Film Review: THE REPORT (USA 2019) ****

The Report Poster
Idealistic Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones, tasked by his boss to lead an investigation into the CIA’s post 9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program, uncovers shocking secrets.


Scott Z. Burns

THE REPORT is about the alleged report which exposes the CIA for their use of torture on suspected terrorists.  Most of what has been going on is already well known, including the inhuman torture methods as these have since been publicized following the Oscar Winner for Best Documentary, Alex Gibney’s TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE.

Gibney’s film examines the U.S. policy on torture and interrogation, specifically the CIA’s use of torture and their research into sensory deprivation. The CIA re-terms the word torture with the phrase enhanced interrogation.  The film includes discussions against the use of torture by political and military opponents, as well as the defense of such methods; attempts by Congress to uphold the standards of theGeneva Convention forbidding torture; and popularization of the use of torture techniques in TV series such as 24. 

Burn’s film is highly different and employs actors to re-enact real life characters in the true story.  THE REPORT plays as a political thriller that explores matters of vital importance to the present. THE REPORT takes a deep dive into recent revelations that have lost none of their capacity to shock and appall.

Dan Jones (Adam Driver) is the man assigned to research and submit a report.  He is asked twice during the movie. “Did you sleep?” to which he answers.  “I used  to but it gets in the way of my work.”  Jones, a staff member of the US Select Committee on Intelligence, is tasked with helming a Senate investigative report into the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11.  Some $80 million was spent; 119 detainees were interrogated. Hundreds of hours of recordings of those interrogations were destroyed. What happened? Who is accountable? Faced with one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after another, Jones spent half a decade finding out.  The CIA expected Jones to do the study , uncover a few facts but never expected Jones to go through all the extreme lengths to find out the truth and to uncover it to the American people.

Burns elicits excellent performances from his entire cast.   Adam Driver and Annette Benning both deliver award winning performances.  One cannot imagine anyone else playing those two roles.

Some might complain about the film’s talkiness.  It is talky but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  The dialogue from the script, also written by Burns is sharp and witty, and able to carry ones attention throughout the film.  A few of the torture scenes are re-enacted to emphasize the terrible use of torture by the CIA.

Everybody knows the ineffectiveness of torture as a interrogation tool to get information from the enemy.  Which is basically the tortured person saying anything to get the torture to stop.  Most of the information surrendered are either information the U.S. already knows or lies.  The script offers little debate on the matter, as the fact is already well known and stablished inTAXI TO THE DARK SIDE.  The REPORT is an excellent companion piece to that film film and succeeds, despite all the bad stuff the American CIA has done, in extolling the United States as a democracy who can call out its bad people.  If only they would made these people pay for their crimes.



TIFF 2018 Review: LIFE ITSELF (USA 2018) ****

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2018. Go to TIFF 2018 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

Life Itself Poster

As a young New York couple goes from college romance to marriage and the birth of their first child, the unexpected twists of their journey create reverberations that echo over continents and through lifetimes.


Dan Fogelman


Dan Fogelman

I overheard the television the other day for a minute that blared the words of actor Mandy Patinkin interviewed for the film: “this is one of the best scripts I have ever read.”  I cannot agree after viewing LIFE ITSELF the new film directed and written by Dam Fogelson about various lives intertwining as if life the narrator was playing a good joke on mankind.  

Abby (Olivia Wilde) is a New York graduate student. Her boyfriend, Will (Oscar Isaac), loves her deeply, but the depth of his commitment overwhelms her sometimes. What’s his story?  Their circle includes Annette Bening and Mandy Patinkin as parents who have their own stories to live out.  And Antonio Banderas and Laia Costa do remarkable work when the action shifts to Spain. As each character’s story is revealed, the fascination increases between lovers, between children and parents, between America and Europe and even between past and present.  

Abby studies unreliable narrators in fiction but as she notes in her thesis, “Life itself is the ultimate unreliable narrator.”  Best way of enjoying this movie, is to just sit back and enjoy the excellent storytelling.


Film Review: THE SEAGULL (USA 2018) ***1/2

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The Seagull Poster

An aging actress named Irina Arkadina pays summer visits to her brother Pjotr Nikolayevich Sorin and her son Konstantin on a country estate. On one occasion, she brings Trigorin, a …See full summary »


Michael Mayer


Anton Chekhov (play), Stephen Karam (screenplay)


THE SEAGULL, Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov’s first of 4 plays became one of the greatest plays in the history of Russian Theatre when Konstantin Stanislavsky directed it in 1898 for his Moscow Art Theatre.  I have never read or seen Chekhov’s THE SEAGULL even though there are previous film adaptations of the play including one directed by Sidney Lumet.  So, watching the film unfold, flaws and all, is still an unforgettable experience given the strength of its source material.

The story features four main characters, Irina, her son Konstantin, her lover, Boris and the son’s love, Nina – all torn between love and art.   

An aging actress named Irina Arkadina (Annette Bening) pays summer visits to her brother Pjotr Nikolayevich Sorin (Brian Dennehy) and her son Konstantin (Billy Howle) on a country estate.  On one occasion, she brings Boris Trigorin (Corely Stoll) a successful novelist and her lover. Nina (Saoirse Ronan), a free and innocent girl from a neighbouring estate who is in a relationship with Konstantin, falls in love with Boris.

The film begins with the climax of the play and returns to it after the main story folds in flashback, a tactic used by director Mayer for the film.  This is a common tactic in films to grab the audience’s attention at the start while bringing them back to the same state at a later part of the film.  The tactic often works and works in this film as well.   The brother Sorin is ill and dying while Irina visits and engages the guests in a game of ‘lotto’ a kind of bingo while something drastic takes place with her son in a back room that climaxes the story and ends the film.  But quite the drama has occurred prior to this set of affairs with lives and loves being interchanged as well as unrequited love torn away from a poor woman’s heart.  This is the stuff Chekov’s play is born of.  Included in the story is the scene where Konstantine shoot and kills an innocent seagull (the story’s metaphor) which is placed at the feet of his true love, Nina.

There are lots of unrequited love in the story, that of Irina, her son and mostly Marsha’s (Elisabeth Moss).  Irina brings to the estate the successful playwright, Boris Trigorin who falls for actress wannabe, Nina who falls for him.  It is a question of he not able to get what he wants and she not able to get what she wants while each having the quality the oner desires.  There is more irony in the artistic play that Konstantin writes that his mother makes fun of.  Besides all this fantastic Chekov writing that is incredibly brilliant the way he brings it all together, director Mayer occasionally eclipses the brilliance with his touches.  This includes, for example the scene where Konstantin makes silly ‘tweetie-bird’ faces in the mirror while his mother is desperately claiming possession in the next room, or when Kosntatntin plays the piano, the music complementing the activities going on again, in the next room.

The film, which looks fantastic (cinematography by Matthew J. Lloyd) was shot on 

location at a New York State manor, using almost all natural light.  In the nighttime scenes, 95 % of what you see is actually from candle light. 

THE SEAGULL benefits greatly again from its actors, particularly its 3 main actresses Benign, Moss and Ronan.  Relative newcomer British Billy Howle proves his acting chops as well in quite the major role.  There are many reasons to see THE SEAGULL – the performances, the currently relevant tale of art and romance but especially if you are unfamiliar with this Chekhov play.

Director Mayer, who is a Tony Award Winning theatre director (SPRING AWAKENING) should do Chekhov proud with this film adaptation of THE SEAGULL.


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Submit your Screenplay to the Festival TODAY

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool Poster

A romance sparks between a young actor and a Hollywood leading lady.


Paul McGuigan


Matt Greenhalgh (screenplay), Peter Turner (based on the memoir by)


British director Paul McGuigan and Paul Bettany broke into the film scene with their energetic GANGSTER No. 1, full of brutal violence and drama. In McGuigan’s latest effort, this time with young BILLY ELLIOT actor Jamie Bell (watch the dancer’s hustle scene with Annette Bening), the energy and freshness are clearly missing.

FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL, they die in New York City.  At St. Vincent’s Hospital, to be exact.  The film star in question is Oscar Winner, Gloria Grahame (portrayed by Oscar nominee Annette Bening) who dies of cancer after one last fling (at the age of 57) with young beau, Peter Turner (Bell).  She spends the her last days in Peter’s home in Liverpool, must to the chagrin of her family.  The film based on Turner’s own memoir and adapted into a script written by Matt Greenhalgh alternates between the years 1981 of her death and 1979 when Grahame and Turner first met in Liverpool.  It seems awkward to call them a couple, because they look so awkward as a couple – both in real life and on the screen.

The film is an affectionate tribute to Gloria Grahame but the film is a total bore.  Audiences have had many chances of watching a romance between an old man or woman or vice versa and someone half their ages.  Films with this subject have always been a disaster from Clint Eastwood’s BREEZY (William Holden and Kay Lenz) to SAY HELLO TO YESTERDAY (Jean Simmons and Leonard Whiting).  Though FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL is a true story based on the memoir written by Turner himself, the film still fails despite solid efforts by Bell and Bening.

Bell looks too cute and adorable to be falling for an older person.  Are there no younger women in Liverpool?  I have never really liked Bening in anything, so I will save any negative comments here, except to say she gave her best performance in AMERICAN BEAUTY (though the real bitch in real life turned out to be Kevin Spacey).

McGuigan attempts to pull at the heart strings, with an archive clip of Oscar night when the real Graham accepted the Oscar with a short ‘Thank You’.  Oscar Host Bob Hope remarked in the film’s funniest moment: “She made it!”  One problem is that Gloria Grahame is shown in the film possessing no redeeming qualities so it is difficult to like the film’s main character.  Not much insight is offered on the life of Gloria Grahame either, nor her work.  There is only brief mention of her memorable films like THE BAD ANDTHE BEAUTIFUL .  She is portrayed as a rich and spoilt movie star obsessed with her glamour – the typical cliched portrayal of an ageing star.

Surprisingly more interesting that the Grahame and Turner’s romance is Peter’s parent’s romance.  Early in the film, the mother (Julie Walters) complains of her marriage of being married to a lump of nothing, but near the end of the film shown holding hands affectionately with her husband (Kenneth Cranham).  Vanessa Redgrave has a cameo as Gloria’s mother in the film.

Though shot in Liverpool, there are more scenes at Turner’s house with the old staircase and musty wallpapers than exteriors.  There is one scene of the two at the beach.

Film stars might not die in Liverpool but this film dies a quick death.


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Film Review: 20th CENTURY WOMEN (USA 2016)

20th_century_women_poster.jpgDirector: Mike Mills
Writer: Mike Mills
Stars: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig

Review by Gilbert Seah

Mike Mills hit it big with his coming out movie BEGINNERS based on his father who came out of the closet at the age of 75. Mills continues his personal films with 20th CENTURY WOMEN based on his upbringing by both his mother and her sister. The film has clout since, it is based on his life. This is a heartfelt feature.

The story is set in 1979, Santa Barbara, California. Single mother, Dorothea (Annette Benning) seeks the help of Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Julie (Elle Fanning) to raise her son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). Abbie and Julie rent the rooms upstairs of Dorothea’s house.

Despite the film title, 20the CENTURY WOMEN is not solely about women. It is also about a boy being brought up by three women, only because the mother deems she needs help in his upbringing. So, the film should cater to a male audience though the ads and trailer do not make this point known. It is quite clear where the film is leading. Not only is the boy learning from the women, but the women are slowly influenced by the boy – by the boy’s reactions and deeds.

Mills demonstrates that minimal dialogue can also be used to highlight the drama in a confrontation scene. This is evident in the one where the boys argues with his mother after she chastises him on the ‘choking stinge’. The boy just walks away. The tactic of not using lengthy flowery arguments or screaming matches heighten the credibility of the story.
Mill’s film emphasizes details the characters indulge in that help the audience understand them. Dorothea smokes like a chimney – because it is stylish. But she smokes Salem menthols believing the harm is reduced. Julie sleeps with Jamie, sneaking into this room each night, but there do not indulge in sex.

A lot of effort seems to be put into the hairdo of the characters. Jamie and his mother have very curly hair while Abbie and daughter Julie noticeably straight hair. Abbie’s red hair symbolizes her desire to be different as she is.

The film is put into perspective by titles as well as Jamie’s voiceover. Still, one wonders where the film is leading to, and whether there is some hidden message.

Annette Bening shines in her role as the unsure mother. I am not really a Bening fan as she usually undertakes roles of unlikeable women like in AMERICAN BEAUTY and RUNNING WITH SCISSORS. But this sympathetic role suits her. Elle Fanning has been taking roles of and doing well with weird characters lately (LIVE BY NIGHT and THE NEON DEMON) and her role in this film will add to the list.

It would be interesting to see what kind of film Mills will be involved with next – after he has used up all the stories in his family and personal life.


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Happy Birthday: Annette Bening

annettebening.jpgHappy Birthday actor Annette Bening

Born: Annette Francine Bening
May 29, 1958 in Topeka, Kansas, USA

Married to: Warren Beatty (3 March 1992 – present) (4 children)

J. Steven White (26 May 1984 – 1991) (divorced)

Read reviews of the best of the actor:


dir. Diane English
Meg Ryan

dir. William Friedkin
Matthew McConaughey
Emile Hirsch

dir. Sam Mendes
Kevin Spacey
dir. Mike Nichols
Harrison Ford
Annette Bening

dir. Ryan Murphy
Joseph Cross
Annette Bening

dir. Rob Reiner
Michael Douglas
Annette Bening

dir. Jonathan Dayton
Paul Dano
Zoe Kazan

dir. Shari Springer Berman
Robert Pulcini
Kristen Wiig
Annette Bening

dir. Sally Potter
Elle Fanning
Alice Englert