Movie Recommendations – Volume III

Movie Recommendations – November 2019

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‘Eastern Promises’ (2007) is an excellent film focusing on the role of a mysterious hitman / bodyguard for the Russian Mafia who is forced to be drawn into a situation which forces him to take drastic measures to hide his true intentions. He must do this while protecting a woman who cares for a baby born out of wedlock whose mother died of a heroin addiction after being forced into prostitution. The man must choose where his loyalties lie as he becomes more and more intertwined with his allegiance to the mafia and his affection for the woman caring for the baby and her family.

The man is Nikolai Luzhin, played by the brilliant Viggo Mortensen, whose Russian accent and tattoos make him as feared as he is believable as a Russian gangster caught in the middle between his obligations to his mafia superiors and those of to the British-Russian midwife, Anna Khitrova, played by the excellent Naomi Watts, who pleads for his help and assurance of safety, when she comes upon the newborn baby of mysterious origins. The film’s title says it all in many ways as both of the main characters struggle to hold on to the ‘Eastern Promises’ they are sworn to uphold either by allegiance or by a simple diary left by a dying woman who fears for the future of her baby.

From beginning to end, the film ‘Eastern Promises’ is unique in its subject matter, its portrayal of the inner workings of the Russian mafia, and for the dramatic storyline that leaves you in suspense until the final scene. There are a few plot twists that make the experience even more enriching along with the brutal and realistic fight scenes that are enthralling. Above all else, Viggo Mortensen gives a thrilling performance for someone who had to exert a lot of effort to play a Russian gangster with the tattoos and the accent to show for it. I highly recommend this film.


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‘Ad Astra’ (2019) was an underwhelming box office hit but it was critically acclaimed for a number of good reasons. There are a lot of well-done special effects, heavy themes, and good acting performances especially by the legendary Donald Sutherland and Tommy Lee Jones. While it has not gotten much press, I find it to be on par with other great science fiction movies about space that have come out in the past decade including Gravity, Interstellar, and The Martian.

 ‘Ad Astra’ is unique compared to those other films in terms of its plot line and its themes. Roy McBride (played by Brad Pitt) is a decorated and distinguished major in the U.S. Space Command, who is emotionally detached yet very good at what he does regarding being an astronaut. He has both fame and notoriety as the son of Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who has been gone by Earth for 16 years and last heard from near Neptune from the last transmission. While he does not have a close relationship with his father, a new threat emerging from that part of the Solar System may be related to ‘Project Lima’ that his father captained. Roy is looking for answers and that is why he enlists to find his father, help save the Earth from these electrical surges, and even discover if we are in fact alone in the universe or not.

Without spoiling too much, this film ‘Ad Astra’ does a good job of showing the likely outcome of interstellar space travel to how Moon bases would shape up to be and how Mars would be used for research purposes among other missions. It also shows the dark side of human nature with rogue scavengers carrying out attacks, overt commercialization coming from Earth-based companies to turn the Moon into a shopping mall / food court, as well as the desire to leave Earth to colonize other planets when the one planet we have has all we need in terms of family, nature, and our search for meaning.

Roy’s character transformation throughout the film is the best part of the movie and he is a reliable narrator to show how space travel may change the course of humanity, but it does not change human nature. At the end of the film, you may be asking, why should we be asking if there is life on other planets when we should be valuing the life, we have here on Planet Earth?


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‘Joker’ (2019). What more can I say about a film that has garnered extensive media coverage, been on the subject of many debates, and been both acclaimed and scrutinized for many different reasons? All there is left to say is that one should see it for themselves and cast their own judgment. Overall, the film is a remarkable tour de force with excellent acting, cinematography, and direction along with a brilliant and moving soundtrack. Joaquin Phoenix is a shoo-in for winning Best Actor at next year’s Academy Awards and definitely deserves it. Any actor who can lose 60 pounds (32 kilograms) for a role, develop an insidious laugh, and show a huge range of emotions in all of one scene deserves huge praise and recognition.

I highly recommend seeing the film because it is more than just a movie about the world’s most famous fictional super villain. There are weighty themes that every audience member should think about such as the role of a society in producing a murderer and how we treat mental illness or the lack thereof. It is also about the gap between the rich and the poor as well as how we tend to live separate lives from each other based on our social status, which could lead to inevitable protests and unrest.

The film, in my opinion, does not condone the actions of Arthur Fleck or Joker (Joaquin Phoenix) but it holds a mirror up to the society that makes a man turn to madness and murder in that the very spot-on assumption that we too play a role in creating a monster like that. When certain people, especially the mentally ill, fall through the cracks, bad things can happen, and it is important to serve those people to get the help and care they need.

I think the main lesson of the film can also be that it is important to always do your best to treat others with kindness and respect because you do not know what is going on in their lives. While the ‘Joker’ is a monster and commits heinous acts worthy of severe punishment, this origin story shines a light on a society that fosters a man like him to turn to crime and murder to feel meaning and purpose. While ‘Joker’ is the one who pulls the trigger, it’s clear that had he gotten the help and support he needs as ‘Arthur Fleck’, there would be no ‘Joker’ to begin with.

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‘First Reformed’ – Film Review and Analysis

Man’s struggle with God can almost be as endearing yet painful as his struggle against man. If there is one way to sum up the excellent film, ‘First Reformed’, that would be it. First Reformed (2017) focuses on the environment, one’s faith, and the struggle to find hope when things seem rather bleak. “Can God forgive us for what we’ve done to the world?”, a troubled environmental activist asks Pastor Ernst Toller and the Pastor replies to his congregant, “Who can know the mind of God?”

While this movie did not receive any Oscar awards, the acting by Ethan Hawke (Pastor Ernst Toller) and also by Amanda Seyfried (Mary) is excellent as well as the cinematography, the adapted screenplay by Director Paul Schrader which helps this film earn its critical acclaim and some Independent Spirit award nominations as well as one Academy Award nomination. I still believe Mr. Hawke was snubbed from getting an Oscar nomination since this film’s performance was one of the best he has ever done and deserved more praise. In many of his films, I find him to be one of the best actors of his generation and able to produce genuine emotion regardless of the situation his character finds himself in.

In ‘First Reformed’, Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) finds himself faced with difficult questions surrounding his faith, morality, the environment in 2017, and what lies ahead in the future for humanity. These are weighty questions for anyone to deal with let alone a pillar of a community like Toller finds himself to be in Snowbridge, New York as the head pastor for the colonial era First Reformed church that dates back to the time of British colonization and the underground railroad movement later on.

This historical church is seen to be losing its membership and interest and Pastor Toller has to resort to touristic gimmicks and a small gift shop to help make ends meet to keep the church going. There is a noticeable parallel to the decline of Christianity in terms of active members of the Christian church in the United States so a fictional movie such as this one has some real-life parallels that seem plausible. The crisis of faith in churches in certain communities has a coinciding similarity with Toller’s own faith in God and in himself. He is an alcoholic struggling to find meaning and purpose in his life at the beginning of the film.

While making the church more touristy, he has also made the church more spiritual as well instead of its Calvinist origins. He sticks more to sermons than to scriptures and has enlisted the financial backing and ownership of an evangelical megachurch in nearby Albany, New York, which is likely to take over the church in the near future much to Toller’s apprehension. As we go through the film, we peel back the curtain on who this pastor is and like any of us, he has his own personal flaws and past sins but has also suffered for them and wishes to make amends in some way.

We find out that Pastor Toller lost his son, Joseph, recently while serving in the Iraq War and feels guilt for having told him to enlist having come from a military background himself as a chaplain. During that difficult time, he committed adultery and started drinking but also found his faith again to then become a pastor at First Reformed after going through grieving his son’s loss. However, a chance encounter with one of his congregants and his wife puts his faith in God and humanity to the ultimate test.

Mary, a devout congregant and believer in God and her skeptical husband, Michael, a stern environmentalist and becoming increasingly radical meet with Pastor Toller separately in their house. Mary has concerns about Michael’s well-being and tells the Pastor they expect to have a child soon. Michael is sincerely struggling with the fact that he will be a father soon when the world’s ecosystems are steadily collapsing, sea levels are rising, and the effects of global climate change are to be felt beginning in the next few decades. For any of us watching this pivotal scene including Pastor Toller himself, there are no easy answers from God or from man either regarding the future of humanity. Ernest finds it difficult to comfort Michael but asks to keep seeing him and to look out for Mary and the unborn child.

This particular scene leads to the rest of the film’s deeper dive into the effects of capitalism and greed on the environment as well as the relationship between big industry and religious institutions. Pastor Toller’s awakening from meeting with Mary and Michael leads him to questioning why the environmental situation is so dire, who is responsible for it, what can be done to stop it, and how far should measures be taken. Because the Pastor has no easy answers for Michael, he starts looking for them and is obviously dismayed by what he finds out regarding the local environmental situation in his community and how greed, industry, and the lack of stewardship for his community have led humanity down towards an unsustainable path.

Without spoiling the film, The Pastor struggles with what he can do as one individual to counteract the forces aligned against good stewardship of the planet and what a person can do to draw attention to the problem. Not only is there a crisis of faith in God but in each other and what is being done to the only planet we have ever known. The Pastor, with certain health issues related to alcoholism, is reconciling with the fact that he is mortal and what kind of impact he wants to leave behind.

He is comforted by the fact that Mary is still a believer in the future and wants to have a child even with the future of the planet looking relatively bleak. Pastor Toller knows however that he has the responsibility now to hold those accountable for their actions whether it’s the Evangelical church, a big industrialist doing environmental damage, or even himself when he strays from helping those in his congregation who need it the most.

‘First Reformed’ poses a lot of weighty questions and it is an extremely timely film in terms of its messages and themes. It is bleak because it has to be and raises a lot of issues that we have neglected regarding the environment and now we may be finding that time to make a difference in this escalating problem is running out. ‘First Reformed’ asks us how an ordinary man of faith yet a pillar of the community so respond to those in his congregation who are in despair regarding environmental damage and destruction.

How far should he go and how radical should he be to get people to listen and understand what is being done? Can love and faith overcome the desire to do harm and take revenge against those who have sinned against the planet? Like any good film, there are no easy answers and the director does not condone or condemn the thoughts or possible actions that Pastor Toller weights leading up to the climax of the last scene.

What this film does an excellent job of is warning its viewers about the consequences of greed, ignorance, lack of stewardship, valuing profits over the health and well-being of people, and the unholy alliance of organized religion and big industries. There are numerous fingers to point at regarding the worsening state of climate change going on in the world currently but perhaps those who watch this excellent film will realize that the finger should be pointed at ourselves first about the damage being done. Perhaps that kind of introspective thinking is what it will take for massive external action to occur and for the worst of the consequences to be avoided.

Movie Recommendations – Volume II

  1. The Mule (2018)

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A normal man of the middle class is pushed to his limits and takes serious risks that could backfire on him. This is essentially the premise of legendary actor and director Clint Eastwood’s latest film in which he stars and directs as an octogenarian horticulturist turned drug mule named Earl Stone. Based on true events, this unreliable family man and an even worse husband, Earl has sacrificed his love of flowers for the love of his daughter and wife. More at home on the road with his drinking buddies and colleagues than with his own family members, Earl has spent over thirty years doing what he does best much to the chagrin of those who care about him including his soon to be wed granddaughter.

Earl is faced with the unsettling reality of the crippling economic recession beginning in 2008 and the subsequent rise of eCommerce outlets when his horticulture lifestyle and flower gardens go out of business. All Earl has left is his love of the road, his ability to never get a speeding ticket, and a lot of debt that he’s not sure how to get out of. Earl has the utter misfortune to run into people who are shady yet loaded with cash and Earl, being as desperate as he is to stay afloat economically goes ahead and trusts them anyway despite not knowing about the illicit cargo, he is transporting around the country for them.

You are left feeling bad for Earl because despite putting work first all those years and missing time with his loved ones, he partly did it to feed his family and give them a good life even if he was away most of the time. Eastwood who plays Earl in the film is not an innocent lamb and deserves punishment for what he did, but he is simply a manipulated fall guy and another casualty to the endless ‘war on drugs.’ Pursued by federal agents and cartel criminals, Earl ends up between a rock and a hard place and you have to wonder how we can live in a society where an old man such as himself has to resort to be a drug mule in order to get by financially and create a good life for himself and those close to him.

Overall, this is a good movie that I would recommend for its questions about morality, family, and the consequences economic hard times can have and are still a reality for so many people who choose to take illegal means or are forced to do so in order to survive or get by. It’s clear from the movie that crime doesn’t pay but we are left to reckon with the absurdity of an eighty plus year old man needing to work for the cartels in order to thrive economically.

  1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

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It may not be Tarantino’s best but it’s certainly not his worst. With a stellar cast of characters including Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, etc., This film does a great job of invoking the nostalgia and uniqueness of Hollywood in its heyday during the late 1960’s. Set in a time when hitchhiking was normal to partake in, hippies were hanging out in ranches, and the Manson family was beginning its reign of terror, Tarantino has an uncanny ability to bring those cultural tenets together to produce a satisfying film.

Between the cars, the outfits, the egos of the actors, you get a real sense of what it must have been like to be in Hollywood during that golden era. Even still, Tarantino as in his other films, likes to put his own spin on history and without revealing too much, the last thirty minutes of this film are among the most satisfying that he has put to the big screen.

It would not be a Tarantino movie without some craziness and shocking moments occurring. One of the best parts of ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ is the chemistry between Brad Pitt’s character, Cliff Booth, a stuntman who does all the dirty work with a smile on his face and Leo DiCaprio’s character, Rick Dalton, an actor who is struggling with the notion that his career may be on the downslope.

While the film gets off to a slow start and certain scenes are drawn out way too long, the writing is well-done, the characters are interesting to see develop, and the payoff of the ending is way too satisfying to not recommend this film. Especially if you are a fan of Hollywood history and the era of the 1960’s, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

  1. Blinded by The Light (2019)

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Brrrrrruuuuucccceeeeee! Springsteen fans are going to love this film. I know I did and it’s for a couple of reasons. The actors are really likable in this one and the story they’re telling is one as old as time but in a setting and an era that I found pretty compelling. There are some similarities between the coming of age of someone like a Bruce Springsteen and the film’s main character, Javed Khan (played by Viveik Kalra). Even though they are from different countries, different races, and different religious beliefs, there is a universal truth that underlies what Javed and Bruce went through as younger men. Dealing with overprotective or absent fathers, searching for one’s own identity, trying to find true love, and figuring out how to make their dreams come true These are the powerful themes of the film that are timelines across cultures and across borders.

Also timeless is the fight against hatred, bigotry, and intolerance among those who don’t accept others who are different living in their communities. The film is not just about Springsteen’s music and how it relates to a young man’s search for his place in the world but also about a family’s immigrant dream to create a better life for themselves in a community that can be rather cruel and mean at times. Not only is Javed trying to make his dreams come true but his family are also trying to fit in to a town, Luton, where they are minorities, and are discriminated against.

I particularly like how ‘Blinded by The Light’, while it followed the formulaic story of similar films, it has its own identity and its own unique setting and characters that make it a rewarding watch. There are some lessons to be taken from this film beyond just enjoying the music of the Boss. It’s about balancing family responsibilities and your own independence and desires, and also about what your priorities are in life.

Music isn’t everything but it’s the sweet, fulfilling topping that will get you through hard times when things look bleak. That is part of the appeal of Bruce Springsteen’s music and it’s why his music is so powerful and resonant from Asbury Park to Luton and from New York City to London. If you get the chance, see this film even if you don’t like Springsteen. It is more than just a musical and at its core, it’s about the triumph of love over hate and of dreams over despair.

Anatomy of a Scene – The Letter

“For what it’s worth, it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. You can make the best or worst of it, and I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you are proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

-The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Sometimes, you can watch an entire movie and not feel moved by it. Whether it’s a stirring of your emotions or being introspective about your feelings, few movies will touch the viewer personally. Luckily, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an exception to the rule, especially when it comes to the scene where the main character, Benjamin Button, writes a letter to his daughter, whom he barely knew in life.
With her mother on her death bed, the daughter finally opens and retrieves many letters from a father whom she barely knew and is startled to have a keepsake from someone who was rarely in her life.

Benjamin Button has a unique condition where instead of getting older like he the rest of us as he goes through life, the opposite happens to him and he gets younger and younger allowing him to experience life backwards. Still, despite this inconvenience he can live a full life and that is what this movie scene so special because he encourages his daughter to do the same. While he is not around to see her have her own adventures, he wants the best for her and wants to her to “live a life that she’s proud of.”

When we first are introduced to this scene, we see that Benjamin’s daughter realizes that he went to India and many other places years ago based on the kind of parchment that his letters are written on. There are many letters addressed to her from the time she was two years old and onward when he was not around to be with her. Despite the sadness and disappointed associated with that, she is relieved that he was writing to her and thought of her even when he was far away. For him to think of her while writing ‘the letter’ in such faraway places show that despite his curious condition, he loved her dearly and wanted to express that even after he passed away.

This movie scene is brilliant because it shows Benjamin travelling around India while narrating to his daughter that he wants her to ‘be whoever you want to be’ whether that’s a traveler or a janitor or a toll booth manager. You can make the ‘best or the worst of it’ as he states to her depending on your perspective on life, but he wants her to make the ‘best of it’ as he did. A father imparting this important message on to his daughter that it’s okay to ‘start over’ again in life is important for her to hear but also for the audience to understand.

If you find that you are not ‘living a life that you’re proud of’, then there is nothing wrong with changing it in order to finally be proud of. While he did a lot of travelling, there is still the humdrum of daily life involved such as cleaning your clothes, talking with the locals, and even drinking from a water hose. “There are no rules to this thing.” Sometimes, we tend to think of life as a narrow path when really there are going to be numerous zigs or zags, and when you become an adult, you have to make the rules for how you want to live, what is important to you, and what to care about.

“I hope you see things that startle you, I hope you feel things that you’ve never felt before…” This part of the scene is brilliant in showing the beauty of Benjamin’s travels and how he would sleep, brush his teeth, and move around by motorbike through beautiful mountain passes and rivers. Benjamin wanted his daughter to experience the world and for her to enjoy what it had to offer in her own life. Part of doing just that is adapting to the places you visit and to seek out the adventures yourself in order to make the most of it.

“I hope you meet people with a different point of view…” Benjamin encourages his daughter also to get to know other people, whether from another city or another country, and how it’s necessary to be open to them and to be kind. The locals help Benjamin fix his motorbike as he drives through their village on one of his journeys.
“I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” Benjamin’s last words to his daughter ask of her to be strong in not being afraid to change your life or decide that you want to live it a different way than before. The mother imparts at the end of the scene that “he had been gone a long time…”

Unfortunately, this scene shows both the beauty and tragedy of life in that sometimes, we can’t be there for the people we love but are with them in spirit. Benjamin could not be with his daughter in life but he wished that he had been there to wish her a happy birthday, to kiss her goodnight, to take her to her first day of school, to teach her to play piano, to chase away boys, and to be her Father. “Nothing he ever did would replace that.” Even after all the adventures that Benjamin had, the most important role he ever had was being her father and he wanted to make sure she knew that by leaving her with his diary.

Even in his absence, this scene shows us the power of a father’s love for his daughter and how he wanted the best for her and to live a life that would yield happiness and fulfillment for her. In one minute, this scene in ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ has more of an emotional impact than many movies do in more than two hours. Breaking down this narrative and the beautiful cinematography and filmmaking of travelling at its most challenging yet most rewarding was quite an achievement by the film’s director and crew. Not only would this movie scene have an impact on Benjamin’s daughter by also on the rest of us watching in the movie theater or at home. If you have a chance, watch this scene to appreciate the scenery, the message, and the power of love between a father and a daughter. A powerful movie scene worth a watch and a couple of re-watches as well.

‘The Grey’ – Film Review and Analysis

The actor Liam Neeson has become one of the main action figures in Hollywood, starring in such popular films as ‘Taken’, ‘Batman Begins’, and ‘Gangs of New York.’ However, while these roles were a bit one-dimensional or short lived in terms of his supporting role, you get to see the full scope of his talents in a powerful and dramatic role in the 2012 film, ‘The Grey.’ In this fictional drama, we get to see a man pushed to his mental and physical limits and how he is able to come to grips with such weighty topics such as his own mortality and his religious beliefs.

Not only is ‘The Grey’ a great film when it comes to its views on mortality, religion, and the depths of human nature when pushed to its limits. The cinematography, direction, pacing and setting in the film help make it stand out. There’s something in this film for everybody who is a fan of serious cinema especially when it comes to character backstory, action scenes, and touching moments of vulnerability and camaraderie. ‘The Grey’ doesn’t sugarcoat anything as well and does not shy away from addressing real life struggles such as depression, a search for meaning, and the futility of having bad luck run roughshod over one’s life.

Man can only control so much in his life and that includes what happens to those who he loves, how he adapts and survives when it exposed to the worst elements of nature and of the animal kingdom. Sometimes, the only choice that you have is to fight, persevere, and struggle to the last breath even when things look bleak. Neeson and the other men in the film have to grapple with a lot of bad events that make it a hopeless situation to get out of. There is no choice though and all of them have to do their best to make it out alive especially to the ones they love.

John Ottway, the main character in the film played by Liam Neeson, is a guy you want with you in the oil fields of Alaska. We know little about his backstory in the film, but it is revealed that he struggles with depression, meaning, and his faith in a higher power. He dreams of a woman who is his wife and the audience are not sure if he is still with her or if they divorced or each other or if something fatal has befallen her.

We assume that he is in Alaska working as a marksman protecting oil workers from the wolves and that he is doing this job for lack of better options and to preserve some remaining meaning in his life. Part of the brilliance of this film is that it doesn’t reveal everything too quickly about why Ottway is in Alaska or what happened to his wife. ‘The Grey’ does not ignore the great sense of suspense that can be built up over the course of the film to make a true compelling drama that captures and holds your attention until the end.

Ottway and the other men are facing grey wolves who see them as a threat and it’s not possible for the men to communicate to these wolves that they are friends and not foes. The animal kingdom suffers no man especially when he is in their territory. They can’t communicate with each other so it’s a battle for survival between man and wolf. While the grey wolves in real life are harmless and do not hunt humans, ‘The Grey’ takes some creative liberties with this fact in order to have a compelling film. Despite the criticism from animal rights groups, if you enter the area of a wolf’s pack den, you are likely asking for trouble regardless if you didn’t mean to do so, man or animal alike.

After a freak plane crash, Ottway and the other oilmen must fend for survival in harsh conditions while they are stalked by wolves including its alpha leader who see the men as threats to be reckoned with. Ottway has killed wolves before to protect the oilmen when they’re working in the fields and he knows what they are like. Against ever increasing odds of survival, he proves to be a great example of how to lead men in times of crisis and peril. His leadership, throughout the film, proves pivotal in giving the men a shot to get out of the Alaskan wilderness and back to their families. Even though it seems at the beginning of the film that Ottway has lost his will to live due to the situation with his wife, the freak plane crash and his survival from it propels him to try and save the men and outwit the wolves if possible.

Still though, ‘The Grey’ is a serious and realistic film about how far faith will carry you out of a real crisis. There is an underlying atheistic outlook of the movie that may rub some people the wrong way, but I found it to be needed. In life, when you face a tragedy, a crisis, or a perilous event, faith can only do so much, and you have to claw and fight your way out of it. I think ‘The Grey’ does a great job of showing how important it is to confront your fears, show true leadership, and fight as hard as possible against the odds to make it out alive of a bad and deteriorating situation.

Ottway’s character and his fight against the Alaskan wilderness and the wild wolves is a great metaphor of how each of us is fighting against our own personal demons and against events that are beyond our control in life. We each have a struggle to face and we have to do it on our own. If we have a wife or a crew by our side, that’s a great thing to have but that’s not always the case as it is in ‘The Grey.’ When you’re put into a bad situation and all hope is lost, you have to truly fight for survival and live like it’s your last day because it might just be it.

There’s an excellent quote from ‘The Grey’ that has a lot of resonance for how true it is regarding life’s fragility and how you have to live like it’s your last day and to do the best you can to survive against the odds. “Once more into the fray…into the last good fight I’ll ever know. Live and die on this day…live and die on this day.” This quote that Liam Neeson’s character recites throughout the film is not only a metaphor for his fight against the wolves and nature but his fight against depression and to make it through the day when all hope seems lost.

‘The Grey’ is a true survival film and it is excellently directed with a great starring performance by Liam Neeson. I believe it is an extremely underrated film and does a good job of bringing up various themes surrounding hope, faith, loss, and about life’s injustices. If you can check it out, I highly recommend giving ‘The Grey’ a view. It will be well worth your time.

Movie Recommendations – Volume I

‘Good Kill’ (2014)

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Good Kill is an excellent drama/thriller film that highlights the ethics and the cost involving drone warfare and how it can affect the servicemen and women who have to pull the trigger and live with the consequences. Starring Ethan Hawke, this film is a deep and probing look at how warfare conducted from thousands of miles away can still leave a lasting imprint on those who have a role in it even when they are not anywhere near the battlefield.

The film highlights correctly how while drone strikes may carry less collateral damage to civilian lives, there will always be the chance for the loss of innocent life and families being destroyed. Whether that’s an errant missile crashing into a wedding party or a group of children running by a targeted building within seconds of a missile being launched and getting caught in the crossfire, death from the skies will not only affect terrorists, but women and children too. Because drone strikes are less costly to governments and militaries, the rules of engagement can sometimes be abused to focus too often on low-level targets, who pose some actionable threat, but who could also be captured for intelligence purposes. A lack of international norms and standards regarding drone warfare leads to serious consequences in terms of possible abuse by governments who overuse it on secondary targets.

Airmen and women such as Ethan Hawke’s character and his colleagues, who conduct drone strikes, are shown to suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder because they get to know their targets, see how they live, and struggle with having the power of death over them. High-resolution surveillance makes the act of killing personal despite the fact that these servicemen are thousands of miles away. When a drone strike goes wrong and innocent civilians are killed, it leaves a long-lasting psychological effect on the military personnel involved.

They may not see their victims when they are flying an F-16, but they are aware of what collateral damage is when they see the dead bodies of women, children being shown on the high definition screen. Military service members do not last long as drone pilots due to the immense mental strain placed on them especially when they did not sign-up for conducting warfare with a joystick. Alcoholism, depression, and family problems have occurred due to pilots being asked to conduct drone strikes in the name of national security. All of these issues are highlighted in Good Kill making it more than just your average film about war, but also about an excellent look on how the human condition is affected from holding life or death decisions over those who never see it coming.

‘Roma’ (2018)

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Roma is more than just your average film about a family. It is excellent in its scope and ambition in covering a tumultuous period in Mexican history and for highlighting the issues of family, race, and class within the larger society. What I enjoyed most about this film was that it felt personal and it is based off of the childhood of the director Alfonso Cuaron. The way the story unfolds feels as if it has been lived out before.

Cuaron’s work and that of his film crew that was done with the cinematography, film editing, and screenplay is extremely impressive and goes to show the audience just how film is another form of human artwork that can display beauty, meaning, and pure emotion.

Amidst the story of this family are real-life events in Mexican history that overlap with the film without overwhelming the intimacy of the story being told. For example, The Corpus Christi Massacre or “El Halconazo” in 1971 are intertwined with Cleo’s search for a crib for his newborn baby to be.

Nobody in this film is perfect and true human error of both behavior and character are laid bare. Amongst the flawed characters in this film are redemptive qualities about them and how they fight and struggle to overcome betrayal, disappointments, and tragedy. The film is gripping in that it is about real life and there is no sugarcoating. In Roma, no one is immune from setbacks and struggles, and that is what makes the audience invests in the story being told even more.

Compared to many other films that I have seen, few have touched me more on an emotional level than Roma. The realistic dialogue, the set pieces, the chain of events, and the character development all lend to its longevity as one of the best films of the decade. If you have a Netflix subscription, do yourself a favor and watch Roma. You won’t regret the chance to view this pure work of art and I would not be surprised if it sweeps the awards at the Oscars. It is that good of a film and a noteworthy achievement by director Alfonso Cuaron.

‘A Private War’ (2018)

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This is a biographical film without feeling overwhelming or too much tied up in the protagonist. This film does a good job in covering the life of the deceased war correspondent, Marie Colvin, who reported from multiple war zones over two decades including Sri Lanka, Iraq, Libya, Syria. Marie was a fearless and bold reporter who did the under-appreciated work of reporting the facts on the ground when it came to what was going on in these war zones.

The film portrays her as someone who battled the terrible things that she witnessed and the horrors that she could not avoid. She struggled with her dependency on alcohol, cigarettes, was divorced twice and also had her bouts with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as many war correspondents deal with when they return home from a war zone. Rosamund Pike, the lead actress in A Private War does an incredible job in accurately portraying who Marie Colvin was in how she mimics both her mannerisms and her speaking style throughout the film’s entirety.

Despite losing an eye, suffering from PTSD, and struggling with maintaining her friendships and relationships away from the battlefield, Mrs. Colvin dedicated her life to reporting the truth and the facts from war zones around the world so that everyone would else would know the costs of war.

While she was afraid and while she was fearful, she had the courage to press on and do her duty in informing the public on what was going on. While she was killed during the siege of Homs, Syria, her memory lives on with this film and the work that she did for two decades in holding the powerful accountable for the wars that they started. In an era where journalists are being denigrated and dismissed with increasing impunity, it’s refreshing to see a film that pays tribute to a war correspondent who gave her life to the cause of reporting the facts so that people would be more informed on what was going on and to also care about why it was happening.  

‘Children of Men’ – Film Review and Analysis

What would happen to our world if women were no longer able to have babies? How would human society, nations, and the globe as a whole react to such a consequential event to humanity? A dystopian take on the state of a world without children is the focus of the 2006 critically acclaimed film titled, ‘Children of Men’, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. This film stars Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in its leading roles. The film is based off of a novel of the same name, ‘Children of Men’, which was written by author P.D. James in 1992.

The screenplay and the story have both been adapted from the novel but the striking visuals and the memorable cinematography make it fit for the big screen treatment. Despite a limited release and low profit earnings when it first came out, Children of Men has stayed in the public consciousness due to its timely socio-political themes on immigration, the environment, terrorism, and political violence. With the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President and the unlikely occurrence of Brexit, the message and themes of the film have turned out to be quite relevant. Although this film is set in the United Kingdom in the future year of 2027, despite the non-issue with the infertility of women, the issues that humanity is dealing with in 2017 are tied directly to different issues that the film brings up in its’ plotline.

Theo Faron, a civil servant for the British government and former activist, seems to have given up his fight for a better future. With humanity on the brink of extinction and with most of the countries’ governments having collapsed, there doesn’t seem to be any hope left. As one of the characters, Miriam, explains to Theo in the film, “As the sound of the playgrounds faded, despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices.” Theo and his ex-wife, Julian, estranged for years after the death of their infant child, Dylan, are reunited due to a refugee named Kee. Julian and the Fishes, an anti-government and pro-refugee group involved in an uprising, would like to take Kee to the Human Project.

She is known to be the only woman in the world who is pregnant with the world’s first child in eighteen years, and is very valuable. However, things are not as they seem with the Fishes and their motives for helping Kee. Theo, in this film, is a lone character who promises to help Julian to bring Kee to the Human Project to ensure the future of humanity against all odds. Instead of using Kee as a political prop to help their cause against the government, Theo decides to help her escape from the Fishes, bring her to the British coast, and protect the future of humanity. Along the way, the viewer of the film sees the consequences of a world without babies. Where once there was no hope, Theo gains his sense of purpose and faith again as he hopes to redeem himself by getting Kee to safety and away from both the British government and the Fishes group.

Starting from the opening scene where the main character, Theo, is taken aback from a suicide bomb blast in the heart of London after just having left the café where the attack happened, you get a sense of what you’re in for with this movie. There’s a sense of hopelessness, dread, and despair as the audience is thrust into the focus of the movie as it’s made clear that the youngest person on Earth was eighteen years old meaning that something seriously has gone wrong to make that a reality. Although it’s never directly addressed in the movie, a few of the characters speculate that the reasons women can’t have babies anymore vary from environmental degradation to genetic experiments to too much pollution / radiation. The reason for women’s infertility is never addressed but the film makes it clear that the world is without hope because of the fact that there are no children to carry on the future of the human race.

Humanity faces certain extinction and the United Kingdom where the film’s setting is, instead of maintaining its’ parliamentary form of democracy has regressed into a totalitarian police state. Because it is one of the few surviving nations left on Earth, the country has developed a strict anti-immigration and anti-refugee policy. Any refugees or immigrants from outside the U.K. are rounded up and sent to detention camps, which have very poor and inhospitable conditions. The situation is so dire that the Fishes, labeled as a terrorist group, are fighting a guerrilla war campaign against the government to fight for immigrant rights.

The Fishes, with Julian, Theo’s ex-wife as their leader seem like the good guys but they have nefarious intentions in mind when it comes to the righteousness of their cause especially after they discover the first pregnant woman, Kee, in eighteen years. Throughout the movie, Theo is shown to be caught in the middle between the tyrannical government and the nefarious freedom fighter groups who are both trying to get hold of Kee for their own political gain.

The Human Project, believed to be a group of the world’s leading scientists, are thought to be the best people to help Kee with the baby and to perhaps study why she out of all the women on the planet was able to give birth to a child. Theo, having seemingly lost all hope and reason for living after the death of his baby, Dylan, believes again in the cause of getting Kee to be in the safe hands of the Human Project and to keep her from falling into the hands of either the Fishes group or the government. One of the main themes in this film is Theo’s regaining of hope and his quest for redemption after losing his only son years ago with his ex-wife, Julian.

The director, Alfonso Cuaron, does a great job of setting the scene of a dystopian future where humanity has lost all hope. A pill that allows people to commit suicide peacefully called ‘Quietus’ is mass advertised, terrorist attacks are an almost daily occurrence, and the immigrants, refugees who come to Britain are kept in detention camps separate from the rest of the population because the borders of the country have been closed down. In a plot and setting so dark, the only light to hold on to is Kee and her newborn to be. In a particular moving moment, Kee decides to name her baby girl after Theo’s deceased child, Dylan, showing just how much she really cares for the man who is getting her to the Human Project. It’s no coincidence that Kee herself is a refugee from a West African nation where the first humans emerged.

One of the best scenes in the film occurs when Kee, Theo, and the newborn baby are trying to leave a bombed out building where the rebels and the government are fighting each other in an urban war. The only thing that stops the bombs from falling and the bullets from firing are the sounds of a newborn baby echoing throughout the building and the street. This particular scene is a reminder of how special the sounds of a children’s cries are to the vitality of the world and how without them, it’s likely that humanity would descend into a downward spiral of chaos and violence. When all of the soldiers stopped for a few minutes to stop fighting, they realized that there was still hope in the world and that life can continue. It’s a very special scene for a special movie.

In addition to great directing, and great acting, Children of Men has some of the best cinematography of any movie in modern history. The single tracking shots, and there are quite a few throughout the film are ridiculously well done and help the viewer feel the tension and suspense in every scene. The soundtrack, the setting, and the messages of the film are extremely powerful and relevant to today’s world. I believe the director does a great job of asking the audience about how susceptible we are to either the rule of a totalitarian government or to the whims of absolutist extremist groups when societal collapse is imminent.

When there are no children or future generations, what is there worth fighting for? How also do we prevent ourselves from scapegoating other groups when things go bad? Maybe the issue is not infertility per say but rather climate change, the rise of artificial intelligence, or war between nations, how do we prevent ourselves from losing hope when things look bleak? The film, Children of Men, makes the argument that we should never lose hope especially in dire times. The future must be protected however especially as shown by the role the character, Theo, plays in helping Kee in her quest to meet members of The Human Project.

Ironically, there have been news stories out about the precipitous drop in men’s sperm counts over the past forty years in countries such as the United States. While this may not lead to total infertility, researchers labeled it as a cause for concern due to the overall trend of less fertility in men. In addition, birth rates are down below replacement level rates in multiple Western countries causing concern among scientists. Similar to the theories laid out in ‘Children of Men’, it is unclear why male infertility may be on the rise but it may be due to a number of factors, both environmental and otherwise. Where as Children of Men focused on women being infertile and not being able to have babies, the possibility of men being infertile in the future should be a cause for concern. (Source: http://www.newsweek.com/2017/09/22/male-infertility-crisis-experts-663074.html)

It is difficult to see why Children of Men did not win any of the Academy awards that it was nominated for. It’s an excellent, thought-provoking film that raises questions to the audience that are difficult to answer. If you have the chance to rent or buy this movie, please do so because it is widely regarded as one of the best movies of the 21st century.