New Releases for the Week of November 2, 2018


BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

(20TH Century Fox) Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker. Directed by Bryan Singer

This is the story of Queen, one of the most legendary of classic rock bands and their flamboyant lead singer Freddie Mercury. The band would redefine what rock and roll sounded like and looked like, adding an operatic sound and unforgettable live show to the lexicon of rock bands.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, video featurettes and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 4DX, Dolby, IMAX, RPX, XD
Genre: Musical Biography
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and language)

Beautiful Boy

(Amazon) Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan. David and Nic Sheff, father and son with the father being an acclaimed writer, deal with the heartbreak and hope of drug addiction.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: R (for drug content throughout, language and brief sexual material)

Brewmaster

(The Orchard) Jim Koch, Brian Selders, Jen Kimmich, David Geary. The craft beer revolution is in full swing, with four new breweries coming into being every business day. This documentary follows the forces driving what’s happening in craft beer as seen through the eyes of a New York lawyer struggling to open his own brewery and a Milwaukee brewer trying to pass the  difficult test to become the beer equivalent of a sommelier.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Saturday only)

Rating: NR

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

(Fox Searchlight) Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Ben Falcone. Lee Israel was once a bestselling author of celebrity biographies but as the 80s became the 90s her profiles had fallen out of favor with the reading public. With nobody willing to publish her anymore and the bills piling up, she takes a desperate turn into something not quite legal.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for language including some sexual references, and brief drug use)

The Happy Prince

(Sony Classics) Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Emily Watson, Tom Wilkinson. In the last days of Oscar Wilde’s life he takes the opportunity to reflect on his failures and transgressions with his trademark wit. Everett not only stars as Wilde but he also wrote and directed this passion project.

See the trailer and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Daytona Cinematique, Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for sexual content, graphic nudity, language and brief drug use)

Nobody’s Fool

(Paramount Players) Tiffany Haddish, Tika Sumpter, Whoopi Goldberg, Omari Hardwick. After being released from prison, a wild child connects with her uptight sister to get her own life back together. However she soon finds that her sister’s online boyfriend may not be what he seems at all and that just won’t fly.

See the trailer and video featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for sexual content and language throughout, and for drug material)

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

(Disney) Mackenzie Foy, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley. A young mother desperately wants the key to open a box that contains the last gift her late mother wanted to give her. When she finds it, she is transported to an amazing land of magic and wonder where three realms live in peace and harmony. It’s the fourth realm that is the problem child as the tyrannical Mother Ginger wants to rule the four realms herself. The courageous girl must retrieve her key from the fourth realm if there’s even a chance of her returning home and bringing stability to the four realms.

See the trailer, interviews and video featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX 3D, Dolby
Genre: Family Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some mild peril)

Susperia

(Amazon) Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Grace Moretz, Malgosia Bela. A well-known dance company is wreathed in darkness. Some will succumb to madness, but others will find an awakening.

See the trailer, clips, video featurettes, an interview and a music video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal The Loop, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for disturbing content involving ritualistic violence, bloody images and graphic nudity, and for some language including sexual references)

The Viper Club

(Roadside Attractions) Susan Sarandon, Matt Bomer, Edie Falco, Lola Kirke.  When a mother gets word her son, a journalist, has been kidnapped by terrorists, she tries to work through the system to try and get him back only to find that the system isn’t interested in helping. Frustrated, she finds a clandestine network of journalists, philanthropists and activists who are willing to help – but can they?

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language and some disturbing images)

What They Had

(Bleecker Street) Susan Sarandon, Michael Shannon, Blythe Danner, Robert Forster. A woman returns home to Chicago at the urgent summons of her brother. There, they both must deal with their mother’s deteriorating health and their father’s stubborn refusal to put her into a nursing home.

See the trailer, clips, an interview and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: R (for language including a brief sexual reference)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

4 Estrella
In Harm’s Way
Kayamkulam Kochunni
Sayyasachi

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Bodied
Daughters of the Sexual Revolution
Hopelessly Devout
Monster Party
Sayyasachi

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Daughters of the Sexual Revolution
In Harm’s Way
Monster Party
Sayyasachi

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Sayyasachi

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Beautiful Boy
Bodied
Bohemian Rhapsody
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Nobody’s Fool
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Cine-World Film Festival, Sarasota
Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood

Advertisements

Winchester


Sarah Winchester doesn’t get out much.

(2018) Horror (CBS) Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Emm Wiseman, Finn Scicluna-O’Prey, Tyler Coppin, Angus Sampson, Alice Chaston, Eamon Farren, Michael Carmen, Bruce Spence, Curtis Bock, Andy de Lore, Adam Bowes, Laura Brent, Amos Ciza, Red Horse Rivera, Tom Heath, Phoenix Suhrou-Dimarco, Laura Sutton. Directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig

 

In the face of multiple and intolerable tragedies the human psyche can react in a variety of ways. Sometimes, it gets stronger, allowing the person to become better, more charitable and closer to those they love. Sometimes, it builds a wall, shutting everyone out. Other times, it simply goes around the bend, preferring to explain those tragedies with some sort of preposterous explanation.

By all accounts Sarah Winchester (Mirren) took the latter course. The heiress to the massive fortune of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, following the untimely deaths of her husband and only son became convinced that her family was cursed due to all the deaths caused by the guns her family company had manufactured. She was convinced that the only thing appeasing the ghosts was 24 hour a day seven day a week construction on the mansion she inhabited in San Jose, California – then an orchard-filled backwater town south of San Francisco.

Alarmed at the prospect that the person running the company was a certified loon, the officers of the company set out to, well, certify her. They enlist the aid of San Francisco psychiatrist Eric Price (Clarke) who is slowly drugging himself to oblivion with laudanum, a potent combination of whiskey and opium, after the tragic death of his wife.

Dr. Price is given the rare opportunity to observe Winchester in the confines of her massive home and as time goes by, he discovers that the woman is far from the mentally frail old woman she is portrayed to be; she is, quite frankly, an imposing independent woman who is very clearly in charge of her own household. Yes, she is getting architectural instructions for her kooky mansion via séance but even given that she seems no less sane than you or I…which then leaves the unthinkable conclusion: that she is right about the curse.

I lived for more than a decade in the San Jose area and have been to the Winchester Mystery House; yes, it’s a real mansion and the story of Mrs. Winchester believing the family to be cursed is a true one. Pretty much there is where the similarity between fact and fiction ends. I will say that I have many fond memories of my visits to the mansion and that may color my review a bit. I can tell you that the interiors, built on a set in Australia, are reasonably close to the actual rooms in the mansion that are shown on the tour (the external shots were of the actual house).

Mirren is one of the finest actresses working today and to her credit she makes her portrayal of Sarah Winchester a memorable one, even if it isn’t anything like what the real woman’s personality was said to be – she was rarely seen publicly (only one photograph exists of her) and she was said to be shy and somewhat easily shaken up. The Sarah Winchester here is more of a warrior than a wimp. Clarke also delivers a strong performance here and holds his own against Mirren, no easy task indeed.

There are an awful lot of jump scares – too many for my taste – but when the Spierig brothers go for genuine atmosphere, they succeed. They also use a minimal amount of CGI, opting for more practical effects and dong so makes the movie feel a bit homier, if you get my drift. This is how they used to make them and given the setting, it makes a lot of sense that the Spierigs opted for that route.

This is a haunted house movie that delivers the goods for the most part. While there are some historical inaccuracies (there are references to victims of the Winchester rifle during the Civil War but the company wasn’t formed until 1866, the year after the Civil War ended), the final test of any good horror film is whether you come out the other side grinning ear to ear and so I did. This is complete nonsense but it’s wonderful nonsense.

REASONS TO GO: When it is at its best, the movie succeeds. Mirren is a force of nature here.
REASONS TO STAY: History is played with in a fast and loose manner.
FAMILY VALUES: There is supernatural (and natural) violence, disturbing images, some drug use and sexual allusions.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real Sarah Winchester was a mere 4’11” tall and walked with a distinctive gait due to her severe and debilitating arthritis. By comparison, Helen Mirren is 5’4” tall.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/28/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 14% positive reviews. Metacritic: 28/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Insidious: The Last Key
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
War Machine

New Releases for the Week of March 16, 2018


TOMB RAIDER

(MGM/Warner Brothers) Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, Hannah John-Kamen. Directed by Roar Uthaug

The headstrong daughter of a wealthy entrepreneur and adventurer mourns the disappearance of her father. Honing her skills, she receives a mysterious message that brings her to the very island where her father was last seen – and smack dab into a conspiracy and mystery that may find the same fate awaiting her. This is the reboot of the popular videogame movie franchise.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX 3D, Dolby Atmos, IMAX, IMAX 3D, RPX, RPX 3D, XD, XD-3D
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, and for some language)

7 Days in Entebbe

(Focus) Rosamund Pike, Daniel Brühl, Eddie Marsan, Nonso Anozie. In 1976, an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists to call attention to the plight of their people. The flight was made to land in Uganda whose dictator Idi Amin used the hijacking as a means to call international attention for himself as a world leader. When things looked bleak, the Israeli army staged a daring raid that still resonates today as one of the gutsiest rescue operations in history.

See the trailer, interviews, a clip and a video featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, some thematic material, drug use, smoking and brief strong language)

Concert for George

(Abramorama) Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Dhani Harrison. On the first anniversary of the untimely death of George Harrison, a group of his family and close friends put on a concert in the Royal Albert Hall in London to celebrate the life and music of the ex-Beatle. Although the line-up was stellar, the concert film went directly to video and has been hard to find ever since. On the occasion commemorating what would have been Harrison’s 75th birthday, a limited theatrical release has finally been arranged. It is playing at the Enzian as part of their Music Mondays series. You can read the Cinema365 review of the doc by clicking on the link in the Scheduled for Review section below.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Concert Film
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Monday only)

Rating: NR

The Cured

(IFC) Ellen Page, Sam Keeley, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Stuart Graham. After a mysterious disease turns people into mindless zombies, a cure is eventually found but the world is badly shell-shocked. Those that have reverted back to humanity find themselves discriminated against by their neighbors and sometimes their own families. When the military tries to intervene, things take a turn for the worse.

See the trailer, video featurettes and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for violence, bloody images, and language)

Dear Dictator

(Cinedigm) Michael Caine, Odeya Rush, Katie Holmes, Seth Green. A teenage girl doing a school project on personal heroes chooses a British-Caribbean dictator who surprisingly begins corresponding with her. When he is overthrown by freedom fighters, he hides out at her home and gives her advice on how to handle the mean girls at her school.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

I Can Only Imagine

(Roadside Attractions) J. Michael Finley, Brody Rose, Dennis Quaid, Cloris Leachman. This is the true story behind the hit MercyMe song “I Can Only Imagine” and the forgiveness and healing between an abusive father and his musician son.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Faith Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements including some violence)

In the Fade

(Magnolia) Diane Kruger, Denis Moschitto, Numan Acar, Ulrich Tukur. When a wife and mother’s family is killed in a terrorist bombing, she is distressed when those who perpetrated the attack are seemingly going to get away with it. This leads her to take her own revenge which in this case she equates with justice for her loved ones.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for some disturbing images, drug use and language including sexual references)

Josie

(Screen Media) Sophie Turner, Dylan McDermott, Daeg Faerch, Lombardo Boyar. A beautiful but mysterious young woman appears in a small Texas town and strikes up romantic friendships with a punk outcast and a lonely neighbor. As the gossip grapevine goes into overdrive, soon there are signs that she may have a sinister agenda of her own once certain facts about her past come to light.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

The Leisure Seeker

(Sony Classics) Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, Janel Moloney, Christian McKay. An elderly couple goes on a last hurrah road trip in their faithful but falling apart RV they call the Leisure Seeker.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some sexual material)

Love, Simon

(20th Century Fox) Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Katherine Langford. A high school boy has been hiding a secret from family and friends – he’s gay. When his secret is threatened, he must find a way to break the news to those he cares about and along the way discover who he truly is. This is the first major studio film to deal with a gay teen romance.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a video featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Teen Romance
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, sexual references, language and teen partying)

Loveless

(Sony Classics) Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Matvey Novikov, Marina Vasileva. A Russian couple undergoing a bitter divorce must put their differences aside when their young boy disappears. This was a finalist for the 2018 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for strong sexuality, graphic nudity, language and a brief disturbing image)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Kirrak Party
Please Stand By
Raid

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Cuba’s Forgotten Jewels: A Haven in Havana
Kirrak Party
Mind Game
Mufti
Raid

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Demon House
Raid

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

In Bed With Victoria
Kirrak Party

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

7 Days in Entebbe
Concert for George
In the Fade
The Leisure Seeker
Love, Simon
Tomb Raider

New Releases for the Week of February 2, 2018


WINCHESTER

(CBS) Helen Mirren, Sarah Snook, Jason Clarke, Angus Sampson, Eamon Farren, Laura Brent, Tyler Coppin, Emma Wiseman. Directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig

An eccentric heiress to a firearms fortune believes her husband and children were victims of the enraged ghosts of all those who died at the hands of a Winchester gun. In order to protect herself from the same ghosts, she begins building a mansion in San Jose, California with unusual architecture – doors that open into nothing, stairs that lead nowhere, secret doors and hidden passageways. A psychiatrist sent to investigate her soon determines that she might not be crazy.

See the trailer and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 4DX, DBOX, Dolby Atmos
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, disturbing images, drug content, some sexual material and thematic elements)

Bilal: A New Breed of Hero

(Vertical) Starring the voices of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ian McShane, Thomas Ian Nichols, Michael Gross. Based on an actual historic figure, a young boy who dreams of being a great warrior is kidnapped along with his sister and sold into slavery. Refusing to accept this as the life he was intended to lead, he raises his voice and inspires his people to throw off their shackles and demand freedom.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Pointe Orlando, Satellite Cinemas Titusville

Rating: PG-13 (for violence/warfare and some thematic elements)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

A Ciambra
Aadu 2
Cardcaptor Segura: The Sealed Card
Chalo
Touch Chesi Chudu

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

1945
A Silent Voice
Chalo
Django
Happy End
Lies We Tell
Lover for a Day
Oru Nalla Naal Paathu Solren
Touch Chesi Chudu

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Cardcaptor Segura: The Sealed Card
Chalo
Oru Nalla Naal Paathu Solren
Scorched Earth
Street Lights
Touch Chesi Chudu

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Cardcaptor Segura: The Sealed Card
Humble Politician Nograj

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Django
Scorched Earth
Winchester

The Fate of the Furious


Why so angry>

(2017) Action (Universal) Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Kurt Russell, Nathalie Emmanuel, Luke Evans, Elsa Pataky, Helen Mirren, Scott Eastwood, Kristofer Hivju,, Patrick St. Esprit, Janmarco Santiago, Luke Hawx, Corey Maher, Olek Krupa, Alexander  Babara, Eden Estrella. Directed by F. Gary Gray

 

There was a big question mark hanging over the latest installment of The Fast and the Furious franchise; with co-star Paul Walker gone, could the series continue to reach the heights it achieved with Furious 7? Well, in terms of box office and spectacle, the answer turned out to be yes. But does it hold up with the best of the films in the franchise?

Dominic Toretto (Diesel) is on his honeymoon with his girl Letty (Rodriguez) in Havana, doing what most new husbands do on their honeymoon; get involved in a street race. He is also approached by Cypher (Theron), a world class hacker who has something on Dom but we’re not sure what. His wolfish smile, which looks for all the world like he’s displaying his fangs, turns into a world class scowl – see picture above.

During the next mission with his crew, Dom betrays them leaving Hobbs (Johnson) holding the bag, Cypher holding some Russian nuclear codes and the team unable to believe that Dom would turn on them. The world thinks Dom has gone Rogue but Mr. Nobody (Russell) thinks differently, even after Dom and Cypher attack their headquarters in New York City. Dom flees and Cypher uses her special skills to take control over every computer-enabled car in Manhattan, raining down cars on the team like a really bad hailstorm.

Cypher is after a Russian nuclear sub and with her launch codes could hold the world hostage for a tidy amount of cash but Letty, Mr. Nobody and the until-recently-incarcerated Hobbs have other plans, and they’re going to get some reinforcements of the most unexpected kind. Friend and foe will unite to take on this deadly femme fatale.

Now, I’m not going to beat around the bush; the action sequences are absolutely outstanding. The New York sequence is right there as is the climactic scene in which Dom’s crew chase down the submarine over ice – don’t even ask for sense here. Nothing here makes any. What we have is just cars going fast, things going boom and attractive guys and gals at the wheels of cars we couldn’t possibly afford. What better fantasy is there for a red-blooded American?

I think that the instructions here were to go big and Gray as well as screenwriter Chris Morgan may have taken it too much to heart. This is more in the James Bond territory now than what was once a simple underground street racing movie featuring a bunch of LA guys in wife beaters driving some cool midlife crisis compensators. There are gadgets, CGI and not a whole lot of character development which may be because there are way too many characters here. Too many to keep track of, anyway.

I wasn’t a fan of this franchise initially but starting with the fourth installment I began to get into it. Unfortunately, this is a giant step backwards and while it’s billion dollar worldwide box office guarantees an ninth episode (there will also be a tenth which has already been dated by Universal), I’m not looking forward to it with quite the anticipation of the previous few installments.

REASONS TO GO: The action sequences are great. You can’t go wrong with a heavyweight cast like this one.
REASONS TO STAY: This is the weakest entry in the franchise since Tokyo Drift. There are too many characters to keep up with.
FAMILY VALUES: You’ll find plenty of violence and action, some sensuality and brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There were rumors that Diesel and Johnson were having some personal difficulties with one another; after Johnson posted his frustrations online, the two met privately and resolved their differences.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/30/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 66% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Need for Speed
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: The Cyclotron

Cries from Syria


The White Helmets rescue more Syrian children from the rubble of Aleppo.

(2017) Documentary (HBO) Helen Mirren (narrator), Abdullah Kurdi, Kholoud Halmi, Hadi Al-Abdullah Abdul Baset Al-Saroot, Riad Al-Asaad, Suzan Malar, President Bashar Al-Asad, Jamil Afesee, Dr. Khalid Alazar, Zaher Al-Saket, Raed El-Saleh, Abu Mohammad Al-Julani, Ghiath Matar, Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb. Directed by Evgeny Afineevsky

 

What is happening in Syria is absolutely unconscionable. Ruled by President Bashar Al-Asad with an iron fist (ironically he trained as a doctor before stepping in as successor to his brutal father), Syria is a country which has fallen into a morass of death and destruction.

Afineevsky, who helmed the excellent Oscar-nominated documentary Winter on Fire about the Ukraine’s fight for freedom from a tyrant allied with Vladimir Putin, has delivered a very orderly and precise account of the events that have led to the situation as it is. There are a lot – a lot – of talking head interviews in the film which is normally a turn-off for me but their stories are all so varied and effective it’s hard to fault the director.

Afineevsky divides the movie into four chapters; the first details the events leading up to the Syrian revolution; how the Arab Spring gave people hope that they would be able to overthrow their own despot. When some schoolboys in the city of Daraa write some graffiti on their schoolyard reading “It’s Your Turn, Doctor” apparently this puts the fear of God into the authorities for the boys are arrested, tortured and many of them are killed.

This leads to outrage on the part of the people of Syria who feel that torturing children is a step too far. They take to the streets in massive demonstrations but Al-Asad orders his army to fire on the peaceful, unarmed demonstrators who carry flowers and bottled water to give to the soldiers. Some of the soldiers, disgusted by these orders, defect from the Syrian army and form the Free Syrian Army. The Syrian Civil War begins.

You get a sense that the Syrian people, confronted by one atrocity, believe that they’ve hit rock bottom and then another one begins. Al-Asad starts by laying siege to towns where anti-government demonstrations had taken place. He forbids any goods and services to come in, and starts bombarding the towns, labeling the inhabitants as terrorists when in reality most of the dead and dying are women and children. His bombers target hospitals and schools.

Then he starts dropping Sarin nerve gas on his own people, following that lovely gesture up with Chlorine gas. Both of these mainly affect the children, already weakened by hunger. When the UN gets wind of this, they send troops to confiscate any biological weapons but there is evidence that Al-Asad still has plenty in his possession.

After that, ISIS starts taking over villages in Eastern Syria which are more rural and imposing their own peculiar brand of Islam on the inhabitants. They seem to be saviors at first but their true colors show as they begin executing and beating the villagers for infractions that are almost nonsensical. However, the presence of ISIS brings in Putin and his air force and the bombing under Al-Asad suddenly goes on steroids. Aleppo, one of the larger cities in Syria, is essentially being obliterated.

We get scenes of the White Helmets, volunteer first responders who go into bombed out buildings and rescue those buried inside. They inject a little humanity into the unending horrors we witness – one can only wonder how the Syrian people can bear it. There are so many tears, so many screams of loss – it all blends together somewhat by movie’s end.

As a primer for what’s happening in Syria, this film succeeds triumphantly although there are those – an admitted minority of trolls – who mark it as propaganda. There’s no doubt that the filmmakers are on the side of the Syrian people and some think that the Syrian people are terrorists. Those that do tend to be ignorant of the facts but then that’s never stopped anyone from trolling, right?

This is not easy to watch – you may need to step away from time to time and give yourself a break, but it is important viewing. In watching it you’ll run the gamut of emotions – heartbreak, outrage, horror, disbelief, admiration, sympathy, sadness and hopefully, a desire to help. There are ways to assist the Syrian people without having to fly to Damascus. Look into them if you can.

Even though the fourth chapter on the Syrian refugee issue doesn’t measure up to the first three chapters, it is incumbent on us to understand what the refugees are fleeing from and why we need to take them in and give them shelter. It’s only the Christian thing to do, or have we forgotten two travelers to Bethlehem who were denied shelter?

REASONS TO GO: A detailed account of how the civil war began and the events afterwards. An absolutely heartbreaking account of what the Syrian people have had to endure. Excellent graphics make the names of the speakers easier to identify.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the footage is gruesome and might be too disturbing for the sensitive.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brutal wartime violence; definitely not for the squeamish.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cher recorded an original song for the film, “Prayers for This World” which plays over the end credits. The song was written by Diane Warren who also penned her big hit “If I Could Turn Back Time.”
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/13/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 78/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The White Helmets
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT: Afterimage

Collateral Beauty


Just sitting on a park bench chatting with Death; nothing crazy going on here...

Just sitting on a park bench chatting with Death; nothing crazy going on here…

(2016) Drama (New Line) Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Peña, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Jacob Lattimore, Naomie Harris, Ann Dowd, Lisa Colón-Zayas, Natalie Gold, Kylie Rogers, Shirley Rumierk, Alyssa Cheatham, Benjamin Snyder, Mary Beth Peil, Andy Taylor, Michael Cumpsty, Jonathan Rivera Morales, Joseph Castillo-Midyett, Ella Monte-Brown. Directed by David Frankel

 

We all deal with grief in different ways. Some of us pour ourselves into our work; others lose all focus. Some of us rage against the universe; others try to find something constructive to do, such as create or work for a charity. Sooner or later however all of us must deal with the loss of a loved one.

Howard (Smith) is doing just that. His beloved daughter has passed away and now, two years later, the successful advertising agency he built is floundering, losing clients left and right because Howard, their main creative force, just doesn’t care anymore. His best friends all work at the company; Whit (Norton), who co-founded the company with him, Claire (Winslet) who has given up marriage and children to give her full focus on the company and Simon (Peña), the numbers man.

There is an offer on the table to buy the company but Howard won’t even consider it. All of the principals stand to lose everything if they can’t salvage the situation and the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. Whit, Claire and Simon, desperate to understand what’s going on with Howard, hire a private detective (Dowd) to figure out what their friend is doing. Nothing much; mainly building domino constructions, biking back and forth from work and writing letters.

The latter is kind of the peculiar part; they’re not letters to people but to things; concepts, really. He’s been writing to Love, Death and Time. The three partners hit upon an idea that, well, never would have occurred to me; to hire three unemployed actors that Whit has found who can play the parts of Love, Death and Time who will personally answer Howard’s letters. They’re not really hoping that this performance will bring Howard back but the detective can film Howard talking to them (yelling at them really) and then digitally remove the three actors so that Howard can be proven incompetent and the sale go through without him.

The actors that Whit recruits – Brigitte (Mirren) who plays Death, Amy (Knightley) who plays Love (now, that I can believe) and Raffi (Lattimore) who plays Time each begin to spend time with one of the partners – Brigitte with Simon, Amy with Whit and Raffi with Claire – and end up helping them with their own problems. In the meantime, Howard has started attending a support group for grieving parents run by the lovely Madeleine (Harris) and looks like he might finally be emerging from his shell. But will it be in time to save everything he’s built, including his friendships?

If the plot summary sounded implausible that’s pretty much because it is. I can’t imagine “friends” doing something that awful to a friend, and the movie portrays them as genuinely concerned for Howard’s well-being. I can’t really reconcile the actions of concocting an elaborate scam to prove their friend incompetent (which has other ramifications beyond the sale of his company) with all the mea culpa chest-beating about what a great guy Howard is and how much they “miss” the old Howard. I mean, friends just don’t do that.

The cast is one of the best you’ll see gathered in a single movie with a couple of Oscar winners and four nominees. None of them will be adding to their nomination total here but the performances are nonetheless solid. Peña caught my attention for a very emotional performance as a family man facing a terrible crisis of his own, and Smith who is the main performance in what is essentially an ensemble cast gets to keep everything in until the last scene in which he unleashes some of his best acting of his career.

That ending however contains a twist so unbelievable that at that point most people are just going to throw their hands up in the air and give up on the movie, and I can’t blame them. However, if you do as I do and just enjoy the ride rather than try to make sense of things, you’ll be far happier.

Now as you can tell the critical response has been harsh. Keep in mind however that most professional critics don’t like being emotionally manipulated and films that do that tend to get harsh scores. In that sense, critics can’t be trusted with films like this. You really have to go and experience it on your own and judge for yourself. You, after all, may not mind being having your emotions manipulated. Maybe you need it. I do, sometimes. Sometimes I need the release of a good cry. Catharsis makes us all emotionally healthier after all.

REASONS TO GO: Strong performances throughout, particularly by Peña and Smith. The premise is at least intriguing.
REASONS TO STAY: Many of the plot twists are telegraphed. The ending is a bit preposterous.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of profanity but mostly the themes are pretty adult in nature.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Winslet, Mirren and Smith were all nominated for Oscars in 2007, although only Mirren was victorious.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/7/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 12% positive reviews. Metacritic: 24/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Meet Joe Black
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: The True Memoirs of an International Assassin