Get Out

We join a multi-racial couple who are still in the early kissy-face phase of their relationship. This weekend they will be traveling to her family home so he can meet her parents. She hasn't mentioned to her folks that he is black, so he is understandably nervous about their first encounter. She assures him that they aren't racist.

Confidently written and directed by Jordan Peele ("Key and Peele") this nail biter features a capable cast, an interesting location and several effective "Don't Go In The Basement!" -type scenes.

Part of the cast:
  • Daniel Kaluuya ("Sicario") is Chris Washington, a talented photographer who is gaining recognition for his unerring artistic eye. Even at a social weekend, he keeps his trusty cell phone handy to use as a camera. This London-born actor is handsome enough to withstand the scrutiny of those super-close close-ups.
  • Allison Williams (she was the lead in "Peter Pan Live!") Rose Armitage is eager for her parents to meet this terrific guy. Her traffic mishap took all of us by surprise and generated an inchoate sense of anxiety.
  • LilRel Howery ("The Carmichael Show") Rod Williams works for TSA, so he is suspicious of everyone. He really worries about his friend Chris, but reluctantly supports his decision to meet the parents.
  • Bradley Whitford ("Brooklyn Nine-Nine") is Dean Armitage, Rose's father. He is welcoming and gracious. He reminds Rose that this is the weekend of an annual neighborhood gathering.
  • Catherine Keener ("Captain Phillips") Missy Armitage is Rose's self-contained mother. She is a successful therapist and among other things, helps people quit smoking through hypnosis.
  • Stephen Root ("Masters of Sex") One of the guests is Jim Hudson, a blind gallery owner. He envies Chris his unerring eye.
As we meet Rose's brother and the household staff, things start to feel more off kilter. This only increases as other guests start to arrive.

This R-rated (language) mystery/horror story had plenty of humor but most of its effectiveness relies on Kaluuya's expressive face. I liked this far more than I expected; I only bought a ticket because a friend encouraged me (I'm easily led). I was amazed that the bad guys are white liberals!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Check out the preview:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


Their Finest

This one came up on my blind side. I saw a review and vowed to see it ASAP, and am I glad I did! We are in the world of wartime propaganda, with the the British Ministry of Information, Film Division. It's WWII and London is being steadily bombed; Whitehall needs to boost morale for the British people. Their next topic: The Miracle of Dunkirk, in which over 380,000 British, French, Belgian and Canadian troops were trapped by the German Army at the water's edge but evacuated by English fishing boats skippered by civilian fishermen. Plus, the War Office wants more authentic "women's voices" for the next script and asks them to hire a woman. Seasoned heads liken it to hiring a Jack Russell Terrier to type "Woof Woof." A struggling writer hopes she might be hired.

Lissa Evans wrote the novel, "Their Finest Hour and a Half" which was adapted by screenwriter Gaby Chiappe ("Lark Rise to Candleford" - highly recommended) and brilliantly directed by Lone Scherfig ("Italian For Beginners" also highly recommended). This R-rated (language, but not much) comedy, romance and drama, clocks in at under two hours, not a minute of which is wasted.

Scherfig's cast:
  • Gemma Arterton ("Gemma Bovery") is Catrin, a former secretary, now an inexperienced scriptwriter. The men at whom she is thrown make it clear that they really do NOT need her, but they aren't rude. They are British, after all.
  • Jack Huston ("Ben-Hur") Ellis is a struggling artist. His paintings of the Blitz are "too depressing."
  • Sam Claflin ("Me Before You") Tom is one of the screenwriters. The concerns of the War Office would be laughable if they weren't serious. His next script must provide "Authenticity, Optimism and a Dog" to be effective.
  • Bill Nighy ("About Time") is Thespian Ambrose Hilliard and drunken Uncle Frank in the movie within the movie. I admit the romantic leads are subtle and appealing, but make no mistake, this is Nighy's film! He is howlingly funny as he shows us how an A-C-T-O-R responds to each situation.
  • Eddie Marsen ("Ray Donovan") is Hilliard's agent Sammy Smith treading on egg shells because his client's ego is extremely fragile.
  • Jake Lacy ("Miss Sloane") is a stitch as the American-as-Apple-Pie war hero Carl Lundbeck, who is cast in their film with no concern about his (non-existent) acting skills. Britain needs America to join the war.
There are delicious bits scattered throughout, e.g., Jeremy Irons as the Secretary of War reciting the St. Crispin's Day speech from "Henry V," Helen McCrory as Sammy's sister Sophie, and Rachael Stirling as Phyl, the ever-present production assistant. I loved the line outside the sole bathroom in that rooming house, the dusty destruction in those authentic street scenes, and the people's resignation in the Underground shelters.

Bill Nighy gave me goosebumps when he stepped to the center near the end of the film. I will own the DVD just for this moment. I've already pre-ordered it.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Please take a peek:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


The Promise

Let's have a show of hands. Who can tell me anything about the Ottoman Empire? Where was it? When did it exist? How long did it last? If you are anything like me, you probably won't be able to answer those questions, particularly if you were educated in the United States. World History is a thing of the past in our schools and the smattering of what we had was limited to western Europe and the United States. Ancient History was all about Greece and Rome.

At the height of its power, the Ottoman Empire encompassed big chunks of Europe and Asia, parts of Africa, plus much of the Near and Middle East. It was headquartered in Constantinople (now Istanbul) and was in existence from 1299 up into 1923. (I Googled it!) Our film takes place as it begins its final decade. Now that you understand the macro view, let's move to the micro.

Acclaimed writer/director Terry George ("Hotel Rwanda") and his co-writer Robin Swicord ("Memoirs of a Geisha"), inspired by true events, bring us an eternal triangle set against a backdrop of turmoil and genocide. It's 1914 and the run-up to World War One has begun; the Germans are successfully courting the Turks.

A small part of the wonderful cast:
  • Oscar Isaac ("Star Wars") is Mikael, an Armenian pharmacist who intends to become a doctor, so he is attending medical school in Constantinople. I wonder if Oscar will get an Oscar for his moving portrayal of a decent man swept into a larger catastrophe?
  • Christian Bale ("The Big Short") is Associated Press reporter Chris Myers, an American who is in Turkey to report on the situation. His clear-eyed assessment is the last thing either the Germans or the Turks want to see in print.
  • Angela Sarafyan ("Westward") is Maral, the object of their affections. She is Armenian but has been living in Paris. She comes back when her father dies.
  • Showreh Aghadashloo ("Star Trek Beyond") This hard-working Iranian actress plays everybody's mother. This time she is Marta, trying to protect her son Mikael from their enemies.
  • James Cromwell ("Murder in the First") watch Ambassador Morgenthau when the Turks ask him to contact Equitable Life Insurance for payout on policies for dead Armenians!
 This PG-13 film offers a LOT of violence, some romance, and no profanity; its main purpose is to illustrate the actions of the Turks as they systematically begin slaughtering Armenians. This has been an international scandal for over 100 years and Turkey still denies it. Please stay for the information displayed during the final credits. It provides statistics and documentation.

This is compelling movie making with terrific production values enhanced by adroit actors who convincingly inhabit their characters. Some of the most eloquent scenes in the entire film take place between two people with nary a spoken word. Brilliant. (And think how smart you will be: You'll know about the Ottoman Empire AND the massacre of Armenians,)
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here is a preview:
* * * * * * * * * * * *

Born in China

"Né en chine" is the latest and by far the most stunning Disneynature True Life Adventure EVER! This G-rated documentary takes us into the wilds of China where we become acquainted with a mama panda bear and her cub (who wants to be independent before mama thinks her baby's ready), a young golden monkey with sibling problems (so he joins up with some lost boys), and a snow leopard struggling to raise her two cubs in a harsh, unforgiving (never-before filmed) environment.

Writer/director Chuan Lu working with writer David Fowler and writer/producer Brian Leith brings us this involving trio of stories that once again, illustrate the depths of maternal love and the life-and-death struggles for survival in the wild. (And that baby panda has to be the cutest thing in the world!) We see the migration of the endangered Tibetan Chiru, an antelope whose baby can walk just 30 minutes after birth! And RUN soon after!

Narrated by award-winning actor John Krasinski ("The Wind Rises"), we are enraptured from the first frame. My only complaint is that this runs for only 78 minutes, although many of the small children in the screening audience were running out of steam, so once again, Disney knows best.

It's clear that filming this documentary required a small army of porters who schlepped cameras, batteries, lenses, and other paraphernalia into these rugged locations. They range from soggy coastal areas to visit some graceful and iconic cranes, then move into lush forests; from there we go to a bleak treeless plateau scoured by the wind. At 14,000 feet above sea level, it is the highest plateau on earth. I haven't been able to identify the brilliant cinematographers, but during the closing credits one of them has a humorous observation about filming snow leopards in that climate. I hope he is identified come Oscar time!

By the way, tickets sold during the first week of this release (April 21, 2017) will help fund wildlife preservation.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Please take a look:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


Free Fire

This actioner won the "Midnight Madness People's Choice" award at the Toronto International Film Festival. That should tip you off as to what to expect: 85 minutes of gunfire with absolutely NO socially redeeming values. Director Ben Wheatley ("High-Rise" and "Doctor Who") working from an R-rated script he has co-written with Amy Jump ("Kill List"), brings us high-caliber action delivered by actors experienced in the genre.

Two gangs in 1978 Boston meet in a warehouse. Their "deal" in which each side has planned to deceive the other, quickly escalates into one of the most brilliant examples of complex editing I have ever seen. Make no mistake, this is simply a prolonged gun battle, but the film editor always knows where each person is, the sight lines for each character, what injuries he/she has sustained so far, how many bullets remain in his/her particular gun, and what sort of injury would cause a person to bleed out in a given amount of time. The dialogue is witty, our screening audience laughed many times, though with my hearing and no closed captions in a press screening, I could only make out a few of those lines. Aarghhh!

Here is part of the cast:
  • Sharlto Copley ("The A-Team") is Vernon, long on plans, not so long on execution.
  • Brie Larson ("Room") Justine will persist. She is no dummy.
  • Babou Ceesay ("National Treasure") Martin looked like he bought the big one very early on...
  • Sam Riley ("Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" he is Mr. Darcy) Stevo always gets back up. I was surprised every time.
  • Armie Hammer ("The Man from U.N.C.L.E.") Ord has 2 rules: Look good and never get flustered.
  • Cillian Murphy ("In the Heart of the Sea") Chris can reason with the best of them. And he is fairly flexible in his loyalties.
When you think about it, they are mostly shooting pistols, and given their short barrels, pistols are notoriously inaccurate, so it's not too big a stretch to see how many times they miss. Plus they rarely pause long enough to aim. Though you would hardly expect it given the R-rating (gun violence, strong language and drug use), this non-stop thriller rarely confuses you, often surprises you, and you will actually leave the theater exhilarated and smiling, with the John Denver soundtrack lingering in your ears.

On the other hand, if you're not in the mood for 85 minutes of gunfire, don't give a rip about film editing and John Denver leaves you cold, this is definitely one you should skip!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The trailer is restricted to people over 17:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


Going in Style

All you have to do is look at this cast and you KNOW you're going to have a good time. Here they play three old duffers who have been friends all their lives. Outsourcing and bank manipulations have left them strapped, embarrassed and angry. So how will they provide for their families?

In 1979, Edward Cannon wrote a story that became the first "Going in Style." It starred George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasburg. Now screenwriter Theodore Melfi ("Hidden Figures") has updated the story and tailored it for today's economy. Using his PG-13 script, director Zach Braff ("Scrubs") assembles this sure-fire combination of timeliness and cast to give us a diverting 96 minutes.

Here they are:
  • Morgan Freeman ("London Has Fallen") Willie is furious that their pensions have evaporated. And he only sees his granddaughter once a year, Skyping just isn't enough.
  • Alan Arkin ("Million-Dollar Arm") Albert agrees with him about their pensions, but he is so disagreeable it hardly registers. This man is crabby!
  • Michael Caine ("Now You See Me 2") Joe thinks they should do something about it. His house will be foreclosed in 30 days and the bank that's to blame has just been robbed.
  • Ann-Margret ("Ray Donovan") Annie disregards everything Albert says because he is just naturally cantankerous. 
  • Peter Serafinowicz ("Guardians of the Galaxy") Murphy is Joe's former son-in-law. He isn't a criminal but he IS a lowlife!
  • Christopher Lloyd ("7Seconds") Milton can only remember as best he can...which isn't saying very much.
  • John Ortiz ("Fast & Furious") Jesus is the guy they approach for tips on how to rob a bank. He tells them that if they fail at their age, they will get 'three hots and a cot' for the rest of their natural lives, AND better health care. So it's a win-win.
  • Matt Dillon ("Wayward Pines") Detective Hamer is confident the FBI can solve those bank robberies, "It's what we do."
This has laugh-out-loud dialogue and situations, scattered (mild) profanity, a bit of marijuana, some tension, and a few gunshots (most of them blanks). I was entertained every single minute. Let's hear it for these old pros!

Oh! You bought a ticket, so don't forget to suspend disbelief!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Even the preview makes me chuckle:
* * * * * * * * * * * *



What is it about children who are uncommonly bright? Do they become a commodity? A freak? An extension of some other person's ego? A target for custody battles? See what happens here, a struggle between a special little girl's devoted uncle, who has custody, and HIS powerful opinionated mother (the little girl's grandmother).

This award-winning film is brilliantly directed by Marc Webb ("500 Days of Summer"), working from a script by Tom Flynn ("Second String"), who brings us a heart-warming PG-13 (mild profanity) story about their conflict. Of special note: Webb has directed a lengthy single-take scene of the girl and her uncle idly chatting while the girl climbs on him like he's a jungle gym. They are on a beach, silhouetted against a gorgeous sunset. Clichèd but spellbinding.

The cast:
  • Chris Evans ("Captain America") is Frank Adler, striving to be the parent his gifted niece otherwise would not have. He knows exactly what his sister wanted for her little girl but his mother doesn't agree. Evans has NEVER been more appealing!
  • Mckenna Grace ("Designated Survivor") is our prodigy Mary Adler, a little girl who loves her one-eyed cat and is wise beyond her years, but she's still a little girl...Just check that gummy smile (she's missing her front teeth!). This girl has a natural talent and is beautifully directed.
  • Lindsay Duncan ("Sherlock") Evelyn knows what is best for her brilliant granddaughter and she will not allow any amateur to stand in her way. Only an actress of Duncan's calibre could inhabit such an icy, conflicted character.
  • Octavia Spencer ("Hidden Figures") Roberta Taylor is the practical voice of reason, a loving neighbor who actually cares about the child. When she steps up to intercede, no one dares challenge her. This actress exudes intelligence and warmth.
  • Jenny Slate (LOTS of TV) Bonnie is Mary's first teacher in a public school. She has no idea what she is in for!
  • Fred, the one-eyed cat isn't listed in the cast. Hmmmm... I wonder if that's his real name.
We have decent, principled people to cheer, with no gunshots, vehicular mayhem or blowie uppie stuff. We see wildly innovative approaches to effective parenting. How can we NOT love this terrific film! After the press screening, we revisited the many, many scenes which we found laugh-out-loud funny, wrenchingly sad, goose bumpy satisfying and most of all: Entertaining.
See this film!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Take a look:
* * * * * * * * * * * *