“Empire of Light” is the story of a large motion picture palace in Australia in 1981 and the people who work there. Olivia Colman plays, Hilary a manager. She is a single, serious minded woman who the owner, played by Colin Firth, who uses her. There are various other employees and into their world comes a young, black man played by Micheal Ward. He builds a relationship with Hilary. She has some issues to deal with, besides Colin Firth’s harassment. This film is a charming character study, but a little slow at first. Micheal Ward is quite good as the new employee. Not for everyone, this is a nice period character study. Enjoyable.
“Spoiler Alert” is a love story about two men and their years together. Jim Parsons, of “the Big Bang Theory” plays Michael, an uptight writer for TV Guide. He meets Ben Aldrich’s Kip, a free spirit artistic type. The first half of the film is about how their relationship develops and it is funny and clever. Especially enjoyable is when Michael meets Kip’s parents, played by Sally Field and Bill Irwin. The second half takes a more serious tone. Their relationship has problems and they have to deal with them. Then Kip becomes ill. The film handles these things in a compelling, realistic way. Interspersed in the proceedings are Michael day dreams that take the form of a sitcom. Nicely acted, I came to care about these characters. A well done dramedy, I recommend this film.
Forget the slap at the Academy Awards last year. Will Smith gives a great performance in his latest film “Emancipation” and it worth seeing. It is the story of a defiant slave who escapes through the Louisiana swamps. The film is difficult to watch, like “Schindler’s List”. It shows graphically the cruelty and inhumanity of slavery. Ben Foster is the man who pursues him and is a cold blooded killer. As I said it is hard to watch the way the slaves are treated; how families torn apart. Smith is solemn, tough and vulnerable. Not for the faint of heart, this is Antoine Fuqua’s best film so far. Fuqua usually does psychological action, like “Training Day” and “Shooter” and “The Equalizer”.
Disney’s latest computer animated film is “Strange World” and it is no “Frozen”. Based on a graphic comic it takes place in a world that may be parallel to our world. It starts out with a group of explorers looking to find a way out of their world, on the other side of the mountain. The group is led by Jaeger Clade and his son Searcher. The son does not want to be an explorer and heads back to their home. He becomes a farmer using the plants he brings back that provide energy and food. Twenty five years pass the main source of the plants are dying so they have to go on a new exploration to find out why. They land in a bizarre world, inhabited by weird creatures. They also find Jaeger who has been living there the whole time, still looking for the other side of the mountain. This is really the story of father/son relationships between Jaeger and Searcher as well as Searcher and his son. The artwork is colorful and unique, but in the end the film left me flat. It is different, but not great.
“Devotion” is sort of “Top Gun”, but with propellors. It is about a black flier and the group of elite pilots he works with in 1950. He reluctantly befriends another flier who graduated from the Naval Academy. He becomes his wingman. “Devotion” has more character development than “Top Gun” and the flight scenes are pretty good, especially for this type of plane. That is because it is based on real people. It is a decent biography with interesting and compelling characters. It’s also the type of film you can wait to see when it is streaming. Good, but not out of the ordinary.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from “The Menu”. I knew it was about a gourmet meal served by a famous chef, but I had no idea where it would go. It turns out that it is a dark horror/comedy. Ralph Fiennes is the chef and as always he is menacing and charming. Anya Taylor-Joy, as one of the guests, matches his intensity as a guest who was not on the original list. Each course gets more intense. While the guests are bowled over by the food, they get nervous with the accompanying commentary from Fiennes, who everyone just calls “Chef”. His staff are cult-like and totally obedient. The guests are an eclectic group, all who have some connection to the chef, The film kept my interest because I did not know what was going to happen next. The ending is dark and ironic at the same time. Not for everyone’s tastes, this is an adult horror film that will surprise you.
Admidttedly I am a Steven Spielberg fan. I have loved his work since I saw the Night Gallery episode starring Joan Crawford at the beginning of his career. There have been some of his films that weren’t the best, but when he is good, he’s very, very good. “The Fabelmans” is a semi-autobiographical look at his youth through his teens focusing on how he became obsessed with being a filmmaker. Like last year’s “Licorice Pizza” it is a coming of age story, but with more relatable characters and a more realistic plot. The cast is perfect starting with the young actor who plays Sammy Fabelman, Gabriel LaBelle. He is natural, realistic and totally believable. I think we are seeing the beginning of a new star. His mother, as played by Michelle Williams, is a free spirit, artistic, loving and somewhat flighty. I loved that she served all meals on paper plates and cleaned the table by picking up the table cloth and throwing everything away. Sammy’s father, Bert, is played by Paul Dano in his most controlled performance today. Dano’s character is a computer genius in the 1950’s; the opposite of his artsy wife. Seth Rogen plays Benny, the family’s best friend. This is Rogen’s most controlled performance to date and he is quite good. Finally, in a cameo performance, Judd Hirsch plays Uncle Boris, a former circus performer who works in movies. Hirsch is mesmerizing. I especially enjoyed the scenes where Sammy is directing movies with his friends. Some of his improvised techniques are very creative. We witness him growing as a filmmaker. The final portion of the film takes place in California and it takes on a darker tone that includes the break up of his parents’ marriage and anti-semitism bullying. It is no less compelling and adds to Sammy’s maturity. I really enjoyed this film and recommend it to everyone. Watch for lots of deserved awards. See it!
There have been many great newspaper movies. The genre is perfect for film. My favorites are “His Girl Friday”, “All the President’s Men”, “Spotlight” and “Five Star Final”. Add to that list “She Said” which is the story of how the scandalous, misogonystic behavior of Harvey Weinstein was investigated and uncovered. Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan star as the two New York Times reporters who were blocked at every turn by a system that protects and enables the offender. Even with threats against them and the Times they persisted. Consequently the Me Too movement was started. Great acting; great writing and very suspenseful. I’m not sure if I would rate it as high as “Spotlight”, but it’s right up there.
“The Banshees of Inisherin” is a quirky Irish movie that tells the story of two men whose friendship comes to an end because the older friend is tired of the younger. The younger friend does not understand his decision and tries to change the other’s mind. When I say quirky, I could also say a bit weird. The story takes place on a remote island where there does not seem to be much industry other than fishing and farming. The older friend’s method of trying to keep the other man away is strange. The dialogue is interesting and the two leads, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, are excellent. This is a character study of simple people. Made by the same people who made “In Burges” a few years ago. The critics have raved about this film, especially the actors. I liked it but the film is not for everyone’s tastes.
I was intrigued by the previews for “Armageddon Time”, a film that tells the story of an adolescent growing up in Queens in the early 1980’s. The boy is played by newcomer, Banks Repeat, who is quite good. Innocent, curious and always getting in trouble, he is part of a Jewish family consisting of an older brother, parents and grandparents who get together often. This boy befriends a Black boy who is treated badly by their teacher. Their friendship gets him in trouble. During all of this, he spends time with his grandfather, a holocaust survivor, who serves as his best friend and moral guide. The grandfather is played with quiet dignity by Anthony Hopkins. The boy and his friend rob his school, get caught and end up at the police station. He gets off because his father knows someone, but the Black boy does not. The acting is realistic and the plot moves, but I did not feel it went anywhere. I was left thinking, “Is that all there is?”. I’ve seen a couple of the director’s, James Gray, films and they are hit or miss. I believe he is a promising film maker, but has not hit his stride yet. An interesting film. I recommend that you see it when it is on T.V.