2019 Movie Reviews

Rated best ( + + + ) to worst ( – – – )

Latest Movie Review

“Maiden” (+ + +) is an outstanding documentary about Tracy Edwards, a 24-year-old cook on a sailing ship who aspired to enter the 1989 Whitbread Round the World sailing competition with the first-ever all-female crew. She had no problem putting together a crew of 10 first-rate female sailors. But getting a boat and financial backing were huge struggles, since sponsors feared that an all-female crew would die at sea and generate bad publicity. She and her crew reconditioned a used boat and received some financial backing from Jordan’s King Hussein. The sheer guts of these remarkable women is awe-inspiring. The movie is a reminder that everyone is capable of great things even if the stupid biases of others stand in their way.


“Capernaum” (+ + +) is an amazing movie about kids growing up in a ghetto in Beirut. The Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki depicts how they spend most of the day simply trying to survive. Their goal is to eventually die of natural rather than unnatural causes. Sadly, many do not do so, partly because they are exploited by other adults, including their parents—if their parents are still alive. None of the kids in the cast is a professional actor, but their performances are compelling because they are living lives like those depicted in the film. The lead actor is only 12 years old. He plays his part with a remarkable moral compass that puts the adults in the movie to shame. While the film has a story line, it feels like a gritty documentary.

“Free Solo” (+ + +) is an edge-of-your-seat documentary about Alex Honnold, a daredevil rock climber. The film won Best Documentary Feature at the 91st Academy Awards. Alex climbs sheer precipices around the world without any ropes, which is called “free solo.” He views himself as a warrior who must go into a fight to win or accept the fact that he will die. Several of his peers have died in recent years when they lost their footing. The movie shows Alex preparing to achieve his lifelong dream, climbing the 3,000-foot El Capitan In Yosemite National Park. There’s even a touching love story along the way, as Alex’s girlfriend remains amazingly understanding of Alex’s need to achieve perfection even though the alternative is certain death. Sometimes, my job raises the same stark choices, though I always wear a parachute just in case.

“The Highwaymen” (+) is a Netflix production based on the story of a pair of Texas Rangers who came out of retirement to hunt down the notorious Bonnie and Clyde and riddled the outlaws with bullets. Bonnie and Clyde were national celebrities during the early 1930s because they robbed banks, which were despised for foreclosing on homes during the Great Depression. But they also killed cops and innocent civilians at small stores and gasoline stations. The aged lawmen, played by Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson, outsmart the FBI agents assigned to the case with all of their latest technologies, including wiretaps and aerial surveillance. Their story may hold a lesson for us today: Don’t underestimate common sense—it should continue to give human intelligence an edge over artificial intelligence.

“Hotel Mumbai” (+ +) is a gut-wrenching movie based on the terror attack by Jihadists from Pakistan on various sights in Mumbai, India during 2008. They carried out a series of 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days across Mumbai. The focus is on the chilling and merciless rampage that took place during the siege of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Once again, as in “The Invisibles,” we can see how evil can bring out the best in the victims of such monsters. In this case, many of the hotel’s staff, who could have escaped, chose to stay to protect the hotel’s guests from the terrorists. Many of them died doing so.

“Maiden” (+ + +) is an outstanding documentary about Tracy Edwards, a 24-year-old cook on a sailing ship who aspired to enter the 1989 Whitbread Round the World sailing competition with the first-ever all-female crew. She had no problem putting together a crew of 10 first-rate female sailors. But getting a boat and financial backing were huge struggles, since sponsors feared that an all-female crew would die at sea and generate bad publicity. She and her crew reconditioned a used boat and received some financial backing from Jordan’s King Hussein. The sheer guts of these remarkable women is awe-inspiring. The movie is a reminder that everyone is capable of great things even if the stupid biases of others stand in their way.

“Mary Queen of Scots” (+) has a great cast working with a disappointing script that is rife with historical inaccuracies. Top-notch performances are delivered by Saoirse Ronan as Mary Stuart and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I. There’s lots of bad blood in the relationship of these two royal sisters, especially since Mary was a Catholic and Elizabeth was a Protestant. The movie does remind us that as awfully uncivil as our political divisions have become in the US today, it was often much worse in the past when monarchs reigned supreme. There was constant intrigue, deception, and backstabbing both in and among their courts. It hasn’t gotten that bad yet in our nation’s capital. Then again, as George Santayana observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

“On the Basis of Sex” (+ +) is an interesting, if formulaic, biopic about the life and times of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The film stars Felicity Jones in the title role of a young woman who excelled at Harvard Law School, but couldn’t find a job at a law firm. Instead, she accepted a teaching position at Rutgers. However, she teamed up with her husband, a prominent tax attorney, to bring a precedent-breaking case before the US Court of Appeals. They won their case, overturning a century of gender discrimination. The movie reminds us of the importance of the rule of law in America. When the rules become antiquated and even oppressive, it’s good to be reminded that there is a very civil legal process for adapting them to conform to our society’s changing needs. It may be a slow process, but it beats the alternatives of radical change.

“Rocketman” (+ +) is a biopic about the early career of Elton John. His meteoric rise occurred in his 20s thanks to his amazing collaboration with Bernie Taupin, who wrote the lyrics that Elton put to music. As he rocketed to international super-rock-stardom, he did what many superstars have done, i.e., turn to drugs and drink to dull the pain of loneliness. In Elton’s case, he felt that his mom and dad didn’t love him. Eventually, he entered rehab, found his true life partner, adopted two boys, and lived happily ever after. The movie juxtaposes Elton’s great hits in a way that relates them to what was happening in his life. It’s all about the fantastic music.

“Serenity” (+) is a controversial movie. Some reviewers loved it, while others hated it. I thought it was interesting. The first hour is slow and quirky. But then it starts to make sense, though it remains somewhat contrived. The fun is seeing how early on you can figure out the premise of the movie. On a remote island, Matthew McConaughey plays a fishing boat captain who is obsessed with catching a big fish he calls “Justice.” His ex-wife, played by Anne Hathaway, tracks him down over the Internet and begs him to kill her current abusive husband for the sake of their son, who is a computer geek. The movie is reminiscent of “Body Heat,” “Moby Dick,” “Tron,” and “Key Largo” (with Bogart and Bacall).

“Stan & Ollie” (+ +) is a very sweet movie about two sweet comedians, Laurel & Hardy, played with great affection by Steve Coogan and John Reilly. They remind us of bygone days when people laughed at jokes, slapstick, and skits that weren’t political, crass, and vulgar. They were very close friends, which occasionally led to disappointments and inevitable reconciliation. We need more of their simple humor in our lives and close friendships even with people with different political views.

“The Invisibles” (+ + +) is a docudrama about four Jewish people who managed to survive in Berlin during World War II by hiding in plain sight. They tell their stories, which are portrayed by actors in the film. While Goebbels infamously declared Berlin “free of Jews” in 1943, more than 1,500 of them managed to survive in the Nazi capital. They were helped by decent German citizens, who have earned a place as “The Righteous Among the Nations,” honored by Israel’s Yad Vashem: The World Holocaust Remembrance Center. The Righteous are non-Jews who took great risks to save Jews during the Holocaust. The movie weaves the accounts of the survivors and their protectors very effectively, reminding us that the human spirit has an amazing capability to resist and overcome evil.

“The Mustang” (+ +) is about Roman Coleman, a tough inmate in a Nevada prison. He participates in a rehabilitation program that trains wild horses so they can be auctioned off to farmers and the border patrol rather than put to death. The spirited mustang Roman has been assigned seems to do a better job of taming Roman than Roman does of taming the horse. I have to admit that in movies with animals pitted against humans, I more often than not root for the animals. This is probably my reaction to the increasing incivility in human society.

“They Shall Not Grow Old” (+ + +) is a truly remarkable documentary about World War I directed by Peter Jackson. He and his team transformed 100 hours of mostly low-quality black-and-while footage of the war into a crisp color film that documents the horror of trench warfare. The carnage is graphic. The dedication of the soldiers, who were mostly in their teens, to one another is inspiring. That’s especially in the face of the horrendous conditions of living and dying in the trenches. The film is about the Western Front and is narrated by men who fought there. After the credits, Jackson spends about 30 minutes discussing how his film was produced and the choices that were made. He has enough material left for several more documentaries about the war effort. The movie should be required seeing for all of us.

“Tolkien” (+ +) is a biopic about the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He had a difficult childhood. His father died when he was young, leaving him, his younger brother, and mother penniless and dependent on the charity of their local pastor. When his mother died at an early age, the pastor arranged for room, board, and education for the Tolkien brothers. J.R.R. was very bright and was accepted at Oxford, but had to interrupt his studies to fight in the trenches of WWI. The products of his remarkable imagination undoubtedly were inspired by some of his adversities. The human spirit often excels the most when confronted with the most challenging of circumstances.

“Vice” (-) is another historical docudrama that is rife with inaccuracies, which reduces its credibility. The movie is about the political life of Dick Cheney, who served as vice president under George W. Bush. The movie’s unflinching theme is that Cheney was power hungry and was directly responsible for the war in Iraq, waterboarding, global warming, and everything bad that has happened to us since 9/11. At the end of the movie, Cheney’s character, played eerily well by Christian Bale, addresses the movie’s audience directly. He snarls and growls that he does not care how he is portrayed because he made the country safe. One person stands out as able to have stood up to Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell. He gave a speech at the UN on February 5, 2003 to drum up support for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. It was based on flimsy intelligence, and Powell knew it. In September 2005, Powell was asked about the speech during an interview with Barbara Walters and responded that it was a “blot” on his record. Imagine if he had refused to support the war.

“Yesterday” (+ +) is a feel-good movie about The Beatles. The rock group doesn’t exist in the movie. After a brief global power outage, only one person ever heard of The Beatles, and he happens to be a wannabe rock singer. He starts singing their catchy tunes (like “Hey Dude”) to bigger and bigger audiences on his way to becoming a global phenom with the help of Ed Sheeran. It’s nice to recall a time when we all enjoyed singing the same Beatles songs together and feeling good about one another. Actually, even their happy lyrics didn’t do much to bring us quarrelsome lot together during the 1960s and 1970s, which were just as divisive as current times in many ways. By the way, Coke doesn’t exist in the movie either, so no one heard of “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony).”