Film Reviews For The Cine-Literate

Current Reviews

Moving On

Actresses Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin forged identities as a successful sitcom team as co-stars of the Netflix series “Grace and Frankie,” which just finished a seven-year run on the Netflix streaming service, the longest-running series in the network’s history. They developed a ready rapport as mismatched friends who bond slowly over time to where they become testy besties, Fonda being an elegant entrepreneur left at sea after a painful divorce while Tomlin, a long-time art dabbler and smart aleck, exudes a more comic mode to confront her own surprise divorce.

(From Left) Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda collaborate on a misbegotten murder pact in “Moving On.” Photo by Aaron Epstein.

In the wake of that series, the two 80-year-olds star in “Moving On” as estranged friends who reunite to seek revenge on the querulous widower Howard (Malcolm McDowell), husband of their recently deceased best friend.

The film opens with Fonda--as Claire--returning to a California town where she grew up to attend the funeral for a best friend she’s known since college, not so much to honor her friend but rather to revenge herself on her friend’s husband Howard (Matthew McDowell). Evelyn—or Evie--(Tomlin) also shows up. Lesbian Evie, too, roomed with the departed but has never left the town and now resides in assisted living, and the two ex-roomies re-connect at the reception. Claire is wary and upset when she sees Howard—who greets her rudely and gruffly—but she blurts out: “I’m going to kill you.” Evie adds to the sour mood by addressing the assembled in a harsh put-down of Howard, after which the two women are asked to leave.

While in town, Claire runs across Ralph (Richard Roundtree), her second husband whom she divorced suddenly, and they rekindle some of their old affection over dinner with his new family. She has never explained her sudden exit from their marriage, but we learn (in a reveal to Evie) that it has to do with a nasty encounter with Howard buried in her past, the reason for her murder plans.

The best comic bit in this serio-comic picture is when the two women go cluelessly into a gun store to select an appropriate murder weapon. It results in some goofy back-and-forth in a world they know nothing of and ends when the store owner informs Claire, an out-of-stater, that she is not even allowed to purchase a weapon.

Fonda and Tomlin have an easy rapport, with the former a study in up-and-down anxiety and the latter a paragon of “moving on” from the muddled past—who also has a secret regarding their departed friend. Much of the spirt of their relationship will be familiar from those who know their Netflix series, but in “Moving On” Fonda is less quippy and Tomlin is more hippy.

Roundtree, now 80 and fifty years after his breakthrough as “Shaft,” still exudes smooth sexiness as Ralph, fit and cool and bald. In a film of smart performances, the odd man out is McDowell, way too cantankerous and acerbic to be taken seriously (but perhaps worthy of murder?). He plays a character rather like his egotistic orchestra conductor in the Amazon series “Mozart in the Jungle” (also directed and produced by Paul Weitz), a conniver and sleaze.

While no masterpiece, “Moving On” offers us at least another tart Tomlin in a crafty Weitz comedy like their decent earlier joint effort “Grandma” (2015).

(The film, rated “R,” runs 85 minutes and is now showing in local area theaters.)

(March 2023)

The Quiet Girl

One of the Academy Award’s newly nominated 2022’s Best International Features, “The Quiet Girl,” made its debut this month with, to my eyes, a splendid chance to win the trophy. It has a new wrinkle, too, because—though “Irish”—it is placed in the “international” category because it is, indeed, in the original “Irish,” tongue, a foreign language to the rest of the English-speaking world. It also showcases one of the best child’s performances in years.

(From left) Young Cáit (Catherine Clinch) is dropped off with her foster mother Eibhlim (Carrie Crowley) in “The Quiet Girl,” a new Irish-language picture. Photo courtesy of Breakout Pictures.

That touching and resonant child is Cáit (played by Catherine Clinch), an unassuming, reticent 9-year-old child in 1981 Ireland. She lives on a shabby farm within a dysfunctional family of five: her dull, repressed Mam (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh), two unremarkable sisters, a baby, and, her father, the coarse and irresponsible Da (Michael Patric), who gets his smarts from the bottom of a beer bottle. Cáit is the mute observer of the family dynamic, internalizing the family’s petty missteps and quarrels and being a witness to the loveless marriage of her folks.

That dynamic reaches a breaking point when the wife stumbles into another witless pregnancy, and Da, knowing he cannot care for his growing brood, decides to relieve the family of another mouth to feed by farming out stolid Cáit to a distant country cousin, a move to which she succumbs without question. The new foster family, a childless older couple, lives miles away in another part of rural Ireland.

Cáit’s new home is better kept than her own, with a warmer feel. Most of that warmth comes from the wife, Eibhlin (touchingly played by Carrie Crowley), while the husband Séan (Andrew Bennett), is the prototype taciturn farmer who speaks more easily to his cows than to any humans around. He stands apart from the girl, decent but distant, and, though their interactions are at first halting, they begin to slowly connect by doing chores around the place.

That is pretty much all there is to the plot of the movie, but one notes the forming of a relationship ever so slowly: through wearing rough boots in the slough, by absorbing recipes, through working the milking machines at night, by giving straight answers to tentative questions. It is a delicate weaving of domestic ties that little Cáit has never experienced. An incident at the family well threatens Cáit’s life but turns out to prove how much she means to the couple, and a family secret is inadvertently revealed to Cáit, who, in her forthright way, passes it on to the older couple.

Young Clinch is a wonder in the film, a revelation of restraint and off-hand sweetness. She stands in as an all-seeing eye whom you see palpably (but barely) coming out of her delicate shell. A gesture as modest and benign as a big hug here has the power of an explosion. Even in her quietude, you can see how the foster parents fall for her.

The film was made by Colm Bairéad who also wrote the screenplay from a novella by Claire Keegan called Foster. His direction is enhanced enormously by exquisite, studied photography by Kate McCullough and a subtle, suggestive score by Stephen Rennicks.

Sure, and it’s a wonder to behold.

(The film, which opened in local cinemas in late February, is rated “PG-13,” and runs 94 minutes).

(February 2023)

Freedom's Path

“Freedom’s Path” is a Civil War drama with a distinctive perspective. It focuses principally on a group of free, autonomous Black Americans living in the south on the fringes of the War.

(From left) A black youth Kitch (R.J. Cyler) saves a White Union soldier in “Freedom’s Path,” a recently-released Civil War drama now in cinemas. Photo courtesy of Freedom’s Path Feature Film, LLC

It opens, however, telling the tale (with nods to Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage”) of an unseasoned, white Union soldier, William (Gerran Howell). In his very first foray into battle. He is terrified and decides to flee, covering his cowardice by stabbing himself in the thigh with his bayonet and pretending he is dead among the casualties.

Now roaming out on his own, crushed and limping, he is discovered by a young, charismatic Black man, Kitch (RJ Cyler), who helps him find aid within a community of stable Black farmers. Rather than capture or kill William, Kitch brings him to a small ranch where Kitch’s extended family accepts William and cares for his wounds.

The two young men, initially suspicious of each other, slowly bond over farm work, chores, fishing, chats on a porch, and dips in a lake. Living close to the Union border, Kitch and his family are already active in the Underground Railway, shepherding runaways across the border.

The young men’s easy camaraderie eventually comes to include a gentle mockery of each other and a generally joshing around. But their almost idyllic life ends when the nearby war impinges directly on their community, and a gang of nasty slave hunters, led by the sadistic Wes (Ewen McGregor), discovers them occupying their refuge.

Then the film turns harsh, even vicious, as the slave hunters capture and torture Kitch while William, who has run away, looks back to see his friend being gruesomely beaten and almost lynched before he decides he must intervene at the cost of his own life.

The film's writer and director, Brett Smith, devoted 12 years of his life to making “Freedom’s Path.” telling the heretofore untold story of autonomous black Freedmen living in the deep-South during the Civil War. Smith realized early on, with his script in hand, that he would need “real money, a lot of money.”

In a searching essay on the production, he wrote “How on earth would I get it without an MBA or robbing a bank? ...I decided I would follow my intuition and use the two key resources at my disposal…an iMac computer and my limitless passion to tell this story.

“The ultimate trick is to never stop putting one foot in front of the other, lean on those you love, and take a moment every now and then to stop and look out on the beautiful vistas that lay behind you....You will have far more setbacks than you had hoped along your journey, but take it from someone who is 12 years into their climb…every step is worth it. A heartfelt dream finally makes it to the screen as a heartfelt story.

(This film, now in select AMC and Regal theaters, runs 131 minutes and is not rated)

(February 2023)


One of the great exemplars of 20th century Japanese cinema is “Ikiru” (to live), directed and co-written by the master Akira Kurosawa in 1952. The tale features a bureaucratic paper-pusher mired in a barren government job until he belatedly comes to life and takes action on a positive project. With the lead played by the great Takashi Shimura, the film won international honors and represented a change from Kurosawa’s usual action pictures.

Dutiful bureaucrat Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy) outside his office in London. Photo courtesy of Sony Classic Pictures.

After long marinating, that drama has finally been adapted for an English-language audience and set in 1950’s London by the Japanese-British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (author of “Remains of the Day” and “Never Let Me Go”, inter alia). The adaptation stays quite true to the spirit of the Japanese original, with appropriate English touches and equivalents, but principally through a superb reincarnation of the lonely bureaucrat by Bill Nighy.

The film opens with a callow new employee, Peter Wakeling (Alex Sharp), beginning his new job at the London Public Works Department, where he is warned immediately about the unknowable Mr. Williams (Nighy), a paragon of inaction in their unit, an exemplar of do-nothing. Williams is a recent widower, but still has a son (Barney Fishwick)--who is utterly indifferent to him--and a daughter-in-law, but they are wholly wound up in their own lives. A visit to his doctor brings bad news: he has but six months to live from end-stage cancer.

Alone in a pub, he tells a waitress about his medical fate, a conversation overheard by man-about-town Sutherland (Tom Burke), who urges him to undertake a beachside pub crawl with him. But the binge night doesn’t take. He tries to clumsily charm an ambitious young woman from his own office, Miss Harris (Aimee Lou Wood)), but that too doesn’t go any farther than halting, uneasy conversations.

His grim diagnosis, however, somehow triggers Williams to action. Knowing his time is short, he first abruptly abandons his office and goes on a private seaside holiday, but most importantly, he decides to change his life and speed up a long-delayed community request to build a small neighborhood park.

Through these vagaries, Williams is ever the taciturn stork in the black suit, slow to speak and to reveal his emotions. Tentative and timid, he opens up (slightly) only in his final weeks when he finally has a job to do by standing up to his own bureaucracy.

Such a role is catnip for Bill Nighy (73), often a flinty figure in British films who has made a career of such men. Over some 70 films since the 1980’s, his portraits of Brit restraint have graced films like “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” (2012), “Pride,” (2014), “The Bookshop,” (2017), and “Emma” (2019), as well as “”Living.,” while his comedic chops were acclaimed as a has-been rock singer in “Love Actually” (2002), the film that introduced him to a world-wide audience.

Directed with taste and acumen by Oliver Hermanus (a South African helmsman), and outlined beautifully in Ishiguro’s delicate and sensitive script, “Living” is much aided by a series of classy production elements of period London, exhibiting luminous cinematography, production design, and music. Like its Japanese model, “Living” caps its narrative with a poignant remembrance of a fellow on a swing in a delicate snowfall that redeems this man of no importance.

(Now in theaters, the film is rated “PG-13” and runs 142 mins.)

(January 2023)