Sue, Jeff and Me

Every night at around 10 PM I get drowsy and spacy; my muscles feel like they’re about to collapse, and I know it’s time for bed. But instead of going upstairs to sleep, I am like my dog when she sees me holding her leash and harness: I run away. I really want to go to sleep, but it’s so much work to get there that I put it off. In fact, I have developed a nightly ritual on my phone. First, I do word games on the New York Times app, followed by their puzzles, then I go onto to play some solitaire games. And then, as if I’m looking down over a precipice, I’m feeling empty, so I frantically turn to Instagram, looking for anything of substance.

Initially, I see pictures of day trips my friends took and of babies of my nieces. Then I look at the video stories up top, and if it’s a Monday or a Friday, my eyes land on a happy accident: a picture of an old time jukebox lit up, with the moniker “Stuff In Our House” underneath. Stuff In Our House is the name used by Sue Tweedy, who is the wife of Jeff Tweedy, the lead singer of WILCO, which is one of my favorite bands. I’ve seen them a gazillion times.

When I see an outline around the jukebox, I light up as much as that jukebox itself. It means that there is something live happening right then and there. I happily tap on it, knowing that I will be able to slowly and surely get my teeth brushed, get the crème smoothed down on my skin, my jammies on, and lay in bed peacefully, because I am taking the Tweedys upstairs with me.   

Every Monday and Thursday on Instagram, Jeff Tweedy and his family put on a one-hour concert that they call “The Tweedy Show.” In the show, Jeff and his two sons serenade the audience, which they call “clients,” with his own songs, songs of WILCO, and lots of covers. It’s delightful. Jeff plays the guitar; his son Spencer plays the drums, and his other son Sammy is on vocals.  Spencer is one year younger or older than my daughter. He is family friends with one of my daughter’s best friends from college. Jeff’s wife Sue films the Tweedys on her iPhone. We can hear her, but we cannot see her. The banter between Sue and Jeff makes me laugh–a lot.

Spencer, Sammy and Jeff Tweedy
Spencer and Jeff Tweedy

They’ve been doing this for over a year now; they started off playing seven nights a week.

At one Show, two of the WILCO band members were visiting, and we saw Jeff Tweedy play with the rhythm section unplugged. WILCO is a great live band, and this special performance delivered.

Jeff and Sue Tweedy are real, and they’d like me a lot. I know it. They have a sense of humor that is similar to that of my husband and me. While they do their show, comments from the Insta followers (the Tweedy clients) stream through. Sue reads those that she thinks are funny or otherwise significant. Can I write something that catches her attention? Will that break the barrier between what I have with the Tweedys in reality vs. what I have in my head?

The Tweedy Show is watched by anywhere from 800 to 1200 people: enough to comprise a concert audience, but not quite respectable enough to be a decent sized TV audience. I doubt this will last more than a few more months: WILCO is touring this summer, and hopefully the pandemic will be abated enough for them to actually do that.

I was going to write that it’s a rare glimpse into an artist’s world, but I don’t know how rare it is. Anyone can share their lives on Instagram. Many celebrities put their lives on display for reality TV. Although not everyone shares their raw talent like the Tweedys.

In reality, I would be friends with Jeff and Sue Tweedy. Had they lived in our neighborhood, we’d have spontaneous dinners together. I know we’d be friends because I get their inside jokes that refer to earlier shows, family stories said in them, and people who have appeared in them. Jeff Tweedy says he enjoys what he and his family have with their clients. I do too, but I don’t think it’s real. After all, I may feel close to Jeff and Sue Tweedy, but the reality is that I have never met them.

Hey, your plot’s inside out…

I just saw three movies in a row, all happened to be organized in the same way: from the inside out. Maybe it’s all this snow getting to my head, but I didn’t like this way of storytelling. I am surprised, because I do like the nonlinear plots of Pulp Fiction and Memento. But for these three movies, I wanted a straight-up story, from beginning to middle to end. Twists always welcome. I am glad I watched the movies though.

This is the structure for the way they are organized:

Act One Scene One: Incomplete Flashback—something big is about to happen to a main character, but before you can say “What the F

Scene 2: The Beginningthe story starts from the beginning, waaaaaaay before the flashback moment.

Following scenes—the plot plods ahead until all of a sudden–

Middle Act: the first scene is repeated–this time in chronological order, so that the scene is complete and in full context.

The Rest: The story moves on from there.

The movies:

1. The White Tiger

Scene 1: A highway in India. Two Indian men, one Indian woman in a car, about to crash—

Scene 2: Balrum, an Indian man drafts an email about how he escaped his impoverished origins and became a wealthy entrepreneur.

Following Scenes: A young Indian boy born in school. He’s very clever,  but can not continue his education past elementary grades because he has to go to work and make money for his family. We see the jobs he takes.

Middle Act: The complete accident and its aftermath.

The Rest: He becomes an entrepreneur.

Does it work? Sure. Although, I think a straight-up story told from beginning to end would have been better, but the movie still is pretty good, because the acting is so good, especially that of the lead, played by an Indian actor and singer named Adarsh Gourav. It also stars Priyanka Chopra, who is married to one of the Jonas brothers. The movie is promoted as a tongue in cheek “how-to” story–how a servant can become an entrepreneur and join his master’s caste.

The White Tiger was written and directed by Iranian-American Ramin Bahrani, and based on a 2008 novel by Indian-Australian Aravind Adiga. Bahrani and Adiga were roommates at Columbia University in the US.

2. Cowboys

Scene 1: Mother looks for child in child’s room. Child is not there.

Scene 2: Unhappy girl who feels like a boy. Father accepts it. Mother does not.

Following Scenes—the child and father go off on a horse into the wilds of Montana.

The Middle: Once again, child not in room.

The Rest: Mother and police search for child and father.

Did it work? Not really.

I liked the transgender theme, but the movie played like an afterschool special, a little predictable, a little nonsensical, with a little overacting. Question: where did they get the horse? Seriously.

Although, I love Steve Zahn, who plays the father, and Ann Dowd, who plays a police woman.

3. The Vigil

Scene 1: Woman standing in front of man with gun

Scene 2: Yakov in someone’s apartment at a support-group meeting for people leaving the Hasidic faith. He has left the Hasidic fold.

Following Scenes: A rabbi hires Yakov to do something that he used to do when he was in the fold: be a shomer for an evening. A shomer watches over the body of a deceased community member. Someone abruptly left his post as shomer and the rabbi needs a replacement STAT. Yakov could use the money, so he sits guard in the wee hours of the morning, just he and the dead body in the house, with the widow in the upstairs bedroom. She has Alzheimer’s Disease and is a little batty.

The middle and the rest: All sorts of shenanigans take place.

Does it work? Maybe. Don’t look now—it’s a HASIDIC HORROR MOVIE! Combining themes of religiosity, superstition, antisemitism, to name a few. It’s like a B movie. Pure camp and fun.

It will be out one week from today (Friday 2/26/21). I saw it early as part of the Philadelphia Jewish Film Fest.

It’s Thursday Feb. 11th and I have finally lost it.

It was bound to come sooner or later, but maybe it took this morning’s breakfast of pasta leftovers from Monday night’s dinner and a mid-morning snack of hot cocoa (Starbucks: 100 cals per 2.5 tablespoons. I had it with warmed nonfat milk. It really needs milk with some fat in it, I discovered, as I dumped at least 7 tablespoons of chocolate into it.)

So here I am, Thursday, February 11th, 2021, around noon, sitting by Instagram, waiting to see what happens today at Britney’s hearing.

Yes, that Britney.

Framing Britney Spears

I was so surprised to learn that The New York Times actually made a documentary about her, called Framing Britney Spears, streaming on HULU. It is about a controversy brought to public attention by a group called the Free Britney Movement. This is a group of her fans who believe that her father is conservator of her estate against her will and the conservatorship should be dissolved. Her father, Jamie Spears, has been her conservator since her infamous crackup in 2007 when she walked into a barber shop and shaved her head. It’s been 13 years since then and Britney has had no control over her personal life or $$$$$$$$.

What surprised me more? The New York Times doing a doc about her or her father having complete control of her life?

Both. None.

The New York Times

First, I remember a fateful day 12 or 13 years ago when I sat in my kitchen stunned by what was on the front page of the NYT: an article explaining that some members of the Tea Party were college graduates. It even had a side-bar with a spotlight on grads of the Ivies who were members of the Tea Party. I think there was someone from Princeton. I found it odd that the NYT would put this article on the front page. Even though it is shocking that some Tea Party members were college grads, was it breaking news worthy of the front page? This was right when the Tea Party was trying to gain credibility.

And articles like that helped legitimize the Tea Party. We can thank media outlets like The New York Times for such greats as Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. Years later–skip to 2016–and the Times was analyzing every word that candidate Donald Trump uttered (which was only about Hilary’s email), giving Donald Trump legitimacy as a candidate. Thanks, NYT! 2016-20 was a dream!

With Framing Britney Spears is The New York Times again legitimizing a group that has no substance? Is it giving lip service to the Free Britney Movement because that will sell newspapers?

With piqued curiosity I read the reviews of Framing Britney Spears. Although critics don’t think that it’s a brilliant movie, they take the issue seriously. Believe me. The spoiler-filled reviews proved it.

But the movie seemed worth watching, so I watched it last weekend. There are many painful moments in it. The media asked Britney inappropriate, personal questions, put her under a microscope, and the paparazzi was merciless. As pointed out on a podcast I listened to, an “old man” asked her if she had a boyfriend when she performed on Star Search in the early ’90s. She was 10 years old. (That old man was Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson’s sidekick from his Tonight Show era.) (Interesting to get a 2021 view of that. When I was growing up, it wasn’t an uncommon joke for an old man to ask a girl if she had a boyfriend. That was in the 70’s. It wasn’t funny then; it wasn’t funny in 1992 with Britney, and it’s not funny in 2021.)

But that isn’t even the worst of what the media did to her. In the documentary, the Times interviews one of the paparazzi who hounded her; it also shows some uncomfortable footage from interviews with Diane Sawyer and with a British interviewer-from-hell.

Last summer, Britney said she did not want her father as conservator because she was afraid of him. In November there was a hearing, and the judge kept Jamie Spears as conservator, but added a bank as co-conservator.

I saw the movie on Saturday. Sunday night I woke up in the middle of the night and wondered if Britney was OK. I grabbed my phone and headed over to her Instagram account. She seemed fine. Lots of videos of herself dancing in cropped shirts. Some of her speaking in her annoying baby-toned voice. But then I googled her name and found some articles about how she is doing fine as a mom to her two sons and has a boyfriend. Reassured that she was OK, I got back to sleep.

Parents or guardians control finances of kids under 18 because they are too young to make their own decisions. The kids become adults and it would be a conservator who takes control if an adult loses the capacity to deal with his/her finances and other parts of his/her life. Conservatorship was intended to protect adults who become incapacitated, such as the elderly with Alzheimer’s. Conservatorships usually end with the death of the adult, so it is not often that the actual existence of a conservatorship is in question. That makes sense. But what happens when the adult person is a 39-year-old working mother of two? Spears didn’t stop working when the conservatorship began–she made gazillions, especially in four years when she had a “residency” in Las Vegas. But her father has been making the decisions for her for 13 years. How is she going to demonstrate that she is no longer incapable of handling her affairs–how is she going to show that she can be in control of her life when her father has been her conservator for most of her adult life?

Is it a catch-22? I’m waiting for the court to weigh in on it today.

According to the NYT, there’s a hearing about Britney’s conservatorship today, a little under a week after the documentary premiered.

Oh there’s more, so much more. I’ve read so much that I didn’t know how I was going to incorporate it all into a blog post. But I didn’t want to make a joke out of what I was doing. I don’t want to pass any judgements on Britney or her posts.

I’m taking this seriously. The New York Times has come across something worth legitimizing. There is a legitimate concern for Britney Spears, leading to a lot of questioning about the purpose and legitimacy of conservatorships. What makes a person capable or incapable of controlling his/her own finances?

Allen v. Farrow

Last week The New York Times again shocked me when it published an interview with Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, filmmakers of Allen v. Farrow, a new HBO 4-part documentary series (out 2/21) examining the accusations by Woody Allen’s adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, that he abused her when she was seven years old. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. It was big news when Woody Allen and Mia Farrow split up after Mia found naked pics of her older daughter (Soon-Yi Previn) in Woody’s possession. Woody and Soon-Yi Previn have since married and had kids of their own.

Over the years the accusations resurfaced. For example, when adult Dylan wrote an op ed in The New York Times and Woody wrote an op ed in response.

Why would HBO make a movie about this? Why would the NYT cover it? Apparently, the HBO series includes information that was never before public, including a recording of an interview with Dylan at the time. The article definitely leaves the impression that Woody did it, and that this series is going to prove it.

Is it with salacious interest that I will watch this documentary? Was it with salacious interest that I watched Framing Britney Spears? Am I part of the problem of media’s untrustworthiness and undue influence?

Yes and no. The films raise legit questions that will help others in similar situations. I needed to read the spoiler-laden reviews though to be able to tell that watching the movies wasn’t a cheap-ass thing to do, and that I wasn’t contributing to the media’s obsession with stardom.

Oh–just found out about the hearing today. Jamie Spears tried to get the court to boot his co-conservator, but it didn’t work.


This woman looks like what I feel inside. It’s frigid, and I’ve been feeling the uncertainty covid has thrust upon us more deeply lately–it’s claustrophobic, and I’m trying to resist pessimism.

This woman’s angst stems from the pandemic too. Something has gone terribly wrong in the covid-safe séance that she and her friends hold on zoom.

This is a still from the movie Host, which is in The Economist’s list of Best Films of 2020. Touted as contemporary and topical (redundant?), Host is a British movie that was filmed during covid and is set in today’s covid times.


Plot: A few friends get on zoom and hold a séance. At the outset, a medium tells them that they have to respect the spirits or the spirits will get mad. Need I say more? The spirits get dissed and are pissed. The whole movie is shot as a zoom call, so that the audience’s perspective is that of a zoom participant.

It’s covid from inception to product. It was filmed using covid precautions. The director and the actors were in separate locations to make the movie. In fact, the actors needed to film themselves and do some of their own special effects.

The Economist (part 1)

Review by N.B. (sic)

Bottom Line: Sure this plot sounds stupid, but I like horror and I like clever. And The Economist said it was “ingenious.” The reviewer writes that “Host was conceived and shot during lockdown, while the cast and crew were in separate locations, so it could be the film which most accurately reflects this topsy-turvy year.”

The Guardian

Review by Benjamin Lee

Bottom Line: Grade B. It holds effective scares, building up the right amount of tension–

“There’s a smattering of devilishly well-timed jump-scares that work best when our confusion leads us to examine the screen closer, unsure where within the frame a demonic presence might lie.”

Interesting Inspiration: Lee explains that the concept for Host grew out of a medium’s telling director Rob Savage that her séance business was booming during covid.

Spoilers Skimmable: For the most part, yes.


Review by Louie Fecou

Bottom Line: it’s “well executed.” Horror fans will like it.

Spoilers Skimmable: On the whole, yes, though he does go into unnecessary detail about how the spirits are disrespected. You don’t need to know this detail to appreciate the review.

Best Line:

‘You have already seen this type of filmmaking before — you know, everything is conveyed through the computer screens of the cast. Just like found footage though, it runs the risk of becoming tired quite quickly, so you really have to be in the right frame of mind to watch this.”

The Economist (part deux)

I saw the movie. I was not drawn in.

Why would a movie like this even be in a “best of” list?

Maybe because it’s a novelty? The reviewer states that “‘Host’ is one of the few films to be more effective when watched at home on your laptop rather than at the cinema.”

I’m ok with disagreeing with a critic about a film. But when a movie is touted as among the year’s best, I expect a little more than a film that’s adequate for its genre. Maybe when you’re down in the bowels of a pandemic, you crave a good movie to bring you out out of it for a little bit. Best not to depend on a hit list at this time.

small movie for a small screen

Another Round

Do you know this face?

If you see THIS FACE on a screen, then it’s a MUST SEE because it is Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, who has been in a ton of stuff, including the title character in the American TV show Hannibal that was on a number of years ago. (Here’s his filmography). He’s always good in whatever role he plays–many nefarious ones, but then all sorts of roles. And now we can see him in a new one, as an aspiring alcoholic in the Danish movie Another Round.

Plot: The title of the review in The Chicago Sun-Times drew me to this movie: ‘Another Round’: Four men experiment with teaching while intoxicated. Mads Mikkelsen plays a high school teacher who apparently needs a little umpf in his life. He and three colleagues decide to partake in a scientific experiment that poses the query: does day drinking improve your social and work performances? Yes, they drink on the job, while teaching. Note the rules: no drinking after 8 PM; no drinking on the weekend. (Do not try this at home, even if classes are remote.)

Where to Stream: Amazon


Review by Alissa Wilkinson

Bottom Line: “I cannot overstate my love for Another Round,…”

Existential: I love WIlkinson’s analysis of this movie. She says that it’s about daily existence, and whether alcohol can inject the passion that makes life worth living. Why would adults act like this, viewers might wonder. Wilkinson’s answer: “some combination of finding courage in unlikely places and needing to compensate for all the ways they feel they’ve failed themselves.”

Spoilers Skimmable? Yes. You do have to beware of them, however, Wilkinson does not use a series of spoilers to justify her every thought.

Wonderful Asides: This insightful review contains two interesting tidbits (the second one is really sad):

1. Mikkelsen trained as a gymnast and a dancer, and danced professionally for a decade before he began acting.

2. “(Director Thomas) Vinterberg treats the tale with a light hand, though he’s revealed in interviews that personal tragedy was an impetus for its story; his daughter Ida, who convinced him to make the film, was killed in a car accident four days into filming, and Vinterberg’s response was to rework the script to make it more life-affirming.”

Interview Magazine

Review by Sarah Nechamkin

Bottom Line: It’s great. The direction and acting are amazing.

This is not your typical Leaving Las Vegas tragedy about drinking, nor a Bachelor Party romp about wild nights. “It’s a rather run-of-the-mill mid-life crisis masquerading as thought experiment.”

Best line about the movie in the context of the pandemic:

“…we see, in real time, the insipid ways in which inebriation can lure a person into its steady grip. It’s at once beautiful and tragic, both Shakespearean tragedy and divine comedy—all the more so during a global pandemic that has seen a spike in alcohol.”

Spoilers Skimmable? Thumbs up. You can skip over them.

Chicago Sun-Times

Review by Richard Roeper

Bottom Line: Great acting, great story.

Spoilers Skimmable? NO. Oh woe unto me, I did not tread carefully. Thankfully, the story sounds interesting enough for spoilers not to totally ruin my experience.

A George and a Noir

I’m afraid I must start this post with another preamble. I need to confess that I love  George Clooney.

I want to share an experience I recently had with George’s most recent foray into directing, Midnight Sky. And I want to ask George, should he ever read this post, not to take this personally. It’s just a matter of artistic preference.

I saw two films this week whose musical scores struck me in completely opposite ways. The score to Midnight Sky ruined my experience of the movie. But then I saw a movie that restored my faith in movie scores–a film noir called Pitfall, from 1948.

Midnight Sky

Where to stream: Netflix

Plot: It’s Armageddon, 2049. Earth is falling apart and everyone is leaving the space station in the Arctic except for scientist Augustine Lofthouse  (George Clooney). He insists on staying so that he can warn a current space mission not to return to earth because it is uninhabitable. After everyone leaves he finds a mute little girl who was left behind by mistake. The movie switches among settings, mostly between earth with Lofthouse and the girl and the spaceship that’s heading to earth without knowledge of the catastrophe that has struck. Members of the crew are played by, among others: David Oyelowo, Felicity Jones and Kyle Chandler.

It’s based on the novel Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

The New York Times

Review by Glenn Kenny

Bottom Line: Cinematically, it’s impressive. Plot-wise, not so much. It’s a “real everything-but-the-kitchen-sink science-fiction saga. The only thing missing is an evil alien or malevolent extraterrestrial organism, but that would not be germane.” Although there are “glaring implausibilities” in the second half, the actors still manage to produce an emotional ending.

Spoilers Skimmable? No. When it comes to spoilers, reviews of The NY Times rivals those of The New Yorker: Rampant raging unending spoilers.

Review by Brian Tallerico

Bottom Line: 2/5 stars. Tallerico says that it’s great to see George back on screen, but this movie misses the mark. It’s a completely derivative movie with nothing original to contribute.

Best Line:

“He’s a welcome presence in his first on-screen performance since 2016, but Clooney’s direction is as cold as the landscape his character travels, never once finding anything that feels organic or character-driven. It looks good. It sounds great. It’s as hollow as can be.”

In a parenthetical, Tellerico says something that resonates with me: “Although the film doesn’t have nearly enough quiet moments, thanks in part to an aggressive score by Alexandre Desplat.” 

About That Score:

The Hollywood Reporter

Article by Scott Roxborough

The Hollywood Reporter describes Midnight Sky’s score “as central a character in the science fiction drama as Clooney’s protagonist Augustine.”

In fact, Clooney wanted the music to be like another character, because the girl doesn’t talk and there’s no communication between Lofthouse and the space mission.

“Remember,” Clooney tells The Hollywood Reporter, “these are also about people who can’t communicate, they can’t talk to one another and can’t hear from one another. And so music has to be our language.”

Best Line: George says–

“I thought this was an opportunity for us to do something where the music is a character, a central character in the film, not just highlighting moments of sadness or terror, but also carrying the emotion all the way through from the very beginning.”

My take: the score has a heavy presence-it’s grating. It’s like Donald Trump. Insisting on being the focus, competing with the other noise on screen.

My experience: Whenever the music started, the actors seemed to fade away, as I tried to figure out what emotion the music was trying to evoke. Matching the music with the action was so distracting that it took my attention away from what was happening on screen.

Here’s a sample of the score, in this trailer. The music is relentless. I advise you to just listen to solely the first 33 seconds, so that you are not bombarded by the spoilers. Unless you don’t mind spoilers…then go ahead, listen to the whole thing. Or unless you don’t plan to see the movie…

And now I turn to a film with a perfect musical score. I review a contemporary movie review and a movie review from the time of the film’s release, 1948.


Plot: Poor John Forbes (Dick Powell). He’s got a lovely wife (Jane Wyatt) and a delightful young son (Jimmy Hunt), but his life is all ho hum. Will Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott) give his life the pizzazz that he needs? Intrigue and murder follow. (It’s a noir!)

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime

Slant Magazine 2015 Review by Chuck Bowen

Modern Interpretation:

Bowen deems Pitfall “an underappreciated quasi-feminist gem” because the character of Mona would normally be a femme fatale whose charms cause the demise of the man she ensnares, but this isn’t the case. Mona is layered and a victim herself.

Good acting:

“Powell’s unsentimental performance is the film’s boldest stroke. Most noir heroes encourage the audience to identify with their hungers, vicariously enjoying sex with rarefied women, but Powell establishes John as a bitter mediocrity who spits his lines out in short, direct, nearly staccato bursts.”

New York Times 1948 Review

1948 Interpretation: John Forbes falls prey to the toxic attractiveness of Mona–in other words, she indeed is a femme fatale.

Ennui or bad acting?

“The acting is generally sound, even though Mr Powell’s performance is not always as incisive and varied as one might desire.”

Marital Morality Play: the review notes that it is a comment on marital problems and better solutions.

And now see how a good score fits perfectly into a movie. The score is not CONSTANT throughout the action (as opposed to that of Midnight Sky.) It is silent at times. Watch the first few seconds of this scene. Don’t watch the scene through. Instead, watch the whole movie through!

I’m Baaack

Well, folks, it’s been a while. Three years and one coast. I last wrote in 2017. During the break, I moved across the country, back to the East Coast, where I am from. Then covid hit and I found myself lost as to what to watch. And then I remembered that writing the blog kept me up to date on what was happening in movies and on TV.

This is a good, fulfilling activity for me to get back to. I do have one request though. Can you let me know you’re there? Just like the post or reply. Just so I know I’m not living the covid nightmare, alone in my head, in my computer and away from it all.

Shall I reintroduce myself? I may have switched coasts, but I still hate spoilers. I’m going to highlight a TV show or movie, and critique a couple of reviews and give you the spoiler-free version of them. This time around, I’m going to see the movies/shows first, so that I don’t screw up my own enjoyment of them when I stumble upon spoilers.

The Flight Attendant

Rosie Perez and Kaley Cuoco

How to watch: Season one is 8 episodes on HBO Max

Plot: The morning after a one night stand, flight attendant Cassie Bowden (Kaley Cuoco) wakes up next to her murdered date. She was so drunk that she had blacked out and can’t remember much from the night. She spends the eight episodes trying to clear both her name and her memories: As she tries to remember what happened that night, memories from her traumatic childhood crop up.

The Flight Attendant is an adaptation of Chris Bohjalian’s novel of the same name.

The New Yorker

Review By Doreen St. Felix, December 28, 2020

Bottom Line: The series is good. It mixes different styles with interesting artistic choices. For example, split screen scenes represent Cassie’s “fractured state of mind” while pushing the action forward.

Best line:

Much of the fun of “The Flight Attendant” lies in watching her stumble into capability, as she becomes an amateur sleuth in an attempt to clear her name. 

Spoilers Skimmable? No, St. Felix wants to back up her opinions with as many facts as she can. Then again, all New Yorker reviews are boobytrapped with spoilers.


Review by Kathryn VanArendonk

Bottom Line: The plot is confusing but it’s a fun romp that has effective “emotional insight.” Cassie is played by Kaley Cuoco, who was one of the stars of the hit TV show The Big Bang Theory. She adeptly pulls off keeping the tone as light as a caper while dipping into serious memories from her childhood.

Spoilers Skimmable? Yes. There are some, but you can skip over them.

Review by Allison Shoemaker

Bottom Line: Kaley Cuoco pulls off a “career-best performance” in this “genre-melding” story. Cassie is a sitcom character in a show that is a caper.

Best line:

It’s as though Cassie herself is playing a role, but in the wrong genre, and she knows it’s not working but can’t bring herself to throw in the towel.

Furthermore: It is truly a fascinating character study, although there are brilliant turns by supporting actors, including TR Knight (Grey’s Anatomy) and Rosie Perez (Do the Right Thing). If it wasn’t solely focused on the flight attendant, it would have been a good ensemble cast.

Huh? I don’t really get it. The supporting cast was good, but doesn’t rise above supporting status, I guess.

Spoilers Skimmable? Yes. Jolly good show!

Not an ensemble

Racial Appetites

Get Out is Jordan Peele’s directorial debut. Peele, half of the comedy duo Key and Peele–guess which half–also wrote the movie.  Looks like Peele’s career as a filmmaker has only just begun. I read two reviews that awkwardly address the film’s racial theme:


Plot: Guess who’s coming to dinner? Before embarking on a weekend in the country at his white girlfriend’s family summer house, Chris learns that she has not told her parents that he is black. After they arrive, strange happenings occur in and around the house. The film is in the horror genre.


review by Thelma Adams

Spoilers skimmable? No. It is too hard to avoid the bazillion spoilers.

Bottom line: the movie is very good. Adams particularly loves that it is an allegory for a black man’s living in a white society–Chris is paranoid in his girlfriend’s house; sounds like for good reason.

Thriller with a lesson: “Without a moment that sacrifices humor or shocks or narrative speed, Peele uses the mainstream thriller form to get under the skin—and behind the eyes—of a black man navigating the dominant white culture.” Adams adds there should be  more movies with diverse filmmakers so that they too can represent what it’s like to be part of their own marginalized groups. (Note that it’s referred to as a horror not a thriller everywhere else.)

Adams adds that production companies should be incentivized to hire more black directors because “black-driven entertainment” brings in big box office bucks: “In its opening weekend, Get Out struck a chord and grossed $30.5 million.”

Is it me? This review seems disingenuous. First, calling entertainment “black driven” sounds weird to me. Like looking for a politically correct euphemism when you don’t need one. Call it black movies or black entertainment, but not “black-driven entertainment.”

GRR: I was tricked into reading what looks like a MAJOR spoiler, and I’m looking to criticize the review in retaliation.

The lovely couple
The lovely couple


review by Matt Goldberg

Spoilers skimmable? NO. I now know too much.

Bottom line: grade A-. Peele uses the horror genre to great effect: “He utilizes the sharp subtext that the horror genre provides to create a cutting commentary on racial dynamics.”

You lost me: Goldberg says that the film “functions like a punch in the mouth to every Obama voter that went to Trump.” I assume he is referring to every white Obama-Trump voter? He’s talking about people who claim to be unprejudiced who actually are racist. I’d venture a guess to say that there are many Obama- and Hillary-voters who are also racist but claim not to be.

Peele directs





She’s got it going on

Something for everyone: a sci-fi thinking person’s zombie movie:

The Girl With All the Gifts

Meet Melanie
Melanie contemplating

(opens 2/24/17)

Plot: a fungus disease has turned most of humanity into zombies. In the hopes of finding a cure, a bunch of children who are infected are used as lab rats in a government lab led by a scientist played by Glenn Close. The children are infected with the disease, but act like normal non-flesh eating humans, although they are kept under lock and key. When there are too many  “hungries” (zombies) close to breaking into the lab, an adolescent named Melanie leads a search for a safe place to settle. Do not overlook this film. There is a theme lurking somewhere within–Although Melanie hungers for human flesh, she is adorable and forms a precious bond with her teacher in this dystopian story.

The movie was directed by Colm McCarthy, a Brit who also directs episodes of Sherlock and Peaky Blinders, another popular British TV Show. The screenplay was written by Mike Carey, who also wrote the novel (same title).

Melanie learning

review by Heather Wixson

Spoilers skimmable? Yes, if you’re careful.

Bottom Line: 4/5 stars. Wixson pronounces it  “One of Best Zombie Film Years.”

Zombie flick with a twist: the zombies here are not “mindless, flesh-eating monsters with no sense of humanity left to them.” Except for their eating habits and nasty personalities, the zombies may be as human as you and me–that at least applies to the kids. Wixson says this film is a “new and clever way to explore this oft-visited horror sub-genre.”

review by Leigh Singer

Be still my heart. Towards the beginning of the review, this reviewer whispers sweet nothings into my eyes:

“To reveal more would be unfair.”

I’m gonna get you sucka: after that, it’s a disaster. Two sentences later, Singer tells us what is in the first scene. And that is only the beginning.  This is one spoiler-laden review.

Melanie sitting
Melanie sitting

Hypocrisy: as  much as I would like to discount this review, it makes the movie sound interesting because Singer says that this isn’t just a zombie movie; it’s a “smart, exciting film in general.”

More: “But what’s instantly clear is how The Girl With All the Gifts respects genre conventions yet still springs plenty of surprises.”

Eyes wide open: according to Singer, it is light on the gore.

Spoilers NOT skimmable.



Oscars, Phase 2

dc7p5lzc9Sunday, February 12th, was a big day. The voting period for Oscar winners started, and it ends on February 21st. In campaign terms, this is Phase 2, when production companies are in a promotion frenzy to get members of the Academy to vote for their movies and nominees. There are actually specialists in Phase 2 promotion that movie studios hire. It took us a long time to find someone in the biz to talk about Phase 2. X, an actor in many movies, agreed to talk to us about it on the condition of anonymity.

Warning: No Spoilers:  X, thank you for talking to me. I think my readers need to understand what goes into an Oscar campaign and the ramifications if a studio doesn’t get it right.

X: Whatever. You put my name in there–anything about any movie I was in—and I will sue you. My lawyer’s right there at the next table.

Except for the two of us and the barista, the café is empty.

WNS: It says in The NY Times that Taraji P. Henson wasn’t nominated for best actress in Hidden Figures because she didn’t campaign. Do you think that’s possible?

Amy Adams schmoozing with Patti Smith at a screening of Arrival sponsored by director Spike Jonze and Cinema Society. Unfortunately this promotion didn’t help. She wasn’t nominated for best actress

X: Sure it’s possible. If you don’t make the rounds on the talk show circuit, in the party circuit or put yourself in front of Academy voters in some way, your chances diminish. A couple of years ago, I expected to get nominated in my star turn in one of my movies, but it was an indie and all we had was about $2 million to spare for promotion. They say that big studios usually spend $10 million; independents $3 million.

WNS: What’s the best way to get your movie produced by a major production company?

X: Go to the film fests and seek out a production company. Sundance is always great—you can do a Q&A in a separate venue or introduce the movie. Then you go to the parties. Or to restaurants that you know where the big wigs eat. You get dressed in something stunning that makes you shine, and then you go and subtly beg.

WNS: You have a new movie out. How did it do in Sundance?

X: Not as good as we had hoped. We really wanted Harvey Weinstein’s company to pick it up. He’s a master at promoting his movies. Remember My Left Foot? It’s based on a true story about an Irish man born with cerebral palsy and the only part of his body that he could control was his left foot.

WNS: I remember—it starred Daniel Day Lewis.

X: Right. Harvey promoted Daniel to win best actor: one way was to have Daniel testify before Congress in support of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

WNS: That was all Harvey’s doing?

X: That’s right, but you didn’t hear it from me. He also gave audiences of screeners chocolate feet.

WNS: That’s a little much.

X: True, but it worked.

Daniel Day Lewis won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1990 for My Left Foot. It was the first of three Best Actor Oscars. The other two were for There Will Be Blood and Lincoln.

WNS: What about this year, have you seen or heard about any interesting campaigning?

plseX: Well, I don’t want to diss other artists

WNS: Remember, this is anonymous.

X: OK, well, look at Ruth Negga, who is up for best actress (for Loving). I mean look at her! She’s freakin’ adorable! But then think about it. Everywhere you see her, even on talk shows, she’s in the most quirky outfits that she can pull off, and she is also really photogenic. Her personality shines through, more so in her style than her talk show appearances.

I know this because she’s one of my closest friends.

X’s voice gets a little louder.

What? Do you think that it’s a coincidence that she looks absolutely amazing every time she is pictured? Even when she’s in jeans?

WNS: You think that’s part of her Oscar campaign? Really?

X is starting to get hysterical.

X: Were you born yesterday or did you just fall off of a dump truck? She was at all the events leading up to the Oscar nominations; she was so insanely in style that I would have started a Pinterest page about her fashion if someone else hadn’t beaten me to it. You can only imagine what she’ll be wearing during the Phase 2 events. With that Irish brogue, she’s going to be irresistible.

X is blue in the face. This reporter quickly changes the subject.

WNS: Let’s talk about the rules. This year there are new rules for Phase 2 promoting. Quoting the rules:

“academy members may not be invited to or attend any non-screening event, party or dinner that is reasonably perceived to unduly influence members or undermine the integrity of the vote.”

X: That’s fine, but who’s to say that you’re not going to a birthday party for a best actress or best actor nominees? And the people invited happen to be members of the Academy? I mean you have to be careful, but it’s still vague.

WNS: Have people been reported?

X: Yes, by those insane consultants that the movie studios hire. It’s a way to get your opposition flummoxed.

WNS: There other ways of getting around the rules, aren’t there?

They’re oh-so-cute at the Santa Barbara Film Fest

XAbsolutely. There are career retrospectives at museums that happen to be shown during Phase 2; screenings with drinks or parties; actors introduce their movies or appear at more fests such as the one at Santa Barbara.

WNS:  What about Spotlight, last year’s winner for best movie? I heard that they had a panel of its actors moderated by Malcolm Gladwell to give it an intellectual dimension. And that having the actors appear with their real-life counterparts was also a big promotional ploy.

(Spotlight is a true story about Boston Globe’s investigation into the widespread abuse by Catholic priests in Boston and the subsequent exposé.) 

X: You got that right. They wanted to divert the voters’ attention from the Catholic scandal part—even though that’s what the movie was about.

WNS: Apparently it worked.

X: Yup! It won best movie even though Alejandro González Iñárritu won the Oscar for best director of another movie (The Revenant). Leo DiCaprio, who won best actor last year (also for The Revenant) came out of the woodwork to campaign for that one. He never gave interviews on TV until last year, and he was a charmer whenever he appeared, let me tell you. With his stories about acting in freezing weather and eating real bison livers.

WNS: As you also mentioned, a simple way to promote is holding a Q&A with the actors afterward. Seeing a movie with the actors is a much different experience that just seeing the movie in a movie theater.

X: Yup. You get the idea. Listen, this is fascinating, but I need to run. I have to wretch so my clothing fits for a party that Ruth Negga is giving. Joel Edgerton is also going to be there. They’re posing as a real-life couple so that no one knows that it’s a party to promote her nomination for Loving. They’re definitely not going out. But remember, I didn’t say anything. (Joel Edgerton is Negga’s co-star in Loving. Only she is up for an Oscar.)

WNS: Thank you for the interview!

Thank you for reading the interview. Except for the parts that are supported with links, I hope you realize that it’s fiction. Just a fun way to talk about the Phase 2 and Oscar campaigning. 

Woody Harrelson: Artiste Extraordinaire

A couple of best friends making a movie like no other

Woody Harrelson is a pioneer! On Friday, January 19th at 9 PM EST, he livestreamed his movie, Lost in London, in 301 movie theaters, as it was being filmed! It was like live theater, except that the action is in 14 different locations around London. The 100-minute movie was made in one shot with only one camera. It was livestreamed in 300 cinemas in the US, except for one, which was in London, where it was the wee hours of the morning, when its streets were most hospitable to a movie crew.

Woody Harrelson wrote, directed and stars (as fictional Woody Harrelson). Such innovation…yet there are only three reviews on Rotten Tomatoes!

Did critics have better things to do on a Friday night? Did they boycott Woody Harrelson for his well-known lifestyle of pot smoking? Or was it because this innovation was not purveyed by a master auteur of cinéma?

No matter. I had google to back me up and found plenty of reviews.



With a subtitled preface that reads, “Too much of this is true,” Harrelson’s film is a dramatization of the events of a horrible night he experienced in 2002 when he was living in London while starring in a play on the West End. He thought that all of the events of  that night would make for a great  comedy.  He rounded up a cast of 30 that includes Owen Wilson and Willie Nelson, and an additional 320 extras.
Even more ground breaking: SPOILER FREE PREVIEWS! (OK, not so astounding, given there are no filmed scenes to preview.) I saw three previews: one way too long (celebs, ad nauseum tells him he can’t do it), one a tad long (just him holding up silly photos), and one just right (just him).

[Apparently I now have to pay WordPress to embed videos, so I can only give you links.]

The Telegraph 

review by Tim Robey
woodydirectsSpoilers Skimmable: yes. There were very, very few!
Bottom line:  I’ll let the title of the review say it:
Woody Harrelson breaks boundaries with supercharged
Allen-esque live film. 3/5 stars
More: it was very funny!
One thing though: the filming is in real-time, but the story is not. At one point we are asked to believe that a couple of hours have passed. Kind of hard to do when the whole thing is live in one shot.

Vulture (American)

I love this review by Jackson McHenry!!
Spoilers skimmable? Yes. There are many, but you can skim over them.
Bottom Line: It was just OK, but the spectacle was great.
When perfect is boring: McHenry thought it would be cool if there was a mistake in the acting or filming because it would be fun–probably because the audience would be in on it. But it went off without a major hitch, and was even boring in places! When he was bored, he focused on the artistry: “single take films [like Birdman], have been shot before, but Lost in London had to get everything right live.”

Evening Standard (British)

review by Nick Curtis
Spoilers skimmable? No. The whole review is spoilers, except for the subtitle.
Bottom line: movie is meh, but technological livestream accomplishment is “astounding.”
Expectation: Lost in London was better than we could expect a movie from a first-time pot-head-hippie director.

Can’t put this any better: A daft idea, the kind of mad, experimental challenge dreamed up by stoned film nerds after a Hitchcock all-nighter, but one he pulled off with considerable wit and brio.



Although there have been no announcements about a post-live release, says The Hollywood Reporter, the filmmakers “are in discussions” about releasing the movie.


Sherlock Investigates Potential Russian Hack

This just in:

Not to be upstaged by the United States government, the BBC alleges that a hack into their system might be from Russian interference.

Oh really?

The extenuating circumstances: The Russian version of the final episode of this season’s Sherlock was leaked into Russia’s airwaves one day ahead of the scheduled air date last Saturday, 1/14.

Warning: No Spoilers!

In addition to investigating how its files were hacked and by whom, the BBC took special care to prevent viewers of the hacked episode from ruining the mystery for those who would be watching it when it was rightfully released.

Once producers realized that the episode was leaked early, they jumped onto twitter to appeal to those who have seen the episode not to reveal the ending to others. Here’s the tweet from Suevertue:

Russian version of TFP has been illegally uploaded.Please don’t share it. You’ve done so well keeping it spoiler free.Nearly there

Is that name a coincidence? Sue virtue? legally stand up to virtue?

Oh you crazy folks at the BBC.

See The Eagle Huntress

Seems like a good idea: the accolades are endless, except for the one cynical review (bah humbug). The photos are so beautiful that I couldn’t shrink them.


One of the photos that started it all (see below)

Plot: This is actually a documentary. In the remote Altai Mountains of Mongolia, director Otto Bell follows 13-year-old Aishopan, as her father trains her to be Mongolia’s first female eagle hunter. An eagle hunter is someone who snatches up a baby golden eagle from its nest and trains it to hunt foxes and rabbits. The Eagle hunting tradition has been passed down through generations of fathers and sons. The eagle helps the hunter capture rabbits and foxes so that there is enough food on the table.

This movie is being made into an animated film.


review by Ben Murray

Spoilers skimmable? Alas, not at all.

Bottom line: it’s fantastic. “Much more than a documentary, [it’s] a work of art.”

“Stunning cinematography, the flawless and natural way the story develops like a narrative sprung from the most family friendly of Hollywood screenwriters.”

Disney? No, but “were it not set in Mongolia you would almost certainly find it hard to believe that you had not come across this story before.”

the-eagle-huntress-trailer-970x545Little White Lies

review by Rebecca Speare-Cole

Spoilers skimmable? Yes, for the most part.

Bottom line: Excellent. Crispness to the cinematography—Bell dives into eagle POV aerial shots.

A celebration of female empowerment:

The Eagle Huntress is a celebration of female empowerment, boiling down the messy, complex nuances of modern day feminism into one simple idea: women everywhere can relate to Aistolpan’s straightforward belief that it is a woman’s right to choose.

The Naysayer:

Too good to be true?

The Guardian

review by anonymous

Spoiler skimmable? Yes, if you’re careful.

Bottom line: 2/5 stars.

Cynicism deluxe: Let me paraphrase what the reviewer has to say—

They expect us to believe that passion and sheer force of will is what Aisholpan needs? And the score is “suitably exalting.” (I see sarcasm in them thar words.)

I say, yes, Mr. Anonymous, that does seem reasonable.

The crescendo:  “Whether or not the storytelling here is disingenuous, there remains a manipulative quality to the film-making that is, in the end, off-putting.”

LIES: And it doesn’t even tell the truth, points out anonymous.

Let Seattle’s weekly rag, The Stranger, explain.

yesssThe Stranger

review by Suzette Smith

Spoilers skimmable? Yes.

Bottom line: Amazing.

The truth: Standford scholar Adrienne Mayor did the research–there actually was a female eagle hunter before: Princess Nirgidma in the 1920s.

Huntress’ marketing changed from distinguishing Aisholpan as “the first female eagle hunter in Mongolia” to “the first female eagle hunter in 12 generations.”

Does it matter? Not at all: “Those revisions [in marketing] don’t take away from what’s actually important about Eagle Huntress: There are GOLDEN EAGLES that look AWESOME.”

How in the World…

father, eagle, daughter, director, mother at Sundance

…did Otto Bell discover this story? From a BBC photo essay by  Israeli photographer Asher Svidensky. (See photo above.) He had gone into the back country and stumbled upon Aisholpan and her father. Bell emailed him through Facebook and they both went to see the nomads together.

Of interest: Otto Bell filmed part of the movie in -50° and he used drones for the aerial views, as well as a camera fastened to Aisholpan herself. In fact,  on the first afternoon they were there, a camera on her captured her snatching her golden eagle from its nest. (It was not planned.)

His crew was only 3 people.

Since Aisholpan had to train the same moves over and over, Bell was able to edit them into smooth sequences.

This is his first feature. Before this, he was filming ads for an ad agency.

Let the games begin…….

Ladies and gents, it’s a race to the finish–the time when studios enter their films into the Oscar race just in the nick of time, ahead of the 12/31 the deadline.

Many good movies open in December. The Oscar talk has been buzzing around them for so long that I thought that they had already opened, and that I missed them.

Do studios wait to see the competition before they decide whether to release their movies in December, versus releasing them the following year? Sure seems like it.

Well, la de da

The most buzzed-about movies? There’s Lala Land, a musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Surely Emma will be a best actress contender, or so I have heard–ad nauseum. It opens December 9th. Then there’s Denzel Washington making his directorial debut with Fences. Well, he will be nominated for best actor, if you ask anyone in the know. It opens December 24th. And today is the opening of Jackie, which showcases guess what? That’s right, an Oscar-worthy performance. This one isf in the person of Natalie Portman. This week I review two movie reviews of Jackie from movie sites that are contenders for the weirdest-name category.


Plot: Jackie is based on an interview of Jackie Kennedy one week after JFK was assassinated, which had an unusual (and hopefully rare) stipulation:  Jackie had control of the content before it was published. In other words, whatever she wanted left out was left out. So parts of the interview have never been seen. This movie is a re-imagining of the unknown parts. The director, Pablo Larraine, is Chilean.

Review by Harvey Karten

Spoilers skimmable? No. Not even a pro can avoid them. The review starts out with good descriptions and then, just when it seems safe, it bites you in the butt.

Bottom line: Grade B. It’s not bad. It “springs to life at moments.” Portman’s performance is Oscar-worthy, says Karten. She’s got the voice down, and her facial expressions tell you what Jackie is feeling. Sounds like the site should sell computers or find another name.

Separated at birth?

Punch, Drunk  Critics

Review by Travis Hopson

Spoilers skimmable: Yes. Good job, Mr. Hopson!

Bottom line: it’s great–” another political masterpiece by Lorrain (the director).”

Cool: Hopson points out that this biopic doesn’t go over what we already know; rather, it “builds upon” our common knowledge about Jackie Kennedy (Onassis), and so the events in the movie are “becoming part of her legacy forever.” (A tad histrionic, if you ask me.)

I love that the movie is not a rehash of the info that is already out there. Reminds me of going to a concert and the band plays their songs exactly as they are on their albums. We could have stayed home and listened to the songs if we wanted to hear them played like that! Give me some variation–that’s why we go to concerts! (Don’t get me started.)

Living in the public eye: Critic Hopson observes that the assassination was a “crippling blow that struck at the heart of our nation during a turbulent time. And while the country ‘suffered openly,’ one person was forced to share her most personal grief with the world, and that was First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.”

Life before H.P.

Let’s take a look at the #1 top grossing movie this past weekend and two opposing opinions.




Related image

Plot: 1926 New York City. Newt Scamander, magizoologist (Eddie Redmayne), arrives for a quick stopover on a world tour. He brings with him a briefcase full of fantastic beasts, which is placed in the care of his soon-to-be sidekick, Jacob, a nonmaj (plebeian who can’t perform magic; an American muggle), played by Dan Folger. The creatures escape and the hunt is on. In case you don’t know, this is a prequel to the Harry Potter (HP) movies. JK Rowling wrote the screenplay–her first.

PS The zoologist is writing a book about the beasts–guess what it’s called? Look no further than the name of the movie.

PPS Four sequels (to this prequel) are planned.


Review by Joshua Yehl


Spoilers skimmable? Not at all.

Image result for fantastic beasts and where to find them

Bottom line: It’s dull. We’ve seen the special effects before-in the Harry Potter movies. The movie does shine, however, when the fantastic beasts are in the spotlight:

“Please, could we just spend our two hours in the briefcase with the beasts?”

Nonmaj Jacob walks through the movie with his eyes wide open, mouth agape in astonishment–he reacts that way after every single feat of magic, says Yehl, although you’d think he’d get used to it after a while.

The director’s fault:
Critic Yehl blames it on the director, David Yates, who actually has directed FOUR Harry Potter movies!

What went wrong:
“static shots [the camera stands still, so the scene doesn’t change], dead air [screen is blank] and obvious  use of green screens [people superimposed over a fake background].”

There will be a quiz on these and other movie terms after the holiday break.

On the other hand–

COS (Consequence of Sound)

Review by Allison Shoemaker

Spoilers skimmable? with care.

Bottom line: B+. It’s a good movie, the special effects are awesome, the directing fantastic. Full of “terrific shots…a delightful adventure…a terrific piece of visual storytelling.”

Adult analogies: Samantha Morten heads a muggle supremacy group; Colin Farrill is a Hitler in the making.

Makes too much sense in today’s world: Shoemaker notes that the fantastical beasts “escaped and must be recaptured, not because they’re a danger to humans, but because we’re a danger to them.”

Only problem: the ending is not so good, which is the director’s fault.

Oh, what to do–to see it or not to see it?

Image result for fantastic beasts and where to find them