Minnesota Seniors Online

About the Critics:

Doug Solem has been in love with movies ever since he first snuck into the Anoka Theater to see Steve McQueen in Bullitt. He goes to at least one new movie every Friday.  He has also been a voice talent for TV and Radio commercials for the past 20 years and is currently represented through the Moore Talent Agency. Click Here For Doug's Voice Demo  He had his first starring role in the local independently produced movie "SEVER" Click Here for information and pictures for "Sever" - a horror film shot throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin.  He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Communications.  His favorite directors include the Cohen Brothers and Steven Spielberg.  Favorite actors include Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, Brad Pitt, Daniel Day-Lewis and Christian Bale. 


Zala has always enjoyed going to the movies.  As a kid, the only option in the area was the Anoka Theater.  It was during a time when parents could drop you and your friends off to see a movie and get picked up later.  “My earliest movie experience was when I was 4 and my aunt and her high school friends took me to see 101 Dalmatians.  I was so engaged in the movie that during one of the chase scenes a speeding car nearly hit one of the puppies, and my first movie review was to stand up and yell, "Watch out!". The audience broke out laughing.  I have been lucky to have some friends and colleagues who are into making movies and television shows and I enjoy the discussions we have.  Before my retirement, I was the Dean of the Cinema program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.  It is a great two-year program if you would like to take some courses and develop your own movies!”


Zala's Featured Review 
Darkest Hour
Directed by Joe Wright

“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans ... We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”

The black and white opening scenes of the German war machine are chilling and immediately set the tone for the urgency of action required as Hitler was conquering the European continent. Joe Wright directs a powerful telling of the story of Churchill’s selection as Prime Minister and his leadership to rescue of over 300,000 troops at Dunkirk as France and Belgium fall.

The Story - For those of you who recently saw Dunkirk, this film will fill in the pre-story to the valiant rescue of British and French troops on the beaches facing certain death by a superior German army and air force. The failed policy of Neville Chamberlain in his “peach in our time” agreement with Hitler has resulted in the need for Parliament to choose a new prime minister. As Churchill rises to the top, we witness his unpopularity within the government and with the King. Churchill must pick up the pieces with his army and navy in danger, a difficult political climate, a country not ready for war, allies that have been conquered and the United States not willing to get involved. The stress that Churchill faces during this story allows us to see inside of the man and how he deals with the challenges. He is left to rely on his wife and his assistant who, in the movie, he grows to trust as both assistant and confidant.


The Cast - You will not recognize many members of the cast. The gruff Churchill is played by Gary Oldman who has usually played evil characters in most of his film roles. His assistant Elizabeth Layton is beautifully played by Lily James who many of you may recognize as Rose, from Downton Abby. Stephen Dillane is Churchill’s nemesis Viscount Halifax who is also in contention for the prime minister position and sides with Chamberlain to negotiate for peace terms with Hitler. Ronald Pickup, who you may recognize from the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, is a convincing Neville Chamberlain look alike. Kristin Scott Thomas is solid as a confident Clementine Churchill. Thomas made her film debut in Prince’s Under the Cherry Moon. 

Should You See This Movie?  Grade: A

This film is stirring. At the end of the 2 hours, I didn’t want it to end as I wanted to know what happens next. It kept me engaged. I will admit that I do have a strong interest in history. I enjoyed the way Wright gave us insight to Churchill’s viewpoints. He made the gruff man, soften as he worked to get to know the people he trusted, while keeping a strong exterior to his political colleagues. We see both his colorful and vulnerable sides. The connection he makes with his assistant is touching. We realize how difficult his life was as he had to move in tunnels between his home, 10 Downing Street, the War Rooms, and Parliament. The story is compelling, the acting excellent, and use of some cinematography effects (slow motion and camera angles) to show great insight draws the audience into the emotional side of this man.


Zala's Featured Review 
Directed by Stephen Chbosky

If you are looking for a movie that embraces all of the meanings of the Christmas season and isn’t a Christmas movie, Wonder is the movie you need to see. Family, friendship, the interaction of relationships and the lessons we learn about and from each other are the major themes.

The Story - Wonder is the story of a boy (Auggie) who is born with a disability and has lived an isolated life centered within his family. Being home schooled all of his life, his parents agree that it is time that he begins to attend middle school as a fifth grader. It is the classic story of all children reaching out to build friendships. Where you might expect that a child with facial deformities could struggle, this movie shows us how all children struggle and learn to try new things as they grow up. Director Stephen Chbosky delivers a winner based on this New York Times bestseller. This film not only centers on the story of Auggie, but has focus vignettes showing the point of view from his sister and friends. This is an interesting technique to broaden character development. The story walks us through Auggie’s year of school.

The Cast - The star of this film is August (Auggie) Pullman played by Jason Tremblay. As the son of Isabel (Julia Roberts) and Nate (Owen Wilson), Jason portrays a character demonstrating a breadth of acting beyond an 11-year old. The ensemble cast portrays the humanness of growing up in a school and home setting blending school and family activities. Mandy Patinkin plays the wise school headmaster. The acting by the children in this movie outshine the adults as they probably should. Julia, Owen, and Mandy play solid roles that you have seen in other films. Hopefully you will see more of Noah Jupe who plays Auggie’s best friend, Jack Will. I thought more should have been done with the role of Mr. Browne (Daveed Diggs) who is Auggie’s homeroom teacher who seeks to inspire the children by teaching them life lessons through his monthly precepts.


Should You See This Movie?  Grade: A

This is a feel-good movie demonstrating life’s growing up themes. It focuses on the way people should treat each other and shows the results of how people need to learn more about one another before casting judgments about differences. The movie makes you laugh and shed some tears. Yes, bring some tissues! The story is what is key here. See this movie!


Zala's Featured Review 
The Man Who Invented Christmas
Directed by Bharat Nalluri

On a recent trip to London, I kept hearing about “The Man Who Invented Christmas”. Upon my return, I knew I needed to see it. Director Bharat Nalluri takes you on a magical journey of Dickens’ writing in mid-19th Century England. This is a holiday movie that you easily substitute for a performance of “A Christmas Carol” if you can’t get to see it.

The Story - After a series of flops and a failed American tour, author Charles Dickens is running low on funds to support his fame and lifestyle. He pursues ways to gain funding from his publisher and through a set of life experiences he uses to get ideas, he decides he needs to publish a story about Christmas in a few short weeks. He works with a colleague to line up the illustrator and the movie walks us through him developing characters and plot based on events in his life. As an author, he interacts with his characters and blends his family and people on the street into a clever way of bringing this story to life!

The Cast - You may not recognize many members of the cast but as an ensemble they blend well. The story revolves around Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens from Downton Abby fame), Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer), and father John Dickens (Jonathan Pryce from Game of Thrones and Taboo). Dan Stevens commands your attention in this film and his acting is stretched far beyond in what you may have seen in his other movies.


Should You See This Movie?  Grade: A-

The movie is entertaining I have it an A- due to it sharing a plausible back story to the creation of this Christmas classic which goes far above the holiday theme to portray a way to live a meaningful life. Woven into the plot, are moments for audience to make connections between Dickens and Scrooge and how Dickens’ life played into the creation of A Christmas Carol. You learn a little more about the real Charles Dickens to appreciate his humble beginnings to becoming a world revered author. A sequel may be hinted toward the end, when Dickens runs into Constable Copperfield as he speeds his way to meeting the deadline to print the book by Christmas. For those of you A Christmas Carol fans, you will enjoy how the quotes from the book are gathered from the people Dickens comes across in his life.


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