A United Kingdom - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

‘A United Kingdom’ is an extraordinary story that needs more time


Directed by:  Amma Asante

Written by:  Guy Hibbert

Starring:  David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike


“A United Kingdom” – Effective love stories stir emotion.  Effective historical dramas help enlighten.  


In a recent interview, David Oyelowo (“Selma” (2014), “A Most Violent Year” (2014)) said that after reading the book “Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation”, he wanted to play Seretse Khama on the big screen and then turned to his friend, Amma Asante (“Belle” (2013)), to direct the film.  In 2017, his wish became reality, as Oyelowo plays the real life, inspirational leader of Bechuanaland (and later named Botswana) in an historical drama that is rooted in a love story.  A love story against all odds.  Seretse – a black, African prince - married a white, English woman, Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), and almost everyone that the couple knew opposed their union, but due to their determination, they helped change history in completely unexpected ways.


Oyelowo said, “The film illustrates the power of love.  It’s as simple as that.”


“A United Kingdom” does truly enlighten the audience on a little known story, but the movie spends so much time on the vast saga of Seretse and Ruth’s winding political journey, Asante simply does not provide enough space for their personal love story to emote on-screen. 


Their journey, however, is an intriguing one, to say the least.


The film begins in 1947 London, and Seretse relaxes at a dance after a difficult boxing match just a few hours before, and Ruth accompanies her sister, Muriel (Laura Carmichael), to the same ballroom.   Seretse and Ruth meet and immediately hit it off, although complications do arise on their second date.  Seretse explains that he is Bechuanaland’s prince and has duties to his homeland.  Distance and his responsibilities are not an issue with Ruth, and with loving eyes, mutual respect, laughs, and fun, the pair enjoy dating for a few more weeks and generate internal sunshine in England’s dreary, foggy surroundings.


They soon marry, move to Africa, and the film turns from some local disdain of their interracial relationship to an outright, international incident.   Asante introduces elements of racism, big and small from both Europe and Africa.  The bigotry equally appears as occasional, contemptuous looks, a matter of fact statements (like blacks are not allowed to drink alcohol) and highly charged political stances.  With dated, racist outrage attempting to thwart the couple from all sides, the overwhelming feeling is that Seretse and Ruth need to possess extraordinary determination to fight the external forces moving against them. 


Plenty of antagonists – such as British diplomats and their wives – appear, and their posh words and cultured etiquette blend with snarly disparagements reminiscent of James Bond villains.   Although, do not be fooled.  Goldfinger, Blofeld and Le Chiffre are exceedingly more intelligent than this ignorant lot in “A United Kingdom”.  Thankfully, this gives Seretse and Ruth distinct advantages, but they still need to trudge through the muck to hopefully find salvation.  Not only for their relationship, but for the future of Bechuanaland. 


This potentially bright future travels through a maze of dogmatic bureaucracy, and the screenplay does capture these sometimes-predictable/sometimes-very-unpredictable twists. The problem is with only a runtime of 1-hour 51-minutes, the screenplay zips from one historical roadblock after another without room for the plot points to breathe.  One minute, the country’s mineral rights appear front and center, and the next includes arguments in British Parliament.  Political red tape, economic dependencies and disapproval from South Africa block Seretse and Ruth’s happy existence, and unfortunately, the narrative rushes through the precious, small moments that are needed to establish Oyelowo and Pike’s chemistry.


For example, while the couple walks London’s streets, Ruth comments that she wishes that they could see the stars through the cloudy British skies.  Seretse quickly adds that the stars are wondrous in Bechuanaland.  When they make roots in Africa, the movie, unfortunately, never provides that magic, looking-at-the-stars moment for the two.  Instead, the movie audience receives a random 1.5 second shot of a starry, African evening inserted from nowhere, seemingly as a last-minute add to tie up a loose end. 


Well, “A United Kingdom” did not seem to miss loose ends on Seretse and Ruth’s fight for their marriage, and successfully chronicles - and shines a light on - their story.  Asante even went the extra mile (literally and figuratively) by actually filming in their original home in Bechuanaland (Botswana).  On the other hand, when any on-screen couple decides to spend the rest of their lives together at a film’s 12-minute mark, a story can feel hurried, and then it becomes difficult to emotionally buy-in. 


What’s that old saying?  I need more time.  During this movie, I needed more time.

(2.5/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.


Fist Fight - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

The high school comedy ‘Fist Fight’ mostly feels like study hall


Directed by:  Richie Keen

Written by:  Van Robichaux and Evan Susser

Starring:  Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Christina Hendrix, Kumail Nanjiani, and Dean Norris


“Fist Fight” - During my high school days, two events would whip the students into a frenzy.




A basketball game in our school’s gym and a fist fight somewhere on campus.  The former might occur 10 times a year, and the latter could be the same number as well.  The difference is that the basketball games were scheduled well in advance, and the fights were not predetermined at all.  They just happened, out of nowhere.  The spontaneity of two people stepping out of the orderly nature of school and into a rudimentary “natural” order of sudden, violent Darwinism can grab the attention of even the most passive of temperaments.  In other words, fist fights can attract a crowd, in a hurry.


Director Richie Keen hopes to attract big crowds to his feature film, a comedy called “Fist Fight”, and with an impressive cast, including Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Christina Hendricks, and Dean Norris, he has the star power to do it.  It just takes two to make a fight, however, and Day and Cube play the main combatants on the last day of the academic year at Roosevelt High School.


It is also the most stressful day that English high school teacher Andy Campbell (Day) will ever remember.  His pregnant wife (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) could give birth at any moment, his daughter (Alexa Nisenson) is nervous about her talent show performance, budget cuts could cost him his job, and oh yes, the most intense teacher on campus, Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), challenges him to a fight in the courtyard at 3p.m., because Andy got him fired.


In this particular case, the fight is scheduled and therefore, will attract a massive crowd.  The big event draws our curiosity too, but in the meantime, not a whole lot transpires during a majority of the film’s 1-hour 31-minute runtime.  The aforementioned cast members play various teachers and administrators who become witnesses or victims to several student pranks, like athletic fields chalked with sexual imagery or office supplies glued to desks. 


The kids – who we never really become familiar with or learn any of their names – feed a steady stream of gags, which seem outrageous to the characters, but do not generate a sense of outrage or stress for us in the audience.  Let’s face it, a trip wire that releases splatters of paint on an unsuspecting teacher is just sophomoric (pardon the pun), even for a high school movie.  After a while, the pranks become window dressing, background noise or mostly unfunny nuisances stepping in front of Andy’s way.


With a talented group of comics, like Day, Morgan and Bell, the movie clears the way for an entertaining preamble to the fight.  Unfortunately, other than some wonderfully shameful one-liners by Holly (Bell), a meth-induced teacher who has a crush on one of her students and a hilarious musical number by Andy’s daughter, the actual fight is the film’s one attraction. 


With a thrilling mix of pugilism and slapstick, Keen’s keen fight can – just about - stand alongside a lengthy battle in “Every Which Way But Loose” (1978).  That is a big compliment.


Keep in mind that one fight does not make an entire movie, even if the word “fight” is included its title.  It certainly takes a while to get that point, especially when one feels stuck in a study hall without a pen and paper from 8a.m. until the 3p.m. bell.

(1.5/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.





A Cure for Wellness - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

A Cure for Wellness


Director: Gore Verbinski

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Harry Groener, Celia Imrie, and Ivo Nandi


Director Gore Verbinski has crafted quite an interesting career. After striking genre gold with the remake of the Japanese horror film “Ringu”, orchestrating one of Disney’s most successful franchises with “Pirates of the Caribbean”, and continuing collaboration with Johnny Depp on the animated film “Rango” and the reboot of “The Lone Ranger, it seems like Mr. Verbinski is poised to do whatever he wants to do with his next film. It doesn’t take long to realize this quality in the director’s new film “A Cure for Wellness”.


For nearly two and a half hours Mr. Verbinski compiles a beautiful, confounding, and chaotic medley of his favorite and most influential film scenes recreated. One moment you are whisked away on a train ride through the Swiss Alps in a moment of stunning scenery, the next you are offered images of unnerving and repulsive situations. It’s undeniable that Mr. Verbinski and director of photography Bojan Bazelli can find the beauty in any situation. Unfortunately coherence doesn’t seem high on the priority list.


Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is an ambitious and arrogant young executive who is moving his way up the business ladder, however he is blindsided by the higher-ups and tasked with going to a reclusive “wellness center” to bring back the CEO who left under suspicious circumstances. Upon arrival Lockhart finds himself at odds with the doctor of the facility, a charming man named Volmer (Jason Isaacs), until an accident has him admitted as a patient. Lockhart very quickly realizes that there is something very mysterious about the “wellness center”, which leads an investigation to discover the many secrets that lie within the walls of the facility.


Aside from this basic overview, the plot doesn’t make much of a difference. Mr. Verbinski never seems too concerned with providing any kind of answer to the bizarre and sometimes completely outlandish happenings in the film. Instead it’s the questions, mostly proposed through strange visuals, which pose the primary focus for the director. To this extent the director achieves a rich and striking palette of oddities; gothic beauty reminiscent of the Hammer Horror age with the gray and blue colored world seen in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Children of Men”. Thematically the film feels like a “greatest hits” of influences; “The Abominable Dr. Phibes”, “Phantom of the Opera”, and “Dracula” are a just a few of the older references while Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” seems to be the most pertinent newer one. Most interesting are the intersections with the style and tone of Roman Polanski’s darker visions.


Still, these pieces of influence don’t play much of a bigger role than making the film interesting to look at. While there are moments that suggest better narrative angles, specifically about societal concerns related to isolation and illness, they are never completely realized. Dane DeHaan’s lead character Lockhart, who is unlikable throughout the majority of the film, doesn’t help the narrative. While you may root for him as a detective unraveling a mystery, you may also not care when bad things happen to him. And bad things happen, disturbing and cringe-worthy things. Mr. Verbinski goes for shock in numerous horror scenarios; giant eels, bodies afloat in tanks, gore, and one scene, not to be spoiled, that will tap directly into a nightmare many people have.


The picturesque quality of “A Cure For Wellness” sustains much of the engagement but the narrative leaps into so many different places by the midway point, with a final act that completely devours any semblance of structure established before it, the film never quite recovers. However, credit to Mr. Verbinski for bringing what seems like an uncompromised nightmare to life.


Monte’s Rating

3.00 out of 5.00




Interview with Charlie Day and Richie Keen from Fist Fight by Jeff Mitchell

Charlie Day (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) and director Richie Keen stopped in Scottsdale and sat down for a lively group interview with the Phoenix Film Festival and other entertainment outlets to chat about their new comedy, “Fist Fight”.  The movie offers a new twist on the high school experience, because two teachers - Ron Strickland (Ice Cube) and Andy Campbell (Day) – are scheduled to fight each other when the 3:00pm bell rings.


“Fist Fight” also stars Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Christina Hendricks, Kumail Nanjiani, and Dean Norris, and it opens on Friday, Feb. 17.  


Q: Did any of your cast members (who are mostly comedians) try to “throw you off” during the filming? 


CD: I think when Ice Cube threw me into a school bus for the 15th time, it really started to rattle me.


RK: He is a very committed actor. 


CD: I started to wonder if anyone realized that we were still filming, and he was just trying to smash me to pieces.


RK:  I was thrown by Tracy Morgan, and Charlie wasn’t.  Tracy is so bizarre and interesting, and I couldn’t believe how Charlie would just roll with him and stay within the story.  I was just cracking up and thanking God that I had a camera on him half the time.


CD:  For some reason, I feel like I speak Tracy Morgan.    


Q:  Charlie, you have a scene with Jillian Bell, where you are in a hallway with a horse.  How did you do that scene…with a live horse in the school?


CD:  I was just happy that we weren’t trampled to death, because I was almost positive that it was going to happen.


RK:  I’ve never worked in a confined space with an animal that size, and aside from Charlie being the star, he’s my friend.  I did spend a lot of time (figuring out) how he would be safe in that scene and another one where the horse follows him down a hallway. 


CD: I (just) made sure to never have an apple in my pocket.


PFF: Andy (Day) has to grow as a person over the course of one school day.  One thing that he learns is “snitches get stitches”, when he snitches on Ron (Ice Cube).  He also learns another life lesson, which we won’t reveal here.  What do you think that Ron learns after the movie? 


CD:  That’s a great question.  I think that Ron Strickland learns that his (teaching) methods are a little too extreme.  Andy, who is known as being so soft and kind and easy with the students, wasn’t just a fool for having that point of view.  He has that point of view and is willing to go down swinging for (it).  Both Andy and Ron have to find middle ground, and it is a good metaphor for everyone in life.  If you disagree with someone, you cannot be so bullish, (that you will) not listen to (other person), and Andy and Ron are forced to understand one another. 


Q:  If you scrub away all of the laughs and rough language, there are some good messages coming through here.  Was that in the original script, or did you add it during production?


CD: “Fist Fight” is a very pro-teacher film.  I think it shines a good light on the difficult situations that teachers have these days, with their lack of ability to discipline kids and lack of resources.   


RK: We don’t have the answers, but we all can agree (that) we need to look at our education system.  It’s just not working the way that it once did.


Q:  There’s a lot of intensity in this movie, and many characters are right on the edge of losing it.  Did you have routines that you ran through before getting into that mindset?


CD: I do a little bit of jumping up and down and pumping my fists (before a take).  An actor once told me that he saw Tom Cruise doing it.  As a joke, we starting doing it on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, and now I love doing it.  It just gets the blood flowing.    


PFF:   Andy’s daughter has a big talent show performance that is adding to his stress.  I think that you have a son.  Have you seen one of his performances, and have you been stressed about it?


CD: I have a five-year-old, (but) I have not been stressed about his performances.  With five-year-olds, I think that anything goes!  But the stress of parenting, I think that’s something that any parent can relate to. 


I got a text message today.  Here I am, out of town, and (my son) is upset, because he got into an argument with one of his best friends at school, and yea, it ruins my day.  So, I can absolutely relate to Andy Campbell.  I think to Andy Campbell, his daughter’s performance is (probably) the most important thing in the movie.


RK:  His daughter’s performance really added to the pressure cooker situation.  He has a daughter who needs him, a wife who is about to have a baby and he’s about to get fired. 


We just kept asking, “How can this be the (tensest) day for all of these (characters)?” 


Q:  What were your high school experiences like?


CD:  I was in public school, and my parents gave me the idea to apply for this really fancy private school, just one town over.  I impressed (the school administrators) for some reason, and they accepted me on some financial aid.  So, I went.  


It was an all-boy school, and these kids were all living together and bonding.  I would drive in, get dropped off and go to school, so I wasn’t having that bonding experience.  There was a lot picking on the freshman where they would grab you, throw you in the bushes and make you do pushups, (but) I never took it from the rich kids.  No matter what they did.  There was one kid who kept giving me a bunch of hell, and I picked him up and put him inside a garbage can, even though I was about half his size.  That was the end of me getting picked on.


RK:  My high school was literally “Sixteen Candles” (1984).  I was literally Anthony Michael Hall.  I was King of the Geeks (during) my freshman year and would end up at the senior parties. Because I was in acting and knew all of the pretty girls, I remember upper classman guys coming to me and trying to broker a meet with a girl. 


I would say, “Let me see what I can do. What are your intentions?”


I love an underdog.  I was always an underdog.  I’m a Cubs fan.  I’ve been an underdog my whole life.  (Making) a movie about a guy who is the unexpected sparring partner of Ice Cube was really fun because of that.


Q:  Given the narrative, did anyone play pranks on set?


CD: I tell you what, if anyone pranked me (during) the shooting of that fight, I would have killed them.  (laughing)  Parts of this movie were so physically difficult to shoot, there wasn’t a lot of room for extracurricular activities.


RK:  I’m not a prankster - ever - as a director, because I want the actors to feel safe.


CD: I imagine with all of those kids on set everyday...


RK: Oh, they were probably (pranking each other).


CD: I think the prank on them was that there was no running water, and the prank on us was that they used the bathroom anyway. 


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.



Fifty Shades Darker - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

Fifty Shades Darker


Director: James Foley

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Kim Basinger, Marcia Gay Harden, and Bella Heathcote


Romance is in the air. The film industry, an opportunistic group, usually has a film positioned to occupy the obligatory Valentine's Day date night movie category. Some romantic comedy or heart tugging Nicolas Sparks adaptation usually accommodates this need. Not in 2017, this year we get the second film installment based off author E.L. James' erotic romance novel, "Fifty Shades Darker".


The story of Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), a naïve and inexperienced recent college graduate, who is seduced by a billionaire named Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), a closeted sadomasochist, opened audiences to an interesting film experience. It was interesting because within the pages of the book is a blunt detailing of sexual practices expressed in very vivid and explicit form. How could a film compose these images and detail the personal aspects of Anastasia’s experience? It couldn’t. What was produced was an unsexy, character devoid film that cheapened aspects of sexuality by composing moments that operate solely for quick visual excitement instead of the deeper aspects that make intimate moments passionate. It made Anastasia look foolish and Christian look sadistic. 


“Fifty Shades Darker” is just that, a darker and more menacing story about the discovery found in relationships. Unfortunately the viewer is never provided much in terms of character development or plot, instead we are given the same structure and formatting as the first film. Anastasia resists, Christian insists, cue sex scene with an introduction from new pop song. It’s done over and over that it becomes somewhat of a running joke.


The film starts with Anastasia working at a new job for an established editor (Eric Johnson), she seems poised and ready to move forward with her life. Christian however has not stopped thinking about Anastasia; he buys an entire set of photographs at an art gallery that were taken of her. It doesn’t take long for the couple to get back together, however questions of their relationship amidst Christian’s secrecy and sexual proclivities place their love in jeopardy.


From the opening moments you can feel that the tone, compared to the first film, has changed. An early flashback of Christian’s abuse during childhood makes this very clear. These beginning moments displayed some promise for Christian’s character, how else are audiences suppose to connect with an uncaring, domineering individual like Christian? These moments, along with many other character identifying instances, are fleeting and many times completely overlooked. In replace of these scenes are ridiculously composed moments of melodrama, pieces that don’t connect in any meaningful way. It’s unfortunate because there is opportunity to explore some interesting subject matter, though that never seems to be the purpose of the film. Instead what transpires over nearly two hours is a mess of a film, one that never understands what it is trying to be.


Dakota Johnson had a good performance in the first film, however there is nothing here for her to work with. Also, the chemistry she was developing with Jamie Dornan’s character is completely lost. This is the biggest flaw with the film. How is the viewer supposed to believe that what these two people have in a relationship is anything more than the superficial aspects of sex? The filmmakers want us to believe there is more, the characters even voice this concern at one point in the film.


“Fifty Shades Darker” struggles from the start and never finds the rhythm it is looking to achieve. The film has some stunning scenery and a plethora of fancy set pieces, a masquerade party is particularly interesting to watch, but these parts never serve much more than to reiterate that Christian can do whatever he wants because he is rich, which unfortunately paints Anastasia’s character in the worst possible light.


Monte’s Rating

1.00 out of 5.00

John Wick: Chapter 2 - Move Review by Monte Yazzie

John Wick: Chapter 2


Director: Chad Stahelski

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common, and Laurence Fishburne


The modern action film, with all the digital flash and flair, gunfire and explosions, isn’t much different from the action films of the past. Look all the way back to the classic western film and you’ll see that the themes are all very similar. How many times has the lone-hero-seeking-revenge been done?


“John Wick” is a new action figure composed of many of the old classic hero tropes, except John Wick’s comeuppance is far more methodical and swift than others like him. Think of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1980’s film “Commando”, where the retired Black Ops specialist takes out an entire island of bad guys; John Wick is faster. Think of Jason Statham in the “Transporter” films, where the precision driver takes on scores of tough guys with every martial arts move in the book; John Wick rarely needs more than one move. Perhaps a worthy movie scene comparison would be Bruce Lee in “Enter the Dragon”, except replace Lee’s nunchaku with a handgun.


“John Wick: Chapter 2” knows exactly what it is, and it doesn’t waste much time getting into the action.  The film starts up quickly, on the heels of the last film, with a vehicle chase on the city streets. We find John still trying to get out of the killing game, of course by killing his way out. Though John, still referred to as “The Bogeyman”, doesn’t have much time to rest. A blood promise, one arranged to free him the first time around, pulls him back in and sends him overseas to make good on a contract. However, this contract has the potential to keep John in the killing business for the rest of his life.


While much hasn’t changed in terms of character and theme, John Wick is still nonchalant and vengeance is still the primary motivator, the world has expanded with delightful results. In the first film one of the most interesting aspects was how the world of the contract assassin worked, “John Wick: Chapter 2” provides some behind the desk insight. Writer Derek Kolstad does a great job restraining this aspect of composition; we are given brief insights into the operations of the assassin society and how a contract for a target is made, but it’s never overdone. Too much exposition would take away from the primary reason this movie exists, which is the satisfaction of the bullet ballet.


Sequels are always bigger and bolder. While the body count is bigger, the locations and designs of where and how John Wick wreaks destruction are much bolder. A subway car, a foreign nightclub, an art gallery carnival mirror maze, if you could compose an action scene in a striking location director Chad Stahelski has probably already thought of it. While these decisions make everything look fantastic, there are times when it also feels like a big distraction; a new place with interesting designs to keep you from noticing the repetition of John Wick’s effective combat. In the latter few minutes of the film these aspects become especially noticeable, though there are still quite a few exceptional compositions like two men vying for an upperhand in a subway station. It’s what this film aims to be, comic bloody mayhem.


“John Wick: Chapter 2” continues to embrace its B-movie action film persona. While the production value has been upgraded to A-list standards, the core of the film still relishes in the mayhem it inflicts on everything and everyone that gets in the path of John Wick. If you are a fan of the first film, this bloodier sequel will not disappoint.


Monte’s Rating

3.50 out of 5.00

The LEGO Batman Movie - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ delivers plenty of bat-laughs


Directed by:  Chris McKay

Starring:  Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, and Ralph Fiennes


“The LEGO Batman Movie” – Everything but the kitchen sink. 


I mean, everything but the bat-kitchen sink. 


Wait.  I meant to write, everything but the LEGO-bat-kitchen sink. 


You see, in the sparkling, brand new animated picture about DC Comics’ Caped Crusader, director Chris McKay and five screenwriters throw, heave, chuck, splatter, pitch, and toss 1,000,006 pop culture nods on the big screen except the LEGO-bat-kitchen sink.  Most of them circle around Batman, but actually, that might not be entirely accurate.  McKay and his clever writing crew drop in other, unexpected worlds outside of Gotham City’s universe, including Michael Jackson, Dracula and a famous Tom Cruise movie, to name a few.


In the world of animation, anything is possible, and “The LEGO Batman Movie” unequivocally stretches that “law” to extremes to the delight of just about any diehard or casual fan of comic books, video games, the recent explosion comic book movies, animated films, and of course, the lead character.  


Admittedly, with a lengthy 1-hour 44-minute runtime, this dizzying picture could stretch your patience too, but there is no denying that it is funny and extremely clever.


Speaking of funny and extremely clever, Joker (Zach Galifianakis) stars as the main villain opposite Batman (Will Arnett), and he targets a Gotham City energy plant for his latest bout of mayhem.  During the opening sequence, Batman saves the (initial) day and rights Joker’s wrongs, but while buying in to the hero-stops-villain narrative, the spectacular visuals of - seemingly – hundreds of thousands of LEGOs dancing can leave one speechless, or at least in downright awe.


Now, I have not built LEGO toys in decades, but I do recall becoming somewhat frustrated when constructing those colorful, prepackaged pieces into exactly the correct formation that appeared on the paper directions and the front of the boxes.  In other words, building LEGOs can take an awfully long time, and those memories provide a rudimentary point of reference to the mindboggling movement on the big screen in 2017.  


How did they actually make this movie?  I have absolutely no idea.


Well, the picture’s emotional core is a great idea, and it does comically resonate in way that we have never seen Batman.  Batman - full of proud machismo and bravado - needs to take inventory.  Not of his collection of bat-gadgets, but of himself.  While he crows about his core workouts and never skipping “leg day”, his greatest challenge in “The LEGO Batman Movie” is to rely on and trust others.  In this case, these others are a pair of familiar faces, but I will refrain from revealing them here. 


Sometimes, Batman’s personal journey does slow down the film’s breakneck pace.  For example, immediately after the wild opening, the mood - comparatively - becomes eerily silent when Batman travels home, embraces his solitude and microwaves his dinner.   This is done intentionally, but the shift feels like you are stepping off a riotous, 90-mph roller coaster ride and then walking down a quiet, dark hallway, guided by an invisible chaperone.  The sensations of the colorful blitzkrieg of animation still frolic in your head, while you wonder if the film will hand out more tickets to equally enthralling cinematic thrill rides.  McKay and company absolutely deliver, and it turns out that these few brief pauses of reflection are needed to collect one’s faculties.  


This is because the script contains so many visual gags and calls to the friendly ghosts of Batman-past (and many other franchises), it is simply impossible to catch them all, and I am certain that I missed more half of them.  Quite frankly, my “catch rate” probably hovers around 10 percent, but does that mean that I’ll watch “The LEGO Batman Movie” nine more times? 


Don’t bet on it, but I was certainly happy to hop on this animated roller coaster once, step off, take a measured walk, find a comfortable bench, and wonder if the filmmakers actually did include the LEGO-bat-kitchen sink.   It surely is possible.

(3/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.



The Lure - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

‘The Lure’ lures us into its wild, musical weirdness


Directed by:  Agnieszka Smoczynska

Written by:  Robert Bolesto

Starring:  Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska, Kinga Preis, Andrzej Konopka, and Jakub Gierszal


“The Lure” – Mermaid movies are almost as rare as reported sightings of the finned-ladies of the sea.  Arguably, the most famous mermaid film within the last fifty years is the comedy/romance “Splash” (1984), but Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” (1989) could be a close second.  Now, I did see “Mermaids” in the theatre back in 1990, but sadly or perhaps fortunately, I do not recall much about it, other than it was a vehicle for Winona Ryder and Cher.   In 2017, a new mermaid film arrives in American theatres, and it will not share a broad appeal like “Splash” and “The Little Mermaid” do, but “The Lure” is a catch.  A kooky, wild and daring catch!


Director Agnieszka Smoczynska’s new film – set in present-day Warsaw - wears plenty of hats: comedy, horror, musical, and love story lids.  At first blush, these genres seemingly describe “The Little Shop of Horrors” (1960, 1986).  In one sense, that holds true, because both films introduce a harmless-looking, unknown outsider(s) to a human environment, but “The Lure” audaciously delves into sexual and kinky territory with striking, avant-garde visuals and storytelling, sometimes reminiscent of director Alejandro Jodorowsky or David Lynch.  In other words, do not pack the kids in the minivan and ship them off to the theatre for this mermaid film, but for adults who appreciate a unique experience, “The Lure” is your picture.


The film opens with two members of a popular club band - Perkusista (Andrzej Konopka) and Mietek (Jakub Gierszal) – who unexpectedly discover a pair of girls swimming in a river.  With only their heads above water, Golden (Michalina Olszanska) and Silver (Marta Mazurek) sing to them, like enchanted sirens towards their unsuspecting prey.  Youthful and beautiful, Golden and Silver hypnotize Perkusista and Mietek, while insisting - through song – not to worry.  They “won’t eat” them.  Apparently, Perkusista and Mietek’s radar for danger is set incredibly low, because they and the band’s female lead singer, Wokalistka (Kinga Preis), bring the young women into the club, Adria, for a tryout.  


Right away, Golden and Silver (who actually don’t have blonde and silver hair, but black and red, respectively) embrace their new performer roles as backup singers and dancers.  Completely adorable, they sport cute outfits and look like flight attendants from the 1960s, as they reap massive applause and smiles from the crowd.  Sure, Golden and Silver gel with the band, but they also show off their mermaid selves - tail and all - onstage, when they purposely get wet.  Just add water! 


Refreshingly, no evil scientists appear to cart the girls away, and Adria’s patrons accept them, no questions asked.  Smoczynska cultivates a positive environment (at least initially), while the music escorts the girls on their land-established travels, including a wonderful, choreographed number in a local shopping mall.   Anchored by an inviting techno - and sometimes retro - soundtrack, Smoczynska pulls us into this dystopian, fantastical weirdness where these two outsiders find their way in their new world, which of course, does not always bounce in rainbows and lollipops. 


The girls stroll through pools of sexuality and love, but their travels of desire sometimes spawn sinister consequences.  Frolicking can turn bloody at a drop of tail, and although the horror never really creates massive scares, the picture delves into some extreme gore that grabs your attention.   Wonderfully concocted in an unconventional blend of sights and sounds, “The Lure” lures us into an entertaining, 92-minute trance.  Indeed, mermaid movies might be rare, but any film that can hypnotize an audience for an hour and a half truly is uncommon in the world of cinema. 

(3/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.



The Space Between Us - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

‘The Space Between Us’ should give its audience some space


Director: Peter Chelsom

Writer:  Allan Loeb

Starring:  Asa Butterfield, Britt Robertson, Gary Oldman, and Carla Gugino


“The Space Between Us” – Long distance relationships are difficult.  Sharing your emotions, feelings, wants, and dreams with someone primarily through text, Skype, phone calls, and photos over an extended period of time – even with an occasional weekend, in-person visit – can be a taxing and emotional drain on a couple.  The only real relief in sight is the eventual day that the pair live and breathe in the same general space, or at least the same zip code. 


Tulsa (Britt Robertson) and Gardner (Asa Butterfield) are not in a romantic relationship.  They are pen pals, but Gardner wishes for more.  His roadblock is the whole distance-thing


About 140,000,000 miles of distance! 


You see, sometime in the not-too-distant future, a NASA-based program called Genesis – led by Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman) - embarks on Mars settlement program, and an astronaut gives birth to Gardner on our solar system’s fourth planet.   Sixteen years later, the space between Gardner and Tulsa – who lives in Colorado – makes it problematic for a dinner/movie date on a casual Saturday evening.  Fortunately, after some significant lobbying, Gardner hops aboard a spaceship heading to Earth, and he carries secret plans of romance with Tulsa. 


Although space exploration flags the backdrop to “The Space Between Us”, the movie is less about science fiction, and more about a teenage romance, like a futuristic “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” (1976).  Gardner’s upbringing on a Martian environment renders his internal organs vulnerable to Earth’s environment, but with a sudden exposure to blue sky, green trees, American fast food, and a pretty girl, throw caution to his new planet’s wind, right? 


After a while, one has to wonder if director Peter Chelsom and screenwriter Allan Loeb threw caution to the wind, because this interplanetary story – albeit with good intentions – feels sloppy, sophomoric and silly.  These feelings begin to arise, because for starters, Chelsom devotes next-to-zero time in establishing the lead characters.  Sure, we see Gardner’s bouts of cabin fever and complaints of loneliness, but they seemingly occur for just a few minutes before this lanky teen is whisked away to Earth.  In Colorado, Tulsa is a troubled, foster care system tomboy who rides motorcycles, fends for herself and cops an attitude towards her schoolmates, like some out-of-body combo of Amanda (Tatum O’Neal) and Kelly (Jackie Earle Haley) from “The Bad News Bears” (1976).


Chelsom rushes this shaky relationship between a naïve boy and street-smart girl without an emotional connection for the audience and then sends the two on an inane road trip across the western states.  Robertson and Butterfield are strong, young actors and admittedly do their best to portray this mismatched couple with Tulsa’s tough girl act and Gardner’s inexperienced weirdness.   For example, when Gardner sees a horse for the first time or enjoys his fifth hamburger, their reactions are some of the film’s best moments.   Unfortunately, their quality time plays under this clumsy journey with Nathaniel and an astronaut named Kendra (Carla Gugino) chasing them via corporate vans and helicopters. 


While Nathaniel and Kendra fret like hysterical teens who were just told that Taylor Swift is giving up music, Tulsa and Gardner bond over a series of recycled script devices like a renegade plane ride and a shopping spree, as they also steal multiple cars to get from here to there.  Not only do the sequences seem tired, but the film feels like Chelsom and Loeb jammed together puzzle pieces which do not completely fit.  Many scenes lack simple common sense.  For example, in the third act, none of the characters sport any astronaut or safety gear during an intense space shuttle ride. 


In other instances, the filmmakers manufacture random fulcrums to move the narrative along.  In one scene, Gardner needs to escape a NASA facility, so he releases the pressure from some air tanks – with some unknown function – as an obvious diversion.  This fools everyone on the big screen but completely puzzles the theatre audience as to why the air tanks even cause a figurative smoke screen.  At another point, the kids steal a BMW, but later, they sport a large blue truck.  Now, admittedly, I may have missed this particular stolen car exchange, but I was probably sans my glasses and rubbing my temples for relief, which happened on several occasions during my two-hour experience.   Admittedly, I think that a preteen audience might willingly ignore these miscues and just enjoy the adventure with its Disney Channel-like soundtrack, but for me, the pain ran deep.


Thankfully, pain is only temporary, and the emotional mark that this movie left will eventually fade.  Well, rather than let my relationship with “The Space Between Us” slowly fade, I’ve had enough. I am breaking up with it and keeping my distance.

(1.5/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.




Rings - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

‘Rings’ would be more appealing if it went in circles


Director:  F. Javier Gutierrez

Writers:  David Loucka, Jacob Estes and Akiva Goldsman

Starring:  Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Bonnie Morgan


“Rings” – “I need to see this through!” – Julia   


“Why?” – Holt (Julia’s boyfriend)


About 70 minutes into “Rings” - the latest sequel to 2002’s “The Ring” - Julia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) has the above exchange with Holt (Alex Roe), because she feels compelled to discover the secrets of the infamous villain, Samara (Bonnie Morgan). 


At that particular moment, I realized that life imitates art, because I was having that same internal dialogue and was thinking, ‘No matter how dull and lifeless this 102-minute horror movie may be, I need to see it through to the end.’


Why?  ‘It’s my job.’


Hopefully, my uneventful movie experience can save you from a similar fate, because, quite frankly, “Rings” certainly is one humdrum horror flick, with its biggest scare coming from a dog’s bark.  One simple jump scare.


This film does, however, occupy another 101 minutes and 58 seconds of screen time, so let’s start from the top. 


A biology professor, Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), discovers a VCR at a flea market and finds a heinous video tape that unleashes an evil spirit named Samara, seven days after one views its contents.  For some highly questionable research reasons, he persuades many of his students to watch the tape, including Holt, a young intern.  Once Holt does not return his girlfriend’s (Julia’s) calls and texts, she drives to campus, discovers his life hangs in the balance and becomes entangled in this deadly, supernatural web.  


The original “The Ring” spun mountains of tension, because Samara and her intentions were wholly unknown at the time, while the film’s protagonist (Naomi Watts) attempted to thwart a fatal attack against the tick tock of a seven-day clock.  In 2002 - assuming one did not watch the previous “Ringu” films from Japan - the journey into this ill-fated world, in which a waterlogged corpse with gangly, black hair climbs out of an abandoned well and piles up her body count, was new.


In 2017, this act feels tired, because an informed audience knows the rules of engagement with Samara and how to avoid danger.  


First of all, if a character has not actually seen the video, he or she is no danger.  Due to this rule, one of the signature sequences within the first 30 minutes leaves no surprises or scares.  Julia finds herself locked-in with Holt’s friend in an apartment.  Now, Holt’s friend viewed the video and Samara targets her in the living room.  Even though Julia cowers in the adjacent bathroom, she harbors absolutely no risk.  


Secondly, the seven-day rule buys the victim time.  In this case, Julia eventually does view the video’s contents, but her life is not at stake until the seventh day arrives.  During a majority of the film, director F. Javier Gutierrez throws a number of nightmare visions at Julia, including snakes, iron chains and other sinister images.  Since these images – during “Day One” through “Day Six” - are clearly non-lethal visions, Julia’s life is never jeopardized.  These repetitive sequences plainly go through the motions, because the real worry will not appear until “Day 7”. 


Outside of the aforementioned, harmless attack and some daytime nightmares, Julia drags Holt to the tiny town of Sacrament Valley to literally and figuratively dig up dirt on Samara to end (or free her from) her reign of terror.  This pair of one-dimensional characters play Sherlock Holmes to investigate clues (like a church steeple and a trail of bugs) and meet various small-town residents with less personality than your average “Scooby-Doo” character. 


Personally, I was hoping that the bed and breakfast owner (Jill Jane Clements) would randomly blurt out, “You meddling kids.” 


Alas, no such luck.    


The only worthy piece to this slow-moving puzzle is the always charismatic Vincent D’Onofrio, who plays a blind man named Burke.  Thankfully, most of his precious few onscreen moments at least bring some life to the story, but then again, even D’Onofrio cannot salvage this lost horror film.  At least he added one more reason for me “to see this through”, other than it’s my job.    

(1/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.



A Dog's Purpose - Movie Review by Kaely Monahan

‘A Dog’s Purpose’: Sweet, fluffy, cute, but paradoxical

By Kaely Monahan


As far as feel-good movies go, A Dog’s Purpose will give some warm-fuzzies. The film revisits the what dog’s purpose is through several doggie reincarnations, starting with a stray puppy who is killed by the pound. Not exactly how one would think a film filled with cute dogs would start off. Not to mention, it’s unnecessary and is a lackluster beginning.


The story really begins when the dog, voiced by Josh Gad, is reincarnated into a golden retriever and is adopted by a boy and his family. Christened Bailey, or as he interprets it, “Bailey-Bailey-Bailey-Bailey,” we watch him grow up with his human and learn what it means to be a boy’s best friend.


But old age strikes and Bailey dies and is born again as a female German Shepherd whose human partner is perpetually sad. The cycle repeats with him reincarnating as a corgi who is a lonely black woman’s best friend and then finally as a neglected mutt who finds his way back to his original owner’s farm.


On the surface, this film is cute and sweet and plucks at your heart strings. However, it leaves more questions than answers. If dogs can reincarnate, does this mean they have innumerable lives? How do we know who is their first owner? How do they know who their first owner is? Is there a limit to doggie lives they can have? Perhaps we’re taking this too seriously, but it does beg the question—why does Bailey’s boy matter more than the lonely cop? Or the single woman? Are not their stories just as important?


The film wouldn’t have you think so as the majority of the film is spent on the front end with Bailey and the boy, and then it rushes to get through the other reincarnations. The pacing is so off that it’s hard to become fully invested in the film. Even this critic, who is prone to copious tears in animal movies, only cried a little and only once. I fully expected massive waterworks for this film.


Based off a book by the same name, A Dog’s Purpose had at its helm Swedish director Lasse Hallström. Apparently, he’s no stranger to working with animals as he’s directed My Life As a Dog and Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. Under Hallström’s guidance, this film proves to be cute and funny, despite the pacing issues. There’s plenty of adorable dog shenanigans to keep you smiling.


Josh Gad, beloved from Broadway to Disney, brings his irrepressible enthusiasm to his voice-over part. His performance will win you over and carry you through the story. He almost convinces you to ignore the plot holes. Almost.


Ultimately, A Dog’s Purpose is a lesson for humans rather than dogs. It reminds us to live in the now and be there for others, and don’t forget to live life to the fullest.      


Toni Erdmann - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

Huller is sensational in the comedic, resonant and soulful ‘Toni Erdmann’


Writer/director:  Maren Ade

Starring:  Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischek


“Toni Erdmann” – “To a father growing old, nothing is dearer than a daughter.” – Euripides


Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is a piano teacher.  With a rumpled wardrobe and a full mop of silver hair, this 60-something gives lessons in his home and plays the black and white keys for recitals at a local school.  During one particular number, the children mark themselves in zombie makeup and dedicate a song to an outgoing administrator.  The lyrics “here today, gone tomorrow” stand out during the piece, while Winfried – also caked in makeup – plays along. 


This small, early scene says so much about Winfried’s life in two ways.  First, not unlike playing the piano, he seemingly wishes to play all the time.  Play practical jokes.  Second, his beloved and only child - his daughter Ines (Sandra Huller) - works as a consultant, far away in Bucharest, Romania, while he lives a generally lonely existence in his German hometown.  


“Gone tomorrow” is his unfortunate present. 


Well, writer/director Maren Ade wraps an absolutely marvelous cinematic present about a trying relationship between a father and daughter.  With a truly breezy runtime of 2 hours and 42 minutes, she unlocks deep, soulful themes, surprises with unexpected and hilarious comedic turns and offers - hands down - the best foreign language film that I have seen over the last 13 months (in other words, including 2016). 


Winfried probably sees Ines once every 13 months, but most likely, these lapses of contact stretch even longer.  While they seem worlds apart from a physical distance, Winfried and Ines could not be more emotionally different.


Ade lays this groundwork rather quickly.  In addition, to Winfried’s disheveled appearance, she figuratively presents him like a defeated, aging comedian performing in near-empty theatres with stale material and lost, 30-year-old social references.  Of course, Winfried is not a professional comedian, but he does turn to his unique brand of comedy - odd practical jokes - in his daily life, as a way to (attempt to) connect, with just about everyone. 


He, however, almost constantly seems out of step. 


For instance, he attends a lunch party at his ex-wife’s house to see Ines but shows up at the front door with zombie makeup (from the previously-mentioned school concert).  He always carries a false set of “monster teeth” in his front pocket and pops them in for no apparent reason, other than to garner reactions and on occasion, falls into his alter-ego and tells stories about his fictitious life coaching business. 


I’m certain that millions – if not billions - of daughters need a global support group to heal the mortification from their fathers’ amateur attempts at embarrassing humor, but Ines has to be the planet’s number one case study.  


You see, while Winfried’s unique strain of arrested development embodies him, not an ounce of teenage frivolity passed along to her.  Ines is a workaholic, and her job pays her exorbitant amounts of money to concoct business strategies to slash payrolls.  It is a humorless reality, but as a skilled professional, she stays in beautiful high rise apartments with luxurious creature comforts.   Ade smartly contrasts Ines’ plush living arrangements with her antiseptic workspace. In one scene, Ines delivers a critical client presentation in the most lifeless, bland conference room this side of Initech from “Office Space” (1999).  We see that Ines carries heaps of responsibility for an important job, but her actual work and its surroundings are ultimately soulless.


On the other hand, Winfried’s unexpected trip to Bucharest tries to breathe soul into her world, but it is unwanted color.  She certainly needs some sort of levity, but not from her dad, as only embarrassed kids perceive.  Winfried badly misses her, but his behavior (mostly) ranges from a jokey pest to a ticking time bomb.  Apparently, he can simply appear anywhere, much to the shock and disapproval of Ines.  At the moment, her life is consumed with closing a big deal, and her dad’s repeated stumbles into her work ecosystem raise the tension during several key, mouth-agape moments.  Many times, Winfried’s includes his infamous monster teeth (and more) during the most inopportune times when working his clumsy anti-appeal.   


Throughout the story, Ade introduces sympathy towards each character.  It primarily rests with Ines, but it volleys between the two.  Neither Winfried or Ines are antagonists, but misunderstood protagonists, whose parent/child connection needs extensive calibration through measured doses of quality time. 


Ade’s rich script devotes heaps of resonant quality time with Ines and Winfried, and both Huller and Simonischek rise to the challenge and embrace their characters’ toxic chemistry, but Ade offers enlightening insight into both as individuals, especially Ines. While Huller explores Ines’ complicated DNA, she delivers an absolutely sensational performance. 


During the constant barrage of her dad’s gags, Ines holds herself together in public forums, but allows the movie audience to see her obvious frustration “beautifully” bubble to the surface with subtle looks, slightly uneasy gestures and swallows of anger.  No, Ines is not simply an overachieving robot, despite Winfried’s perceptions.  She wishes to stretch herself emotionally, but does not possess the tools to do so. 


This becomes especially clear during three highly, highly memorable scenes:  an intimate moment with her boyfriend, a party with her work colleagues and a particular musical number.  In one place, she does not convey her vulnerability enough, expresses way too much of herself during another and oddly and wonderfully combines both during the third scene. 


In addition to calibrating the connection to her dad, she needs to get in tune with herself.  Embracing a work/life balance is the right recipe, and perhaps rest and reflection are the initial ingredients.  Surprisingly, Ines does relax a bit when her dad is near, because she does allow herself to nap on a few occasions.  Perhaps these quiet pauses are the beginning of her new journey to happiness.  Perhaps not.  Either way, Winfried will want to support her.  He might carry his monster teeth in tow, but nothing is dearer to him than Ines and the constant hope of “here today, here tomorrow.”

(4/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.



Split - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie



Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, and Betty Buckley


M. Night Shyamalan is on a career upswing and “Split” is somewhat of a return to an earlier form for the director of the standout fright film “The Sixth Sense” and the superhero influenced “Unbreakable”. Mr. Shyamalan was, and still is, unfortunately type casted as a director known for surprising, shocking twist endings. This makes watching his films somewhat of a difficult and frustrating ordeal because of the need to overanalyze every aspect. Still, minus a few films, Mr. Shyamalan has crafted a career that indulges in the art of the mystery and the writer/director displays with “Split” that he can still build an effectively suspenseful film that keeps you wondering what’s going to happen next.


“Split” is about a man (James McAvoy) of many names, this is because of the many personalities that fight for the spotlight in his mind. The first personality we are introduced to is the cleanliness obsessed Dennis who invades a car filled with three teenage girls, drugs them, and kidnaps them. Dennis is just one of 23 other personalities, or “alters” as the film describes it. Once in captivity the three girls begin to witness the depths of this man’s personality disorder, and the dangerous designs in store for them.


“Split” doesn’t waste much time getting into the grit of the situation. It takes less than 10 minutes to place the three girls in captivity and introduce the antagonist to the viewer. Mr. Shyamalan establishes the situation then takes a step back to let the personalities of all the characters settle in. The director has always done a particularly great job of building characters and providing a very genuine and authentic feel to how they communicate with each other. The three girls are interesting and compose a good dynamic together. Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) is the outsider of the three girls; she is abnormally calm and particularly watchful when Dennis comes into the room to explain the situation of their captivity. Through a series of flashbacks we see young Casey on a hunting trip with her father and uncle and begin to realize how she connects with this situation. Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), the feisty and proactive one, and Marcia (Jessica Sula), the nervous and fearful one, are also provided with interesting moments that help with defining their characters. Together these three young women compose an interesting survivalist group.


The aspect of being a victim isn’t only reflected in the primary story but in the backstory of the main protagonist and antagonist. Trauma has changed these individuals, which makes their decisions an influence of their trauma. While Mr. Shyamalan utilizes these aspects to offer some interesting concepts to the composition of the characters, specifically within the multi-personalities of the James McAvoy’s character, there are few moments when it takes on an uglier perspective through the camera’s eye. These young women, who are utilized together to challenge the common tropes associated with women in genre films, are often displayed through the camera as mere objects in very little clothing. Together the group of women are stronger than when they are eventually separated, the films stalls a bit once this occurs.


James McAvoy elevates this film so much. His performance of numerous characters with distinctive qualities is exceptional; one particular scene is especially fantastic and displays the great range Mr. McAvoy possesses. Ms. Taylor-Joy is building quite a catalog of performances; here she is a great balance to Mr. McAvoy’s indulgence but is also provided with moments that display the strength she must own.


Misdirection is one of the most powerful tools in Mr. Shyamalan’s writing arsenal, and he utilizes it with great success in this film. It’s as if he is toying with assumptions and perceptions that have influenced films throughout his entire career. That’s probably why the film feels most in line with his early career work. What transpires over the course of “Split” is suspenseful even if the mystery falls apart as more aspects are introduced. Still, in the hands of Mr. Shyamalan you can't help but remain engaged until the final moment.


Monte’s Rating

3.25 out of 5.00

Paterson - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie



Director: Jim Jarmusch

Starring: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Rizwan Manji, Barry Shabaka Henley, Chasten Harmon, and William Jackson Harper


The late, great Leonard Cohen once said, “Poetry is the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash”.  Mr. Cohen is one of the great poets, both in music and literature. If there were a list of great poets in filmmaking, Jim Jarmsuch would be near the top of the list. Mr. Jarmusch’s films, like good poetry, have a distinct rhythm and flow that breaths life deeply into the themes and the atmosphere of every frame of the film, which makes everything undeniably unique, undeniably Jarmusch.


“Paterson” is a film about a working class poet and how the rigors and repetition of daily life influence the poetry that he creates. It’s also about the personal aspects of the creative process and the unique development of art. It’s about inspirations found in life, how the ordinary parts of life can become extraordinary with the right words. “Paterson” is a deceptively multifaceted film made by one of the founding fathers of indie cinema.


Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver working an ordinary nine-to-five job in Paterson, New Jersey. However, this working class man is also a poet, making the most of the small moments in his day to write in his poetry book. Everything about Paterson is simple; he has a daily routine that has become a rhythm to the many pieces of his day. Whether the journey to work, the drive on his transit line, or the nightly walk with his dog, these pieces of the daily puzzle paint a picture that becomes words of insightful poetry for the common man.


Mr. Jarmusch builds an interesting form through the commonplace routine in “Paterson”. We see Paterson as he wakes up every morning for an entire week; we are engaged in his routine from the very beginning. It’s throughout this process that Paterson’s words sprawl across the screen, taking space during the routine of his life we are introduced to the ramblings of the bus driver but also the design of the form and structure of poetry for a poet. It’s an interesting construction that Mr. Jarmusch develops. The influences that Paterson encounters board his bus, an assortment of ages, genders, and anecdotes about everything from past flings to the history of the city they live in. The influences also interrupt his walk to and from work, like a young girl who is also a poet, and invade his personal space, like bulldog named Marvin; Paterson sees poetry all around him. In a great scene, that is purely Jarmusch, hip-hop artist Method Man makes a cameo as a rapper trying to find the design of a verse. It’s a small but important scene in the composition of the film that displays the process of an artist, but also how poetry has evolved far beyond the sonnet or limerick into popular culture. 


The performances in the film are exceptional, Adam Driver is remarkable, providing a characterthat is nuanced and restrained. It showcases just how talented the actor is. Director Jim Jarmusch admires these kinds of characters, Paterson is person who looks deeply into the world, an admirer of everything around him and a vessel for every thing both good and bad. Golshifteh Farahani plays the muse to the poet, the influence of love that brings healthy doses of inspiration through chaotic patterns that adorn every plain space in their home (an entire article could be dedicated to how pattern influences poetry), indecision with her pursuits of being a cupcake baker on one day and the next day wanting to be a country singer, and change that is an emotional motivation for everything in her world. Ms. Farahani is very good throughout, balancing these numerous qualities in one performance effortlessly.


 “Paterson” is so much more than the simplistic premise about a week in the life of a bus driver in New Jersey. It’s a film about the development of the poet, the rhythm of daily life, and the influences that shape and mold the structure of art. “Paterson” displays the talented work of one of cinemas greatest visual poets.


Monte’s Rating

4.50 out of 5.00

Neruda - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

Larrain does not box ‘Neruda’ into a standard biopic


Director:  Pablo Larrain

Writer:  Guillermo Calderon

Starring:  Luis Gnecco, Gael Garcia Bernal and Mercedes Moran


“Neruda” – How do you make a film about a complex, iconic and larger-than-life figure and successfully illustrate him or her into an effective and satisfying two-hour film experience?  The short answer is: not very easily.  Director Pablo Larrain, however, has marvelously accomplished this feat twice within the last year.


Larrain, who is from Chile, delivered his first American movie in 2016, a biopic about the celebrated first lady Jackie Kennedy in “Jackie”.  His picture is not a standard bio in two ways.  First, Larrain does not cover decades of Mrs. Kennedy’s life.  He almost entirely focuses his time on the events immediately after JFK’s Nov. 1963 assassination.  Secondly, leading up to film’s release, Larrain said in an interview that he did not wish to simply tell what occurred during those dark and confusing days. Instead, he wanted to make a film that was more organic, and one that allows the audience to feel and share the emotion of those events with Jackie (Natalie Portman).  In some cases, Larrain and Portman interpret Jackie’s feelings, whether she is behind closed doors or out in the world: The White House, greater Washington D.C. and even Hyannis Port, MA, while in the throes of gut-wrenching mental anguish and uncertainty.


Her world. 


Pablo Neruda, an internationally famous, 20th Century poet, holds enormously high stature in his home country of Chile.  According to Larrain, Neruda embodied many layers, including his love of cooking, wine, women, travel, and literature, and he also held a position in public office as a communist senator.  He added that one could not “fit Neruda into a film (or) put him into any kind of box.”  Like “Jackie”, “Neruda” is not a classic biopic either.  Due to Neruda’s nature, rather than construct a movie about this poet/senator/idealist, Larrain’s picture “is more about (Neruda’s) world, (Neruda’s) cosmos.”  


His world.  


Surprisingly, “Neruda” reveals itself as a cat and mouse picture.  Furthermore, this chase film turns the tables on the predator vs. prey model by presenting a mouse who chases a cat, with the feline pulling the puppet strings.  Actually, in this case, the cat – who is the chasee - is a poet who writes the story. 


Set in 1948, the Chilean President calls for Neruda’s (Luis Gnecco) arrest due to his communist beliefs, condemnation of the government and wide-reaching (and therefore, threatening) influence over the people.  Neruda becomes a fugitive, and a nondescript police inspector, Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal), acts as a bounty hunter - without any promise of a future monetary reward – to bring him into custody. 


Larrain does not play it safe, as he shoots with a purposeful, arthouse style.  For example, he sometimes frames individual conversations in multiple locales.  Various exchanges between Neruda and another (perhaps a loyal supporter or the president) move between rooms or settings every few seconds.  One moment they are conversing in a ballroom and the next instant, they finish their exchange in a random, dark office.  There is motion here - via changing locations - even when two or more people stand or sit perfectly still.  Even when simple words are bartered back and forth, he paints a dynamic picture of their strong points of view through changing, moving environments.  


Neruda finds himself on the move as well.  Rather than eluding Peluchonneau by permanently hunkering down in a singular, remote corner of the country, he feels bored by that strategy.  It simply is not sporting, fair or poetic to simply hide “under the bed.”


He adds, “This has to be a wild hunt.” 


The actual hunt is wild, but not particularly nail-biting.  In comparison to 2007’s “No Country for Old Men”, the Coen Brothers build about two dozen scenes of massive suspense, but Larrain does not create that kind of film.  No, the audience does not witness Peluchonneau stalk Neruda with a captive bolt pistol or have his pit bull chase him down a speeding river.   On the other hand, one absolutely never knows where Neruda will travel next, and this unexpected and unknown sense of space keeps the audience constantly engaged.   Additionally, Peluchonneau sometimes feels like a distant echo spoken three years ago, but then suddenly appears within a few hundred yards of Neruda, or drastically and uncomfortably closer.


The lead protagonist and antagonist are obvious adversaries, but they both approach the hunt with gentlemanly honor, even though Neruda’s capture would lead to the amputation of his freedom.  They respect one another and rent acreage in each other’s heads, but from a literary perspective, Larrain plays with the idea that Neruda scribes this entire affair with a pen and paper and fosters Peluchonneau as his lead pawn, at his mercy. 


Some scenes do reveal the wide-reaching influence of Neruda’s words, but his actual writing becomes much more of a supporting player during this particularly nomadic time.  With his lengthy catalog of inspiring words, this feels like a missed opportunity.  Then again, that is not the movie’s point.  In this world, Peluchonneau symbolically becomes Neruda’s creation, and this cinematic phenomenon stirs larger themes, such as an individual’s purpose in the game of life.  In attempting to define Neruda’s world, Larrain undoubtedly won the year.  In addition to “Jackie”, he won it twice.

(3.5 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.


20th Century Women - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

‘20th Century Women’ carries us on a personal, nostalgic journey


Written/directed by: Mike Mills

Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, and Lucas Jade Zumann


“20th Century Women” – In 2011, writer/director Mike Mills offered a heartfelt, personal tale about his relationship with his father in “Beginners”, starring Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.  Mills’ parents were married for over 40 years, but when his mother died, his father – in his 70s – declared that he was gay the entire time that they were married. 


Mills, who is trained as a graphic designer, brought his unique filmmaking perspective to the movie, by creating a - sometimes - dreamlike experience.  The picture’s nonlinear timeline grants us continual peeks into their relationship, while Mills infuses analogies with history’s effect on romantic relationships, along with wonderfully quirky imagery and oodles of meaningful still photos.  After watching the film, one can truly capture a sense of his dad, which sinks in via cinematic osmosis.


Mills follows up his memorable portrait of his father by delivering “20th Century Women”, which is an equally memorable portrait of his mother, played by Annette Bening. 


Although Mills grew up with two sisters and his parents were married for over 40 years (as previously stated), in this film, Bening plays a single mom to a teenage boy named Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) in 1979 Santa Barbara, the time and place that Mills also grew up. 


Dorothea (Bening) is a non-conventional mom. 


She was raised during the Great Depression, and Jamie feels that his mom never gave up her communal spirit, in which neighbors and friends take care of one another.  She owns a large home - built in the very early 1900s - and has two tenants, a 20-something photographer, Abbie (Greta Gerwig), and a 40-something mechanic, William (Billy Crudup).  Abbie and William rent rooms and help fit the “it takes a village” bill, or at the very least, offer good company. 


Dorothea, however, puts her beliefs into well-defined action, by asking Jamie’s plutonic friend, Julie (Elle Fanning), and Abbie to help raise her son, because she feels – as a single mom - that she cannot be there all the time.  Hence, these “20th Century Women” collectively attempt to raise Jamie, an impressionable teen, during a few weeks or months, in their beautiful coastal town. 


In this somewhat sleepy place, the film does not toss a dynamic collection of highs and lows and experiences at Jamie.  Instead, it smartly plays within the boundaries of ordinary Santa Barbara events, like meals around the house, skateboard rides on winding roads, a talk on the beach, or trips to local clubs to catch small punk rock shows.   These occurrences simply present the setting, but the real movement is with the valuable interactions between the five richly textured characters.


Dorothea and Jamie’s relationship clearly is the focal point, but Abbie, Julie and William play vitally important supporting players.  Mills gives each character a 60-second, fully-formed biography and places these individual reflections throughout the picture to explain their journeys, which eventually lead to Dorothea’s community.  


He gives them context, not only individual definitions of their imperfect selves, but avenues for authentic exchanges with one another, scene after scene.  We immediately settle in and feel comfortable with these characters, even when topics include health scares, explicit sex stories or reasons for loneliness.  Accompanied by a spiritual, new age score, these stories evoke empathic feelings for this genuine, onscreen ensemble and promote introspection on the winding paths of our own lives. 


All the while, Dorothea’s devotion to Jamie is never questioned.  Even though their generation gap – in terms of actual years - is larger than most moms and sons, it does not stop her from wanting to comprehend his interests:  girls, his friends and the ‘70s punk scene. Seemingly, about one thousand touching moments reach out from the screen, including some ideas not really spoken out loud in films. 


At one point Dorothea frankly says to Abbie with an air of despair, “You get to see him (Jamie) out in the world as a person, and I never will.”


I imagine that many mothers feel this way about their sons, but I have not heard it spoken in that specific fashion.   Perhaps Mills’ words combined with Bening’s deep, earthy and open performance will earn her a Best Actress Oscar.  That would be a nice bookend to Plummer’s win, but “20th Century Women” is a beautiful tribute to Mills’ mom and a special film, with or without Oscar hardware.

(3.5/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.


Julieta - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

Almodovar’s ‘Julieta’ explores the mystery of family


Written/directed by:  Pedro Almodovar

Starring:  Emma Suarez, Adriana Ugarte, Daniel Grao, Dario Grandinetti, Inma Cuesta, Blanca Pares, and Michelle Jenner


“Julieta” – “A family is a mystery.” – Sharon Olds


The latest film from acclaimed director Pedro Almodovar offers up a contemporary mystery, although “Julieta” is not a whodunit.  There are no criminal acts or terribly nefarious moves found anywhere within its 99-minute runtime.  The picture, instead, examines a portrait of a family.  A family in crisis, and the mystery of how it fell apart, a “howdunit”, if you will. 


Almodovar exercises his will by crafting the picture on two different timelines, featuring Julieta in her mid 20s during the 1980s and in her 50s in present day.  In 2017, this educated cosmopolite (Emma Suarez) plans on leaving Madrid with her long time beau, Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti).  With her packing nearly finished and thoughts of a new life in her head, she randomly bumps into a woman from her past on a busy sidewalk at midday.   Suddenly, memories from a past life prevent her from advancing to the aforementioned next one, and Julieta decides to remain in Madrid in the last possible moments before her planned, permanent getaway. 


Heartbroken and left in the lurch, Lorenzo accepts the bad news like a grownup, but tells her, “I always knew there was something more important in your life that you never shared with me.”


Julieta then proceeds to share with the audience. 


Almodovar efficaciously establishes our curiosity around Julieta’s peculiar behavior and rewinds his cinematic clock 30 years to help illuminate the specific source of her sudden cold feet, with Adriana Ugarte portraying a younger Julieta.  Ugarte carries an uncanny likeness to Suarez, which makes one seriously wonder if Emma is playing Julieta in both time periods, as their performances (and physical appearances) feel perfectly in synch with the character. 


We see Julieta build a family with a supportive, kind soul, Xoan (Daniel Grao), but not every marriage falls perfectly into place, and in this case, legitimate disagreements can morph into transforming events.   


On the other hand, the larger conflict that Julieta faces is not due to crystal clear, decisive differences, but because of a cryptic dispute that truly is invisible to the naked eye and indistinguishable to every other organ that possesses the ability to sense.  Julieta may have taken a sudden, onetime misstep or perhaps constantly applied a slight offense and repeated it for a series of years, and over time, resentment slowly and unknowingly built.  Quite frankly, the reasons are unknown to Julieta, and when a struggle arises without warning or explanation, it can be a source of immense doubt and emotional turmoil. 


As a result of this singular divide, Julieta might as well be synonymous with pathos, but Almodovar also introduces a nonfamily-related, tragic event and her parents’ relationship as contributing factors to her personal despair.   They present an additional sense of guilt and some parental dysfunction which help fuel her current gloom, but they do not (appear to) completely gel with the story, and their connections feel deliberately subtle.


They do provide some additional cement to the foundation of the character, a woman tied to the past through a painful episode in which she still wonders what could have possibly been her own contribution.  Julieta may get her answer, but until then, her family – like many, many others - is a mystery. 

(3/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.


Bye Bye Man - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

Bye Bye Man


Director: Stacy Title

Starring: Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, Cressida Bonas, Michael Trucco, Jenna Kanell, Cleo King, Carrie-Anne Moss, Faye Dunaway, and Doug Jones


“Don’t think it. Don’t say it”. The creation of a monster for a horror film is difficult work these days, especially when you have classic villains like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers still standing tall in the horror hall of fame. Still, the genre needs these new scary creations. “Bye Bye Man”, directed by Stacy Title, tries very hard to make the next great movie monster but unfortunately never gets all the pieces put in the right place.


Elliot (Douglas Smith), Sasha (Cressida Bonas), and John (Lucien Laviscount) are great friends that are moving into an old house off campus from their college. The house is rundown and filled with all the scary trappings of a haunted house, long hallways, creepy basements, and crawlspace doors with creaky hinges. The group of friends stumble across a piece of furniture that holds a secret to an evil entity, one that is responsible with driving people insane once they speak its name.


The genre influences are abundant in “Bye Bye Man”. Shades of “Candyman” and “Beetlejuice” motivate the mythology of speaking the monsters name, also the characters seem pulled from 1990’s slasher films like “I Know What You Did Last Summer” or “Urban Legend”. Unfortunately all of these influential pieces don’t sum up to a good experience. While the first few minutes of the film show promise, mostly because actor Leigh Whannell (from the "Insidious" films) is given the opportunity to play a deranged and tormented man, the rest of film feels thrown together with a mash-up of scenes peaked with subpar jump scares.


One of the main problems with the film is that the Bye Bye Man isn’t given a proper introduction. The first big reveal of the monster happens without much impact, the Bye Bye Man just sort of shows up. Looking at a film that played a big influence here, “Candyman”, the reveal of the hook-handed villain who haunts a young woman happens only after the narrative builds the mythology up in a few specific ways, like establishing the connection with the antagonist with the world of the protagonist through environment and storytelling that promotes the legend. “Bye Bye Man” tries to connect in this way, for a small moment in the beginning it succeeds, but the film undermines itself with cheap scares that distract from the creepy undertones and poorly composed characters.


Even the talents of Carrie-Anne Moss and Faye Dunaway, yes that Faye Dunaway, aren’t enough to save this film. While there are few effective moments, a scene with an underutilized psychic is nicely composed even if its been done hundred of times before, “Bye Bye Man” never reaches the potential of the influences it tries hard to emulate.


Monte’s Rating

1.25 out of 5.0

Silence - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie



Director: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, and Ciarán Hinds


What does it mean to have faith? This question means something different to every person and is categorized and signified by numerous factors beyond the simple aspect of religious designation. Director Martin Scorsese has dealt with this concept of faith and the doubt that comes with it throughout his entire film career. From the conflict of Jesus in "The Last Temptation of Christ", the maturation of the Dalai Lama in "Kundun", the divisiveness of clashing principles in "Gangs of New York", faith played a prominent role in each of these films. You can even analyze further the non-verbal imagery that Mr. Scorsese displays in his films and find aspects of faith throughout; the introduction of convict with a cross tattooed on his shoulders in "Cape Fear" is an easy example.


Faith can even be found in the ambition of Mr. Scorsese as a filmmaker, who has waited decades to create the passion project "Silence" which is adapted from the 1966 novel by Shūsaku Endō. "Silence" is a film about how one chooses to have faith and the challenges that come with expressing your faith within the world. It's a film that beautifully and complicatedly displays this aspect in every frame, a film that in less experienced, talented hands would not have the evocative power that Mr. Scorsese floods into every moment of the film.


The premise is simplistic, it's a story about two Catholic missionaries, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver), who journey to Japan to find their mentor (Liam Neeson). The priests have been informed that their respected mentor committed apostasy, a renunciation of the faith. Christianity has been outlawed during this time in Japan, leading to violence and persecution against any person practicing the religion. Rodrigues and Garrpe, fearing for their lives and the lives of the people worshipping in secrecy, are left in a state of doubt and in a struggle of faith.



There is much to admire in the beautiful yet brutal “Silence”. The calmness of the camera during moments of crisis and conflict, the patience to ask questions of the viewer without easy explanation, the atmosphere that evokes a connection with natural sound rather than a big composition; it’s everything that you’d expect from an auteur like Mr. Scorsese. The meticulous nature of the filmmaking techniques are completely obvious, as are the odes to Japanese filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi; these moments craft some of the best images in film during 2016. While all these elements create an intoxicating film, there is so much more that is being proposed within the quiet narrative.



The narrative consistently reverts back to the aspect of faith and doubt. The question, "What does it mean to have faith?", is painstakingly analyzed throughout the film to lesser and greater degrees throughout. To call it complicated would be an understatement because the themes in this film hold such a specific, personal, and experiential quality with different people. Some may feel that at times Mr. Scorsese seems to hamper the purpose with an abundance of repetition while others may see this is a recurring link to the challenges that face people of faith. Again, it’s never completely defined one way or another. Mr. Scorsese offers scenes and images meant to create personal examination. It’s fascinating and infuriating at times.


The silence in the film reflects the role of God to the people that worship Him, call upon His name, and suffer tremendously for Him within this film, it's an examination of the concepts associated with having faith in something or someone. The silence also displays the struggle with doubt and belief, which is always present regardless of how faithful one may think they are. "Silence” is a complicated experience, but it’s a worthwhile experience for any cinephile or Martin Scorsese fan. It’s fascinating filmmaking from one of the best filmmakers of all time.


Monte’s Rating

4.00 out of 5.00


Things to Come - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

Huppert keeps us wondering about ‘Things to Come’


Written/directed by:  Mia Hansen-Love

Starring:  Isabelle Huppert, Andre Marcon, Edith Scob, and Roman Kolinka


“Things to Come” – “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon


“An object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”  - Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion


For Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert), a published, high school philosophy teacher, she keeps herself busy with eventful, meaningful plans throughout her days.  Not unlike many hardworking women in 2016, she needs (or feels the need) to wear multiple hats.  Nathalie invests her time with her students and her two grown children.  Additionally, she maintains a household with some help from her husband, Heinz (Andre Marcon), but also looks after her aging mom (Edith Scob), who demands constant attention.  Sprinkle in an occasional escape from Paris to their beautiful, coastal home, and Nathalie enjoys her full life.  As the late Mr. Lennon once said, however, life can suddenly “happen”. 


Writer/director Mia Hansen-Love just so happens to compose a rich and thoughtful deep-dive on a character who must cope with significant changes and attempts to embrace an uncertain future.  The things to come.


Before Hansen-Love’s picture moves towards things that will come, she introduces Nathalie’s current life during the first act.   Even though Nathalie carries honest and noble intentions, at closer examination, the film reveals that negative forces surround her, and she simply accepts the burden.  While wearing various “hats”, she focuses on her obligations, from her classroom to her publisher, her home, and her mother’s home, and although adverse forces are not always intentional, they exist.  This is probably why Nathalie is always in motion, not just figuratively in terms of her responsibilities, but literally as well, by always briskly walking within given spaces. 


Her constant movement becomes quite noticeable after about 10 minutes of screen time, and Hansen-Love and Huppert seem to convey that this helps appease – or has become a byproduct of - her general discomfort.  In fact, she may not even realize her discomfort.  Sometimes in the midst of our demanding lives, we may not rest to notice.


American audiences might some have fun noticing the differences between U.S. and French cultures.  Although Nathalie’s story can be told from anywhere, two distinct moments are wonderfully French.  They deal with relationships, but to reveal them here would be a terrible disservice.  I will only mention that they occur with Heinz and a random stranger and are plainly evident when comparing and contrasting with our more uptight mores on this side of the Atlantic.


As quickly as Nathalie moves within various spaces – while either throwing away a bouquet of unwanted flowers or scurrying to her mom’s house to appease the latest self-induced catastrophe -  it also becomes abundantly clear that she is not moving forward, but in circles. 


In a serendipitous way, life’s “unbalanced forces” nudge her forward by disrupting her well-oiled routines.  She must move forward, but more importantly, she needs to stop and take assessment first. 


Nathalie’s self-exploration and the hope for a positive conclusion keep us engaged, and the story works because of Hansen-Love’s rich script in capturing the small details of her lead character’s life and, of course, Huppert’s absorbing performance.  Huppert wraps herself in Nathalie’s challenges and develops a bond with the audience.  She is comical at times, but mostly Nathalie is the responsible wondermom who we had growing up or possibly knew through a neighborhood friend. 


We should be so lucky.


Talented, thoughtful, beautiful, and well-spoken, she only lacks confidence when her worlds no longer remain their consistent selves.   In this case, this wondermom needs help and a friend, because Newton’s First Law of Motion should not be taken lightly.

(3.5/4 stars)


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.