Monday, August 17, 2020



Rated: R

STARS: Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, etc. etc.

DIRECTOR: Asghar Farhadi

GENRE: Art House/International Drama

Everybody Knows, from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Salesman) is an impressive take on family dynamics, Spanish style, but with a boatload of characters, it can be a bit challenging. 

I know that Jill, my dastardly partner in crime here, doesn't like to have to follow too many characters, and I'm the same way. Give me three or four principal players and a fairly straightforward plot--a small subplot is fine--and surprise twists are welcome. Beyond that, what's left of my addled brain might short-circuit.

Everybody Knows does give you a big plot twist in the middle, and it drives the story forward from that point.

Laura (Penelope Cruz) has traveled from Argentina to Spain with two kids in tow to attend her younger sister's wedding. All those bodies come in handy for the celebration scene--singing and dancing and boozing with a sense of abandon in a manner that seems to be endemic to certain cultures, and which I greatly admire. 

Later, when Laura's teenage daughter, Irene, is abducted in the middle of the night, the actors get to shine and demonstrate their full range of emotive talents. 

Paco (Javier Bardem) runs a nearby wine producing estate, and though they are married to other people, Paco and Laura have a long-standing history as lovers. 

Messages from the kidnappers point to the possibility of the abduction being an inside job, as family members grow suspicious of one another, and long buried secrets are revealed. 

What will keep you glued to Everybody Knows is that once you've started along the path of the mystery, you just have to follow along to see where it leads. 

On Netflix.



Yep. There sure were a lot of characters in this film. But I give the director kudos for making those family scenes seem incredibly authentic. I felt like I was family too. But it was really hard for me to keep track of who was who and what was going on. In fact, I must confess that in the end, I still didn't know who dunnit.

That said, when Javier Bardem is onscreen, I could watch him sleep and be impressed. He has a certain presence, a charisma that can't be denied. Whether playing a primo villain (No Country For Old Men) or a paralyzed poet (The Sea Inside), he is a spectacular actor.

And his real life wife, Penelope Cruz, ain't bad, either.

But the actor in Everybody Knows that I thought deserved special mention is an Argentinian named Ricardo Darin (no relation to Bobby). The balance he struck between self-loathing and dignity, as Laura's loser husband, was outstanding. And I loved his snowy eyebrows!

Still, I'm not comfortable watching movies in my living room. It doesn't seem right somehow. But it seems even less right to be venturing out to an AMC theater--August 31st is when they're scheduled to re-open-- wearing a mask during the movie. I guess I'll just have to get a bigger TV. 

Because the end left me confused, unsatisfied and feeling terribly stupid, I'll have to give Everybody Knows a qualified thumbs down.

Grade: C




Sunday, July 19, 2020


Rated:  NR

STARS: Camila Mendes, Jessie T. Usher, Sasha Alexander, Elliott Gould
DIRECTOR: Michael Scott
GENRE: Drama, Suspense-Thriller 

It's really hard to gauge how good a film is going to be from watching the trailer. A trailer is like a highlight reel of all the good plays your favorite NFL team made during the game, and none of the bad ones. It looks so slick. But they still lost the game.

That brings us to the recent Netflix original offering--Dangerous Lies. Briefly,  we have a young interracial couple, Katie and Adam ( Camila Mendes, Jessie T. Usher) who struggle to make ends meet. Katie falls into a job as caretaker for a rich old guy, Leonard Wellsley (Elliott Gould), who is very appreciative of her. Then he kicks the bucket. Before doing so, he wrote Katie what looks like a check for an erroneous amount--7 thousand bucks--way more than what she would normally make. Katie says to Adam they need to return the money. They consider this for about 15 seconds, and then fall easily into a rationalization as to why they should keep it. And that's what the movie is about. Shallow couple keep doing greedy stuff that gets them in deeper and deeper. 

A will is found that states Leonard left everything he had to Katie. Now they are really in the chips! They move into his house. There Adam discovers nearly 100 thousand dollars tucked away in a chest. They consider whether they can rightfully keep the money--for about 10 seconds-and then they pack it all into a safety deposit box at the bank.

Detective Chester (Sasha Alexander), is investigating Leonard's death, posing questions to which the young couple must provide some plausible answers. The couple is being watched by a snaky real estate guy (Cam Gigandet), and there are other players--as will be revealed--who have ulterior motives. Twists and turns. Lots of suspenseful music playing. A fireworks fury of events, each more unbelievable than what's gone before--and at the end you'll shake your head and say, REALLY??? 

Dangerous Lies suffers from lifeless performances from its callow lead actors--and Elliott Gould, at 83, was apparently coaxed from an extended stay on the toilet to come in and give us his jowly cameo just to keep his hand in the game.

Ah well, it's early yet  Let's look around and see what else is on.

Grade: D


Well whadduya know.... Tim finally picked a turkey! In his view, not mine. I actually found Dangerous Lies entertaining in a TV-ish kind of way. And there were quite a few moments that made me yelp out loud. (Scaring both me and my cat.) Yes, the plot was obvious. And yes, every implausible decision the struggling interracial couple made was scripted to create more chaos. But I found the film quite watchable.

I have to give the art director (or whoever was responsible for finding and furnishing Leonard Wellsley's creepy home) a thumbs up. What a perfect setting for an old man who's never been married and has zero friends. I loved how he'd go up in the attic to listen to a record (played on a very old phonograph) that his parents used to love. How sweet. How sentimental. How spooky!

Of course, Tarana Burke, mother of the #Me Too movement, would have been tearing her hair out over our heroine continually acquiescing to her husband's wishes. (The point was made, over and over, that their sexual chemistry overrode any survival instincts.)

Mind you, I wouldn't have been so generous with my praise if I'd paid big bucks to see Dangerous Lies in a movie theater. I probably would've ripped it to shreds. But sadly movies-on-TV is all we get to watch these days. And thankfully there are some really good possibilities arriving on Netflix in the next few months.

Grade: C+

Monday, July 13, 2020


Rated:  NR

STARS: Jorge Garcia, Millary Lobos, Gaston Pauls,
Alejandro Goic, Luis Gnecco 
DIRECTOR: Gaspar Antillo
GENRE: Art House

Thirty years after Milli Vanilli hoaxed the music world when it was discovered the popular duo were not the ones singing on their records, we have Nobody Knows I'm Here, Chilean Gaspar Antillo's debut directorial effort in a Netflix original film about a similar bait and switch that did great damage to two young lives.

Memo (Jorge Garcia) lives on his uncle's remote Chilean sheep farm, hiding from the past and fantasizing about what might have been. As a child, he possessed a wonderful singing voice, but he was a tubby kid--not "star" material appearance wise, so his father (Alejandro Goic) strikes a deal with a shady music producer to have another child performer, Angelo (Gaston Pauls), become the embodiment of Memo's voice and go on to become a music star. Lip-synching all the way to the bank as it were.

A seething Memo attacks Angelo for his deception and puts him in a wheelchair for life. Twenty-five years later, a reunion is planned for the two of them to appear on a TV show to ostensibly bury the hatchet. What happens on that show will be explosive!

Up until that point, we see Memo as an introverted man-child, who initially hides when a young local woman, Marta (Millary Lobos), shows up at the farm. But Marta takes a shine to him, and slowly begins to draw him out. Marta, and a viral video, will change everything.

Watching a Chilean art-house film, I really didn't know what to expect. This is my first one! But I liked the way the plot elements were revealed in their own good time, maintaining an air of mystery throughout the film. And Memo, dealing with his conflicting urges to isolate and to nurture the performer that still lives inside, is a multi-faceted character, done justice by the lead actor. He twirls and dances around in his homemade costumes when no one is looking. For a  big fella, he's pretty light on his feet. 

The title song is catchy and may stick in your mind for some time. And Jorge Garcia really can sing!

My only disappointment in Nobody Knows I'm Here is the abrupt ending. I would have liked more of a denouement.

Grade: B+


You beat me to it, Tim. I was all set to expound on Fab Movan and Robert Pilatus' pop music debacle (i.e. Milli Vanilli) when you stole my thunder. (Pilatus later committed suicide.) Thankfully the main character in Nobody Knows I'm Here doesn't suffer the same fate. 

I really enjoyed this unique film. So original. The first-time director Gaspar Antillo uses silence and visual contrasts masterfully. One moment we see Memo's pudgy fingers sewing sequins on a cape. Then we cut to his hamhock hands covered in blood from skinning sheep. For some, the pace may be too slow. For me, I was glued to the TV wondering what would happen next? 

When I was forewarned that it was a foreign film, I dreaded the thought of subtitles because my TV screen isn't that big. Thankfully it was in English. Dubbed, no doubt. But you couldn't tell. Which brings me to my one nitpicking comment. The song (from which the title of the movie is taken) is in English. Definitely not dubbed. So how come a hit song in Chile is in English? (I told you it was nitpicky!)

Other than that, Nobody Knows I'm Here is a winner. And the actress, Millary Lobos, who plays Memo's girlfriend-in-the-making does a beautiful job of loving him for his talent and uniqueness. The fact that she herself is no raving beauty makes it all the more believable.

Clearly this tale couldn't have been made if they had The Voice in Chile. (It's a reality show where the judges can't see the singers before choosing them!) 

Grade: A -

Monday, July 6, 2020


Rated:  R

STARS: Tye Sheridan, Ana De Armas, Helen Hunt, John Leguizamo
DIRECTOR: Michael Cristofer
GENRE: Mystery/Suspense

With Helen Hunt, Tye Sheridan, Ana De Armas, and John Leguizamo, The Night Clerk doesn't lack for star power. What it does lack is that edge-of-your-seat tension and buildup to an explosive climax. The film, which has now made its way to Netflix, creeps along at an escargot pace, getting creepier by the minute. You might be okay with that, because The Night Clerk is a character study of a most fascinating dude. And the plot challenges you to stay on your toes and be your own amateur sleuth. At just 90 minutes running length, this is one you might easily watch a second time, in case you're sketchy about some things after the first go round.

Bart Bromley (Tye Sheridan) works the overnight shift as a hotel desk clerk. He's a young guy, socially awkward. More than most. He has Asperger's Syndrome. He's set up cameras in some of the rooms so he can observe the guests. He's not after sexual gratification. He likes to study people.Their speech patterns and mannerisms. So that he might develop, he thinks, a more "normal" public persona.

A woman named Karen (Jacque Gray) checks into the hotel. She lets a man into her room. They have an altercation that turns violent and Karen ends up dead. Bart has recorded the whole thing. When questioned by the police, his quirky behavior arouses the suspicions of detective Espada (John Leguizamo). 

Bart gets transferred to one of the hotel chain's other properties. An intriguing young woman named Andrea (Ana De Armas) checks in, Bart has his spy equipment observing her in her room. Andrea is drawn to Bart because she had a brother with Asperger's. Eventually they get around to spending the night together in a nonsexual, cuddly kind of way. Bart is falling hard for her. Andrea lets it slip that she is seeing a married man.

In a deja vu kind of moment, Bart observes a man with Andrea in her room. The man's behavior turns abusive. At this point, we've got to be thinking there's more here than meets the eye. Oh, how brilliant you are! Andrea's admission about the married man should point you (if you've been using your noodle) to a possible connection between herself and Karen's killer. 

I bought into Tye Sheridan's portrayal of Bart. He makes him quirky, but doesn't overdo it. Bart's an intelligent guy, and there's a balance that needed to be struck in order to bring that out within the framework of his social awkwardness.  

Ana De Armas, as Andrea, had a meaty part in the previously reviewed Knives Out. She's getting a lot of work and is becoming a fast rising star.

Helen Hunt, as Bart's overprotective mother, has a couple of emotive scenes, but it seems they could have plugged anybody into this non essential role. But then they wouldn't have had Helen Hunt to put up on the marquee.

John Leguizamo, as the detective, gives an understated performance, in line with the mood of this understated film.

The ending of The Night Clerk may have  you saying: WHA???  But then I do that every morning when I open my eyes to this creepy and strange world we live in.

Grade: B -


Finally, a Netflix offering I didn't hate. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. Unlike Tim, I felt the pace worked and I couldn't tear myself away from this offbeat film. (Not even for a bathroom break.)

At 23 years of age with a mere duo of film credits, Tye Sheridan played the main character in The Night Clerk with a clarity and consistency that is indeed impressive. However, I did find it slightly questionable that someone with Asperger's Syndrome, who flinched when a barber accidentally touched his skin, would permit the lip-lovely Ana De Armas to caress and kiss him.

It reminded me of that movie As Good As It Gets (that won Helen Hunt an Oscar in 1998) when Jack Nicholson's character was "cured" of his OCD because of love. ("You make me want to be a better man.") Hokey, yes. But then movie goers are natural born romantics, aren't they.... I guess the blame for that psychological disparity would have to be placed on Pulitzer prize-winner (The Shadow Box) screenwriter and director Michael Christofer.

I've had such a mad-on about watching movies on Netflix rather than in movie theaters that I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever be able to appreciate any film I watched on TV – which, in the past, has been reserved for Netflix "series." Thankfully, with the advent of The Night Clerk I was able to!

Grade: B +



Thursday, July 2, 2020


Rated: PG-13

STARS: Christopher Plummer,  Daniel Craig, Ana De Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette
DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson
GENRE: Mystery and Suspense

This would be a spoiler for most mystery movies--that the butler didn't do it--except for the fact there's no butler among the cast of Knives Out--an old-fashioned whodunit with a shopworn plot in the tradition of Agatha Christie, brought up to date by characters who are glancing at their cell phones a lot.  

The family patriarch, wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), has just bitten the big one under suspicious circumstances. Which introduces us to a host of greedy family members--as we are shown--each of whom has a potential motive for wanting to hasten the old man's demise. Their surfaces are barely scratched, save for Marta Cabrera (Ana De Armas), Harlan's young personal nurse, who believes she may be inadvertently responsible for his death due to a mixup with his medications.Throughout the bulk of the film we are being steered to buy into this version of events, but the surprise twist at the end is a staple of the genre, and Knives Out dutifully sticks to the blueprint.

The large ensemble cast features Daniel Craig as the  quirky southern-fried detective Benoit Blanc, in the mold of Columbo in that he has a sixth sense and just  knows things--piecing the puzzle together ahead of everyone else, and then obligingly laying it all out at the end for the benefit of those of us who are easily lost.  

Ana De Armas, as Marta--the only halfway developed character--brings a range of emotions as she goes to great, and sometimes comic lengths to try to conceal her involvement. Oh, and she has a rather gross and disgusting personal habit, which adds to the splattering merriment of things!

Jamie Lee Curtis, as daughter Linda, the lady who doth protest too much, is annoyingly shrill in her emotive outbursts.

But it's Christopher Plummer who, despite his age (he's pushing ninety), outshines them all and adds to his legacy as one of the world's greatest thespians.

There's lots of witty and  gritty repartee, as self-centered a-holes come up with creative ways to ramp up the snark, making Knives Out a pleasant and grin-inducing diversion on a summer's day in a world where all predictability is off the board.

Catch it on Netflix.

Grade:  B 


Never having been a fan of the classic dice and card board game Clue, or a devotee of Murder, She Wrote, Knives Out left me falling asleep on the couch. Z-z-z-z. A snooze of a film, the big names in the cast should have warned me ahead of time. I'm always suspect of too many luminaries in the same movie. For me, that translates into a plotless, character un-driven piece of fluff that's hoping star power will save it.

You either enjoy this genre for what it is (fluff-and-murder, murder-and-fluff) or it pisses you off. I fall into the latter category. So many good actors, so little chance to show off their talent. I'm a huge Toni Collette fan (United States Of Tara, Little Miss Sunshine, Unbelievable, etc.) but  watching her in this one-note role was actually painful. And Daniel Craig's terrible southern accent? Gimme a break!

If I have to give kudos to anyone, it's to the Set Decoration guy David Schlesinger. It was delightfully authentic! But the idea that writer/director Rian Johnson was nominated in 2020 for a Best Original Screenplay award is....mysterious, to say the least.

My advice? Don't waste your time. There are so many good series on Netflix and Amazon Prime that are really worth watching.

Grade: D

Sunday, June 14, 2020

DA 5 BLOODS (2020)

Rated: R

STARS: Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock JR., Jonathan Majors, Chadwick Boseman
GENRE: Action/Adventure

Da 5 Bloods--Spike Lee's latest--is a topical film that pulls into the station right on time to take its place in the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement.

The "bloods" are a group of African-American veterans (Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Jonathan Majors, and Chadwick Boseman--their fallen squad leader shown through flashbacks) returning to modern day Vietnam to search for the remains of their comrade and a big stash of gold they buried, with the intent of someday returning to claim it.

But despite the normalization of relations between the two countries, not all is rosy, as long held resentments and anti-American sentiment among some of the local populace begin to stir at the sight of the former G.I.s. Nonetheless, they head off into the jungle, as misguided as they were all those years ago as pawns in the tragic and costly geopolitical game their country was asking them to play.

They'll be shadowed by some locals with bad intent, and all we have to do is sit back and wait for all hell to break loose. Which it does, because Spike Lee is trying to straddle the line between giving us a poignant and meaningful reassessment of the war from a black perspective, snatching the narrative  from all those white filmmakers who came before, and a traditional action/adventure film with all the inherent Sam Peckinpah style shoot 'em up and gratuitous violence that goes with that territory. I wish he would have chosen one or the other, because what we end up with is an overly long, uneven film that suffers under the weight of trying to be too many things to too many people. 

Still, Da 5 Bloods is a movie worth seeing--part of the modern day mosaic of a rapidly changing world that doesn't know exactly where it's going, but hopes to count on some lessons learned from the past to get there, hopefully, in one piece.   

Now playing on Netflix.

Grade: B-


If the Oscars take place in 2021, I know who's gonna win one: Delroy Lindo. His portrayal of Paul, the classic victim of PTSD and the ravages of war, was beyond brilliant. Lindo is a veteran actor you've seen in dozens of roles (The Good Fight, Ransom, Law & Order, etc.) who will finally earn the accolades he so richly deserves.

And while I'm on the subject of actors in this superb film, I want to mention another one: Jean Reno. At first, I didn't recognize him. But once I heard that French accent, I remembered his unforgettable performance as an assassin in Leon: The Professional, charmed and even bossed around by a young Natalie Portman. In Da 5 Bloods, he plays another 'professional.' Only this time it's smuggling rather than killing.

Where to begin? First of all, for a two and a half hour movie, Spike Lee's tour de force didn't feel the least bit long to me. And unlike most films with lots of mini-plots, I was equally engrossed in all of them. Yes, there was plenty of gore and war. But the way the director wove shock value into the story didn't feel the least bit gratuitous. And another cinematic stroke of genius that Lee employed, one that could only work on TV, was using the small screen in flashbacks and the big screen in the present. (Kind of like memories versus reality.)

Usually, by my third paragraph, I find something to criticize. Maybe I'm just so starved for seeing a new film that my gratitude outweighs my critical faculties but I can find nothing to nit-pick in Da 5 BloodsEven Lee's use of the word 'Da' is wonderfully original.

Sadly, the release of this film is incredibly well-timed. But even if it weren't, and even if COVID-19 didn't make movie-going impossible, I would urge everyone to watch this quintessential war movie.

Grade: A-


Monday, April 20, 2020

SERGIO (2020)

Rated: R

STARS: Wagner Moura, Ana de Armas, Bradley Whitford
DIRECTOR: Greg Barker
GENRE: Biopic

Sergio, just released on Netflix, is a biopic based on the true story of Sergio Vierra de Mello, a Brazilian diplomat for the United Nations whose long career was a series of personal and political ups and downs.

If the narrative in the film is to be believed, de Mello was an effective negotiator--a charmer who spoke straight and tough to power, but had a truly "diplomatic"way of facilitating negotiations between opposite sides, such as when he brokered a peace deal between East Timoor and Indonesia.

In 2003, he was appointed as a special U.N. envoy to Iraq, which turned out to be his last hurrah. A suicide truck bomb blast took him out. His story is told in hop, skip, and jump flashbacks, all eventually feeding into that explosive moment.

Wagner Moura, who portrays Sergio, does an admirable job of communicating the man's sensitivity and sympathy for the plight of the everyday people whose lives were impacted by the Iraq war. But his relationship with his family suffered, as evident in the scenes with his two young sons, who basically don't know him.

A love story runs parallel to the political. There is fiery chemistry between Moura and the captivating Ana de Armas, who plays fellow U.N. employee Carolina Larriera. At first she balks about him being married and having a family, but she eventually comes around and passion flares, in similar fashion to the way the film, where the camera lingers too long on some scenes, resulting in its nearly two hour run time,won me over; it's like quicksand in the way it slowly draws you in.

Sergio is told with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, and in that way is not particularly brave or insightful in its conclusions (everyone now agrees that Iraq was a tragic misstep for the U.S.), except as a character study of one man who maintained his integrity in the face of the prevailing mob mentality ("You're either with us or against us") fostered by the Bush administration at the time. An engaging story of triumph and tragedy. 

Grade: B +


Many many years ago, when I was a teenager, I had two serious crushes on movie stars: James Dean and Montgomery Clift. Both sensitive types who portrayed weak, vulnerable men. They shaped the type of men I've always been attracted to. Or so I thought until my last serious crush on a film star. Wagner Moura was the polar opposite of weak and sensitive as Pablo Escobar in the Netflix series "Narcos." But like Dean and Clift, he sure made my heart beat faster.

So when I saw that he was the lead in the latest movie offering on Netflix, I couldn't wait to watch it. Moura still can turn on the charm (as he did playing Escobar). A good 40 pounds lighter, without a moustache, he still has incredible sex appeal. But sex appeal isn't enough to carry this choppy, deafeningly loud, interminably long film. Trying to follow the two storylines---his career versus his love affair—gave me a headache. Is it a political movie with lots of steamy love scenes? Or an extra marital affair wrapped around a lot of bombings? (I'm getting a headache again just trying to figure it out!) 

I'm not big on history, ancient or recent. Maybe if I was, I would've enjoyed Sergio more. I'm really getting discouraged with the idea (I thought was brilliant at the time!) of reviewing Netflix films. Obviously, The Irishman and Marriage Story were flukes. All Netflix seems to be offering in the way of new movies these days is.....crap. Sorry, Tim. Let's wait until real movies start happening again....

Grade: C