Thursday, August 26, 2021



            In the art world, provenance is of great importance in establishing the authenticity of a work.  In the case of art created in the 16th Century, investigators may spend years tracing the ownership of a painting, for instance.  My guess is that most people would not find that an interesting pursuit, but for museums, art dealers, investigative journalists, and collectors, it may be essential to establish the monetary worth of an object.  Yet, we find in viewing this documentary that such a search can actually be intriguing—even entertaining—especially when the conjectured artist is Leonardo da Vinci.

            Danish Director Andreas Koefoed and his co-writers have not only traced some of the known history of a painting titled “Salvator Mundi” (Savior of the World), but has brought in the speculation and scholarly opinions about it across recent years, weaving in some of the darkness involved in art speculation and the commercial industry that has built up around it.  What starts out like an intellectual pursuit becomes something of a thriller.

            It starts out with Alex Parish, who looks for art that might be done by a well-known artist but is not recognized as such by the auctioneer—a “sleeper:  In New Orleans, he comes upon a painting that looks like it could be the lost Salvatore Mundi—missing for centuries.  He contacts his friend Robert Simon, an Old Masters art dealer, and they decide to buy it together, with the intention of selling it to an interested buyer.  They are aware it is not likely to be a completely original da Vinci, but they also know that someone will be interested in buying it.

            In Part I, “The Art Game”, we see that Parish and Simon have taken the painting to a professional restorer of art, Dianne Modestini, and her husband, a well-known conservator, to get their opinion about its authenticity.  She notices an unusual characteristic about the upper lip that is identical to one found on the Mona Lisa, and that helps convince her that it’s an original.  But she also recognizes that it has been painted over in places, and cleans it up, attempting to get to the original.  

            Parish and Simon then take it to the curator of the National Gallery in London who, in turn calls in a number of experts to get their opinions.  Rather informally, they all agree that it’s an original Leonardo, whereupon the painting is exhibited at the National Gallery as the lost Leonardo da Vinci, with crowds flocking in to see it.

            In the meantime, numerous experts are critical of the rather superficial authentication process and its public exhibition, and discount it as completely original.

            And now in Part II, “The Money Game”, we are into the dark world of art speculation and investment.  A Swiss billionaire businessman gets wind of the piece, informs his friend, a Russian oligarch…which gets us into the intrigue associated with the wheeling and dealing of art, particularly those with disputed provenance, and the most exciting(?) part of this documentary.

            Part III, “The Global Game”, shows how the commercialism of art can be taken to a global scale when a business like Christie’s auction house becomes involved. 

            The Lost Leonardo takes you on a journey that will be almost as exciting as a mystery story, except that learning of the dark side of art dealing is rather deflating in the end.  The filmmakers have done a good job in telling the story of the Lost Leonardo in a way that crams in so many facts in, but is nevertheless most interesting and, at times, intriguing. 


I recommend this film to anyone with the slightest interest in art and its commercialization of which the general public is usually unaware.  Who would’ve thought it could be a quiet thriller?


Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland

Monday, August 23, 2021


 Voices of:  Tyler Perry     Ron Pardo     Will Brisbin

Keegan Hedley     Iain Armitage     Marsai Martin

Kids are going to love this.  But adults are too, with the spoofs, clever writing, references to current world issues, and ingenious special effects.  Developed from a Canadian computer-animated television series in 2013, writers Billy Frolick, Cal Brunker, and Bob Barlen adapted it into this movie, directed by Andrew Hickson and Cal Brunker.  

The Paw Patrol, headed by Ryder (Will Brisbin), is able to step in and rescue the citizens of Adventure City when their corrupt newly “elected” mayor (Ron Pardo) creates one disaster after another.  Mayor Humdinger (an apt name) displays his narcissism and hyperbole in usurping control over the weather, a fireworks display, jailing all dogs in the city (he favors cats, which hover around him), making the subway system a flawed looped ride, and finally, building “the tallest” building in the city. 

Writers have cleverly worked in current issues of today—corrupted politics, climate change, news media, diversity—even PTSD and conflict resolution modes.  I am truly awed by the way the filmmakers have woven together such important subjects within a completely entertaining movie for children.  This is one of the few films I’ve seen that are so successful in weaving together such disparate but important topics within an animated movie for children.

Tyler Perry has a small role in the beginning when he is rescued by the Paw Patrol   and “to the rescue” Chase (Armitage), after his huge truck gets suspended on a bridge.  He has absolutely no confidence in such a team rescuing him, but after their success, he has a new respect for the team, and the movie proceeds with the derring-do of the Paw Patrol.

Music by Heitor Pereira and animation by Mikros—along with all technicians involved and the primary showrunners and actors—make this a must-see movie.  


A rare find:  A movie for children and adults that provides pleasures for both groups.


Grade:  A                                          By Donna R. Copeland


Thursday, August 19, 2021



Maggie Q     Michael Keaton     Samuel L. Jackson


            There is a clever premise to this action thriller:  It’s about “finding things that don’t want to be found.” Little references to this pop up throughout the story, always in different contexts, a testament to the skillful work of director Martin Campbell and writer Richard Wenk.  The story begins a little murky, jumping around from Viet Nam, Bucharest, and London with the viewer left in the dark initially as to what is really going on.

            Then it settles into a story about a young Vietnamese woman named Anna (Maggie Q) and her mentor Moody (Jackson).  After discovering a traumatized girl in Viet Nam, the professional assassin Moody rescues her and teaches her his craft, which she picks up on with considerable skill.  When one of Moody’s competitors named Rembrandt (Keaton) intentionally crosses Anna’s path, he is more than intrigued and a little incredulous.  

         As the story winds through the various underworlds and fantastical fights—which resemble choreographed ballets that are never very credible as fights—it continues to be gripping and suspenseful.  Suspenseful not in the sense of “who done it”, but in the question of who will win.  Wenk the writer excels in pitting able foes against one another in such a way that it’s gripping for the viewer every time, no matter the players.

            As the primary focus, Maggie Q (shortened by the actress from ‘Margaret Quigley’) holds her own as a star.  She easily captures the mystique of her character and maintains a cold presence even during intimate moments, although she also conveys the warm feelings, teasing, and gratefulness her character has for her mentor.  As seasoned actors, Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson adopt their characters easily and convincingly.  It seems like a slightly different role for Keaton; he comes across more ambiguously than usual, calling for more subtlety in his performance.

            Flashbacks telling Anna’s story are extremely well placed, with the most moving ones toward the end of the film.  It’s especially impressive that they make sense psychologically for the woman she has become.  There are also words of wisdom carefully placed at intervals, so the picture becomes something more than the usual action-thriller.  

            Bravo to the filmmakers for giving us a wondrous ending—part unexpected and part a surprising reasoning/emotionally-laden discussion two main characters have at the end while holding guns on one another.


Protégé is a finely crafted action-thriller that still has fights stretching plausibility typical of the genre, but it doles out suspenseful thrills in full measure, along with some pearls of wisdom.


Grade:  B+                            By Donna R. Copeland


Thursday, August 12, 2021


 Mariana Di Girolamo     Gael Garcia Bernal     Santiago Cabrera     Paola Giannini     Christian Saurez

            This is a completely different movie from Chilean Director Pablo Larrain as compared to his earlier success most Americans are familiar with—Jackie—about Jacqueline Kennedy.  But he is an award-nominated/winning filmmaker for films with wide-ranging subjects, most with a Chilean political subject (No, El Club, Neruda).  He is even directing eight episodes of the current running TV series of “Lisey’s Story”, a thriller based on Stephen King’s work.  I have always admired his work, but do not know quite what to make of this his latest film.

            Ema is primarily a story about a dancer (captivatingly played by De Girolamo) who is married to the choreographer of her company, Gaston (Bernal).  They adopt a child after finding that Gaston is infertile.  Although it’s not shown to any great extent in the movie, the child does something horrible that makes the couple decide to send him back to the adoption agency.  

            Thereafter, come the typical recriminations and accusations of the would-be parents toward each other.  It looks like they are going to split up because of it, and Ema proceeds to make her own way in the world, although she still dances in the company.  The story shows the varying ways people cope with tragedy, using others to guide and help them adjust.  The two characters sleep around—he a little—she, a lot.  She has a mesmerizing quality that attracts both men and women.  

            How she decides ultimately to resolve her problems will likely be a shocker to most.  Larrain and the other writers make her solution seem plausible by virtue of her appeal and her consistently kind actions toward others, which is directly the opposite of how she is initially portrayed—and hated—as a rejecting mother. 

            My conclusion about what the film is attempting—very artistically—to get across is an observation about the sense of “ownership” people develop toward those close to them, especially their children and spouses.  Ema presents another point of view, that we all belong to one another, and much peace and harmony could result if we could readjust the nature of our attachments.

            Mariana Di Girolamo delightfully holds her own in being the main attraction of the film.  She has a mystique about her that captures your attention, and her dances intensify the enchantment.  Gael Garcia Bernal is a perfect somewhat older mate for Ema, one whose ego is strong enough to tolerate the jabs about his fertility but still vital enough to stay in command of his work.

It’s unusual when behaviors that initially seem risky and foolhardy turn out to be caring and loving, as is shown here.  That is, if you buy the story; I’m sure there are many who would be vociferously offended by the film’s premises.  I found it to be intriguing, although must admit that I doubt most people, as I, are not yet ready to embrace its principles.  It is likely only someone as attractive as Di Girolamo as she is portrayed could “sell” the idea, but we’ll see in future years.  Time will tell.


Take a look at a different way of looking at human connections where, maybe, everyone is a winner.


Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland


 Jennifer Hudson     Forest Whitaker     Audra McDonald     Saycon Sengbloh

Tituss Burgess     Marlon Wayans     Mark Maron     Albert Jones 

Respect shows a cross-section of Aretha Franklin’s life from her childhood up through the first several of her many successes (1972 album Amazing Grace).  It makes good use of flashbacks to fill out the early stories, showing the kind of background from which Aretha came and the strong influence of her father throughout her life.  His influence even extends to her standing up to him and forging a life and career unbeknownst to him.  That he did not approve didn’t seem to lessen their continued deep love for one another even through rocky times.

And there would be many rocky times as a function of the first man Aretha chose to marry, the rigors of a music idol’s life, a certain degree of rebelliousness, and her own susceptibility to alcoholism.  The story is well told, and although beginning sections of the 2½ hour film could have been shortened, the rest of the production is gripping.  The processes by which Aretha and her fellow musicians are composing and recording songs is highly entertaining, both for their explication of the process and the discord/accord that rises and falls.  When a song hits that special note, the audience breathes a sigh of relief and has a joyful moment along with the musicians.

Young director Liesl Tommy, whose previous work has been in television, shows great sensitivity in the types of experiences she has chosen to feature, in the aptness of the flashbacks, and in the overall picture of the times during these periods of Franklin’s life.  She has shown good judgment as well in showing almost complete renditions of many of Aretha’s most popular songs.  Credit is likewise due to the primary writer, a close friend of Liesl, Tracey Scott Wilson (TV’s “Fosse/Verdon” and “The Americans”), who was thrilled to work on the project after being a fan.  She says, “It’s one of those things where you want to get it right. She’s just so important. There’s not many musical biopics about Black women in general. It was really important to us to represent her as she was, with a lot of love and care.”

As Aretha, Jennifer Hudson (chosen by Aretha before her death), captures the music and the complex/complexing personality that was Aretha—her early sense of herself as someone who knows her own mind and has clear opinions and one with a rebellious streak who may show flashes of temper.  At the same time, one who could be meek and at sometimes be sensitive to another person’s point of view.  

Forest Whitaker, with so many credentials in portraying complex characters, is a perfect choice to stand in as a powerful man with obvious weaknesses and contradictory positions.  All the actors chosen are strong:  Audra McDonald cameos of Aretha’s mother; Marlon Wayans as an abusive, controlling husband; Tituss Burgess as a mentor to the child Aretha through her adulthood; and the music producers played by Mark Maron and Tate Donovan.

As a biopic, Respect is likely to please the fans of Aretha Franklin.


“How does the woman with the greatest voice of all time find her own voice?"    

 Director Liesl Tommy

Grade:  A                              By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, August 5, 2021


 Kate Lyn Sheil     Lindsay Burdge     Jade Eshete     Assol Abilene

            This impressionistic picture showing slices of reality for four women will prompt conversations to have with other viewers later rather than providing any closure.  A clue as to what the filmmakers had in mind may be in the opening scenes in which Jean (Sheil) is hooked up to a virtual reality machine, and announces, “Something’s not right.  Some kind of bug.  Let’s explore it…I was watching this thing happening to me and I couldn’t do anything about it.”

            We see that Jean lives alone (presumably during the pandemic when she is working at home), is heavily involved in what she is doing—perhaps some kind of experimental virtual reality program.  She is interrupted periodicall by brief conversations on the phone with her mother who desperately wants her to get married and have children.  Or at least preserve her eggs.  Obviously, grandchildren are uppermost in the mother’s mind.

            The next slice is provided by Mona (Eshete), a black woman who is an actress (and writer perhaps) whose television show has just been cancelled, and her mother’s solution is for her to return to her previous occupation as a minister in a Jehovah’s Witness Church.

            The next is Ruth (Burdge), a well-to-do politically conservative woman with a son who is being bullied at school and a brother at the opposite end of the political spectrum who is gay.  They have a volatile dinner together one evening, and she is clearly left to her own devices.

            The final vignette involves Peri (Abullina) who is from Kazakhstan and returning home after a visit to the home country following the death of a favorite uncle.  It takes a while for her to get significant information about the death from her mother and grandmother.  

            These women are all separated from one another by race, culture, politics, religion, and class, yet all have three things in common:  They are all in pain.  They have conflicts with their mothers.  And they were all on the same subway car when a loudmouth man makes everyone aware that he is impatient for the train to move along—says he has an important meeting--although he says he has no job.

            Perhaps the filmmakers, while showing that all these women have legitimate pains and frustration, want to point out that there are men losing so much of what is important to them—jobs and core identity—which women are unaware of and unaware of its implications.  That is, men and women live in separate universes.

            And is it saying that the definition of ‘maternal’ is changing, that women are being called upon to be more than mothers in the previous sense of the word?  One grandmother says to her daughter about her granddaughter, “Listen to her; she can do anything.”  That is, the charge made to all mothers in the contemporary world—that in addition to being mothers, they need to support their families in every sense of the word—emotional, economical, and moral.  It is up to them.

       The ultimate meaning of the film is not easy to discern, and that means to me the filmmakers are attempting to prompt the audience to think more seriously about the role/roles being expected of women in contemporary times.


Are women of today facing a burden unlike those who have come before?


Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland


 Adam Driver     Marion Cotilliard     Simon Helberg

            Unless they’ve already heard a significant amount about it, Annette is likely to take viewers by surprise.  It’s surreal in its drama and characterization; audiences interact  in unison and sometimes in song with the comedian; music by the pop and rock duo, the Sparks brothers (who are the writers as well) is quirky in their well-known style; and the whole production is unlike almost any of the American musicals.  

            Henry (Driver) and Ann (Cotilliard) fall madly in love shortly after meeting.  It’s an unlikely pairing in that he is a stand-up comedian called “Ape God” and she is an opera singer.  His routines are odd with a mixture of subjects that are meant to shock the audience, although there are always some who laugh.  One of the first signs of the significance of his feelings are his many references to Ann’s popularity and that in her roles she often dies in the end.  Very soon after their meeting, Ann is pregnant, and it looks like they will be happily making their way into a conventional family.  The birth of the child is remarkable and funny, in a way, in that it is accompanied by the singing of the doctor and nurses…and Henry.

            But things happen.  Unusual things.  And then more unusual things.  We wonder if this romantic unit will manage to survive.  

            The actors are well cast, and Cotilliard has a beautiful, pure voice that is soothing when the action is rough.  She is also a fine actor.  Adam Driver portrays his character in his usual convincing way; he is also a fine actor, and although it is clear he is not a trained singer, his voice is acceptable, using mostly a recitative style effectively.

            The Sparks’ music is sometimes lyrical—especially when the chorus is commenting on the drama—pointed in its references, and droll at other times.  Ron and Russell Mael have done a remarkable job in designing a plot with music that is full of surprises and suspense, along with the entertaining quirkiness.  By the end, references made in the beginning make sense in retrospect, with life lessons learned.

            Leos Carax (best known for Holy Motors) has taken the Sparks’ material and directed the production with sensitivity and an eye for timing and successfully producing an unconventional movie that, in the end, has substance.  It is slow at times, and some editing and shortening would have improved it.

            Annette is not a film for everyone, but for those of us appreciating the quirky and unusual, it quite satisfies.


An unlikely pairing of an opera singer with a droll comedian that somehow works.


Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland



Margot Robbie     Idris Elba     John Cena     Viola Davis

Daniela Melchoir     Sylvester Stallone (voice)     Joel Kinnaman 

            It takes a creative, fanciful mind to dream up a story about such a motley group of characters (all prisoners) charged by the U.S. Government with dismantling a Nazi-like prison and laboratory in a foreign country, Corto Maltese.  Although The Suicide Squad does have drama, it’s also very funny.  Amanda Waller as director of the Suicide squad and researcher of human powers has a testy relationship with the squad she has formed to take down the Nazi-like prison of Jutenheim and its project named Starfish.  In the squad, there is a definite rivalry—sometimes boyish—among leading men Bloodsport (Elba), Peacemaker (Cena), and Col. Rick Flag (Kinnaman), for instance.  And there is Ratcatcher 2’s (Melchoir) attachment to rats and Bloodsport’s phobia about them.  On top of these dramas, we see examples of aspirations for political power, U.S. involvement in other countries’ politics, and the ethics of human research.  But… it’s more of a comedy in its buffoonery, japery, and craziness, with a shark (voiced by Stallone), a woman attached to rats, and a weasel (Sean Gunn) as part of the crew, along with the use of “super-powers” such as polka dots, starfish, and King Shark’s sheer bulk as weapons.   Thank James Gunn as writer and director for all this zaniness.  The trailer refers to “the Horribly Beautiful Mind of James Gunn”, so I think he deserves the credit.

            The first squad sent out to Corto Maltese doesn’t make it, the details of which are shown in a silly but amusing way.  Similarly, even though the second squad makes it, they come to find Col. Flag happily engaged with a woman in a tent.  He’ll have explanations for this, but then he joins Harley Quinn (Robbie), Peacemaker, Bloodsport, Ratcatcher 2, and King Shark in a plan to capture the chief scientist of the Jutenheim Laboratory and release all the citizens imprisoned by the government.

            “Do they succeed?” you might ask.  To find out, you must experience all the hi-jinks  along the way.  Actually, it doesn’t really matter, because the action is highly entertaining.  For instance, Peacemaker and Bloodsport get into a heated argument about some of Peacemaker’s remarks.  In reply, he says, “I cherish peace with all my heart, and I don’t care how many men, women, or children I kill to get it.”  You can enjoy Harley Quinn getting engaged in a heated affair with the president of Corto Maltese (one of their love trysts destroys a whole room), after which, she is persona non grata in the country and tortured to give up the names of her squad…until…

            Another entertaining part for me was to see Ratcatcher 2—first being seen sleeping much of the time with a rat resting on her shoulder—have a clear sense of justice and be able to use rats to effectively defend the team and the city.  I understand that Daniela Melchior had to audition with a rat to be sure she was comfortable with it.  Rats—some of the most abhorred species on the earth doing something heroic?  James Gunn makes it sensible—and endearing—somehow.

            Margot Robbie goes way out in portraying Harley Quinn, showing she can be a fine actress in action-comedies just as well as a bad girl in tense dramas (I, Tonya), a tragic Hollywood figure (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), a queen (Mary Queen of Scots), and the voice of an animated rabbit (Peter Rabbit, Peter Rabbit 2:  The Runaway).  She is an arresting figure who can be as powerful as any in vanquishing enemies, but her cohorts can be super impressive as well.  A stand-out is John Cena portraying a well-intentioned strong arm, Peacemaker, who is effectively held in check by more grounded Bloodsport (Idris Elba).  The cast is strong, perfectly matched to their characters by Yiniva Cardenas and John Papsidera.

            All in all, I would say this is a very successful movie in its genre—several notches above most.  In addition to making a female one of the most central figures, it extends the irony to men having big plans to rescue a woman who had already escaped and putting rats in an elevated position for a grand finale.  I did note that mothers are put down as a theme in the story, and dads as well, although not nearly as much.  Note the last gripping hilarious(?) scene.

            I would think that anyone with a playful sense of humor and an interest in quirky characters would enjoy Suicide Squad.


Get on board for an adventure plunging you into a world that will take some getting used to, you’ll have but lots of fun along the way.


Grade:  A                              By Donna R. Copeland