I am used to being awakened with a call for a recipe,but this mid-morning I was asked why my movie review from last night was not yet posted. Whoa, that felt good! Jon Stewart’s “Rosewater” felt good ,too. The Western spirit of freedom has never been so ironically portrayed. A trapped and tortured young man is more free than his captors. Thematically,this is a gem. Movies are for the senses as well as the mind and the initial frames of rose petals being pressed are a delight. I thought immediately of Patrick Suskind’s 1986 novel “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” where scent and the ancient art of making exquisite fragrances turn macabre.

Tension is built but beautifully through the words of the celebrated modern Iranian poet,Ahmad Shamlou. As a master of championing liberty, he writes” ..he knocks on your door in the middle of the night/his mission is to break your lamp/we must hide our lights in dark closets.” This verse presages our Tehran -born -Canadian Newsweek reporter’s visit to his mother and background info on the past imprisonment of this sister and father.

The acting is fine and Gael Garcia Bernal & his new found friend Dimitri Leonidas are easy to identify with in their banter and coaxing. A great line about the power of the video is dropped and the frustrated eyes of the interrogator,Kim Bodnia, are discernible and universal as the mark of one who is not getting the outcome he wishes. Shohreh Aghdashloo has the eyes of a mother who has suffered and knows she can not protect her loved ones from their own suffering. The middle imprisonment is a tad draggy,but maybe that is intentional. 118 days,much in solitary confinement,is well— long.

I wish I had read Maziar Bahari ‘s memoir”They Came For Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity and Survival” before I saw the film. Stewart seems to presume we know more background than we do, or he is trying to drive home the fact that we are fated by our circumstances and only the humanities of art,dance ,and yes,humor can get us through.

The middle did drag, though I loved the touching- the -wall -dance scenes and Bernal’s sly smile on the return trip when a seat mate puts on his night mask to bury the light. “What a strange time it is”, Stewart seems to be repeating. No agonized solitude here . Viewers of this film will have no “smiles cut from their lips”or ” songs from their hearts.” This reviewer likes Jon Stewart even more in this first attempt at film making!


I am breaking the first rule of reviewers: Do not play cute with the movie title.
Sorry, but I can not help myself. There is nothing “stellar” about director Christopher Nolan’s new sci-fi film “Interstellar”. While Matthew McConaughey is grand and Jessica Chastain & Anne Hathaway very good,the screenplay is a mess of unmeshed, weightless ideas. I wish I had been in concert with The Fifth Dimension for the three hours instead of holding my ears against the insanely loud blast -off sequence, the both too dark yet too light cinematography, and the agog pacing that ended up with the answer is “love”.

This film does have it all in terms of the mad scientist, the physic ghost, the symbolic reliance on the past while pushing toward the future. Here a second hand on a wristwatch captures astro-physical data using Morse code. Quite a feat!

John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” staging of Earth has the audience hear that we now “look to the dust of a dying Earth–and not at the stars and their possibilities”. The theme is we can no longer be underlings of our sun if we are to survive as a species. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s optimistic saw is turned into a directive,”When it is dark, men ‘need’ to see the stars”. A NASA Underground group,(underground since they are no longer government -funded) drafts Cooper ( McConaughey) to find the best of their outlier astronauts, who have been seeking new possible homes to save our species.

Moral dilemmas abound here. One introduces Matt Damon, who ludicrously does not even seem to acknowledge the woman who portends to love him. She ( Anne Hathaway) also seems to have forgotten the vibe in the quest of the greater good.

If you like abandoned children who finally reconcile, and worm-holes that open as if by divine promptings , and recitations of Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into the night” to the point of sickness ,Nolan’s film is for you.

“Mockingjay” Part one

With all the tragedy in the U.S. & in the World, depictions of abuse of power deserve
endless screen time. War & revolution are intoxicating fare, and sadly rarely the endgame.
Suzanne Collins has created a young adult trilogy to describe the struggle for freedom & equal justice that pits districts against each other, while the Capitol bathes in luxury & privilege.

In the third adaptation of her “Hunger Games”, strong women continue to lead & fight for
freedom. “Mockingjay Pt.1 ” is cinematically dark. The screen seems to absorb every color of blue , gray and brown. Some frames are arrestingly beautiful monochromes. Jennifer Lawrence poses in front of many of these sets as Katniss,arch enemy of President Snow. ( Donald Sutherlin). She reminds me of Melissa Gilbert of “Little House On The Prairie” fame in her determination & moral strength. Katniss is much tougher for more brittle times. Juliette Moore, as Commander- -in-Chief,Alma Coin, shows tactician coolness and level -headed decisiveness. Women Power looks good.

The male actors all hold their own. Woody Harrelson is unusually intense as the alcoholic rebel-friend,and Philip Sidney Hoffman’s line “I’m optimistic” will make you shudder in its sad irony. Still having strong women lead the way out of injustice warms my heart.

The music is haunting as are the lyrics to an Appalachian – like song “strange things strangers do not see”. Refrain after refrain builds a kind of theme song for the revolution.The role of the media,electronic grids and symbol import,be it white roses or hyped -up arrows,are mixed with natural babbling brooks and wildlife , innocent enough to know no danger.

The mockingjay is not forgotten either. The juxtapositions are nostalgic. The manipulation of propaganda like “showing your face” to your comrades- in -arms is stressed . Katniss does this repeatedly, maybe too often, kind of like an adolescent’s mirror time! A few humorous lines cut through the war efforts. The dead Cinna’s & pin and uniform design were his artistic contributions. “Try doomed to live in jumpsuit land” was snarky and funny!
Support good sci-fi and see.

“The Homesman”

Tommy Lee Jones directs & stars in “The Homesman”. Besides disliking the title borrowed
directly from a novel of the same name, I would say that this film should be kept to the small screen. The action haltingly moves forward. The only cinematic offerings are a cool shot where three mad women cling to Mr. Briggs ( TLJ) in a rolling stream & a touching tribute to a perceptive main character Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) where she gives a literal thimbleful of water to a disturbed woman’s baby substitute, a rag doll.

What bothers me most about the film are the characterizations that seem like caricatures.
This film had me longing to re -teach Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” where the Nebraskan Territory kindled real people. The prairie fare of “The Homesman” is much more primitive : the screenplay poorly written. If you like reading the Dictionary of Mental Disturbances, you may like seeing live infants thrown in latrines,women mutilating & burning their skin,catatonic stares and asylum -like cat-moaning.

Cameo parts from Meryl Streep, James Spader and John Lithgow are almost distracting. Streep may have taken the part of a Methodist minister’s wife so that she could work beside her daughter, Grace Gummer. Gummer plays the youngest of three mad women claimed by the harshness of early prairie life. James Spader has another cameo that shows Capitalism at its worse and the ensuing revenge just as disheartening. John Lithgow’s talent is wasted on this poorly written script. And Hilary Swank’s surprise is more disappointing than enlightening.

This is a very depressing film that seems to underscore that flawed people never fully change, yet religious nods to compassionate care, baptism and communion are here. Sex is seen as “given” by loutish males who wish to sow their seed or to initiate the the virginal.Women being appreciated only for their beauty and their subservience is sad,too. “Too bossy & too plumb plain” are critiques that say more about the sayer than anyone else. Difficult water pumps, soundless piano crocheted mats, snoring lullabies, homemade cheese kept in pant pockets, and neglected proposals are all glum.

Some humor is seen. The calling of insane women “cuckoo clocks” is not as humorous as having the three crazies watch “love-making” under an animal skin that has been dislodged from a Native American’s burial wrap. Is this the fever that took Mary Bee?

Hilary Swank is good as Mary Bee Cuddy as “plain as an old tin pail”.Cuddy herself is maybe too good as she sees herself “living uncommonly alone”, and does ultimately ” hush herself up” along with the crazy women who miss their handsome parlors. Grave tending has been a Christian focus of Mary Bee’s, but though Mr. Briggs tries to emulate her beliefs, he lets her marker sail down stream.

Much of this two hour Western sailed downstream,too.

“Force Majeure”

“Force Majeure” is a sophisticated & serious comedy of manners & gender culture. “Force Majeure” is not to be missed if you would like to advance a discussion of marital expectations, gender heroism, psychological truth and male bonding. I loved this film’s quirky humor as much as I did the beautiful frames of the French Alps,quiet & nestled under a million of stars.

Knowing the story-line does not ruin the film since it is the feelings that result from an event that take central import. A family is caught in a programmed Avalanche that seems to be out of control. The father picks up his cell and turns his back on his family and runs without saying “follow me”. He falls short of the manly hero his wife and children expect. He spends some time with his fingernails scratching off a small “chicken sticker” from their hotel room door. He tries to make a deal not to discuss it, he lies, he tries to relieve himself from obligation. His friend gives an excuse for bad performance using the title of the film as part of the Napoleonic Code, which relieves a party from legal obligation if said party is at risk. The survival code does not fly for a family seen as one in the spouse’s eyes. Now, can we overcome the effects of being abandoned?  Can we set up a test …another unforeseen event? Loved it!

“The Foxcatcher” and “The Imitation Game”

The last two films I have seen have both been rather sad for this joyful season. Yet, one inspires while the other disgusts. One is about hard decision- making and self -sacrifice that succeed for mankind, while the other is about self- serving image -making that fails for all. Both are based on true stories. “The Foxcatcher” works as acting platforms for Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo,Channing Tatum and Vanessa Redgrave. All are extremely good. Carell ,as the silver-spooned John E. du Pont with mommy problems, builds tension as he hopes to “stun the world” & “see this country soar”! Carell looks like du Pont here for he never smiles. He is pompous,delusional and well—murderous. Seeking maternal approval is his obsession. In one scene,he frees her beloved horses ,a spiteful attempt to get back at her for the love that was withheld him. He is drug addled and vindictive. “Foxcatcher” is a “downer” emotionally.

Mark Ruffalo does his own wrestling as the Olympic Gold Medal winner,Dave Shultz. He
portrays a depth of character that while showing blood & spit on the mat,oozes familial warmth
and devotion in his priorities. “I’m your bother. I love you.” He tries to “game” the du Pont dynasty, while letting his unhappy brother leave.Channing Tatum as the younger Mark Shultz, has a simian walk that plays well. He butts mirrors, smashes lamps,cries & slobbers and hits himself. A sexual tension Is hinted, but the reasons for the gorging, self-abuse is not well understood.

Du Pont tells him “I want your brother Dave,you ungrateful ape!” But sibling rivalry hardly seems reason enough for Mark’s drug use & breakdown. “I don’t need your help. I’m doing this on my own.” has been heard by many an older sibling. Du Pont ‘s voice is the one we hear, “little brother living in your brother’s shadow.” It is the “Golden Eagle” who taunts Mark to distance himself. (Yet any homosexual encounters were denied off film by Mark.) Vanessa Redgrave rolls in in a wheelchair and John pontificates. She tells him his sport is “low”! Wrestling beneathe him. She is the great spoiler.Redgrave can steal a scene like no other.

If you like oiled muscles,crazed philanthropists and cocaine snorters who write their own press releases this may be fun to see. The fact that this is a true tale of almost Greek proportions hits the hardest.

“The Imitation Game” is a perfect movie, choreographed like a harrowing ballet. It is emotionally satisfying and cinematically beautiful, easing into close-ups & fading backdrops. This film,too, is a bi-op, but Alan Mathison Turing’s story brings tears to one’s eyes for another reason. Sure the ego is all present,but this code breaker shortened World War Two and saved millions of lives instead of snuffing out one. Unlike “The Foxcatcher”, ruthless private power is not portrayed. Stellar Cambridge intelligence work powers the overthrow of Hitler,instead.

The film begins with Sir Stewart Menzies, Britain’s spy chief, heading up MI6 & hiring the clever, rude and humorless Turing. Benedict Cumberbatch is impeccable ,and I predict will win an Oscar for this performance. As a marathon runner, as a “pouff”, as a genius crypto-analyst..he hits above the mark with each eye glance and facial twinge.

Seeing this film may help right an injustice,heal the suffering thrown on homosexuals, and support the underdog with the inspirational refrain:”Sometimes, it is the people no one imagines anything of ,who do the things that no one imagines.”

Norwegian director Morten Tyldum takes us through the 1930’s & 1940’s with just the right details to evoke the times, the schools, and Manchester, England. Alexandre Desplat’s score is redolent & memorable. I may have to buy the sound track. Kiera Knightley amidst The Bletchley Park environs is feminism for the ages. I loved her in this supporting role.

The naming of the “the Turning Machine” ,Christopher, was one of the saddest commentaries on the persecution of alternate life styles. When the young Alan is called to the headmaster’s office and is told of his only friend’s death, his “I don’t understand” means the opposite. I don’t wish to believe that Alan Turing himself committed suicide or that hormone therapy was once seen as a cure,or that one enigma solved kept him imprisoned in another. Yet, this masterful movie makes one deal with all that is personal and communal. Saboteurs and Russian espionage are dealt with in the history of the times. Cairncross and Churchill, secrets and treason,and the long view are here to be understood and celebrated. Self- sacrifice & intelligence is rewarded finally by the awe the audience showed as the credits rolled by. Exquisite.


“Wild” is full of bromides like “Find your best self and hold on to it” and “Put yourself in Beauty’s way-sunrise & sunset every day”. Yet, Jean-Marc Vallee,the Canadian director of “The Dallas Buyers Club, makes us care about Sheryl Strayed, whose memoir makes the big screen.

Reese Witherspoon is grand and brings a depth of character that is a pleasant surprise. Her sins, her fortitude, her bruises, her losses and her neglects are mostly in flashbacks as she treks 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. She registers her name on the trail’s log, often quoting Adrienne Rich, Flannery O’Conner, Emily Dickinson and many of my favs here and in her journal. Sheryl is a seeker,a feminist,who changes Joni Mitchell’s lyrics from, “Will you take me as I am?” To “will I take me as I am?” Ultimately, she needs to forgive herself and as she states: “walk myself back to the woman my mother thought I was”.

And her mother, the incredible Laura Dern is worthy of an Oscar,too. In a few short scenes, we see her forty-five years from dancing with her daughter, taking knuckle punches,breathing in scents & sense to cancer and cornea donation. Bobbi Gray is lauded as noble yet her quest is to make her daughter more sophisticated than she is seems silly in its self-effacement.  Yet,I was deeply touched when Sheryl swallowed a mouthful of her mother’s ashes.

There are lots of grunts & groans from beginning to end. We learn a little about Monster bag packing and tricks like burning book pages read to lighten the load. Pruning an insane backpack plays second to pruning a history of promiscuity & heroin abuse ,and this unloading plays  as an interesting metaphor. Licking the condensation from a tent wall and meeting unseemly hikers are balanced with the kindness of strangers and the humor of the “Hobo Times” reporter.

I was disappointed in the cinematography of Yves Belanger. I was expecting more magnificent scenery of a postcard variety. The brooks were nice,but not jaw dropping. The forest take with the “Red River Valley” song missed vistas where they were needed for maximum emotional effect.I cared about Sheryl, but grieved for Bobbi and wanted her to channel that mother love ,unconditional and true, to the next generation without proxy.


“Whiplash” is a great film. Its title takes a Hank Levy piece and gives it nuances that build and build. The cacophony that results is mesmerizing. The audience is whiplashed emotionally,our protagonist drummer is whiplashed physically, and ambition and pride whiplash each other and take grandstanding to new heights. A morality tale this could be . With the good father, Paul Reiner, as guide. But the acting belongs to the master manipulator, J.K. Simmons, who is resplendent with the devil’s whiplashing tongue. Ms. Jean Brodie move over:Terrence Fletcher is here! Teacher power is given a new tempo,and it is perfectly frightening in its spite-fullness.

The “teacher-director-manager” is a pusher of a narcotic called fame for ” the best mf…ing solo the world has ever heard.”He is shown three times as being capable of tenderness: once to the small daughter of a former student,once playing at a piano bar where the music moves him,and once tearing up at a suicide he no doubt helped to bring on. These three renouncements of evil may be the Devil’s Judas’ story!

Big questions like ” What is greatness?” “Why are collegiality & cooperation so important?”, and ” Why is the balance of work & leisure so key to mental health?” are the queries in the wings,while “Clean the blood off my drum set” is the line that will be remembered.”What are the bigger things to pursue in life ?”may be the most exacting question,yet. This film is much more than the abused’ s relationship to the abuser.

The dad deserves applause. He states that age gives perspective,but youth wants none of that. He is concerned and pro-active. He uses understatements like, “You care a lot about his opinion”. He does not wish his son to be an out- of -tune nineteen year old. He hurts when Andrew falls. His favorite question is ,”You okay?”. Dad does not concur that Charlie Parker became ” bird” because a cymbal was thrown at his head.

This film explodes! The brazen pride and raw ambition to be the best just takes over. The music is glorious. Heart-throbbing drums . The images pop. The lights in the windows,the self- scourging, the cleaning of instruments,the dripping sweat,the bloody drum skin,the intentional verbal emotional distress like “no wonder your mommy ran out on you “, linger.

Miles Teller & J.K. Simmons should be nominated for dueling Oscars. This film is close to perfect. Do not miss it !