St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase: Food and Wine

Cinema St. Louis is running its annual St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase online this year. For all the information on how to view these films, click HERE.

Three short documentary films in the Showcase take viewers to an urban vegetable farm, a downstate cattle farm and Missouri wine country. They’re included (along with a 4-minute Goat Yoga film) in the group Doc Shorts 1: Food, Wine and Nature. The films in the Showcase can be viewed on demand anytime from July 10 through July 19.

The filmmakers here face the battle almost every documentary filmmaker must address: the amount of screen time given to talking heads versus the amount of time other visuals are used to tell the story. For the most part, these folks get the ratio right. Each film runs right around 15 minutes.

The most satisfying of the three is Growing For Good from Van Nguyen and Morgan Paar.  A farm in St. Louis’s Central West End grows vegetables and gives them away. The farm’s founders and its volunteers (including 4th graders from a local private school) talk about what it means to work the farm.

The people who run and patronize a local food pantry offer their appreciation for the efforts of the folks who grow the food and for the vegetables themselves. Among the great looking veggies harvested and delivered are okra, tomatoes, radishes, eggplant and the one most requested… Well, you’ll have to watch the film to find out what’s #1.

Austin Williams is a man who spent a year as a teacher but hated it. He bought a 460-acre farm near Greenville, Missouri where he raises cows and sheep. The Honest Work Of Farming from filmmaker Rickie Ross documents what goes into a day of farming, starting with an early wake-up each day. Milking his cows and grazing his cattle and sheep is a labor of love for Williams who says his career transition is “one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Missing from the film are comments from Williams’ wife who is shown with their infant but never heard. Is she as enthusiastic about farming as her husband is? Also, how’s business? Is the farm making money? Are there significant challenges or is farming just continual bliss for Mr. Williams? Sure, it’s a short film, but a tad more info would be nice. (By the way, the drone footage of the farm is gorgeous.)

Missouri Wine: The Lost Years from Julia Doyle incorporates archival footage from those horrible years of prohibition when federal agents not only poured out bottles and barrels of wine but also destroyed winemaking implements. They even ripped out thousands of acres of vineyards. The momentum that Missouri had as a wine region was stopped cold.

The story of the comeback of Missouri wines over the last century is related by Glenn Bardgett of Annie Gunn’s restaurant, Chuck Dressell of Mt. Pleasant Winery, Paul Leroy of Hermannhof Winery. The challenge of convincing wine drinkers that Missouri wines are of high quality is ongoing. But the three gents here have an optimistic outlook on the wines coming from Augusta, Hermann and vicinity.

The URL for these films is cinemastlouis.org. For the Showcase, click HERE.

Surprise!!! (Some movie likes and dislikes)

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I hate it when reviewers mention that a movie has a “surprise twist.” Well, it doesn’t have one anymore, buddy! Because now, thanks to you, (spoiler alert) it’s NOT a surprise!

Ditto for mentioning in reviews that a movie has cameo appearances. Especially when the reviewer mentions the names of those who are making the cameos.

Even worse, when studios release trailers that pretty much tell you the entire plot of the film. Or even worse than that, a trailer that reveals a comedy film’s three or four funniest lines.

In old movies (and lots of old TV shows), I hate scenes set outdoors that are shot on a sound stage, often with fake trees and painted backdrops. I understand that it’s easier to control lighting and audio in an indoor environment, but it looks chintzy.

Also in old movies, I hate RP. Rear projection. A projected background image to indicate that a car or other vehicle is moving while the actors are in a stationary vehicle on a sound stage. I understand that cameras were bigger and bulkier in the old days but directors with decent budgets should’ve gone to the trouble of making their travel shots look real.

I hate that writers don’t get enough credit for the stories they create. Take North By Northwest. One of Hitchcock’s best known films, with a plot and iconic shots that are still appreciated 61 years later. But do you know the name of the person who came up with the original story and wrote the script? I bet you don’t.

I hate it when TV channels or streaming services shortchange the credit crawl at the end of a movie by shrinking it or just going on to the next element. Mainly because it disrespects all the crew members who are due a bit of recognition. And sometimes there are reasons to stick with the credits—take, for instance, Monty Python movies. And Marvel films. I may not care who the gaffer was but I might like to know who did that song I liked. My old radio friend Robert Murphy told me he stays for the credits because he likes to look for good on-air deejay names.

Speaking of crew members… Even when a movie is not as good as might’ve been hoped for, we should recognize and appreciate that many people worked hard to make the film. Yes, it’s a glamorous biz, but it’s still work. Although everybody involved in the making of the film Downhill owes us all an apology. (Just kidding!)

Regarding documentaries… The best documentaries are the ones that have a definite point of view. An agenda. When Michael Moore makes films, he is not looking to present the unvarnished, organic truth, he is looking to present his angle on the information at hand. You may not agree with what his films say, but at least you know where he stands. People may think that just because a film is labeled “documentary,” it presents the real story. No, it presents a version of the truth.

I hate it when we are told that a certain actor or actress was offered an iconic role that they turned down. Because we are usually not told if the actor was had a firm legitimate offer, if the actor (or his/her agent) was contacted to see if she/he had any interest in the role or if someone casually mentioned at a party that “you’d be perfect in this new film I’m making.” My guess is lots of these stories we hear are the result of simple feelers. Or, though the actor would sound like a dick if he/she said so, the amount of money offered was less than he/she wanted. I’ve had many conversations and meetings with prospective employers in my career—some were legit offers, some were feelers, some were worthless.

I am happy that Parasite got the Oscar for best picture back in February. It is an excellent film: great story, great cast. And it has… subtitles! Let’s hope the success of Parasite in the U.S. leads to more foreign films WITH SUBTITLES being accepted and viewed by American audiences.

Subtitles are good. A highlight of watching movies on my TV during the pandemic has been the availability of subtitles on most movies. I am not deaf. I can hear. But I cannot always hear things clearly. Sometimes actors’ lines are spoken softly or mumbled (hello, Casey Affleck!) and are hard to discern. Subtitles help. If studios would distribute NEW MOVIES WITH SUBTITLES for theatrical release, that would be awesome! (Maybe theaters could run the subtitled versions as an occasional alternate to the regular versions?)

I hate it when moviegoers complain about small inaccuracies in films that are based on or “inspired by” actual events. To tell a story in roughly two hours, filmmakers may have to combine events and even characters. These composites exist to move the story along and to simplify the details for a movie audience. If this “license” significantly changes the movie, then there may be cause for concern. (A print version—book, magazine/newspaper article—of those events will likely deliver those missing details, should you want them.)

I try not to get upset anymore about who wins awards. They do not always go to the best performances or scripts or costumers, etc. The voting is often political and winners may be the individuals with the most friends or the most influence in the biz. The awards shows can be amusing to watch, despite the moments of extended tedium. I’ve attended a few country music industry award shows in Nashville and Los Angeles and, while the shows themselves are entertaining, the real fun is at the after parties.

Having said that, I still think Michael Keaton (for Birdman) should’ve won the Oscar over Eddie Redmayne (for The Theory Of Everything). Redmayne, of course, followed the advice of Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Junior) in Tropic Thunder and did not, in his portrayal of Stephen Hawking, go “full retard.”

You probably heard that it sucks. And you may be too cool to be seen watching it. But… the Cats movie was not THAT bad. It had its moments. And some big stars. And fresh face (and voice) Francesca Hayward. Check it out, if only to “hate watch” it and see what people are seriously disliking. I mean, if a film is this polarizing (2.7 rating on imdb.com—ouch!), there must be a reason, right?

Sorry for more dislikes and likes in this post. I’ll try to reverse the ratio next time. Be safe.

Irresistible

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Jon Stewart spent sixteen years poking fun at politics and politicians on The Daily Show. In the his new movie comedy Irresistible, Stewart, who wrote and directed, is back ridiculing the American political process and the media world it inhabits.

The film’s protagonist is Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell), a Democratic political consultant who is smarting from his party’s defeat in the 2016 presidential election. In his D.C. office, one of his staffers shows him a video of ex-Marine farmer Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) speaking up for the little guy at a town council meeting in flyover country.

Zimmer is charmed and heads out to the fictional town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin to find Hastings and convince him to run for mayor as a Democrat against the incumbent Republican. Hastings agrees to run if Zimmer will guide the campaign.

When word gets out that this big-time politico has swooped in from Washington with his support team, the Republicans respond by sending in one of their heavy hitter consultants, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), who has the look and demeanor of Kellyanne Conway.

Zimmer and Brewster are longtime rivals whose contentious relationship is charged with an underlying sexual tension. (Not unlike the 2015 movie Our Brand Is Crisis in which Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton played rival political consultants working on a campaign in Bolivia. They, too, had strong sexual energy bubbling under their rivalry.)

Zimmer also has his eye on Diana Hastings (Mackenzie Davis), Jack’s daughter, who is first seen with her hand inside a cow’s, um, nether regions.

Stewart’s targets in the movie include political fundraising, political TV ads—there’s one in the film that’s similar to a memorable Eric Greitens ad from his 2016 Missouri gubernatorial campaign—and cable TV news.

The political consultant overkill depicted in Irresistible has happened frequently around the U.S. in recent years, mainly in congressional races ripe for flipping from one party to the other. The money spent on these campaigns often reaches into the tens of millions.

Is the film funny? Yes. There are solid laughs throughout but the story is grounded enough that it is not a “laugh riot.” (If you want a political laugh riot, I recommend the 2012 film The Campaign with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis.)

Stewart shows proper respect for citizens of the heartland in this film. The small town folks in Deerlaken are not portrayed as absolute yokels and that’s refreshing. (The movie was actually shot in Rockmart, Georgia, northwest of Atlanta.) And, despite Stewart’s liberal leanings, the film does not preach political doctrine. You don’t have to be a Democrat to enjoy it.

Irresistible is rated R for language and sexual references. No nudity or violence.

Irresistible will be available via Premium Video On Demand on Friday, June 26.

Memorable Movie Going

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I miss going to the movies. Watching films on TV during the pandemic is better than it was just a few decades ago, thanks to big screen HDTVs with better sound. But the experience of getting out of the house, going to a movie theater and seeing a film with an audience is not matched by home viewing.

As I lay awake a few nights ago, I thought of some of my personal favorite movie going experiences. Let me share.

In 1961 my mother checked me out of school early to go see a matinee of Gone With The Wind. I was a 10-year-old sixth grader. She had told me it was long. She told me about the famous closing line. She told me how big it had been when first released two decades before.

We saw it at the Alabama theatre (“The Showplace Of The South”) in downtown Birmingham. Despite its length, I was glued to everything that happened onscreen and realized, even at my young age, that it was special.

I saw GWTW in its next release in 1968, also at the Alabama theatre.

In 1966, I had wheels and took a girl I had met at church camp to see a wacky British movie called Morgan! at the “art house” type cinema in the East Lake section of Birmingham. I found the movie hilarious; my date did not appreciate it so much. Morgan! has since faded into obscurity despite Vanessa Redgrave’s having been nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her work in the movie.

A year later I saw To Sir With Love at the same theatre and, as I recall, it was the first time a movie ever made me cry. (Although I don’t recall my precise response to Old Yeller a few years earlier.)

In 1968 I saw Mel Brooks’ legendary film The Producers in its original release at East Lake. You may recall that the movie, unlike the play within that movie, was a box office failure in its first incarnation.

In 1967, I saw Psycho. Not in a movie house but in the dining room of my freshman dorm at the University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa). I’d heard of the movie but really had paid it little mind when it came out in 1960. Yes, I’d heard about the shower scene and it lived up to its hype but it was the ending of the movie that blew my mind.

In the summer of 1969, I lived in Atlanta. I rented a studio apartment in the Buckhead area and was happy to note that right across the way was a neighborhood movie theatre. I thought “Wow, I’ll get to see new movies every week just a few steps away from my place!”

When I rented the place, the theatre was playing The Killing Of Sister George. When I moved in the following week they were showing Goodbye, Columbus, which I went to see almost immediately. I liked it. (I had seen Ali McGraw a few weeks before when I was in New York and attended a taping of The Match Game. She a celebrity panelist and she was gorgeous.)

Well, the theatre kept Goodbye, Columbus as its feature all summer long! I did see it one more time.

In 1971 I had graduated from Alabama, quit my radio job in Tuscaloosa and moved back home with my folks to seek out my next big gig. While hanging in Birmingham I went to see an anti-war movie called Johnny Got His Gun. The theatre in the Green Springs area appeared to have been a retrofitted metal industrial building and had a cheap vibe about it. Also, it was cold that winter night and cool inside the theatre so I kept my coat on.

I knew little about the movie but was curious. It turned out to be one of the most depressing films I’ve ever seen. I remember the flashback scene where the guy recalls his workplace Christmas party. The business’s owner stands to the side repeating the words, “I am the boss. This is champagne! Merry Christmas!” That was funny. But the rest of the story was rather grim.

Just a few weeks later, I had landed that big gig—in Davenport, Iowa. Shortly after I started, I was invited to an advance screening for Cabaret. I had seen the opening number from the Broadway play (with Joel Grey as the emcee) on the 1967 Tony awards show. But knew little about the story.

I wasn’t prepared to have my socks knocked off. I’d expected some light entertainment with songs. But I was wowed. I remember one of the newsmen from my radio station did an official on-air review of the film and he did not like it. What was up with that? It won 8 Oscars, by the way.

After Davenport, I moved to the Twin Cities. My wife and I attended lots of movies there. Blazing Saddles, American Graffiti, The Way We Were, etc. But the most memorable movie going experience we shared there was in January 1974 when we saw The Exorcist.

We’d heard about people leaving the movie with various physical reactions, but figured we could handle it. Well, it haunted my wife so badly that, when we drove by a drive-in showing it several months later, and she got a brief flash of it on the screen, she became upset. To this day, any mention of that movie in our house is something I carefully avoid.

Later in 1974 we were living in Houston and, because we had no babysitter, we took our young son with us to see the R-rated Chinatown. We figured it would be okay because it was a lightly-attended midweek matinee. And he was a well-behaved child who napped through most of the movie. But he did see and was as shocked as we were by the scene where Jake Gittes gets his nose sliced. Ouch!

In 1977, we were living in the Erie PA area when Star Wars opened. We began hearing things about it and in short order we went to the theatre at Millcreek Mall and were impressed by the special effects. Up till then, outer space effects always—ALWAYS—looked hokey. But when Star Wars came out, they looked fantastic! Of course, now we look back and the whole movie seems a bit hokey. (Sorry if I offended your Star Wars sensibility with that last sentence.)

In the mid 1980’s we found ourselves living in Jacksonville, Florida where we attended a preview showing of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off at the Regency Square theatre. The whole movie is a classic but the closing credits are particularly well done. So we stayed in our seats until the bit where Ferris comes back onscreen telling everybody to go home, the movie’s over.

A few weeks later I got a call at my radio station from a local TV producer I had done some work for. He asked it I could get him a tape of the song Danke Schoen by Wayne Newton. I asked why he would want that. He said he and some friends were throwing a Ferris Bueller themed party and had to have that song!

In early 1994, several weeks after its release, my wife and I went to Des Peres Ciné in suburban St. Louis to see Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire. We had heard good things about it and finally got around to seeing it on a weeknight in the middle of winter.

The theater was nearly empty—just a few others on hand—but we roared. Seriously, we laughed often and quite loudly. The only other time I can recall laughing so much was at the screening of There’s Something About Mary a few years later.

Early in our new century I saw my first Wes Anderson film, The Royal Tenenbaums. The media viewing was held in a screening room at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Clayton MO. That was both the first and last time I have ever known of a movie to be screened at the Ritz. Who knew the Ritz had a screening room?

I have since come to appreciate Anderson’s quirky, stylistic movies and include Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel among my favorites. But that day, as one unfamiliar with his previous movies, I found the film amusing but not “laugh out loud” funny. But a couple of people in the crowd guffawed over and over at lines and actions that were not, at least to me, worthy of such reaction. I wondered if I was missing something or if I was not hip enough to get the joke(s).

On March 10 of this year, I saw the action-comedy movie The Hunt at the Hi-Pointe Backlot theatre. It’s a small capacity venue and a comfortable spot for a preview screening. And the popcorn’s good, too! That was the last time I saw a movie in a real movie venue. I look forward to getting back. When it’s safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Movies, but Movie BOOKS

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I’ll admit it—I miss going to movie screenings and posting my reviews on this site. The last film I saw in a theater and reviewed was The Hunt which I saw on Tuesday, March 10.

During the lockdown I have watched a handful of older movies on cable: The Apartment, Valkyrie, Of Mice And Men, Mystery Men and a few more. This weekend I saw the new HBO movie Bad Education starring Hugh Jackman. It is excellent. I recommend it.

During my inside time I’ve read books including these that deal with movies and some of the people who make them.

You know Dr. Seuss (real name Ted Geisel) for his famous kids’ books. The 2019 biography Becoming Dr. Seuss, Theodor Geisel and The Making Of An American Imagination is filled with details of Ted Geisel’s work on movies during World War II. Working alongside Frank Capra and others in Hollywood, his focus was on propaganda efforts. His output included several Private Snafu cartoons, many of which can be seen on Youtube. A few were considered racy for their time but that was to get the attention of the young male troops.

He also made films informing American troops how to treat German citizens during U.S. occupation of that country. (Geisel’s family had emigrated to the U.S. from Germany and he had visited relatives there.) One film he worked on was repurposed for general release after the war. The War Department production was not copyrighted and did not contain individual credits. The reboot version did contain credits and those folks nabbed an Oscar for best documentary.

Geisel also created a strange movie called The 5000 Fingers Of Dr. T which was released in 1953. (He came up with the story, wrote the screenplay and wrote the music.) The film was plagued with production problems including budgeting issues and Geisel was not happy with the result. It soured him on his short-lived goal of becoming a screenwriter. The film has a decent 6.8 rating on IMDB but some of the user reviews note the film’s shortcomings.

The animated How The Grinch Stole Christmas premiered on TV in 1966 and has become an annual holiday tradition. Other movies based on his work were made after his death in 1991.

It’s interesting (to me, anyway) to note the parallels between Geisel and Peanuts creator Charles Schulz. Each had newspaper roots: Geisel as an advertising and editorial cartoonist before WWII, Schultz with a daily comic strip. Each moved to California as their careers took off: Geisel to La Jolla near San Diego and Schulz to wine country just north of San Francisco. Both began affairs in California and, after divorcing their first wives, married their west coast paramours. And, while their legacies live on via the printed page, they also are best known to many for their classic TV shows. A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired a year before The Grinch debuted on the tube. (The 2007 book Schulz And Peanuts by David Michaelis is an entertaining bio.)

Among the tales I enjoyed in the Seuss book is the revelation that his publisher Bennett Cerf (yes, the old What’s My Line panelist) challenged Geisel to write a book using no more than fifty unique words. They made a $50 bet. The author delivered his 1960 classic Green Eggs And Ham and won the bet.

Last year at the St. Louis Book Fair I scored three books by screenwriter William Goldman and during the past few quarantine weeks I have read and enjoyed them.

Adventures In The Screen Trade, published in 1983, is dishy with many anecdotes about the films Goldman was involved in and the people he worked with. His biggest hit at that point was Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid which netted him his first Oscar. Goldman makes it clear that he admired Paul Newman as a person and Robert Redford as a star. Goldman also scripted All The President’s Men and Marathon Man and has recollections and opinions about the making of those films and his thoughts about the final products.

Goldman’s adventures include working with Joseph E. Levine and Richard Attenborough on the WWII film A Bridge Too Far, a film with many production challenges. Levine put up a huge chunk of his own money for the film and it was a decent sized hit.

The most important person in the making of a film, Goldman writes, is the studio head who says yes and authorizes a budget to start the filming effort. In this book and in his later book Which Lie Did I Tell he considers directors. His favorites are George Roy Hill, Clint Eastwood and Rob Reiner. Goldman feels that directors sometime get too much credit for elements of a movie that may be mainly attributable to production designers, cinematographers and, yes, screenwriters.

Which Lie Did I Tell? (More Adventures In The Screen Trade), published in 2000, has more of Goldman’s thoughts on screenwriting including tips on the structure of a film’s story. The book is not quite a screenwriting textbook but if one wanted to pursue that occupation, reading this book with a highlighter in hand would be a good place to start. He won his second Oscar for The Princess Bride and while he is proud of that movie, he also spills the tea on some of the movies he wrote that were not so successful.

Goldman analyzes movie scenes he had no involvement in, such as the zipper accident at the start of There’s Something About Mary. He is critical of Saving Private Ryan—the part after the bloody opening sequence. As in his 1983 book, Goldman is again candid with his thoughts and opinions.

Goldman’s book Hype And Glory came along in 1990. Two years earlier, Goldman had been invited to be a judge at the Cannes Film Festival in May and the Miss America pageant in late summer. This book recounts, via his chatty observations of those events, what goes on behind the scenes. His tales are revealing and often hilarious.

My copy of the Dr. Seuss book will be returned to the county library when it reopens. The trade paperback version of the book will be released May 26 and is available for preorder now. Click HERE for info.

When I am reading books that I’ve bought, I often think about who among my friends and associates might appreciate a particular book if I were to pass it along. As I was reading these Goldman books, though, I was thinking I’ll just hang on to them and read them again in a few years. Definitely worth a future re-read!

 

 

 

The Hunt

The Hunt

What if a bunch of smart ass, politically correct, NPR-loving, elite liberals decided to kidnap a bunch of gun-owning, Trump-supporting, Hannity-loving right-wingers and then… turn ‘em loose and hunt ‘em down for sport? Wouldn’t that be something!

That’s what happens in The Hunt, a film whose story features many clever surprises and a highly entertaining final face off. The film contains lots of blood and violence, some of which is comical.

A key thing to know is that the movie pokes fun at both sides of the political divide and questions what we may believe about those on the left and those on the right. The rich folks here are the lefties. They are also the ones with the vast arsenal of weaponry.

The right-wingers who are hunted appear to be more simple folk. Although one, Crystal (Betty Gilpin) is smarter and braver than the others. Another, Gary (Ethan Suplee), a man who shares conspiracy theories via a podcast, turns out to be more perceptive than he initially appears to be.

Hillary Swank is the best-known star in the film. Her screen time, thought brief, is effective. Also in the cast—which is, FWIW, almost exclusively white—are Amy Madigan, Ike Barinholtz and singer/songwriter Sturgill Simpson.

The script for The Hunt is by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse. And, although Lindelof should never be forgiven for the way his TV show Lost ended, he brings fun twists and turns to a century-old short story. Speaking of short, the movie clocks in at an efficient, fast-moving 90 minutes.

You may notice that the release date for The Hunt was revised on its poster. Because of its violent content, the film’s release was postponed from last year in the wake of multiple mass shootings.

The Hunt is a smart satire of the current polarization in America. Unless you have no sense of humor, you are likely to be amused. It will certainly give you some good fodder for conversation on your drive home from the theater. Rated R.

 

 

 

The Invisible Man

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Have you ever thought you were losing your sanity? Have other people ever wondered if you were losing your mind? Have you ever been in a toxic relationship that led you to take desperate measures?

Cecelia Kass (Elizabeth Moss) answers yes to all three questions in the highly entertaining suspense thriller The Invisible Man.

In the film’s terrific opening sequence, Cecelia executes an escape from her abusive husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) with help from her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer).

Two weeks later, after taking refuge at the home of her friend James (Aldis Hodge), Cecelia is informed that her husband has died by suicide. Her husband’s attorney Tom (Michael Dorman), who is also her husband’s brother, informs her that a generous inheritance will come her way.

Soon after, weird things begin occurring in Cecelia’s life that lead her to question her own sanity. When she shares her suspicions about what is happening, others are dubious about her claims.

Revealing more about this setup and the story that follows might include spoilers or near spoilers. It is okay, I think, to mention that the film is likely to keep you guessing about what’s going to happen next and what will be the ultimate resolution. That pretty much defines suspense, does it not?

But a few words about the production shouldn’t spoil anything. The film’s writer/director Leigh Whannell, co-creator of the Saw movie series, uses shots of doors and hallways effectively to create subjective views of places where trouble may lurk. His use of shadows and low light situations adds to the creepiness. The sound design featuring loud, low-pitched ominous notes creates just as much tension as the violin-dominated Psycho soundtrack did sixty years ago.

The modern house that Cecelia and Adrian share is large and spectacular and provides a great setting for the film’s opening shots. It’s even cooler than the Park family’s home in Parasite.

Big applause is due for the performance of Elizabeth Moss. Her character refers to herself as “just a suburban girl” who met her husband at a party. But she is resilient and tough. Moss can play gorgeous and also rugged (as in, no makeup and dirty hair) in the same film and do both believably.

The Invisible Man is rated R because of blood, gore and violence. Tread lightly on the interwebs before you see it… spoilers are likely to abound.

The Call Of The Wild

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If you see The Call Of The Wild, you will understand why it’s better that the filmmakers used a computer animated- dog instead of a real dog. Stunts and fights might’ve put a real dog in peril.

Buck, the big galoot of a dog, looks almost real. He does things Rudd Weatherwax could only imagine his dogs doing. (Look him up if you need to.)

But the reason you want to see The Call Of The Wild is not just to see how the animals are rendered. You want to experience the story of Buck, a 140-pound St. Bernard-Collie mix, and how he copes with dognapping, cruel mistreatment, work on a sled team and a fight to be top dog.

Buck also discovers his connection to the wolves he sees, hears and imagines during his time in Alaska.

His human benefactor is John Thornton (Harrison Ford) who takes up for Buck and ultimately takes him in. Their interspecies bond is heartwarming. The communication between the two reveals a closeness many of us aim to have with our pets. (Although most of us might not care to have our dog monitor and police our drinking habits.)

Harrison Ford, who turns 78 this summer (a smidge older that Joe Biden, a smidge younger than Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg), sounds older but looks amazingly spry for an old guy. He, of course, remains a favorite of many movie fans. Much of that fandom likely has as much to do with his many iconic roles as with his personal charisma and talent. It’s almost always good to see him onscreen and it is good to see him in this role.

The Call Of The Wild film, based on the classic Jack London novel, is not a “must see” movie. It entertains but lacks elements to elevate it to the beloved status of the book. Does it have the appeal of, say, the classic Disney dog movie Old Yeller? Not hardly.

Disney spent a ton of money to create many cool visuals in The Call Of The Wild—not just the CGI animals—and will likely recoup some of that budget when the film trudges over to the new Disney+ streaming service in a few months, resulting in more signups.

The Call Of The Wild is rated PG.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Photograph

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The Photograph strongly resembles a Hallmark Channel movie, but with an African-American cast. And, instead of that one chaste kiss at the end of many Hallmark movies, The Photograph has just enough mild sexual content to merit a PG-13 rating.

Here are a few Hallmark Channel movie tropes that appear in The Photograph:

  1. One of the characters is a journalist. Michael (LaKeith Stanfield) is a writer for a New York based magazine.
  2. One of the characters leaves her small hometown for the big city, but comes back home to visit. Christina (Chanté Adams) is a photographer who leaves Louisiana for New York.
  3. One of the characters spends a lot of time reading a letter left by a person who is no longer around. Mae (Issa Rae) reads and rereads the letter left by her mother who is recently deceased.
  4. One of the characters has a parent die. (See #3.)
  5. One of the characters stays in the small town and has a reunion with one who comes back. Isaac (Rob Morgan) is one who is left behind.
  6. A surprising revelation occurs. Although some might say, “I saw that coming!” (Sorry, no spoiler here.)
  7. A number of coincidences move the plot along. (No spoilers here either.)
  8. Several conversations include glasses of wine.
  9. Romantic attraction for the two main characters, Michael and Mae, is obvious to the audience if not to the characters.
  10. Family members caution against moving too fast into a serious relationship. Michael’s brother Kyle (Lil Rey Howery) shares his thoughts over wine and beer.
  11. A sad goodbye.
  12. A happy ending. (Well, duh.)

Stanfield and Rae each have lots of charisma and they have great onscreen chemistry. The parallel tales of the two generations are presented with a bit of melodrama—but that’s a good thing.

The Photograph is a romantic movie for grownups. Yes, the film was written and directed by a woman, Stella Meghie.

Like many Hallmark Channel movies it touches emotional buttons, it has some contrived plot elements and most of the situations get resolved in satisfying ways.

 

 

 

 

 

Downhill

DOWNHILL

If you’re looking for a romantic comedy starring two popular stars to make you feel all warm inside this Valentine’s Day weekend, Downhill is NOT it.

If you’re looking for a disappointing movie that will make you feel uncomfortable, maybe then Downhill IS for you.

One might think that married couple Pete (Will Ferrell) and Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) would have some madcap adventures on the ski runs that would result in loads of laughs. One would be wrong. Downhill is a “drama/comedy” with the emphasis on family drama.

On a positive note, the scenery in Downhill is gorgeous. The Alpine slopes glisten in the Austrian sun. The action shots make skiing look like more fun than it really is.

Another positive note: the film is mercifully short, clocking in at a mere 85 minutes.

Pete and Billie and their two young sons head to Europe ostensibly to ease the pain brought on by Pete’s dad’s recent passing. But when a “controlled” avalanche goes out of control, it becomes apparent that Pete and Billie have other issues beside Pete’s ongoing grief.

Some of the side characters add a bit of spice to the show. The horny hotel manager Charlotte (Miranda Otto) is fun but also a bit off-putting. The cocky ski patrol leader (Kristofer Hivju) throws more cold water on the anticipated good times. Billie’s ski instructor Guglielmo (Giulio Berruti) has some success trying to perk up her spirits.

Pete’s co-worker Zach (Zach Woods) and his girlfriend Rosie (Zoe Chao) are unwitting witnesses to Pete and Billie’s big blow up—not much fun there.

Downhill was inspired by a 2014 French film Force Majeure, which has a similar plot. Force Majeure‘s IMDB rating is 7.3.

Downhill has an IMDB rating of 4.0. Downhill is the kind of movie you might watch a year or two from now on cable or Netflix when there’s nothing else on. Rated R.