Movie Review: Field of Dreams (1989)


Title: Field of Dreams
Release Date: May 5, 1989
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Production Company: Gordon Company
Summary/Review:

One of my favorite authors when I was a teenager was W.P. Kinsella. I was excited when I learned that his novel Shoeless Joe was getting adapted into a movie.  But when I finally saw the movie, I was disappointed.  There were a lot of changes from the book to movie, and on screen the story just seemed to ooze with cheesiness.  Over the years, Field of Dreams has become regarded as a classic baseball movie to the extent that Major League Baseball has started hosting an annual regular season baseball game in an Iowa corn field. I figured Father’s Day was a good opportunity to revisit Field of Dreams and watch it with my kids for the first time.

The basic story is that aging hippie and baseball fan Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) having married Iowa native Annie (Amy Madigan), has acquired a farm that they live on with their young daughter Karin (Gaby Hoffmann). Hearing voices in the corn field, Ray comes to a realization that he must build a baseball field on his farm. As a result, the deceased but not ghostly former baseball star Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) appears, and is soon followed by other former baseball stars.  Other messages prompt Ray to go to Boston to take the reclusive counterculture author Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) to a Red Sox game, and then to a small town in Minnesota to find “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster), a baseball player who played only one half-inning in the 1920s.  As all this happens, the Kinsella’s farm is failing and faces foreclosure at the hands of Annie’s brother Mark (Timothy Busfield).

The movie still oozes cheese.  There are changes from the book (including removing two significant characters) that effectively change the story.  There’s also a move away from the book’s magical realism to more of a Reagan-era nostalgia for baseball as something emblematic of America.  My wife noted that James Earl Jones’ famous speech about baseball has elements that feel eerily close to MAGA ideology.  While baseball is upheld as being something that was from a time when America was “good,” all of the former ballplayers who emerge from the corn come from a time when baseball was segregated.  That being said there’s a scene in the movie I’d totally forgotten where Annie takes on a group of conservatives who are trying ban books at the public schools which felt unfortunately relevant to our times.  Even then though, the feel of the movie is still steeped in a toothless nostalgia, this time for for 1960s.

With all that being said, the biggest change from the book to the movie is also the best, and I think improves upon the book.  In Shoeless Joe, Ray takes the real life author J.D. Salinger to Fenway Park.  The filmmakers knew that they couldn’t depict the notoriously reclusive Salinger on screen and instead created the fictional 60s icon Terrence Mann, who is more than just a substitute for Salinger but a character with a well-developed history of his own.  It’s surprising that in 1989, Hollywood cast a Black actor in the role originally written as white character, doubly so since in 2022 there are people who still lose their minds when a Black actor is cast as a character originally written as white.  Jones is great for the part and his performance brings a lot of energy and authority to the movie right at a time when it needs a jolt.

I probably sound like I’m hating on the movie, it is a thoroughly enjoyable movie, but I’m just a harsh judge since I love the book so much.  It is a bit slow-going, but then again so is baseball.  I love baseball, and I’m not immune to the magic of ballplayers emerging from a corn field or an impassioned speech about baseball’s role as America’s pastime.  For all it’s flaws, Field of Dreams is one of the best baseball movies ever made.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Children of Heaven (1997)


Title: Children of Heaven
Release Date: February 1997
Director: Majid Majidi
Production Company:The Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children & Young Adults
Summary/Review:

Ali (Amir Farrokh Hashemian) and Zahra (Bahare Seddiqi) are a brother and sister in a poor family of Tehran.  Ali picks up Zahra’s shoes from the cobbler but misplaces them on the way home.  Knowing that their father (Reza Naji) won’t have money to buy new shoes, they come up with a plan to share Ali’s canvas sneakers.  Apparently, Zahra only goes to school in the morning and Ali in the afternoon but the time they have to change the shoes cuts things close.

The movie is sweet in following the adventures of ordinary children sharing a pair of shoes, but something heartbreaking happens every few minutes. It’s a good reminder of the little ways that poverty can interfere with a child’s education contrary to the “No Excuses Charter School” ideology that places all the burden on the child to have the “grit” to learn.  But I digress.  This movie reminds me a lot of Bicycle Thieves although not quite to that level of tragedy.  Ali and Zahra are also absolutely adorable.

Rating:  ****

Movie Review: Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)


Title: Everything Everywhere All at Once
Release Date: March 25, 2022
Director: Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
Production Company: AGBO | Ley Line Entertainment | IAC Films | Year of the Rat
Summary/Review:

I haven’t seen a ton of Michelle Yeoh’s work but I’m always impressed by her and I’m pleased to see her in this movie that is already being hailed as one of the best of the year.  It feels particularly groundbreaking to have a science fiction/action/comedy blockbuster center on a middle-aged Chinese immigrant woman who’s basically having a mid-life crisis.  Evelyn (Yeoh) is seeing her marriage to Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, most famous as the child star of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) crumble, her relationship with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) strained, and her relationship with her father Gong Gong (James Hong), recently arrived from China, was never particularly good in the first place.  On top of this, the family laundromat business is failing and under an audit by the IRS.

When the family go to meet with IRS inspector Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis, who I didn’t even recognize until I saw her name in the credits), strange things begin to happen.  Evelyn learns that she is a significant figure in the multiverse and has to use the talents from the parallel universe versions of herself to fight a grave threat to all of existence.  I don’t want to give away many details of this movie, but it is a story that works on many levels: a family drama, an absurdist comedy, an existentialist debate, and a martial arts action film.  Somehow this is a movie where the lowbrow humor of fight involving butt plugs can exist side by side with a scene in which a couple of rocks can make me want to cry.

I’m not going to say anything more, but I believe Everything Everywhere All At Once has earned all the praise it is getting and if you haven’t seen it, make plans to see it now!

Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel


Author: Laurie Frankel
Title: This is How It Always Is
Publication Info: New York : Flatiron Books, [2017] 
Summary/Review:

Rosie (a doctor) and Penn (a novelist) are a loving couple who have five children, all boys.  At the age of 5, their youngest child Claude expresses a preference for wearing dresses and eventually takes the name Poppy.  The narrative explores how even parents with the best intentions struggle with raising a transgender child.  The central conflict is whether Poppy’s transgender identity should be publicly known or kept secret. The family tries both with some bad outcomes to either approach and ultimately no “right way” is found.  The book can be overly didactic at times, but I did enjoy a lot of Frankel’s writing flourishes

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2013)


Title: The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet
Release Date: 16 October 2013
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Production Company: Cross Creek Pictures | Epithète Films | Filmarto | France 2 Cinéma | Gaumont | Orange Cinéma Séries | Tapioca Films
Summary/Review:

French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is responsible for three of my favorite films of all time: Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children, and Amélie.  And yet, I only recently became aware of this most recent release of Jeunet’s from 2013, for which the loathsome Harvey Weinstein is partially to blame.  This is Jeunet’s first film set in the United States and in the English language, and as such his whimsical approach to filmmaking suddenly feels a lot like a lot like Wes Anderson.

The titular T.S. Spivet (Kyle Catlett) is a ten-year-old science and engineering prodigy living on a ranch in rural Montana.  His mother, Dr. Clair (Helena Bonham Carter) is a devoted entomologist while his father, Tecumseh Elijah Spivet (Callum Keith Rennie), is a laconic cowboy “born 100 years too late.”  T.S. siblings are older sister Gracie Spivet (Niamh Wilson), a wannabe actor who mocks her family’s obsessions, and brother Layton (Jakob Davies), who is like their father in miniature.  We learn early on that Layton was killed in an accident while using a firearm and the way each family member deals with their grief is a key part of the movie.

T.S. wins an award from the Smithsonian Institute for inventing a perpetual motion device and feeling that his family wouldn’t understand, decides to travel on his own to Washington, D.C. to receive the award.  The better part of the film documents his journey by freight train and hitchhiking.  Jeunet’s direction captures the beautiful landscapes of the American West and feels as if it’s a peculiarly French understanding of American mythology.

While the movie has it’s share of adventures and quirkiness, it is overall a sad movie dealing with very heavy grief.  When T.S. is sad or scared we really feel it, and when he’s injured part way through the film he continues to suffer the injury for the rest of the story.  Unfortunately, Catlett doesn’t seem to be an experienced enough actor when it comes to delivering dialogue and when he talks like a detached scientist it feels artificial. I really wanted to love this film, and there are a lot of elements that are great, but overall it feels like it missed the mark.  But and A for effort, I guess.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021)


Title: The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Release Date: April 23, 2021
Director: Mike Rianda
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Sony Pictures Animation | Lord Miller Productions | One Cool Films
Summary/Review:

Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) is a misfit kid who finds her passion in filmmaking and is excited to begin attending film school in California.  She’s often in conflict with her overprotective father Rick (Danny McBride) who doesn’t understand her artistic and technological interests.  In order to promote family bonding, Rick decides to take the whole family – including mother Linda (Maya Rudolph) and dinosaur obsessed little brother Aaron (Mike Rianda) – on a cross-country drive to college.  While they’re en route, the Apple/Facebook-style company PAL introduces robot assistants who immediately rebel against humanity.  Only the Mitchell’s avoid capture and it’s up to them to fight the robot menace and come together as a family.

Overall, this movie feels very familiar (it’s the same basic plot of Edgar Wright-Simon Pegg-Nick Frost’s Cornetto trilogy) and has a lot of gags similar to other recent animated family adventures.  The Mitchells have a funny car and a funny dog.  And there’s deadpan dialogue like the PAL tech CEO saying ““It’s almost like stealing people’s data and giving it to a hyper-intelligent AI as part of an unregulated tech monopoly was a bad thing.”  Despite the lack of originality the movie is very sweet and has some good, funny bits.  The animation is fluid and for added effects, other types of animation are overlaid on the computer animation.  Extra points for LGBTQ+ representation in the movie’s protagonist by having Katie be gay without that being a controversy in her family or playing into a romantic storyline. This is a good, fun movie suitable for the whole family.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: Yi Yi (2000) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter Y

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Yi Yi
Release Date: 5 May 200
Director: Edward Yang
Production Company: 1+2 Seisaku Iinkai | Atom Films | Basara Pictures |
Pony Canyon
Summary/Review:

Yi Yi is a family drama from the director of A Brighter Summer Day, and thankfully less bleak than that earlier film. It depicts the Jian family of Taipei, Taiwan: father NJ (Wu Nien-jen), mother Min-Min, early teenage daughter Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee), and 8-year-old son Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang).  The film begins at the wedding of Min-Min’s brother A-Di, introducing the main characters and setting up important plot threads. (Ever since I’ve watched The Godfather, I’ve noticed the whole “start the movie at a wedding” thing popping up in a lot of movies). At the wedding reception, NJ encounters Sherry (Su-Yun Ko), a romantic partner his university days, in the hotel lobby.  After the wedding, Mim Min’s mother suffers a stroke and ends up comatose.

The film does not have a straightforward plot, per se, but interweaves the four individual threads of the family members as they deal with their personal struggles.

  • NJ is unmotivated by his job but bonds with potential client from Japan, Mr. Ota.  On a business trip to Japan he reunites with Sherry and they have an emotional series of conversations over unresolved issues from their failed relationship.
  • Min-Min is overwhelmed by her mother’s coma and leaves for a Buddhist retreat.
  • Ting-Ting feels guilty because her grandmother collapsed doing Ting-Ting’s chore of taking out the trash. Ting-Ting talks to her comatose grandmother about her guilt and other concerns. She also befriends her neighbor Lili, and later briefly dates Lili’s ex-boyfriend, Fatty.  While not a member of the family, Lili’s life is also documented in the film apart from her interactions with Ting-Ting.
  • Yang-Yang, the MVP of this movie, is a shy kid who’s bullied by other kids and his teacher. He finds a way to express his creativity by taking photographs.
  • We also spend time with A-Di, who struggles financially, gets kicked out by his wife, gets back together with an ex-girlfriend, and hosts the worst possible baby shower imaginable.

The movie is beautifully filmed and most shots use the Ozustyle of keeping the camera still and a mid-distance rather than panning or zooming or using closeups. The acting is solid and naturalistic as well. Occasionally there are plot twists that feel a bit soap opera-ish, but largely is more about the patterns of ordinary life.  There are some joys and some sorrows but a lot just hovers in the middle.  Clocking at over 3 hours, it is a big time commitment to spend time with these people without a traditional story or payoff, but I think it’s worth it.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Fanny and Alexander (1982) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter F

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Fanny and Alexander
Release Date: December 17, 1982
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Production Company:  Gaumont
Summary/Review:

I guess I was a budding cinephile at the age of 9 when I started watching Siskel & Ebert’s At The Movies and Leonard Maltin’s movie reviews on Entertainment Tonight.  I like how they always showed extended clips of the movies that they discussed and the highly-regarded movies of the 1982-1983 era stick in my mind even if I’ve never seen them.  It turns out that when finally watching Fanny and Alexander that I actually had watched parts of the movie when randomly flipping channels as a teenager.  So it was good to finally watch the whole thing, or at least the three-hour theatrical cut.

While Fanny (Pernilla Allwin) gets top billing her role is minor, and it is Alexander Ekdahl (Bertil Guve) is the main point-of-view character.  The ten-year old boy whose vivid imagination gets him in trouble represents director Ingmar Bergman’s own child, although this movie is not a straight up autobiography.  For example, the film is set in the first decade of the 1900s, whereas Bergman wasn’t even born until 1918.  Bergman also noted that all the male characters in the film represent an aspect of his own personality.

The basic plot of the film is that the Ekdahl’s are a prosperous and large family who own and run a theatre. The family is introduced at a lavish Christmas party  at the lavish house of Fanny and Alexander’s grandmother Helena (Gunn Wållgren). After their father Oscar (Allan Edwall) suffers a stroke and dies, their mother Emilie (Ewa Fröling) remarries to the Bishop Edvard Vergérus (Jan Malmsjö).  The Bishop is strict and disciplined, and ultimately abusive when Alexander defies him.  Things look bad but this movie takes some weird twists and Alexander, Fanny, and Emilie ultimately end up reunited with their loving family.

While Alexander is central to the movie’s plot, there are a lot of scenes with adult characters where he isn’t involved.  There’s even a major subplot about the children’s exuberant uncle Gustav (Jarl Kulle) having an extramarital affair with their maid Maj (a young Pernilla August, years before she played Shmi Skywalker in The Phantom Menace) with the full knowledge and approval of his adoring wife Alma (Mona Malm).  The large cast includes some highly-regarded Swedish film stars and they all but in a terrific, naturalistic performance.

This movie is gorgeous to look at with bold colors and lots of detail in every shot.  There are three main sets: grandmother Helena’s overstuffed mansion, the austere interiors of the Bishop’s house, and labyrinthine antiques store of Isak Jacobi (Erland Josephson), the merchant and Ekdahl family friend who rescues the children.  There is also a lot exteriors shot on location in Uppsala, Sweden.  Of late, I’ve grown fatigued of how many classic films are extremely lengthy and resentful of the pretentiousness of some directors who are not economical in their storytelling.   But Fanny and Alexander is a movie that I want more of and so I will have to find time in the future to watch the full five-and-a-half hour miniseries.

Rating: ****

Book Review: The Golden Child by Claire Adam


Around the World for a Good Book selection for Trinidad and Tobago

Author: Claire Adam
Title: The Golden Child
Narrator: Obi Abili
Publication Info: New York : Random House Audio, 2019.
Summary/Review:

The Golden Child is a family drama set in rural Trinidad. The Deyalsingh family, Trinidadians of Indian heritage, are Clyde and Joy, and their twin 13-year-old sons Peter and Paul.  Peter is the “golden child” of the title, academically gifted, and Clyde saves all the family’s money for his future, despite his wife’s desire to move to the city or to improve the house they live in.

Despite the title, Paul is the main focus of the novel.  He is believed to be “slightly retarded” due to loss of oxygen to his brain at birth. But over the novel it is revealed that he is a kind child with many hidden talents, and most likely has learning disabilities, although this is never specifically stated.  The novel begins with Paul going missing, and then flashes back on the previous 13 years of the family from various points of view.  When we return to the present day timeline, Paul is facing a very real threat and Clyde is faced with difficult choice.

Adam does well at developing the characters and family dynamics, as well as showing everyday Trinidadian culture.  But this is also a grim and disheartening book, so don’t pick it up for light reading.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Classic Movie Review: Late Spring (1949)


Title: Late Spring
Release Date: September 19, 1949
Director: Yasujirō Ozu
Production Company: Shochiku
Summary/Review:

Following on Tokyo Story and Floating Weeds, watching this movie is making me a Yasujirō Ozu fan.  Conceptually it’s linked to Tokyo Story as part of a trilogy of films staring Setsuko Hara as a young woman named Noriko, although otherwise the characters and the film are related.  Two other actors who later appear in Tokyo Story are also stars in this film, Chishū Ryū who plays Noriko’s father Shukichi Somiya and Haruko Sugimura who plays her Aunt Masa.

Noriko is a single 27-year-old woman who has found contentment in supporting her aging father who is still working as a professor.  But Masa has determined that it is time for Noriko to marry, and ensnares Shukichi in helping her convince Noriko.  It’s a deceptively simple movie and one where the unspoken thoughts and desires are just underneath the surface of the smiling faces.

The movie was filmed just after World War II under the American occupation and the war and postwar are also underlying factors, from mention of Noriko’s ill health due to overwork during the war to English language signs and a Coca-Cola advertisement on the roadside.  The movie’s script was actually heavily censored by the Occupation authorities, but nevertheless a beautiful and heartbreaking story of a father and daughter shines thorugh.

Rating: ****