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5-star-movie reviews

“Just Mercy”‘s lawyer, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), heroically fights for truth and justice for his death row clients in Alabama.  Based on a true story, the film exposes flagrant racism too close in time, only twenty five years ago, for comfort. Aren’t we past all that?  Five stars for subject matter: truth and the fight for justice.  Also, a graphic portrayal of the death penalty with a worthy plea to shut it down, in the name of justice and mercy.

However, on a cinematic level, although the acting was believable and writing hammered home the film’s message, the pace of the story in the first half was slow, and visually, something I could have watched at home on a TV screen.  Hence the three stars below.  Best supporting actor for Tim Blake Nelson,  whose characterization of the guy whose lies put innocent Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) on death row sparkled.

The movie could have ended where Foxx’s character realizes that the truth has set him free, while he is still incarcerated.  Powerful scene.  But doesn’t.

Duane wondered why the title was, “Just Mercy”:  Real justice stands alone on the truth, and in this story, that’s all the man needed.  

 

“Parasite,” Oscar nominated for Best Picture and International Feature Film, among other categories, is the story of two nuclear families: father, mother, son and daughter.  The poor family lives in honest, harmony, hungry and dependent upon each other, in a hovel in South Korea.  The rich family don’t know or even like each other, living in an architect designed dream house, with a basement.  (Foreshadowing; there’s lots of it in the movie.)

What happens, when, through the appearance of a metaphoric rock, the lives and hopes of these two families intersect?

You have to see the movie to find out.  Discover how peach fuzz and morse code, American Indians and the danger of cell phones, combine in a story that consistently surprises while at the same time, is relatable.

“What’s the plan?” the poor son asks his father, as they lay side by side on the floor of a gymnasium, after their hovel is washed away in a rain storm.  Throughout the film, the family had worked many plans.

“There is no plan,”  the father replies as he gazes hopelessly at the ceiling.

But that’s not the end of the movie.

A must must see.  Because the details are so creative: like how the wrong smell can give away a scheme.   And because the characters are so finely written.  Especially the father, who appears at the beginning as an out of work loser.  Then becomes the suave chauffeur of the rich family.  He fools the rich family, til even the rich father says, “There’s something I like about him:  ‘he knows not to cross the line.'”

And who’s fooling who?  Another big theme.

We saw lots of horror movie previews before this film; thought we must have been going to see a horror movie.  The tone shifts from comedic to satire to – well there is lots of blood at the end.  Not for kids, at all.  Too dark.  And it has subtitles.  But brilliantly told truth to ponder.

I karaoked to this album on Dad’s Fisher stereo at full blast whenever I had the house to myself, in high school.  The power of that orchestra, led by Mort Lindsey,  created a magical musical world with hit song after hit song by Harold Arlen, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Noel Coward, Dorothy Fields and on and on, topped with the icing of Judy’s full throttle voice.  “We’ll sing ’em all and we’ll stay all night!”  Judy exclaims before the second to last showstopper.  I brought the album with me to college.  I listened to it as a young mother while walking.  Now it delights me as I drive in my car, preferably in a Chrysler car because somehow their sound systems are better.

I adore Judy’s voice.

Her life was a train wreck.  Renee Zellwegger is not my favorite actress as she seems self- conscious.  “I’m on screen and I love it.”  Now that she’s up for Best Actress I forced myself to watch the movie.

The film was brightly colored, contrasting her bright, not drab,  black hair and dark fake eyelashed eyes with a rainbow of colors.  For the first half hour that was fun to watch.  In the second hour, it was tiring to see close ups of the Judy face with the pouty lips impersonation.  The story of her childhood/teen years at MGM was briefer than expected.  I’m not sure if the filmmaker intended that those loveless and demanding years were an excuse for Judy’s drug, alcohol and anxiety issues.  Or is it that people that are talented to genius artistic level are just impossible to live with?

Either way, it’s a depressing story, a gifted person turned into a victim of her own life.  Was it well told?  The pace, after the first half hour at that pace, was too slow. And not enough of Judy’s life was told, in a 2 hour story.  Tell a story instead of so many many close ups of Renee’s face.

I apologize for being tough on her, but we’re talking about a legend. And Renee’s singing voice, on a scale of 1 – 10, 10 being Judy, was a 0.  Find the Judy at Carnegie album and listen to it. You’ll see I’m right.

Nominated by the Oscars for Best Original Screenplay, “Knives Out” doesn’t make the cut of ‘best’ or ‘original.’  The film did have a screenplay – which fits into the category of ‘been there, done that,’ like a game of ‘Clue,’ as alluded to in the film, with the typical caricatures who have a possible motive for the preposterous murder.

An entertaining film has a clever story but just as important, if not more, is how the screen delights the eye.  I’ve never seen a mansion with more maroon carpeting and walls, dark brown woodwork and olive (yuck) green.  Enhanced with only the light from the windows on a cloudy winter day, the lighting budget was obviously nil.   The drab, colorless scenes don’t get any help from the ‘action’ (?) of the film: mostly actors sitting in chairs talking to each other.

Daniel Craig’s southern drawl didn’t work and the puking was gimmicky.

 

 

“Little Women” treads on sacred ground.  I grew up reading and re-reading this classic in the yellow spined  ‘classic of the month for children’ edition my mother bought for her four girls.  (Each month’s spine color a different color of the rainbow which looked classy when they lined our bookshelf).  I was in sixth grade when I fell in love with Jo March; not because she wanted more than anything else to be a writer, but because she was independent and unafraid to break the feminine falsities of the day.  She was a woman with an ‘attic of her own.’  My kingdom was in the basement; a desk, bookshelf and bulletin board, under the stairs.

So, wouldn’t I love this feminist “Little Women” flick?  The visuals: settings, home decor, costumes and hair are gauzily beautiful.  They made Americana look as elegant as Downton Abbey.  The writers chose to keep the storyline, if somewhat back and forth in time.

Where it fell completely flat was in the writing of the dialogue of the four sisters.  I didn’t believe any of the words that came out of their mouths, which makes working off a script dicey for an actor.  Oh, except one or two of the lines, which came directly from the book, like, “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents!”  Funny thing, that, the charm and brilliance of Louisa May Alcott’s actual writing, which Greta Gerwig mistakenly thought she could fill in, with her own political beliefs about women and marriage in the 19th century.  The only other thing missing from the film was the emojis that should have accompanied the end of each sugary syrup scene.  Those round yellow faces wouldn’t fit the period, so the creators of this sermon on the injustice of marriage to women substituted a musical soundtrack of over obvious crescendos and sappy sentimentality.  Women who made this film, are you trying to work your way out of your jobs back into your meaningless marriages?

The Laurie character is always a tough one… Chalamet fit at the younger Laurie stage, but looked too young for the more mature Laurie.  Also, the Amy character looked too old for her younger part and overplayed those scenes.  Is it ‘looks’ or is it ‘acting?’  And horrors! The March girls never wrestled each other or punched a friend, even in play.  For all the efforts in scenery, costumes and staging, to have the characters act like hyperactive children was offensive to the dignity that Louisa May Alcott instilled in her characters.

I’m trying to remember why I loved reading her books so much when I was in 5th or  6th grade;  I also adored her second book, “Jo’s Boys.”  I wanted to run an orphanage for boys, too.  Her stories inspired because her characters were real people who lived ‘ordinary lives’ with courage, creativity and love.

I’m sorry that for Greta that wasn’t enough.

Oh, and my baby sister, like Amy, took her ‘fancy drawings’ and turned it into a thriving design business!

This is a movie review about the film “Marriage Story.”  We watched the film on Netflix, not in a theater.  Starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, the title could be “Divorce Story.”  This movie is truth truth truth.  If you know anyone who is on the road to divorce or in this painful place, you must see this film.  It will be up for all kinds of awards; acting, writing, directing, editing, film work, best picture, etc.  Standout performances by all, including Ray Liotta and Laura Dern as divorce lawyers.  You know a film is true when it captures reality so that even in sad and painful places there are glimmers of humor and hope.

Fast racing cars in France.  And Daytona, Florida.  Phenomenal true story of family love and fiery dedication to winning, sets  our present fad of ‘cooperative learning’ and ‘being a team player’ on its’ fanny.  “Ford v Ferrari” features the idea that an individual can change the world, whether it’s Henry Ford, or Henry Ford II, Carroll Shelby or Ken Miles.

Matt Damon (Shelby) and Christian Bale’s (Miles)  ‘fine as a furry frog’ characters shine against Ford’s phony and Ferrari’s arrogant executives.  An inspiring facet of the film:  Mile’s devoted father/teenage son (Caitriona Balfe) friendship.  That’s one of the evidences of solid writing, and this flick lists four screenwriters! (which I usually feel is too many).  However, two of the four are my favorites:  the British Butterworth brothers, Jez and John-Henry.

Fun fun fun, without a simplistic ending, which is quite a feat.

5-star-movie reviews

It’s sounds so simple.  A good movie combines two elements: visual interest and story.  And so many fail at either one or the other.  Not ‘Joker.’

‘Joker’ works so brilliantly because while remaining true to the DC comic style and story, its’ star is no caricature but a multi faceted suffering, society critiquing and yes, insane, real person oops I mean character.  Thank you, Joaquin Phoenix.  Place all bets on him winning all the awards this year.  He bounces between pathos and a frighteningly beautiful madness with every scene stealing suck on the cigarette glued to his bony fingers.  Oh, he’s grotesquely thin, but as he dances down a flight of city stairs in the full Joker regalia he could be Fred Astaire…

Violence, murder,  and that dangerous line between good being evil and evil being good.  Some thought provoking scenes about how a city in chaos treats those who are down and out.  Not a children’s comic book story.

Glad I saw it; sorry for the late review.

 

It’s not perfect.  The forte of the British TV series ‘Downton Abbey’ is the scenery and costumes.  Otherwise, its a predictable soap opera with mostly likable characters.  The first half of the movie, “Hey!  Slow the camera, I want to see the scenery and costumes!”  Then, writer Julian Fellows’ bits and pieces of story fell, no surprise, into place in the second half, iced with dollops of wit and humor.

It’s silly, really, the whole idea that some people are to be bowed and curtsied to, and that a great big castle of a house will ‘last forever,’ among numerous other fantasies.  But it has a relic-like golden charm, undergirded by my need for beauty.  A candlelit ball with dancing to a live orchestra, an afternoon parade with soldiers emblazoned in red jackets riding horseback on a clear green field festively edged with Union Jack bunting.  That glowing golden ball dress that got sewn together in the nick of time…

One thing out of wack: Lord and Lady Grantham had hardly any scenes, and Butler Tom had too many.

If you loved Downton Abbey, you’ll love this.  I did.

 

A bike accident that breaks Jack’s two front teeth changes the world.  A world where no one has ever heard of the Beatles.

Danny Boyle, director of “Millions,” another ‘magical realism’ movie, plays with the idea of what real talent is, and makes fun of the industry that tries to sell it.  And, if we really did create something of genius, would anyone even notice?  “Yesterday” is full of the music that reminds us that the music the Beatles created makes our world a far better place.

All set in a love story.  Based in gritty England.  Funny; a highlight for me was Kate McKinnon as an L.A. music agent.  Himesh Patel real and likable as Jack.

Can’t be bothered to read why Rottentomatoes critics only gave it 60%.  The audience liked it 90%.  The audience is right this time.  Oh, and that is me on Abbey Road.

 

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