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