2020 Movie Reviews

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

Latest Movie Review

“The Last Narc” (+ + +) is a TV mini-series documentary about the kidnapping, torture, and murder of “Kiki” Camarena, an agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency. The blood-chilling story is told by Hector Berrellez, a DEA investigator assigned to determine who committed the crime in Mexico. Three of his informants, who were witnesses to the kidnapping, are interviewed. Drug money has a powerfully corrupting influence on everyone involved in the enterprise including not only the narcos but also the narcs, the police, and many politicians on both sides of the southern border of the US. Like Hamlet’s epiphany about who killed his father, Hector uncovers the unbearable truth about what really happened to Kiki.


“1917” (+ +) received the Best Picture award during the Golden Globe Awards held on 1/5/20. It was well deserved. Directed, co-written, and produced by Sam Mendes, the film is about two young British soldiers during World War I who were ordered to deliver a message deep in enemy territory to save 1,600 of their compatriots from an ambush by German forces. The acting is excellent, and the cinematography is outstanding, with very long camera shots creating the impression of one continuous take. The depiction of war’s horrors was also exceptional. Even more exceptional was the 2018 documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old,” directed and produced by Peter Jackson. That film was created using original WWI footage that had been digitally restored. The agony of war, particularly trench warfare, was remarkably graphic.

“Bombshell” (+) is a docudrama based on the accounts of several women at Fox News who exposed CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. The movie stars include Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie playing reporters Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson, and Kayla Pospisil. John Lithgow plays Ailes, who was a creative genius and a slime ball. A far better account of this sordid affair along with a fascinating examination of Ailes’ career at Fox News is Showtime’s seven-part series, “The Loudest Voice.” Russell Crowe is amazingly good at portraying Ailes. The series is based on Gabriel Sherman’s 2014 book, The Loudest Voice in the Room, and depicts the pivotal years in the rise and fall of Ailes. It covers when media mogul Rupert Murdoch hired him to launch the Fox News Channel and when Ailes took charge on the morning of 9/11 and promoted Bush’s post-9/11 policies. Also covered in detail is the sexual harassment case brought against Ailes by Gretchen Carlson (played by Naomi Watts), who filed a lawsuit that led to his downfall.

“Chernobyl” (+ + +) is five-part 2019 HBO docudrama about the nuclear power plant disaster of April 1986 and the cleanup efforts that followed in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic of the Soviet Union. In effect, the power plant turned into a nuclear bomb when the plant’s managers were conducting a badly botched safety test. The fail-safe mechanisms obviously failed. The Soviet government’s attempts to cover up the cause of the meltdown might have caused an even bigger disaster were it not for the courage of the managers and the bravery of the workers assigned to clean up the horribly dangerous mess.

“Da 5 Bloods” (+ +) is a Spike Lee movie about four black US Army veterans who fought in the Vietnam War together. Several decades later, they return to Vietnam to find, recover, and bury their comrade in arms, who died in a firefight. In addition, they hope to find a pile of gold bars that they had stashed in the jungle. The film includes lots of real-life footage of the turmoil and racial unrest at home during the war. Needless to say, the movie is especially relevant today as racial tensions in the US have intensified. Lee is a great director who pays homage to “Apocalypse Now” in his film as well as to the quirky style of director Quentin Tarantino.

“Driveways” (+ +) is a bittersweet movie about an Asian-American single mom who moves with her nine-year-old son into a suburban house she inherited from her older sister, who passed away. The next-door neighbor is an elderly man, who is a lonely widower and Korean War vet. While the initial interaction of the new neighbors is tense, they quickly come to be friends. There really isn’t much of a plot in the movie. It’s a quiet and slow-paced film that is about the bitter and the sweet moments in life. Brian Dennehy provides his usual first-class acting performance. Sadly, he passed away a few months after the movie was made.

“Grant” (+ + +) is a three-part docudrama on the History Channel. It provides great insights, not only into the life of Ulysses S. Grant but also into the Civil War and the post-war Reconstruction Era. Grant was the general who won the war for Abraham Lincoln by defeating the forces of General Robert E. Lee, who surrendered the Confederate army to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865. From 1861 to 1865, it is estimated that 620,000-750,000 soldiers died along with an undetermined number of civilians. Lincoln was assassinated five days after the end of the war. Vice President Andrew Johnson succeeded Lincoln as president until March 4, 1869. Then Grant was elected President and served for two terms through March 4, 1877. Sadly, the legacy of Grant’s turbulent era in many ways haunts Americans to this very day.

“Greyhound” (+ +)is a film written by and starring Tom Hanks. It pays homage to the brave Allied sailors who manned the naval convoys that crossed the North Atlantic during WW II with American supplies for the war effort in Europe. They were relentlessly attacked by Nazi U-boats, and were particularly vulnerable in the “Black Pit,” where the convoys couldn’t be protected with aerial support. The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest continuous military campaign in the war, running from September 1939 to the defeat of Germany in May 1945. For a few months in 1941, British codebreakers at Bletchley Park led by Alan Turing were able to rout convoys around the U-boats.

“Irresistible” (+) is a comedy about our dysfunctional political system. It’s remarkably low key given that Jon Stewart wrote and directed it, and given how loud and angry partisan discourse has become in our country. Steve Carell plays the Democrats’ top strategist, Gary Zimmer. After Gary sees a video of Jack Hastings—a farmer who’s also a retired Marine Colonel—standing up for the rights of his town’s undocumented workers, he pushes Jack to run for mayor of his small rural town in Wisconsin. Gary believes he has found the perfect candidate to win back the Heartland for his party. The Republicans send their own top campaign manager. The funniest part of the movie is a campaign ad that shows the ex-Marine firing a heavy machine-gun into a lake, scowling into the camera and saying, “My name is Jack Hastings, and I endorse this message.” The movie is a bit slow and dull most of the time, but still worth watching all the way through to the happy ending if you have nothing better to do. At least it will distract you from watching the partisan free-for-all on the news.

“Jojo Rabbit” (+) is about a 10-year-old boy who aspires to be a member of the Hitler youth movement. It’s a quirky movie that takes a look at World War II through the eyes of a child. Jojo quickly recognizes that there is a big difference between the propaganda that is all around him and the facts on the ground, as he sees them. It reminds us that propaganda (a.k.a. fake news) isn’t a recent development. It’s been around as long as tyrants have been shoving their version of the facts into our collective consciousness. What’s different now is that social media and artificial intelligence provide autocratically inclined people with more tools to shovel their lies more efficiently. I’ll leave it to you to decide who those malevolent people are today.

“Little Women” (+) is the seventh film adaption of the 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott. It is a semi-autobiographical story of four sisters starring Saoirse Ronan as Jo, Emma Watson as Meg, Florence Pugh as Amy, and Eliza Scanlen as Beth. It follows their passage from childhood to womanhood. Like Alcott, Jo is a writer and writes a novel (titled “Little Women,” of course) about how she and her sisters developed their own individual personalities and pursued their goals persistently despite challenges posed by social conventions. The story is about the strength that a close-knit family can provide children to help them flourish and succeed in life as happy young adults. In other words, it’s a classic American tale about the importance of the family as a base for healthy individualism, i.e., the freedom to pursue one’s own path in life.

“Miss Sloane” (+) is a 2016 thriller starring Jessica Chastain, who plays a take-no-prisoners lobbyist in Washington, DC. It’s another movie about how the game is played in the “swamp.” Lobbyists have got to be engaged in the world’s second most unethical profession, after politicians. I’ve often observed that the difference between entrepreneurial capitalism and crony capitalism is that the latter system is corrupted by lobbyists. Big Business hires them to deal with Big Government. The deal-making is a win-win for both of them but a lose-lose for the rest of us

“Resistance” (+ +) is about the WWII exploits of Marcel Marceau, the famous French actor and mime. As a youth, he lived in hiding and worked with the French Jewish resistance network in Vichy, France during most of the war. They rescued thousands of children and adults during the Holocaust in France, mostly from the murderous Klaus Barbie, an SS and Gestapo Nazi known as “the Butcher of Lyon.” Marceau gives his first major performance to 3,000 troops after the liberation of Paris in August 1944. The story is remarkable. The acting by Jesse Eisenberg in the lead role is not so remarkable. (See our movie reviews since 2005.)

“Richard Jewell” (+ +) is a compelling movie based on a true story about Richard Jewell, a security guard who saved lots of lives during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta when he detected a bomb planted in an abandoned backpack. Initially, he was celebrated as a hero by the press. However, the FBI agents on the case concluded that he fit the profile of a white, male, lone bomber seeking fame. Their investigation was leaked to the press, which had a field day denouncing him as a villain rather than a hero. The movie, directed by Clint Eastwood, concluded that Jewell was set up by the two most powerful organizations in America, i.e., the government and the media. It’s a cautionary tale, for sure, and highly relevant to the ongoing shenanigans of both organizations today.

“The Invisible Man” (+) is a film about an invisible man who mercilessly harasses his ex-girlfriend. She can’t get a restraining order because he is presumed to be dead, and he is invisible. The movie’s plot is obviously contrived. However, Elizabeth Moss, who plays the girlfriend, does an admirable job of conveying the fear she feels when she is repeatedly tormented by her invisible ex. We can all empathize with her as an invisible virus spreads fear around the world.

“The King of Staten Island” (+ +) is a semi-biographical film starring Pete Davidson as a 24-year-old man-child who was traumatized by the death of his firefighter dad when he was younger. He certainly has lots of psychological issues. His mother throws him out of her house when he has a tantrum over her starting to date a firefighter. He certainly is a royal pain for her, his sister, and his mother’s boyfriend. Nevertheless, family and love triumph over his dysfunctions. So it’s sort of a heart-warming tale.

“The Last Narc” (+ + +) is a TV mini-series documentary about the kidnapping, torture, and murder of “Kiki” Camarena, an agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency. The blood-chilling story is told by Hector Berrellez, a DEA investigator assigned to determine who committed the crime in Mexico. Three of his informants, who were witnesses to the kidnapping, are interviewed. Drug money has a powerfully corrupting influence on everyone involved in the enterprise including not only the narcos but also the narcs, the police, and many politicians on both sides of the southern border of the US. Like Hamlet’s epiphany about who killed his father, Hector uncovers the unbearable truth about what really happened to Kiki.

“The Traitor” (+ + +) is an Italian docudrama about a real-life Godfather, Tommaso Buscetta, who ratted on the Costa Nostra crime organization run out of Palermo, Sicily. “The Godfather” trilogy is about the fictionalized Corleone family’s exploits in the American mafia. In fact, Corleone is a village in the country region of Palermo, where an all-out war between Sicilian mafia bosses over the heroin trade broke out during the early 1980s. Buscetta’s sons and brother were murdered in the bloody melee. He decides to become an informant and violate his oath of allegiance to the Cosa Nostra because the blood-thirsty bosses butchered innocent family members of their no-longer-partners in crime. The movie’s portrayal of the courtroom scenes is both hilarious and bloodcurdling. The story told in this film is eerily similar to the one portrayed in Netflix’s outstanding “Narcos” series. The latest season (“Narcos: Mexico”) is phenomenal. Corruption is an evil human trait that is all too often exacerbated by illegal drugs.

“Washington” (+ + +) is a three-part mini-series about America’s revolutionary military leader who led American forces to win the country’s independence from Great Britain. The entire venture could have easily collapsed but for Washington’s willingness to come out of retirement after the war to serve as the nation’s first president. He was truly the founding father of the American nation. The docudrama extols his achievements while recognizing that he had his flaws. He didn’t always tell the truth, contrary to what kids are taught in school. He had a temper. His checkered relationship to slavery is also fairly presented. King George III described Washington as “the greatest man in the world.” He certainly was back then and remains among the greatest military and political leaders in history.