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Mother

Japan, English Subtitles: Akiko (Masami Nagaswa) is mother to Shuhei (Daiken Okudaira). In the beginning, we see Akiko (who is 7) and Shuhei playing; his mom allows him to play hooky from school so that they could spend the day together. As the film progresses, we begin to see more clearly who Akiko is: She is a mess, a woman who has drinking problems, a chronic gambler who constantly loses any money she has, is narcissistic, and manages to find ways to get Shuhei to do what she wants – begging for money and food, staying by himself eating uncooked …

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A Most Beautiful Thing

This documentary follows a group of Black men from West Chicago who, in the 1990s, were the first all-Black crew team in the US. Narrated by Common and overlayed with a hip-hop soundtrack, the film follows the men who rowed during that first year that crew was offered at Manley High School and their lives that have taken each of them down different paths. The strength of the documentary is how it explores the family and community context in which all of these men came of age, communities that were dominated by gangs, and the expectation that boys join gangs. …

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The Forty-Year-Old Version

Radha Blank wrote, directed, and stars in a film about a 40-year-old woman who was once on a list of “30 playwrights under 30 to watch” and is now teaching acting in a high school. She decides to reinvent herself as a rapper who creates songs about women who are entering their 40’s. This is a really wonderful film. It is shot in black and white, which seems fitting for the material. Blank captures the scenes and eclectic people from her neighborhood in New York City; some of those encounters are as hilarious as they are insightful into city life. …

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Queen’s Gambit

I don’t typically write reviews on limited series, but this one is so good that I couldn’t help myself.  Most everyone has seen it by now: A young girl who ends up in an orphanage when her mother dies in a car accident discovers that she has a proclivity toward chess. The series, based on a novel by the same name that I understand is quite good, follows her rise over 7 episodes in the chess world as she simultaneously battles various addictions. Every now and then a limited series comes along that is really special; last year, it was …

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No Direction Home

Martin Scorsese made this film about the early years of Bob Dylan’s career. With the benefit (or not, in some cases) from Dylan’s own reflections, Scorcese examines the cultural waves that were occurring on which Dylan rode to success – the folk music scene, the civil rights movement, rock and roll music, beat poets, the New York art scene. For me, this was where Scorsese worked his best magic. There are lots of still shots of the young Dylan as well as video footage of him and others, such as Joan Baez, Maria Muldaur, and others who rose to fame …

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Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You

This film is a companion piece to Springsteen’s new album, Letter to You. It is partly an extended music video that shows Springsteen and the E Street Band playing many of the songs on the album, but it also is a documentary in which Springsteen looks back on his life, his early influences, and the periods in his life that inspired his current work. I really enjoyed how the concept worked. The film is all shot in black and white, and some of the images are incredibly beautiful to look at. I love the almost poetic reflections that he narrates …

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His House

A couple and a child make an escape from Sudan and end up as refugees in London. En route, the child is lost at sea. The couple is given a place to live while they are waiting for their request for asylum to be processed. The apartment, which is very run down (the front door falls off when they enter), appears to have an evil presence. This is a really well-crafted horror film. Like the best, this horror film roots the couple’s experiences in their own guilt and fear. The couple experiences various forms of racism; is at the mercy …

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The Trial of the Chicago 7

The Trial of the Chicago 7: The latest from Aaron Sorkin (Molly’s Game, and the screenwriter for Steve Jobs and The Social Network) concerns the trial brought by the federal government against 7 (initially 8) defendants on charges of conspiracy (among others) during the 1968 riots at the Democratic National Convention. These included well-known names like Tom Hadyn (played by Eddie Redmayne) and Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen). The movie is very entertaining. I like the way the story is told, mixing courtroom drama and flashbacks that piece together the story of how these seven people ended up in jail …

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Weathering With You

This film is a follow-up to the wonderful Makoto Shinkai 2016 film Your Name. Hodaka is a 16-year-old boy who runs away from his home on one of the islands to the city of Tokyo. Tokyo is experiencing record intense and long-lasting rains. There, struggling to find his way as a minor in a big city, he meets Hina, a girl who has the ability to bring sunshine for short periods of time. When she realizes this, the two of them start a business to ensure that special events have sun. I love this film. The animation is very colorful, …

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Dick Johnson is Dead

Dick Johnson is coming toward the end of his life, and he is beginning to suffer dementia. His daughter (the director, Kirsten Johnson) decides to stage a number of different kinds of deaths and after-life experiences to help both of them to deal with the double loss they both know is coming – the actual end of life but also the “loss” that comes with dementia. It is a really unusual kind of documentary, but one that when it works, it works very well. It is at times very funny in the ways Kirsten stages his death and he goes …

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