A soap opera nestled in a survival story, The Mountain Between Us manages to entertain in direct correlation to the strength of the two fine actors who carry the film. Kate Winslet and Idris Elba are saddled with a story straight out of the melodrama genre, improved only because it's set in the gorgeous High Uintas Wilderness in northeastern Utah. 

Because of their considerable cinematic charm, Winslet and Elba invite involvement even as we grasp for some solid information. We do know that Winslet is Alex Martin, an independent photojournalist on her way home for her wedding the day after she meets Ben Bass (Elba), a neurosurgeon scheduled to perform critical surgery the next day. Alex proposes that she and Ben charter a small plane to avoid the airport shutdown caused by an approaching storm. A spectacular crash strands them and the pilot's dog in snow-covered mountains. 

The now dead pilot Walter filed no flight plan. Counting on the beacon in the plane's tail to bring help, the couple and the dog hunker down in the wreckage, but soon realize their only option is to trudge through snow in hopes of finding civilization, Alex with a broken leg, their happy Labrador running along with them. No spoilers here, but their travails are remarkably and quickly conquered, at times with ridiculous ease for anyone who has camped in freezing temperatures (I have, including a terrifying blizzard in Utah).

Nevertheless, it is a movie so let's focus on the positive. Dutch/Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad keeps the camera close to maximize Idris Elba's wonderfully expressive face and Kate Winslet's quiet charisma. The fault lies with the story, adapted by J. Mills Goodloe from Charles Martin's 2011 novel with a screenplay by Chris Weitz. It must be said that it aches for a hard-nosed revision, opting for a truly daunting survival story or a conflicted romance with less imposing characters. As it is, the film repeatedly begs for more details on survival strategies or more character conflict leading to charged emotional connections. 

Mandy Walker's cinematography does capture the awe-inspiring beauty and terrifying isolation of the mountainous Canadian Rockies terrain, where most of the film was shot, making the physical danger believable. And Elba and Winslet can sell passion. The Mountain Between Us squanders a promising opportunity. At area cinemas.

 

 

Most people know about César Chávez's leadership of the United Farm Workers (the UFW); fewer recognize the contributions of Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the UFW and the person Chávez thanked for keeping him honest through all the years they struggled to gain humane conditions for those exploited by the agribusiness industry. Director Peter Bratt's documentary Dolores should remedy that oversight.

Writer/producer/director Bratt's chronological presentation is packed with informative archival and contemporary interviews, news footage, and photographs. It traces political connections with well-known individuals from Robert Kennedy to Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem to President Barack Obama, who acknowledges he adopted Dolores' mantra, Si, Se Peude -- Yes, We Can, at the ceremony where in 2012 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

This splendid film recognizes the legions of men and women who stood with Dolores in challenging the slave wages, inhumane working conditions and sexism. Beginning with organizing in California's Central Valley in 1962 through decades of strikes and boycotts, Dolores fought on the front lines, building coalitions even as the government at times acted against their legal strategies. And yet, she fought on, including being instrumental in beginning the environmental justice movement that included banning DDT and advancing the feminist agenda.

During the years that Huerta devoted herself to activism, she had eleven children, ten interviewed here. Several of her sons and daughters speak candidly about the pain growing up without their mother fully involved in their lives, with Dolores herself expressing regret and recognition of what her commitment to activism entailed. 

Juana Chavez, one of Dolores' daughters, says, "Women cannot be written out of history. It will never change if we keep quiet." This documentary recognizes Dolores Huerta's rightful place in labor's struggles, a woman who at 87 continues to support community organizing through the Dolores Huerta Foundation. The film Dolores has won several audience and best documentary awards. At Landmark's Tivoli Cinema. 

 

September 20, 1973, at the Houston Astrodome, Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs played a tennis match that meant a great deal to the 50 million U.S. spectators, 90 million across the globe. As Billie Jean said at this year's Telluride premiere of Battle of the Sexes, she felt she'd seriously hurt women's fight for equality if she lost. 

We know she won in glorious fashion. What we don't know are the behind the scene crises that husband and wife directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris so intelligently illuminate in their multidimensional portraits of Billie Jean and Bobby. King, then 29 years old, and Riggs, 55, both tennis legends, embraced the moment, enjoying the circus while understanding its import. In fact, before this famous match, fighting for pay equity, Billie Jean and eight other top women tennis players defied the US Lawn Tennis Association, presided over by a chauvinistic Jack Kramer, and initiated the Virginia Slims Circuit. 

In this milieu, it would have been temptingly easy to demonize the compulsive gambler Riggs. But he, like any good con man, has a charm and energy that complicates his sexist persona, and the film captures that. For her part, while King had steely determination on the court, she was adrift and confused at the time in terms of her sexual orientation. At Telluride, King elaborated, saying that tennis was her retreat, for when competing, everything else fell away and that was all she had to focus on. 

In The Battle of the Sexes, from the art direction (and all the awful clothes) to the language to the film stock and even the old Fox movie logo--every detail expresses the '70s. In some ways, it looks so dated, and in others, it seems only superficial details have changed, holding up a mirror to today. That's one reason Faris and Dayton worked hard to get original Howard Cosell commentary, to show how important it still is to learn to respect women. And notably, King's supportive husband Larry, a prince of a guy, is never depicted as mean spirited. 

As King, Emma Stone has her walk, verbal inflections, and spirit. Steve Carell is a marvelous chameleon who shape shifts through Bobby's moods. Providing superb support are Sarah Silverman, Alan Cumming, Bill Pullman, and Elisabeth Shue. Battle of the Sexes is a feat of terrific storytelling with important subject matter. At area cinemas.

Victoria and Abdul defines the biopic "based on a true story." Not one single false step. No blurred foci. Under Stephen Frears' impeccable direction, Lee Hall's script, based on Shrabani Basu's remarkable research, shines into the far back reaches of the theater. The cast, topped by Dame Judi Dench, acquits itself beautifully.

Only in recent history have the journals of Abdul Karem turned up and, then, only as Basu was mid-research on the life of Queen Victoria's closest clerk during the last 12 years of her life. England, starting with the Queen's family, her retinue, and household, was not best pleased that their monarch was interested in befriending a brown man. And not just any brown man, but a brown one with a deep commitment to his Muslim faith and two wives shrouded in full-length burquas. Abdul became not only her munshi, her teacher, but also her confidante in matters Indian. He taught her Urdu, which she demanded to learn as Empress of India, over which England had ruled for 40 years. It was meet and right.

Frears' most recent works include The Queen and Philomena, among many laudable titles. His understanding of farce shows beautifully as he pricks class consciousness throughout Victoria and Abdul. He also aptly balances the script of Hall, who has shown his fine way with a pen in works from Billy Elliott to War Horse. And then there's the acting. Dame Judi is, of course, the best as she rises from a fat, arthritic old lady to a woman starched under the adoring eye of Abdul, played so well by Ali Fazal. Eddie Izzard, Tim Piggott-Smith, Michael Gambon, and Fenella Woolgar are commendable. Danny Cohen's cinematography is breath-taking as is the production designed by Alan MacDonald. Victoria and Abdul rises to this occasion.

Let's say you never imagined the results of one gun shot on a community or a couple or a culprit. Let's say you are woefully ignorant or willfully unlettered in the violent world around you. But, let's say, you want to learn, to pick up just a skosh of information about the consequences of violence. 

Plus, you're open to experimental film. Then, Shot is for you. Or for social studies classes of 6th graders for whom clichés are still fresh and discussable. For you and them, Shot works. 

A couple, Mark and Phoebe, are breaking up, kind of like the couple in the beginning of the recently released film Stronger. Miguel, a bullied boy, falls for the seduction of a gun to get back at his antagonists. In examining this possibility, Miguel shoots the gun into Mark's lung. Mark hits the ground, and Miguel hits the streets.

Director Jeremy Kagan records both male's reactions in real time. He splits the screen to show the victim stunned and lying on the ground as his nearly divorced wife screams for 9-1-1. In the other half the screen, Miguel tries to get rid of the gun, to get help from his mother and his priest, and to shed his guilt. In the other half the screen, Mark is prepped for surgery after a ride in an ambulance, complete with singing.

Then, Kagan moves these three lives forward by five months to a climactic end. Kagan's work goes all the way back to Heroes in 1977 and includes The Chosen. He has a point to make with "Shot" about the gun violence that kills 90 people a day in America. 

The cast starts with Noah Wylie, very effective as Mark, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as Miguel, also seen recently in Spiderman. Malcolm-Jamal Warner plays an amusing EMT, and St. Louisan Sarah Clarke plays a doctor. Shot is not sophisticated, but it is truthful, which is, after all, the basis of most clichés.

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