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Recent Movies: Get Out; In the Fade; Coco

Recent Movies

Get Out

In an unnamed U.S. city, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is an African-American photographer. His white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), whom he has been seeing for about four months, asks him to join her to meet her family for the first time. At the country’s family estate, Chris notices some odd events which lead him to think he could be in danger.

Director/writer Jordan Peele has created a superb thriller that easily reminds one of the brilliant “Stepford Wives” (1975). The tension slowly builds with the viewer identifying with Chris. The strange events seem harmless at first but there are too many coincidences to dismiss. Once the pieces come together, it’s easy to see why the film was given its title.

“Get Out” is not without its comical moments especially stupid comments from well-meaning “good, white liberals” which peak at a massive garden-party-from-hell. As a modern psychological horror-thriller with an unique perspective on racism, it’s easy to see why “Get Out” has earned so much recognition during the current awards season. It does borrow heavily from “The Stepford Wives” but clearly adds its own special, creative spin on the “people here sure are weird” atmosphere.

RATING (out of four stars): * * *

In the Fade

Katja (Diane Kruger) lives in Hamburg, Germany with her husband Nuri – a man of Kurdish Turkish heritage – and their five-year-old son. In the film’s three segments, her life is chronicled. The first involves a major crime; the second involves the trial resulting from the crime; and the third follows the trial’s verdict. (This description is deliberately vague to avoid spoilers.)

Each of the film’s segments – and the film as a whole – are full of surprises and shocks but never far-fetched. As the main character has serious flaws while remaining an object of sympathy, a great deal of credit can be given to Kruger for her solid lead performance and Fatih Akin for his strong directing and especially for his brilliant, multi-layered screenplay. The narrative also covers tensions in a mixed-race extended family and the history of underground Nazi terrorism in the 2000s.

As the family lawyer, Denis Moschitto also delivers a fine performance as the most grounded character in the film. In one courtroom scene, he unleashes so much power and emotion that the courtroom audience acts on behalf of the movie audience by bursting into applause.

The film’s conclusion is truly shocking but, after much thought and discussion, could make sense under the circumstances. The fact that the film can generate so much thought and discussion makes its screenplay one of the best of the year.

RATING: * * * 1/2


(In a previous posting, “In the Fade” was mentioned as one of the best movies of 2017.)


In Santa Cecilia, Mexico, Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) is a twelve-year-old boy with aspirations to be a musician. This is taboo in his family who still greatly resent his great-great-grandfather for betraying his family to pursue fame and fortune via a musical career. During Mexico’s famous Day of the Dead, a mishap has Miguel entering the spirit world of the dead in which he learns a lot about his family’s history. (“Coco” is an animated Disney/Pixar production.)

Firstly, this has to be one of the most beautiful animated films ever. The elaborate, multi-dimensional, brightly coloured settings in both the living and spirit worlds are – please pardon the pun – to die for. One highlight is a colourful, flying, jungle-cat spirit guide.

The narrative has many adventurous twists and turns and it always stays within its theoretical structure of what life could be like in spirit world as well as how the spirits connect with the living. While this is engaging enough, the added humour is the icing on the cake. Such concepts include bureaucratic procedures of leaving and re-entering the spirit world. There are also numerous funny sight gags.

Adding to the already brilliant story is a rich, well-developed array of characters – indeed, they were truly “characters” in every sense of the term. The story is enriched even further with a unifying theme: the caution against the relentless pursuit of fame and fortune at the expense of other, more important things.

The story concludes with a scene that must be among the best of the year. Though the title character (Miguel’s great-grandmother) is rarely seen, it is easy to see why the movie was named after her. Her special moment is a sincere tear-duct opener that also widely opens the heart.  Truly memorable. The epilogue that follows this scene is also a delightful and intelligent conclusion.

2017 must be one of the best years ever for animated films. “The Breadwinner” and “Loving Vincent” are also superb. Yet, “Coco” manages to top even these two great works. It lives up to the historical intention of Disney (with its younger aspirant Pixar) of appealing to the child in all of us – even those of us who’ve lived so long, we forgot what childhood enthusiasm felt like. In this way, everyone behind “Coco” is a hero for reviving such feelings long buried. This film joins “The Wizard of Oz” and “ET” as classics whose premise involves a main character leaving “home” and spends the rest of the movie trying to get back.

It was also great news to know that this Hollywood production was very accurate in its depiction of Mexican culture and folklore. To finish on another pun: “Coco” truly is a gift from heaven.

RATING:   * * * *


1)  The Animation Team

2)  Screenplay by Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich – from a story by Molina, Aldrich, Lee Unkrich (the film’s director) and Jason Katz

(In a previous posting, “Coco” was mentioned as one of the best movies of 2017.)

Upcoming Movie Reviews:   Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool;  Paddington 2;  A Fantastic Woman;  Loveless;  Black Panther;  Foxtrot;  Love, Simon;  The Death of Stalin



Best Movies of 2017

Below is my belated list as it took so long to see all the movies released at the end of 2017. As always, the past few months are the time when the awards-worthy films are all bunched together.

My merit system is different. Instead of guaranteeing a winner in each category, I only give praise to those that truly deserve it. Some categories have ties.

As opposed to a limited list (like five or ten), the best films of 2017 are rated using the Olympic medal systems, depending on how much I liked them.

For the list below, the movies in each category are listed in the chronological order in which I saw them.

A few special notes:

Firstly, there are some acclaimed films I would have liked to have seen (in a movie cinema) but could not as they went immediately to Netflix (to which I have no access). Those films include “On Body and Soul” (Hungary), “Mudbound ” (US Indie), and “First They Killed My Father” (Cambodia). I’m rather old-fashioned in my belief that movies should be released in theatres before going to TV – whatever form the TV viewing takes. (Netflix is too powerful.)

Secondly, there are some films on the list below whose reviews are yet to be posted. They are “Coco”, “In the Fade”, “Paddington 2”, and “Loveless”.

Lastly, it must be noted that, despite being unable to see all I wanted to see, 2017 was an exceptionally good year for movies.  In most years, there are no gold-medal-worthy films. This past year, there were two.

And the list:


Gold Medals:

1) Call Me by Your Name (USA/Italy/France – LGBT cinema)

2) Coco (Hollywood – Animated)


Silver Medals:

1) God’s Own Country (UK – LGBT cinema)

2) Loving Vincent (UK/Poland/USA – Animated)

3) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (US Indie)

4) In the Fade (Germany)


Bronze Medals

1) Beauty and the Beast (UK / Hollywood)

2) A Quiet Passion (US Indie / UK)

3) The Breadwinner (Canada/Ireland Luxembourg – Animated)

4) Phantom Thread (UK / US Indie)

5) Paddington 2 (UK)

6) Loveless (Russia)


Outstanding Achievements


1) Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

2) Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name)



1) Fatih Akin (In the Fade)

2) Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich (Coco)

– story by Molina, Aldrich, Lee Unkrich, and Jason Katz


Acting Performance:  Josh O’Connor (God’s Own Country)


Acting Ensemble:  Call Me By Your Name



1) Loving Vincent

2) Coco


Great Old Films Seen for the First Time in 2017


The Rose Tattoo (1955 – USA)

Back to God’s Country (1919 – Canada / Silent)

Gertrud (1964 – Denmark)

Man With a Movie Camera (1929 – Soviet Union / Silent)

Marianne and Juliane (1981 – West Germany)

Imitation of Life (1934 – USA)

The Sacrifice (1986 – Sweden)

Chocolat (1988 – France/Cameroon)


Great Old Films Seen Again in 2017


The Graduate (1967 – USA)

Diabolique (1955 – France)

Le Samourai (1967 – France)

Malcolm X (1992 – USA)


Dennis Bowman




Oscar Predictions 2018

Like all other past Oscar posts, here is a repeat of some notes before the predictions:

This is a summary of the result of other award institutions that have also presented awards thus far plus other recent Oscar trends.


For the predicted winners, the levels of strength are noted as follows:

(1)  unstoppable; pretty well a shoo-in

(2)  front-runner

(3)  ahead in the race but just barely


For the possible upsets, the levels of strength are as follows:

(4)  very strong possible upset

(5)  possible upset

(6)  long-shot / dark-horse


And the predictions:


Best Picture:   (3) The Shape of Water;  (4)  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director:   (1) Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)

Best Actress:   (1) Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri);  (6) Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water)

Best Actor:   (1) Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)

Best Supporting Actress:   (1) Allison Janney (I, Tonya);  (6) Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird); Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)

Best Supporting Actor:   (1) Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri);  (6) Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project);  Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water)

Best Original Screenplay:   (3) Jordan Peele (Get Out); (4) Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri); (6) Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird); Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor (The Shape of Water)

Best Adapted Screenplay:   (1) James Ivory (Call Me by Your Name)

Best Foreign Language Film:   (3) Loveless (Russia); (4) all other nominees

Best Documentary:   (1) Faces Places; (6) all other nominees

Best Animated Film:   (1) Coco

Recent Movies: The Post; Phantom Thread; I, Tonya

Recent Movies

The Post

Washington, DC, 1971: The Pentagon Papers  are classified documents that reveal how successive US governments lied to their citizens about the Vietnam war. They are released to the New York Times and later to the Washington Post. It is a great risk for the Post to publish such papers as it is facing financial troubles. Dilemmas at the paper are faced by its owner Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) and its editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks),

While director Steven Spielberg is more renowned for his adventure-thrillers, his adept skills are clearly on display in this rather different project for him: a political film. The story not only reveals events already known but also shows Graham’s personal story – wonderfully played by Streep (no surprise there). After learning more of Graham’s life, her own story would make an equally good film: her occasional lack of confidence was the result of being catapulted into a major position – one for which she had not planned nor had any ambition to create.

The screenplay by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer also delves into moral dilemmas of the “friendliness” between high-ranking politicians and equally high-ranking journalists. This results in two of the movie’s best scenes of conflict: one between Graham and Bradlee; the other between Graham and her long-time friend Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), a former Secretary of Defense.

“The Post” is wonderful nostalgia for those of us fascinated by that very volatile time in the US in the 1960s and the 1970s. And its conclusion is a superb nudge and wink to anyone familiar with the history of that time.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * *

Phantom Thread

London, 1950s: Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a renowned, high-level fashion designer who lives and works with his sister Cyril (Leslie Manville). He meets Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps) and brings her into his life as a muse and as a lover. Alma has a difficult time adjusting to Reynolds’ obsessive perfectionism and Cyril’s coldness.

Director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson is very successful in creating a mysterious world, making viewers feel like we are in the place of Alma – intrigued by the fascinating Reynolds but also very cautious of his eccentricities as well as those of his sister. This odd atmosphere is also a creation of the talented actors behind it.

Day-Lewis (whose best performances among many include “My Left Foot”, “In the Name of the Father”, and “There Will Be Blood” also directed by Anderson) is at his usual brilliance. Without being harsh, he can give a sharp sting with just the slightest gesture or comment. The film would have had much less impact if he had not been in the main role.

And Manville conveys so much with a stone cold glance with restrained emotions, one wishes she had been given an even greater part. This role is a great contrast to her superb work in “Another Year” in which her character’s emotions were anything but restrained.

The last third of the film begins a new chapter. While it is less engaging than the first two thirds, the spell of the movie has already been cast on the audience and it cannot be withheld by this point. In addition to Anderson and the cast, credit must also be given to the beautiful music by Jonny Greenwood, the sets, and of course, the costumes.

RATING:   * * * 1/2

I, Tonya

Based on a true story: Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) is an American figure skater who was linked to the 1994 injury on her fellow American rival Nancy Kerrigan. Harding’s hardship life is depicted before and leading to the event including abusive relationships with her mother LaVona (Allison Janney) and later with her husband Jeff (Sebastian Stan).

Anyone who had access to television at the time would recall this event and the attempts to link the Kerrigan attack to Harding. The forecasts seemed endless and were a staple in the vulgarization of the 1990s. In giving the chance for the deeper story to be told, “I, Tonya” does the impossible: it humanizes someone whose name had been reduced to a punchline and shows that nobody ever starts out as “bad” (though the same could not be said for LaVona – at least as depicted here). It also makes one question how much guilt Harding had in the attack and whether or not her eventual punishment was fair.

“I, Tonya” is another fine film that shows the result of class prejudice. While Tonya was a great figure-skater, she had a hard time winning the hearts of judges who seemed to dismiss her as “white trash”.

Robbie is superb in the title role. She easily draws sympathy as someone who worked through terrible hardships to make the best of her life even if she made some terrible decisions. Janney, who is winning multiple awards, can be quite funny at times as a vile, despicable, creature from hell but the role is under-developed. There is never a moment when we see LaVona in a light makes one understand her beastliness or even the slightest moment of goodness. When all is said and done, is it really “funny” to see a parent abuse her child as she does?

The courage in telling this story is also a challenge to the encouragement of chasing the American Dream. In this case, the dream ended up as a nightmare. After viewing this film, one can’t help but re-evaluate one’s own judgments against Tonya Harding. Kudos to the filmmakers for that.

RATING:   * * *

Recent Movies: The Last Jedi; The Shape of Water; Darkest Hour

Recent Movies 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

In part eight of the nine segments of the super-franchise, various sub-stories occur simultaneously:  General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) is leading the resistance against the destructive First Order while her son Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a member of the enemy force; Rey (Daisy Ridley) tries to coax self-exiled Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to join resistance; and other characters on both sides infiltrate the other.

As always, this film – like the others in the series – is a brilliant collaboration of visual effects, editing, production design, location choices, other technical aspects and a fine cast. In addition to those mentioned above, the film also stars Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Laura Dern, Frank Oz, and Benicio del Toro.

Despite a few false endings, “The Last Jedi” succeeds well with the difficult task of at least four narratives happening simultaneously – all of them intriguing. While not fully up to the level of its predecessor in the series, “The Force Awakens” (who could ever forget that superbly dramatic ending), it is light years ahead of last year’s “Force One”: an out-of-sequence sidebar story that was released last year.

All in all, “The Last Jedi” is quite entertaining especially when seen in IMAX-3D.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * *

The Shape of Water

Baltimore, 1962:  In the midst of the Cold War, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a young mute woman who works as a janitor in a government laboratory. At her workplace, she becomes intrigued and fascinated by a recently captured man-like sea creature that is confined in a water tank.

This film is courageous in its combining a historical era with fantasy science-fiction. It is occasionally far-fetched (during that paranoid time/place, it’s hard to believe Elisa would have such easy, unsupervised access to the lab with the sea-creature) but it is mostly believable within its bizarre, unusual universe.

While it may not live fully up to the awards-hype it is getting, it is still praiseworthy in many ways. Director Guillermo del Toro works with a great team to draw the viewer into his fascinating world especially in two thrilling scenes – one of which is the finale. The cinematography (by Dan Laustsen), the music (by Alexandre Desplat), and the set design team work superbly to recreate a long-ago era through a unique lens. And the cast is equally amazing.

Though Hawkins’ performance has many similarities to her recent work in “Maudie”, she succeeds greatly in the current film to show passion and determination despite her limits in being able to communicate verbally. The other characters and their respective performers are more than noteworthy: Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s neighbour – an underemployed homosexual who has trouble with aging and finding work as an illustrator (his personal story could have been even more elaborated); Michael Shannon as a high-ranking official in Elisa’s workplace – he’s even more monstrous than the sea creature he regards with indifferent contempt; Michael Stuhlbarg as a scientist whose own story provides plot twists; and Octavia Spencer as Elisa’s sharp-talking co-worker and loyal friend.

One thing is for certain: “The Shape of Water” is in a category of its own.

RATING:   * * *

Darkest Hour  

In May 1940, Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) has just been appointed by his party to become Britain’s Prime Minister, thus facing the daunting situation of Adolf Hitler’s growing dominance of Europe.

“Darkest Hour” is a beautiful, historical period piece that could also be a companion piece to “Dunkirk” which was also released in 2017. A good chunk of “Darkest Hour” covers the events of “Dunkirk” though more at the behind-the-scenes level.

Oldman is superb in the lead role and lives up to the current awards hype – winning numerous awards and likely to receive more. Under all that make-up, he is very convincing as a legendary renegade – one who never travels with the pack; one who could only lead the pack or go on his own.

Oldman is given many chances to show his talents as the film focuses almost exclusively on Churchill. Unfortunately, this is also a flaw. He is over-exposed. Thus the finale – which was likely intended to be rousing and succeeds to a high degree – loses some of its impact due to the over-exposure. Many scenes last too long and the movie, by the end, also seems too long. But “Darkest Hour” is still worth seeing for its lead performance.

RATING:   * * 1/2

Recent Movies: The Other Side of Hope; The Disaster Artist; Call Me By Your Name; Books: Furiously Happy

Recent Movies

The Other Side of Hope

In modern-day Helsinki, the lives of two characters are followed: Waldemar (Sakari Kuosmanen) is beginning a new life as a single man and opening a new restaurant; and Khaled (Sherwan Haji) is a refugee from Allepo, Syria seeking asylum in Finland.

This film deserves credit for taking on a subject that continues to grab headlines and personalizes it. The Finns in this movie are mostly portrayed as generous and fair-minded with a few exceptions: some are seen as idiotic government bureaucrats (an international problem), and others are seen as downright nasty thugs (a bigger international problem).

The directing style by Aki Kaurismaki is in his usual style of being deliberately austere and distant with moments of dry humour. It works well mostly but there could have been room for a few moments of deeper emotion considering the subject matter.

A shocking twist at the end does give the film some jolt but the ambiguity of the situation (which is also far-fetched to a degree) is unsatisfying. Despite this, “The Other Side of Hope” is a fine film. As it focuses mostly on Khaled, Haji comes off as a very fine anchor for the movie.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * *

The Disaster Artist

Based on a true story: In a San Francisco acting class around 2003, Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) befriends the younger Greg Sestero (Dave Franco). They move to Los Angeles and eventually create “The Room” which is considered one of the worst movies ever made and presently has a cult following.

The story leaves Greg with a very difficult moral dilemma. He owes much to Tommy for providing him a place to live in Los Angles as well as a major role in his movie. But Tommy – who is a total nutcase with a mysteriously, infinite source of money – has no social graces and becomes a tyrant on the movie set where he is the producer, director, and star. It’s easy to see why Greg is so conflicted internally.

Much praise can be given to James Franco on the fronts of both director and actor. As a director, he keeps the tension levels varied with moments of craziness, sympathy, and the occasional blow-ups on the movie set. As an actor, he is fully believable as an other-worldly eccentric who is hilarious most of the time in both subtle and bombastic ways, always oblivious to the world around him. He also shows a vulnerable side when he feels betrayed and humiliated.

More praise can be given to all actors especially those who come off as bad actors in acting classes and auditions. This is not easy.

“The Disaster Artist” proves, yet again, that truth is stranger than fiction. It also follows “La La Land” in a hopefully new revival of Hollywood playing itself.

RATING:   * * *

Call Me By Your Name

The setting is rural northern Italy in 1983. Oliver (Armie Hammer) is an American graduate student visiting the Perlman family for the summer to work on an internship with the family patriarch (Michael Stuhlbarg), an archeology and art professor who used to live and work in the U.S. Professor Perlman has a seventeen-year-old son Elio (Timothée Chalamet) who is infatuated with Oliver.

A great film is one that succeeds in getting past early hurdles and leaves one with an exhilarated feeling by the end. Here are the early hurdles for “Call Me By Your Name”:

1) The atmosphere was one of such super-privilege that it seemed inaccessible to more than 95% of the population. To have enough wealth to live in beautiful large home in northern Italy while being paid for working in the arts and archeology (with plenty of free time) seems like a dream for most of us. And when the family and their guest casually change languages (English, Italian and French with occasional German) while discussing all forms of the arts, it sometimes seemed rather lah-dee-dah.

2) It took a while to get past the fact that the two young lead actors both looked like younger versions of other famous people. Chalamet resembles what could be a young Justin Trudeau. Even more so, Hammer could easily pass as a young version of the TV character “Frasier” played by Kelsey Grammer. Not only does he look, sound, and act like “Frasier”, being a wealthy art-lover is the icing on the cake.

The film not only passes these hurdles but the viewer even gets over the initial dislike of Oliver who, in the beginning, comes off as pompous and presumptuous (like I mentioned: “Frasier”). But in the second half, Hammer succeeds in showing the genuine vulnerability of Oliver to the point the viewer can feel compassion for him.

Chalamet is even more powerful in subtly putting Elio’s feelings on display after initially succeeding in reminding viewers of the frustration and insecurity of a teen falling in love with a young adult who seems so worldly.

The character of Professor Perlman seems ornamental for most of the film but at the end, he delivers a monologue that is the movie’s highlight – in addition to being one of the best scenes of movies released in 2017. It not only provides a shocking twist (and subtly at that), it gives a lecture on life that might seem to be addressed to young Elio; but no doubt it is the writer addressing members of the audience of all ages about our deepest feelings, memories, and life choices. Kudos to Stuhlbarg for his delivery, screenwriter James Ivory, and his source – the book by André Aciman.

And the greatest kudos go to director Luca Guadagnino for putting this brilliant work together. He uses the beauty of northern Italy to mix with the film’s deeper themes of love, compassion, and the willingness to risk and be vulnerable to more fully experience life. This goes way beyond any class differences that seemed so apparent at the film’s beginning. And Guadagnino takes the viewer in so slowly, it’s impossible to see how he did it – we’re too caught up in our own feelings.

RATING:   * * * *


1) Directing by Luca Guadagnino

2) Acting Ensemble


“Furiously Happy” by Jenny Lawson


The author, who resides in Texas, is someone who has serious mental health problems and finds humour in absolutely everything – including her serious mental health problems. As her husband is a type-A workaholic control freak (at least according to the author), their transcribed conversations are among the many hilarious delights of the this very enjoyable book whose chapters are separate entities making the book like a series of short stories.

Where to begin? There were so many times I laughed out loud that it’s hard to know what to highlight. Lawson’s writing style is so matter-of-fact out-there with zero pretense and plenty of irreverence that it’s no wonder she has such a great following. Among the many highlights: a small chapter called “Voodoo Vagina” (the title says it all); the unusual placing of the appendix (and its content, of course); a meeting with her husband and their financial advisor; her opinions on people at airports; other transcribed conversations including those with her sister, her therapist, and her best friend; her brief thoughts on wasabi; challenging the unrealistic ideals about body size; the unrealistic smallness of the actress who played “Amélie”; her trip to Australia; being around other parents who have enrolled their children in extracurricular activities; and on and on.

There is a serious side (but not not annoyingly serious) that comes at the end that left a gulp in my throat as it addresses the very real and massive problem of mental illness. It reignites Lawson’s early mention of the fact that we’re all at least a bit insane but some of us are better at hiding it than others. (She prefers to eliminate the word “hiding” from that phrase.) The unity she creates by her blog and books make her not only a savior for healing so many with her gift of creating so much laughter; some lives have been given the encouragement to continue as a result of knowing they are not alone in this mess of a world. May God bless her for that alone.

RATING:   * * * 1/2

Upcoming Movie Reviews:   The Last Jedi;  The Shape of Water;  Darkest Hour;  I, Tonya;  The Post;  Paddington 2;  Phantom Thread


Dennis Bowman

Recent Movies: Loving Vincent; Lady Bird; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Recent Movies

Loving Vincent

Based on true events: In southern France, a year after the death of painter Vincent Van Gogh, Armand Roulin (voiced by Douglas Booth) is assigned to send a letter written by the late Vincent to his brother Theo. During this venture, he discovers many details leading to Vincent’s death.

“Loving Vincent” is a Polish-UK animated production and is in the English language.

This movie joins many other films and other works on a man who continues to endlessly fascinate many. It is also a very compassionate film that focuses on life’s deeper timeless challenges including mental health, concerns of the vulnerable of being a burden to those who are kind, career choices made against one’s heart, and the great harm caused by bad parenting. While there remain many stigmas today around mental health, this movie leaves the question: how would Vincent’s life have ended up if the society around him knew as much about mental health was we know today?

The most praiseworthy aspect of the film is the animated frames which are all oil-painted in Van Gogh’s unique style by over a hundred artists. The colours and images are as stunning as the paintings they emulate.

While the viewer may never know all of the true details of this part of history, “Loving Vincent” provides a wonderful possibility of it. It’s an enjoyable mystery as Armand discoveries more clues about the fascinating painter and a very moving film about life as well.

“Loving Vincent” joins a list of other fascinating animated, international co-productions that include “The Breadwinner”, “The Red Turtle”, and “The Illusionist”.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * * 1/2



Lady Bird

Christine McPherson aka “Lady Bird” (Saoirse Ronan) is in her senior year in a Catholic school in Sacramento, California and desperately wants to go to a liberal college in the northeastern US. This causes conflict with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf).

Lady Bird is someone who can be inconsiderate, selfish, insecure, good-hearted, ambitious beyond her abilities, naïve, fun, and able to redeem herself. In other words, she is a confused teenager on the cusp of adulthood and Ronan plays the part superbly.

Like the recent “Florida Project”, “Lady Bird” is a series of short scenes that collectively make a fine film. It has sharp directing by Greta Gerwig who also wrote the screenplay. There are also engaging sidebar stories including other characters that add greatly to the main mother-daughter conflict: the despair of losing a job later in life; financial burdens; periodic depression; the inner-conflict of being young, gay, and Catholic; the futility of social climbing; the belief that “there” is better than “here”.

The coming-of-age genre is so common that it’s difficult to raise the bar. “Lady Bird” at least meets the standard and then some though it could have been more. In fairness, the two lead performances do stand out especially that of Metcalf. She shows so much push-pull with her daughter while trying to come to grips that her daughter will soon leave home. She also has the brilliant ability to let the emotions build gradually and then attempt (as we do in real life) to resist them until the attempt is futile. No wonder Metcalf is winning so many awards and award nominations. While she gives a rich performance, I believe the film would have been greater if she had been given even more screen time.

RATING: * * *

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri


Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) grieves the death of her daughter who was murdered seven months ago. She expresses her dismay of the unsolved murder using the eponymous billboards implicitly placing blame on Ebbing’s police chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). As Willoughby is having serious personal troubles, the townspeople are not amused.

The screenplay by Martin McDonagh (also the film’s director) has flaws but it is also fascinating with unexpected twists and developments with an open-ended conclusion. The flaws include an unexpected redemption with great sacrifices from a character who shows the worst possible characteristics in film’s first half. But the narrative is praiseworthy for its various conflicts plus taking the viewer in directions that one would not expect in a “redneck” story. It is also rich for the ambiguity in all characters.

This is especially apparent in Hayes. There are moments that might have been cheap you-go-girl cheerleading chants but McDonagh and McDormand (the McDo team, perhaps) are too smart for that. It is often easy to sympathize with Mildred but there are times when her actions and words either go too far or deliberately cause undue harm to others. But for the times that are easy to sympathize, McDormand has a delivery that is so powerful that one is left too aghast to cheer.

While many elements of the film are praiseworthy (the script, the performances of McDormand and Harrelson as well as Sam Rockwell), the standout work comes from McDonagh as the director who connects it all together superbly. Regardless of what is happening, there is rarely a moment that feels false and never one that doesn’t feel intense.

RATING: * * * 1/2

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT: Directing by Martin McDonagh

Upcoming movie reviews:   The Other Side of Hope;   The Disaster Artist;  The Shape of Water;  Call Me by Your Name;  I, Tonya;  The Last Jedi;  Phantom Thread;  The Post