Sunday, March 11, 2018


      Written and directed by Alex Garland, this new sci-fi film is based on the best selling novel of the same name. It is a dazzling trippy story that takes place in "The Shimmer", an area of earth that has been taken over by an alien lifeform for no apparent reason. The story starts when a meteor crashes into a lighthouse and the shimmer appears and starts to spread.

        Natalie Portman stars as an ex-military, biologist whose husband, played by Oscar Isaac,  returns after disappearing into the shimmer for a year. Once he returns, his health immediately deteriorates and to save him, Ms. Portman and four other scientists head into the shimmer to try to figure out the source of the phenomena.

         The other scientists are played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny. To Mr. Garland's credit, the fact that five woman make up the major cast never seems out of the ordinary and and perfectly natural. From an audience perspective, it's a pretty forward thinking casting choice and the women make the most of their roles.

         Once inside the shimmer, the film turns into a very trippy adventure. The landscape is beautiful, filled with strange plants and creatures that are mutating from the original fauna and flora. The soundtrack as well, creates an alien sensation as the five woman go deeper into the shimmer to reach the lighthouse and source of the mystery. There are moments of violent surprise and constant suspense throughout the film. Once the destination is reached, the story goes off the rails in surreal craziness, giving us answers but even more questions.

          This is a thought provoking sci-fi adventure that keeps its audience off balance. Truly cinema escapism.

Sunday, March 04, 2018


      Making the short list for Best Foreign Film but ultimately not getting a deserved nomination at this year's Academy Award, this is a mesmerizing new Israeli drama from writer/director Samuel Maoz.

       Lior Ashkenasi and Sarah Adler star as grief stricken parents who learn at the onset of the film that their son, Jonathan has been killed in the line of military duty.  At once a meditation on grief, the film becomes so much more in a surprising and deliberately paced story.

       The film is divided into three sections. It is a deeply moving film filled with moments that catch an audience off guard. Mr. Maoz use of unconventional camera angles and surreal flashes as the story unfolds keep the viewer in an hypnotic state even in moments of pure tedium.

       Ms. Adler and Mr. Ashkenasi are both terrific but Mr. Ashkenasi, already a well respected Israeli actor, takes his skills to another level as a man torn apart by grief and guilt. Even in moments of silence (of which there are many), his expressive face, at once breaks your heart, as well as keeps you on edge waiting for his inner turmoil to spill out.

        When art is done right, it should leave an impact on it's audience. This haunting drama will leave you reeling and deeply affected well after the final credits.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Game Night

              If you're looking for some mindless escapist fun, then this new comedy is for you. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams star as Max and and Annie, a competitive, game obsessed, couple who enjoy having their friends over for game night.

              When Brooks, Max's super successful older brother, played by Kyle Chandler, invites everyone to his house for a live mystery night game, a real kidnapping changes the rules and suddenly everyone is not sure what's real and what's part of the game. It's a fun premise that has plenty of potential and makes good on a great number of laughs and twists.

        Max's and Annie's friends are played by Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, and Kylie Bunbury. Jesse Plemons plays a strange next door neighbor and Danny Huston, Michael C. Hall, and Jeffrey Wright have small but important roles.

             Most of the best laughs come during the first half of the film.  The second half dissolves into a typical crime comedy "wrap it up with the bad guys" to get to the end plot but still throws a few curve balls. Mr. Bateman and Ms. McAdams have great chemistry between them and it's fun to see Kyle Chandler having a good time since he usually plays more serious parts.

               Besides lots of physical comedy,  the script is filled with great one-liners and puns. You can't lose with this game. And stay past the credits for a quick but key sequence.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Insult

       Nominated for best Foreign Film at this year's Academy Awards, this Lebanese film is a terrific and tense drama about how a war of words can easily escalate into something much worse. 

       An exchange of words between Yasser, a Palestinian construction foreman and Tony, a Lebanese Christian, over Tony's broken balcony drain lead to insults that escalate into physical violence, courtroom appearances and National attention.

       Adel Karam plays Tony and Kamel El Basha plays Yasser and both men are excellent. Tony, with his short fuse and pride, stubbornly refuses to back down after Yasser's insult. He demands an apology but Yasser, who, in his quiet dignity, refuses feeling he is the one who should get an apology. In fear since he is the minority refuge, Yasser would prefer to say nothing as their argument ends in a courtroom that does nothing to resolve the issue and only make things worse.

       The war of words that escalates is easily a universal situation but here is heightened by the social, religious and political background in Lebanon.  As the tension mounts, there are surprises and hidden facts revealed.  The complexity of Middle Eastern politics can be difficult for an American audience but this is a film with a message that is both thought provoking and entertaining. It certainly deserves it's Oscar nomination and very possibly a win.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Black Panther

       Culturally significant, this new superhero film sets itself apart from the rest of the Marvel films with its predominately African American cast and director. It also features women in strong key roles. It's an enjoyable stand alone film but definitely reminds it's audience of it's ties to the Marvel Universe (especially in a final post credit scene).

       Racial and sexual politics aside, it's well cast and directed (by Ryan Coogler, who also co-wrote the script) and includes some dazzling special effects. At it's core, the film is a cross between James Bond, Star Wars, and The Lion King. It strives to be important (and it is) but also takes itself far too seriously. It tackles some heavy subjects with too little comic relief. To be fair, there are a few good laughs and a visual gag or two. The armored rhinos were a bit over the top though.

       Chadwick Boseman stars as T'Challa, prince of Wakanda ( a fictional African country) who is also the Black Panther, a living symbol of his people. When his father is killed, he inherits the throne but heavy is the head that wears the crown. He soon finds himself in a fight with Klaue, the man who killed his father and also Erik Killmonger, a challenger for the throne. He must also decide to keep Wakanda's technology hidden or share their knowledge and resources with the rest of the world. Mr. Boseman handles himself aptly in and out of his costume.

           Klaue is played by Andy Serkis, who chews up the scenery and appears to be really enjoying himself. It's probably due in part that he finally has a role that isn't motion capture. Killmonger is played by Michael B. Jordan, who is a formidable villain. Also in major roles are Dania Guria ( Michonne from "The Walking Dead") as Okoye, the leader of the Dora Milaje, T'Challa's all female royal guards and Lupita Nyong'o as Nikia, T'Challa's former lover and Wakanda spy. The large cast also features Daniel Kaluuya as W'Kabi, Letitia Wright as Shuri, Angela Bassett as Ramonda, Forest Whitaker as Zuri, Winston Duke as M'Baku and Martin Freeman as Everett Ross. In a film striving for authenticity, it's interesting to note that Mr. Freeman who is British plays an American CIA agent. Sterling K. Brown has an important cameo as well. The characters are fully realized played by a very talented ensemble.

            With this film, Marvel once again raises the bar for superhero films. Mr Coogler has brought to life an iconic, comic book Black hero that a culture and community can proudly call their own. And better yet, he stars in a major Hollywood vehicle that should still appeal to a mass audience, regardless of race or sex.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

A Fantastic Woman

    Selected as a nominee for Best Foreign film at next month's Oscars, this is a heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting drama from Chile. It is co-written and beautifully directed by Sebastian Lelio. It features a remarkable and yes, fantastic performance by Daniela Vega as Marina, a transgender woman struggling to get her life in order after her lover dies suddenly.

     After a birthday celebration, Orlando (played by Francisco Reyes), thirty years her senior, awakens feeling ill. While waiting for Marina, his illness is complicated by a fall down a flight of stairs. Marina takes him to the hospital but he soon dies, leaving Marina in shock and confusion. Questioned and examined by the police, harassed and ostracized by Orlando's family, Marina's world is further turned upside down.  

     While a fictitious story, there is so much ugly truth here that it only serves to heighten the amazing performance by Ms. Vega. As a transgender woman, one must believe she has dealt with (and may continue to deal with) many of the prejudices and hate faced by Marina in the film.

     What makes it even more compelling is just how universal her story really is. Anyone can relate to the terrible circumstances faced by Marina, made only more complicated for her as a transgender woman. Ms. Vega performance is heartbreaking but her strength shines through the sadness and her raw, honest portrayal borders on magical. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

12 Strong

   A military action drama based on the true story of the U.S. first response against the Taliban in Afghanistan after 9/11. A month after the Twin Towers were brought down, an elite squad of 12 soldiers were sent to Afghanistan to work with the local freedom fighters against a Taliban stronghold. 

       Chris Hemsworth stars as Mitch Nelson, the leader of the squad that includes Michael Pena and Michael Shannon. The film also co-stars Rob Riggle and William Fichtner as Nelson's superior officers and Naved Negahban as General Abdul Dostum, the leader of the Afghan Northern Alliance. There is no denying that Mr. Hemsworth is a dashing hero but rather than playing the mythical Thor, here he represents a real American hero and he is just terrific.

        The film is gritty and very realistic. The battle sequences are very exciting and what really sets the film aside is the horses that the soldiers find themselves needing to carry out their mission. The film is based on a book called "Horse Soldiers", written about the classified mission. It is amazing to watch the unit fight on horseback and even more amazing to know that the animals were't harmed during the making of the film. In the credits we learn there was an animation unit as well as a puppetry unit  that I'm sure were used to simulate the horses when they were in danger (and they are quite a bit).

        The story is thrilling and patriotic and you can't help but rally around Nelson and his men. What makes it even more remarkable is realizing that the film is a recreation of a real mission, carried out by real soldiers.  It's stories like this that reinforce an appreciation of our military and how they put their lives on the line every day protecting our freedom.