Movie Review: At Eternities Gate

The new film “At Eternities Gate” is about Vincent Van Gogh and the isolated depressing life he lead long before he was ever known to be one of the greatest painters of all time. His isolation right after his best friend, Paul Gauguin left him for the city eventually caused him to cut off his ear.

I thought the scenes of van Gogh painting and creating were very impressive as was the acting of Willem Dafoe who played Van Gogh and Oscar Isaac who played Paul Gauguin. However, I found this movie mostly too slow boring to recommend, despite the relatively high ratings. Just not my kind of movie.


Movie Review: Roma

The movie “Roma” is written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón who last directed the great 2013 movie “Gravity”. Roma could not be more different than Gravity. There are no special effects, the entire film is shot in black and white, something I have not seen in many years and this is a foreign language film with subtitles. The story is very minimal centering on the bleak life of a maid named Cleo who lives in Mexico City in the early 70’s and works for an upper middle class family. Cleo is the name of a common house cat and Cleo’s personality throughout this entire story seems as if she is a house cat herself, due to so many years of being beaten down for being born poor in the exact wrong place and time. Over the years, she just has no choice to accept her life as it is. The reality for so many millions like Cleo is, there is no where to go, no where to hide; you do what you have to do to survive.

Cleo becomes pregnant by her lowlife boyfriend, who once he finds out she is pregnant just abandons her at a movie theater and later disrespects her in public even threatening her with violence. Cleo just takes the non stop abuse with no emotion, as if being treated badly by everyone is her lot in life, her birthright. Much of this is difficult to watch because Cleo, played by a first time actress Yalitza Aparicio is so likable. She is beloved by the family she works for and their four children. She is constantly cleaning a hallway where the family dog defecates and this hallway/car garage is shown and cleaned so often in this movie it is even part of the opening montage. There is a deep message within this garage hallway where the family car can barely fit into and my personal understanding of this symbolism is that it the hallway represents the depressing confined life of so many millions of poor hard working people in the world.

There are several scenes in this film, showing the 1971 Corpus Christi Massacre in the middle of this story that enhances the bleak and dangerous reality of Cleo and all the people in her life. There are some violent scenes of murder and shootings that for some may be difficult to watch.

The visuals and symbolism throughout this film are many, enhanced by the high quality black and white film making. I was most impressed by the ending where Cleo is seen climbing a dangerous looking outdoor flight of stairs carrying laundry realizing that she has made this trip so many times in the past. This is her depressing life day after day, a family maid, climbing stairs over and over, making dinner, cleaning the garage, cleaning the house, accepting her life of being poor with no hope of anything better.

All of the reviews for this movie are outstanding, with accolades for the director Alfonso Cuarón, who has taken 5 years to make this movie after Gravity, which is a tribute to how much time he took to write and direct what many are considering to be a masterpiece of film making. This movie will most likely be in the list of 10 movies nominated for best picture this year, and should definitely win the best foreign language film of 2018. Roma represents a high level of film making as an art form, even though the story is very minimal but the underlying messages, visuals and symbolism are of a quality I have never seen before. Roma is Cuarón’s gift to the harsh life reality of millions of poor people in the world and I give it my highest recommendation.

Movie Review: A Private War

This is a movie about the reality of war, but this reality is completely avoidable. In my opinion, there has never been any need to ever have any member of the press in harms way in the middle of any war zone in the world. Members of the press are not trained, do not have a weapon and everything that they do, including taking pictures, video and ultimately writing a story all can be replaced with simple common sense alternatives, that ultimately will save lives. The number of correspondents killed while covering wars over the years is staggering and completely unnecessary. A simple video camera on a tank, some pictures being taken by a soldier and in the end the same story, without putting a civilian in such a dangerous situation can be written with the reporter safe and sound in a hotel miles from the war.

The movie “A Private War” is about war correspondent Marie Colvin who spent her entire career reporting in war zones and ultimately lost her eye and in the end her life in Syria in February 2012 spending her last minutes in the most violent place on earth that she had no business being in.

There is a saying about having a “calling” for a particular profession, and this includes being a doctor or a dentist, a construction worker and as this story clearly proves – being a reporter; reporting in the most violent and dangerous places on earth because you just have to be a witness to history, you just have to get that story.

The acting in this movie is very good, starring Rosamund Pike as Marie Colvin but for me the non stop, constant and disgusting cigarette chain smoking in this movie was so prevalent, I cannot give a recommendation to this movie. Despite the very strong reviews, especially on Rotten Tomatoes at 89%, I still cannot recommend this film out of principle. It does not matter that Marie Colvin and her colleagues probably smoked, what matters in this film is the overwhelming and constant depiction of this horrendous risk to a person’s health that has no business being shown in any movie this frequently. Especially because some Tobacco company is investing money to help produce the film.

Movie Review: Green Book

Probably the most significant thing about the very good movie “Green Book” is finding out about what the Green Book was. The Green Book was a book that was published in the 50’s and 60’s that documented all the places in the Southern United States that was friendly to black people. The fact that a book like this had to be published so that black people could travel in peace in the South is tragic and represents a harsh reality of bigotry that has existed for far too many years in this country.

The real life story of Green Book is a great one, about a chauffeur who drives a highly talented black piano player Dr. Don Shirley to performance venues in the Midwest and then the deep South in 1962. As a black man having the courage to play shows in the deep south Shirley needed not only a driver but also a body guard so he hired Tony Lip to protect him from the expected bigotry and abuse he knew he would face performing as a black man in some of the most dangerous cities in this country. What is both amazing and depressing about this story is that even though Don Shirley was a greatly respected piano player who played shows to rich white people, he was not even allowed to use the bathroom, dine at the restaurant or even try on a suit jacket in a local clothing store.

Early in this story, we find out that Tony Lip is also a bigot even stooping to throwing out drinking glasses in his house because two black repairmen drank from them. The point of this story is all about the transition from bigotry to humanity and it reminded me of the great movie released in 2000, “Remember the Titans”, starring Denzel Washington who was the coach of a racially divided high school football team. The message here is that bigotry exists because of stupidity, fear and prejudice born out of habit. When people are put together as people then all that remains is that we are all just human beings first and foremost, and the color of our skin has never been relevant. Its always been the most tragic that a concept this basic and obvious has been so unreachable to so many people.

The acting in Green Book is outstanding with Viggo Mortensen as Tony Lip and Mahershala Ali as Dr. Don Shirley. This film should definitely receive an Academy Award nomination for best picture with possible nominations for both Mortensen and Ali. I highly recommend Green Book as one of the very best movies of 2018.

Movie Review: The Front Runner

I could not help but wonder what Gary Hart must have been thinking in 2016 when he saw Donald Trump win the election for President despite the myriad of things he had done and said about women for years compared to what he did in 1988. Within a few days Hart’s career as a politician was destroyed along with his Presidential campaign. There is no comparison to what Gary Hart did in 1988 to what Trump has said and done for so many years and after he was elected. The only reason why Gary Hart was ruined by his relatively minor one time mistake and Trump was elected is because people view everything about Donald Trump differently and say to themselves, “Oh that’s just Trump, who cares”. Despite all of this, the irony is quite amazing considering all that has happened during the last 2 years, including proof that Trump was having an affair with a porn star. At the end of the movie, it was confirmed that Gary Hart and his wife are still married 30 years after the “Donna Rice, Money Business” scandal and there was some real evidence that the press did in fact treat Gary Hart unfairly.

As far as the movie “Front Runner”, starring Hugh Jackman and directed by Jason Reitman, it plays like a combination of reality show and documentary, so I thought that the quality of the film making was not what I expected for a movie like this. The acting was very good, including Hugh Jackman as Gary Hart and Vera Farmiga as his wife and J.K. Simmons as Hart’s campaign manager.

The Rotten Tomatoes rating for this film is a very average 58% – which is about the same as my opinion, so I give this movie a very marginal recommendation mostly for the history of what happened 30 years ago.

Movie Review: Creed 2

Regardless if you are not a boxing or sports movie fan, one cannot help but admire the 8 movies in the Rocky franchise that started 42 years ago in 1976 with the release of Rocky, arguably one of the most emotional, relatable and best movies ever made. The movie Rocky came with both a screenplay and a new star that came out of nowhere – Sylvester Stallone. After Rocky, what followed was a very good sequel, Rocky 2 in 1979, another very good sequel, Rocky 3 in 1982 and two bad movies Rocky 4 in 1985 and Rocky 5 in 1990 that most people thought was the end of the franchise. The amount of work involved in making movies like this, including the intense boxing scenes with real contact and physical training involved is extremely impressive. Michael B. Jordan is in the kind of shape for this movie that Stallone was in for Rocky 3 and his acting in this movie is of Academy Award level quality.

Stallone revived the dead Rocky franchise 16 years after Rocky 5 with the release of “Rocky Balboa” in 2006, which was a return to a quality story and the end of Rocky boxing in a movie. What is even more brilliant is the new branch of this franchise with Creed, starring Michael B. Jordan, released in 2015 and Creed 2, released today that are both outstanding films. For Creed 2, the story idea is even better than Creed, with the son of Ivan Drago from Rocky 4 fighting Adonis Creed, remembering that in Rocky 4, Ivan Drago killed Adonis’ father Apollo Creed in the ring. I thought that the actor who plays Victor Drago, Florian Munteanu was miscast for this movie, because he is a huge heavyweight and 6’4′ and Jordan is at best a light heavyweight at only 5’11, but more of a middleweight. Because of the extreme weight difference, no boxing association would ever allow this match to even happen in the first place.

Creed 2 follows the same story paradigm as Rocky 3 and has references to Rocky 2, 3 and 4 throughout this movie that even included the return of Brigitte Nielsen, who appeared in Rocky 4 as Ivan Drago’s wife but thank God she has no lines in this film. The boxing action in this movie is as outstanding as the last Creed movie, with this version showing some brutal body shots that included broken ribs. As with all of the movies since Rocky Balboa in 2006, I have found it depressing that both Adrian and Pauley died of cancer some years earlier and Rocky still visits their grave sites, talking to them while reading the paper. The character of Rocky in both of the Creed movies leads a depressing lonely life and even gets cancer himself in Creed but is able to recover with the help of Adonis Creed.

The acting and the fight sequences in this movie are outstanding and like all of the previous Rocky movies include real impact with boxing that is extremely realistic. The Rotten Tomatoes for Creed 2 is a very high 79% and my rating is 95%. I highly recommend Creed 2.

Movie Review: Boy Erased

The new movie “Boy Erased” that stars Russel Crowe, Nicole Kidman and rising star Lucas Hedges is about the practice of “Conversion Therapy” that is still being used today in most states. This therapy tries to change someone from being gay into being straight. The results of this therapy can be very harmful to whoever is forced to go through the program, and the story of Boy Erased is about the events that precede, follow and during the therapy of the main character Jared Eamons played by Hedges.

The solution to all of hatred and abuse of gay people for so many years in this world is to simply live and let live. Most simply, people minding their own business or having some level of tolerance towards the life choices of other people would alleviate so many problems that include violence against gay people. Only God can judge another person, other people should never judge who another person chooses to be. Trying to change someone into being what they are not, is absurd and barbaric and at they end of this movie, they announce that 700,000 people have been forced to go through Conversion Therapy and it is sill legal is 36 states.

This is s story that needed to be told and several of the scenes in this movie were hard to watch. The acting is outstanding throughout this film, and Lucas Hedges will probably receive an Academy Award nomination for his performance. Russel Crowe gained a great deal of weight for this role and you have to admire his dedication to a relatively small role and gaining what looked to be at least 30 pounds.

The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for Boy Erased are a high 85% and I agree with this rating and recommend this movie.

Movie Review: Instant Family

The best thing about the new movie “Instant Family” is that it is based on a true story. If this story were not true, it would not be believable enough and lack of believe-ability for this story would result in a lesser movie. A couple in their 40’s who collaborate to flip houses, decide that their lives are not fulfilling enough and after being inspired to adopt a foster child, wind up adopting 3 children, who were abandoned by their mother because of her drug addiction.

The instinct for any couple like this would be to want to save these 3 kids who have had a very difficult time surviving and being shipped around to different foster homes. What makes this movie good is that it shows the reality of taking on the huge responsibility of living with 3 emotionally damaged children. The couple, played by Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne volunteer to become foster parents for these 3 children, so that eventually they would be able to adopt them. This is not always easy considering the court systems in this country and the possibility of their mother wanting them back after she leaves prison and rehab. This very well written story points out the harsh realities of foster care and how dire the lives of so many children who have no family, and no real future because of parents who either abandoned them or died. There are so many children that need homes but not nearly enough parents to adopt them, but the huge responsibilities and cost of taking on foster children are overwhelming.

The cast of this film includes Tig Notaro, Octavia Spencer and the excellent stand-up comedian Iliza Shlesinger in what is her first movie role, playing a woman who wants to adopt a football player. This is a reference to the very good movie “The Blind Side” that was released in 2009 starring Sandra Bullock. This sub-story is played for laughs during the entire movie and for the most part works very well. The acting in this film is also very good, as is the message and the attempts at humor. The highlight of this movie is actress Isabela Moner who has both looks and acting ability that should give her a very long career in Hollywood. This movie has also reviewed very well receiving a very solid 80% on Rotten Tomatoes and I both agree with this rating and recommend this very solid family film.

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Movie Review: Widows

The new movie “Widows” is highly unusual for several reasons. The story is told in a very original way, filling in the blanks of the story in unexpected areas of the film. I have also rarely scene such a high number of named actors all in the same movie – including Colin Farrell, Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Michelle Rodriguez, Daniel Kaluuya, Lukas Haas and even Robert Duvall. There were several new ideas in movie making that I have not seen before, including once scene where a car was in motion and there was a conversation going on inside, and all that was shown was the darkened windshield of the car. New ideas are the cornerstone of a good movie, and Widows is a very high quality production. There is a good deal of violence in this movie and the message of this story is that when you get involved with crime and associate with very bad people, you are putting not only yourself but also your family in grave danger.

It all starts with a great screenplay and the screenplay for Widows was written by the director Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the screenplay for Gone Girl. This is one of the very rare times in movie history where two major celebrities have had the same name – Steve McQueen. Based on this new movie Widows and “12 Years a Slave”, released in 2013, McQueen is becoming known as highly respected director in Hollywood.

The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for Widows is an extremely high 91% and based on the complex and well told story and great cast, I agree with this rating. I highly recommend Widows.

Movie Review: What They Had

The new movie “What They Had” is about an adult brother and sister with older parents and their mother has advanced Alzheimer’s. With a story like this one, just about everything is hard to watch as their aging mother wanders off in the snow in suburban Chicago and tries to take a train to her childhood home. She thinks a stapler is a phone and over time remembers less and less and recognizes almost no one in her family. The story of this movie is mostly about the logistics of what to do with their mother and what is best for not only her but her husband who is refusing to send her to any care facility.

Any husband having to watch his wife of over 50 years go through something like this is heartbreaking and the real life acting in this movie is outstanding. Starting with Blythe Danner as the older woman with Alzheimer’s, Robert Forster as her long suffering husband, Hillary Swank as her daughter and Micheal Shannon as her brother. It was good to see Hillary Swank in this high quality film as she has had one of the most volatile careers in acting as anyone ever has – having won 2 Oscars and then a series of bad movies after “Million Dollar Baby” in 2005. Hopefully this movie will be a strong comeback for her career.

The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for What They Had is an extremely high 88% and I agree with this rating and highly recommend this movie. I really disliked the constant smoking in this movie that was 100% completely unnecessary. Hopefully one day this disgusting practice will stop, but for now we all have to tolerate producers accepting money from Tobacco companies and showing people smoking.

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