By Marc S. Sanders

The first MCU movie that makes the biggest departure from any of the other installments in the franchise.

Doctor Strange operates on a level beyond punchy powers as Avengers director Joss Whedon noted. The film explores a very far, very fictional belief in the mystical arts and magic. So much so that sometimes characters like The Ancient One and Mordo speak in an English that is so foreign and so confusing. Still, I’m not complaining.

I enjoyed this film immensely. Benedict Cumberbatch is so right in the role of Stephen Strange. His character’s arrogance is not over the top, but necessary and evident. I really liked his transition from expert surgeon to a permanently damaged physical person and then onto The Sorcerer Supreme complete with the Cloak of Levitation, a better and more deserving way to describe it than just another cape.

The morphing of city landscapes and neighborhoods into arced and flipped and reverse mazes are really fun and change shape with crisp sound editing and music.

Good supporting work is also on display from Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor and especially Tilda Swinton. My one wish is that the villain played by the very capable Mads Mikkellsen was fleshed out more. He’s an actor who can handle heavy roles. Regretfully, I don’t think the script gives him enough to do here.

This Marvel chapter stands on its own with little reliance on the other films. However, the green infinity stone at play here is easier to understand now that I’ve seen Avengers: Infinity War. I’m talking about The Time Stone, of course!

Doctor Strange is a solid film; one that I would love to watch again a year from now and likely feel just as entertained.

NOTE: stay away from the 3D Blu Ray discs. Watch it in 2D. Having seen the 3D in theatres the first time, I clearly remember not enjoying the film very much. It was blurry and dark. At times the picture didn’t look crisp. The 3D effort was a nuisance and a terrible distraction. Less is more. Stick with 2D.


By Marc S. Sanders

In 1998, Elmore Leonard’s best-selling novel, Out Of Sight, was adapted by director Steven Soderbergh, where Federal Marshall Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) falls in lust with Bank Robber Jack Foley (George Clooney), which leads to ridiculous, albeit logical set ups as a high stakes diamond heist is planned along the way.

I know years after Steven Soderbergh’s film was released an ABC tv series based on the Sisco character was produced. That was a misfire. Simply because the beautiful, sexy and most importantly under appreciated and intuitive portrayal that Lopez mastered was a role that could have led to another great film franchise of sequels to come. Carla Gugino played author Leonard’s heroine in the tv show. If you are saying “Carla who?” then ‘Nuff said. Sisco belongs to Jennifer Lopez.

Lopez and Clooney have great chemistry amid gorgeous cinematography on location in sun filled Miami and snow blanketed Detroit. Soderbergh shoots a great scene midway through where the two characters, on opposite sides of the law, throw caution out the door as they seduce each other in front of a hotel window view boasting beautiful midnight blue sprinkled with falling snow. It is one cool and very hot scene.

Sisco is always a step ahead of Foley. Her problem arises when after being held hostage by him in the trunk of her car following his escape from prison…well, she just can’t resist him.

My apologies. Out Of Sight is a far better film than I could describe here thanks also to a boastful cast featuring Dennis Farina, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle (how many films has he done with Clooney?), Steve Zahn, Albert Brooks (simply great as a hairpiece wearing white collar criminal), Michael Keaton (two Batmans in a film for the price of one) and finally a master of cameos reserved for a smirk inducing final scene. Make an educated guess of who I could be talking about.

Lopez and Clooney should have done more films together over the years. They are as classic a couple as Tracey & Hepburn, Beatty & Dunaway, Hanks & Ryan or Gere & Roberts.

This was a gem of a movie I mistakenly found boring when I saw it in theatres. What was I thinking? On a second viewing, 20 years later, I laughed, smiled and just couldn’t take my eyes off it. It’s just great fun.

Without Out Of Sight, Soderbergh, Clooney and Company would probably never have made an Ocean’s 11. Check out what became before their more successful collaborations to come.


By Marc S. Sanders

What did I just watch? A mob movie, or a 2008 Presidential debate where the candidates are no shows, and their respective commercials are aired in their place? Andrew Dominik directs Killing Them Softly, with Brad Pitt who also produces.

Reader, I don’t get the appeal. Maybe it’s the outstanding cast which includes Pitt, as well as James Gandolfini, Ben Mehndelson, Richard Jenkins, Scoot McNairy and Ray Liotta. Sadly, these guys are given next to nothing do of any consequence.

After it is revealed that Liotta’s character, Marky, ripped off his own mob poker game a few years back, an idea is presented to two street addicts played McNairy & Mendehelson to do the same thing because, heck, they’d never be suspected and logic dictates that Liotta must have done it again. So, he’ll be the one to blame and get whacked. The game is robbed and now Brad Pitt’s hitman character is on the job. Simple enough story, almost like a Guy Ritchie picture.

Killing Them Softly is an adaptation of a 1974 novel by George V Higgins. I never read the book, but I’m curious if it contains any kind of relation to Andrew Dominik’s idea of editing recurring speeches and ads, compliments of Obama, McCain and Bush 45. Truly, what was the point of this recurring theme? A two-sentence piece of dialogue finally acknowledges this in the final minute of the film, but I’m still lost on the significance. Somehow Dominik made a dirty, cold, rain-soaked picture that has an omnipotent viewpoint from our most prominent politicians, and I don’t know what one thing has to do with another.

As well, Gandolfini arrives in the story and I never could gather what was his purpose. I think he is a hitman who is washed up, never getting his ass up to carry out the job and just monologues about nothing like the hooker he pays off; topics that Quentin Tarantino might’ve thrown in the editing trash bin.

Mendelsohn looks incredibly convincing as an addict living off the streets, yet his storyline has no end. He’s arrested. Then what happens? What does that mean for everyone else? Liotta has a long drawn out sequence of getting the shit kicked out of him by two mob foot soldiers. The scene goes on and on and on. His face cracks and bleeds, and bleeds some more. Brad Pitt? Well, he’s the hitman who just looks cool. Yeah, the black leather jacket he wears looks very cool on him. That’s about it.

There’s no development to Killing Them Softly. No surprise or twist. The guys you expect to get killed, get killed, and there’s no good dialogue.

This film is just an empty void of poorly, uninteresting violence.

THE THING (1982)

By Marc S. Sanders

Often, a great beginning to a film offers an intriguing question. So as I finally watched John Carpenter’s 1982 interpretation of The Thing, I was especially curious as to why a sniper aboard a fast moving helicopter was targeting a dog running across the open plains of Antarctica with a pulse pounding beat from legendary film composer Ennio Morricone. The film has me hooked and none of the gory horror to come, compliments of creature effects wizard Rob Bottin, has even presented itself yet.

Gore never did anything for me in horror, and horror has never been my most favorite genre of film. Rather, suspense always held my attention and kept me thinking long after the movie was over. Carpenter’s film is full of Bottin’s imaginative gore but the paranoia and mistrust among a crew of science operatives is the real centerpiece here. Whether it’s the innocence of a dog or the star power of Kurt Russell, I never trusted the narrative of The Thing and that’s the point.

An exceptional scene on the same level as the dinner scene in Ridley Scott’s Alien occurs following a crew man suffering a heart attack. The defibrillator is brought out, “CLEAR” is shouted and the man is zapped. Then something else happens. I won’t spoil the moment. Yet, this is where imagination was put to work; where effects and storytelling work cohesively. Thankfully, moments like these become a running theme throughout The Thing. You never know what to expect from an unmeasurable and incomprehensible enemy. The fact that resources are scarce and escape is impossible traps our characters and the viewer as well.

Convenient, fast learning knowledge only tells you that this entity can duplicate anything it comes in contact with. So, you might just be sidling up to the thing itself and you won’t even know it until it’s too late.

Isolation, lack of trust, fear, paranoia – all of these elements work towards the advantage of superb imagination and storytelling in Carpenter’s piece.

The Thing was always a movie that eluded me. I’m now so grateful to have witnessed it. It makes me yearn for better storytelling in today’s films beyond remakes and superhero exhaustion.

John Carpenter’s The Thing is an absolute must see motion picture. Watch it with friends and watch it with the lights turned off.


By Marc S. Sanders

For a movie that focuses a lot on showers, men’s locker rooms and bare chested sweaty and chiseled volleyball players, it’s a wonder that it is called Top Gun.  Maybe the title has another indirect meaning to it, other than a moniker for a Navy fighter pilot school of the elite.  Maybe these guys are elite for a different reason.

The Tony Scott film that is supposedly about the top one percent, the best of the best, American fighter pilots in the Navy is arguably the most important film in Tom Cruise’s career.  It launched the actor into a superstar sensation that has hardly faltered since the movie’s release all the way back in 1986.  But is it a good movie?  Well, yes and no.

I’ve always loved Tony Scott’s filmmaking technique.  Sure, his sun-soaked film shots are constantly repeated.  He always relishes in enhancing the beaded glow of sweat drenching his actor’s faces, arms and chests.  It’s seen in nearly every moment of Top Gun, as well as other celebrated pictures like Crimson Tide, Beverly Hills Cop II and True Romance.  Orange sunlight blankets palm trees and beach lined streets.  Bar saloons and military headquarters are lit in sexy blues and greens.  It may lack originality after seeing a few of his films, but it just makes the movie all the more sexy. 

Tony Scott is also a well-versed director in action sequences.  He’ll get your pulse racing and Top Gun is the best example.  The fighter jet sequences in this film are masterful in editing, sound and speed.  It’s fantastic to see how the planes will twirl around and then shoot themselves straight up into a vertical trajectory in the sky and finally cut in on actors Tom Cruise, Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer for a “WOO!” moment in the cockpit.  This stuff still holds up.

Yet, unlike other modern-day films that focus on cadets or students in our armed forces, Top Gun doesn’t concern itself with the discipline of what it takes to serve in the Navy.  This is the informal, class clown version of An Officer And A Gentleman.  You only need look as far as Tom Cruise’s character’s pilot call name, Maverick.  The name itself is a one-word thematic description of what you are watching.  So, the kid who learned to say “what the fuck” in Risky Business, went on to do daredevil flybys while disobeying orders.

Maverick’s real name is Pete Mitchell.  He has no family except that of his co-pilot, Goose (Anthony Edwards).  The disappearance of his Navy pilot father remains a mystery…because it is sexy and cool to have a mystery for your handsome hero in a film like this.  Call it DRAMATIC HEFT!!!! 

When Maverick and Goose get the opportunity to attend “Top Gun” – a fighter school specializing in training the best pilots in the world in aerial dog fighting – they are intent on getting their names on the plaque for the best of the best of THE BEST.  Competition comes in the other prettiest of the pretty boys with Iceman (Val Kilmer).  These are all great likable characters.  Yet, even when I saw this film at sleepaway camp at age 13, I couldn’t help but notice how distracted it gets with the abundance of erotic machoism on display here.  What would serve as dramatic dialogue in another film is presented in a steam room area allowing opportunity to see the male cast wrapped in towels around their waists with wet spiky blond and black hair.  It truly doesn’t matter what they are talking about in this scene.  When you are watching it, all that you are hearing is the sound of Charlie Brown’s unseen and indecipherable school teacher.  “Waa waa.  Waa waa waa waa!”

That’s not enough though.  The infamous volleyball scene keeps you awake.  I don’t care if you are hetero or homo or bi or pan or plus, the beach volleyball scene keeps you alert as one of Kenny Loggins’ many movie songs plays in accordance.  Tony Scott doesn’t just go for tossing the ball around.  Slow mo captions are offered of each guy just posing with their chiseled arms and chests.  You may not take your eyes off of it, but oh my…what does this have to do with the discipline of attending Navy fighter pilot school training?????

The romance is second to none.  Truly!  These days, people talk about Jack and Rose in Titanic or Ross and Rachel on Friends.  For me, it’s Maverick and Charlie (Kelly McGillis).  Cruise and McGillis really light up their scenes together.  It’s an absolute perfect pairing of sex appeal and it is really when Top Gun performs at its smartest level.  The dialogue is strongest during their scenes.  The romance isn’t rushed but nicely flirted with, and when tragedy strikes within the thin storyline of the overall film, the relationship goes in another supportive and appreciated direction.  When I was a kid, with hormones being discovered for the first time, my buddies and I would elbow each other during the midnight blue sex scene between McGillis and Cruise with the Oscar winning song “Take My Breath Away” from Berlin playing.  I look at this scene now and it is modern romance at a beautiful best.  A fantastic scene from Tony Scott. 

Charlie is the unexpected, well-versed contractor for the Navy giving counsel to the pilot students on how best to operate the jets.  In the 1980s, action blockbusters normally held the women as the barely dressed damsels to be rescued, and nothing more.  The female characters didn’t have brains and the only brawn to go around was saved for Princess Leia or Marion Ravenwood (Raiders).  Charlie is an exception though.  McGillis plays the character as someone who is aware that these testosterone-filled guys will regard her as a piece of meat, until they realize otherwise.  The irony of Top Gun is that the nearly all male cast, Cruise included, are the pieces of meat.  The one main female role is actually the brains of the whole operation.  McGillis was a marvelous actress back in the day.  Go look at Witness and The Accused to see what I mean.  With her help, Cruise elevates above the hokey dialogue of the Top Gun script. Kelly McGillis really could act well in almost anything.  I wish her career went further, honestly. 

Top Gun remains a mainstay in 1980s pop culture.  If the VH1 channel is doing a documentary on the decade of Madonna, Michael Jackson, parachute pants and neon pastels, Top Gun is also brought up in the mix with a close up of Tom Cruise’s toothy grin and his aviator sunglasses.  We were never watching Oscar winning material here, but somehow the film that introduced all of us to Tom Cruise still feels like a day at the beach with the twenty something boy toy in his tight jeans and leather bomber jacket riding his Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle at top speed or breaking the sound barrier in his fighter jet with his shiny navy-blue helmet on his head.  Top Gun and Tom Cruise demonstrated that it’s a party to serve in the Navy.  Why not?  Vietnam was behind us and the decade was not embroiled in war.  Join the Navy!!!!  It’s fun and you get to shower with the best-looking guys in the world.  You’ll even get to play volleyball with them and date your sexy flight instructor.

A lot of the dialogue and the storyline may sound like an adult, military interpretation of Saved By The Bell, but you can’t break away from the sexy allure of what Tony Scott with Cruise, Kilmer, McGillis and Edwards put on the screen.  It’s always been there and somehow a sequel was never made. 

Wait a second!  WHAT??????

LION (2016, Australia)

by Miguel E. Rodriguez

LION (2016)
Director: Garth Davis
Cast: Sunny Pawar, David Wenham, Nicole Kidman, Dev Patel, Rooney Mara
My Rating: 9/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 84% Certified Fresh

PLOT: A five-year-old Indian boy is adopted by an Australian couple after getting lost hundreds of kilometers from home. 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

It’s as if Charles Dickens came back to life and concocted the plot of Lion.

In 1986, in Central India, a young boy named Saroo, lives with his family, hovering on the knife edge between poverty and desperation.  He and his older brother, Guddu, steal coal and redeem it for two bags of milk.  Their mother asks where they got it, but they do not answer, and she tactfully does not press the question.  One day, Saroo begs Guddu to take him on a week-long job.  At the train station, Guddu leaves Saroo on a bench while he goes to make sure the job is still waiting.  Saroo dozes off, and when he awakes, the station is empty…and Guddu is nowhere to be found.  Saroo wanders onto a decommissioned train and curls up for another nap.  But when he wakes this time, the train has left the station far behind.  He winds up in Calcutta, 1,600 kilometers from his village, with no way to get home or contact his family.  (The end credits inform us that 80,000 children vanish in India every year.)

Plot-wise, there’s not much to distinguish Lion from any number of similar films.  The dreaded words “soap opera” came to mind as the movie progressed.  We get a nice little wrinkle when, after several months of wandering Calcutta and winding up in a government orphanage-slash-prison, Saroo is adopted by a loving Australian family, John and Sue Brierly (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman), who also adopt another Indian boy, Mantosh, two years after adopting Saroo.  Then we jump to 2008, Saroo is now a strapping young man (Dev Patel) who leaves home to go to university in Melbourne, but the unforgettable smell of a specific Indian pastry brings back memories of his childhood, and he decides to find the family he lost.

So, yeah, just another movie-of-the-week on your basic third-tier cable channel, right?  Not exactly.  What distinguishes Lion is its storytelling.  Just like in comedy, it’s all in the delivery.  This was director Garth Davis’s first feature film, but you wouldn’t know it.  The whole movie feels slick and polished.  The establishing or transitional shots between scenes are intentionally reminiscent of the new online research tool that was all the rage at the time: Google Earth.  It’s very subtle, but it’s there, like it was designed to not be noticed until the movie is almost over.

The performances from the adult cast are all great, but what stood out to me was the boy playing young Saroo.  His name is Sunny Pawar.  He was 8 years old during filming, but he is so small he looks 5 or 6.  His story, from introduction until he grows up into Dev Patel, occupies nearly half of the film’s running time, and during that time he must make us feel sorry for him, empathize with him, and root for him every step of the way.  In the hands of an experienced child actor, we might have viewed his performance as just that: a performance.  But Sunny was a non-actor when he was selected for this part, and that makes all the difference.  The look on his face when he finds himself lost is indescribably real.  There’s a scene where he is trying to make himself understood to a ticket agent (he speaks Hindi, but in Calcutta everyone speaks Bengali).  The adults try to move him out of the line, but for a brief instant, he gets furious and shoves the adult hands and bodies away from him.  The rage in that tiny face and in his body language was utterly convincing.  I think it was that moment when I felt I was watching something a little more elevated than a cable melodrama.

Although the story is a bit trite as far as movies go, there’s something to be said about the universality of its message.  There isn’t a soul who can watch Lion without completely understanding Saroo’s desire to find his real family, along with his desire to keep his adopted mother in the dark about his obsession.  I’m not a parent, but I know some close friends who went the adoption route, and I found myself thinking of them and their children, and how they might feel if they found out their kids were actively searching for their real parents.  Lion addresses this heartbreaking scenario in a marvelous scene between the adult Saroo and his mother, Sue, in which she reveals the real reason she decided to adopt.

Saroo’s girlfriend, Lucy, brings up a terrible, but probable, scenario: what if Saroo completes his search, finds his village, and travels to India…only to find his family isn’t there?  It’s been over 20 years.  He believes his mother and brother searched for him, but he can’t really know that for sure.  Maybe they moved away.  Maybe they’re dead.  Saroo doesn’t care.  For him, that chapter of his life must be closed one way or the other or he will feel lost and adrift for the rest of his life.  Closure is everything.

This is another one of those movies where, as an audience member, we’re put through the wringer for about 100 or so minutes so we can experience the full emotional impact of the film’s climax.  At some point, we can surmise that, yes, Saroo is eventually going to travel to India.  What he finds there, I would not DREAM of revealing.  I think it’s safe to say that many people I know would be reduced to tears by the time the final credits roll.  The finale justifies the overall melodramatic tone of the film, especially because of how well the damn thing was made.

Lion is one of the few true-blue melodramas that I would wholeheartedly recommend, even and especially to anyone who doesn’t think they like soap operas.  Dickens would have approved.


By Marc S. Sanders

In A Civil Action, writer/director Steve Zaillian allows John Travolta to demonstrate the workings of a remorseless ambulance chasing lawyer with a pride for the finest in men’s wear and the title of one of the most eligible bachelors in Boston, Massachusetts.  Then, all of that crumbles apart when a self-effacing acknowledgment breaks through. 

Travolta portrays real-life attorney Jan Schlictmann, who heads a small personal injury law practice with three partners (Tony Shalhoub, William H Macy and Zeljko Ivanec).  They go after the cases that promise large settlements from hospitals, insurance companies and multi-million-dollar corporations.  The best cases are where the mid-30’s breadwinning male of the household has suffered irreparable damages.  The victim is not deceased, but permanently handicapped, unable to work and provide for his family.  A dead victim is not as theatrically attractive.   Better to put the poor soul in the wheelchair on stage for the winning cash settlement. 

When Jan is boxed into a corner to meet with the residents of a small New England town, he dismisses their case as an unwinnable nuisance.  The townsfolk believe that their children have taken ill, with some not surviving, due to locally contaminated drinking water.  Kathleen Quinlan is one mother who wants an apology and explanation from whoever is responsible.  An apology holds no tangible value for Jan though, until he observes who the primary suspects are likely to be; two large corporations that own well known brands like Peter Pan Peanut Butter, Tropicana Orange Juice, and Samonsite Luggage.  Now the pockets to collect from could go on forever, and Jan does not realize until it’s too late how much of a personal gamble he is undertaking with himself and his partners in tow.

A Civil Action has always left me thinking on so many different levels since I first saw it in theaters.  The value of a life, especially a child’s life, is not very significant when corporate America profits on dollar bills.  The priority of environmental protection and its most precious resource, water, is just as minimal, maybe more.  Zaillian uncovered a fantastic character arc from a very frighteningly sad and true story.   Jan Schlictmann proudly dons an appearance of false care for victims of botched surgeries and car accidents to advance his ego and materialistic nature.  However, then he found a conscience, as he realized that money doesn’t win cases for his clients.  Instead, the acceptance of responsibility triumphs.  That surrendering admittance, though, is not expected to come from these companies.  Not when the burden of proof only comes from a measly platoon of four small town attorneys, who could never bear the expenses of proving such gross negligence and wrong doing.  This is a David & Goliath confrontation. 

Beyond a cast of recognizable faces, there are scenes in this film that just stay with you.  Most especially for me is the unforgiving nature of Quinlan’s suffering maternal character.  She no longer has any care in the world for whatever sacrifices are made by the lawyers to reveal the truth of what happened.  I didn’t think that was fair of her, frankly.  Zaillian demonstrates what these four guys endure as the case prolongs itself.  However, people are unfair.  Sometimes they are unreasonable because they have been pushed down to a bottom they’ll never climb up from.  This movie and the circumstances at play are not here to please me and make me feel good with a tidy ending wrapped in a bow, however.  The script is brutally honest in its characterizations.

What’s also disturbing about this case is simply water.  Countless times, Steve Zaillian gets close up shots of glasses and pitchers of clear, crisp water.  Children are drinking water.  Water is spilled on tables.  Jan’s enemies in trial will indulge in a refreshing gulp from a glass as they finish a scene with him.  The movie reminds you time and again that water is the silent killer.

Robert Duvall is the shining talent on the other side of the aisle from Travolta as an attorney in a fifty-dollar suit with a beat up fifty-dollar briefcase representing one of the large companies that is being sued.  Duvall makes his shark of an attorney appear effortless.  He falls asleep in court.  He tucks away in a corner to listen to the Red Sox play on his transistor radio.  Yet, he’s wise enough to know how to derail an opposing counsel’s case with just his quiet, unspoken presence at the table.  He isn’t even so much a villain or an antagonist as he allows the hero of the film ample opportunity to settle rather than charge on.  His urgencies don’t work however because Jan has changed.  Where he once saw money, he now sees something much more valuable that is beyond any variance of negotiation.  The scenes shared between the handsome, fit and well-dressed John Travolta against the older, short, hunched yet astute Robert Duvall play beautifully here.  There is top notch stage performance work happening here.

It amazes me that A Civil Action is not available on Blu Ray or 4K.  Look at this cast and its direction.  It’s magnificent.  Zaillian’s film moves with a fast pace of easy-to-follow courtroom theatrics.  Additional performances from Sydney Pollack, James Gandolfini, Dan Hedaya, and John Lithgow are so engrossing.  William H Macy is very good too, as the desperate man trying to keep Jan’s cause afloat.  Why is this film not being granted the accessibility it deserves?  I actually had to pay for a streaming rental watch.  No matter, it was worth it.  For like Jan Schlictmann, money is not the most important commodity known to man.  Morality and decency will stretch further than money that’s been spent, never to be replenished.  A noble and most human thing you can do is to experience Steve Zaillian’s film, A Civil Action. Then you will understand what an unjust world any one of us could fall victim to.  Then maybe you will understand the loss a loving mother endures far outweighs any financial liability from a grocery food company.

I, DANIEL BLAKE (2016, Great Britain)

by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Ken Loach
Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Briana Shann
My Rating: 10/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 92% Certified Fresh

PLOT: After surviving a heart attack, a 59-year-old carpenter fights bureaucratic rules and regulations to receive Employment and Support Allowance from the British government.

I, Daniel Blake made me mad.  Not because it’s a bad film – it’s a SENSATIONAL film, as a matter of fact.  Not because I didn’t like the characters or the story or the direction…everything is top-notch.  What made me mad was the gross injustices on display from an uncaring, monolithic government agency whose sole aim appears to be to discourage the very people it’s supposed to be helping from applying for help in the first place.

Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a middle-aged carpenter who has suffered a heart attack and been told by his doctors that he should not go back to work.  For a while, he receives the Employment and Support Allowance from the British government, but after one of his physicals, the Employment office deems him fit for work, directly contradicting his doctor’s orders.  So now, with no other means of financial support, Daniel must prove that he’s looking for work, even though he can’t go back to work, to satisfy the Employment agency’s requirements.

The amount of bureaucratic run-around on display in this movie is stunningly awful, even more so because it has the ring of authenticity.  The end credits of the film send a special thanks to workers within the appropriate governmental departments who provided “invaluable information, but who must remain anonymous.”  It is literally illegal for employees or even ex-employees to speak publicly about employment assistance.  Really?!

For Daniel, the internet is a foreign country, a foreign planet.  Faced with a mouse for the first time in his life, he holds it up to the computer screen to move the cursor.  But these agencies are converting to “digital by default.”  So, learn he must.  On one of his many trips to a local job center, an employee takes pity on him and starts walking him through the online registration process.  She doesn’t get very far before her supervisor calls her into an office to reprimand her for providing extra help to applicants.  (“You don’t want to set a precedent for these people…”)  Despicable.

The horror-story nature of his predicament is tempered by his encounter with a single mother of two, Katie (Hayley Squires), who is going through a horror story of her own.  Late to a meeting because of getting on the wrong bus in an unfamiliar city, she is informed her employment assistance cannot be extended without an appeal.  Katie is in dire straits, but she is a master at keeping her stress hidden from her children.  Daniel and Katie’s friendship provides much-needed moments of warmth during this otherwise chilling cautionary tale.

Ken Loach directs I, Daniel Blake with a calmness that belies the anger at its core.  It feels like a documentary, much like the Paul Greengrass films Bloody Sunday and United 93, but with fewer stylistic fireworks.  There are no “shaky-cam” shots following the main characters, no camera zooms, no gimmickry of any kind.  There is some movement, but it’s kept to a minimum.  The focus is always on the story.  That simplicity is a big part of what makes this film immensely more powerful than many other similar films that rail against corporate bureaucracies.  (I’d name examples, but you get the idea, I think.)

When the film ended, I wanted to throw something.  I had flashbacks to those first early months of the Covid shutdown in 2020.  I was indefinitely “furloughed” from my job and was forced to go online and navigate the notorious Florida Unemployment website.  I once had to make a call to the main line.  I stayed on hold for three – count them – three hours…only to hear a recorded message tell me they were unable to speak to me and to call again later.

At one point, Daniel receives a notice in the mail that his support is being cut off.  He makes a call so he can file an appeal.  After waiting on hold for 90 minutes, the person on the other end tells Daniel he should have gotten a call from the “decision maker.”  Daniel received no such call.  “Well, you should have gotten the call before you got the letter.”  Daniel asks if he can speak to the decision maker anyway.  “Sorry, I can’t transfer you until he’s called you about the letter.”  But he’s already GOTTEN the letter!  I empathized with poor Daniel to such a degree that it was almost painful to watch.

I seem to be simply rehashing the plot.  The effect I, Daniel Blake had on me is hard to put into words.  It’s so well-made, so well-written, so sharply observant of human behavior and the coldness of a government bureaucracy more intent on process than on actual assistance.  I really felt as if Daniel and Katie were real people.  I smiled when Daniel slyly gives Katie £20 to help pay for the electric.  I shook my head in sorrow when Katie gives in to desperation and shoplifts.  I smiled again when Daniel takes a can of black spray paint to the walls of the Employment Office.  And when the end of the film rolled around…well.  I was right there with them, emotionally, when it happened.  You can’t ask for better filmmaking than that.


By Marc S. Sanders

John McTiernan’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s first bestselling novel, The Hunt For Red October, might seem dated but it’s still a crackling good thriller. It’s one of those films where you truly feel like you’re walking through the secretive hallways of DC government buildings with their elevators accessed only by an Admiral’s key. Soon you’re in a dark, underground boardroom. You’re also there on the various naval crafts and submarines with alarming lights, shiny steel and glowing monitors. The biggest treat is being in the command center of the titled sub, Russia’s Red October, commanded by their captain, Marko Ramius (Sean Connery). All in all, Terence Marsh built a convincing production design.

Clancy’s story takes a different approach than most thrillers involving Cold War politics. Ramius might have been a James Bond villain in another film as he hijacks Red October, but there’s more to him actually. Rather, Ramius wants to defect to the United States. Most of his command crew is in agreement as well. America doesn’t necessarily see it that way; a Russian, missile equipped submarine quickly approaching the eastern seaboard with other subs following him?!?!?!? Let’s not polish the tea set so quickly.

Fortunately, one man had the pleasure of meeting Ramius once and doing extensive research on the General’s background; Jack Ryan (appropriately cast with a young Alec Baldwin). Ryan is given three days to catch up to Ramius and guide him safely to the United States while avoiding getting the famed submarine shot down by either power nation.

I must point out my favorite scene and it actually takes place in that secret boardroom where it dawns on Ryan of Ramius’ true plan. Baldwin is great here. The young guy who is green when it comes to military and political protocol. McTiernan gets his company of generals and high ranking officials into a large quarrel over what to do and then he zooms in on Baldwin thinking for the close up before he calls Ramius a SON OF A BITCH. It’s at this moment, that the movie going consensus and fans of Clancy overall determined that Alec Baldwin was the best of the cinematic Jack Ryans. (No slight to Harrison Ford, who was too middle aged for the role when he took the part).

Connery at least has the commanding appearance of Ramius’ stellar reputation. He is not very exciting or charismatic. Then again, I don’t think Clancy built the character that way. Connery plays the role as silent, yet wise and experienced as implied by his well groomed, white beard and hairpiece plus his square stature. If this man is standing in your presence, you better give him an update. You shouldn’t have to ask if he wants one.

Good moments are made available to Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Sam Neill and Stellan Skaarsgard as well. It is the talking scenes among all these fabulous actors that really build tension. The underwater scenes…not so much. The subs look like long, black blobs weaving their way through depths and avoiding missiles coming their way. It’s forgivable because McTiernan always keeps the characters at play. This isn’t a film that relies on the dog fights depicted in Top Gun or Star Wars. McTiernan keeps his audience away from drowning in the underwater murkiness.

The makers of this yarn really are a great combination of imagination. We got Tom Clancy and John McTiernan to thank for a gripping tale from 1990 that still holds up today. The Hunt For Red October is definitely a film worth revisiting.


By Marc S. Sanders

Akiva Goldsman’s screenplay adaptation of the bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown suffers from an overabundance of information; like A LOT of information, a TON OF INFORMATION actually. The book is an incredibly fast read with brief chapters and plenty of diagrams and images to study. It surprises me, though, how in depth director Ron Howard’s approach is with the film. Howard must have literally shot every page Brown documented including his edits. Amazingly there is a Blu Ray EXTENDED CUT. It seems Goldsman and Howard at one point couldn’t help themselves. Restraint had to step in for the controversial story’s cinematic debut.

Tom Hanks plays the great modern literary character, Robert Langdon. He is very good in the role of a research expert on historical symbols and cryptology. Hanks even masters Langdon’s self-debilitating weakness of claustrophobia very well, which proves to be a hinderance. It’s maybe an under celebrated part in Hanks’ career because the film is so heavy. Little is talked about this film any longer. (The second sequel, Inferno, flopped at the box office. I’ve yet to see that one.)

Langdon is recruited to go the Louvre in Paris one evening to look over a recently murdered victim left with a pentagram carved in his chest and a gunshot wound in his belly. The victim’s name is Sauniere (Jean-Pierre Marielle). Soon Langdon is teaming up with Sophie (Audrey Tatou), Sauniere’s granddaughter, to uncover one puzzle or clue after another left behind most prominently within the artwork of Leonardo DaVinci, including the “Mona Lisa.” Gradually, a conspiracy is uncovered revealing a strong possibility of how Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ are actually connected. Amidst all of this, Langdon and Sophie become fugitives under the suspicion of murder. Now the cops (headed by Jean Reno) as well as a secret society within the Catholic Church are hot on their trail to stop them from revealing the truth. A dangerous, self torturing Albino monk (Paul Bettany) also comes into play.

That’s a long ass paragraph I just wrote and it hardly scratches the surface of how in depth The DaVinci Code really is. Because it is so nuanced, I had some major problems with the film. For one thing the cinematography from Salvatore Totino is very dark. I know. Most of the film takes place in the middle of the night within the hallowed halls of the Louvre and the streets of Paris. However, I think certain liberties should have been taken here. The details thrown at the audience never stop. Long summaries of dialogue come into play and at times Totino and Howard will highlight a code or a portion of a piece of art or a passage in a book. Because the story is so deliberately murky, I wish at times what I was looking at could have been presented all the more clearer.

Another issue is with Audrey Tatou who is of French descent and whose character is that way too. Her French accent is too thick to clearly understand every word she is saying. A lot of details become lost because her dialect swallows her words. Natural dialects can be a slippery slope in film. You want the characters to be as genuine as possible but none of that means much if you can’t follow along.

The best surprise of the film reveals itself when Ian McKellen appears, portraying Sir Leigh Teabing, a mentor and friend to Langdon. Yes. He offers up a ton of information too. Too much for any one film really. However, McKellan is so giddy in the role. Leigh relishes the fact that Langdon and Sophie appear at his home. He’s elderly and crippled and excited with glee to come across them so he can share his own theory of Mary, Jesus and what is possibly the real interpretation of the Holy Grail. At ninety minutes into the film, McKellan’s introduction is quite a welcome, relief from the heaviness of everything before.

The DaVinci Code clocks in at over two and a half hours. It feels longer actually. There are multiple endings as surprise traitors need to be revealed, more history and theories need to be uncovered and more European locales need to be visited complete with secret passages and hidden staircases. It took a lot of mental effort to remain patient with the film, and I had already read the book!!!

Ron Howard’s film merits the discussion of whether Brown’s bestseller should have ever been filmed. As good as Hanks and McKellan are, I say no. This is not Indiana Jones with bullwhips and truck chases. This is a treasure hunt that sticks to what is on a page and within an exhibit. To mask what is discovered by dictating endless dialogue from the cast becomes incredibly tedious.

Dan Brown’s story is wildly out there in theory and supposition. It’s what makes it fun, really. So, do I recommend The DaVinci Code? You bet I do. I definitely recommend you read the book.