March 24, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Naomi Watts is a gifted actress and always elevates her films, but can someone please cast her in a comedy? The lady deserves a chance to lighten up a bit. Known for her dramatic turns, this may be her most physically demanding role yet. The film is based on a true story and the life of Pam Bales. Director Malgorzata Szumowska and co-writer Joshua Rollins, with input from Ms. Bales, recreate the remarkable events of 2010 on Mount Washington in The White Mountains of New Hampshire.

We first see Pam Bales (Watts) as her alarm goes off early, and she goes about preparing for a six-hour trek up the mountain. This includes layering her backpack and her clothes for the below freezing temperatures. She stops by the café where her friend (Denis O’Hare) pours her some hot cocoa and tries to talk her out of the climb due to the possibility of lousy weather (which is saying something for this area). However it’s clear this date is important to her when she says the climb is “cheaper than therapy”, because “mountains always listen and don’t talk back.” Pam has a special connection to the mountain and to nature.

As she begins her journey, Pam sees a couple of campers finishing up their stay. One of them is Eliot Sumner (offspring of musician Sting), who also wrote and performed a song for the film. The other is played by the film’s writer, Joshua Rollins. Pam also notices another car in the parking lot, which, although she doesn’t know it at the time, does set the stage for her day. Often covered in goggles and snow gear, the hike offers Pam the serenity for reflection, as well as some mind-clearing physical exertion. One misstep sends us the flashback of why this day and climb is so important to Pam; but it’s a trail of sneaker tracks in the snow that change the day every bit as much as the approaching storm that caused her to cut the hike short.

Those sneaker tracks are a recognizable sign of trouble to an experienced climber, nurse, and Search and Rescue Team member. Pam follows them to a near-death man suffering from hypothermia. Since he is initially non-responsive, she calls him “John” (Billy Howle, ON CHESIL BEACH, 2017) and proceeds to coax, drag, and all but carry him as they begin the slow battle down against the mountain and the weather elements. As he regains some semblance of awareness, John makes it clear he doesn’t want to be rescued and was trying to end his life on the mountain. Pam ignores this and sternly informs him that she will not leave him behind.

Cinematographer Michal Englert does a terrific job of capturing both the beauty and danger, although there is one close-up of Pam’s whistle that seems a bit out of place (minor quibble). Filmed in Slovenia (as a stand-in for New Hampshire), the weather and the view are co-stars with Ms. Watts, and the blizzard is blinding and treacherous, making Pam’s actions even more incredible. The film can be taken as the story of one woman’s determination, but it can also show how grief is powerful … and so is a helping hand. One person can certainly have a dramatic impact on the life of another and the way this real-life ordeal played out is quite interesting. Ty Gagne’s was the first to publish Pam’s story in his article, “Footprints in the Snow lead to an Emotional Rescue” in New Hampshire Union Leader. As always, the film earns bonus points for including “Katie Belle Blue” by Townes Van Zandt … and we can relate to Pam’s difficulty in singing along. The likelihood of Naomi Watts taking on a comedy seems remote, as she’s already slated for a remake of the 2014 Australian horror movie, GOODNIGHT MOMMY.

Opens in theaters Friday, March 25, 2022



November 10, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. Much was made of the ‘artistic license’ director Mel Gibson took in creating his own version of historical events and actions of William Wallace for his Oscar-winning BRAVEHEART (1995). Director David Mackenzie (in his follow up to the excellent HELL OR HIGH WATER, 2016) pays a bit more attention to historical details as he picks up the story at the end of Wallace’s rebellion – and the beginning of the uprising led by Robert the Bruce.

Chris Pine plays Robert the Bruce, a man forced to pledge loyalty to Kind Edward I and England prior to leading the rebellion. It’s the year 1304 and director Mackenzie’s opening sequence is a several minute long tracking shot that is simply superb. It features our introduction to Robert the Bruce (Pine), King Edward I (Stephen Dillane) and Prince Edward (Billy Howle, ON CHESIL BEACH), as well as an early swordfight and an eye-popping fireball shot from an enormous catapult into the protective wall of a distant castle.

Not long after, we learn William Wallace has been killed, the King has provided Robert the Bruce a wife in Elizabeth de Burgh (Florence Pugh, LADY MACBETH) and Robert  takes the life of fellow Scotsman John Comyn … an act that costs him dearly in the early going. However, it does lead to his being named King of Scots by the Church, and he slowly begins to build his forces. Of course, Scotland’s forces are always dwarfed in numbers by that of the English Empire, but never in spirit.

Pine plays Robert the Bruce as the strong, (mostly) silent leader, while Howle and Aaron Taylor-Johnson cross into camp in their respective portrayals of Prince Edward (yet another wide-eyed son intent on making his father proud) and James Douglas (a manic, crazy-eyed Scotsman bent on revenge). Ms. Pugh brings courage and a headstrong nature to Elizabeth (in far too limited a role), while Mr. Dillane shows us a worn down King Edward I who gets the film’s best line … “I am so sick of Scotland!”

The two words of the title are actually separated by a slash in the opening credits; a device meant to emphasize the dual sides to the man and his actions. In addition to that opening long shot, there is a visually stunning sequence of a nighttime raid on a camp site. Unfortunately after that, we get mostly mud and blood, including the pivotal Battle of Loudon Hill which features the ultimate in home field advantage. There are some terrific costumes and set pieces, but mostly it’s elaborate and detailed moviemaking (with a few downright silly moments) that never fully clicks. Perhaps that’s a factor of having 5 different writers involved. With many familiar faces from “Game of Thrones”, it will be interesting to see how this plays on laptops and TVs via Netflix. Another Robert the Bruce film is scheduled for theatrical release in 2019, and the inevitable comparison will be made at that time.

watch the trailer:


May 30, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. This is one of those movies that has the look and feel that leaves me believing I should like it more than I do. Ian McEwan (the excellent ATONEMENT) adapted the screenplay from his own novel, and it’s by no means a cookie-cutter story. The feature film debut of director Dominic Cooke features one of today’s most talented leading ladies, a strong supporting cast, and some stunning outdoor scenery from a very beautiful part of the globe.

The story kicks off in 1962 England with a setting that could easily be a one-Act stage play. We are in a hotel room immediately after the ceremony of a newlywed couple. Awkward movements and forced conversation are interrupted by a formal dinner being served in the room by two waiters. The expected post-dinner gawkiness leads to a bedroom scene ravaged by emotional trauma that goes far beyond inexperience. It’s disastrous and leads to full disclosure along the shoreline of Chesil Beach, Dorsit.

Saoirse Ronan stars as Florence and Billy Howle is Edward. Through flashbacks we witness both their budding romance as eager youngsters, as well as pervious childhood moments that now seem to matter. We learn Florence is Mozart, while Edward is Chuck Berry. Maybe opposites do attract, however, the class differences become more obvious as we meet the respective parents. Florence’s mom (Emily Watson) and dad (Samuel West) are upper crust types who don’t take kindly to her infatuation with one not of their ilk. Edward’s dad (Adrian Scarborough) is a school teacher and his mother (a marvelous Anne-Marie Duff) is an eccentric artist, “brain-damaged” in a freak train accident.

Florence and Edward are victims of their time … a time of sexual repression, where such conversations simply did not occur. It’s not so much a story of rejection as it is of being not accepted, though it’s clear how childhood led each down their path. Had the film remained focused on this fascinating story line, it likely would have been better received by this particular viewer. Instead, we are subjected to an ending that crashes and burns as it attempts to provide resolution for characters that should have none. A flash forward to communal living in 1975 and a 2007 farewell concert at the beautiful and historic Wigmore Hall (opened in 1901), are little more than a show of disrespect to those viewers who invested in the unfortunate tale of Florence and Edward.

watch the trailer:


March 16, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. In 1967 Cat Stevens wrote “The First Cut is the Deepest” and the song has since been recorded by many artists (including Rod Stewart and Sheryl Crowe). The song’s title is also an apt description of director Ritesh Batra’s film version of the popular 2011 novel from Julian Barnes. It’s one man’s look back at the impact of his impulsive actions more than 50 years ago.

When we are young, we want emotions to be like what we read in books”. So says the narrator and lead character Tony Webster (as played by Jim Broadbent). Tony runs a tiny second hand camera store (specializing in Leica models) while leading a mostly benign life – rising daily at 7:00am, coffee with his ex-wife, and periodic errands for his pregnant daughter. One day a certified letter arrives notifying him that he has been named in the Last Will and Testament of the mother of a girl he dated while at University. And so begins the trek back through Tony’s history and memories.

Of course, a film version can never quite cut as deeply as a novel, but this preeminent cast works wonders in less than two hours. Curmudgeonly Tony is accessible and somewhat sympathetic thanks to the stellar work of Mr. Broadbent, who always seems to find the real person within his characters. Harriet Walther (“The Crown”) turns in a tremendous performance as Margaret, Tony’s most patient and quite wise ex-wife. Michelle Dockery (“Downton Abbey”) is their pregnant 36 year old daughter Susie, and just these three characters could have provided a most interesting story. The film’s best scenes feature the comfort and familiarity of a once-married couple, as Tony and Harriet talk through previously never mentioned topics. However, there is so much more to explore here as Tony’s thoughts bring the past splashing right smack dab into the present.

Billy Howle does a nice job as young Tony, an aspiring poet, who falls hard for the enigmatic Veronica (Freya Mavor). Complications arise when Tony spends a weekend with Veronica at her parents’ estate. It’s here that Emily Mortimer energizes things (and clouds thoughts) with minimal screen time as Veronica’s mother. It’s also around this time where new student Adrian Finn (played by Joe Alwyn of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk) captures Tony’s imagination and a friendship bond is formed … only to be later shattered in a most painful manner.

There is so much going on that director Batra’s (The Lunchbox, 2013) low-key approach is often misleading. Looking back on one’s life can lead to the twisted version that our mind has edited/revised in order to make things seem better or worse – definitely more colorful – than they likely were at the time. Tony’s distorted view of history crumbles when documented proof of his actions is presented at his first face to face meeting with Veronica (the great Charlotte Rampling) in five decades. It’s at this point that regret and guilt rise up, and the only question remaining is whether this elderly man can overcome his repressed emotions and self-centeredness in order to make the best of what time he has left. Each of us has a life journey, and though few of us ever actually tell the story, there are undoubtedly numerous lessons to be had with an honest look back.

watch the trailer: