Tamara's Journeys

Journeys as great as the destinations.

Phantom Thread

January 21st, 2018

Daniel Day Lewis adds a new extraordinary character to his gallery of extraordinary characters. All men and each one of them totally different and original men. From the gay punk rocker of “My Beautiful Launderette’ to Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln” Now Reynolds Woodcock, a true artist in the world of fashion Lewis portrays a man who lives his work as his only form of expression.

Set in the glamour of 1950’s post-war London, Phantom Thread is the most unique romance film to come out in years. The screenplay is engaging and reminiscent of the classic suspense movies with beautiful cinematography and sound track. I didn’t want to blink, because the timeless beauty and sheer elegance that this film has is unparalleled. What kept me so engaged is the breathtaking cinematography shot on a 35mm camera, the outstanding performances from Daniel Day Lewis, and Vicky Kriceps and the amazing dialogue which keeps you immersed in the film playing on your instincts.

The complexity of Ryan Woodcock becomes totally accessible in Daniel Day Lewis’s eyes, with every move and every silence. Phantom Thread is a monumental, beautiful creation. His Alma – the Alma that he chooses – is played with matching intensity by Vicky Krieps and she’s a perfect framer/embracer/provocateur in a remarkable performance. Lesley Manville is equally chillingly perfect as his sister/gate keeper with an eye on everything.

Many people might think ”Oh, Phantom Thread is going to be another typical romance movie, this time about a dressmaker” so they might not watch it. If you feel that way, it’s your loss to miss this gratifying masterpiece film. It is a suspenseful romance film which has rarely been done before. You won’t want to look away from the screen on chance you’ll miss a single nuance.

I am already looking forward to renting it, so I can pour over it and see more of the delicate atmosphere and psychological details. It’s not for the general public that want a more visceral experience, but this film is one of the best movies to come out in the past 5 years and I highly recommend it for true film aficionados. Phantom Thread is elegant and unpredictable from beginning to deliciously Hitchcockian end. Thank you Daniel Day Lewis, what a way to end a career!


Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

January 7th, 2018

Decisions can be unusual in Rapid City. For example, I had to choose between going with a girlfriend to see Jumanji -OR- invite her to the local Outdoor Campus to attend a Women’s Goose Hunting course. The write up stated: “Bring a friend or meet new friends and learn how to hunt geese. Tips on hunting from pits, setting up decoys, firearm safety, proper clothing and gear, rules and regulations and licenses needed.”

Thankfully we decided to attend a lively, wholesome movie. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has broad performances, bloodless scares and self-empowering life lessons that don’t involve teaching me what I needed to kill an unsuspecting goose.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a sequel, not a remake of the 1995 Jumanji movie with Robin Williams based on the book where players find their home invaded by predators. In this sequel four very different teens get whisked away into a cyberworld where they find themselves inhabiting their avatar bodies.

What’s amusing about this is seeing adult actors such as Dwayne Johnson gazing upon his huge biceps with the eyes of a meek teen, much like most of us do. And Jack Black crying out in horror at his squat reflection – the avatar of a blonde high school girl. While the diminutive Kevin Hart – the avatar of a kid built like a line backer – screams “Where’s the rest of me?” These characters have to learn and develop how to use their avatars while also learning to work together as a team to survive, which isn’t something they did as high schoolers.

I didn’t care when the CGI looked artificial because Jumanji is an artificial world. It’s fun to watch Johnson use the sight of his avatar body to teach himself not to run away from peril and give him courage. And Gillan who comes to terms with her inner fighter. Each hero has to mature and learn the lesson that they only get one life to live. How are they going to live it?  (even though the avatars get three)

Like everyone else, I was very skeptical of this film thinking the directors would attempt to recreate the original. However, I was either smiling or laughing the entire movie, as was the rest of the theater. Is it Citizen Kane? No. Was I going to the theater wanting to watch a drama that delved deep into the characters’ lives or leave the theater questioning? No. We left the theater entertained by both a good stand alone and a fitting fantastical sequel to what had come before.

I recommend for ages 13+.

Murder on the Orient Express

November 12th, 2017

Yesterday I thoroughly enjoyed a magical cinema event. I use the word magical because Murder on the Orient Express takes you out of your own reality and places you in another world that is not macabre or dangerous but filled with beautiful people, exquisite dialogue, snowcapped mountain landscapes and sumptuous costumes. The exquisite cinematography alone was worth the cost of admission.

Murder on the Orient Express has many aspects to applaud. It has a good portrait of some 18th century look with all those etiquettes and manners. The movie is fully loaded with the story many already know, with a few different suspects that made it intriguing. Please don’t compare it with the novel lest you lose the momentum of this cinematic whodunit.

The supporting cast includes some big names including the likes of Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Dame Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi and Michelle Pfeiffer. All play their roles well, but because, Branagh himself apart, this is very much an ensemble effort, it would be difficult to single any of them out for special praise.

However, one thing that took me off-guard was that Johnny Depp was not only not the star of the film, he was playing one of the least interesting characters in the whole film. What also took me by surprise was how much I enjoyed Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation of the character of ‘Hercule Poirot’. He was captivating to watch. He left me undoubtedly wanting more. I would happily welcome a follow-up film (which may or may not have been hinted at in the film).

Whereas Agatha Christie understood human nature in its myriad forms, Kenneth Branagh so fabulously unveils in his Murder on the Orient Express. Yes, he has assembled a world class cast of superstar actors, but it’s Branagh himself, both as actor and Director, who pulls the real tale of loss, unrequited grief and revenge, of this story out brilliantly. You don’t get much more powerful emotions in human existence and these are wonderfully executed in this film.

I highly recommend Murder on the Orient Express as a “not to be missed” film. It’s fantastic, even if you know the plot. Go and see it and watch this wonderful tale again from a different perspective. This is a tale which plumbs the depths of human existence: what Poirot calls ‘the poison of deep grief.’ Fabulous.

Movie Review: Victoria & Abdul

October 15th, 2017

As we crawl out of the summer action movie season, the first of the serious award-contenders moves into view. Victoria & Abdul is the captivating untold story of a hushed-up relationship between an aged Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and her Indian servant, Abdul Kareem (Ali Fazal).

This film is delightful as it unfolds and reveals the special friendship between Queen and servant slowly from beginning to end. The focus of the film is rightly on the scandal (for the day) of the queen of England (and head of the Church of England) having a spiritual teacher who is neither white nor Christian. If there is a criticism to be made it’s the racial references.

Above all, this is an acting tour de force for Dame Judi Dench, reprising her role as the elderly Queen Victoria from Mrs. Brown, which is now 20 years old! I know its early in the season to be placing bets, but Dench’s master performance screams Oscar to me. Dame Judi is the Queen personified.

Relative newcomer Ali Fazal (he had a role in the “Furious 7” film) is impressive, bringing the warmth and compassion to the supporting role that is needed to maintain the overall balance of comedy and drama.

Another star of the show is the Scottish countryside, ravishingly photographed. Victoria & Abdul will probably do more for the Scottish Tourist Board than any paid for advertising could ever do. LOL

The film claims to be “Based on a True Story… Mostly”, and this tease of a caption both infuriates and intrigues me in equal measure after watching it. The ending left me feeling obliged to delve into the original source material to learn more. I guess I know what I’ll be reading this winter.

Overall, I recommend Victoria & Abdul as a delightful, balanced and brilliantly acted drama. I would say this is a must see for viewers over the age of 50 in need of cinematic story telling that doesn’t disappoint or leave them running from the theater in disgust. This film acts as respectable tribute to a remarkable relationship that we all want in our life.

Movie Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

September 24th, 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a solid sequel that contains just as much enjoyment and humor as its predecessor Kingsman: The Secret Service. One year after the events of the first film, the Kingsman’s spy headquarters is fatally attacked by an unknown entity. With most of the organization now dead, the surviving agents Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and his trainer Merlin (Mark Strong) travel abroad to team up with Statesman, their American counterparts, in an effort to bring this mysterious new enemy to justice and save the world once again.

Featuring the same ridiculously over-the-top British spy action-comedy set to music, unique British style & charm, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a worthy follow-up to the 2015 film. The director’s slick, fast- paced action and use of slow motion editing showcases his talent for cleverly choreographed fight scenes and quirky comic relief, which few other directors would be able to replicate successfully.

The cast of characters, both new and old, lend themselves to some highly emotional and entertaining situations, including a hilarious performance from SIR ELTON JOHN (wow, Sir Elton John!) playing a fictionalized version of himself. The real stand-out, though, was Julianne Moore as the film’s villain that’s so playful it’s hard to take her seriously.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle has all the action, attitude and appeal of the first one, but improves on its own formula by incorporating Americans. The gadgets and the fight sequences are as delightfully over-the-top and thrilling as the original, but the violence is (appropriately) just a shade less gleeful (no heads exploding into fireworks set to music).

For anyone considering watching this it isn’t meant for young children. Also if you haven’t seen the first part, please make sure you see it first so you’re in on what’s happening with this one.

PS: Elton John’s cameo was brilliant! Unconventional and brilliant.


The Lost City of Z

April 30th, 2017

Based on the best-selling book, The Lost City of Z is the true-life drama of British explorer Col. Percival Fawcett, who disappeared while searching for a mysterious city in the Amazon in the 1920s.

The adven­ture epic is something of an endangered species. We rarely see explorers on the big screen, venturing into uncharted terrain where foreign dangers lurk, even though those stories are cinematic. The Lost City of Z which dramatizes Percy Fawcett’s adventures in South America, is a thrilling reminder of the genre’s potential. The real-life British soldier made multiple trips to the Amazon during the early 20th century in search of an ancient civilization.

The Lost City of Z was directed by James Gray, who created this sprawling saga that whisks audiences from Cork, Ireland, to the rain forest to the trenches of World War I France. The movie is long, but I never felt it was slow, even as it slowed to allow ample time for viewers to enjoy the breathtaking vistas.

Hunnam gives his best performance to career as Lt. Col. Percy Fawcett. To make Fawcett a logical, upstanding guy, the story never fully convinced me of his obsession with returning to find the lost city. As portrayed by Hunnam, Percy is devoid of ego-driven madness or extreme passion, doesn’t seem the type to leave his family and return to a place that nearly killed him. But off he goes anyway back to the great unknown. The choice might be hard to fathom, even reckless, but it was a thrill to watch from the safety of my seat.

The heavy bearded, bespectacled and unrecognizable Robert Pattinson gives a strong performance as Fawcett’s loyal and brave partner in exploration, Henry Costin with enthusiasm. Together they stumble upon unforgettable dangers and beauty in the Amazon.

Sienna Miller has played the understanding wife in many films and she always adds dimension to the character. In this, as much as Nina supports Percy, she has an adventurous side herself. She even proposes going along on one of his adventures to the Amazon as she grows weary of his goodbyes leaving her to raise the children.

I recommend this film to viewers that enjoy historical adventures that transports you to a world so exotic, lush and mysterious, it feels like you’re on another planet. The Lost City of Z does contain war violence with some disturbing images, brief strong language and some National Geographic style nudity. Best seen on the largest screen possible.


Going In Style

April 10th, 2017

In summer, heat waves can strike areas of the country where cooler temperatures are the norm. In these areas, many homes do not have air conditioning and surviving in the extreme temperatures (>85) becomes a challenge. It was 92 in Manoa, Hawaii yesterday and most homes do not have air conditioning by choice. To survive the extreme heat I decided to see “Going in Style” for 2 hours of air conditioned comfort. It was worth every penny.

Joyful, hilarious, touching, exciting, “Going in Style” fits in all these categories, proving how age does not deprive actors of comedic spirit. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin are each legends on their own, but seeing all three of them together is a pleasure for any film fan. The viewer can tell the three of them had a blast filming together and it clearly shows in the final product. The film won’t knock your socks off, but I’ll watch anything with these actors who played each of their roles convincingly and vigorously.

It’s not all giggles, though. There’s a deeper message about chasing after your dreams, no matter how old you are, living your life fully until the very end, and not letting others ruin your life. Whether its watching these guys tear up at the site of the granddaughters, or just busting each other over the smallest of things, I felt like I was watching a group of men having coffee at a local shop motivated and scheming to live their lives better.

Before watching this film, I was already aware of the 1979 version. When I went to the movie, I assumed that I would see the same story, only with the eyes of another director. But, as it turned out, the film’s writers foresaw this and pleasantly surprised me by changing the plot in key places. Both films are worth watching for their own pleasure, the difference being I felt Braff’s new interpretation is more energetic and cheerful compared to the previous version.

I had air-conditioned fun watching “Going in Style.” It’s not perfect, it’s silly and even a little cringe worthy at times, but within five minutes my stomach hurt because I was laughing so much. Then, to top it off, Ann Margaret, Matt Dillon and Christopher Lloyd light up the screen in small, supporting roles. They add to “Style’s” lighthearted fun.

I recommend this film to adults because they’ll relate to the personal issues these men face. The comedy has something for everyone in the family because it leaves a smile on your face. Use it as an excuse to enjoy air-conditioned comfort – you’ll be glad you did.

A Dog’s Purpose

February 3rd, 2017

“A Dog’s Purpose” is a profound movie about a dog’s companionship, love and loyalty for their human and portrays many ways that dogs are treated from a dog’s viewpoint. This movie chronicles the mutually beneficial relationship between humans and dogs in a way that reinforces how much these tolerant, playful, and loving companions give to their humans. Its central storyline is that dogs (and love) never die, but keep coming back as other dogs.

It is a charming movie by a director Lasse Hallström, a Swedish director who first attracted Hollywood’s attention with his 1985 film “My Life as a Dog” and went on to do movies like “Chocolat” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” His films sometime wear their hearts on their sleeves, as this one does, but honestly earn their emotional responses.

The mostly-unknown cast is fine, and Dennis Quaid and Peggy Lipton show up in the final sequence to bring the story to a satisfying close.

Overall I recommend the movie, and I also recommend you not believe what the media is spreading about this movie. I had a great time because for 100 minutes I had pleasant relief from all the negativity in the news. This was a tear jerking, laugh inducing, emotional roller-coaster movie. So, get ready for canine love, pain, two scary scenes and lots of laughter that makes this a good movie for families with older children. Just be sure to take tissues with you.


Hidden Figures

January 8th, 2017

Hidden Figures stands out for its ability to communicate the patriotic, nationalistic pride, importance and focus of this country’s unity with the NASA space program. The movies also reflects a different era of American history that many Americans might not relate to, though with great editing, tender and insightful moments that reveal the darker places of America’s relatively recent past.

Set during the transition to the 1960s America was still dealing with Jim Crow laws, the zeitgeist of the cold war, and the pressure cooker of the U.S. space program after Sputnik, it was a time before electronic computing was commonplace. Unimaginably, the math for the orbital mechanics of space missions were being performed with slide rules, pencil, and paper. The revelation of this film is that some of the human “computers” that did this vital work were African American women, who despite their brilliant contributions, were segregated and marginalized because of their color and gender.

The superb cast is led by Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer, who are exceptional and nomination worthy as real-life mathematician Katherine G. Johnson and supervisor Dorothy Vaughan, and Janelle Monae, who brings a fresh and lighthearted character into the mix. Aside from quite a few supporting performances from Spencer, I’m not overly familiar with these actresses’ work, but all three of them are terrific in this film. I love the relationships these women have together and I instantly bought into their chemistry, as I did the material with each of the women’s personal lives and families.

Mahershala Ali is terrific as the socially awkward love interest Colonel Jim Johnson. Kirsten Dunst turns in a surprisingly solid performance as a hardened by-the-book supervisor, and Kevin Costner (Al Harrison) thankfully melts believably into his role as chief of the space program. Jim Parsons’ (Yes, Sheldon) portrayal of an overtly racist engineer is sadly wooden, and is the only weak spot in an otherwise strong ensemble.

One of Mr. Harrison’s lines in the film contains a large degree of irony. The line was something to the effect of “How can the U.S. government justify NASA when it is consistently unable to get into and explore space?” The irony is seen in today’s defunding of NASA for, essentially, that very concept. The movie made me sad to think how after the Space Shuttle program, NASA did very little to grow. What made NASA great was the perception of being explorers–exploration excited our society! Once NASA no longer appeared to be focused on exploration and shifted its focus to communication technologies, it lost that public support that was such a part of what brought so many people together. That saddens me, as growing up I dreamed of becoming an astronaut. As a child, I held my father’s hand in a room filled with a massive IBM computer and later the same hand held a real moon rock. We can thank NASA for Tang and Velcro. More importantly, the Space caused us to dream collectively.

Hidden Figures is powerful, beautifully filmed with a message as relevant today as it was in the 1960s. This is robust, big studio filmmaking with memorable real life heroes. It’s an inspiring story of overcoming daunting odds. I am giving this movie the highest rating possible for telling the story of these brilliant women of NASA and dramatizing the human spirit in a positive way. It’s a valuable addition to other films about the space race.


Sunday in New York

December 25th, 2016

Sing delivers colorfully animated, cheerfully undemanding entertainment with a solid voice cast and a warm-hearted storyline that lives up to its title.

After conquering the world of yellow Minions and the Secret Lives of Pets, Illumination Entertainment returns with its sweetest and most charming project yet. Matthew McConaughey breaks out the bubbly charm as Buster Moon, an idealistic koala who launches a singing contest to save his failing theater. The competition attracts hopeful singers of every species: Taron Egerton voices a soulful gorilla who prefers stage to his father’s gang; Reese Witherspoon is an overworked pig mother of 25 piglets who dreams of the spotlight; and Scarlet Johansson plays a teenage porcupine desperate to break out of her musician boyfriend’s shadow. Add a sequin-obsessed swine, a suave but narcissistic mouse (Seth McFarlane), and a shy elephant with the voice of an angel, and you’ve got a delightful menagerie of misfit musicians.

Although the lets-put-on-a-show story line feels familiar, there’s real heart to the character’s desperate pursuit of their dreams. The eye-popping performances are meticulously animated, and a crowd pleasing, foot tapping soundtrack helps keep Sing moving.

Within the first 5 minutes I was singing and tapping my feet. Sing will inspire viewers of all ages to reach for their dreams in spite of their fears and have you laughing out loud, singing and crying with the characters. Bravo!

See this season’s feel-good movie Sing on the big screen (3D not required) then run to pick up the soundtrack. http://www.singmovie.com/



Manchester by the Sea

December 18th, 2016

I was pleased that I was suddenly too late to see Collateral Beauty and instead just in time for Manchester-by-the-Sea. I had read good things about this movie and looked forward to the Nova Scotia background.

The storyline is a simple one: When his brother Joe dies, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is forced to take care of his teenage nephew in his hometown, from which he moved away years earlier to escape his demons from a trauma years earlier.

Casey Affleck’s portrayal is very impressive and it’s no wonder that there is a strong early buzz around his performance. He essentially plays two different characters, a man before trauma and a man after. The ‘before’ in flashbacks is simple, a relatively friendly and happy-go-lucky guy who spends a lot of time drinking and cussing with his friends and family, has a close relationship with his nephew, etc. But where he excels is in the quiet desperation of the present-day Lee Chandler. With this character, there are only rare moments of outward emotion. Affleck plays it so that it is painfully clear just how much hurt Lee is keeping inside. I’m certain there’s a Best Actor Oscar nomination coming for this role.

Despite the serious subject matter, there is a surprising warmth that permeates between the estranged uncle and nephew during the film. The film draws upon the timeless themes of recovery and redemption in such a way that the emotion is never overbearing and feels real. This is a film about a man forced to confront his demons, yes, but it is also a film about a dysfunctional family and the ties that bind us to our hometown regardless.

There is a terrific chemistry between Affleck’s Lee and Lucas Hedges, who plays his nephew Patrick. Make no mistake, despite its subject matter this film is often hilarious, with the dialogue between Lee and his nephew providing most of the frequent outbursts of laughter in the theater. Due to his detachment and fear, Lee is fairly useless as a caregiver to Patrick, who in turn pushes his limits as any bright teenager will do, and tries to get away with doing whatever he wants.

Manchester-By-The-Sea is a quiet, simple picture encapsulating real life trauma, guilt, redemption, hope and bonds that make us family no matter what.

I could have done without all the drinking and use of the “F” word. But what I love about this film is how poignant it is in its approach to explaining to us the importance family, community, sacrifice and adjusting to life’s “new normal” after life throws you major curve balls and you’ve lost everything that mattered.  I believe every viewer is going to relate to this movie on some level. I recommend it for a quiet afternoon when you have time to ponder this powerful film.


Rules Don’t Apply

November 25th, 2016

Watching an unconventional love story of an aspiring actress, her determined driver, and the eccentric billionaire who they work for, was how I spent Thanksgiving afternoon. It was interesting.

Rumors of Warren Beatty making a Howard Hughes movie had bounced around for decades, and it appears he delivered on his promise. Beatty himself plays the billionaire, and the story mostly revolves around the later years when Hughes was most involved with Hollywood and the movie business. Much of the dialogue and the majority of the scenes involving Hughes emphasize the man’s idiosyncrasies that bordered on mental instability late in life. Beatty plays him as a mumbling goofball who dines on TV dinners in the dark and is frightened of children.

The best parts of the movie don’t involve Hughes, and instead feature the young upstarts trying to make their way in his convoluted organization. Lily Collins plays Marla Mabrey, a wanna-be starlet from Virginia committed to her staunch religious upbringing, who’s beliefs are incessantly reinforced by her distrusting mother (Annette Bening). Her driver is Frank Forbes played by Alden Ehrenreich (Hail Ceasar!), and his own agenda involves convincing Howard Hughes to invest in a real estate development project on Mulholland Drive. As expected, sparks fly between the young actress and the equally conservative young visionary, and we find ourselves engaged with them.

Frank and Marla have some nice screen chemistry that is frequently brought to a screeching halt by yet another cockamamie idea by Howard Hughes. These intrusions prevent any real flow to the film and actually bogged down the story for me. In fact, the disruptions caused me to spend more time “spotting the celeb” than caring about the characters. The list of familiar faces that pop up include: Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Alec Baldwin, Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Oliver Platt, and even Candice Bergen (as Hughes’ secretary).

It’s easy to see the nostalgia and fond memories that Mr. Beatty has of this late 50’s and early 60’s era in Hollywood. It was all about glamour and the magic of what’s on screen. The real Howard Hughes story is at least as interesting, if not more so, than the history of Hollywood, but this isn’t The Aviator, or even Melvin and Howard.

These days, the Howard Hughes Hollywood legacy is barely a blip. Only a few recall Jane Russell’s close-up or the air battles of Hell’s Angels, while fewer know the RKO Studios story. There are some beautiful visuals and individual moments that can be seen be enjoyed, but if you’re looking for a Howard Hughes biopic, look elsewhere. Warren Beatty’s latest adds little to the legend with Rules.

Rules Don’t Apply can wait for a Red Box night.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

November 20th, 2016

Magical. Mischievous. Wicked. Three little words I used to describe Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

You might have thought that after seven novels and eight films, JK Rowling had said everything she had to say about witchcraft and wizardry, but now it seems that Harry Potter’s schooldays were just the beginning. Fantastic Beasts is set in the same hocus-pocus universe as Harry’s adventures, but it shifts the action thousands of miles and dozens of years away from Hogwarts – all the way to New York in 1926.

As exhilarating as all the new sights and sounds are, they crammed so many characters and situations in that it was baffling at times. Rowling’s obviously has a superabundant imagination, but it doesn’t allow the film to pick up momentum with all the minor characters and special effect details in its path. Fantastic Beasts is beautiful to watch, it just didn’t pick up speed.

The film’s lead, Newt Scamander, is a bumbling British wizard who could be a distant relative of the Doctor. Wearing an overcoat, striped scarf and a bowtie, Newt visits New York with a Tardis-like suitcase containing all the weird, wonderful and fantastic beasts he gathers on his travels. Maybe that’s why he seems to be hiding behind his hair the whole movie.

But Newt’s monster hunt is only one of the many plots. There is so much else going on the viewer can forget about the fantastic beasts altogether. There are the meetings in the steampunk headquarters of the American equivalent of the Ministry of Magic, where the typewriters clack away by themselves and the elevators are operated by grouchy elves. There is the puritanical anti-witchcraft evangelist with the downtrodden son. There’s the tycoon’s heir with presidential ambitions. A seedy underground jazz club. And Percival, the wizard police chief who has way too much swagger for his name.

Don’t get me wrong, this was all charming Fantastic stuff. Every scene has something ingenious and beautifully designed for viewers to enjoy. But, it’s at the expense of engaging with the lead characters. It frustrated me that the film cut away from them to check on somebody else every two minutes.

The movie doesn’t know where to stop with all the special effects and minute details. Rowling has announced Fantastic Beasts is the first in a five-part series, and I’m sure it will be a series to savor. The sequences when they’re catching these creatures are all really fun to watch.

Go, see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them for the imaginative and ornate visual special effects, not for a film that is richly satisfying in and of itself. Bear in mind this is a prequel and muggles will have to wait for more. 

Queen of Katwe

October 2nd, 2016

Chess is a game of strategy and problem-solving. Maybe it’s a cliché to say it’s a metaphor for life itself, but that metaphor is bigger, more pronounced and more profound for a girl living in one of the most challenging places on earth.

Katwe, a poverty-stricken, crime-ridden slum of Kampala, the capital of Uganda, is the home of Phiona Mutesi, once a charming illiterate girl selling ears of corn on the street, now an internationally renowned chess champion transformed into The Queen of Katwe.

Phiona’s story is similar to many inspirational, true-life triumph sports films made before it, but Queen of Katwe transcends the mundane and predictable with its rich portrait of a person who refuses to be defined by her roots. The director communicates this by her opening shots, which aren’t the expected scenes of a city in overrun in poverty and people living with the threat of violence. Instead the movie opens with sun-soaked scene bursting with life and color. The audience feels that Katwe is a village as beautiful as it is dangerous, vibrant as it is depressed.

Phiona, played with easy sincerity by first-timer Madina Nalwanga, is 11-years old when the movie begins. Although Queen is primarily Phiona’s story, it’s also her mother’s. Nyongo’s remarkable performance of Harriet is placed perfectly with the right levels of desperation and depression though it was never spoken even during her vulnerable moments that are present in every scene. She is a woman with pride and trusts no one on the streets of Katwe.

The film features universal life lessons in patience, fish-out-of-water comedy and tear jerking Ugandan patriotism. It’s an underdog story, comfortable in many ways. However, I don’t think anyone cared because the director emphasized authenticity in the performances and setting. The drama at the chess board will please crowds, but it’s the real drama in Phiona’s home that’s the most gripping and make you want to talk about this irresistible movie for days to come.

Queen of Kawte is a must see for everyone who has ever challenged the power of the human imagination. Grab your family and/or friend and see this film.  



The Magnificent Seven

September 30th, 2016

The Magnificent Seven 2016 is about as brazen as the cowboys it portrays. It’s loud, visceral and action packed and an instant classic in the Western genre. I left the theater realizing that I just saw a motion picture that might bring back the great Western.

The Magnificent Seven has all the elements working in harmony: a talented director with a top notch cast (Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, etc…), an easy to follow plot, action sequences and enough humor thrown in to make it a fun 2 hour spent in the movie theater.

The first half of this film is all about getting to know the “7” as they get together. This deliberate pacing allows the viewer to understand each of the “7s” personality quirks and pays off in the action scenes. I found myself rooting for these guys and waited for each one to pull out their peculiar skill to help advance the scene…while peeking between my fingers.

The performances of the “7” is made the movie great. Start with the always dependable Denzel Washington as the leader of the “7”, Sam Chisolm. He, mysteriously, takes on the task of defending this town from an army of bad guys and brings steely-eyed determination to his work. He brings an “everything is going to be all right” confidence and attitude to his performance and I just sat back and enjoyed every minute of it.

He is assisted by relative newcomers Byung-hun Lee as Billy Rocks who is charming and devastating as the man with the knives, Manual Garcia-Rulfo as Mexican Outlaw Vasquez, tough on the outside, soft on the inside, and Martin Sensmeier as no nonsense “loner” Indian sharp shooter (with the bow  arrow) Red Harvest. All these performances/characters are strong, but they take a back seat to even more impressive performances by film veterans:

Ethan Hawk shined bright in his best performance to date (at least for me) as legendary killer Goodnight Robicheaux. Great character for him! Then the always-interesting Vincent D’Onofrio shows quirkiness, humor and charm to slightly crazy mountain man/tracker Jack Horne, and good-ol’ dependable Chris Pratt reprising his “charming rogue” persona as gambler Josh Faraday, with a layer of darkness. He was terrific.

The director introduced the “7” and ratchets up the action in such a way that works very well. He did a very good job at laying out where everyone is, what their job is and why it is important, so that when the bullets start flying and the bodies start dropping you know what is going on and it is not just a bunch of people shooting for no reason at all.

The Magnificent Seven isn’t a perfect film, but it is a top-notch action packed Western that will, most certainly, inspire other Westerns and remakes. Maybe The Dirty Dozen?



Bridget Jones’ Baby

September 23rd, 2016

Remember Bridget Jones? She’s back! This time Bridget’s focus on single life and her career is interrupted when she finds herself pregnant, but with one hitch … she can only be 50% sure of the identity of her baby’s father.

When I heard that there was going to be another Bridget Jones movie I thought, wow, that is going to be the worst film of the year. The previous two Bridget Jones movies combined comedic and romantic highpoints and low points. Yet, it’s a surprisingly funny, smart, adorable romantic comedy.

In spite of a few misgivings, I went to the theater, and “Bridget Jones’ Baby” rapidly eliminated all my resistance. I laughed out loud in air conditioned comfort. The emphasis in Bridget Jones’ Baby is much more on comedy than it is on romance. Everything is played for laughs. The jokes are broad, low-brow, and slapstick. Don’t expect sophisticated wit.

Renee Zellweger has aged, as have we all. She is great as Bridget, and steals our hearts. Emma Thompson is her gynecologist. Go see this movie for Thompson’s performance alone. If you don’t laugh at her character … well, you will. You won’t be able to help yourself. Colin Firth may be the last living actor who can convincingly play a gentleman with such perfection.

It’s not brilliantly made, but it’s charming, inoffensive and good fun for Bridget chick-flick fans.




Florence Foster Jenkins

August 17th, 2016

The story of Florence Foster Jenkins is a real life classic re-telling of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, but instead of a king the lead is a New York heiress who dreamed of becoming an opera singer, despite having a terrible singing voice. The journey ultimately takes the viewer to a packed concert at the Carnegie Hall.

It’s impossible to describe a film as “delightful… just delightful” without hearing the velvety tones of Hugh Grant saying those words. But that’s what it is. A treat of moving and at times wildly funny storytelling that just works … from beginning to end in a tragic-comedy sort of way.

Meryl Streep is just glorious in the role, oozing charm as she does. Meryl watchers know (from the likes of “Mamma Mia”) that Streep knows how to belt out a good tune, so it requires some considerable skill to deliver Florence’s songs as badly as she does. Each word she smoothly speaks, or screechingly screams, feels like her own as she embodies “the world’s worst singer.” Bravo Ms Streep, Bravo!

And Hugh Grant gives a sterling performance. What drives Mayfield’s character is never totally clear, but in the end the motivating factor becomes crystal clear, and Grant has never been better.

To round off the accolades for the lead performances, Simon Helberg’s piano playing that stole the show. Not only that, but Simon Helberg turns in a genius comic performance as the goggle-eyed pianist, who lights up every scene he’s in and delivers his lines with perfect comic timing.

The film came together into something delightful. The story is slowly and subtly unwoven, only progressively revealing the plot points in an intelligent manner. The cinematography along with Production Design, Costuming and Special effects crew brought vibrant 1940’s New York to life with outrageous outfits and elegant décor.

While the film’s leisurely pace might make the younger set fidgety, this is a treat particularly for older viewers looking for a great night out at the cinema. You’ll leave feeling “Delightful… just delightful”. Go see it.

Hail Caesar!

July 29th, 2016

In the 1950s movie stars didn’t know it, but one man had their back and maintained their star image beyond the silver screen. Hail Caesar! Is an offbeat rental movie about movie making at the end of the golden era and the man behind the stars. I have no doubt it would grow in my affection with repeated viewings.

Hail Ceasar! Takes place during a time when studios manipulated its contract players and worked the media to prevent the “unfortunate” aspects from being revealed to an audience that just wanted escapism fantasy. Josh Brolin is the tightly-wound studio “head of physical production”, an enforcer who’s being seduced by a potential job with Lockheed to oversee work on the atom bomb. Before he can come to a decision about whether or not take it, he has to deal with the sudden disappearance of the slightly disconnected-from-reality George Clooney (who looks like he’s having a blast in this, especially in the final scene of his big budget sword-and-sandal Jesus epic). Along the way, viewers get to enjoy other period movie styles, including Esther Williams, Carmen Miranda, Gene Kelly, and a host of other stars from the era.

That salute to old style movie magic is what makes the film so much fun. It’s not about the story, it’s about how the Coens are celebrating the films we have perhaps idealized a bit too much: Esther Williams’ underwater ballets and Gene Kelly in NYC for 24 hours and Gary Cooper trying to play it in a toney, high-class period drama. There are so many references to the great films of the day that if you blink, you’ll miss a few. They come fast and furious and sometimes with little more than a sly wink. That’s why you’ll want to watch Caesar a few times.

Channing Tatum is a revelation as a song and dance man in a Gene Kelly tribute. His song and dance number was a highlight of the film and I could watch this stuff all day: I would personally LOVE IT if someone would make a complete retro-feature film in this ilk.

Also capturing my attention was a young Ehrenreich as the upcoming Western star without a clue. Many of his scenes, especially those with classical director Laurence Laurentz (a brilliant Ralph Fiennes) are incredibly hilarious!

There are lots of opinions on this movie. Hail Caesar! Doesn’t have a strong plot line, but it’s a very pleasant, clever film.  I personally found it a light-hearted and nostalgic trip into a golden age of studio-management.

If you are an old time movie buff like me, you will love this film to bits.  If you’re not a movie buff, well, you aren’t the target audience and probably won’t enjoy it all that much.


Tamara's Journeys

Journeys as great as the destinations.