movie review

CHRIS M. MOSIER in Changing the Game (2019) was one of Joan Ellis’ top-picks from this year’s Monmouth Film Festival.
This year’s Monmouth Film Festival — an international film festival in Red Bank, N.J. — opened with two complex films that kicked off the annual weekend celebration created by founder and president Nick Marchese.  The festival unfurled nearly constant screenings in the Two River Theater while other parts of the theater offered celebrity talks, industry film panels, and editing workshops along with a stream of film professionals from New York. One thing you can count on is the Marchese family’s determination to bring films that both rattle and expand our pre-existing understanding of...

Han Chen, Aoi Mizuhara, Diana Lin, and Awkwafina star in Lulu Wang’s film “The Farewell” (2019).
“The Farewell” is a grand mixture of cultures, a deeply caring family, and a group of fine actors who are introduced quickly and with clarity. Writer/Director Lulu Wang first sketches the characters who will merge as the family gathers in China for the approaching death of their family’s grandmother. Thirty-one year old Billi (Awkwafina) is a young Chinese woman living in New York with a stalled writing career. In China, her grandmother Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) has undergone tests for a nagging cough that won’t go away under prescribed medicine. When the family gathers in support in China,...

BRAD PITT AND Leonardo DiCaprio star in Quentin Tarantino’s new film “Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood” (2019).
Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood — Running Time: 2:41 — Rating: R 1969 was a key year in the slippage of power from old Hollywood to the new. Quentin Tarantino has made “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” as his goodbye wave to the old movie world. While it seems certain that people with any connection to the industry will love it, ordinary movie lovers may find its 2.75 hours, too long and often confusing. Those not familiar with that movie era may miss the significance of the move away from Hollywood’s preoccupation with Westerns made by the industry’s enormously powerful male bosses. Tarantino...

Jessie Buckley stars in “Wild Rose” (2018).
Wild Rose — Running Time: 1:41 — Rating: R How can a young woman capture us with an impossible dream? “Wild Rose” does just that by joining the inspired abilities of a singer/actor, a writer, and a director in creating on-screen magic. Actor Jessie Buckley becomes Rose-Lynn, a young mother with a beautiful voice and gut level determination. She lives a simple family life in Glasgow with her family and without any path to her dream of becoming a country singer in Nashville, Tenn. Rose-Lynn hates earning her living by cleaning the house of Susannah, a beautiful woman who sees the talent in the...

Luciano Pavarotti stars in “Pavarotti” (2019).
Pavarotti — Running Time: 1:26 — Rating: G A mild warning about the wonderful “Pavarotti.” Those of you who are genuine opera lovers may find it borders on being frenetic. Those who are looking at it as a biography rather than a musical event will see it differently. Yes, it is frenetic, but so is the man and that’s why this portrait of him is so good. What is more fun than unravelling the mystery of any human being who has had the courage and determination to develop an inborn talent? Several things become clear quickly about the man himself. He wants to be remembered as a man who brought...

Himesh Patel stars in “Yesterday” (2019).
Yesterday— Running Time: 1:56 — Rating: PG-13 Any summary of “Yesterday” would miss its magic.  Don’t look for the good, the mediocre or the bad in this one. Just try watching and waiting for it to wrap you in its arms. That takes about five minutes. In its entire length there is nothing by the scriptwriter or any actor that trips the whole, and the whole is not a story so much as it is a fairy tale. Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) and his dear friend Ellie (Lily James) have a friendship that borders on more but is rooted in her being his manager while she isn’t working at her job as a school...

Tracy Edwards in “Maiden” (2018)
Maiden — Running Time : 1:37 — Rating: PG It is easy to tell you that “Maiden” is about the first all-woman crew in the in the round-the-world sailing race. It’s far harder to convey the astonishing quality of this documentary on all its many levels. Just go. The ingredients are overwhelming and they are assembled with masterful skill by director Alex Holmes who grabs us right away and never lets us go. The opener: “The ocean’s always trying to kill you. It doesn’t take a break.” Tracy Edwards signs on for the only possible job she could win back then: cook. She does a good job of keeping...

BUZZ ALDRIN IN the documentary “Apollo 11” (2019).
Apollo 11 — Running Time: 1:33 — Rating: G Watching an American crew landing on the moon 50 years ago stirred a complex mix of emotions in those of us who were alive and watching on our relatively new TV sets. We earthlings watched in deep curiosity as three men undertook a mission that riveted our world back then in 1969. That perfect white ball of a moon had been a mystery for all the centuries we earthlings had loved its glow and suddenly we were watching three modern astronauts shuffle through moon sand. The fact that three capable men were chosen to fly to the moon on the wings of the...

Tao Zhao stars in “Ash is Purest White” (2018).
Ash is Purest White— Running Time: 2:16 — Rating: R Do go to “Ash is the Purest White.” Let’s look at the tough part of this new film that is earning excellent reviews from the pros. The Chinese language pulls our eyes to the running translations at the bottom of the screen. That means we miss some important facial expressions and quick behavioral actions that are key to the culture and dialogue of this very good movie. Aside from those hurdles we see some grand acting by Tao Zhao as Qiao and Fan Liao as Bin. As we watch their tale unfold, we are given several parts of China as Qiao makes her...

Christian Bale plays Dick Cheney in “Vice” (2018).
Vice — Running Time: 2:12 — Rating: R Moviemakers have fallen so in love with the new tools at their disposal that they are using them at a tough cost to the audience: confusion. “Vice” is a prime example. The political figures of our era are shown at different ages — young here, old there, handsome here, bald and fat there. The scenes shift at bullet speed while we try to sort it all out. That said, this is a movie full of revelations that never came through in the press at the time. The audience at the opening on Christmas Day was thoroughly absorbed as they made their way through the...


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