Movie Review: Gloria Bell

A long-time fan of Julianne Moore, I looked forward to seeing the Oscar-winning actress take on the role of a fifty-something divorcée who is still hopeful about finding love.

Ms. Moore does not disappoint.

She delivers an understated but effective performance as Gloria Bell, an insurance agent who struggles with work difficulties and an empty nest. A warm-hearted person, she acts as a listening post for her friends and colleagues and tries to connect with her adult children (Michael Cera and Cassi Thomson). She tends to give more than she receives.

Gloria loves to dance at her favorite bar, a ‘70s throwback disco. It took several minutes for me to realize that the story takes place in the present. Many of the scenes involve Gloria driving alone in her car, singing to hits from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. She appears nostalgic for a kinder, gentler era where she was happier and less alone.

One evening, Gloria catches the eye of Arnold, a recently divorced ex-military man who owns and operates a popular paintball range. They connect and begin a passionate romance. They even share a dinner with her children and her ex-husband (Brad Garrett). An uncomfortable situation for Arnold who suddenly takes flight.

As the storyline progresses, we learn that Arnold has boatloads of baggage. Hounded by his adult daughters, Arnold alternates between stalking Gloria and erecting emotional walls.

While Gloria carries her baggage with more grace, she is affected by her daughter’s unexpected pregnancy and move to Norway, her son’s estrangement from his wife, a loud upstairs neighbor with anger management issues, and a potentially troublesome health issue. On a more humorous note, a hairless cat mysteriously visits Gloria’s apartment on a regular basis.

Gloria and Arnold escape to Las Vegas for a weekend, hoping to rekindle their relationship. A frantic call from Arnold’s daughters puts an end to that fantasy. A series of plot twists—one especially bizarre—follows.

I had mixed feelings throughout the film. I enjoyed watching Ms. Moore embrace the nuances of Gloria Bell, and I have a particular fondness for the music, especially Laura Branigan’s “Gloria.” But there doesn’t appear to be much personal growth on Gloria’s part.

Part entertainment, part cautionary tale.


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Top 10 Favorite Movies

I’m happy to welcome Soul Mate author Barbara Nolan. Today, Barbara shares her favorite movies and debut novel, Beyond Paradise.

Here’s Barbara!

Here are my top 10 favorite movies and why they are my favorites:



Father of the Bride

Father of the Bride 2—Watch both of these with my daughters and we laugh in the same places—every time.

The Holiday—Definitely a movie about second acts.

White Christmas—Watched this holiday classic every year with my mother until she passed in 2018.

Miracle on 42nd Street—Another holiday classic that is so sweet and nostalgic.

The Great Escape—Had a huge crush on Steve McQueen. Even had his poster in my room as a teen.

West Side Story—The first play I ever saw on Broadway and of course loved the movie.

Jurassic Park—Love Jeff Goldblum’s understated humor.

Sand Pebbles—Again Steve McQueen.

Airport—Still remember seeing it for the first time on the big screen at Radio City in New York.

Blurb

Jonny Vallone, the dark, brooding owner of Manhattan nightclub, Beyond Paradise, doesn’t need any more complications in his life, or women. Then savvy con artist Cheryl Benson, barges into his office and spits out a confession that would make most men run for cover.

Cheryl’s fast-paced, out-of-control life is closing in, and her only hope against a ruthless crime boss is bad boy Jonny and his powerful connections. Her knight in black Brioni has a body made for sin with enough baggage to fill a 747, but when a near-fatal attack throws the two together, they implode in a night of steamy, sheet-gripping passion.

Jonny can’t resist the beautiful blonde with the pleading green eyes plus he has his own agenda with the underworld thug who owns a piece of his soul.

Their wild ride whisks them from the high-powered glitz of Manhattan to the sultry beaches of Miami in a desperate attempt to break free of their shady pasts while trying to tame their fiery passion and the dangerous deceptions swirling around them.

Excerpt

“I’ve got you.” He pushed a stray hair away from her face and kissed her, wanting to taste more of her, be part of her, sink into her sweetness and make all her fears go away.

His eager hands roamed up her back. A decent man would’ve paced himself, given her space, but he’d never been a decent man when desire overwhelmed him. He nipped his way down her slender neck, loving the feel of her skin against his lips. He knew what he wanted. He’d wanted it ever since he’d seen her at the Oasis.

He fumbled with the hem of her T-shirt, and she covered his hand with hers.

“You want me to stop?” His words caught between a sigh and a gasp.

She pushed his hands away, tugged her shirt over her head and flung it onto the couch.

For one tantalizing second her eyes dared him with desires as overpowering and primal as his. Standing, he snatched her hand, jerked her up, and pulled her toward the bedroom, nudged the door open with his foot, then kicked it closed.

A heat boiled in the pit of his stomach and shot through his veins, melting him from the inside out. One part of him wanted to take time and explore every inch of her, while the part that controlled him wanted to tumble her to the bed.

“This isn’t a game.” He meant it as a warning, but the lust in his voice made it sound more like a challenge.

“I know.” She gasped as he snaked his hands around her waist. “‘Cause games have rules.”

buynow

Bio

Barbara Nolan has enjoyed writing most of her life. She became serious about her craft over the last five years.

Coming a bit late to the game, Barbara made up for lost time by acquiring her Certificate in Creative Writing from NYU and devouring any and all webinars and online courses available.

She’s also had the help and influence of many talented professors and editors along the way.

Her passion for reading and words, in general, make this a journey of love. There is nothing she would rather be doing than reading or sitting at the computer writing and editing.

She considers reading a luxury and writing a necessity.

Where to find Barbara…

Website | Amazon | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram | BookBub | Facebook

Movie Review: Five Feet Apart

A romantic drama, Five Feet Apart follows two teens with cystic fibrosis—Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) and Will Newman (Cole Sprause)—as they deal with a budding but forbidden relationship.

CF patients must maintain at least six feet of distance to reduce any risk of cross-infection, a rule strictly upheld by Nurse Barbara (Kimberly Hebert Grégory) and the hospital staff.

A determined rule follower, Stella has organized her life around her treatments and harbors the hope that she will someday receive a lung transplant. Cynical Will, on the other hand, likes to flaunt the rules and take risks.

Stella initially dislikes Will and admonishes him to follow his prescribed regimen. In exchange for sketching her, Will agrees to take more responsibility for his treatments.

As they grow closer, Stella decides to bend the hospital rule and “take one foot back.” Using a billiards cue, she keeps five feet away from Will during their encounters and secret dates.

The storyline is an engaging one, with many tender and bittersweet moments. My favorites include the scavenger hunt that Stella sets up for Will, the surprise dinner party hosted by best friend Poe (Moises Arias), and the sharing of their scars.

Intertwined are the crushing blows that many CF patients and their families must endure: the sudden death of a close friend and ally (Poe), the realization that a drug trial isn’t working (Will), and the final parting of the ways.

Bring lots of tissue and prepare yourself for an emotional rollercoaster.


Movie Review: Captain Marvel

Oscar winner Brie Larson delivers a stellar performance as Vers aka Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel, expertly balancing the superheroine’s spectacular powers with her humanity. In a recent interview, Larson spoke about the nine months of preparation for the role. In addition to learning judo, boxing, and wrestling, Larson also met with active duty airmen.

Surrounded by male fighters, Vers gives as good as she gets and then some. But more importantly, she demonstrates resilience: repeatedly falling and then rising again. A role model for women of all ages!

When the film opens, we learn that Vers struggles to remember her past. For six years, she has lived on the planet Hala as a Kree warrior, fighting green aliens called Skrulls across the universe. Flashes of memories reveal a young child berated by her father, a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, and camaraderie with other women.

One woman dominates many of her nightmares: Supreme Intelligence aka Mar-Vell aka Dr. Wendy Lawson. Annette Bening elevates this supporting role, delighting us with her voice and superb acting skills.

Jude Law delivers an excellent performance as Yon-Rogg, the Kree leader who acts as Vers’ mentor. Concerned about the memory flashes, he belittles their importance and accuses Vers of being too emotional. His advice stings: “Think with your head, not your heart.” “Your feelings will betray you.”

The narrative escalates when Vers crash-lands through the roof of a Blockbuster Video store in Los Angeles and meets with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson (Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg). An unlikely friendship develops between Vers and Fury as they attempt to track down remnants of Carol Danvers’ life on Earth.

In the second half of the film, Vers appears less wooden as her sense of humor emerges. When she reconnects with old friend and fellow Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), she relaxes and reminisces about their shared past.

Akira Akbar delivers an inspiring performance as Monica (Maria’s pre-teen daughter). I also enjoyed the antics of Goose, the scene-stealing cat who pops up in the most unexpected places and displays a unique talent.

A must-see film that will delight both old and new fans of the Marvel series.


Movie Review: Roma

Set in the middle-class neighborhood of Roma in Mexico City, this film centers on Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a young domestic worker who assumes the roles of maid and nanny in a hectic household, much like the one that director Alfonso Cuarón grew up in.

Roma has been described as Cuarón’s love letter to Libo Rodríguez, his childhood nanny. The film is dedicated to Libo.

Cleo’s affection for the four boisterous children is evident throughout the film. She nuzzles them awake, lends an interested and sympathetic ear, and sings them to sleep. And somehow she also finds the time to do laundry, tidy the rooms, help fellow maid Adela (Nancy Garcia Garcia) with the cooking, carry luggage, and clean the alleyway where the family dog (Borras) runs loose and defecates.

The four children adore Cleo; in particular, the youngest child Pepe (Marco Graf), who has an active imagination. Possibly a stand-in for Cuarón?

The adults in the household are more restrained, conscious of the socioeconomic differences that exist. While they are fond of Cleo, they also take her for granted. She is both an insider and an outsider. But when Cleo discovers she is pregnant and alone, her employer Sofia (Marina de Tavira) sympathizes and arranges for health care.

Sofia’s marriage to Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) is also unraveling. Restless and unhappy, Antonio leaves his family, claiming to participate in a research project in Quebec. Later, we learn that he has moved into another woman’s house in Mexico City. In one poignant scene, Sofia asks her children to write letters to their father, asking him to return.

Humor is found in the most unexpected places. Both Sofia and Antonio lack the skills to properly navigate their enormous Ford Galaxy. They manage to scrape the sides of the car in their own alleyway and, in another case, involve two other vehicles on a busy street. In a later scene, a group of exercise fanatics struggle to stand on one leg.

Alfonso Cuarón wrote, produced, directed, and shot this film. His passion and attention to detail are evident in each scene. Everything from the haircuts to the clothes to the furniture to the cars to the Mexico World Cup 1970 poster has been selected with care.

Filming in black-and-white adds to the authenticity. I could easily imagine myself walking down those busy streets in Mexico City. As for the violent scenes…they appear even more real. Cuarón has included a dramatization of an actual historical event, the Corpus Christi Massacre of 1971, in which soldiers gunned down protestors and pursued them into their hiding places.

Having already received Golden Globes for Best Director and Best Motion Picture—Foreign Language, Roma is a major contender this awards season. As for the Oscars…I predict another Best Director award along with Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Film.


Movie Review: Green Book

Simply riveting.

Writer/director Peter Farrell has succeeded in weaving humor, tenderness, and righteous indignation into this dramatic tale based on the real-life experiences of Tony Vallelonga aka Tony Lip and Dr. Don Shirley.

Tony Lip, a bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx, is hired to drive Dr. Don Shirley, a Black classical pianist, from Manhattan to the Deep South. Normally, a road trip that could be described as pleasant, this particular journey is fraught with danger.

In the early 1960s, segregation was still very evident, especially in the Southern states. To survive and thrive, Tony and Dr. Shirley must rely on “The Green Book” to guide them to “safe” establishments for African-Americans.

At the start of the film, Dr. Shirley struggles to establish boundaries while Tony talks non-stop and displays a ferocious appetite that must be constantly satisfied. When Dr. Shirley asks for quiet time, Tony pauses momentarily and then launches into another monologue. The two men are polar opposites who would never have connected under normal circumstances.

Meal times bring out their differences. One of my favorite scenes involves Tony’s delight at discovering Kentucky Fried Chicken in the state of Kentucky. At first revolted by the food, Dr. Shirley slowly acquires a taste for it and then follows Tony’s example, tossing the bones out the car window.

Over the eight-week trip, a friendship develops between the brash, extroverted bouncer who is well-grounded in his life and the lonely musician who is still searching to find himself. At one point in the film, Dr. Shirley laments: “If I’m not black enough and I’m not white enough; what am I?”

Racist attitudes intensify as the duo travels into hostile territory, where the laws vary from state to state. In one city, Dr. Shirley is not allowed to eat in the hall dining room filled with patrons who had paid to watch his performance later in the evening. A clerk in an upscale establishment would not allow Dr. Shirley to try on a suit he planned to buy.

I was unnerved by one scene where Dr. Shirley ventures out on his own and ends up in a precarious situation, involving another white man and two policemen. Tony intervenes and persuades the officers to release Dr. Shirley. The following day, Tony reassures Dr. Shirley: “I know it’s a complicated world.”

Mahershala Ali delivers a superb performance as Dr. Shirley. Having already won Best Supporting Actor awards at the Golden Globes and SAG ceremonies, he is a shoo-in for the Oscar.

Viggo Mortensen’s portrayal of the tough, uncouth bouncer is spot-on. He has mastered all the nuances of the character and provides much of the comedic relief. He has received three Best Actor nominations: Golden Globes, SAG, and Oscar.

Photos of the actual men in the closing credits add to the authenticity of this larger-than-life film. Their friendship lasted until their deaths in 2013; Dr. Shirley and Tony Vallelonga died within months of each other.

An extraordinary film that will linger in consciousness.


Movie Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

So much to like in this adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel: superb performances, hauntingly beautiful music, and extraordinary cinematography.

The young lovers, Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), are filled with hope and optimism as they dream of a future together. The opening scene where they stroll by the river captures the tenderness and authenticity of that love. Unfortunately, their plans are derailed when a racist policemen with a grudge falsely accuses Fonny of raping a woman who has fled the country.

Using a non-linear timeline, writer-director Barry Jenkins succeeds in capturing the emotional intensity of the storyline set in early-1970s Harlem. The well-crafted scenes follow a seamless order, one determined by the thoughts and feelings of naive, nineteen-year-old Tish, the narrator of the film, as she awaits Fonny’s trial and the birth of their child.

One of the most powerful scenes involves a meeting between the two families. After hearing the news of the upcoming pregnancy, Fonny’s Bible-thumping mother and judgmental sister lash out at Tish. Horrified, Tish’s mother (expertly played by Regina King) defends her daughter as she calls out the hypocrisy of the women.

It is not surprising that King has already received a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. She dominates all her scenes, displaying the intensity of a mother’s love for her child and grandchild. When she travels to Puerto Rico to confront Fonny’s accuser, she digs deep and uses all the inner resources she possesses.

I particularly enjoyed the extended long takes: Tish and Fonny talking through a thick pane of glass at the prison, cigarette smoke forming a sculpture as Fonny carves his own work, Tisha and Fonny exchanging soulful glances in close-ups.

A timeless romance, but also a family drama and social commentary of the period.

A must-see film!