Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category


One thousand years ago, the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) steals the heart from island goddess Te Fiti.  One thousand years later, Moana (Louise Bush, Auli’I Cravalho) is born.  She is drawn to the ocean, but her father, Tui, (Temuera Morrison) the Chief of the village, repeatedly tells Moana not to go beyond the reef.  But Moana’s grandmother, Tala (Rachel House) urges Moana to find out more about her ancestors, and she finds out she comes from a family of explorers.  Moana tries to sail out beyond the reef, but gets tossed around and goes back to her home island.  But then tragedy strikes, the fish near the reef begin to die and Tala becomes bedridden. As she is dying, Tala implores Moana to sail again, and gives her the heart of Te Fiti, in the form of an emerald like stone and tells her to find Maui, and return the stone to Te Fiti.  Moana finds Maui on a deserted island,  Maui is a boastful demigod, but he is also frightened of Te Ka the volcanic God who stands in the way of bringing the heart stone back to Te Fiti.  So he traps Moana on the deserted island and has no intention of giving the stone heart back to Te Fiti.  Does Moana get off the island?  Do she and Maui return the heart stone to Te Fiti.?

Moana dies a good job of synthesizing a Polynesian myth with a modern story of a girl seeking her independence from her overprotective parents.  However, he writers undercut the message of independence for women by having Maui tag along and talk down to Moana through a large part of the film.  In addition the animal characters are wasted, they should have anthropromorphized the animals and given them the power to speak only to Moana, but instead they end up with a brainless google-eyed chicken.  The ending has a nice twist, which reinforces why Moana was chosen for the journey.

The voice acting is excellent.  Auli’I Cravalho is a natural as the young, impetuous, Moana.  Her bubbly personality imbues the film with positivity, and the audience cannot help but root for her.  Dwayne Johnson was surprisingly funny in this movie, I was surprised how good his comic timing was.  Rachel House is very endearing as Moana’s granny.  The scenes between House and Cravalho are very touching,

An hour and 47 minutes is a little long for an animated feature, but the four directors keep the pace going briskly.  The animation is eye-popping.  If there are beaches that pristine in the world, I would like to visit them.  The performances from the main actors are very good, although the music was slightly underwhelming.  I expected more from Lyn Manuel Miranda.

There is an entertaining short before Moana, called Inner Workings, be sure and watch it, it is funny and lighthearted.

Moana: Maui Wowie!


Movie Review: Jackie (2016)

Posted: April 23, 2017 in Drama

jackie k

After her husband John F. Kennedy , (Caspar Phillipson) has been assassinated, First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) reflects on events before the assassination, like her tour of the refurbished White House,  and the time during the actual assassination.  To unburden her guilt and mourning Jackie talks to her brother-in-law Bobby, (Peter Sarsgaard) a reporter, (Billy Crudup) and a priest. (John Hurt) She simultaneously tries to protect her husband’s legacy, even as new President Lyndon Baines Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) has been sworn in, and is waiting to move in to the White House.  Jackie wants a public procession to precede her husband’s funeral, but people around her are concerned that there is a danger presented by a public procession.  Who wins that argument?

Jackie is not a flattering portrait of Jackie Kennedy.  On the contrary, Jackie Kennedy is portrayed as a cold, calculating, conniving person who works hard to cultivate a public persona which is much different from her private persona.  She is shown drinking heavily, chain-smoking, and also trying to censor those things from the reporter trying to cover her. The film also makes at least one outlandish claim, but as usual with these pseudo factual biopics, the filmmakers will claim poetic license.  It will be up to the viewer to determine what the truth is, if he or she chooses to do so.

Natalie Portman overdoes her role as Jackie Kennedy, she tries to do Mrs. Kennedy’s voice, and sometimes the voice overwhelms the performance itself.  She does a good job of conveying the pain of a widow who has to grieve in public, but the film version of Jackie Kennedy is so unlikeable that it’s difficult to appreciate Portman’s performance.  Peter Sarsgaard is awful as Bobby Kennedy, he doesn’t try to do Kennedy’s voice, so his own voice, which grates on my ears is on full display here.  It’s a small role, and I’m grateful for that.

Pablo Larrain is well known in Chile for his violent and aggressive portrayals of life in Chile Thankfully, the movie is relatively short, 1 hour and 40 minutes, but it’s still packed with arthouse techniques.  Larrain tries all kind of visual tricks close-ups, dramatic music, flashbacks, and fantasy sequences, to turn up the intensity, but the story of the President Kennedy’s assassination and its aftermath,  doesn’t need tricks to make it intense.

Jackie: Hijacked by overzealous acting and directing.

dave chappelle

The star of Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s show talks about Bill Cosby, Kevin Hart, the LGBTQ community, and his four meetings with O.J, Simpson.

I like Dave Chapelle, not his stupid movies, like Half Baked, but I loved his show Chappelle’s  Show, precisely because it was edgy and dangerous.  He took what people were thinking and said them, and that’s why I liked his show, and he said things that no one would think of saying and said them anyway.  Some people may not like him because of his controversial humor, but that’s why I like him.

This brings me to this special.  Some of this special is very funny and made me laugh out loud, but some of it is not funny at all.  Here’s my take, when someone is TRYING to be funny, I can tell, it doesn’t sound natural, and Dave Chappelle was trying to be funny in some instances in this special.  The thing is, he doesn’t have to try so hard to be funny, he just is funny.  At times he sounded like he was giving a history lesson, and that is definitely not fun. Maybe age has mellowed him, there’s a big difference between a 40 something comedian and a 30 something comedian.  Maybe my expectations for Chappelle were too high, sometimes expectations are difficult to live up to.  I disagree with Dave Chappelle’s views on Kevin Hart, and Key and Peele, but comedy is subjective, even for comedians.  There’s some good material here, but is it top flight jokes for an hour?  No.

Morgan Freeman narrates the opening, but that’s the only really distinctive aspect of the special from the director’s point of view. Other than that, it’s Chappelle talking to the audience.

Chappelle juices up his new special.


A young African American boy, named Chiron, nicknamed Little, (Alex Hibbert) is growing up in a dangerous neighborhood in Miami. His mother, Paula, (Naomie Harris) is addicted to crack cocaine, and Little is bullied by the neighborhood kids.  His only solace from his mother and the bullies, is a local drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Theresa. (Janelle Monae)  Juan takes Little under his wing, and gives him advice and a shoulder to lean on. In the midst of all the madness, Little finds one friend, named Kevin. (Jaden Piner)  Kevin is one of the few people Little can be comfortable with.

As Little becomes a teenager, he is given a new nickname by Kevin. (Jharrell Jerome) Kevin now calls Little, Black, (Trevante Rhodes) because of his dark complexion.  The friendship intensifies, but when a bully named Terrel  (Patrick Decile) asks Kevin to knock Black down, Kevin complies, more than once.  How does this incident affect their friendship? How does this incident affect Chiron’s adult life?

The aspect of Chiron’s life that causes him to be bullied from his childhood to his teen years is never spoken about in the setting in which this movie takes place.  That in itself makes this a unique film. The way Chiron’s life is broken up into three distinct segments, pre-teen, teen, and adult also makes for interesting storytelling. The exceptional part of this movie is how the writing balances sensitivity with realism. Moonlight is not perfect however, one of the characters just disappears in the first third of the movie, without explanation. In addition, the ending is decidedly Hollywood in a movie that is decidedly un-Hollywood.  Even with its flaws, this movie undoubtedly deserved the Best Picture Oscar, for its unique story and unique way of telling the story.

The acting is superb.  Mahershala Ali definitely deserved the Academy Award for supporting actor, there’s a debate about that, but it’s not up for debate with me, it was a great performance plain and simple. Naomie Harris plays a difficult to like role in an earnest way, she wants to take care of her son but her addiction precludes her from doing so. The kids playing Little and Black, Alex Hibbert and Trevante Rhodes are excellent and bring real emotion to their roles.  The kids playing Kevin are also very good.

The direction is good.  Barry Jenkins is wise to split the story into three parts, it makes the pacing faster and it makes the audience anxious to see what follows.  Jenkins also gets great performances from his cast.  This is a great movie and Jenkins is a large reason why.

Moonlight: Full of surprises


hacksaw ridge

When Desmond Doss (Darcy Bryce, Andrew Garfield) was young he got into a fight with his brother , Hal (Roman Guerrero, Nathaniel Buzcolic) and hit him in the head with a rock.  Desmond prays for Hal’s recovery and he eventually recovered.  Desmond’s father, Tom, (Hugo Weaving) is a World War I veteran, but he is also an alcoholic, who beats Desmond’s mother,  and threatens her with a gun.  One of these altercations almost ends with Desmond shooting Tom, and so Desmond becomes a pacifist and vows never to touch a gun again. At the same time that Desmond is realizing his pacifism, World War II is raging in the Pacific, and Desmond wants to join the fight as a medic.  There is no law against contentious objectors joining the military, but Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover  (Sam Worthington) conspire to get Desmond discharged on a section 8, but Desmond is not crazy.  Later, the military ties to court-martial him for insubordination, for refusing to carry a firearm.  Does Desmond beat the court-martial?

Hacksaw Ridge is a story well worth telling, about a pacifist who still wants to serve his country by healing soldiers and not killing people.  But instead of making Desmond a hero, the writers make Desmond a superhero, he is perfect, faultless, and blameless in every way, and that makes Desmond too good to be true, and the rest of the characters are stereotypes of solders that are overdone in films.  The Sergeant is loud, and overbearing, the Captain just wants Desmond out of his hair.  All of Desmond’s fellow privates deride Desmond and haze him for his religious beliefs, and the Japanese are nothing more than screaming dehumanized hoards.

Andrew Garfield does as well as he can with this role.  He is boxed in by the writing, Garfield is only allowed to show anger at his fellow soldiers once in the whole film.  And he overcompensates with his Southern accent to hide his British accent.  Vince Vaughn plays Sergeant Howell like Sergeant Carter of Gomer Pyle fame, barking out orders and heaping abuse on helpless privates.  Vaughn should really stick to comedies, at least he has shown he can be funny.  Sam Worthington struggles the most with his British accent, and that neutralizes the effectiveness of his character.  Hugo Weaving is given the most complex character to play, and he does it well, he stands out in a relatively small role.

Mel Gibson directed this movie and was nominated for an Academy Award for his work.  I’m not sure he deserved a nomination.  The pacing was slow, and he didn’t edit enough.  His overuse of a certain special effect became an annoyance. Gibson was visually trying to prove that war was a dirty, bloody, hell on earth.  But the violence was staggering and the level of violence was repellant.  If Gibson had stuck with the story of Desmond Doss the pacifist during World War II, and cut down on the eye popping violence, Hacksaw Ridge would have been a better film.

Hacksaw Ridge:  Mel Gibson does a hack job as a director.

TV Review: Newtown (2016)

Posted: April 10, 2017 in Documentary, TV


Newtown features interviews with parents, teachers, siblings, and first responders regarding some of the victims of the mass shooting in Newtown Connecticut in 2012.

The first images he viewer sees in this documentary is police speeding to the scene of the mass shooting in Newtown Connecticut, and the first voices viewers hear are that of the desperately frightened faculty talking about the shocking crime.   On December 14th 2012, Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 elementary school kids and 6 teachers in Newtown Elementary School.  The pain is seared in the voices of the parents, the siblings, the first responders and everyone else related to this tragedy.  Expressing that pain is somehow cathartic for these people, but I doubt if they will ever have closure for the horrible events.  Closure has become a media term of art, it signifies when the media wants to move on from an issue.  The documentary is an excellent example of television as catharsis, and for showing the difference between catharsis and closure, but Newtown has shortcomings.

For all its earnestness, this documentary is far from perfect.  First, it gets into the political exploits of some of the Newtown parents.  Politics is broken, If we as a nation can’t keep guns out of the hands of the criminally insane, there is no reason to replay the dysfunction of the American political system. Some of us already that know some issues will never be addressed by Congress.  It just adds to the pain of the Newtown massacre to know that Congress is unwilling to do anything to address gun violence.

In addition, the documentary doesn’t mention all the victims.  The crime involved 26 people, yet the documentary only interviews a few relatives of the victims.  OK, maybe all the relatives don’t want to get interviewed, but the filmmakers didn’t even show pictures of all the victims.  It would seem to be the humane thing to do to show the faces and read the names of all the victims.  Also, it would show the enormous scope of the violence that was perpetrated in that school.

The most glaring omission of all was the fact that the filmmakers didn’t mention the names of the killer or his mother.  There is obviously a fear of a copycat crime, but not mentioning the killer or his mother, who gave him access to the guns, is editorializing by the filmmakers.  The job of a documentary filmmaker is to lay out all the facts, not omit facts where they see fit.

Newtown is replete with emotion, but it seemed incomplete to me.

Newton:  Painful catharsis.

Pictured: Denzel Washington (Troy Maxson)

Sanitation worker Troy Maxon (Denzel Washington) had dreams of becoming a baseball player, but that dream wasn’t available to an African American in the 1920‘s and 30’s, so he took the path most available to him, and married his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and set about raising his son, Cory. (Jovan Adepo) Life is far from easy for Troy, he feels pressure from his bosses because he wanted to be a driver and not someone who handled the refuse.  Cory wants to play football and Troy flatly denies giving him permission.  Troy’s older son, from another marriage, Lyons, (Russel Hornsby) is a musician, who Troy sees as a ne’er do well. Troy’s brother Gabriel (Mychelti Williamson) has suffered a brain injury in World War Two, and wanders the streets of Pittsburgh, talking to himself.  Troy feels guilty because he took Gabriel’s settlement from the military to buy his house.  There is a tenuous peace between all the disparate elements of Troy’s life, but then something happens to shake Troy’s family to the core.  What is it?  Does Troy’s family life ever return to the way it used to be?

Fences is the most honest and genuine working-class story I’ve seen in a long time, maybe ever.  It’s the story of a man, whose dreams have already been dashed, who is trying to eke out a living as a garbage man. That is a story of an average working man.  Troy wants better for his sons, but he doesn’t want them to take shortcuts.  Troy’s sons want to be like Troy, but different from him.  Troy struggles with his upbringing, his battle with his father, and his marriage.  If these aren’t universal issues that every family faces, I don’t know what is.  There are moments of happiness, but disaster is always on the razor’s edge. Even the characters have symbolic significance to them, Troy is the site of the Trojan War in the Iliad and there is certainly a war going on within Troy’s life. Gabriel, Troy’s brother, carries a trumpet, and thinks he is able to open the gates of Heaven, a reference to the Biblical angel Gabriel and his horn, made famous in African American spiritual songs. Rose is a sweet smelling flower, but watch her thorns. If anything, August Wilson’s screenplay peaks too soon, the last 25 minutes are anti-climactic, but until then the tension is palpable.

Denzel Washngton’s performance in Fences is nothing short of masterful.  Troy strides into everyone’s life like a colossus, and tries to control the actions of every character in the film.  Not every actor can handle the force of nature that Troy Maxon is.  Denzel did, and he did it superbly, he wasn’t screaming throughout, Washington modulates his character’s voice perfectly. There is no doubt that Denzel Washington deserved the Academy Award for best actor.  Viola Davis matches Washington, note for note, in an emotionally wrenching performance. Stephen Henderson is very good as Bono, Troy’s best friend. Jovan Adepo holds his own in scenes with Washington and Davis, not an easy thing to do.

The direction also by Washington has a few visual flourishes with good pacing and excellent performances throughout.

Fences:  Keeps on building.