MOONLIGHT *Movie Review*


MOONLIGHT is a coming of age story that follows Chiron during three stages of life as he learns who about himself while he struggles with sexual identity.  During each stage, he is called by a different name, either Little, Chiron or Black.  MOONLIGHT was written and directed by Barry Jenkins.  It stars Mahershala Ali (HIDDEN FIGURES), Janelle Monae (HIDDEN FIGURES), Naomie Harris (SKYFALL), Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes.  Brad Pitt produced.

This is a really beautiful movie that’s more quiet and methodical than anything else.  Each scene feels unhurried, as though the audience is really experiencing a piece of life.  By leaping ahead and showing Chiron over three different stages of life, there’s a strong sense that life goes on and we as an audience are only privy to certain parts of it.  

While I was willing to accept the narrative gaps, at the same time I wanted more, particularly from Juan (Mahershala Ali) and Teresa (Janelle Monae).  Chiron’s story and life were interesting, but so were they. 

For more about MOONLIGHT, including how the color blue is used as a theme throughout, take a look below:

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FENCES *Movie Review*


FENCES is set in the 1950s and is about a family torn apart by its patriarch Troy (Denzel Washington).  Troy is so caught up in his own suffering at the hands of society and his life circumstance that he cannot allow himself any happiness.  Though trying to escape his father, Troy becomes him.  Viola Davis plays Troy’s wife, Rose.  Both Washington and Davis won Tonys for their work in the 2010 Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play upon which this is based.

For more about the themes in FENCES, including what fences mean to the movie and how food plays a role, take a look below:

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"Sand Storm," Israel's submission to the Oscars, is about a Bedouin community.

Middle Eastern filmmakers don’t filter through lens of Arab-Israel conflict this year


To headline readers and TV news watchers, the Middle East is a region constantly roiled by conflicts, with nonstop fighting between nations and among their militant factions.

But if the movies, particularly those submitted by 85 countries for Oscar recognition, are an indication of popular tastes and concerns, then the Israel-Arab standoff and other hot and cold wars are all but ignored by the region’s filmmakers.

Checking out this year’s Academy Award entries from Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, all but one forgo nationalistic bravado or hostile propaganda in favor of themes familiar to most Hollywood fans.

Israeli filmmakers have rarely struck any military poses in the past but have frequently come up with highly critical portraits of their own society. By contrast, this year’s entry “Sand Storm,” is a sympathetic and sharply observed picture of a Bedouin community in the Negev in the midst of generational changes. All the picture’s dialogue is in in Arabic.

Lebanon’s entry, “Very Big Shot,” takes a satirical look at the country’s politics and endless infighting. The comedy is about a small-time Beirut drug dealer who tries to pull off one big coup by posing as an important film producer.

The Palestinian entry, “The Idol,” is a variant on the venerable Hollywood storyline of “A Star Is Born,” but with a local twist. Director Hany Abu-Assad based the picture on the true story of Mohammed Assaf, raised in Gaza, who fulfills his burning ambition to travel to Cairo and compete in the top-rated TV show “Arab Idol.” He wins, becomes a singing sensation and a symbol of hope for his fellow Palestinians.

Abu-Assad’s earlier movie, “Paradise Now,” triggered a heated debate in 2005 about whether the originating entity should be listed as Palestinian Authority, Palestinian Territories or Palestine. Since then, all sides seem to have tired of the controversy and “The Idol” is credited simply to “Palestine.”

One rarely thinks of Saudi Arabia in terms of romantic comedy, but “Barakah Meets Barakah” sets a precedent. In a kingdom where unchaperoned contact between the genders is prohibited, the attempt by a young civil servant to meet up with a girl takes on a Chaplinesque flavor. However, as in the case of Israel’s “Sand Storm,” on a deeper level, the Saudi picture explores the clash between traditional values and the modern world.

The grimmest entry is Egypt’s “Clash,” centering on the 2013 Cairo riots, triggered by confrontations between the military government and followers of the Muslim Brotherhood. The action is seen mainly from the perspective of various Cairo residents, crammed inside a police paddy wagon.

Among all of Israel’s neighbors, only Jordan’s “3000 Nights” has a pronounced anti-Israel slant in the story of an arrested Palestinian woman having her baby in an Israeli prison.

One caveat in viewing these movies is that an American outsider might overlook some of the clues to more fervent nationalistic emotions boiling beneath the innocent-sounding themes. This holds particularly true for “The Idol” and director Abu-Assad, who earned Oscar nominations with two of his previous films, “Paradise Now” and “Omar,” both focusing directly on Israeli-Palestinian confrontations.

In a phone interview, Abu-Assad observed, “To the Palestinians, particularly those living in Gaza, the victory of one of their own in the ‘Arab Idol’ show became a symbol of hope and pride.

“For 60 to 70 years, their lives have been characterized by defeats. Suddenly they had a voice to sing and speak for them.”

The directors and casts of these six films from the Middle East have at least one emotion in common: their disappointment in being eliminated from the Oscar race by the selection committee.

The ultimate winners will be crowned at the Feb. 26 ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

 

SPLIT *Movie Review*


SPLIT stars James McAvoy as Kevin who has dissociative identity disorder, better known as multiple personality syndrome.  One of his personalities kidnaps three young women, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula, and takes them to his home.  The three try to figure out where they are and make an escape.  Kevin’s therapist Dr Fletcher, played by Betty Buckley, can tell something is going on with him and tries to piece together the mystery as well.  SPLIT was written and directed by M Night Shyamalan who is known for his twist endings.  It was produced by Jason Blum who is behind the production company Blumhouse and movies such as WHIPLASH.

James McAvoy is fantastic creating what seem to be fully realized characters for each of the personalities.  It’s obvious he has shifted characters before he even opens his mouth.

Pay attention one of the early lines in the movie that’s said by Haley Lu Richardson, who plays Claire.  She declares “I’m not a monster” as a set up to everything that comes next.

For more details about themes in SPLIT, along with some product placement notes and eagle eye details to watch for with M Night Shyamalan’s style of filmmaking, take a look below:

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TOP 8 MOVIES OF 2016


Take a look below for my Top 8 Movies of 2016 along with 4 Honorable Mentions.  When you’re through watching, let me know what your favorites were!

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JACKIE *Movie Review*


In JACKIE, Natalie Portman’s Jackie Kennedy consciously controls history’s memory of JFK’s assassination and presidency through her calculated interview with a reporter played by Billy Crudup.  The movie also stars Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig and John Hurt.

There’s a line in JACKIE that stuck with me.  It’s when Jackie says “for royalty you need tradition and for tradition you need time”.  It perfectly encapsulated the movie and Jackie Kennedy’s ultimate goals for her family.  In the midst of the horror of JFK’s assassination and Jackie Kennedy’s own combination of sadness and guilt, she wants her husband—and by extension herself—not to fade into oblivion.

The movie balances showing both sides of the formidable Jackie Kennedy, who is seemingly in control, with the inner turmoil she faces as she struggles to keep herself afloat.  The cinematography reflects that struggle through the use of a shaky, hand-held camera during specific scenes.  It also felt like Jackie was an outside observer of her own life; she was present physically but still apart.

The use of light also reflects Jackie’s inner turmoil.  When she greets the unnamed reporter at her home, she opens her door and sees bright light.  In fact, the light is so blown out that it offers a sense of heightened realism, as though Jackie’s looking into the light but cannot get there yet herself.  I also interpret it as an unforgiving light, representing how she feels about herself at the time.  These interpretations are reinforced during the movie multiple times.  For instance, during a flashback when someone tells Jackie that she has her whole life still ahead, she remarks that it’s a cruel comment.  As bright as her life might seem having been First Lady or looking back knowing about her subsequent marriage to Aristotle Onassis, at this point she is a young mother who has lost two children, she’s lost a husband, she has no home of her own and fears she will have to start selling off furniture just to feed her children.  Her desire to build a legacy for JFK is means for securing a future for herself as well, an inclination that is hard for her to even admit.

Jackie’s internal struggles are also literally reflected back to her during specific scenes with mirrors, which represent multiple facets of a person and personality in traditional film analysis. For more about these scenes and other themes in JACKIE, take a look below:

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HIDDEN FIGURES *Movie Review*


This week I review HIDDEN FIGURES.  HIDDEN FIGURES is the true story of three African-American women in the 60s who work at NASA and their successful, historic rise through the ranks as they break barriers of race and gender.  Taraji P. Henson (EMPIRE, HUSTLE AND FLOW) plays Katherine Johnson, Octavia Spencer (THE HELP) plays Dorothy Voughn and Janelle Monae plays Mary Jackson.  Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons (THE BIG BANG THEORY), Kirsten Dunst and Mahershala Ali (MOONLIGHT) also star.

One of the difficulties inherent in making a true-story period piece that focuses on a hard time in history is showing the hurdles the real-life counterparts went through without balancing it with the good in life, too. Or, on the flip side, glossing over the difficulties so much that what the women had to overcome starts to seem easy. HIDDEN FIGURES manages to strike the perfect balance.

There are two particular lines in HIDDEN FIGURES that reference space as an analogy rather than a location. At the beginning of the movie in present day 1962, Katherine, Dorothy and Mary are stranded by the side of the road with car trouble on their way to work. There’s a great line “don’t stare into space” which serves a dual purpose of saying to pay attention, but also as a deeper analogy of not aspiring to do or be more than the 60s typically allowed of African-American women. The second line about space comes when Katherine’s three daughters fight over which of them will sleep alone as there are only two beds.

There were also two scenes with people looking up into space. One is at the beginning when the women look up with the police officer who stops to help them. The officer talks about being watched by Russia and they all stare upwards in a moment of contemplation. It not only reflects how space travel will affect them, but how limitless—or limited—they may all feel. Later, Dorothy sees a series of people standing by cars looking into space as they watch for John Glenn. It recalls that earlier scene and how things have changed.

Another direct reference to an earlier scene is when Katherine’s school teacher hands her a piece of chalk to work a mathematical equation on the board. In that shot, the teacher’s hand seems almost larger than life and Katherine’s small size is emphasized. Later, Katherine’s handed another piece of chalk and her hand is equal in size. So, another direct reference to her growth and evolution. HIDDEN FIGURES uses the repetition of these scenes to recall earlier moments and the changes that have taken place over time.

Costume designer Renee Ehrlich Kalfus says Katherine’s costumes mirrored her journey from timid to confident mathematician and if you watch her clothing evolve you’ll see how it allows her to stand out more among the uniformly-attired men.

For more about themes in HIDDEN FIGURES as well as behind-the-scenes info about the design of one of the NASA office buildings, take a look below…

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LIVE BY NIGHT *Movie Review*


LIVE BY NIGHT is Ben Affleck’s latest “all in” as writer, director, producer and star.  It’s the story of Ben Affleck’s Joe, a war veteran, who returns home to Boston where he then switches sides of the law and becomes a criminal.  A series of events lead him to Ybor city in Florida where a partnership with Cuban rum runners help cement his presence as the unofficial mayor of the area until things take a turn for the worse.  The movie also stars Zoe Saldana, Sienna Miller, Elle Fanning, Chris Messina, Chris Sullivan, Chris Cooper, Brenden Gleeson and Anthony Michael Hall.

While this is a little bit GODFATHER and mafia, it’s actually more current political commentary than expected, an unintentional dimension since it was written and shot a year ago.  Racism, interracial romance, the KKK all feature prominently.

One of the big themes in LIVE BY NIGHT is parent/child relationships.  Joe’s relationship with his dad, played by Brendan Gleeson, as well as the father/daughter relationship between Chris Cooper’s Chief and his daughter Loretta, played by Elle Fanning who, for the record, delivered the most stand-out performance of the movie.  She was absolutely fantastic.  These familial relationships are important because they address the question of unconditional love, how you show love, tough love and who deserves love.  I don’t think the parallels between these two relationships are unintentional as evidenced by the fact that it’s Loretta’s words that close the movie.

I saw this at a special screening that included Ben Affleck and key department heads including the production designer, editor and cinematographer.  So, I have some special insight into the movie straight from the people who made it.  For more about what Ben Affleck and his Oscar-winning crew had to say, take a look below:

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LA LA LAND *Movie Review*


LA LA LAND is the story, in musical form, of Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) who wants to own a jazz club.  While there’s a romance between the two, it’s a deeper story about how goals and ambitions change over time and how certain decisions can alter the course of your life.

What’s key in this movie is that while you may have multiple paths in life and the course of things may change, it doesn’t mean the outcome is worse—it’s just different.  There’s a tendency for movies that show two different paths to make one the ideal but LA LA LAND doesn’t make that mistake.  It shows that happiness doesn’t mean forgetting all that has come before and that our history is what makes us who we are today.

LA LA LAND contrasts a vibrant, technicolor color palette with a more muted one to show the evolution of the characters and their story.  At the beginning, the characters all wear bright colors which seem to jump off the screen.  It feels very larger-than-life and passionate, since passion is at the beginning of any relationship.  As Mia and Sebastian’s relationship and lives evolve, the colors shift into browns and more muted tones.  A great example of the shift that you can watch for is the color of Mia’s bag.  At the beginning notice how she carries a bright, reddish-orange bag and then watch for when the color changes into a dark one.  It doesn’t mean the feelings or story is dark, but represents the maturity that comes with life.

Mia herself is the epitome of life, energy and growth.  In her first real interaction with Sebastian she wears a bright yellow dress with flowers on it. Later, after she moves in with Sebastian, there’s a scene with no fewer than four potted flowering plants in his previously empty apartment—and all appear in the same shot with Mia.  If you compare their apartments you see her vibrancy as well.  Her apartment is packed with people, color and things.  His is stark until she moves in and then slowly things start to change.

Damien Chazelle, whose 2014 film WHIPLASH won three Oscars, wrote and directed LA LA LAND.  He says he wanted to do a traditional musical in a contemporary way.  It does feel completely timeless and I found myself wondering about the time period before reminding myself that it was present day.

LA LA LAND pays tribute to an older style of filmmaking in three distinct ways through the cinematography.  First, there are a lot of camera push-ins during which the camera moves closer to the subject, more than we normally see in modern filmmaking.

Second, there are a lot of long shots without camera cuts.  It puts more pressure on the actors because good takes cannot be pieced together.

Finally, the third element of stylized cinematography is the use of frequent Swish pans, which is when the camera movement is so fast that everything becomes a blur.   These aren’t styles that are used a lot today and create a distinctive period feel.

Interested in more analysis about LA LA LAND?  Wondering about the Fellini-esque elements and some of the more obscure locations used in the Los Angeles area?  For more about LA LA LAND, take a look below:

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SOLACE *Movie Review*


SOLACE is the story of FBI Agent Joe Merriwether (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who asks his friend and former colleague John (Anthony Hopkins) for help in solving a series of bizarre murders with the use of his psychic abilities.  They soon realize they’re on the hunt for Charles (Colin Farrell), another psychic, who may have abilities more powerful than John’s own.  The movie also stars Abbie Cornish.

The overarching theme in SOLACE, as evidenced by the title itself, is comfort: who needs it, who gets it and who gives it.  Also, what does it mean to provide comfort to someone and how can that action mean different things?  The point of the movie, though, is for a bit of self reflection since sometimes it’s possible to gain more from the act of comforting than the recipient does.

The cinematography is really interesting in SOLACE as well. Not only are there a lot of unusual shots, but mirrored reflections are frequently used.  In traditional film analysis, when you see a character’s reflection in something it’s supposed to symbolize another side, either a piece of themselves that they might be hiding from the other characters or even from themselves.  Pay attention to the characters who wind up in mirrors or on reflected surfaces the most.

This idea of reflection and having another side is further emphasized in two other ways.  First, watch when Joe wears glasses and when he doesn’t.  Glasses, similar to a reflection, generally show that a character either has something to hide so they are like a disguise—think of Clark Kent and Superman.

For more about glasses and how religion is employed in SOLACE, take a look below:

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LOVING *Movie Review*


LOVING is based on the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, played here by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, whose interracial marriage was illegal in Virginia in 1958 even with a valid marriage license from Washington DC.  Their arrest and subsequent banishment from the state led to the American Civil Liberties Union, or the ACLU, taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court where a unanimous ruling declared Virginia’s law unconstitutional, along with similar ones in 23 other states.  The movie was written and directed by Jeff Nichols and also stars Michael Shannon and Nick Kroll.

I was looking forward to LOVING pretty much because I enjoy love stories and that’s what this boils down to in the end.  In the movie as well as in the true life story of Mildred Loving she said that although the ACLU took on the case, it wasn’t about civil rights as much as being able to return home and love who she wanted to without restriction.

Another true-to-life line is that Mildred says living in DC is like living in a cage.  Perhaps without even meaning to, Mildred realizes that living is DC is no different from being trapped in a jail cell–a cage–because neither one allowed her to make decision for herself.  The movie emphasizes the differences between Virginia and DC through the use of nature.  When the Lovings are in Virginia there are lots of quiet shots of fields, mountains and greenery as compared to DC where, when they arrive, there’s only a small plot of overgrown grass in front of their new home.

The other thing the natural elements in LOVING served to do was show how Mildred and Richard’s life was full and vibrant.  One of the early scenes with the couple is when Richard shows Mildred an acre of land he has purchased where he wants to build a home for them.  Right behind him is a large field with crops, evidence of growth, life and vitality.  The movie even opens with Mildred telling Richard about her pregnancy, in and of itself a statement of life.

There’s a balance between sensationalizing a time period and simply depicting it and LOVING felt like it didn’t do either one accurately, much to its detriment.  Presumably, life wasn’t easy for Richard and Mildred as an interracial couple in a state where their relationship was against the law, yet no one other than the judge who sentences them really seems to care.  I think it’s entirely possible that Jeff Nichols, who wrote and directed the movie, was trying to strike a balance of tension without turning the movie into a sensationalistic experience.  By not showing any sexual scenes of Richard and Mildred’s relationship and no dramatic run-ins the movie became sterile and lacked the dramatic tension that must have been so much a part of the Lovings’ lives.

For more about LOVING, including how the drag racing scenes parallel the action of the story, take a look below:

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MOANA *Movie Review*


In the latest Disney animated film MOANA, the title character voiced by Auli’i Cravalho, is features a young woman who goes on a quest to save her village and finds herself in the process.  In her journey she must seek out the demigod Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, and return the stolen heart of Te Fiti, a mother earth goddess who created all of the islands from her heart.

This is the time of year to start handing out awards and I am ready to give MOANA the best animated feature Oscar.  Disney managed to recapture their magic to create a beautiful story with fantastic characters and gorgeous music.  Of course, the fact that MOANA is a fabulous female role model doesn’t hurt, either.

This is a girl who is strong, brave and smart.  She follows her heart and stands up to her father and everyone else who tells her that the greater world beyond the shoreline is dangerous.  Moana trusts that the ocean has chosen her to save her people and readily takes up the quest.  Pay attention to just how often Moana’s discouraged in her journey.  Her father and Maui in particular, both in song and speech, tell her that the world is scary, that she is only a young girl, and that she needs to stop dreaming.

Pay attention, too, to all of the conch shell symbolism throughout the film.

For more about conch shells and what they mean and other MOANA information, take a look below:

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Calendar


WED  |  NOV 23

“MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG”

Come experience a rarely seen Stephen Sondheim musical, based on a 1934 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. The story focuses on a talented composer of Broadway musicals who turns his back on his songwriting career to become a producer of Hollywood movies. Nov. 23-Dec. 18. Previews $29-$89; then $49-$110. Bram Goldsmith Theater at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 746-4000. FRI  |  NOV 25

“ON THE MAP”

“On the Map,” which tells the story of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team’s 1977 European Cup championship, begins its theatrical run. Israeli Academy Award-winning filmmaker Dani Menkin helms the saga of an against-all-odds quest set against the much broader story of Israel and the Jewish people during the Cold War. The film recounts how the underdog Israeli team beat CSKA Moscow, a team that refused to play in Israel. Just after this historic win, Israeli-American basketball player Tal Brody said, “Israel is on the map, not just in sport, but in everything.” Featuring interviews with NBA legend Bill Walton and former NBA Commissioner David Stern, who both played on the team. Laemmle Royal, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. Visit laemmle.com for show times and more information. (310) 478-0401. SUN  |  DEC 4

GLORIA STEINEM AND JILL SOLOWAY

Join an intimate conversation between Gloria Steinem and Jill Soloway, two extraordinary women who have devoted themselves to changing despair into hope. Steinem — a writer, lecturer, political activist and feminist organizer — includes among her areas of interest the origins of sex and race caste systems, nonviolent conflict resolution, gender roles and child abuse as roots of violence. Soloway is the creator of the Golden Globe- and Emmy-winning show “Transparent.” She also co-founded the community organization East Side Jews and is the author of the memoir “Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants.” Presented by CAP UCLA. 7 p.m. Tickets start at $29; $15 for UCLA students; $25 for UCLA faculty and staff. Royce Hall, UCLA, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. MON  |  DEC 5

L.A. JEWISH SYMPHONY EDUCATION OUTREACH CONCERT

The Los Angeles Jewish Symphony Education Outreach Program presents “A Patchwork of Cultures: Exploring the Sephardic-Latino Connection,” a free cultural program geared toward helping third-, fourth- and fifth-graders discover the music and cultures of our Spanish ancestors. There will be an “Instrument Petting Zoo,” where children can explore the instruments that make up an orchestra. The concert will feature Cantor Marcelo Gindlin. 11 a.m. Free. Space is limited; RSVP to (818) 646-2844. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. 

 

YULA GIRLS COMEDY NIGHT

Prepare for a night of food, drinks and many laughs. Special guests include Greg Hahn, Jimmy Brogan, Dwight Slade and Cathy Ladman. Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres before the show at 6:30 p.m.; 7:30 p.m. show. $100. Yeshiva High School, 1619 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 203-0755. TUES  |  DEC 6

CLANCY SIGAL

“Black Sunset: Hollywood Sex, Lies, Glamour, Betrayal, and Raging Egos,” by Clancy Sigal, is the hilarious memoir of the author’s escapades as a young Hollywood agent. Peddling writers and actors in a blacklist-crazed movie industry during the 1950s, two FBI agents pursued him in hopes of being set up with starlets and becoming famous. Once banned from a studio, Sigal used a bolt cutter to break through a chain-link fence in order to make a deal. With clients such as Humphrey Bogart, Donna Reed, Jack Palance, Peter Lorre and Barbara Stanwyck, Sigal is one of the few remaining witnesses and reporters of this time. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. THURS  |  DEC 8

GEORGE GEARY

George Geary’s “L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants: Celebrating the Famous Places Where Hollywood Ate, Drank, and Played” is an illustrated history of landmark eateries throughout Los Angeles. Learn everything about classics such as Musso & Frank and The Brown Derby in the 1920s; Chasen’s, Romanoff’s, and Ciro’s in the mid-20th century; and the birth of California cuisine at Ma Maison and Spago on the Sunset Strip in the 1970s and ’80s. Geary will lead you into the glamorous restaurants through a lively narrative of anecdotes, illustrated with vintage photographs and historic menus. The book contains more than 100 iconic recipes and also showcases the allure of drive-ins, drugstores, nightclubs and hotels. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. SAT  |  DEC. 17

“THE MESHUGA NUTCRACKER”

This full-length musical comedy features the silly sensibilities of the folklore of Chelm (a fictional town of fools) underscored by an invigorated, klezmer-infused orchestration of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” with original lyrics that celebrate Chanukah. The Chelmniks relate eight stories that pay tribute to the holiday, sprinkling in dancing dreidels, singing sufganiyot and surprise guest stars. Dec. 17-Jan. 1. Early offer tickets $45; regular tickets $72; seniors, youth and students with ID $63. Gindi Auditorium, American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (408) 404-7711. WED  |  DEC 21

CHANUKAH POP-UP EXHIBITIONS

Stop by the “Holidays” gallery to see rarely displayed Chanukah lamps. There will be something for everyone to enjoy — designs ranging from Looney Toons to the Liberty Bell. 2:30 p.m. Free with museum admission. Also 2:30 p.m. Dec. 22. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. SAT  |  DEC 24

MATZOBALL

One of the biggest Jewish singles events in the nation is getting bigger! Kicking off its 30th year, MatzoBall sets the stage for the ultimate party experience. Don’t miss out on what USA Today called “The Number 1 Holiday Party of the Year.” 9 p.m. $30. Tickets available on eventbrite.com. 21 and older. Location TBD, Los Angeles.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM *Movie Review*


FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM, written by JK Rowling, takes place within the Harry Potter universe, but 70 years earlier than Harry, Hermione and Ron attend Hogwarts.  It follows Newt Scamander, author of a book within the Harry Potter world by the same name as the movie, as he travels to America.  Ostensibly, his trip is to track down a particular magical creature, but in reality that’s not what happens as his own creatures get loose and he’s pulled into a multi-faceted plot that involves tracking them down, intrigue and double crossing at the Magical Congress of the United States of America, an illegal romance with a nonmagical person and a movement to bring back the Salem Witch Trials.

The themes in the film are as surprisingly relevant in today’s world as they would have been in the 1920s when it takes place and include interracial marriage, a female president, and mass extermination.

The film is the first of a planned five-part franchise that serves as a prequel to the HARRY POTTER series.  It stars Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Colin Farrell,  Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol.  It’s directed by David Yates.

For more about the movie’s themes and other plot details, take a look below:

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ARRIVAL *Movie Review*


This week I review ARRIVAL.  The movie stars Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist who is recruited to help communicate with aliens who arrive in 12 cities around the world.  She’s joined by scientist Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner.  Forest Whitaker also stars.  Denis Villeneuve directs this Oscar-contender.

ARRIVAL is a fairly quiet film without a lot of fanfare that’s more reflective than action-packed.  The screenplay was written by Eric Heisserer who is known for movies such as FINAL DESTINATION 5 and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. ARRIVAL is a different type of movie entirely, though.  It’s mind-bending and self-reflective and contemplative in its themes and storyline.  The screenplay is well-written in that it doesn’t get in its own way with too much unnecessary dialogue.

The big theme here is time and the motif to represent it is the circle.  If you look at traditional interpretations of them, they represent wholeness, eternity and timelessness.  Louise tells us herself that the movie is about time and that these circles are no coincidence.  In the opening lines of the movie she says “I’m not so sure I believe in beginnings and endings”.  Circles are everywhere in this movie.  One of the first shots in the movie is of Louise’s hand with her gold wedding ring on it.  It’s a simple, unbroken band of continuity and time.  Circles are everywhere—the hallway in the hospital is curved like the side of a circle, the student tables in the hall where Louise lectures are curved facing her like a circle, the quilting on her jacket later in the movie looks like waves up close but from further away looks like giant embroidered circles.  Ian, the scientist Louise works with at the alien site in Montana, wears a watch with a large circular face.  The circular face stands out in particular during a scene when he looks at the alien transport vehicle with binoculars, themselves a set of circles.  The door to the alien ship opens every 18 hours—even the choice of 18 involves two stacked circles.

For more about the themes and symbolism in ARRIVAL, take a look below:

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DOCTOR STRANGE *Movie Review*


This week I review DOCTOR STRANGE.  The latest Marvel superhero movie is about the mystical rather than the physical.  When Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a neurosurgeon, loses use of his hands following a car accident, he travels to Nepal to see The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) as he learns that she may be able to help him.  The movie also stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong and Benjamin Bratt with the requisite cameo by Marvel creator Stan Lee.

Time plays an interesting role because usually when time is used as a major theme it has to do with not having enough of it.  I think the bigger theme here had to do with how time can be a blessing and, perhaps even more so, a curse.  The differentiation is important because lack of time is a common concept; there isn’t enough time to do work or to relax or to spend with loved ones.  We don’t tend to consider that more time isn’t necessarily better.  For instance, if you live forever then you’ll have the heartache of watching everyone you love die since the whole world cannot live forever. Immortality and limitless time and life continue to be things we long for as a whole, but sometimes without acknowledging the consequences.  It’s interesting, too, how DOCTOR STRANGE uses time as a punishment, so pay attention for that element as well.

Water and how it cleanses and represents rebirth is another theme in DOCTOR STRANGE.

For more about water, religious symbolism in DOCTOR STRANGE and product placement deals, take a look below:

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JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK *Movie Review*


This week I review JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK.  It’s the sequel to the 2012 movie JACK REACHER also starring Tom Cruise in the title role.  This time around he teams up with Major Susan Turner, played by Cobie Smulders (“Agents of SHIELD”, “Avengers”) as they both try to clear their names after they’re wrongfully accused of crimes they didn’t commit.  It’s directed by Edward Zwick and also stars Danika Yarosh and Aldis Hodge.  The franchise is based on a book series of the same name written by Lee Childs.

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK is a bit like the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise only more violent. It has a grittier feel to it, but otherwise it’s Tom Cruise doing what he does best. There’s a plot that’s vaguely understandable, but it’s almost beside the point. This is action and adventure. This is not suspense; I never once worried that Jack Reacher would get hurt, and I don’t think anyone in the movie did, either.

There are definitely some laughable plot points and things that don’t add up quite right, but it’s a go-along-for-the-thrill type of movie and they don’t have to. In fact, they probably even make slightly more sense than other movies in this genre.

There was an interesting theme of family in the movie that I hadn’t quite expected. There’s a subplot with Samantha, who may be Jack’s daughter, and she runs around with him and Susan during their adventures. The threesome make a ragtag family; it’s the quintessential allure of turning the loner into a family man.

Speaking of family man, there was something else that stood out to me as well and it may sound surprising but it was that this movie was very much a feminist piece. There were three main characters who were all women who played key roles. They didn’t use sex appeal to get them anywhere even though there was a scene with both Jack and Susan walking around shirtless for no particular reason. There was even a scene in which Samantha, the teenager, asks Susan if she’s a lesbian because she thinks all women in the military must be. Susan’s response that it’s just like real life where some are and some aren’t is pitch perfect. Susan and Samantha aren’t wallflowers who wait to be rescued by Jack and they’re not there simply to cater to his every whim. They’re smart, they fight, and they talk back to him. Out of all the movies that try to be feminist or try to make a point, here comes JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK quietly leveling the playing field.

This is also the perfect jumping off spot for a product placement discussion once again. If you’ve followed my reviews , you know that I used to work in the field and so let me share something about Tom Cruise. He knows what brand endorsements are worth and how much his face is worth connected to them, so he is one of the few actors who is powerful enough to make sure that he’s absolutely not connected to any brand he doesn’t want to be seen with. Pay attention in the movie to how hard the prop master and set decorators have to work in order to keep brands out of his hands and out of the shot with him. Just as brands never appear by accident, they also don’t disappear by accident. In this movie, you can watch for a couple scenes in particular that emphasize just how far Tom will go to make sure he’s not indirectly endorsing any brands.

For more about JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK, take a look below:

 

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THE ACCOUNTANT *Movie Review*


This week I review THE ACCOUNTANT. THE ACCOUNTANT is about an accountant who is as brilliant with numbers as he is with discretion. Christian Wolff, played by Ben Affleck, has made most of his money as the trusted accountant to cartel leaders and other criminals. In the midst of working a legitimate job he finds a discrepancy that endangers multiple lives. The movie also stars Anna Kendrick (“Pitch Perfect”), Jeffrey Tambor (“Transparent”), John Lithgow, JK Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jean Smart and Cynthia Addai-Robinson.

The character of Christian is supposed to have Aspergers, which is a high functioning form of Autism. He and the other characters who have this diagnosis alternately made me think their acting was uncomfortably fantastic and wondering if they were going too far. I noticed in the credits that five different people were listed as ‘Autism Consultants’ so I do believe that they worked hard not to make the portrayals caricatures. Overall, I think the acting was really good and that Ben Affleck managed to convey a lot of emotion through very little dialogue. Anna Kendrick shone, though her storyline didn’t do her any favors. Family is a huge theme in the movie and it’s emphasized repeatedly: how important family loyalty is as well as the question of what makes a good parent. There are several parent/child roles in this movie that you can watch for, not just the biological ones, but the ones that can occur in even a boss/employee relationship.

Despite the big theme of family, you can also track the theme of compartmentalization, or more specifically shutting yourself off from things. Instead of cells in jail, there are dividers; there’s a train you can spot going around the Christmas tree during a flashback to Christian’s childhood, Christian keeps an airstream trailer in a storage unit—so a container within a container.

The music was also fantastic. It stood out to me from the very beginning, particularly when it managed to balance the feeling of eeriness without going overboard into cheesy or predictable.

I am really good at suspending my disbelief. I’m very willing to go along with the premise that’s set up, I wouldn’t be in a movie otherwise. But, I was pulled out so many times with regard to how certain characters were treated and even during the big final climax that I had to wonder how someone could have put together a movie that was Oscar-worthy and laughable without noticing the discrepancies. Since I don’t want to give away any spoilers, I won’t say more than that, though as always I’m happy to continue the discussion in the comments!

I’ve talked before about movies that don’t seem to know what they want to be and while I think THE ACCOUNTANT was well enough directed and acted to make up for any shortcomings, I think the movie would have done a bit better to decide if it was more suspense or more action. The action was heavier than I’d expected from the previews and I admit that I covered my eyes at two different times. I’m not sure all of it was necessary. That said, the movie is just over two hours long and goes by in a flash.

For more about THE ACCOUNTANT, take a look below:

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THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN *Movie Review*


THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is based on best-selling novel of the same name by Paula Hawkins. It’s about a divorced woman who likes watching the homes in her old neighborhood as she rides the daily train. When one of the women she watches disappears, she gets involved on a personal level.

The movie stars Emily Blunt, Justin Theroux, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramirez, Laura Prepon, Allison Janney and Lisa Kudrow. It’s directed by Tate Taylor (THE HELP).

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN does everything right from a technical standpoint. Everyone’s acting is fantastic and the cinematography is particularly wonderful with some beautiful and unique shots. So, by most accounts that should make it a good movie. It really depends on your definition of good movie, though, because what stood out as much as the great technical details was just how unpleasant every single person was in the film. There was not one sympathetic character and I felt an equal amount of distaste for everyone.

I couldn’t help but think, too, that Emily Blunt is starting to develop a career out of characters who may be intriguing but who aren’t pleasant to be around, all the way back to her star-making role in DEVIL WEARS PRADA and including her role in SUNSHINE CLEANING as well.

There were lots of interesting parallels between and connecting the main characters in the movie. It reminded me a lot of Alfred Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, which I actually wrote a paper on in college talking about how the two strangers were connected in an X-shape, with each character “reaching out” to the other side. That’s how THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is also structured and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that one of the first things on screen is an X drawn in the condensation on the window of a train that we then see Emily Blunt’s eye through. The theme of X is continued with an email written by Tom and played across the screen as Rachel walks through a train station. I don’t want to give away too many details for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet, but definitely suggest paying attention to them.

For more about THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, take a look below:

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MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN *Movie Review*


MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN is based on a trilogy of the same name written by Ransom Riggs. It’s about a boy named Jake (Asa Butterfield) who discovers his late-grandfather’s tales of children with unusual talents and stories about a woman who can turn into a bird are all true. The children are hunted for their p

owers and Jake steps in to help. Tim Burton (PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, BIG EYES, BIG FISH, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, ALICE IN WONDERLAND) directs this adaptation.

However, this is less ‘adaptation’ than it is ‘very loosely inspired by’ as the entire second half of the movie is different from the books.  The pacing of the movie is actually remarkably similar to the books: slow.  The action sequences feel muted and the expected build in intensity never happens. Most of the movie is shot with a blue filter, so everything feels very cold and stark, though the filter also gives things an almost heightened sense of reality, which also work to slow the passage of time.

For more about MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN, including notable performances of cast and crew, take a look below:

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QUEEN OF KATWE *Movie Review*


QUEEN OF KATWE is based on the true story of a girl named Phiona from the slums of Uganda.  She learns to play chess and uses it as a means out of poverty. It stars Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o as her mother, David Oyelowo as her coach and introduces Madina Nalwanga as Phiona. It’s directed by Mira Nair.

The theme of this hero’s journey is one that spans cultures. While it’s an inspiring and interesting story about Phiona herself, the message translates to anyone. You don’t have to be a certain color or gender to connect with this story and the deeper messages that even the small can become big. Many of the words of wisdom come from Phiona’s chess coach who says things like: if you use your mind and follow your plans then you can find safe squares; losing does not mean you’re a failure it takes time and stamina is the key; and sometimes the place you are used to is not the place you belong, which is one of director Mira Nair’s recurring themes.

Mira Nair is a fantastic director and a lot of her work is about feeling out of place, which is the situation each of the three main characters are in. There’s Phiona, a young girl who learns about a life that she never ever knew existed. She struggles as she’s torn between world that she wants to be part of with the one that exists. Like the real Phiona, the film version’s Madina  Nalwanga also grew up in the slums of Uganda. This is her first film and she conveys such a subtle depth of emotion with her eyes that I was ready to hand her an Oscar. Her performance was utterly moving.

Lupita Nyong’o, plays her mother, and David Oyelowo, as her chess coach, were also amazing. One of the things I loved was that while this is the story of Phiona at first glance, the characters of her mother and Robert were treated equally. They each went through their own evolution and weren’t strictly relegated to cardboard supports. Too often there are supporting stories that can compliment the main one but which are never fully realized and these were. Having these three circle the same theme of self discovery made the film that much more successful.

The style, the locations and the saturation of color and sound make it feel like you can walk directly through the screen and into this world!

For more about QUEEN OF KATWE, take a look below:

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SULLY *Movie Review*


SULLY is based on the true story of a US Airways flight that did a controlled water landing in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009.  The flight was piloted by Captain Sullenberger, affectionately known as Sully, played here by Everyman Tom Hanks.  It’s directed by Clint Eastwood and co-stars Aaron Eckhart.

A movie like this could have gone in two directions.  It easily could have become a bit of a sensationalistic disaster movie causing the audience to rethink ever boarding a plane without Sully at the helm.  Instead, it was handled more deftly and uniquely as the story of a man who was thrust into the spotlight for a single decision at the end of 42 years of flight experience.  The choice to follow the storyline in this way elevated the movie and turned it into nuanced filmmaking.  That said, there’s no doubt that this movie is solely and completely about Sully and his actions.  The bits of humanity that are injected into the passengers are the weakest point in the story.  They’re expected, right down to the mother with the baby on her lap.

The only spot that it disappointed me was Aaron Eckhart’s character, Sully’s co-pilot.  He doesn’t have a lot to say in the movie and while his acting is good, he’s more a living prop than anything else.

Casting Tom Hanks was as expected as it was imperative.  There’s no other actor who plays Everyman as well as he does, almost to his detriment.  I believed every second of his performance, every grimace, every questioning look and every ounce of relief at hearing everyone survived.  But, it becomes difficult in separating the good acting from the actor himself.  Tom Hanks is so tied to his image and indeed his reputation of the kind Everyman that I didn’t quite known if I was watching Tom Hanks or if I was watching the most amazing performance ever.

There’s a great scene of Tom Hanks’ Sully talking to his wife on the phone and questioning if he did the right thing in landing on the Hudson.  It’s shot with half of his face in shadow, a great bit of cinematography and direction showing exactly what he’s going through at that moment.  In fact, the entire movie is well done.

For more about SULLY including eagle-eye details to watch for, take a look below:

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MAX ROSE *Movie Review*


MAX ROSE is the story of a man (Jerry Lewis) who loses his wife of more than 60 years and then questions if she had been having an affair.  He learns to navigate his relationships with his adult son (Kevin Pollak) and granddaughter (Kerry Bishe) while searching for answers.

I’m going to start with the good: the music, acting, and technical aspects of the movie are well done.  There is no doubt that MAX ROSE was well conceived and put together.  There were a couple of moments that were so beautifully done that they particularly stood out.  The first was during a flashback when Max and his wife, Eva (Claire Bloom) are in bed together talking about their combined ages.  They feel very real together and it’s a relationship that I wanted to learn more about, aside from the flashbacks that were included.  The second time is at an assisted living facility where one of the men talks about how his wife has been gone for more than 20 years and yet he still misses her.

That said, there were some gaps in the story that went unanswered.  This came across as more of an extended character study than anything else.  There is a difference between a movie that leaves ou with questions because of gaps in the story versus contemplation about the themes.

What I didn’t love about MAX ROSE has to do more with preference than anything else.  Ironically, it’s exactly what I discussed last week in SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU, an indie that didn’t fit the traditional “indie vibe” because it was so upbeat.  MAX ROSE fits that exact “indie” category where it may be a realistic look at life, but it’s not a pleasant one.

For more about MAX ROSE, take a look below:

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SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU *Movie Review*


A romance is a romance and that’s the ultimate take-away from writer/director Richard Tanne‘s SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU.  The movie depicts President Barak Obama’s first date with his now-wife, Michelle.  Regardless of your political affiliation, this is a romance that won’t disappoint.  It’s well made and well acted.

One of the qualities I appreciated the most about SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU is that there weren’t big moments added for dramatic tension.  A lot of times indie movies with real stories translate ‘real’ to ‘misery’.  Rather than going that route, SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU provides an escapism movie threaded with meaning, themes of forgiveness, learning what you want from life, not judging, and striving for more even if you don’t know what that ‘more’ is at the moment.

Tika Sumpter stars as Michelle Robinson and Parker Sawyers as Barak Obama and it’s their chemistry that carries a film which is otherwise walking and talking.  As the movie unfolds, viewers get to enjoy how the pair get to know each other, prickle at each other and see the best in each other.  It’s truly like going along on a good first date.

For more about the film’s themes and eagle eye details to watch for, take a look below:

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KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS *Movie Review*


KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS succeeds in creating a story that feels Japanese while being written and helmed by Americans.  It’s mystical in a way that feels both possible and magical at the same time.  The choice to do this as a combination of claymation and digital animation fit the style and worked well.

This is a story of a boy who goes on a quest to find three pieces of samurai armor his father owned which will help him defeat the Moon King.  He’s accompanied by Monkey and Beetle.  Kubo himself possesses magic of his own when he plays his enchanted shamisen.  It stars the voice talents of Matthew McConaughey, Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei and Art Parkinson as Kubo.

While it was definitely very good, it was missing that final element to make it magical.

As someone who lived in Japan, I am always curious to see how the culture is addressed by American filmmakers.  For more about KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS and the Japanese culture reflected in particular, take a look below:

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FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS *Movie Review*


Meryl Streep stars as Florence Foster Jenkins in a movie of the same name.  She’s a wealthy woman who wants to be a singer, despite her terrible voice.  Meryl Streep is always good, but this movie really belongs to Hugh Grant.  The love his character, St Clair Bayfield, felt for Florence was apparent in every scene.  This is perhaps the most real that Hugh Grant has ever been on screen.

The set decoration and costume departments also stood out with their use of rich textiles such as raw silk and chenille.  The movie was lush with textures.

The movie poses itself as a lesson in adversity, Florence against the world in her quest to perform despite her vocal shortcomings.  However, she has been completely insulated from the truth of her singing voice by her husband, friends and teachers.  Can she really be considered brave when she doesn’t know what’s a bad singer?

For more details about themes, symbolism and eagle eye details to watch for in FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS, take a look below…

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SUICIDE SQUAD *Movie Review*


SUICIDE SQUAD is the latest offering from the DC Extended Universe as a group of anti-heroes become exactly what they hate: the heroes.  David Ayer directs an all-star cast of Will Smith as Deadshot, Jared Leto as The Joker, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Viola Davis as Amanda Walker, Jai Courtney as Boomerang, Jay Hernandez as Diablo and Cara Delevigne as June Moon/The Enchantress.

Looking at the film from a purely cinematic standpoint, it’s extremely well done.  Jared Leto and Margot Robbie as the Joker and Harley Quinn respectively stole the show, not only with their acting which was fantastic, but in terms of the scenes they were written–these were among the most disturbing in the movie.

As with any ensemble movie, characters tend to get lost in the shuffle.  In this case, Killer Croc and Boomerang were more filler than anything else.

The music, cinematograph and special effects were well done.  The songs used are all familiar ones that work to lighten the otherwise heavy and dark subject matter.

As well done as SUICIDE SQUAD was, some parts were so disturbing that I can only call this a good movie if I separate the aspect of feminism from it.  The way Harley Quinn’s character was treated was downright upsetting, at one point mining a laugh from her being punched in the face.  It began to raise questions such as: Is it okay to like a movie that portrays terrible things against only one gender?  What about one race?

For more insight into the movies strengths and weaknesses as well as eagle eye details to watch for, take a look below:

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DON’T THINK TWICE *Movie Review*


At its outset, DON’T THINK TWICE looks like a movie about the history of improvisation and an improv comedy.  Saying that, however, almost does it a disservice because it’s so much deeper than that.  DON’T THINK TWICE is about not just following your dreams, but what to do when your goals don’t quite materialize as hoped.  When one of a six-member improv group is cast on a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE-esque show, the other members of the group struggle with what it means for them.

Mike Birbiglia (SLEEPWALK WITH ME) writes, directs and stars alongside Keegan-Michael Key (KEY AND PEELE), Gillian Jacobs (COMMUNITY), Kate Micucci, Chris Gethard and Tami Sagher (MADtv) in this fantastic film about life.

This week’s review also includes a special interview with Keegan-Michael Key about the movie, as well as some “insider” stories from Mike Birbiglia and Kate Micucci.  Take a look below:

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GHOSTBUSTERS *Movie Review*


The GHOSTBUSTERS trailer on YouTube is the most disliked video ever on the site.  However, I wanted to reserve judgement about the movie since it comes with impressive credentials: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon and Chris Hemsworth are all great comedians and actors.  The director behind GHOSTBUSTERS, Paul Feig, was the creative mind behind BRIDESMAIDS.  In short, these people know comedy.

Unfortunately, while they may know comedy they didn’t quite hit the mark this time around.  It could have been the high expectations going into this update/remake, or it could be that magic just doesn’t always strike in the same place.  Regardless, GHOSTBUSTERS missed the mark.

Tone was the biggest issue for GHOSTBUSTERS and if it had been ironed out then a lot of the other issues would have been addressed.  While it was clearly a comedy, it also asked viewers to respect the main characters as impressively credentialed scientists and the way those two aspects of the movie were handled made them incongruous with each other.

Kristen Wiig plays Dr. Erin Gilbert, a ditzy klutz, which was hard to reconcile with the her impressive background as a doctor of science at Columbia University. Kate McKinnon’s Dr. Jillian Holtzman was the most confusing since she alternated coming across as intelligent and completely strange.  I realize that in real life people can easily embody more than one of these qualities. But, in a movie like this which doesn’t seek to flesh out well-rounded characters it felt like they were trying to go in too many directions at once.

I was disappointed by Melissa McCarthy’s Dr. Abby Yates as well. While I’m not generally a fan of Melissa McCarthy’s brand of physical comedy—which, incidentally, didn’t flow as strongly through GHOSTBUSTERS as I’d expected–I respect her acting ability since she commits wholeheartedly to all of her characters. This time around, though, I got the impression that she didn’t believe in what she was doing anymore than I did. Strangely, the only time I really bought her role was during a part that’s in the trailer when she’s possessed by a ghost.

There were two things I loved in particular. First was the music and how the original GHOSTBUSTERS theme song progressed from the original one to a more modern version as the movie went on The second thing I really liked were the effects, the ones at the very beginning in particular.

For more details about GHOSTBUSTERS, including a more in-depth analysis about the music and effects, as well as an exclusive interview with original GHOSTBUSTER Ernie Hudson, take a look below:

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DEAR ELEANOR *Movie Review*


DEAR ELEANOR is everything a coming-of-age movie should be: charming and well-acted with a beautiful balance of humor and meaningful moments.  Directed by Kevin Connolly (ENTOURAGE) each element of DEAR ELEANOR is well throughout and a complete delight.

The colors in DEAR ELEANOR are vivid, giving it the feel of a heightened sense of reality, which it certainly is in some ways, particularly with regard to how events of the time are woven into the storyline.  The film takes place from August to November of 1962, similar to the time period of DIRTY DANCING.  However, while DIRTY DANCING existed more in a vacuum, DEAR ELEANOR embraces the political and social events of the day.

DEAR ELEANOR is also similar to another fabulous coming-of-age story, BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM.  As with BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM in which David Beckham becomes an almost mythical character whose actual existence is a footnote, Eleanor Roosevelt embodies the same qualities.  While both people are certainly impressive in their own right, in these films they serve as set ups showcasing a specific set of values.

DEAR ELEANOR stars Liana Liberato, Isbelle Fuhrman (THE HUNGER GAMES), Jessica Alba, Luke Wilson and Josh Lucas.

For more about DEAR ELEANOR’s themes, symbolism and eagle-eye details to watch for, take a look below:

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