Tuesday, December 24, 2019


Voices of:  Karen Gillan     Rachel Brosnahan     Tom Holland     Will Smith
Rashida Jones     Ben Mendelsohn     Reba McEntire     DJ Khaled     Masi Oka

     This is a high-tech animation that the kids in the audience found at the screening I attended to be great fun.  There are the obligatory scenes of puke, poop, and pee; but the story has substance in pitting a nerdy little peace-loving scientist against a macho master spy who always insists on doing his jobs alone and “fighting fire with fire.”  The scientist Walter’s (Holland) response to that is, “Then we all get burned.” Writers Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor have inserted segments that make you chuckle and sometimes laugh out loud when the character Walter uses scientific lingo that few would understand—least of all, Lance Sterling (Smith)—like “spectral analysis” and “thermography”, and “exothermic reaction.”  Walter always explains what he is doing, and he comes up with ingenious inventions to get Lance out of trouble:  a robotic hand (which has gone missing!), glitter that obscures the visual field, and then produces serotonin when the field clears and kittens appear, making the gnarliest of bad guys go, “Aw…” There’s even something that produces a giant hug that envelops the bad guy and traps him in its bubble.
     The gist of the plot is that the young budding scientist is encouraged by his mother to be himself, and reassures him that they are a team and she will always have his back.  He takes these lessons to heart, and is more than puzzled when his path crosses that of ace spy Lance Sterling, who has a habit of dismissing everyone as beneath him. Because he doesn’t really see anyone besides himself, he misses young Walter’s gifted talents and actively tries to swat him away like a fly.
But there is something that will haunt Lance when he discovers someone has stolen an asset from him, and is even passing himself off as Lance, damaging his reputation.
     The film has a number of good points, especially the one in which children will see Walter’s persistence in the face of dismissal and discouragement, his maintaining his integrity throughout, and ultimately becomes a hero for his intelligence and creativity.  Also helpful for children is for them to witness Lance’s transformation from an over-confident narcissist to someone who is reduced to a pigeon (a pigeon?? Yes!!) and learning that other beings have phenomenal skills too, and that they know how to function in a team.
     Voices of actors like Tom Holland, Will Smith, and Ben Mendelsohn (playing the bad guy) bring excitement and verisimilitude to the story, backed up by the talents of Brosnahan, Jones, McEntire, Khaled, and Oka.  Music by Theodore Shapiro adds much to the drama and humor of Spies in Disguise.

Spies in Disguise is entertaining, and a great film for kids to see.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Saoirse Ronan     Emma Watson     Florence Pugh     Eliza Scanlon     Laura Dern
Timothee Chalamet     Tracy Letts     Bob Odenkirk     Chris Cooper     James Norton     Meryl Streep

     Greta Gerwig updates this traditional story based on Louisa May Alcott’s book for girls by emphasizing the March girls’ ambitions, particularly those that depart from the standard get-married-have children tale.  Most notable are the lines inspired by Gerwig’s conversation with Meryl Streep, who plays Aunt March in the film, during first conceptualizations of the film.  The lines are spoken by Amy March (Pugh), the youngest sister, complaining about women not having rights—they can’t own anything; if they leave a marriage, even property they had before marriage, even their children, would belong to the husband.
     Much of the film, however, adheres to Alcott’s novels.  Four sisters are being brought up by their mother while their father is serving as a chaplain during the Civil War.  Marmee (Hurd) is a strong female model for them, managing—with the help of the two older daughters Jo (Ronan) and Meg (Watson)—financially, and beyond that, instilling strong values (helping the sick and the poor, with a strong commitment to forgiveness) in her daughters.  
     The family reflects the temper of the times, particularly where women are concerned. What makes the story most interesting are the differences in personality and temperament among the four sisters, and how these play out with family and friends.  Jo departs most from the norm by pursuing independence at almost any cost, Meg by marrying for love over “prospects”, Beth (Scanlon) by her musical ability, and artistic Amy at first by her self-entitlement and later by her practicality. 
     A bonus in this rendition of Little Women comes at the end when Jo is clearly taking charge of her career by cannily negotiating with the editor Mr. Dashwood (Letts) on a cash advancement, copyright, and share of the profits.  (Although she does have to make one major compromise so that the story ending will sell.)
     Yorick Le Saux’s cinematography with its warm, bright palette and vividness of interior and outside scenes contributes majorly to the production, helping to give it soul, along with the pleasant, era-capturing score of Alexandre Desplat. Saoirse Ronan’s performance is exemplary, attaining the promise of her work in HannaBrooklyn, and Atonement, and being a major force in capturing our attention.  She is well supported by Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, and Laura Dern as sisters and mother.  As love interest to more than one sister, Timothee Chalamet glitters as an honorable heartthrob not just for the sisters, but for some audience members as well.  It is a treat to see Tracy Letts playing the discerning publisher with a soft heart, following on his bombastic performance as Ford in Ford v Ferrari. Likewise, seeing Chris Cooper as a benevolent, wealthy Mr. Laurence after the revolting father he played in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is refreshing.  Finally, Meryl Streep proves her value once again in playing a rich dowager who is bound to the past.
     Perhaps because I personally was never an impassioned devotee of Little Women, I’m not enthralled with Greta Gerwig’s remake of the classical tale.  Interesting and entertaining as it is, it makes me question remakes in general. That is, this tale has been told on stage, on television, and in film almost continuously since 1933.  This version, although set in the 19thcentury, is meant to capture the sentiments of today.  And it does, with flair to a great extent.  I just have a problem with telling a story already well told.

19thCentury women being little women—already a tale well told.

Grade:  B                        By Donna R. Copeland


George MacKay    Dean-Charles Chapman     Andrew Scott
Mark Strong     Richard Madden     Colin Firth     Benedict Cumberbatch

     Be prepared to run for all you’re worth with the characters over all kinds of terrain strewn with friendly and enemy soldiers and feel continuing tension for almost the entire film of 1917.  Director and writer (with Krysty Wison-Cairns) Sam Mendes and his cinematographer Roger Deakins made an excellent call in filming the entire adventure in essentially one continuous take.  With the immediacy of the story, it pulls the viewer right into the screen, and you are there.  
     In France in the first World War, two young Lance Corporals, Tom (Chapman) and Will (MacKay) are sent on a mission to Colonel MacKenzie (Cumberbatch) with the urgent message to cancel a military charge where, unbeknownst to MacKenzie, a trap has been set by the Nazis.  Will and Tom will have to cross a no-man’s land of dead bodies and through enemy lines to get by all kinds of dangers along the way, and they have only a few hours to make it.  The charge is given with a special incentive:  Tom’s brother is one of the 1600 men in MacKenzie’s company who will be killed if MacKenzie proceeds with the attack.
     Along with the script and direction, cinematography and music (Thomas Newman) are paired so seamlessly with the story they serve as sensory enhancements, intensifying the whole experience.  There are breathtaking scenes such as one at sunset when a soldier is sneaking through the sculpted forms of the remains of a bombed-out building, which Deakins has constructed to look like a morbidly colorful abstract painting.  The whole scene is heightened by the fear of being shot.  In this case, the music has unworldly sounds that give expression to the tension and fear.  Other times, there are sharp contrasts between the horrors encountered along the way and snow-white cherry blossoms wafting in the breeze or come upon in a host of trees felled by the Germans.  
     Another feat in this film is the production design (Dennis Gassner) and the creation of miles of military encampments, abandoned encampments complete with rats, and a bombed out building where a young woman and an abandoned child are sheltered with one candle burning brightly.  And much later on, we witness a contrast with a camp of British soldiers listening to one of their own singing the popular American folk song, “Wayfaring Stranger.”  
     The paradox of 1917 is in its graphic description of the horrors of war coupled with the visual and lyrical beauty in which the story is presented.  A late bloomer this year, 1917 may be at the top of more than one list in the upcoming award season.

Heroics are paramount in 1917, but the visual and musical enhancements and the brief, tender moments, altogether, earn it a place on the “must see” list.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Sunday, December 22, 2019


Julia Stockler     Carol Duarte     Flavia Gusmao     Antonio Fonseca
Gregorio Duvivier     Barbara Santos     Fernanda Montenegro

     To be a woman in the 1950’s in Brazil would be unbelievably dreadful for a woman of today.  It’s taking what seems like eons for our situation to change, but at least women in western countries have it much better than those we see in this fine movie. Director and co-writer (with Murilo Hauser and Ines Bortagaray) Karim Ainouz appears to be especially sensitive to women’s issues, and this film is primarily from the point of view of women.  
Here, we see two sisters turning into young women who have been extremely close all their lives.  Guida (Stockler) is the one more grounded in what her culture sees as woman’s role, so aspires only to marry well and have a family.  She is very pretty, adventurous, and impulsive, and so is easily swayed by a Greek sailor who woos her and whisks her off to his country. Her life reminds us of life-long tragedies that can result from decisions made on a whim in the teenage years.
     We expect Guida’s older sister Euridice (Duarte) to fare better, and in a sense she does—but at great cost.  Or maybe she doesn’t, actually.  She aspires to be a concert pianist and has the talent for it, but somehow gets married before achieving that dream.  She has married responsible Antenor (Duvivier), who provides a good living and is kind and helpful to her aging parents.  Euridice is smart and clearly wants to postpone having children until she is accepted into a music conservatory in Vienna, a dream downplayed by her husband, and previously forbidden (as much as he had the power to) by her father.  As she gets closer to her dream, the anxiety and fear of her husband increases.  What a letdown; he sees it as a threat rather than cause for celebration.  
     Yes, the script is predictable to some extent, but there is value in accompanying these two women on their journeys and experience with them the challenges they face, whether or not they adhere to social dictums.  It’s satisfying to see that there is a way out discovered by one of them who finds a different kind of family than the one of her origin, one which treats her so much more lovingly.
     I felt there was too long a gap between Euridice’s accomplishment of her dream and her later years.  The film sped by significant events too quickly, and suddenly, we’re sorting out grandchildren.  
     Invisible Life is Brazil’s entry into the Academy Awards’ International Feature Film category, after winning the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes earlier this year.  Although not a frontrunner, it is one of the contenders.  

I applaud the filmmakers of Invisible Life in their elucidation of the challenges and heartbreaks of women in predominantly patriarchic societies.

Grade:  A-                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, December 19, 2019


Taylor Swift     Francesca Hayward     Idris Elba     Judi Dench     Ian McKellen
Rebel Wilson     James Corden     Jennifer Hudson     Francesca Hayward     Laurie Davidson

     Cats the movie is based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s play, which, in turn, was based on a set of poems by T. S. Eliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which he wrote for his godchildren.  The play turned out to be the fourth longest running Broadway show in history (18 years), and was just as popular in London, where it opened.  Lee Hall wrote the screenplay, and Tom Hooper directed.
     The cats in the film have wonderfully sketched out personalities, and the story has anticipation in everyone waiting for the Jellicle Ball, in which the contestant who has sung the best song about who they are and what they do will be awarded a prize.  This judgment will be made by Old Deuteronomy (Dench), a beloved, highly respected figure for all the cats. 
     Visually, the movie is lush and beautiful, with the cats in intriguing costumes slithering around—always in artful feline poses and contortions—and the dancers making up most of the troop are in finest form.  As a modern dance, I found it extremely enjoyable.  As a musical, it was rather less so, with two characteristics detracting from the overall presentation.
     One is the seemingly interminable opening number, “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” repeating the same phrases over and over again.  “Jellicle Cats can and do” is the phrase for almost its entirety.  The other is related to the sequence with Grizabella (movingly sung by Jennifer Hudson of Dreamgirls fame).  She is presented as a sad, lonely figure who was once happy long ago, but has fallen on hard times—apparently as the result of losses.  The scenes of her heartache are so poignant, it becomes a picture of clinical depression, which can bring down a whole room of people, and here it brings the story to a place that is so heavy the viewer may have the urge to escape.
     The screenplay also suffers from being scattered.  There’s the Grizabella story; there is the slapstick comedy provided by Jennyanydots (Wilson) and Bustopher Jones (Corden); the nostalgic reminiscences of Gus (Aspara-gus, shortened to Gus) (McKellen); the pushy, cheat Macavity (Elba); and still more antics with a magician, Mr. Mistoffelees. One of the best parts, though, is Old Deuteronomy (masterfully portrayed by Dame Judi Dench, who has a wonderful older voice that is still lyrical) and her singing soliloquy at the end.
     Despite Cats’ successes in the Broadway and London shows, the movie may not be as big a hit.  It certainly has talented, successful actors, costumes, production design, and music (Andrew Lloyd Webber); and Tom Hooper is a fine director.  It may not be a hit because of the reasons discussed above, or it might be simply a matter of taste (not everyone is a musicals fan).

Lovers of cats, musicals, and modern dance are likely to be the best audience for the movie Cats.

Grade:  C+                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Adam Driver     Daisy Ridley     Keri Russell     Carrie Fisher     Mark Hamill     Ian McDiarmid
Andy Serkis     Lupita Nyong’o     Oscar Isaac     Domhnall Gleason     John Boyega
Richard E. Grant     Billy Dee Williams     Joonas Suotamo     Anthony Daniels     Jimmy Vee

     Star Wars fans should be pleased by this production, with its continuation of series themes and huge cast of characters, including the reappearance of Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Chewbaca, C-3PO, and R2-D2.  Rey (Ridley) is even more the focus compared to The Last Jedi, as her origins are announced and she finds that a certain someone has major plans for her, not necessarily to her liking.  She has completed her training with Leia, and is now considered a full-fledged Jedi.  Kylo Ren (Driver) is still pursuing her, and they have some spectacular lightsaber battles.  Palpatine the Emperor reappears, giving Kylo specific instructions to “kill the girl” and to “end the Jedi.”
     Major intrigue among the Sith includes pretenders vying for Kylo Ren’s power, and minor skirmishes on the Jedi side between Poe (Isaac) and Finn (Boyega). Male competitiveness and striving for power continues unabated on both sides.  In this story, Rey is shown to be a fierce fighter, pitting her will against Ren’s in teeth grinding tug-o’-wars with their lightsabers, the veins in their faces and necks looking like they’re going to pop out at any moment.
In addition to the warfare and power struggles, there are tender moments, as when Leia passes her lightsaber on to Rey, romantic magnetism between pairs not always in sync with one another, wrenching moments when one on the Jedi side is taken prisoner, and significant losses on both sides.
     Some of the charms of the movie include the insertion of quotable quotes by sage ones, e.g., “They win by making you think you are alone” and “The dark side is in our nature; surrender to it.”
     Initial reactions to the movie are divided in opinions, with some on the side of “a perfect ending” and others thinking that J. J. Abrams has too many plots going at once, and failed to continue new threads introduced by Rion Johnson in The Last Jedi.  I found the movie to be exciting, with impressive special effects (such as the visuals in Palpatine’s battles and the visibility of the action within action scenes) and fine performances by the actors, especially Daisy Ridley.  Adam Driver’s talents are well documented, and when the two are in a scene together, it can be electrifying.  All of the other actors are engaging and convincing, with Ian McDiarmid presenting a truly formidable Palpatine combined with the special effects in his and Ridley’s contretemps.
     John Williams’ music and Dan Mindel’s cinematography reflect their work in previous Star Wars films and other quality productions.  Despite some criticism, J. J. Abrams as director seems to have come through with another success in his repertoire.

Whether or not it’s true that this is the last installment of the Star Wars franchise, it is well worth seeing.

Grade:  B+                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Sunday, December 15, 2019


Charlize Theron     Nicole Kidman     Margot Robbie     John Lithgow     Connie Britton
Kate McKinnon     Allison Janney     Mark Duplass     Malcolm McDowell

     For years now, Fox News, created by Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes has been a driving force in American politics.  Ailes had been a Republican activist before affiliating with Fox News, facilitating the elections of Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush to the Presidency of the United States.  As a side note, he was instrumental in getting Rudy Guiliani elected mayor of New York City, and of significant note, he was an adviser to the 2016 Trump campaign for President.  Bombshell takes up the Ailes story toward the end of an impressive/infamous career when he appears to be the most powerful (and feared) executive at the Fox media network.
     It’s easy to see how powerful men become so secure in their place, they imagine they’re invulnerable.  Ailes is not the first (and perhaps not the last) to go down that road.  
     In the film, we are taken on a tour by Megyn Kelly (Theron), news anchor, of the Fox News administration and broadcasters, noting that Ailes and Murdoch are signified by the floors of their offices.  “Floor 2 wants to see you.”  “You’re asked to come to the 8thfloor.”  The next person we meet is Gretchen Carlson (Kidman) of the popular show, “Fox and Friends.”  We see her attempting to counter Fox’s “legs” image of women and help them achieve more respect for themselves and other women.  But not only does she get in Ailes’ crosshairs, she takes on Donald Trump in the 2016 Republican debates by baiting him on his treatment of women.  This is anathema to Ailes, a Trump supporter, and he fires Carlson.
     After that, we witness Carlson’s decision to file a suit against Ailes, her attempts to get women in the Fox organization to come forward, all of this putting Megyn Kelly in a dilemma.  Does she step up with her own story, or maintain her cushy place in broadcast television where she is adored?
     Charles Randolph’s script and Jay Roach’s direction seem to be an even-handed approach to a combustible issue, because facts are on their side.  Ailes’ telling quotes (recorded by Carlson) are sprinkled throughout, giving full evidence to the suit against him. For example:  “To get ahead, you’ve got to give a little head.” “I’m discreet, though unforgiving (when you betray me).”  “You have to prove your loyalty to me.”  But Ailes’ most awesome and ironic exclamation is, “These women are trying to f--- me!”
     It would have been more informative for Bombshell to have elucidated the backstory of Ailes in his activist roles before becoming a Fox News executive and his relationship with Murdoch and his sons, who clearly disapprove of him.  Is that next for a whole new production?
     Noteworthy for their performances in this film are Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson, and John Lithgow as Roger Ailes.  These are all powerful performances at their best. Giving staccato emphases are Connie Britton as Ailes’ loyal wife, Allison Janney as his lawyer, and Mark Duplass as Megyn’s supportive husband, Douglas.  

If you want to see beautiful women in effective, provocative roles, this is a movie to see.

Grade:  B+                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, December 12, 2019


Adam Sandler     Julia Fox     Idina Menzel     LaKeith Stanfield     Kevin Garnett     Eric Bogosian

     This film is billed primarily as a comedy—and that fits with the reputation of Adam Sandler, who stars here as a fast-talking salesman whose schemes leave destruction in their wake.  Although many have apparently found great humor in it, I didn’t laugh once, and in some scenes that brought laughter from the audience (a beaten man put naked into a car trunk), I found pathetic.  To each his/her own humor, I guess.
     Howard (with the apt last name of Ratner) is a jewel merchant in New York’s diamond district who doesn’t mind where his uncut gems come from.  He has managed to get a rock from Ethiopia that seems to have iridescent opals inside, which he thinks will fetch a million dollars at an auction.  When Kevin Garnett (renowned basketball player) visits his shop, Howard can’t resist bragging about it and showing it to Kevin, who is truly entranced, but Howard can’t sell it to him because it is scheduled for an auction.  He tells Kevin when and where the auction is, but Kevin sees the stone as a lucky charm, and insists on borrowing it for his game that evening until 9:00 the next morning when he will return it.  You can guess how that turns out.
     This transaction is especially dicey because Howard is a wheeler-dealer and gambler who can’t help himself from attending to both of those sides of his personality. The trouble beginning to loom up against him are debts he owes to unsavory characters, who are shaking him up (and more than that).  As soon as he thinks his wheeling-dealing is paying off, he gambles on his advances.  For instance, he is a baseball fan, and when he sees Garnett’s reaction to the stone, he places bets on that team winning with some money he got from pawning a “security” item.  
     The movie’s excitement derives from Howard’s bets and his attempts to evade debt collectors.  Part of the time, we’re pulled into it by watching Kevin’s basketball games; and part of the time we’re witnessing Howard’s excruciating, painful struggles with collectors advancing on him every time he makes a turn.
     Inserted into the drama (for reasons I question) are pictures of Howard’s colonscopy and family Jewish rituals, which are more forgivable, given his heritage. Yes, Howard has a family, and we see gratuitous scenes of him with his wife and children; but he also has mistress Julia (Fox) ensconced in an apartment.  We see scenes of that relationship as well.  But whatever his relationships—family, mistress, goons—Howard is the same scam artist trying to con all of them, none of whom believes him, at least not for long.
     Uncut Gems’ biggest failing is that it is not about anything really.  That is, the moral of the story is…?  Please fill in the blanks for me.  Also working against it are the incessant yelling, haggling, f-you sequences, which never come to an end.
     Adam Sandler plays his stock character well as always.  The only other actor who stood out is Kevin Garnett, whose demeanor and facial expressiveness may portend a second career for him.  

Uncut Gems appeals to the taste of a few, but is sorely lacking in any substantive meaning.

Grade:  D                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, December 11, 2019


Ryan Reynolds     Melanie Laurent     Manuel Garcia-Rulfo     Adria Arjona     Corey Hawkins
Dave Franco     Ben Hardy

     Six characters so closeted, when someone says, “Who are you?” the answer is, “No one.” They like to see themselves as “ghosts.”  Number One (Reynolds) (they use numbers, rather than names) who essentially functions as the leader (and founder, perhaps) has strict principles to live by, which precludes forming attachments, having cell phones, or leaving any digital trace of their footprints.  (This code is bandied about from time to time, with some squirming against it, and some openly questioning it; but One always defends it.)  They’re a “Delta” force doing risky, undercover work; but unlike the Navy Seals, for instance, they are not attached to a government.  It’s part of their creed that they take orders from no one and make their decisions to take action all on their own (vigilantes).  This also means that things like “due process” and written laws of justice are not a part of their value system.  They do believe that if they see broad social injustice—such as a despotic leader exploiting his people—they have a right/duty to intervene through whatever means it takes.
     This system presents a wondrous opportunity for filmmakers (Michael Bay, director) to devise a point-by-point account of the group’s derring-do against a backdrop of luxurious settings (e.g., Florence Italy and Hong Kong), on gigantic yachts, in elegant hotels, and so on.  It’s like a James Bond film, but here you have six/seven heroes/heroines to gaze upon.  Likewise, it’s an opportunity for a macho extravaganza of destruction.  (Thank goodness, they spared Michaelangelo’s David sculpture in Florence!)  It’s the cinematographer’s (Bojan Bazelli) job to show off the visual elegance of these scenes, accompanied by Lorne Balfe’s reverberating score.
     6 Underground is a libertarian’s wet dream about heroic acts being achieved outside the strictures of authority and government.  It’s likewise a video-game-like lavish display of machismo—executed by women (thank you very much!) as well as men.  I do appreciate females being portrayed with as much authority as the males. And it even shows their superiority at times when two males can’t keep from fighting like little boys.
     As in many action films, 6 Underground is heavy on the car chases and heroics at the expense of story and character development. Maybe this was meant to be more tongue-in-cheek than I got, but, to me, Ryan Reynolds did not fit with the hard-edged character he was meant to be.  Just to look at him physically, is to see a nice and gentle guy who could pull off Deadpool beautifully.  I think a more sharp-edged—going toward the cynical—look in the actor would be more apropos in this case.
     I can say that on the one hand, 6 Underground is entertaining in places and has unexpected elements, and I always like to see the evil man get his due.  On the other hand, envisioning a vigilante force outside of law exerting its judgment (including killing) without benefit of a lawful trial makes me uneasy.  I’m also against the wanton destruction shown during much of the film, especially when cars are careening every which way and bashing into other cars, buildings, and historical sites along the streets in Florence and elsewhere. These scenes become tediously repetitious.
     Aside from Reynolds—who I think was miscast, although he is a good actor—Melanie Laurent, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ben Hardy, Corey Hawkins, Adria Arjona and Dave Franco enrich the plot and inhabit their characters well, especially Laurent, Hardy, Hawkins, and Garcia-Rulfo.  

If you’re up to a video-game kind of movie, this will please you.  But if you have a problem with vigilantism and absurd car chases, find another film to watch.

Grade:  D+                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Tuesday, December 10, 2019


Olivia Wilde     Sam Rockwell     Paul Walter Hauser     Jon Hamm     Kathy Bates

     This is a horror story, but it’s actually a dramatized account of what happened to the security guard who recognized the possibility of a bomb being in an abandoned backpack at the 1996 Olympics Games in Atlanta, Georgia.  After being called a hero for three days, the FBI got a tip from a local college president about a security guard he had fired. It’s unbelievable that such an elite group would place so much confidence in it, but they apparently did, and Richard Jewell (Hauser) was relentlessly pursued for almost three months, not only by the FBI, but as well by media outlets competing with one another to get the biggest scoop, and in such a hurry, they did not check their sources as they were supposed to.  The film focuses on one over-ambitious reporter (Wilde) who had unethically obtained a leak from one of the agents and wrote a front-page article identifying Jewell as the prime FBI suspect.
     The script by Billy Ray, based on a Vanity Fair article by Marie Brenner, follows the true story closely and is taut and suspense-laden, but also carries with it humorous (not derisive, but sympathetic) portrayals of Jewell and his mother Bobi (Bates).  They are a Southern middle-class mother and son who live together in a neat apartment.  He has aspirations to be a police officer, but has a habit of taking his job too seriously, following the letter of the law (of which he is well informed by his own reading), without an understanding of practical/political considerations. He’s not taken seriously by local enforcement, but to their credit, when he points out a suspicious backpack, they indulge him, only to find that there is indeed a bomb inside.  The area is evacuated as quickly as possible, which does save lives when the bomb explodes.
     Along with the fine script, the actors are superb.  Hauser gives such a realistic portrayal of Jewell, the viewer is drawn in immediately with his combination of folksy charm, innocence, and commitment.  Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriThe Way Way BackFosse/Verdon) is one of my favorite actors; he always nails whatever character he is portraying, and here he is a complex Southern lawyer with anti-authoritarian attitudes, just the right person to defend a social outcast with principals.  Kathy Bates plays Jewell’s soulful, devoted mother with just the right touches of dedication and commitment to make it believable that Richard is her progeny.  
     In his 50-year career, Clint Eastwood is a phenomenon in entertainment spanning television and movies in different roles of actor, director, producer, and even composer.   His films are generally well received, especially Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven, Bird, and Mystic River.  His most recent films in 2018 (15:17 to Paris and The Mule) were largely panned, but it is likely that Richard Jewell will represent a comeback to his usual solid form.  It may be over the top in some places, but seems to adhere closely to Marie Brenner’s magazine article.

A story about how self-serving machinations of the FBI and media outlets can ruin an innocent man’s reputation and torture him and his family for months.

Grade:  B+                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, December 5, 2019


Scarlett Johansson     Adam Driver     Laura Dern     Ray Liotta     Alan Alda
 Azhy Robertson     Julie Hagerty     Merritt Wever

      A heartbreaking story—but not so much that a couple’s paths in life take them in different directions—but that their whole separation becomes contaminated by external factors.  Geographical separation is commonplace in families nowadays, and is one of the factors in couples’ not being easily able to maintain an intimate relationship, especially when husband-wife careers’ pull them in different directions.  Nevertheless, upsets could be worked out amicably between the two parties, but so often third parties intervene in ways that are damaging.
     For example, Nicole (Johansson) and Charlie (Driver) are enjoying their marriage and professional collaboration in New York when she gets an offer for and accepts a starring role in a television pilot in Los Angeles.  That is where she is from and where her family is, and so she has always wanted to return.  Charlie gives lip service to her desires, but his career is taking off in New York, so he figures that she will go “do her thing” for a while, then return with their son Henry (Robertson), who has gone with her.  She kind of thinks this too; however, while she is there she begins to think about her marriage, and comes to feel that Charlie dominates her life too much.
     She then takes a fateful step in engaging canny lawyer, sharpshooter Nora (Dern) who is expert in pulling Nicole into her web, reinforcing her reservations about Charlie and working hard to exploit the case to the fullest extent (of her bill, of course).  This will set the ball rolling so that it will no longer be Nicole and Charlie working out their own solutions, but a legal battle between Fanshaw and Charlie’s attorneys, first Bert Spitz (Alda) and later when the going gets rough, Jay (Liotta).
     Writer-director Noah Baumbach knows very well of what he speaks.  The story is loosely based on his own separation from Jennifer Jason Leigh, his first wife, who apparently approves of this production.  (Baumbach is now with Greta Gerwig, director of Lady Bird and Little Women).  He is to be praised for a valiant attempt to present both sides of the contentious splintering in a fairly objective way. As presented, though, I had more sympathy for Charlie than for Nicole; but that may be partly because Nicole’s position and actions are not as well articulated, such that we don’t feel for her as much as we do for Charlie.  Except in the last court scene, she is not “rained on” by the lawyers as much as Charlie is.
     The two leads, Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, are fundamental in telling this story.  They give such seamless, authentic representations of their characters the film looks almost like a documentary.  Laura Dern as a lawyer is brilliant in capturing the persona of someone who knows how to beguile while delivering cutthroat blows.  Alan Alda, but more especially Ray Liotta, as Charlie’s lawyers are very good, but do have lines that match the lethality of Fanshaw.  Julie Hagerty and Merritt Weaver as Scarlett’s mother and sister provide some great hilarity to offset the heavy drama. 

Painful, hard truths and emotional ups and downs in this film will move you deeply, and for those who have gone through a divorce it will bring sharp remembrances.

Grade:  A                                                By Donna R. Copeland