Category Archives: dfw

Review: ‘Young Plato’

We all have that one teacher that stands out as a guiding figure in our formative years, whether they served as an emotional crutch or a source of newfound knowledge and inspiration. Now imagine that person having to navigate the lives of young boys in Northern Ireland and reconcile that land’s troubled history of violence.

That’s the situation Declan McGrath and Neasa Ni Chianain’s documentary Young Plato situates itself within. For the young boys of Holy Cross, it’s probably disconcerting having a camera follow them around and film their most emotional moments, but it’s a film that excels not only as a straight forward document of a particular place and time, but as a sensitive exploration of the humane teacher-student relationship. In the swath of recent news stories of teachers striking due to poor working conditions or the deplorable fights over recent facial mask regulations, Young Plato strikes at the core of the educational relationship. Empathy, patience, understanding, and discipline. At times, it feels like we’ve lost the ability to extend any of these, so it’s refreshing to see a film that honors these attributes.

Centering on two figures at Holy Cross in 2019 and 2020- philosophy teacher Kevin McArevey and administrator Jan Marie Reel- Young Plato shows these two to be real saints. I doubt they’re faking it for the camera. Anyone like Kevin who genuinely likes Elvis Presley’s music (right down to his phone’s ringtone) is incapable of falsehoods. Likewise, Jan-Marie is often seen as the therapist for certain boys when they’re having pretty terrible days. Her interactions with one student in particular range from understanding to gentle in a matter of seconds as the young boy lights up about his baby sister. It’s these moments that prove the film is coming from a sincere place and could never be scripted.

Outside of the small outbursts or various fights- the most memorable being between two boys who are cousins and, like the violent divide of the area’s past, seem to flare up for no reason other than they can fight- Young Plato exists as an observer to a year in the life of this school. Snatches of videos in the year 2001 are shown as young children are being led into the school while gunshots and vicious taunts are being hurled at them. The boys are asked to reflect on what they’ve seen. Larger portions of the film are given to McArevey as he teaches a philosophy class where the boys are asked to talk about the morals around being hit and their thoughts about whether to fight back or not. It soon becomes clear Young Plato is a document on the perpetuation of violence. Hopefully, this generation will be the one to break it.

Filmed in the handheld style that’s colored the genre for decades, Young Plato is a wonderful documentary that not only makes us care about the students, but the institution of education as a whole. Like Frederick Wiseman’s brilliant and affecting Deaf and Multi-Handicapped (both 1986) and Nicolas Philibert’s To Be and to Have (2002), Young Plato makes us believe children truly are our better angels.

Young Plato opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday September 30th at the Dallas and Plano Angelika locations.

Review: ‘The Good House,’ We All Want to Live There

Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline star in a sobering account of one woman’s reckoning. 

By and large, character portraits of older adults have decamped from movie theaters, heading for the friendlier confines of streaming services, where the presumed “target audience” will settle in for a comfortable evening at home, watching stars of yesteryear in movies that can be easily paused, whenever desired. 

More’s the pity, and all the more reason why a film such as The Good House should be valued for what it is: a calm, low-key, charming, and utterly compelling story of a complicated woman. Hildy Good, a realtor who has long lived in the suburbs north of Boston, Massachusetts, certainly appears to be a well-heeled, yet down-to-earth professional person. 

Sure, she has problems, primarily the burden of still providing financial support to her two adult daughters, as well as paying alimony to her ex-husband, Scott (David Rasche), who revealed he was gay after 20 years of marriage and now lives in town with his partner. None of them are desperate, per se, but they have become accustomed to Hildy’s support. 

Eight months before the film begins, however, Hildy finally accepted her family’s insistence that she get help for her alcoholism. Though she is ostensibly recovered, and professes to one and all of her family that she no longer drinks, in reality, she still drinks wine daily, even excusing herself to the point that she occasionally drinks and drives. 

Sigourney Weaver makes Hildy an entirely likable person, which in large part is why she is able to keep up her masquerade of sobriety for so long. She appears be dealing with her problems in an open and honest manner, but she is not, and continually justifies her actions to herself, which she speaks openly to the camera, constantly breaking the fourth wall. 

Longtime partners Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarksky wrote the screenplay with Thomas Bezucha, adapting Ann Leary’s same-titled novel, first published in 2013, and they create an environment that is constantly filled with light, so that the audience can get easily carried away by Weaver’s likable personality as Hildy Good. Throughout, it’s easy to wonder: why is she drinking so often? Where are her demons? Could she or other people be exagerrating  her social drinking? What’s the big deal? 

And that, of course, is the problem for addicts. To the addict, it can be monstrously difficult to see how their addiction may be affecting other people, and incredibly difficult to see how it affects themselves, on an individual level. 

The Good House sometimes strays into mawkish territory, sometimes stumbling as it attempt to deliver a measured message thast doesn’t come across as preachy or heavy handed. Sigourney Weaver glides thorough the proceedings with such practiced ease that it’s nearly impossible to contemplate that she is portraying an addict who desperately needs help. 

She is surrounded by seasoned professionals, such as Kevin Kline, Morena Baccarin and Rob Delaney, who are equally at ease in gliding between lightly comic and darkly dramatic material. The cast is well dotted with other familiar faces, such as Kathryn Erbe, Beverly D’Angelo, and Paul Guilfoyle, who add to the film’s sturdy bearing as it sails through occasionally troubled waters. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on September 30, via Roadside Attractions. For more information about the film, visit the official site

Review: ‘Uncharted,’ Trapped in a Video Game

Do not miss the opening scene, especially if you risked your life during a global pandemic to see this movie on the biggest screen possible. (On IMAX it looks truly phenomenal!)

The movie proper begins after the in media res opening scene and a flashback, which sounds like a long way to travel, simply to start a mindless movie based on a video game, but it sets up the sequence of events to follow and succeeds in making one anxious to watch the next action scene, whatever it might be, because it promises to relieve the tedium of sitting through yet another narrative exposition, which really doesn’t matter anyway, since this movie is all about the action scenes. 

Did I mention it’s based on a best-selling series of video games? 

I’ve never played any of the games in question, which began with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, released in 2007. Per Wikipedia: “The main series of games follows Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter who travels across the world to uncover various historical mysteries.” 

Well, that’s basically the plot of Uncharted, the live-action movie, directed by Ruben Fleischer, known especially for good-hearted comedies, starting with Zombieland (2009) and the extremely zippy, if less-heralded 30 Minutes or Less (2011), followed most recently by the larger-scale action pictures Venom (2018) and Zombieland: Double Tap (2019), which both played down to lowered expectations. 

Displaying lovely busy backgrounds in an artificially-enhanced atmosphere that doesn’t feel like the world in which we currently live, Uncharted follows Nate Drake (Tom Holland), a big-city bartender who makes a modest living, boosted by his earnings as an expert pickpocket. One night, Sully (Mark Wahlberg) enters his life, offering the Kid an opportunity to join him on a mission to hunt down the greatest treasure ever known. (The movie is not short on a steady supply of self-applied superlatives.) 

Sully also teases the possibility that he knows what happened to Nate’s beloved older brother, who disappeared some 15 years before. (Watch the early flashback for pertinent story details.) With that possibility in mind, Nate agrees to join Sully, but first an adversary or two needs to be introduced, along with another friendly collaborator who cannot be trusted.  

Tati Gabrielle adroitly portrays Braddock, a sleek, mysterious and deadly figure; Antonio Banderas plays Santiago Moncada, an heir to a fortune who speaks Spanish, which makes him immediately suspect; and Sophia Allie embodies the winsome Chloe Frazer, whose true motives remain unknown, yet highly suspicious. 

Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg manifest their charming, friendly, and winning personalities as though they were on the longest red carpet in the world, which makes their constant, occasionally amusing banter the rightful center of the wildly uneven action adventure. 

In the screenplay, which is credited to Rafe Judkins (the recent Prime Video series The Wheel of Time) and the team of Art Macum and Matt Holloway, who also produced, and are known for writing Transformers: The Last Knight and Men in Black: International, Uncharted doesn’t explore new territory so much as it reimagines a modern adventure movie. The film is quite open in its unspoken admiration for the great action classics that have come before, and even proudly name-checks one. 

Its focus, though, is on imagining ever more outlandish and outrageously elaborate action sequences. Slender as it is, the slender plot-line is only intended to connect, somehow, the dashing, incredibly involved, daring-if-they-were-real sequences, which are deliriously unrealistic and unmoored to any sort of recognizable human reality. 

The plot holes are big enough to hurl a flying pirate ship through, with room to spare for anything else your heart might desire to see on a big, big movie screen. The more, the merrier. 

The film opens Friday, February 18, only in movie theaters, via Sony. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Belfast,’ Snapshots That Resonate 

Where did you grow up? Do you still live in your hometown? 

Many were born in this area and have never left. Others of us, including myself, moved here from other parts of the country, while still others fled unsafe regions of the world and have settled in North Texas. Whatever the case, we probably all still yearn to experience fond memories from our youth, to recall and reminisce. From my own experience, this is especially true as we grow older. 

Filmmaker Kenneth Branagh, rapidly approaching 61 years of age, has now turned his attention to his own youth. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he and his family fled to greener, safer pastures as ‘The Troubles’ in his native land reached a boiling point in 1969. 

Framed as a tribute, his latest film, Belfast, presents its story from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy in that tumultuous year. The beguiling Buddy (Jude Hill) happily wanders through his neighborhood on his way home; everyone knows everyone else in the tight-knit community, and shares similar values. 

Or so it would seem, except that The Troubles quickly come home and Buddy’s world is sent spinning. 

As a filmmaker, Kenneth Branagh has built a reputation based on his screen adaptations of stage plays by Shakespeare (Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Love’s Labour’s Lost, As You Like It) or influenced by Shakespeare (A Midwinter’s Tale, All Is True), as well as plays and novels by other writers (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Sleuth, Murder on the Orient Express). His productions for major studios (Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Cinderella, Artemis Fowl) reflect the work of a journeyman, rather than an auteur. 

Shot by cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, who has been working with Branagh since Sleuth, and presented in black and white, Belfast marks a fitting departure in style for the filmmaker, calling to mind some of his earlier films in the 1990s. By making a young boy the protagonist, and capturing the narrative from his perspective, Branagh allows the viewer’s knowledge and general assumptions about the period to fill in any blanks. Anything that is left vague and imprecise can be safely attributed to Buddy’s youth. 

From his vantage point, it’s easier to soak in the churning and chaotic atmosphere that is all that the boy has known all his life. It only becomes more important to him when he realizes that his older brother Will (Lewis McAskie) and his parents (Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan), referred to only as Ma and Pa, are quite rightly anxious and concerned about the effect that The Troubles are having upon their children. 

Meanwhile, Buddy enjoys spending time with his loving grandparents (Judi Dench, Ciaran Hinds) and his cousins. It’s all fun and games until someone gets a body part blown off, so to speak, prompting Buddy to snap to attention and come to the recognition that somehow, in some way, his entire world is about to shift on its axis. 

Until that point arrives, Belfast is a marvelously-accomplished, resonant snapshot of a moment in time that is gone forever, but not forgotten. Every immigrant will see something of themselves in the story. I imagine every native who has never left will see something familiar too. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, November 12, via Focus Features. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘The Boss Baby: Family Business,’ Teachers and Students

Designed and built strictly for family audiences, The Boss Baby: Family Business pumps out a steady stream of jokes, wisecracks, and cultural references in a boldly frank endeavor to appeal to both parents and their pre-teen children (but no real-life babies). 

The sequel to The Boss Baby (2017) requires absolutely no knowledge of the first film, since the premise remains the same: babies are far more intelligent that their parents will ever know. The sequel reheats the same tropes as before, while obeying a surefire rule for all subsequent installments of films that earn a multiple returns on the studio’s investment: add even more characters, doing the same kind of thing. 

The titular baby was introduced originally as the younger, infant, suit-wearing brother of putative hero Tim. Subsequently it was revealed that he had an adult mind, thanks to a secret formula that enabled him to serve as a secret agent for a mysterious company. 

Tweaking the premise a bit, the sequel finds Tim (James Marsden) and Ted (Alec Baldwin) all grown up and living separate and very different lives. Tim is married to Carol (Eva Longoria) and a stay-at-home dad to two daughters, Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt) and her baby sister Tina (Amy Sedaris), while Ted is a fabulously successful single businessman. 

An inciting incident brings Ted home to help out Tim, where they both discover that Tina is actually the new Boss Baby with a fresh new mission to go undercover and investigate a suspicious school started by Dr. Armstrong (Jeff Goldblum). That’s also where Tabitha already attends, and so Tim is eager to help out, hoping that he can learn why Tabitha has been drawing away from him recently, even after Tina explains that he will need to drink a new secret formulate that de-ages him into childhood. 

Returning screenwriter Michael McCullers wrote the first film, adapted from a book by Marla Frazee, and his style of witticisms is clever and rapid-fire, as he demonstrated in his past. He is a Saturday Night Live veteran from the late 90s and has been writing live-action comedies like the Austin Powers movies and animated films starting with The Boss Baby. His script meshes well with the visual style developed by director Tom McGrath over the years in films such as Madagascar and Megamind and their sequels. 

From its opening frames,  The Boss Baby: Family Business never pretends to flesh out anything resembling real life. That’s not its intention. Instead, it wants to teach good solid family lessons, stretching that here to encompass good reminders for adults. 

With its plethora of jokes and snappy pace, the film avoids the “sag” that is common to sequels, even though it spends a considerable amount of time on elaborate action sequences that don’t necessarily add to the story at all. It doesn’t present anything new or unexpected, but it does supplies a thirsty audience with a few cups of water on a parched day. That’s not bad at all. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on July 2. It will also be available to stream on Peacock. For more information about the film, visit the official site

Review: ‘The Courier,’ Neck on the Line

Benedict Cumberbatch stars in the titular role of a real-life suspense drama that explores the Cuban Missile Crisis from a fresh perspective. 

Stern and tight-necked people abound in The Courier, and no wonder! Heightening tensions between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in 1960 threatened to erupt into another world war, one that might end everything, due to the proliferation of nuclear weapons on both sides of the conflict. 

Everyone was worried, which can clearly be seen in the popular culture of the day, yet no one could do anything much about it. Well, that’s not quite right. World leaders could do something about it, if they ever stopped rattling their own sabers, and so could ordinary people, if they happened to be in the right place at the right time and manifested a degree of bravery. 

Originally titled Ironbark, the code name assumed by a high-level government official in the Soviet Union, The Courier explores what happened when an “ordinary businessman” accepted a request from two spies in plainclothes to get involved in helping a Soviet informant funnel information he obtained to the West. 

Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), a soldier who rose to become a high-ranking official, has become concerned by his government’s actions, and so gets word to the U.S. embassy that he wants to defect to the West. First, though, he is willing to spy on the Soviet Union’s plans to seed Cuba with military equipment and missiles. The U.S., in the person of C.I.A. agent Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) seeks the assistance of the U.K., in the person of MI6 agent Dickie Franks (Angus Wright), to contact Oleg. To avoid possible detection, she suggests that an ordinary businessman be found who could more easily travel to Moscow without arousing undue suspicion from Soviet agents.

Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is a rather dull salesman for various manufacturing companies in Britain, accepts the request, though the details are kept secret from him. He’s a family man, married with a child, and is understandably concerned about the possible consequences. 

Still, Greville makes contact with Oleg, and the two form a friendship that is initially wary and then becomes increasingly warm. Oleg, too, is happily married and has a child. Both men keep their activities a secret from their families and Greville remains innocent of any knowledge about the sealed packages that Oleg passes along to him to transport to the West. Things heat up around them as relations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. become frayed and tensions reach the boiling point, but it’s not so easy for either man to withdraw from this particular relationship. 

Handsomely mounted and impeccably acted, The Courier percolates quite pleasantly in suspense for much of its running time before boiling over into perhaps inevitable melodrama, given that this is based on a true story. Even so, it’s quite a compelling story to watch unfold, and Benedict Cumberbatch has become a marvelous ‘reactor’ to the events around him. His facial expressions and body language are jolted, almost in slow motion, as the full force begins to press upon him, and we can feel nothing but empathy for his character, who was only trying to do the right thing. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on March 19, 2021, via Roadside Attractions. For more information about the film, visit the official site