Tuesday, March 21, 2017

CATFIGHT (2017)



NR

STARS: Sandra Oh, Anne Heche, Alicia Silverstone
DIRECTOR: Oner Tukel
GENRE: Dark Comedy


We tend to think of a "catfight" as a snotty verbal altercation between two women that might, if it gets out of hand, devolve into some hair pulling. This ain't that kinda thing. This is Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed. Bare knuckled.

And in this corner, weighing one hundred and seventeen pounds...

Don't be deceived. Catfight pits a couple of cinematic heavyweights--Sandra Oh and Anne Heche--against one another in a knockdown drag out slugfest of epic proportions!


Sandra Oh Plays Veronica--a self-absorbed housewife married to a wealthy industrialist war profiteer.  Anne Heche is a struggling lesbian artist. Freud would have a field day with her paintings. They haven't seen each other since college when their paths cross at a glitzy birthday party. Old resentments surface. Verbal barbs begin to fly, and soon thereafter the fists. Veronica gets the worst of it and ends up in a coma. For two years. Meanwhile, Ashley's fortunes have changed, and she is now a celebrated artist. Veronica has lost everything and takes work as a maid. 


Fate throws the two of them together again and another brawl ensues. This time Ashley loses--by a knockout--and ends up in a coma. For two years. When she awakens, all her funds have gone to pay the medical bills, and her notoriety is gone. And the first one now shall later be last...there but for fortune...and all that. I love the symmetry of it. In all, there are three grudge matches between them where the punches fly and the blood flows freely. Some people are just always rubbing you the wrong way.


Catfight makes its satirical statement in a not so subtle way. No reading between the lines required. It has to do with, among other things, our national obsession with violence and war. With every punch thrown, there's the mandatory SOCKO sound effect (which you don't hear in a real fight) that's in every TV show and movie that features fisticuffs. Which is most of them. 


Sit in front of the tube for a couple hours and take note of the shows they promo during the breaks. What do they show in these short clips? Somebody getting punched or shot. We've grown so numb to it, we're no longer aware of what it's saying about us. Maybe a clue to that is in the "Fart Machine"--a guy who interrupts the late night TV host's monologue by parading out and feigning flatulence. Everybody who watches this is highly amused--and, of course, distracted from what's really going on around them. (A statement about our declining intelligence level?)


Catfight is like a hot fudge sundae. Dark and delicious. And yes, dark humor requires something of a sophisticated mindset to be able to differentiate it from that which is being presented as deadly serious. Through humor the most serious of issues are often examined. The darker the humor, the more deadly serious those issues can be. And that's why humor should not be taken lightly.


Grade:  B +  



JILL'S TAKE

OMG! I can't believe what I just read. At the end of Catfight, I turned to Tim and whispered, "This is, bar none, the worst f---ing movie I've ever seen!" Dark humor be damned. The tag line of this turkey should have read: "Thelma and Louise Meet Wrestlemania" with a little Animal House thrown in for good measure. Sheesh! (My personal expression of disgust.)

I can just imagine the "pitch" for this non film went something like, "Listen, JB. Let's get two bankable female stars to beat each other up for 96 minutes. We've seen tons of movies where guys do it but it's time to give women their due." Billed as a 'black and blue comedy,' the plot was so unbelievable, and the violence so un-funny, that I just plain hated it. Except for the musical score. They don't list a scorer but the musical supervisor, Devoe Yates, must have had a blast picking famous classical themes such as Grieg's "Anitra's Dance" to contrast with the battles going on onscreen. Still, I have a problem with violent comedies. (I wasn't particularly amused by Married to The Mob or My Cousin Vinny, either.) Maybe it's just me. After all, the Tomatometer gave it 76% -- but the audience score wasn't nearly as favorable...

The really sad part? Catfight is the last movie Tim and I will see together. I leave for California in two days. For good. We'll still write our joint reviews long distance but it won't be quite the same without him quietly disagreeing with me (or not!) as the credits roll. 

Grade:: F


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

THE SALESMAN (FORUSHANDE) 2016

Rated: PG-13
STARS: Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidooosti, Babak Karimi
DIRECTOR: Asghar Farhadi
GENRE: Drama

The Salesman isn't about how different it is to be a young-ish married couple living in Iran from their counterparts in the United States. It's about how similar it can be.The difference being, of course, that in Iran they live under a repressive regime where what can be performed onstage, for example, may be screwed with and altered at the whim of government censors. Though right up until the 1957 landmark court case that centered around Allen Ginsburg's epic poem, "Howl," there were similar restrictions on freedom of public expression that existed here in the states. (Check with the ghost of Lenny Bruce for further details.)

Our couple, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), are performers in a Tehran production of Arthur Miller's Death Of A Salesman. Emad mentions in passing that three lines from the play might come under scrutiny from the censors. Once we are past that, The Salesman is a purely personal story of two people working on issues in their marriage.


While taking a shower, Rana is attacked by an unknown assailant who has crept into their apartment. Emad finds her at the hospital with a head wound. Keeping a stiff upper lip, she denies being raped to save her husband further anguish, but we can put two and two together. The plot centers around his personal detective work in tracking down the perpetrator. The twist at the climax is that it's not someone we would normally suspect. The way that retribution will come down upon this person becomes a source of conflict between Emad and Rana, rattling the very foundation of their relationship. When is compassion more appropriate than punishment? That's the food for thought you'll be munching on as you leave the theater.   


It's up to interpretation what the intended metaphor of Arthur Miller's play is to the relationship between this couple; though as performers they have a public persona to maintain...a mask to put on...the show must go on and all that rot, while behind the scenes the growing strain on their marriage shows on their faces. 


The Salesman won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film of 2016. Filled with noteworthy performances, it follows in the footsteps of director Asghar Farhadi's other cinematic gem, A Separation (2011). It's something of a slow mover in the beginning, but the fireworks at the end are well worth the wait. 


Ultimately, it's about people and how they struggle with the basic questions of relationship and existence. And that transcends geographical and political boundaries. 



GRADE:  B +


JILL'S TAKE

After reading Tim's review of this film, I feel guilty not liking it more. I loved one aspect of the premise, i.e. how will an Iranian husband – as opposed to an American one -- deal with his wife's abuser? Good question! (And I'm not about to reveal the answer!)

But what exactly does the subplot of Death Of A Salesman have to do with anything? That's my main gripe. If, as Tim opines, it's about this couple's public persona versus their private angst, I feel far too much cinematic time was spent on it. This also leads to another complaint of mine: The film's innocuous title, The Salesman. Really?! (I wish I knew the literal translation of Forushande.)

It does leave the viewer asking lots of questions upon leaving the theater which I suppose is a good thing. Was the wife really raped or simply beaten up? Was the perpetrator "acting" physically frail and sickly? Was the couple's marriage in trouble before this incident happened?  Will it survive this trauma?   

The acting was superb. I especially liked and believed the fellow who played the attacker, Babak. Kudos to Babak Karimi. But when I think of other Best Foreign Movie award winners such as The Bicycle Thief,RashomonBlack OrpheusTheVirgin Spring½Seven BeautiesCinema ParadisoLife Is Beautiful (the list is endelss, really), this one got lucky.


Grade: C+

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2017)



Rated: R

STARS: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth
DIRECTOR: Gore Verbinski
GENRE: Horror/Thriller

If I had checked beforehand to see that The Cure For Wellness was two and a half hours long, I never would have agreed to see it in the first place. But on the strength of Jill having a thing for the lead actor, I said what the hell. I have since realized that I need to be WAY more discriminating in my film choices!!!

Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is a young finance director for a blatantly greedy corporate entity who travels to a mysterious rehab facility in the Swiss alps to retrieve the company's CEO, who seems to have gotten hung up there and doesn't want to come back. He has some difficulty locating the head honcho within the facility, and before you know it, Lockhart, in classic horror/thriller fashion, finds himself an unwitting patient instead of a visitor. What's keeping him there is whatever is in the water that everyone is encouraged to partake of profusely. Stupid horror flick mistake number one: When you go to another country, don't drink the water!

There's a backstory about the "wellness center" being built on the ruins of a castle that was inhabited by a baron who wanted an heir of pure blood, so he gets it on with his sister. The villagers learn of this debauchery and come with their torches ablaze--the villagers are always carrying torches in every B movie since Frankenstein--and burn the place down. This all has much relevance to the current bizarro director of the spa, Dr. Heinrich Volmer (Jason Isaacs), and off we go into one of those so-and-so-is-the-reincarnation-of so-and-so things and it's not very original but may appeal to those who love that time weathered plot.

Lockhart meets a strange teenage girl with haunted eyes named Hannah (Mia Goth) who is also "taking the cure," but in fact has been held there, apparently, for all of her days. (Mia Goth is a 23 year-old actress playing a girl of fifteen or so, and she passes believably for that age. She and Jesse Eisenberg should get together and they could play Hansel and Gretel in some film and both of them would just totally look the part.)

So on we go, cuz there's a lot of time to fill, and in time-worn fashion we will find out if Lockhart can extricate himself and the man he came to find from all the weirdness that is going on at the facility--facing roadblocks at every turn, of course. And will he and Hannah ride off into the sunset together--or in this case go drink beer in some pub at the foot of the mountain.

It's not as interesting or as thrilling as I'm making it sound. A good horror flick makes you jump when you least expect it. And it's oooooh scary.  A Cure For Wellness isn't scary. It's just creepy. Really creepy. It pulls out all the stops to bring you cringe-worthy realism depicting heinous and gory cruelty to humans and animals alike. What's the point?  There is no point to this movie, other than to titillate in the cheapest kind of way.  Style over substance. But I'll give them points for style. In fact during the last half hour, I was contemplating giving the film an F, and then I softened some because it's such a totally demented romp that you have to laugh and shake your head and give them credit for doing what they obviously set out to do. The only thing missing is Vincent Price and his blood-curdling laugh from Michael Jackson's "Thriller."    

Grade:  D



JILL'S TAKE

Recently, Tim pointed out to me that several of my reviews say essentially the same thing.  That I'm confused, confounded and don't really "get" what the film is about. Since consistency is something I seriously value, A Cure For Wellness also left me bewildered, bothered but definitely NOT bewitched. It did, however, deliver some scary moments. And as long-running as the movie was, I didn't get bored. Or sleepy.

They pulled out all the stops. Including our handsome hero dashing up and down stairs on crutches due to a broken leg, trying to escape his captors. (I bet Dane DeHaan had to practice that routine a lot!) If you, as a viewer, are the least bit squeamish about watching a graphic sex scene between father and daughter—mind you they are over 200 years old but have somehow managed to stay young-looking—I urge you to pass on this film. (Maybe a better title would have been "Kinkiness From The Crypt"?)

But I do have a thing for the lead actor. Ever since I saw him playing James Dean in the 2015 movie Life. He hooked me even further when I came across him again in the HBO series "In Treatment." But an actor doesn't necessarily make a movie worth seeing...(And as I watched Tim squirm uncomfortably in his seat, convinced that he was about to walk out of the theater, I felt a bit sheepish for talking him into this pseudo scare fest.)

I did love Benjamin Wallfisch's creepy score, though. It added immensely to the tensions of each off-the-wall moment. And let's face, if you want to escape reality, logic and clean living, this movie will do the trick.

Grade: C

Friday, February 17, 2017

ELLE (2016)



Rated: R

STARS: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Charles Berling, Jonas Bloquet, Anne Cosigny, Virginie Efira
DIRECTOR: Paul Verhoeven
GENRE: Arthouse/Thriller/Black Comedy


What does the daughter of a notorious mass murderer do when she grows up? She becomes an entrepreneur--developing bizarre, violent, sexually aberrant video games...what else??? And from the opening scene of Elle--which smacks you right in the kisser...POW!--her life is set on a course to become its own live version of those games.

Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher, Heaven's Gate, Amour) KILLS in her role as Michelle--a woman who defies labels. She has an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in her back pocket for this one; a gutty, gritty performance that's as physically demanding--she bounces off the walls a lot--as it is emotionally wrenching. She doesn't wear her emotions on her sleeve, however. No...she is the Ice Queen. But it's all in there building up like Mount St. Helens getting ready to blow.  Michelle is bent on finding the identity of  a man who brutally raped her, but she won't go to the police. She'll do it her way, in her own time, as she goes about her daily life. 


"Elle is soooo FRENCH," my cohort Jill observed. Indeed. In French cinema you can address just about anything--murder, mayhem, perversion--and it's all done in such a breezy style that it's bound to elicit a smile.There's a line in there where someone says (to the effect of) that guilt should never stop anyone from doing just what they want to do. It's clear that director Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Robocop, Showgirls) took that to heart in making Elle. He got out of Hollywood, where this film could never and would never be made, as it pushes the envelope beyond Tinseltown standards in terms of its frank and brutal portrayal of psychopathic sexual behavior. It blurs the boundaries of film genre. It's a taut and suspenseful thriller, and just when you think that's exactly what it is, in come elements of the darkest kind of black humor. It's a romance too--in the kinkiest sort of way (without giving too much away)--that makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like a Disney movie by comparison!  Elle is tapping into a world of fantasy taboo that some will find uncomfortable to watch, while others may grasp that sometimes we can develop a perverse fascination for that which we find initially most repulsive.  


Elle is not for those with weak bladders, because if you trot down the hall for even a couple of minutes, you'll be left in the dust. The film moves at breakneck speed, and never takes a breather. But keeping up with its twists and turns is half the fun. The other half is watching a transcendent talent at the top of her game--63 years old (in real life) with this and that popping and flopping out here and there, still as sexy and alluring a presence as any I've seen heat up the screen in recent memory. 


Delightful, decadent fun. 


Brilliant!!! 


Grade:  A



JILL'S TAKE

I always suspected Tim was a pervert. Now I know for sure! If I had to create a subtitle for Elle, it would read: "a plethora of possibilities." As a black-and-white thinker, I'm not big on movies that leave me wondering what they're about. But then, that's the raison d'etre of French filmmaking.

I'm also not big on mixing film genres. A thriller should be just that, a thriller. Much of Elle made me feel both terrified and personally violated. But when the story exhibited moments of dark humor, I wasn't laughing. (Like I said before, I'm a b&w thinker.) Still, Ms. Huppert deserves an Oscar for playing 'the most physically demanding role of the year.' Those peppy dance routines in La La Land don't hold a candle to her gyrations!

Along with everything else, I wondered about, the significance of the title.  Elle? The literal translation is "she." But according to The Urban Dictionary, elle can also mean 'feminine, super pretty and sexy.' So I guess the title works. Sort of. But that's the thing about this noirish movie. It can mean a lot of things....sort of.


Grade: C

Thursday, February 2, 2017

ARRIVAL (2016)



Rated: PG-13

STARS: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve
GENRE: Sci-Fi / Drama

Here's the deal. If you don't catch onto the "twist" in Arrival (and we're not talking Chubby Checker), you'll likely be confused throughout most of the movie. I caught onto it late, near the end, realizing that if I saw the film again, I'd get a lot more out of it. (Is it just a ploy to get you to buy another ticket?)  A film is always more enjoyable when you know what's going on. Arrival (with an Oscar nomination for Best Picture) is like life, in that sense. You feel your way through it, and at the end you look back and see just where it was you went wrong. But unlike the movies, there are no do-overs. So son, you're going to have to feel your way through it on your own, the way we all did. For if I revealed the twist, it would be a SPOILER!

But hey, it's Amy Adams. I'd like to be able to say I've never seen an Amy Adams movie I didn't like, but a more accurate statement would be I've never seen Amy Adams in a film where I didn't like watching her. 

Amy plays Louise, a noted linguistics professor whose services are recruited by the army when a dozen big UFOs--that look like gigantic cucumbers standing on end--land at various sites around the globe. Louise has the best chance to communicate with the aliens inside, who look kinda like big octopi (octopuses?) wearing burkas. When she and her team make contact with the "heptapods," as they are being called, Louise begins to slowly decipher their language, which consists visually of something looking like circular shaped Rorschach blots. Throughout the film, Louise is seeing dream images of her with her daughter, who succumbs to disease and dies in her teens. 

What's it all mean? Why are the aliens here, and what are they trying to tell us? It has something to do with the nature of time. In the end, there's a message about cooperation among nations, and how we are often too quick to reject what we don't understand, rather than going the extra mile to learn to really communicate.

But Arrival is so sloooow throughout the first half. On the other hand, it's a lot more cerebral than your average earth-versus-aliens movie. There is much food for thought. And the question that looms large--like a huge spaceship sitting in a field--is if you had your life to live over again...knowing how it would turn out...all the shit and all the sorrow, along with all the joy and all the love...would you go along for that same ride again? Arrival is telling us: don't be so hasty as to automatically say no.

Grade: B  


JILL'S TAKE

At the end of Arrival, I leaned towards Tim and whispered, "Lucy, you've got some 'splaining to do!" I admit it. I was totally lost. Bored. And completely confused by this "sensitive" sci-fi saga. Maybe, if there'd been a subtitle on the poster that read: "Time isn't what you think it is...", I would've been able to grasp what the hell this movie was about. However, I did learn one important lesson; I now know why I don't enjoy futuristic films. They make me feel extremely stoopid!

That being said, I was also annoyed at how under-used Forest Whittaker (The Last King Of Scotland) was. He's such a great actor and his role here, as some bigwig general, is miniscule at best. The same could be said for Michael Stuhlbarg who plays a nervous Agent Halpern. (Stuhlbarg was absolutely brilliant as gangster Arnold Rothstein in the TV series "Boardwalk Empire.")

If I had to say something positive about Arrival, I'd give high marks to the graphics. (Wonder how these aliens would have said "Good job!"in their ink blotty language?) The visual and special effects guys must have a had field day. I was also relieved that the aliens didn't resemble E.T. or any of those other bug-eyed knock-offs. Still, if my two cents is worth anything, I'd avoid this befuddling film!


Grade: D



Sunday, January 29, 2017

HIDDEN FIGURES (2017)




Rated: PG

STARS: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali
DIRECTOR: Ted Melfi
GENRE: Biopic/Drama

Hidden Figures, the "based upon a true story" tale of three young black women who worked for NASA in the Jim Crow era of segregation in Virginia in the early sixties, is the feelgood film of the year--so far (though the year's still young!)

Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) was a math genius who spit out blackboards full of equations that would prove instrumental in getting John Glenn into space as the first man to orbit the earth in 1962. Her two friends and cohorts, Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), had their own stories: Vaughn in her struggle to rise to a supervisory position within an organization that was male dominated and overtly racist; and Mary Jackson, who had to petition the court to allow her to attend classes at the all white University of Virginia so that she could fulfill requirements to get into NASA's engineering program.     


Just as it takes many hands and many minds to put a manned rocket into space, there are many hands and many minds that go into the making of a film. In the beginning, there was the word. Or rather, the book by Margot Lee Shetterly. The movie, reportedly, is not a faithful rendering of the book--some creative license was taken with timelines, and some events were invented--all for dramatic effect--but that's typical of nearly all such film adaptations. So no demerits there.


A gold star goes to Pharrel Williams, Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch for a musical score that adds punch to the most dramatic and uplifting scenes. And yes, they are manipulative scenes that will make your eyes water. After all, Hidden Figures is about some brave and spunky women who dealt with and overcame the astounding ignorance--the total disregard for human dignity--that was our American apartheid system which existed prior to the enactment of the groundbreaking Civil Rights legislation of 1964. 

BUT...all the white folks portrayed here are one dimensional. To the man (and woman), they are all condescending racist creeps, to one degree or another. Even the most sympathetic of the lot--project supervisor Al Harrison (Kevin Costner)--is so wrapped up in his work that he has to be shown by the women themselves the inherent unfairness of some of the workplace conditions they had to put up with. Like walking half a mile to the "colored" restrooms. But by stereotyping ALL of the Caucasians in this manner, Hidden Figures paints a skewed portrait of the way it really was in the early sixties, when a growing consciousness and the movement for civil rights was beginning to form. I was around then (as a young'un) and can attest that while not all of us were Bernie Sanders, not all of us were George Wallace either. So a few demerits for some blatant stereotyping.

As for the acting, Taraji P. Henson deserves an Oscar nomination for "Running In High Heels," as she dashes back and forth to the restroom on her breaks!

Grade:  B


JILL'S TAKE

Having seen the trailer for Hidden Figures at least a dozen times before actually viewing the film, I had some preconceived notions about what I'd be going to see. Ho hum, just another women's rights flick with black chicks. Boy, was I wrong! Not about the content but about how I would be drawn in emotionally. Racism is always 'box office gold' in film-making parlance. And Hidden Figures is no exception. What makes it unique is the woman's angle. And being about NASA doesn't hurt, either.

The performances were all top notch. But as I am a devoted Oscar follower, I must say that Octavia Spencer's "Best Supporting Actress" nomination is a bit puzzling. Yes, she was good as the never-getting-promoted victim of racial prejudice. But compared to the other two African American ladies who are nominated? Gimme a break. (I'm referring to Viola Davis in Fences and Naomie Harris in Moonlight.) I guess last year's all white brouhaha is to blame... Still, Hidden Figures is a must-see movie and definitely deserves its Best Film nomination.

I find very little to criticize. And at the end of two hours and seven minutes, I still wanted more. I especially loved how they showed the real women at the end of the film -- at different ages and stages of their lives. Very uplifting, indeed.


Grade: B+


Sunday, January 15, 2017

MOONLIGHT (2016)



Rated: R

STARS: Trevante Rhodes, Naomi Harris, Mahershala Ali, Andre Holland
DIRECTOR: Barry Jenkins
GENRE: Drama

Chiron is a skinny kid. A real quiet kid. He gets bullied at school. His mom is a crack whore, so no father figure. On top of that, Chiron has questions about his sexual identity. One day a man in his Miami neighborhood finds Chiron hiding out from some kids who are taunting him. The man is a good man. He has fatherly instincts. He becomes something of a surrogate dad to the boy. Oh yeah, the man is a dope dealer. Nobody's perfect, and ya gotta do what ya gotta do to get along in this world, eh? But it's the same shit he dispenses on the corner without a prescription that feed's Chiron's mother's habit. Life can be so ironic. And there you have Moonlight.

It's a coming of age story. It's a coming out story. Two for the price of one. Though it moves along sort of aimlessly. Like Chiron. Like his mom. Like the man who has taken Chiron under his wing. But there are 
plenty of hard hitting dramatic moments to keep you focused on what eventually develops into a poignant tale about a lost soul making his way through this world. And a love story of sorts. But the full brunt of that won't grab you until the heart-wrenching ending.  

Moonlight is told in three parts--following  the protagonist, Chiron, from young boy, to teenager, to young man. Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes do the honors respectively. As one might expect, it is Rhodes' portrayal of the physically beefed up, yet emotionally vulnerable man Chiron has become that provides the most depth of character in what is a highly character driven film. Rhodes should receive an Oscar nod for supporting actor...if there's any justice in this world that is...but then the film reminds us that, of course, there isn't.  Naomi Harris also shines as Chiron's ever-desperate-for-her-next-fix mother.   


The creative camera work--there are more intimate close-ups than you'll find in a spaghetti western--will tell you you're in for something different with Moonlight from the get-go. You know that spinning 360 merry-go-round shot that is normally reserved for two lovers getting all goo goo eyed with one another? Director Barry Jenkins gives us that with two crack dealers just hanging out on the corner--for what reason I'm not sure, but I liked it. And the soundtrack. From languid hip-hop beat...to lush orchestral arrangement...to golden oldie love ballad. It surprises and delights at every turn.  


Grade:  B + 

JILL'S TAKE

After every movie Tim and I see, I ask him when I can start nagging him about sending me his review. It usually takes him a couple of days to put his thoughts in order. Most of the time, my opinions are instantaneous. "It's great!" "It sucks!" "I liked this part but I hated the ending." In the case of Moonlight, I'm actually glad Tim took his time. It gave me a chance to change my mind. (Sort of like when you first meet someone you think is terrific but, in retrospect, turns you off.)

Moonlight is definitely a "politically correct" film and will, in my opinion, receive kudos (and probably Oscar votes) from both the African American and LGBT communities. But for me, it was too fragmented. And when you have a main character who is painfully mute—justifiably so—it's difficult to wait...and wait...and wait for him to speak. I also found the transition from young black boy, to gawky teenager, to muscle-bound adult hard to follow. And to make it even more confusing, the main character used different names during these transitions.

Be that as it may, there were parts of this movie that had me totally involved. Emotional moments with his junkie mom begging him to love her; scary moments when the school bully taunted and tormented Chiron; touching moments when, as a vulnerable teenager, he questioned his sexuality. But overall, it had too many plotlines and too little focus.


Grade: C

Saturday, January 7, 2017

LION (2016)



Rated: PG-13

STARS: Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, Abhi Shek Bharate
DIRECTOR: Garth Davis
GENRE: Drama

The longing for "home"--wherever and whatever that might be--is universal, as we learned in E.T. the Extraterrestrial. Adapted from the memoir The Longing For Home by Saroo Brierley, Lion chronicles the amazing story of a young boy separated from his family at the age of five, who follows a harrowing, circuitous route to find the place of his origin once again.

The young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) lives with his mother and older brother, Guddu (Abhi Shek Bharate), who eke out a hardscrabble existence in rural India. One day, while hopping trains with Guddu, Saroo becomes separated from his brother and mistakenly ends up on a train that carries him a thousand miles in the wrong direction. He disembarks in Calcutta, where he joins other children who sleep on the streets. He ends up in an orphanage, and is later adopted by a white Australian couple. Now he's a very long way from home. But his new mom, Sue (Nicole Kidman), and her husband love him dearly, and he grows to care for his adoptive parents as well.


Lion is a film in two distinctive parts. The first section is the tense and action filled story of the young Saroo. The second is a more cerebral tale of Saroo as a young man (Dev Patel) who is haunted by the memory of his family of origin--sensing that they have been searching for him all these years.


Saroo begins a laborious internet search, exacerbated by the fact he doesn't remember the proper spelling of his village, or have any idea where it is located. At first, he doesn't want to reveal to his adoptive parents what he's up to, not wishing to hurt them. But it eventually comes out. It has to.


Dev Patel, who has matured greatly as a serious actor, gives a first-rate performance. And Oscar winner Nicole Kidman--in my opinion there is no finer actress on the silver screen today--delivers a multi-layered, emotionally searing turn (in limited screen time) as a mother who only wants her son to be happy. The lovely Rooney Mara--also with a host of nominations and awards to her credit--has a similarly small part as Saroo's Australian girlfriend, Lucy, who rides that emotional roller coaster along with Sue when she learns of Saroo's intentions to make the trans-continental journey to connect with his roots. I always admire big stars who sign on for relatively small roles in certain films because it tells me their egos are firmly under control!


With gorgeous cinematography from Grieg Fraser, Lion is part adventure tale and travelogue (capturing the teeming beauty of India), and part love story in the many manifestations of the word that exist. A film that is surprising in its depth. And the ending will knock you out.


Suffice it to say that if you don't carry a box of tissues into the theater with you, you'll be sorry.


Grade:   A


JILL'S TAKE

Make that two boxes of tissues! (I was bawling at the end, unable to be objective about anything.) Despite its misleading title, Lion is a cinematic gem. There's nary a lion on-screen unless you count the courageous five-year-old Saroo, who survives in a city where he doesn't even speak the language. The child actor who plays him (Sunny Pawar) is unabashedly beautiful. Hell, I'd adopt him and I don't even like kids!

It's always difficult when a film has two definite storylines but, in this case, director Garth Davis did a masterful job holding my interest in both. He has very few movie credits, as he is better known as an internationally successful commercials director. But after Lion, I'll bet a lot of rupees his directorial skills will be in serious demand. The screenplay was created by the original author Saroo Brierly and Luke Davies. After seeing the film, I'd like to read the book. I'm sure his love story was explored in  more detail. For me, in the film version, it felt tacked on. I resented Lucy's neediness (i.e. love for Saroo), as I was way too caught up in his homeward journey to care about it. I also got impatient with his Google-searching. Yes, it was necessary. But how visually interesting is seeing fingers typing on a keyboard?

Still, this film is absolutely worth seeing. Aside from the emotional impact Lion has on its audiences, the scenery (from aerial shots of a desolate countryside, to the stampeding masses of human bodies in Calcutta) will take you out of your own story and into his.


Grade:  A