Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom is only available on Netflix right now, so if you don’t have a subscription, you’re missing a very powerful, well-made documentary. The bulk of the film was shot over 93 days in 2013 and 2014 in the central square of Kiev called the Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Thousands of students came to the square to protest Ukrainian President Yanukovych’s choice not to join the EU. But what began as a peaceful protest quickly became a violent revolution and ultimately led to the president sneaking away in the night. The film is very much like last year’s The Square, in that it puts you right in the center of the action with the people fighting and dying around you. Their courage to stand up for democracy is truly inspiring.

99 Homes

99 Homes is one of those indies that could easily slip through the cracks at the box office but deserves some word-of-mouth love – even from a ‘Mainstream Chick’. It’s a compelling, timely, and well-acted drama that will surely hit (too) close to home for anyone who lost their home – or came close– during the housing crisis. The film puts a human face on a national disaster that allowed certain individuals and institutions to profit off the misfortune of others who got in over their heads financially, largely due to the failure of banks and government agencies to provide proper guidance, intervention, or oversight.


I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to see this type of fantasy-adventure, “fun for the whole family” movie, but I was sort of roped into it, so here goes:

It’s a perfectly okay fantasy-adventure movie that is fine for the whole family and probably better than fine for kids aged 8-12. Any younger, and it’s rather dark, especially at the start. Any older, and it can’t compete with the likes of The Hunger Games.

For the adult tag-alongs, the real question is: Do we really need a prequel to Peter Pan??? Must we really know how an orphan named Peter came to be Peter Pan, or who exactly Hook was before he was ‘Captain’ Hook? No, we don’t. In fact, it all kind of muddles the classic nature of writer J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan mythology – a story that has stood the test of time and countless remakes on stage and screen.

For the kids, the questions raised above are probably moot. The movie has a flying pirate ship! It’s fantastical! It has kids running amuck! Evil nuns! Swordfights! Fairies! Hugh Jackman!! (okay, that last one was for me).


If you’ve ever wondered how violent and insidious the Mexican drug cartels and our persistent war against them are, this is the movie for you! From the first frame you’re plunged into a blood-soaked world where law enforcement is impotent, and successes come with collateral damage. Emily Blunt plays Kate Macer, an FBI agent who’s trying unsuccessfully to stem the tide of killings on the US side of the Arizona border. Following a bombing that kills several of her fellow agents, she is invited to join a multi-agency task force tracking down the perpetrator. It’s headed by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) who keeps her (and the audience) in the dark about his strategies and motivations for much of the operation. Benicio Del Toro joins them as Alejandro, the titular sicario, Spanish for hitman, though he’s given “consultant” status. And before you know it, they’re all in Mexico where mutilated bodies hang from bridges as warnings from the cartels, blazing in with the help of the Mexican federal police to extract someone for Alejandro to torture some information out of back home. It is not a pretty picture.

Tower to the People-Tesla’s Dream at Wardenclyffe Continues

When people hear the name Tesla these days, most probably think of the car from Elon Musk. But Musk named that car after one of the great unsung inventors of the last century, Nikola Tesla. Tesla invented so many things we take for granted these days — alternating current, radio (before Marconi), even neon — but he died penniless and forgotten. This documentary attempts to bring his name and genius to a wider audience. I’ve known about him for years, as no doubt have most science geeks. And anyone who saw The Prestige might remember David Bowie’s turn as Tesla in that film. Mostly this earnest documentary concentrates on his attempts to build a tower in Long Island that he believed could transmit electrical power through the air around the world. Free power to the people!

The Martian

Finally! A movie I can recommend to just about anyone. The Martian has soared to the top of my (extremely short) ‘what’s out there right now that you really should see on the big screen’ list. It’s smart, entertaining, uplifting and remarkably accessible to mainstream as well as geeky-fringe audiences. Seriously, this movie has it all: it’s visually immersive, the stakes are palpable, and despite the science-fiction nature of the plot, the characters are relatable and – certainly in the case of botanist-astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) – worth busting NASA’s budget to save!

The Walk

To enjoy this film you must a) get past Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s French accent and b) have no fear of heights. The Walk is a pretty straight forward telling of what was undoubtedly the most audacious aerialist crime ever. In 1974, just as the World Trade Center twin towers were nearing completion, French high wire performer Philippe Petit decided to sneak into the buildings, string a wire between them, and perform his act 1,350 feet above Lower Manhattan. He enlisted a motley crew of French and American conspirators for what he referred to as his “coup” and somehow got away with it. But sadly, as exciting as the final walk is (thank you CGI artists!), the build up to it isn’t really all that interesting, especially if you saw the Oscar winning documentary Man on Wire, which told the story with real tension.

The Intern

From the opening sequence, you know you’re watching a Nancy Meyers movie. The director of many chick flick gems including The Holiday, Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated, and Baby Boom has a definite formula, and it works again here– to some degree. The intern is a pleasant enough movie that manages to shine a humorous and poignant light on some interesting themes, from aging to work-life balance, to friendship and loyalty. But the movie is not without its flaws. There are a couple of scenes that don’t really go anywhere, and a few character traits that don’t particularly track. And, it’s really hard not to draw comparisons to that ‘other’ Anne Hathaway star vehicle, The Devil Wears Prada, where Hathaway plays the embattled assistant to the demanding editor-in-chief of a high fashion magazine (played by legendary actress Meryl Streep). In The Intern, Hathaway is the founder and chief executive of a start-up online fashion site that employs a “senior” intern named Ben Whittaker, played by legendary actor Robert De Niro. Why become an intern at 70? He’s a lonely and bored widower seeking new challenges in his retirement years. And he’s still got a lot to offer.

The Keeping Room

I really wanted to like this movie. The script was on the Black List, you know the one for the best un-produced screenplays. It’s very small and very indie. And usually that works for me. It’s being touted as a brilliant genre twist because it is a Southern western, whatever that means, and because its protagonists are women who kick ass. But it is just so slow and so predictably that I could barely make my way to the end.

The New Girlfriend

Written and directed by one of my favorite French directors, François Ozon (Potiche, In the House), The New Girlfriend is loosely adapted from a story by the wonderful mystery writer Ruth Rendell. But it isn’t really a mystery. It’s more a psychological thriller about a woman’s loss of her BFF and her finding a new one in the most unexpected place. It’s about love and loss and gender identity and the fine line between attraction and friendship. And it is extremely well done.