Category Archives: Movie Comments 2017

Comments on some films watched in 2017

The Darkest Hour

The last day of the year was spent like January 1, 2017: in a movie theater. This time the topic was Winston Churchill’s early days as Prime Minister of Great Britain, a most worthy subject.

Mr. Churchill is quite a character who overcame much and showed leadership at a critical time despite lapses of cooperation and strong opposition (not just from Hitler). Those aspects are captured without moving outside its knitting into typical Hollywood fare (unnecessary explosions, chases, etc.). I appreciated that. Continue reading The Darkest Hour

The Help (2011)

Watching “The Help” for a second time was well worth the hours. I’m usually captivated by historical perspectives and stories about writers. This film covered the former fine, but did not adequately characterize the efforts and angst of the author for my taste; that’s okay, it was about “The Help.” For a movie with excellent coverage of the author,  see “Genius.

The acting was good on all sides, including featured roles for Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, seen on the 2017 big screen in  “Fences” and “Hidden Figures,” respectively.

Would the book be better than the movie for this story? Perhaps I should read Kathryn Stockett’s novel.



Trapped (2002)

“Trapped” (2002) arrived via the way-back machine, but why not a suspense thriller featuring Charlize Theron? (See her in 2005’s “North Country.”) Dakota Fanning’s acting was awesome at just eight years old.

The cast built drama and character across three well-directed settings that meshed. Unfortunately, when they all came together the film fell apart. It resorted to chases, crashes, stunts, pyrotechnics, and more “art” Hollywood often can’t resist injecting in a good story.


The Homesman (2014)

I began skeptical that Tommy Lee Jones produced, directed, and acted this movie only because he needed work late in his career, and doubtful that any Western could still be likeable.

I finished with an appreciation for all the acting, for Hillary Swank’s strong character, and knowing that Jones remains active in Bourne and others. A good cast was assembled, and the story made this film worth my time.


“Carol” is a 2015 movie with little more to offer than the enticement of Rooney Mara with Cate Blanchett. I’m not saying it was bad, but … it … was … a … long … two … hours!

Cate is a star with stature and two Oscar statues. Rooney’s portrayal of a confused young 1950s woman seemed to conflate Audrey Tautou’s “Amélie”  with Audrey Hepburn’s “Sabrina,” taking looks from each minus their charm. See “more-a” the real Ms. Mara in 2016’s Lion instead.

Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)

“Mao’s Last Dancer” is based on a true story pitting life in Communist China versus life in the United States for the favor of a talented young ballet dancer. Its genesis is the autobiography of Li Cunxin, centered around 1980.

It succeeds as a rags-to-riches story, a love story, a tale of intrigue, a history lesson, a coming-of-age concern, a family affair, a treatise on trust, a stage for the arts, and more. There is something for everyone in this film.

The Raven (2012)

“The Raven” stars John Cusack, whose films are the box of Hollywood chocolates that make you wonder what you’re going to get when you open one of them.

This time you get a reasonably-good storyline, darn good cinematography (ignore the gore), other sharp actors, and a solid conclusion that delivers just the right “twist” of surprise. Those admirable attributes are sometimes supported and other times interrupted by the irregular, quirky actions of Mr. Cusack.

Aside: Brendan Gleeson appears, though not as the lead he was “In The Heart of the Sea” watched earlier in 2017. I hope it is worthy to say he is a Lego(R) that fits and holds things together wherever placed. His understated portrayal of “The Guard” (2011) made me respect his presence on the screen.


“Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time” is an engaging “while it happened” collection of film clips and “while it happened” interviews. Its chronological starting point is the Trump announcement that he will enter the race for the Republican nomination. It ends on election night, November 8, 2016.

America itself began as the greatest military upset of all time, did it not? America loves upsets, right? True! But this film makes clear that the election was the greatest “pundit” upset of all time. The  experts were following the playbook of conventional politics while guerilla warfare, campaign grenades, and other unconventional tactics and mishaps exploded on the scene.

They never could made sense of it. So they made a movie they could watch again and again to see if it will ever sink in. It just so happens you can watch it as well, and as well you should if you have the stomach for it.

In the Heart of the Sea

“In the Heart of the Sea” is a movie about the retelling of the story that became Moby-Dick, the book. Or maybe it is the story of those done-in by Moby Dick, the whale. It slights the conveyance of the story to author Melville, while the sea-going adventures are portrayed better than many that rely on CGI for their scenery.

Watch “Genius” if you want a film that delivers the angst of authorship more adeptly. Watch “Master and Commander …” for a movie that seizes the seas in a far better manner.

Rendition (2007)

“Rendition” was recommended long ago by a friend. We could find some common ground on this film, as it composes an interesting tale and communicates something that was little known or understood at the time. I give the story good marks, as well as most of the actors. Still, I was disappointed in two regards.

First, the “plot twist” that warped time was unnecessary. Thank goodness watching at home enabled a “pause button” moment and evaluation of the story’s shift before concluding with a few scenes. I suppose the director wanted audiences leaving the theater to take it with them in discussion among their friends. If that technique is used, the viewer should be given more film time to process the surprise rather than being resigned to a “what the heck” fog just as the story reaches its conclusion.

Second, this point was over-wrought: Strong men are evil; powerful men are unprincipled; meek and milquetoast men are the only real men the world can count on. Got it; I’m ready for a war film.