Archive for the ‘Drama’ 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.


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.

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.


In 1951, after a strife filled life in Newark New Jersey, living with his Jewish parents and working in his dad’s butcher shop Marcus Messner  (Logan Lerman) goes away to a Christian college in Ohio.  His parents want him to join a Jewish fraternity, but he steadfastly refuses.  He moves in with two Jewish roommates and works in the college library.  It is there that he meets and falls for Olivia Hutton. (Sarah Gadon)  Soon thereafter, he goes out on a date with her.  Inexplicably, near the end of the date, Olivia pleasures Marcus sexually in the car.  This puts a strain on the relationship, because Marcus isn’t sure why she did what she did.  Olivia writes Marcus a letter, explaining that before she came to Ohio, she was an alcoholic, who tried to commit suicide.   While trying to digest that information, Marcus also finds himself at odds with the school dean, Dean Caudwell, (Tracy Letts) who has a problem with Marcus’ atheism.  After an argument with the dean, Marcus vomits and faints, he has appendicitis.  In the hospital, Olivia visits Marcus again, and starts pleasuring him again in the hospital bed, a nurse sees Olivia, but seemingly does not report her behavior.

As Marcus gets ready to leave the hospital, his mother, Esther (Linda Emond) comes to visit. She has shocking news, she wants a divorce from Marcus’ father Max. (Danny Burstein)  Esther also meets Oliva and implores Marcus to break up with her.  Marcus goes back to college only to find Olivia is gone.  What happened to her?  Does Marcus ever find her?

This is a semi-autobiographical look at author Phillip Roth’s college life.  While sexual repression and religious conformity was commonplace in the 1950’s, I doubt that those issues exist today to the extent that they did in 1951, anti-Semitism will always exist, and this movie doesn’t make a specifically Jewish appeal, it’s more a agnostic’s appeal for freedom from religion.  Marcus in fact is disliked by Jews in the college, and dislikes Jews in the college, what he’s experiencing is not anti-Semitism as much as Christian religious conformity. At a time when atheists probably outnumber Christians in this country, I didn’t find anything in this movie particularly relevant to today’s society.  Actually, Olivia’s storyline was much more interesting than Marcus’ but Marcus was the main character, so he got most of the attention. The movie seems much too overwrought, the confrontations between Marcus and the dean seem stilted and staged, everything is much too serious, and I don’t think Marcus ever loved Olivia, so it wasn’t much of a romance.

Logan Lerman is a good young actor, but the character he plays isn’t very likeable, so it’s a difficult role for him to play.  Similarly, Sarah Godon plays a woman searching for love and acceptance, and replacing that with sexual gratification, but there is no explanation of who or what damaged her psyche, so she remains a one dimensional character.  Tracy Letts plays an unlikeable character in a likeable manner, which added to my confusion about this film.

The director is also the writer, in this case that’s a bad thing, because the director won’t edit his own words, and that makes the pacing drag. The performances didn’t stand out, and there were no visual flourishes to speak of.

Indignation:  I didn’t dig it.


Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is living a life of quiet anonymity as a linguistics professor in a small college.  She is also mourning the loss of her daughter Hannah (Abigail Pniowsky, Jadyn Malone, Julia Scarlet Dan) who died of cancer.  The silence of her quiet life is shattered by the arrival of the Heptopods, aliens from far beyond our own galaxy.  After listening to a snippet of the aliens’ language on a tape, Louise  is tasked by the American military, specifically Colonel Weber (Forrest Whittaker) to translate the Heptopods language, find out why they came to earth and what they want with us.  Louise works diligently with Theoretical Physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to translate the Heptopds language, he tries to decode it mathematically, she with words. She suggests it’s easier to communicate with the aliens using words and not sounds, she writes human on a whiteboard, the Heptopods, separated from the humans by a glass wall, respond with a splash of ink, like an octopus, the ink turns into a symbol and, Louise starts to study the symbol and translate it into English.  Louise and Ian’s mission becomes more urgent, because the arrival of the Heptopods is a worldwide phenomenon, and the Chinese are starting to act more bellicose towards the Heptopods on their territory, and other nations are starting to act on their own as well.  What began as a cooperative effort is rapidly falling apart.  Can Louise and Ian translate this language before another nation acts rashly?

At first glance, Arrival seems like a mash-up of two older stories of alien invasion , Independence Day, with Will Smith  for its non-humanoid aliens, and worldwide presence of the alien landing and an episode of the classic show Twilight Zone “To Serve Man” in which aliens present humans with a book which the humans try to translate.  But Arrival is a much quieter, more contemplative story than these.  There are lots of scenes where Louise is thinking, or reflecting on her daughter’s life and death.  All of the elements of Louise’s life and her daughter’s life are important, and play a role in the final outcome.  The story even manages to ask a big philosophical question, which adds to the intellectual nature of the film.  The use of flashbacks is very effective in this film, the flashbacks tell a story in themselves and pack an emotional wallop.  But then the film tries too hard to wrap everything neatly in a bow and the ending went too far in that regard. There were some elements that weren’t very logical, like how giant 7 legged aliens could navigate a spaceship, but Arrival was a pretty ambitious film, and it hit the mark on almost all its lofty goals.

The acting is good, but Amy Adams is great.  She should have been nominated for an Oscar for sure.  She had a complex role, where she was emotionally torn by her daughter’s death, yet intellectually sharp in her professional capacity.  She carried this movie and was always believable as both mother and linguist.  Jeremy Renner, on the other hand, has all the personality of a wet dishrag, he and Adams should have had great chemistry, but had none.  Forrest Whittaker has an ersatz authority figure look, the casting director could have gotten someone like JK Simmons, and he would have been much better.

The direction is no great visual extravaganza, there are some decent exterior shots of what is supposed to be Montana, but this is not a special effects movie, and that works to its advantage.  It’s a contemplative movie, not one filled with explosions or photon torpedoes.  The pacing is good, and he gets at least one good performance.  Not a big fan of Denis Villeneuve’s earlier work.  Prisoners and Sicario are among his work, but I like the work he does here.

Arrival:  Take me to your linguist?