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.

 

 

I couldn’t imagine where Mother could be.

She had come to help Duane and I a few days after Mike was born.  The living room was picked up and empty.  Mother wasn’t in the kitchen.  Mike was sleeping in his crib in one of the bedrooms, a rare but quiet moment.  I was resting in our bedroom.  We owned one old car, which Duane had driven to St. Mary’s hospital where he was on call.

So where was Mother?  The only thing our 2 bedroom condo lacked was a laundry room.  Our small building housed two washers and dryers in a multipurpose room on the ground floor.  Whenever I wanted to do a load of wash, I had to climb down our front steps, and follow the sidewalk around to the back to find its door.  It wasn’t too inconvenient when it had been just Duane and I.

Now we had a baby.  Between spit up and poop, each day four or five onesies needed to get washed. Mike was born in February in Minnesota.  Deep snow surrounded our home.  Zero degrees was the high temperature for the day.

“Maybe Mother’s doing wash,”  I thought.  It could be the only other place she could be.  I threw on my coat and opened our front door.  Icy air blew in.  Packed, dirty snow clung to treads on the flight of stairs that led to the salted sidewalk.  We hadn’t seen the pavement for months.   I headed for the laundry room, careful not to slip, as the frosty air pushed through my coat.  Before I got to the door,  I saw Mother through the window of the laundry room.

Her Bible lay open on top of the washing machine.  She leaned over the pages and I could see her lips moving.

She had found a private place to meet with God.

Mother loved her home.  But Mother was not a fan of cooking; did the dusting and vacuuming with stoic duty; couldn’t sew on a button, and arranged furniture and hung pictures with the support of her close friends.

However, Mother’s laundry room was her kingdom where she reigned in glory.  And it wasn’t because that place could be featured in ‘House Beautiful.’  At 6105 Abbott Avenue, the washer and dryer sat next to an iron laundry tub in the basement.  Mother had spruced it up with a room size braided rug.  An ironing board remained perpetually set up, across from the washer and dryer, perpendicular to a 5 x 7 foot mirror that hung on painted cinderblock walls.  Like Solomon’s Temple,  casement windows at the ceiling allowed rays of sunshine to sometimes fall into Mother’s corner realm.   It wasn’t a room; it was an area that also held the furnace, Dad’s workbench, and a section Dad divided with steel rebars from work into a bedroom for me.  We painted the rebars, behind the headboard, in primary colors.

A pile of ready to iron items lay perpetually on the left side of the iron:  a cotton blouse, or skirt, or her linen dresser cloth, edged with scallops.  At Thanksgiving and Christmas, the stack of never ending ironing contained white linen tablecloths. Mother, unconcerned with most household details, was meticulous about laundry.  She would stand and wait at the dryer to take an article of clothing out at just the right time, so she didn’t have to iron it if it wasn’t necessary.

There was no radio or TV to entertain Mother as she ironed, which is why, from my scant observations,  I believe she used it as a place to pray.  Mother could talk and iron at the same time.  I remember Mother told me about the Facts of Life as she ironed, when I was in fifth grade.   It was Mother’s Conference Room.  I don’t remember seeing Mother’s Bible in that laundry… part of the basement.  Mother had a study upstairs where she kept her Bibles and books.

Mother’s prayer life was a secret, except for that time I caught her in my laundry room after Mike was born.  Or when I peeked into her bedroom one morning.  Dad had left for work and she was on her knees in front of the brown chair, with her Bible open.  And, I heard her once mention that Joan Jonswold, her BSF class Administrator, routinely met with her on Tuesday mornings in the broom closet at church before her lecture, to pray.

Then there were the prayer cards.  When most of Mother’s ten grandchildren were school age, each fall she began a prayer contest with them.  She sent them each a letter, asking them how she could pray for them for the year.  In the envelope, she included a stamped and addressed postcard.  She wanted it to be easy for them to reply.

“The first grandchild to send the letter back will receive five dollars.”  Either her grandchildren were young or in that day it was a worthwhile amount.  Each year, she received the cards back.  At family holidays, the kids would crow and argue about who won that year.

The last year of Mother’s life, in September she, as usual, sent out the letter and prayer postcards.  The prize money had grown to 10 dollars.  Then Mother fell and broke her hip.  After hip replacement, Mother spent weeks in a nursing care center.  The Parkinsons she battled quietly had weakened her ability to bounce back quickly.  Her life’s focus was her grandchildren’s prayer postcards.

“Did you check the mail today?”  Mother would ask on our daily visits.  One by one, the prayer postcards arrived.  One day three came.  Then another week passed, with no postcards.  I didn’t want to get involved in a system that had operated smoothly between Mother and her grandchildren for years without my help.  But Mother’s birthday was coming October 25 and there were three missing postcards.  At that time, to be fair, one of Mother’s grandchildren was living in China.

The China postcard arrived.  Mother rejoiced.  There wasn’t much that excited her those days, when she was laying in a bed, too weak to hold her Bible, with a strange roommate in the double room, formica furniture jammed around the bed.

I was in a moral dilemma.  Should I call those grandchildren and demand they get their postcards in the mail?

I didn’t have to.  The cards arrived.

After Mother died, in her manila folders we found the years of prayer cards she cherished.  We didn’t read them, but set each grandchild’s cards under their name card at Mother’s memorial luncheon.

While meditating on Mother’s dominion over the washer, dryer and ironing board this week, the words to one of her favorite hymns, ‘How Tedious and Tasteless the Hours” crept into my mind.

‘How tedious and tasteless the hours When Jesus no longer I see!  Sweet prospects, sweet birds and sweet flow’rs, Have all lost their sweetness to me.  The midsummer sun shines but dim,  The fields strive in vain to look gay; But when I am happy in Him December’s as pleasant as May.

Content with beholding His face, my all to His pleasure resigned; No changes of season or place, Would make any change in my mind.  While blessed with a sense of his love, A palace a toy would appear; And prisons would palaces prove, If Jesus would dwell with me there.’

-John Newton (yes that John Newton)

 

“Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath..”   Psalm 116:2

 

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.

 

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