Movie Review — “Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer”



It was as ghoulish a trial as you could possibly imagine.

Federal and local agents raided a Philadelphia “pill mill” clinic which was pouring oxy, Xanax and other prescription drugs out the door and across state lines, and discovered a cat-and-flea infested dump filled with garbage, medical waste and fetuses.

At least one woman had died there, seeking to terminate a pregnancy. Untrained staff were putting patients under, administering drugs to induce abortions, reusing unsanitary medical instruments and packing fetuses in the fridge next to the milk. And the chuckling doctor in charge complained of a “dispute with our medical waste” disposal service.

Dr. Gosnell had started out callous and worked his way all the way down the scale to greedy and didn’t give a damn any more. Here’s the Wikipedia page on Dr. Kermit Gosnell.  Yes, this really happened and the pigsty he treated people in, the lax oversight and careless disregard for hygiene and general incompetence spread to his home life, a vast cluttered house full of money envelopes, real estate records (his favorite investment), which the police raided after they discovered the horror show that was his clinic, it’s all pretty much as we see it in “Gosnell: the Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer.”

As the police and DA’s office familiarized themselves with an operation the state authorities and medical establishment had chosen to look away from — a “necessary” service seems to have been the talking point — they discovered that Gosnell had been terminating pregnancies after the legal 24  weeks, that his means of ensuring the fetuses weren’t viable were more macabre than clinical, they went after him as “The most prolific serial killer in American history.” The press picked up on that.

The facts are established and in plain sight. The “politics” of how he got away with it and the patriarchal efforts to “control” women by banning abortion murkier, the morality of the procedure, science of abortion and the code of silence of  the medical community, the racial undertones of the story and the shrinking press corps’ limited interest in it less clear.

Not in character actor turned director Nick Searcy’s film, however. When the detective the film puts into most every scene and conversation (even lobbying the judge running the grand jury), played by Dean Cain, crosses himself repeatedly and complains that the press “lies constantly,” when the DA (Michael Beach) and that grand jury judge declare “this case isn’t about abortion” for apparent political reasons, when the Assistant DA (Sarah Jane Morris) looks lovingly into the faces of her five children, says “I have five kids, what do I know about abortion?,” Searcy is making his intentions clear.

This is anti-choice Catholic-backed propaganda. A monster like Gosnell was a gift to the Repeal “Roe vs. Wade” crowd. The heinous sloppiness of it all may be reminiscent of the infamous Tri-State (Georgia) Crematory scandal, bodies dumped hither and yon in violation of the law, common sense and common decency. But we never get into the psyche of the man as the film focuses narrowly on the case and its grimly detailed trial.

No, they don’t show photos of the victims of this procedure in the movie. This “Silent Scream” for the new millennium gives a website in the closing credits where you can go and be shocked.

The movie intentionally ignores the simple fact that women were flocking to Dr. Gosnell’s clinic for abortions, shies away from the “Handmaid’s Tale” future where abortion and birth control come back in line with Catholic dogma.

The morality here is, as the defense attorney played by Searcy himself (the film’s best performance), showing gruesome photos of something the public at large accepts but refuses to set eyes upon, and letting them make your case for you.

Yes, and the terror, pain and blood of childbirth, shown in all its glory, is the best birth control and a camera inside an abattoir recruits vegetarians.

The facts of the film are solid, but the tone — with the also-rans of the cinematic right — Janine Turner of “Northern Exposure” is a hypocritical abortion provider, Mr. and Mrs. Kevin Sorbo are listed in the production credits — stripping the film of any sense of objectivity. Everybody, from defense attorneys side-eyeing Gosnell (Earl Billings) to the juror who wants to introduce her little girl to the DA, sees this in the simplest terms.

That’s what propagandists call “The Band Wagon Effect.” It’s “Since everybody thinks the same way we do, so why debate it?” lie.

How does “Gosnell” work as a movie? It’s mostly a court case, rather dully shot and flatly acted (save for the committed and theatrical Searcy). After the initial police raid, the movie meanders into lingering shots of the ADA thinking and moralizing (implied), family scenes. The energy of the picture is spent on thinly-veiled condemnation of Gosnell’s sick callousness, his concern for his “endangered species” pet turtles, playing his concert piano in his cluttered home as the police collect evidence.

As much as he asserted “I’ve done nothing wrong,” he had to know the same was up and that his piano playing future was about to be limited.

The implication, of course, is that “They’re ALL like this,” and the fact that he’s a black man makes it hard to accuse anybody of racism for noting that undeniable fact.

It’s a movie finding its audience, but as nakedly obvious as its message is and as limited as its shock/entertainment/outrage value might be — the empty seats in the press gallery of the trial suggest “the real enemy” — “Gosnell” isn’t likely to change anybody’s mind.

It was filmed and financed in that oasis of cinema and free thinking, Oklahoma, and not screened for critics. So all those web claims that “the media is ignoring the movie” have to be taken with a grain of salt, too.

It’s a snoozer preaching to the anti-abortion choir and any effort beyond telling them what they want to believe was not an effort the screenwriters, producers or Searcy chose to make.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic content including disturbing images and descriptions

Cast: Sarah Jane Morris, Dean Cain, Earl Billings, Michael Beach, Janine Turner

Credits:Directed by Nick Searcy,, script by Andrew Klavan, Ann McElhinney, Phelim McAleer, A GVN release.

Running time: 1:35

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Preview, Nicole Kidman dresses down — WAY down — as an undercover cop in “Destroyer”

We tend to forget, with the fragile, nurturing, demure and ultra-feminine roles she’s played in recent years — with the occasional exception — how scary Nicole Kidman can be when she puts her mind to it.

The December release “Destroyer” lets her lay it all out there for a harrowing, drugged up looking undercover agent AND a mother tale. Annapurna has it, so Oscar attention is not a given (not out of the question, either). Toby Kebbell also stars.


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Preview, German soccer players find love in the locker room in “Mario”

Younger, lower echelon German footballers are turned into teammates and roommates by their team, lovers by their sexual preference.

“Mario,” in German with English subtitles, comes to DVD and VOD Oct. 30.


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Documentary Review — A pitcher attempts a comeback in “Late Life: The Chien Ming Wang Story”


Metaphors for life, dreams, old age and struggle attach themselves to baseball like no other sport.

The poetic poverty of the minor leagues, the futility of defying Father Time for one last year playing a kids’ game, the tragedy of decline, the nobility of attempting a comeback against all odds, common sense and what your body and your graying hair tell you, they’re all here in “Late Life: The Chien-ming Wang Story,” a new documentary arriving as we brace for another Fall Classic, baseball’s World Series.

Chien-ming Wang was “The Pride of Taiwan” when he played for the Yankees, a strapping sinkerball specialist and “ground ball machine” for the Bronx Bombers in the mid-2000s. He was “the ace” taking the mound for the marquee franchise in America’s Pastime.

His every move was covered by breathless media back in Taiwan, his every triumph front page news. He won 19 games in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. And then he got hurt doing something American League pitchers rarely have to do — run the bases. He had to watch his pitch-speed, his career prospects and his status decline as he could not engineer a comeback from what looked, by 2013, like a career-ending injury.

“He was a beast,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman remembers. “That injury cost us a great deal, and certainly cost him a lot, too.”

“Late Life” follows Wang as he takes one long last shot at glory, an athlete in his mid-30s, throwing in the mid-80s, lurching from one minor league club to the next, riding the bus again with kids and fellow has-beens.

He’s a humble man in this documentary, one further humbled by how far he has fallen. He had become an icon for Taiwanese baseball, and his fall was covered as eagerly as his rise in the local media.

Filmmaker Frank W Chen assembled archival footage from Wang’s heyday, a montage of his sinker sinking, another of it failing to sink as his skills, technique and body let him down. Taiwanese fans and Taiwanese flags filled Yankee Stadium when Wang was pitching, a baseball version of “Linsanity.” 

We see the guy dubbed “The Next Great Yankee Pitcher” struggling with the Gwinnett Braves and South Maryland Blue Crabs. Wang affably shakes hands with children whose mom told them he used to be a Big Leaguer.

“What’s a Yankee?” the star struck boys want to know.

There’s an impressive graphic map showing all the towns Wang pitched for, coming up through the Staten Island and Newark clubs on to Yankee Stadium, kicking around Louisville, Charlotte and Tacoma as he tries to get the magic back.

His agent Alan Chang apparently never saw “A League of Their Own.” He breaks down in tears at his client and friend’s trials.

His parents, interviewed in Taiwan, remark how he’s “always been stubborn” and how he might need to “climb down from that highest tower” he once scaled.

Wife Charlene Wu delivers the unkindest cut of all — “You feel sorry for him.”

And yet Wang persists. “Late Life” tracks him through the 2015 and 2016 season, interspersing still photos of Wang’s childhood and early days in the minors with the formative Yankees who drafted him, coached him and profess to still believe in him, even though the club has moved on.

Billy Connors, retired Yankees VP for Players, is a friend and fan who tells the film crew, Wang and his agent “You should never give up on a guy who’s done it,” as in somebody who was once good enough to make the Big Leagues could always do it again.

Patrick Day, GM of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the Atlantic League, notes the world of has-beens and faded stars who fill the minors and notes, “Their worlds get crushed a little bit.”

Wang, in broken English and in Chinese with English subtitles, speaks soberly about the battle against age and fading skills, his two sons who are growing up without him and whether all this is worth it. That “Pride of Taiwan” title was more a burden than anything else, and he wears the surgery scars of a professional athlete who has had shoulder and knee problems more than once.

More tears from his agent, sad comments from younger Asian players who hate to see him like this, the works, the humbling nature of minor league bus travel, parks with railroads literally parked up against the outfield fence (“Brewster’s Millions” anyone?).

And then, just as we and he seem to have reached that “acceptance” stage of mourning, a little hope is dangled in front of Wang and the viewer. We see the fascinating rehab regimen of the Florida Baseball Ranch rehab in Brandon, Florida, rebuilding his mechanics and muscles for pitching in an older body.


Baseball’s hopes of spring,  summer grind and funereal fall poke through in this sharp but narrowly-focused documentary. So does the games eternal “second chance,” that “You’ll get’em tomorrow, next week, next year.”

In Wang, we see a stoic Everyman, straining to defy time like the rest of us, working so hard he sometimes forgets to dye the gray out of his hair, trying to keep his head about him even as his agent breaks down in tears. If your team isn’t in the World Series, here’s a documentary to share a little hope. “Wait til’next year!”


MPAA Rating: unrated

Cast: Chien-ming WangNeil Allen, Brian Cashman

Credits:Directed by Frank W Chen, script by  Hui-Chuan ChanWen-Hao Winston Chou. A Passion River release.

Running time: 1:39

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Movie Review: Keira Shines as “Colette,” West Dazzles as the Lout Who Made Her and Used Her


Best-selling novelist, scandal of the French stage and ahead-of-the-curve gender bending socialite, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was the toast of Belle Epoque France.

To a century of readers, in French and any other language you could think of, she was simply “Colette.”

She earns the Full Keira Knightley Period Piece treatment in “Colette,” a handsomely mounted film about the changing place of women in world culture as seen through the life of an icon who made that change come about.

Director Wash Westmoreland (“Still Alice”) brings us a stately stroll through the Paris salons at the end of the 19th century, the theater, opera, pantomimes and parties that screamed “decadence” as the pace of life accelerated with the age. And he takes us to the sylvan countryside, to Burgundy (Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, Yonne) where smart Gabrielle (Gabrielle) is wooed and her parents flattered by the wealthy, charming and famous rogue, Henry Gauthier-Villars, known to the reading world of the day as “Willy.”

Willy (Dominic West) is a a city sophisticate, dismissing the latest opera (“La Tosca,” by Victorien Sardou) with a “bad theater is like dentistry” quip to her parents (Fiona Shaw, Robert Pugh).

Gabrielle is shy, withdrawn in his larger-than-life presence. But in private, there is lust and love. Here is a man who appreciates her wit, her sensibilities and the poetic turns of phrase she manages, even in her love letters.

“I can read you like the first line on an optician’s chart,” she quips, and he swoons.

Dowry (she has none) be damned, they marry and “Life is ours for the taking!” His “shallow and pretentious” society friends may dismiss her taste in comfortable, simpler fashions and joke about Willy’s “wild days” being behind him. But Gabrielle declares “the wild days have just begun.”

And so they have. Living well, they are constantly short of cash. Willy likes to pick up the dinner check, buy the house a round, gamble and it turns out, keep a mistress here and there.

This is almost more than his new bride can bear. But West makes Willy an infectiously fun and driven rogue. He’s a writer, actually more of a pseudonymous “entrepreneur,” pitching an idea, contracting out his stories and snarky book and theater reviews to lesser mortals, taking the credit as “Willy.”

He’s like a movie producer — “an idea man” — who leaves the detail, artistry and talent to others.

Gabrielle finds herself sucked into “the factory,” where Willy browbeats her into turning her charming tales of growing up into a novel. He cajoles and flatters her until she’s done, and then picks apart the work’s commercial failings.

But when the creditors and repossession men come to the door, he’s desperate enough to pitch “Claudine at School,” a light, carefully observed fictionalization of Gabrielle’s school days. It becomes a sensation, a veritable cottage industry, and Willy becomes the toast of Paris.

Maybe this is a “Women are from Venus/Men are from Mars” take on this “secret” arrangement which everyone of the day seemed to know about, but here this cruel credit-stealing seems more benign than it did in say, “Big Eyes.”

Credit that to West and the script, which make Willy’s devotion to his wife match his need/use for her. The times might very well dictate that “female authors don’t sell,” but this one does, under Willy’s name. His coaching and encouraging — “It’s the hand that holds the pen that writes history!” — and editing makes her who she becomes. It’s just that he never realized it was the editor who was supposed to be anonymous.

But as the years pass and the grind of cranking out more “Claudines” grates, Gabrielle morphs into simply Colette, a woman with her own identity, her own ambitions, her own ego and her own extra-marital carnal desires.

“It was the wife I found interesting.”

Willy may express tolerance, but ever the opportunist, he finds a way to inject himself into her lesbian affairs as well. It’s just a matter of time before Colette asserts herself, professionally, financially, artistically and sexually, and breaks through the patriarchy that lets men have all the fun, the money and the credit.


Knightley is her usual blend of spunk and serenity playing this woman who, with age and experience, starts to demand her due in life, love and the public eye. She has chemistry with the actresses playing Colette’s paramours (Eleanor Tomlinson, Denise Gough), but her scenes with West crackle with the whirlwind of life he and his character bring to them.

Yes, she could be headed down the carpet during awards season, but his is one of the great supporting performances of the year. She nobly holds center stage as the focus of the movie, but he makes it fun.

Westmoreland’s opulent production plays a bit like a “Hit the highlights” version of the life of the woman who wrote “Gigi” and was nominated for the Nobel Prize. It lopes along through Colette’s life, her emergence as an icon (via Claudine), her avante garde theater years, her growing comfort with her sexuality. As such it tends to drag and all these obvious efforts to show the changing times (electric lights are marveled over, “cinema rights” to the books are discussed) weigh the tale down.

But Knightley and West create spectacular friction in these roles, two people who loved, collaborated and rubbed each other the wrong way and the right way, and from that, a great artist was created, shaped and immortalized — with a little help from her lawyers.


MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality/nudity

Cast: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Eleanor Tomlinson, Fiona Shaw, Denise Gough,

Credits:Directed by Wash Westmoreland, script by Richard Glatzer, Wash Westermoreland, Rebecca Lenkiewicz. A Bleecker St.  release.

Running time: 1:51

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Preview, Keira and Skarsgaard and a Nazi’s house requisitioned in “The Aftermath” of WWII

This April 2019 release has a hint of “Suite Francaise” about it — enemies, hurled together and connecting romantically.

“The Aftermath” marries Keira K to Jason Clarke, and throws the regal, high-born (Nazi sympathizer?) Alexander Skarsgaard into the mix to further complicate war torn 1946 Hamburg.

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Movie Review: “The Hate U Give”



More a good movie of its moment than a great film, “The Hate U Give” is a drama built on messaging and a hand full of terrific, emotionally-charged scenes.

It’s “The Black Lives Matter Movie” and more, a vivid if uneven and slackly-paced portrait of African American life and how American policing, too often, crashes into it.

And from its first moments, a scene in which a father (Russell Hornsby of “Fences”) gives his young children “The Talk,” about how a black person in America has to act when confronted by the police, the “keep your hands where we can see them” and “don’t act mad,” “Hate” reminds us it is a story with high stakes and today’s headlines immediacy.

Our heroine and narrator is Starr (Amandla Stenberg), a suburban Atlanta teen who lives in two worlds. At home, she’s part of an economically-segregated neighborhood, “Garden Heights,” where her ex-con dad (Hornsby) runs the local grocery, right next to the African American barbershop, the BBQ joint, a whole ecosystem of working class dreams hard against the drugs and other social ills of disadvantage.

Daddy has an activist bent, “Being black is an honor,” he reminds his kids. From childhood he drilled Black Panther politics into them, “Know your rights,” etc.

But during the day, Starr is the uniformed, braided put-together beauty in an overwhelmingly white private school. Her speech isn’t street, her manners, study habits and demeanor impeccable. The idea, she narrates, is “don’t give anyone a reason to call you ‘ghetto.'”

She has a white boyfriend (K.J. Apa) who she won’t let meet her parents, rich white girlfriends (Sabrina Carpenter, Megan Lawless) who pepper their talk with African American slang, which Starr never uses.

Weekend house parties in “the hood” can be rowdy and rough with her running mate Kenya (Dominique Fishback), the one who drags her away from Starr’s “Fresh Prince” re-runs.

“Oh girl, you’ve GOT to let the 90s perish!”

That’s where she runs into her childhood crush, Khalil (Algee Smith of “Detroit”), overdressed and over-sneakered. When gunshots interrupt their party re-connection, he drives her home. He plays Tupac on the car stereo and explains “THUG Life,” the late rapper’s acronym for being raised in injustice is “The Hate U Give,” which comes back around with confrontations and violence in adulthood.

They’ve shrugged off the brawl that ended the party entirely when Freemont’s Finest pulls them over. Starr’s training from “The Talk” kicks in, but Khalil is annoyed at this “driving while black” hassle. It’s dark. He back-talks. He shows off. He gets shot.

“The Hate U Give” becomes Starr’s journey through grief and timidity to activism.


“Hate U Give,” based on the Angie Thomas novel, is the most pointed, high-minded George Tillman Jr. drama since “Notorious,” a director/producer whose ensuing film and TV work has been lackluster (“Soul Food,” “Faster,” “The Longest Ride”) and disappointing, to say the least.

He’s most at home here in giving us a lived-in milieu, a soul food restaurant with “A Black Man Can” sticker slapped on the fuse box, a long-established drug dealer (Anthony Mackie, hard and cold) with “history” with Maverick, Starr’s dad, where mom (Regina Hall) is the sober-and-concerned rock who nurtures and sets the family’s direction. Hornsby is the stand-out in this cast as he brings power and pathos to his turn as a father who has experienced this world’s blows and wants his kids to brace for fending them off.

Tillman pitches “Hate U Give” as “important” and “epic” in its running time and supposed scope, but it feels more haphazard and leisurely than  that. Watch the equally ambitious but tighter and more challenging “Monsters and Men” or even “BlackKklansman” and the filmmaking sophistication gap is glaring. There’s little style to “Hate,” and voice-over narration is the crutch of middling screenwriters and directors who indulge them. Film is a visual medium. Show us, don’t show us and then TELL us.

Starr keeps a “Nevertheless, she persisted” sticker on her locker and gets to smirk at how much of “my culture” her hip hop happy classmates embrace until push comes to shove and “Blue Lives Matter” is the reflexive fall-back position of “privilege.” We appreciate the duality of the character even if the story arc and performance don’t give equal time to both halves of Starr.

Stenberg, seen most recently in the unfortunate “Where Hands Touch” and before that “The Darkest Minds,” is still at the “pretty and romantic” stage of her career. The is about as “ghetto” as Keira Knightley. But her turn here takes on weight as the film progresses. We can see the callow PYT of “Everything, Everything” get better, right before our eyes.

The odd lighter moment doesn’t dispel the sense that “The Hate U Give” is burdened with hopes, expectations and “importance.” But Tillman and Stenberg lift their games enough that this doesn’t cripple the film or rob it of several wrenching moments of recognition, grief and “When will this ever change?” regret.


MPAA Rating:PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some violent content, drug material and language

Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Common, Issa Ray, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith, Sabrina Carpenter, K.J. Apa

Credits:Directed by George Tillman Jr., script by  Audrey Wells, based on the Angie Thomas novel. A 20th Century Fox release.

Running time: 2:13

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Movie Review: “Halloween” reboot fails to match the original


It pays homage to the classic slasher film it’s based on and gives us the finale we crave from the opening credits.

But the ballyhooed David Gordon Green/Danny McBride reboot of “Halloween,” while it manages the odd laugh, suffers from the soulless/frightless sequels, remakes and variations on a theme that rained down on us after John Carpenter essentially launched a genre 40 years ago.

It’s not about the creative killings — although that’s what these films devolved into, and what McBride, Green and co-writer Jeff Fradley seem most engrossed by. The occasional avert-your-eyes-at-the-gore moment is no substitute for suspense. And if we root for one character or another it’s basically because we’re sentimental, historically attached to them, not because of anything this brain trust conjured up.

Jamie Lee Curtis plays a re-imagined Laurie Strode, her life bent and twisted by what she went through back when disco was a thing and her hometown of Haddenfield was a killing ground for Michael Myers.

The British podcast producers (Rian Rhees, Jefferson Hall) who track her down to the fortified compound she’s made her home say they “believe there’s a lot to learn from your experience.”

She’s not hearing it. “There’s nothing to be learned” from “pure evil,” “the boogeyman.”

The unkillable Myers has spent decades in a mental lock-up, not speaking, growing older and fascinating the doctor who took over from Dr. Loomis 40 years before.

“He can speak,” Dr. Sartain (Turkish actor Haluk Bilginer) marvels, “he just chooses not to.”

Halloween is coming, there’s a bus transfer of this most dangerous patient, you know the drill. So does Laurie. She’s been praying the lunatic gets loose so she can finish her business with him. She’s been preparing for this day like Sarah Conner in the “Terminator” movies.

One wry observation from the new generation of teen stabbing fodder is how the world has changed since 1978. “A couple of people murdered” by a nut with a knife “is not that big a deal” post-Columbine.

Laurie’s psychoanalyst daughter (Judy Greer) is estranged from her mother thanks to the paranoid upbringing she endured. Granddaughter Allyson(Andi Matichak) still sees Granny, but wonders why she can’t “get over it.”


The formula requires the hulking killer in overalls and a mask to randomly slaughter adults, teens and children on his way to his date with Laurie. Pitless impalings, skull-squishing, lower-jaws yanked out and simple stabbings are all the now-60something Myers knows.

A cop (Will Patton) who hunted Myers back in the day is on the case. The doctor insists that Michael is “property of the state. He mustn’t be harmed.”

There are visual references to the original film — closets with louvered doors, a dollhouse of the original house Laurie holed up in, shots replicated all set to that classic, insistent pulsing score that Carpenter composed for his original film.

I like the idea of an homage, love that Jamie Leigh is back, grizzled and ready for action.

But where are the frights, where’s the tension that builds as the killer closes in on his prey? With these filmmakers involved, where are the gags? A little kid cursing is about all this crew can come up with.

For all these cumulative credibility that the “Pineapple Express” team bring to “Halloween,” this is only marginally better than the many sequels or the 2007 Rob Zombie re-boot.

We expect a treat, and they pretty much trick us out of it.


MPAA Rating: R for horror violence and bloody images, language, brief drug use and nudity

Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Will Patton, Judy Greer, Andi MatichakHaluk Bilginer

Credits:Directed by David Gordon Green, script by David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, Jeff Fradley, based on characters from the John Carpenter film. A Universal/Miramax release.

Running time: 1:46

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Movie Review: Mrs. Maisel’s Brosnahan heralds “Change in the Air”


A mysterious new neighbor throws assorted folks into a tepid tizzy in “Change in the Air,” an airless allegorical dramedy featuring a cadre of Hollywood’s well-experienced but under-employed, and the TV star of the moment.

Her name is “Wren,” and as she’s played by Golden Globe and Emmy winning Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), we might rightly expect something more from the birdlike lady with the avian name.

Wren keeps to herself mostly, gets bags of mail each day and takes long walks with that mail to heaven knows where.

Most of her neighbors think nothing of her, but Joanne (Mary Beth Hurt,who broke out in “The World According to Garp”), the local busier-than-busy busybody, just has to know.

“Are you single? Let’s walk. I can tell you everything you need to know about this neighborhood…We older women don’t take to eccentricities. Unless they’re our own.

When she’s not monitoring elderly Mr. Lemke (veteran character actor M. Emmett Walsh), who attempts suicide by walking in front of a car in the film’s first scene, she pokes around Wren’s apartment and tries to follow her. She is NOT a “busybody,” she insists.


Mrs. Lemke (Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis) doesn’t know what to do with her despondent, ready-to-die husband. The lonely, aged police officer (Aidan Quinn of “Benny & Joon”) can’t figure this Wren out, can’t get a statement from her about the accident. After hours, he has one exhausted encounter for impersonal “company policy” after another.”

The music-minded mailman (Satya Bhabha) isn’t allowed to be curious about those mountains of letters. The voice teacher (Macy Gray) who rents Wren her garage apartment is too involved with her choir to care.

And Joanne’s ornithologist husband (Peter Gerety) is too wrapped up in the odd bird that suddenly turns up in his yard — a Bali Starling — to get off topic.

“Wrens. They’re highly adaptable…their scientific name literally means ‘cave dweller.'”

Joanne turns off QVC long enough to pester the new arrival with comically blunt questions, and stops work on her self-built casket to speculate on what she doesn’t know.

“I am pretty sure she’s a pen pal for prisoners. LOTS of prisoners. What else could it be? I think she thinks we’ll care.”

And all of this description and plot summary and characterization detail is what you put in a review of a movie that literally lies there, stiff as a corpse.

Hurt can’t make Joanne antic enough to be more than dully entertaining, Walsh doesn’t have a line of dialogue, the sparkling Dukakis long ago lost her fastball and Gerety (“Flight,””Charlie Wilson’s War”) and Quinn, old pros in their own right, can’t find anything interesting to play in this script.


Brosnahan is pretty but absurdly uninteresting in a role that Roma Downey might have brought a bland but more beatific quality to, back in her TV prime. I’d say “Spoiler alert,” but you can’t spoil a picture as undercooked as this.

Director Dianne Dreyer and screenwriter Audra Gorman have worked in the business for years — producing, location-managing, etc. They have contacts and “how to get your film made” know-how.

What they lacked here was a plot, dialogue, characters or dramatic situations that were worth anybody’s time.


MPAA Rating: PG for some thematic elements and brief language

Cast: Rachel Brosnahan, Olympia Dukakis, Aidan Quinn, Macy Gray,M. Emmett Walsh, Mary Beth Hurt, Seth Gilliam

Credits:Directed by Dianne Dreyer, script by Audra Gorman. A Screen Media release.

Running time: 1:34

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Documentary Review: A Yazidi woman carries her people’s hopes “On Her Shoulders”


It’s not easy being an icon.

We can feel Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad wince as one of her fellow Yazidi introduces her at a Berlin rally as “our only hope.”

We see that look again when former International Court lawyer and friend Luis Moreno Ocampo hectors her with “You are the only one who can do it (find a long term solution for the Yazidis),” punctuating his pep talk about how that solution, helping the Yazidi keep the land a genocide forced them from in Iraq and Syria, is “YOUR job.”

And we feel her pain in a grueling, never-ending series of interviews with media people, coaxing, apologizing, sympathetic, but always ALWAYS pressing onward to get details of the slaughter of her village, her rape and enslavement by ISIS brigands.

Yes, even the seemingly sensitive yet persistent female CBC Radio talker who makes her cry. We never see her interrogator, just Nadia in tears.

“She wants the whole world to know what she can never forget,” a TV reporter declares. Because Nadia Murad cannot forget. The world won’t let her. There’s too much riding on that memory, her descriptions of it to the U.S. Congress, to the Canadian Parliament and the U.N. General Assembly.

It’s all “On Her Shoulders,” as the title of a fairly candid new documentary about Murad declares. She was 21 when she was raped, 23 when most of the movie was filmed and is only 25, now. And this is her life, “the only hope” for the surviving Yazidi, non-Muslim Middle Easterners largely scattered across Europe after ISIS set out to wipe them from the face of the Earth in 2014-15.

The film follows Murad through the media grind that is her life, intimate only with the leaders of YAZDA, a non-profit devoted to helping the Yazidis and putting their plight before the world.

She counts high-profile human rights lawyer, fashion plate and George Clooney spouse Amal Clooney among her fans and friends, people looking for legal recourse against the Islamic State monsters who set out to destroy her people simply because they exist in the otherwise almost-entirely Islamic Middle East.
“They should be held accountable,” Murad says when pressed, time and again, about what she wishes for her people and what she wants the world to do about the crimes against them.

“I never wanted to be a refugee,” she says, directly to the camera. She never wanted to be a leader and spokesperson for the 500,000 Yazidi who survived the genocide. She takes on this role, “not as a job, but as a request for help”

We see her mentor and and translator Murad Ismael, executive director of YAZDA coaching her, helping her polish her speeches and get them down to UN-dictated length, expressing through her the hope that “standing before them, this time they wouldn’t cover their ears.”

Speaking directly to the camera, she notes attempts at Western style psychotherapy to help her cope with the horrific trauma she faced. Therapy, she realized, wouldn’t help. Survivor’s guilt drives her to help her people, to speak out on behalf of other women who endured and still endure what she went through.

At every stop, it seems, there’s somebody fresh to coach her, lecture her on how important her role is, how big each moment/speech is for making her case for the Yazidi.

And when she’s speaking directly to the camera, she confesses that all she really wanted in her life was to open a hair salon in the Mount Sinjar region where she grew up, to help women and girls like her “feel special” in that small way.

I loved/hated the way director Alexandra Bombach turns the TV/radio coverage, the appearances before government bodies, into endless repetition of her horror. The most candid moments show her and her trailing camera crew goofed on by young Canadian women on a mall escalator, women not much younger than Nadia.

That isn’t her life, and she probably missed out on it altogether, even if we see snippets of her shopping.

She and her translators are subjected to a tour of the Canadian Parliament, complete with a photo op with the legislator who arranges it (unencouraged). They watch an Ottawa honor guard on parade and Nadia laments how Iraqi, Western and Syrian troops are engaged in a brutal struggle with the people who slaughtered her people.

“People here get to WATCH their soldiers,” she says, seemingly unconcerned that the film crew will translate her remarks later. She shops for presents for Yazidi refugees in a Greek camp, follows an endless series of TV reporter instructions for cover footage walking and talking with reporters who do not speak her language.


But “On Her Shoulders” also gets to the essence of Nadia. Her speeches (in English and Arabic with English subtitles) move audience after audience to tears. Legislators weep and embrace her and make promises.

And then that Ocampo shows up, remarks how helpless these activists are, working so hard with so little to show for it, and reminds Nadia of the OTHER thing she can never forget.

It’s up to you, “THIS is your job.”

MPAA Rating: unrated, descriptions of rape and genocide

Cast: Nadia Murad, Murad Ismael, Amal Clooney Ki-Moon Ban

Credits:Directed by  Alexandria Bombach. An Oscilloscope release.

Running time: 1:35

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