Thursday, July 29, 2021


Dev Patel     Alicia Vikander     Joel Edgerton     Ralph Ineson

Sarita Choudhury     Sean Harris     Kate Dickie


            Based on a poem written in the 14th Century by an unknown author, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has been an intriguing story ever since.  Writer/director David Lowery in the third retelling of it in film enhances its mysteriousness by making the screen very dark, by accompanying it with choral music rendered in Middle Ages verse (with accents of dissonant modern music) composed by frequent Lowery collaborator Daniel Hart; and by a heavy dose of symbolism.

            It helps in understanding this film if one has read the poem and is familiar with the story.  I had not, so was mystified during many scenes until afterwards, when a colleague referred me to the myth.

            We meet Sir Gawain as a modest, committed knight so unassuming that he has to be ordered by King Arthur to sit by him and the queen.  When King Arthur requests that he tell a tale about himself so the King will know him, Gawain forthrightly demures, saying that he has no tale.  Soon after, the King is visited by a mysterious figure (who looks like a tree dressed up as a man) who presents his challenge to any of King Arthur’s knights.  The knight, the Green Knight (Ineson) dares any of those present to strike the Green Knight with his own axe, with the agreement that one year and one day later, the knight must find the Green Knight and allow him to strike the same blow as he had dealt to the Green Knight the year before.  No one answers but Sir Gawain who takes up the challenge, with plans to revisit the Green Knight on Christmas Day the following year.

            Close to the appointed day, Gawain sets off on the journey to honor his pledge.  Of course, along the way, he will encounter many travails and tests of his strength and commitment.  Among them are bandits who steal his horse, his sword, and a sash his mother gave him to keep him safe, then they tied him up and left him to rot.  He encounters a woman who literally lost her head, which is at the bottom of a spring.  (This is only part of the magic sprinkled in throughout the story; that is, she is talking to him with her head attached, but still wants to retrieve her head).  He also meets a Lord (Edgerton) and his Lady (Vikander plays two roles, this one and the woman he is in love with at home).  The Lord proposes a bargain (a theme in the tale) wherein he will bring Gawain all the spoils of his daily hunts, and Gawain is to give to the Lord what he gained during the day.

            After much of what Gawain lost during his travails is restored, often magically, he finally arrives at the Green Knight’s home, ready to honor his pledge.

            Although well done in many respects, The Green Knight will appeal primarily to those interested in fantasy and in literature of days gone by.  I found the dark screen and often unintelligible dialog and choral words tedious, despite my interest in the story.  A confusing aspect added by Lowery is that Gawain’s mother gives him a sash for protection before he leaves on his journey, and his local love Esse gives him a ring.  On his journey when he meets the Lord’s lady (also played by Vikander) she as well gives him these two items.

Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, and Ralph Ineson are superb in their roles, always a joy to watch.


Better read some background on this story so as to derive full benefit of its entertainment value.


Grade:   B                                                  By Donna R. Copeland


Matt Damon     Abigail Breslin     Camille Cottin     Milou Siauvaud


            This is a slow burn thriller that draws you in gradually.  At first, it’s a bit curious watching Matt Damon become a simple construction man from Oklahoma who is thoughtful, but not especially appealing or interesting.  He captures Bill Baker not only in the slight drawl, but in the complete persona of the stereotypical western man, taciturn and direct, but quick to react when provoked.  And he is doggedly persistent when he becomes committed to a cause.  But he will become involved in an intrigue that is far beyond his imagination.

            Bill Baker’s daughter Allison (Breslin) has been convicted of murder and has been in prison in France for several years.  We get enough information to learn that Bill was not such a good father and had problems with alcohol.  Now, he wants to visit Allison and do whatever he can to help her.  He has an unceasing belief in her innocence, whereas she is skeptical on his being able to do anything.

            Like many Americans going to a foreign country for the first time, it takes a while for Bill to really get that the French people don’t necessarily speak English.  Then, a young nine year-old girl comes to the rescue.  She is plucky Maya (Siauvaud) who manages to form a connection with this inhibited foreigner by her fearlessness and curiosity.  They bond around tools and handyman projects around the house, soccer games, and the need for her to have a caretaker when her busy single mother is forging ahead with a career in acting.  

            But Bill’s main purpose in going to France is to get his daughter out of prison.  When his efforts to pressure her lawyers and some detectives to forge ahead, he is stymied.  On one clue given to him by Allison, he begins to investigate on his own—a true western U.S. vigilante.

            This search becomes the suspenseful, tense action of the story like the usual detective thriller.  Bill makes some daring moves and comes up against Arabic solidarity on the one side and French hatred of the Arabs on the other side.  

            In the meantime, his attachment to Maya and her mother Virginie (Cottin) grows increasingly intimate, providing him an opportunity for a do-over as a parent.  Allison has expressed her lack of faith in him for his previous unavailability and ineptness, and he clearly wants to improve and be a better father.  

            The script and the talented actors bringing it to life are the rewarding aspects of this movie.  Damon gives one of his best performances of a character seemingly unknown to him, given his background.  But he must have researched it well.  Abigail Breslin’s characterization of an imprisoned young woman with regrets and justified anger toward her father hits home any number of times for its authenticity and depiction of so many different emotions.  You can easily see her ambivalence toward her father.

            The overall theme of Bill Baker becoming acquainted with a more cosmopolitan outlook on life is just as rewarding as the drama around Allison.  We see both Maya and her mother Virginie showing a kind of joie de vivre that Bill has never seen before.  He becomes more sensitive and expressive in response, and gets in touch with his own emotions as he has ever done before.

            Writer/director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, Win Win, The Visitor, Spotlight) is a wonder in creating dramas for the soul, and I think he has done it again with this film in which Americans and Europeans are in contrast, in the evolvement of a typical clueless American into one more open to change and new ways of thinking, and the different ways to approach powerlessness.  For example, Baker’s sense of powerlessness in his daughter Allison’s predicament turning to a sense of efficacy in his relationship with Maya and her mother.  But, as we all know, the final conclusion is not necessarily “happy ever after.”  Sometimes adjustments have to be made to accommodate to change, and then hopefully embark on another path.


The evolution of a simple man into new ways of being, spiced up with intrigue and hard-won battles.


Grade:  A                              By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, July 22, 2021


 Megan Fox     Bruce Willis     Emile Hirsch     Lukas Haas     Machine Gun Kelly     Caitlin Carmichael

            This is a thriller to be sure.  It starts out showing us the derring-do of female FBI agent Rebecca (Fox) whose risk-taking freaks out her partner Karl (Willis).  She is bound and determined to ensnare a serial killer of young women, doing it by making dates with suspects.  After a few hunches that turn out to be wrong, Karl worries about his own safety as well as hers and quits the case.

            Rebecca has her counterpart in young local detective Byron (Hirsch), whom she gets to partner with her after Karl has withdrawn.  She is still confident that she will be able to snare the killer.  Byron’s supervisors have asked him to drop his searches, but both he and Rebecca are aware that since many of the slain girls were prostitutes, law enforcement doesn’t show much interest in solving the crimes.  They both show empathy for the girls and feel impelled to save others, no matter the risk.

            The filmmakers (director Randall Emmett and writer Alan Horsnail) keep the tale taut and suspenseful, even after the murderer is revealed to us.  In the process, the characters’ stories become ironic at times, telling at other times, and sometimes just plain eerie.  My only wish was that Karl’s backstory was revealed.  Willis is a powerful presence—and well-known, of course—so we’re given tidbits, but I think revealing more about his character would have contributed to a fuller enactment.

            Even so, Fox, Hirsch, and Haas keep us engaged the whole time.  They are all talented in bringing their characters to life in roles that complement the main character.  


            While Midnight in the Switchgrass is thrilling and interesting to watch, I see little that is new and innovative in the genre.  For those who love this kind of movie, it is well worthwhile.


Grade:  C+                            By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, July 8, 2021


Scarlett Johansson     Florence Pugh     Rachel Weisz     David Harbour     William Hurt


            Noteworthy in this Marvel action film is the “woman’s touch” in directing.  We get a spoof on families, along with its dark side, the bonds of sisterly affection, and loyalty among females in general, even though the female characters are just as ferocious as the men.  The Australian writer and film director Cate Shortland has a short resume of films she has written/directed, but they are well represented in the awards world (c.f., Somersault, Lore, Berlin Syndrome) at this stage of her career.

            Black Widow 2021 is a prequel, showing Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) and Yelena Belova (Pugh) as children of Melina Vostokoff (Weisz) and Alexei Shostakov (Harbous) living as a happy family in Ohio.  When Alexei arrives home one evening, he tells Melina they must flee within the hour.  That’s when the girls learn that they have major roles to play in a world drama.

            Jump ahead twenty-one years, after the family has been broken up.  Natasha is on her own and literally bumps into (read major skirmish) Yelena, whom she recruits to join her in fighting a dangerous conspiracy afoot directed by Dreykov (Winstone).  In their efforts, they reconnect with Alexei (the Red Guardian), springing him from prison, and Melina who now has a pig farm, but is still intimately connected to the Red Room and Dreykov.

            What follows are numerous scenes of death-defying battles, some fought from airplanes and helicopters, which constitute a marvel (pun intended) of CGI and other special effects, with characters from Natasha’s past continuing to pop up.  Warmly amusing in all these scenes, Natasha expresses concern and apologizes or tries to restore their health and well-being.  For whatever reason, the filmmakers want to portray her as caring in the end, particularly as a “big sister” to Belova.

            We get to see the real villain in the course of Natasha’s efforts to stem the conspiracy.  It’s truly horrific, as scene after scene unfolds showing the most inhumane actions, and of course a push for world-dominance.

            The two female actors, Johansson and Pugh, are clearly up to the job of starring in an action film, not only in their ability to portray the ultimate in toughness and brawn, but also in their gift for verbal jabs and playfulness in even the most harrowing scenes.  Rachel Weisz admirably embodies a nurturing figure and technical genius all in the same person (another strong point of the film).  Noticeable too is David Harbour as protective father, Incredibly strong man, and lovable dufus in his many manifestations.

            I enjoyed this more than most action films for its cleverness, underlying ethics, and filmmaking skill in general. Although I tire of the repeated and seemingly endless preposterous battles, I still enjoyed this film.


The back story of the Black Widows—and a side of Natasha—we haven’t seen before.


Grade:  B                                 By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, July 1, 2021


 Armando Espitia     Christian Vazquez     Michelle Rodriguez

            A tender reminiscence about a Mexican man trying to fulfill his dreams in America after he suffers prejudice and heartbreak in his hometown of Puebla.  Of course, he discovers through the years that he must deal with something similar in the U.S., but it is different enough that he is able to accommodate and make his way toward fulfilling his dreams.  It’s hard to say if his life would have turned out another way if he hadn’t gotten one of the best surprises of his life after years of being here, but the film has a greater interest in helping us learn about and identify with the immigrant’s experience, and the tremendous pulls toward staying in the new country versus moving back to the old one.

            Flashbacks are used effectively to show us Ivan’s (Espitia) and Gerardo’s (Vazquez) memories of the past, both in Mexico and in the US.  Just as in real life, these memories pop up at unexpected moments, illuminating whatever is going on at the time.  Rather surprisingly, this is the first feature for director Heidi Ewing, whose past work is in documentaries about people needing to adjust to changing circumstances (The Boys of Baraka, Jesus Camp, Detropia).  She has a keen eye for points in a story that have universal as well as personal appeal, which makes this transition logical and impactful.  

            Ewing has some advantage in helping the film achieve a real-life quality.  The two figures on whom the story is based are her personal friends with story-worthy lives.  But Ewing went further in being rather daring; she filmed the real people as the two friends in their present-day ages/lives.  This will not be noticeable to most viewers, although some will catch it when the credits come onscreen.  

            The actors seen for most of the movie are well cast, showing major differences in the personalities and backgrounds of the characters.  Ivan is the most sentimental of the three, Gerardo the most practical, and Sandra (Rodriguez) a cross between the two in her capacity for sympathy and understanding, although lacking foresight in making major life decisions.  The pulls back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico are very different for each of them.

            This is a welcome addition to the genre of immigration experiences, and is likely applicable to people from any country who have come to the U.S. undercover.  I doubt that many of us think much about all the people who serve us when we go to restaurants, and all the stories they could tell if we asked them.


A captivating story about two immigrants who find the strategies required for subterfuge bear similarities in both countries.


Grade:  A                                          By Donna R. Copeland