Wednesday, June 22, 2022

THE STORY WON'T DIE


            The story of a revolution told by artists is so different from the same story told by political scientists or historians—not that I’m discounting the latter.  What strikes me, though, is that artists have a way of conveying the social/emotional and individualized experiences of what actual people go through during a revolution such as the uprising in Syria.  Documentarian David Henry Gerson features nine artists originally from Syria who were active in demonstrations against the Assad regime and had to leave for other countries as a result of the pressure—and sometimes torture—they endured.  Part of their stories are told in the particular artistic medium in which they work, i.e., art, music, dance, which adds interest and dimension to their accounts.

            All were hopeful that they and their art and activism would make a difference in the country.  They had not anticipated the brutal and inhumane steps the government would go to as a means of shutting them up.  Right up front we are told that since 2011, over a half-million people have been killed in Syria, and over half the population (13 million) became refugees.

            The documentary does a good job in assembling artists who have managed after many travails to reach European countries like Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Greece.  They relate their experiences in (usually) having to uproot themselves suddenly when it becomes clear to them that they have no future in Syria and avenues for leaving open up.  Of course, some must leave loved ones behind.  One was thinking that he’d rather die than risk going to prison again, but when he thought of his month-old daughter, he made plans to leave and work to assure a good life for her. 

The storytellers are visual artists, a choreographer, a dancer, a rapper, and other   musicians.  They come from all kinds of backgrounds—some well off; some poor, but clearly all have the degree of persistence it takes to make such a transition in the face of major obstacles.

Perhaps because of the infusion of their art work—which clearly they use as a coping mechanism—into the production and the fact that all have become settled and mostly adjusted to their new environs makes the documentary upbeat, with the horrors they’ve left behind in the background.  Gerson is to be commended for adeptly balancing the horror and the optimism.  

The ending makes the point that the impact of leaving their home country is strongly felt, and they seek to solidify their artistic identity within the small community of fellow Syrians when they are able to be together. As upbeat as the film is, we are left with their disappointment that the 10+ year civil war continues, with Assad still in power.

 

An inspirational picture of what artists have endured during the Assad regime in Syria.  Sometimes beaten and tortured during peaceful protests, these fortunate few have been able to make their way to European countries and use their arts to inform others about the atrocities in Syria.

 

Grade:  A                                          By Donna R. Copeland

 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

BRIAN AND CHARLES

 David Earl     Chris Hayward


            Brian (Earl) is an inventive soul whose house in Wales looks like a laboratory made from whatever he can find and bring home.  He’s even made a cuckoo clock that can fly so the townspeople can check out the time in the sky wherever they are.  Then one day he decides to make a robot to help him around the house,

            Finding most of what he needs on hand or searching through trashes, where he has found a mannequin’s head, Brian is delighted with his newest invention.  After several tries when it fails to respond to the on-switch, Brian is about to give up.  But when he returns home from a village errand, he is surprised that Charles (Hayward) has come alive!

            The fanciful tale weaves through the two getting acquainted and struggles of wills that soon come to the fore.  Soon it becomes apparent that Charles is very much like a very young boy but with a “mind” of his own.  To Brian’s chagrin, Charles does not want to follow commands. 

            After the gist of the plot becomes apparent, the action sags a bit; however, Earl and Hayward, the two writers, introduce not only an unlikely romance, but also a development in which Brian and Charles are subjected to bullying by one of the locals and his unruly family.  

            This gives the filmmakers an opportunity to make some statements about tolerance and nonviolence, giving the story relevance in today’s world.  It will be appealing to those who appreciate wry British humor and imagination without the need for logical explanations.  Cinematography by Murren Tullett adds to the charming nature of this film, which children may especially like.

 

A fanciful tale about an obsessive inventor who has come up with an idea for a robot.  

 

Grade:  C                              By Donna R. Copeland



Thursday, June 9, 2022

JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION

 Chris Pratt     Bryce Dallas Howard     Isabella Sermon     Laura Dern     Sam Neill

Jeff Goldblum     DeWanda Wise     Mamoudou Athie     Campbell Scott     Omar Sy     BD Wong


            There are plenty of thrills and chills in this production, and if you like chases of one kind or another (cars, motorcycles, dinosaurs), you’ll be especially pleased.  Much of it is over the top with screams, screeches, dark scenes, and rapid-fire camera movements.  In that sense, special effects and action over-ride the story, most of which is about characters trying to get out of horrifying situations.

            Picking up on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018), we meet up again with Owen (Pratt) and Claire (Howard) and the “daughter” they have rescued, Maisie (Sermon), settled in their country home with endangered animals living on the property.  Maisie is a teenager and chomping at the bit to get out from under the protection of their home.  But knowing the keen scientific (and commercial) value she carries, Claire and Owen are torn between allowing her to satisfy her longings and keeping her safe from kidnappers.  

            Predictably, a giant corporation, Biosyn, has emerged as a major force in genetics research and commerce, headed up by Lewis Dodgson (Scott), with Ramsey Cole (Athie) and Ian Malcolm (Goldblum) on his staff, and Kayla Watts (Wise) as a contractor for supplying animals Biosyn is eager to acquire, and the only one contributing a bit of humor here and there.  But…hmmm…maybe Biosyn has some nefarious purposes…

            All these characters end up on Biosyn’s property fighting for their lives after one or another major mishap occurs or threatening dinosaur(s) appear.  The filmmakers have done a good job in portraying the horror and terror in these scenes; it’s just that there are too many of them for my taste.

            When Dune had a major sweep of Academy Awards for the crafts this past year, I was pleased because they well deserved the praise.  Will Jurassic World Dominion capture similar acclaim?  I think not, even though the filmmakers have appeared to go all out for technological flash.  The difference is that Dunehas a strong story line with many kinds of nuances and issues to grapple with, and although preserving animal species and partnering with nature is a strong theme here, I doubt it will achieve the same acclaim that Dunereceived.

            It’s likely that most Jurassic fans will lap up the continuation of this franchise, but others less enamored may say, “Enough!”

 

An ongoing story that has difficulty measuring up to its prior versions.

 

Grade:  C                              By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE

 Emma Thompson     Daryl McCormack

            This is a fun and surprising movie about sex work that comes across as genuine in ways one wouldn’t expect.  Yes, it has a lot of laugh-out-loud humor—which is good, since many encounters are clearly awkward.  But the underlying truths and the transformation of both characters elevate the story above the purely entertaining.  

            I’m not sure how younger people will view the story.  Maybe the older woman Nancy (artfully played by Thompson) will remind them of a parent who is in their eyes strait-laced and judgmental, and it will be rewarding to see that character change in significant ways.  Or maybe they will be instantly turned off by an older woman discovering sex for the first time, despite the fact that she has grown children.  “Boring!” as covered in the story.

            For me, the film seems much like listening to a therapy session (ignoring the actual content for the most part).  The intrigue and oddity of it lies in how much the sex worker “Leo” (McCormack) sounds like a good therapist—always empathic, understanding, insightful, and reassuring.  He effectively overrides Nancy’s frequent misgivings and self-deprecations, re-focusing her attention on herself and her desires.  Never before in her life have her wishes been considered top priority.  That’s one new revelation/experience for her, but there will be many.  Most importantly, her need for control will be addressed without her realizing it until after the fact.

            A most important aspect of personal relationships is aptly addressed when like a “patient” Nancy does some sleuthing about Leo personally.  (Neither uses his/her real identity for the “sessions.”)  Leo reacts to this boundary infraction (this time not like a therapist), with outrage.  An engaging part of the movie is still very much in seeing how the characters deal with the reality of their lives.

            Thompson (as always) and McCormack as actors pull us into this story hook, line and sinker.  Both make Nancy and Leo real in ways we can envision and care about them.  She gets on the nerves from time to time, but his responses to her help us forgive her.  And you realize that that’s how things should work between people.  It’s a model for all of us to follow. 

            Something can be said about Daryl McCormick; he reminds us of Rege-Jean Page in the first season of “Bridgerton”, who became an international heart-throb before he left the show after the first season.

            Kudos to writer Katy Brand who came up with this story and to director Sophie Hyde for making it into a movie about an older woman and a younger man that has both substance and wit—not an easy thing to do!

            The film will be released on HULU on June 17, 2022.

 

A surprising comedy/drama that endears and has substance.  

 

Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland

            

Friday, June 3, 2022

NEPTUNE FROST

 Cheryl Isheja     Bertrand Ninteretse     Eliane Umuhire     Elvis Ngabo     Dorcy Rugamba

 

        Multidisciplinary artist Saul Williams and Rwandan filmmaker Anisia Uzeyman have produced a sci-fi musical—an exotic, poetic collage—detailing the miners’ struggles in Rwanda in the early 1990’s.  The time period is after the civil war when the miners formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) to resist the cruel Rwandan Armed Forces who had taken over control of the country.  It depicts exploitation of the workers by colonialist nations depleting Rwanda’s natural resources, and makes statements about capitalism, revolt by the oppressed, and their eventual liberation.

            The film is intended to represent past, present, and future time, so is not a chronological account.  The narrator is a man/woman born into a coal-mining family who says, “My life was never quite mine”, as he/she tells the story of their lives and what happened to them and those around them.  Scenes of the miners working clearly illustrate what they are going through; for instance, when a young man pauses work to lift a rock to examine it, he is struck down by an overseer yelling at him to get back to work.  He ends up dead.

        The movement takes form when some escaped miners meet in the mountains above Burundi to form a collective with computer hacking expertise as a way of disrupting the industry.  They sing, “These mo…..rs don’t want to back down.”  What ensues is the pairing of a coltan miner, Matalusa (brother of the slain man who picked up a rock) and an intersex computer hacker fleeing sexual harassment (the narrator) to seed a revolution. 

            Much of the music consists of chants such as “We mine, but we don’t own what we dig.”  “They use our blood, sweat, and tears to communicate with one another [producing technological products], but they have never heard us.”  “F…Mr. Google.”  But humor is sprinkled in from time to time.  The figure called Martyrloserking came from someone mispronouncing MLK’s name.

        Whereas the film clearly makes a political statement, it truly is an artistic work such that summarizing it is like trying to summarize a painting.  Therefore, it is primarily for those who like to be absorbed in a work of art and use associations to it to understand it.

        Opens June 24 in Houston at the Museum of Fine Arts.

An afro-futurist musical that will delight the senses and arouse conflicting emotions as it makes its political statements.

 

Grade:  A                    By Donna R. Copeland

 

Thursday, June 2, 2022

BENEDICTION

 Peter Capaldi     Tom Blyth     Jack Lowden

Simon Russell Beale     Ben Daniels     Gemma Jones


         This is not your usual war story.  It starts out in London in 1914 with a poem about war written by Siegfried Sassoon (played by Jack Lowden as the younger and Peter Capaldi as the older), the protagonist whose life is chronicled beginning with his years as a young man when he and his brother are going off to WWI.  We see him three years later after his brother was killed and he has become at the same time a decorated British soldier and an anti-war activist, based on his “Soldier’s Declaration.” He is refusing to return to the battlefield on the basis that the conditions for peace have not been stipulated by government and the powers that be are guilty of “political errors and insincerities.”  

         He is fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on your point of view) in that a mentor with influence, Robbie Ross (Beale) sees that he is referred to a hospital for traumatized soldiers in lieu of being court martialed.  He is outraged by this “help” because he had wanted to publicize his protest.  Nevertheless, he concedes, and uses his time in a military hospital to develop more insight into himself with the help of therapist Dr. Rivers (well characterized by the script and performed by Daniels).  

         The plot takes a turn after Sassoon is discharged from the army and focuses on his life thereafter when he has acknowledged his attraction to men and becomes involved in ambivalent relationships with a number of them when, after a particularly painful period, he decides to marry a woman, Hester Gatty (Jones).

         Writer/Director Terence Davies has created a moving and interesting work on the life of the poet Siegfried Sassoon, although he has chosen not to adhere strictly to historical accuracy.  Presumably his interest was more in the direction of illustrating the lives of homosexual men during that period of time not only in the military but in everyday social life as well.  And perhaps just as much to validate anti-war sentiments. His depiction captures the passion against war and the advocacy for freedom of identity, which could be seen as related causes.

         Jack Lowden seems perfectly cast in the starring role, showing the interiority of the main character with subtle charm on the outside and depth of feeling on the inside, most particularly captured in the last scene.  Peter Capaldi as the older Sassoon with obvious bitterness and closed off emotions is aptly personified.  All the cast members are well chosen and help to give us a poignant impression of the people in Sassoon’s life.

 

An unusual war story that depicts international struggles mirroring internal conflicts.

 

Grade:  B                    By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

BOB'S BURGERS

 Voices of:  Kristen Schaal     H. Jon Benjamin    John Roberts     Dan Mintz     

Eugene Mirman     Kevin Kline     Zach Galifianakis     Aziz Ansari     Larry Murphy



         I overheard an audience member in the screening I attended say that he didn’t like the televised version of Bob’s Burgers at first, but it grew on him and he eventually got to watching it regularly.  I’ve never seen one episode, so you can imagine my reaction during the first fifteen minutes of the movie.  What was said about the television show “Seinfeld”? Yeah, that it was “a show about nothing.”  And that was my reaction to Bob’s Burgers Movie—it was amusing but didn’t engage me.  It seemed like I was wasting my time. 

         It is, however, a kind of low-key comedy that I can appreciate others really liking.  Writer/Co-director (with Bernard Derriman) Loren Bouchard, who was largely responsible for the television series, has produced an appealing movie version with many/most of the same actors as on television.  That and the wry comedy and “adventure” means that fans of the show are very likely to adore the movie.

         Action centers around young Louise Belcher (Schaal, whom I have long admired) responding to a taunt at school making fun of her hat with rabbit ears, calling her a “baby”, and accusing her of being a fraidy-cat.  Louise is outraged at the same time she is already worried about her parents’ losing Bob’s Burgers because the bank is calling in their loan.  And oh yes, a large sink hole has manifested itself right outside the front door of the burger place, keeping customers away.  Well, this is certainly not a “show about nothing.”

         Louise’s compulsion to prove her bravery puts her in detective mode, which means she proceeds to solve a murder (the body was found in the sink hole), aided only by her two siblings Tina (Mintz) and Gene (Mirman). 

         Solving a murder, trying to save a business, dealing with school, and getting into a wealthy family’s dynamics—all of this is put together in a meaningful way to tell a story that is entertaining and has some substance.  As I have been writing my review of Bob’s Burgers, more features that I can admire have come to mind.  In addition to the creativity involved in weaving together such disparate elements into a meaningful whole, I especially enjoyed various characters solving their problems by using made-up characters and sequences in their imagination.  

         Hmmm.  It sounds like I might be one of those viewers who initially discount Bob’s Burgers, then end up thinking there is more to it than I initially thought.

 

Bob’s Burgers Movie is a story with characters that eventually grow on the viewer—enough apparently to warrant over 100 episodes of the Belcher family on Fox TV.

 

Grade:  B                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, May 19, 2022

MEN

 Jessie Buckley     Rory Kinnear     Paapa Essiedu     Zac Rothera-Oxley     Gayle Rankin

         Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation) is a master at mixing up reality and fantasy/symbolism, making viewers think one way, then another about the characters and the story.  One must do a bit of work to make sense of his films; otherwise, they would seem to be meaningless.  

         Choral music (Geoff Burrow, Ben Salisbury) and lush cinematography (Rob Hardy) pave the way for a delightful time in a beautiful old house for Harper (Buckley) to get away and heal from the recent messy break-up with her husband James (Essiedu).

         When she arrives at the house and meets the landlord Geoffrey (Kinnear), she is taken aback with his wry humor and teasing, but he is gracious after playfully chiding her for picking an apple in the yard and eating it.  He points out that television and wi-fi are a bit iffy, gives her the one house key (“you don’t really need to lock the door”), and he’s off.

         The horror only really begins when she ventures out for a walk in the forest, delights herself playing with echoes at the entrance to a cave, but then realizes she is lost, with it starting to rain.  And was that a naked man standing in front of an abandoned building?

         There is plenty of horror after that, with the naked man, a smart-alecky kid, the vicar, an unsympathetic policeman, and so on.  Intentionally, Garland has made it appear that Harper must be psychotic, and much of what seems to happen is only in her mind.  (How many times have women been told that?)

         But stepping back and with some thought, we realize that Garland is making a statement about the relationships between men and women and the way in which women are generally regarded.  (Hasn’t Eve always been held responsible for all the ills that followed from her eating the forbidden fruit?)  All the male characters in Men (and I think Garland’s use of the plural is meaningful, in that it guides us toward the general statement he is making) end up scorning Harper and even dying (“because of her”).  

         More of the symbolism could be discussed (e.g., references to death, birth, the barely audible “Papa says so” repeated several times, the appearance of blood on hands and on the naked man), but the viewer should go to see the picture with an open mind and give free rein to one’s personal associations to the images and references.

         Men is not likely to appeal to the general audience, but for those who like to see and appreciate films considered to be “artistic”, it’s well worth seeing.  My fault of the film is that its promised intrigue in the beginning falls into something that is so heavy-handed it becomes almost meaningless in the end.  A little bit of horror is good, but too much makes me just tired.

 

A well-crafted drama with elements of horror that make it intriguing, but maybe there is too much of a good thing.

 

Grade:  B                    By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA

 Michelle Dockery     Maggie Smith     Elizabeth McGovern     Hugh Bonneville

Penelope Wilton     Allen Leech     Joanna Frogatt     Jim Carter     Phillis Logan



            A new era, with mostly the right amount of sentimentality, joy, pain—and surprises.  The Crawley family is in a quandary about permitting a film crew to shoot a movie in their home (it’s still in the silent era), and of course—since they need money to fix the roof, they will agree.  But not without the vociferous protest from Mr. Carson (Carter), the ambivalence of Lord Grantham (Bonneviille), and the sheer delight of the starry-eyed staff, especially Daisy (Sophie McShera) and Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol).  

            This proposal comes at about the same time as the news that Violet Crawley (Smith) has been bequeathed a villa in France from someone she never took seriously, and she is in turn bequeathing it to Sybbie, the child of Tom Branson (Leech) and his late wife Sybil Grantham.  It’s a delicate situation, in that the son of the mysterious man has invited the Grantham/Crawley family to come for a visit to see it for themselves.  There’s a bit of tension in that the son’s mother is not happy with the bequest.

            You can see how all this is neatly set up to provide two new scenarios for the current feature—the second movie, the first of which had followed a popular series on PBS.  Not only that, the two strains of the story will separate the skeptics who will travel to France from the Hollywood fans in the cast who will remain to see the action (pun intended).

As a devoted fan of all things “Downton Abbey”, I admire the writer Julian Fellowes’ ability to sustain our interest by managing to keep us attached to the cast and characters of the episodes and all that happens to them.  To quote a colleague of mine, who said after we saw the film, “It’s like seeing old friends again.”  Considering that Fellowes has been able to maintain enthusiasm—not only that of fans but cast as well—through six seasons on PBS Masterpiece and two follow-up movies, is surely a rare accomplishment.  

Fellowes also manages to highlight human propensities that pique our interest, such as showing that some people can never let go of jealousy, even after their beloved’s death.  Or on a more positive note, showing the beauty and elegance of a death that becomes even more meaningful after the fact.

For all my admiration, I did find some aspects of this production less than stellar.  For instance, there seemed to be a conscious effort to pair up characters, even minor ones, in a kind of matchmaking.  Although some are truly moving, some are just a little too treacly.  In addition, it seems like the filmmakers are trying too hard to bring the work into “relevance” for today’s audience, such as blurring the lines between the “upstairs” and “downstairs.”  Seeing the wait staff socializing with royalty is, I think, still a dream; not a reality (e.g., Prince Harry and Meghan of today).  

But these are minor “beefs”; I thoroughly enjoyed watching this movie.

 

An update on the Downton Abbey series that for true fans will delight.

 

Grade:  B+                            By Donna R. Copeland

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

TOP GUN: MAVERICK

Tom Cruise     Jennifer Connelly     Miles Teller     Monica Barbaro

Val Kilmer     Jon Hamm     Ed Harris     Glen Powell     Lewis Pullman

         As with many Tom Cruise movies, this one seems made for him, although he doesn’t reign supreme all the time.  In the beginning, “Maverick” gets a lot of ribbing as an “old man” from a group of young Top Gun ace recruits, and his superiors are trying to tell him that new technology is going to make him and the planes he flies obsolete.  They’re obviously wanting to get rid of him (especially after he hijacks a plane to prove a point) and finally resort to thinking they will bump him into being a teacher.  Good luck with that—he has always refused career advancements that would take him out of flying.  Hence, he has stayed a Captain.

         The plot is creative in coming up with solutions by which Maverick manages to get his way repeatedly—usually through some derring-do that his superiors must acknowledge is impressive.  Well, OK, so they give an inch, but then, he will take a mile, so to speak.

         This is a very male movie in its illustration of how men relate to one another, especially in groups.  The beginning interactions among them are filled with bravado and macho competitiveness (insufferable at times from a female point of view).  Even the female recruit must do the same to be a part of the group.  Monica Barbaro as “Phoenix” very winningly illustrates this. Authority struggles underlie most of the conflicts.  One recruit, “Rooster” (Teller), has a long-standing resentment toward Maverick for something that still bothers both of them.  We also witness the “star pupil” in “Hangman” (Powell) who seems always to have the right answers and be on the right side, and the nerdy “Bob” (Pullman) who never seems to be able to lay claim to the group.

         I do admire the writers’ (Ehren Kruger et al.) making Maverick’s ingenious flight plan for the primary mission of bombing a uranium plant a metaphor for the entire story.  To wit, expert navigation that takes risks (flying low through a narrow canyon while dodging artillery, then a steep climb to safety (hopefully) using one’s experience, skills, and basic instincts).  These skills are called upon by many pairs of characters in working through their conflicts.    

         The writers beneficially inserted bits of humor and romance periodically to offset the high tension and at times heaviness of the plot.

         Along with the script, direction by Joseph Kosinski and a fine cast help move this Top Gun a step above many action movies that seem to be primarily about special effects and thrills.   These characters really move us and are so well drawn, we want to know more about them.

         Jennifer Connelly is always a joy to see, and cameos by Ed Harris, Jon Hamm, and Val Kilmer serve the movie well.

 

Underneath the blaring sound and visual effects of Top Gun, there are heartwarming stories that portray real human struggles.

 

Grade:  B                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, May 12, 2022

THE INNOCENTS

 Rakel Lenora Flottum     Flva Brynsmo Ramstad     Sam Ashraf     

Mina Yasmen Brenseth     Ellen Dorit Petersen     Morten Svartrelt


         This is a story about children, some of it distressing and some of it rewarding.  Central is Ida (Flottum), a 4-5 year-old girl living in Norway with her parents and older sister Anna (Ramstad), who is autistic and mute, although she could speak at one time.  Ida is introspective despite her young age, and not inclined to give out much information, although she appears to be very close to her mother.  

         The family has just moved to a new city for the father’s job, so Ida must get acquainted with her neighborhood.  While exploring outdoors one day, she encounters Ben (Ashraf), and he playfully shows her some of his powers in telekinesis.  She is of course impressed and tries to do it herself, but never succeeds.  Early on, he shows another side of himself—a mean side.  Still, he is nice to Ida, and she often looks on at his feats with wonder and admiration—until he goes too far one day, and she is more wary after that.

         The neighborhood is mixed race, but we don’t see much evidence of racial animosity, except once by some older boys toward Ben.  Ida often has Anna with her and is amazed when another girl named Aisha befriends them and seems to have a special connection with Anna.  She also has the power to “hear” what Ben is thinking and sets limits on him at times.

         An interesting part of the narrative is that the parents all seem unaware of the children’s powers, and the kids don’t tell them, even when their fears are raised.  Writer-director Eskil Vogt has chosen to portray the children’s world with a clear boundary between them and the adults, even when very frightening and dangerous events begin to transpire.  I find it remarkable that even when parents question their children during intimate times, the kids do not tell about the mysterious powers they’ve observed.  Why Vogt decided upon this omission is puzzling to me.  In the conversation that Ida has with her mother about this specifically, the mother only gives vague, elliptical answers.

         One strong point, though, is the portrayal of Ben’s own experience of his powers as something that bothers him, but he seems to be too young to weigh its value pro and con and resolve it to his satisfaction.  And he seems not to have access to any adult who could help him.  Much of the plot is left completely open at the end of the film.

         Rakel Lenore Flottum is amazing in her skills at such a young age.  She easily holds a central place throughout the movie and has no trouble maintaining your interest in her.  Your opinion of her fluctuates across time as she matures and learns from experience, and the fact that such a young actress is able to convey such complexity is impressive.  In a similar way, young Sam Ashraf is able to keep his face impassive at times, and on other occasions allows you to see the utter anguish his character is undergoing.  Whereas Ida and Anna’s mother and father show good insight into their children and respond to them in helpful ways—with some limitations—the two (presumably immigrant) mothers of Ben and Aisha are either unprepared for their children’s talents or are too burdened by being alone and under stresses of living to be of much help.


         The Innocents is a fine production with the subject matter treated in a novel way and primarily from the children’s point of view.  I found it to be an engaging horror story, even though distressing to watch at times.

 

Grade:  B                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, May 5, 2022

HAPPENING

 Anamaria Vartolomei     Kaley Mottet

 

            Was it serendipity or did the French filmmakers of Happening know to release their film at this precise time in the U.S.?  Happening is something that everyone should see, given our current state of affairs in which Roe vs. Wade is likely to be overturned in the U.S.  I have to think that director Audrey Diwan (and co-writer with others including the autobiographical novelist Annie Ernaux) must have had some inkling that the topic would be coming to the forefront in our country just when their film is opening.  (I read that it so happens that Audrey Diwan was aware of the recent Texas law against abortion, which reaffirmed how topical her film is.)  The production is so well done, the viewer is in lockstep with the protagonist every step of the way, admiring the fortitude and singularity of will that it took to achieve what she did.

            The setting is France in the 1960’s when young Anne (Vartolemei), a promising student is looking toward exams that will determine whether she can go to university.  She’s such a good student, she has little of the anxiety her girlfriends show.  Her parents who own a bar/restaurant are always encouraging, and her classmates often look to her during study periods.  She is serious about school and clearly loves it, and is less interested in socializing, although she navigates in that realm very well.  Suddenly, she feels alarm when her period is late.  

            At that time, France had laws similar to those recently passed in Texas and other states prohibiting abortion and penalizing the woman and anyone who aids her in obtaining one.  We see Anne’s creativity in pursuing every avenue she can think of to assure that she will be able to continue on her path to university.  But another hallmark of the movie is to show how isolated she becomes when almost every person she turns to refuses to be involved—which is understandable because to help her would risk prosecution.

            Actress Anamaria Vartolemei, who plays Anne, has already won a Cesar and other awards for her performance.  She is one of those actors to whom your eyes are always drawn when she is in a scene.  The close-ups of her face convey a wealth of information not only about what is going through her mind, but what is going on generally.  She can be just a regular—although very bright—student, with good friends and attractiveness that catches the eye of others, especially males, or alone in a major dilemma either about what to do next or figuring out how to escape a situation.

            The beauty of the film is partly about the heroism of a woman/women in the face of threat and partly about the importance of education in an individual’s life.  When the professor confronts Anne about why her grades have fallen off and how she can justify asking for copies of the lectures she has missed—such as an illness—she replies forthrightly that it was “the illness that strikes only women and turns them into housewives.”

            Although praising the film, a British reviewer whom I respect (Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian) wrote in April, 2022, that this film is “old-fashioned in its vehement emotional message.”  Most likely, he did not know how relevant it would be in the U.S. a month later.

 

Facing unforeseen challenges in one’s life may be the mark of true character…if one can overcome all the obstacles thrown in the path.

 

Grade:  A                              By Donna R. Copeland



THE DUKE

 Jim Broadbent     Dame Helen Mirren     Fionn Whitehead

Heather Craney     Matthew Goode     Aimee Kelly     Craig Conway

            This is a strangely seductive movie, showing a British family with a rather daft though good-hearted Kempton Bunton (Broadbent), his wife Dorothy Bunton (Mirren), and younger son Jackie (Whitehead) not communicating very well with one another.  Dorothy is extremely critical of Kempton (for some good reasons), which makes him more secretive at times, and Jackie torn between taking sides with one then the other.  An older son appears about midway through, but doesn’t appear to have much in common with the rest of his rather straitlaced family.  Dorothy is especially offended by his frequent swearing.

            Much about the family is a dramatization, but the story is loosely based on an actual theft of the Goya painting entitled “The Duke of Welllington” from the National Gallery of London.  Reference is made to it in a number of plays and movies ever since.

            In the movie, Kempton is currently protesting paying the government a television license (which everyone was required to pay) since he cannot get the BBC and he feels strongly that everyone should be able to watch television as a public service.  After serving some time, he thinks he has solved the problem by taking the BBC tube out of his set.  He is not only against paying the license himself but feels strongly that everyone should receive television as a public service.  

            When the theft of the  Goya painting is in all the news, it suddenly appears in the Bunton household, with Kempton and Jackie making sure it is hidden even from the ever-cleaning Dorothy.  

            Much intrigue occurs around the painting, around Kempton’s temporary jobs, and the death of Jackie’s sister.  Towards the end, after the viewer has become more and more sympathetic to and interested in the family, there is a surprising shift, which makes the Roger Michell’s direction and screenplay by Richard Bean and Oliver Coleman impressive in its subtlety and its shift from an account of a zany man to a heart-warming story of community and care for others. 

            Jim Broadbent’s acting skills have made him a famous and favorite British actor.  Here, he makes his character so convincing one surmises that he is one with the kindly Kempton Bunton.  The same for Helen Mirren who after we so often see her now so elegantly dressed and coifed nowadays in the media we can see how easily she pulls off playing a frumpy housewife with firm opinions.  Fionn Whitehead and Matthew Goode as Kempton’s solicitor contribute to the appeal and quality of The Duke.

 

This is an engaging British production that pulls you in, makes you think, and have good thoughts about humankind.

 

Grade:  A                              By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS

 Benedict Cumberbatch     Elizabeth Olsen     Chiwetel Ejiofor     Benedict Wong

Xochitl Gomez     Michael Stuhlberg     Rachel McAdams     Patrick Stewart


            The strange wonders shown in this continuing saga of the Marvel universe(s) are a testament to the talent in filmmaking we’ve come to expect from Marvel, with a fine blending of story (Michael Waldron, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko), cast (Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, et al.), music (Danny Elfman), stunning  special effects and cinematography (John Mathieson).  All of these efforts are woven together into a spell-binding whole by director Sam Raimi.  Visually and emotionally, its powers draw the viewer into another colorful, fascinating, and sometimes terrifying world.

            One must carefully attend to the plot because of all the complexities involved in multiple universes with characters appearing in more than one, often with subtle differences among their different manifestations.  

            The hubris of Doctor Strange Cumberbatch), so evident in the previous (2018) story, is short-lived in this one.  Although starting out with his usual confidence in trying to incapacitate a huge octopus-like monster creating havoc on city streets and intent on capturing one small girl, Strange finds himself in need of assistance. He gets no small number of come-uppances from Wanda/Scarlet Witch (Olsen), a girl named America Chavez who is able to transverse universes at will, and others including the Doctor Strange in another universe.  Eventually, he is brought before the Illuminati summoned by Karl Mordo (Ejiofor) to sit in judgment of him.

            But throughout, there are major struggles with Scarlet Witch who appears to be power hungry, wanting to maintain her control in all the universes using Darkhold forces.  To do that, she is after America to steal the girl’s powers against the wishes and efforts of Dr. Strange who feels duty bound to protect America, who first appeared to him in a dream, although later she informs him that he was actually in another universe.

            As in the previous Doctor Strange, human conflicts are dramatically brought into the drama.  Significant here are the pull of motherhood on a woman, humans’ need for power and control, the duty of the strong to protect the weak, the wisdom of cooperation vs. going it alone, and the challenge of maintaining human relationships and managing grief and loss.

            Marvel movies are noteworthy for their broad-based appeal to young and old, fans of variable genres, and for their many historical, mythological, and literary references.  That they are based on comic books—usually considered light reading—must bring a smile to many.  Those who grew up on and have loved comic books might well say, “I could have told you so.”

            For those who love fantasy/action/adventure films that keep you on the edge of your seat, this is very likely to appeal.  In addition to the high drama and glittering visual display, it has human themes and moral conundrums worthy of post-theater discussion.

 

A mind-blowing experience traveling across multiple universes all of which have humans, some of whom appear in more than one, albeit with differing characteristics.

 

Grade:  A                              By Donna R. Copeland