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Mid-July Movie Picks


Guest Review by Rob Huebert

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (US/Japan 2019 http://www.godzilla-movie.net/)
For those who do not need logic or deep thoughts in their movie, but just like to be entertained with large booms and bangs – Godzilla: King of Monsters is right up your ally. Taking three teen-aged boys who loved it and one wife who hated it, I must say this is my type of movie. For reasons that are never quite clear, this movie makes Godzilla the misunderstood hero. It turns out that she/he (it is never made clear except for calling Godzilla King and not Queen) is responsible for maintaining the balance of life. This of course makes her/him the ultimate environmentalist. She/he faces an enemy that does not share his/her concern for the world and a series of battles follow. But none of this matters for those who like their summer movies big loud and exciting. For people like me and my sons, this movie is the type of wholescale entertainment that summer is made for. Sure the major badgirl is more than a little unbelievable and annoying, and her partner - the badguy as an environmentalist extremist - would rather kill millions of people, but for those who like these types of movies, who really pays attention to such matters? The fights of the monsters are what matters and these take place mainly at night or in other murky environments, but they are constant and building. The good humans are able take some part in defending Earth, but for the most part, the usual suppression of the laws of physics tend to render their weapons ineffective. The physical impact of human-based bullets, missiles, and even nuclear weapons, are always neutralized while the teeth, claws and atomic breath of the monsters destroy and kill both humans and other monsters. And of course, in the tradition established by the very first King Kong movie, all pilots are always ordered to fly close enough to the bad monsters to allow all planes to be battered out of the sky. So there is no rational defence of the movie. But it does entertain those who like it. My wife, who likes her movies intelligent and logical, will not watch this again when it comes out on video, unlike me and my boys.

Gerry’s take
To keep my mind from going numb, I kept asking questions like: what are all these good actors doing here (Vera Farmiga, conspicuously wearing a Canada Goose parka in an Antarctica sequence; Kyle Chandler as her estranged husband, Sally Hawkins for godzilla sake, a bearded Thomas Middleditch looking slightly less goofy than on HBO’s Silicon Valley.) To her daughter’s dismay, Farmiga as Dr. Emma Russell goes all mad scientist in cahoots with an “eco-terrorist” leader (Charles Dance, more memorable as an evil Lannister king on the iron throne in Game of Thrones). You see, monster “titans” are needed to cure earth of its “human infection”. Ken Watanabe gets the sacrificial role in the nuclear resurrection of Godzilla after an alien hydralike three-dragon headed “monster zero” threatens annihilation. I liked the rider-friendly Game of Thrones dragons better.  In a minor stalwart soldierly role there’s also a dead-ringer forToronto Raptor superfan rapper Drake (apparently it’s Anthony Ramos).  As the preposterous minutes pile up to 132, a Russell family drama plays out without getting wiped out by apex monster-geddon.  Many brain cells may have been lost, but I believe no computers were harmed. C


The Last Black Man in San Francisco (US 2019 https://a24films.com/films/the-last-black-man-in-san-francisco)
This is one of several noteworthy Sundance selections starting to appear in theatres (others include Luce and The Farewell).  Director Joe Talbot was awarded a directing prize for this moody feature centred on two friends, one of whom, Talbot’s friend Jimmie Fails, plays a version of himself. Jimmie’s buddy “bro” Mont (Jonathan Majors) lives with his grandpa (Danny Glover) in a small apartment where they both bunk down. But Jimmie, who’s spent time in a group home and lived in his car, holds tight to his belief that a Victorian-era mansion, now valued at $4mllion, was actually built by his grandfather in 1946.  Unexplained is the location in the Fillmore district that had been occupied by Black and Japanese-American families but is now gentrified in one of the most unaffordable cities in North America. After white owners vacate the house over a property dispute, Jimmie and Mont become squatters, though this can’t last.  Jimmie’s family dream is just that, a dream. The Black young men hanging around, one of whom is murdered, speak in the profane language of the street (using the “n” word). That’s among a medley of narrative fragments.  There’s an almost surreal tone that, unfolding over two hours, drains the drama of impact. Long before the credits we know that the “gentle” San Francisco of the city’s eponymous hippie-era anthem is long gone and not coming back. B     
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (US 2019 https://www.tonimorrisonfilm.com/)
Directed by Timothy Greenfield Sanders, this lengthy documentary tribute to the acclaimed African-American novelist isn’t the most dynamic with its mix of archival images and talking heads, but it is satisfyingly insightful on its subject and the significance of her work, which was groundbreaking in terms of a deep exploration of the female African-American experience liberated from, as she says, the burden of “the white gaze”; the male gaze too. Morrison, now 88, was born Chloe Wofford in Lorain, Ohio on the south shore of Lake Erie.  From university she became a noted editor at Random House and professor at Princeton.  (She also prides herself as a master maker of carrot cake).  The American literary establishment was slow to recognize her talent, though her 1987 novel Beloved won both the Pulitzer Prize and American Book Award. Among those interviewed is Oprah Winfrey who produced and starred in a 1998 movie version. Morrison gained global attention when awarded the Nobel prize in 1993. A recipient of the presidential medal of freedom in 2012, the most engaging voice is Morrison’s herself, speaking directly and disarmingly to the camera. A-
Wild Rose (UK 2018 https://www.wildrosefilm.co.uk/)
Who knew there was a Grand Ole Opry saloon in Glasgow? Darn tootin’ and thrown out of it in an early scene is the female singer who gets feet stompin’.  In the story directed by Tom Harpur, the aptly-named Rose-Lynn is played energetically by Jessie Buckley, who also possesses a decent soulful voice for delivering a country song.  A teenage mother to a little boy and girl, on release from prison on a drug conviction, she has to wear a “tag” (electronic monitoring device). Concealing that from her upscale employer Susannah (Sophie Okenedo), also a mother to a little boy and girl, Rose-Lynn works as a “day woman” housekeeper for the family. She doesn’t play music or write songs, but with “three chords and the truth” tattooed on an arm, she keeps up spirits by holding on to her great ambition to get to Nashville. Although her skeptical mother Marion (Julie Walters) lets exasperation show when Rose-Lynn routinely neglects and disappoint her kids, Susannah is charmed enough to help her get an audience in London with a legendary BBC radio producer. That has its own mishaps but Susannah gives her another chance to get the money together for an American trip by performing before a well-heeled crowd.  When that too goes south, mother Marion comes through in a brief mother-daughter scene that is the most affecting in the movie. 
            No spoilers as to whether Rose-Lynn gets any shot at her Nashville dreams. What’s a rose without the thorns? Maybe a homegrown song’s enough for hope past the hard luck and heartbreak … if like a hurtin’ country tune it would feel as sweet.  B+   
   
On Netflix:
Nova: Black Hole Apocalypse
This two-hour documentary originally aired on the PBS “Nova” series.  From writer-director Rushmore De Nooyer, narrated by astrophysicist Janna Levin (http://jannalevin.com/), it’s a fascinating exploration into the science behind the discovery and characteristics of gravitational waves and “black holes”—phenomena of such gravitational mass that light cannot escape.  Levin is excellent at communicating the mind-boggling calculations and numbers involved, including the existence of “super massives” at the centre of galaxies and what the frontiers of future discoveries may be from deep-space telescopes.  Each increase in knowledge adds to one’s awe of creation. A
Murder Mystery (US 2019)
A smalltime New York cop Nick Spitz (Adam Sandler) finally takes wife Audrey (Jennifer Aniston) on a European bus tour when a twist of fate makes them guests of a rich playboy Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans) who invites them on the yacht of his billionaire uncle Malcolm Quince (Terrence Stamp). The murder of the aging tycoon is the first of several as Nick and Audrey become spectator suspects in a bumbling investigation by Inspector de la Croix (French comedian Dany Boon).  This whodunit is a modest amusement. Still, given low expectations, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  B
The Last Czars (US 2019)
Netflix keeps adding new miniseries faster than anyone can keep up.  An interest in Russian history hooked me enough to stick through six episodes.  The doomed reign of the last Romanov Tsar Nicholas II, which started and ended in bloody tragedy, has so many extraordinary elements. It’s a story of tone-deaf divine-right autocratic absolutism amid disastrous military defeats and decades of ruthlessly-suppressed revolutionary ferment. There’s the long-hoped-for son Alexei (after four daughters) whose hemophilia is kept secret.  There’s the malign influence over the German-born tsarina of the “mad monk” Rasputin, finally assassinated in 1916 by aristocratic plotters. Then the final blows—the army desertions and mutinies, the tsar’s abdication, the Bolshevik October revolution, in 2018 the massacre of the imperial family of seven in the cellar of Communist-controlled Yekaterinburg’s ‘house of special purpose” during a civil war as a counter-revolutionary “white army” forces were closing in on the city to liberate them. Not only that, but the miniseries delves into the subsequent strange case of a traumatized girl claiming to be the sole surviving Romanov daughter Anastasia. Indeed there turned out to be more than one troubled imposter.  In a postscript the series observes that the remains of the last Romanov royal family were not found and reburied until after the fall of the Soviet Union. 
Despite attention to period design and costumes in the docudrama recreations of events, interspersed with occasional archival footage and interviews with historians, I would have preferred a deeper straightforward documentary approach.  It’s an American production but the main actors all speak in British accents.  For example, tsar “Nicky” is played by blue-eyed Scot Robert Jack, who more closely resembles Joseph Fiennes as the commander “Fred” in the series The Handmaid’s Tale.  The recreations tend towards melodrama. The post-1918 “Anastasia” mystery gets far more attention than the short-lived 2018 provisional government of  Kerensky, a Socialist Revolutionary and vice-chair of the Petrograd Soviet, whose overthrow by Lenin’s Bolsheviks was followed by purges, power struggles and civil strife on a mass scale.  Still I’d give the series a cautious recommendation given the remarkable nature of this momentous period of world-historical significance that continues to reverberate a century later. B+  

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