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The Good Liar (2019)
9/10
'It seems like you've had quite a past.'
22 March 2020
Nicholas Searle's fine novel THE GOOD LIAR has been adapted for the screen by Jeffrey Hatcher (Mr. Holmes, episodes of Upstairs Downstairs, The Mentalist, etc) and with two of the most distinguished actors of the day, Bill Condon directs a memorable film.

It is a pleasure to see two senior actors take full control of an entire film and make it ring. Though the opening half hour or so tends to be a bit tedious, the movie picks up speed about half way through and thunders to a fine climax - a surprise set of twists and turns that are unexpected and completely credible.

Very briefly, 'Roy Courtnay' (Ian McKellen) is a con artist - and a good one! - who works with his confrere Vincent (Jim Carter) to barter fraudulent deals with wealthy men - and women, as we discover when he plays a physically needy gentleman caller to Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren), prepping her for yet another shady deal to win her fortune. Their chemistry is palpable until Betty's 'grandson' Stephen (Russell Tovey) becomes dubious about Ray's qualifications and sets out to barricade the incipient 'relationship.' But secrets arise that explain the reality of the characters of the story, secrets that explode Ray's world of lies. And to say more would be a major spoiler.

With a fine supporting cast the varying locations of the story seem real and the quality of acting is top notch. It is refreshing to spend an evening in awe of McKellen and Mirren - and a story that is guaranteed to surprise. Recommended.
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9/10
'Someone in this building has betrayed their country.'
21 March 2020
Hats off to director Gavin Hood for placing Gregory and Sara Bernstein's adaptation of the Marcia and Thomas Mitchell novel "The Spy Who Tried To Stop A War: Katherine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion' before the public in this excellent film - an act of bravery and commitment to truth.

Kudos to the excellent cast also - Keira Knightley, Jeremy Northam, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Ralph Fiennes, Indira Varma and all the supportive roles. Information such as this may be known to some - the 2003 debacle of the sanctioning of the invasion of Iraq exposed by whistleblower Katherine Gun as an illegal NSA spy operation - but seeing realized in such a skillful manner make the impact of this historical moment even more significant. The pacing of the film is on target, speedy but still allowing enough development of the individual characters involved to make the story all the more credible and fascinating.

Films such as this are invaluable reminders of how governments can ill-function at times and how war is never an event to consider lightly. Recommended for all viewers.
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Dumbo (2019)
8/10
'You're a miracle elephant, Dumbo'
16 March 2020
The 1941 Disney classic DUMBO, based on the book by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl, has been energized by Ehren Kruger's screenplay and Tim Burton's direction and the result is a live action plus photo-realistically computer-generated version that focuses a bit heavily on the evils of corporate greed...

Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) was once a circus star, but he went off to WW I and returned missing his left arm. His wife fell victim to the Spanish flu outbreak, but his two children (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins) greet him. Circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) hires Holt to take care of Dumbo, a newborn elephant whose oversized ears make him the laughing stock of the struggling circus troupe. But when Holt's children discover that Dumbo can fly, silver-tongued entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), and aerial artist Colette Marchant (Eva Green) swoop in to make the little elephant a star. From that point on the celebrity status turns sour when corporate greed in the form of both Vandevere and J. Griffin Remington (Alan Alda) destroy the magic. But Dumbo escapes to find his mother, Colette embraces the Farrier family, and of course it all turns out well.

The performances by the actors are fine and the production itself is colorful if a tad overdone in the final stages of the Dreamland circus of Vandevere, but the tenderness between the children and Dumbo and Dumbo's mother Jumbo, and the pro-animals messages save the sentiment of the original.
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Bombshell (2019)
8/10
'He's about as flirty as the grizzly from The Revenant'
16 March 2020
It takes courage to place this true story before the public at this time of the political climate during debates by presidential candidates and retorts from the sitting president who is famous for his association with Fox News. Charles Randolph (The Big Short, and The Life of David Gale) has written a penetrating screenplay about the 2016 explosion when Fox News persona Roger Ailes was finally exposed for sexual harassment by some courageous women. Director Jay Roach (Trumbo, Blown Away, Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery, etc) makes this story come vividly to life, unafraid to insert film clips of Donald Trump's appearances as the case unfolds, as well as including the lesbian relationships that give the story a new grounding.

The story of this Fox News scandal is true, so everyone knows the outline. As one distillation states, 'When Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) slaps Fox News founder Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) with a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment, not a soul could predict what would happen next. Her decision leads to Fox News correspondent Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) coming forward with her own story, as well as multiple other women, such as Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), inciting a movement that reverberates around the world.'

The cast is outstanding: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie each excel, but the other women in the film - Allison Janney, Connie Britton, Liv Hewson, Kate McKinnon, and Brigette Lundy-Paine - also impress. John Lithgow is very appropriately repugnant as Roger Ailes, as is Malcolm McDowell as Rupert Murdoch, and the clips of Giuliani, Trump et al. The tension never lets up as this scandal is related in fine form. Not only is the film excellent (though some may prefer the Showtime series THE LOUDEST VOICE account of the scandal), but also it offers award winning quality performances that allow the actors to step into different territories.
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8/10
Look up......
24 February 2020
Just when we think the gush of Christmas commercials and specials are over, along comes LAST CHRISTMAS, and if ever there were a film that could enchant, this is one that does. Written by Emma Thompson (who also plays a significant role in the movie) and Greg Wise with screenplay adaptation aided by Bryony Kimmings, the film seems a bit of fluff, overly decorated, until the messages begin to sink in. And by the end the film is elevating, thanks to some fine acting and direction. George Michael's music plays a primary role, also.

Katrina/Kate (Emilia Clarke) is a young woman subscribed to bad decisions. Working as an elf in a year round Christmas store owned by 'Santa' (Michele Yeoh) is not good for the wannabe singer. However, there she meets Tom (Henry Golding), a kind-hearted man with a mysterious past who challenges her cynical worldview. Kate slowly comes to realize that Tom is 'significant' and her life takes a new turn. For Kate, it seems too good to be true. Completing the entourage is Kate's Yugoslavian immigrant family - mother Petra (Emma Thompson), father Ivan (Boris Isakovic) and sister Marta (Lydia Leonard) - each with conflicts and problems of their own. It all comes together with a discovery (one that should not be shared) and the grand finale at the homeless sanctuary is rich in honest goodwill - 'helping each other.'

This is a feel good movie, well acted, and one that can be uplifting - if you've a mind to be uplifted!
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8/10
'We're lighter, we're faster, and if that don't work, we're nastier'
23 February 2020
James Mangold directs this historic visit to the 1960s, using the script written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller, and the result is a heart-pounding series of fast car racing events that surface as an entertaining film due to the presence of some very fine actors. Not only is it a recreation of the 1966 Le Mans event: it is also a penetrating statement about corporate behavior attempting to drown individual personal achievement!

Briefly, American car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) battle corporate interference and the laws of physics to build a revolutionary race car for Ford in order to defeat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966. The 'Ford' tent includes Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts), Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal), and Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), and the Ferrari group is lead by Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone). Significant roles include Ken's wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) and their son Peter Miles (Noah Jupe), as well as Shelby's right hand man Phil Remington (Ray McKinnon).

But towering over the entire epic are the acting chops of Mat Damon and Christian Bale, both of whom create fully three-dimensional roles that make the story come vividly to life. The film is overly long and at times self indulgent, but for fans of fast cars - and racing history - this film will more than satisfy.
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10/10
Linda Ronstadt - Insisting on challenges
2 February 2020
Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have created a fine biopic of the multitalented, phenomenally gifted singer Linda Ronstadt. The film is filled with her live performances in every aspect of her range - folk, pop, rock and roll, ballads, country western, operetta, Mexican, and more.

The film inserts interview commentaries from such a widespread contingency as Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville, Don Henley, Jackson Browne, David Geffen, Cameron Crowe to name a few, offering such plaudits as 'perfection,' an early feminist in a man's music world, uncompromising, incredible stage presence, and so on. By allowing moments with Linda speaking about her musical ideas and family and women's rights, the artist becomes even more impressive.

For those who have followed Linda's successful career, this film is a must. Even the dignity of the ending as she is enduring Parkinson's disease while still singing ("just connecting notes") with her family is a salute to a one of a kind artist. Highly recommended.
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The Professor (2018)
10/10
'Well, maturity is really just another word for how much misery you'd swallow'
27 January 2020
Writer/director Wayne Roberts tackles controversial subject matter and ably transforms it into contemporary philosophical conversations that are impressive and alert us to the fact that he is an artist of great promise. Couple his writing and directing gifts with an important actor of substance - Johnny Depp - and the result is a film of significant impact.

While many viewers are finding the topics covered in this film disturbing - same sex gender identification, adultery, drug abuse, public sexual encounters - these ripples serve to embellish the spectrum of staring at life through the eyes of one about to face death. Testy moments that shine a strong light on the propinquities of life choices as magnified by impeding finality. Or as the Professor states, ''In each and every moment we're composing stories of our lives, let's aim to make it a meaningful read... or at least an interesting one'

The story - After learning about his terminal diagnosis, Richard Brown (Johnny Depp), a college professor, decides to live his life to the fullest by drinking, smoking and expressing real thoughts for the people around him - his best friend Peter (Danny Huston), his adulterous wife Veronica (Rosemarie DeWitt), his daughter Olivia (Odessa Young), his boss - and wife's lover - Henry (Ron Livingston), and students Claire (Zoey Deutch and Danny (Devon Terrell). While going through the stages, he come to terms with the great truth of his life as he mends broken relationships, embraces the people in his life and learns to ignite his inner good spirit.

The subject matter - facing a terminal life that merits examination - is one that Wayne Roberts paints well. Excellent performances from a very strong cast make the messages carry a strong impact. Recommended.
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10/10
The lightness of being - an Almodóvar triumph!
27 January 2020
Pedro Almodóvar delivers the finest film of his prodigious career in this autobiographical film, Dolor y Gloria, a cinematic treasure relating the life and gifts of a genius. Though all of his films are treasures, this production's writing, directing, acting, cinematography, musical scoring, settings, and message are the work of a master, and his confreres.

Briefly, the span of this two-hour film is as follows: 'The protagonist Salvador Molla is at the decline of his career. The man involuntarily looks back into the past, and a stream of vivid memories falls upon him. He recalls such moments from his youth as tender feelings for his mother, love and separation, the search for happiness and success. All this leads the master of cinema to important thoughts about life and art, because this is the most important thing for him.'

Antonio Banderas is brilliant as Salvador Molla, and the roles of his mother Jacinta - both young (Penélope Cruz) and old (Julieta Serrano), his coincidental inspiration in art as a child - Eduardo (César Vicente), his closest friend Mercedes (Nora Navas), his actor friend Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), his ex-lover Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia) - all offer performances of both credibility and distinction.

Almodóvar's wondrous sense of color and nuance is well captured by cinematographer José Luis Alcaine and the musical score by Alberto Iglesias. In all, this film is simply a wonder - a magnificent achievement by one of the most important cinematic artists of our time. In Spanish with English subtitles. Very Highly Recommended on every level.
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10/10
Equal rights - a significant impact
19 January 2020
Daniel Stiepleman wrote the screenplay for this fine film and Mimi Leder directs a strong cast, greatly contributing to the major impact this focus on the contributions of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has made and continues to make on society in America.

Setting a solid foundation for the eventual message of the film, the docudrama opens in 1956 when Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) is one of six women in her class at Harvard Law School. Her husband Martin (Armie Hammer) helps her get ready for a dinner at the Dean's house welcoming the women to the class. When she arrives, Dean Griswold (Sam Waterston) callously makes each of the women stand up and explain why they're in law school. Ruth remains unfazed - she continues excelling in classes, and when men like Professor Brown (Stephen Root) won't call on her, she still manages to make her points. While playing charades at a social gathering with friends, Martin doubles over in pain. At the hospital, the doctor explains that he has testicular cancer and that the chances of survival are at six percent. Ruth assures Martin that he's going to live. She begins attending Martin's law school classes in addition to her own, typing both of their essays, and taking care of sick Martin and their young daughter Jane (Cailee Spaeny). And with that ground zero set, the remainder of the film is well known to all - but rarely has a social change been so well constructed as the final scene as Ruth makes her powerful case for equal rights before the judges.

In addition to the strong acting of Felicity Jones as Ruth, Armie Hammer as Martin, and Justin Theroux as Mel Wulf the supporting cast includes fine cameos by Sam Waterston, Chris Mulkey, Kathy Bates and others. The cast as lead by Director Mimi Leder brings this important moment and this important figure stunningly to life - and impact is very strong. This is a film that merits repeated viewings.
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10/10
'The best laid plans of mice and men...'
7 January 2020
Highly respected writer/director Michael Winterbottom created this fast-paced, near inscrutable thriller that allows the viewer to follow the strange trail of a hired kidnapper whose assignment goes oddly off center.

The visually stunning and emotionally tense story is viewed through the actions of Jay (Dev Patel), a man with a secret who travels from Britain to Pakistan on an assignment from one Deepesh (Jim Sarbh) to attend a wedding - armed with duct tape, a shotgun, and a plan to kidnap the bride-to-be. Despite his cold efficiency, the assignment quickly spirals out of control, sending Jay and his hostage, the bride-to-be Samira (Radhika Apte), on the run across the border and through the railway stations, back alleys, and black markets of New Delhi - as all the while attractions simmer, loyalties shift, and explosive secrets bubble to the surface. Murder may appear to be the nidus of the reason the assignment fails, but the oddly complex interaction between Dev and Samira - and Deepesh - sets an entirely different tone to the adventure.

As much a diatribe about men's control over women (forced/arranged marriages by fathers, abandonment by lovers, secrecy and emotional aloofness by escorts) as it is a suspenseful unwinding of an assignment gone wrong, the unspoken aspects of this story make it at times problematic while at other times completely engrossing as a thriller. Fine acting on the parts of the three main characters as well as from the cameo roles complete the success of this unique film.
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The Goldfinch (2019)
10/10
Life as Art
1 January 2020
Donna Tartt's enormously successful novel THE GOLDFINCH has been successfully transformed for the screen by Peter Straughan and as directed by John Crowley (Brooklyn, Boy A, Closed Circuit) it becomes an engrossing, very long, richly detailed composite of art, classical music, antiques, and life - as travelled by a young lad into adulthood.

The time frame is from childhood to adulthood and the extremes of roles as played by the actors is noted here (child actor to adult actor). Theodore "Theo" Decker (Ansel Elgort) was 13 years old when his divorced mother (Hailey Wist) was killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During the bombing Theo is cautioned by Welty (Robert Joy) to save his daughter Pippa (Aimee Laurence > Ashleigh Cummings) and an old painting, and Welty's partner in life and antiques - Hobie (Jeffrey Wright) - cares for Pippa after the bombing. The tragedy changes the course of his life, sending him on a stirring odyssey of grief and guilt, reinvention and redemption, and even love. Through it all, he holds on to one tangible piece of hope from that terrible day...a painting of a tiny bird chained to its perch. The Goldfinch. Theo is taken in by the wealthy Barbour family (Boyd Gains, Nicole Kidman, Carly Connors > Willa Fitzgerald, Jack DiFalco > Luke Kleintank, Collin Shea Schirrmacher > Austin Weyant) until displaced by his alcoholic father (Luke Fisher) and girlfriend (Sarah Paulson) and moved to Las Vegas where Theo is befriended by Boris (Canadian actor Finn Wolfhard > Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard) until Theo flees back to New York to join Hobie in his antiques restoration business - and the complex life that follows.

The tenor of the novel is very well captured by the fine cast, the exceptionally fine musical score, the stunning cinematography, and the sensitivity to all forms of art. The prolonged enactment of this near inextricable story allows the viewer to grow with the characters - and discover valuable insights as to art and life and their intersection or conjunction. Highly recommended on many levels.
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Greta (2018)
10/10
'I think there's something you need to know about Greta'
1 January 2020
Writer/director Neil Jordan (the Crying Game, The Borgias, Michael Collins, etc) co-wrote the screenplay of this dark thriller by Ray Wright and the result is a gripping study in post mortem need and anguish - and derangement.

Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz), a sweet, naïve young woman trying to make it on her own in New York City with her close friend Erica (Maika Monroe), doesn't think twice about returning the handbag she finds on the subway to its rightful owner. The owner is Greta (Isabelle Huppert), an eccentric French piano teacher with a love for classical music and an aching loneliness. Having recently lost her mother, Frances quickly grows closer to widowed Greta. The two become fast friends, find a fine pet dog, enjoy similar interests - but Greta's maternal charm begin to dissolve and grow increasingly disturbing as Frances discovers that nothing in Greta's life is what it seems. What begins as a promising relationship becomes a true nightmare - with a dark history.

Isabelle Huppert is brilliant as is Chloë Grace Moretz, and the two pull off this macabre tale with credibility. Seamus McGarvey is the notable cinematographer, able to capture the suspense well. This is film noir at its finest.
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Judy (II) (2019)
7/10
'I'm only Judy Garland for an hour a night'
29 December 2019
Peter Quilter's play "End of the Rainbow" has been transformed into a screenplay by Tom Edge and the biographical film is directed by Rupert Goold. Judy Garland (1922- 1969) is the raison d'être for this cinematic outing, despite the fact that it focuses only on the very sad ending of her life.

Some sense of Judy's Wizard of Oz beginnings is offered in a sluggish and heavy handed opening - Darci Shaw is the early Judy being confronted by Louis B Mayer (Richard Cordery) about proper behavior and attitude- and then the film dives into the end of her career and life of the important artist as she struggles with a failing marriage and lack of enough funds to support her two children Lorna and Joey, her 'chance' for final success in London, and her very real problems with alcohol and drug addiction and stage misadventures. Renee Zellweger is the impersonation of Judy Garland and conveys her appearance and mannerisms and singing well. The voice in the film is Renee's, and while she doesn't have the infamous wobble/tremulo of Garland's vocalizing, the sight and sound work well.

The 'tribute' to Garland is unfortunately restricted to the final year of Judy's amazing career - making the temperament, drugs, alcohol, and unreliability of performance the emphasis. Yes, Zellweger offers a fine performance, but for those who remember the stature of Judy Garland, this film will be a sad experience.
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Love Actually (2003)
10/10
A Holiday Reminder
26 December 2019
Some feel that this perennial favorite film, LOVE ACTUALLY, is a response to the global devastation and fear that the September 11, 2001 created - a deeply felt longing for a return to peace and for acknowledging love. That may have influenced writer/director Richard Curtis to create this series of stories, but whether that is the case or not, this cinematic miracle has become a holiday must see and relive-experience for many of us.

The stories - and there are many of them - are set in England the month before Christmas and are as varied as the feeling of love itself: a has-been rock star ultimately discovers his true love is his male manager (Bill Nighy and Gregor Fisher), the Prime Minister finds attraction to a feisty employee (Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon), a desiring female longs for a fellow employee but owns her love for her ill brother (Laura Linney and Rodrigo Santoro), a married couple deals with adultery (Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson), a writer discovers true love in a Portuguese maid (Colin Firth and Sienna Guilory), a newly married couple cope with an ambiguous friend's attraction (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Keira Knightley and Andrew Lincoln), a father advises his young son about going for love (Liam Neeson and Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and more.

Not only is the story well written and directed and full of Christmas spirit, but it also is superbly acted by an outstanding cast. Get the feeling of love that we need to embrace: try LOVE ACTUALLY. Highly recommended for repeated viewings.
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Ad Astra (2019)
7/10
'Most of us spend our lives in hiding'
25 December 2019
James Gray both wrote (with Ethan Gross) and directed this psychological science fiction story that has polarized viewers: while many love the film, as many loath it - and for various reasons that can be read as private opinions. In short, the story relates one Astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) who undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father Colonel Clifford Mc Bride (Tommy Lee Jones) and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe and the survival of earth. In the treacherous opening Roy falls from an incredibly tall space tower all the while maintaining normal vital signs and mental stability - traits that accompany him through the film's adventure until the ending. Along the way he encounters older astronaut Thomas Pruitt (Donald Sutherland) and a few other persons both of the astronaut bent and those living on other planets - very small parts in this essentially one man film.

The focal point of the film is the father/son relationship altered by space and time and that allows the story to rise above routine sci-fi elements. Brad Pitt is excellent, if a bit monochromatic, and the technical, visual, and graphic elements of the production are exceptional as is the cinematography. This is a fine example of intelligent science fiction that retains nods of insight into the mind states of those who explore space as well as the quite possible future of space exploration with the accompanying benefits and potential problems. A bit too long and in need of editing, AD ASTRA is still a worthwhile evening's entertainment.
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Hustlers (2019)
5/10
'Doesn't money make you horny?'
24 December 2019
Lorene Scafaria wrote the screenplay for this 'factual' tale based on Jessica Pressler's New York Magazine story (Jessica -as Julia Stiles - plays a small role in the film) and directs this overly long crude look at the world of women strippers. The fact that Jennifer Lopez not only stars but is also the producer may dismay her fans, but her acting is convincing, as is that of Constance Wu.

The précis: women strippers make loads of money until their Wall Street clients belly up during the 2008 crash and they must turn to hustling with the use of drugs to gain 'vengeance' on their male clients. It's about 'family' of like minds (and habits) and the bulk of the film is focused on near nude stripping/dancing and a barrage of use of the F word. Poorly written and inconsistent, the film is entertainment for those who love exaggerated pole dancing. For everyone else - not so much.
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Downton Abbey (2019)
10/10
Pomp - and many circumstances...
23 December 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Everyone who has enjoyed the series Downton Abbey on television will find satisfaction in this cinematic extension of the famous home and its inhabitants - both upstairs and downstairs. Julian Fellowes filled this version with all of the favorite characters and added a visit from the King and Queen to heighten the pleasures. As with the usual message, there is a disparity between the household and the 'servants' - one that is more linked to terms and traditions than to the fine rapport between the two factions.

The theme and variations include the schism between the royal staff and the Downton staff and how the plane is evened, a suspicious thief that light-fingers trinkets only to be caught and make amends, a further exploration of 1927 homophobia as new butler Barrow discovers a gay bar, the beginning of a new love affair between Branson and a freshly discovered heir, some new about the health of Violet Crawley, a grand ball - and much more. The manner in which Fellowes makes each new twist and interaction between royalty, the wealthy owners, and the accompanying support staffs is indeed clever and refreshing. The entire film, including the chats with the starts at movie's end, feels like a warm reunion - with viewers an integral part of it all. This is a fine way to spend a winter evening.
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8/10
'It's official, old buddy. I'm a has been'
13 December 2019
Viewing ONCE UPON A TIME...IN HOLLYWOOD is a visit to the 1960s - California/Hollywood style. Quentin Tarantino both wrote and directed this very long and lugubrious film that features some very fine acting but requires more than a dollop of patience to make it to the clever final scene.

The 'idea' is to recreate Hollywood and the months leading up to the entrance of Charles Manson's tribe, as the infamous night in 1969 becomes a theatrical twist of facts. Leonardo DiCaprio is convincing as a has-been action star Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt is excellent as his stunt double Cliff Booth. Tarantino convincingly intertwines tidbits of the life of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and their third party Jay Sebring (Emil Hirsch), leading us to think the film will end with the Tate et al murders, but the road to that end is twisted and cleverly altered - like Hollywood. Other key actors include the very fine young Julia Butters, Al Pacino, Bruce Dern, Luke Perry, Timothy Olyphant, Margaret Qualley et al.

The movie is very long, spending an excessive amount of focus on cigarette smoking and the use of the 'f word' and endless cinematic production takes, but the overall effect of the film - in retrospect - is how clever Tarantino used these 'flaws' to bring the 60's Hollywood to life. This may not be a film for everyone, but the piece works - it just needs patience.
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Papi Chulo (2018)
10/10
'Sometimes a stranger makes the best friend'
18 November 2019
John Butler both wrote and directed this sensitive film that tenderly explores the space that friendship secures despite hypothetical barriers of language, culture, gender identification and social mores. This is a film that is not only entertaining and well acted and directed, but also is a much needed platform for examining the prejudices that at times interfere with civility when those responses can be (and so often are) healing. Sean (a luminous Matt Bomer) is a gay Los Angeles television weatherman whose anguish over a 6-month separation of his ex-lover Carlos results in an on-camera breakdown. His TV crew encourages him to take a rest - a break from his broadcast duties - and spend some time talking to someone for support in his chronic loneliness. Sean decides to change his life, at least as far as his home atmosphere, by giving away Carlos' potted tree on his deck - the removal of which leaves a painted blemish that Sean decides to correct. This mission opens the gate to his picking up a middle-aged migrant Latino day worker - Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño) - to help him, and despite the language barrier the two become friends: Sean over-talks on hikes, rowing on MacArthur Park Lake, parties, eateries, and gay parties and Ernesto sensitively provides listening companionship. When Ernesto doesn't appear one day, Sean turns to drinking and trying to find Ernesto in his Pico Rivera living area, only to fall (literally) into Ernesto's backyard during a Quinceanera party and is cared for by Ernesto's family - a kindness Sean later repays as 'room and board'. During Sean's recovery he tries Grindr, and the hunky Ryan Guzman appears at his door: Sean is emotionally unable to respond to the encounter. Time passes. All's well that end's well - as when Ernesto's child knocks on the front door, followed by Ernesto, to fix the still unpainted deck. 'Sometimes a stranger makes the best friend.' A small but very fine cast support Bomer and Patiño and the result is a touching film that offers a fine view of interpersonal relationships - despite some barriers.
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10/10
'You should tell the bees your secrets. Then they won't fly away.'
15 September 2019
Fiona Shaw's novel has been adapted for the screen by Henrietta Ashworth and Jessica Ashworth and as directed by Annabel Jankel the result is a luminous and tender visit to the mid 1950s Scotland, and an examination of the homophobia made even more stressful with the impact of the end of WW II returning mind-damaged soldiers.

Single mother Lydia Weekes (Holliday Grainger) who is abandoned by her husband Robbie (Emun Elliott), meets the small village's Doctor Jean Markham (Anna Paquin) who has recently returned to her hometown after her father's death, leaving her a spacious home she cherishes, when Lydia's son Charlie (Gregor Selkirk) is taken to the doctor after being bullied in school. Charlie grows to see Lydia as his best friend, sharing her fascination with the bees she shelters in her backyard. When Lydia and Charlie are evicted because Lydia's earnings from her work are not adequate to pay the rent, Jean invites them to stay in her home and she and Lydia soon develop a friendship and something more. The village frowns harshly on Jean and Lydia's lesbian relationship and Jean's medical status is threatened until she salvages a botched home-abortion, regaining her respect as a physician. Pending the threat of losing her son to the abusive Robbie, Lydia and Charlie depart the village - with plans to return - to Jean and true family.

The fine musical score by Claire M Singer and cinematography by Bartosz Nalazek add to the impact of this sensitive, very well acted film, and the result is a beautifully delivered romance that manages to survive against all odds. Recommended.
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The Aftermath (II) (2019)
8/10
Love lingers longer
10 August 2019
James Kent directs this adaptation of Rhidian Brook's boo THE AFTERMATH and manages to add sensitive dimensions to this WW II romance. The excellent cinematography by Franz Lustig heightens the drama as well as remind us of the utter destruction Germany suffered as the war ended, both in devastation of buildings and of lives.

The story takes place in Hamburg, Germany in 1946 as the Allied Forces struggle to deal with the homeless people and the remaining anti-western sentiment. Rachel Morgan (Keira Knightley) joins her husband Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) after their son is destroyed during the London blitz. They 'share' a stately mansion owned by architect widower Stephen Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) who agrees to have the British citizens move into his home he shares with his daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann) and their minimal serving staff. Lewis struggles with the cruelty of war damaged youths and men and women, always dedicated to his military job. Rachel feels isolated, still grieving for her lost son, and gradually finds consolation in the arms of Lubert. Friction between the Germans and Brits continues, involving Freda and her Nazi boyfriend, and in time Rachel and Freda and Lubert grow close and they plan to leave Hamburg. Lewis discovers their plan and is devastated - the loss of his son weighs heavily on him and Rachel's decision to leave him is critical. At the train station there is a change of commitment and the story ends on an unexpected note.

The cast is strong, the passion is palpable, and the visual effects of the decimated Hamburg and its citizens are achingly real. The way war affects us is the overall message - one that is wise to heed. This is a film worth experiencing.
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Gloria Bell (2018)
8/10
Looking for love in all the wrong places
7 July 2019
Director Sebastián Lelio reprises his Chilean cinematic success GLORIA, and with the help of Alice Johnson Boher's adaptation of his own screenplay, gives us GLORIA BELL.

The story is as complex in psychological insights as it is simple in storyline. Gloria Bell (Julianne Moore) is divorced, alone, working a boring insurance job, with children growing away, ad finds herself frequenting dance clubs/bars. She hungers for romance and almost accidentally finds it in divorced Arnold (John Turturro). The manner in which they court is at once tentative and aggressive: Arnold feels compelled to 'be there' for his two grown unemployed girls and allows that situation to alter his attention to Gloria, and Gloria wants it all. In an on again off again romance the problems of loneliness and aging take focus, and while the story is rather upbeat in stagecraft and flamboyant in sex scenes, the undertone is sad.

The cast includes actors/actresses who are in the age category the film addresses - Holland Taylor, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Rita Wilson, Brad Garrett, Chris Mulkey - as well as some fine young cast members. The story focuses on Los Angeles nightclubs and Las Vegas glitz and the action is swift and well focused, especially by Julianne Moore, who proves she can inhabit this sad role credibly, enhancing the impact of the aging and lonely but beautiful single woman stance. A comedy it isn't, but the film offers insight into a realm of the population who continue to seek elusive love.
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8/10
From the Over The Hill Gang!
24 June 2019
Director David Lowery wrote the screenplay for this homage to the elderly based on a true story written as an article in the New Yorker by David Grann about the Over the Hill Gang leader Forrest Tucker. Assembling a large cast of aging stars and a splendid sense of goodwill attitude, this is a film for relaxing - and wondering...

The plot is brief - 'Based on the true story of Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford), from his audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of 70 to an unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities and enchanted the public. Wrapped up in the pursuit are detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who becomes captivated with Forrest's commitment to his craft, and a woman (Sissy Spacek), who loves him in spite of his chosen profession. '

Other significant contributing actors include Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Keith Carradine, Ari Elizabeth Johnson, Tika Sumpter, and Barlow Jacobs among others. Daniel Hart provides a homespun musical score and the elegant cinematography is by Joe Anderson.

The film may not be deep, but it carries a great feeling of the importance of attitude and generosity of friendship - and Robert Redford simply make it work!
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The Mule (2018)
10/10
'The only people who want to live to 100 are 99 year olds'
17 June 2019
Octogenarian Clint Eastwood both directs and stars in this winning film that honors not only his cinematic past but also the plight of senior citizens. THE MULE is based on a newspaper account of a 90-year-old drug mule for the Sinaloa Cartel as adapted and written by Sam Dolnick and Nick Schenk. The result - a sparkling, entertaining and insightful movie that deals with not only the ongoing drug smuggling from below the border, but also the meaning of family, of growing older, and the intersection of these elements.

Horticulturist Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is 90, broke, alone, and facing foreclosure of his business when he is offered a job that simply requires him to drive. He is amenable to the job but doesn't immediately know that he's actually signed on as a drug courier (aka 'mule') for a Mexican cartel. He is proficient in his task, his cargo increases exponentially, and Earl is assigned a handler (Cesar De León). But he isn't the only one keeping tabs on Earl; the mysterious new drug mule has also hit the radar of hard-charging DEA agents Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) and Treviño (Michael Peña). Earl makes friends with the Mexican boss Laton (Andy Garcia) and encounters the more evil of the cartel crew. But as h makes (and gives away) large sums of money, his past life of minimizing the impact of his family (Diane Wiest, Allison Eastwood, Talissa Farmiga), and his new position makes him long for the return to that family, even as his ex-wife dies. The end? Watch the film to discover the resolution.

Beautifully filmed, superb acting by a very well selected cast of actors, and a story that goes far beyond simply another drug cartel venture, THE MULE is excellent on all levels, proving the Clint Eastwood continues to be a major talent in cinema.
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