If Beale Street Could Talk

December 15th, 2018 — 8:53pm

*****

If Beale Street Could Talk 

This is a very moving story set in the 1970s. A young couple who have known each other since they were kids fall in love. She becomes pregnant and we see their enduring love despite a tragic situation where he must go to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. If the movie were just this, it would be an outstanding film.

However, it is much more. It is a tremendously powerful story that captures many of aspects of the black experience in our country during this time period. In this case, “Beale Street” of the title, while an actual street in New Orleans, is symbolic as the story actually takes place in New York.

The movie is brought to the screen by a great filmmaker, Barry Jenkins, who was director and screenwriter as he adapted the story by iconic novelist James Baldwin. We believe this may be the first of Baldwin’s novels to be made into a movie. Jenkins may very well be leading this outstanding movie-making team to an Oscar as he did with the movie Moonlight.

We can’t recall such a nuanced sensitive performance by an actress who is appearing in her first movie. But that is exactly what Kiki Layne did as she inhabited the role of the 19-year-old Tish, the young woman who is experiencing her first love, pregnancy and seeing her man only available behind bars. Likewise, Stephan James is outstanding as “Fonny” the handsome black man who despite his strength of character, tender love of his girlfriend and determination to realize his hopes and aspirations, sees his dreams shackled. There are also some outstanding performances that deserve mention by Regina King, Colman Domingo, Brian Henry, and Dave Franco.

The movie is riveting and painful because it is done so well and we know that it rings true. The film also had an excellent soundtrack in the background with composition by Nicholas Britell. It ends with a familiar melody which reminds us that there are many Beale Streets which are still around the corner even in our modern-day U.S.A. (2018).

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Romance

A Star Is Born

December 14th, 2018 — 2:18am

****

A Star Is Born

Bradley Cooper demonstrates his acting, performing, writing and directing talent as he co-stars with Lady Gaga in the 2018 version of A Star Is Born. The storyline will be no surprise to today’s moviegoers. Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a famous musician who performs before thousands at open-air concerts. He stumbles across Ally (Lady Gaga) an unknown singer who he sees on stage at a small club. He comes to recognize her musical talent and also falls in love with her. We are able to appreciate the chemistry between them and also watch Ally blossom forth with all her musical talent.

The music scenes are terrific as they performed in outdoor concert venues and, of course, Lady Gaga puts her magnificent singing talent into her character. Cooper, not known as a musician, has studied hard and gives his character very believable skills as a singer and guitar player. There was a great deal of depth to these two performances, as well as, from the supporting roles provided by Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Anthony Ramos, Shangela Laquifa Wadley and several others.

This is the fourth cinematic version of A Star Is Born. While the story is similar in all of them, there are different points of emphasis particularly in the characters played by Janet Gaynor (1937), Judy Garland (1954) and Barbra Streisand (1976). There is an excellent YouTube video (click on previous three words) comparing them.

The fate of Cooper’s character is particularly relevant in the 2018 contemporary scene in regard to alcoholism and opioid use. This problem is spiraling out of control today with a terrifying mortality rate particularly in young and middle-aged people. The emotional depiction of this problem in this film makes it especially relevant for today’s movie audiences. (2018).

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Musical

The Black Panther

December 11th, 2018 — 5:48am

***

Black Panther

This story is founded on the premise that hidden in deepest Africa is the Kingdom of Wakanda which due to the existence of a special magical powerful substance, the people secretly live there with very advanced technology that is hidden from the rest of the world. They are ruled by a king who is challenged by a cousin who wants to rule the kingdom in order to use the special powers to help other black people throughout the world. It is customary that when someone challenges the king, there is a mortal physical combat to determine who shall rule the kingdom.

The cast of many are all black except for one villain and one CIA agent moderately involved in the storyline. The stars of the movie are Chadwick Boseman who plays the Black Panther and Michael B. Jordan who challenges him, as well as Lupita Nyongo, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman. The real stars or at least the co-stars are the cast of what seems to be a thousand people listed in the credits at the end of the film. This is because this is a movie with some very special effects, animation that is intertwined with the human actors who are in elaborate costumes which seems to blend ancient African garb with fancy, shinny jewelry, face masks along with science fiction garb that emanates from Star Trek and beyond.

At times, the stories which appear to animate the human action into shooting with special guns and slicing with large knives and swords reminds one of the action videos that we see our grandson watching and playing on his iPhone.

The movie is directed by Ryan Coogler and is written by Coogler, Joe Cole, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Lee, of course is known for also creating Spiderman, the X-Men, Mighty Thor, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, the Ant-Man and many more characters. He died this past month at the age of 94.

It is interesting to see that in this modern-day movie, the women in the film are depicted often with shaved heads being good fighters and possessing great power but all subservient to the king. Still it is the women who create the possibility for change. The movie is also special because it is a kind of parable about the world today and the choices between isolation and helping others. The ending brings hope in the film and just possibly in the real world

It is not surprising to see that the budget for this movie was over $200 million and the box-office thus far has been $1.3 billion and that’s not counting the Blu-ray and DVDs which are approaching another billion dollars. This movie and the main character, the Black Panther for sure will live in the hearts and memories of this current generation of moviegoers especially in the minds of the kids. It is worth the ride. (2018)

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 3 Stars, Action, Drama

Mary Queen of Scots

December 5th, 2018 — 6:02am

**

Mary Queen of Scots

Unless you are an Anglophile, and deeply understand British history, do not even think about this movie. Even if you do think you know enough to be interested in the story, we doubt you will be able to follow it. It did appear that Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie were really into their roles as Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I, but we could not distinguish the mostly bearded men who were around them, nor figure out exactly what was their point of view. The intense confrontation scene towards the end of the film between the two women monarchs is probably the highlight of the film, although apparently some historians say they never actually met in person and thus it is poetic license, which is acceptable but in our opinion does not save the movie (2018).

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, History

On The Basis of Sex

November 29th, 2018 — 6:46am

****

On the Basis Of Sex

This film follows on the heels of “RBG”, a very well-received documentary film about the iconic Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg. However, this movie is a dramatization of the early life of Judge Ginsburg starting with her entry into Harvard Law School and following her as she married her lawyer husband Martin, had her two children, battled prejudice and discrimination as she tried to get her first job and then ultimately took on a game-changing case in which she established the modern legal basis for equal rights for women and foiled attempts at discrimination based on sex.

Felicity Jones is excellent as RBG as is Armie Hammer as her husband and Justin Theroux as Mel Wolf, head of the ACLU. Mimi Leder, a veteran TV director, returns to film directing which she did earlier in her career. This movie not only provides superb entertainment and an opportunity for discussion but it also gives us insight into relevant contemporary social issues. (2018)

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, Politics

Roma

November 15th, 2018 — 8:28am

***

Roma

When this veteran filmmaker decided he would tell a very personal story, he made sure to take on major roles in the aspect of making this movie. Alfonso Cuaron was not only the director and screenwriter, but he also was the cinematographer and editor. Afterall, it was a story about Cleo who was his maid/servant had helped to raise him in his upper-class home which was probably in Mexico City in the 1980s.

After a slow start (be prepared for lots of water and a viewing of what seem to be every credit for this film at the beginning of the movie). The movie then drills down to an in-depth sensitive portrait of this obviously beloved woman who played a significant role in raising Mr. Cuaron. It is interesting and probably revealing that the director/screenwriter bypassed his choice of many experienced actresses and chose an unknown, non-actress school teacher from his hometown to ultimately play the starring role in this movie. Yalitza Aparicio, no doubt with the assistance of the director, did an excellent job of conveying the genuine, sensitive caring of her character. In contrast, the other co-star was a veteran actress, Marina De Tavira who also turned in an outstanding performance as the mother of the four children and the wife who is realizing the true state of her marriage.

In many ways this movie, although it is a man’s tale of his childhood, he really is providing insight into the feelings and emotions only of the women. Men are not portrayed as very nice people. Notably also, there is a small piece of gratuitous nudity that really isn’t necessary for the story and it is a scene of a naked man approaching his sexual partner in the bed. There also is a notable undercurrent of the human rights and civic action which occurred in the 1970s in Mexico City which is depicted very realistically in this movie.

This is a very well-done film that will resonate well with many moviegoers. (2018)

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign

Trial By Fire

November 6th, 2018 — 9:12pm

****

Trial by Fire 

We see the theme of this movie played out on television all the time on shows such as Dateline or 20/20 and others. A person is accused or convicted of a murder but in many cases he or she did not do it. We recall at least two outstanding books which dealt with this subject, Just Mercy and The Ghost of the Innocent Man. We also recall an excellent film we saw several years ago on this subject titled Conviction. We know about the innocence project and the work of Barry Scheck in many states throughout the country and how scientific advances such as DNA testing have made an important impact on criminal prosecution. So, when director Edward Zwick and screenwriter Jeffrey Fletcher decided to take a prize-winning article in New Yorker Magazine by David Grann to the screen, they were not the first to put a searchlight on this important defect in our criminal justice system. Despite the fact also that we usually find any film over two hours a tad too long, they did an outstanding job which riveted us to our seats and allowed us to explore the characters involved and the message of the movie.

Jack O’Connell deserves Oscar consideration for his depiction of the nasty husband who frequently abused his wife and was home alone with his three children when a fire broke out and the kids were all killed. He claims he did not start the fire but the police, neighbors, fire inspector, a snitch who was briefly his cellmate, the district attorney, eventually his wife and the jury all say that he did it.

What follows is his nine years in jail and an insight into life in prison with much of it being in solitary confinement and then his time on death row. We also get an insight into this man’s character and how his understanding of life evolved. Another very important character is a woman played magnificently by Laura Dern who was recruited to write a letter to a prisoner in jail but ultimately meets him and becomes an advocate for him. We also get an eye-opening view of the criminal justice system in this particular state. In fact, we see that the checks and balances that are supposed to be in place are quite questionable all the way up to the office of the Governor. Did we mention that this took place in Texas? However, the injustices here are found throughout the country

When we saw this film and met the director, Edward Zwick, the film makers were having some difficulty in setting up distribution and a release date. You may have to catch this movie on TV. However, it should be seen and the message and the illumination it provides are incredibly important. (2018)

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 4 Stars, Crime, Drama, Uncategorized

A Private War

October 31st, 2018 — 5:08am

***

A Private War

The film opens in war torn Sri Lanka with rebel soldiers walking through an area infected with potential enemies everywhere. An IUD explodes killing and maiming soldiers. There is gunfire, which frequently erupts. Among the tattered troops walking through this dangerous war zone is a woman without a helmet holding only a pad and pen. This is Marie Colvin, a war correspondent from England. Another explosive device goes off causing this woman to be injured and to lose an eye. For the rest of the film, we see her with a patch over one eye.

This amazing story is a well-documented true account with a screenplay by Arash Amel who we met at the conclusion of the screening of this movie. This film, while an apparently true representation of this amazing woman, in our opinion, was somewhat disjointed. While we jump around from place to place, we did learn about her need to send back the story, the true story, behind the wars that she covered. This included a face-to-face interview with Muammar Gaddafi, as well as heart-wrenching interviews with the victims of war including refugees who were mostly women and children. We also see the impact on Marie Colvin herself, which included alcohol, affairs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress. In one dramatic moment in very arduous circumstances, we see this war correspondent switch from print reporting to making a live broadcast back to CNN in the U.S., during which we get a glimpse of her desire to make a difference in the tragic and dangerous events in which she embedded herself. Perhaps what was missing however, was that we never came to understand how she got to be the way she was and where her motivation came from.

The movie was mostly filmed in Jordan although it was representing the wars in Syria and Iraq. Rosamund Pike deserves kudos for her depiction of the real-life Marie Colvin. There were also good supporting performances by Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander, and Stanley Tucci. Also, director Matthew Heineman deserves praise as does the behind the scenes staff, who created the terrible war environment and the depiction of many injured and frightened people struggling through it. (2018)

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, War

55 Steps

October 24th, 2018 — 12:37am

****

55 STEPS

This film which is based on a true story, features two outstanding performances by well-known actresses who are on the screen together, probably more than 90% of the movie. Helena Bonham Carter plays Eleanor Riese, a young woman with a mental illness who is depicted as receiving potentially dangerous psychiatric medications against her will in a mental hospital. Hilary Swank plays Colette Hughes, the diligent attorney, two-year out of law school, who along with Mort Cohen, a law professor, played by Jeffrey Tambor, takes on Reise’s case and changes California State Law so that involuntary injection of medication is not allowed under certain circumstances. In the course of this moving story, the attorney and the patient become friends.

Unfortunately, one of us (MB) could not allow himself to simply enjoy this moving story and ultimate important legal battle. The reason being that I am a psychiatrist who has seen the evolution of the treatment of involuntary hospitalized patients and the role that anti-psychotic drugs have played in their care. I had to consider the context of the history of the treatment of the mentally ill in this country. Prior to the 1960s and 1907s, there were mental hospitals all over the country with more than half a million patients who were hospitalized against their will because of severe psychosis (being out of touch with reality often with hallucinations and delusions). In the 1950s, a drug named Thorazine was developed, which could put psychosis into remission. Although this drug could have significant side effects, this medication made a tremendous difference in hundreds of thousands of peoples’ lives. Between 1955 and 1994, 487,000 patients were discharged, leaving about 70,000 patients in state mental hospitals. In fact, most state mental hospitals were eventually closed. When I first stepped onto a psychiatric unit as a psychiatry resident in 1966, the newest antipsychotic drugs had not yet been developed and the drugs of choice was still Thorazine and similar medications. It would not be for another 20 years that much safer antipsychotic drugs were developed and put into use. However, the treatment with these medications was effective enough that in the 1970s, with the help of President Jimmy Carter outpatient clinics replaced most of the hospitalized psychiatric treatment in this country. With the development of new antipsychotic medications in the 1990s, there also were much safer medication treatment with many fewer side effects.

However, to this day, patients who are considered to be a danger to themselves or others (which will often include being out of touch with reality by responding to imaginary voices or to delusional ideas) can still be hospitalized against their will. We saw in this movie that the Eleanor Riese case brought about a change in the California law as the State Supreme Court ruled unanimously that patients who are involuntarily committed to health facilities for short-term crisis may refuse to take antipsychotic medication. There is an exception that allows for involuntary medication if the patient is deemed “incompetent to make such a decision by the courts.” There was also the exception for emergency medications, meaning medication that is used for patients who are “considered an eminent danger to themselves or others either physically or psychologically and refuse to take the medication freely.” Of course, you can also be hospitalized against your will on the same grounds for people who are suicidal. All this only pertains to the State of California. Other states may have slightly different laws. I apologize for the technical psychiatric details, but I know that many of the readers of this blog are related to the mental health field and would want these things clarified. There should be one more detail concerning the real character portrayed in the movie. The young woman may not have had schizophrenia. It was mentioned that when she was younger, she had a brain infection related to a shunt put in her brain and she subsequently had some intellectual deficiencies. This may have been the cause of her depicted mental abnormalities.

Returning to the film, which was done very well and was quite moving. The viewers developed a feeling of understanding and empathy as well as admiration for both of the main characters. There also is a very interesting back story about the making of the film, which we learned about in a post-film discussion with the author and producer, Mark Bruce Rosin. He originally came up with the script 25 years ago when he heard a radio program about Ms. Riese and her lawyer who was fighting for her rights to refuse medication. The movie was almost made by two different studios, but it was ultimately dropped until it eventually came to be made with the director Billie August and now will be released nationwide in the next few weeks. Despite some of unaddressed complexity of issues raided in the film, it was one that will grab you and cause to think and is well worth seeing. (2018)

 

 

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

Boy Erased

October 19th, 2018 — 5:21am

*****

Boy Erased – sp

Conversion Therapy is a pseudoscientific practice of trying to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexuality or bisexuality to heterosexuality using psychological or spiritual interventions. There are 14 states and the district of Columbia that have banned Conversion Therapy for minors. There are also scattered counties and communities throughout the country where there is no state ban which have made laws against this practice (see map). This essentially means that in most of the United States, parents can mandate their children to stay in such a program. Since the medical and psychiatric communities have clearly established that sexual identity and orientation (straight, gay or bisexual) is determined at birth, any attempts at re-orientation are doomed to fail and have the potential to create more conflict and emotional turmoil.

This movie is based on a memoir by Garrard Conley which told his story of being the son of a Baptist pastor who is outed by his parents and then forced to attend a church conversion program with the purpose of “curing his homosexuality”. The experience that he goes through in this program is quite gripping and heart wrenching. The audience not only suffers through seeing things through his eyes but also sees the torment that some of the other attendees are going through which includes one young woman.

The three lead actors are outstanding. Lucas Hedges plays the young man. Nicole Kidman is his mother and Russell Crowe (who appears to have put on considerable weight for this role) does an excellent job as the minister who is the boy’s father. The film is directed by Joel Edgerton, who was also the screenwriter and played the role of Victor Sykes, the harsh and heavy-handed leader of the oppressive conversion program. The conflicts, psychological pain, turmoil and anger of the young man were very clear. At the same time, we saw the loving feelings, misguided but good intentions, that the father had for his son. The father-son love for each other despite their major life conflicts was depicted quite well as was the mother’s love and ultimate insight into the situation.

At the conclusion of the film, we had the opportunity to meet with Kerry Roberts, one of the producers of the film who brought the book to her production company and who told us about how the real-life family followed the story of it being brought to life. It should be very interesting to see how this film plays in most of the Unites States and the reaction and places where such so called “treatment” is allowed and can impact the lives of many young people. (2018)

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Uncategorized

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