by Alan Yudman

How much pain must one endure to achieve glory? And when glory is bestowed does the universe demand pain to keep things in balance? These existential questions came to mind after I watched Pedro Almodóvar´s brilliant PAIN AND GLORY.

Antonio Banderas stars as a filmmaker named Salvador Mallo who had success back years earlier, but is now a broken shell. His body is fighting him. He’s had spinal fusion surgery. He’s in constant pain. He has other ailments that have forced him to become a recluse. As we learn more about Salvador, we also learn about his history growing up poor and at one point living in a cave with his mother (Penelope Cruz). He was a brilliant, talented child who tutored an illiterate man and taught him to read.

Almodóvar explores pain as it is channeled through Salvador. What caused his emotional pain includes a failed love affair at the time he was making his critically acclaimed movie and a falling out with the star of that movie. He begins his healing by trying to reconnect with that star for a festival screening. But instead of healing he becomes addicted to heroin. That actor (Asier Etxeandia) discovers a writing on Salvador’s computer about addiction. He initially refused to allow him to turn it into a one man show, but Salvador relents and that is when the real healing begins. He reunites with his former lover, a man who moved to Argentina, married and had a child. He begins to seek real treatment for his ailments and begins working again.

Banderas, Cruz and Etxeandia are wonderful. You can see the pain on Banderas’ face…. Feel it in your bones along with him. Cruz is warm and loving as his young mom. And Etxeandia is all passion and energy.  Three wonderful performances.

Every relationship in the film is troubled but ultimately touching and intimate. Almodóvar reveals pain and how it is resolved or forgiven. There are no easy answers… no short roads to redemption. But in the end Salvador finds his way back from his personal abyss. This exploration of the price one must have to pay and the work one must do to redeem oneself internally and externally will have you thinking and ultimately giving a virtual pat on the back to Salvador.




The story told in A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBOORHOOD certainly belies the title. It is a series of dark and stormy days that bring us to the point Lloyd Vogel’s life. Let’s just get this out of the way, this is not a film about Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). This is about Lloyd (Matthew Rhys) an award-winning writer at Esquire magazine. He specializes in investigative journalism, uncovering those who are using their position to take unfair advantage. It fits Lloyd’s personality. He trusts no one. I’m not even sure he trusts his wife. Lloyd has been scarred by an absent father who left his family when his wife became terminally ill. That relationship peaks at Lloyd’s sister’s wedding. He and his father (Chris Cooper) get into a fight that leaves Lloyd with bruises on the outside to match those on his soul.

While he is dealing with all this Lloyd gets a new assignment from his editor… profile children’s television legend Fred Rogers for an issue the magazine is doing about heroes. Lloyd objects, but relents and travels to Pittsburgh to meet Mr. Rogers. It is a trip that will change Lloyd’s life and force him to really look at his relationships.

As I write this it’s been nearly a week since I saw this movie and I still don’t know what to make of it. It has received a lot of praise from critics. So, I ask myself if I am missing something. Because this seemed more style over substance. Lloyd’s journey from tormented soul to caring husband and father are unique in one way. It is motivated by one of the most beloved people in the world. But isn’t that what Mr. Rogers did for millions of children… motivate them to be better, more caring human beings? I suppose Fred Rogers doing this for an adult is something different. But the fact that Lloyd couldn’t see what a terrible person he was being until an outside person reveals it to him is an idea filmmakers have returned to over and over.

There are a few things that make this worth seeing. Above all else it is Rhys and Hanks. They play off each other marvelously. Rhys is constantly frustrated by Hanks relentless goodness. Hanks tones down his inherent people pleasing to show us the Mr. Rogers we all remember… a sly, good hearted person who didn’t preach but gave us tools to find the right path. The other actors are truly supporting in that they help fill in the characters of Lloyd and Fred. Marielle Heller’s direction is excellent. She copies the familiar Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood tool by using “manufactured” sets to locate the audience in places like New York and Pittsburgh. Sounds trite, but it works well. Also, the use of songs from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood is effective in helping frame Lloyd’s state of mind.

In one scene that is also in the trailer, Lloyd’s wife (Susan Kelechi Watson) beseeches Lloyd not to ruin her childhood by exposing Mr. Rogers as some type of monster. I don’t think that is possible. The cynic in me finds it hard to believe that anyone could be as good as Fred Rogers. I suppose I’ve been proven wrong, but maybe that doubt is coloring my opinion of A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. I encourage you to see it and convince me it is better than I think. Hope you accept my challenge.



by Alan Yudman

A con movie? A thriller? A story about paying a price for lying? THE GOOD LIAR is all of that and more. The film stars two legendary actors, Ian McKellan and Helen Mirren as a widower and widow who meet-up online. McKellan is a con man who with his partner Jim Davis (Carson from DOWNTON ABBEY) keep multiple schemes in the air to make money relying on their wits. Mirren is a retired Oxford professor who lives alone, or sometimes with her grandson Stephen. She seems like a naïve, but lovely old lady who just wants a companion so she doesn’t have to spend her later years alone.

McKellan sees an opportunity to run an investment scam on her to steal her millions. The movie goes along on that storyline for quite a while. McKellan and Mirren become closer. He moves in with her after he’s hobbled by a balky knee. She also has some health problems… the occasional micro stroke. She’s frail and trusting and the perfect target. But is she?

The movie spends about an hour setting up that plot. Then the twists start coming. After the first one I felt, “ok that was a great reveal… how will he finish her off?” Then more twists… more than a pack of red vines. And in the end, you are gob smacked by what is happening on the screen.

It’s not that it’s that much of a surprise. Just pay attention to the way Mirren looks at McKellan as the movie goes along and you may realized something deeper is going on here. I would not want to be on the other end of Helen Mirren’s withering gaze. But the execution of all of this is superb. The script by Jeffrey Hatcher based on the book by Nicholas Searle, could have been a confusing mess. Maybe it is too simple, but being able to follow the twists is not a bad thing. Bill Condon’s direction is wonderful and Carter Burwell’s score is marvelous.

But the treat here is watching two great actors thrust and parry through the plot. McKellan can go from charming to devious to monstrous in the blink of an eye. Mirren hides her motives so well that it is quite the surprise when it all comes to the end. I really can’t go into too much detail for fear of spoiling everything, but THE GOOD LIAR is worth allowing into your brain for a couple of hours.



By Alan Yudman

I think I have a problem. Every time I see a movie where cars are driven fast, I leave the theater driving as if I was behind the wheel of a Formula 1 race car and I’m in Monte Carlo. No one tell the police. The truly talented get to live out those dreams. Those are the characters that populate the fast-moving FORD V FERRARI.

This is also a story of American exceptionalism, how the dream of being the best can be silenced for a time but can never truly be killed. It may be hard to believe that a millionaire industrialist like Henry Ford II can be an underdog. While his car company was a success, his desire to be better drove him toward racing. When he was insulted by Enzo Ferrari, that was all the motivation he needed to put his money into what many believed was a fool’s errand—trying to beat Ferrari’s legendary race team at Le Mans

FORD V FERRARI is also a story of American bootstrapping. Carroll Shelby was a legendary race driver who was forced to retire because of health issues. He turned his love of cars into Shelby American the custom car company that gave the world the Shelby Cobra, a light and powerful car that is way to fast for its own good. He teamed with rambunctious British driver Ken Miles to win several Sports Car Club of America races. Miles was a war hero who put his dreams aside for country and then for family.

These three men Ford, Shelby and Miles were snubbed and laughed at. No one thought they could do what they did. But through ingenuity, determination and talent they were able to pull off one of the greatest upsets in racing history. Compelling stuff for a film.

The performances are absolutely great. Matt Damon’s Carroll Shelby is the ultimate salesman and innovator with just a touch of melancholly. Christian Bale embodies Ken Miles’ personality… he doesn’t care who he offends when he expresses his opinion. Mainly because he knows he is right and that’s not bravado if you are. Tracy Letts is great as the arrogant Ford. Lee Iaccoca was the ultimate car salesman, an attitude Jon Bernthal captures perfectly In his performance.

The script is fairly straight forward. Jason Keller and John-Henry & Jez Butterworth don’t put many frills on this. There is drama and humor. What I know of the story, they seem to get right. The characterizations seem flawless. James Mangold’s direction is great. There is a lot of actual stunt driving. There doesn’t appear to be much CGI here. Bale and the others really sell the on the edge driving and how dangerous it is.

So this is a great movie, right? Well, I’d say it is very good. The driving sequences are extraordinarily well done. There is emotion but it fell a little flat for me. Maybe I knew too much about the story going in. But it didn’t get me pumped for the triumphant finish (I won’t comment on the coda for fear of spoiling it). There’s nothing wrong with a very good movie that is executed flawlessly. But I was hoping to have my heart race like a Ford GT40 at Le Mans, and I wound up feeling more like a Toyota Camry driving a few miles over the speed limit on the freeway.



What determines power? Is it how much money you make or how much influence you wield? That argument is the heart of MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN. But the soul is Roman Polanski’s CHINATOWN. Edward Norton’s passion project is to New York what Polanski’s movie is to Los Angeles.

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN details how the building of New York City in the 1950’s was not based solely on some American dream philosophy. It was built on Robert Moses’ (wonderfully portrayed as Moses Randolph in the film my Alec Baldwin) quest for power based on influence and control and unapologetic racism. But that racism is belied by revelations about the parentage of one of the main characters. Even that relationship is revealed to be about exerting power.

Norton is a private detective named Lionel Essrog who is try8ing to find out who killed his boss Frank Minna (Bruce Willis). Lionel has Tourette’s syndrome which manifests itself as a kind of verbal riffing and mild tics. Lionel is somewhat affectionately called “freak show” by his fellow detectives, but he uses it to lower expectations because he is the most competent investigator in the firm. He has a perfect memory and while he is constantly apologizing for it, he knows it is his advantage.

Lionel’s investigation leads him to Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a lawyer employed by an organization trying to keep the corrupt New York government from displacing minorities from their homes so Randolph can build highways, bridges and tunnels.

Every relationship and discovery connects each character to the larger story. I never found myself asking, “why is this person important to the story?” That is saying something because there are intertwining storylines and plots. A lesser talent would have trouble keeping all these plates spinner, but Norton pulls it off. I find it kind of remarkable he wrote such a good screenplay, directed it and does such a wonderful job as Lionel. Norton does a great job slowly peeling the onion until we, along with Lionel, discover what is really going on here. Norton set the movie in the 1950’s so he could tell the story of the unseemly history of how New York was built.

The parallels to CHINATOWN are unmistakable. While the hidden story in that film is more demented, this one nods to a more familiar and pervasive racism which more audiences may recognize.

The acting is first rate. Mbatha-Raw is strong, yet vulnerable as Laura. Bobby Canavale is always good at playing the guy you know is going to betray someone. Michael Kenneth Williams plays a jazz trumpeter who identifies with Lionel’s broken brain because he sees himself in the same way. And speaking of Jazz, this film has an outstanding soundtrack that seamlessly combines known pieces with Daniel Pemberton’s score.

Norton’s commentary on power, how it corrupts everything it touches and how the powerful can be undone by their own faults and failings is right on topic for our current politics. And when a film can take a story set in a certain time and make it relevant to today’s reality, I view it as a monumental success


terminator dark fate 1

by Alan Yudman


Can you believe there have been 6 Terminator movies? The original, plus 5 sequels. While the original remains a classic of science fiction and TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY is considered to be a great sequel (David Foster Wallace being the exception), all the other sequels were terrible. I sort of liked TERMINATOR: GENISYS at the time, but the film has not aged well. Frankly I was wrong. It is bad. A mess. But re-reading that review I stumbled across a truth I will repeat here. The Terminator franchise is nothing without Sarah Connor. So, hearing that she is here, and that Linda Hamilton is playing her… well my inner nerd was giddy.


And TERMINATOR: DARK FATE absolutely delivers the goods. James Cameron had a hand in this as producer and he gets a partial writing credit. That means the DNA of the franchise is not being ignored. Skynet is gone, but there is a new computer villain called Legion. As Sarah points out, humans never learn. Legion does what Skynet did, became sentient and tried to wipe out humanity. Here a new enhanced human named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) is sent back to protect the future by saving one person. That person is a young Mexican girl named Dani (Natalia Reyes). Her role is kept secret from her and the audience for a long time before it is explained and is a bit of a surprise.


There is a new Terminator, the Rev-9. It has the abilities of the T-1000 from Judgement Day with some noticeable improvements. It can “split” or “clone” itself in a battle. It can make complex machines like a gun and it can access computer systems and control them. Gabriel Luna does a great job bringing the same menace that Robert Patrick played so well in Judgement Day. Sarah hooks up with Grace and Dani just as they are about to be wiped out by the Terminator. Her appearance in the film left the crowd in my theater applauding and cheering. Director Tim Miller (Deadpool) completely nailed that shot. It is a textbook example of the “hero shot”.


The themes are the same. As Sarah says, “The future is not written. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.” Grace, Sarah and Dani have to find the mysterious person who is alerting Sarah to the appearance of every new Terminator. That’s where they hit the road and finally find Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is great. He slips into this role as the T-800 with complete ease and it feels like he enjoys it. His part in the chase would reveal too many spoilers, so I’ll just leave it there.


The team has to kill the unkillable Terminator. There are a ton of wonderful set pieces. It just all worked on me so well. I loved diving back into this world and was more than satisfied with the results. Is this a perfect film? No. Are any of them? The point is to go and have 2 hours of fun in a world that most of us know. On that level this was a total win.