Wednesday, March 31, 2021


Alexander Skarsgard     Millie Bobby Brown     Rebecca Hall     Brian Tyree Henry     

Kyle Chandler     Demian Bichir     Kaylee Hottle     Eiza Gonzalez     Julian Dennison 

            G vs K is an impressive technological spectacle surrounding the penultimate battle between Godzilla and Kong, with just enough other elements thrown in, and a bit of human interest and spoof to make it fun viewing.  

            Several story lines with their own action sequences weave back and forth, that at times seem to have no connection, but everything comes together in the end.  Several different parties are trying to achieve their own ends.   

Kong has thrown a tree trunk into the sky that pierces a hole in the covering that hides him from Godzilla.  His caretakers had it installed because they don’t want him fighting with Godzilla.  When this does happen, it seems the only solution is to whisk Kong off to Hollow Earth under Antarctica, his old home, where a still untapped power source lies.  

We’re endeared immediately by the tiny deaf girl Jia (Hottle) who has a special connection with Kong.  Her mother Dr. Andrews (Hall), an anthropological linguist, has tried to teach him sign language, but he doesn’t seem to learn.  As it turns out, Jia (Hottle) has been successful, so when the scientists decide to take Kong to the depths of Antarctica for him to save civilization, Jia is the only one Kong will trust to allow himself to be transported there.

            The whole situation is complicated by the megalomaniacal plans of the Apex Corporation’s Walter Simmons (Bichir).  He thinks he has found the answer to the dilemma caused by having two monsters in the world, Godzilla and Kong.  If he acquires something that will leave only one Titan—which would be under his control—then…

            To accomplish his aims, Simmons approaches the brother of the explorer who died some years back when his party tried to enter “Hollow Earth”, the area below Antarctica from whence the Titans (including Kong and Godzilla) came, and where there is an untapped power source that the earth needs.  Something called the inversion of gravity destroyed the crew when they tried to enter Hollow Earth. Simmons wants the brother, Lind (Skarsgard), to take Kong back to his old home so he can locate the power source, and he has developed a special plane to take them there that will avoid the gravity problem.

            So there is one party headed to Antarctica consisting of Lind, Kong and his caretakers, and Simmons’ daughter as special emissary for his interests, Maya (Gonzalez).   Another party consists of podcaster Bernie (Henry), who has his suspicions about Apex which he voices explicitly on his podcast; his follower Madison Russell (Brown), daughter of Mark Russell (Chandler), director of the Monarch Relief Organization; and Madison’s nerd friend Josh (Dennison.    They plan to sneak into Apex’s headquarters, but unwittingly get transported elsewhere.  The third party is Simmons himself working with his chief technical officer manipulating events behind the scenes.

            There are sometimes meaningful, sometimes entertaining dramas among all these people, which give the film a bit of the human element.  But primarily, this film is about the cinematic technology envisioned by Director Adam Wingard.  He wants the battles between Kong and Godzilla to be something never seen before in its use of technology to show more detail in the two figures and their fights, in the settings in which they’re engaging, and in the brilliance of color and flash, e.g., the texture and color in the sky at sunset and in the city at night with the neon.

            Godzilla vs. Kong is a film for Marvel fans, and especially those who have followed the Godzilla and Kong sagas—but it can also be entertaining for those who are into adventure and fantasy.  Except for the advanced film technology, this is basically the usual fare in terms of character development and plot.

An epic cinematic battle with a good cast and technological advances that will intrigue you more than the usual plot.


Grade:  C+                            By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, March 25, 2021


Cosmo Jarvis     Dela Meskienyar

            Funny Face is a mood piece with a plot that is slow to build.  All the components of story, song, lights, colors, and scenes add to the moodiness, while the plot slowly reveals what it is about.  In the meantime, the viewer stays curious about how the characters and what they’re experiencing will relate.

            Case in point, we see a young man named Saul (Jarvis) sporting a mask off and on resembling the Joker of DC Comics films.  And then we see a young woman (Meskienvar as Zama) dashing home, late at night, stopping to put on Arabic garb including a burka.  She is confronted by her aunt and uncle for staying out so late.  Saul overhears his grandparents complaining about being evicted because a development company is seizing their home.  That the two characters meet in a grocery—and how they meet—will be part of the intrigue.

            Inserted at this point is the almost hilarious “getting to know you” dance that Saul and Zama make after their encounter in the grocery store.  You the viewer are puzzled/fascinated, not only by his actions, but by hers as well.  But indeed, they have formed a connection.

            So it’s intriguing how they stay together and form a bond—not at all by the expected means—that will be beneficial to both.  

But there are “bigger” things going on in the city of New York.  We get glimpses of major business development, with aspirants of wealth beyond imagination and the world in which they travel.  So very different from our early protagonists.  Some grieve for the glory of the past that is gone (building one’s own city skyline) and others trying to make a mark with less vision than self-promotion.  They’re in conflict with one another as much as the young couple is with them.

I found this cross-section of a city perceptive in its empathic focus on different levels of society unwittingly dealing with the same issues most perceptive.  They can’t see the whole picture because they see the city only from their own point of view.

Writer-director Tim Sutton has presented a moving, commentary on typical clashes between generations, cultures, and individual personalities.  I find his perspective helpful, and his choices of actors, musicians, cinematographer, et al. couldn’t be better.


An unusual film showing significant issues for cities and the people populating them.  The ending is left open for viewers to come to their own conclusions.


Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, March 18, 2021


Johnny Depp     Forest Whitaker

            Just as the two main characters of this drama based on a true story spend much of the movie trying to unravel the truth, the viewer remains just as mystified throughout the film trying to keep track of all the leads being investigated and the large number of people involved.  Based on a book by Randall Sullivan entitled LabyrinthCity of Lies recounts the drama of retired LAPD police detective Russell Poole (Depp) and journalist Jack Jackson (Whitaker) teaming together 18 years after the unsolved murder of the Notorious B.I.G.—which Poole had witnessed—and any relationship to the death of fellow rapper Tupac Chakur earlier—to continue the investigation on their own. How these two unlikely partners got together is shown in the entertaining first scenes.

            Ever since B.I.G.’s murder occurred, Poole has worked on the case officially and unofficially, but is stymied.  Yet, he can’t let it go.  Soon after it happened, Jackson had written about the murder based on interviews of Poole, but although he won a Peabody for his work, Poole’s information was discounted, so his own work was as well.  Nevertheless, Jackson is later asked to write a retrospective on the case, which means reestablishing contact with Poole.  When he approaches him, Poole shows only disdain for Jackson and his earlier Peabody-winning article.  

            But Jackson is persistent, manages to pull in Poole, and the two become good buddies who continue to try to uncover facts.  What they are taking on, though, is the L.A. Police Department and the possible complicity of city politicians.  

            This is a potentially intriguing story, but the filmmakers (director Brad Furman, writer, Christian Contreras, editor Leon Trombetta) are unable to present a clear picture of the facts of the case, the people involved, and how members of the LAPD and politicians seem to have been involved.  It must surely be a complicated set of events, but we rely on works like films to inform.  After the end of the film, it’s all a bit of a muddle.  

            Johnny Depp reestablishes his acting reputation in playing an acerbic loner obsessed with a puzzle that still plagues him.  Forest Whitaker likewise reestablishes his talent as a forceful black man sensitive to social boundaries but brave enough to test them.  The chemistry between these two characters is one of the strongest assets of the film.  It’s because of their interactions and collaboration that the viewer stays involved.


Although City of Lies has its flaws, it’s a good film in illustrating what detectives and writers are sometimes up against in their efforts to convey truth.


Grade:  C+                            By Donna R. Copeland



Benedict Cumberbatch     Merab Ninidze     Rachel Brosnahan     Jessie Buckley

Anton Lesser     Angus Wright     Vladimir Chuprikov

            Those of us who remember the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960’s will relate to the tension and intrigue that transpires in The Courier.  That was a particularly apprehensive time, and as I think about the White House administration just previous to the present, I wipe my brow, wondering what would have happened had we faced a similar crisis in the last four years.  Interestingly, the Russian spy in The Courier reflects on why he is warning the U.S. about their leader.  He describes Krushchev as impulsive, chaotic—“a man like him should have no clear command.”  The spy wants to save the world from a nuclear holocaust.  This film is based on the events that happened behind the scenes during that period.

            Greville Wynne (Cumberbatch) is a British businessman who has done well with his company, so seems to MI-6 and the CIA to be a perfect courier for these agencies to exchange information between them and their Russian contact, Penkovsky (Ninidze), a member of the GRU, who has cleverly sent a message to them about his concerns.  

            Recruiting Wynne to be the courier is no easy task; he has an ideal life and wants no part of anything that will endanger it.  He emphatically says no at first, but the CIA agent Donovan (Brosnahan), who has done background checks on him, knows how to appeal to his sense of responsibility and loyalty.

            Wynne flies to Russia and meets Penkovsky, and as it turns out, they’re from similar backgrounds and become friends, developing a sense of loyalty to one another.  The operation is successful for some time, until…  This is a spy story, so the less the viewer knows about it beforehand, the better.  And a good spy story it is, with plenty of suspense and intrigue, and a group of characters that are interesting and likeable.  We’re given enough information about them to care what happens to them.

            Director Dominic Cooke’s production and writer Tom O’Connor’s script (both producers as well) supply the elements that make this an interesting, engaging thriller.  The well-chosen cast makes it even stronger.  Cumberbatch—no stranger to spy-thrillers and action movies—portrays all aspects of the complicated Wynne to make him believable and compelling.  He is matched with Ninidze, who wins our confidence in his portrayal of an “enemy” to trust immediately.  I got a special thrill from seeing Rachel Brosnahan and Jessie Buckley ace roles that are way different from their recent work (“Mrs. Maisel” for the former, and “I’m thinking of Ending Things” for the latter).  And finally, seeing the erstwhile Game of Thrones’ Qyburn, Anton Lesser, in a minor role was a treat.

            Although there isn’t any really new material here, the pace and the performances of the actors make the film worth seeing.


This intrigue set during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960’s is also a model of loyalty and trust.


Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland


Thursday, March 11, 2021


Tom Holland     Clara Bravo     Jack Reynor


            Young Cherry (Holland) is told he popped his cherry the first time he kills someone in the war in Iraq as a soldier.  The film starts when he is in college and feeling aimless, when he becomes smitten with Emily (Bravo).  She has something that always appeals to him (whimsy, sexy, tempting), and they become a pair, and then suddenly she announces she is moving to Montreal.  She wants him to be “adult” about it, but he is crushed.  So crushed he joins the Armed Services, something she never expected, which causes her to change her plans.  They have a torrid romance before he leaves, vowing to stay true to one another.

            The movie has an expected trajectory, and illustrates so well how young people do not/cannot anticipate what is going to happen to them in new ventures.  As is said, “War is hell”, and Cherry is unprepared for the horrors of being a medic.  Soon after he finishes basic training, he is ready to go home; but it will be many months before that day comes.

            In the meantime, he does provide medal-earning service, and arrives home to a new house Emily’s parents helped them obtain.  Things look rosy, except Cherry is having nightmares, night sweats and other symptoms associated with PTSD.  For some reason not explained, he does not get the appropriate help his condition requires, and not only does he start self-medicating, Emily becomes addicted as well.

            It’s predictable what is going to transpire after this.  The couple gets into a heap of trouble, and the only question is whether/how they will pull out of their troubles.

            After helming adventure films such as two Avengers movies and two Captain America movies, I’m puzzled about the Russo family (Anthony, Joe, Angela) turning to a production like Cherry, which is basically a character study, not only of Tom Holland’s character, but also that of Clara Bravo and Jack Reynor.  They fit into stereotypes in the drug world, but for a character study, more filling out of the characters’ psychological make-up is required.  The film would have been much more interesting if even the families of origin for these three would have been explicated.

            Some evidence that the filmmakers intended something of a satire is indicated by various signs we see, such as “Bank of F….. America”, and “Dr. Whomever.”  These seem lame in the background of severe opioid addiction, so it’s hard to see them as funny.  I think inserting these jabs into the seriousness of the story and the main characters is a mistake.

            Tom Holland is an award-winning actor of Spider Man and Avengers fame, and although his character here is decidedly different from those, he is able to show a much more vulnerable man who, nevertheless, is able to slog through diversity.  Supporting him in a perhaps idealistic character is Clara Bravo in an excellent performance representing the female always lovely in her loyalty and care, even with the facial marks of a meth addict.  Jack Raynor envelopes his character as a drug dealer par excellence who never gets the overall picture.


The Russos have exceeded their capabilities in their attempt to portray a character with major difficulties coping with real war and its aftermath.


Grade:  C                              By Donna R. Copeland


Olivia Colman     Anthony Hopkins     Mark Gattis     Imogen Poots     Rufus Sewell     Olivia Williams


            Old Age is always scary, and when dementia is a part of it, it’s horrifying.  This movie captures so many of the moments in an aging person’s life when it becomes crystal clear that things are not like they used to be.  Mystification is probably the worst of it, the swirl of people floating in and out and all around, so that one hardly remembers his/her own name.  We see one such person in Anthony Hopkins’ character, Anthony, whose psyche is portrayed in The Father.  That is, we see the world from his point of view, an impressive accomplishment of Florian Zeller (director of the original play and the movie), and Christopher Hampton (writer of the screenplay).

            Their work is clever in that we’re presented with scenarios that seem quite plausible, then as figures keep switching, we realize that we’re seeing the world through the aging Anthony’s eyes.  We get confused, just like he does.  Welcome to old age!

            Anthony Hopkins as Anthony and Olivia Colman as Anne give us stellar performances, capturing the dilemmas of aging father and concerned daughter.  Colman is adept in assuming a kind of role in which she has earned her performance awards.  Hopkins has a bit more of a challenge in portraying dementia, although the variety of his previous roles has shown his flair for all kinds of characters, from the upstanding doctor (Elephant Man) to the uptight and proper British butler (Howard’s End, Remains of the Day), to the stroke victim (Legends of the Fall) to the flawed U.S. President (Nixon) and revered U.S. President (Amistad) to the swashbuckling pirate Zorro (Mask of Zorro)—all seemingly cakewalks for him.  On a sympathetic note, I appreciated seeing the interactions of Anne and her husband Paul (Sewell), trying to work out what to do about the aging father—within the earshot of Anthony—unbeknownst to them.  As the story proceeds, one assumes that their marriage does not survive the stress, and that Anne does move on, realizing—or deciding—that her life must go beyond her father.  

            The film is thus also strong in showing the tolls old age takes on the families of the elderly, particularly at certain decision points, such as whether to keep the elderly at home, in the home of a child, or in assisted care.  These may be wrenching for the children, perhaps more so than for the elderly, but disorienting for him/her as well.

            Toward the end of the film, we get to see a highlight in the tender scene of the hapless Anthony and his current nurse (Williams) (who has previously been mistaken by Anthony to be Anne) in the elder home, assuming  the identity of his mother as he weeps for her loss in a moment of anguish.  Shout-out to health care providers who are committed to being whatever their patients need of them whenever.


Realistic and moving, The Father allows a glimpse into what most of us dread, end of life decisions.


Grade:  A                              By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, March 4, 2021


Anne Dorval     Leanna Chea     Francois Papineau 

            This is a gentle movie, a disquieting mixture of stunning, eloquently filmed scenes; warm, appealing characters; and profound grief in a pervasive thread running through it all.  The film opens with a snowy landscape, eventually focusing on a primitive thatched wall with a rectangular window that looks like a black hole.  To some extent the cinematographer Yves Belanger is the storyteller supplementing the sparse dialog.

            Based loosely on a true story, the French Canadian screenwriter Marie Vien weaves a fascinating tale about a mother who travels to Viet Nam, the land of her adopted daughter who has been killed in an accident.  Her goal is to learn more about Clara’s native land as a way of connecting with her.  But the Vietnamese are still holding grudges against the French for invading their country, so Isabelle (Dorval) is not always given a warm welcome.

            She decides to visit the orphanage where Clara was taken after her birth, and meets with the young woman who took care of Clara in her first year.  After initially being somewhat short with Isabelle, the woman shows compassion for her, looking her up later and giving her a clue about the birth mother.  Isabelle will end up contacting Thuy (Chea), which transforms the drama into a story about two mothers.

            Director Jean-Philippe Duval presents the narrative with interspersing flashbacks, as seems to be the current preference among filmmakers.  Seldom nowadays are films presented in chronological order, necessitating the viewer’s periodic reorientations.  A welcome unifying element in this instance is the backdrop of Viet Nam’s natural beauty and bustling cities captured by cinematographer Yves Belanger and accompanying mood enhancing musical score of Bertrand Chenier.  

            In addition, the two fine actresses Anna Dorval and Leanna Chea deliver intensely emotional scenes that keep us curious and engaged, using body language and facial expressions to elaborate on the dialog. Their success makes us feel close to their characters and caring about how they fare.

            14 Days, 12 Nights’ moving account authenticates the varying experiences of losing a child and unites them in a realistic whole.  The loss is profound no matter how or when it occurs and, clearly, processing its psychological effects is a part of adjusting oneself.  The filmmakers demonstrate their understanding of this fact throughout, but especially in one of the concluding scenes.


The talented filmmakers behind this very human, moving account show their appreciation and understanding of human experience and something of what it takes to adjust to loss.


Grade:  A                              By Donna R. Copeland