Wonder Woman is Wonderful

“Wonder Woman” is, well, a wonder.  It’s a wonder that it took the DC Comics franchise so long to offer its fans this flesh and blood superhero in a starring role.   Warner Brothers has discovered that this wonderful woman has attracted an audience of both genders, perhaps because she appeals to the machismo and feminine sides that reside together in all of our psyches.  Apart from the usual action film message of action for action’s sake, there is also a nobler idea presented in this film:  that war is not good and that maybe women have a more simplistic sense of how to dismantle it than do men.  Perhaps because this film is directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins, the secondary message of non-violence comes across as a dominant theme.  Yet, as with any action movie, there is the striking juxtaposition of good versus evil with a violent war as background for this film.

The film starts with a cherubic little 5 or 6 year-old Diana (Lilly Aspell) gleefully running away from her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson) to watch the Amazonian warrior women in training under their general Antiope (Robin Wright) who is also the Queen’s sister.  From her imitating jabs and antics on the sidelines, it is clear that Diana is taken with these warrior women. Her mother, however, envisions a life of enduring peace since the island they live on is hidden away, presumably by a spell cast by the Greek god Zeus, and she sees no reason for her daughter to learn martial arts – we’re talking bows and arrows and swords and shields – clearly the trappings of an earlier age.

Antiope prevails as she sees potential in Diana as a warrior, and she is also aware that Diana is no mere mortal.  Through hard physical lessons and relentless training, Diana (Gal Gadot), now magnificently mature and talented, becomes a fearsome warrior.  In a parallel universe, World War I is being waged – apparently not far from the Amazonian paradise.  Through some chink in the armor that protects the island, an Allied pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his flaming biplane into the sea, just as Diana is standing watch from a cliff.  Diana saves him, but he soon drags the perverse outside world with him as boatloads of Germans rush onto the island shores.  In many respects the guns of the Germans are no match for the warrior women’s bows and arrows, but the women prevail.

Believing that all war is caused by the evil god of war Ares (who escaped the hand of Zeus and made his way into the world of men), Diana asks Steve to take her to the war – presumably the western front.  Diana believes that she can take the magical “god killer” sword with her, plunge it into the heart of Ares, and end war – not just this war but all wars.

Before arriving at the front, there is a humorous scene of Diana trying on western garb which makes for difficult martial arts maneuvering.  There is also a delightful scene of Diana (a woman, heaven forbid) entering the House of Lords where the factions are debating the possibility of continuing the war or declaring an armistice.  What makes the movie so engaging is Diana’s naivety when it comes to the ways of the modern world.  She is both flabbergasted and amused at the complexity of it all because everything is, to her point of view, rather straight forward.  In fact, this is precisely how she faces the war when she finally gets to the front.  She charges right into battle, into the oncoming fire power of machine guns, with nothing more than her shield, sword and the magical armored bracelets.  The Allies fall in behind her and it seems that peace will prevail.

But there are sinister plots in the making, and the Germans continue to develop a poisonous gas that will quickly wipe out whole villages of innocent citizens.  German commander Ludendorff (Danny Huston) encourages the evil German scientist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) to perfect the gas, and it is soon ready to be transported by plane to an unsuspecting world.

It is easy to pan the stereotyped characters of the bad guys; and for some audiences, the ultimate final airborne battle between Diana and Ares, who has assumed the persona of an ordinary human, may be a bit too much fireworks.  But we knew all along that Wonder Woman would prevail amid the explosions and pandemonium – which is one of the many reasons we came to see this movie.  Still, this is a giant step forward for women in superhero starring roles, and I hope it is the beginning of many.

The photography in this film is magnificent.  The sets and costumes totally capture and lend authenticity to the period of World War I London.  The acting on the part of the Amazon women is engaging and energetic.  The interaction between the young slightly irascible aviator Stephen and the thoroughly schooled but naïve Diana is priceless.  It all makes for a fun movie experience.

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THE LOVERS – Sex among the 60’s+

Lovers movie poster

It’s been days since I viewed “The Lovers” and I’m still not sure what to make of it.  It feels like a low budget Indie film, which it is, and debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival last year.  It is not much on dialogue, with lots of pregnant spaces instead of conversation, since the marrieds (Debora Winger and Tracy Letts) have little to say to each other after 25 years of a disappointing marriage.  At its core, the film is about infidelity, since both parties are having affairs with younger people, and each is planning to spring the news on his/her spouse in the very near future.

Infidelity is not a new subject, but in the form of sixty-something year olds with pot bellies, wrinkles, and sagging everything, it comes across as amusing when the scenes turn to sex (as they often do).  Mary and Michael have both resolved themselves to a life of less than mediocrity.  Both seem to have unfulfilling jobs where they can get away with showing up late for work, taking long lunches for trysts with their lovers, and arriving at work looking like they were just mugged in the parking lot.

To make matters worse, they have not upped their standards in the lovers they have chosen; and both have promised they will be moving in as soon as they can spring the news on their spouse, and, by the way, on their collegiate son Joel (Tyler Ross).  A car buff I once knew cynically called marrying a paramour as “trading a leak for a squeak.”  That is surely the case in these proposed re-unions.

Michael’s paramour Lucy (Melora Walters) is a middle-aged dancer who is petulant, vindictive, highly emotional and totally self-absorbed.  Although we wonder what Michael sees in Lucy, we know from innuendo that this is not Michael’s first trip to the dark side.  We can wonder what Lucy sees in Michael who is hardly a knight in shining armor as he struts around in his shorts with his stomach taking the lead.  However, to his credit, Michael is both charming and disarming – causing one to think he may have been quite a success if he had pursued a career in sales.

On the other hand, Mary’s lover Robert (Aidan Gillen) is no prize either.  Also, self-absorbed, he is a one-time writer of sorts who has apparently gone dry and seems to have nothing to do but chain smoke and lie in wait for Mary to break from work.  With no evident means of support, he lives in a tiny apartment drafting prose that literally puts Mary to sleep.  As for Mary, who always looks like she misplaced her hairbrush and slept in her clothes, she comes alive when she is with Robert, but after the boredom of her married life, who can blame her?   Truth is, we don’t blame any of them for their current situation.  As all parties anticipate the great split and even greater union to come, we can only imagine the fire/frying pan adage.

As if the situation were not already zany, the zinger that turns this dark comedic movie even darker is that Mary and Michael suddenly rediscover each other as sexual beings.  After long years of non-communication, they are strangers to each other.  It is the newness of discovering the stranger in each that pulls the couple together sexually, and each ponders what this can mean for the other lovers and their futures.  It also baffles son Joel when he sees his parents acting in a loving way toward each other.  It seems to invalidate all he has observed over the years and what he has promised his girlfriend Erin (Jessica Sula) that she will find.

The acting is superb on the parts of the entire cast.  With so much silence that hangs between Winger and Letts, they must rely on facial expressions and body language to communicate to the audience.  This is no easy task.  Further, their expressions and actions are the focus of high humor as we look at the ridiculousness of the whole situation.  If lies and deceit were the stuff of stars, this would be a five-star movie.  It is well worth seeing for its fine cast and provocative thought.

 

Alien Covenant – Same Old-Same Old

Alien: Covenant | Teaser Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX  David the Humanoid

I love a scary movie.  It doesn’t matter if the element of terror springs from a person (“Psycho”), a fish (“Jaws”), an act of nature (“The Perfect Storm”), a creature from outer space (“Alien” 1979), or the arrogance of man (“Titanic”).  It is fun to peek through the cracks of my fingers, let out a shriek of surprise, try to warn the reckless actor on screen not to go down the cellar steps (or into the attic).  It’s the element of surprise that creates the adventure.  On the other hand, I cannot imagine anything scary about seeing a “Psycho 2” or “Titanic 2”.  We already know the dangers.  “Jurassic Park” was not scarier the second time around, nor was “Jaws 2”.  So why did I think that “Alien Covenant” (“Alien 6”) might scare and surprise me?

Not only did it not scare and surprise me, it was only marginally entertaining, which is agonizing when the film is more than two hours long.  In my mind, Director Ridley Scott has played this hand once too often.  We are talking about the same slimy creatures with big heads, skinny limbs and a terrific set of teeth and who explode from your insides or latch onto your face before their young explode from your insides.  It’s just the trappings that are different, and the cast.

Actually, the film opens with a fascinating vignette recalling the creation of the humanoid (robot) David (Michael Fassbender).  The sleek starkness of the interior space and distant landscape is visually beautiful and engaging.  In fact, the photography and the sets throughout the film are wonderful.   So I was really looking forward to the rest of the film.

We next find ourselves in the year 2104 on the mothership Covenant as it makes its way through time and space carrying 2,000 colonists who are sleeping through their journey to a new world which is still many years away.  David is part of the crew – most of whom are also sleeping through the journey.  An unexpected astral disturbance abruptly awakens the sleeping crew and the adventure begins.  Following the untimely death of the captain, a very uncertain Oram (Billy Crudup) is suddenly catapulted into captaining the ship.  I found myself hoping for his untimely demise; his character is so spineless.

When the ship picks up a rogue signal from space, before we have a chance to stop him, Oram leads a squad to investigate an unknown planet producing the signal.  Unfortunately, there is a violent space storm underway, as well as a blinding rain storm on this new planet, so the mothership has to remain out some distance while the witless squad descends to the unknown in an explorer.  Some squad members are quickly infiltrated by morphing spores which enter their bodies through ear and nostril.  We surely know what will happen to these unsuspecting explorers.  In the meantime, they are all pursued by giant-headed slimy creatures and are saved only by a mysterious cloaked and hooded stranger who leads them to safety.

Frankly, I thought the next part was the most engaging part of the movie.  The trip to safety takes them through a sea of blackened and burned humanity and into a mysterious mausoleum/temple.  The stranger turns out to be Walter, an earlier humanoid model like David, the sole survivor of an earlier exploration party, all of whom were presumed to be dead by the rest of humanity.  Actually, both David and Walter are played by Michael Fassbender.   But where David is altruistic and seeks to serve his human betters, Walter is cunningly treacherous and his loyalties lie with the slimy creatures he has nurtured.

Since most of the squad perish on the spot, only three of the crew are saved through the valiant efforts of the remaining Covenant crew who fly to the rescue.   Alas, salvation does not come without its price.  We know that the aliens will soon burst into creation on the ship, and mayhem and bloodshed will follow.  There is much intrigue as the last survivors attempt to rid the ship of the slimy monsters so they can proceed unmolested to the new colony.  There is a somewhat surprise ending to this film, but if you have not already fallen asleep, you could easily figure out the surprise long before it is revealed.

The one character in the film whose performance is truly noteworthy is Fassbender, who plays his dual roles with enough finesse that we are willing to forget that it is the same person playing the counterparts of good and evil.

I found the film disappointing partly because the original “Alien” was so original, but also because there is simply no more mystery left in this franchise.  So the only thing of interest is how the same old story is retold.  Frankly, I would opt for some newly designed aliens.  And maybe they can hatch without disemboweling  their hosts.  But since there is always the possibility that something fresh just might turn up, I’ll probably see “Alien 7” when it is inevitably released.

Fate of the Furious – a Furious Reunion

The Fate of the Furious

“The Fate of the Furious” (Furious 8) is a wild ride and a mega reunion.  Even if you are not a Furious fan but love action films, you won’t want to miss this movie.  If you are a sometimes fan, you will enjoy seeing vaguely remembered old characters emerge from any of the seven previous Furious films.  Of course, if you are a true fan, you’ve probably already seen the movie and pieced together the missing parts from past movies – like, “whatever happened to so-and-so?”  And, “I thought he/she was dead or in prison.”

What I love about these movies is longer than a Thanksgiving grocery list.  Every car chase scene has you stepping on an imaginary gas pedal, gripping the arms of your chair or looking for the rearview mirror to see the villain chasing you.  The cars are fabulous muscle machines reminiscent of an era when cars were fast, super sexy and ever changing, and ordinary people eagerly anticipated the annual new car models.  Furious movies always create new venues for chase scenes, and all crashes increase by a factor of 10 over the last movie in the series.  The stunts defy gravity as well as the imagination – in many cases the distinctive stunts help us identify the number of the Furious film.  (Remember hijacking fuel tankers in Furious 6?  How about “cars don’t fly” in Furious 7?  Ah, but apparently they do.)

This film opens in Havana, Cuba, where Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are on their honeymoon and plan, more or less, to stay on the island forever.  The old Furious team has moved into retirement.  There is an early drag race through the streets of Havana that initiates our adrenalin rush.  After that it gets a little weird.

Following a mysterious phone call, Dom appears to slip over to the dark side where Charlize Theron reigns and spreads terror as the beautiful and evil Cipher.  Flying in her own stealth plane, Cipher has literally managed to stay beyond the radar.   In the meantime, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) gets arrested as he coaches his daughter’s soccer team and is put into an orange jumpsuit and shackles.  And who is across the corridor at this maximum security prison but Hobbs’ arch enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), ex Special Forces assassin and mercenary who was the central villain in Furious 7.  Since it is impossible for any prison to successfully hold Hobbs, he is soon sprung along with the hateful Deckard.

The team is called out of retirement by the Black Ops guy who goes by the name Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his bungling sidekick Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood).  It seems Dom has managed to steal a nuclear device for Cipher which she plans to use to spread terror across the globe.   The globe-trotting – or driving – takes the team to the arctic Barents Sea where Cipher has armed a dry-docked Russian submarine with the lethal nuclear weapon and plans to set to afloat.  The chase scene on the icy plains is chilling as the Furious are chased by the partly submerged submarine.

As with all of the Furious movies, there are a lot of hilarious moments.  Tyrese Gibson’s Roman Pearce is a delightful foil to Ludacris Bridges’ Tej Parker, and when the two are together it often produces sidesplitting results.  In an early scene, Hobbs’ girl soccer team performs a totally menacing martial arts warm up in front of a wide-eyed visiting team which will have you rolling in the aisles.

The acting is much as you’d expect – no Oscar performances here since the Academy does not single out awards for the most daring car chase scenes – not since Steve McQueen (“Bullitt’) and Gene Hackman (“The French Connection”).  But the performances are gripping as the plot picks up speed and races along from chase to crash in true Furious fashion.  It is interesting to see a lot of old characters show up from previous Furious movies.  To Hobbs’ chagrin, he has to join forces with Deckard to fight the even bigger villains – Cipher and Dom.  Luke Evans is back as Deckard’s brother Owen.  Kurt Russell is back as Mr. Nobody.  It’s a veritable Furious reunion and the audience isn’t complaining.  The piece de resistance is an appearance by Helen Mirren as the mother of Deckard and Owen Shaw with some uproarious results.  What always works for this crew are the easy relationships and friendly bantering that were even apparent in Furious 1.

The Dinner – The Unending Meal

This is a movie that – as its name implies – takes place almost entirely over a multi-course dinner at an uber- fashionable restaurant (can’t get a reservation unless you are Somebody).  It is largely through flashbacks that we learn the real story of this foursome – consisting of two brothers and their respective wives.  But it is the prolonged dinner conversation and frequent interruptions that reveal these people’s characters – or lack thereof.  This is a long and somewhat painful movie to watch.  We are both afraid for and disgusted by almost everyone – including the children.

Based on a 2009 book by Amsterdam’s Kevin Koch, the movie is probably not as well received as the book, which was translated into 17 languages.  So where did things go astray?  I suspect that the book is a page-turner – but there is simply no way to move the movie fast enough to get to the next chapter.

Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) is a rising star congressman running for governor and is accompanied by his second wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) and his eternally present aide Nina (Adepero Oduye).  The first Mrs. Lohman (Chloe Sevigny) long ago ditched Stan and their two sons.  The second couple consists of Stan’s psychotic and paranoid brother Paul (Steve Coogan) and his totally adoring and enabling wife Claire (Laura Linny).

The menu courses separate the various scenes of the drama and consist of miniature food which Maitre d’ Dylan (Michael Chernus) describes in agonizingly long-winded detail and which is presented by a troupe of waiters-to-be who descend a long staircase carrying the tiny delicacies.  The party is meeting at Stan’s request for the purpose of deciding what to do about the two teenage sons of their respective families.  After much petty dinner conversation, way too many interruptions by aide Nina, several painful back-flashes of Paul unraveling over time, and some glimpses of early family dynamics, we finally get to what the two cousins have done – drunkenly incinerated a homeless woman in an ATM kiosk.

Apparently, no one has yet discovered the incendiary criminals – and it seems likely that the two will never be discovered.  The majority consensus of three of the parents is to let sleeping dogs lie.  But Stan has a moral compass and feels the boys must turn themselves in to the authorities and take what’s coming to them; that to do otherwise will haunt them for the rest of their lives.  In the process, Stan plans to hold a press conference and announce that he is withdrawing from the governor’s race.  The only other person who supports this idea is Stan’s aide Nina – who will surely be out of a job as a result.  But she too has a moral compass.

At this point in the film, everyone else is up in arms for their own selfish reasons.  Claire will do anything to save her only child – who apparently has inherited some of his father’s emotional disabilities.  Paul is too long off his medication to make sense of anything except to assume that big brother Stan, always their mother’s favorite, is still out to persecute Paul in every way possible.  Katelyn is irate that she will lose the privileges that come with the governor’s mansion, especially in light of how she picked up the pieces of Paul and his wrecked family after the first Mrs. Lohman abruptly left.

In the middle of all this, Stan’s Afro-American adopted son Beau (Miles J. Harvey) is supposed to be blackmailing his cousin’s family with threats of going to the police.  Since Beau’s character is never fully developed, we have no idea how reasonable this is.

The problem with the film is the story itself.  It takes forever to be told.  Oddly, the saving grace is the acting.  Coogan is beyond superb as the crazy one.  He constantly talks to himself and provides much of the narrative, but he is so psychologically flawed that we can’t believe much of what he says.  Linny is also excellent as the loyal and supporting wife of Paul and a mother lion who would tear to shreds anyone who threatened her son.  Hall is magnificent as the second Mrs. Lohman, adapting gracefully to mothering and nurturing her husband’s career.  Gere is adequate in the role he plays – but part of the problem is that his character is so boringly normal compared to the rest of the pack, and by the end of the film we are not sure how willing we are to be on the side of right.  In fact, the film abruptly ends – black screen – and we are left hanging – reminiscent of the short story “The Lady and the Tiger.”

While the film is tedious at times, it is splendid in its portrayal of some seriously complex characters; and the cast is so talented it helps detract from the sluggish plot.

The Dinner

The Lost City of Z Lost Me

The Lost City of Z Movie: Scene #1

“The Lost City of Z” is an epic in length but not in substance.  The movie tracks twenty years in the life of the famed British Amazon explorer Col. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) who mysteriously disappeared in the wilds of the Amazon.  Writer-producer James Gray adapts his story from the 2009 best-selling biography by journalist David Gann: The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon.  While it makes sense for a written biography to explore a life in chronological order, it simply does not work in this film.  And it is unfortunate that the film gives mere lip service to the “Deadly Obsession” – which is the real key to why anyone would return to an inhospitable environment several times over the years.

We first meet Fawcett when he is tasked by the Royal Geographic Society to survey and chart the border between Brazil and Bolivia – where, we are told, there are constant skirmishes between the two countries laying claim to this uncivilized land, and an unbiased survey is needed.

It is 1906, and with his aide-de-camp Mr. Costin (Robert Pattinson), Fawcett hacks his way through the jungles of Amazonia (as the land is called) to the great Amazon River (we are never quite sure what the actual river is).  With native guides and several rafts, Fawcett sets out presumably to find the source of the river.  In doing so, he is met with hostile tribes along the way, but eventually discovers not only the source of the great river but evidence of an ancient civilization.  Judging from the pottery shards and carvings Fawcett discovers at the headlands of the river, he concludes that the ancient people who once lived here thousands of years earlier were more advanced than any civilized society would credit them.

In fact, when Fawcett returns to London, his colleagues in the scientific community refuse to give credence to Fawcett’s conclusions that an advanced civilization once inhabited the Amazon – so taken are these men of science with their own egocentric belief that all indigenous people are mere savages.

Director Gray has taken liberties with the actual biography of Fawcett and focused on only three expeditions into the Amazonian jungles.  In fact, Fawcett made seven journeys to the Amazon between 1906 and 1924, which would explain, perhaps, why he would chance what would become his final journey with his oldest son Jack and why author Gann named Fawcett’s interest in the Amazon an obsession.  As a consequence, we have to separate ourselves from the original facts and concentrate on Gray’s offering.

One would expect this story to invite comparison to “Raiders of the Lost Ark”- ancient ruins, inhospitable environment, cannibals.  Alas, the film never really captures a sense of the real dangers of these expeditions and the hostility of the environment until the final expedition – which is sheer speculation and not based on actual fact.  In point of fact, in the earlier expeditions we see only one very small green snake, a wild boar, a black leopard, and the suggestion of many biting insects.  For the most part, the scenes of Fawcett and Costin using a machete to hack though the jungle gives the impression and danger attached to hacking through a mass of giant philodendron.  There is so little drama in this film.  And one wonders why Director Gray decided to put in the WWI scene of the battle of Somme in the midst of this adventure.  While it may be true to the biography, it adds nothing to the narrative.  Also at odds with the times is Fawcett’s relationship to his wife Nina (Sienna Miller) who appears as an early suffragette – but frequently pregnant and always giving birth while Fawcett is on an expedition or off fighting a war.  The relationship is bizarre, but the costuming is exquisite.

Twenty years is simply too long a period for screen time when there is so little drama in the script.  A great opportunity was missed.   Asking an audience to sit through 2 hours and 21 minutes is uncivilized.  While the photography and scenery are elegant, and the era is well represented, I expected much more adventure from this film.

GIFTED Frames the Question – not the Answer

It would be easy to pass off “Gifted” as merely a “feel-good” movie about a seven year-old math prodigy.  But the film is much deeper than that, and raises the fundamental and perplexing question of what is really “in the best interests of the child.”  In court parlance, child custody cases are supposed to set aside the interests of those seeking custody in favor of the child’s “best interests.” Human beings, however, being human – and I am here also referencing the courts who stand in judgement – have a variety of under-riding motivations and life experiences, and such cases often end unsatisfactorily for all parties, including the child at issue.  Such is the case in the movie “Gifted.”

Mckenna Grace plays Mary Adler, a seven year-old math prodigy who is being raised by her unwed uncle Frank Adler (Chris Evans – Captain America) in a coastal Florida town.  Frank is determined to fulfill his dead sister Diane Adler’s wishes of allowing Mary to just “be a child”– although Mary herself prefers algebra and calculus over the company of children her own age.  There are good reasons for Diane’s concerns and Frank’s determination, since Diane committed suicide when Mary was still an infant. Determined to make a stab at a normal childhood for Mary, Frank enrolls his niece in the first grade at a local public school – with somewhat dire consequences for the school and Frank.  It doesn’t take long for Mary’s teacher Miss Stevenson (Jenny Slate) to discover the child’s brilliance.  Any attempt by the public authorities to enroll Mary in a school for gifted children is foiled by Frank who is determined to follow his concept of a “normal childhood.”

Frank is an enigma.  He comes from a long line of math over-achievers – both parents, grandparents and his late sister Diane – Mary’s mother.  He makes his living as a free-lance boat mechanic, having left his native Boston where he was once a university philosophy professor, though this fact is not revealed until late in the movie.  He hangs out in a local beer joint at night, decked out in a tee shirt and kind of pouty expression and is referred to as “the damaged guy” by the local hopeful single girls.  Yet by day, he is the tough love care-giver of his niece Mary.  He lives in what purports to be a shack in a modest neighborhood where his landlady (Octavia Spencer) serves as his sometime moral compass and babysitter.   It isn’t until later in the film that we learn, in part, how Frank was damaged, when his mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) comes on the scene.  Then, it is apparent.

We learn that Grandmother Evelyn disowned her math prodigy daughter when she became pregnant with little Mary and had not seen her granddaughter during the many years thereafter.  It escapes me how Grandmother living up in Boston learned of Mary’s genius for mathematics, but she appears on Frank’s doorstep determined to nurture the math genius in young Mary.  The story about the unfortunate lives of the main characters in this drama unfolds during a series of court custody hearings where one side appears to be the victor as the opposition’s serious shortcomings and shenanigans are uncovered.  So well has Evelyn’s attorney portrayed the deficiencies of Mary’s current home environment under Frank’s care, that the disposition of the case is unhappy for all sides – as art imitates life.

Interestingly, during a weekend trip to Boston, both grandmother and granddaughter share some tender moments, suggesting that life in such an academically charged life in the city might be just what Mary needs.  In these scenes, Grandmother Evelyn comes off as both human and nurturing, confounding the audience who has already stereotyped her as the villain.

Mckenna is the clear star of this film and shows a remarkable talent for one so young.  Though Mckenna plays the part of a seven year-old, she was actually ten when the film was made.  And although she had a minor role in the film “Resurrection Day,” this is her starring film debut.  Previously, she appeared in TV dramas, including the Soap, “The Young and the Restless.”  It is apparent her talents were previously wasted.  Her facial expressions alone are priceless as she peers from under thick, black lashes, and she delivers her one-liners with an acumen usually reserved for more seasoned actors.  The interaction between Mckenna and Chris comes across as genuine as each holds his/her own in bantering and negotiating with the other.  In that respect, it seems to be a slice of life in a functioning household.

The film does show some resolution to the dilemma of what to do with a gifted child without sacrificing the child, but it does not necessarily provide an answer; and we have no idea if it all worked out.  We all know of gifted athletes and musicians whose young lives seem to be nothing more than practices and performances.  Since it is the only life they have known, it is difficult even for them to determine if all of the focus on cultivating their gifts was worth the trade-off of just being a kid.  It’s an interesting issue to ponder.