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Marcianne Miller

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  1. Sometimes I think Meditation is the only way I can get through the day these days and this film is a terrific intro. Yes, it's great to be on this board, with so many thoughtful critics.
  2. I am sorry to say that I know his work only from last year's Shoplifters, which I adored, especially with the theme of how you can -- and sometimes should -- choose your own family. It was one of my favorite films of the year. I thought The Truth (La Verite) was a different take on Family --about how many people whose parents have mistreated them have to learn to divorce themselves from their parents-- or love them--and if they decide to love them then they have to accept that hate is also involved in that love. And with such mixed messages, Memory is the unreliable narrator of both their life stories. I also think that it is a story that would resonate with women more than men..
  3. Wow, interesting replies. Except for the unbelievable, too forgiving, ending, I found this film quite absorbing... perhaps because the relationship between mothers and daughters is often so fraught with tension [and is definitely different from the relationship between mothers and fathers and also that between sons and their parents]--this film might have more relevance, and thus more impact, with femme viewers.
  4. There are many reasons to see The Truth (or La Verite). It takes place in Paris. It’s the newest tale from Japanese film master, Hirokazu Kore-Eda, who made last year’s charming Shoplifters (but it’s not in Japanese—it’s in French and English). It’s one of those delightful films that has another film story embedded in it. The cinematography is discreet and serviceable with not an unnecessary show-off shot. Most importantly, it’s a rare chance to see two French femme stars sharing screen time. Watching Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche interact with one another has got to be one of the cinematic highlights of the year. Fabienne (Catherine Deneuve), the still radiant French cinema legend, has just published her long-awaited memoir. Arriving at Fabienne’s Parisian mini-estate from New York to congratulate her is her estranged daughter, screenwriter Lumir (Juliette Binoche), with her B-list actor husband (Ethan Hawke ) and their adorable daughter (Clementine Grenier). Lumir is appalled to realize from the memoir that her mother has brazenly fantasized their relationship to impress her adoring public. The truth is that Fabienne was neglectful, distant and abusive. For motherly kindness, Lumir turned to Sarah, her mother’s friend and rival, who killed herself after Fabienne stole a role from her. Lumir is devastated to discover that Fabienne doesn’t even mention Sarah. Showing up at the house also is Lumir’s father – who is amused to discover that Fabienne claims he has died! While Fabienne is blithely lying to the world about everything, she’s playing an eeriely similar role in a sci-fi movie. A young woman (Manon Clavel), who is deathly ill, goes into outer space where she never ages. She comes back to Earth every several years, where both her daughter and her mother are aging in Earth years. While Fabienne plays the challenging role of the story’s mother, she deals with her jealousy of the younger actress and Lumir’s growing fury at her. Since both Fabienne and Lumir are civilized, fireworks don’t fly, but the hidden tensions between them are smoldering hot enough to make you squirm. Hirokazu Kore-Eda gives the story his all--he directs, writes and edits the film, which is why every scene is exquisite. While you marvel at Fabienne’s ability to enchant everyone, like the magic creature in her famous film The Witch of the Vincennes, you also witness the agony of everyone caught in her web. I personally did not believe the sorta-happy ending, but I hope everyone who sees The Truth will decide for themselves if families can ever truly heal. Rated PG for thematic and suggestive elements, and for smoking and brief language. Languages: French and English. Length: 106 min. Opens in select theatres and most digital and cable platforms on July 3, 2020.
  5. Wow, wonderful, comprehensive review, Andrew! I do agree the film should gain warranted attention for the director and the excellent cast --and I sure hope more people will see it. I am still struggling with the woman's character and her decisions. One thing is for sure -- you will be thinking about this film for a long time afterward! .
  6. Darrel, I'm glad a man likes this movie, I didn't know how men would respond to this movie since the woman and what was happening in her body was so central. And Andrew, please let me know where I can see your review-- I'm curious! mm
  7. The Surrogate is a tale about three nice people who get pregnant and then an extra chromosome sends their happy lives into a tailspin. While spinning, they face many of the difficult issues of American society. It’s an ambitious film, not completely successful, but so ardent and well-done that it’s going to be one of the best films of the year. Jess (the remarkable Jasmine Batchelor), black and beautiful and privileged, is the spoiled only daughter in a wealthy black New York City family. Her favorite buddy from her years at Radcliffe is a sweet, curly-haired white man, Josh (Chris Perfetti), whose husband is Aaron (Sullivan Jones), a successful black attorney. The gay men always wanted to have what other people have, including a child of their own. Jess, not really clued in to the lack of fulfillment in her own life, decides to give her besties what they want – she becomes the egg donor and surrogate for a child she shares with Josh. The three sign a contract outlining their duties and expenses--everything is hunky-dory exciting and oh-so 2020’s progressive –until they learn the unborn child has Down’s Syndrome (D.S.). The men’s agony is so heart-breaking you want to cry with them. But Jess, who has never experienced life’s curve balls, is convinced having the child is the right thing to do. She’s not only going to have the child, she’s going to single-handedly change society’s attitude toward disabled children. She is blithely dismissive of the men’s grief. Armed with internet research, she drags them to meet D.S. children and their families. She seeks advice from D.S. mothers-- but their realities, which we in the audience can see because all the actors are so marvelous—fly right over Jess’ head. When she hears “We want an abortion,” Jess demands all her legal rights to choose and charges into full warrior woman mode. No one’s going to come out unbloodied, least of all herself. The Surrogate, written and directed by newcomer Jeremy Hersh, is so real, the only way I could stand the tension was to keep reminding myself it was a movie. As a woman watching Jess’s unrelieved struggle –physical, emotional, moral--it was a riveting, unforgettable 92 minutes. The Surrogate opens on virtual cinema in June 2020 and then on the usual digital platforms. Length: 92 minutes To learn about Down’s Syndrome: go to www.ndss.org
  8. This documentary is an excellent introduction to Mindfulness Meditation -- and there is virtually a cornucopia of info on meditation on the internet, all free. Search for meditation + youtube.com for many lessons on meditation from different teachers. Search on the internet for Eckhart Tolle and you'll find many of his excellent meditation teachings. There is a very good academic course, with several weeks of classes, for free --search for Mindfulness for Well-Being and Peak Performance at the FutureLearn.com site.. Soundstrue.com is also offering many free meditation episodes to introduce their long list of meditation teachers. Good luck!
  9. I really want to see Greed too! I'm a big Coogan fan. Alas, I don't ever want to travel with him.
  10. Since I saw last year’s terrific The Farewell, I’m keen for Chinese-American movies. Lucky Grandma, set in New York’s vibrant Chinatown, is a quirky hybrid – it begins as a biting comedy, gets waylaid by unnecessary violence, then saves itself with self-sacrifice. Young femme director/co-writer Sasie Sealy delivers an exciting feature debut that does indeed bear resemblance to the work of our shared favorite filmmaker, Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer 2013, Parasite 2019). Recent widow 80-year old Grandma Wong (the celebrated Tsai Chin) is a bitter, chain-smoking curmudgeon, who is determined to live on her own without help from her loving son and his family. A fortune teller convinces her she has auspicious days ahead. Grandma withdraws her life savings and boards the Lucky Bus (“no spitting, no gossiping”) to Atlantic City. Lo and behold the Roulette Wheel bestows a huge fortune – alas, Poker takes it all away. On the ride home, a duffel bag full of cash falls into Grandma’s lap. Hurray, Good luck again, you think! Ah, but let us not forget that Fate gives and Fate takes it away—so it’s not unexpected, when nasty gangsters track Grandma down and demand the money. From a competing gang, Grandma hires a body guard, who turns out to be a sweet, tubby giant named Big Pong (Hsiao-Yuan Ha). Nothing’s funny anymore, though, as the odd couple is caught up in gang wars. Even a lethal curling iron can’t protect them. Will Luck intervene? Can they can be saved by the enigmatic crime boss, Sister Fong (Yan Xi), who bears an uncanny mist-enshrouded resemblance to the goddess Kuan Yin? Lucky Grandma opens on virtual cinema (such as the Fine Arts in Asheville NC) on May 22, 2020. The usual digital platforms follow. Length: 87 minutes Languages: Cantonese, Mandarin, English. Easy-to-read English subtitles.
  11. I had high expectations for The Trip to Greece, the fourth and last outing of the popular culinary travelogues with dueling Brit wits Steve Coogan (Stan & Ollie 2018) and Rob Brydon (Holmes & Watson 2018). After having enjoyed England, Italy, and Spain, the duo sets out to retrace--in six days-- the 10-year journey of Odysseus from the war in Troy to his home in Ithaca. Yes, an impossible task. Coogan and Brydon, wondrously talented performers with healthy egos, play fictional versions of themselves. Which means they compete for center stage in everything they do, from impersonating other actors to high diving from seaside cliffs--and grab chances to act out what they wouldn’t do in real life. The buddies are cooped up in a car together for long drives. To survive, they resort to endless verbal jousting. In fact, you soon realize, bickering is their addiction. They never shut up. They’re too busy bickering to notice the incredible food they are served at fantastic restaurants along the way. We never see a closeup of the food on their plates, just quick shots of high-pressure gourmet cooking in different unnamed kitchens. Worse, they visit some of the most incredible ruins in the world and barely notice them. Instead, they seem to be speed-walking in the shadows of the legendary creators of western comedy and drama. Writer/director Michael Winterbottom (Greed 2019) is known for encouraging his actors to improvise. All well and good--and that’s also why you need a good editor who’s not afraid to leave the boring stuff on the cutting room floor. The natural scenery is fantastic—nothing in the world like the light in Greece--and you stay with the movie because you’re hoping for more footage of ancient sites. Or at least a moment of silence. Instead, you get intercut scenes of the men’s different families back home in Britain. And then there’s Coogan’s nightmare of going down the River Styx while his father is dying. We get it--recreating an ancient Hero’s Journey has relevance for today’s middle-age blokes, but that doesn’t mean it’s anything to write home about. Partial list of locations: ancient sites of the temple of Apollo at Delphi, the Agora of Athens, the theatre of Epidaurus, as well as the famous caves of Diros and the island of Hydra. The Trip to Greece premiers on May 22, 2020, and all series episodes are available on the usual digital platforms.
  12. In this clever production, New Orleans is the exhilarating setting for three short horror tales. And I do mean short, each is about 15 minutes--which means this anthology series can be a quick break from coronavirus news. The first story, Grace, is shot mostly in black and white, creating a classic Twilight Zone appeal. A motherless little girl is verbally abused by a Jesus-spouting aunt. With paper and crayons, helped by a ballerina music box, the child takes her revenge—an abrupt change to murky color shows the hellish prison in which the nasty woman finds herself. In Pillowshop, a man with insomnia finally gets a full night’s sleep thanks to an herbal pillow made by an old elfin-like man who seems to have escaped from Harry Potter. Alas, the dreams the man has turn into nightmares that also disturb his wife. Scary shades of The Shining here. This story is adults only, an odd choice, frankly, which limits the audience for the series. In Give Man, a musician craving money, makes a pact with the devil. Unfortunately, regardless of the soul music the newly rich man finds everywhere, he arrogantly dismisses the warning, “The sins of the father must be paid by the son.” He also disregards what the characters in the previous two scenes learned--never trust a man driving a cab with big red dice hanging on the rearview mirror. Except for the adults-only second story, my only other complaint about Soul City is that the stories are too short—they promise horror but deliver only angst .Cinema horror needs time for characters to face their demons and go through the scary steps they must take to either overcome those demons or be vanquished. I’d love to see these filmmakers make a full-length horror film. The series is directed by Coodie and Chike, a team who earned its stripes in edgy, adventurous music videos. Stories are written or co-written by Renso Amiriz. Technical crafts, especially cinematography and music, are excellent. Industry professionals looking for relatively undiscovered black talent will find a treasure trove in these stories because all actors, young and old, male and female, are worthy of roles in big-budget feature films.. Soul City premiers on April 30, 2020, and is available to stream on Topic, the new streaming service from First Look Media that presents entertainment from around the world. SeeTopic.com.
  13. The Mindfulness Movement –TV documentary These days it seems we are more connected to information than we are to each other. Multi-tasking is something people brag about. If Stress is not our middle name, then it might be Anxiety, Inflammatory Disease, Obesity or Heart Disease. Wouldn’t it be miraculous if there were one easy, low-cost solution to such problems? There is--and millions of people world-wide have found it. It doesn’t cost a penny, and you can do it anywhere, anytime, all by yourself. This wonderful thing is mindfulness – the state of being aware of what is happening to you, when it is happening. Mindfulness can spring from many endeavors, notably music and art. But the simplest way to find mindfulness is to maximize what you do all the time – breathe. By concentrating on the in-and-out movement of your breath, meditating if you will, you train your mind to stay with the present moment, and not be distracted by annoyances from the past, or worries about the future. Easier said than done, you say? True, being human means your mind keeps chattering. So, as the experts say, you just gently pull yourself back, breathe in and out—and go back to the present. Again, and again if needed. If you practice mindfulness even for a while, devotees and scientists both claim, you’ll get more out of life—more peace and creativity, better sleep, improved health. The Mindfulness Movement is a full-length documentary, that uses a variety of cinematic techniques to convince us to try mindfulness practice, whether it be general meditation, or such specific efforts as Mindfulness Eating. It covers the history of the movement from Buddhism to secularization. Compelling personal narratives reveal how mindfulness has transformed lives. The growth of the movement is phenomenal, with adherents from groups as disparate as school children, police forces, athletes, prisoners, entertainers and Fortune 500 corporations. Written and directed by Hollywood veteran Rob Beemer (TVs The Universe), the film keeps your interest every minute, despite the fact that it seems to be about people who appear to be doing nothing. If you wondered what everybody these days is talking about, and why they are so passionate about it, the film is a must-see. Rent or buy at TheMindfulnessmovement.com. It’s also available as a VOD starting April, 2020. Time: 1:40. In English. Choice of subtitles in many languages.
  14. This often-grim series set in North Ireland is based on incidents in the life of director/co-writer Shane Meadows (This is England TV series). This true-story nature explains its unrelenting no-holds barred realism that many viewers will appreciate. But, warning here, the film is not for everyone. The Virtues is a sarcastic title because many of the people in the film own no virtue. However, like grace unasked for, sometimes the worst of human nature is countered with the best--thus evil engenders the few, but definite, virtues in the film. Like real life though, not every hurt in the film receives the balm of forgiveness. Carrying the thrust of the story is an extraordinary actor who might be new to American audiences. Stephen Graham is well-known in England from his work in the Line of Duty TV series. With his Everyman face and uncluttered acting style, Graham creates a character that starts painfully ordinary, then rises to eloquent heroism. The story—alas not a unique one in the obscene history of Irish foster care--haunted me for weeks afterward. Liverpool construction worker Joseph (Graham) is devastated when his girlfriend movies to Australia with her boyfriend, and takes their 9-year old son with her. “I’m sorry,” Joseph says to her, words he proclaims many times more throughout the story. He breaks his precious sobriety on a bender that, truthfully, is so repulsive, it’s cringe-worthy. Having lost everything in life, Joseph decides to return to Ireland and face the repressed demons that have plagued him all his life. He crash lands on the front yard of the sister he hasn’t seen in 30 years. Anna (Helen Behan) is now happily married with three cheerful kids, a fulfilled life that’s in pitiful contrast to the childhood she and Josepha knew. Without warning, their widowed father had separated the two children, allowing Anna to be adopted, but sending Joseph off to a boys home called The Towers. What happened to him there was so horrendous he ran away, which meant most people thought he had died. Now, back home in Ireland, he’s determined to find the source of his nightmares – and seek justice. Complicating his plans is the growing affection he has for Anne’s fiery sister-in-law, Dinah (Niamh Algar). She has her own demons, focused on her heartless mother. Prominent among the anguishes separately endured by Joseph and others in the story are crucifixes--on a wall or gravestone or hanging from a neck chain--the ever-present symbol of Irish Catholicism and the perverse cruelties enacted in its shadow. Film techniques, such as masterful intercutting between the present and the ever-encroaching past, creates tension that an action adventure film would be hard-pressed to match. All the actors give subtle, emotionally satisfying performances. Recurring throughout are the disturbing lyrics by English musician PJ Harvey, “You will remember this…you will see us again.” Sometimes funny, often painful, honest, violent and unforgettable, The Virtues is one series that a brave person of faith should see. The Virtues is available to stream on Topic, the new streaming service from First Look Media that presents entertainment from around the world. SeeTopic.com.
  15. Released in the U.S. in time for St. Patrick’s Day, Extra Ordinary is a totally bonkers gem, a low-budget Ghostbusters, Emerald Isle style. If you’re slightly deranged, you’ll love it. If you cling to logic, well, you might not give it the 5 stars that most of the critics did. Rose Dooley (County Cork-born, New York-based standup comic Maeve Higgins) is a small-town driving teacher, trying to find happiness despite her tragic past. Self-deprecating, pleasant but frumpy and oh dear, still unmarried, she’s what you might call extra ordinary. That’s because she refuses to use her real talent. Her father, the famous ghost chaser Vincent Dooley, told her when she was a child— “Rose, you are a ‘paranormal facilitator’ of extraordinary talent.” Alas, that’s before she fumbled a spell and he got splattered by a speeding truck. These days Rose cheerfully acknowledges all the happy spirits she sees in town, but refuses to engage with the many living neighbors who beg her to get rid of their annoying ghosts. While Rose plods through her lonely life, across town is troubled widower and single father Martin Martin (Dublin-born Barry Ward). His wife, dead for 8 years now, is still nagging him and makes his life, well, makes it hell. His fed-up teenage daughter Sara (Emma Coleman) demands he get rid of Mom or she’s going to leave home. Meanwhile, not far away (at Charleville Castle, a renovated Gothic splendor), one-hit wonder rock star Christian Winter (American comic Will Forte) has made a pact with Satan to re-kindle his career. After performing numerous spells and burning hundreds of candles, chewing up the scenery and having entirely too much fun, all Winter needs now is a virgin to sacrifice. Of course, he’s chosen Sara Martin, who he spies working at the local housewares shop. The goofy plot thickens (and occasionally sickens, I must admit), careening from quirkiness to violence and whirling unapologetically around utter absurdity. It skewers spiritualism, witchcraft, tax haven-bound celebrities, the island’s awful food and its even more terrible sexual repression. Extra Ordinary is not a spiritual powerhouse, but, being Irish, it has plenty of laughs that remind you of what is good about being alive. “I’m always with you,” Rose’s dead father reminds her--isn’t that something we all want to know from our parents who have passed on? For me, the main spiritual message of Extra Ordinary is that you can make a perfectly wonderful film about heroes who are ordinary and decent. It seems these days more films are being directed by teams. A previous film I reviewed, the epic sci-fi film based on an epic poem, Aniara, was co-directed by two Swedish filmmakers. Extra Ordinary was helmed by two creative Irishmen, Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman. It’s a promising debut, since all the performances are outstanding, and tech credits are accomplished, especially the simple special effects. Shot on locations in central Ireland (such as counties Wicklow and Offaly), Extra Ordinary doesn’t make any use of the spectacular landscapes tourists crave (though it did cooperate with the country’s Tidy Town efforts, no kidding.) It’s a gentle world, where the worst thing a person can do is use bad language. (“Language, language,” everyone is being reminded.) But the film does offer an endless string of weird curiosities to write home about – bloating goats, floating virgins, flying French-fries, a cawing magpie, a killer cuckoo clock, and a surprise ending that recaps Daddy Dooley’s message from beyond the grave -- “Love defeats evil.” Rated R for language, sexual content and some horror violence. Time: 94 minutes. Language: Irish-accented English.
  16. Marcianne Miller


    Aniara May include Spoilers I divide science fiction movies into two categories…there are the high-budget unapologetic Trashy Fun Action Adventures-- or others that lay claim, truthfully or not, to being Significant. Avengers: Endgame is planted firmly on the first list. Despite being a hypnotic extravaganza with A-list actors and cardiac-arrest action, it’s totally forgettable. Yep, I loved it, and can’t remember a thing about it. The “Significant” sci-fi movies are the ones that make you think too much (uh oh!), they’re usually (God forbid) downers, and none of your friends want to see them. The characters have no spirituality to speak of, grace doesn’t exist and neither, eventually, does hope. An example is last year’s (2019) much-touted (but in my opinion repulsive) Claire Denis film, High Life, starring Juliette Binoche (as a deranged doctor) and Robert Pattison (as a father trying to raise his daughter). All the hapless prisoners are on a ship headed into in the sun. Another recent “Significant” sci-fi film is Aniara, (2018 but getting released last year). It’s the only film I know of based on a poem. The nine-chapter poem Aniara (which comes from the Greek word meaning “despairing”) was written in 1956 by Sweden’s beloved Noble Laureate, Harry Martinson. With such inspiration, you’d assume the film would be epic (it is), beautiful (yes, often), meaningful (usually), quotable (yes, subtitled in English) and important (yes—but the question eventually becomes--who cares?) It’s also terrifying. As it should be--since Aniara’s theme is how insignificant are the yearnings of human beings compared to the vastness of space. Even so, despite getting nightmares from the movie, you might, as I did, see it more than once. That fact is tribute to the talents of first-time Swedish writer/directors Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja who formed a superb creative team, so the cinematography, set design, efx, and music are all glorious. Less glowing is, honestly, the forlorn story itself, and the fact that, like the poem, it’s not the characters who drive the story, but chance—random, cruel, unforgiving chance. Aniara thus becomes the kind of science fiction film that people who believe in the presence of Spirit should be familiar with--to know how to discuss it coherently, argue if need be, with those who are convinced that the future of mankind holds no memory or hope of salvation. Global warming is destroying Earth and refugees are fleeing to Mars. Aniara is a colossal, luxurious transport ship on a 3-week journey to the Red Planet with 8,000 passengers. “Say goodbye to Earth,” a mother tells her toddler. Like a luxury cruise liner, Aniara has everything consumer-obsessed Earthlings could want-- 21 restaurants, an algae farm, fashion shopping, a bowling alley, an Olympic pool, video arcades, etc. etc. It also has Mima, a narcotic-like image scanner that reads people’s minds and plays back beautiful memories of Earth. The gal who runs Mima is a Mimarobe, known as MR (Emilie Garbers), and it is her personal story that unravels the tale of the whole ship. MR has longings for Isagel, (Bianca Cruizero), a tall lanky pilot, who works on the ship’s command team under imperious Captain Chefone (Arvin Kananian). Everything is hypnotically happy--then a piece of space junk no bigger than a nail pierces the ship’s hull and all the fuel is lost. At first there’s anticipation that in only two years they’ll run into a celestial body whose pull will allow the ship to get back on course. “Once the passengers get used to eating algae,” the Captain says, “we’ll go public with the situation…” Then a few years later it’s the belief that that a rescue ship is on the way. More years later it’s confidence that the children, who have by now become trained scientists, might come up with something… and the ship floats on …and on, on and on…a godless sarcophagus. Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, disturbing images, and drug use. Color, 106 minutes, Swedish with English subtitles.
  17. Marcianne Miller


    Downhill Though it’s freezing on-screen, Downhill is a scorcher of a tale. As the American remake of Sweden’s Force Majeure (2014), it shares a similar trajectory with the Oscar-nominated original. But different creative elements--masterful writing and directing, gorgeous cinematography, A-list lead actors as well as ebullient supporting players—make the new version distinctly American, fresh and exciting. Though desperately sad in many ways, by allowing comic icons to expand their normal parameters, Downhill is remembered, mercifully, with plenty of laughs. From the U.S., the Stauntons-- Mom, Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Seinfeld, Veep and more), and Dad, Peter (Will Ferrell, SNL and morel) and their two middle-grade sons – have travelled, at great expense, to spend a week in the Austrian Alps. It’s more awesome than all the publicity brochures--the resort is architecturally stunning, surrounded by sky-kissed mountains, with scrumptious food day and night, and a hotel staff whose customer service leans more to encouraging libidos than lugging luggage. One morning, among dozens of other skiers, the family is relaxing on a sprawling open-air deck. Suddenly, there’s a thunderous “crack” --and a massive avalanche speeds down the mountain and heads for the deck. Terrified, Billie grabs the boys and buries them in her arms. Equally terrified, Peter leaps up, grabs his cell phone and runs off to save himself. For agonizing minutes, the screen goes deathly white. Then the snow clears. Everyone has survived. Peter marches back on the deck, as if nothing happened. Billie and the boys stare at him in disbelief – Good Lord – he ran off to save himself and left them to die! He denies it, of course, and proceeds to limp on an aching travail of lies and excuses, which Billie and the boys are not buying. Scene by scene, with broad strokes and telling details, the writer/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rush (Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay The Descendants, 2011) unravel an exquisitely layered tale. Each family member, even the boys, is hiding something. No one sees “family” in the same way. Silence is killing them. “Every day is all we have!” Peter begs them. But forgiveness doesn’t come quickly--in fact it takes a whole movie. Not until the end will we know if the Stauntons will speed downhill to destruction or if grace, somehow,will soft-land them to salvation. Recommendation: see Downhill with friends, so you can discuss it at length – and decide for yourself if the film was painfully true-to-life—or cautiously optimistic. Rated R for language and some sexual material. Time: 86 minutes.
  18. RED JOAN GENRE: Biopic/WWII spy drama Director: Trevor Nunn Starring: Judi Dench, Sophie Cookson, Treza Srbova, Ted Hughes, Stephen Campbell Moore Rating: Rated R for brief sexuality/nudity Women are the spies in Red Joan, an engrossing WWII British tale that proves a country’s worst deeds can be accomplished by its meekest members. Fictionalized (from a novel) and dramatized (by the filmmakers), it’s based on the true story of Melita Norwood (1912-2005), who Stalin considered his most important spy in Britain. Helmed by legendary Royal Shakespeare company stage director Trevor Nunn, telling details impel the story—mink coats, Spanish Civil War rallies, B&W newsreels, claustrophobic bunkers, blackboards covered with scientific equations that will change the world. Red Joan is not action-packed, but rich in compelling performances, fantastic vintage costumes and “dark fairytale” music that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Like a provocateur, the film also raises essential questions about the nature of heroism, but won't answer them. The film story: In 2000, one day after a knighted Foreign Office official dies and the press uncovers his tawdry secrets, MI-5 investigators arrest widow Joan Stanley (85-year old Judi Dench, glorious in her frumpy hair and deep wrinkles) for 27 breaches against the Official Secrets Act. Ridiculous, her outraged lawyer son protests. (Ah, yet another child who doesn’t really know his mother.) But soon the mind-boggling truth comes out. In flashbacks, the “Granny Spy” remembers… It’s 1938 in England, in the terrifying years of WWII and shifting international alignments. Great Britain, Canada, Russia and Germany are competing to develop the nuclear bomb, and to prevent the U.S. from claiming that dubious honor. Though Russia is now fighting Nazi Germany, the Brits refuse to share research with their new ally. Into this political chaos comes a brilliant, idealistic physics graduate student (played by the marvelous Sophie Cookson.) Joan becomes an assistant in the top secret Tube Alloy project, headed by patriotic genius Max Davis (Stephen Campbell Moore). In wonderfully historic and sometimes sexy scenes, Joan falls under the hypnotic glamour of Russian/German refugees Sonya (Treza Srbova) and her dashing cousin Leo (Ted Hughes), who makes Joan his “beloved comrade.” In the often hilarious sexist behavior of the times, no one pays Joan much attention—thus allowing her to act with impunity. Horrified that the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Japan – two times—without warning, Joan becomes convinced that the nuclear playing field should be leveled so that no one government will ever again have the sole power to kill so many people. For almost 35 years, the KGB knows her as "Agent Hola." Was she a high-minded ultra-civilized humanitarian, working to prevent another nightmare war--yet blind to the truth of Stalinism? Or a narrow-minded traitor? Or both? As a classic example of someone who thinks they are doing good, even if it’s criminal, Joan’s actions reverberate to today. Is she any different from conscientious objectors? Or an information dumper like Julian Assange? Or Trump administration leakers? Where is the line between good and evil in these world-wide and speed-of-light conundrums? Too bad Agent Hola and her successors never learned Dorothy Day's advice: "The greatest challenge of the day is: How to bring about a revolution of the heart,, a reovolution which has to start with each one of us? Marcianne Miller has reviewed films in Los Angeles and Asheville. She is a member of SEFCA and NCFCA.
  19. No, there's no plot. There's no logic whatsoever to why Gloria has been alone for so long. And it has little if anything to say about the realities of late-life dating. The film to me, is merely a character study about a woman who keeps getting up and dusting herself off in the face of overwhelming loneliness. There's nothing really wrong with her, nor with men her age. She doesn't change her behavior, or get any insight. She just revives herself and keeps on going. It's a fairy tale.
  20. Let's meet! Alas, Scott was shabbily let go recently from Xpress and a new crew is in charge. Contact me off line for info. Best, mm
  21. My short review of Gloria Bell for Mountain Xpress, Asheville... Gloria Bell charms us with a rare movie heroine--a gutsy, infuriating, totally human woman who happens to be both single—and in her late 50s. Played by Julianne Moore (in a brilliant, mesmerizing performance), Gloria is stunning, of course, even with her silly over-sized eye glasses. But she’s not a cute young thing, she’s a mature beauty, who must pluck hairs on her chin and style her hair to draw attention away from her wrinkles. Gloria’s been divorced for over a decade, so you can’t help but wonder why she’s still single. Perhaps because she doesn’t join a church or get involved in politics where she might meet suitable men. She doesn’t even have a hobby. Instead, dance-crazy, Gloria tries to find love in a neon lit adult dance club. One night, she clicks with newly divorced Arnold (a surprisingly appealing John Turturro). They dive into a passionate affair, with plenty of frontal nudity of the lovely Ms. Moore. And then Gloria has to deal with that horrible bugaboo of all romances--reality. Gloria Bell is an almost identical remake of director Sebastian Lelio’s 2013 film, Gloria, set in his homeland, Chile, and starring Paulina Garcia. He’s a director who loves women characters (2018 Best Foreign Language Oscar for A Fantastic Woman). He feels no need to rush their stories—this doesn’t mean his films are boring, exactly, just subtle and slow. For me, Gloria Bell unfurled like a long pale chiffon scarf captured by a breeze—it snagged often on the relentless thorns of friends’ constant reminders to Gloria that life is short, balled up in the lives of her two independent grown children (Michael Cera and, Caren Pistorius), then ripped to shreds on the flimsy new branch with Arnold. But Gloria’s spirit is powerful. Like all goddesses, she can revive herself, especially if she has a strong potion like Laura Branigan’s rousing dance song. Gloria Bell will make you sad, and glad, and really mad, which is why it’s good to remember that sometimes the only solution to a broken heart is a well-aimed act of revenge.
  22. Keen to support women filmmakers, I was eager to review High Life. It’s the 14th feature film, the first in English, from 73-year-old darling-auteur of French cinema, Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In). The early reviews were raves. Happy me. Then I found its rating: Rated R for disturbing sexual and violent content including sexual assault, graphic nudity, and language. Uh oh… A baby squeals in a playpen set up in a space ship that has seen better days. Making repairs outside the ship, her space-suited father coos to her. Lovely, eh? Haunting, unforgettable. Only after suffering through the entire film, do you realize these endearing early images anesthetized you to the horrid images that follow. Was such numbness, God forbid, the purpose of the film? The premise of High Life is classic sci-fi: The Government offered a deal to death row inmates: they won’t be executed if they go into space as medical guinea pigs and then head into a black hole to see what happens. Surely a mission with a low potential for success. The positives: Cinematography, sound and music are top-notch. All actors, including the international supporting cast, are terrific. Monte, played by Robert Pattison (the five Twilight films), is outstanding as the solitary prisoner who finds hope in raising his daughter Willow (14-month old Scarlett Lindsey and teenager Jessie Ross). Unfortunately, you do wish you could forget the brilliant performance of Juliette Binoche (my favorite actress, Oscar for The English Patient), who is too-convincing as Dr. Dibs, the insidious reproduction-obsessed crew doctor. Director/co-writer Denis claims High Life is about what it means to be human. (Life in really High places, get it?) The loving father/daughter thread exquisitely portrays humanity at its best. But the surrounding story is humanity wallowing in its worst. Unending isolation means life is nothing more than maintaining existence. It’s 24 hours a day of being a hopeless victim, insanely seeking relief in drug addiction, endless exploration of bodily fluids, masturbation, rape, murder, and suicide. Without even one ounce of humor, High Life is 110 minutes of emotional pummeling. You’ve been warned. Marcianne Miller has reviewed films in Los Angeles and Asheville. She is a member of SEFCA and NCFCA.
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