Wednesday, July 27, 2022


 Morgan Freeman     Juliette Binoche     Cameron Monaghan     Hala Finley     Frank Grillo

            This is a crime drama as thrilling as any you would want to see, with the best of writing and directing by Anna Gutto and a cast containing the illustrious Juliette Binoche in a completely divergent role from her past and the inimitable Morgan Freeman being in his quintessential role of the quiet, irritating upsetter.  Close behind them is young Hala Finley who is already a master at showing how children can portray depth of character and artistry while still maintaining childhood innocence.  

            This is not your ordinary crime drama—no screaming car chases, no grossly bloody scenes, no mano-a-mano male combat for a finale—it shows ordinary people confronting life dilemmas and careful, committed FBI work that would do our country proud.  One might think this was not “exciting” enough, but in actuality, it was so intense at times I needed to take a break from my home screening.

            The story begins with a novel characterization of a female truck driver Sally (Binoche) talking to her friends on the road—other female truck drivers—indicating her dubious ties to her brother Dennis (Grillo).  He is in prison, and after a lifetime of protecting her from an abusive father, he is able to get her to help him in alleviating some of the abuse he is experiencing in prison.  This involves her transporting “packages” for him from one place to another.  

            When one of these “packages” turns out to be a young girl (Finley), the plot heats up.  This is especially since the writer of the drama is giving credit to how smart and streetwise young girls from her background are today.  We the audience learn something about the knowledge and understanding victims of poverty and trafficking acquire in their brief lives.

            Now, Sally has to deal with situations in her life for which she is completely unprepared.  For the first time, she must take into account someone other than herself and her devotion to her brother.  That journey will be much more difficult than anything she’s had to face before.

            I contrast this production with male-dominated stories of daring-do in which “action” scenes predominate.  Here, you find two unlikely females developing a tentative bond, an unlikely FBI pair trying to work together, and the unexpected disruptions of a child.  The bottom line is that it becomes interesting—even engrossing—while revealing much about human relationships, trafficking of children, the prison system, and intelligent police work.


A thriller well worth your time and interest, Paradise Highway shows us important considerations in life.


Grade:  A                              By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, July 14, 2022


 Ryan Gosling     Chris Evans     Ana de Armas     Rege-Jean Page     Billy Bob Thornton


           How to get the attending audience not to see your movie.  Make scenes so dark viewers can’t tell what’s going on or who the characters are, especially in the fight scenes.  Make it so loud that dialog can’t be heard above the din of sound effects.  Include characters that are so sadistic it’s unbearable to watch (e.g., pulling out fingernails one by one) and forces you to look away.  Write the plot so it contains implausible situations, such as the wounded continuing to fight long after they would most likely have succumbed, have a character with a heart condition be terrified time and again without having a heart attack.  And finally, mixing up the time frames by going backward and forward.

            The CIA must be grumbling about how it’s portrayed in The Gray Man (largely written, directed, and produced by Russo brothers Anthony and Joe), showing two leaders in the upper echelons of the CIA who are completely illegal and immoral.  Movies are notorious among professionals for portraying their disciplines unrealistically, and (at least I hope) this is another instance.  Of course, we know of real situations where the CIA used bad judgment, but I hate to see even those instances glorified in media.

            The star of this production is one of my favorites, Ryan Gosling, as an unfairly discredited agent being recruited to perform special jobs that are top-secret by their nature of bordering on the illegal.  Six, as he is called, does not even have a file.  Gosling is up to his usual fine performance of being extraordinarily gifted/trained in combat, and still gentle with a heart of gold.  Chris Evans is good as well as a fiendish, sadistic evil man, and it’s hard for me to believe that “Captain America” would take on such a role, but he is believably bad here.  Ana de Armas likewise plays a strong role demonstrating her fighting skills against much stronger men.  She is certainly convincing as a very bold driver.

            On the whole, the cast and its skills are the best feature of this production that looks and feels like a video game, more intent on the craft of special effects than the art of story and character.  The Russo brothers have become famous perhaps primarily for their success in the Marvel world of film, which I have enjoyed from time to time.  Here, I think they go over the top in so many ways, with no recognizable artistry.  The craft as they see it takes over the film.  The erratic editing simply provides more evidence of the film’s lack.


I can’t think of any reason anyone would want to see this film.


Grade:  D                              By Donna R. Copeland


 Lesley Manville     Isabelle Huppert     Lucas Bravo     Ellen Thomas

Jason Isaacs     Anna Chancellor     Alba Baptista     Rose Williams

            This is a feel-good movie through and through, although rather pie-in-the sky.  I gather the point of the story is that kindness begets kindness from a London dance hall to the House of Dior in Paris…except when it doesn’t.

            Mrs. Ada Harris (played superbly by Lesley Manville) is a kindly, sparkly cleaning woman who gets a glimpse of a Dior gown at Lady Dant’s (Chancellor), one of her wealthy employers.  Another theme of the drama is about one’s dreams and the importance of following them through to reality.  With something more than a mere glimpse of the dress, Mrs. Harris envisions herself wearing it, which brings on dreams of being able to buy such a work of art.  She immediately takes on extra work and devises other ways to earn enough to go to Paris to achieve her dream.

            This will be no easy challenge, and Mrs. Harris runs into many obstacles as well as the kindness of others to achieve her goal.  Just getting her foot in the door of the Dior establishment will be one of her biggest discouragements.  Obstacle is personified by the intimidating directress Mrs. Colbert (Huppert), the woman behind the success of Dior himself, along with snobby self-entitled wealthy clients who disdain her being in their midst. 

            The creators of Mrs. Harris are clearly in sympathy with workers who are exploited by their employers, so that theme is woven into the action as well.  With all the varied issues at hand, Director Anthony Fabian with three co-writers (including the author of the novel on which it is based, Paul Gallico) are successful in meshing together all these themes to create an entertaining story.  To do this, they have included many coincidental meetings and unlikely stories of generosity, but the uplifting messages can be inspiring, even the part about Sartre and Existentialism.

            The two well-known actresses Manville and Huppert are again remarkable in capturing the essences of their characters and sustaining the most entertaining aspects of the drama.  Strong support is provided by Lucas Bravo as Dior’s accountant and Ellen Thomas as Ada’s faithful friend back in London.   


For a light, sometimes very funny, movie experience, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris will surely entertain those who have even a passing interest in haute couture. 


Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, July 13, 2022


 Daisy Edgar Jones     Taylor John Smith     David Strathairn

Michael Hyatt     Sterling Macer, Jr.     Harris Dickinson

            A beautifully rendered film about a remarkable child abandoned by her family and growing up alone in a shack in the marshland of North Carolina.  Isolated from most of the town of Barkley Cove, she is called “the marsh girl” by townspeople who make up all kinds of negative stories about her.  

            There are kindly people who help Kya (Jones), like young Tate (Smith) who is a friend of her brother’s and has seen her in the marshes.  As a teenager he offers to teach her to read.  Also, the black couple, Mabel (Hyatt) and Jumpin (Macer) who own a small grocery seem to understand that she is abandoned and help her in dignified ways.  But most of the people in the town regard her with suspicion and make fun of her.  

            So when swaggering young hotshot Chase Andrews (Dickinson), whom Kya had had a brief affair with turns up dead, Kya becomes the prime suspect in his murder.  

            The film is well paced, leisurely giving a detailed picture of Kya’s family and early life showing how she became so independent and merged with the natural environment surrounding her.  So knowledgeable about birds and the animals she comes to know so well, Kya becomes an illustrator, thanks to the encouragement of her friend Tate, her first love.

            When the tale transitions to the mystery of Chase’s death, the pace quickens and we see more of the cruelty Kya experienced with her family and the keen disappointments she suffers when key people let her down.  Balancing this heartbreak is the kindly retired attorney Tom Milton (Strathairn) who has generously taken on the task of defending her against the murder charge. 

            Big plusses in this maximally engaging film are the acting, the writing, the directing, the music, and the cinematography.  Daisy Edgar Jones, Taylor John Smith, and David Strathairn are captivating in their portrayal of the three lead roles, solidly backed up by Michael Hyatt and Sterling Macer, Jr.  Harris Dickinson embodies the less appealing Chase most convincingly.

            The direction by Olivia Newman shows her talent in adapting the popular novel by Delia Owens into a film that captures the audience’s full attention throughout.  The 2+ hour film sped by.  Music by Mychael Danna lives up to his previous award-worthy compositions in Life of Pi, Moneyball, and Little Miss Sunshine.  Although the film is supposed to take place in North Carolina, it was actually filmed in Louisiana, but Polly Morgan’s lush cinematography fools you into thinking it is North Carolina, especially when you see Kya running through the brush hiding from those trying to find her.

            This is a tender and heartstrings-puller love story, an example of female child pluckiness, an absorbing murder mystery and trial, and a commentary of pride and prejudice of the type found in small communities even today.

            It should be noted that Reese Witherspoon is one of the producers.  Release was postponed at one point following an ABC news-magazine show Turning Point and articles in The New Yorker and Atlantic magazines, casting some suspicion on prior activities of the author of the book, Delia Owens and her husband Mark.


Go to Where the Crawdads Sing to find a gripping story of valor, discovery, and delight.


Grade:  A                              By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, June 22, 2022


            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


 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


 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


 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


 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… 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


 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


 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


 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


 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


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