of the cruelty Kya experienced with her family and the keen disappointments she suffers when key people let her down.  Balancing this heartbreak is the kindly retired attorney Tom Milton (Strathairn) who has generously taken on the task of defending her against the murder charge. 

            Big plusses in this maximally engaging film are the acting, the writing, the directing, the music, and the cinematography.  Daisy Edgar Jones, Taylor John Smith, and David Strathairn are captivating in their portrayal of the three lead roles, solidly backed up by Michael Hyatt and Sterling Macer, Jr.  Harris Dickinson embodies the less appealing Chase most convincingly.

            The direction by Olivia Newman shows her talent in adapting the popular novel by Delia Owens into a film that captures the audience’s full attention throughout.  The 2+ hour film sped by.  Music by Mychael Danna lives up to his previous award-worthy compositions in Life of Pi, Moneyball, and Little Miss Sunshine.  Although the film is supposed to take place in North Carolina, it was actually filmed in Louisiana, but Polly Morgan’s lush cinematography fools you into thinking it is North Carolina, especially when you see Kya running through the brush hiding from those trying to find her.

            This is a tender and heartstrings-puller love story, an example of female child pluckiness, an absorbing murder mystery and trial, and a commentary of pride and prejudice of the type found in small communities even today.

            It should be noted that Reese Witherspoon is one of the producers.  Release was postponed at one point following an ABC news-magazine show Turning Point and articles in The New Yorker and Atlantic magazines, casting some suspicion on prior activities of the author of the book, Delia Owens and her husband Mark.


Go to Where the Crawdads Sing to find a gripping story of valor, discovery, and delight.


Grade:  A                              By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, June 22, 2022


            The story of a revolution told by artists is so different from the same story told by political scientists or historians—not that I’m discounting the latter.  What strikes me, though, is that artists have a way of conveying the social/emotional and individualized experiences of what actual people go through during a revolution such as the uprising in Syria.  Documentarian David Henry Gerson features nine artists originally from Syria who were active in demonstrations against the Assad regime and had to leave for other countries as a result of the pressure—and sometimes torture—they endured.  Part of their stories are told in the particular artistic medium in which they work, i.e., art, music, dance, which adds interest and dimension to their accounts.

            All were hopeful that they and their art and activism would make a difference in the country.  They had not anticipated the brutal and inhumane steps the government would go to as a means of shutting them up.  Right up front we are told that since 2011, over a half-million people have been killed in Syria, and over half the population (13 million) became refugees.

            The documentary does a good job in assembling artists who have managed after many travails to reach European countries like Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Greece.  They relate their experiences in (usually) having to uproot themselves suddenly when it becomes clear to them that they have no future in Syria and avenues for leaving open up.  Of course, some must leave loved ones behind.  One was thinking that he’d rather die than risk going to prison again, but when he thought of his month-old daughter, he made plans to leave and work to assure a good life for her. 

The storytellers are visual artists, a choreographer, a dancer, a rapper, and other   musicians.  They come from all kinds of backgrounds—some well off; some poor, but clearly all have the degree of persistence it takes to make such a transition in the face of major obstacles.

Perhaps because of the infusion of their art work—which clearly they use as a coping mechanism—into the production and the fact that all have become settled and mostly adjusted to their new environs makes the documentary upbeat, with the horrors they’ve left behind in the background.  Gerson is to be commended for adeptly balancing the horror and the optimism.  

The ending makes the point that the impact of leaving their home country is strongly felt, and they seek to solidify their artistic identity within the small community of fellow Syrians when they are able to be together. As upbeat as the film is, we are left with their disappointment that the 10+ year civil war continues, with Assad still in power.


An inspirational picture of what artists have endured during the Assad regime in Syria.  Sometimes beaten and tortured during peaceful protests, these fortunate few have been able to make their way to European countries and use their arts to inform others about the atrocities in Syria.


Grade:  A                                          By Donna R. Copeland


Wednesday, June 15, 2022


 David Earl     Chris Hayward

            Brian (Earl) is an inventive soul whose house in Wales looks like a laboratory made from whatever he can find and bring home.  He’s even made a cuckoo clock that can fly so the townspeople can check out the time in the sky wherever they are.  Then one day he decides to make a robot to help him around the house,

            Finding most of what he needs on hand or searching through trashes, where he has found a mannequin’s head, Brian is delighted with his newest invention.  After several tries when it fails to respond to the on-switch, Brian is about to give up.  But when he returns home from a village errand, he is surprised that Charles (Hayward) has come alive!

            The fanciful tale weaves through the two getting acquainted and struggles of wills that soon come to the fore.  Soon it becomes apparent that Charles is very much like a very young boy but with a “mind” of his own.  To Brian’s chagrin, Charles does not want to follow commands. 

            After the gist of the plot becomes apparent, the action sags a bit; however, Earl and Hayward, the two writers, introduce not only an unlikely romance, but also a development in which Brian and Charles are subjected to bullying by one of the locals and his unruly family.  

            This gives the filmmakers an opportunity to make some statements about tolerance and nonviolence, giving the story relevance in today’s world.  It will be appealing to those who appreciate wry British humor and imagination without the need for logical explanations.  Cinematography by Murren Tullett adds to the charming nature of this film, which children may especially like.


A fanciful tale about an obsessive inventor who has come up with an idea for a robot.  


Grade:  C                              By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, June 9, 2022


 Chris Pratt     Bryce Dallas Howard     Isabella Sermon     Laura Dern     Sam Neill

Jeff Goldblum     DeWanda Wise     Mamoudou Athie     Campbell Scott     Omar Sy     BD Wong

            There are plenty of thrills and chills in this production, and if you like chases of one kind or another (cars, motorcycles, dinosaurs), you’ll be especially pleased.  Much of it is over the top with screams, screeches, dark scenes, and rapid-fire camera movements.  In that sense, special effects and action over-ride the story, most of which is about characters trying to get out of horrifying situations.

            Picking up on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018), we meet up again with Owen (Pratt) and Claire (Howard) and the “daughter” they have rescued, Maisie (Sermon), settled in their country home with endangered animals living on the property.  Maisie is a teenager and chomping at the bit to get out from under the protection of their home.  But knowing the keen scientific (and commercial) value she carries, Claire and Owen are torn between allowing her to satisfy her longings and keeping her safe from kidnappers.  

            Predictably, a giant corporation, Biosyn, has emerged as a major force in genetics research and commerce, headed up by Lewis Dodgson (Scott), with Ramsey Cole (Athie) and Ian Malcolm (Goldblum) on his staff, and Kayla Watts (Wise) as a contractor for supplying animals Biosyn is eager to acquire, and the only one contributing a bit of humor here and there.  But…hmmm…maybe Biosyn has some nefarious purposes…

            All these characters end up on Biosyn’s property fighting for their lives after one or another major mishap occurs or threatening dinosaur(s) appear.  The filmmakers have done a good job in portraying the horror and terror in these scenes; it’s just that there are too many of them for my taste.

            When Dune had a major sweep of Academy Awards for the crafts this past year, I was pleased because they well deserved the praise.  Will Jurassic World Dominion capture similar acclaim?  I think not, even though the filmmakers have appeared to go all out for technological flash.  The difference is that Dunehas a strong story line with many kinds of nuances and issues to grapple with, and although preserving animal species and partnering with nature is a strong theme here, I doubt it will achieve the same acclaim that Dunereceived.

            It’s likely that most Jurassic fans will lap up the continuation of this franchise, but others less enamored may say, “Enough!”


An ongoing story that has difficulty measuring up to its prior versions.


Grade:  C                              By Donna R. Copeland