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Thumbnails Apr 17

by Tony Medley

Betting on Zero (10/10): A detailed and explicit exposé about portfolio manager Bill Ackman’s seemingly quixotic quest to prove that Herbalife is an illegal pyramid scheme; it tells both sides and the evidence is overwhelming that it is. Among extensive facts, it raises serious questions about the ethics of a California U.S. District Judge who approved a settlement of a class action against Herbalife that resulted in each plaintiff getting approximately $10 even though many lost their life savings. This is an excellent, eye-opening documentary.

Beauty and the Beast (9/10): A terrific entertainment combining live action with animation; the outstanding production numbers and orchestration make up for mediocre melody. Romantic enough, I thought Dan Stevens had a lot more sex appeal as the Beast (achieved through performance and facial capture technology, not makeup) than as the Prince. Visual and special effects are award quality.

The Zookeeper’s Wife (8/10): Jessica Chastain shines as Antonina Żabińska, a working wife and mother who, along with her equally heroic husband, Dr. Jan Żabiński (Johan Heldenbergh), became a hero during WWII saving Jews from the Nazis. The recreation of their tense life in Warsaw, with a Nazi constantly lusting after her, during those dark years is spellbinding, based on Diane Ackerman’s book and Antonina’s diaries.

Kong: Skull Island (8/10): Well directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (only his second film), the special effects, production design, and cinematography alone are worth the price of admission, buttressed by the symphonic score that greatly enhances the action. And they should be since the estimated cost of production is around $185 million. Final kudos should go to the editor. I’m constantly carping about films needing good editing. This one got it, thanks to Richard Pearson.

I Am Not Your Negro (7/10): This is an angry black man ranting and raving and revising history to fit his narrow concepts of how he would like people to view the world. His many statements in the film are glaringly racist and dishonest, hoisting  himself on his own petard. After a TV appearance with Baldwin, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was secretly recorded by the F.B.I. saying that he was, “put off by the poetic exaggeration in Baldwin’s approach to race issues.” Black author Ralph Ellison was also critical, as were many other black leaders. 

Norman (5/10): Richard Gere stars in what is basically the story of a “Court Jew,” a character that goes back to the Old Testament. But why pick a Gentile to play a traditionally Jewish character? There are lots of Jewish actors who could have done this role, like Dustin Hoffman, who would have been perfect and is the right age. Nothing against Gere’s performance but since this is an ethnocentric movie; shouldn’t the actor be the right ethnicity? Gere gives one of the best performances of his career, but what he needed was a good editor with sharp scissors and a director who had a better understanding of pace. As good as the film is, it was hard to stay awake throughout. Opens April 14.

Table 19 (5/10): The situations are too silly and trite to be involving. This good cast deserved better material.

Cézanne et Moi (3/10): What a monumental disappointment! Slow and boring, the film’s only redeeming features are the locations and gorgeous, award-quality, cinematography, so good each shot looks like its own painting.

Recommended Reading: “The Paris Architect” by Charles Belfoure, a riveting WWII drama, and “Escape Clause” by John Sandford, two rare tigers are stolen and a serial killer is on the loose.