Movie Review (SATURDAY CHURCH)

A few nights ago, I enjoyed the movie SATURDAY CHURCH (from 2017). This is a sweet, interesting, sometimes uneven story about Ulysses, a gay African American fourteen-year-old living in NYC. He (possibly identifying as she, but this is never clearly indicated) finds his way into the local trans and drag show fashion community. Ulysses’ being gay and cross dressing is disapproved of by his strict, Catholic Aunt Rose (Regina Taylor) and over-worked mother Amara (Margot Bingham), the father having died right before the start of the film. Not surprisingly, he’s bullied at school.

I enjoyed the periodic musical numbers as a device to show the main character’s colorful fantasy life. The ensemble cast of drag queens, most of whom work as prostitutes, are beautiful and sassy. They are all of Latinx or African American background. A lot of the supporting extra cast is also African American, in part because much of the story takes place in a largely Black and Brown neighborhood. This chosen family befriends Ulysses and proceeds to show him (her?) the ropes, including how to look fabulous in makeup.

Ulysses has a reluctant brush with prostituting himself for survival. The way this was filmed felt effectively upsetting, adding some believable grittiness to the story.

Veteran trans activist and writer Kate Bornstein has a small supporting role as the founder and mother hen of a weekly community center and soup kitchen for trans people. This social resource is open on Saturdays in a local church, hence the title of the film.

The acting was very good overall, with Luka Kain as Ulysses portraying a believably quiet, soft-spoken, depressed, feminine teenager. He comes more to life when doing voguing fashion moves while walking down the street, trying on high heels, and fantasizing about being the center of ensemble song and dance scenes in his urban environment. The attentions of his adorable love interest Raymond (Marquis Rodriguez) also help to perk him up. Raymond is probably fifteen or sixteen, having also been “adopted” by the group of drag queens, possibly just months before Ulysses’ arrival into the fold.

SATURDAY CHURCH felt uneven in genre, shifting between musical to serious, slice-of-life drama. At first, this felt awkward but I either got used to it or the movie grew more graceful with transitions into and out of musical performances, dialogue, and Ulysses quietly navigating his fraught life. I looked up this film on Wikipedia, which describes it as a “musical fantasy drama.” Hybrid genre movies are produced here and there, I realize, but their grace of flow and emotional effectiveness are often hit or miss. Overall, this screenplay and production add up to making more of a hit than not, and are certainly impressive for a first feature by Damon Cardasis, who wrote and directed the project.

I particularly enjoyed the drag ball scene and the footage of drag queens on a runway during the end credits– so much fabulosity! I heartily approved.

I was left wanting a bit more, particularly further development of the relationship between Ulysses and his mother during the last part of the movie. Her sudden remorse and acceptance of him felt like an abrupt transition. Perhaps the budget did not allow for the production to be a little longer, which, if it were, would have lent more fullness and a sense of completion to the story for me.

Movie Review (BROTHER TO BROTHER, from 2004)

BROTHER TO BROTHER (released in 2004), starring Anthony Mackie, who would later go on to be in Marvel’s THE AVENGERS movies, is one of the most heart-felt, emotionally nuanced films I’ve seen in a good while. Mackie’s acting was outstanding. He compellingly plays Perry Williams, an African American gay art student at a university in New York City.

This movie is an homage to the Harlem Renaissance and Richard Bruce Nugent (who apparently went by his middle name) within it. He was a painter and writer who knew Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, among others. His character (played by Roger Robinson as the elder Bruce and Duane Boutte as the younger) befriends Perry. Together, they converse throughout the film about being African American gay artists during the Harlem Renaissance vs. in NYC of the 1980s (when the present day story takes place, I think). Black and white filmed flashbacks of Nugent’s younger days in Harlem help to flesh out the exchange between he and the young Perry, who largely listens.

Perry is lonely after being violently disowned by his parents and unable to find meaningful companionship with another man. He finds deep meaning through learning about the Harlem Renaissance from Bruce and how he is naturally part of an ongoing culture of artists within African American history. Sensitive, vibrant portrayals of human relationships and their direct impact on artistic expression come through repeatedly in this piece of cinema. Along the way, socio-political issues are grappled with, such as the rampant homophobia within much of the African American community(ies) and the objectifying fetishism of black men by white men. These disconnecting dynamics felt painful to watch throughout Perry’s quest for love, meaning, and a sense of belonging. (And I found Perry captivating and lovable.) That is the movie’s intention, which led me a bit closer to better understanding, as a white viewer, what many urban African American gay men face in their daily lives. At least I felt somewhat more informed and genuinely empathetic than I did before watching this film. I bore witness for a little while.

I found my thinking and feelings particularly challenged around Perry’s fraught relationship with Jim, a white, long-haired fellow college student who becomes his lover for a short while. Jim is new to sexual involvement with other men but is clearly taken with Perry, who initiates their physical intimacy after Jim comes to his dorm room one evening. Before the morning arrives, he exhibits a pang of homophobic-informed regret by fleeing from Perry’s bed. He soon works through this discomfort, however. Sometime later, in a post coital moment of deep infatuation and appreciation, Jim compliments the main character’s physical attributes, including his lips and “black ass,” which he explains is the best he’s ever seen (or some such similar wording). The more experienced Perry is offended and leaves abruptly, much to Jim’s puzzlement and dismay. The next scene has the leading man conveying disappointment to his (straight) childhood friend Marcus (Larry Gilliard, Jr.), who commiserates with him about how white men are so insensitive and basically all the same. Initially, I felt sad and unsettled, thinking how Jim had no idea how he was ignorantly fetishizing his lover, which was not his conscious intention. I’m certain his words were well-meaning though not well thought out.

While watching this passionate but doomed relationship play out on screen, I recalled a humbling moment in my mid twenties when I said something fun and complimentary to an African American lover I was seeing at the time. My remarks were met with an awkward, tense chuckle. I quickly figured out my mistake and never spoke to him that way again. I felt too ashamed to apologize directly for my fetishizing words, which I’d taken from a Broadway play. He did not call me out on them, though it was his right to do so. It can seem like such a fine line between racist sexual objectification and true, caring appreciation of a beautiful black or brown man for who he is as a whole, unique, thinking, and feeling person. With the mainstream commodification of body parts, including African American men’s penises, buttocks, lips, and skin, it is understandably hurtful when he is (usually) yet again viewed and spoken to in a skin-deep, culturally programmed way, particularly in such an intimate moment as lying naked in bed with a lover.

Before seeing BROTHER TO BROTHER, I had mainly an intellectual, logical understanding of the importance of using non-racist, non-fetishizing language– both body/facial and spoken– with black and brown people. But, it hit home for me just how visceral an experience it is to be at the other end of such mindless, conditioned objectification, which creates a psychic wall between two or more people trying to love each other. At one end is the identified object while at the other is the dominant objectifier. Suddenly, it’s like each party is alone looking at the other across a chasm, one filling the space between with preconceived notions/prejudices, the other longing to be seen accurately and fully for who they are. It sure can seem and feel that way.

The naively racist Jim had a big lesson to learn. The already hurting Perry had no more emotional energy to spare to patiently wait for the young white man to wise up and love him back properly, unfettered by racist, fetishizing thoughts and words. I felt sad for both of these attractive lonely men. But, life is filled with such saddening misunderstandings and subsequent disconnections, including those tinged with racism, and therein lies a collective tragedy to overcome.

Later in the narrative, Perry finds a healing balm for his wounds of rejection by his parents, straight black peers/brothers, and his kind but clueless white ex-boyfriend. He and Bruce Nugent go to the run-down apartment building in Harlem where the latter used to live and create with his artist and writer friends decades before. There, the two take turns painting each other’s portrait late into the night, to a soundtrack of melodious jazz music. They pour their souls into their efforts, accentuating facial features with precision, care, and passion, sensuality pushing through the curves and vibrant colors. I was mesmerized and moved. Finally, Perry is not at all objectified, but admired and permanently rendered as the beautiful, deep thinking man that he is. He returns the favor to his older mentor, who gets showcased for being such a soulful, passionate man and talented artist after so many years of living in social isolation. I still well up when I think of this scene, having watched it over a day ago now.

I was able to suspend disbelief over the fact that actor Roger Robinson was a good fifteen or so years younger than the actual age of his character, the elderly Bruce Nugent. I looked up Nugent and read that he died in 1987 at eighty years old. An octogenarian could be less likely to get around so readily and confidently New York City the way Robinson in his early 60s could still do. I allowed for artistic license to happen for the purpose here of telling and showing a wonderful, multi-layered story of two men meeting up from very different yet powerfully similar (in racial and sexual identity struggles) eras. Nugent is portrayed as being like a wandering lone specter or ghost from a time long past who– through his eloquent poetry– captures the attention and imagination of a young, contemporary black gay artist brother. This brings Nugent’s work more into the present. For some moments, past and present are united and suspended together during the two men’s meetings, allowing for the vibrant exchange of ideas, including the passing down of inspiration and hope to a younger artist. Ultimately, art, such as poetry and painting, is often timeless, or so the narrative here reminds us viewers.

It should also be emphasized that BROTHER TO BROTHER is about celebrating life in the face of so much adversity. A scene that particularly crystallized this point and had me cheering is when, in flashback, Bruce Nugent and his cohorts, including Hughes and Ms. Neale Hurston, defy social convention while sitting in a local restaurant. They proceed to read aloud from their collective publication FIRE and loudly sing a song with this same title, ignoring the disapproving looks from other customers nearby. Their unbridled joy felt palpable and inspiring. These artists were not only expressing themselves genuinely and happily, pushing against oppressive shackles of convention, but, in so doing, giving permission for their fellow African Americans around them to consider doing the same. Such creative genius as these vibrant, life affirming moments keep occurring in this cinema gem. Put another way, the interweaving of these great authors’ quotes, along with the screen writer’s own thoughtful words spoken by Perry and other characters, give life and meaning to powerful experiences, this movie being an effective, honoring vehicle for so much cultural richness of human expression.

“Through him, I learned the complexity of what was inside me was also outside if I was willing to look deeper,” Perry reflects on his time spent with Nugent. “With words and images, I could convey the truth of my experience, putting it down, and passing it on.” Such encapsulated wisdom addresses much of the human experience, this striving to feel a part of the larger outside of one’s individual self and to capture such truth to then be passed on to others, including after death.

This incredible screenplay had me laughing and crying at different times throughout. I can see why Anthony Mackie became a star after doing such poignant, courageous work. The entire cast was excellent. Bravo to Rodney Evans, who wrote and directed BROTHER TO BROTHER, a labor of love and a cultivated mind.

Mini Movie Review (MAPPLETHORPE: LOOK AT THE PICTURES)

I’ve been watching documentaries lately– three within this past week. The one that stands out for me the most is the fascinating MAPPLETHORPE: LOOK AT THE PICTURES, from 2016. The title is wittily taken from a statement made in the U.S. Senate by the late, ultra conservative Senator Jesse Helms. He pushed to ban the artist’s work from being shown in a museum in DC in 1989, shortly after the famous photographer’s death at aged 42.

Having long enjoyed Robert Mapplethorpe’s skillful, thought-provoking, sensual, and sometimes disturbing photography, the narrative of his life from a Catholic-raised suburban, middle class gay boy to controversial New York City-based avant garde artist of the late 1960s through the ’80s was deeply compelling to me. The visual exploration of gender and race of his human subjects was both playful and venerating. Even this creative master’s photographs of flowers come across as powerfully erotic and beautiful.

For the general public, Mapplethorpe courageously threw open a window into an existing urban gay subculture. By extension, I think this helped force people to acknowledge and grapple with the very real sexuality of queer people in general. And while I wouldn’t have wanted to live his intense life of self destruction and enormous creativity, I very much appreciate the legacy of work and cultural expansion this talented artist left behind.

Movie Review (SON OF FRANKENSTEIN)

Quite recently, I finally watched SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (from 1939), the sequel to the far more emotionally powerful and better directed BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935). This was the 3rd and final movie starring Boris Karloff as the monster creation of Dr. Frankenstein’s. I would say the main stars of the film were the indoor sets, art direction, and lighting of the Frankenstein castle and laboratory. They were ominous and fascinating, especially since the movie was filmed in black and white. All of these elements were influenced by German Expressionism of the 1920s.

Pamela Hutchinson  and Alex Barrett in their 2017 article “10 great German Expressionist Films” explain: “Offering a subjective representation of the world, Expressionism descends partly from German Romanticism and reveals the angst of its human figures through their distorted, nightmarish surroundings.” (1) This was particularly apropos following the widespread gruesomeness of World War I. A full generation later, this expression of a weltanschauung of sorts had permeated American movies, including SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. Its main characters certainly embody angst conveyed through “distorted, nightmarish surroundings” and, for two of them, also within bodies fitting this description. Both surroundings and these beings are one and the same, specifically the characters of Ygor (Bela Lugosi), the deceased Dr. Frankenstein’s surviving but maimed and sociopathic assistant, and his only “friend,” the electrically reanimated monster (Karloff).

The impact of war trauma on such a large scale was unprecedented prior to the First World War, leaving a ripple effect around the world of increased anxiety about overall safety in life and, hence, no doubt, an increase in actual nightmares for people, soldiers the most of course, though for many civilians as well. Some wounds looked monstrous on both fatalities and survivors alike, with psyches also damaged beyond hope at a time when psychiatric treatments were still quite primitive. Lugosi’s crooked necked Ygor can be viewed as a misunderstood, socially discarded person similar to a wounded war vet. And the monster can be seen as a walking dead, like the trenches of killed soldiers rising up in the living’s memories and dreams, eternal reminders of atrocities committed that conflicting governments’ rationales couldn’t fully justify. War is distorting in every sense of the word. And while SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is not at all a war movie, its aesthetics stem from a sensibility developed at least in part in response to war. Both Lugosi and Karloff play their roles powerfully within the limited emotional intensity and uneven writing of the script. It is their respective appearances and acting that carry the movie within the sets they are so naturally a part of, like rats in an abandoned farm house or some such desolate, godforsaken place and its creatures.

The tragedy of the monster comes through in his recognizing himself in a mirror as both hideous and sad to behold. He turns, gesturing by pushing his hands away from what he sees and moans in disgust. Within him lies some human consciousness, a semblance of right and wrong, ugly vs. beautiful or at least plain/neutral. We cannot help but to feel sympathy for him, a being who did not ask to be reanimated into life.

Ygor is a bridging character between the rest of humanity and the scary monsters of our nightmares and worst mistakes in life (e.g., war), such as Dr. Frankenstein’s creation. Ygor had likely once been more humanly sympathetic, even if always an outcast. Having survived being hanged, this left him physically and more mentally twisted for the rest of his life. What is not understood by many is often vilified and either killed outright or its destruction attempted. Ygor is himself a walking dead, dead to the rest of humanity and, hence, closer to Frankenstein’s monster than to anyone else. Not surprisingly, Ygor’s ability to order the undead/reanimated being about affirms a sense of control he somehow has in a world that has otherwise rejected and disempowered him. Lugosi, with his sinister grins and dramatic widening and slitting of the eyes, conveys bitterness and distrust effectively here, like a war veteran come home to find his life disconnected from a largely indifferent, lacking in resources society after serving his country. Ygor had served Dr. Frankenstein faithfully, only to be left like an orphan upon the doctor’s death, his life purpose still to attend to the monster he helped (re)animate to life. Similarly, soldiers come back from warfare unable to adjust to civilian life, having become repeatedly primed for battle and nothing else.

I don’t mean to completely equate Ygor and Frankenstein’s monster as war casualties. There are large differences between the two categories, obviously. But, the existing parallels are nonetheless significant, as I discuss above. More broadly, the two characters can be viewed as aspects of human nature that are troubling to look at and accept, the shadow sides of a psyche, if you will. It is Dr. Frankenstein who, out of initially well-meaning scientific curiosity, dangerously plays with fire like the creators of the atom bomb did in fairly recent history. Just because one can do something doesn’t mean one always should. Messes are then left behind for others to later clean up, where and when even possible.

Enter Basil Rathbone as Dr. Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, the son of the deceased mad genius Dr. Baron Henry Frankenstein. Inheriting his father’s legacy, including a castle and partially destroyed laboratory, he moves to the estate with his wife Elsa (Josephine Hutchinson) and young son Peter (Donnie Dunagan). The younger Frankenstein is curious to pursue his predecessor’s research and experiments, particularly after seeing the monster for himself. Ygor’s long-awaited scheme to bring the creature back to life and take revenge against the villagers who had persecuted him is then fulfilled. Together, with Ygor as the brains and the monster as raw muscle power, the two form a symbiotic killing team. The Baron is inadvertently caught in the middle but, like his father had been, fascinated with the monster and the implications of power that come with creating life out of death. He begins to awkwardly cover his tracks against the suspicious questioning by Police Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill).

Lionel Atwill as Krogh deserves special mention. Atwill’s theatricality was what he was known for and he delivers it wonderfully here. Krogh has an artificial arm from having survived being attacked in childhood by Frankenstein’s monster. He often moves the stiff prosthesis with his actual arm while snapping his heals and looking gravely at the Baron. I found myself thinking of Captain Hook and Adolf Hitler if they had been somehow combined. Very entertaining. When he places some darts in his wooden arm I chuckled.

Other comic relief, though likely unintended, comes through whenever little Peter von Frankenstein (Dunagan) speaks in a Southern drawl. This awkward juxtaposition against his parents’ British (Rathbone’s) and mid-Atlantic (Hutchinson’s) accents respectively amused yet also endeared me to the little boy. Some viewers may simply find this to be poor, inexcusable casting, since children naturally speak like one or both of their parents and not like those within a unique region of America of which clearly neither Baron or Baroness Frankenstein are from. He also made me think of a male Shirley Temple, with a similarly full head of curly hair, though she was older than Donnie Dunagan at the time. He was probably brought in to appeal to a younger audience and make this often grim, dramatic movie more “family friendly.”

This unevenness of overall tone and technical consistency to the film resulted in an ebb and flow of mildly grating to mostly amusing for me. I would call the end result Camp, for sure, particularly when factoring in the dramatic music, Rathbone’s and Atwill’s delicious overacting, and some of the sets, particularly the bubbling, steaming pool of sulfurous mud inside the foreboding lab. And then there are the requisite electricity effects and explosions adding to the campy fun. A nod to Kenneth Strickfaden creating such cutting edge electrical effects goes to him here. However, I somehow remember there being a bit more of them in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, also done by this master electrician.

Last but not least, there is Josephine Hutchinson in her role of Elsa von Frankenstein. She competently plays a well-spoken, proper and dutiful wife to the Baron, fitting in beautifully with the indoor sets of the castle. Both she and her surroundings are classically elegant in style, with overlays of melancholy and concern, both enhanced by the play of light and shadows in each room she sits or walks within. The residence is built by old-time country people filled with superstition, and the intuitive, worrying Elsa herself tends toward this kind of thinking. She is perfect for the part within the foreboding and grandness of the indoor sets. I imagined owning framed photographs of some of these incredible, atmospheric set designs.

Overall, I am glad I finally watched this final installment to the Karloff Frankenstein trilogy, despite its shortcomings and decreased potency when compared to the two prequels. Karloff is compelling as always in the role of Frankenstein’s monster, one in which he endured hours of makeup work (by the talented Jack Pierce) and wearing an uncomfortable, heavy-layered costume. The directing is decent though less immediate and intimate feeling than FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the latter being an improvement upon the former. It is admittedly a weak way to end a trilogy, but enough effective elements keep the movie a worthwhile classic. This is not least of all due to the addition of Bela Lugosi, who effectively plays a character so against the type of suave villains he often played earlier in the decade. It is sad how the talented Lugosi was under-utilized with his wide-range acting skills. We at least get a good glimpse of them in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN.

In conclusion, I purposefully call SON OF FRANKENSTEIN part of a trilogy, as do many others. The sequels that came after not only did not star the skillfully nuanced, tragic presence of Boris Karloff as the monster, but also they are each comparatively less thought-out projects that have rightfully faded into obscurity. I reached a small but satisfying sense of completion by watching this Rowland V. Lee directed film after so many years since I had viewed its masterpiece prequels, both directed by the very gifted James Whale. Perhaps this will be the result for other viewers as well.

Notes:

(1) Hutchinson, Pamela and Barrett, Alex “10 great German Expressionist Films.” BFI (https://www.bfi.org.uk) (8 June 2017)

Movie Review (SEBERG)

Actress Kristen Stewart has a way of occasionally choosing interesting parts in movies. For me, her portrayal of 1960s and 70s actress Jean Seberg in Amazon’s production SEBERG is her most intriguing and dynamic role yet. However, I freely admit to having not diligently followed Kristen’s career. I’ve seen her in less movies than I can count on both hands. That said, Ms. Stewart’s natural brooding quality is effectively congruent with this particular film’s main subject. I sense that she has come into her own as a fully mature actress through playing the beautiful, complex, and troubled Ms. Seberg.

Loosely based on Jean Seberg’s life from 1968 into 1972, the story focuses on her involvement with the Black Panthers, subsequent surveillance and persecution by the FBI, and eventual mental decline. Departing Paris, France in 1968 to star in the musical Western PAINT YOUR WAGON, Ms. Seberg meets studly civil rights activist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie) while flying to California. Out of ennui and wanting to be a part of something far more meaningful than a frivolous movie project, Jean promptly inserts herself into his life and that of the Black Panthers, bankrolling their cause.

Depending on the time of day, the interior scenes of Jean’s Southern California home, with its many floor to ceiling windows, are filled with a dim-lit to sunny ambiance. Shortly after she has met her lover-to-be Hakim Jamal, we view her lounging languidly in a thin negligee, clearly bored and lonely, Ms. Seberg’s much older husband (novelist and film director Romain Gary, played here by Yvan Attal) having opted to remain with their young son in Paris. I immediately thought of a lovely bird in a gilded cage as well as a woman being spied upon and secretly admired.

We viewers are immediately drawn into being voyeurs of a glamorous film star who is ready to throw caution to the winds. Enter the movie’s leading man, young and gorgeous FBI agent Jack Solomon (Jack O’Connell), who is assigned to spy on Ms. Seberg because of her new affiliation with the subversive Black Panthers. Solomon becomes obsessed with his subject, spending hours photographing her from a surveillance van and listening in to her conversations, which are being taped. O’Connell is very convincing as a man conflicted between duty to job and country on one hand with his desire of and growing concern for the daring, exquisite Seberg on the other. Everyone else around him in the FBI are either impersonal colleagues or unsympathetic bureaucrats, particularly his brutish work partner Carl Kowalski (Vince Vaughn) and seemingly neckless and heartless field boss Frank Ellroy (Colm Meaney). This leaves Solomon feeling isolated. He draws comfort over being consumed with his sexy, vivacious work project as he surveils her day and night. Periodically, Jack comes home to his increasingly alienated-feeling medical student wife Linette Solomon (Qualley).

I was struck by the frustrated passion Seberg and Solomon each experience in their differently constrained lives. The former tries to have fun while doing good for others in an increasingly untenable circumstance of tensions. These are fueled by her appearance-oriented fame and related loneliness and dissatisfaction coupled then with her being swept up in fighting the good, meaningful fight against racism. But, among the Black Panthers, Jean stands out like an elegant giraffe fraternizing with, well, panthers. Her wealth and white beauty are used against her, resulting at one point in a tense exchange with Hakim’s angry African American wife Dorothy Jamal (Zazie Beetz), who has been tipped off to her husband’s infidelity with Seberg. We are reminded here of the very real social tensions existing between white women in a higher income bracket and women of color with less resources and privilege. The former mean well but often can be unaware and insensitive over how they choose to go about doing their good deeds with and for their oppressed sisters/peers.

Agent Solomon finds himself contributing to others’ problems more than not in the name of patriotic duty. His naive idealism becomes dirtied, as foreshadowed in an early scene whereby Solomon fishes out of the kitchen trash his 1941 published #1 issue CAPTAIN AMERICA comic book. His wife Linette (Margaret Qualley) had thoughtlessly thrown it out. As the drama steadily unfolds, the preoccupied and frustrated Solomon grows angry and guilt-ridden, which Jack O’Connell powerfully conveys.

Seberg’s lover Hakim is somewhat fetishized here by her, the “Mandingo,” or muscular, well-endowed black man representing forbidden fruit for a white female and the sexual rush that goes with courting potential danger, including deep shaming. The reverse is also true for Hakim cheating with a white woman. Such a transgression– even wrongly suspected– historically brought on lynchings of black men. The doomed, taboo affair is presented tenderly, with Jamal portrayed sympathetically in this film.

From what little movie footage I’ve seen of Jean Seberg (having only viewed her very early film THE MOUSE THAT ROARED all the way through), she was clearly a sensual and striking woman. With a similar look to the older Audrey Hepburn, who was also waif-like and often wore her hair short, Seberg’s sexuality was more bold, which suited the establishment-bucking late 1960s and early 70s. Sadly, her movie projects became pedestrian, unremarkable during this time period, Hollywood offering her mediocre fare after she had done avant-garde and more vibrant projects (e.g., BREATHLESS) in Europe. It is no wonder this intelligent, sexually precocious and liberated actress sought excitement and meaning in her life off-screen.

Jean’s growing paranoia is clearly justified in SEBERG. Those around her, such as her husband Gary and agent/handler Walt Breckman (Stephen Root), are initially skeptical of Jean’s assertions that her phones and house are bugged. She turns to alcohol and pills to relieve her mounting stress.

To be clear, this is a white-centered movie where African Americans and their fight for equality are a back-drop and support to the story about a very privileged Caucasian woman who is part of the white run Hollywood establishment. If Ms. Seberg had, say, ventured instead into white, anti-war hippie culture, the movie would be very different, including probably completely devoid of African Americans, except as incidental bystanders. The one Latinx individual in the film is the actress’s housemaid, a reminder that Jean actively participates a-top the economically racist social order. Obviously, this movie is deeply tinged with racism. Yet also, in refreshing contrast, African Americans are portrayed sympathetically, with the positive community-building efforts of the Black Panthers getting show-cased here. For once, this social activist organization is fleshed out more for what it truly was instead of being negatively shown, yet again, as simply comprised of scary domestic insurgents or terrorists to be quelled, which the mainstream media unfairly portrayed them as being, ad nauseam. With the current existence of Black Lives Matter, the parallels to the Black Panthers make SEBERG feel quite currently relevant for me. It is the FBI with its shady COINTELPRO that is villainous in this story. And with the current White House administration pushing vicious smear-oriented agendas on as large a scale– if not larger– than this now defunct Intelligence program, the movie is relevant to the present day in that respect as well.

Jean Seberg died at forty years of age under suspicious circumstances, some seven years after the year SEBERG concludes. This screen drama is psychologically gripping and aesthetically pleasing, the assorted music of the era comprising a pleasant sound track. Many of the clothes Kristen Stewart wears for her role are fun to look at. There are a few moments where the actress seems uncannily like Seberg, particularly around the eyes and in some facial expressions. Her face and that of Jack O’Connell’s are the real stars of the film, both often like beautiful live paintings or landscapes of shifting emotions. The well-done lighting further enhanced this effect of them over me the viewer.

The late 1960s are a fascinating time for me and SEBERG effectively conveys a slice of the upheaval and sensibilities of that brief but loaded period.

The entire cast is excellent, but, in particular, Kristen Stewart and Jack O’Connell do solid, thoughtful, and noteworthy performances in this little gem of a biopic.

Movie Review (DRACULA, from 1979)

After over forty years since its initial theatrical release, I finally saw what passed me by during my later childhood: DRACULA, starring Frank Langella in the title role. Having seen all of Hammer Studios’ DRACULA cycle, which spanned fifteen years (1958-1973) of nine continuous productions, I can’t help but compare this Mirisch Company project to that body of work.

The production values in this 1979 romantic horror version of DRACULA are a cut above Hammer fare, which generally had stagy– albeit campily fun– sets. The bulk of the movie takes place in and around two large buildings: the home and attached insane asylum owned and run by Dr. Jack Seward (Donald Pleasance) and Carfax Abbey, a run-down castle leased by Count Dracula (Langella), having just arrived in England from his native Transylvania. The sets are effectively old-looking, dark and, where needed, filled with requisite spider webs. I particularly enjoyed a bird’s eye view of camera work from the ceiling in Carfax Abbey, in which a large spider in its web looms directly above Dracula and his lone guest Lucy Seward (Kate Nelligan) below. It’s a touch of blatant symbolism and foreshadowing but an effectively foreboding one nonetheless.

A forty-year-old Langella makes for quite the suave, seductive Dracula. A young Ms. Nelligan as an initially slightly bored and willful, then soon lovestruck Lucy matches up well with him. I found the romantic and sexual chemistry between the two convincing, fun, and intriguing. It reaches an ecstatic peak during a certain scene of them in bed together, which is filmed with dramatic back lighting and shadow play, accompanied by energetic orchestral music by John Williams. I had never seen this more sensual side of the Prince of Darkness so played out in a film produced before the 1980s or 90s. We also get to see the Count’s sexy animalness as he scales up and down walls in slow motion, his thick 70s styled hair and black cape moving in the night wind. Undoubtedly, this particular special effect was simply accomplished by having the actor crawl along a side of outer building wall placed on the ground and then angling the camera vertically while actually filming or switching the film’s position of the footage afterwards. I did wonder if filming was done backwards for some or all of these brief action scenes. In any case, Mr. Langella is show-cased nicely with his intense stare, angular face, and full lips. I certainly understand why Lucy is so taken with him and not with her young, pretty, and eager but otherwise uninteresting fiance, Jonathan Harker (Trevor Eve).

Grand thespian Laurence Olivier portrays a grieving, mysterious Professor Abraham van Helsing, who comes to Dr. Seward’s home immediately after the strange, sudden death there of his daughter Mina (Jan Francis), a close friend of Lucy’s. Having seen the lovely Peter Cushing play van Helsing several times in Hammer’s earlier DRACULA movies, I think Olivier does equal justice to the character, if not perhaps more so, with his nuances of ponderousness and sadness. A comparatively younger Cushing plays the same role with a business-like efficiency, which has its due place in such a campy-minded series than this comparatively serious screenplay about the cinema’s most popular vampire.

Where the screen drama falls apart for me is at the very end, which I won’t completely give away. Script writer W.D. Richter and director John Badham switched things up a lot throughout the story, which is quite varied in places from the original book, DRACULA, by Bram Stoker. Granted, I am fine with how most movie adaptations stray far and wide from the classic novel. And following the actual ending can be viewed as unoriginal and too predictable, I suppose, particularly given how frequently this story has been filmed over the past century. In this version’s ending, however, I find Professor van Helsing’s thunder to be pointlessly stolen. Just as cunning and determined as the dark Count himself, van Helsing is the other central figure of the narrative, the polar opposite to and powerful arch enemy of Dracula. Hence, he is the true main hero with the naive Jonathan Harker a supporting, secondary hero. Clearly, there was an attempt to appeal to a younger audience by giving a youthful Harker (Eve) a more central piece of the action here. What last minute, ageist nonsense.

Since it is largely public knowledge at this point in time that Dracula dies at the end of the story, a common question for viewers surely arises: “How will he actually die in this particular movie?” Well, rather awkwardly and ridiculously here in this Mirisch Company effort. How pathetic and annoying. But, hey, at least the movie sails along pleasantly enough before its denouement crashes and burns.

Movie Review (BIRDS OF PREY: AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN)

I should have followed my initial gut sense and avoided BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN), the DC Universe sequel to SUICIDE SQUAD, which was not a good movie either. BIRDS focuses on Harley Quinn, one of the ensemble cast of 2016’s SUICIDE SQUAD, a self-serving woman in Gotham City’s organized crime world. A former psychiatrist in Arkham Asylum, she has recently broken up with the Joker and sets forth wreaking havoc while fighting another crime lord, Roman Sionis (Ewan MacGregor). One main adjective comes to mind for me here: gross. Others quickly follow: vicious, cruel, and glorifying of crime, entitlement and sociopathy. I almost walked out of this hot mess of a show, with its intense, unrelenting violence and over-the-top crassness parading as humor. I was hoping that Ms. Quinn would get her comeuppance by, well, either becoming rehabilitated from her awful ways or getting imprisoned like a rabid animal that she seemed so much to act like. Her companion pet, not surprisingly, is a hyena, one of nature’s particularly vicious carnivores, inelegant and savage.

I did enjoy a few of the supporting ensemble cast members, namely Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), and The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), in that order. All three were sympathetic and evolved for the better to some extent or other in the story. I see Black Canary having an interesting origin movie of her own, if it’s not too violent. But, in this film, her superpower of a forceful super-sonic voice seems to suddenly come out of nowhere, tacked on as an after-thought, with no explanation of how this developed for her or that she even actually had such an ability all along. There are other occasions in the narrative that Black Canary would have likely wished to use it sooner than when she finally does. Yeah, not exactly good script writing.

I get that women-focused action movies are on the rise, showing how they too can rightfully join the ranks of being kick ass and mean like men in movies (and real life) have been throughout history. Now, it’s a free-for-all of gratuitous violence for everyone, as BIRDS OF PREY affirms. Great. I left the theater feeling battered after watching so much frenetic, bloody mayhem and from the movie’s morbid message being that crime can actually pay.

This is part of a whole series I will definitely not be following. Margot Robbie in the leading role and producer of the screen drama rose to the occasion, but I think she surely has better projects to occupy her time and talent.

Movie Review (GRETEL AND HANSEL)

GRETEL AND HANSEL is a wonderfully dark little gem of a movie. And it’s about one of my favorite subjects: witches!

Directed by Osgood (Oz) Perkins (son of the late actor Anthony Perkins), this eery, atmospheric production stays close to the Brothers Grimm fairytale “Hansel and Gretel.” Added in are supporting characters, interesting stylized scenes, and some background about the evil Witch, played here by veteran screen maven Alice Krige (as the older/crone Holda) and Jessica De Gouw (the young Holda). Gretel (Sophia Lillis) is switched up to being a teenager, while her younger brother Hansel (Samuel Leakey, in his film debut) is around eight years old. The two siblings wander into a dark forest in search of work and food, their impoverished widowed mother having cast them out of the house.

The lighting is largely dim throughout, with Robin Coudert’s synthesizer and rock music score effectively rounding out the movie’s overall mood of dread and intrigue. The cinematography was beautifully done, with stark, often claustrophobic interiors juxtaposed with lush yet foreboding outdoor forest scenes. The look and feel to almost every frame is dreamlike, as fairytales generally are. This is also helped along by a script with stretches of brief dialogue coupled with ponderous camera work over scenery and people’s faces.

This is a purposefully ponderous yet active, at times hallucinatory, movie. The Witch and Gretel are the core, yin-yang characters whose psyches initially join in alliance and then become locked in battle. Gretel is the heroine who, with the help of portentous dreaming, comes into her own power as both a newly-menstruating woman and a novice witch, the implication being that these are one and the same. Gretel becomes Holda’s apprentice in hedge witchcraft, including herb and food sorcery. But, acting as protector and surrogate mother to her brother, Gretel is determined to avoid going the way of corruption as the lone, aged Holda has long done. Hansel becomes the central sacrifice and means for Holda’s devious plans over bringing Gretel over to the dark side. Gretel, the maiden, makes a conscious decision to use her budding power for good. This affirms that the eventuality and mysteries of motherhood and then crone-dom, when approached mindfully and with care, can and should be ultimately viewed as positive cycles in women and in nature overall. That said, sometimes power corrupts a few (such as Holda) along the way in the challenges of life and the world, and still even others can be born into darkness at the start. Both the dark and light sides of witches are thoughtfully, respectfully portrayed here, making them more human and accurate to real life. Such complex and nuanced treatment of an all-too-often maligned subject is refreshing for me, an eclectic Pagan, to see played out on-screen.

I am no folklorist, but I’m familiar just enough to recognize some references to folklore in GRETEL AND HANSEL. For example, during a lesson from Holda to Gretel in hedge magic/sorcery, the elder witch introduces the younger to a clear salve for rubbing on the hands. This salve or “flying ointment” then opens up one’s innate telekinetic powers, with Gretel soon able to move Holda’s nearby stang by concentrating her mind on the object. Later, the maiden goes outside to find she can mentally cause a large tree to rock to and fro. I grew up hearing about women in olden times using a hallucinogen-filled ointment to rub inside their vaginas with a stick in order to produce a sense of flying. This appeared to be a more G-rated and literalized reference to that old lore.

Cloth dolls, likely poppets (though I’m not sure), show up in odd places in the woods in one scene, such as a few in a tree. Gretel comes across another one by a stream where she is cleaning clothing soaked in her menstrual blood while she’d been sleeping. There is probably some old folklore reference here concerning the placement of such dolls in trees and by rocks for magical purposes. Regardless, the effect was intriguingly creepy and involved no dialogue. I had the sense that Gretel was perhaps symbolically finding a part of herself, such as her nascent female power or capacity for witch craft. Fascinating.

I am not sure what the meaning is behind that of Holda’s, and later Gretel’s, black (or deep blue)-stained fingers, which are likely colored by woad, an herb that produces a very dark blue dye. I suspect this may have been another ancient Germanic folkloric reference, with (possibly) woad indicating a witch/sorceress/master herbalist, i.e., someone unique and powerful who works with herbs and other plants. I do know that woad goes back to being used by the ancient Celts and Picts, who would paint their skin with it as part of preparing for battle. Marion Zimmer Bradley, author of the Arthurian fantasy classic THE MISTS OF AVALON, has her main characters in that novel painted up in woad as part of a magical rite. In any event, the darkly dyed fingers of the witch crone Holda and, later, of the maiden/young witch Gretel make for an intriguing mark of having acquired earthly, feminine, plant-based powers.

Yet another example of folklore in the movie arises in one of my favorite scenes in the film. Just before arriving at the Witch’s cottage deep in the woods, the starving Gretel and Hansel come upon a cluster of red-colored fly agaric mushrooms. Gretel proceeds to talk to the fungi, asking permission for her and her brother to eat them without dying from their possible poison. After then ingesting probably a handful each, the two children enter a hallucinogenic trance state, which both the indigenous Sami and Siberian shamans historically have also done from eating these same kinds of mushrooms. We the viewers do not actually see what Gretel and Hansel see. But, watching their dramatic facial expressions and noise-making, enhanced by a wonderfully strange sound track, make for an effective transition into the next part of the movie. For, the two wake up in the morning after an afternoon and night of entheogen-enhanced inner journeying and enter an alternate world of sorts, that of the Witch Holda’s house and surrounding property. In a sense, the children are unknowingly initiated into a shamanic state to then enter the Middle World, Dream Time, or any number of other ancient indigenous terms used to define the realm of the supernatural and/or place beyond what the naked eye sees in the day-to-day physical world. Very cleverly done.

Dream and reality intermingle throughout this movie, particularly right before and once the crone Holda enters the story. Gretel is frequently dreaming, only to wake up and find some aspect of her dreams to be somehow true– past, present, or imminently. The abundance of beautifully-prepared food by Witch/Holda is suspect to Gretel, given there are no farm animals around to produce the milk and meat placed on the long table before them. Is the food even real? What are Gretel and Hansel actually eating? After all, having entered a shamanic state en-route to Holda’s and having since drunk her mysterious milk and herbal tea concoctions and eaten her oddly perfect, unspoiled food, it is possible the two are continuously consuming entheogens, thereby hallucinating these seeming results of magic. Within Witch’s domain, is it all simply just a haunted dream? The implications are bizarre and gruesome. Again, fascinating.

I’m impressed by the acting of everyone in GRETEL AND HANSEL, particularly that of Krige, Lillis, and Leakey, the three primaries. Ms. Krige, with her dark beady eyes, bony body, and deliberate movements is a powerful mix of crafty, sad, scary, and dominating. Sophia Lillis conveys a believable and compelling complexity. In particular, she expresses a young woman’s inner struggle to keep her sense of innocence while experiencing a fast encroachment of deep suspicion of others, having been thrust too soon into learning how people can’t be trusted, especially when you’re poor, young, and pretty. Hansel’s presence keeps her grounded in valuing innocence and goodness. She grows confident and clear-thinking before our eyes, a wonderful character for mothers with their daughters to see up on screen. Lastly, Samuel Leakey is excellent, portraying a believably naive boy determined to live in his mind of fairytales and trust in the world no matter what, until even he too finally begins to mature and briefly question things, though not before enduring an ordeal of sorts.

Filmed mostly in Dublin, Ireland and then later for a time in Langley, British Columbia, Canada, this short and thoughtful supernatural horror movie comes in at at eighty-seven minutes. The screenplay is both Pagan and woman affirming as well as female centered without being anti-male. It taps into the currents of nature and shamanic and magical practices informed by the use of herbs and entheogens in particular. It honors the Brothers Grimm’s source text of “Hansel and Gretel” while building upon it in some creative and thought-provoking ways.

I enjoyed and deeply appreciated GRETEL AND HANSEL. It is fantastical and stimulating without being overdone, a very special work of cinema. This is largely not for those who always prefer a lot of fast-paced violent action in movies. Also, intolerant Christians (or any number of other rigidly-practicing followers of assorted religions) will find this film sinful and heretical. But, as I’ve always sensed, and this screen drama affirms, spirituality can be practiced in many forms, including as a witch.

On My Love of Different Movie Genres

I’ve been fascinated with movies since I was a young child. I’d be the one in 2nd grade at school watching a film all the way through, with rapt attention, while peers around me had long become bored and restless.

Having always loved this form of mass entertainment, there are different genres I don’t care to watch, such as combat-oriented war movies, which I used to tolerate viewing now and then when I was younger. I do occasionally enjoy a well-done war-time film that focuses on dynamics away from the actual battlefield. SCHINDLER’S LIST comes to mind here.

As with combat war movies, the same goes for Westerns with me. I’ve probably truly enjoyed no more than I can count on both hands, possibly only on one, and just when I was much younger. The cinema in general was still so novel an experience until roughly around my early 30s. Since then, it’s taken more for a movie to feel novel and, hence, interesting enough for me to want to see it. The old American frontier is a huge mythology of wonder for a lot of folks, particularly, it seems, for those older than myself, though many males in my age group also appreciate that world. But, it’s one to which I honestly can’t relate. All the gun-related violence and accompanying machismo turns me off. My being gay and not fully gender binary factors into this, I admit. I’m immediately an outsider to this onscreen universe. Even so, ultimately that genre tends to glorify the gun via having it be the central means of power and conquest, so tiresomely destructive in a raw, ugly way. We’re seeing these days what gun worship does in our culture. I also have no interest in spending my precious free time filling my physical vision and brain with more toxic masculinity. I already have to navigate it somewhat in my day-to-day life as it is. A certain very troubled man in power comes to mind. No thanks.

As an extension of Westerns, the modern, male-focused action films (including police-oriented ones) largely elicit the same response from me. They come across as Westerns placed in current times. The one exception and admitted guilty pleasure of this category I do watch are the James Bond films (*ducking for cover now from possible judgment by certain readers*). They are fantastical enough that they cross over into fantasy instead of just hard core action. That said, I’ve always viewed them with a mix of emotions, disliking their awful sexism and some of their violence. And the latest James Bond (Daniel Craig, himself a talented actor) is too much of a muscle-pumped brute for my taste. Gone is the suavity of Connery and Moore, the latter being so refreshingly funny, and the Bond I came of age watching. It is encouraging to hear that the next James Bond after Craig retires from one more upcoming film will be a female. Such a change is long overdue.

There is a rare exception I make for the martial arts sub-genre of action cinema: the small canon of Bruce Lee films. As I’ve written elsewhere, I watch him for his beautiful form and dance, which come across to me as artful and fantastical. Lee transcended the genre he worked within and I don’t know if anyone will ever accomplish what he did as a performer. CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON comes close, though that was all due to beautiful cinematography and costumes, interesting special effects, a good storyline, and competent acting. No single actor embodied the main energy or center of the world in that film like Lee did in his projects. And I have no interest whatsoever in watching what seems like overly-stimuli packed modern martial arts films. I find them too fast, busy, and even noisy. (Same goes for me with Anime in general, though I have enjoyed a few earlier produced exceptions, such as 1983’s BAREFOOT GEN.) Any graceful martial artist seems to get lost for me among all the mishegas of such pointless on-screen distraction.

I’ve rarely enjoyed violent horror films, particularly slasher ones, which, on the whole, I’ve never liked. The rare, well-done sci-fi fantasy horror productions, such as the first two and the fourth ALIEN movies, are watchable for their beautiful, dark aesthetics alone. But, then, I’ve always appreciated monster movies, which can artfully externalize the shadow sides of the human psyche, including our deepest fears and inner rage that all of us have surely felt in life as an initial, primal response to adversity.

I will sometimes take time to see early period dramas, depending on the historical period portrayed. Good acting and beautiful costumes also help me decide with what to watch in this category. However, if a lot of violent war scenes predominate in such productions, I tend to hesitate with consuming them. I’m not fascinated by war as I was somewhat when I was young. The less people at large give mind space to war, the more it will fade away as an overly repeated option to solving social and political problems. I’m simply committed to de-intensifying war images in my psyche as best I can because it feels like the right thing to do. Real life and non-movie media emphasize war to fill a lifetime, and then some, as it is. Still, I acknowledge the titillation war images elicit for so much of the public, including consuming them in their movie watching. Sigh.

Romantic and screwball comedies I enjoy on occasion, but they simply are far less compelling and interesting to me than the usually more imaginative, cinematic science fiction, fantasy, and, to a lesser extent, action adventure (e.g., James Bond) shows. Since I tend to see movies with the intention of being transported somewhere and inspired from aspects of my day-to-day life, I naturally gravitate towards these other-worldly performances.

I’ll sometimes see suspense and mystery movies if the storyline is intriguing enough and stars actors who I particularly admire. My imagination has to be captured by such projects, and that is hit or miss with this genre. It’s simply a cinema universe that doesn’t consistently interest me as much as the comparably more flexible fantasy and science fiction ‘verses do.

I used to enjoy many animation features, including most of the Disney ones. I still have yet to see some of those older productions, which I intend to in time. The Disney and Pixar cartoons from the last twenty years or so often annoy me with their puerile humor, which I’ve simply outgrown. Still, some are heart-felt, enjoyable, and imaginative all at once, such as WALL-E and ZOOTOPIA. What I personally experience as a loss in these computerized productions is the natural and subtly rough, unpolished aesthetic that hand-painted animation conveyed from earlier times. That look is more life-life compared to the overly clean appearance of these newer images on screen. The latter convey a certain mild sterility about them that keep me at a distance, ever reminded that I’m watching a movie.

Of worthy mention here are biographical movies. When done well, and if the subject is of interest to me (such as old-time movie stars and/or singers), these screen gems encapsulate the basic, beautiful essence of a fascinating, compelling life, this being yet another window into a very different world than my own.

Then, there’s the often quirky, off-beat indie art films. They are also hit or miss for me, but often hits. I’ll always have head room to view those, though time and convenience often don’t allow seeing as many of these as I’d like. There is no nearby theater where I live that regularly shows many indie (including foreign films) and arthouse productions, let alone for more than a day or two. Same goes for old-time classics, of which there’s a plethora that I treasure. Fortunately, in earlier years, I lived near movie houses that showed a lot of indie, art, and classic films, which I took advantage of. I’ll always be grateful for that. I’ve also viewed a lot of great oldies and indies on video, DVD, and YouTube over the years, and will continue to do so via the latter two means and, perhaps, streaming someday as well. But, none of these options quite replace the all-encompassing large screen medium I enjoy most for fully experiencing a movie.

I haven’t exhaustively covered all of the extant movie genres and sub-genres, the latter of which there are so many, including those that don’t quite fit into any particular category. But, I’ve discussed the ones that especially come to mind for me within such an often magical form of media. In this time of home convenience where small screen streaming is the zeitgeist for the masses, long live my first love of entertainment: the classy big, silver screen.

Movie Review (DOLITTLE)

The new movie DOLITTLE displays some interesting imagery here and there, but the overall pacing is incessantly frenetic and the script seems thrown together without much thought. Some of the CGI is good while some isn’t particularly impressive. Colors are too bright and clean on some of the talking animals. Many move too fast to seem fully credible as living beings. Also, I would have chosen a deeper voice for the perpetually fearful Chee-Chee the gorilla instead of Rami Malek’s overly-youthful one that had me thinking of a hyper-active, white American teenager. That is a poor match for a large imposing creature from Africa, even if he is scared, and what sounds his vocal cords would naturally emit.

One scene towards the end of the production has overly drawn-out puerile humor to the point that I found myself wondering if I’m simply getting old. Rather, I think it’s actually one of many instances of poor writing, whereby cheap laughs are emphasized over a missed opportunity to deepen an emotionally bonding situation for Dr. Dolittle (Robert Downey, Jr.) and the supporting characters of animals and humans around him. I longed for more lingering moments to give me, the viewer, a chance to connect further with what the players were seeing, feeling, experiencing. But, no, it’s quickly on to the next action or scene. It often feels like the film is actually speeded up.

The cast is mostly excellent (save Rami Malek’s voice) but not given much decent writing to work with. One actor who deserves special mention here is Harry Collett, who plays Tommy Stubbins, the self-appointed child apprentice to Dr. Dolittle. Not only is Collett good-looking, he is effectively emotive. His face quickly conveys feeling states, including tender ones, even with a fast-panning camera– though it does seem to linger on him at times, which is pleasant. I foresee Mr. Collett showing up in a lot more movies to come, though hopefully ones far better than this slap dash project.

The juxtaposition of a 19th century timeline with some supporting characters expressing very current terms and sensibilities comes across as awkward and annoying, even crass in one particular scene involving talking insects. If more real care had been put into DOLITTLE instead of doing such a rush job on it (and I heard from a local movie theater employee this is what it was) I think two or three good films could have been produced from out of this material. However, improvements on some of the CGI would also need to be made. Opportunities at being attentive to and more creative with character development and storylines were frequently missed and that’s sad.