Saturday, June 17, 2017

WONDER WOMAN (2017) - Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen,

Director:     Patty Jenkins
Writers:      Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder
Actors:       Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen

What magnificent Amazons the women are in this film.  Robin Wright, in the role of Antiope, the military leader of the Amazons, is absolutely wonderful as she twists and turns in the air to send a fury of arrows at the German soldiers attacking their invisible island.  Connie Nielsen, as Queen Hippolyta, is majestic and vulnerable as she tries to control and guide the young princess Diana towards her destiny as Wonder woman.   

Even Chris Pine, who portrays pilot Steve Trevor, is made more humane and manly in the presence of such awesome women.  I totally loved the choreography of the island battle.  Even as they battle, we watch the warrior women perform incredible feats, but never once do we even consider that it’s about prowess or superior skills or just plain winning.  Director Patty Jenkins made choices which encourage us to see instead the generous spirit of these women who only want to honor life and save the world.  The CGI effects are excellent.

Once Wonder Woman leaves the island behind and enters the WW II scenario, she still embodies that sense of spiritual and moral strength which define her Amazonian heritage.  Gal Gadot is beautiful and strong and steadfast as Diana Prince, Wonder Woman.  There is no arrogance in her possession of enhanced fighting skills.

The best thing about this movie, though, is the human focus on the big picture.  Patty Jenkins understands the true female spirit:  that when it comes to protecting and defending those we love, women are fearless and fierce.    

GEN: 9  JUST: 9  HUVA:  9

TAGS:  Wonder Woman, Amazons, Diana Prince, Gal Gadot, Robin Wright, Patty Jenkins, Connie Nielsen, Chris Pine, Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder

Saturday, June 10, 2017

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD (2017) - Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana

DIRECTOR:  Guy Ritchie
WRITERS:    Joby Harold, Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram
ACTORS:      Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana

I really liked this version of “King Arthur.”  It was more about the evolution of King Arthur from child-to-man-to-king, and the spiritual significance of why only Arthur can pull the legendary sword.    

Charlie Hunnam is wonderful in the TV series “Sons of Anarchy,” but, for me, he wasn’t the right choice to portray Arthur the king.  Of all our recent hunk-heroes, I think Channing Tatum could have given Arthur the soul and the heart which made him such a beloved legend.  Charlie has the looks, the physique and determination to portray Arthur, but I didn’t see the beleaguered heart of a great king who knows intuitively that whatever decisions he reaches as leader of his people, some of those people will die and/or be hurt by the choices he makes.

In “The Vow,” I saw Channing Tatum portray that heart and spirit in his love for Rachel McAdams’ character.  He drew me in emotionally. 

In this version, Arthur’s journey becomes more about his confronting his personal fears rather than the monster within himself he must battle.  King Arthur of legend is a king of magnanimous heart and spirit., one willing to sacrifice himself for his people.  Eric Bana as Arthur’s father depicted more of that in his scenes than did Arthur the man.

That said, CGI effects and cinematography are excellent.   Guy Ritchie has a strong vision of magnificence on the screen.  I did miss Merlin’s character.  I’m not sure being raised in a brothel creates “king” character better than being raised by a magician who understands politics, leadership and miracles.  Still, I did enjoy this movie.

GEN: 7  JUST: 8  HUVA:  5

TAGS:  King Arthur, Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Eric Bana, legend, Guy Ritchie

Monday, April 3, 2017

LOGAN (2017) - Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen

DIRECTOR:  James Mangold
WRITER:       Scott Frank
ACTORS:      Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook

No doubt about it, superpower movies are thrilling fantasy adventures.  They engage the adrenalin surge.  This movie, however, is more about engaging the heart than the adrenalin. 

Little did I realize “Logan” was a Wolverine story.  Nevertheless, I was immediately engaged because, from the beginning, it was evident to me this movie was more about the human condition than human superpowers.  We see Logan struggling to survive undercover as a mere human on the road to ultimate death.  We witness his gruff reluctance to save his mentor, Charles, now fragile and broken by the aftereffects of his own superpowers.

Disillusioned and bitter, Logan’s love and respect for his mentor renders him a vulnerable fragility which we can’t ignore.  The tenderness which cannot quite overcome the sharp ruthless edge of his metallic claws is heartbreakingly real.

He knows nothing else but that he must protect his loyal friends who are all quite overcome by their own superabilities which now betray them at every turn. When a new child mutant enters his life, one which possesses his own Wolverine traits, what choice does he have but to protect her too?

My journey in this movie was more about the challenges which arise because of conflicting emotions:  compassion vs. hatred; forgiveness vs. anger;  vengeance vs. love.   Sometimes the opposites co-exist.  What then do you do?  I absolutely identified with Logan’s dilemma.

Does he use his hated savage power for the good of others?  To save an innocent child’s life?  To guide that child to a gentler, more normal existence despite her Wolverine powers?

In the end, at great cost to himself, Logan has no choice but to allow his monster-self to prevail in order to defend those he loves most.  This is an excellent movie, directed with nuanced sensitivity.

GEN:  9;  JUST:  N/A   HUVA:  6
TAGS:  James Mangold, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Wolverine, X-men, Logan

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

HIDDEN FIGURES (2016) - Olivia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner

Director:     Theodore Melfi
Writers:       Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi
Actors:        Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner

This title is apt but somehow doesn’t suggest the history, the passion and the magnificent humanity of this movie.  It is a fine example of how we humans who exist in a duality view of black/white and bad/good are forced to face the mirror of ourselves and come to terms with the fact that “we all piss the same color.”

What makes this movie so engaging and satisfying is that it’s as much about the evolution of our souls as it is about the evolution of our space technology. 

The three African-American actresses who portray the three genius-level mathematicians during the early NASA days are magnificent and iconic in their roles.  We understand them, feel them and see them as the stellar human beings they are.  They each find a moment to glow in the spotlight which brings up that lump in my throat.

In my opinion, they all deserved “Best Actress” nominations, but, yes, if I had to choose, it would probably be Olivia Spencer.  In one scene, she has to reveal to us her self-righteous indignation, her staunch refusal to surrender to inevitability, her stubborn pride and passionate courage.  While Taraji Henson and Janelle Monae have similar scenes, the element Spencer chooses to overlay all that is heart-rending vulnerability and, for me, that wins the ticket.

Director Theodore Melfi hits all the right notes and elicits great work from all his crew and actors.  Kevin Costner does a fine job of being the team leader, led by his heart and not his mind.  He’s perfect in the role.  The script is excellent, telling us the story, point to point, in an efficient manner, without sacrificing heart and soul in the process.
GEN:  9;  JUST:  9;  HUVA:  10
TAGS:  Hidden Figures, space program, mathematicians, women, black, African-American, Taraji P. Henson, Olivia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Theodore Melfi, Allison Schroeder

Friday, February 3, 2017

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016) - Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler

Director:     Kenneth Lonergan
Writers:      Kenneth Lonergan
Actors:  Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler

From the first scene with Lee Chandler (portrayed by Casey Affleck), we sense something dark and repressed within Lee’s soul.  His eyes have no light, his voice is a dead monotone, and he moves with robotic energy.  We can’t see any light in him at all.

It’s not till midway in the movie we discover what has caused the near-death of his soul.  Yet, even as we understand why he lives in such pain and denial, we also want to shout at him to wake up.  He is physically alive.  Surely that’s worth fighting for?

Casey Affleck depicts this character beautifully.   This film is not a feel-good, happily-ever-after movie.  Rather, it’s a simple journey through a man’s psyche to understand why he can be so self-destructive.  It’s an honest exploration of the human condition.

Michelle Williams portrays his wife, Randi, who co-experiences the tragic events with her husband, but who deals with loss and pain in a more constructive way. Years after they have gone separate ways, there’s a powerful scene where Randi opens her heart to Lee and tries to repair the damage to their lives.  This scene is why she got the nomination for best supporting actress.

The death of Lee’s brother propels Lee into becoming his nephew’s guardian.  We sense that Lucas just might be the instrument of his Uncle Lee’s salvation.  Will his guardianship force Lee to escape his self-destructive mode?  At first we think Lucas is a sex-absorbed, unfeeling teenager.  In a heart-rending breakdown, he reveals to us that he has actually buried the pain of his father’s loss deep inside himself in much the same fashion his Uncle Lee denies pain.

Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan has united his two functions and created a film which addresses human frailties and strengths in a compassionate, loving way.  This is a powerful movie.

  SUMMARY:   GEN:  9; JUST: n/a;  HUVA: 10
TAGS:  Manchester, Massachusetts, Kenneth Lonergan, Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, fishing, Lucas Hedges

MOONLIGHT (2016) - Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes


Director:     Barry Jenkins
Writers:      Barry Jenkins
Actors:  Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Jharrel Jerome, Andre’ Holland

I love when a film’s director is also the writer.  There is such a consistency and heart to the end result.  The story line is simple and straightforward.  It’s about a boy’s journey from child to man.

Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his wife Theresa are a strong thread in the first two incarnations of Little/Chiron/Black.  We witness pre-teen Little struggle to deal in a home governed by the needs of a drug-addicted mother and no father.  Juan, who is no saint, nevertheless provides a paternal model for Little, and Theresa provides the unselfish, maternal love Little’s own mother can’t provide.  Mahershala Ali is notable in his role.  He has a strong, subtle presence, all emotions and thoughts shining with genuine truth from his eyes.

One childhood friend, Kevin, manages to break through teenage Chiron’s inherent distrust, but events force him to betray Chiron, and Chiron morphs into the adult Black, still a loner and still unable to trust others easily.

I was distracted by the fact that the three actors who portray the three ages of Little/Chiron/Black look nothing alike.  However, they each conveyed the loneliness, distrust and soul of the character successfully.  Kevin’s character transition from boy to man was more physically believable to me.

Writer/director Barry Jenkins elicits honest performances from all his actors.  The scenes when Black and Kevin unite are loaded with unspoken emotions and thoughts. Yearning for the trust and friendship they once shared, the air is thick with their mutual fear of being rejected.

Ultimately, despite the harsh realities our hero has been forced to endure, the film itself is never judgmental and always humane.   I would have to say it’s a tender movie, all about heart and soul.

SUMMARY:  GEN:  8; JUST:  n/a; HUVA:  10
TAGS:  Barry Jenkins, Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

LA LA LAND (2016) - Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

Director:     Damien Chazelle
Writers:      Damien Chazelle
Actors:   Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling

COMMENTS:   What a charming, old-fashioned movie this is.  It’s neither dependent on CGI effects nor filled with dramatic twists, shocks and mind-bending flashbacks. Rather, it is simple, dreamy, predictable, but imbued with such charm and style we can’t resist it.

The charm begins with the main stars, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.  Let’s be clear that they are not Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers. 

They are wholly the characters they portray, Sebastian and Mia, who dance and sing only as it serves to tell their story.  Their trembling, unsure voices depict their cautious exploration and the mystery of falling in love.  Their dance steps remind us of the tentative moves we make in our vulnerable moments of being open to love.

There is one CGI scene where they are floating among the stars at Griffith Park Observatory, and we know they have already fallen in love and are lured magically into the realm of impossible hopes and dreams, rising above the mundane realities which weigh people down.

Of course we can see what’s coming.  Life happens, and they are forced to face the material necessities of paying rent and dealing with people who don’t recognize – much less appreciate – their unique talents and skills.  I was so enraptured by the lovers I was resisting with all my might the inevitable intrusion of harsh reality.

But it happens.  How can it not?  Life is what it is.  In a wonderful scene when they meet again years after their breakup, Mia imagines life if they had stayed together. The look Sebastian gives Mia as she walks away is filled with all the love and compassion in his heart. 

Writer/director Damien Chazelle deserves kudos for his courageous brilliance in taking such a predictable love story and making it magical and real.

GEN:  9;  JUST:  8;  HUVA:  10
TAGS:  LA LA LAND, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, pianist, actress, Los Angeles, Damien Chazelle