Uppercase Print


You will write “I will not post graffiti” in Romanian four thousand times on the wall.

(2020) Drama (Big World) Serban Lazarovici, Nicolae Ceausescu, Bogdan Zamfir, Ioana Iacob, Serban Pavlu, Alexandru Porocean, Silvian Vâlcu, Constantin Dogioiu, Doru Catanescu. Directed by Radu Jude

 

These days, the left rails against authoritarianism around the globe and frets that it is coming to the United States. The right often pooh-poohs such notions and, in some cases, embraces authoritarian leaders such as Viktor Orban or Vladimir Putin. But nobody really discusses what life in an authoritarian state looks like, and the consequences of such on individuals who live in them.

Romania in the 1980s under communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was such a state. In October 1981 in the city of Botosani, chalked statements calling for free trade unions such as the then-nascent Solidarity union that was rising in Poland, and expressing frustration at the scarcity of food and services for the general public began to appear on the walls of the Communist party headquarters and other government buildings around the city.

The Romanian secret police, the Securitate, went to work immediately, mobilizing an army of informants and agents to discover who was behind what they considered terrorist acts. The culprit was caught within a few weeks and turned out to be a 17-year-old high school student named Mugur Calinescu (Lazarovici). The boy was interrogated and eventually released without being jailed, but the consequences against him and his family were appalling.

Jude based the movie on a stage play by Gianina Carbunariu, what she called a “documentary play” (she also co-wrote the screenplay along with Jude). The dialogue was taken directly from the testimony and reports that was recorded by the Securitate around the incident. Actors playing various Securitate agents read their reports against stylized stage-like backgrounds, lit by bright and garish lights, with gigantic television screens, tape recorders and the symbol of the Securitate in the background. Interspersed with the testimony are excerpts from Romanian state television of the period, showing the propaganda that depicted Romania as a happy, prosperous place even though those making the television programs knew it wasn’t so (their fixed smiles betray them) and of course the people watching them knew better as well.

This results in an innovative and interesting narrative, but despite the subject matter, this is not a story of a brave young man standing up so much as it is about how easily those in an authoritarian nation turn on one another. The film continues through the suspicious death of Calinescu just four years later, apparently from leukemia, at the age of 21 (it wasn’t uncommon for the secret police to expose Romanian citizens to lethal radioactive isotopes in order to silence them without appearing to murder them, although it was, of course, the kind of state-sanctioned murder that continues in Putin’s Russia even now). The final act jumps ahead to modern days, where the unrepentant agents of the Securitate insist they worked for the good of the state and that they never harmed anyone.

The film takes an awful long time to get going, although as it continues through the saga the movie gets more and more intense. Jude might have benefitted from a judicious hand in the editing bay, perhaps cutting down on some of the testimony (and accompanying cheesy television clips) and tightened the storytelling just a hair.

What we’re left with is a chilling look at life in an authoritarian state, and the movie does end with a gut punch – monochromatic photos of the real Mugur and the chalk graffiti he left, which look terribly innocent by any standards, but especially given the tragic consequences those chalk writings created.

REASONS TO SEE: A unique method of telling the story. Somewhat surreal, although it may not be quite so much to those who lived in Romania at the time.
REASONS TO AVOID: The pacing is a bit slow for a two-hour movie.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes.
=TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film debuted at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival, one of two films Jude debuted there that year.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 01/23/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 81% positive reviews; Metacritic: 80/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: V for Vendetta
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Laureate

Diane


Mary Kay Place knows she won’t get an Oscar for her performance here, even though she deserves one.

(2018) Drama (IFC) Mary Kay Place, Jake Lacy, Estelle Parsons, Andrea Martin, Deidre O’Connell, Glynnis O’Connor, Joyce an Patten, Kerry Flanagan, Phyllis Somerville, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Ray Iannicelli, David Tuttle, Marcia Haufrecht, Mike Hartman, Cara Yeates, Gabriella Rhodeen, Charles Weldon, Paul McIsaac, Laura Knight, Teri Gibson, Ann Osmond, Dierdre Friel. Directed by Kent Jones

The movies that often affect us the most deeply are the ones that are quiet little slices of life. So, that would describe Diane to a “T.” Set in rural Massachusetts, Diane (Place) is a retired widow who spends most of her days caring for others – her cousin (O’Connell) dying of cervical hospital in a sterile hospital, her son Brian (Lacy), killing himself with a drug habit, her aging friends and the homeless, to whom she serves food at the local shelter.

We see Diane driving around the area down beautiful, snow-covered roads that look like a cinematic Currier and Ives Christmas card, but as we watch her go through her appointed rounds we begin to unravel the fact that despite the veneer of caring and compassion, Diane is a broken soul, carrying around burdens of guilt that any Catholic would understand.

Place gives the kind of performance that wins awards although, sadly, she was overlooed for most of the major ones. 70 years old at the time of filming, Place gives the kind of dogged characterization that we unwrap layer by layer until we are left with the core of the woman as the film comes to a breathtaking end. While the movie never got the acclaim it was due in many ways, you can happily rectify that situation by giving it a watch yourself. This is a gem of a movie that should be on every cinema buff’s radar.

REASONS TO SEE: Despite the sometimes-painful subject matter, the film is nevertheless full of warmth. Place gives a career-best performance. Strong interpersonal dynamics throughout.
REASONS TO AVOID: Occasionally a bit too stark.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and drug use here.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Jones, a film critic of note, wrote the title role with Place specifically in mind for it.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC Plus, AppleTV, Curia, DirecTV, Google Play, Hulu, Roku Channel, Tubi, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/21/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews; Metacritic: 86/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Time Out of Mind
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Uppercase Print

New Releases for the Week of January 21, 2022


REDEEMING LOVE

(Universal) Abigail Cowen, Tom Lewis, Logan Marshall-Green, Famke Janssen, Nina Dobrev, Eric Dane, Ke-Xi Wu, Brandon Auret. Directed by D.J. Caruso

A bitter young girl, sold into prostitution as a child, finds love in an unlikely source in this story set during the California Gold Rush. The movie is based on a novel by Francine Rivers which is in turn inspired by the Old Testament story of the prophet Hosea and his wife Gomer.

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

Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic content, sexual content, partial nudity, and strong violent content)

The King’s Daughter

(Gravitas) Kaya Scodelario, Pierce Brosnan, Fan Bingbing, William Hurt. The aging Louis XIV of France, the Sun King, is desperate to find the secret to immortality and believes at last that he has found it – through the possession of a mermaid. He commissions a young sea captain to find him one, a move complicated when the king’s daughter stows away on board.

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

Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG (for some violence, suggestive material and thematic elements)

Parallel Mothers

(Sony Classics) Penelope Cruz, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Milena Smit, Israel Elejalde. Two single women meet in a Spanish maternity ward as they await to give birth; one, middle-aged and eagerly anticipating motherhood, the other young, frightened and apprehensive in this new film from the legendary Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar.

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

Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Enzian
Rating: R (for some sexuality)

The Souvenir – Part II

(A24) Honor Swinton Byrne, Tilda Swinton, Richard Ayoade, Ariane Labed. A graduate film student who recently extricated herself from a toxic romance with a manipulative older man, attempts to reorder her life, separate fact from elaborately woven fiction and complete her graduate studies and film project.

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

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs
Rating: R (for some strong sexuality and language)

The Tiger Rising

(The Avenue) Queen Latifah, Dennis Quaid, Christian Convery, Katherine McPhee. A young 12-year-old boy discovers a caged tiger in the woods near town, setting off a journey that will enlighten him and send him on a road to adventure.

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

Genre: Family
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Lakeland Square, Cinemark Orlando, Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Fashion Square Premiere
Rating: PG (for thematic elements, language and brief violence)

Unsilenced

(Zhen) Sam Trammell, Ting Wu, Anastasia Lin, Tzu-Chiang Wang. A cynical American reporter, having lost faith in his profession and in his nation, covers events in China in 1999 when the Chinese government in a move of unbridled repression, banned the practice of Falun Gong in that country. Based on true events.

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

Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Cinemark Orlando
Rating: R (for some violence)

WarHunt

(Saban) Mickey Rourke, Robert Knepper, Jackson Rathbone, Josh Burdett. After an Allied plane crashes in the Black Forest in the waning days of World War II, a squad of elite soldiers is sent to retrieve sensitive material the plane was carrying, but the soldiers find themselves in a battle for their lives when supernatural forces beyod their understanding come into play.

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

Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: R (for violent content, language, and some sexual references)

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

A Shot Through the Wall (Friday)
Butlers in Love (Saturday)v
Confession (Tuesday)
Deadly House Call (Sunday)
Hollywood Fringe (Tuesday)
Love on the Road (Sunday)
MICerz (Tuesday)
Munich: The Edge of War (Friday)
My Father’s Violin (Friday)
Picabo (Friday)
The Royal Treatment (Thursday)

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Munich: The Edge of War
Parallel Mothers

Being the Ricardos


We all love Lucy.

(2021) Biographical Drama (Amazon) Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J.K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy, Linda Lavin, Ronny Cox, John Rubenstein, Clark Gregg, Nelson Franklin, Jeff Holman, Jonah Platt, Christopher Denham, Brian Howe, Ron Perkins, Baize Buzan, Matt Cook, Josh Bednarsky, Dana Lyn Baron, Dan Sachoff, Max Silvestri, Renee Pezzotta. Directed by Aaron Sorkin

 

They don’t get much more iconic than Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the real-life husband and wife team that headed up I Love Lucy, perhaps the greatest and certainly the most popular sitcom of all time. At its height, the show could claim 60 million viewers each and every week – when the country’s total population was 160 million, meaning than one out of every two and a half Americans were watching it. Water usage went down when I Love Lucy was on, because people wouldn’t use the bathroom while the show was airing. The show was by every standard a phenomenon.

This new film by Aaron Sorkin charts one week during the show’s second season. The episode Fred and Ethel Fight is the one that was getting made that week and things start with the Monday table read, but the show is in an uproar and for good reason. Over the weekend, a pair of events have happened; syndicated gossip columnist Walter Winchell has accused Ball (Kidman) of being a card-carrying member of the Communist party, a serious career-killiing no-no in the era of Tailgunner Joe McCarthy. A magazine article also shows Arnaz (Bardem), the Cuban émigré, out cavorting with someone who was definitely not Lucy.

With Lucy’s reputation at stake, and her marriage in trouble, it is the show that seems to be what keeps her going. A notorious perfectionist, Lucy endlessly tinkers with the script, much to the annoyance of director Donald Glass (Denham) and the amusement of co-stars William Frawley (Simmons) who played Fred Mertz, and Vivian Vance (Arianda), who played his wife Ethel. Lucy agonizes endlessly over little physical bits of business, from her arranging flowers for the dinner table, to Desi walking up behind her and covering her eyes with a playful “Guess who?”

The film is meant to be a backstage glimpse of a power couple that have never really gotten their due as innovators, savvy business people and forward-thinking producers (Ball and Arnaz were early champions of Star Trek and Mission: Impossible, both which ironically continue to be cash cow franchises for Paramount Studios, which owns the assets of Desliu (the production company that Desi and Lucy founded) today).

The movie follows a time-jumping path that can be confusing at times; there are semi-documentary interviews with the older versions of show runner Jess Oppenheimer (the younger version played by Hale), played by Rubenstein, producer Bob Carroll (Lacy) played by Cox and writer Madelyn Pugh (Shawkat) played by Lavin as an older woman.

We also see flashbacks to earlier points in the careers of both Arnaz and Ball, including their first meeting and eventual romance. The flashbacks do give a little context, but they tend to slow the film down somewhat and are at the end of the day, somewhat unnecessary. Still, Sorkin imbues the film with snappy dialogue (his trademark) and if he isn’t interested in giving us a real appreciation of the human beings that were Lucy and Desi, he does give us a real appreciation of their gifts as performers and behind-the-screen producers.

During this same week, Ball discovered she was pregnant which threw all sorts of consternation into the show; at the time, it was forbidden to even mention the word “pregnant” on the air – viewers of the show may recall the couple’s onscreen bedroom contained separate beds – and Lucy’s stubborn insistence that the pregnancy be written into the show, which despite overwhelming resistance from their sponsor (tobacco company Philip Morris) and the network, was eventually done, leading to some of the most memorable episodes in television history.

Kidman doesn’t particularly resemble Ball facially, but she captures her mannerisms and speech cadence nicely; Bardem is nothing like Arnaz but like Kidman does a good job of capturing the essence of the character. Simmons is memorable as Frawley, and Shawkat and Lacy have a playful relationship, while Shawkat and Kidman have a terrific scene as they discuss the difficulties in being a woman in the entertainment industry; they have improved some since then but not by much.

Kidman has already won the Golden Globe for her performance here and is virtually a shoo-in to be nominated for the Oscar when nominations for the 94th annual Academy Awards are announced on February 8th, 2022. The film is currently playing on Amazon Prime (link below) and may still be in some theaters near you, although to be honest this is a movie in my opinion best seen at home on TV, just like the sitcom was. You can also enjoy the episode that is depicted in the film is available on Hulu and Amazon (for Paramount Plus subscribers) and can be watched on the links therein.

REASONS TO SEE: Kidman captures Ball’s speech and mannerisms nicely. Another terrific screenplay by Sorkin (surprise!).
REASONS TO AVOID: Drags some in the middle.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, sexual content, adult themes, period smoking and drinking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Linda Lavin plays the older Madelyn Pugh, who executive produced the TV sitcom Alice that starred Lavin – and in which Desi Arnaz appeared in.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/19/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 68% positive reviews; Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Stan and Ollie
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Diane

Mr. Birthday


Eric Roberts doesn’t have a clue why he took the role either.

(2021) Family Comedy (VMI) Jason London, Eric Roberts, Anna-Marie Dobbins, Charlotte Ciano, Fred Sullivan, Tanja Melendez Lynch, Mike Messier, Ainsley Drury, Rachel Dulude, Audrey Fratelli, Joshua Maurice Johnson, Isabella Sousa, Gabriella Spinney, Chelsea Vale, David Gere, Michel Badejo, Connor Holden, Michael Dubuc, Robert J. Morgan, Scout Lyons, Cynthia Souza. Directed by Dan Hunter

 

The trouble with family comedies is that in general, the things that kids find funny are very different than what adults find funny. Kids tend to prefer a broader, direct kind of humor – and if you can work farts and toilet humor in, so much the better – while adults need a little bit more subtlety. Although, truth be told, some adults tend to get their yuks from stuff more along the lines of what kids do.

Barry (London) is a single dad, raising his little girl Emily (Ciano) in a new city. He works as a maintenance man in a high-end apartment building with an overbearing boss (Lynch) and snide residents like Rick (Roberts). Emily is doing her best, but she is very lonely – no friends to speak of, other than Alex (Johnson) who is the only one to show up to her birthday party. Kind-hearted Barry does his best to soften the blow, but it isn’t easy; he’s feeling the pain himself, although the comely Jess (Dobbins) looks to ease some of his burden.

But the mysterious Mister Jay (Sullivan) offers Barry a new job – with the International Birthday Network, an organization dedicated to making sure no child has a crappy birthday anywhere on the globe. Barry proves to be uniquely well-suited for the position, but can he make this new life work for both him and Emily?

The emphasis here on the movie is in treating others with respect, working hard and chasing dreams, all good lessons for kids. Both Barry and Emily prove good role models for the youngsters. Still, the small set might find the movie’s pace to be a little bit slow for them – the movie doesn’t even introduce the IBN until nearly two thirds of the way through, although once it does the movie does pick up steam.

London comes off a bit like a poor man’s Tim Allen in both delivery and character (Allen did a number of these types of roles in a string of children’s’ movies in between Home Improvement and Last Man Standing). He does capture a certain good-hearted Dad vibe and his chemistry with Ciano is genuine and natural.

I don’t have anything about kidflicks; kids deserve good entertainment too, and some movies that cater to them are simply not going to appeal to adults and that’s okay; eating plain hamburgers without anything on them doesn’t appeal to me either and that’s how my kid used to eat them. Tastes develop; they don’t appear overnight. Still, from what I can remember from my increasingly distant years back as a child myself, I can’t see this movie appealing heavily to either kids or their parents, except in the most mild and non-passionate way.

REASONS TO SEE: Their heart is certainly in the right place.
REASONS TO AVOID: Slow-paced to a fault; doesn’t really get going until more than an hour in.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some rude humor and bullying.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jason has a twin brother Jeremy who is also an actor.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Hoopla, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS:  As of 1/18/22: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Santa Clause
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Being the Ricardos

Stoker Hills


All tied up on a Saturday night.

(2020) Found Footage (Screen Media) Tony Todd, Steffani Brass, David Gridley, Vince Hill-Bedford, William Lee Scott, Tyler Clark, Eric Etebari, Danny Nucci, John Beasley, Thomas R. Martin, Maya Nucci, Joy McElveen, Jason Sweat, Michael Faulkner, Vinny O’Brien, Atticus Nations, Sara Friedman. Directed by Benjamin Louis

It wasn’t that long ago when found footage films were the bee’s knees in the horror genre. You couldn’t swing a dead cat without smacking a found footage film. But eventually, they fell out of favor – and to be truthful, the subgenre has always been kind of limiting (more on that in a minute), and these days, they tend to be pretty rare.

Ryan (Gridley), Jake (Hill-Bedford) and Erica (Brass) are film students in Professor Smith’s (Todd) class. The students are getting ready to begin work on their film projects for the class, and Jake is already filming everything he can – including Professor Smith’s class. Ryan and Jake are excited about the movie they are about to shoot – it’s called Streetwalkers and it’s about zombie hookers and tars Erica as a prostitute who becomes a zombie. Jake’s ex-girlfriend, Dani (Clark), who won the previous year’s student film of the year award, is skeptical about the project, adding fuel to the fire.

But on the first night of shooting, something unexpected occurs. A car pulls up alongside Erica, the bemused filmmakers believing that the driver thinks she’s an actual hooker…then without warning, grabs the screaming girl and throws her in the car, roaring away before the boys can catch up. Of course Jake continues filming as the boys give chase.

Sometime later, the camera is found along with a dead body, and police detectives Adams (Etebari) and Stafford (Scott) who watch the footage and realize that at least two of the three kids are still missing. A race against time ensues to find them, with only the clues in the camera to guide them. Given that there have been a number of unexplained disappearances lately, this could be the sign that something much more terrible is going on than a couple of kids making a movie that got out of hand.

One of the things (and there are many) that essentially derailed the found footage explosion is that the movies tend to be pretty much the same, generally but Stoker Hills twists that on its ear, by ot only using found footage but more conventional storyteliing techniques as well, utilizing the detectives watching the footage and taking the clues from it to find the missing kids. That much is innovative.

But one of the things that made found footage less viable than other horror subgenres is that you have to create a reason for the footage to exist and while in some cases it works (the Paranormal Activity films largely rely on security camera footage), that doesn’t always work as in this case; most people, chasing after someone who is in mortal peril, aren’t likely to keep filming. Their concentration is going to be on rescuing the person who is in trouble.

Tony Todd is the headliner here, but sadly he’s only on for a couple of scenes (including the very first) and doesn’t really play much of a role here, but he still command the screen in any case. The three young leads do pretty good work (and Brass does a fine job looking uncomfortable in the hyper-sexual outfit she’s forced to wear). The characters of the detectives are poorly written though; they look like a couple of guys who have watched way too many noir movies (one of them even wears a fedora and a trenchcoat) and they don’t act like any sort of competent police detective.

This movie is a bit of a contradiction. There are quite a few basic flaws here, but there’s also some real creativity. The two kind of counterbalance each other, leaving a fairly enjoyable horror-thriller with a fair amount of gore and enough interest in the plot to keep one watching until the very end.

REASONS TO SEE: The story is just compelling enough to be worthwhile.
REASONS TO AVOID: Too much formula, too much exposition, too many missteps in plot points.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, drug use, violence, gore and some sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although this is the third feature directed by the Haiti-born Louis, it is the first film he has directed since 2004.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/17/2022: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Creep
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Mr. Birthday

Who is Amos Otis?


The revolution is already underway.

(2021) Courtroom Drama (Gravitas) Josh Katawick, Rico Reid, Derek Snow, A.J. Ford, Christine Brunner, Mike Dennis, Peggy S. Allen, Donald John Volpenhein, Denise Del Vera, Christine Jones, Moulay Essakalli, Rajiim A. Gross, Paul Morris, Carol Brammer. Directed by Greg Newberry

 

In a world as polarized as ours is, it is perhaps understandable that people might wonder – to themselves, or even out loud – if the world might not be a better place if this public figure or that public figure got whacked. I imagine that’s fairly common fantasy fodder on both sides of the political aisle.

But a man has gone and made it a reality. Using a sniper rifle, he has assassinated a highly divisive President (who isn’t named but is meant to resemble Trump). Captured afterwards, he identifies himself as Amos Otis (Katawick) but it soon becomes apparent that he isn’t him; Amos Otis, the owner of the truck that this man was driving, was most assuredly an elderly African-American man whereas this man using his identity is a 30-something white male (and baseball fans, the movie nor either character has anything to do with Hall of Fame ballplayer Amos Otis of the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals).

Jake Johnson (Reid), a court-appointed attorney doesn’t particularly want the job. Amos is a man who doesn’t exist and he doesn’t seem particularly disposed to informing his attorney too much on what his motivations are, or even who he really is. Jake is like a blind man in a room full of pitfalls, trying to navigate his way through without any input whatsoever.

The odds against him are overwhelming. The prosecutor (Snow) has videotape of Otis taking the two shots – one that injured a secret service agent, the second blowing the head clear off of the President’s neck. Johnson knows that it is almost impossible to keep his client out of death row, so he wants to plead insanity, which his client is very much against, so he reluctantly argues a self-defense case that will not hold water, until the story takes an unexpected hard turn into the Twilight Zone.

For being based on a Pulitzer Prize-nominated play, there are an awful lot of factual errors about courtroom procedures and even about the laws governing them. The bulk of the film is the trial of Amos Otis, prefaced by jailhouse interviews by his lawyer. This gives the movie a bit of a stage-y feel, which the director – who wrote the original play – doesn’t do much to dispel. But the trial looks like it came out of a bad 80s courtroom drama – actual trials tend to be far less interesting and dramatic than they are portrayed here, and lawyers are more scholarly sorts who get their clients off (or convict them) based on examination of the evidence and knowledge of the law. There is little bombast in a court of law and if there were, no judge would let it continue.

But for all that, the movie is appealing as it gives us an opportunity to examine our own prejudices. The thought that using violence to achieve a political goal is one that is getting increasing scrutiny on both sides of the political divide, and talk of civil war in this country has taken the chilling overtones that it is actually becoming not only possible, but possibly likely that such a thing could come to pass.

I do think that it was a mistake to make the assassinated President so obviously based on Trump. Most obviously, that is going to alienate basically anyone who leans even a little bit to the right, but also a few lefties as well – I found it abhorrent that the movie seems to take the viewpoint that the end justifies the means in order to save the country. In all likelihood, if some nut case with a gun and an idea actually pulled off an assassination of the former President (and it would be so difficult as to be nearly impossible to do so given the type of protection Presidents and former Presidents enjoy these days) it would do more harm than good to the liberal cause for more reasons than I’m willing to go into here, but the one that I will bring up is that it would do something terrible to our nation’s soul.

It would have been more effective to make the fictional President’s politics more anonymous here, only giving the assassin the motivation that his policies will destroy our Democracy without saying how in much detail. Not only does that make the movie more palatable to larger audiences, but it remains timely so long as you show the nation being further polarized by the assassination.

The premise here is an interesting one and while it takes a lot of suspension of disbelief to go with the big twist, and to accept the movies factual as well as logical shortcomings, one is left with some food for thought that might require a little bit of time to digest.

REASONS TO SEE: Fascinating subject. Flawed for the most part, but succeeds where it isn’t.
REASONS TO AVOID: The acting is a little stiff and the politics may offend some.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Newberry originally wrote this as a stage play, for which it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 01/15/22: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Stoker Hills

Hotel Mumbai


The majestic façade hides terror and carnage.

(2021) True Life Drama (Bleecker Street) Armie Hammer, Dev Patel, Nazanin Boniadi, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Anupam Kher, Jason Isaacs, Alex Pinder, Amadeep Singh, Suhail Nayyar, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Yash Trivedi, Aditi Kalkunte, Vipin Sharma, Gaurav Paswala, Angus McLaren, Naina Sareen, Sachin Joab, Chantal Contouri, Vitthal Kale, Nagesh Bhonsie, Carmen Duncan. Directed by Anthony Maras

 

On November 26, 2008 ten members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist organization based in Pakistan carried out a variety of attacks over four days at several locations in the city of Mumbai, one of the largest cities and de facto financial capital of India. Among the locations that were under siege was the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, a high-end hotel in the city.

First-time feature filmmaker Anthony Maras adopted a you-are-there approach in depicting the events, emphasizing the multi-cultural aspect of the attackers and victims (ten different languages are spoken during the course of the film). Maras manages to capture the terror, panic and chaos of the attacks, which took place over four days before the attackers were finally stopped (nine of the ten attackers were killed; the tenth, Ajmal Kasab, was captured alive and provided testimony which explained how the attacks were planned and executed. He himself would be executed by hanging in 2016).

The stories here were mainly heroic as the hotel staff tried to protect the guests at the hotel, often at great personal risk. There are far too many characters to go into individually but the performances are generally quite solid with those of Patel, as a kind-hearted Sikh waiter, Hammer and Boniadi as a wealthy newlywed couple terrified for the safety of their newborn baby, and veteran Indian actor Kher as a celebrity chef whose quick-thinking and calm leadership saved dozens of lives.

The pacing is generally pretty fast, although it does drag a little bit in the middle of the movie. Still, this is a very good movie that has been overlooked in many ways. It is available to stream on a variety of services and is one you would do well to check out.

REASONS TO SEE: Strong performances from Patel and Kher. Taut and suspenseful.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little slow in the middle.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of violence (some of it gruesome) and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Maras and co-writer John Collee based their film on hundreds of hours of interviews with survivors and witnesses. Some of the dialogue is taken verbatim from them.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Google Play, Hulu, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/13/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 76% positive reviews; Metacritic: 62/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Marathon: The Patriot’s Day Bombing
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Who is Amos Otis?

New Releases for the Week of January 14, 2022


SCREAM

(Paramount) Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Kyle Gallner, Dylan Minnette, Jack Quaid, Marley Shelton. Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

It has been 25 years since the Ghostface murders rocked Woodsboro, and the town has finally started to put the killings behind them, but now a new murderer has donned the mask and is targeting a group of teenagers, who must unearth the secrets of the town’s past if they are to survive.

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

Genre: Horror Comedy
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, language throughout, and some sexual references)

A Hero

(Amazon) Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy, Sarina Farhadi. An Iranian man is sentenced to prison for un unpaid debt. While on a two-day leave, he tries to convince his creditor to withdraw the charges in exchange for partial payment, but things don’t go as planned.

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

Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Amstar Lake Mary
Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements and language)

Bangarraju

(Zee) Nagarjuna Akkineni, Naga Chaitanya Akkineni, Ramya Krishnan, Krithy Shetti. A couple return to their home village to help their grandson, who is having issues, and to also protect the temple’s hidden treasure.

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

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Cinemark Lakeland Square, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: NR

Belle

(GKIDS) Starring the voices of Kylie McNeill, Manny Jacinto, Chace Crawford, Hunter Schafer. A shy girl in a rural Japanese high school escapes her life in a virtual world where she is a beloved international pop star. But when her concert is interrupted by a raging beast chased by a group of vigilantes, she resolves to find out who the beast is and to discover who she truly is – in a world where you can be anyone.

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

Genre: Animé
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG (for thematic content, violence, language and brief suggestive material)

Borrego

(Saban) Lucy Hale, Jorge A. Jimenez, Leynar Gomez, Nicholas Gonzalez. A young botanist studying plant life in a remote desert town witnesses a plane crash. The pilot turns out to be a drug mule who kidnaps her and forces her on a perilous journey to the drop-off point.

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

Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: R (for brief sexual content/full nudity)

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

Brazen (Thursday)
The Curse of La Patasola
Diego, The Last Goodbye
(Thursday)
Fishing For Love
(Sunday)
The Free Fall
Hotel Transylvania: Transformia
Italian Studies
The Perfect Pairing
(Saturday)
Ray Donovan: The Movie
Road to Perth
(Tuesday)
The Runner
(Sunday)
Safe Room
(Saturday)
Sex Appeal
Shattered

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

A Hero
Brazen
Hotel Transylvania: Transformia
Scream

Aulcie


Aulcie Perry has much to reflect on, both good and bad.

(2021) Sports Documentary (Hey Jude) Aulcie Perry, Wayne Tyre, Tami Ben Ami, Shamluk, Juanita Jackson, Roy Young, Bernadine Perry-Davis, Simmy Riguer, Rafi Ginali, Zvi Sher, Aulas Recanati, Tal Brody, Alexander Wolff, Aulcie Perry Jr., Shmulik Zysman, Earl Williams, Moshe Gertel, Shalom Rokach, Amos Ettinger, Cierra. Directed by Dani Menkin

 

Aulcie Perry who graduated from Bethune Cookman in Daytona Beach, had about as marvelous a career in basketball as it is possible to have without being in the NBA. He was drafted by the Virginia Squires in the ABA prior to the 1974-75 and the New York Knicks in the NBA and was cut from both teams – from the latter, he was the last player cut before the 1975-76 season.

For a time, he played in the Eastern Basketball League (predecessor to the Continental Basketball Association, which was for many years the top professional basketball league in the country below the NBA) for the Allentown Jets before during the summer break in 1976 he was spotted playing in Harlem by a scout for Maccabi Tel Aviv, one of the top pro clubs in Israel. In his rookie year, he led Maccabi to its first ever European Cub Championship, a prestigious tournament in which the champions of all the European leagues compete to see which team is the best in Europe (he would lead them to that title again four years later).

He also led Maccabi to league titles every year of the nine years he played for the team. He began dating Israeli supermodel Tami Ben Ami and the couple became the power couple of Israel in the late Seventies and early Eighties. He had everything going for him and he was so loved and accepted in Israel that he converted to Judaism and became an Israeli citizen. He was the Michael Jordan of European basketball.

But things didn’t stay idyllic. Injuries to his knee led him to use painkillers to even make it onto the court and before long he was hooked on them. He began to add cocaine and heroin to the list of drugs he was taking. Always something of a party person, he started hanging out with the wrong crowd. After missing a game against rival and fellow European superpower Real Madrid, his drug problems began to be noticeable and after a heroin possession charge, he was deported from Israel, ending his career. To make matters worse, he became involved in a scheme to bring heroin into the United States and ended up being convicted for it. He was given a ten-year sentence, although he served only half of that with time off for good behavior.

This documentary film covers all of that, but is more concerned with Perry’s redemption. It focuses largely on his attempts to reconnect with a daughter he’d fathered before going to Israel; the girl’s mother wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about letting Perry into her daughter’s life, at least to begin with. It also covers his return to Israel, and his acceptance back in that country after having been asked to leave.

The movie isn’t particularly innovative in how the story is told, using talking head interviews, archival footage and animated sequences (which to be honest tended to be intrusive and unhelpful to telling the story). Perry himself isn’t especially articulate, but the story manages to give the warm fuzzies in a few different places nonetheless.

So many times stories of the rise and fall of professional athletes (or musicians) tend to be downers. We see potential get wasted, lives ruined, relationships obliterated. We don’t always see redemption, but Aulcie achieved that and that’s no easy feat. Perry seems genuinely contrite and regretful about his past conduct, particularly in regards to his children (he also has a son who he did have a relationship with although it was rocky in places). There’s something to be said for a happy ending.

REASONS TO SEE: A lot more heart-warming than these types of films tend to be.
REASONS TO AVOID: Formatted pretty much like a standard sports documentary.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some drug content and brief mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: After being drafted by the New York Knicks, Perry stuck through camp, ending up being the last person cut. His success was such that the Golden State Warriors of the NBA offered him a contract but he turned it down, preferring to stay in Israel.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/12/2022: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Legend of Swee’ Pea
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Hotel Mumbai