Report from the Miami Film Festival – March 9-18


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ellen Miller, MillersTime Movie Reviewer:

Attending the Miami Film Festival is always a treat for us. We’re now in the third or fourth year of making this a “spring break” activity. The weather is always (at least) 30 degrees warmer than Washington and good friends host us. We see movies, we dissect them, we eat, we laugh, we sleep, and the next day we do it all over again, for three or four days. I should also note that we even “train” for our typical three films a day: long morning walks on Miami Beach or through beautiful residential neighborhoods. Sustenance involves everything from the best ice cream in Miami, the unbelievably delicious frita cubana to be had in Little Havana, a return visit to our most favorite Miami restaurant (River Seafood Oyster Bar), and our first but not last visit to Michael Schwartz’s new, wonderful Amara at Paraiso.

The Miami Film Festival (#MiamiFF) focuses on offering a great array of Latin American and Miami-made movies, and this year they clearly have made an effort to increase diversity in film directors and to expand to films that would appeal to a younger audience. There are over 150 (168 or 195, depending upon which of our memories is more accurate) screenings shown over 10 days, and choosing the films is not easy.

This year we found more of a variation in the films we saw than in previous years. (In total we saw nine films in three and a half days.) A few I will rate with five stars — by my standards a ‘you must see this one.’ Others, including some that were widely heralded, just didn’t work for us. And of course, there were a number in between those poles: films that were great (generally because of the subject) but fundamentally flawed in the execution.

The views in these reviews are my own. (Note that Richard and I do not always agree in our ratings.)

I’ll start with the best of what we saw.

Gladesman: The Last of the Sawgrass Cowboys (Director: American David Abel, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and film maker)

Ellen *****   Richard ****

This film is a superb documentary that tells the story of Florida’s Everglades airboaters –- the men and women who for generations have lived, fished and hunted freely in one of the most environmentally threatened – and beautiful — areas of the US. The film is populated with these wonderful characters (a number of whom were in the audience) along with environmentalists and water engineers who also make their case eloquently. It presents both sides of the contentious issues that arise in trying to find the right balance in the area to protect it as a water source for millions of Floridians and preserve a way of life for a small group of people.

The filming is elegant, the scenery magnificent, and the complex story simply told. I wound up cheering for everyone.

(Ed. Note: Gladesmen won the Knight Foundation award for the Best Film Made in Miami.)

Continue reading »

Monarchs & Mexico: Thru Ellen’s Lens


, , , , , , , , ,

Can you remember the first time you experienced the joy of having bubbles blown at you from a wand dipped into a little plastic bottle?

Did it seem like magic?

Pure joy?

Even when the bubbles burst?

Did you ask for more and more?

Imagine that instead of bubbles, these were orange and black butterflies. Monarch butterflies. Ones you could almost touch. Or ones that landed on you and remained for many minutes.

Now, multiply the number of bubbles/butterflies and that sense of wonder and delight by many hundreds or thousands, and you get just a sense of what Ellen and I experienced on a recent trip to Mexico to see where the Monarch butterflies migrate and winter.

As you may know, many of the beautiful Monarchs travel south to winter in Mexico where they live for five or six months. Then, in the early spring they mate, go north from Mexico, lay their eggs on milkweed plants, and then die. This process repeats itself as three generations of Monarchs work their way north, often as far as the Great Lakes or Canada. Each of these generations lasts about two months.

Then the great migration begins again. Despite never having been to the mountains in Mexico, these now fourth generation Monarchs set out on a mass migration of two to three thousand miles to a place they’ve never been and arrive at the exact locations and specific trees where their ancestors wintered the previous year.

There are 14 Monarch sanctuaries, protected areas, in Mexico, and you can go to a number of them to experience what it is like for several million Monarchs to gather in one place. Under the auspices of Natural Habitat Adventures and the World Wildlife Fund, we joined with ten others and two wonderful guides to spend five days in mid-February chasing butterflies.

We flew to Mexico City, went four hours due west by bus to the town of Angangueo where we stayed for three days. We went by open flat bed truck another 45 minutes where we then went by horseback another 45 minutes up into the mountains. Finally, we hiked for another 45 minutes or so to one of the Monarch sanctuaries, El Rosario.

As we didn’t arrive until late afternoon the first day, most of the thousands and thousands (millions?) of Monarchs were huddled together on a few dozen trees, giving and getting warmth from each other. But there were some brave butterflies who left their perches and came near, some landing on us or simply hanging out on the ground or bushes nearby. The only noise we heard were our cameras taking hundreds and hundreds of photos, ‘up close and personal’ (and often just inches away). The most stunning aspect, for me, of this first encounter, however, was to see the trees laden with these marvelous butterflies.

The next day we set out early to a second reserve, this one at Chincua. Again we went by truck, horseback, and hiking, and what a reward. As we were the first to arrive and because the day warmed and the sun came out, we were able to virtually be in the midst of the Monarchs flying about. When a cloud would pass, the Monarchs would rush to find a place to retreat from the ‘cold,’ and we were then in the midst of thousands and thousands of butterflies (or as Ellen said, “It was as if we were inside a snow globe of butterflies”).

On our third day, we returned to El Rosario, and for some reason the butterflies had moved from what just a day or two previously had been their ‘trees of choice’ to different trees, new micro climates. And most exciting, these trees were next to the path where we were able to look with wonder at how they clustered together, hanging on the pine or fir trees, waiting for the sun. As the sun came from behind the clouds, they began to open their wings and the trees seemed to magically transform in color. As long as the sun stayed out, the Monarchs left their trees and flew in front of us (to search for nectar?). Then, during a passing cloud, there would be a ‘mad scramble’ as they flew about, trying to decide where to go to sit out through the modest change in temperature.

We couldn’t get enough of them.

When our three days of ‘chasing’ the Monarchs concluded, I was left with three images and one question. First, even one Monarch resting on a bush, the ground, or on one of us, just inches way was thrilling. Second, an entire tree covered with thousands and thousands and thousands of Monarchs ‘hanging out’ and occasionally spreading their wings and, as a result, changing the color of the tree was mesmerizing. And particularly exciting was seeing a burst or flurry of uncountable numbers flying around, either enjoying the warmth or looking for a place to land.

The one question, yet to be answered for me, is how do these Monarchs know where exactly to go on their great migration, given that they are at least four generations removed from having been to a specific area two or three thousand miles away?

Below are a dozen of Ellen’s most favorite shots of the butterflies. Then, if you want to see more of her photos of our Mexico trip, there is a slide show which includes more pictures from our butterfly adventure and photos from our four days in Mexico City.

If you would like to see more photos, click on this link: Monarchs & Mexico: Thru Ellen’s Lens. Then, for the best viewing, click on the tiny, tiny arrow in the very small rectangular box at the top right of the opening page of the link to start the slide show.

I’d highly recommend that you view all the photos in the largest size possible (full screen format) on a laptop or desktop computer.

Lexicographic Gratification: Confessions of an Introvert


, , , , , , , , , , , ,

(Ed. note: My friend Dave chose to entitle this essay ‘Lexicographic Gratification’ and somewhat reluctantly agreed to my adding ‘Confessions of an Introvert’ to his title. I think he prefers to think of himself as an ambivert.)

By David Stang

Fred Scharf, the husband of my second cousin Anne Phillips and the only lawyer and intellectual in my whole extended family, gave me a Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary bearing the same copyright date, 1957, as my graduation from high school. Bookish Uncle Fred told me to “treasure it by reading its definitions for the pure pleasure of learning new words, including synonyms, antonyms and etymology – meaning the study of word origins. Besides that,” he said, “you’ll find tons of amazing information up front before the dictionary section begins and at the end after the last word beginning with the letter Z.”

This was an entirely new way of viewing dictionaries, in fact, nearly the opposite of how I felt about them, particularly, when as a schoolboy, I would ask my mother what is the meaning of ‘X word’? And she would say,”Go look it up and that way you’ll remember it better than if I tell you.” I would usually answer her by saying, “Mom, it’s a complete waste of time to go look it up in the dictionary when you already know the answer and can tell me now.” Sometimes I could browbeat her into giving me the answer, but usually she sternly pointed to the big unabridged dictionary resting atop its own four foot high podium. As soon as she would walk out of the room, I would whisper to myself, “The hell with it. I’m not looking it up.”

But that night back in 1957 I sat on the edge of my bed near the reading lamp, opened my new dictionary and discovered that Uncle Fred was right. There was an amazing amount of essays and commentary on the history of lexicography, etymology, the beauty and depth of the English language, and on and on. And at the back of the dictionary there were tables of all kinds: names and addresses of all the colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, symbols, abbreviations, proper forms of address, and a load of other miscellaneous information. I said to myself, “Maybe Uncle Fred is right. I ought to start reading this stuff. Maybe I should become a word junkie.” But would I ever really be able to convince myself that looking up words in the dictionary is more fun than a barrel of monkeys?

Anyway, I started to read the first article in my new dictionary which was about the history of the English language and the history of lexicography. I got about as far as the author’s discourse on the linguistic influence on the English language contributed by the Angles, Jutes and Saxons. In less than a minute I concluded that ‘All this crap is complicated and boring. I’m not going to waste another minute reading it.’ Then I reflected for a moment and realized I would seriously need this dictionary when I started college at the end of the summer because if I were doing some kind of course assignment and spotted a word I didn’t know I’d be better off looking it up than faking it.

While studying to earn my B.A., J.D. and M.T.S. degrees, I relied upon that dictionary quite a bit. Even more so years later when I was reading for pleasure and didn’t know the meaning of a word or when I was researching and writing a number of articles and a few books. By my recent off the cuff estimate, I must have used that dictionary at least 25,000 times. But rarely – in fact never – did I dare take the time to wallow extensively in all that good stuff printed before and after the dictionary part of the book.

Continue reading »

Announcing the 2018 MillersTime Baseball Contests


, , , ,


And none too soon.

Which means it’s time for:

2018 MillersTime Baseball Contests

Contest #1:

Pick your favorite MLB team (or the team you know the best) and answer the following questions to prove whether you’re just a homer (“Someone who shows blind loyalty to a team or organization, typically ignoring any shortcomings or faults they have”) or whether you really know something about your team and can honestly evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. Please answer all three parts of the question.

  1. What will your team’s regular season 162 game record be in 2018?
  2. Will they make the playoffs, and if so, how far will they go?
  3. What will be the most important SINGLE factor (hitting, starting pitching, bullpen, an individual’s performance, the manager, injuries, etc.) in determining their season?

Prize: Two tickets to a regular season game with your favorite team (details to be negotiated with moi.)

Contest #2:

Which League will win the All Star Game in 2018?

Tie-Breakers: Name the first MLB player to hit 30 HRs and the first MLB pitcher to win 12 games.

Prize: Join me after the All Star break to see a Nats’ game in wonderful seats. If you don’t live in this area or can’t get here, we can work out seats to a game somewhere that you can attend.

Contest #3: True or False:

A. The new MLB rules (shorter commercial breaks and limit of six non pitching visits to the mound by manager, coach or other players) will NOT result in reducing the average game time to under three hours. (Average time in 2017 was 3:05.)

B. The New York Yankees WILL win the AL East in 2018.

C. The Washington Nationals WILL NOT win the NL East in 2018.

D. There will be no 20 game winning pitchers in either league in 2018. (There were none in 2017 and three in 2016.)

E. At least one pitcher in the regular 2018 MLB season will have an ERA under 2.0. (There were none in 2017 or 2016. One did it in 2015 and two in 2014.)

F. Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge together will hit at least 115 regular season HRs in 2018. (In 2017 they ‘combined’ for 111.)

G. At least one MLB batter will strike out 220 times or more in 2018 regular season play. (Aaron Judge struck out 208 times in 2017, and Chris Davis struck out 217 times in 2016.)

H. There will be at least 8 Triple Plays in the MLB this year. (Over the last 10 years the average has been 4.1 per year, and in each of the last two years there were 7 each year.)

I. At least three teams will win 100 games or more in 2018. (Three teams did so in 2017: Astros – 101, Indians – 102, Dodgers – 104).

J. One of Grand Papa’s (c’est moi) grandchildren will witness in person (at an MLB game) a grand slam, a triple play, a no hitter, an extra inning game, or Teddy win the President’s race at the Nats’ stadium.

Prize: Your choice of one of these books: The 20 Best Books Ever Written About Baseball.

Contest #4 :

Who will be the two teams in the World Series in 2018 and which team will win it all?

Tie-Breaker: Name the five teams in each league who will make the playoffs.

Prize: One ticket to the 2018 World Series.

Additional Details:

  1. All winners get the ‘one-of-a-kind,’ specially designed and updated MillersTime Baseball Winner T-Shirt in addition to the prizes outlined above.
  2. Enter as many or as few of the contests as you want.
  3. Be sure to answer all parts of each contest you do enter.
  4. If you get a friend (or a foe) to participate in these contests, and he/she wins and has mentioned your name in their submission, you will get a prize also.
  5. First time entrants who are runners up in any contest will get THE T-shirt.
  6. Any two-generation submissions (mother/daughter, grandfather/grandson, etc.) who are runners up will also get THE T-Shirt.
  7. Get your predictions in soon. In case of ties in any contest, the individual who submitted his/her prediction(s) first will be the winner.
  8. Submissions should be sent to me in an email –

Deadline for Submissions: Opening Day: March 29, 2:40 PM, EST

“The White Darkness: A Journey Across Antarctica”


, , , , , , , , , , ,

If you’re a fan of David Grann (writer for The New Yorker and author of Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and Birth of the FBI; The Lost City of Z; and The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, among other writings by this journalist), go out and buy the current Anniversary Issue of The New Yorker (Feb 12 & 19, 2018, which is on the newsstands now).

Or, go to this link: The White Darkness: Alone in Antarctica, by David Grann, The New Yorker.

                                                  Photograph courtesy Shackleton Foundation

I don’t want to tell you too much about it other than it’s a long article about Henry Wosely, someone you may never have heard about (unless you follow current day explorers).

Think Shackelton, Scott, and Amundsen. And while Grann’s article doesn’t match Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s superb The Worst Journey in the World or Alfred Lansing’s wonderful Endurance: Shackelton’s Incredible Voyage, you won’t be sorry you spent the time on Grann’s article.



New Zealand: Thru Ellen’s Lens


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Here are a dozen of Ellen’s photos from our recent trip to New Zealand.

If you want to see more, there’s a slide show too, which I highly recommend as they far surpass this presentation. See below for details.

Auckland Harbor

Continue reading »

January in New Zealand


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In the last couple of years Ellen and I have taken to the idea of traveling to warm places in the months of January and February, largely to escape cold winter months and more recently to begin the new year away from the events that are hard to escape in the nation’s capital.

This year that took the form of a 17-day trip to New Zealand, a place that had long been on our list visit but had never been practical because of the time needed to explore such a far away place. It had long been recommended by a number of friends and our daughter Annie.







We roughly divided our time between the North and South Island, combining driving and flying. Before you to turn New Zealand: Thru Ellen’s Lens, here’s a brief overview of the trip (with some of my own iPhone photos), starting and ending in Auckland.

Continue reading »

Three New Films. One Is A Must See.


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Film reviews by Ellen Miller.

The Shape of Water – Ellen ***** (Richard Didn’t See it)

Wonderful. Engrossing. Clever. Satisfying.

Take a deep sigh, hold your breath, and submerge yourself into a theater playing this film. Just sink into the world created by the Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. This fantasy — which I had been putting off seeing because those sorts of movies are just not my thing — is thoroughly moving and enjoyable. It’s also very creative and clever with superb acting. It well-deserves its Best Picture (and 12 other Oscar nominations) for which it is nominated.

When summarized, the story seems odd and off-putting, but as it unfolds on the screen, it’s not: a young, mute lonely woman, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), is a building cleaner at a super secretive government laboratory when she discovers a captive Amazonian human-like sea creature that is being held for unknown, but presumably experimental purposes. She extends herself to it, and it responds to her. The time is 1962 and the Russians want to steal it from the US who has it locked in a top secret laboratory. She needs to save the creature from both of them. She has two friends who will help. One small warning: there are a few gruesome scenes, but they only add to the surrealism of the film. Don’t be turned off by the plot.

The film is filled with fascinating characters and wonderful acting, from Hawkins herself to Octavia Spence, Doug Jones, and Michael Shannon. The staging is so richly detailed you want to disappear into it. My advice is just to given into it and cheer for our heroine. Let the film wash over you. You won’t regret it.

(Sorry about the play on words but I couldn’t resist…)

A Fantastic WomanEllen **** Richard ****

What I love about the DC Cinema Club is that we see films we might not otherwise left to our own choosing. That’s definitely the case with A Fantastic Woman. What you see is not what you get in this film.

It is a very sympathetic and sometimes heart-wrenching portrayal of a trans woman and the struggles she faces to become the woman she is as well as how she moves forward after losing her lover. There are wonderful cinematic moments to illustrate her struggles and terrific acting throughout. Daniela Vega (Marina) has been nominated for an academy award for her performance and the film has been nominated in the Best Foreign Film Category.

Marina is a singer and a waitress in a coffee shop and she is in a relationship with Orlando (Francisco Reyes), a man two decades her senior. One evening he falls ill and dies and the drama begins, unfolding slowly with considerable melodrama. His family forbids her from attending his funeral. But she insists on paying tribute to her lover.

The film is a tender love story and a story about the struggle to be true to who you are. It is a tense, well-filmed and emotional drama. It’s worth a see.

Phantom ThreadEllen **** Richard ****

Another non-mainstream film and even though nominated for a Best Picture Award, I recommend it somewhat cautiously.


If you like/love looking at Daniel Day Lewis (count me in) it’s a must-see. If you like a story where two unlikable characters clash and the woman “wins” (my view), then this is the picture for you. If you love a film where the actions of the women characters are more manipulative than those of the men, go see this movie. (In this latter style, it reminded me of the 2017 film Lady Macbeth. See my review of that film).

But not a lot happens in this taut psychological drama. Lewis plays a perfection-obsessed famous London-based courtier — Reynolds Woodcock — in the 1950’s. His latest muse is Alma (well-played by Vicky Krieps), a former waitress in a country inn where he had dinner one evening. He dresses her gloriously (though the costuming was less inspiring than I expected). They marry, and his self-centered life is disrupted. When he appears to begin to tire of her, she sets about to prove just how much he needs her.

The film is lit throughout in undertones of beige, rose, and violet, which is very appealing and adds to the overall somber tone of the film and to the relationship between the two protagonists.

Although this film received six various Academy Award Nominations, I’d see this film for Daniel Day Lewis’ performance alone.

**          **          **          **          **          **          **

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool was rated Excellent or Good by 90+ per cent of our Sunday Cinema Club. We both saw it, but didn’t have time to review it. We both would have rated it four stars.

The Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers in 2017


, , , ,

“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read.” – A. Lincoln

Once again the MillersTime “best books roundup” is my favorite post of the year. It’s a labor of love and is only possible because so many of you take the time to send in what books you have enjoyed over the last 12 months. I’m indeed indebted to each of you and offer my heartfelt thanks to all of you.

The 2017 list is comprised of the favorite reads of 82 adults and 10 children. Fiction leads the nonfiction 56% to 44%, similar to last year. Our youngest participant is almost five month’s old; the oldest is 96. The rest of you are mostly between the ages of 35- 75. Fifty-eight percent of you are women, 42% are men.

While I don’t expect everyone of you will read all the way through this list (anyone who does can claim it as a favorite book for next year), know there is a tremendous amount of information here. I’ve organized it in several ways, hopefully to make it more user friendly:

I. The most frequently cited titles (three or more times) are listed first.

II. Next the contributors are listed alphabetically — to make it easy if you are looking for the favorites of someone you know — with the titles and authors next and then any comments made about those books.

III. Finally, there are also two spread sheet links included as easy, searchable references for you to see the titles, authors, and MillersTime contributors in summary form:

List # 1 – Organized by book titles 

List #2 –  Organized by reader/contributor’s name.

I. Titles that appear on the Favorites’ List three times or more:

Fiction (F):

  •      A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
  •      America’s First Daughter, Stephanie Dray
  •      Days Without End, Sebastian Barry
  •      House of Names, Colm Toibin
  •      Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan
  •      Salvage the Bones, Jesymn Ward
  •      Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesymn Ward
  •      Small Great Things, Jody Picoult
  •      The North Water, Ian McQuire

Nonfiction (NF):

  •      Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Neil deGrasse Tyson
  •      Born a Crime, Trevor Noah
  •      Evicted, Mathew Desmond
  •      Grant, Ron Chernow
  •      Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance
  •      Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann

For me, as is true every year, the strengths and value of this year’s list have more to do with what contributors say about a book than the number of times a book may be listed. Often, a book listed only once is one I most want to read in the coming year.

A reminder: this list is not meant to be the best books published in 2017, but rather what the title of this posting states — The Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers in 2017.

Please forgive my endless prompting for your submissions, though the results, I hope, may have been worth the reminders. (Late additions — please feel free to send them — will be posted as they arrive, without any snarky comments from the editor.)

And, of course, I take responsibility for any inaccuracies or mistakes in the posting of your names, the titles, the authors, and your comments. Please do let me know about errors so I can correct them quickly and easily.

Feel free to share this post with others — family, friends, book clubs, etc.


II. The 2017 List of Favorites:  

(alphabetical by reader’s first name):

Continue reading »

Why We Love Movies and the Movies We Loved This Year



From Ellen & Richard:

People often say the reason they love the movies is because they offer an escape. But that’s not why we enjoy them. We love movies because they tell stories, show us worlds and places we will never know first hand, teach us lessons about life, breathe life into historical or political moments, and/or make us question what we think we already understand.

Come to think of it, we love movies for the very same reasons we love books and love to travel.

For us, a “great movie” has to have a good story; strong, believable, and well acted characters; great directing; with cinematography, music, and production that adds to the whole. We’re not fans of comedy, satire, or overly intellectual films, where nothing much happens for two hours. And while we can appreciate a “critic’s film” (i.e., a film that critics love but audiences don’t), only sometimes do they rise to the top of both our lists.

We’ve averaged about a movie a week this year (actually a bit more since we rarely review the movies we don’t really like, ones that are already super popular, or the “big theater” shows). That’s not a bad record considering the time we travel, how much we read, how much time one of us spends watching baseball in the summer, and missing this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival which we so enjoy.

Also, we love going out to the movies. Seeing a film in a theater somehow seems more special than watching one at home, which we rarely do. (We did recently watch one at home, our first Netflix movie – Mudbound – thanks to the technical assistance of daughter Annie, as some aspects of the modern TV are still a mystery to us.)

Below is a listing — recap list — of the films this year which have received a top rating from at least one of us. We are not going to pull out our top ten for you, even if we could decide on a ten best. Just browse the list and link to our earlier reviews to see if certain ones might appeal. You can also save this list by printing out this post.

(Note: We ran out of time to review the last four films we’ve seen (Darkest Hour, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Mudbound, and The Post), but we’ve included them on this list because we give all of them a top rating. So for sure, check them out in your theaters.)

And let us know what you’re planning to see over the holidays or what you’ve seen this year that we should try to see too.

Films Either One or Both of Us Rated Four or Five Stars

(Click on a film to see our review)

A City of Ghosts
A Quiet Passion
Call Me By Your Name
Cloudy Sunday
Darkest Hour (not reviewed)
Death in Sarajevo
Faces Places
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (not reviwed)
I, Tonya
Lady Bird
Lady Macbeth
Loving Vincent
Mudbound (not reviewed)
Murder in Polna
Norman: The Moderate Rise…
Past Life
Sami Blood
Searchers (Maliglutit)
The African Doctor
The Bar
The Bloom of Yesterday
The Exception
The Florida Project
The History of Love
The Lost City of Z
The Post (not reviewed)
The Women’s Balcony
Their Finest
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Vincent Van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing
Voices Beyond the Wall
Walk With Me: The Trials of Damon J. Keith
Wind River

Six More Movies to Consider


, , , , , , , ,

Six mini-reviews: three by Ellen and three by Richard


Good movies transport you…. back into history, to stories of unimaginable horrors, or into the every day lives of famous people. This ‘suspend-my-real-life-and take-me-on-a-trip’ quality is why I so enjoy them. Each of these three movies Richard and I have seen in the last couple of weeks all contain the elements most important for my enjoyment — strong narratives, first-class acting (and great characters), and strong screenplays.

Marshall – Ellen **** Richard ****

Marshall is the simple, straightforward retelling of a 1940’s criminal trial in Connecticut early in the career of Thurgood Marshall (Chadwich Boseman). Marshall is representing the NAACP in defending a Black man charged with rape and attempted murder of a white society woman. No local counsel would take the case, so the NAACP stepped in to help, but the Judge outrageously barred Marshall from actually handling the case. So Marshall bullied, cajoled and “stage managed” a local insurance lawyer to be the lead counsel. The hostile environment and characters – and the eventual friendship between the key lawyers, play out along expected lines yet this is a deeply satisfying story of good vs. evil. (No spoiler alert. You’ve got to see it to see who wins the case.)

The story is the strength of this film and the portrayal of Marshall and the local lawyer, the tension of the trial itself make for a compelling drama. (It is based on an actual case in the 1940’s in Bridgeport, Connecticut.) The lawyers’ instinct in understanding how cultural attitudes shape jury selection and their sympathies to their client, and the racial, religious and gender discrimination undertones of the times — add immensely to story of the legal maneuverings.

Note that this is not bio epic of Thurgood Marshall but offers a glimpse into the beginnings of his historic career. This movie isn’t a 5 star, but it’s more than worth seeing!


I, Tonya Ellen *****  Richard ****1/2

This film headlined the Philadelphia Film Festival (which we missed), and now I understand why. It’s horrifying and satisfying, breathtaking and sad. The acting, filming, and direction are superb and there’s not a moment of boredom in it. It should be opening soon near you. Go see it.

The film explores the full story of Tonya Harding (figure skating star in the 1990’s) — her highs and her lows — along with accusations of her attacking and disabling a rival skater.

Production and direction is key to this film’s success. In the preparation of the screenplay, the directors (Steven Rogers and Craig Gillespie) interviewed all the major players: Harding herself (Margot Robbie) ; Tonya’s mother (played exquisitely by Allison Janney); Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and his sidekick Shawn Eckhart (Paul Walter Hauser). The actors act out portions of those interviews throughout the film, and the film cuts back and forth between them and the exposition of Harding’s life, her skating achievements and disappointments, her lifelong abuse from her mother and her husband and her inability to step away from any of it, and her dreams. It also delves deeply into the classism of the figure skating world.

This is a difficult movie to watch at times, but it is a must-see.


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Ellen ***** Richard*****

Another must-see film. I think it’s one of the best-acted, directed and written films we have seen all year. Ahem. Think best actress for the star (Frances McDormand) and best screen play for the writer/director Martin McDonagh.

The script is both clever, tough, and yes, even funny.

The story unfolds nine months after the murder and rape of Mildred’s Hayes’ (McDormand) daughter. The police are not trying hard enough – the murder or a teenager has no priority for them she claims – and so she takes unusual actions to drive their attention to the case. This small town in rural Missouri is filled with as many interesting characters (the Sherriff is played by Woody Harrelson and one of his deputies is played by Sam Rockwell) as it is by its multiple prejudices. The acting is near perfection.

Three Billboards is not an easy movie to watch. The anger which drives the film is palpable long after the film is over. Don’t miss this one either.

**               **               **               **               **               **

And three more mini-reviews, ones I saw while Ellen was out of town.


I’m a sucker for a good story, well told, and for me that usually takes precedence over all the other reasons for enjoying and loving a particular movie. Only one of the three below makes it to my top category.

Wonder Richard*****

On the recommendation of three MillersTime readers, I read this novel several years ago, and it became one of my favorite reads that year. Authored by R.J. Palacio, pen name for Raquel Jaramillo, it’s the story of a young boy, severely facially dis-formed at birth, and his ensuing struggle to attend school, which he enters in the fifth grade. Although I generally will choose a nonfiction over a fiction treatment of these type of stories (Ghost Boy, for instance), there is something quite appealing about Wonder. It not only tells the story Auggie, the boy struggling with his physical deformity but also delves into what those around him, his parents, his sister, a number of other fifth graders, their parents, and the school authorities see, experience, and do.

It is rare, I believe, for a film to be equal to or better than a book. However, Wonder, as a film, captured me and despite its ‘tidiness’ (SPOILER: everything eventually works out well, too well?), the screenplay had me choked up at least a dozen times and brought tears a number of times also, not only because of the boy’s struggles but also because of how well it told not only his story but also his sister’s and his parents’ struggles too. The performances, particularly Jacob Tremblay as the boy Auggie, Izabel Vidovic as his sister Via, Julie Roberts as his mother, and Owen Wilson as his father, are just right.

Take your upper primary or middle school child, or, if you’re a grandparent, your grandchild to see it. We did. I saw it a second time with Ellen yesterday and our third and first grade grandchildren. Their ratings – Abby *****, Eli ****, Ellen *****


Roman J Israel, Esq. – Richard ***1/2

Despite mixed reviews and a good deal of critical reporting about an unfocused story, I went to see Roman J Israel, Esq., largely because the story still sounded promising, and Denzel Washington, a favorite of mine, played the lead character.

It’s not the Denzel you know from his other performances. In fact, he’s almost not recognizable (which is a positive if you sometimes get distracted watching a familiar actor/actress).

Somehow he inhabits the lead character, and you can’t help but cheer for that character who struggles to maintain his values and his outrage with a world that is often hostile and generally unforgiving to a person with values

If you can put up with a story that doesn’t quite work (though it doesn’t miss by a lot), then Denzel’s performance is worth your time and money.


Murder on the Orient Express. Richard ***

I must admit I had never read this wonderful Agatha Christie thriller, nor had I seen the highly praised 1974 Sidney Lumet film. But before seeing this new version by Director Kenneth Branagh, I listened to the audible reading of the mystery by Branagh — a murder on a train and detective Hercule Poirot’s investigation to determine the killer. I was enthralled.

However, in this instance, the film fails to match the book/audiobook. Despite some lovely scenery, both on and from the train, and a cast that includes Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, and Josh Gad, the story is not well told. It’s choppy, hard to follow, and too dominated by Branagh himself who in addition to directing the film, overplays the character of Poirot.

Save your time and money.  It’s just not very good.

In fact, take that time and money and either read the original story, listen to it on tape, or find the 1974 film version starring Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, etc.

Calling for Favorite Reads in 2017


, , , , ,

“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read”- A. Lincoln

It’s that time of year again — when I request you share with other readers of MillersTime your most favorite books read over the past 12 months.

Here are a few guidelines that may help in drawing your list and in making my compilation easier:

*When I ask for your Most Favorite Reads of 2017, I’m seeking fiction and/or nonfiction books that stood out for you above all you’ve read in the past year. What have been the most enjoyable, the most important, the most thought provoking, the best written, the ones you may go back and read again, the ones you reread this year, and/or the ones you have suggested others read?

* You are welcome to send just one title or as many as are truly favorite reads.

* In order to make my work less cumbersome, please do the following:

* List the title, the author, and indicate whether it is fiction (F) or nonfiction (NF).

* I, and most MillersTime readers, seem particularly interested in why a particular book made it to your list this year. Please write a sentence or two, or more, about why each particular book was a favorite for you this year.

* Don’t be concerned about whether others will have the same book(s) on their lists. If we get a number of similar titles, that’s just an indication of the power of a particular book/author.

* Your books do not have to be ones that were written and/or published in 2017, just ones that you read over the past year. If you participated this year in sending titles of books you enjoyed in the first half of 2017, feel free to include one or more of those if they make it to your list of most favorites in 2017.

*If you have listened to a book(s) in one of the various audio formats, Books on Tape, CDs, Audible, etc., and if they meet your definition of books “you’ve enjoyed the most in 2017,” please include those on your list also, This is in addition to the ones you (may) have listed. Be sure to identify which ‘books’ on your list were ones you enjoyed audibly.

* Send me your list in an email ( by Dec. 17th  so I will be able to post the entire list at the end of the year. (If you send me your list sooner, you may be able to avoid my constant email reminders to do so.)

To see previous years’ lists, click on any of these links: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015. 2016.

Seven New Films


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reviews by Ellen Miler

Given the fact that we traveled for two plus weeks in China this month, we managed to see some very excellent films since our return. All of these are very much worth seeing, with a few caveats included in the reviews. Read carefully!

Call Me by Your Name:  Ellen *****  Richard ****

This is a remarkable two-hour plus drama, set “somewhere” in northern Italy in the long hot summer of 1983. The main character of this story is the precocious 17-year old son of a professor of ancient Greco-Roman culture and his wife. The film focuses on Elio’s (Timothee Chalamet) late adolescence and his experimentation with his sexuality.

What is unusual about the film is the astonishing sensitivity with which it deals with the issues. The relationships between father and son, the mother and son, Elio and his first girlfriend, and ultimately between Elio and his love — the handsome, debonair graduate student (Armie Hammer) who is studying with the professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) -– are tender, emotional, delightful, and fraught with tension. The story is well-told. With perfect pace, you sympathetically watching Elio fall deeply in love with Oliver and watch him suffer the consequences of the affair’s predictable end.

But there is no tragedy here. This is a deeply satisfying film of love and life, which is exquisitely acted by all the main characters, exquisitely paced, filmed, and produced. The film was much heralded at the Toronto Film Festival. Roger Ebert has said that this film is “far and away the best movie of the year.” It’s a must see.

Lady Bird: Ellen *****  Richard ****

Lady Bird is another a coming-of-age story which focuses on the relationship and the natures of the two lead characters. Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), as she likes to be known, is a high school senior not of the mainstream. She is independent, unpredictable, and thinks she knows ‘it’ all. Her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a nurse, knows that her daughter doesn’t. Lady Bird wants to leave her home in Sacramento after she graduates, and her mother – who is responsible for the family’s financial wherewithal (the father has ‘been retired’ by his previous job.) – consistently discourages her ambitions. Their relationship is filled with tension throughout the film. Additionally, there are also several interesting side stories of teenage angst as Lady Bird becomes sexually active.

For me the highlights of this film are the scenes between the mother and daughter (all superbly acted) that are the most instructive. Sometimes you identify with the daughter, sometimes with the mother – and when you do the later, you will cringe about how their relationship and conversations might have at time been similar to ones with your own children. This is a film with finely tuned characters, a terrific screenplay, and pitch perfect acting. It’s a winner on all fronts.

Lady Bird also has been well-heralded nationally, and the audience at our
film club gave it a 96 per cent approval rating.

Faces Places: Ellen ****  Richard ****1/2

This film is a different twist on the coming-of-age story: an 88 year old filmmaker (Agnes Varda) and young photographer JR, known for creating open air photography galleries, come together to document the making of a film. The movie they make is about their road trip throughout southern France as the two of them photograph and display these photographs.

Along the way they meet a variety of people who inspire them and whose stories often develop into individual “projects”. One of my favorite of these is of a woman they meet who is still living in a deserted flat that had once been reserved for miners during a boon time. After hearing this one woman’s story, Agnes and JR find other former residents in the area, and, as a way of celebrating their lives and their dedication to their jobs, they photograph perhaps 50 of these individuals. They then plaster 12-foot high photos (printed out of JR’s truck) on the old flats for everyone to admire.

All of the Agnes’ and JR’s projects involve large-scale photography, which they display in unusual ways — on water towers, sides of buildings, on the sides of huge transportation containers, on rocks, or billboards, etc. — for communities to enjoy.

This is a sweet, quirky little film both about people in local communities and about the relationship between the two artists.

The Square: Ellen ***  Richard **

If you enjoy (and can laugh at cutting edge contemporary art when it is ridiculous),
you will love this film. Otherwise, you might want skip it. I could appreciate it and
dubbed it a “critic’s film” (though it wasn’t universally well-received by the film
elite). But I didn’t really like it. It has its funny moments – even at times LOL funny — but is overdrawn and absurd in others, and because of that it is unsatisfying. (A series of funny gags does not a movie make.) The characters are not likeable; the story line is uneven, but its commentary of the cutting edge of modern art world feels pretty accurate.

Lost somewhere deep in this film are themes raised about modern values which, if explored, could have been a connective theme and perhaps made this movie meaningful. The Swedish writer and director of this film is Ruben Ostlund who also directed Force Majeure that contained many of the same elements and flaws.

Jane: Ellen *****  Richard *****

Over 100 of hours of lost film (tucked apparently away in the files of the National Geographic archives) recording the early work of the then 26 year young Jane Goodall were found and have been crafted to provide a unique insight and overview of her astonishing career.

The photography — most of which was shot in the 1960’s by the man who was to become her husband, Hugo Van Lawick (one of the most renowned photographers of African wildlife)– is captivating, and the first hand views of her initial attempts to study chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park (located in Tanzania) offer unique insights to what she did and how she did it. The film focuses on the early period of her work-life in some detail, including her marriage and the birth and raising of her son.

The film also intersperses the found footage and contemporary interviews with Dr. Goodall and is supported with beautiful music by Philip Glass. The writer and director is the much-acclaimed Brett Morgen from National Geographic Films.

This is a very satisfying and solid documentary. A must see.

Loving Vincent: Ellen ***** – Richard ****1/2

I’ve saved the best for (nearly) last.

Loving Vincent is one of the most creative, fascinating, and mesmerizing films I have
seen in recent times.

Warning: this is an animated film, and thus it may not be for everyone.

It is made up of tens of thousands of carefully painted images that make the animation for the film.

The story is a retelling of Van Gogh’s life and death, using characters from his paintings. The characters and scenes — built off some of his most well-known paintings — are familiar. Think landscapes (The Starry Night, Wheatfield with Crows); the town of Arles (Café Terrance at Night, The Night Cafe); the postman (Postman Joseph Roulin); the doctor (Portrait of Dr. Gachet); Van Gogh’s paint supplier (Portrait of Pere Tanguy); a barmaid (The Barmaid ); along with many others.

The paintings are all brought to life (as is Van Gogh himself –- his self-portraits appear often) as the ‘subjects’ interact with each other. The animation is as fantastical as Van Gogh’s paintings themselves and that is what you come to see. You already know the story and how it ends.

Or, (teaser) maybe you don’t.

Vincent Van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing: Ellen **** – Richard ****1/2

And because we couldn’t get enough, we managed to snag, at special showing (think 10:30 AM! on a Tuesday morning) this wonderful documentary from Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum It was a rich and delicious addition to Living Vincent.

This film also tells the story of his life (and yes, there were some discrepancies between this and Living Vincent) by looking at his paintings and through a series of thoughtful interviews with curators from the museum. The film was workman like, serious, thoughtful, and well-presented, and it further deepened our appreciation of the artist.

Keep your eyes open at your favorite independent theater to see any special
announcements concerning the availability of this film. (Ed. I think the actual public release of Vincent Van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing is currently scheduled for Mrch of 2018.)

China: Thru Ellen’s Lens


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Here are a dozen of Ellen’s photos from our recent trip to China.

If you want to see more, there’s a slide show too, which I highly recommend. Details below.

Ming Sha Shan (Singing Sand Dunes), Dunhuang, Gansu Province


Ancient Remains of the Great Wall, Gobi Desert


Landscape, countryside, Southern Gansu Province


Tibetan Village, Za Ga Na (“Stone Box”), Gansu Province


Above the monastery at Langmusi, Gansu Province


Waterfall at Guan E Gou (mini-Jiuzhaigou), Gansu Province


Apartment Buildings, Chongqing


Cable Car to Huangshan Mountain (Yellow Mountain), Anhui Province


Pines and Clouds at Lotus Peak, Huangshan Mountain


15th Century Village of Hongcun, Anhui Province


Baojia Garden, Anhui Province


Park Just Steps Away from Forbidden City, Beijing

If you want to see more photos, click on this China Travel slide show link. Then, for the best viewing, click on the tiny, tiny arrow in the very small rectangular box at the top right of the opening page of the link to start the slide show.

See all the photos in the largest size possible format (i.e., use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either).