Sunday, October 6, 2013


Opening scene: beautiful view of earth from space and....silence. Slowly, from the side you think you hear something, then it gets louder and a littler louder and...

This is a wild ride of a movie. It is chock full of excitement, suspense and beauty. IMAX makes you feel like you are floating outside the Hubble Space Telescope while Dr. Ryan Stone, played by Sandra Bullock tries to figure out why NASA isn't receiving her data downloads. Matt Kowalski (the ever-cool George Clooney) is on his last mission and is trying to beat the space walk record using a new jet pack and shows how fun it would be to fly around in space with the Earth as his backdrop. Soon, all hell breaks looks and off we go!

Larry had fun picking on the technical impossibilities or improbabilities, but we quickly decided picking it apart isn't worth it because the experience is so well done anyway. I could feel the desperation in Dr. Stone's voice as she tumbles helplessly ass over tea kettle off towards the stars. The umpf's heard as she hits and misses grabbing onto something to attach to space vehicles and keeping from reaching for that bar myself with 3D believability was great. I particularly loved watching tear drops float off her face toward mine and flames floating inside the Soyuz space shuttle as wiring catches fire. This film has humor, fear, sadness and acceptance of one's doomed fate all wrapped up in a beautiful package that leaves me wondering how they did that.

One thing I could have done without are the crotch shots of Ms. Bullock. Really? She's skinny, but we didn't need all.

It is so fun, you just have to go see it. Don't miss the opportunity to watch in 3D IMAX either. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Before I say anything about this action-packed futurama portraying the seeming inevitable human destruction of planet earth, once again, I have to state, "I am getting sick of these stories!" Human beings have been fighting for centuries to make this planet a better place to live, right? Tree huggers of every generation have fought our most greedy selves to keep forests green and the oceans blue-green. Haven't we? New age gurus keep proselytizing about "living our best lives" and "being our highest selves", but film makers and television producers keep making films and programs about earth's destruction and the human will to survive it. I guess "peace, love and joy" don't sell tickets. That's our fault. 'Nuf said.

Elysium is just that: action packed, and portrays humans at their most selfish and most courageous. Matt Damon plays Max, a "bad boy" with a reputation in 2154 Los Angeles, trying to go straight and make a better life for himself. He grew up in an orphanage run by nuns, and was told by one nun that he was born for something very special. There he meets Frey, played by Alice Braga, and the two become fast friends and life-long "soul mates". Frey draws M+F with a circle over it on Max's hand before she leaves the orphanage. Max, we find out, has that drawing tatooed on his arm to remind him of his only love for the rest of his life. The best part of this movie for me was Matt Damon's abs and the tattoos all over his buff body. Sweat is forming on my top lip just thinking about it.

Jodi Foster plays Delacourt, head of security on the space station, Elysium, that sits majestically over Los Angeles as a symbol of the rich and privileged. On Elysium, the future 1% live in complete luxury with every disease easily curable. Ms. Foster is ruthless and lusts for power to control the station, like a mother wolf protects her young: with stealth and viciousness. She shoots down any shuttle from earth trying to invade Elysium's air space without blinking an eye, while kissing babies and "holding court". The President is just in her way, and after being threatened and shown her "place", she aptly shows him his.

But, Delacourt cavorts with depravity as a means to her greedy and powerful end by purchasing the services of Kruger, a sick and dangerous man, who will kill anything for a buck. Kruger is not stupid, and he is very powerful. He is a match for both the have's and have-not characters in this dark film.

But, the light comes in Max, who ultimately sacrifices himself for love, and brings about a happy ending. I love happy endings, but this movie left me wanting. It was a disappointment, and unless you have to see fights and on the big screen, I'd wait to see it free in the comfort of your living room.

"The room should feel empty when you're in it."

This line proved to be a great lesson for Cecil Gaines, impressively portrayed by Forest Whitaker, when he became a "house niggah" for the first time in Macon, Georgia. Cecil was raised in a cotton field and witnessed his mother's rape and the white son who raped her shoot his father in the head when the boy Cecil yelled to his father, "Daddy, what you gonna do?" His father turned to the white master as he was pulling up his suspenders and yelled, "Hey!" The white man turned, pulled his pistol and shot him right in the head. The white rapist's mother, played by Vanessa Redgrave told Cecil as he crouched over his dead father's body, "Stop crying. I'm gonna make you a house niggah." Turns out this was the greatest career training she could have provided the boy. The title line was years later told to him as instruction for being a butler in the White House. Lee Daniels' The Butler is a wonderful work.

Cecil was butler to eight presidents and is based on a true story. The makeup work in this movie to not only age Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, but to make great stars resemble the presidents they portrayed from Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower to Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan was impeccable and deserves an Oscar nod as well. Personalities of presidents were subtly presented in the form of how they gave campaign buttons to the help. Nixon threw his buttons on the pastry board  as the butler staff were making dough, asking them to have their people vote for him. Lyndon Johson personally presented his tie clasp to Cecil saying he and his wife thought it matched the color of his eyes. I always wonder how much fact is in a movie like this versus fiction to create the story. This story is very powerful.

Not only did the movie hit on all the major events of the civil rights movement: college students eating in a white only section of the lunch counter and "Bloody Sunday", it mirrored events happening in America with more intimate discrimination in the White House itself. Every president was portrayed to abhor the violence being perpetrated against blacks in America, yet the black staff in our most famous house were payed less than white staff and not allowed to promote. In the scene with Nixon in the pantry kitchen, then Vice President running for election to be President,  the inequities were reluctantly raised by one butler played by Lenny Kravitz, but ignored once Nixon got into office. Cecil ultimately took up this gauntlet through the years he worked there, but was ignored until he dared raise it with President Reagan directly, which got the White House Engineer fired. The satisfaction of Cecil's victory by the smile on Cecil's face as he personally informed the Engineer was priceless.

Cecil's oldest son was embarrassed by his father's occupation because he became a life-long protestor, who hung around with Martin Luther King and became a Black Panther. He went to college in Tennessee and met his first love who brought him to his first protest meeting where they joined others to sit at the lunch counter and get beaten and arrested for the first time. His father grew more angry with time at his son's insurrections and seeming disrespect, and it wasn't until long after his youngest son was killed in Vietnam and protests began against Apartheid, that Cecil realized his son was not a trouble-maker but a hero, who was "creating the soul of the country". Both father and son learned powerful lessons about what it meant to be a black American: one who conforms to make life better, and one who fights for the same goal.

If Oprah Winfrey doesn't get an Oscar for her performance as Cecil's wife, Gloria, I will be very surprised. Both Mr. Whitaker and Ms. Winfrey's performances were perfect. Gloria began as the proud wife turned frustrated, lonely adulterer as Cecil's White House duties kept him away from home most of the time. Gloria learned to hate the White House, and resented that Cecil never made good on his promise to take her there to visit. She ultimately got there when Nancy Reagan chose to honor Cecil for his years of service by inviting him with his wife to a State Dinner as guests. This evening proved to become a turning point for Cecil. He had always been proud and happy to be of service, but in his old age and after that dinner, he didn't know his place anymore, and it confused him. I remember working with a black woman in a day care center in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1978 and having my first racial discussion with a black from the south. She said to me, "You Yankees think we're so discriminated against and abused here in the South, but look at what's happening in Boston with that busing business. Y'all just don't know your place. If you knew your place, you'd get along just fine." I didn't know what to say to this, but Cecil echoed the sentiment in this movie.

I was moved to tears by this film. It is powerful and beautifully acted. The politics are poignant and "spot on", but portrayed in a slightly different way than other films about the fight for civil rights in America. My heart ached to know I lived through those times, and once again made me wonder: What would I fight and die for? You'll be disappointed on Oscar night if you didn't see this film, so you can root for it to win Best Picture.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Sapphires

A friend who had been reading my reviews suggested I see this film and tell everyone what I thought. It's not a film that's out in theaters, and is not easy to find. I couldn't find it. Then, as I relaxed on this quiet Sunday afternoon while channel-surfing, there it was! The theme is reminiscent of The Commitments, except it highlights aboriginal politics instead of Ireland. I traveled to Australia in 2001 and while in "The Center", my then fiance and I visited the Aboriginal Cultural Center. We  read about the heartbreaking story of a race of people purported to be the lowest form of black person. It's hard to believe, but in The Sapphires, a cousin is called "a black dog" by a dying soldier hell bent on keeping her filthy hands off his bleeding-out body in 1968 Vietnam. This was the most heart-wrenching scene of the movie in my opinion.

The story begins in Australia at a remote mission where aborigines are forced to live. Four young girls sing for their family and friends with dreams of making it big someday. Their mother has the voice of an angel, and there is one special hymn she enjoys hearing them sing often. The older girls enter a town talent contest, while the youngest goes against her mother and sings with her sisters. The contest is run by whites, and when the aboriginal girls are the clear winner, the prize is given to a no-talent white girl instead. The host of the contest, Dave Lovelace, played by Chris O'Dowd is wowed by the girls' talent. They sang a song by Merl Haggard, and he just can't see black girls singing Country and Western. "You should be singing Soul," he screams as he breaks out into a rendition of a song by The Supremes. Not really. I just couldn't remember the song he sang. But, Dave was a self-subscribed soul music afficionado. And he knew talent when he saw it.

He was fired by the white woman in charge, who he obviously had a fling with (he made her feel like a teenager again), and became the manager for The Sapphires after securing them an audition to perform for the troops in Saigon and elsewhere in Vietnam. Dave is a drunk and a loser, but he threw himself into the role of manager. I love Chris O'Dowd. Have you seen Family Tree on HBO yet? Chris is fabulous. In Sapphires, he hones the girls into a great act and they become the talk of the Vietnam entertainment circuit.

The girls learn about love and forgiveness along the way. The music is very good (not quite of the caliber of Commitments in that I wouldn't buy the soundtrack), but the singing was excellent and the girls were really good. A cousin, Kay, who was taken from her people because she looked more white than black was strongly resented by the eldest of the group, Gail. Dave told her she was always angry because she was the "Mama Bird". We discover it was Gail's job to protect Kay, and when she was taken and lived the white ways, Gail hated her. But, after their tour abroad, Kay went back to the mission and was blessed back into the tribe by the elder grandmother, and Gail was the only sister present for this special cleansing ceremony. It was a very touching moment and I found it extremely emotionally moving.

As the credits rolled, I was smiling and felt uplifted. It's worth watching

P.S. I woke up this morning with this movie still in my head. I realized I didn't even acknowledge the aboriginal actors, especially Deborah Mailman who played Gail. Did I subconsciously adopt the attitude that these actors weren't worth acknowledging because of who they are and who cares anyway because nobody's ever heard of them? I certainly hope not. At any rate, Ms. Mailman's face stayed with me this morning. She has an unforgettable face and her acting in this film was perfect. She had grit, as in John Wayne's "Grit". She was tough with a gooey inside; wrapped in pain but healed by Love. Actually, she reminds me of the actress on Hawthorne (Jada Pinkett Smith's nurse show), Suleka Mathew. By the way, this film was based on a true story. Another important fact I left out. Geez, what kind of a reviewer am I really? Anyway, watch it and enjoy. Thanks for reading.