March 13, 2024

By Stuart Mitchner

I was looking forward to a walk on the grounds of the Institute for Advanced Study, my destination the pond in the final scene of  Christopher Nolan’s multiple-Oscar-winning film. With the weather report predicting rain, I wanted to be there when the first drops were falling, as in the three-hour-long film’s beginning and end. I was hoping for a quietly eloquent spring rain, just enough to create the desired ripple effect, but before I could get there, it began pouring and I had to make do with a photo on the Institute’s website. Taken during the April 2022 filming, it shows Tom Conti’s Einstein in conversation with Cillian Murphy’s Oppenheimer while the burly, grey-maned, grey-bearded Dutch cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema hunkers down on a four-wheeled rig squinting at them through the Panavision lens.

“It was constantly close-ups, close-ups, close-ups, talking, talking, talking,” Van Hoytema says in a February 2024 screendaily.com interview. Referring to the sequence by the pond: “Towards the end of the scene, we creep in on Oppenheimer, and get the feeling that we crawl right through Cillian’s eyes into his head, and start understanding the world, how he sees it now. More importantly, we shoot a close-up of him that is more powerful than most of the other close-ups in the film, even though we have been on top of his face for the whole movie. So, the challenge was, ‘How the hell do we make that interesting?’”

The answer was delivered on Sunday night when the producers of Oppenheimer won the Academy Award for Best Picture, with Oscars going to Best Lead Actor Murphy, Best Supporting Actor Robert Downey Jr., and Best Director Nolan, as well as to Ludwig Göransson for his score, to Jennifer Lame for editing, and to Van Hoytema himself for cinematography. more

January 10, 2024

By Stuart Mitchner

Robert Donat may be the only movie star Holden Caulfield would ever think of calling on the phone. Donat, who plays Richard Hannay, the hero of Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller The 39 Steps (1935), “could draw us further into himself by his very modesty,” according to David Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary of Film. Writing about Donat’s performance in Knight Without Armour (1937), another movie J.D. Salinger liked to show on his 16 mm projector, Graham Greene observed that he “is sensible, authentic, slow; emotion when it comes has the effect of surprise, like plebeian poetry.” In contrast to the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood that Holden hates, Donat has, in Greene’s words, an “invincible naturalness.”

In The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years (Crown 1970), David Shipman calls Donat’s story “a heart-rending one,” using an adjective also favored by 7-year-old Seymour Glass in Salinger’s extraordinary, still unpublished novella, Hapworth 16, 1924, surely the longest, strangest letter home from camp ever written. What makes Donat’s story “heart-rending” is that this “highly gifted actor,” known “for a beautiful speaking voice and a quiet and diffident charm,” was plagued by chronic asthma. As Thomson points out, Donat’s “illustrious” career included only 19 films, due to the major roles he turned down because of “the profound tentativeness at the root of his stammer and nervous breathlessness.” Even so, in one of his least compelling parts, as the title character in Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Donat beat out Clark Gable for the Best Actor Oscar, thwarting Gone With the Wind’s sweep of the 1939 Academy Awards. more

July 26, 2023

By Stuart Mitchner

Searching for a phrase to describe the tumultuous score by Ludwig Göransson that propels and illuminates Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, I landed on “It’s like writing history with lightning.” But who said it? Emerson? Thoreau? Melville? No, it was Woodrow Wilson responding to a 1915 White House screening of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation.

Both responses have a certain eerie resonance if you’ve just seen a monumental film about the “father of the atom bomb” in which a scene following the successful first test shows the crowd at Los Alamos wildly cheering the explosion of a device that will obliterate Hiroshima and Nagasaki and, as Oppenheimer feared, that could ultimately destroy the world.

A Princeton Story

While Wilson is the last person I wanted to bring in to a discussion of Oppenheimer, which opened with a special showing at Princeton’s Garden Theatre last Thursday evening, the association makes sense for a picture that could be called a tale of two cities — one the Los Alamos founded, in effect, by J. Robert Oppenheimer, his creation, and the other the home of Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Study, a target of the politicization of science at Oppenheimer’s expense, an earlier manifestation of the same social media hysteria defaming scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci and still going strong during the run up to the 2024 election.

 more

March 8, 2023

By Stuart Mitchner

Don’t assume that everyone on earth has seen every movie you have seen.

—John McPhee

Now and then A Book of Days for the Literary Year (Thames and Hudson 1984) offers an entry that demands repeating, like the one for March 8: “1931: John McPhee (Giving Good Weight) is born in Princeton, N.J.”

Which follows a remark from journalist, novelist, and biographer Gene Fowler (March 8, 1890): “Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.”

Which is followed by the news that on March 8, 1935, Thomas Wolfe’s second novel Of Time and the River “was published to great acclaim” and that on March 8, 1941, the novelist Sherwood Anderson “ingested a toothpick with an hors d’oeuvre at a cocktail party” and died of “complications of peritonitus.” more

June 29, 2022

By Stuart Mitchner

The ‘watering down,’ if any, did not come from my aspergillum.

—Vladimir Nabokov, in the Playboy interview

Who else but a high priest of language could anoint the tired old term “watered down” with an implement for sprinkling holy water? Would the average Playboy reader of January 1964 reach for the nearest dictionary or keep reading? In the easy access world of June 2022, I unmasked the elusive aspergillum with a click of an iMac mouse.

This was Nabokov’s way of elaborately denying responsibility for “watering down” the central relationship in Stanley Kubrick’s film of Lolita (1962), the novel’s 12-year-old nymphet having been transformed into a 15-year-old blonde who looked 17. Asked if he was satisfied with the final product, Nabokov deemed the movie “absolutely first-rate,” adding that the “four main actors deserve the very highest praise,” and pointing out that he’d had “nothing to do with the actual production.” more

June 22, 2022

By Stuart Mitchner

“Garland’s rendition of this marvelous torch-song, in its visual and vocal subtlety and dynamic power, is the greatest piece of popular singing I know.”

—Douglas McVay, from The Musical Film

If there’s a torch in “The Man That Got Away,” which Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin composed expressly for Judy Garland in A Star Is Born, it’s the one she carries up the mountain of the performance, and you go with her. She’s giving everything she has to the song, pushing aside invisible obstacles, then beckoning to the nearest musician, as if to call him up beside her, but then pushing him away, suddenly reaching for the heavens with her right arm to sing “It’s all a crazy game!” By then her voice is everywhere and everything and “game” could stand for life, death, art, love. But you’re up there with her, you who gloomed into the theater, a zombie at 22, alone in New York after a traumatic summer. In the span of a few minutes, she’s changed the world, you’re alive again, and you feel like shouting your thanks. By all rights the people around you should be standing, cheering, but it’s just you and her, you’re hers, and an hour or so later, you stagger out of the movie into the night thinking Judy Garland Judy Garland Judy Garland. The film you just saw is seven years old. You’ve seen a revival. That’s what they call it, you think, you who have been revived.

Time magazine called A Star Is Born “just about the finest one-woman show in movie history,” while Sight and Sound’s Penelope Houston found “the special fascination of Judy Garland’s playing” in “the way it somehow contrives to bypass technique: the control seems a little less than complete and the emotion comes through, as it were, neat. In this incandescent performance, the actress seems to be playing on her nerves; she cannot but strike at ours.”

After giving A Star Is Born almost 20 pages of his 164-page survey of the American musical from 1927 to 1966, McVay makes a prodigious apology: “I have dwelt on this film at such length because I consider it to be not only clearly the greatest musical picture I have ever seen, but the greatest picture of any kind I have ever seen” The level of praise reflects the critical excitement the film received on its release in September 1954. Within a month, however, the Warner executives made drastic cuts in the running time, thus, as McVay admits, the greatest picture he ever saw was the version from which 45 minutes had been deleted, the same one that viewers, myself included, had to make do with until the 1983 restoration.  more

April 6, 2022

By Stuart Mitchner

My point of entry to Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Oscar-winning picture Drive My Car was through the title, which his film shares with the opening track on Rubber Soul and the story by Haruki Murakami that opens his 2017 collection, Men Without Women. The Beatles connection continues in the next story, which begins and ends with a character who composes and sings deranged lyrics to “Yesterday.” The second track on Rubber Soul gave Murakami the title for his 1987 novel, Norwegian Wood, a book I look forward to reading, along with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which Patti Smith celebrates in her memoir M-Train.

The Cities Game

Finding Murakami in the environs of Hamaguchi was like discovering a thriving metropolis enroute to another, smaller, newer city. Now I’m heading down the road to a sprawling composite of Hamburg, Berlin, and Paris, Texas named Wim Wenders, which I first visited in his film The American Friend, released in 1979, the same year Murakami published his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing. Somewhere in the same enormous state (think of Texas, Ohio and New Jersey all in one), you’ll find Jim Jarmusch Junction, mapped out somewhere between Hoboken, Memphis, and Paterson. more

May 5, 2021

By Stuart Mitchner

I loved them for what they entertain, and then later loved them for what they taught.

—Satyajit Ray (1921-1992), on American films

Sunday, May 2, marked the 100th birthday of the Indian film director Satyajit Ray, who was presented with an honorary Oscar at the 1992 Academy Awards “in recognition of his rare mastery of the art of motion pictures, and of his profound humanitarian outlook, which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world.”

Videotaped as he lay in a Calcutta hospital three weeks before his death, the golden statuette clutched in one hand, Ray’s acceptance speech was direct, open, and down to earth, in contrast to the lofty rhetoric of the citation: “When I was a small, small school boy, I was terribly interested in the cinema. Became a film fan, wrote to Deanna Durbin. Got a reply, was delighted. Wrote to Ginger Rogers, didn’t get a reply. Then of course, I got interested in the cinema as an art form, and I wrote a twelve-page letter to Billy Wilder after seeing Double Indemnity. He didn’t reply either. Well, there you are. I have learned everything I’ve learned about the craft of cinema from the making of American films. I’ve been watching American films very carefully over the years and I loved them for what they entertain, and then later loved them for what they taught.”

The Only Truth 

Last week the New York Times brought images from India’s pandemic nightmare to the breakfast table, vistas of funeral pyres burning in New Delhi and headlines like “Death Is the Only Truth” over Aman Sethi’s April 30 account of the mass cremations in Ghazipur. At the same time, my wife and I were watching the life and death truths at the heart of Ray’s Apu Trilogy: Pather Panchali (1955), Aparajito (1957), and The World of Apu/Apur Sansa (1959), films of which Ray’s fellow director Akira Kurosawa has said, “Not to have seen the cinema of Satyajit Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.” more

February 24, 2021

By Stuart Mitchner

“Portrait of John Keats on his death-bed in Rome,” by Joseph Severn

Though a quarrel in the Streets is a thing to be hated, the energies displayed in it are fine; the commonest Man shows a grace in his quarrel.

—John Keats (1795-1821)

Why begin a column about friendship, love, death, and poetry with reference to the positive energies displayed in a street quarrel? You might also question the timing of a tribute to the poet of “beauty and truth” and “fellowship divine” when America is still living in the shadow of the monumental lie that led to the January 6th insurrection, not to mention the monumental truth that more Americans have died of the coronavirus in the past year than in two world wars and Vietnam. 

The fact of the moment is that snow is falling, again, as I write, and that John Keats died in Rome 200 years ago yesterday. And the monumentally unfactual word that comes to mind when watching fresh fallen snow is poetry. If you take some liberties with Keats’s theory that the poet is the most unpoetical of God’s creatures, with no self, foul or fair, no identity, “continually in for and filling some other Body,” sun, moon, sea, then it’s easy to say the poet is the snow, that it’s freshly fallen Keats giving grace and mystery to the day.

Five hours later the morning’s poetry has turned to slush and I’m reading “Bright Star,” one of the last poems the unpoetical poet ever completed, a sonnet that begins over our prosaic heads, poetical to a faretheewell, so sculpted and lofty, with “Eremite” pulled out of the poet’s grab bag to rhyme with “night,” and the poetry of falling snow reduced to “a new soft-fallen mask” to rhyme with “task.” But all the pomp and circumstance vanishes when the poet comes down to earth with the “soft fall and swell” of his fair love’s breast, “Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath, / And so live ever — or else swoon to death.”

So ends Jane Campion’s biopic Bright Star (2009), the film and the poem’s last words both beautifully, brokenly uttered by Keats’s grieving Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) as she walks into the snowy dusk on Hampstead Heath. Reading about the poet’s last hours in Robert Gittings’s acclaimed 1968 biography, I was reminded of the most striking scene in the film — the moment Fanny is told of Keats’s death. Rushing from the parlor to the stairs, she holds the bannister for support, she’s lost, she’s falling, turning one way, then another, groping with her hands, helplessly pleading, supplicating, suffocated, bent double, brought to her knees, jabbing one hand toward her chest, calling for help, choking, “I can’t breathe!” Only when she’s being held and lifted and sustained by her mother does the wrenching visceral misery of the seizure begin to resemble an actor’s performative hysteria, except that by now the force of the fit has generated so much breathless momentum there’s no relief until the abrupt cut to the next scene. Seconds later she’s a lone figure walking on the snowclad heath, whispering the sonnet so thoughtfully, so tenderly, that even the rhetorical formality of the opening lines live with love as the poet becomes star, night, nature, snow, human shores, mountains and moors. more

September 9, 2020

By Stuart Mitchner

Actually, the town I had in mind was Califon, N.J.

—Philip Van Doren Stern

The first sentence of the screenplay for Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life calls for a night sequence showing various streets and buildings in “the town of Bedford Falls, somewhere in New York State.”

Above the first sentence of the film’s primary source, Philip Van Doren Stern’s Christmas story, “The Greatest Gift,” there’s a drawing of a despondent looking man leaning on a bridge railing. The “little town” described, “bright with colored Christmas lights,” has no name. In a 1946 interview, the author, a Rutgers graduate who grew up in Jersey City, makes it clear that the place he had in mind was Califon, in Hunterdon County, 37 miles northwest of Princeton. As noted in Wikipedia, the center of town is “the historic iron bridge spanning the South Branch of the Raritan River, which divides the borough.” 

On the Bridge

I’m beginning in Califon because it’s the original setting of It’s a Wonderful Life, not Seneca Falls, New York, the town that has declared itself the model for Bedford Falls by holding an annual festival; it even named a hotel after Clarence, the whimsical angel who appears on the bridge in time to save George Bailey from ending his life. Clarence accomplishes his mission by jumping into the icy waters himself, knowing that George’s instinct to help others is so fundamental that he’ll take the plunge to save a life.

But look what just happened. Even as I’m trying to explain the motive for my online trip to Califon and its historic bridge, I’m still riding the emotional rollercoaster of the film’s final half hour as Clarence shows George the nightmare of Pottersville, a vision of the fate that would befall the community had he never been born and had the town been left to the mercy of Henry Potter, the unredeemed and unpunished banker from hell who makes Scrooge look like a sucker.

In fact, the actual town of Califon is located a mere six miles west of a town called Pottersville, which lies the same distance from the Trump National Golf Club at Bedminster, a domain known as Camp David North or the Summer White House. more

August 5, 2020

By Stuart Mitchner

The screen test was shot over the shoulder of a bewigged man in period costume, presumably the title character in Danton, a film of the French Revolution that was never made. The young actress clearly has had experience, her voice and diction are excellent, she projects a spirited youthful appeal (“I want to see the king. I want to tell him how things really are”), but as soon she becomes emotional (“my mother is sick, we don’t have enough to eat”), you’re rolling your eyes, and when the man responds with loud laughter at the idea that the king would care, you think at first he might be mocking her performance. Danton cares enough to give her money for bread, a gesture that surprises and touches her and leaves her struggling for words, she’s choked up, virtually speechless, radiant with gratitude (“Oh you — you’re — wonderful!”) as she bolts from the room.

Put yourself in the place of whoever’s reviewing the test and you’ve gone from feeling judgmental (that bit about the sick mother) to wanting more of her, you’re sorry she left, you’re already missing her. Forget the low grade you’d give her reading of the hackneyed dialogue, forget the French Revolution, forget the test: she’s a delight, the camera loves her (as the saying goes), she matters, she’s there, and in spite of the mob cap and period dress, spirit and energy like hers don’t date, she’s “modern,” the surge of life that briefly filled that space some 80 years ago transcending decades of films, fads, and fashion, something fine and true shining through.  more

February 12, 2020

By Stuart Mitchner

On the same Wednesday afternoon that Republican Senator Mitt Romney explained his historic vote to convict the president of “an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor,” the news of the death of screen legend Kirk Douglas at 103 gave first responders like New York Times columnist Bret Stephens the opportunity to headline Romney’s act with the title of the star’s favorite film, Lonely Are the Brave. But what the senator from Utah accomplished in his eight minutes demands a term more measured, restrained, and nuanced than bravery. He had to simultaneously master himself and the moment when he said that as a senator-juror, he swore to “exercise impartial justice,” that he is “profoundly religious,” that his faith is at the heart of who he is,  that he takes “an oath before God as enormously consequential,” and that the task of judging the leader of his own party, would be “the most difficult decision” he has ever faced.

Simply applying the lonely/brave dynamic to suggest what made Kirk Douglas so powerful an actor is equally inadequate. In fact, one way to appreciate the force of understatement employed by the senator is to contrast it to the extremes suggested by an actor “made for Dostoevsky,” as David Thomson puts it in The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, where Douglas (born Issur Danielovich Demsky)  is “the manic-depressive among Hollywood stars, … bearing down on plot, dialogue, and actresses with the gleeful appetite of a man just freed from Siberia.”

As the driven, at once code-bound and emotionally unbound detective Jim McLeod in William Wyler’s Detective Story (1951), Douglas rages at a crooked doctor — “I ought to fall on you like the sword of God” — rhetoric that would seem disproportionate to the occasion from any actor this side of Charlton Heston. Every move Douglas makes, everything he says when he’s at the top of his game, is like a demonstration of writer Flannery O’Connor’s rationale for the extremes in her art: “For the almost blind you draw large and startling figures, to the hard of hearing you shout.”

As Thomson points out, Douglas is “at other times on the verge of ridiculing his own outrageousness.” But in films like Detective Story, Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957), and above all, as Van Gogh in Vincente Minnelli’s Lust for Life (1956), “his sometimes facile intensity is marvelously harnessed to the subject of the film and the sense of tragedy is perfectly judged.”  more

May 22, 2019

REMINISCING WITH RINGO: Ringo Starr is one of the rock icons interviewed by Jakob Dylan in the rockumentary “Echo in the Canyon.” The film focuses on many stars of the 1960s who settled in the Lauren Canyon suburb of Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment)

By Kam Williams

In the wake of Beatlemania exploding across America in 1964, many aspiring musicians were inspired to start their own rock band. Some settled in Laurel Canyon, a low-rent suburb of L.A that resonated with the “hippie” philosophy.

Among those flocking to the region were future icons like Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Frank Zappa, Michelle Phillips, and Cass Elliot. Some of these musicians forged great groups, like The Byrds; The Mamas and the Papas; and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, while others became rock gods in their own right. more

May 15, 2019

BEST BUDDIES: Rebel Wilson and Adam Devine star as colleagues and friends in the satirical comedy film “Isn’t it Romantic.” (Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers)

By Kam Williams

Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is a dynamic young professional trying to make her mark on Manhattan. But between a fledgling professional career and a dating life that isn’t faring any better, the Australian architect is close to bottoming out.

It’s a miracle her optimistic spirit hasn’t been crushed, since she was raised by an emotionally-abusive mom (Jennifer Saunders) who said she’d never amount to anything. more

May 8, 2019

DEPLOYED TO FRANCE: Newlyweds J.R.R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) and Edith Bratt (Lily Collins) are soon separated by his deployment during World War I. Bratt was Tolkien’s muse and the inspiration for some of his characters, as told in “Tolkien.” The film focuses on the fantasy writer’s early years. (Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures)

By Kam Williams

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) was a British fantasy novelist best known for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. After being orphaned at an early age, he attended King Edwards, an exclusive boarding school where he forged close friendships with classmates which would endure over his lifetime.

There, he first referred to this semi-secret association of writers and artists as a “fellowship,” a term which ostensibly influenced the unique lexicon of his fictional work. He was also very sensitive about the pronunciation of his surname to the extent that he even complained about it to the school administration, emphasizing that it was “een” as opposed to “in.” more

May 1, 2019

JAZZ MAN: Gary Carr stars as Buddy Bolden, a cornet player whose genius as an early jazz pioneer has been mostly forgotten by history. His story is imagined in “Bolden.” (Image courtesy of King Bolden LLC)

By Kam Williams

Buddy Bolden (1877-1931) was born in New Orleans, where he took up the cornet at an early age. His unique approach to the instrument involved a novel form of improvisation while playing a combination of gospel, blues, and ragtime.

Well before the emergence of Louis Armstrong, Buddy was a popular bandleader credited with creating a new genre of music: jazz. Sadly, this genius has mostly been forgotten by history because no recordings or arrangements of his songs survived. more

April 24, 2019

BECOMING: Violet Valenski (Elle Fanning) becomes a world-class talent in director Max Minghella’s film “Teen Spirit.” (Photo courtesy of Interscope Films)

By Kam Williams

Violet Valenski (Elle Fanning) is a 17-year-old living with her single-mom (Agnieszka Grochowska) on a modest family farm on the Isle of Wight. She secretly dreams of becoming a pop star, but has no time to pursue it between school and several part-time jobs. Besides attending to animals at home, she waitresses at a pub and clerks at a convenience store.

Violet’s fortunes change the day that the producers of Teen Spirit visit town in search of the next singing sensation. Teen Spirit is a reality-TV series similar to American Idol, The X Factor and other talent competitions. more

April 17, 2019

FINDING REDEMPTION: In “The Mustang,” a violent criminal (Matthias Schoenaerts) learns to tame his anger by participating in a program that pairs inmates with wild mustangs. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

By Kam Williams

Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) has too quick a fuse to think before he acts. That’s why he’s done a dozen years and counting in a maximum-security prison for impulsively delivering a brutal beating that left his victim permanently brain-damaged. 

Even while incarcerated, Roman never learned to control his temper. Consequently, he’s voluntarily spent the bulk of his time in solitary confinement.

A shot at rehabilitation arrives when Myles (Bruce Dern), a salty old horse whisperer, offers Roman a spot in his program pairing inmates with wild mustangs. The hope is that each participant will learn to tame his own raging inner soul while bonding with his stallion. more

April 10, 2019

SURVIVAL TALE: “Breakthrough,” based on a memoir by Joyce Smith, recounts the unlikely survival of her son John (played by Marcel Ruiz) after he was submerged for more than 15 minutes in a frozen lake. (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

By Kam Williams

Despite having a couple of generic American names, John Smith’s (Marcel Ruiz) life story has been anything but boring. It’s just too bad that the shy 14-year-old has been too embarrassed to share it. 

He was born in Guatemala, but raised in Missouri by Brian (Josh Lucas) and Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz), the missionary couple that adopted him as an infant. But even the terrific childhood they provided couldn’t supply answers to nagging questions that still burdened the boy in junior high, like wondering why his birth mom didn’t love him enough to keep him. John was so traumatized that he gave his teacher an excuse the day he was supposed to make a class presentation about his family tree. more

April 3, 2019

MYSTERY AT TWIN ELMS: Nancy Drew (Sophia Lillis, left) investigates paranormal activity inside an old mansion owned by Flora (Linda Lavin) in “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase.” (Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures)

By Kam Williams

After the untimely death of his wife, Carson Drew decided he and his daughter Nancy (Sophia Lillis) might benefit from a change of scenery. So, they moved from Chicago to an idyllic oasis in suburbia called River Heights.

The relocation proved to be far more of a challenge for Nancy than her civil rights attorney father, a pillar of the legal community, since the 16-year-old found herself having to adjust to a new school. Plus, the picture-perfect town seemed pretty dull, at first blush, to a thrill-seeker born with a sense of adventure. more

March 27, 2019

HERO AT THE HOTEL: Dev Patel plays a waiter at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel who tries to save as many guests as possible from radical terrorists in “Hotel Mumbai.” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

By Kam Williams

On November 26, 2008, radical Islamists from Pakistan launched a series of coordinated attacks around the city of Mumbai, India, which would claim 174 lives and leave hundreds more wounded. Within hours of the raid, the authorities were able to secure all of the sites except for the legendary Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

The jihadists ostensibly picked the legendary five-star resort as the location for a final showdown because of its image as a getaway spot for rich and famous Westerners. The siege there would last four days, since the local police were outgunned by the terrorists who were heavily armed with bombs, hand grenades, and automatic weapons. more

March 20, 2019

TROUBLE IN KINGSTON: Ami Ameen stars as Dennis “D” Campbell, who is out to avenge the murder of the older brother who raised him, in “Yardie,” the directorial debut of actor Idris Elba. (Photo courtesy of Rialto Pictures)

By Kam Williams

Dennis “D” Campbell (Aml Ameen) grew up in the slums of Kingston, Jamaica, in the seventies in a neighborhood infested with drugs. Orphaned at an early age, he was raised by an older brother he admired, Jerry (Everaldo Creary).

Besides serving as a surrogate father, Jerry was a peacemaker who risked his life pressuring the gangs ruining the community to end their bloody turf war. But Dennis was left traumatized at 13 when his sibling was shot and killed by Clancy (Raheem Edwards), a young member of the Tappa crew. more

March 13, 2019

I WISH I COULD BE NEXT TO YOU: Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) and Will (Cole Sprouse), who both have cystic fibrosis, must stay a certain distance away from each other despite their growing attraction in “Five Feet Apart.” (Photo courtesy of CBS Films/Lionsgate)

By Kam William

Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) is a typical 17-year-old in most regards. However, she is also suffering from cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic disease which makes her very susceptible to a variety of breathing disorders.

Consequently, she spends much of her time in the hospital. She’s currently receiving treatment for bronchitis on a ward with several fellow CF patients, including her friend Poe (Moises Arias), although there is a strictly-enforced rule that they stay at least six feet apart at all times because they could easily infect each other.  more

March 6, 2019

BEST ACTRESS: Olivia Colman won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Anne in the revisionist saga “The Favourite.” The film was nominated for a total of 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. (Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures)

By Kam Williams

Queen Anne (1665-1714) was a sickly monarch whose dozen-year reign ran from 1702 to 1714. She was also married to Prince George of Denmark from 1683 until he passed away at Kensington Palace in 1708. 

Although Anne was unable to produce an heir, it wasn’t from a lack of trying. She was pregnant 17 times, but most of her babies either miscarried or were stillborn, and the handful carried to term died during infancy. The queen coped with the loss by raising 17 pet rabbits, one for each offspring. 

Until now, Anne and George have been generally remembered as having been faithful and devoted partners. But you can add The Favourite to the long list of revisionist sagas which deign to impose present-day values while ignoring long-standing conventional wisdom. more

February 27, 2019

DEVOTED CAREGIVER: Live-in nanny and maid Cleo Gutierrez (Yalitza Aparicio), shown here with two of her young charges (Marco Graf and Daniela Demesa), hopes for a family of her own someday in “Roma,” which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Aparicio was nominated for Best Actress. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Cleo Gutierrez (Yalitza Aparicio) is one of two live-in maids maintaining the home of Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) and Sofia (Marina de Tavira), a couple in crisis with four young children. They can afford the help, which includes a chauffeur, because he’s a prominent physician. But they also need the staff, since Antonio spends so much time supposedly attending “conferences” in Canada.

The delinquent dad explains his absence to the kids as being away on business. However, his long-suffering wife suspects that he’s just up to monkey business with his mistress, which explains why she’s not above begging him to cancel a trip. Luckily, Sofia has a shoulder to cry on in her mother, Teresa (Veronica Garcia), who lives with them, too. more