Hulu Series Review: A Teacher

The new 10 part Hulu Series “A Teacher” is about a female teacher in high school, having an affair with one of her students – a story that has happened in recent history, far too often. This series does a very good job of showing the damage a short term decision based on emotion or rationalization can cause someone in the long term. In the case of a High School English teacher, Clair Wilson, played by Kate Mara – her short term rationalizations were that he marriage was failing, her student Eric Walker, played by Nick Robinson was 18 years old and they were in love. Clair’s long term penalty for having an affair with a student, was that she lost her job as a teacher forever, she was arrested, tried and had to go to prison and after she was released, she was never able to get a job again in any field.

Clair was never able take full responsibility for what she did, long after she was released from prison. During this entire story for Clair, it was always someone else’s fault, what she did was not that bad and this lasted all the way to the last episode in this series. This story is all about cause and effect, what is wrong is wrong, even if the student was over 18 and they were really in love.

The acting throughout this series is outstanding with both of the two main characters played by Kate Mara and Nick Robinson. I disagree with the mid-level 72% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and give this series a solid 80% rating.

Movie Review: News of the World

Every time Hollywood produces another Western – two of the last very good ones “Open Range”, 2003 and “Unforgiven”, 1992 (Won Best Picture) – we are all reminded of how difficult a time it was in the days of the mid 1800’s, most especially around the years of the Civil War. The new movie “News of the World” is surprisingly Tom Hanks very first Western. The story is a simple one, a man by the name of Captain Kidd, played by Tom Hanks travels from town to town and reads newspapers to groups of people – and makes a little money doing this. Back in the dark days in this country of the mid-1800’s so many people could not read, so this service of reading newspapers to a group of people was a viable profession.

One day Kidd rides by a wooded area, where there is a black man who was hung. Within the wreckage of the mans wagon, is a young girl Johanna, played by Helena Zengel, who was taken by Indians after her parents were killed and then released by the same Indians, making her an orphan twice.  Zengel has a look about her that almost makes her appear to be someone who was alive during the 1800’s.  Kidd then takes the girl to the military authorities along with her papers to try and get them to take her to her relatives, many miles away.  After they refuse, what follows is a long and hard road trip with Kidd taking care of the child and encountering two groups of extreme lowlife that always seem to be highly prevalent in all Westerns. There is a great gunfight, with even the girl getting in involved within a brilliant scene that involving quarters to load a rifle cartridge.  The ending of this movie was brilliantly conceived with a very good conclusion that was both emotional and satisfying. 

The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for this movie is a very solid 85% and I agree with this opinion.  Tom Hanks might be nominated for another Academy Award for this movie, for his strong acting and for the extreme lack of movies released this year due to the horrible Pandemic.  I highly recommend this film.  

Movie Review: Promising Young Woman

On January 17, 2015 a young Stanford college student Chanel Miller got extremely drunk and was sexually assaulted by another college student named Brock Turner. Chanel later released a memoir about this assault stating that rape is not a punishment for being drunk. Odds are that the screenwriter and director of “Promising Young Woman”, Emerald Fennell was inspired by this story or another like it. Because this is the main idea behind this dark comedy/drama about a former medical student Cassandra, played by Carey Mulligan seeking revenge for a close friend who was sexually assaulted by several other college students when she was very drunk one night.

The two hours of this solid drama unwind the series of events from some seven years earlier where the medical school did nothing to prosecute those involved in the sexual assault of Cassandra’s friend Nina. A lawyer who dug up irrelevant dirt to discredit Nina and fellow students who showed Nina no empathy or understanding, ultimately turning their backs on her. Nina later dropped out of medical school along with Cassandra who devoted her time towards helping her friend recover from a violent assault that ruined her life.

Most unusual about this film is the lack of extreme-murder-eye-for-an-eye that is typical of revenge movies like this one. The revenge Cassandra seeks is more in line with an admission of guilt and retribution, rather than killing people, that I thought was a refreshing new approach. Cassandra regularly goes to bars, pretending to be very drunk only to later turn the tables on any man who takes her home and tries to take advantage of her – in a half hearted attempt to avenge what happened to her friend Nina. There are numerous attempts to be different with this story, that mostly all work, and an ending that was very unexpected, but did reach a satisfying conclusion. As have said many times in this blog, so many of us go to the movies because we crave justified conclusions that happen in real life, far too rarely.

The Rotten Tomatoes reviews of Promising Young Woman are an extremly high 91%. I agree with this rating and highly recommend this film.

Showtime Series Review: The Loudest Voice

The 2019 Showtime series, “The Loudest Voice” is all about the television career of Roger Ailes, who became CEO of Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdock, in the mid 1990’s. What this 7 part series clearly shows is that over time, a person who lacked all empathy, integrity and human decency like Roger Ailes would verbally and sexually abuse countless women who he employed. Ailes never cared about all of the woman he abused and terrorized, because he thought he was better and more important than everybody else. In all cases like this with any person in a position of power over others, including so many during the “Me Too Movement” – time and the number people involved catches up to them, and they pay the price for what they have done. In the case of Roger Ailes he was fired from Fox News in 2016 and the allegations of 23 women finally came out, following the lawsuit of Gretchen Carlson.

There are many things to like about this series, starting with the great acting of Russel Crowe who played Roger Ailes that included wearing a fat suit and heavy makeup during the series. Ailes wife Beth Ailes, was played by Sienna Miller and her acting was also a standout, as she defended Ailes throughout their marriage, despite the endless allegations of abuse and sexual harassment. Miller’s makeup as Ailes 50+ wife made her unrecognizable throughout this series.

The message of this great story is that those of us who get to be in charge of other people who are trying to make a living have a choice to either use their power over others in a humane and professional way, or become abusive because they know that the other person is terrified of losing their job. Abusive leverage like this is far worse in the movie or news industries, because the jobs are far more high paying, and far less likely to ever attain in the first place. People like Harvey Weinstein(now in prison) and Matt Lauer (fired and disgraced as a Today show anchor), Bill Cosby (now in prison) used their clout and power to ruin the lives of other people, never caring about the damage they caused. The victim list during the years of the recent “Me Too” movement is huge and even included a picture of 60 women on the cover of Time Magazine who accused Bill Cosby of drugging and raping them.

The rest of the cast of The Loudest voice include Seth McFarland as one of Ailes rudely treated assistants, Brian Lewis and Naomi Watts who is outstanding as Gretchen Carlson. It was Carlson’s recording of 20 hours of her abusive conversations with Ailes that eventually brought him down. One thing I did not understand during this series was why there was no inclusion of Megyn Kelly during this series, considering her importance to the Roger Ailes story.

The ratings on Rotten Tomatoes for this series at only 55% make no sense, but the very high 7.9 rating on IMDB is far more accurate. This is an excellent series and worth getting Showtime even temporarily just to see it.

Movie Review: Wonder Woman 1984

As the movie industry continues to try and adjust to the new ways of providing entertainment to the masses, the release of the new movie “Wonder Woman 1984” – in theaters a few weeks ago, and today on HBO Max is something that has never been done before. Perhaps this will be one of the many new ways we will be seeing movies from now on, even after this horrendous Pandemic of 2020 is finally over. Many believe that eventually all movie theaters will go away for good and I for one will miss seeing a great movie on a big screen if that ever happens.
One thing has been obvious with action movies for many years is that it is always easier to create special effects than it is to create a great story and screenplay. Screenplays require months or even over a year of hard work and re-writes. Special effects involve advanced computer graphics that can be created in a relatively short period of time. Wonder Woman 1984 is the sequel to the original “Wonder Woman”, released in 2017 and unfortunately has a story that is all over the place, convoluted and in some areas even boring. This movie involves the discovery of an ancient stone that can provide any person anything they want in the world, just by wishing for it. A failing oil executive Maxwell Lord, played by Pedro Pascal uses this stone to try and take over the world, Barbara Minerva, played by Kristine Witt uses the stone to gain the super powers of Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, and Wonder Woman uses the stone to bring back her boyfriend Steve Trevor, played once again by Chris Pine. In the case of Wonder Woman, her wish causes her to lose some of her power, which is one of the many areas of this story that was not defined nearly enough.
The messages of this film are good ones, “power corrupts absolutely”, “There is a price for everything” and even “be careful what you wish for”. However, good messages are not nearly adequate enough to save this mostly bad movie, that is even lacks enough special effects within an overly long 2 1/2 hours.
The Rotten Tomatoes rating for this movie are a below average 70%. My rating is about 55%, only for some good acting and some special effects.  I do not recommend Wonder Woman 1984.

HBO Max Series Review: The Flight Attendant

For the majority of people in the world who hate to fly, its a mystery why anyone would want to have a job where you are flying constantly and living in hotels around the world. In the HBO Series “The Flight Attendant”, Cassie Bowden, played by Kaley Cuoco is not only a Flight Attendant, but a raging alcoholic.

During a routine flight to Rome, Cassie has a one night stand with one of the passengers  Alex Sokolov, played by Michiel Huisman, gets very drunk and the next morning – she finds him dead in bed with her the next morning, with his throat cut.  Cassie has no idea what happened the night before because she blacked out from drinking so much. For the rest of this series, Cassie tries to figure out why Alex was murdered.  What makes this story extremely unusual is that Cassie is visited/haunted by Alex frequently as they both try to figure out clues as to who murdered Alex, and more importantly, try to understand why Cassie drinks so much.  Cassie’s dangerous drinking habit is directly tied to her abusive father and her relationship with her brother Davey Bowden, played by T.R. Knight. This investigation along with Alex of Cassie’s drinking problem is by far, the best part of this story. The story idea with a dead person who is murdered at the beginning of a story, visiting someone so frequently is an unusual and risky concept for any screenwriter. For this series, this new approach mostly seems to work.

One issue I have with this story, is its endlessly winding, and overly complex mystery/comedy that is at times more frantic than entertaining. The acting is very good throughout, including Cassie’s best friend Megan Briscoe, who has her own legal and dangerous problems, played by Rosie Perez. Cassie’s other friend and lawyer Ani Mouradian, played by Zosia Mamet is both endlessly annoyed and supportive of Cassie’s never ending life threatening problems.  

The Rotten Tomatoes review of this series is a too high 98%, my rating is around 80%, mostly for the interesting ideas attempted in this series.  Overall, I do recommend The Flight Attendant. 

Movie Review: Monster Hunter

The question that always comes up with action movies that have tons of special effects, karate fighting, huge monster-like creatures and explosions is – does there need to be a story? A beginning middle and end? We are spending so much money on special effects, why not just create the special effects and then try to make some kind of a story around those effects later. Too many bad movies are like this, with the screenplay and well organized story an afterthought, rather than the reason why the movie was created in the first place. For me, its always been intelligent story first, explosions and special effects second.

The new movie “Monster Hunter” is about a group of marines who are in a desert somewhere in the world, where they are suddenly trapped in a huge sand storm and then transported into a different dimension. There is no explanation as to why or how this happened, or why this other dimension even exists. Once the group of marines lead by Artemis, played by Milla Jovovich arrive in the new world, there is scene after scene of the marines being attacked and killed by huge lizard or spider-like monsters. Artemis then meets up with The Hunter, played by Tony Ja who does not speak English but does have outstanding karate fighting skills and what follows are at least 4 fighting scenes between the 2 of them, until eventually they become friends. They then team up to kill the biggest lizard monster, and them meet up with Admiral, played by Ron Perlman. This is the entire movie, marines transported to a new dimension, then fighting monsters, killing monsters and getting killed. There is absolutely no story here and really no movie, just an excuse for many special effects.

The Rotten Tomatoes rating for this bad movie is 48% – I give it 18% only for the special effects. This is not a movie, is just a series of action events and because of this, should be missed.

On Demand Movie Review: Greenland

In 1998 a rare thing happened in the movie industry. Two major movies were released in the same year, about the exact same thing – “A huge asteroid is about to hit the earth, destroying all life on the planet”. Both movies involved very different resolutions to this E.L.E (Extinction Level Event). In the case of the movie “Armageddon”, astronauts would land on the asteroid and then drill, planting a bomb that would blow the rock into pieces. In the case of “Deep Impact” a huge spaceship would land on the asteroid and leave nuclear ordinance below the surface, hopefully blowing up the asteroid. Both of these solutions seemed extremely unlikely while watching both films 22 years ago – with the Michael Bay directed Armageddon, seeming more like a music video than a movie.

The new movie “Greenland” is the very first asteroid movie that takes a realistic look at the horrendous possible reality of an asteroid or in this case the remnants of a passing comet creating an E.L.E. that would end all life on planet Earth. All of the questions about such a terrifying possible event are answered, including, would governments around the world lie to their citizens about what really is about to happen? Who would be the people who are chosen to survive in caves that are built deep underground in countries that include Greenland? What would the panic, looting and anarchy be like as people would do almost anything to survive a fireball that would engulf the entire world? This movie, only available through On Demand due to the current Pandemic, stars Gerard Butler and Morena Baccarin as the parents of a 10 year old Type-1 Diabetic child, after their lives are turned upside down when the news of minor rocks hitting the Earth become something much more.  The movie does an outstanding job of showing frantic desperation, extreme fear, violence, acceptance of mortality, and ultimately the end of the world. The perspective of this story is more in line with the real life of such a horrendous end of life possibility in that, there is likely nothing can be done with objects so large and fast moving. Ironically Covid-19 this year is so small and fast moving in transmission to so many millions of people around the world.  An asteroid or comet hitting planet Earth is far more deadly but also far less likely than any virus. Most of us thought a year ago that the possibility of a Pandemic like we have seen this year was probably as likely as an asteroid hitting the Earth. Daily routines and expectations of life have forever been altered by the horrible events of 2020.

The special effects for this film are outstanding throughout, as is the acting. I mostly agree with the 78% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, with my rating a slightly higher 85%. I highly recommend this movie. 

Past Movie Review: Unfaithful

The movie “Unfaithful” with Richard Gere and Diane Lane was released in 2002 and is arguably the best work of both of these actors. Diane Lane was nominated for best supporting actor Oscar and in my opinion, she should have won because her performance in this movie was so profound. 

Within the difficult art of screenwriting the mantra has always been, “show don’t tell”. The less said the better, show what is happening through subtext, subtle dramatic pauses and looks. Unfaithful has some of the best dramatic pauses, emotions and knowing glances that I have ever seen in any movie. No words are spoken, the best acting in this movie was all within the silence within the emotions that Connie, played by Diane Lane and Edward, played by Richard Gere as the emotional ride unfolds.

The story within this movie is obvious from its name. A happily married couple with a son has everything going for themselves.  But one day while in the Soho district of New York City, Connie runs into a French Book salesman Paul Martel, played by Oliver Martinez and the attraction for both of them is too strong for Connie to avoid cheating on her husband. What follows are numerous appointments at Paul’s Soho apartment and a scene on a train after one meeting where Connie just sits by herself,  remembering what happened at Paul’s apartment – one of the best examples of acting without saying a word, ever filmed. 

For those who have never seen this movie, I will not provide any spoilers as to how this great and far too common story of infidelity unfolds.  This movie is frequently on cable TV and is a must see for all who have never seen this great example of acting in the last 18 years.  I was also very surprised to realize the huge stupidity of the 50% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, once again dead wrong. My rating is a solid 90%.

Movie Review: Midnight Sky

The new George Clooney movie “Midnight Sky” is about a worst case scenario for the world in the year 2049 – due to Global warming. This entire story depicts a very depressing possible end to the world, within a mostly barren and cold story, with Clooney, playing scientist Augustine Lofthouse stuck in Antarctica and a group of Astronauts, including Sully Rembshire, played by Felicity Jones on their way back from one of Jupiter’s moons, in search for a new home for humanity.

The problem with this film is that it is surprisingly boring and too long, with no real or interesting story. In one part of this film, Clooney finds a 7 year old girl who was mistakenly left behind at a science laboratory and he decides they have to get to a better communication antenna and trek across the extreme cold of Antarctica. Nobody in their right mind would do this – most especially with a young 7 year old mute girl. The long and dangerous trek is another major flaw in this movie because it was way too long and way too boring.

I was surprised that someone with the clout the movie industry like Clooney would decide to make this movie, consider the weather hardships of filming in Iceland and the weak script. Considering the subject matter of Global Warming, there had to be a better script about this important problem facing humanity than this one.

On a positive note, I thought the special effects of space travel and a spacewalk with three Astronauts was well done, but unfortunately there is not enough good moments to recomend this movie.

I agree with the weak ratings on Rotten Tomatoes of 59% and rate this movie a pass.