Gloria Bell

First Hit: I thought the concept was interesting, but it fell a little flat on the screen.

This story is about a middle age woman who has two grown kids, has been divorced for 12 years, and her flirtation with another romance.

Gloria (Julianne Moore) works for an insurance firm as an adjuster. Her favorite pastime is dancing at a local club. The club she goes to is filled with people her age (40 – 60) who are also looking for a good time and possibly a hook-up. Gloria drinks and dances her evenings away. She meets nice gentlemen, but there isn’t any spark and it doesn’t seem to matter.

I never got the feeling that she wanted to get involved in a relationship, and to fill the spaces of time in her life she tries to get more involved in her grown children’s lives. They are slightly open to her intrusions.

Anne (Caren Pistorius), her daughter is a yoga teacher who is engaged to a big wave surfer. She loves her mom, but she’s a young woman who wants to create distance from her mom, despite loving her, to dive into her own life. Her son Jeremy (Michael Cera), is raising his daughter alone as his wife is off “finding herself.” Gloria tries to be helpful and Jeremy tells her to back off because wants to show her that he’s got everything covered, his way.

One night, while dancing, Gloria meets Arnold (John Turturro). He’s recently divorced and wants to be in a relationship. In fact, his hunger for a relationship is almost too telegraphed.

Gloria and Arnold hit it off. However, the sticking point is that his daughters and his ex-wife keep calling him because they are dependent on him for everything. Although his daughters are grown, he’s expected to pay for everything and solve every problem. The phone ringing in each scene with him is a moment in abject disgust and suffering for him, Gloria and the audience.

Despite their powerful physical intimacy, the calls, his insecurity around her family, and his dependence on being a savior for his girls, give this film it’s saddest and troubling moments.

My favorite scene in the film is when Gloria shoots paintballs at Arnold and his house. A very freeing moment for Gloria.

Moore is very good at portraying what she wants, her vulnerabilities, and what makes her happy. One of those things that makes her happy is singing in the car with complete abandon. These moments are priceless if you are a car singer. Pistorius is very good as the daughter that wants to follow her own dream and not have to live up to mom’s expectations. Cera, likewise, is strong in his portrayal of living up to the father he wants to be and do it his way. Turturro is excellent as the guilt and caretaker man who is caught between his love for Gloria and providing for his family’s needs. Brad Garrett is good as Gloria’s ex-husband. Alison Johnson Boher and Sebastian Lelio wrote a tepid screenplay that had more possibilities. However, it is a difficult subject to film. Lelio directed this film and many of the scenes were captured nicely.

Overall: Although at times tedious there are moments of laughter.

Apollo 11

First Hit: Glorious masterpiece on this milestone achievement by human beings.

In July of 1969, I was preparing to head off, for the first time, to Vietnam. I was on a short leave after finishing my training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Right after the astronauts landed on the moon, walked on it, and returned home, I got on a plane to fight in a war. As stunned as I was to be in a war, I can remember sitting on sandbags looking at the moon and merely wondering in total awe what that must have been like, to be one of those astronauts.

That is what this film does, it emotes the feeling of what it was like. There is no narration of this story, but the sublime editing of archival footage gives the audience the full breadth of the story of Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, and flight leader Neil Armstrong’s trip from earth to the moon and back again. Any narration would have only lessened its impact.

The opening scene with the three-hundred-foot-tall Apollo rocket being moved to the launch pad is a shot that ultimately delivers the manifestation of this dream. I was mesmerized by the size of this vehicle and its tracks. Other early shots of the crowds of people aligning Cape Canaveral to witness the launch were fabulous. The editor caught all types of people who were gathered here to see history.

Other early shots of watching the looks on the astronaut’s faces as they suited up — committed to their mission, perfect. The launch room in Florida, command center in Houston, and of course view of both the earth and moon from inside the space capsule, inspiring.

The thousands of people, of which the audience sees just a few hundred, who made this mission possible are not seen, but are equally and powerfully felt while seeing all of the different types of equipment that was built to make this happen.

The readouts of the astronaut’s heartbeats during pre-launch, launch and re-entry, tells the whole story of how well prepared and trained these unique men were.

As the film moves through this fantastic journey, we are treated to the live broadcasts of Walter Cronkite, Johnny Carson, and, VP at the time, Lyndon Johnson. We hear then President Nixon share his congratulatory message, but one of the crowning moments of this film was watching and listening President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 speech where he challenges the US to put a man on the moon and bring him back in this decade. The country did just that.

Todd Douglas Miller created one of the best documentary films of a single event that I’ve ever seen.

Overall: This is a must-see film, and it has to be on the biggest screen you can see it on.

The Wedding Guest

First Hit: This is a good dark thriller, but it was the sites where this film was shot, New Delhi, Jaipur, Goa and other cities and towns in India and Pakistan, that made me smile.

The main character Jay (Dev Patel) is introduced while he systematically packs a suitcase and then heads to London Heathrow airport. We know nothing about him, except he looks very stern and on a mission. What we do know is that he’s packing his suitcase he packs several passports. This creates suspicion.

Where is he going? Why does he have multiple passports?

Landing in New Delhi seems to fit and makes it easy to buy into the trip because the actor is Indian. But we soon learn he only speaks English, he’s not from India. Because many Indians speak English, this isn’t an issue. His first order of business is to rent a car, and tells the agent he’ll return it in two weeks.

He spends a short period in New Delhi, but then heads north to Pakistan. Crossing the border, he rents another car and eventually finds a small town where he spies a young lady getting out of a Range Rover.

Adding to the mystery, he then buys two handguns and duct tape. When he is looking at the guns, he seems knowledgeable, and that’s he’s experienced with handguns. In case the audience didn’t know by his demeanor when he was leaving London, we understand now, this isn’t a happy wedding movie. Practicing his shooting skills, we note that he’s serious about what he is about to do and that is, steal the bride.

The bride to be, Samira (Radhika Apte), is marrying someone we never meet. All we know is that Jay seems intent on abducting Samira.

We learn that he’s under contract to do this for someone he’s never met, a wealthy Londoner, played by Jim Sarbh.

Later we find out that Samira and Jim were lovers before her being required to marry a Pakistani man by her family. We think, and it is confirmed later, she hates the idea of marrying this man, so when Jay steals into her room at the groom’s home, gags and handcuffs her, and takes her, she goes along with it.

That all happens in the first half of the film. The remaining half is about how do Jay and Samira find their way back to London? This becomes an issue because, during their escape from the compound, Jay has to kill a guard.

 The unusual depth in this film is that the audience never gets any picture about who Jay is and why he’s doing this. Yes, it seems for the money, but what drove him to do this kind of work – we never know. We do learn more about Samira because she tells Jay how she ended up in Pakistan ready to marry a man she didn’t know or like. And Jim is someone we only know as wanting Samira back in his life; had enough money to hire Jay to do this, and in the end, wasn’t really committed to Samira. Both Samira and Jay are somewhat lost souls finding their way through life, which makes their chemistry work really well.

However, having spent months traveling in India carrying my backpack, I loved the scenes in the streets of Delhi, Jaipur, and on the trains and busses. I intensely experienced all of them, and not only did the director get it right, but it also brought up fond memories of my travels.

Patel was strangely excellent in this role. I liked that he took this role which is generally out of character from his previous film characters. He did an excellent job of making me buy into his purpose and intent. Apte was divine as Samira. She came across as deeply mischievous, beguiling, secretive, and having her own agenda. As she said about her family’s description of her, she is a little “crazy.” Sarbh was strong as the wealthy playboy type guy who was willing to pay for his wish to get Samira back, but there was another agenda that made it compelling in a different way. Michael Winterbottom wrote a deviously dark script and his adept view of how to integrate India was outstanding.

Overall: I really enjoyed this film in both story and visual scenes.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

First Hit: Although slow and methodical, the story is worth telling and watching.

This film is based on a true story of a young boy, in Malawi with a thirst for learning, who figures out how to irrigate crops in their dry season.

Trywell and Agnes Kamkwamba (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Aissa Maiga respectively) are husband and wife farmers trying to survive through the growing monsoons and drought cycles of their African nation. The storms are getting worse at washing the land away because trees are being harvested for money which is affecting how the rain affects the area. It is also making the dry seasons worse because with the trees gone, the wind is blowing the topsoil away.

Without irrigation and these wild weather swings in the effects are creating smaller annual harvests. The village is slowly starving to death.

The Kamkwamba’s have three children. The two oldest, Annie and William (Lily Banda and Maxwell Simba respectively), are smart. Being a woman, in a patriarchal society, Annie is not able to continue her education. William is being sent to high school, but because of the poor harvests, the family cannot continue to pay for his education and gets expelled. He returns to the fields to work alongside his father.

However, William’s curious nature, as we witness by watching him fix radios, he continues to explore and learn about electricity and battery power. He studies the physical mechanics of using wind to drive voltage. His thirst for learning and helping the community is held back by his inability to go to school and requirement to assist in the fields.

What the story also highlights along the way, is the corruption and dictatorship aim of the government. How this village lives on the edge of starvation because of government policies and people willing to sell their land for tree harvesting.

When we witness the villagers attempting to buy food from the government, we see the depth of their suffering. People rob the Kamkwamba’s of their stored food. We watch as corruption and control rear its ugly head when the Prime Minister visits the village and dislikes what the village chief says during a speech.

The slowness of the film does reflect the way life moves in this African village. The audience has to be patient as this film unfolds.

When William figures out, he can make a windmill for creating electricity to activate a water pump that could pump water from a well for irrigating crops, he’s excited. Then the battle becomes how he can convince, the village and mostly his father to trust him.

The scenes are expertly filmed and beautifully shot. They provided a real sense of despair and the dilemma facing the family. Additionally, I loved the use of stilt dancers who come to honor someone’s death.

Ejiofor was excellent as the father raising two smart children and trying his best to do what is right for the family and village. He learns to let go and trust his family. Maiga was fantastic as the family’s wife and mother. Her intelligence and strength are the underlying power of the film. Simba was sublime as William. His dance between being curious and smart while also maintaining his responsibility to work the fields with his father was brilliant. Banda was beautiful as William’s sister. Her ability to be smart but also meet the expectations of the family was great. When she sacrificed her independence to assist the family and help William obtain a “Dynamo” was both sad and joyful. Ejiofor both wrote the screenplay and directed this film as well. As I mentioned one has to be ready for the slow pacing, but for me, it was worth it.

Overall: This was an excellent adaptation of a true story, and during the credits, the audience gets a glimpse of this amazing person.

Greta

First Hit: The story portrayed here was poorly constructed and did not keep me engaged.

The plot is about a Greta (Isabelle Huppert), an older lonely woman who plays the piano looking for companionship. To find it, she leaves purses with a few objects in them on the New York Subway, one being her ID. Her hopes are someone will notice and return the handbags.

We are introduced to Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young waitress who has recently lost her mother to cancer. She’s living with her best friend Erica Penn (Maika Monroe). While coming home one evening, Francis found a purse on the subway. Finding the ID, Frances finds Greta’s home and returns the handbag.

They strike up a friendship based on that they’ve lost loved ones; Greta her husband and Frances, her mother. However, it becomes obsessive on Greta’s part, and the creepiness begins after their first meeting. Greta’s weirdness of Frances’ time and attention hits a high mark when Frances finds additional purses, like the one she returned. The gig is up.

Figuring out that Greta does this to entrap young women, she also realizes that these women, including her, are replacements for her daughter whom Greta says is living in France. But is she?

As the story unfolds, Greta’s behavior becomes more obsessive and creepy. Finally, she drugs Frances and locks her up.

The story continues to unfold from here and how it ends is only slightly surprising.

The best part of the film was the quality of the cinematography and sets. Greta’s home had a beautiful quality, including its own creepiness. The apartment where Frances and Erica lived was perfectly modern for two young women. However, the story and film felt pushed through and forced.

Huppert was, at times, excellent in her expressions, but overdone as the story unfolded. Moretz was good, she carried the naivety of her role well enough, but again it was the story and direction that made all of it not work. Monroe was good as the roommate, and her final scenes were excellent. However, during the movie the story just guided her to be more flighty than needed. Ray Wright and Neil Jordan wrote a mixed-up script that created an overemphasis on the creepiness of the character. Jordan didn’t help matters with the direction because the creepiness was overdone.

Overall: This story didn’t quite work.