Review: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is absolutely inspiring and features outstanding performances from Idris Elba and Naomie Harris.

The film is based on Nelson Mandela’s own autobiography. It was directed by Justin Chadwick from a script written by William Nicholson.

Spoilers ahead.

Continue reading “Review: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”

Watch This: Trailer for Trumbo

Trumbo is a slice of American history written through the lens of pop culture and Hollywood. The film details the life of Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted as a Hollywood writer in the 1940s for being a Communist. It’s based on the biography Dalton Trumbo by Bruce Cook.

Bryan Cranston and Diane Lane in Trumbo

The film stars Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo. Louis C.K., John Goodman, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alan Tudyk and Helen Mirren are also in the film. Trumbo’s wife is played by Diane Lane with Elle Fanning as his daughter.

When Trumbo and many other Hollywood writers were called before House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington, D.C. and then blacklisted for their political beliefs, Trumbo orchestrated a fight against the U.S. government and studio bosses in a war over words and freedom. The blacklisting scandal eventually entangled everyone in Hollywood from Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and John Wayne (David James Elliott) to Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) and Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel).

Helen Mirren and Bryan Cranston in Trumbo

Trumbo was one of several hundred writers, directors, producers, and actors who were denied the opportunity to work in the motion picture industry from 1947 to 1960 because of blacklisting over the Communist scare. Trumbo managed to win two Oscars for films written under other names during this time: Roman Holiday and The Brave One. His struggle ended when he finally saw his name on the screen again for the film Exodus.

Trumbo was directed by Jay Roach and written by John McNamara. It is set for a November release. Early reviews from film festival viewers have been mixed. I think the topic is interesting enough, and relevant to still occurring witch hunts in American life today, to merit giving it a chance and making up my own mind about it.

Watch This: Trailer for Meadowland

Meadowland starts next weekend in theaters. It will be available on Video on Demand the following week. It stars Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson as parents whose child is abducted. Here’s the synopsis.

In the hazy aftermath of an unimaginable loss, married couple Sarah (Olivia Wilde) and Phil (Luke Wilson) come unhinged – recklessly ignoring the repercussions. Phil, a New York City cop, starts to lose sight of his morals as Sarah puts herself in increasingly dangerous situations, falling deeper into her own fever dream. The directorial debut of cinematographer Reed Morano, Meadowland is a visceral exploration of grief and hope. Featuring Giovanni Ribisi, Elisabeth Moss, Ty Simpkins, John Leguizamo, Kevin Corrigan and Merritt Weaver.

Meadowland Poster

From the preview, it looks like Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson get called upon to do more in their parts than we have seen them do before. According to reviewers who saw the film at festivals, both give outstanding, deep performances.

Director Reed Morano is pulling double-duty as cinematographer in this one. Check the image in the poster and up at the top. Olivia Wilde is looking out of the frame, lost somewhere. I expect Morano’s bringing her cinematographer ‘s eye to her directing process.

If you see the film, please share your impressions in the comments. I’d especially like to know if any trigger warnings for parents who have lost a child should be included in conversation about the film.

Witnesses: A French Mystery Series

Witnesses, or Les Témoins in the original French, is a dark and moody police procedural from France. It’s streaming now with subtitles on Netflix, iTunes and Amazon. Season 1 has 6 episodes.

Marie Dompnier in Witnesses

Marie Dompnier stars as Sandra Winckler, the police officer assigned to a macabre case. Her partner is Justin (Jan Hammenecker). Recently buried bodies are removed from their graves and placed in show homes.

Sandra is a brilliant detective – smart and intuitive. She has a daughter and a boyfriend. The relationship with the boyfriend is strained by several factors. She is determined as a cop and complex as a woman.

Early in the investigation of the unearthed bodies, it becomes clear that they are connected to former police chief Paul Maisonneuve (Thierry Lhermitte).

Paul, Sandra and Justin
Paul, Sandra and Justin

Sandra has an unpleasant history with Paul from her time in the police academy. He returns from retirement to help with this case.

At first Paul pretends not to remember Sandra. He finally admits he does. He also realizes as they work the case that she is a far better cop than he ever was. He even tells her that.

The case grows and expands and secrets are revealed and more and more murdered corpses are dug up and displayed in show homes. Each crime scene has a clue connecting it to Paul. As the episodes roll by, it becomes clear that there may be more than one crime and more than one criminal operating at the same time. Yet all are bent on revenge against Paul. His secrets and past are slowly unveiled as the investigation moves closer to a conclusion. The mystery grows more and more complex with each new episode until it leads to an exciting and dangerous climax.

The series is set in the small coastal town of Le Tréport in northern France. It’s winter, it’s cold, the colors are muted blues and greys, it rains frequently and clouds hang low. Much of it takes place at night. If that isn’t dark and creepy enough for you, there is also a mysterious wolf that witnesses report seeing around the crime scenes. Witnesses has been compared with other noir series such as The Wire, The Bridge, Broadchurch and The Killing.

The series is quiet and methodical with moments of terror and excitement sprinkled throughout. I don’t think it’s a series everyone will love, but I enjoyed it and happily watched all six episodes. I took French in college, and enjoyed seeing how much of the dialog I understood. I think I caught about 18.7% of what was said. Thank goodness for subtitles. Check out the first episode and see if you get caught up in the drama.

The Trailer

This is the trailer used in the UK.

And another trailer for Britain.

Watch This: Trailer for The X-Files

With a mere six-episode story to tell, The X-Files comes to Fox, debuting with a special two-night event beginning Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016. It’s been 13 years since David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson told the far-out stories of Mulder and Scully. Their personalities remain unchanged.

Not only are some of the original actors returning, some of the original writers and directors are back. If you loved The X-Files before, you’re probably going to love it again. It looks like it will be true to the original in every way.

Some of the guest stars for the series are Joel McHale, Robbie Amell, Lauren Ambrose, Annabeth Gish, Annet Mahendru, Rhys Darby, Kumail Nanjiani, and William B. Davis.

In the opening episode, Mulder and Scully take on a case of a possible alien abductee.

Were you a faithful fan of the original series? Will you be watching this small gift from The X-Files?

Images © 2015 Fox Broadcasting Co.

Review: Philomena

Philomena got raves reviews when it came out in theaters in 2013, but I missed seeing it then. I’ve made up for that now, because it’s currently available on Netflix, iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.

I give the film a rave review as well. It’s wonderful, and full of the human interest that was so feared by the hard-news journalist in the film.

Spoilers ahead.

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Watch This: Trailer for Home Fires

Starting Sunday (October 4) on PBS’s Masterpiece is the 6 part World War II drama Home Fires. This is a British production from iTV that has already been renewed for a second season.

The Home Fires Cast

It’s early days of the war, 1939, and the men are heading off to fight. As the conflict takes hold, and separates the women from their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers, the characters find themselves under increasing and extraordinary pressures in a rapidly fragmenting world. It’s a big cast, filling up a small English village. Included are Francesca Annis, Samantha Bond, Ruth Gemmell, Mark Bonnar, Claire Rushbrook, Mark Bazeley, Frances Grey and Ed Stoppard.

Buck up, ladies. We have a crisis that must be dealt with.

The drama is based on Julie Summers’ non-fiction book Jambusters.

Images © iTV Studios and Masterpiece

Two New Female Lead Dramas for Fall: Quantico and Blindspot

Quantico and Blindspot are two new dramas for fall. Both feature leading women who are smart and capable. Both are connected to the FBI. Quantico is on ABC. Blindspot is on NBC. Here’s a mini review of both based on the early episodes.

Quantico

Female FBI recruits played by Johanna Braddy, Yasmine Al Massri, and Priyanka Chopra
Female FBI recruits played by Johanna Braddy, Yasmine Al Massri, and Priyanka Chopra

Quantico is about new FBI recruits. Priyanka Chopra is at the center of the story so far, but Johanna Braddy and Yasmine Al Massri and also in place as new FBI recruits. Aunjanue Ellis as an FBI trainer also has a prominent part. That’s a gift box full of women to work story arcs around, and I’m looking forward to seeing them all.

In interviews about her role in Quantico, Priyanka Chopra compared her character to Jason Borne. We learn why early on. As Alex Parrish, the new FBI trainee, she is found in the rubble of a terrorist bombing. For some reason the FBI agents who find her there are convinced that the act was committed by one of the recruits from her class at Quantico. In particular, they think it was her.

Priyanka Chopra in a scene from Quantico

Alex gets away from the FBI team holding her after the bombing. My assumption is that she spends the next few episodes trying to prove her innocence from outside the system. That means she will be smart, creative, and resilient – all qualities to admire in a lead character. I’m happy to watch her doing this and am looking forward to seeing where the story goes.

Blindspot

Jaimie Alexander in Blindspot

Jaimie Alexander plays “Jane Doe” in Blindspot. She’s found in Times Square in a duffle bag, covered with tattoos and with no idea of who she is. Because of a gigantic tattoo of the name Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton) on her back, she is taken to the FBI. There she works with Weller to unravel her own story.

Marianne Jean-Baptiste is the another woman prominent in the show. She plays FBI agent in charge Mayfair. Two other potentially interesting women characters who haven’t had as much to do yet are Ashley Johnson as a lab geek named Patterson and Audrey Esparza as Agent Zapata.

There have been two episodes of Blindspot now. Jane Doe has no clue about who she is, but her personality and training quickly assert themselves. She’s prone to physical violence and is trained in fighting, she’s smart and speaks several languages, she knows her way around weapons and technology. And she’s the best resource the FBI has to figure out what all the tattoos mean. In the first two episodes, her tattoos have pointed to crimes about to happen.

Weller thinks she is a person he knew as a child who disappeared and who is part of the reason he went into the FBI. Her disappearance has haunted him. Because of a scar on the back of her neck, her age, and her eye color, he decides he knows who she is. We should know by the next episode if he is right, because they were running DNA tests in episode 2.

Series creator Martin Gero told Variety that the puzzle represented by the tattoos could be figured out in the first episode – it was all there to decode. Let’s just say I haven’t solved the puzzle yet, but I’m willing to hang on for the ride.

Images via NBC and ABC.