Sunday, November 29, 2015


Qi Shu     Chen Chang     Zhou Yun     Fang-Yi Sheu

          The Assassin is a complicated story in its mysteriousness, the opaqueness of which is helped along by so many scenes in which the viewer must guess who the characters are and their roles in the high drama. Cinematography (Ping Bin Lee) is a big part of the production in its breathtaking shots of nature through which we see the action; with numerous scenes viewed through smoke, fog, and even sheer decorative fabrics.  Landscapes are sweeping and mysterious.  Taiwanese Director Hsiao-Hsien Hou won the prize for directing at Cannes earlier this year, and Giong Lim won for the soundtrack. 
         The setting is 9th Century China, when warring political forces were conflicted about central control of government versus local power.  In the province of Weibo, a young female warrior (Nie Yinniang played by the lovely Qi Shu) and her family are inclined to make peace with the central control, as is Tian Ji’an (Chen Chang), the military head of Weibo.  But his parents form a political alliance with a rival group by marrying their son to the other leader’s daughter (Yun), despite the fact that he was already betrothed to Yinniang.  As a young child, Yinniang is sent to be trained by a nun called “The master”, Jiaxing (Sheu), in the rival faction.  Yinniang becomes an excellent warrior, and when she is ready, The Master directs her to kill Tian Ji’an, whom the nun regards as having committed ruthless acts. 
        There is a major problem with this, which is that as good as she could be at it, Yinniang does not like to kill.  Her master tells her, “Saintly virtues play no part in this.  Your skills are matchless, but your mind is still hostage to human sentiment.” 
       Yinniang does set out to do her duty; however, when she comes upon Tian Ji’an with his son, her empathy for him and her belief that the region will devolve into chaos without a leader makes her walk away.  This is despite Tian’s throwing a dagger at her back, which she turns and catches by the handle.  During the film, she has numerous encounters with him and others ready to kill her, but she is so skillful at defense, she ends up walking away unharmed.
        Although the pace of this film is very slow (one must be prepared simply to admire and enjoy the images), I loved the story of a young woman who knows her own mind and overcomes violence with her unmatched restraint and flawless defense.  I understand that the issue of central control vs. local government has been in dispute for centuries in China; what better way is there to resolve the conflict then a powerful pacifist stance? 
     The swordsmanship shown in many encounters is like watching dancers exquisitely weaving around and coming into play with one another.  Qi Shu is graceful and extremely quick in deflecting what could be fatal blows.  Chen Chang portrays a leader in conflict, prone to lose his temper, but proving his strong leadership while still being an adoring father to his son.

An artistic and heart-stirring picture of the martial arts in action in 9th Century China.

Grade:  B                                        By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Tom Hardy     Emily Browning

          Picture a family where the boiling point is low, the boundaries within it are so tight that loyalty takes precedence over morality, little is learned from mistakes made or punishments rendered, and at least one member of the family is psychotic, but intelligence and craftiness are high, and you will already be acquainted with the entertaining Kray family.  Twins Ronnie and Reggie (both played by Tom Hardy) seem to be chips off the old block, if glimpses of their father and mother are any indication.  They’re successful in the nightclub/casino business—at least Reggie is—and are even courted by the notorious American Meyer Lansky to share business profits.  The problem is that Reggie keeps getting put into prison, and he leaves the business to Ronnie to run.
         Legend is based on John Peerson’s book, The Profession of Violence, in which he tells the story of how the Kray twins built a huge criminal network in London in the 1960’s.  Swindling, extortion, murder—they would stop at nothing if their ire was sparked or they saw a competitive edge.  Director Brian Helgeland, screenwriter for 42, Robin Hood, and The Taking of Pelham, as well as Legend, presents what appears to be a realistic picture of the Krays and their world.  He keeps an even pace, and maintains enough suspense to keep us engaged to the end.
          One twin, Ronnie, is gay, but Reggie falls head over heels with the sister of one of his friends, who is just the opposite in personality and values as the Kray family.  Frances (Browning) is completely genuine, emotionally grounded (despite a mother who only knows how to preach instead of reason with her daughter about dating a gangster), and incredibly na├»ve.  This is exactly what attracts Reggie, who appears to be sincere in his intentions to make substantive changes, but is constantly torn between that and loyalty to his family.  He’s the classic abusive husband who forcefully promises to make changes, but reverts to his core under stress.
      Tom Hardy’s portrayal of the twins is noteworthy, given they are so different in personality.  He does such a good job, it makes you appreciate the power of the personality over the visual image of a person.  There are tiny things—such as the exposure of more or fewer teeth—and the manner of speaking, but the largest contrast is between how they conduct themselves socially.  Reggie is much more smooth and appealing then Ronnie, who, like the crazy person he is, blurts out whatever is on his mind—which is often a skewed picture.  Reggie is calculating; whereas Ronnie is instantly reactive. 
       Emily Browning is a fine partner with Hardy in his Reggie role.  She captures a character who is subtle, sometimes surprising, but always thoughtful, pensive even, despite being regarded as rather empty headed. 
         Another big plus to this film is Carter Burwell’s music.  He is uncanny in setting the perfect music, song, or tune that captures the emotional tone of every scene, especially the big ones, or introduces a dark, violent sequence.
          Perhaps this was only a problem for me, but I had difficulty understanding much of the dialog in Cockney.  Hardy as Reggie talking in a low indistinct voice or Ronnie as blustering and complaining was difficult to understand.  I realize the filmmakers’ interest in conveying messages about the characters in this way, but if the audience can’t understand the dialog, it detracts from the movie. 

Tom Hardy doubled is worth the price of a ticket!

Grade:  B By Donna R. Copeland

Friday, November 20, 2015


Bryan Cranston   Diane Lane   Helen Mirren   Louis C.K.   John Goodman   Elle Fanning

          Dalton Trumbo was a very successful Hollywood screenwriter in the late 1940’s when he was called to answer questions about his beliefs by the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).  He refused to testify, so was sent to prison for 11 months for Contempt of Congress.  He and many others were put on a Black List by the movie studios, which refused to hire them, denying them any means of support. 
         The film Trumbo dramatizes these events with major actors in the roles of the principal players.  Bryan Cranston plays Trumbo in another one of his remarkable performances.  He truly can melt himself into a character so well you forget him, the actor.  Diane Lane plays his wife Cleo—capturing the near-saint that Cleo must have been, while easily asserting herself forcefully when she perceived a wrong.  Helen Mirren plays Hedda Hopper, an apparently conniving, devious zealot with incredible power given her occupation, a gossip columnist.  In her younger days, she was an actress and still seethes about being rejected as “too old”, but is still able to threaten studio executives with exposure of their weaknesses unless they go along with her political stance, i.e., supporting the HUAC. 
       Louis C.K. is turning out to be a gifted actor; he plays Arlen Hird, one of Trumbo’s reluctant screenwriter colleagues also called to testify.  Trumbo pulls him along by convincing him that even if they’re convicted, the case will go to a liberal Supreme Court that will defend their right of free speech, and he pays for Hird’s attorney fees.  (In a stroke of bad luck, one of the Supreme Court liberal judges dies unexpectedly, so they lose their appeal.) 
        Another star always up to his reputation is John Goodman, who plays Frank King, a Hollywood producer who just wants to churn out box office successes.  He doesn’t give a flip about political issues, so has no problem paying Trumbo to rework the terrible scripts he is given.  This is what saves Trumbo financially, and as amazing as he is in turning out scripts in record time, he has so much work he can’t do it all.  He hires his fellow blacklisted writers to help him, and thereby they survive. 
       Trumbo is an extraordinary film in showing us an important “happening” in American history, in having well known actors playing major figures (which blows your mind a little bit), and more importantly, reminding us of how critical it is for Americans to have free speech to sustain our democracy.
        Director Jay Roach is known primarily for comedies (Meet the Parents, Austin Powers), but I think he does a good job in presenting this bruising history of Hollywood and America.  It is more liberal in its presentation, but an important speech by Dalton Trumbo gives the import of the movie’s message: There was bad faith and good, honesty and dishonesty, courage and cowardice, selflessness and opportunism, wisdom and stupidity, good and bad on both sides; and almost every individual involved, no matter where he stood, combined some or all of these antithetical qualities in his own person, in his own acts (Cieply, Michael (September 11, 2007). "A Voice From the Blacklist: Documentary Lets Dalton Trumbo Speak (Through Surrogates)". New York Times. Retrieved December 15, 2011.) 

An instructive piece of American history dramatized.

Grade:  B                                 By Donna R. Copeland


Jennifer Lawrence   Josh Hutcherson   Liam Hemsworth   Woody Harrelson   Donald Sutherland   Julianne Moore   Elizabeth Banks   Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman

          Mockingjay Part 2 is a fitting and tender ending to the Hunger Games series based on Suzanne Collins’ books.  Most of Part 2 is very dark, and we lose key people during the battle to undermine the Capitol and get rid of President Snow (Sutherland).  The rebels, led by Alma Coin (Moore) with Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) as a figurehead, hope to establish a free state in which democracy is the rule.  Peeta (Hutcherson), whose mind got jumbled when he was captured by Snow, is angry and paranoid about Katniss, but with the support of the core group will gradually get things sorted out.
      Pursued by Snow’s troops and risking their lives avoiding pockets of embedded weapons throughout the city, Katniss and her group make their way to the Capitol to achieve their mission, forging the underground sewer system and hiding out in the Hunger Games’ former stylist Tigris’ lair for a short rest, they receive the announcement from Snow that the city is to be evacuated to the Capitol where they will receive food, clothing, and health care.  This seems like a perfect opportunity to get to the capital by disguising themselves in Tigris’ store of clothes, and they make their way in the midst of the crowds.
      Although they are still guarded and afraid, the group forges on, but sabotage and betrayals are still ahead.  Who will survive, and will they be able to accomplish their mission?
Director Francis Lawrence and screenplay writers Peter Craig and Danny Strong improved this production as compared to part 1; however, neither holds up to the exciting, creative work done with Catching Fire.  For some reason (and acknowledging that I have not read Collins’ books), Katniss is much more passive in 2 and 3 than she was in Catching Fire, where she was like a ball of fire.  I prefer the more heroic, three-dimensional version of her in the first installment.
        Lawrence is a fine actress and performs at her best here, given the script.  Hutcherson and Hemsworth, rival suitors for her affections, are also very good, and have a discussion about their rivalry, unaware that she is listening to them.  It is a sweet, heartfelt moment, and one of the only scenes where humor comes into play. 
        Brief glimpses of Harrelson, Sutherland, Moore, Banks, and Tucci are rewarding to see, artfully playing the significant characters we’ve come to know.  It was bittersweet to see the late Philip Seymour Hoffman looking as if he had just acted out his part.  How we miss him!

A fitting conclusion to a popular series of fantasy fiction.

Grade:  C By Donna R. Copeland


Brad Pitt     Angelina Jolie     Malanie Laurent     Melvil Poupaud   Niels Arestrup

          By the Sea opens up with beautiful panoramas of the Mediterranean as a couple winds down the road in a red convertible.  They stop at a bar in Malta (she downs her glass of wine in one swallow) then make their way to an upscale hotel on the water.  It’s noticeable how silent they are—the woman barely speaks and then only when spoken to.  They unpack and rearrange the room in a way that tells you he is a writer.  The couple, Roland (Pitt) and Vanessa (Jolie), do not appear like people on a holiday, but in response to someone asking them why they’ve come, Roland answers cryptically that they just needed to get away.
         As time goes by, we can see that Roland is frustrated with his wife, but speaks lovingly of her.  He goes out every day to write (which he is having a hard time doing) and drink, and comes back in the afternoon or evening and drinks.  He has good conversations with Michel (Arestrup), the local bartender, but not really with anyone else.  Vanessa has been in the room all day, except maybe for a quick trip to town for supplies.  He comes in and chats a bit, but she says little.  He approaches her; she rejects him; and finally he says in exasperation, “Are we ever going to talk about it?”  It’s a long time before we find out what “it” is.
       The couple next door on their honeymoon, Lea (Laurent) and Francois (Poupaud), cautiously approach Roland and Vanessa about socializing—playing cards, shopping, sailing—which they accept rather tentatively.  This is odd, because we have seen that Roland and Vanessa have clearly developed a keen interest in them (I won’t tell you why or how, although it turns out to be rather a silly and unrealistic artifice),
        I would never have thought that I could be bored looking at the painterly Mediterranean seascape with blue sky, puffy white clouds, and a quaint fishing boat, but have to admit that I did get impatient in this film with so little action and so much scenery and other views of the high life.  Vanessa is always dressed and made up elegantly, as is Lea next door.  It’s obvious no one has to worry about expenses. 
       Although I enjoyed the music (Gabriel Yared) and cinematography (Christian Berger), it was not enough to sustain audience attention with so little going on.  Jolie and her editors should have cut at least a half-hour or more from the film.  The last twenty minutes actually had drama that was interesting and made the two main characters more understandable.  Too bad it came so late.
      Jolie is gorgeous in this movie—in fact, most of the characters looked like “The Beautiful People” on some TV program—and hers and Pitt’s scenes together when there is dialog and action are up to their usual quality, as are Laurent and Poupaud.  But I particularly enjoyed Niels Arestrup’s character, a kindly, thoughtful, older man grieving for his dead wife, but full of gently delivered sound advice for Roland. 

Plan to enjoy the seaside scenes; there is not much action or dialog until the last part of By the Sea.

Grade:  C                                                        By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Chiwetel Ejiofor   Julia Roberts   Nicole Kidman   Michael Kelly   Dean Norris   Alfred Molina

          Secret in their eyes is a real thriller and horror story marked by obsessions, compulsions, and over-reactions.  It opens in the present, but now and then goes back 12 years to a time when Ray (Ejiofor), Jess (Roberts), Claire (Kidman), Siefert (Kelly), Bumpy (Norris) and D.A. Morales (Molina) all worked in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office.  At that time, the daughter of Jess was brutally murdered, and although much effort was put into finding the killer, they were unsuccessful.
              Ray and Jeff and her daughter were good friends, and unbeknownst to anyone else, he spent the 12 years looking at police mug shots in hopes of finding the perp.  He is convinced that the man was a guest at one of their office picnics where a group picture was taken, but no one in the office admits to knowing him much less inviting him.  Ray’s persistence and intimidation eventually yields a name, Marzin (Joe Cole) and although Ray has only come back as an FBI contractor to seek out terrorists, he talks the present #2 person in the office, Claire, into allowing him to do police work on the case on the QT. 
            Nevertheless he runs into major resistance by Kelly and Morales who are using Marzin as an informer.  The time is shortly after the 9/1/1 terrorist attack, and they are convinced that Marzin has a major lead into a second planned attack. 
              Obsessed, Ray continues to pursue Marzin and convinces Claire and Jess that he is the one.  An interrogation of Marzin by Ray and Claire (a horrific and hilarious interchange) seems to yield a confession.  But the plot is just heating up.  Morales gets word of their undercover work and in no uncertain terms makes them let Marzin go free.
             After that, there are still fits and starts in the case, but major revelations will ensue that will be shocking.  In this respect, Secret in their Eyes is well conceived and it certainly is exciting and interesting.  It’s too bad Director Billy Ray and his team did not give more thought to how they portray police work; poor judgment and repeated breaching of professional boundaries on the part of the main characters detracts from the quality of the work.  I regarded a couple of items as cheap tricks; namely, lurching back and forth between two time periods rather than proceeding chronologically, making the plot more confusing; and divulging information clearly intended to lead the viewer to a false conclusion. 
        Moreover, I found the implicit approval of ignoring proper channels for justice objectionable.  Those channels and boundaries are based on good judgment and portraying characters as heroic when they go beyond them seems unwise on the part of filmmakers simply for thrills. 
             Despite the weaknesses in plot, the actors do a superb job in their roles.  Roberts’ portrayal of a grieving mother who shows ambivalence in bringing up the case again and her role, if any, in it is finely done.  Ejiofor and Kidman are likewise fine individually, but the chemistry between them is so diluted, it’s impossible to see them as having a torch for one another.  That part seemed like an add-in because someone thought they needed a romantic touch somewhere.  Molina is appropriately terrifying in his portrayal of a man obsessed in preventing any more terrorist attacks, and Kelly and Norris lend major support in their roles.

We could call this a thriller with fine actors; you just need to overlook some flaws in the plot.

Grade:  C                                        By Donna R. Copeland

Monday, November 16, 2015


Eden Brolin     Diane Ladd     Danielle Brooks     James McCaffrey   Christina Rouner

          I Dream too Much is one of those rare coming-of-age dramas about a female.  Dora (Brolin) has just graduated from college and is studying for the LSAT, but she is a dreamy kind of person who wants to travel the world.  It doesn’t help that two of her friends are headed to Brazil for a vacation.  The character seems much younger than her age—she’s more like a 14 year-old, rather giggly and squealing with her friend and constantly at odds with her mother (Rouner).  This and her flighty, pressured speech for the first part of the film made it too “girly” for me, and hard to stick with.
         When Dora hears that her elderly great aunt in upstate New York has broken her foot, she gets the bright idea of going there and helping out.  Her mother is none too pleased, but consents to it in the hope that in a quiet environment, Dora will be better able to prepare for the entrance exam for law school. 
          Dora arrives all chirpy and keyed up only to find that her Aunt Vera (Ladd) is rather grumpy and hard to please.  A strong part of the film, however, is that eventually they find their groove and have meaningful conversations prompted by Vera’s memories of her life.  Dora is fascinated by the stories, and when she finds letters and journals in a box in the closet written by her aunt through the years, she is transfixed. 
         One day, Dora happens upon a boutique and is immediately drawn to the salesperson, Abbey, an aspiring singer/songwriter who helps her pick out clothes that give her more style, and the two become friends.  During one of Dora’s visits to the store, a man walks in looking for a gift for his girlfriend, and Abbey almost faints because Nikki (McCaffrey) is a music producer.  Dora immediately steps up and promises Abbey that she will manage to get an audition for her with Nikki.
         One of Dora’s positive traits is that she likes to help people; however, her judgment is not always sound, and if she is distracted she might forget her noble intentions.  It is at this point in the narrative that I became engaged in the story.  It’s when Dora gets feedback from Abbey and her aunt that her “helpfulness” is not helpful, and would she please back off.  In fact, both relationships seem endangered.  This is where the coming-of-age theme kicks in; it’s the painful experience of possibly being rejected by two people she really cares about that Dora becomes more insightful and attentive to needs outside her own.
        The story becomes even more interesting when Dora’s mother arrives to take her home and the truth comes out about her father’s death and the reason Dora has been told a story about it rather than the truth (guilt, of course).  It’s also an exquisite time when the alliance between oldest and youngest helps the one in the middle, age-wise, that is.
          In the end, I liked the film much better than in the beginning when Dora’s character is over-dramatized and downright irritating.  The film has substance in showing how a young person can develop into someone to admire, which is not necessarily a conventional route.  As Vera tells Dora at one point, “You’re a Wells, Dora.  We do not follow a straight line.”  And eventually Vera and Dora discover that they are a lot alike, and Dora goes from saying, “Why is it that everything fabulous always seems so far away from me?” to “Everything fabulous is not so far away from me.”
       A Q&A after the Houston Cinema Arts Festival screening of I Dream too Much with writer/director Katie Cokinos, executive producer Richard Linklater, producers Ed and Jack McWilliams, and actor/producer Jay Thames gave the audience background information about the film.  First of all, Cokinos was inspired by her daughter Lula who prefers Jane Austen over films like The Hunger Games, and she wanted to make a film not seen very often—one about girls that is not dark with rape and other violations.  To some extent also, she based the story on her own experience coming out of college (e.g., she was intending to go to law school and ended up in the more creative arts sector, which happens to Dora). 
      The filmmakers talked about the difficulty in filming, primarily in dealing with three blizzards in the Catskills.  Cokinos said, “I’ve now made my Dr. Zhivago movie!”  There are a number of beautiful snow scenes in one of which Edin Brolin turns blue from the cold.  Director of photography Alex Rappoport, who happens to be Cokinos’ husband, gives us breathtaking winter scenes.  He originally suggested Cokinos make a film that takes place in their hometown, Saugerties, New York, and for Aunt Vera’s elegant house, they found an old 19th century Hindu retreat.  The exterior looks just like an American version of an Austen-inspired mansion.

A female coming-of-age account told with humor and insight.

Grade:  B                                                  By Donna R. Copeland

Sunday, November 15, 2015


          Paul Taylor is considered one of the most highly respected choreographers in the world today, and this documentary guides us through one of his works in progress.  Choreography sometimes involves diagrams, but mostly it’s a step-by-step creation of every gesture, movement, pose, and configuration of the whole troop that will be performed.  The choreographer demonstrates or tells the dancers what he/she has in mind, with some being very verbal and instructive, whereas Taylor is a man of few words and instructions, although he is mindful of every detail.  The people around him talk about how he is unpredictable and full of surprises in his conceptualizations.
           Another interesting trait the dancers and staff interviewed talk about is his seemingly instinctive ability to observe what’s going on in other people, particularly the dancers.  They give an example of how he seemed to know a couple was dating, although they had not spoken a word about it to anyone, and he cast them as lovers in a production.  Someone said these observations might not even enter his conscious mind, but still make their way into his creations.  Taylor spoke about instances occurring frequently that seem uncanny, such as a woman getting pregnant after performing a dance with a baby in it.
          Director Kate Geis opens the picture with a clip of Paul Taylor as a young man in 1966 performing a dance.  He was over 80 years old when the documentary was filmed, so it was a fine touch to open the movie with him dancing.  As shown in this work, he is a very gentle man who respects his dancers, looks out for them, and periodically uses humor effectively.  He wants them to have fun while they’re working so hard.  Smiles flash across his face easily when he is talking about his work.
        We see him choreographing a work entitled “Three Dubious Memories”, asking the corps if they ever saw Kurosawa’s Roshoman (a film in which various men touch an elephant, after which, none of their memories coincide).  Taylor’s work will be about a love triangle (Man in Blue, Man in Green, and Woman in Red) in which the protagonists’ differing memories of events are shown in dance.  Taylor enjoys ambiguity, so viewers will have different ideas about how the segments end and how the dancers feel about the outcome. 
          Composer Peter Elyakim Taussig wrote the music for a ballet and sent a recording to Taylor who took to it immediately.  Taussig’s electronic scores fit the material perfectly in mood and cadence.

A fine documentary showing a genius at work:  Paul Taylor, choreographer.

Grade:  A                                                                        By Donna R. Copeland


          This documentary about a landmark family’s contributions to American music shows the Carter and Cash clans with a long, colorful history, albeit with their share of joy and heartache.  Nevertheless, music has always been a constant thread.  The patriarch, A. P. Carter, heard a young woman singing as he walked by a house in the mountains of Virginia, and he was so struck by her voice he stopped and introduced himself.  He was out selling fruit trees so asked Sara if she was interested in buying one, and Sara—who would become his wife—said she was selling dishes and if he would buy a set, she would buy one of his trees.  I got the impression he proposed on the spot and offered to buy all her dishes if she would come with him.
          Sara had a cousin, Maybelle, who could also sing, and soon, the three of them were singing together regularly.  A.P. was obsessed with mountain music and went all over the state collecting songs.  Eventually, the trio came to the attention of New York publisher Ralph Peer, who was interested in recording some of their songs in Bristol.  It took them all day to drive there in their jalopy, but they made it by nightfall and recorded songs that night and the next morning.  They were given a check and didn’t think much more about it, until they got word that the record had come out, and soon they were a hit.  Peer recorded many, many of their songs thereafter and saw that A.P. got royalty checks, something that was new to him.
          A.P. continued to scour the state for songs and enlisted the help of Lesley Riddle, who would go with him and remember all the tunes while A.P. wrote down the words.  Riddle was black, so was a source for a large body of works that came from black people.  At that time, one of the Carters said, no one thought about anyone owning the songs, so copyright wasn’t an issue.  A.P. and Riddle developed a close relationship and wrote down song after song.  A sad—and perhaps telling—observation is that no one knows what Riddle thought about their endeavors in the end, as he did not receive any compensation.
        A.P. was so preoccupied with getting songs, he didn’t always consider his wife Sara and her needs, and left her once without much of a word when she had no way to get groceries and supplies.  To solve the problem, he asked his cousin Coy to look in on her and help her when A.P. was away.  He didn’t anticipate that the two would develop a loving relationship, and Sara eventually moved to California with Coy.  She was not as invested in performing as Maybelle was, and reasoned that her children would be better off with their father, so left them with him.  He never got over her, and always maintained a hope that she would return to him.  Despite the divorce, Sara continued to perform with the Carters from time to time.
        Another significant development in the Carter lives was the Texas/Mexico border radio started by Dr. John Brinkley who, after his medical license was taken away, established XERA, a radio station that had the capacity to be heard around the world.  He gave A.P., Sara, and Maybelle $75 a week to perform, which they did, sometimes with their children. 
A huge opportunity came up when Life Magazine scheduled a feature on the Carter family, but fate intervened, and when Japan bombed U.S. ships in Pearl Harbor, the feature was cancelled.  Soon after, Maybelle decided to take off on her own with her daughters, June, Anita, and Helen (her husband Ezra was their manager).  They were highly successful, and brought in Chet Atkins to play with them. 
      Not too long after, Johnny Cash met June and was so smitten with her he vowed to marry her even though they were both already married.  Eventually, they were single and married in 1968.  Subsequently, the Carter and Cash families were so integrated they performed together regularly. 
       The Winding Stream, directed by Beth Harrington, is an apt and wonderful tribute to the Carter-Cash musicians, their devotion to family, and their contributions to American music.  It’s paced just like a winding stream, with plenty of music to enjoy while watching.  The three original singers—A.P., Sara, and Maybelle—are well fleshed out so that we come to know them pretty well as people by the end.  Maybelle’s children and Johnny Cash, who married Maybelle’s daughter June, are featured as well.  Maybelle is especially noteworthy in being able and wanting to sing well into her later years with younger musicians as well as her family, e.g., The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.  She was so nurturing, she was called “Mother Maybelle.” 

Sit back, relax, and enjoy hearing about the musically influential Carter and Cash families.

Grade:  A By Donna R. Copeland


Krisha Fairchild   Robyn Fairchild   Trey Edward Shults   Bill Wise   Chris Doubek

          Writer/director/producer of Krisha, Trey Edward Shults, was awarded the Levantine Cinema Arts Emerging Artist Award at the screening I attended of his film in Houston, Texas.  An earlier version of Krisha won the Grand Jury and Audience awards for Best Narrative Feature at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin last year, and the revised version was nominated for awards this year at the Cannes Film Festival.
          It is a most unusual film in that it’s a drama created by Trey about a family—with his own family members as actors.  A first, maybe?  Basically, it’s about a disturbed older woman thinking she is ready to celebrate Thanksgiving with them, after she has previously alienated them with her addictive problems.  But she is thinking she has mastered these and is ready to face her family again.  The film opens with Krisha (Krisha) arriving at her sister’s (Robyn) house looking a bit addled (she first rings the doorbell of the house next door), but telling herself she can do this.  She has insisted that she stuff and bake the turkey which Robyn is happy for her to do and provides her with all the ingredients, while Robyn fetches their mother from a nursing home.
          But it’s soon obvious that Krisha is having a difficult time (re-entering with family is the biggest challenge for someone in her shoes), and you wonder/worry about how she is going to cope.  She has a very awkward interchange with her college-age nephew Trey (Shults), who ends up leaving the room abruptly when she comes on too strong and misjudges his attitudes about his goals in life.
        This is high drama, and the viewer must be able to tolerate/appreciate the significant amount of dysfunction that is portrayed.  But some of it is clever and laughable—such as brother-in-law Doyle (Bill Wise) complaining to Krisha about his marriage to her sister Vickie (Victoria Fairchild).  Even this, however, turns into a bitter attack on Krisha herself.  Krisha attempts to use the coping strategies she has learned, but ends up resorting to old habits after a fateful encounter with her mother and the profound feeling of being completely alone and rejected.
         The film ends with intentionally ambiguous outcomes, so the viewer can fill in his/her own projections of Krisha’s outcome.
At the Q&A, we learned that the real Krisha is a “voice” actress (i.e., only her voice is recorded in productions) who aspired to be a full-fledged professional, but when she ran into difficulties, abandoned her goals and is happy to do what she does—acting with her voice only.  Trey lived with her for a time when she was in Hawaii, and that is when he conceived of the idea to write a role for her.  He engaged the actors Bill Wise and Chris Doubek (both of whom contribute to the comedy in the drama) by e-mail, and they agreed to play the husbands of two of the three sisters.  The cast acknowledged that the film is based on the script as well as improvisations (“unscripted content”, a term Wise prefers). 
       Music by Brian McOmber is appropriately modernist, enhancing our impression of Krisha’s state of mind at significant moments.  Drew Daniels’ cinematography is likewise artistic and well composed.

This is a film for the stout of heart in witnessing a family’s underside.

Grade:  B+                                           By Donna R. Copeland