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A Private War is a dramatized documentary about the life of Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike), an American journalist who worked as a foreign affairs correspondent for the British newspaper The Sunday Times from 1985 until her death in 2012.

Being a foreign affairs correspondent is somewhat of a euphemism for “going into war zones” armed only with a camera and a lot guts. She was a brave woman, fearless and dedicated to getting the real story out, the truth, no matter the cost. She was born in 1956, like I, and she spent one of her high school years abroad, like I. She is no longer alive today because she chose a very dangerous profession, unlike I.

Watching A Private War is hugely important in today’s world, where our leaders send young men and women into battle in foreign countries without seemingly blinking an eye, over and over again. Don’t we ever learn that war is deadly, not only to those who die getting shot on the battle field, but to those whose souls are killed and who struggle for the rest of their lives after they are lucky enough to return.

A Private War is crushingly realistic and very difficult to watch. I was numb when the credits rolled, shocked, and disgusted with what we are doing to ourselves, to other countries, in the name of democracy, freedom and religion. Go watch A Private War and get yourself a new perspective and then tell me it makes any sense to send off one more American soldier to any conflict overseas.

Stop it already.

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When Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) is 21, his father (Bill Nighy) pulls him aside and tells him that the men in his family have always had the ability to travel through time. They can do it at will by going into a dark area like a closet or a bathroom with the lights off, clenching their fists, closing their eyes and wishing for another time. Boom, there they arrive, properly dressed the way they were at that time.

He can’t seem to find a girlfriend, so he decides he is going to use his new skill to get one. That does not turn out quite the way he expected. When he meets a girl and falls in love, she gives him her number, and he bounds away excited. Mission accomplished! But then he travels back in time to help out a friend and realizes too late that he is now in a time where he has never met the girl and never received her phone number. He now has to figure out how to meet her again – but where to start?

I ran across this 2013 movie at a hotel flipping through the HBO channels. Time travel is one of my favorite science fiction genres (just search this block for the category and it’ll be obvious I am an aficionado –>) so this was a natural choice to stop on. The mechanics of time travel in this story are very simple and not scientific, like they would be in a fairy tale, which this essentially is.

About Time is light feel-good movie with no antagonists but perhaps life itself and the curve balls it throws at you. It plays in England, the characters are all delightful and light, and life is — almost — perfect. When the credits rolled I was convinced that I need to live every day as best as I can and I was satisfied.

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Vice is a biopic about Dick Cheney’s life. Cheney is played by Christian Bale, and his wife by Amy Adams.

How did a quiet man from Wyoming of humble beginnings become arguably the most powerful man in the world during the George W. Bush presidency?

Cheney reshaped our world. First, he made sure that he and Bush won the election in 2000. Bush won against Gore by less than 600 votes in Florida, as far as the world knows. What would have happened if Gore had won just his own home state and therefore the presidency? We will never know. Because Cheney was in charge.

After the terrible events of September 11, 2001, Cheney took the reins and shaped the world to his liking. What he did affected all of us, all over the world.

This movie guides us through Cheney’s life, and gives us a glimpse of his reasoning and motives. The likeness Christian Bale achieves at times is eerie. There is also a very powerful performance by Steve Carell playing Donald Rumsfeld and a hilarious one by Sam Rockwell, playing George W. Bush. Rockwell does not quite look enough like Bush to be convincing, but when you close your eyes and listen to him talk, he really comes to life.

I enjoyed the film, and I didn’t like Cheney any better when it was over than I did when I walked in. I just had more insight.

We live in a frightening world, where men with immense power can do horrific things to thousands, no, millions of others.

 

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Oscar (Anthony Gonzalez) is a 12-year-old boy from Honduras. Forced to flee his home to escape gang brutality, he goes on the long trek in hopes of meeting up with this uncle, who lives and works in the United States. Eventually he reaches the border and tries to seek asylum. But the journey is not simple, and he ends up in a cage in an ice-cold warehouse (the Icebox) with nothing but little space blankets and a thin mattress. Rather than reaching the promised land after a long and arduous journey, he is lost in the American immigration system, and that’s where his journey only starts.

The timing for this movie could not be more appropriate. In an age where our leadership vilifies immigrants, and demonizes those that come from the south as criminals, rapists and drug dealers, it is enlightening to witness the human story of the immigrants themselves.

Frightened in an alien world, separated from their families, terrified by the crime and gang violence at home, these people are abused, beaten and subjugated — all for the “crime” of trying to make a living for themselves and their families.

Now more important than ever, go watch Icebox and then tell me you are afraid of those monsters and criminals who threaten us from the southern border.

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Adolf Eichmann was Hitler’s “architect of the final solution” and one of the most notorious henchmen of the Nazi regime. He was one of the few senior Nazis who did not commit suicide but managed to escape to Argentina after the war. He lived a quiet life with his wife and two children, and worked as a manager at an automotive factory.

In 1960, Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad got a tip from agent Peter Malkin. He convinced them to try to find and abduct Eichmann and bring him to Israel to stand trial.

The movie deals with the soul of a Nazi, and how he justified his deeds at the time, and how he lives with himself afterwards. “I just followed orders, like everyone else,” is the simple answer most of the monsters of history have used to justify their bloody deeds. It also addresses the role the Argentinian government played in protecting the Germans.

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Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) is an old man who escaped from prison at age 70. Rather than lying low, he starts robbing banks. He walks in quietly like an elderly gentleman, shows the stunned teller his gun, and walks out with a bag of money – over and over again. He is such an unlikely robber, he gets away with it. On one of his road trips he runs into a woman (Sissy Spacek) with whom he starts a friendship.

The movie is base on the true story of Forrest Tucker, who was a misfit as a youth and spent time in juvenile correction facilities and prisons dozens of times throughout his life.

Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek are seasoned actors who obviously carry the movie. It’s light, and I didn’t find any great value. I enjoyed watching it, but I knew I’d better write this review soon lest I forget all about it.

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Bobby showed up for his first day at Sullivan Community College in upstate New York in the fall of 1980. As he crossed the campus, checked in for college and went to his dorm, girls came up and kissed him, guys slapped him on the back, and everyone seemed to welcome him. Finally, a friend figured it out. “Were you adopted?” he asked? “You have a twin brother.”

Together they called that brother, Eddie, who had dropped out of Sullivan CC the year before. Bobby and Eddie met soon after and were stunned when they looked at each other. The story made it into the newspapers and the national media. Soon, a third boy in New York recognized himself in the pictures and contacted the paper. Now there were all three of them, David, Bobby and Eddie, with three different surnames, all born on July 12, 1961, separated and adopted by three different families.

The boys and the families didn’t know they were part of a larger experiment. Only slowly did they find out. The debate of nature vs. nurture is central to this documentary.

Three Identical Strangers is a heartwarming documentary about human nature, raising children, and what upbringing can effect in a person’s life. It is a story well told. Initially a feel-good story, it eventually unravels into a dark tale of deception, where the innocent subjects find their entire lives upset, confused and shocked.

In Three Identical Strangers they tell their story to all of us.

Here is an article that provides more background you might read after you watch the film.

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Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is a horticulturist in Peoria, Illinois, who had so much passion for his work that he was a terrible husband to his wife, father for his children, and not just while they grew up. When his daughter got married, he didn’t show up to walk her down the aisle.

With the advent of the Internet, when people started buying flowers online, Earl got left behind and foreclosure ended his business and bankrupted him. Being well into his eighties, there are few options left and no place to go.

But he still has his truck and a flawless driving record. When a young man offers him a job to pick up some valuable items from El Paso, Texas and bring them back, he accepts. Naïve as he is, he doesn’t realize right away that he has signed up with a Mexican drug cartel to ferry cocaine. But the money is great, his financial troubles are gone, and he does one run after the other.

As his success grows, the cartel gets more and more interested in him and assigns a handler to him.

But there is also the drug enforcement agency (DEA) and a few hard-charging agents get on his trail. Soon Earl is in trouble with his family, the feds and the cartel. Everyone is looking for him.

Clint Eastwood produced and directed this movie, besides being its star. Eastwood is masterful story-teller with his movies, and I have enjoyed most of them. I just searched for his name in my blog and realized that I give almost always three stars or more to Eastwood-directed movies. There seems to be a pattern. While I did that search, I also realized that Grand Torino, the film this one reminded me of, was vintage 2009, almost ten years ago. Eastwood was 78 years old then. He is 88 now.

I hope he makes many more great movies like The Mule, a simple human story, masterfully told with a soundtrack that made me stay and sit through all the credits.

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Bohemian Rhapsody is a biopic of Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), the iconic lead singer of the British rock band Queen. It starts with the early life of Freddie, whose birth name was Farrokh Bulsara, was born in Zanzibar, and grew up there and in India before moving to England with this family.

He is widely regarded as one of the best singers in rock history with a vocal range of four octaves. Freddie broke through stereotypes and conquered convention when he lead the band Queen through a meteoric rise in the 1980s.

Freddie’s lifestyle almost ruined the band. They reunited just before the Live Aid concert in 1985. Their performance at that concert is widely regarded as the greatest rock performance of all time.

The movie was criticized for flattening out the Freddie Mercury character, but I don’t know how you could give it any more depth in a movie. Yes, to the music critics and people studying the persona of the famed singer, no movie can ever do it justice.

But for the average person, like me, who really wasn’t that into any specific band, Bohemian Rhapsody has prompted me to study up on Queen, read more about Freddie, and relive some of those iconic moments in rock history.

Rami Malek did an amazing job playing Freddie. He warned the producers that he is not a singer. The soundtrack is original Queen, and the voice of Freddie. The New York Times also reported that Rami’s voice is mixed in with Marc Matel, a Canadian singer who is known as one of the best Freddie soundalikes.

I was rocking, I was reminiscing, and I was thoroughly enjoying the Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s a killer soundtrack.

 

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Can You Ever Forgive Me is based on the true story of Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), a celebrity biographer whose books were once on the bestseller lists in the 1970 and 1980 decades. In 1991, her career in decline, she is broke and cannot pay her rent. She is a curmudgeon. When her cat gets ill and the veterinarian refuses treatment because she already owes $78, which she cannot pay, she gets desperate.

By coincidence she discovers that there is a market for original documents, particularly signed letters, by celebrities. Collectors will pay several hundred dollars for an authentic letter.

She collects a few different vintage typewriters, practices forging of signatures, and starts cranking out fake letters. That quickly takes care of groceries, rent and veterinarian bills and she is back in business. Eventually she recruits her gay friend Jack (Richard E. Grant) to do the peddling, while she is producing the product.

Can You Ever Forgive Me is about artists and writers and their careers. Every career has a peak, and there is a downslide from that peak and for some, who saved up enough resources, it is bearable, and for others, like Lee, it is catastrophic. She is not willing to accept her situation, will not bow to taking on a “regular” job like the rest of us, but is obsessed with using her writing skills to make a living. She almost succeeds.

Eventually, however, a house built on deception will come crashing down.

 

 

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I have waited for In Saturn’s Rings for several years and have followed their Facebook page. It took the producers years longer to finish it than they thought it would. It was supposed to be done on December 31, 2014, but was finally finished on May 4, 2018. It is a 42-minute documentary made exclusively from real photographs taken by spacecraft, from the Hubble Space Telescope to the Cassini-Huygens space craft. The movie uses no computer generated graphics (CGI) technology. All images are arrangements of actual photographs.

There are not many places in the country where the film is currently shown. On my visit to New York City I decided to go out to the New York Hall of Science in Flushing, NY, about 30 minutes outside of Manhattan where it is currently playing.

I have always been fascinated with Saturn and its rings, and I have written plenty about it here. Here is one of my descriptions from almost five years ago where I marvel about floating in the rings and then actually refer to this movie.

But I was disappointed. Perhaps I am spoiled by the amazing CGI production in movies and documentaries where pictures are enhanced and animations are smooth and stunning. In Saturn’s Rings seemed flat and boring in comparison. But again – I realize that there is value in looking at actual photographs, not made-up stuff. And I give the producer credit for that.

However, there is too much fluff in the movie. It starts out with the Big Bang and plays images of Hubble of distant galaxies. Then it moves into an odd collage of photographs of science and scientists, wasting a lot of time on those flying and merging still photographs that didn’t add any value to the message or the film itself. There were fillers, and there were too many of them.

The film is narrated in parts, but some of the descriptions of images were subtitled rather than narrated. I found that annoying. The images were there for a short time, and rather than looking at the images, I found myself reading the captions that described what I was looking at while the narrator was silent. Then the images were gone and the next ones came up. I missed them. This happened a lot.

In Saturn’s Rings is an admirable effort but ultimately not worth it. The images you see in the movie would be much more valuable in a book. Buy a book on the Cassini mission and I am sure you will see the best photographs there. You can read the captions in leisure, and then look at the images as long as you want. In the movie, you only have a few seconds before the next one comes along. Having the image move, or zoom in or out is not adding enough value to account for the brevity of the viewing experience.

As coincidence would have it, I was flipping through the channels yesterday and came across the Science Channel and found Space’s Deepest Secrets – Cassini’s Grand Finale. This was a documentary about the Cassini mission and it showed spectacular graphics of Saturn taken by Cassini but it also provided professional narration and interviews of scientists along with the history of the program. The subject was similar to that of In Saturn’s Rings, but done much better.

 

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First Man follows Neil Armstrong from 1961 to 1969 on his journey to be the first man to step on the moon.

We are in the space capsule with Armstrong and his fellow astronauts as they are launched, and we are in the homes and at backyard BBQs of the men and women in the early space program.

In the media, and in our nostalgic memories, we think of going into space as a romantic endeavor. Watching First Man changes this, as we witness the tremendous forces acting on the fragile human body as it is strapped into a couch on top of a gigantic rocket. We see the fear and the emotional and physical stress in the eyes of the astronauts as they embark on missions where a million moving parts have to hold together, and a million sequences of events have to work perfectly, over a period of many days, and where any failure of any type results in catastrophe – and death of the astronauts.

Armstrong was a cool dude who did not get rattled, either by a crash during a test flight of his experimental craft from which he bailed out literally a fraction of a second before it exploded, nor by the fury and agony of his wife who chastises him when he does not want to face his boys before leaving on his historic journey. History has shown that Armstrong’s steel nerves and calm under pressure made the mission successful.

I was a twelve-year-old boy who was allowed to stay up all night on July 20, 1969. Armstrong stepped onto the moon in the wee hours of the morning local time in Germany. And I remember being in awe, and being inspired, and looking forward to a life where I knew I would eventually be able to travel to the moon as tourist and visit the Apollo-11 landing site as a historic museum exhibit. It is now over 49 years later, and I realize that I had no idea that the Apollo landings would not just be the first landings on the moon, but  possibly also the last ones – in my lifetime.

I enjoyed First Man a lot. I have come criticisms. This is a movie review, after all:

I liked the flying and technical scenes, and I didn’t care too much about all the stuff at home and in the back yard. The acting was okay, but didn’t blow me away.

We saw a lot of footage of shake, rattle and roll, first in 1961 when Armstrong did a test flight in an X-15 where he literally skipped outside of the atmosphere by accident, then during the Gemini launch, then when the capsule went into an uncontrolled roll, and finally, when Apollo-11 launched. There was too much footage of launches from the point of view of the astronauts, but no re-entries, no landings, no recovery on the water, all the good stuff. The missions jumped forward days at a time skipping sequences that would have been interesting to me. There wasn’t a single shot of the large, looming moon during the journey there, nor any expression of awe by the journeyers. The real action that I was there to see went by too fast.

We caught glimpses of the life of Neil Armstrong and his family, but we didn’t get a good enough look at the space program, and that’s what I went to see when I bought the ticket for First Man. It was a long movie, at 138 minutes, and those minutes could have been used more effectively.

That being said, I am glad I went.

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We the Animals is the story of three brothers of a Puerto Rican family in the U.S. who have a strong bond amongst each other. Manny and Joel are the older ones (somewhere between 10 and 12 years old) and Jonah is the youngest at 10. Jonah is different. He is more sensitive, and likes to draw. To avoid ridicule, he does it when hiding under this bed where he has stashed his notebook inside the bottom of the mattress. Their father, Paps, is loving and supportive to them, but abuses his wife and from time to time abandons the family. Their mother, Ma, is very young and tries to shelter the boys, particularly Jonah, from the world. But she is not very successful, as she descends into depression and virtually abandons her care of her kids for days on end. The boys are left to fend for themselves, by stealing, by scavenging, and by sticking to each other. We the Animals!

This is a thought-provoking film with interesting, refreshing cinematography, quite a bit of fantasy, that gets into the heads of the boys. Their acting is superb. But I found the movie hard to watch, due to the disturbing subject matter.  After a while I felt I knew what the story was, and I just wanted it to be over. I was bored. It ended abruptly after 92 minutes, but if it had ended after 60 minutes, I would not have missed anything either.

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Set in the last ice age in Europe, a tribe of Cro-Magnon men goes on a hunting trip. Keda, the chief’s son, comes along for the first time. His proud father is teaching him how to hunt, and how to be a man. But during the hunt things go horribly wrong, a buffalo charges Keda and throws him off a steep cliff. The hunting party can only assume he is dead and eventually they leave, the distraught father almost being dragged away by his friends.

Miraculously, the boy survives and must now fend for himself, fight off predators, and somehow find his way home, before winter comes and makes travel impossible. When a pack of wolves attack him,  he barely escapes into a tree, but he injures one of them. The wolf and the boy reluctantly form a bond and protect each other as they try to journey home. He calls the wolf Alpha.

Alpha is a survival movie. We see and feel how prehistoric people lived and survived. The landscape didn’t look like Europe 20,000 years ago to me, but rather more like South Dakota, but that is a minor point. I liked the fact that the tribe didn’t speak English. That would have been too easy and too distracting. They spoke their own language, accompanied by easy to read subtitles. This helped make the film more realistic.

I marvel about prehistory, and how unlikely it was that men survived at all, and how amazing it is that we’re all here today, descendants of these very Cro-Magnon men. If you have ever speculated how humans first started domesticating dogs, this is the movie to watch.

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I didn’t grow up as a boy in America, so I didn’t actually know the story of Christopher Robin and his stuffed animals, including the iconic Winnie the Pooh, the donkey Eeyore and of course, the piglet.

Watching this movie has caught me up. It’s a story about the boy Christopher who grew up in the Hundred Acre Wood, access to which is through a magical tree.

The movie is portrayed to be “not just for children” and so The Woman talked me into going to see it with her. Ok, yes, it was heartwarming, not even as corny as I expected it to be, and the acting was actually pretty good.

But I have to say – this is a movie for children – really. It’s about important lessons in life.

Take your kids!

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