One man’s persistence makes McDonald’s #one

The Founder is the story of how Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) made McDonald’s fast food chain number one.

“You deserve a break today” begins the jingle to entice you to McDonald’s. It works as does their 24-hour breakfast and French fries that are devoured on the drive home. The restaurant didn’t start out that way. The McDonald brothers began by making money the hard way, frying and selling burgers one at a time.

Ray Kroc

Then Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) came into their lives and business changed. Kroc was a dreamer and a worker too. He could spot others w/such talents. After some bamboozling w/the brothers, Kroc was on his way in 1954 to build McDonald’s into the most successful fast food operation in the world.

Any aspiring entrepreneur will appreciate The Founder. Anyone who can’t drive by a McDonald’s without stopping may wish to tip a hat to the man who made it happen.

FENCES – to separate, to divide, to protect!

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in FENCES

If you are a Denzel Washington fan as I am, you’ll appreciate the excellence of his directing and acting in Fences. Washington as Troy and Viola Davis as his loving wife Rose, also played those parts in this Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play by August White. Fences was written as an intimate play, which is probably why from beginning to end, I felt I was experiencing a stage play or better, observing over a fence.

Troy is a workingman, trying to make ends meet. When he learns that his son, Cory (Jovan Adepo) has the opportunity for a college scholarship for his football skills, he squelches those dreams just as his once were. Rose becomes perturbed, but not nearly as distressed as she reacts soon afterwards to Troy’s news. (No spoilers here.)

Viola Davis and Denzel Washington receive Tony Awards, 2010, as Rose and Troy in FENCES.

Washington and Davis deliver award-winning performances that easily elevate this “play” to the best film category. The story itself is pure and timeless in the back yard conversations.

From Troy’s argument with death: All right . . . Mr. Death. See now . . . I’m gonna tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna take and build me a fence around this yard. See? I’m gonna build me a fence around what belongs to me. And then I want you to stay on the other side.” 

Fences could well be an anthropological lesson of a culture some may prefer to deny was grueling and for others continues to be arduous.

IDES OF MARCH is just the film for up-coming conventions

George Clooney is director, writer, and actor.

George Clooney is director, writer, and actor.

With two weeks of political conventions ahead of us, favorite political films come to mind.

All The King's Men

All The King’s Men

Among the best are Spencer Tracy in State of the Union and Broderick Crawford in AllThe King’s Men as two good men who abandon integrity as they make their way. What is it that happens to good men who sell their souls to win an election?

In IDES OF MARCH (2011), directed, written and starring George Clooney as Governor Morris, is seeking the Democratic Party’s endorsement. His Junior Campaign Manager (Ryan Gosling) views his candidate as kind of a white knight only to discover his weaknesses. The film takes the viewer through a political campaign of a candidate whose principles are tarnished by his infidelity. Morris’s actions cause him to rearrange his campaign staff through a deal.alg-ides-of-march-jpg

Phenomenal casting makes IDES deliver even for those who disdain politics. Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Morris’s Senior Campaign Manager and Ryan Gosling as Junior
Campaign Manager were so dedicated and devoted to their candidate, they made me believe each had actually worked campaigns. (I’ve served on a good number of them.)

Ides of March - Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) meets with rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) © 2011 Ides Film Holdings

Ides of March – Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) meets with rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) © 2011 Ides Film Holdings

Paul Giamatti as the opponent’s Campaign Manager was so superbly performed I suggest today’s contenders to call on him for advice. Clooney’s role and his directing left me begging for more from him.

IDES OF MARCH may be just the film for you as we follow the conventions.

CINDERELLA 2015: Value of Courage & Kindness is Crystal Clear

Before I made it to the theater to see Cinderella, Google search was already active with articles Cinderella-and-prince-Kit-dancingabout the age-old fairy tale. Never in a million years would I have expected Disney’s retelling of Cinderella to stir such comment and controversy—but stir it did.
From the beginning of Disney’s beautiful retelling of the story, it’s clear there is much more depth of character than what the Brothers Grimm 1812 fairy tale offered. Cutting off a toe to fit in a shoe isn’t really fitting. Charles Perrault, a Frenchman, who is said to have penned the first story in 1697, clearly created Cinderella to be a woman whose graciousness is valued more than beauty and whose talents and courage are from heaven.
Our 2015 Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branagh fulfills the woman of Perrault’s dreams. Such delivery of Cinderella’s talents stand in sharp contrast to the pushy, greedy, rude women who cast her off to the cinders.
The splendor of Disney’s cinematography, complimented by the captivating colorful costuming are dazzling albeit slow-paced in the first half of the film. Once the Fairy Godmother appears, the feeling is one of being swept away with the glass (Swarovsky!) slippers and the romance that follows.
This magical version ends with Cinderella’s forgiveness of those who had tormented her, a quality welcome in a cynical world.
Perrault’s Cinderella emerges as a woman whose character is not defined by her clothes instead she is one to admire, a role model for women of all ages. The value of courage and kindness is clear—crystal!

WHIPLASH casts J.K. Simmons as a great bad guy

The trailer for Whiplash had me at the drum roll.   Whiplash writer and director Damien Chazelle said he based this compelling work on his own very competitive jazz band experience.images-1

How refreshing to have J.K. Simmons (Juno) as the abusive band instructor Terence Fletcher whose profanity and slapping may cause some to cringe and others like myself to say “what a great bad guy.” For years I’ve heard stories of nuns with rulers and now finally, a band leader who throws things and yells. (My husband is one who won’t see it—he prefers changing the paper in the parakeet cage to bloody hands and junior high tirad mixed with locker room potty mouth.) For me Fletcher’s “bad guy” provided an already fine actor with a role to show us how he really acts; and show us he did.images-2

Miles Teller is Andrew Neiman a nineteen-year-old first year jazz student at a prestigious school. Andrew lives and breathes the drums with his heart set on being great like Buddy Rich.  Fletcher recognizes the student’s dedication and is determined to make him push harder—much harder. Such efforts drew criticism from Forrest Wickman in Slate who writes that the film is a distorting jazz history and a misleading notion of genius. “A mounting body of evidence shows that no amount of practice, whether 10,000 hours or 20,000 hours, guarantees true genius.”

I don’t know about genius, but I disagree with Wickman about practice. I believe that a student who wants to play like Buddy Rich knows it’s not just about the hours. What a student does with his drumsticks or a basketball has more to do with his determination and his passion.

I watched Whiplash in the comfort of an AMC theater lounge chair alongside my daughter Laura who takes a turn at the drums herself. “I’m glad people are interested in this film,” she said adding, “I don’t always see such interest in the arts.” I agree.

February 22 I’ll be watching for Simmons to accept an Oscar and can only hope for another script he so deserves. For the record, I would like to give Tom Cross the Film Editing award though American Sniper’s duo are deserving. We’ll see.

NEBRASKA is colorful in black and white


Those of you who’ve seen the comedy/drama film Nebraska are probably wondering like I am how Bruce Dern missed Best Actor Oscar.  (Okay, well maybe the Academy could have had two this year.)  You are going to see him the next time you enter a pub and, if not, think of him every time you see a Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes ad.

Dern’s role as the alcoholic father was played to perfection—I know because I was reminded of my own father, also a veteran, and a man trying to get along as he aged.  For me June Squibb as Dern’s wife, however, did not deliver her lines, well written as they were, with believability.  Her role was disconcerting in an otherwise great film deserving of the six academy award nominations.

The story takes its lead characters on a road trip that includes visits with other family and friends, reminiscent of the 1999 film The Straight Story starring Richard Farnsworth as Alvin Straight.  (Based on a true story, Straight mounts a riding lawnmower and sets out on a road trip to see his brother—well worth the watch.)

What? No color?  A color version of Nebraska was created to to satisfy concerns of distributor Paramount Vantage; however, director Alexander Payne “hopes no one ever sees it.”  Nebraska may be dismissed by those partial to color; but, this black and white film has the directing, screenplay, cinematography and yes, Dern, to deliver a darn good movie.

My Hero – Emile Zola


While working on a presentation about HEROES in movies, I’ve taken the liberty to ask family and friends for “candidates.”  Maybe another time I’ll review; but, for now I want to focus on one man – one man who saved the life of another in the 1937 film, The Life of Emile Zola.

Emile Zola was a late 19th century French writer whose success and comfort in later years seemed to distract him from a youthful reformer to complacency.  All of that would change when top French Army Officers accuse Jewish Captain Alfred Dreyfus of being a traitor, court-martial and imprison him on Devil’s Island for the rest of his life.   Dreyfus continued to claim innocence.

Years pass and evidence is revealed that could prove Dreyfus’s innocence; however, the Officers decision is to bury the truth to save face – a cover-up.

Dreyfus’s wife appeals to Zola with the evidence that her husband is innocent.

At this point in the film, the viewer is compelled to question:  What would I do?   Leave the comforts of my home?  Risk my reputation? The townspeople will try to kill me.

As Zola, actor Paul Muni’s Academy Award winning performance shows the struggle he endures over this decision.  Ultimately he publishes I Accuse which results in an angry mob coming for him.  He is arrested and an emotional court battle ensues.  Zola is found guilty and flees to England where he continues his writings about the case.

Eventually a new administration in the French Army staff realizes the lie and those involved resign or are dismissed.  Dreyfuss life is spared and he is exonerated.

The Life of Emile Zola won best picture in 1937 along with Muni, best actor and best supporting actor Joseph Schildkraut as Captain Dreyfuss. The film was nominated for another 7 awards.