My Four-Sentence Reviews began and ended in 2012. Now up with 2017 posts. Subscribe by clicking to receive film reviews as they are written.


Screening at Berkeley Art Museum/ Pacific Film Archives December 3.

Filmmaker Peter Bratt once again creates art that inspires and changes us.

See this film about social justice leader Dolores Huerta.  I might see you there.



No spoiler alert in this because advertisements reveal the requisite plane crash, cougar attack, injury, and canine companion that accompany handsome physician and beautiful photojournalist protagonists.  Conveniently, there are more than enough matches to light fires, there is snow but no blizzard, and an abandoned house appears at the precise moment required in the cinematic romantic algorithm.  The craft and charisma of Idris Elba and Kate Winslet save weak writing and direction.


This meditation on mortality with 90-year-old atheist, Lucky, is the perfect last picture of Harry Dean Stanton. Bizarre and beautiful turns by character actors of several generations shine.  But it is the still honesty, song, and smile of Stanton that brings this film to depths.  Director Johnathon Carroll Lynch wisely gives the space and time to rituals of Arizona desert life forms.


HUMAN FLOW Ai Wei Wei’s documentary is an immersion in awareness and attention to the vast earth-wide scale of suffering and humanity of immigrants and refugees.  With simplicity and excruciating detail, the camera and Ai Wei Wei himself journey slowly to each sea, road, camp, encampment, face, body, child, interaction.  Images weave networks of narrative.  The cost of waging “distant” wars, human choices and climate change, globalization’s intensification of economic disparity are seen in plain relief without relief.


VICTORIA AND ABDUL This film evokes questions by what it does not ask or address regarding empire, power, race, class, gender, and right relationship.  Performances and production value surpass the venture itself.


Revo Reviews That-Which-She-Has-Not-Seen:  Anna Karenina

After seeing the film trailer for Anna Karenina I said to my partner, “I think I’ll root for the train.” Mick LaSalle’s review in the San Francisco Chronicle confirmed this, although I suspect that Keira Knightley’s performance should get more credit for train-rooting than Lasalle gives it. Tolstoy is not well served by high concept direction (read: gimmick) or by the lead performances.

Read the book instead.


Revo Reviews:  Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrait is a profoundly political, sad and wry Lincoln, showing what it takes and what it costs to lead. Best actor. Bright character performances show humanity and social change in all its beauty and messiness.  Spielberg’s direction stays close to the historicity Goodwin’s text’s with two notable glossy and indulgent speechifying scenes as exceptions.

See it and read the book.



Revo Reviews:         The Impossible

Screenwriter Sergio G. Sanchez and Director Juan Antonio Bayona did the impossible: they made the audience experience unbearable overwhelming devastation and the intimate intensity of human suffering at the same time without losing complex connections to socio-politico-spiritual realities. This Spanish family caught in the 2004 tsunami morphed into a British family no doubt to get the film produced and distributed. Performances by Naomi Watts, Ewan Macgregor, and Tom Holland are as riveting as sound and visual effects.  The final scene is strained emotional framing, but the rest of the film is revelation.

Help the ongoing recovery.

“Hope Springs” Only Seems Eternal

Who are these people and why should we care about them?

These are the questions facing anyone unwise enough to shell out eight dollars to see David Frankel’s film, an example of therapy gone boring.

Who are these people and why should we care about them? We never know the answer to the first. But 15 minutes in it is pretty clear there is no why.

We know Kay is unhappy.  We know why. We’ve met Arnold.

We know Arnold is unhappy.  We’re not sure why but pretty sure we don’t care.  We don’t know whether Dr. Feld, a New England interpersonal Yoda, has any feelings beyond kind bemusement.

It takes a lot for this reviewer to dislike a film starring Meryl Streep and/or Tommy Lee Jones.  It takes a lot for this filmgoer to find Steve Carell irritating.

Director David Frankel has managed both.  As a late Baby Boomer I am very interested in the subject matter of relationships over time and how we change.

Shifts in character come from neither arc nor revelation, just grinding gears.

The ick factor for me wasn’t about aging adults exploring and addressing sexuality and intimacy.  The ick factor (especially the massage scene… I’ll say no more) came from editing preoccupied with action devoid of meaning.

Hope arises from depth.  This film floats on the surface with gestures of character and indication of story.

With apologies to Ms. Streep and Mr. Jones, I would like my eight dollars back.

“The Well Digger’s Daughter”

Daniel Auteuil’s film, “The Well Digger’s Daughter” is a small tapestry of love, family, and honor woven across class and generations.  Gelled pastoral images and muted passionate music illumine his steadfast choice of restrained intimacy in screenplay and direction.

Auteuil’s brilliance at self-direction and in his work with the other actors also shows restraint and economy of moment and expression.  What is left unsaid or understated carries more power than speech.  The crossing of a stream and then a brief ride on a motorcycle without dialogue or drama initiates the seduction of Patricia, the well digger’s daughter, by Jacques, the general store owner’s son.

Jacques and Patricia are prince and princess known and limited by what their parents do.  He is described as “a gentleman, but still kind.”  She is beautiful and is so loving that her father says with astonishment that he loves her as he would a son.

War and consequences separate the lovers, but it is losing and finding family and right relationship that sweeps through this film again and again, like the wind in country fields of Alpes Côte-Azur.

In many ways this is too beautiful a remake of the 1940 classic by Marcel Pagnol.  The harsh realities of class and survival are as muted as the lovely fields and operatic themes of the score.

Nevertheless, this is a more modest film in which you care about every character (seriously, every one) as they navigate their multiple selves and react to their own actions with surprise, “It isn’t me.”   Pascal, the honest well digger and widowed father of six daughters, seems to know who he is and what he honors.  So it is hard to imagine that he is surprised by his need to distrust those who “sell tools but never use them,” or that he might lose through pride what he knows he loves with his life.

The values portrayed and prized in this film, and needed today more than ever are reflected in Auteuil’s direction: the restraint of honor and the extravagant generosity of love.

Delicate performances by Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as Patricia and Kad Marad as the unrequited “clean and decent” well digging suitor Felipe bring small revelations with each turn.  And even though you can see the turns coming a long way down the road, you look forward to each one.

“Death of a Salesman” preview re-view February, 2012

From the silent weary entrance of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Willy Loman in the opening scene of Mike Nichol’s production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” it is clear that “attention must be paid” to the gravity and scale of one small life.

Miller’s play expresses and exposes the tragedies taking place throughout this country today.  The tragedies of promised dreams unfulfilled, tragedies of lives destroyed by flaws, denial, disappointment and lies.

My father, Walt, was a milkman at the moment that milk routes were deemed no longer profitable by the companies.  Instead of bearing the cost of the change, they sold the milk routes to the men as a promise of the American dream of owning their own business.  However, they also had to purchase the products from the company, while paying down additional debt to the company for the trucks, losing their benefits as newly self-employed, and working themselves beyond their strength in the inexorable march to bankruptcy.

Miller alludes to the changes named progress that leave workers behind, focusing instead on Willy’s confusion and delusion.  Willy prizes being well liked without perceiving how others perceive him.  He confuses the road with freedom.

I saw the play at a preview performance. The claustrophobia induced by the set, staging and the isolation of the unseen bedroom served the play well and echoed the play’s earlier set design.  The disconnect between Willy and Linda in this production from performance and direction, and the fact that Andrew Garfield had not yet found his way into the role of Biff, did not serve well.

A respectful revival —  but it was Hoffman’s sometimes subtle, sometimes lurching movements between big dreams and self-loathing, between reality shared and reality conjured that was deep and transfixing.  From his first entrance, all the Walt Lockwoods and Willy Lomans were represented.  His performance was speaking the truth of Miller’s text through the text to the issues and decades beyond it.

The Women on the 6th Floor (Les Femmes du 6e Étage)

You will laugh.   Life and love grow cracking walls between class and culture… just a bit.

In Philippe de Guay’s small comedy “Les Femme du 6e Étage” the curiosity of Jean-Louis (Fabrice Luchini), a wealthy broker living on first floor of the Paris building in which he grew up, leads him to venture… upstairs.

Jean-Louis and his wife (Sandrine Kiberlain) live lives of empty order sustained in small detail (a 3 1/2 minute- egg is the key to a successful day).  When they fire their devoted maid of twenty years without a second thought, a new maid, Maria (Natalia Berbeke), introduces Jean-Louis’ to the world of “The Women on the 6th Floor.”

Jean-Louis follows Maria upstairs to see where she lives.  With him we enter the passionate struggles and delights of a vibrant divergent community of Spanish maids.

Actresses Concha Galán, Bertha Ojea, and Nuria Solé brilliantly draw these women. The writing of Le Guay and Tonnerre could bring grimaces with lesser performances. Particularly unfortunate is an easy dismissal of the radical voice  of Carmen (Lola Dueñas).

Jean-Louis “discovers” oppressive living conditions long ignored and with gentle compassion and easy acts of kindness becomes the women’s patron saint while still the patrón.

It is a charming and funny film with a modest dose of truth.  It is worth tracking down.  You will get over the minor romantic “ick” factor with a smile.

How To Write a New Book for the Bible

“How to Write a New Book for the Bible” by Bill Cain opened at Berkeley Repertory Theatre last night.  I attended the play without knowing the plot or the playwright.  I was invited and intrigued, though made wary by the title. As a clergywoman I have learned to make an effort to avoid theatre pieces with “Bible” in the title.  This one is an exception.

The play brings to life (and stage) the journal of Billy, a priest and writer, exploring details in the life, deaths and functionality of his family of origin as he cares for his dying mother.

Beginning with “write what you know” Cain charges with humor and wisdom that autobiography is always mystery, fights are sacraments, rules provide security, and all writing is prayer.

Humor and keen observation bring characters to life.  And good performances, particularly the brilliant portrait of Billy’s mother, Mary, played by Linda Gehringer, make the play work.

His mother asks Billy not to make her look foolish in his writing.  He does not, nor does Cain.  He honors her writing and rewriting greeting cards, keeps her fully human and passionate, and documents her struggle and grace at death. He magnifies her vulnerability in all its particularity.

This play is as opportunity for fierce and funny conversations.

But it may well be painful to watch for those of us who come from families far more messy and messed up than this one.  Most families are closer to stories of terror in the Bible than to this particular family’s niceness.

My disappointment is that the play does not even go to the depths promised, depths described, not shown to the audience.  Morphine hallucinations, a journey to the Vietnam Memorial with his vet brother, and dialogue outside the apartment where his mother lived and died does not come close to the power suggested by the events.

What did move to depths of love and suffering and release were not the sermonic words or dialogue. The small physical movements between the words that soared. When his mother’s strength fails, her strain and surrender made most of the audience weep.

If we are invited to add a book to the Bible by writing our families’ stories, we need to dive deeper before surfacing, before ending the fight.