5 Stars Movies

Before Sunrise (1995)

A older couple begins to quarrel. As the situation dies down, we see two young people look up from their books and notice each other. Had this happened in a movie these days, they would be texting, asking each other for their Snapchat profile. Since the film is long before the time of social media, the only thing these two strangers can really do is talk. The whole opening dialogue on the train sets up what to expect from Before Sunrise: It is not about the content of the conversations, but the outer connection of the two leads.

As the train stops, the boy comes up with an idea: Until his flight in the morning, why not spend time with this woman he just met? Of course, red flags would be popping up, but not when they both sense a strange connection of this sort.

Only after they agree to the idea and get off of the train do we find out their names: Jesse (Ethan Hawke), an American tourist, and Celine (Julie Delphy), a french Art student.. Seldom in movie history has their been a more convincing couple. Knowing that they will probably not see each other again, they don’t go over their whole life story (at least in great detail). No, they talk about what one would call the little things in life (especially for people in their early twenties). The negatives of breaking up. Random life philosophies. Feminism…and so on.

The film’s success lies not just in the hands of the leads, but the hands of writer/director Richard Linklater. He is such a master of dialogue and human realism it has become his metier. Though I have seen a lot of them, it seems that a good amount of TV/film directed at a youthful audience yearning for romantic content is filled with over the top drama (I’m looking at you, Grey’s Anatomy) and not enough authenticity. It is always refreshing to see romances take the right amount of time for the characters to admit their feelings. Both Jesse and Celine share more honest answers with each other than nearly any other film couple I can think of. And that is why this film is refreshing: it’s real.

Parents, the film is rated R, but I leave it to you to find out if your teenagers (not younger) should seek this out. There is a casual amount of swearing and kissing, but no sex scenes (the only nudity is that of various statues in the city).

I somewhat am hesitant to call Before Sunrise a story about a summer romance (not just because it takes place in the winter). The film is the first of Linklater’s “Before” Trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight, all 9 years apart). While all are great in their own right, I respond the most to this, perhaps because it is where I am at personally now in my life.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

5 Stars Movies

The African Queen (1951)

“Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

This line, as said by Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) to the ship’s Captain Charlie (Humphrey Bogart) is indeed central to the 1951 classic The African Queen. Yes, the film is basically about two strangers who fight the wilderness, but that is not all the nature we are witnessing.

At the start of the film, we meet Rose and the Reverend (also her brother), doing missionary work in Africa in September of 1914. Having been there for years, their only key to what is happening in the outside world is Allnut, a Canadian worker barely scrapping by as he goes up and down the river on his boat, The African Queen. When news of war breaks, the local villiage is raided and burned, the Reverend dies, and Rose has no choice but to travel with Charlie.

In our first meeting with Charlie and Rose (before the Germans burn the village), we get a great sense of how Rose feels towards “Mr. Allnut” (which she calls him for more than half of the film). While she and her brother are reading and drinking tea in the “proper” sense, Charlie is sitting there, unable to overlook the fact that his stomach is growling loud (so loud nothing else in that scene is louder). This makes us realize all the more why Rose is at first hesitant to board the ship with him, despite having no other options.

Not long after leaving, both discover that they need a place to go. Looking at the map, Rose is dead set (almost from the get go) on taking the river down to the lake where the big German ship, the Louisa, is patrolling. Looking at all their supplies, she comes up with the “absurd” idea of making a torpedo and (using their ship), blowing up the Louisa. Of course, Allnut is all against the idea, but Rose is able to talk him into it (more than once).

While rewatching The African Queen for about the 7th time or so, I began to realize that Allnut is one of the few characters that, despite being a scrappy “bum”, is still a gentleman at heart. You never once think that he would try to take advantage of Rose if he wanted to (this could be because the film was in the early 50s). He is even patient with Rose and all her questions (though that patience does run out at times). If this film were ever remade (which I pray never happens), studios may make Allnut more of a jerk.

That the two will fall in love is a forgone conclusion (again, early 1950s), but one of the main reasons this works so wonderfully as a romance is the sheer fact that these are adults. Not teens. Not young adults. Adults. We don’t know much about their past lives (nor do we need to), so we don’t know if they have been in love before. We do, however, find out in a pivotal scene (after confronting some big rapids) that feelings of romance are becoming present, and we see it in their faces.

In the second act of the film, we actually see some bit of faith working. After being stuck in the mud, Charlie is forced to go out and drag the boat (and is rewarded with his least favorite thing, leeches). As he lies down exhausted, it is Rose who prays, and we get that great shot of seeing that they are unaware the lake is just yards away from them. It is a nice reminder that we do have to remember to let God come in and take care of the rest in dire situations.

No small part of this is due to the fact that Bogie and Hepburn are two of the great movie stars the world has known (both, in fact, were once named the best male and female star by the American Film Institute). It was at a time when the older school of acting was starting to fade away and the “method” actors appeared, most notably Marlon Brando. That same year, Brando would give his iconic performance in A Streetcar Named Desire. Oddly enough, it was Bogie who beat Brando at the Oscars that year for Best Actor (the only win for this film). History would disagree on this, but at the time it was mainly because Brando did not seem to care for winning while Bogie campaigned heavily.

In what had to be one of the first movies ever made about survival (LONG before Cast Away, 127 Hours, Life of Pi, and Gravity), so much should have gone wrong with the making of this movie. Pretty much the entire film was filmed on location (only some of the underwater scenes were shot in a tank in London). Filming on location in 1951 was a risk, to say the least (even now I would think it would be risky). Director John Huston (who worked with Bogart before and was a lifelong friend) was apparently dead set on shooting an elephant. The amount of equipment needed was insane. Bogart’s wife, Lauren Bacall, was onset helping out anywhere she could.

Then, of course, there was the living conditions. According to Hepburn, the only two people who did not get sick during the shoot were Bogart and Huston, due to the fact that they drank enough alcohol to reject any disease.

Parents, there is kissing, but that is really it. It is a 1951 movie, so it is all good for kids.

I mentioned how mother nature is not the only nature this film tells us to rise above. There is human nature as well. The nature to drink (which Charlie is prone to). The nature to want to give up. The nature to be insecure about ones feelings.

If you have doubts about seeing a classic old movie like this, then I would say you should rise above that nature as well.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

1 Star Movies

Dolittle (2020)

As I get older and see more movies, I realize that nostalgia cannot always work for movies I liked as a kid. Sure, some movies are classics and speak to the child in all of us (The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, E.T., and a number of Disney films), but some are sadly ones we look back on and wonder, “What was I thinking?!?!”. I recently revisited the original first two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies from the early 90s, and while the first one is still passable, the second one (the one with Vanilla Ice) is now just laughable. I predict kids who see Dolittle will say the same thing if they choose to revisit it as an adult, since any adults these days who are forced to see it will do what they can to forget it (even more so for the adults who were part of the film).

Back in 1967, the titular role of Doctor Dolittle (unseen by me) was played by theater great Rex Harrison. In the late 1990s, it was Eddie Murphy (the first was enjoyable to me as a kid, but I stopped caring after the second sequel). Now the role is in the hands of Robert Downey Jr. (in his first role after leaving the MCU). Set in the 19th century, we learn in an animated prelude (which was very well animated, and one of the few things of the film I actually was fine with) that his wife Lily (Kasia Smmutniak) is an adventurer who has died at sea. Understandably depressed, Dolittle has secluded himself in his mansion (that was once paid for by the Queen) in isolation. One day, a boy named Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) is out hunting with his family, though very unwillingly so. When he purposely misses shooting ducks, he hits a squirrel. Rather than put it out of its misery, he stumbles upon the Dolittle mansion.

At this point, we encounter one of the films many problems. We first see Dolittle talking to the animals as any human would: using animal sounds. We get a close up of him, and it changes to him speaking normally to the animals who now speak clear English to him as well. There is no consistancy in the communication between the doctor and the animals.

At the same time that Stubbins drops in, we meet Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado), who has been sent to deliver disturbing news: Queen Victoria (Jesse Buckley) has fallen ill. When the Doctor arrives, we discover the only known cure is from a mystical island that Dolittle’s late wife was looking for as she perished.

There is also a side plot involving Dolittle’s father in law, who blames the Doctor for Lily’s death. The father in law (named Rassouli, a name I don’t remember being uttered but it was on wiki so I guess it works) is played by the just recently Oscar nominated Antonio Banderas.

Wait, there is another side plot I forgot involving Dr. Blair Mudfly (Michael Sheen). A former classmate of Dolittle’s, Mudfly is summoned by Lord Thomas Badgley (Jim Broadbent, another wonderful actor who I had to find his character name on wiki) to make sure Dolittle & Company fail and that the Queen dies (not sure why they wanted the Queen to die, but whatever). There are no points given in finding out right away that Mudfly is the bad guy. In fact, points should be taken away if you did not know that.

If you thought the cast I have mentioned so far is a waste of talent, wait till you hear who the animals are voiced by. Emma Thompson is a wise parrot (as well as the films narrator). Rami Malek is a kind but not so confident Gorilla. Tom Holland is a loyal dog with glasses (for some reason). Octavia Spencer is a duck. Ralph Fiennes is a tiger. Selena Gomez is a giraffe. Marion Cotillard is a fox (with only a few lines). Finally, Kumail Nanjiani is the ostrich who becomes friends with Yoshi the Polar Bear, played by John Cena.

While none of these actors are untalented, they fail because of the script they are given (which is also mind boggling, when you remember that the film’s director and co-writer Stephen Gaghan wrote movies like Traffic and Syrianna, admittedly two vastly different films).

As stated, the film is set in the 19th Century, but the animals are all talking like they are from the 21st. I understand that it is to appeal more to children, but the theater I was in (which did not have many, thought it was a 5pm show on a thursday) had virtually zero laughs from the adults. As for the kids (maybe two or so in the audience), I think I heard three laughs tops.

There is actual detrimental material here for kids, because we have all encountered wild animals at one point or another in our lives. Whether it be a close pet we chat with or a squirrel we honk our horn at to move out of the way. We like to think we are talking with them.

When I get home from work, there is always a nice welcome for me from my dog, Molly (the newer dog, Charlie, is another matter). There is a weird sense of appreciation we get from pets that makes us want to talk to them. Animals (especially pets) help take us out of our daily lives and remember the natural elements of the world.

Parents, if all you are worried about is violence/sexuality/swearing, you are fine. There is none of that here (even the wounded squirrel, who took a shotgun blast to the chest, was not bleeding). The one exception is the post credit scene, where a character is surrounded by bats. While it is played for laughs, I think it would generally scare children.

Though I am not a parent, I would still argue that this movie is not engaging or smart enough for any child over the ages of 5-6. It is as if the filmmakers forgot that kids in a movie theater are actually smarter than they realize.

Dolittle also is unclear on its message. At first, I thought it would be on how to be kind to animals (after all, God did tell Noah to have two of every kind on the ark). The film just became about an adventure that no one asked for.

Somehow, Dolittle did give me a feeling I never expected.

A feeling of nostalgia.

…for the movie CATS.


Rating: 1 out of 5.

"Top Tens", and others Movies

The 100 Best Films of the 2010s

The planning of making a top 100 movies of the 2010s started around a year ago, though the thought that it was a good idea to do so faded away more as time went on.

It almost began to cross the border into frivolity. A self made gordian knot.

Even though my top ten does seem to be set in stone now and for the future, the other ninety keep switching over time. You would think that my favorite movies of a certain year would be higher than those I thought second or third of the same year, but that is not always the case. Like all humans, my mind changes over time.

What I like most about this list is how personal it is to me. It does not have to align with other critics or movie buffs (which no “best of” list should, when you think about it).

That said, films such as Get Out, Black Panther, Knives out, The Farewell, Baby Driver, Eighth Grade, Blade Runner 2049, Joker, and even Frozen were films I had to Let Go of (pun intended).

Well, here it goes…

4 Stars Movies

1917 (2019)

Maybe it is just me, but I feel that if you were to ask someone on the street what they know about World War one, they would not have much to say. It seems like World War Two has nearly made the first World War seem dim by comparison (the death toll of the second World War is more than nearly all other wars combined). Perhaps that is why when we think of war films, we tend to think more toward the second one (Vietnam is in there as well).

In short, I had very little knowledge of the history going into director Sam Mendes’ 1917, which the director has dedicated to his World War one veteran grandfather, except for one of my personal favorite patriotic songs, “Over There”, was written during the war.

The story is simple: two young soldiers (Dean-Charles Chapman and George Mckay) are commissioned by General Erinmore (Colin Firth) to deliver a message. The message is to go deep behind enemy lines and call off a raid of 1,600 fellow troops from walking into a trap set up by the Germans, before all of them (including a brother of one of the soldiers) are massacred.

The film does not rely on star power (though we do get appearances from Sherlock alumni Andrew Scott and Benedict Cumberbatch), but that does not at all mean the actors are not effective in their roles. What stands out in the film is that it is edited to look as though the whole film is shot in one take. There were only three or so times I could count where I thought I saw the editing take place (one for sure toward the middle of the film), but it seemed so convincing I was gobsmacked. It truly is an ambitious endeavor that Mendes (who may best me known for helming Skyfall, arguably one of the top three or four best 007 flicks) chose to pursue. It is proof that the film ends (in a sense) where it began.

Everything in the film seems authentic: the search for food, the small talk on the road, the enclosed spaces, and the rats. Seriously, the first half or so of this film has so many rats I feel I should warn you in case you are afraid of them. There is also a true feeling of brotherhood between the two soldiers. I was reminded a lot of that great song “He ain’t heavy, he’s by brother” from 1969 made famous by The Hollies.

What had me somewhat hesitant of the film was whether it would have been as effective had Mendes not gone for the “one shot” method of film making. Had he not, it may not have been as memorable (the same could be said of the Best Picture winner of 2014, Birdman, which also took this approach). Sure, the film would have still looked great (it is shot by the unflappable Roger Deakins, after all), but the affect of the gritty, almost surrealistic feeling of war, would be lacking.

Parents, the movie is unsurprisingly rated R, mainly due to war violence and swearing. There is no sexual content (save for one comment about masturbation between the two soldiers), but nothing else. I think back to when I was eleven or so, and my dad wanted me to see Saving Private Ryan, but he wisely waited for me to be ready for it (I saw it not long after it was released on VHS).

From what I could find, the last known veteran of World War one to die was Florence Green in 2012, just days before she would have reached the ripe age of 111. That generation of heroes are no longer with us in person, but their service and heroism will echo throughout the rest of time. Regardless of the time or situation, war is truly hell for anyone involved, and 1917 displays all this and more as it pays tribute to heroes who need more recognition these days.

As in all the great war films, 1917 hides it’s ideas of warfare in plain sight. Soldiers knowing to follow orders regardless of what the orders are (“If you love me, keep my commands” – John 14:15). Random attacks of outside elements that cause mass confusion. Acting on instinct. Making mistakes both minor and major. Persevering. Protecting one’s brother(s). Being on guard for potential attacks by the enemy (think of how the devil is like “a roaring lion” as described in 1 Peter 5:8, and “roaming the earth” as described in Job 1:6).

Correct me if I am wrong, but does that not also sound like spiritual warfare as well?


Rating: 4 out of 5.
"Top Tens", and others Movies

Top 20 Films of 2019

Toward the end of 2019, only when looking back did I realize how truly strong of a year this was for movies. As I progress in life as a movie goer, finding the good movies becomes easier. I always equate it to picking raspberries when I was a kid: the better ones are not always out in front. As has been the case of the past few years, I have decided to do a top 20 instead of a top 10. Even with 20, movies shown above such as The Two Popes, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Pain and Glory, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker did not make the cut.

So without further ado…