The real winner in “Molly’s Game”

“Molly’s Game” is based on the true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain).  She runs a high-stakes poker game frequented by A-list celebrities and other recognizable faces, an endeavor which eventually leads to her arrest.

Unlike the memoir upon which the movie is based, the film refrains from naming some of the celebrities involved, choosing instead to keep the focus solely on Molly and her…ethics?  Her illegal activities didn’t begin until relatively late in the game’s run and writer/director Aaron Sorkin’s point here is that she refused to give up the names of the players to make a deal for herself.  Is that truly enough to declare Molly an example of integrity in light of her other actions?  Possibly, though it seems that the real winner in “Molly’s Game” is the actual Molly Bloom herself.

Though her arrest led to restitution and fines, rather than jail time, even her attempt at a memoir didn’t help her recoup a significant amount of money.  By refusing to give up the names from the game–the ones that were published came from another player–her advance was lower than it could have been.  When the book came out in 2014, it didn’t do particularly well (though of course now it’s in the midst of a resurgence).  Molly Bloom had nothing.  Of particular significance, too, is that the movie makes a point of Molly explaining she could have sold the rights to her life for a movie anytime, but that she wanted more control.  It’s meant as yet another example of Molly’s virtue.  Think about the timeline, though.  When the film came out in 2017, it was only three years after her book.  The amount of time she waited for that “right moment” wasn’t as significant as Sorkin would have us believe.

So, the real winner in this high stakes game is Molly Bloom.  With can-do-no-wrong Jessica Chastain portraying her on-screen, she’s suddenly a victim, a go-getter, a successful business owner–and, above all, an honorable scapegoat.

That said, aside from the film’s questionable morals lesson, it’s well-made and well-acted.  For more about “Molly’s Game”, take a look below:

–>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

“The Post” attempts high-stakes drama with history

Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” recalls a pivotal time in 1971 when Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) invokes the First Amendment right to freedom of the press while publishing top secret government conspiracy papers in The Washington Post.  Despite threats of jail time and bankruptcy, Graham stands by her paper and the reporting.

While the First Amendment may be important here, it’s actually Graham’s role in history that strikes a weightier chord.  Unfortunately, the narrative doesn’t make the significance as apparent as it should.  It becomes necessary for Tony Bradlee (Sarah Paulson, wasted here) to spell it out.  Her job isn’t just to make it clear for her husband Ben (Tom Hanks) within the context of the movie, but for the audience as well.  And, if a movie can’t make its own point without utilizing a character for this purpose, then how successful has it really been?

“The Post” certainly attempts to create high-stakes drama and lays out the history well.  In fact, the film relies heavily on an alternating blue/yellow color palette to this end.  For more about “The Post” and how these colors are used specifically, take a look below:


–>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

All photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

MARSHALL Review & Analysis

“Marshall” has all the makings of a fantastic biopic: a venerable subject matter, impressive actors, and an Oscar-nominated director in Reginald Hudlin (“Django Unchained”).  While this film is undoubtedly an Oscar-contender, it turns out that it’s not so much a biopic after all. Despite former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s remarkable record winning 29 of 32 cases before the Supreme Court as a private attorney, he doesn’t even argue the central case in this film.

Why would Hudlin appear turn away from the story of civil rights leader Marshall in favor of white, Jewish attorney Sam Friedman?  It seems this isn’t the well-known story of Marshall-the-attorney, but one that explores a lesser-known side of him.  Here, Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) shines as a brilliant recruiter and motivator.

In “Marshall“, Thurgood travels to Connecticut on behalf of the NAACP to defend Joseph Spell (Sterling K Brown) on a rape charge.  As he’s not a licensed attorney in the state, Marshall needs one to appear in court on his behalf, presenting a motion allowing him to argue before the court.  Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) reluctantly agrees, insisting that he’s through with the case afterwards.  The judge won’t allow Friedman to step down and forbids Marshall from speaking, effectively muzzling him in favor of an attorney who has never even tried a criminal case.

The surprise ruling means Marshall must motivate Friedman to defend their client, while teaching him the intricacies of criminal law.  Friedman becomes part of a movement he never intended to champion.  In fact, the film’s post script says he spent the rest of his life working as a civil rights advocate following this experience.

The real-life Friedman undoubtedly saw the parallels between what he faced as a Jewish attorney and the plight of his African-American client, a point that’s emphasized through repeated emphasis on how both suffer from racism and stereotypes.  The director ensures this connection is clear, with Marshall telling Friedman he’s “one of us”.

For more about “Marshall”, including some interesting stylistic choices, take a look below:


–>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

All film photos are courtesy of Open Road Films.

AMERICAN MADE Review & Analysis

American Made showcases all of star Tom Cruise’s major strengths: the charisma, the winning smile and the lovable cockiness.  While the story may be vaguely based on the experiences of government informant Barry Seal, this is a Tom Cruise movie through-and-through.  Every character fades into the background as little more than poseable set dressing.  It isn’t that the actors aren’t good in their roles, but that they haven’t been given parts other than as hangers-on.

Perhaps the biggest surprise from American Made is the product placement connected to Tom Cruise.  He’s a star who knows the value of branding and, as such, rarely allows any recognizable products in a scene with him and certainly not in his own hands if possible.  So, when he mentions Harley Davidson motorcycles by name, it’s a far bigger shock than any of the plot.

For more about American Made and product placement, take a look below:

—>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  For the direct link to the review, click here.

All film photos are courtesy of Universal Pictures.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES Review & Analysis

Battle of the Sexes is based on the 1973 real-life tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell).  While the event itself is significant, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a 29 year old player triumphs over a 55 year old.  The meaning is derived from the context the time period provides King’s personal life and professional career.

During the years leading up to the match, female tennis players on tour made 1/8 of the men’s earnings.  Arguments for the disparity ranged from the need to pay men more as the household breadwinners to the fact that the women weren’t as competitive.  This film is about more than a single tournament; Battle of the Sexes shows how fundamental King is to the feminist movement.  It’s not a matter of being better than the men, but equal to them.  King’s triumph on the tennis court is analogous to that of women everywhere.

King personal life is a challenge as well.  She has to conceal her homosexuality through marriage to an inexplicably understanding husband in order to retain her place on the professional tennis circuit.  Exposure can end her career.  As with 2015’s Carol, the time period contributes to the gravitas of the story.

Battle of the Sexes strives to balance the personal and professional aspects of King’s career within the the movie’s runtime.  Yet, neither storyline feels complete through no fault of the actors.  Stone is as solid as expected.  Carell and Sarah Silverman (Gladys) are particularly impressive.

Battle of the Sexes also stars Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming and Elisabeth Shue.  It was directed by the husband and wife team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.

For more about themes in Battle of the Sexes and eagle eye details to watch for, take a look below:


—>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

All film photos are courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / Fox Searchlight.

THE BIG SICK Review & Analysis

The Big Sick is marketed as a romantic comedy.  After all, it’s based on the real-life romance between Kumail Nanjiani and his now-wife Emily V. Gordon who co-wrote the screenplay together.  While the movie explores their relationship, seemingly cemented during a hospitalization which lands Emily in a coma, their romance isn’t the heart of the film.

Kumail is torn between two worlds as the product of a mostly-Americanized upbringing by traditional Pakistani parents.  Torn between his family’s expectations and his own desires Kumail leads two separate lives that must inevitably intersect.

Emily’s more of a free spirit who doesn’t feel the same constrictions.  However, in a bit of storytelling symmetry, her mother confesses about her own disapproved romance with Emily’s father.  Lest it make her parents more accepting, they challenge Kumail at every turn.  As in life, nothing comes easy.

Director Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name Is Doris) creates a world in which every character feels like a star.  This is a testament to the world he’s created.  No matter how small a role, it feels like there’s another story.  The Big Sick generates a lot of questions after the credits roll–and that’s okay.

The Big Sick stars Kumail Nanjiani as himself, Zoe Kazan as Emily, Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily’s parents Terry and Beth, respectively, and Bollywood legend Anupam Kher as Azmat, Kumail’s father.

For more about The Big Sick, take a look below:

—>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

MEGAN LEAVEY Review & Analysis

Kate Mara stars in Megan Leavey as the title character, a US Marine who serves heroically with her military service dog, Rex.  After Megan leaves the Marines, she begins petitioning to adopt Rex upon his own retirement from the Corps.  The film emphasizes themes of love, friendship and loyalty.

Megan Leavey also stars Tom Felton, Ramon Rodriguez, Common, Edie Falco, Bradley Whitford, Will Patton.  It was directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite.

For more about the themes in Megan Leavey and what it has in common with Dirty Dancing and Grease, take a look below:

—>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

HACKSAW RIDGE Movie Review & Analysis

HACKSAW RIDGE is based on the true story of World War II American Army medic Desmond Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist, who refuses to carry a gun due to his strong religious convictions.  Though he’s mocked mercilessly, his bravery during the Battle of Okinawa leads to his single-handedly saving the lives of 75 men, after which he is awarded the Medal of Honor.  Andrew Garfield, best known at this point for his work as Spider-Man, earned an Oscar nomination for his performance in addition to five other nominations for the film, including Best Picture and Best Director for Mel Gibson.

For more about the themes and symbolism in HACKSAW RIDGE, take a look below:

—>Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

LION Movie Review & Analysis

LION is based on the true story of a young Indian boy named Saroo who mistakenly travels nearly 1,000 miles from home when he boards a train.  After living on the streets for a period, he winds up adopted by an Australian couple.  When he’s older, Saroo uses Google Earth to zoom in on particular train stations and areas in order to finally locate his hometown in India.  More than 20 years after leaving home, Saroo returns and reunites with his mom and siblings.  Adult Saroo is played by Oscar nominee Dev Patel. Saroo’s adoptive mother is played by previous Oscar winner (and current Oscar nominee) Nicole Kidman.  Saroo’s girlfriend is played by Oscar nominee Rooney Mara.  Young Saroo is played by newcomer Sunny Pawar.  LION is directed by Garth Davis.

LION is a well-made and well-crafted story.  I really enjoyed the standard timeline intercut with some flashbacks and visions, similar in that regard to the recent Tom Hanks film SULLY.  

The acting is very good, though I think young Saroo, played by Sunny Pawar, is more deserving of an Oscar nomination than Nicole Kidman, who plays his adoptive mother.  He has to express a variety of emotions throughout the film and  had to learn all of his lines phonetically since he doesn’t speak English.  So, not only is his performance deeply believable and moving, but from that technical standpoint it’s amazing as well.

I really love the relationship between young Saroo and his older brother.  It is loving and particularly gentle as Saroo seems to worship his older brother.  Their relationship also serves as a counterpoint to Saroo’s later relationship as the older brother in Australia to another Indian boy whom his parents adopt.  Pay attention to the evolution of that relationship between brothers as well.

For more about LION, including the color choices in the film and how Google Earth succeeded as a brand integration, take a look below:

—>Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

HIDDEN FIGURES Movie Review & Analysis

This week I review HIDDEN FIGURES.  HIDDEN FIGURES is the true story of three African-American women in the 60s who work at NASA and their successful, historic rise through the ranks as they break barriers of race and gender.  Taraji P. Henson (EMPIRE, HUSTLE AND FLOW) plays Katherine Johnson, Octavia Spencer (THE HELP) plays Dorothy Voughn and Janelle Monae plays Mary Jackson.  Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons (THE BIG BANG THEORY), Kirsten Dunst and Mahershala Ali (MOONLIGHT) also star.

One of the difficulties inherent in making a true-story period piece that focuses on a hard time in history is showing the hurdles the real-life counterparts went through without balancing it with the good in life, too. Or, on the flip side, glossing over the difficulties so much that what the women had to overcome starts to seem easy. HIDDEN FIGURES manages to strike the perfect balance.

There are two particular lines in HIDDEN FIGURES that reference space as an analogy rather than a location. At the beginning of the movie in present day 1962, Katherine, Dorothy and Mary are stranded by the side of the road with car trouble on their way to work. There’s a great line “don’t stare into space” which serves a dual purpose of saying to pay attention, but also as a deeper analogy of not aspiring to do or be more than the 60s typically allowed of African-American women. The second line about space comes when Katherine’s three daughters fight over which of them will sleep alone as there are only two beds.

There were also two scenes with people looking up into space. One is at the beginning when the women look up with the police officer who stops to help them. The officer talks about being watched by Russia and they all stare upwards in a moment of contemplation. It not only reflects how space travel will affect them, but how limitless—or limited—they may all feel. Later, Dorothy sees a series of people standing by cars looking into space as they watch for John Glenn. It recalls that earlier scene and how things have changed.

Another direct reference to an earlier scene is when Katherine’s school teacher hands her a piece of chalk to work a mathematical equation on the board. In that shot, the teacher’s hand seems almost larger than life and Katherine’s small size is emphasized. Later, Katherine’s handed another piece of chalk and her hand is equal in size. So, another direct reference to her growth and evolution. HIDDEN FIGURES uses the repetition of these scenes to recall earlier moments and the changes that have taken place over time.

Costume designer Renee Ehrlich Kalfus says Katherine’s costumes mirrored her journey from timid to confident mathematician and if you watch her clothing evolve you’ll see how it allows her to stand out more among the uniformly-attired men.

For more about themes in HIDDEN FIGURES as well as behind-the-scenes info about the design of one of the NASA office buildings, take a look below…

—>Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

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