Category Archives: Independent Films

Reviews of Independent Films

The Lobster – A strange but compelling independent film

The Lobster takes place in a world where single people who cannot find their soulmates are turned into animals. They do get to pick which animal they will be turned into. The Lobster’s main character, David (Colin Farrell) has decided to become a lobster if he cannot find a mate. His logic is that he has always enjoyed the water and lobsters live a long time. Most people choose to become dogs, although beautiful horses are also popular.

Rachel Weisz & Colin Farrell in The Lobster
Rachel Weisz & Colin Farrell in The Lobster

As with a lot of strange independent films, The Lobster has a cast of well known incredibly talented actors. Most of the characters don’t even have names. Rachael Weisz is a nearsighted woman who is probably the soulmate of David. In the strange world of The Lobster, you cannot just fall in love with someone. You and your soulmate must have the same affliction. Thus, David is attracted to the myopic woman because he also wears glasses. If he had perfect eyesight, the two could not be together.

Lea Seydoux as the leader of The Loners in The Lobster
Lea Seydoux as the leader of The Loners in The Lobster

Lea Seydoux is the violent leader of The Loners, an outlaw group that has refused to be turned into animals. The Loners live in the woods where they are constantly hunted. They refuse to be matched with anyone, and in The Loner society any paring up is met with extreme punishments.

Ready to hunt Loners and turn them into animals in The Lobster
Ready to hunt Loners and turn them into animals in The Lobster

One of our favorite characters is a beautiful young woman with constant nosebleeds (wonderfully played by Jessica Barden). Ben Whishaw becomes her “soulmate” by purposely giving himself nosebleeds and pretending they are natural. He has decided that hurting his nose periodically is a better fate than being turned into an animal.

Jessica Barden & Ben Whishaw celebrate the release of The Lobster
Jessica Barden & Ben Whishaw celebrate the release of The Lobster

The Lobster is about 100 times more strange than we have been able to describe in this brief summary. Most viewers will hate it, but aficionados of quirky independent films will recognize it as an instant cult classic.

Normally we rate movies in terms of Stars. However, in unusual circumstances we rate movies with question marks. This is for movies where even after you have seen them you are still not sure what they were about. We rate The Lobster Five Question Marks. The last independent film to achieve this rating was Under The Skin starring Scarlett Johansson.

Whether you love The Lobster or hate it, once thing is certain. You will never forget The Lobster.

We give The Lobster Five Question Marks ?????

Read All out Independent Film Reviews

Quicksand – Sweden mass shooting mystery

Quicksand on Netflix is a chilling series about a fictional mass shooting at a high school in Sweden.   It is a combination mystery, courtroom drama and psychological study. Hanna Ardéhn is high school senior Maja, who is either a mass murderer or a wrongly accused hero and victim.  We first see Maja at the scene of the shooting, covered in blood, and shivering in a state of shock. But there is a high-powered rifle by her side and Maja is the only survivor. Maja is charged with murder and taken into custody.

Felix Sandman & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand
Felix Sandman & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand

Quicksand is told in flashbacks of the events leading up to the shooting, and culminates in the murder trial. It is the best crime drama we have seen since The Night of. It is fascinating to see the legal and police procedures in Sweden, which are similar to but still have major differences to those of The United States.

Ella Rappich & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand
Ella Rappich & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand

The key to the mystery is Sebastian (Felix Sandman), the handsome, incredibly wealthy high school senior who changed Maja’s life when he suddenly took an interest in her. She was immediately propelled into a world she never previously dreamed of. Wild parties, vacations on a huge yacht in the Mediterranean and acceptance into what used to be called “the in crowd”. Sebastian simply takes his family’s wealth and superiority for granted. His personal car for driving to high school is a brand new Porsche.  

David Denick & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand
David Denick & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand

We know from the beginning of Quicksand that Sebastian is the mass shooter and that Maja killed him. The police have charged Maja with being an accomplice who helped plan and then participated in the killings. Maja herself is in such a state of shock that she cannot remember exactly what happened that day. Awaiting trial she desperately ties to piece together the events of her past that lead to the violent conclusion.

William Spetz is Samir in Quicksand
William Spetz is Samir in Quicksand

Samir (William Spetz) is another high school senior. He is an Iraqi immigrant, and a top student. Samir is good friends with Maja, who is also an excellent student. Samir warns of the dark side to Sebastian. Samir has seen firsthand that Sebastian is a drug-abusing immigrant-hater.

Quicksand is riveting to watch and the acting is superb. Ella Rappich is Amanda, Maja’s best friend and confidant. David Dencik is Peder, Maja’s defense attorney who is trying to obtain the facts to win the case while at the same time keeping Maja from going completely catatonic.

Hanna Adrehn as Maja in "Quicksand"
Hanna Adrehn as Maja in “Quicksand”

Due to the nature of the crime, Maja is kept in solitary confinement while awaiting trial. Quicksand  (Swedish title Storst av allt) is so well filmed that the feeling of prison claustrophobia is palpable to the audience. Maja is not allowed a cell phone or watch and intensely feels the pressure of having no idea what time it is. When told she will be able to meet with her lawyer in 3 hours, she sits on the floor with her back to the wall and counts off the seconds and continually calculates how much longer she must wait

Be sure to read all our movie & T.V. reviews

We rate Quicksand 5 Stars *****

Mary Shelley – the sad story of the woman who wrote Frankenstein

Mary Shelley stars Elle Fanning as the woman who wrote Frankenstein in 1816 when she was only 18 years old. The first addition of Frankenstein in 1818 was published anonymously, since the publisher did not believe the public would take a female author seriously.

Douglas Booth & Elle Fanning in "Mary Shelley"
Douglas Booth & Elle Fanning in “Mary Shelley”

Women in 1818 were supposed to admire great works of literature, not actually write any. Lord Byron (excellently played by Tom Sturridge) openly admits that he wants the women in his life to be intelligent enough to see how clever he is, but not so smart as to be able to challenge any of his ideas.

Mary Woolstonecraft Godwin Shelly, author of "Frankenstein"
Mary Woolstonecraft Godwin Shelly, author of “Frankenstein”

Born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin to a radical literary family, Mary had an unusual upbringing to say the least. Her mother had been an outspoken feminist who died shortly after Mary was born. Mary’s father William (played by Stephen Dillane) educated Mary and her half-sister Claire (Bel Powley) in English literature, Greek and Latin.

Bel Powley, Elle Fanning, Douglas Booth & Tom Storridge in "Mary Shelley"
Bel Powley, Elle Fanning, Douglas Booth & Tom Sturridge in “Mary Shelley”

However, just being an intellectual does not pay the bills or put food on the table. At the age of 16 Mary runs off with the 21 year old Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth). It is obvious to anyone but a 16 year old that Percy is what today we would call a poser and a lech. Percy Shelley is already married, and makes almost no money from his poems. He lives entirely on his father’s money, and when his father cuts him off, Mary and Percy are impoverished. To make matters worse, Mary’s younger half sister Claire has also run off with them and become the under aged mistress of Lord Byron.

The first edition of Frankenstein did not have Mary Shelly's name as the author.
The first edition of Frankenstein did not have Mary Shelly’s name as the author.

Mary Shelley is a excellent film, and shows how the monster in Frankenstein was the manifestation of all the miseries in Mary’s existence brought to life. By the age of 18 Mary had known more sorrow than most people ever have to face in a lifetime. Mary Godwin had been treated horribly by a man she trusted, lived in poverty and had her beautiful baby die.

Elle Fanning poses for a picture with a fan at the premier of "Mary Shelley"
Elle Fanning poses for a picture with a fan at the premier of “Mary Shelley”

The “monster” in Frankenstein was actually Mary Goodwin herself. From the moment the monster is born it is treated badly. It searches for love and kindness and instead is met with violence and misunderstanding.

The film Mary Shelley somehow did not get much attention when it was released, but is well worth watching. It is a psychological drama that is also an excellent “period piece”. Elle Fanning is perfect as Mary Shelley, with a combination of intelligence, vulnerability and iron will. Once you see the film Mary Shelley it will change your view of Frankenstein forever.

We Rate Mary Shelley 5 Stars *****

Be sure to read all our movie reviews.

Read about Elle Fanning in The Beguiled -Civil War Sex but no slaves.

IO – Beauty & Courage on a post-apocalyptic Earth

IO on Netflix is the story of a young woman’s will to survive on Earth long after everyone else has fled to a space station orbiting Jupiter’s moon Io. Though technically a Science Fiction film, Io is more a psychological study of the personal choices  that make us who we are.  Margaret Qualley gives a perfect performance as “Sam” Walden, a research scientist trying to find a way for life to continue on Earth. She is carrying on the work of her father, Doctor Henry Walden (Danny Huston) who vocally tried to persuade people not to leave earth.

Margaret Qualley & Anthony Mackie in "Io".

Margaret Qualley & Anthony Mackie in “Io”.

The Earth has been ravaged by events that have left most of the atmosphere poisonous. Small pockets of clean air survive on mountaintops, one of which is where Sam has her laboratory.  She is trying to develop a vaccine which will allow animals and people to breathe the noxious air below. Every day she broadcasts on the radio her father’s speeches, just in case there is anyone left out there to listen. The sacrifice of her research is especially hard for Sam, since she has a boyfriend on the Io space station, who constantly sends messages to her.

Danny Huston in "Io".

Danny Huston in “Io”.

Out of the sky appears a balloon carrying Micha (Anthony Mackie), who has heard the broadcasts and has  come to meet Sam’s father. Micha tells her there is one last shuttle leaving for Io and that they could use the balloon to get to the shuttle. Of course, leaving would mean abandoning the research and giving up all hope of saving life on Earth.

Margaret Qualley in "Io".

Margaret Qualley in “Io”.

We loved this independent film, although Io only got a 42% favorable rating from Netflix viewers. Perhaps the low ratings were because Io has no fast action sequences or dramatic long speeches. There are just people trying to make decisions in situations no one should ever have to face. They are conflicted and unsure what to do, which is exactly how people would really behave in an emergency. There are only 3 actors in the entire movie, and yet they are able to hold our attention and have us care about them.

Io director Jonathan Helpert

Io director Jonathan Helpert

Sam’s last name Walden, or course, refers to Henry David Thoreau’s book about the 2 years he spent living a simple lonely life in Walden Pond Massachusetts. Directed by Johnathan Helpert,  Io is able to capture the beautiful yet lonely existence of a completely independent life.

Io had similarities to Thoreau's "Walden"

Io had similarities to Thoreau’s “Walden”

Drinking Buddies -Can a man really be “Just Friends” with a beautiful woman?

Drinking Buddies is a clever independent film about 4 people who each seem to be with the wrong partners. The plot revolves around people work at a small craft brewery. It is nice for a change to have a film where the characters are not cops, doctors or lawyers. They are real people with real issues, that need to be solved without car chases, gunfights or dramatic court scenes.

Olivia Wilde & Jake Johnson in "Drinking Buddies"

Olivia Wilde & Jake Johnson in “Drinking Buddies”

Kate (Olivia Wilde) works at Revolution Brewing with her best friend Luke (Jake Johnson). There is no romantic connection, but they love playing practical jokes on each other and telling silly jokes at lunchtime. Every night Kate and Luke go out with the rest of the workers for drinks and food. In fact, Revolution Brewing seems like the kind of place we would all love to work.

Anna Kendrick & Ron Livingston in "Drinking Buddies"

Anna Kendrick & Ron Livingston in “Drinking Buddies”

Kate and Luke both have full time partners. Luke lives with Jill (Anna Kendrick), who is a Special Education teacher with a masters degree.  She is very different than Kate. Jill is shy and introverted, whereas Kate is outgoing to the extreme. Jill never really gets cray while Kate  loves beer perhaps a little too much.

Olivia Wilde & Ron Livingston in "Drinking Buddies"

Olivia Wilde & Ron Livingston in “Drinking Buddies”

Kate’s boyfriend is Chris (Ron Livingston), an intellectual who loves books, nature and hiking. He invites Jill and Luke to spend a weekend with he and Kate at his beautiful cabin in the woods. Don’t worry, Drinking Buddies does not suddenly turn into a horror movie. No killer in a Halloween mask suddenly comes out of the lake. However,it does become obvious that the matching of the couples seems wrong. Jill and Chris want to spend the time hiking and enjoying nature while Kate and Luke are happy to spend all their time drinking beer, staying indoors playing board games and telling stupid jokes.

A badly written movie would have them all simply switch partners at the cabin, but real life is more complicated than that.  Drinking Buddies takes a realistic approach. The weekend ends with relationships supposedly unchanged. However, you can tell that the encounter has altered forever the way they all think about each other.

Could a man really be "just friends" with Olivia Wilde?

Could a man really be “just friends” with Olivia Wilde?

We will not spoil the plot by going any further, other than to say that the ending is beautiful and satisfying.

Some people might find Drinking Buddies too slow-moving. There never is a real action scene. If you are expecting a Hollywood blockbuster type of plot then Drinking Buddies is not for you. However, if you love independent films where the characters are real, then we hope you enjoy Drinking Buddies as much as we did.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor – a beautiful film about the life of Mister Rogers

Won’t You  Be My Neighbor is a beautiful documentary about Fred Rogers, from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, who had a completely new vision for children’s television. Fred Rogers was disgusted with fact that commercial television’s children’s shows were violent or stupid and treated kids as idiots. Mister Rogers wanted a show that would actually communicate with children and talk to them about important issues in their lives.

"Won't You Be My Neighbor" - a must-see movie

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor” – a must-see movie

Despite having no training in T.V.  Fred Rogers was able to get a show on Pittsburgh Public Television. It was low budget, slow moving and kids loved it. The station did not realize how popular it was until one day they ran a promotion allowing kids and parents to come in and meet Fred Rogers personally. Lines of kids and parents stretched down the block like it was a Hollywood premier. Mister Rogers became the first Public Television star.

Mister Rogers believed in actively working t make the world a better place.

Mister Rogers believed in actively working t make the world a better place.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor has some amazing footage of Fred Rogers. In 1969, President Nixon wanted to get rid of all government funding to Public Television and instead use the money for the Vietnam War. Senator John Pastore held public hearings about the cut, which Senator Pastore was very much in favor of. Won’t You Be My Neighbor shows Fred Rogers appearing before a very hostile, rude and confrontational Senate panel. Instead of responding with anger, Mister Rogers calmly discusses the importance of treating children with love and respect, and Mister Rogers even reads the words of one of the songs he sings on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers’ words deeply move Senator Pastore who says, “that was beautiful” and the Senator recommends granting $20 Million to Public television.

Children loved Mr. Rogers

Children loved Mr. Rogers

Despite its appearance,  Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a very structured show and actors had to stick strictly to the script. Fred Rogers had very specific ideas he wanted to teach to children. Most importantly he wanted to make sure kids understood the difference between fantasy and reality. Part of each show, the Magic Trolley would travel into the Land Of Make Believe.  That fantasy world was full of puppets and other special characters, but Mister Rogers himself never appeared in the Land Of Make Believe. Fred Rogers was very upset about reports of kids jumping out of windows thinking they could fly like Superman. He wanted to use Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to teach kids about what is real and what is not.

Mister Rogers also spoke directly on the show to children about very difficult subjects. After the Robert Kennedy assassination,  Mister Rogers  Neighborhood discussed death. There were shows about divorce and acceptance of other people. Mister Rogers was retired when the 9/11 attacks occurred. Fred Rogers came out of retirement and did a special show to help sooth the fears of children throughout the country.

There is really no one on the air like Fred Rogers today. As the country and the World become more polarized, his message of love and understanding can easily get lost amid the shouting and hatred. Fred Rogers died on February 27, 2003. He is survived by his wife and children. At his memorial service protestors showed up across the street carrying signs that read “God Hates Fags”. One of the mourners walked across the street and asked if they were claiming Fred Rogers was gay. (He was not.) The protestor replied that they did not think Mister Rogers was gay, but that they hated him because he tolerated gays.

Protesters at Mister Rogers Funeral

Protesters at Mister Rogers Funeral

Fred Rogers was a profoundly religious man whose view of Christianity was diametrically opposed to that of the protestors. Fred Rogers believed in a God of love and acceptance. Mister Rogers believed that the good people of the World can persevere and win against hatred, violence and stupidity. Fred Rogers believed that the real message of God is and has always been a message of Love.

On Chesil Beach – love before the sexual revolution

On Chesil Beach is a beautiful, yet sad, film about a young English couple struggling with intimacy. It is a wonderful movie with humor, mystery, and pathos, set in 1962 England just before the sexual revolution takes hold. Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle) are trying to have a romantic wedding night in a very unromantic location. They are in a stuffy, cold hotel on a rocky beach, where the other guests are all senior citizens. The staff and guests of the hotel seem to treat Florence and Edward as the one source of entertainment in this dreary location.

Billy Howle & Saoirse Ronan in "On Chesil Beach"

Billy Howle & Saoirse Ronan in “On Chesil Beach”

Through flashbacks we see how Edward  and Florence met and fell in love back when they were both brilliant university students. It turns out they both have very complex family situations. Edward’s mother Marjorie (Ann-Marie Duff) is a talented artist who suffered a traumatic brain injury. To most of the world she seem crazy, yet Florence is able to connect with her. This makes Edward love Florence even more.

Anne-Marie Duff as Marjorie Mayhew, Edward Mayhew's mother, in "On Chesil Beach." (Photo by Robert Viglasky/Bleecker Street)

Anne-Marie Duff as Marjorie Mayhew, Edward Mayhew’s mother, in “On Chesil Beach.” (Photo by Robert Viglasky/Bleecker Street)

Florence’s father Geoffrey (Samuel West) seems like a stuffy, yet polite, British middle class family man. However, there are brief intense flashes of anger that make one wonder what he is really capable of.

Despite their deep connection, Florence and Edward do not know each other at all sexually. Both of them are virgins on their wedding night and both are petrified. For them to really succeed in their marriage, they must be willing to be honest and understanding with each other in ways they have never known before.

Ian McEwan & Saoirse Ronan

Ian McEwan & Saoirse Ronan

The acting  On Chesil Beach is wonderful. We come to deeply care for both Florence and Edward and hope that true love really can conquer all. Based on the novel by Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach is able to keep in the film all the complexities of the characters that were evident in the novel.

Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle are amazing actors, as are all of the supporting characters, right down to the smallest roles. As you can tell, we are trying to write the review in such a way as to not give away too much of the plot. We will say that it is a deeply moving film and we highly recommend On Chesil Beach.

Meeks Cutoff – People either love or hate this Independent film

Meeks Cutoff, directed by Kelly Reichardt, is a realistic, gripping drama about the struggle for survival on the 1849 Oregon Trail. It is not fair to call this film a Western, since it has none of the Hollywood clichés usually associated with that genre. It follows a group of settlers trying to cross the high plains by wagon, as they slowly realize that they might not survive the trip.

The settlers are guided by Steven Meek (perfectly played by Bruce Greenwood), who looks like an expert  guide. He is completely self-confident, has the long hair, beard and buckskin jacket associated with pioneer scouts. Meek loves entertaining everyone with tails of his past adventures.

Settlers in Meeks Cutoff in search of water

Settlers in Meeks Cutoff in search of water

However, the settlers have endured weeks of wandering and are running low on food and water. They are quickly coming to the conclusion that despite his bravado, Meek has no idea what he is doing or where they are.

Bruce Greenwood as Mr. Meek in "Meeks Cutoff"

Bruce Greenwood as Mr. Meek in “Meeks Cutoff”

Kelly Reichardt’s direction and filming are wonderful. You can feel the thirst and exhaustion of these travelers. There is no background music and at times there is no sound other than the repetitive scraping of an ungreased wagon wheel.

Rod Rondeaux as the mysterious Indian in Meeks Cutoff

Rod Rondeaux as the mysterious Indian in Meeks Cutoff

There is a panic when the group discovers they are being followed by a Cayuse Indian (brilliantly played by Rod Rondeaux). Meek and the other men capture the Indian. Meek wants to kill him immediately before he can alert other “savages”. However Meek is faced down by Emily Tetherow (wonderfully portrayed by Michelle Williams). Her argument is not that it would be immoral to kill the Indian. Instead, she points out that since the Indian is alive, he must know where water is.

Michelle Williams in Meeks Cutoff

Michelle Williams in Meeks Cutoff

No one, including Meek can speak the Indian’s language. In fact, it is only Meek’s guess that the Indian is a Cayuse. However, they give the Indian a good blanket and try their best to demonstrate that they will give him another blanket in payment if he leads them to water.

The Indian gets the idea, and begins leading the little wagon train, while Meek closely watches him. It is unclear if they are being lead to water, or an ambush.

Meeks Cutoff director Kelly Reichardt

Meeks Cutoff director Kelly Reichardt

Moviegoers tend to either love of hate films by Kelly Reichardt, with no in between. People who hate Kelly Reichardt films find them too slow moving and are frustrated that they many times have no conclusion. Often her movies seem to just stop at a certain point. It can seem like the movies simply end whenever Kelly Reichardt happens to run out of film.

However, we are in the group of people who love Kelly Reichardt movies. The subject material is always fascinating. In stressful situations the characters behave like real people rather than Hollywood action heroes. As for the way Kelly Reichardt ends movies, as frustrating as that is, this is one of the things that make her films so realistic. In real life you don’t get all the answers, see poetic justice, or find out what happened to everyone. The endings of Kelly Reichardt films are what makes people continue to discuss and debate the films years after having seen them.

An Eye For Beauty – A Quebec Love Story

An Eye For Beauty is a love story that takes place in Quebec, but is also a love story about Quebec. The breathtaking beauty of the Province of Quebec is as much a character in the film as the actors themselves.  After watching An Eye For Beauty you will want to immediately pack up and move to Quebec. At the very least you will wish you had paid more attention in French class.

Eric Bruneau & Melanie Thierry in "An Eye For Beauty"

Eric Bruneau & Melanie Thierry in “An Eye For Beauty”

Eric Bruneau stars as Luc,  a French-Canadian architect living in rural Quebec designing incredibly beautiful homes. His life seems perfect. He is surrounded by a group of loving friends. His wife Stephanie (Melanie Thierry) is smart, talented and gorgeous. Then, bit by bit things start to fall apart. Stephanie is slowly falling into a deep depression, and nothing seems to be able to stop it.

"An Eye for Beauty" features beautiful Quebec homes.

“An Eye for Beauty” features beautiful Quebec homes.

Luc is invited to Toronto to be part of a panel of architects judging the work of promising students. Luc realizes he is the “token French-Canadian”, but decides to join the panel anyway. In Toronto he meets Lindsey,  (Melanie Merkowsky) who is running the panel, and the the two of them begin a passionate affair.

Eric Bruneau & Melanie Thierry in "An Eye For Beauty"

Eric Bruneau & Melanie Merkowsky in “An Eye For Beauty”

The love scenes in An Eye For Beauty are lovely and erotic, since they are quite natural. In fact, unlike most movies, all the people in An Eye For Beauty are real and complex.  An Eye For Beauty demonstrates that being successful and attractive and well off does not insulate a person from the tragedies of every day life.



In some ways, the beauty seems like a cruel joke to Luc’s wife Stephanie. She asks herself “how can she possibly not be happy.” She should be ecstatic with the perfect life, yet her depression keeps getting worse.

Melanie Thierry is Stephanie in "An Eye For Beauty"

Melanie Thierry is Stephanie in “An Eye For Beauty”

Anyone who has ever dealt with someone truly  clinically depressed will realize how accurate Melanie Thierry’s portrayal is. There is often no outside reason for depression, and seeing everyone around you being happy just makes it feel worse.

Skiing in Quebec

Skiing in Quebec

An Eye For Beauty is is French and English, depending upon what part of Canada the people are in and who is speaking. It is interesting that when the French Canadian goes to Toronto he has to speak English to everyone . However,  when Lindsey from Toronto goes to Quebec, she speaks English to everyone, without even attempting a French word. No doubt this double standard in supposedly bi-lingual Canada drives Quebeckers crazy.

An Eye For Beauty is an exquisitely filmed move. There are stunning scenes of rural Quebec with its breathing vistas, wildlife and homes. The love story is real and the tragedies  and heart wrenching. An Eye For Beauty is a film worth watching.

Chuck- The Bayonne Bleeder or the Real Rocky Balboa

Chuck is the story of boxer Chuck Wepner, the real-life inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky. In 1975 Chuck Wepner fought Muhammad Ali for 15 rounds, when everyone said   Wepner would never last more than 3. This should have lead to a happy ending, just like the Rocky movie.  However, after the fight  Wepner’s life went on a  path of arrogance, self-destruction and eventually prison.

Chuck Wepner & Muhammad Ali fight in 1975

Chuck Wepner & Muhammad Ali fight in 1975

People love the movie character Rocky since he is a humble guy who passionately loves Adrian and never even looks at another woman. That’s not Chuck Wepner. After his fight with Ali, Wepner suddenly had the fame and respect he had never received before, and it went to his head.

Liev Schreiber & Elizabeth Moss in "Chuck"

Liev Schreiber & Elizabeth Moss in “Chuck”

Before the Ali fight , Wepner’s nickname had been  the Bayonne  Bleeder, for his tendency to bleed profusely if hit in the face. Although ranked as a “contender”, he was considered a joke in boxing circles.  He could not even make enough money to box full time. Chuck Wepner was a liquor route salesman who happened to pick up  some extra money boxing in clubs and small venues.

In 1975, Muhammad Ali thought he could make a fortune defending his heavyweight title against a White fighter, due to all the racial tension of the times.  Chuck Wepner was the only White fighter ranked in the top 10, and Wepner got the call to fight Ali. Just like the Rocky movie, Ali thought of the fight as a show, but Chuck Wepner trained hard. He even knocked Ali down during the fight.

Chuck & Linda Wepner with Liev Schreiber

Chuck & Linda Wepner with Liev Schreiber

After the fight, Wepner’s new found fame went to his head. He became a jerk, drinking  to excess and cheating on his wife. Then in 1976 the movie Rocky came out and things got 100 times worse. Wepner and his friends  thought he was Rocky, and starting referring to his movie.

Michael Rapaport is Don Wepner in "Chuck"

Michael Rapaport is Don Wepner in “Chuck”

Everyone assumed Chuck Wepner had made a fortune from the Rocky movie. However, Wepner had never even met Sylvester Stallone and never got a penny from the film. But Chuck started spending money like he was a wealthy Hollywood film star. He got into using cocaine and then started selling drugs to support his spending habits.

Chuck is a excellent and honest film. Unlike the Rocky movie, Chuck Wepner was fully involved in the production, which makes its honesty that much more remarkable.

Liev Schreiber is perfect as Chuck Wepner. Very few actors would have the physical ability to portray a 6 foot five inch bruiser, and still be able to show him as a complex character. Elizabeth Moss plays Chuck’s long-suffering wife Phyllis who inwardly is actually much tougher that Chuck as she tries to save her family.

Michael Rapaport is Chuck’s brother Don, who turns out to be a real hero when Chuck needs him most. Naomi Watts is Linda, the woman Chuck turns to as his life falls apart. Naomi Watts is so good at portraying Linda, that we never even realized it was Naomi playing the role.

Like the original Rocky movie, Chuck does have a happy ending. However, the redemption does not take place inside the boxing ring but out in the much tougher real world. Wepner finally comes to realize  that he is not Rocky Balboa, or Sylvester Stallone or even the Bayonne Bleeder. He is just Chuck from Bayonne New Jersey with only a small group of friends and family that actually know him and care who is really is. It turns out that when he finally accepts that and learns to return the love they give him it is better than being with all the shallow adoring fans. Maybe that’s not as dramatic as a Hollywood movie ending. Or maybe it is even better.

Loving Vincent – The Mystery of Vincent van Gogh’s Death

Loving Vincent is an exquisitely drawn film exploring the final days of Vincent van Gogh, and the mystery of van Gogh’s death.  Don’t dare call it a cartoon. Over 100 original painting’s in the van Gogh style were commissioned for this film. Top tier actors and a fascinating plot make you feel like you have actually stepped inside a van Gogh painting.

Douglas Booth as Armand Roulin in "Loving Vincent"

Douglas Booth as Armand Roulin in “Loving Vincent”

Loving Vincent envelopes the audience in an 1890 world of vibrant colors, emotions and characters that van Gogh was able to capture for all time in his paintings. The plot delves into the mystery surrounding the death of Vincent van Gogh. Most people today simply accept as fact that the emotionally unstable van Gogh committed suicide. However, Loving Vincent shows that van Gogh actually might have been murdered.

Saoirse Ronan as Margaret Gachet in "Loving Vincent"

Saoirse Ronan as Margaret Gachet in “Loving Vincent”

Loving Vincent is the true story of a quest undertaken by Armand Roulen (played by Douglas Booth) to deliver to Vincent van Gogh’s brother the last letter than Vincent ever wrote. Along the way. Roulen discovers that van Gogh’s death may have been more that just a straight forward suicide.

Final words of Vincent van Gogh

Final words of Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh died on July 29th, 1980 of a gunshot wound inflicted 2 days earlier. Although van Gogh himself insisted he had tried to kill himself, the physical facts made no sense.  Who shoots himself in the stomach when trying to commit suicide? Was van Gogh trying to protect someone by claiming he had actually shot himself?

The list of murder suspects is long. Today the world reveres Vincent van Gogh as an artistic genius. However, while he was alive, he was considered a crazy trouble maker whose artwork was idiotic and bad.

van Gogh self portrait

van Gogh self portrait

In his lifetime, Vincent van Gogh only sold one painting. He lived off the charity of others. His brother Theo gave Vincent so much money over the years that Theo almost went bankrupt.

Vincent van Gogh’s main patron was Doctor Gachet (played by Jerome Flynn). Doctor Gachet recognized the artistic genius of van Gogh but was also extremely jealous of it. Vincent even lived with the Gachet family for a time, and gave most of his paintings to Dr. Gachet in return for Gachet’s help.

van Gogh painting of Margaret Gachet at piano

van Gogh painting of Margaret Gachet at piano

However, Dr. Gachet did not like that Vincent was becoming too close to Gachet’s daughter Margaret (played by Saoirse Ronan). Doctor Gachet and Vincent had a huge, almost violent,  argument and Vincent was no longer welcome at the Gachet home. Margaret Gachet never married, and her whole live she proudly displayed in her home, a painting van Gogh had done of her at a piano.

van Gogh painting sells for $109.4 Million

van Gogh painting sells for $109.4 Million

Like van Gogh’s paintings themselves, Loving Vincent is not intended to be an exact representation of reality. Vincent van Gogh’s painting were meant to elicit an emotional response. They show the beauty, complexity and hidden colors and feelings in every day scenes that most people take for granted. Loving Vincent shows the beauty and hidden depth of a man who was at the time either ridiculed or overlooked by most people.

Van Gogh’s simple painting of flowers  sold at auction for $109,400,000. Do people really see today what Vincent van Gogh was trying to show them, or are they just interested in a good investment? We wonder what van Gogh would think of the fabulous sums of money rich people are now willing to pay for his paintings. Ironically, van Gogh was never interested in rich people. His painting were not portraits of the wealthy, but views of ordinary people, scenes and events.

Loving Vincent is a wonderful film and we highly recommend it.

Lady Bird – The Best Independent Film Of The Year

Lady Bird is, without doubt, the best independent film of the year. It stars Saoirse Ronan as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a Sacramento high school senior discovering who she is and what is really important in life. Unlike most “high school” movies, the characters in Lady Bird all come across as real people coping with real problems.

Saoirse Ronan & Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

Saoirse Ronan & Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

The main dynamic of the film is the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother Marion (perfectly played by Laurie Metcalf). Lady Bird is trying to be independent, while her mother is constantly trying to help by giving well meaning advice, and more advice and even more advice. The resulting mother-daughter clashes are humorous, and something that every parent will instantly recognize. There is no bad guy in the film. We sympathize with both Lady Bird and her mother, even when their views are in direct opposition.

Saoirse Ronan & Beanie Feldstein in Lady Bird

Saoirse Ronan & Beanie Feldstein in Lady Bird

In addition to dealing with an over-protective mother, Lady Bird is facing a number of moral and ethical choices   at school. Like all teenagers, sometimes she makes the right choice and sometimes she does not. Lady Bird attends  a private Catholic school, and it is nice to see a film that does not resort to Catholic stereotypes for cheap laughs. The school is a well run caring place  using modern teaching techniques while trying to maintain the Catholic faith.

Odeya Rush

Odeya Rush

Lady Bird is lucky enough to have a wonderful caring best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), who Lady Bird does not appreciate as much as she should, and instead is drawn to a beautiful rich classmate Jenna (Odeya Rush). Again the film Lady Bird avoids using any of the cliches we see in so many movies. Jenna is not a “rich bitch”. She is nice, but simply part of a completely different group.

Saoirse Ronan, Odeya Rush & Beanie Feldstein

Saoirse Ronan, Odeya Rush & Beanie Feldstein

Director Greta Gerwig has done a masterful job of having Lady Bird be an honest, witty and fun film about the challenges faced by young women in today’s world. Despite a very limited release, Lady Bird is one of the top films in the U.S. playing to full houses every night. If you are lucky enough to find Lady Bird playing near you, it is definitely  a film you should experience.

Rosewater- a Daily Show joke gets an Iranian jailed as a spy

Rosewater is the true story of Iranian Journalist Maziar Bahari who was jailed as a spy, for skit on The Daily Show. In 2009, The Daily Show’s Jason Jones was in Terhan filming a comedy skit. Jason Jones  sat in a cafe and pretended to be an American spy who was openly asking random Iranian citizens to reveal State secrets. The joke was supposed to be about how inept and amateurish the CIA is.

Maziar Bahari  was an Iranian citizen working for Newsweek magazine. He happened to be at the same cafe, and appeared in The Daily Show skit as a joke. Little did he know that this would  land him in jail charged with treason.

Jason Jones pretending to be an American Spy

Jason Jones pretending to be an American Spy

The Iranian authorities already had their eyes on Maziar Bahari. He had filmed the riots that had occurred when  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected President of Iran. Many people considered this election a fraud, and large violent riots occurred. Maziar Bahari had filmed the riots and sent the pictures out to the world.

Gael Garcia Bernal & Kim Bodnia in Rosewater

Gael Garcia Bernal & Kim Bodnia in Rosewater

Most of Rosewater takes place in the Iranian prison and is the interaction between Maziar, and the man interrogating him. We never learn the interrogator’s name. Maziar thinks of him as “Rosewater”, since the man constantly wears rosewater cologne.

Golshifeth Farahani in Rosewater

Golshifeth Farahani in Rosewater

Rosewater is a fascinating movie and the acting is superb. Even if you know nothing about Iranian politics, it is a terrific psychological prison drama. Gael Garcia Bernal plays Maziar Bahari and is perfect in the role.

At first Maziar believes his imprisonment is  just a misunderstanding, and that he will quickly be able to explain the truth and then be let free. When Rosewater shows Maziar the tape of Maziar talking to American “spy” Jason Jones, Maziar laughs and explains it is just a comedy show. Then he slowly comes to realize that the Iranian authorities do not see anything as a joke, and that Maziar could be in prison for life.

Claire Foy at the Premier of Rosewater

Claire Foy at the Premier of Rosewater

Kim Bodnia is” Rosewater”, the interrogator. Rosewater does not think of himself as a cruel or evil man. He truly believes himself to be an Iranian patriot protecting the country from dangerous outsiders. He does not physically torture Maziar, and even gives him fruit and tea.

Maziar Bahari & Jon Stewart

Maziar Bahari & Jon Stewart

The worst part of the imprisonment is that Maziar is kept in solitary confinement and blindfolded for most of the day. In his mind he begins to have conversations with his deceased father (played by Haluk Bilginer) and sister (played by Golshifeth Farahani).

Jon Stewart on the set of Rosewater

Jon Stewart on the set of Rosewater

Unbeknownst to Maziar, huge international pressure was being put on Iran to release him. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hammered the issue over and over again and simply would not let the world forget about Maziar Bahari. The world also fell in love with Maziar’s beautiful pregnant English wife Paola (played by Claire Foy).

Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton would NOT let the world forget about Maziar Bahan

Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton would NOT let the world forget about Maziar Bahari

Rosewater was written and directed by Jon Stewart, who felt terrible that a joke on his show ended up getting a man imprisoned. John Stewart and Executive producer Catherine Farrell made Rosewater a fascinating film that focuses on the human side, rather than becoming too preachy or political.

The Beguiled- Civil War sex but no slaves

The Beguiled is a film of sex and betrayal set in an exclusive girls’ school in  the Civil War South. However, the film has been “whitewashed” to remove slavery from the plot. It is a huge  disappointment that Sophia Coppola completely  left out the character  of a female slave that was in the classic 1971 film.  By doing this, the modern version sidesteps the issue of slavery.

Mae Mercer & Clint Eastwood in The Beguiled in 1971

Mae Mercer & Clint Eastwood in The Beguiled in 1971

In the 1971 The Beguiled, Mae Mercer played the slave Hallie. Some African-Americans thought that Hallie was a token black character with a weak story line.  Instead of dropping that character completely Sophia Coppola should have expanded it. The dynamic, complex and intertwined relationships between educated White women and the female slaves they lived with is one of the most fascinating parts of American history.   In a story about  strong young women of the South under severe pressure, why leave out one of the strongest and most interesting simply because she is Black?

Sophia Coppola a great director but scared to tackle the issue of slavery

Sophia Coppola a great director but too scared to tackle the issue of slavery

Sophia Coppola has said that she did  “not want t brush over such an important topic in a light way,”  She expanded that to say,  “Young girls watch my films and this was not the depiction of an African-American character I would want to show them.” Of course, there is no reason why Sophia Coppola would have to handle slavery in a “light way.” She is the director and could handle it openly and honestly as the subject deserves.

Elle Fanning & Nicole Fanning in The Beguiled

Elle Fanning & Nicole Fanning in The Beguiled

We at East Coast Stories believe it was a huge mistake to leave slaves out of The Beguiled. The “young girls” that Sophia Coppola considers her audience are a lot smarter about race issues in The United States than she gives them credit for. How can we possibly deal with the racial issues of today, if we ignore that slaves were an integral part of America from the beginning?

Colin Farrell as John McBurney in The Beguiled. A face no woman could resist

Colin Farrell as John McBurney in The Beguiled. A face no woman could resist

The basic plot of The Beguiled is that the schoolgirls  find and take in John McBurney (Colin Farrell), a wounded Union soldier. It is their duty as Southerners to turn him over to the local Confederate patrols. However, McBurney is able to use his good looks and smooth talk to win over the young women one by one.

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 24: (L-R) Actors Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell and Kirsten Dunst attend "The Beguiled" photocall during the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 24, 2017 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 24: (L-R) Actors Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell and Kirsten Dunst attend “The Beguiled” photocall during the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 24, 2017 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Beguiled can mean hypnotized, seduced or bewitched. All three meanings apply in this film. The Beguiled is a remake of the classic 1971 film of the same name in which Clint Eastwood played the wounded Union Soldier.

Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) is the headmistress of the dying school. The slaves have all run away and most students and teachers have gone home to escape the war. Miss Farnsworth continues to hold classes and music lessons, despite the fact that smoke from battles can be seen in the distance. Prayer is often accompanied by the sound of cannons.

The one teacher left is Edwina Dabney (Kirsten Dunst). It is clear that her background is somehow different than that of the other women. She is used to fancier settings and more revealing clothing. We are never sure if this is because she comes from wealth, or if her background is something more scandalous.

Elle Fanning is Amy, a beautiful young woman with a rebellious streak, who is continually testing how much she can get away with.

This structured, stark world is thrown into chaos by the arrival of McBurney. For McBurney it is if he has arrived in heaven. He has escaped the war and is surrounded by women; each more beautiful than the next. If he had carefully chosen one woman to quietly and cautiously pursue, then heaven it might have remained. However, like a kid in a candy store, McBurney wants it all and ends up finding himself in Hell.

The 1971 version of The Beguiled with Clint Eastwood

The 1971 version of The Beguiled with Clint Eastwood

McBurney works his charm on Miss Danbey, Miss Farnsworth and Amy, instinctively knowing the separate needs of each. Amy wants excitement, Martha Farnsworth needs appreciation and educated courting and Edwina Dabney wants a knight in shining armor to save her. Despite his good looks and charming smile, McBurney is really a callous hunter of vulnerable women. A classic sexual predator.

The phrase “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, is a fitting expression for what happens when the women discover the truth about McBurney and each other. We will not give away the plot other than to say it is exciting, unexpected and chilling.

The casting of the (all white) characters for  in The Beguiled is perfect. Every actor gives a powerful performance. Nicole Kidman is spellbinding. Miss Farnsworth is trying to maintain an icy exterior, yet it is clear that deep passions burn withing her soul. She is tormented between the choices of what is best for her and what is best for the school and the girls she has a duty to protect.

Colin Farrell as Corporal John McBurney has the looks the charm and the arrogance to seduce three women simultaneously while only really loving himself.

Kirsten Dunst is wonderful as the beautiful and mysterious  Edwina Dabney. Director Sophia Coppola made the right choice in never fully revealing Edwina’s background. The mystery only adds to the tension. The 1971 version of  The Beguiled explained Edwina’s background, but it is more effective as a secret.

When Elle Fanning plays Alicia, audiences can see that she has graduated from little girl roles forever. She was superb as the dangerous young seductress, who may or may not truly understand her influence on a man or  the  damage she can do with the games she is playing.

Ooon Lawrence is excellent in The Beguiled

Ooon Lawrence is excellent in The Beguiled

Young Oona Lawrence is Amy, the innocent  child who first discovers wounded Corporal McBurney in the woods. Unlike the adults in the film, Amy wants nothing for herself. Amy’s only motivation is to do what is kind and right.

In total, the The Beguiled was a very good film. If Sophia Coppola had taken the time to bring in complex African-American characters, it could have been a great film. It would have been harder to write and added a level of complexity to the plot, but it would have been worth the effort.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night – a beautiful Iranian vampire on a skateboard

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night  is about beautiful Iranian vampire who stalks men at night while cruising on her skateboard and wearing a burka. (We are not making this up). It is a terrific independent film that combines elements of Sin City, Dracula,  and High Plains Drifter

Sheila Vand as the vampire

Sheila Vand as the vampire

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is filmed in black & white and the actors all speak Farsi (Persian). They live in Bad City (paying homage to Sin City) which is filled with repugnant violent characters who peddle drugs and abuse women. The hero of the story is Arash (played by Arash Marandi) who is trying to work hard and lead a good life, despite the evil all around him.

Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi and Masuka the cat

Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi and Masuka the cat

Then into the town comes a strange and beautiful girl who appears only at night. Despite being a “girl alone at night” she is completely unafraid of the men in the town.  This is because she is a vampire, who feeds on the men who disrespect women. No one is aware of her actions as she strikes only single targets late at night.

Arash Marandi & Sheila Vand

Arash Marandi & Sheila Vand

Arash almost becomes one of her victims when he staggers home drunk one night after a party. He becomes lost in the city and runs into the girl. However, she can see that he is somehow different than the other men in Bad City. She takes care of him and, of course, Arash falls in love. Arash makes it his mission to find out who this girl really is, and to win her love.

Ana Lily Amirpour the writer/director of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Ana Lily Amirpour the writer/director of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night was written and directed by Lily Amirpour an Iranian-American film maker from California. She could have made the movie in English and in color, but it is so much cooler in Farsi and black & white. The whole idea is that A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night takes place in a fantasy world. The strange language (for most of us) and the film noir imagery  give A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night a complete “other worldly” feel. It also has a fantastic sound track which adds to the overall experience.

We loved A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. It is great to see a film where the writer/director has taken a real chance and where it all fits together perfectly.

Get Out – A Horror Movie, Comedy, Racial Commentary

Get Out is a combination Horror Movie, Comedy, and Documentary on American Race Relations. It sounds like an odd mix, but Get Out makes this a wonderful combination for a great movie. Producer/Director Jordan Peel has taken some old genres and mixed them together in a unique way to come up with an entirely new blend. Parts of Get Out are scary as Hell while other parts are uproariously funny. Mixed into all of this is the way Get Out makes us think about the odd sate of race relations in the United States.

Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams in Get Out

Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams in Get Out

Get Out stars Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Walsh, a young African-American with a beautiful White, wealthy girlfriend named Rose Armitage. Their life is great until they decide to leave the city and spend the weekend in the country  with Rose’s parents. This is where you expect the movie to take the traditional route of having the parents be prejudice. Instead, Get Out goes in the opposite direction. Some of the funniest parts of the film are the scenes where Rose’s parents desperately try to show they are not prejudice. The father (played by Bradley Whitford) constantly talks about how much he liked Barack Obama. Then he makes things worse by trying to talk using what the middle-aged White man thinks is black slang. Rose, of course, is dying from embarrassment.

Betty Gabriel as the creepy maid in Get Out

Betty Gabriel as the creepy maid in Get Out

The Horror part of the film begins when Chris meets the other African Americans associated with the Armitage family. The family is very wealthy and has a black gardener (Walter) and a black maid (Georgina). Of course, Mr. Armitage points out how well Walter and Georgina  are paid and that he respects them very much. Still, there is something very creepy about the two. Georgina always seems to be in a daze, and the very muscular Walter is constantly giving hostel looks to Chris.

Without giving anything away, we will say that Get Out does get very bloody and scary as it progresses. There is a reason why Walter and Georgina are so weird, and it is more frighting than can be imagined. Get Out is one of the few movies, where the audience will laugh one second and scream the next.

Milton "Lil Rel" Howery in Get Out

Milton “Lil Rel” Howery in Get Out

As the weekend gets stranger and stranger, Chris keeps calling his friend Rod in the city, to describe how weird everyone is. Rod (perfectly played by Milton “Lil Rel” Howery), is a TSA worker, and not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. He comes up with the bizarre (and totally incorrect) theory that these rich White people must have captured the African Americans in the community to make them sex slaves. His “proof” is that one young American American man in the community is married to an older White woman. Rod even goes to the police with his allegations assuming that he will be treated with respect as a “fellow law enforcement officer.” Rod is oblivious to the fact than no one in the United States has any respect for the TSA, and the police laugh him out of the building.

The acting throughout Get Out is perfect. Allison Williams is wonderful  as Rose,  the rich beautiful young White woman, who simply takes her privileged place in society for granted. In one scene, she is driving with Chris and accidentally hits a deer.  When the police arrive at the accident the White police officer immediately asks to see Chris’ identification even though Rose had already explained that she was the driver.

Chris meekly gets his I.D. to show to the police, but then Rose steps in.  She calmly refuses to let Chris show the identification to the police and explains to the police office that the police have no right whatsoever to ask to see Chris’s identification. The police officer eventually backs down.  As the police officer walks away, Rose flashes a gorgeous smile and cheerily thanks the officer for his help.

To Rose, police officers are servants working for her. To Chris, police are a force to be afraid of and never to challenge. Despite the fact that this scene comes in a Horror/Comedy movie, it is one of the best examples ever on film of the different attitudes that White and African Americans have towards law enforcement officers.  Allison Williams is best known for her role as Marnie on the HBO series Girls.

Get Out is not at all preachy about race relations. It is a fun Horror/Comedy film that happens to have a racial component to it.  The ending of Get Out is exciting and totally unexpected. There are twists within twists and the audience was clapping at the end of the film.

Happy Birthday Saoirse Ronan

East Coast Stories would like to wish a happy 23rd birthday to Irish actress Saoirse Ronan. Despite her young age, Saoiese Ronan is one of the best actors in a generation. She is also one of the hardest working. In just the past year, Saoirse starred in the film Brooklyn, and the Broadway play The Crucible.

Saoirse Ronan

Saoirse Ronan

While some actors settle for playing the same type over and over, Saoirse Ronan continually hones her skills in small independent firms playing a wide variety of characters. Saoirse is especially known for her ability to instantly don any type of accent. In fact, the film Brooklyn was one of the few movies where Saoirse actually used her real accent, which is a beautiful Irish brogue.

Saoirse Ronan at the Oscars when she was nominated for Best Actress for her role in Brooklyn

Saoirse Ronan at the Oscars when she was nominated for Best Actress for her role in Brooklyn

In the independent film How I live Now, Saoirse played an American teenager. Not only did she perfectly capture the American accent, she nailed the sarcastic, condescending attitude of a certain type of overly-privileged American teen. In the quirky comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel , Saoirse Ronan was a baker of fine pastries. Saoirse said that the most difficult part of the film was that she actually had to learn how to make pastries.

Despite the Irish Brogue, Saoirse Ronan is a true East Coast girl, having been born in The Bronx, while her Irish parents were living there. Her parents moved back to Ireland when she was little, but she still holds dual American-Irish citizenship.

So from all of us at East Coast Stories Happy Birthday Saoirse! We look forward to watching all of your future performances.

Life Itself – Film Critic Robert Ebert’s fascinating life and final days

Life Itself is a beautiful movie about film critic Robert Ebert’s fascinating life and painful final days. Life Itself also delves into the the decades-long love-hate relationship between Robert Ebert and Gene Siskel. Both of them were strong personalities who were best known for their T.V. show Siskel & Ebert At The Movies.

Robert Ebert & Gene Siskel

Robert Ebert & Gene Siskel

We find that Roger Ebert was a much more complex character than most people realize. A brilliant writer from a young age, he brought film criticism to a new level at the Chicago Sun Times. Prior to Ebert, the film reviews were done by whoever happened to see a movie that weekend. Ebert turned it into a high art. He saw a movie every day, and took the time to write an in-depth analysis. In 1975, Roger Ebert was awarded a Pulitzer Price.

Ebert was proud of his Chicago working class roots. The Chicago Sun Times is the paper read by the every day people who ride mass transit. After Ebert won the Pulitzer, he was offered a huge amount of money to move to Washington D.C. and become the film critic for the Washington Post . He turned the offer down flat saying simply that he “did not want to have to learn new streets.”

Robert Ebert on the cover of Esquire, after his cancer surgery

Robert Ebert on the cover of Esquire, after his cancer surgery

However, there was a dark side to Roger Ebert as well. He was a hard drinker with the rest of the reporters, and for a number of years was a complete alcoholic. Then one day, he suddenly had enough. He took a last drink, joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and never drank again.

Roger Ebert also had a huge ego. He loved being the center of attention and telling endless stories while a group listened.  Whenever he met anyone new, he somehow was able to work into the conversation that he had won a Pulitzer Prize. Roger wanted to be a wild celebrity with beautiful women at his side. However, the fact that he was about 300 pounds meant that he was never very successful with the ladies. At one point in his career, he wrote the screen play for the cheesy soft core porn film Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. He later admitted that the only reason he participated in such trash was that he wanted a chance to meet some of the actresses. Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls is so bad that it actually became a cult film classic. People still watch it today to laugh at film making at its worst.

Marlene Iglitsen & Chaz Ebert

Marlene Iglitsen & Chaz Ebert

Roger Ebert was not happy to have Gene Siskel come into his life. Both Siskel and Ebert wanted to do a movie review show alone. However, the T.V. producers rightly thought it would be more interesting to have two reviewers discussing a movie, instead of one guy lecturing the audience.

It was the conflict and disagreements between the two that made Siskel & Ebert At The Movies so much fun to watch.  The were both egotists and both convinced that their view was correct and anyone disagreeing with it was an idiot. Their arguments about films were not just for show. Often their fights and discussions about a particular film  would continue for hours even after the  cameras were turned off.

Life Itself has many parts that are difficult to watch, since it also documents the final days when Roger Ebert was dying from cancer.  In attempts to remove the cancer, Ebert’s lower jaw had been removed, and he could no longer speak or eat any solid foods.  However, he refused to give up on life. Roger Ebert became a prolific blogger and continued to review movies constantly. He also adapted his computer so that he could “speak” electronically. He communicated to the world this way for a number of years, and even attended movie conferences and “spoke” to crowds with his electronic keyboard voice.

Robert Ebert & Martin Scorsese

Robert Ebert & Martin Scorsese

Life Itself is brilliantly directed by Steve James, who also created the stunning film Hoop Dreams. There are in-depth interviews with Gene Siskel’s widow, Marlene Iglitzen, as well as Robert’s wife Chaz Ebert. There are also touching interviews with fans ranging from everyday readers to famous movie people like Martin Scorsese. Steve James does not try to make Roger Ebert a larger than life celebrity. He shows Roger Ebert as a real multifaceted individual, whose passing was mourned by all film lovers.

Hoop Dreams- the film showing the evil side of “March Madness”

Hoop Dreams  is a documentary that shows how young  African American kids are used and abused by an athletic system that treats them as free labor whose only purpose is to play basketball so that schools can make money. The kids are told they will one day become millionaires playing in the NBA. They are not told that the chance of making  the NBA is about the same as winning the Power Ball lottery.

Win at all costs

Win at all costs

Hoop Dreams takes place over a number of years and details the lives of two inner-city Chicago Kids who are recruited to play basketball for a wealthy suburban high school. St. Joseph High is a Catholic school that has a man scouting Chicago middle and grammar school playgrounds looking for good basketball players. He looks for kids who are athletic and who seem like they will become unusually tall. St. Joseph High then offers these kids a partial scholarship to play for St. Joseph.

Coach Gene Pingatore of St. Joseph High School

Coach Gene Pingatore of St. Joseph High School

Of course the officials at St. Joseph High talk about how much they are helping the community. In fact, they thought that Hoop Dreams was going to show how great the school is. It did not turn out that way. After Hoop Dreams premiered, various St. Joseph High officials tried to sue the film makers.

St. Joseph High is in an all-White suburb and the African American scholarship kids are seen as only there to play basketball. The first thing you notice is what St. Joseph’s does not have. It does not have anyone looking for inner-city kids with great math or reading or artistic skills. It does not have academic scholarships. The message to kids in the ghetto is clear. Sports is the only way out. Academic skill is not useful.

William Gates in "Hoop Dreams"

William Gates in “Hoop Dreams”

Hoop Dreams follows William Gates and Arthur Agee who are both recruited and given partial scholarships. They end up being treated very differently at the school, completely based on their athletic skill. William continues to grow very tall and his basketball skills improve. A supporter of the school gives William a part time job to supplement the partial scholarship.

Arthur Agee in" Hoop Dreams"

Arthur Agee in” Hoop Dreams”

Arthur, on the other hand is not so lucky. He does not grow as tall, and he suffers a knee injury. Coach Pingatore pressures William to play even though the knee is not quite healed. William re-injures the knee and needs a second operation. The injuries and intense pressure the kids are under seems like something from the pros, but you have to keep reminding yourself that these are unpaid high school kids.

When Arthur’s athletic performance becomes bad, the money starts to be a problem.  Unlike William, the school does not find a wealthy supporter to help Arthur.  This is when the school suddenly  reminds Arthur that this is a partial scholarship, and that Arthur will not be able to stay at St. Joseph’s unless his family can pay the back tuition. They cannot come up with the money and Arthur is sent back to the public high school in the inner-city.

As a final insult to Arthur, St. Joseph’s high will not release his transcripts to the public high school, since the back tuition is not paid. This will keep Arthur from graduating high school unless his family comes up with the money.

Neither William or Arthur ever do make the NBA. Both did go to college but even there, the main function was just to play basketball. One went to a large rural college that only had 6 African American kids in the whole college. Five of those 6 kids were on the college basketball team.

Hoop Dreams shows the bad side of American sports that no one likes to talk about. For every one NBA star there are thousands of kids who made sacrifices for  a high school or a college and got nothing in return. Supposedly the kids got an education in return, but many schools were never really interested in trying to educate any of them or give them any real help in life .

At one point in Hoop Dreams Arthur tells the story of when he had some very personal issues with his family that were upsetting him deeply and impacting his schoolwork . He still considered the coach his mentor, so Arthur went to Coach Pingatore to ask for advice.  The coach’s “advice” was very simple. He told Arthur to completely cut ties with his family and girlfriend, since they were interfering  with his ability to play basketball. Thanks coach. Way to help a kid in trouble.

In the 22 years since Hoop Dreams premiered, unfortunately not much has changed.

Primer- a terrific indie movie made for $7,000

Primer is a terrific independent film made on a budget of just $7,000. Primer is sort of a combination of Silicon Valley and The Time Machine. It starts out like a documentary with 4 techie guys in a garage trying to become the next Apple or Microsoft. Primer then  slowly changes into a story about the dark side of human nature, and forces that people are unprepared to explore.

David Sullivan & Shane Carruth in "Primer"

David Sullivan & Shane Carruth in “Primer”

It is incredible that Primer was made for $7,000, when you consider how many terrible Hollywood movies have costs hundreds of millions. There are no special effects and the people are all genuine, but it is definitely a Sci Fi film.

The techie guys start out with really stupid inventions, like a gas that makes refrigerators colder, but has the downside of possibly making the ice cubes poisonous.  Then two of the guys –  Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) – construct a machine that has some wondrous properties they don’t really understand. Aaron and Abe know they are onto something big, but they don’t know what.

Of course, the first thing Aaron and Abe do is to hide the machine from the other members of the team. Anyone who has ever worked in a startup company recognizes how real this scenario is. In startups, everyone is “an important part of the team” until it looks like the company might actually make some money. Then the knives come out.

The machine seems to be able to put out more electricity than it takes in. It also seems to make objects slightly  lighter. Most wondrous of all, it appears that The Machine might impact Time itself.  Adam and Abe don’t know if these events are really happening. The changes are so slight that maybe their instruments are just measuring things wrong. They decide to go the next step and build a huge version of The Machine.

H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine in 1895

H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine in 1895

People have been fascinated with the possibility of time travel, ever since H.G. Wells first published The Time Machine in 1895. Primer is one of a huge number of movies that explore the possibilities and pitfalls of trying to tinker with the natural order of time.

Rod Taylor in the 1960 movie "The Time Machine"

Rod Taylor in the 1960 movie “The Time Machine”

In Primer, the time machine does work, but only in a very limited way. Arron and Abe are brilliant scientists, and they are well aware of the risks of time travel. Therefore, they set up all sorts of fail-safe ways to protect themselves, the timeline and the world from this most dangerous of inventions. Of course, even the most brilliant scientists cannot think of every possibility.

We will not reveal any more of Primer’s plot, other than to say it has stories within stories and you have to watch very carefully to see exactly what is really going on.  Primer was written by Shane Carruth who also stars as Aaron. Primer first premiered in 2004, and despite its $7,000 budget, took in a Box Office gross of $424,780.  The film still holds up today. Primer shows how good a film can be when movie makers concentrate on great writing instead of car chases and special effects.

I Am Your Father – the man inside the Darth Vader helmet

I Am Your Father is a documentary about David Prowse, the man inside the Darth Vader helmet in the original Star Wars trilogy. He is also a pariah; hated by George Lucas, and  banned from any official Star Wars reunions or conventions.   Lucas believes that he was betrayed by Prowse.

Mark Hamill & David Prowse

Mark Hamill & David Prowse

By the time the first Star Wars movie was made in 1977, David Prowse was already known by film directors in England. He was the the former British weight lifting champion and stood 6 feet 7 inches tall. This physique made David Prowse the go-to actor to play bad guys and monsters. He was particularly popular as the Frankenstein monster.

David Prowse in "A Clockwork Orange"

David Prowse in “A Clockwork Orange”

Then in 1971 he was cast by Stanley Kubrick in A Clockwork Orange, showing that he could play more than grunting monsters. He was the perfect choice for the commanding presence needed for Darth Vader. David Prowse was Darth Vader in Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return Of The Jedi (1983).

David Prowse today at age 80

David Prowse today at age 80

So after making 3 of the most successful films in history how did George Lucas and David Prowse end up hating each other?  Betrayal is the word that sums up the issue. Each man feels he was twice  betrayed by the other.

David Prowse as the Green Cross Man

David Prowse as the Green Cross Man

The two betrayals by Lucas have to do with Darth Vader’s voice and final death scene. We all know that James Earl Jones is the voice of Darth Vader.  Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell that to David Prowse ahead of time.  David was the voice of Darth Vader all the way through  the filming of Star Wars.  It was not until the movie premier that David found out his voice had been dubbed over by James Earl Jones. Imaging what it must have been like to sit in the premier and find that every one of your lines in a movie had been replaced by that of another actor.

Lou Ferrigno - friend and defender of David Prowse

Lou Ferrigno – friend and defender of David Prowse

However, David Prowse knew that he would finally get the recognition he deserved, when Darth Vader had his beautiful death scene in Return Of The Jedi. At last, the Darth Vader mask would be removed, and the world would see David. However, this was not to be. Sebastian Shaw was the actor who performed the Darth Vader death scene where Darth’s helmet is removed.

Sebastian Shaw in Darth Vader's death scene

Sebastian Shaw in Darth Vader’s death scene

Richard Marquand, the director of Return Of The Jedi was very worried about what David’s reaction to this news was going to be. After all, who wants to incur the wrath of a 6 foot 7 inch weight lifter? So the director took the cowardly path of just not telling David. The death scene was filmed in secret in one part of the studio while David was kept busy in another part.  Just in case, however, the director had hired lots of extra security for the day.

But why does George Lucas feel betrayed by David Prowse? Well, David was always a very friendly guy and loved taking to reporters. Somehow, two major secrets were leaked to the press just before the release of The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi.  The secret that Darth Vader is Luke Skwalker’s father hit the British tabloids before The Empire Strikes Back hit the theaters.  The fact that Darth Vader dies in Return Of The Jedi also hit the press before the movie came out. George Lucas was convinced, and apparently remains convinced, that it was talkative David Prowse who told the reporters. Almost 4 decades later, Lucas is not ready to forgive and forget.

I Am You Father researches the events and presents a very good case that David Prowse, in fact, was not responsible for either of these leaks to the press.  However, to this day, Prowse is banned from any official Star Wars conventions. Consequently, he is relegated to signing autographs at cheesy little “off-brand” conventions. One of Prowse’s good friends and defenders is Lou Ferrigno, best known for playing The Hulk on T.V. Lou knows first hand the struggle of being a weight lifter trying to be taken seriously as an actor.

Ironically, David Prowse’s most important acting gig had nothing to do with Star Wars. In 1975 he appeared in  a series of public service ads in the U.K. as the Green Cross Code Man. This was a superhero who taught kids about crossing the street safely. David went above and beyond what he was originally hired to do. He tirelessly campaigned for road safety and made many personal appearances at schools talking to kids.

Statistics show that the deaths of children hit by automobiles in the U.K. went down by 50% as a direct result of David’s campaign. Thousands of kids lives were saved.  Later in life, David Prowse was decorated by Queen Elizabeth II for this work. Darth Vader will always be remembered as one of the most evil men in the universe. It turns out that the man behind the mask was actually a good guy all along.

Lovelace – the sad story behind the star of Deep Throat

Lovelace is the sad story of Linda Boreman, better known as “Linda Lovelace” from the infamous Deep Throat movie.  Based on her book Ordeal, it details how she was forced into adult films and prostitution by her abusive husband Chuck Traynor.  Linda later became a spokeswoman against pornography and for for women’s rights.

Peter Sarsgaard & Amanda Seyfried in "Lovelace"

Peter Sarsgaard & Amanda Seyfried in “Lovelace”

Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried) came from a strict Catholic family that was shamed  when she had a child out of wedlock. After that, Linda’s parents became completely over-protective and monitored every aspect of her life. Linda rebelled by marrying Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) the dominating owner of a sleazy topless bar. At first, it seems like life with Chuck will be exciting and fun. However, when Chuck runs into financial problems, he forces Linda into prostitution. After that, the adult film industry actually seems like a step up.

Sharon Stone in "Lovelace"

Sharon Stone in “Lovelace”

Sharon Stone plays Linda’s mother Dorothy. Sharon Stone does such a good job as this uptight cruel woman that we honestly did not realize this was the same actress from Basic Instinct.

Robert Patrick as the devastated father of a porn star in "Lovelace"

Robert Patrick as the devastated father of a porn star in “Lovelace”

Robert Patrick is John Boreman, who is completely devastated when his daughter becomes a porn star.

Linda Lovelace & Chuck Traynor

Linda Lovelace & Chuck Traynor

Deep Throat was a cultural phenomena in 1972. It was a porn film that somehow crossed over and attracted mainstream audiences. It was also one of the first porn films available on video tape which meant that people could see it without having to “be seen”. Supposedly Deep Throat made $600 million dollars. For her staring role, Linda Lovelace was paid $1,250.

One of the aspects only lightly touched on in Lovelace, is organized crime’s involvement in the pornographic film industry. Porn films are sleazy, but they are legal. Therefore, the mob funnels the profits from its illegal activities into those films. There is no way that Deep Throat actually grossed $600 million. The Oscar winning Best Picture in 1972 was The French Connection. It had a domestic gross box office of $51 million.

Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace

Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace. Here the publisher of Ordeal has her take a lie detector test to make sure her story is true. She passed the test.

Amanda Seyfried was perfect as Linda Lovelace. Amanda took a real risk with her career on Lovelace, since prior to this Amanda has always played the sweet innocent girl. Peter Sarsgaard, as always, puts in a powerful performance. He is one of America’s best actors and continually challenges himself with new roles in independent films.

We recommend Lovelace, but be warned that it has strong sexual content. Parts of Lovelace are difficult to watch, with the graphic depiction of the abuses Linda was subjected to.

20th Century Women- a quirky comedy with excellent acting

20th Century Women is a wonderful film where Hollywood finally lets a middle aged woman be the star. Annette Bening gives a perfect performance as Dorothea Fields, a single mother trying to raise her teenage son amidst the turbulent changes of the 1970s.

Billy Crudup, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann in 20th Century Women

Billy Crudup, Elle Fanning, Annette Bening,  Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann in 20th Century Women

If you ever get the feeling that real life has no plot, and that you don’t know what you are doing, then you will sympathize with Dorothea. She wants to be the perfect mom, have a fulfilling life, and make everyone around her happy and enlightened. She is a failure at all of these goals, but she never stops trying. You can’t help falling in love with Dorothea.

Elle Fanning as the rebellious teen Julie in 20th Century Women

Elle Fanning as the rebellious teen Julie in 20th Century Women

Dorothea and her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) live in a big old house surrounded by odd characters. There is William (Billy Crudup) a combination hippie/carpenter/car mechanic. Greta Gerwig plays Abbie, a sensitive artist, trying to cope with cervical cancer. The next door neighbor Julie (Elle Fanning) is a rebellious teenager who spends most of her time at Dorothea’s house.

Annette Bening & Billy Crudup in 20th Century Women

Annette Bening & Billy Crudup in 20th Century Women

Somehow this odd mix of people becomes a family of sorts, helping each other through trials and changes in their own lives. Jamie never comes out and says he wishes he was in a “normal” family, but you know he has thought about it.

If you are expecting a structured plot and a lot of action then 20th Century Women is not the movie for you. 20th Century Women is more like real life than a movie. Things just happen to people. Sometimes they cope well and sometimes they don’t.

We loved 20th Century Women. Ever character is memorable and every actor gives a great performance.

Fences – a good play but a mediocre movie

Denzel Washington’s adaptation of Fences turned a good play into a mediocre movie. Ironically, the problem is that he did not change the play  enough. He simply “filmed a play”. Fences does not come across well on the big screen. A small set and extended soliloquies work well on a stage, where an audience feels it is  sharing an intimate moment with the actors. However, on a huge screen, extreme close-ups, long speeches and no movement makes the audience feel bored and claustrophobic. Movies work best when the audience is shown a story instead of just having actors tell a story.

Denzel Washington & Viola Davis in Fences

Denzel Washington & Viola Davis in Fences

Fences is set in  Pittsburgh in 1956 and is the story of Troy  (Denzel Washington), a middle-age garbage man who is bitter with the way his his life has turned out. Supposedly he was a great baseball player in the Negro League, but was too old to make the transition to the Major Leagues when they became desegregated. As the film progresses we learn that this is not exactly the whole truth.

Jovan Adepo as Cory in Fences

Jovan Adepo as Cory in Fences

Almost all of the movie takes place in the backyard. Troy is supposedly building a fence, but spends most of his time lecturing his family and friends about how hard he works and how they are not living their lives properly. The main target of Troy’s wrath is is his son Cory (Jovan Adepo) Cory has the chance to get a football scholarship to college, but Troy is against that.

Denzel Washington and Stephen Henderson in Fences

Denzel Washington and Stephen Henderson in Fences

Troy is not capable of accepting that things have changed for African-Americans. Troy wants Cory to forget about college and instead learn a trade. Throughout Fences, it is never really clear if Troy is just trying to give advice, or if he is jealous that Cory is being given opportunities that Troy never had. The basic plot is good and the acting is superb.  We learn about Troy’s history in bits and pieces, and the more we learn the more complex a character he becomes.

However, you never get over the feeling that you are just watching a videotape of a play. There are far too many long speeches, and it feels like the entire movie is about 15 minutes too long. Fences should have had  scenes showing us what was happening to Troy instead of having Troy talk about them after the fact.

Mykelti Williamson in Fences

Mykelti Williamson in Fences

For example, we hear that Troy complained to the union that all the men lifting up the trashcans were black and all the drivers of the garbage trucks were white. Troy  was then ordered  to come before the bosses of the company. Troy  thought he was going to get fired, but instead he was promoted to be a truck driver.  That would have been a powerful scene to see. However, we don’t see it. We just get Troy standing in the backyard telling us about it.

The movie also drops some plot lines for no reason. When Troy gets promoted to driver, Troy’s friend Jim (Stephen Henderson) asks Troy how he will be able to drive when Troy does not have  driver’s license and does not know how to read.  But Troy becomes a driver with no problem and the issue is never brought up again. So why was it even mentioned in the first place?

Viola Davis plays Troy’s long suffering wife Rose, who faces each day with intense dignity. Mykelti Williamson is Troy’s brain-damaged brother Gabriel and gives an award-worthy performance.

Overall Fences in an interesting film, but could could have been so much better. The writer of the play, August Wilson also did the movie script, but did not live to see the completed film.  Perhaps Denzel Washington felt it would be disrespectful to make too many changes. But film is a different medium than the stage, and requires a different technique for the audience to get the most out of the work.

Young Ones – Jake Paltrow’s powerful Sci-Fi film

Young Ones, written and directed by Jake Paltrow , is a vision of a drought-stricken future in  which water has become a precious commodity worth killing for.  There have been many sci-films of people struggling in a bleak future, but what makes Young Ones superior is the superb acting of the mostly young cast.

Elle Fanning in Young Ones

Elle Fanning in Young Ones

Elle Fanning is Mary Holm, miserably  stuck on the dust bowel farm her father refuses to leave. She and her brother Jerome (Kodi Smit-McPhee) lead a bleak existence in a desert that was once beautiful farmland. Their father Ernest (Michael Shannon) pig-headily believes that he will somehow be able to earn  enough money to get  irrigation to the property.

Elle Fanning & Nicholas Hoult in Young Ones

Elle Fanning & Nicholas Hoult in Young Ones

Mary dreams of running away with her boyfriend Flem (Nicholas Hoult). Mary hates her father so much that she is blind to the fact that Flem is really nothing more than a self-centered evil person.  Mary’s father sees right through Flem but, of course, Mary does not want to hear anything from her father. (Apparently even in the future young women still do not listen to their father’s advice when it comes to men).

Aimee Mulling & Kodi Smit-McPhee in Young Ones

Aimee Mullins & Kodi Smit-McPhee in Young Ones

One of the best performances in the Young Ones is from Aimee Mullins who plays the kids’ quadriplegic mother Katherine. She can only move with the help of machines, yet she provides the tenderness that is so desperately missing in the lives of her children. She can only speak in a whisper, yet you can see how much it pains her that she does not have the physical strength to help her children.

Aimee Mullins- fashion model, world class athlete & actor

Aimee Mullins- fashion model, world class athlete & actor

Of course, Aimee Mullins herself is no stranger to physical adversity. She was born with Fibular Hemifelia (missing fibula bones) and had both legs amputated below the knees at age one. Despite this, Aimee went on to athletic success, with specially designed running legs. Aimee also is a fashion model and an actress in many films.

Michael Shannon and robotic mule in Young Ones

Michael Shannon and robotic mule in Young Ones

Alex McGregor is “Sooz” a young mother who might have to make the ultimate sacrifice to sell her own baby just to get enough food and water to survive.

Alex McGregor & Elle Fanning on the set of Young Ones

Alex McGregor & Elle Fanning on the set of Young Ones

Kodi Smit-McPhee is Jerome, the youngest member of the family. Despite his young age and slight build, Jerome takes on the responsibility of becoming the tough leader. His character is heroic in the true sense of the word. Jerome’s only goal is to do what is needed for the family.

We recommend Young Ones, even for people who do not normally watch science fiction. Even in the future, after all, the character of the people and the choices they make  will still matter far more than the technology of the machines.

Natalie Portman Is “Jackie”

In Jackie, Natalie Portman give an astoundingly accurate portrayal of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy in the days just after President Kennedy’s assassination.  Jackie Kennedy was a quiet beauty with an inner strength and stubbornness that people continually underestimated.

Natalie Portman perfectly captures the stylized,  precise, almost-a-whisper  way in which Jackie Kennedy spoke . Director Pablo Larrain intersperses actual newsreel footage into the movie with incredible effect.

Jacqueline Kennedy & Natalie Portman

Jacqueline Kennedy & Natalie Portman

Despite being in a state of shock after the assasination, Jackie Kennedy fought to make sure that her husband’s place in history would always be remembered. While others wanted a small family funeral in Massachusetts, Jackie insisted on a grand state funeral, modeled on that of Abraham Lincoln.

Caroline, Jackie & "John John" Kennedy at President Kennedy's funeral

Caroline, Jackie & “John John” Kennedy at President Kennedy’s funeral

Jackie shows how Jacqueline Kennedy also managed the press after JFKs death to create the “Camelot” myth of the Kennedy years. Billy Crudup is perfect as LIFE Magazine  reporter Theodore H. White whose lengthy interview with Jackie was read by every person in America.

1964 Issue of Life magazine featuring Jackie Kennedy

1964 Issue of LIFE magazine featuring Jackie Kennedy

Much of the film is the interaction between the reporter and Jackie, and shows how she was able to manipulate the press in a way that no politician or celebrity would ever be able to do today.  Jackie essentially wrote and edited the LIFE story, including the references to Camelot. Amazingly, Mrs. Kennedy gave this lengthy interview only 1 week after her husband was gunned down in Dallas.

Peter Sarsgaard & Natalie Portman in "Jackie"

Peter Sarsgaard & Natalie Portman in “Jackie”

Peter Sarsgaard is Robert Kennedy who tries to protect Jackie and also unsuccessfully tries to control her.  As always, Peter Sarsgaard gives a masterful performance.

Caspar Phillipson as "John Fitzgerald Kennedy" and Natalie Portman as "Jackie Kennedy" in JACKIE.

Caspar Phillipson as “John Fitzgerald Kennedy” and Natalie Portman as “Jackie Kennedy” in JACKIE.

Casper Phillipson is Jack Kennedy, and accurately captures the smooth confidence  of JFK.

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy on her wedding day

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy on her wedding day

The script by Noah Oppenheim and the acting of Natalie Portman bring Jackie Kennedy alive as a real person. Not as just a legend or a caricature, but as a actual woman, who despite her youth, was able to show dignity and strength when America needed it the most.

Lyndon Johnson takes the oath of office, with Jackie Kennedy still in a state of shock

Lyndon Johnson takes the oath of office, with Jackie Kennedy still in a state of shock

Many First ladies have come and gone without being remembered, but people will never forget Jackie Kennedy.

St. Vincent – a moving film about unexpected heroes

St. Vincent is a moving film about suffering and goodness in a cruel world. It is billed as a comedy, but is much more than that. St. Vincent stars Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy, whose combined talents make them perfect for this movie. St. Vincent is a bittersweet story  that shows that when life is at its worst, there can be heroism in just making it through another day.

Melissa McCarthy is Maggie Bronstein, a newly divorced mother who is struggling to make ends meet while caring for her 12 year old son. They move to a small house in Brooklyn and have the misfortune to find Vincent MacKenna (Bill Murray) is their new neighbor. Vincent is a nasty old guy whose life consists of drinking at a bar, seeing a prostitute and being alone in his house with his cat.

Bill Murray & Jaeden Lieberher in St. Vincent

Bill Murray & Jaeden Lieberher in St. Vincent

Maggie has to work long hours at the hospital and desperately  needs someone to watch her son Oliver and prepare food for him. With no other choice, she finally hires Vincent as the babysitter.

This is where most films would have just turned into silly slapstick comedies. Instead, St. Vincent delves much deeper into the complexities of human nature.  Oliver (perfectly played by Jaeden Lieberher) finds that there is much more to Vincent than meets the eye. Vincent becomes a sort of very flawed father figure to Oliver. Vincent teaches Oliver how to defend himself and stand up for himself against bullies.

Oliver finds that Vincent also has reasons for his depression. Oliver and Vincent make weekly trips to a nursing home to visit Vincent’s wife, who is suffering  from the final stages of Alzheimer’s. Unlike his attitude with most people, Vincent is always kind, patient and loving with his wife, despite the fact that she no longer even recognizes who he is.

Chris O'Dowd as Brother Geraghty in St. Vincent

Chris O’Dowd as Brother Geraghty in St. Vincent

Oliver attends a private Catholic school and is mentored By Brother Geraghty (Chris O’Dowd). The school has an annual assembly called “living saints”, in which each child is to give a presentation about  a person still alive but  who has all the attributes of a saint.  Brother Geraghty points out that saints are not perfect people, but people who have done great things despite their own imperfections.

Oliver chooses as his living saint Vincent and decides to secretly research who this old man really is and what his life has been like.



Naomi Watts is Dakota, a tough as nails, pregnant Russian prostitute. Despite her tough exterior she does like Vincent and Oliver and tries to help them in her own strange ways.

Cris O’Dowd is fantastic as  Brother Geraghty, who has some of the best lines in the movie. Our favorite is that “Catholicism is the best religion because we have the most rules.”

Even the small parts are filled with wonderful actors. Greta Lee is great as a harried bank teller who has the misfortune to become the focus of Vincent’s wrath. Greta Lee is known to most people as Homeless Hannah in the HBO Show High Maintenance.

St. Vincent is a wonderful film and we loved it.

The Gift – a superb thriller with unexpected plot twists

The Gift  is the  2015 thriller in which the insults and hurts from childhood come back to sabotage the happy marriage of a successful couple. As William Faulkner once said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman in The Gift

Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman in The Gift

Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) have moved from Chicago to Simon’s home town in California, where Simon has taken a new high-powered job. By chance they run into Gordo (Joel Edgerton), an old school acquaintance of Simon’s.  Gordo is thrilled to see them and begins showering them with housewarming gifts.

Gordo is obviously a lonely soul, and takes an immediate liking to the kind and gentle Robyn. He helps Robyn with the house, sets up the cable T.V. and continually stops by to lend a hand or just chat. At first it is nice, but after a while he begins to seem just a little too clingy and creepy.

Joel Edgerton as Gordo on The Gift

Joel Edgerton as Gordo on The Gift

Finally, Simon has had enough, and in a very cruel way tells Gordo  he doesn’t want him around anymore. That’s when bad things start to happen to Simon and Robyn. Their dog disappears, the fish in their Coy pond all die, and strange noises are heard at night.`

At this point, it seems like the movie is just going to morph into a  traditional horror movie, but then, exciting  plot twists occur. Robyn had liked Gordo and thought that Simon was unnecessarily brutal in dumping Gordo as a friend. She begins doing some detective work to find out what was the real nature of the past relationship between Simon and Gordo, and why Simon was so eager to force Gordo out of their lives The more she digs the more bizarre and frighting the past becomes.

It is difficult to describe just how good The Gift is without giving too much away and ruining the ending. When you see it, you will be glad we did not spoil anything.

We will simply say that The Gift is a a great mystery movie (NOT a horror movie), that has a completely unexpected double twist ending. The acting is fantastic. Rebecca Hall is perfect as the kind but fragile Robyn who begins to worry about the moral cost of success. Jason Bateman’s acting is superb  as her controlling husband.

Joel Edgerton is the complex Gordo who keeps us guessing as to whether or not he is a misunderstood nice guy or a psychopath. Joel Edgerton was also the writer, director and co-producer of The Gift. His talents are exceptional in all three fields.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – an unfocused mess of a movie

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is about a fictional Iraq war hero.  It is like the Iraq war itself. It starts with hope and promise, and then becomes a misdirected mess that feels like it is never going to end. Billy Lynnn’s Long Halftime Walk somehow combines an anti-war theme with a clumsily pro-military propaganda film and tops that off with an absurdly over-the-top football halftime show. The combination is as bad as it sounds.

Kirsten Stewart- The best part of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Kirsten Stewart- The best part of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

There are some good moments in the film. Kirsten Stewart is excellent as Bill Lynn’s sister Kathryn. She is the only one who seems to notice the toll the war has taken on her brother. Everyone else just sees him as a hero but she is concerned about him as a person. Unfortunately, despite getting top billing, Kirsten Stewart is not on screen for most of the movie.

Vin Diesel as the philosophical Sergeant Shroom in Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Vin Diesel as the philosophical Sergeant Shroom in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

The scenes in Iraq  are also excellent. Vin Diesel is terrific as the combat Sergeant they all call “Shroom” since his philosophy of life is so odd. He is a man trying to live the life of a Hindu philosopher in a combat zone.  He believes there is no point in fearing death since  the bullet that is going to kill you “has already been fired.”

Steve Martin & Joe Alwyn. Steve Martin has the worst Texas accent ever on film

Steve Martin & Joe Alwyn. Steve Martin plays a stereotype of an evil  Texas businessman

But most of the movie take place in a football stadium where Billy Lynn and the rest of Bravo Squad are being honored at the halftime show. The team is obviously supposed to be the Dallas Cowboys but the producers use a fictional team name and stadium. The team owner (Norm) is played by Steve Martin and this is the only bad performance we have ever seen him give.

Steve Martin’s Texas accent is just awful and he completely overplays the stereotype of an aggressive, evil Texas businessman. That is very strange, considering that Steve Martin was actually born in Waco Texas. However, he did move to California when he was five.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is insulting to Texans in general. They are portrayed as ignorant fools who praise the soldiers but in fact have no real respect for the soldier’s sacrifices.

The worst part of the movie is Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

The worst part of the movie is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

Then comes the actual halftime walk. The big moment the film has been leading up to. Bravo company stands on stage while fireworks go off, scantly clad girls dance around them,  bands play etc. This scene goes on and on and on. It is loud, badly filmed and is supposed to drill home that civilians do not understand the real sacrifices that soldiers make.  But the movie has already made that point, over and over and over.

Makenzie Leigh spends all of Billy Lynn's Log Halftime Walk in a skimpy cheerleader outfit

Makenzie Leigh spends all of Billy Lynn’s Log Halftime Walk in a skimpy cheerleader outfit

There is also a ridiculously rushed love story between Billy (Joe Alwyn) and a cheerleader (Makenzie Leigh).  The main purpose of these scenes seems to be to show a beautiful  actress in her skimpy cheerleader outfit as much as possible.

Director Ang Lee

Director Ang Lee

The camera work was also awful. There are several times where the actors  are talking directly to the camera which is about three inches from their faces. Supposedly  the movie was originally  going to be in 3D but then was changed to 2D. That  may account for the strange cinematography. This bad camera work is very unfortunate,  considering that director Ang Lee is known for his beautiful movies like Life of Pi.

We are not sure exactly what Ang Lee was trying for with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Whatever it was did not work.

Atari Game Over- the myth and mystery of the E.T. Game

The documentary Atari – Game Over on Showtime is a fascinating look at  the urban legend of Atari’s “E.T. game” which is considered to be the worst video game ever made. The E.T. game was supposedly so bad that it destroyed Atari and almost the entire video game industry with it. Part of the legend is that Atari was so ashamed of the E.T. Game that it buried millions of copies of it in the desert outside Almagordo New Mexico

Atari E.T. Game considered the worst game of all time

Atari E.T. Game considered the worst game of all tim

Atari started in the coin operated video game industry.  The founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney changed the world when they came up with a method to bring games onto your home T.V. set. “Changed the world” may sound like complete hyperbole, but it is not. This was in the early 1970s and people did not have home computers and iPhones were still decades in the future. The Atari system made an ordinary television set an interactive medium.  It gave kids a glimpse into what the future could be. Thousands of geeky kids who played the early Atari games went on to become computer programmers, game and web designers and internet entrepreneurs. The Atari games were not great, but they stimulated the imaginations of kids who envisioned a universe of great computer applications.

Like many companies, Atari was actually destroyed by its own success. Early in its history it became part of Warner Communications, which saw Atari as a never ending cash cow. At one point Atari had 80% of the computer game market world wide.

Howard Warshaw - creater of Atari's E.T.

Howard Warshaw – creator of Atari’s E.T.

One of the top game designers at Atari was Howard Warshaw. He pioneered features that are part of all computer games today. He invented the use of “Easter Eggs” which are hidden levels inside games where you can find secret messages if you unlock something. He also gave games backstories. He made a hit game Yar’s Revenge about intelligent ants attacking from outer space. Before the game was released he wrote an entire comic book explaining who the ants were, where they were from and how they had come to power.

Atari E.T. Yes, that square green thing is supposed to be E.T.

Atari E.T. Yes, that square green thing is supposed to be E.T.

Then in 1982, Howard Warshaw was given an impossible task. Atari paid $22 million for the rights to use E.T. in a video game. But the deal had been finalized so late in the year that making the Christmas season was ridiculously tight. Atari gave Howard Warshaw only 5 weeks to design, program and complete E.T. the video game.

To Warshaw’s credit he actually came up with a game. The problem was it was awful. Basically the little E.T. character did nothing but wander around a mostly blank landscape, and occasionally fell down holes that were hard to get out of.  A little FBI agent and a scientist tried to capture him. E.T. could “phone” Elliott to help get him out of the holes. That’s the whole game.

The game had a beautiful picture of E.T. on the cover and millions of people who had loved the movie E.T. bought them. Then people played the actual game and hated it. Hated it like they had never hated a game before. Millions and millions of games were returned to stores for refunds.

Atari games at the Almagordo dump

Atari games at the Almagordo dump

Atari -Game Over focuses much of its running time on the search for the dumped games in the New Mexico landfill. This is actually the least interesting part of the film. Watching a bunch of machines dig in a dump is not exciting.  However, the interviews with the people who worked at Atari during its heyday are great. They tell stories of the wild times and drugs that were a part of the everyday scene.

Howard Warshaw himself comes across as a very likable person.  He had a rough time after the failure of E.T. He became a pariah  in the industry and left it completely. He tried being a real estate agent, and eventually got a masters in Psychology and became a clinical psychologist.

The truth is that the senior officers at Warner Communications, which owned Atari, made a strategic mistake and then blamed the failure on the young game designer. They should never have spent  $22 million to get the rights to use the E.T. name, and then ordered 1 guy to whip up a game in 5 weeks. Instead, they should have used $5 and spent a year having an entire team of people develop something original, even if it was not based on a movie.  The executives at Warner had no respect for the Atari  customers and failure was the result. Warner did not understand that the “geeks” buying Atari products expected value for their money the same as any other customer.

Atari Game Over is an interesting look at a bygone era when computer technology was just beginning its leap to the future.

Arrival – audiences love it or hate it

Audiences seem to love or hate the new Sci-Fi film Arrival. We loved it. People who hate it complain that it does not have enough action. Those people are missing the point. Arrival is not trying to be an action movie. Arrival  tries to explore one possibility of what might really happen if intelligent beings from outer space suddenly came to earth.

Alian ship hovers in Arrival

Alien ship hovers in Arrival

In many Sci-Fi movies, beings from outer space  are beautiful men and women who happen to speak perfect English. Even in movies where they are strange looking creatures, they still speak English. Communication is never a problem.  Arrival shows that communication would be the main issue. Creatures from another world would not just speak a different language. They would have a completely different communication structure. In fact, their idea of what communication is would be almost incomprehensible to us.

Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams in Arrival

Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams in Arrival

Arrival begins when huge ships from another world come to Earth and hover menacingly over various locations around the globe. Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a brilliant linguistics professor who is brought in to try to ask the aliens one question. “Why are you here?”

Tzi Ma as General Shang in Arrival

Tzi Ma as General Shang in Arrival

Thousands of scientists throughout the world are trying to ask the same question.  As the weeks drag on and very little progress is made, General Shang, the head of the Chinese military ,urges other world leaders that we must assume the aliens are hostel.  Chan (played by Tzi Ma) urges a military attack against the aliens.

Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber in Arrival

Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber in Arrival

Aliens does not try to have “good guys” or “bad guys.” It avoids the usual Sci-Fi cliche of having the scientists as good and the military as bad. The groups are working together to try to do what is best, even if they have different points of view. Forest Whitaker is American Colonel Weber.

At one point Professor Banks urges patience and points out how difficult it was for the Europeans to originally communicate with the Australian Aborigines. Colonel Weber asks her to remember that the Europeans ended up almost completely wiping out the Aborigines.  In fact, every time in history an “advanced civilization” has come into contact with a more “primitive” one, the primitive people have suffered horrible consequences. The military leaders have good reason to be worried. Humans are now the primitive civilization.

Abigail Pniowsky as Hannah in Arrival

Abigail Pniowsky as Hannah in Arrival

The acting throughout Arrival is excellent  Jeremy Renner is physicist Ian Donnelly, who is working with Louise Banks and trying to use mathematics to crack the code of alien communication. Abigail Pniowsky is Hannah, Louise Banks’ daughter. Dr. Banks is plagued by bittersweet memories of Hannah, who eventually died of cancer. However, Dr. Banks knows that the key to learning the Alien language is somehow the same as the way Hannah originally learned to communicate as a child.

There are ways Arrival could be better. It verges on being a little too preachy.  All of the countries on Earth only have a piece of the puzzle , and must work together to solve it. The fact that the world is a mess and people cannot get along has been a theme in Sci-Fi movies since film was invented. The way the aliens look is also a little cheesy. They are kind of a mix between a giant elephant and a giant octopus. They also wear no clothing, which drives us crazy about many Sci-Fi movies. Why is it always assumed that creatures from other planets never have clothing?

However, these flaws are minor and do not take away from the general uplifting theme of the movie.

Hush – a new horror movie in the classic style

Hush is a heart pounding horror movie in which a deaf-mute young woman is forced to fight off a psychotic killer. Hush is crafted in the classic style allowing the audience to get to know and like the character before she is suddenly thrust into a life or death battle.  It is an amazingly well done film, using only four characters.

Hush Killer

Maddie peacefully reviews her emails unaware of the killer approaching

Kate Siegal stars as Maddie, a deaf-mute writer who lives alone in a rural community and works obsessively  on her novels. Her only contact with the outside world comes from an occasional visit from her neighbor, and from emails. It is a peaceful, if lonely existence.

Samantha Sloyan as Sarah in Hush

Samantha Sloyan as Sarah in Hush

We get to know and like Maddie and her neighbor Sarah (played by Samantha Sloyan), when Sarah comes to visit. Sarah has been learning sign language, and she and Maddie happily converse about cooking, boyfriends and Maddie’s latest novel.  It seems like the beginning of a romantic “chick flick”.

But the tone suddenly changes after Sarah leaves. Maddie is in the kitchen happily cooking, while outside the window we see Sarah come running up, perused by a man with a knife.  As Maddie concentrates on cooking, Sarah is screaming while the man repeatedly plunges a large hunting knife into Sarah’s back. Maddie, despite only being a few feet away, is unaware of the screams.  The killer then turns his attentions on Maddie, who at first, does not even know she is being targeted.

John Gallagher Jr. is the killer in Hush

John Gallagher Jr. is the killer in Hush

The rest of the movie is Maddie trying to get away from the Killer. When he steals her cell phone and cuts the internet service, Maddie is truly alone.  Hush, of course,  pays homage to the classic play and movie  Wait Until Dark, about a blind woman fighting off a killer. Maddie, realizes that she cannot run from or reason with the killer.  She comes  up with ways to use her very deafness against the killer.

Hush is an independent film where Kate Siegel is not only the main actor, but also the co-writer. Mike Flanagan directed and co-wrote the film. John Gallagher Jr. is excellent as the cold  psychopath.

Hush will keep you on the edge of your seat, frightened as this vulnerable gentle woman struggles to survive against unfathomable evil.

Tamara Drewe – a perfect little comedy that takes you Far From The Madding Crowd

Tamara Drewe is a perfect little comedy of intrigue and infidelity at a writers’ retreat in rural England.  It is told through the eyes of two 15 year old schoolgirls who are so bored in their dull country town that they spend their days spying on the adults and causing mischief. Tamara Drewe premiered in 2010 but is just as amusing today, and worth watching if you are in the mood for a bawdy comedy

The setting is the sleepy bucolic fictional  English town of Ewedown, where a successful crime novelist and his wife earn extra money by hosting a “writers camp” on their country estate. They encourage a small group of earnest but spectacularly  unsuccessful would- be writers, who spend their days composing truly awful literature while looking out at the English countryside.

Gemma Arterton as Tamara Drewe

Gemma Arterton as Tamara Drewe

This peaceful routine is thrown into chaos by the arrival of the beautiful Tamara Drewe (wonderfully played by Gemma Arterton). Tamara is soon perused by three very different  men, with the whole village guessing as to which one she will chose. In fact, Tamara Drewe is based on the Thomas Hardy novel Far From The Madding Crowd.  A hint to this is that one of the writers is a Professor Bill Camp (played by Glen McCreavy) who is writing a book about Thomas Hardy.

Charlotte Christie & Jessica Barden in Tamara DreweCasey Shaw & Jody Long in Tamara Drewe

Charlotte Christie & Jessica Barden in Tamara Drewe

However, unlike Far From The Madding Crowd, this village has two 15 year old schoolgirls spying on everything and, in fact, messing with the plot.  The real stars of Tamara Drewe are Jessica Barden as Jody Long, ans Charlotte Christie as Casey Shaw.

Dominic Cooper

Dominic Cooper as the Rock Star drummer Ben Sergeant

Jody & Casey spend their days sneaking cigarettes and reading magazines about pop stars. Fifteen year old Jody has a mad schoolgirl crush on the rock star Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper.) By chance, Sergeant comes to town and begins dating Tamara. Jody becomes insanely jealous.  She comes up with a bizarre plan to disgrace Tamara and win Sergeant for herself, despite the fact that Sergeant has never even met Jody. At one point, she hacks Tamara’s email account and then, posing as Tamara, sends out a lewd email to the three men interested in Tamara.

All the actors in Tamara Drewe are great, but Jessica Barden is fantastic. After this film she went on to become a well known  British actor, and also had a major role in the movie Hannah with Saoirse Ronan.

Jody and her friend Casey see and hear all that is going on in the village and allow us to see the world anew through the eyes of 15 year olds. Their shock and amazement at the infidelities, hypocrisies and general foolishness of so-called “adults” is what makes Tamada Drewe great. We realize that for teenagers, the great love stories of “older people” just seem ridiculous.

Jody’s absolute  love for her Rock Star idol far surpasses the superficial love adults feel for each other. The fantasy scenes in which Jody imagines what will happen when she finally meets him are hysterical in their “over the top” imagery.  When the Rock Star finally  comes to town, Jody actually does get to interact with him, but not at all in the way she had imagined.

Tamara Drewe is a fun movie  that combines a classic 1874 love story with the unexpected chaos and capaciousness of modern-day life.  We found it a joy to watch.

Camp X-Ray – an enthralling psychological drama

Camp X-Ray is an enthralling psychological drama about the interaction between the detainees  and guards at the Guantanamo Bay prison. Kirsten Stewart gives an amazing performance as a Private Amy  Cole, a new  guard assigned to watch over the “hard core” detainees. The “hard core” prisoners are those  who refuse to accept the rules, and there is a constant grueling psychological  warfare between them and the Army guards.

Although the guards are not supposed to converse or interact with the prisoners, it is almost impossible not to. The guards are stuck in a small windowless hallway for 12 hour shifts,  with their only function to walk back and forth and watch the prisoners.

Peyman Moaadi & Kirsten Stewart in Camp X-Ray

Peyman Moaadi & Kirsten Stewart in Camp X-Ray

A prisoner names Ali (played by Peyman Moaadi) constantly tries to strike up conversations with Cole.  Finally out of sheer boredom and loneliness, Cole begins to answer him. Ali is intelligent, fanatical and somewhat crazy.  He has already been at Guantanamo for 6 years.

Camp X-Ray does not try to take a political position  about whether or not the Guantanamo Bay prison should exist.  It’s focus is simply on two people trying to survive while at the same time remaining true to themselves.

Hunger striking prisoner being force fed

Hunger striking prisoner being force fed

At one point Private Cole asks Ali why he doesn’t just follow the rules, since that would make everything easier for him. Ali’s answer is that “if we followed the rules, we would be accepting that you have the right to give us the rules.”

Marco Khan as Mahmoud in Camp X-Ray

Marco Khan as Mahmoud in Camp X-Ray

The punishments for infractions are severe. Prisoners who refuse to eat are force fed through tubes. Those who scream in their cells are brought down and shackled by a 5  soldier team.

The prisoners are allowed to choose books to read, which the guards bring to the cells. Ali is obsessed with Harry Potter and is enraged that for 6 years he has been unable to get the final book. He is convinced that that the Americans purposely withheld the final book to punish him. Is he right, or is he just going crazy?  Kirsten Stewart and Payman Moaadi are amazingly talented actors, and their interactions are riveting.

John Carroll Lynch as Colonel Drummond in Camp X-Ray

John Carroll Lynch as Colonel Drummond in Camp X-Ray

Payman Moaadi is an Iranian-American actor who has also starred in A Separation, and The Night Of.  His intensity always brings out the best in all the other actors he performs with.

Marco Kahn is Mahmoud, the most violent of all the hard core prisoners. His sheer size makes difficult for even 5 guards to control him during  his rages. The other prisoners respect his resistance, but also feel he is a bit of a an arrogant jerk.  At one point he forces the prisoners to go on a hunger strike to demand a piece of exercise equipment. When the Colonel finally  caves in and gives them the equipment, the prisoners never use it.  The strike was, of course, never about the equipment, but about a test of will.

John Carroll Lynch is Colonel Drummond, the commander of the prison. He openly admits that he hates the assignment.  Col. Drummond points out it is the type of job that if you do it perfectly no one notices, but if you make a mistake it is a major international incident.

Lane Garrison is the tough as nails Corporal Ransdell. At one point, he makes Private Cole guard Ali while Ali is taking a shower. Ransdell knows that for  a Muslim, having a strange woman see you naked is humiliating.

Peyman Moaadi as Ali in Camp X-Ray

Peyman Moaadi as Ali in Camp X-Ray

Ransdell gives Cole the assignment anyway, asking her “Are you a soldier, or a Female soldier?”.   The question of people trying to decide who they really are is main focus of Camp X-Ray. In a sense Colonel Drummond, Private Cole and Prisoner Ali are all trying to see if in their insane violent world they can somehow also remain Human.

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies – Jane Austen would have loved it

Jane Austen would have loved the movie Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. It takes the plot, characters and time period of Pride and Prejudice, and combines it with the Zombie Apocalypse. Mr.and Mrs. Bennet are trying to find suitable husbands of wealth and breeding for their 5 unmarried daughters, despite the fact that England is overrun with zombies.

Bella Heathcote fighting zombies

Bella Heathcote fighting zombies

The upper classes are stoically maintaining their traditions, while at the same time desperately  fighting for their very survival.  What Jane Austen would love about  Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, is that the women are the expert zombie fighters. Mr. Bennet made sure that all of his daughters were trained in martial arts, swordplay and firearms.

Lily James as Elizabeth Bennet

Lily James as Elizabeth Bennet

When zombies attack; the women do not stand by meekly and watch the men fight. The women take the forefront in the assault, and wield swords. Of course, they do this while still attired in  the type of long gowns that a proper young lady would wear.

The movie did not do very well at the box office. Probably because most people who watch zombie movies have never read any of Jane Austen’s works. Regular zombie movie lovers may find the plot too complex to follow. At the same time, Jane Austen readers may find the blood and gore of the zombie scenes a little too much to take.

On the other hand, we loved it. You know exactly from the title what the movie is going to be about. We found that it added a fun new twist to the tired old zombie genre.  The acting is also very good. The movie is never played as a spoof and never tires to be camp.

Even with the zombies present, the movie keeps the gist of the novel’s plot and characters. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcey pursue their tumultuous relationship. Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley fall in and out an in love.

Sam Riley and Lily James in Price & Prejudice & Zombies

Sam Riley and Lily James in Price & Prejudice & Zombies

The actors are all superb. Lily James is terrific as the sword swinging Elizabeth, and Bella Heathcote is great as her sister Jane. Sam Riley is perfect as the brooding Mr. Darcey, and Doughlas Both is wonderful as the handsome and wealthy Mr. Bingley.

Lena Headey in Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

Lena Headey in Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

There is even a mini Game Of Thrones reunion. Lena Headey (Better known as Cersie Lannister) is Mr. Darcey’s zombie-fighting aunt. In Price & Prejudice & Zombies Charles Dance is now head of the Bennet family instead of being head of the Lannisters. Even Wilko Johnson, who plays The Executioner on Game Of Thrones, shows up as a henchman in Price & Prejudice & Zombies.  It seems like a bunch of the actors from Game Of Thrones said, “Hey, we have some time off, let’s go make a zombie movie.”

Still, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is not for everyone. Some people may think that combing a classic novel by Jane Austen with a silly zombie movie is like having a fine bottle of French Chardonnay with a bowl of Fruit Loops.  But why not give it a try? You may find they go together better that you imagined.

Children Of Heaven – A loving look at ordinary Iranians

The 1997 film Children Of Heaven is a beautiful movie about an ordinary poor family in Tehran, Iran. It has no political agenda. Watching it may give you a different perspective on people who many Americans view as nothing more than “enemies”.

Children of Heaven revolves around a lost pair of shoes, and the adventures  of two kids trying to get them back. A middle-school boy named Ali has been given the task to bring his younger sister’s shoes to be repaired by the local cobbler. Through a series of mishaps he ends up losing them on the way home.

The missing shoes from Children of Heaven

The missing shoes from Children of Heaven

The kids  do not want to tell their father since they know he is too poor to buy a new pair. The brother and sister (Zahra) end up secretly sharing one pair of sneakers between them while desperately searching for the lost shoes

What makes this film so beautiful is that it is not played for pathos. Children of Heaven is not about how poor the family is. The film is about a loving family that cares for each other despite happening to be poor.  Ali’s father is a hard worker and his mother is too ill to work. Despite their problems  the family unit remains strong and caring.

A poor but loving Iranian family in Children of Heaven

A poor but loving Iranian family in Children of Heaven

Children of Heaven is also about the natural resilience of children. In one scene Ali and Zahra are washing their one pair of sneakers, and begin playing with the soap bubbles. Their laughter and happiness are wonderful to watch.

Bahare Seddiqi & Mir Farrokh Hashemian in Children of Heaven

Bahare Seddiqi & Mir Farrokh Hashemian in Children of Heaven

Children of Heaven also shows parts of Iran that we never see on American T.V. Ali and his father bicycle to the wealthy section of Tehran to look for jobs as gardeners. The houses and gardens shown would be the envy of many rich American suburbanites. There is also a running race in a beautiful park around a huge crystal clear lake.

Reza Naji ans Mir Farrokh Hashemian in Children of Heaven

Reza Naji ans Mir Farrokh Hashemian in Children of Heaven

In 1997, Children of Heaven was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film . (The first Iranian film to earn that honor). It came in second to the Italian film Life Is Good.  The acting in the film is perfect. Mir Farrokh Hashemian is Ali and Resa Naji is the little sister. It never feels like they are acting.  It seems as if you are truly watching  the everyday life of kids. Bahare Seddiqi is the hard working, but not too bright father, and Fereshteh Sarabandi is the loving mother.

Mir Ferrokh Hashemian as Ali in Children of Heaven

Mir Ferrokh Hashemian as Ali in Children of Heaven

Director Majid Majidi made Children Of Heaven for only $180,000. He filmed the  movie  surreptitiously in Tehran so that he could get natural shots of everyday street  and crowd scenes.

We found Children of Heaven a pleasure to watch and give it our highest rating.

Election – the 1999 comedy that is better than our current election mess

If, like everyone else in America, you can’t wait for this horrible Presidential election to be over, take a break and watch the 1999 movie Election.  This hilarious comedy stars Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, a hyper over-achiever running for Student Council President at a high school in Omaha Nebraska. Tracy is so much smarter, more ambitious and driven than the other students that she assumes there will be no contest.

Reese Witherspoop as Tracy Flick, who is willing to do anything to win the Election

Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, who is willing to do anything to win the Election

The problem is that the friendly and popular teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) secretly hates her and is doing everything in his power to sabotage her election. While pretending to help her, he goes behind her back and persuades Paul, a nice but dumb football quarterback to run against her. Chris Klein is perfect as the likable but moronic Paul.

Matthew Broderick as the popular Mr. McAllister in Election

Matthew Broderick as the popular Mr. McAllister in Election

As Election continues  Tracy and Mr. McAllister turn to ever more devious and underhanded tactics.  Despite the fact that Student Council President is a completely meaningless office, Tracy and Mr. McAllister are willing to do anything to win, including fixing the results.

Chris Klein & Reese Witherspoon in Election

Chris Klein & Reese Witherspoon in Election

Be warned that this is sort of a raunchy comedy and not intended for little kids. Mr. McAllister hates Tracy  because Tracy had a secret affair with another teacher. The affair did not become known to the student body, but it ruined the other teacher’s career and his marriage.

There are also quite a few sex jokes. One scene shows each of the main character praying to God before going to bed.  Tracy and Mr. McAllister both pray for things they want. On the other hand, Paul the quarterback gives the following heartfelt prayer.

” Dear God- Thank you for all your blessings. You’ve given me so many good things, like good health, nice parents, a nice truck, and what I’m told is a large penis.”

So, if you are in the mood for a raunchy fun comedy about an Election where the results don’t really matter, take a look at this 1999 film. Perhaps for a short time it can make you forget  the real election mess we are being subjected to right now.

Machine Gun Preacher – true story or self-serving propaganda?

Machine Gun Preacher is an interesting  movie with a silly name. It is the supposedly “true” story of Sam Childers. He is  an ex-con, recovering alcoholic from Pennsylvania  who found God and began saving children in Africa. Childers does many bad things in order to accomplish a good objective. The movie leaves it to the audience to decide whether or not it is ethically  acceptable to commit violence in the pursuit of good. There is also a real question as to whether or not the movie is accurate, or if it is just self-serving propaganda for Sam Childers.

Sam Childers receiving a Mother Teresa Award

Sam Childers receiving a Mother Teresa Award

Machine Gun Preacher begins with Childers being released from prison. He is completely unreformed and wants nothing more than to get back on drugs and party with his wild wife Lynn. When he gets home, he discovers that his wife has become an Evangelical Christian. She has given up her career as a stripper and is now a clean and sober waitress.

For a while the movie is like an after-school anti-drug special. Sam is angry at first, but then turns to God  and even becomes a self proclaimed preacher.  Then things get interesting when he takes a church trip to Africa to do charity work in Sudan. When he see that rebels are kidnapping children to use as child-soldiers, he takes up a machine gun and begins to fight the rebels himself.  Each night, the Machine Gun Preacher goes out to kill  rebels and rescue kidnapped children.

Sam Childers in Africa with his "rescued" kids

Sam Childers in Africa with his “rescued” kids

We know the movie sounds ridiculous, but , the cinematography and acting make it worth watching. Much of it was filmed in Africa, and the scenes with the children are very moving. Gerard Butler is excellent as Sam Childers, and Michelle  Monaghan is great as Sam’s wife Lynn.


Madeline Carroll  is  terrific  as the preacher’s daughter Paige. Back in America, she is angry that her father is away so much and that any extra money the family has goes to kids in Africa. At one point she is told she cannot get a prom dress since the African kids are “more deserving” of the money.  She knows that this  is actually true, but that does not make the situation any easier for an American teenage girl.

Madeline Carroll plays Paige Childers in Machine Gun Preacher

Madeline Carroll plays Paige Childers in Machine Gun Preacher

Sam Childers is an actual Evangelical gun-toting  preacher who has fought in Africa while maintaining a charity.  In 2013 he was honored with a Mother Teresa Award. However, there is a dark side to Sam Childers that the movie completely ignores.  His own son in law has accused Sam of skimming money from the charity.

Lynn & Sam Childers

Lynn & Sam Childers

While watching the movie, we did wonder where all the money came from for extended trips back and forth to Africa and for the building of an orphanage in Africa. Machine Gun Preacher strongly implies that all the funds came from Sam’s personal donations. In fact, he has his own website, and collects considerable sums from many sources. Whether any of those donations ended  up in the preacher’s own pocket instead of Africa is still a matter of speculation.

Even more worrying than potential embezzlement concerns are the allegations of arms dealing, kidnapping and child abuse.  The FBI has searched the charity’s “clothing shipments” to Africa under suspicion that they are a cover for weapons trafficking.  There are also people in Africa who claim that not all the kids Sam Childers has “rescued” are actually orphans. In some cases it is alleged that  he forcibly took kids from their parents. He felt he could feed and care for them better than their actual families. Some Africans also say that the orphanage itself has very poor conditions and the children are not really  well fed.

So is Sam Childers a tough-guy saint, or a money stealing con-man? Did he really give up his life of crime to serve God, or did he just become a more successful criminal? Unfortunately, Machine Gun Preacher does not address any of these issues. It was made with the full cooperation of Preacher Childers, and is more propaganda film than documentary.  It would have been a much better movie if it had been made without the preacher’s cooperation.

Still, Machine Gun Preacher is worth seeing, since it gives us a look at a fascinating character who most Americans never heard of.  However, after you watch it, surf the internet for a little bit to see the other side of the story. Then see if you can figure out if the real Machine Gun Preacher is Saint or Sinner.

Carol – a film of forbidden love in 1952

Carol is a beautiful movie about a love affair between two women in 1952. This was when such a relationship was not only illegal, but also incomprehensible to most people in American society.  Cate Blanchett is Carol, a wealthy middle-aged married woman. She becomes infatuated with a shy younger woman she meets in a department store.

Rooney Mara & Cate Blanchett in Carol

Rooney Mara & Cate Blanchett in Carol

Therese (the younger woman) is petite and soft spoken and flattered at the attention being paid to her by by such a sophisticated upper class woman. As viewers, we are not sure if Therese understands what Carol is actually looking for.  Therese is perfectly played by Rooney Mara.

Carol herself is not sure how Therese will react to any advances, so she is very cautious as they slowly become friends.

Kyle Chandler in Carol

Kyle Chandler in Carol

Kyle Chandler is Carol’s husband Harge. He simply cannot accept the fact that his wife is a lesbian. In fact, the word “lesbian” is never uttered in the film Carol. In 1952, the words “unnatural” or “deviant” were the phrases, and even those were only uttered softly and behind closed doors.

Harge wants his life to remain as it has always been, and is willing to use threats to keep the status quo. If Carole divorces him, she could be forbidden from ever seeing her child. In 1952 “deviant” behavior of a homosexual nature would have labeled her an unfit mother if it came out in divorce proceedings.

Carol avoids making Harge a film-cliche bad guy. He is not an evil man, he is just someone overwhelmed by his wife behaving so far outside the bounds of  normalcy. He wants to help his wife with therapists, and does love his wife.

Carol is a wonderful period piece film. It does not try to force 2016 behavior onto characters from 1952. People remain very much a part of whatever environment they are born into.  It is fascinating to see how forbidden love was handled 64 years ago.

Steve Jobs – Tech Genius or Arrogant Poser?

Who was Steve Jobs? Books, movies and documentaries have never been able to truly capture the unique complexity of Steve Jobs. Unfortunately the 2015 movie simply  titled Steve Jobs is no exception. That said, Steve Jobs is an extraordinary well made film, with superb performances by first rate actors.

The real Steve Jobs

The real Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is structured as a play and could easily be converted to the theater.  It takes place in 3 acts with each one during a major product launch. Key figures from Steve’s past come back stage to have heart-wrenching, long discussions about life, just minutes before Steve has to go on stage to introduce the new product.

Michael Fassbender as Jobs and Seth Rogen as Wozniak

Michael Fassbender as Jobs and Seth Rogen as Wozniak

These conversations are dramatic and fascinating, until you realize that they are purely fictional.  They also tend to portray Jobs as a one-dimensional mean-spirited, nasty individual who will not listen to excellent advice from anyone. In real life, Jobs was stubborn and often cruel, but he also could be kind and generous. Jobs also certainly knew how to work with others in a team, and to take input from many different sources.

Apple's famous Super Bowl ad for The Macantosh

Apple’s famous Super Bowl ad for The Macontosh

Steve Jobs however, does explain well and in non-technical terms exactly why some of Job’s product ideas  were successes and other were complete failures. It also shows John Sculley (played by Jeff Daniels) in a much different light than most other stories about Apple. Even today most people think of John Sculley  as the idiot who made one of the biggest business blunders in history by firing Steve Jobs.

Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen

Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen

This film shows that the situation was much more complex and nuanced than that.  The Board of Directors actually got rid of Jobs, in a decision which does seem to make sense when the historical perspective is shown.  Jobs had risked everything on the Apple Macintosh, including a famous Super Bowl ad. After a huge financial gamble by Jobs, the  Macintosh turned out to be a product disaster.

Jobs and Wozniak in the beginning

Jobs and Wozniak in the beginning

Seth Rogan is great as Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak. People used to seeing Seth Rogan in comedy roles will see that he is also a very talented dramatic actor. Steve Wozniak himself liked Seth Rogan’s portrayal, but said that Jobs was far nicer and kinder than the film showed.

Kate Winslet plays Apple’s Joanna Hoffman, one of the few people Jobs will discuss his personal life with. Much of the movie focuses on the fact that Jobs refused to acknowledge his daughter Lisa was his. However, at the same time he provided for her financially and had a lot of contact with her.

Steve Jobs is an interesting film but leaves us dissatisfied. After watching it we felt that we had seen a well acted film  about a Hollywood version of Steve Jobs, without ever meeting the real man.

The Forest – A Horror Movie Where the Strangest Parts Are True

The Forest is a horror movie where the strangest parts are true. It is about the “Sea Of Trees”, a dense forest at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan, where Japanese traditionally go to commit suicide. Stylized suicide has a long history in Japan going back to the days of the samurai.

Even today, people will travel from all over Japan to commit suicide in Aokigahara Forest rather than do the act at home. Often individuals have not yet made a decision, so they will bring tents and camp deep in the forest. Sometimes, days or weeks later, the person will decide to live and return  from the forest. However, more times than not, the person never returns.

Aokigahara Forest (The Sea Of Trees) at the base of Mount Fuji

Aokigahara Forest (The Sea Of Trees) at the base of Mount Fuji

In The Forest, Natalie Dormer is Sara Price, an American who is in Japan searching for Jess, her missing identical twin sister.  Jess is a teacher who went to the Aokigahara Forest more than a week before and has not returned.  Sara cannot accept that Jess has killed herself, and decides to take on the futile task of trying to find Jess in the immense “Sea Of Trees”

Natalie Dormer and Taylor Kinney in The Forest

Natalie Dormer and Taylor Kinney in The Forest

No Japanese person wants to help Sara search in the Aokigahara Forest. They are afraid of the Yurei, which are demonic figures lurking in the forest trying to trick people into killing themselves.  Then Sara meets  Aiden, another American (played by Taylor Kinney), who is willing to help search. It is only after they are deep in the forest when Sara realizes that perhaps it was not smart for a young woman to go into the woods with a large muscular man who she actually knows nothing about.

Natalie Dormer stalked by a Yurei in The Forest

Natalie Dormer stalked by a Yurei in The Forest

The Forest has all the usual horror movie scares. Strange creatures appear that may be real or may be hallucinations brought on by being alone in  the woods. It has the regular “jump scares” where people or things suddenly pop up.

Taylor Kinney as "Aiden". Nice guy or Killer?

Taylor Kinney as “Aiden”. Nice guy or Killer?

However, we found the the true story of Aokigahara Forest and ritualized suicide in a modern society the most interesting part of the film. Japanese politeness extends even into this darkest hour of human existence.  For example, if you are walking through the forest and see a person camped with a “suicide tent”, you are not to interfere. Japanese feel the decision should be left to the individual and you should not try to “rescue” that person.

There is also the bizarre feature of bright yellow tape crisscrossed in the forest.  People want to kill themselves deep in the woods, but many  also want their body to later be found and taken away by family.  Therefore, when people go deep off the trail to kill themselves they  leave a path of bright colored tape from the trail to their final death location.

The Forest is not a great horror film but it is still worth watching. Unfortunately it has some unintentional humorous  aspects that take away from its scariness.  Natalie Dormer (Sara) keeps showing people a photograph of her identical twin asking if they have seen her. Why does she need to carry around a photo, when they are “identical”?

The funniest scene is when Sara decides to visit the school where her identical twin was a teacher. Remember that Jess has been missing for a long time and presumed dead.  Without thinking about this, Sara walks into the classroom. The children start screaming, believing that Sara is a ghost.  The director of the film (Jason Zada) probably meant this to be scary, but it actually comes across as really funny.

Gringo: The Dangerous Life Of John McAfee

John McAfee, the inventor of the McAfee antivirus software, is a rapist who has ordered two murders. Those are the allegations made in the Showtime documentary Gringo: The Dangerous Life Of John McAfee. After making a fortune starting a company to defend against computer viruses, John McAfee’s life seemed to go off track.  He sold his stake in McAfee, bought a huge estate in Colorado and became a Yoga Guru. He then quit that completely and moved to the Central American country of Belize. In Belize, McAfee set himself up like a local god. There are even clips where he refers to himself like Mr. Kurtz from Heart Of Darkness.

John McAfee in Belize

John McAfee in Belize

Belize is a very poor, very dangerous country with a high crime rate and lots of illegal weapons.  McAfee surrounded himself with heavily armed security men who were hired from the worst elements of the local gangs. If John McAfee walked down a tourist beach, he would be surround by 10 or 12 men with shotguns and AK-47s.  He also had vicious dogs roaming the beach near his house.

A local thief named David Middleton had the nerve to rob John McAfee’s house. David Middleton was  later was tortured and killed. The documentary claims that John McAfee had David Middleton killed as a lesson to anyone else in Belize who would dare cross him.

Nanette Burstein director of Gringo: The Dangerous Life Of John McAfee

Nanette Burstein director of Gringo: The Dangerous Life Of John McAfee

Gringo: The Dangerous Life Of John McAfee is directed by Nanette Burstein who does a fantastic job. She only gets 1 short interview with John McAfee, but does have an email relationship with him over a series of months. As it becomes obvious what information Burstein is after, the emails from McAfee get more ranting and threatening.

The film also alleges that John McAfee raped Allison Adonizio, a Harvard biologist who was working in Belize. McAfee had hired Adonizio and funded a lab for her to do biological research.

Allison Adonizio says she was raped by John McAfee

Allison Adonizio says she was raped by John McAfee

Allison Adonizio is a very sympathetic person on film. She comes across as a shy young woman. She claims that as John McAfee began acting more and more bizarre, she decided to leave the project. When she told him she was quitting, McAfee drugged her drink and raped her.

The second murder McAfee is accused of is that of American Gregory Faull, who had poisoned McAfee’s vicious dogs.  Gregory Faull was a next door neighbor and had  argued with McAfee about the dogs running wild on the beach.  When the dogs turned up poisoned, McAfee went berserk and the film alleges that McAfee ordered Faull killed. When the Belize police tried to question McAfee, he fled the country and made his way back to the United States.

Gregory Faull who allegedly was ordered murdered by John McAfee

Gregory Faull who allegedly was ordered murdered by John McAfee

John McAfee comes across as a nasty, crazy, dangerous person throughout  Gringo: The Dangerous Life Of John McAfee. However, that does not mean that any of the allegations are true.  It is important to remember that any documentary can be edited to show a particular point of view and lead people to a particular conclusion.

John McAfee states categorically that he had nothing to do with the murders, and points out that he has never been charged for any crime in Belize. He admits to the bodyguards and weapons, but notes that these are a perfectly logical response to being the richest man in a very poor very violent country. He says he left Belize rather than face police questioning, since the police in Belize are so incompetent and corrupt that he could not be assured of a fair hearing.

As for the rape allegation by Allison Adonizio, McAfee also denies that.  He says he fired Allison Adonizio since she was making no progress in her research. McAfee claims that before Adonizio  left she destroyed every sample and document in the lab. He states the rape story is a vicious attempt to discredit him.

John McAfee running for President in 2016

John McAfee running for President in 2016

Gringo: The Dangerous Life Of John McAfee is a fascinating documentary and we recommend you watch it and come to your own conclusions.  Certain points seem indisputable. One is that you should never visit Belize under any circumstances. The chief homicide detective admits that not only does Belize have a high murder rate, but that less than 10% of the murders are solved. Belize has no DNA testing and even fingerprint analysis is only now  just starting to be used. The fact the the 2 murders noted in  the film are unsolved is nothing unusual in Belize.

The second indisputable fact is that the American political electorate has an odd selection criteria. John McAfee ran for the 2016 Presidential nomination on the Libertine Party and came in second place. People asked him about cyber security and the economy, but the allegations of two murders and one rape never even came up. John McAfee has once again been able to completely re-invent himself. His days as Mr. Kurtz in the Heart of Belize have simply been relegated to a past life.

All Things Must Pass – The Rise & Fall of Tower Records

The 2015 documentary All Things Must Pass, is a fascinating look at Tower Records. In 1999 Tower Records  had 1 billion dollars in sales, and by 2006 was forced to declare bankruptcy. All Things Must Pass is now playing on Showtime, and is well worth watching.

Tower Records $1 Billion in sales 1999, bankrupt in 2006

Tower Records $1 Billion in sales 1999, bankrupt in 2006

Russ Solomon started Tower records in 1960 as a young man who knew absolutely nothing about business. However, what he did have was tremendous people skills and a feeling for what customers wanted.  In 1960, other record stores were small with very little selection, high prices and snooty salespeople.  Tower Records came along with a huge selection and inventory, low prices and a friendly atmosphere.

Early days at Tower Records

Early days at Tower Records

The people Russ Solomon hired loved music and loved talking to the customers about music. They were also a little crazy.  Many of the employees at Tower Records came looking for work since no place else would hire them. They had long hair and tattoos. They wore crazy clothing. They has a few drinks at lunch (and sometimes at breakfast). Russ accepted them all, and they loved him for it.

Cocaine charged to Tower Records expense accounts as "hand truck fuel"

Cocaine was charged to Tower Records expense accounts as “hand truck fuel”

The 1960s & 1970s were the era of “sex, drugs, and Rock & Roll” and Tower records was there  for the ride. If the employees had to work late doing things like stocking the shelves or counting inventory they would buy “hand truck fuel” and charge that to the company. Everyone in management knew that “hand truck fuel” was code for cocaine. Tower Records began expanding across the country and across the globe.  Tower Records opened in Japan and was a huge success.

At  its zenith, Tower Records was the place to go, even for megastars of the music industry. Elton John would go to the Hollywood store with his chauffeur following behind him with a box.  Elton John would buy stacks of records and hand them to the chauffeur to put in the box. Elton John bought three of any record he wanted, since he needed a copy at each of his 3 houses.

Most people now assume that Napster is what caused the demise of Tower Records. However, Russ Solomon himself is quick to point out that this is not the case. After all, Tower Records of Japan is still thriving with 85 stores that do a booming business.

There were really three things that caused the downfall of Tower Records.

  1. The greed of the record industry. Every time a new technology came out, the record industry took the opportunity to raise the price even if the new technology actually meant lower production costs for the recording industry. From 1960-2006 the format went from 45s to LPs to 8track tapes to cassettes to CDs.  Each time the price to the consumer went up significantly. In addition, the recording industry made it impossible to buy singles. If you only liked 2 songs by a particular artist, the recording industry forced you to by the whole $20 CD with a bunch of other songs you didn’t want. No wonder people turned to illegal downloading as a protest.
  2. Tower Records started expanding without thinking first. In the beginning, the executives agonized over exactly where to open a new store. Sort of like an Apple store today, a huge amount of forethought went into each new store location. But Tower Records was so successful that they began to think that no matter where they opened it would be an instant success. They jumped into markets like Argentina without ever doing any market research first. The result was that a lot of the new locations were disasters with low sales.
  3. The death of CFO Bob Martin. He was the guy who from the beginning of Tower Records ran all the finances. He was the polar opposite of Russ Solomon. Every time Russ wanted to sped more money, Bob Martin would try to hold him back. They were a perfect Yin-Yang combination. When Bob Martin died, a new CFO let himself get bullied by Russ Solomon into large expansions and took out bonds to finance everything. It was the crushing debt load from these bonds that ultimately bankrupted Tower Records. (Japan was sold off as a separate entity which is why it still thrives today). However, even Bob Martin was not your typical CFO. During working hours he was all business, but at night he became a heavy-drinking, woman chasing party animal.

Director Colin Hanks

All Things Must Pass Director Colin Hanks

All Things Must Pass is directed by Colin Hanks and written by Steven Leckart and Steve Stevens.  It tells the story beautifully with fascinating footage and still pictures of the early days of Tower Records. It also has great interviews with Russ Solomon and many of the original employees from the early days. The ending scene will bring tears to your eyes. Russ Solomon travels to Japan to visit the Tokyo Tower Records mega store. As he walks into the Japan Tower Records headquarters he is greeted with applause by the hundreds of employees paying tribute to this man of vision.

Melancholia movie review

Melancholia is a 2011 movie by Lars von Trier about a dysfunctional family facing what may be the end of the world. A rogue planet is passing through our solar system. Most scientists believe that it will slide harmlessly  past Earth giving everyone a spectacular celestial show. However, there are doom predictors on the internet warning there will be a collision which will end all life.

The planet Melancholia approaches Earth

The planet Melancholia approaches Earth

This is not really a science fiction movie. Like the movie Another Earth, Melancholia is a psychological drama. Most “end of the world” movies have huge crowd scenes with thousands of fleeing,  panicking people. Melancholia portrays a much more intimate and philosophical mood.  No one is panicking or screaming. Instead they are introspective and depressed, trying to come to some sort of inner peace.

Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourgh as sisters in Melancholia

Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg as sisters in Melancholia

Kirsten Dunst is Justine, a young bride who has struggled with depression her whole life, and who is convinced the world will end. Charlotte Gainsbourg is her sister Claire, who has suffered with the burden of caring for Justine and wants nothing more than a perfect wedding for Justine. Claire is married to John (Kiefer Sutherland) who is a wealthy man with little patience for his crazy in-laws.

Charlotte Gainsbourgh and Kiefer Sutherland watch the approaching planet

Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland watch the approaching planet

Melancholia is a spectacularly  filmed movie with gorgeous scenes that are meant to show the beauty of life on Earth. There are shots of the two sisters riding horses through the woods in the early morning when the Sun is just lifting the fog. Kirsten Dunst has an artistically stunning nude scene lying down by a clear cold stream. These are all reminders that no matter what happens with the rogue planet, Life is short and should be cherished for the miracle it is.

Lars von Trier and Kirsten Dunst at the Cannes Film Festival

Lars von Trier and Kirsten Dunst at the Cannes Film Festival

Unfortunately, when Melancholia was presented at the Cannes Film Festival it was somewhat overshadowed by what was considered a pro-Hitler statement by the director Lars von Trier. In an interview, he mentioned that he had been brought up Jewish, only to discover later in life that his real father was German. Lars von Trier then went on to say that maybe that was why he had always been sympathetic towards Hitler.

This caused such an uproar that Lars von Trier and all his movies were banned from the Cannes Film Festival for a year. He explained later that he had been drunk and on drugs at the time of the interview and was in such a state that he thought he was making a witty joke when he spoke about Hitler. Lars von Trier is now clean and sober, but states that his film making was much more creative when he was on drugs.

Kirstin Dunst

Kirstin Dunst

Like many artists before him, the works of Lars von Trier are somehow greater than the man himself. Despite the personal failings of Lars von Trier, his movie Melancholia is beautiful and we highly recommend it.

Steve McQueen – The Man & Le Mans – the best documentary about The King Of Cool

Steve McQueen -The Man & Le Mans on Showtime is the best documentary ever made about “The King Of Cool.”  Steve McQueen was a rare combination of strong conflicting forces. He was a brilliant actor, accomplished motorcycle and race car driver, astute businessman and loving father. He was also a philandering husband, unnecessary risk-taker,  and one of the most insecure men ever to be a movie star.

Steve McQueen The King Of Cool

Steve McQueen The King Of Cool

All of these forces came to a head when McQueen set up his own production company to make a movie called Le Mans, about the world-famous 24 hour French auto race. But Steve McQueen was not content to just make a regular Hollywood movie with a romantic plot where car racing was a backdrop. McQueen was obsessed with filming  something where the audience would truly feel exactly what it was like to be  racing in a car at 260 miles per hour. He was so obsessed with the feel of the race that he ignored  other aspects of the movie. They were millions of dollars into production and there was still no script or even a plot.  People began to realize that maybe McQueen didn’t really know what  he was doing.

Steve McQueen, Neile Adams, Chad McQueen

Steve McQueen, Neile Adams, Chad McQueen

At the same time the movie set was a disaster, McQueen was trying to turn Le Mans into a fun family bonding experience. He had brought his wife Neile Adams and their son Chad to Le Mans and they all lived in a rented castle.

Elga Anderson - actress in Le Mans, now a Swedish member of Parliment

Elga Anderson – actress in Le Mans, now a Swedish member of Parliament

Steve McQueen had conflicting goals in his life.  He was having illicit sex with beautiful actresses in his movie trailer every day, and then going home to his lovely wife and son after work.

Steve McQueen with wife Neile Adams

Steve McQueen with wife Neile Adams

At the same time Steve  McQueen was being disloyal to his wife, he demanded absolute loyalty from everyone around him.  One of his close advisors called the studio chiefs to report that the movie was over budget. After that call, Steve McQueen never spoke to that man again for the rest of his life.

One of the most crushing moments in Steve McQueen’s life came when his wife Neile Adams admitted that she too and once had an affair. Although Steve had been unfaithful hundreds of times, he just could not forgive her.

In the end; Le Mans the movie was made and opened to mixed reviews.  People were not sure what to make of this new gritty, realistic style.

Le Mans still has a cult following today, with car enthusiasts praising it as the most true-to-life  car film ever made.  Race car drivers themselves praise it as the one film that depicts who they truly are.  Steve McQueen would be very pleased with that.

“Genghis” Episode of High Maintenance required watching for Teachers

The “Genghis” episode of  the HBO series High Maintenance should  be required watching for anyone considering becoming a public school teacher. Avery Monsen stars as Mr. Waxman, a teacher in training assigned to a Brooklyn summer school semester. His enthusiasm could not be higher. He is going to use his humor, his magic skills and his love of people to enthrall the students.

"Genghis" episode of High Maintenance should be required watching for student teachers

“Genghis” episode of High Maintenance should be required watching for student teachers

It does not take long for Mr. Waxman’s dreams to be crushed. The kids don’t want to be there, the other teachers are burnouts, and the school rules do not allow him to do anything creative.  At one point a student can’t take notes since he has forgotten a pencil. An astonished  Mr. Waxman is told that school rules do not allow him to loan the student a pencil.

Jenn Harris who plays the burned out teacher Ms. Farad

Jenn Harris who plays the burned out teacher Ms. Farad

Jenn Harris is great as Ms. Farad,  a teacher burn-our who seems barely able to keep her eyes open. She views the enthusiastic Mr. Waxman with a mixture of disgust and pity.

The curriculum is idiotic as well. They are trying to teach about Genghis Kahn, which is of  absolutely no relevance or interest to kids in modern day  Brooklyn.

Juliannah Vasquez plays "Keesha" in the Genghis episode of High Maintenance

Juliannah Vasquez plays “Keesha” in the Genghis episode of High Maintenance

The actors playing the kids are great too. Juliannah Vasquez (Keesha) and Jason Cruz (Daikeen) notice every nuance of the teachers’ attitudes. Their acting skill makes us feel proud that a whole new generation of talented young  actors is thriving in the New York area. The tradition of theatrical  excellencin our local community continues.

The climax of the episode comes when everyone is asked to write down 2 “truths” and 1 “lie” about themselves. When it comes time for Mr. Waxman to read his list he says.

  1. “I miss making a lot of money.”
  2.   I am more selfish than I thought.
  3.  I still think it’s a good idea to teach in Brooklyn.”

The kids immediately guess that number 3 is the lie. However, it is not played for laughs. The look on Keesha’s face shows how very disappointed she is that  a so called “adult” has given up on them after such a short time.

Ben Sinclair & Katja Blichfeld The creative geniuses behind High Maintenance

Ben Sinclair & Katja Blichfeld The creative geniuses behind High Maintenance

Katja Blichfeld & Ben Sinclair wrote the episode. Ben admits that he himself had tried to become a public school teacher and did not even make it through the training period.

Meet The Hitlers

Meet The Hitlers sounds like a horrible name  for a terrible sitcom, but it is really a very interesting documentary about people all linked by the name “Hitler”.  It is a psychological drama about how some people accept who they are, while others spend a  lifetime hiding, while still other pretend to be something they are not.

There is a family in Long Island, whose members are direct descendants of the nephew of Adolf Hitler. Their father (the nephew) came to American during World War II and publicly denounced Adolf. Despite this, the sons changed their last name. In fact,  they were so ashamed of their lineage  that they made a pact never to have children. They hide in their houses if a member of the press ever shows up. They will not  appear on film.

Birthday cake for little Adolf Hitler

Birthday cake for little Adolf Hitler

Other Americans with the Hitler last name have refused to take a new name despite the infamous associations. These families come across as much more likable and at peace with themselves. Their attitude is, “this is who I am, judge me for my actions, not those of others.”

Isidore Campbell with son Adolf Hitler

Isidore Campbell with son Adolf Hitler

Meet The Hitlers also has a very disturbing segment about the Campbells, a New Jersey family that named their children Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun. Unlike the other families in Meet The Hitlers, the Campbells have no actual ties to the Hitler name. The Campbells are White Supremacists who like to dress up in Nazi uniforms.

The Campbells gained national attention when Shoprite supermarkets refused to make a cake with “Happy Birthday Adolf Hitler” on it.  Mr. Campbell is a self-professed Nazi, and is covered with tattoos of swastikas.

Deborah & Isidore Hitler claim their children were taken due to their political views

Deborah & Isidore Hitler claim their children were taken due to their political views

The Campbell’s children were taken away by Social Services. The State claims the children was abused. Deborah and Isidore Campbell say their children were taken simply punishment for their parents  political views. The segment does give a fascinating look at the  issue of free speech. Are their limits to free speech? Does teaching children to hate all other races constitute child abuse?

Meet The Hitlers is certainly worth watching and demonstrated the power of a single word. When you see the people linked by “Hitler” you will like many,  hate others, and feel profound sorrow for some.

Qasim on High Maintenance

If you have ever met someone you thought was your perfect match only to discover that individual is totally insane then you will love the Qasim episode of High Maintenance. Anna Rose Hopkins plays a young woman who meets a perfect guy (played by Jordan Dean) in her spin class. The guy (Jordan) is like a dream come true. He is great looking, super-athletic, an accomplished artist, and completely unattached.

Anna Rose Hopkins in Qasim episode of High Maintenance

Anna Rose Hopkins in Qasim episode of High Maintenance

But like all things too good to be true, so is Jordan. At first Jordan just appears to have some odd quirks, like the fact that he exercises constantly and only sleeps for 2 hours a night.

Jordan Dean in Qasim episode of High Maintenance

Jordan Dean in Qasim episode of High Maintenance

Then right after having sex,  Jordan reveals that he is a deep believer in Qasim, “A multi-dimensional alien angel who uploads to an individual in Arizona.”  Then he explains in detail that all followers of Qasim must insert special crystals into their genitals.

This is where the short vignette style of High Maintenance is perfect.  Anna Rose Hopkins gives a wonderful  ending to the episode without having to say a word.  The expression on her face says it all. As she lies quietly  in bed next to Jordan the look in her eyes says, “How can I get my clothing on and get out of here before this muscular nut-job kills me? How could I have been this stupid? Why do these things always happen to me?”

High Maintenance great. Each episode is only as long or as short as it needs to be. It also gives us a chance to see young New York actors who are already masters of their craft. We look forward to seeing each episode.

“Wrecked” – a spellbinding movie worth watching

In Wrecked, Adrian Brody wakes up, badly injured, in a wrecked car in the middle of the woods. The other men in the car are dead, and there are bags of money and guns. He cannot remember what happened or even who he is.

Adrien Brody i "Wrecked"

Adrien Brody in “Wrecked”

He is in pain and trapped in the car. He finally frees himself but with a broken leg and other injuries, his chance of survival is small. The only way out is to crawl up a mountain, inches at a time.

Good dog or dangerous predator?

Good dog or dangerous predator?

Wrecked is a combination survival story, mystery and horror movie.  Due to pain and lack of food, the man cannot tell which of the things he sees are real and which are hallucinations.

Is the mountain lion real or a hallucination?

Is the mountain lion in “Wrecked”  real or a hallucination?

The man is followed by a large dog, which seems at first  like a hopeful sign that civilization may be near. Then the man realizes that this dog is powerful enough to rip him apart if it turns out not to be friendly.  There are other sightings in the woods as well. A mysterious woman (Caroline Dhavernas) and a mountain lion float on the edge of his consciousness.

Caroline Dhavernas in "Wrecked"

Caroline Dhavernas in “Wrecked”

As the man struggles to remember who he is, there is also the overwhelming realization that he is probably an evil person.  The few flashbacks he  can remember are all violent.

We will not tell you any more else of the plot other than to say that the movie will keep you entranced and guessing. The superb acting of Adrian Brody has you feeling  every part of the man’s pain and mental anguish.  In some ways Wrecked is a metaphor for anyone struggling with life.  Aren’t there times when any of us feels alone, damaged and afraid to discover who we truly are?

“The Killing Joke”, has Batman as a sexual predator

 The Killing Joke has enraged Batman fans because Batman and Batgirl have sex. It does not come across as a romantic scene. It seems more like a teacher (Batman) taking advantage of a young student (Batgirl). She is giving him sex to try to gain his approval, not because she actually wants sex.

batgirl in her skin tight fighting outfit

Batgirl in her skintight fighting outfit

In some ways, Batman even seems like a classic sexual predator. He is taking advantage of a girl 20 years younger than him. He only deals with her in his “authority figure” mode. Batman knows that Batgirl is really Barbara Gordon, but he never lets her know that he is Bruce Wayne. In other words, he knows her vulnerabilities, but never allows her to see his.  This is classic sexual predator behavior.

Batgirl in her Sexy Librarian glasses

Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) in her “Sexy Librarian” glasses

Historically, many older men have used their positions as “coach”, or “professor” or “boss” to coerce a young woman into sex. The superior/inferior relationship can be seen by the mere fact that he is known as Bat MAN, while Barbara is merely Bat GIRL.  The fact that she does not call herself Batwoman, shows that she has unconsciously accepted her status as inferior to her male counterpart.

When they do have sex, it is on a dirty rooftop, with Batman still wearing his Batman mask. He could have taken her back to his sumptuous Bruce Wayne estate for a truly romantic encounter.  Instead, the sex reinforces that Batman is the master and Batgirl is servicing himBatgirl having sex with Batman

Batgirl having sex with Batman

Even after the sex, Batman still does not give Batgirl the approval she so desperately needs. After the sex,  Batman never calls, never asks how she is, and never shows any sort of tenderness towards her.  In fact, Batgirl ends up calling him,  still desperate to get the recognition she desires from her teacher/coach. This is also classic sexual predator behavior.  By  withholding his approval, the sexual predictor can continue to coerce the  young  woman into giving him favors to gain acceptance.

Batman comic fans have gone beserk on the internet because none of this “sex with Batgirl” plot was ever in a Batman comic book. The odd part of The Killing Joke is that the the second half of the movie follows almost frame for frame a Batman comic book episode in which the backstory of The Joker is revealed.  Once this story line starts, it is as if the first half of the movie never happened. It is like watching two unrelated movies.

Most fans have agreed that the best thing to do with The Killing Joke is to just pretend the first half of the movie never happened. Some have gone as far as recommending that you fast forward through the first half of the movie without even watching it.

Unfortunately we did watch it and now will never be able to look at Batman exactly the same way again.