The Father

What is it like to experience dementia? The new film The Father provides a glimpse. The picture is not a pretty one. And not just for the individual suffering cognitive decline.

Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) is the father of Anne (Olivia Colman). He has trouble remembering. Little things. And big things. When she tells him she is moving to Paris, leaving him in London, his difficulties become worse.

A cleverly constructed screenplay presents the film’s events with some ambiguity. What is real and what is imagined is conflated just as Anthony’s recollections are mashups of his life’s experiences.

That screenplay is co-written by French playwright Florian Zeller. He also wrote the play. Oh, and he is also making his feature film debut as a director with The Father. Wow!

Sometimes a stage play loses something when it is adapted for the movie screen. But in the case of The Father, the film version allows for facial closeups that display depths of expression one might not perceive from the distance of a stage performance.

Faced with the dilemma many baby boomers have had to address (and now some gen-xers, too), Anne seeks outside help to care for her father. One candidate, Laura (Imogeen Poots), when told about his unpleasant tendencies by Anne, assures her that her father’s behavior is “quite normal” for those in his state. 

Paul (Rufus Sewell), the man in Anne’s life, suggests she put her dad in a home. Is he being selfish or is he offering the objective view that she does not have about Anthony’s condition? 

If you have cared for aging parents you may identify with Anne and her stressful circumstance. And if you are approaching senior status—or just hope to live a long life—The Father might be a preview of what could await you or some of your contemporaries unless you are lucky.

Anthony Hopkins recently turned 83. (His character Anthony in the film gives his birthday as December 31, 1937—same as the real-life Anthony.) His performance in The Father has already netted him award nominations (and losses to Chadwick Boseman). And when the Oscar noms are announced on March 15, expect him to be on the list. 

Olivia Colman has also received multiple nominations this award season. 

Just as 2001’s A Beautiful Mind tries to show what life is like for a person with schizophrenia, so does The Father reveal a subjective view of dementia. Like that film from twenty years ago, this new film is not just entertaining but also instructive. 

The Father is rated PG-13. 

Coming 2 America

Coming 2 America is funny. The costumes are amazing—quite colorful. There are many surprises. Music and dance sequences are lit.

Eddie Murphy commands the screen. But co-star Arsenio Hall brings his A-game, too.

Add Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan to the mix for more laughs.

Has it really been 33 years since the first Coming To America was released? Actually 32 years and eight-and-a-half months but, as they say, who’s counting? In an industry that loves sequels and reboots, the big question is what took so long? Murphy, after all, made two sequels to Beverly Hills Cop with another rumored to be in development.

(There’s actually a conversation about movie sequels in the film with one of the characters uttering the line, “If something is good, why ruin it?” Irony intended.)

Prince Akeem (Murphy) of the fictional African country Zamunda is reminded by his dying father (James Earl Jones) that the throne must eventually be passed to a male heir. But Akeem and his wife Lisa (Shari Headley) have only had girls. Word comes that Akeem may have a son in America from barely remembered one night stand in the U.S. in the 80’s.

Akeem and his sideman Semmi (Hall) head back to America and find the son. Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) agrees to come to Zamunda but insists that his mother Mary (Leslie Jones) and uncle Reem (Tracy Morgan) be included in the entourage. Jones is a brilliant addition to the cast—she brings laughs and, yes, charm.

Another wrinkle is General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), leader of the neighboring nation Nexdoria, threatening to declare war on Zamunda unless one of Akeem’s daughters marries his son or, later, unless Lavelle marries his daughter. Meanwhile, Lavelle falls for his royal groomer Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha).

As with the 1988 Coming To America, a major highlight of the sequel is Murphy and Hall portraying multiple characters, including the barbershop guys in New York. The makeup and prosthetics crews have done great work here, but Murphy and Hall are the guys who make these characters hilariously memorable. 

The film is filled with with entertaining bits including a ridiculous “ceremonial circumcision.” Surprise faces pop up throughout—not naming names here; they’ll be out there soon enough.

Coming 2 America is rated PG-13 with some suggestive material. But it’s a bit tamer than the first one which was rated R. 

Coming 2 America is available on Amazon Prime Video with no upcharge for Prime members.

The Mauritanian

After 9/11, the United States sought to round up all the bad guys responsible for the attacks and bring them to Guantanamo Naval Air Station in Cuba. Their fates there were to be determined.

Among the detainees: a Mauritanian, Mohamedou Slahi (Tahar Rahim). In the film The Mauritanian, Nancy Hollander (Jody Foster) is the Albuquerque-based attorney who is drafted to defend Slahi. Assisting her is Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley). Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch), a Marine, is the government attorney assigned to prosecute Slahi. 

But what is the charge against him? The film, based on Slahi’s book Guantanamo Diary, reveals the nuanced form of jurisprudence practiced by the U.S. toward the detainees. The scope of the 9/11 attacks made the nation less concerned about the rights of those accused of perpetrating such horror and more concerned about meting out punishment.

Slahi’s initial meetings with inquisitors at Gitmo are shown to be civil, sort of the “good cop” approach. Slahi, as presented in the film, does not appear to have the temperament one might expect of someone accused of being part of the Al Qaeda terrorist conspiracy. 

Slahi is slow to warm to the Hollander-Woodley team’s effort to obtain justice for him. But as their visits continue and his frustration builds, he comes to appreciate their work on his behalf.

Did the opposing barristers Hollander and Couch actually first meet in Cuba at the Gitmo airport or is that an invention of the screenwriters? Doesn’t matter. It serves to show that the two, while sharing beers in the airport bar, are steadfast in their beliefs regarding Slahi.

Both the Hollander-Duncan team and Couch have difficulty gaining access to documents that might help them in their respective cases. When they do finally get it, some of the info is so heavily redacted as to be useless.

The telling of Slahi’s story by director Kevin McDonald progresses at a modest pace before concluding bombastically with revelations of some missing elements of the narrative. 

Jody Foster as the stern-faced, doggedly committed advocate is at her best and, in the wake of her recent Golden Globes win, may be Oscar nomination-worthy. Her bright red lipstick gives her a more mature look compared to some of her prior roles. Cumberbatch brings one of the most authentic Southern accents I’ve heard in a while to his portrayal of Couch. (Sorry, but as a native Alabamian, I often cringe at the terrible attempts by some actors to sound Southern.
Especially Brits.)

Rahim brings a multi-dimensional performance as a man who is, at times, charming but who may also have been involved in the terrible events of 9/11. To cast an unknown in the title role was a risky move, but Rahim shows it to have been a good choice.

The weakest aspect of The Mauritanian: its title! Hard to believe that that’s the best they could come up with. 

True Believer: The Rise And Fall Of Stan Lee

If you’ve seen a Marvel movie any time during the last 20 years, you’ve seen Stan Lee. His cameos in those films became a trademark bit of fan service, anticipated by many just as much as the bonus scenes after the credits.

According to Andrew Riesman, author of the new Stan Lee biography True Believer: The Rise And Fall Of Stan Lee, the man who put Marvel comics on the pop culture map appeared in more than forty Marvel films. Riesman writes: “Stan was paid peanuts for the Marvel cameos, and although he was given executive-producer credits for those movies, it was a purely ceremonial title with no financial rewards.”

Stan Lee died in November 2018. He left behind a co-authored autobiography (Exclesior!, published in 2002) and an archive of notes, tapes and personal effects that are stored at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming. Those sources along with numerous personal interviews have provided Riesman with the story of Lee and his life’s ups and downs.

The “Rise” of Stan Lee in the book’s title begins with the publication of Marvel’s Fantastic Four #1 comic book in 1961. Novelist Walter Mosely is quoted saying, “FF #1 crystalized an art form that has had an impact on our culture rivaling jazz, rock and roll and hip-hop.” But how much of Fantastic Four and other Marvel favorites came from the mind of Stan Lee and how much came from the minds of Marvel’s artists who drew them?

That is a forever argument that this book does not resolve and suggests will never be resolved. Jack Kirby, whose new and imaginative style of drawing made Fantastic Four a standout, died in 1994. Did he invent the characters and the narratives that attracted legions of fans? Or did he simply draw what Stan Lee created and guided him to draw? Lee is quoted in the book as giving Kirby significant credit in interviews and appearances, but Lee is the one who is generally perceived to be the creative force behind Marvel. As Riesman writes: “In the absence of conclusive data, history has been written by the victor.”

Riesman also offers this disclaimer: “Stan Lee’s story is where objective truth goes to die.” He shares a movie quote suggested by Lee’s brother Larry Lieber: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” That line comes from the 1962 film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Steve Ditko who drew the first Spider-Man comic books also had his problems with Lee. As with Kirby, there were disagreements over credits and compensation. Ditko, whose 2018 passing preceded Lee’s by just a few months, was not as vocal in his complaints about lack of fame and fortune as was Kirby and Kirby’s heirs.

Stan Lee’s letters sections in Marvel comic books cemented the company’s and Lee’s connections with fans. His responses in that venue gave birth to many of his catch phrases such as “Exclesior!” “‘Nuff Said!” and “Face Front, True Believers!”

Lee’s legend grew with media profiles in the New York Herald-Tribune and later in other media with national and worldwide footprints. As demand for Marvel comics ebbed and flowed, Lee led a move to California and launched efforts to make inroads in the worlds of movies and television.

Stan Lee was a font of ideas: for comic books, magazines, movies, TV, etc. Many were quickly rejected. He once suggested to his associates that they repackage a Japanese TV show which featured superheroes in Spandex jumpsuits. They passed and another production outfit came up with an American version which became the successful Power Rangers. Stan Lee gained a bit of added notoriety in the early 80’s as narrator of the animated Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends TV show.

In the final two decades of his life, came the “Fall” of the book’s title. After parting with Marvel, Lee became involved in Stan Lee Media, which crashed and burned in short order due to mismanagement and nefarious money dealings. That was followed by POW Entertainment, of which the author writes: “POW was, by many accounts, a largely criminal enterprise.” 

Lee himself was not charged with any legal wrongdoings though some of his associates at those two companies were punished for their tricky financial misdeeds. Meanwhile, Stan was traveling to conventions across the country where fans were charged big bucks for autographs and selfies with the Marvel legend.

In 2005, Lee settled litigation against Marvel when the company agreed to a huge payout which the author writes was for a reported amount of $10 million. 

Lee’s final days are recounted with the sad details of a variety of hangers-on trying to micromanage his affairs amid continuing friction with Lee’s high-maintenance daughter JC. 

Stan Lee’s personal charm with media, co-workers and others in his orbit carried him far in this career. He scored many achievements and made a ton of money. But, by Riesman’s telling, he always wanted more. 

One more thing: Among the many photos in the middle of the book is a pic of the author in what appears to be his teen years getting an autograph from Lee at a Wizard World show near Chicago in the late 1990’s. Nice.