The Hero

May 23rd, 2017 — 8:16pm

**

The Hero – sp

Sam Elliot is a captivating actor, tall, rugged with an unbelievable resonant voice. He plays such a character in this film which was specifically written for him by Brett Haley who is the director and screenwriter. Mr. Elliot even admits that the actor he plays in the film is somewhat like his real self, but the plot is fortunately not his story.

Lee Hayden (Elliot) is an over the hill actor in his early 70’s, long time divorced and estranged from his daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter). He once starred in a very successful cowboy film but now does mostly voice-overs. He also has a newly discovered challenging health problem at the same time he has met Charlotte, a young woman (Laura Prepon), and they share a mutual attraction to each other. Did we say young woman? She is actually in her 30’s. almost a 40 year difference. Our hero has to try to figure out this relationship while facing his own mortality and trying to make peace with his daughter. At the same time, he may have the opportunity for a great part in a new movie.

The problem with this situation and the problem with this movie is as far as we’re concerned is that we really don’t understand these characters. We don’t know the real backstory on this young woman who is attracted to this older man nor do we understand why our hero got divorced from his wife (who by the way is played by Katherine Ross, Mr. Elliot’s real life wife).

In a post-film interview with Mr. Elliot, we learned a little bit about how he has approached his own career and didn’t try to play characters that he couldn’t relate to. However, this movie we believe didn’t offer much insight into the personality of the main character and his issues. We give kudos to Mr. Elliot as a compelling actor, but we can’t recommend this film (2017)

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

The Wedding Plan

May 16th, 2017 — 11:52pm

**

The Wedding Plan – sp

This is an Israeli film (a comedy of sorts) written and directed by Rama Burshtein who is an Orthodox Hasidic woman. This is her second feature film and both have dealt with the subject of marriage.

In this current movie, Michal (Noa Kooler) is a young Orthodox Hasidic woman who despite the attempts of matchmakers has not been able to achieve her goal of finding a husband. In fact, she thought she was getting close and was planning her wedding when her boyfriend Gidi (Erez Drigues) told her that he really didn’t love her. This didn’t make her call off her hope to get married, in fact she told Shimi, the guy who runs the wedding hall that he should reserve the eighth day of Hanukkah as the date that she would be getting married (this is the day the miracle of Hanukkah took place where the Maccabees had run out of oil for their lamp in the synagogue but the small amount left burned for eight days) even though she didn’t have anyone to marry yet. She was putting her faith in God that in the next couple of weeks, she would find her husband-to-be. That of course was putting a lot of pressure on the matchmaker, her family and herself. She even goes on to meet Yos, a rock star (Oz Zehavi) in a holy shrine but it didn’t look that she was going to take him or anyone else to the Chuppa on the day that is set for her wedding. Her strong faith and even the faith of her mother (Irit Shelleg) and her best friend Feggie (Ronny Merhavi) that things are going to work out was very touching but truthfully, that is where the theme of the movie becomes challenging to us to say the least. It becomes difficult to identify with this very appealing and likable protagonist as well as her entourage of family and devoted girlfriends.

On one hand, we sensed that this is presented as a comedy with everything somewhat exaggerated. On the other hand, we understand that we are being given an insight into a culture and religious sect where love and marriage are very sacred, but the former probably is supposed to develop after the later. (First marriage, then love) We were not touched by the movie and in fact found the premise of the plot unbelievable. That would make the film somewhat unsuccessful in our eyes because after all, it wasn’t that funny to be a great comedy. However, if we view the story as not so much a comedy, but rather an exposition of the optimism and faith of this religious group that we occasionally encounter but don’t really understand, then perhaps the film is somewhat of a success on another level but not enough for us to recommend it.

The movie opens not only in Israel, New York and Los Angeles but all over the world and it will be interesting to see how it is received. (2017)

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

Beyond The Lights

May 13th, 2017 — 5:13pm

***

Beyond the Lights – nf

We all know the story of a celebrity going from rags to riches. A child from a poor family blossoms forth with his or her inherent talent and becomes a superstar. Every generation has witnessed this phenomenon. In the days of radio, there was the Amateur Hour. Television brought us America’s Got Talent and many other programs. Some people become worldwide internet and YouTube stars. There are record contracts, world concert tours, etc. Sometimes this trip leads to drugs, overdoses, unhappiness and occasionally even suicide. If that person gets lost in their meteoric rise to the top, can the essence of that person ever reemerge?

This movie shows us a fictional story of a young woman (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who, thanks to her talent and a ferocious super mom (Minnie Driver) who only sees stardom for her daughter, is quickly achieving fame and fortune. However, this rising star soon finds herself feeling that life is not worthwhile and is about to jump off a hotel balcony while staring into the eyes of young police officer (Nate Parker) who is trying to save her.

The subsequent journey that these two people take is a classical love story, but also a reminder that everyone has to find themselves. We are all not superstars, but there may be a pathway for most people to discover their own passion. It obviously helps and is a nice touch if you fall in love while you are on this journey.

The poignancy and passion of the story is enhanced by the fact that there is some excellent music and singing built into the movie with words and sounds which will stir the emotional undercurrent of this theme. Gina Prince-Bythewood, director and screen writer, deserves kudos for a job well done that will ring a bell in many viewers and touch your heartstrings. (2014)

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

Paris Can Wait

May 10th, 2017 — 5:20am

***

Paris Can Wait – sp

If you are a Francophile, a connoisseur of French wine, appreciate tasty French food, love the beautiful French country side with small historic towns and are touched by French romanticism then this may be the movie for you.

Eleanor Coppola, wife of famed director Francis Ford Coppola, a woman who recently turned 80 and is an accomplished documentary filmmaker herself, undertook her first feature film in the role of producer, writer and director. She based this story on a circuitous trip that she once took from Southern France to Paris with her husband’s male colleague when a combination business and vacation trip in Europe was interrupted by her husband’s business needs.

Mrs. Coppola morphs into Anne Lockwood who was intriguingly played by Diane Lane. Her character is the wife of Director Michael Lockwood who was played perfectly by Alec Baldwin who has to fly away on a business trip with plans to meet up with his wife in Paris. Coincidently, his colleague, a Frenchman by the name of Jacques Clement (played by a relatively unknown French actor, Arnaud Viard) offers to drive the director’s wife from Southern France to Paris since she has a minor ear infection and really should not fly.

What follows is a most subtle blend of scrumptious food, velvety deep red wine, magnificent scenery of lakes and mountains, attractive middle-aged people who the more you know about them, the more you are drawn to them as you see them drawn to each other. This is not a hot R-rated movie. Perhaps the sexuality, which is in the mind of the beholder, or in this case, in the viewer, is therefore all the more powerful.

Although only a little bit more than one and a half hours, some might find this film a little drawn out, probably depending on how much you appreciate the previously stated elements of the movie. The best part of this movie treat is that what you bring to the table will determine how well you will digest and remember this cinematic experience. (2017)

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

The Circle

May 3rd, 2017 — 5:30am

**

The Circle – sp

We see on news programs accusations that politicians sometimes are not very honest. There are reports that there are deals being done behind everyone’s back which are not in the best interest of the constituents who elected them. So imagine if it were possible for a politician to decide to “go transparent” where he or she would wear a special camera 24 hours a day that would record just about everything that went on in his or her life (with some very personal exceptions) which would be accessible to everyone on the Internet who wanted to view it. In fact, imagine where other people could decide to “go transparent” and have every part of their life available to anyone who wanted to see it. Imagine also a corporation which cared so much for its employees that it would offer them world class medical care, not only to all of its employees but to their entire families including their parents. What if everyone was interconnected on the Internet so that a wanted criminal could be quickly tracked down once the details of this person with a picture were put out on the Internet. In fact, any persons’ whereabouts could be tracked down within ten minutes because everyone was so interconnected.

These possibilities and all the implications of them were part of the storyline of the novel The Circle  by Dave Eggers which was brought to the screen by James Ponsoldt who co-wrote the screen play with Mr. Eggers. Mr. Ponsoldt also directed the film and was one of the major producers. He enticed Tom Hanks, two-time Oscar winner to play Eamon Bailey who was one of the founders and leaders of this company. As usual, Mr. Hanks is very believable and somewhat reminiscent of Steve Jobs. Patton Oswalt plays another co-founder Tom Stenton who appeared a little bit more sinister.

The story revolves around Mae Holland (Emma Watson), a young woman who was thrilled to get a job at the Circle (think Google and/or Apple squared in the mathematical sense). We see her evolve from being very excited about getting a great entry job (called a guppy, remember new born teeny tropical fish) to developing into a sophisticated perhaps brainwashed worker who herself wants to go transparent. There are also meaningful supportive roles by Glenne Headly and Bill Paxton who play her parents.

We previously had read the book and liked it very much. As is often the case in such a situation, it is difficult for the movie to live up to an outstanding bpok. We tended to feel that the film was quite disjointed and superficial. The characters were not very well-developed as compared to in the book. Subplots, probably by necessity, were left out. The film served the purpose of providing a cautionary tale as did acclaimed film and book “1984” and telling us what may be in store for us in the future.

If you read the book, the film probably is not worth seeing. If you haven’t read the book, we highly recommend that it be your first choice instead of the movie. (2017)

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - 1 comment » | 2 Stars, Drama

Dean

April 26th, 2017 — 1:21am

****
Dean -sp

We learn at the beginning of the story that a father and his grown son have just lost a wife and mother and are about to begin the grieving process. The father is played by two time Oscar winner Kevin Kline who turns in an outstanding performance. Likewise Dean, the son, is played by Demetri Martin in a excellent break through performance. So is the director, screenwriter and producer also in the person of Demetri Martin. An important part of the story are single panel cartoons which are interspersed throughout the film and focuses the mood and irony of various situations in the movie. These drawings are also by Demetri Martin. So who is Demetri Martin? He has been a stand up comic for many years, has worked with Conan O’Brien on TV and has published a book of his own cartoons. He is obviously very talented and was able to draw upon his own experience of having lost a parent at a young age and his understanding of the universal search for love combined with a finely honed sense of humor.

Despite the initial premise of the story, this is really not a sad or tearjerker of a story, except the few times that Dean listens to a saved message on his iPhone of his late mom giving him words of encouragement. This is more a story of exploring different ways of grieving, as well as budding love of both a young and older man. It also uses two great exciting American cities that traditionally have been a backdrop for cinematic romance, New York (Brooklyn) and Los Angeles. The two respective women who have stirred the potential of deep romantic feelings in father and son at a time that they were on opposite coasts were Nicky (Gillian Jacobs) and Carol (Mary Steenburgen). Many of Dean’s buddies in the movie, are played by actors and comics who have captured the beat of his generation.

The net result of this 87 minute film is a feel good experience which reminds us that the connection between loss and new love is natural and inevitable. We highly recommend this movie. It is funny and poignant with surprising depth. (2017)

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

To Kill a Mockingbird

April 24th, 2017 — 5:17am

*****

To Kill a Mockingbird – nf

Sometimes when you think about great classic movies which you may have seen years ago, you might wonder if they were really as good as they were supposed to have been. Every once in a while we take such a stroll down memory lane and view one of them. Certainly in this case, we were not disappointed.

The setting of this movie was during the Great Depression in Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s. This was a time when there was overt prejudice towards black Americans. In fact lynchings were occurring in the Deep South. Remember, also when this film was released in 1962, Martin Luther King was yet to make his “I Have a Dream Speech” and didn’t tragically lose his life through assassination until six years later in 1968.

Gregory Peck, in a terrific Oscar-winning performance, plays Atticus Finch, as small town lawyer who is widower and lives with his eight and six-year-old children. He is asked by the local judge to defend Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man who is unjustly accused of raping and beating a white woman. The courtroom scenes are riveting.

Of course, great credit goes to the original author, Harper Lee, who wrote the book and Horton Foote, who wrote the screenplay. We also appreciate the accomplishment of the director, Robert Mulligan, especially because the audience sees much of the meaning of this film through the eyes of Finch’s two children, six-year-old Scout (Mary Badham) and 8-year-old Jem (Phillip Alford). Their identification with the morality and sense of justice of their father is what we hope and believe comes through to succeeding generations. The supporting cast is excellent and includes Robert Duvall who plays a young man with developmental problems who reflects an additional theme of the movie. It shows how people react to someone who is “different,” with fear and the need to distance themselves. This subplot in the story is another indication of the need to put ourselves in “someone else’s shoes,” in to order to try to understand that person.

The film which is 129 minutes, is in black and white and will hold your attention as well as being an unforgettable piece of cinematic history. It is also a reminder of how people are capable of prejudice and hateful discrimination. (1962)

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

Wakefield

April 22nd, 2017 — 1:09am

**

Wakefield-sp

Picture a successful suburban lawyer, married with two budding teenage daughters who one day decides not to come home as usual. Instead, he secretly hides in a storage loft of the garage of his house and observes his family as they frantically worry about him, mourn his loss, and then get on with their lives. Days and weeks pass as he secretly lives in the garage foraging in the late night for food in neighborhood garbage cans while keenly observing his family from his perch with a pair of binoculars. Is this an insecure or jealous man, or a man who is living out a not uncommon fantasy to take a break from life, or a mentally disturbed soul? Apparently, all of the above as interpreted by writer/director Robin Swicord who adapted a short story by American author E. L. Doctorow. According to her, she even had the blessing of this now deceased author with whom she consulted about this project before his death in 2015.

The centerpiece of this film is Bryan Cranston, as he inhabits Howard Wakefield and seems to be on screen 99% of the time. We observe him evolving from a sharp well-dressed family man and accomplished lawyer to a full bearded scavenger and voyeur. We also hear his voice in a continued monologue in the background, in addition to flashback scenes and dialogue between the various characters. Cranston is a tour de force with an outstanding very nuanced performance, which deserves to be recognized for award considerations. Diana, the wife and mother, is played by Jennifer Garner, although with minimal dialogue she conveys and radiates her charm and attractiveness which makes her husband’s abandonment all the more difficult to understand. There is also an interesting and touching interplay with two developmentally disabled teenagers being cared for by a psychologist neighbor. They are very well played by Pippa Bennett-Warner and Isaac Leyva.

It seemed to us that the storyline was somewhat repetitious, especially in regard to garbage being treasured as food to be eaten. The question that emerges from the plot is why did Howard Wakefield really do this? And what will his wife say if he emerges from the garage and declares, “I’m home.” Despite Cranston’s great acting with some clever writing and directing by Ms. Swicord, we are still not sure that this movie is worth the full exploration of this question. (2017)

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

The Kindergarten Teacher (In Hebrew with subtitles)

April 12th, 2017 — 7:57pm

**

The Kindergarten Teacher (In Hebrew with English Subtitles)- nf

The premise of this film is that an Israeli kindergarten teacher (Sarit Larry) discovers that Yoav (Avi Shnaidman), one of her five-year-old students has a propensity for writing poetry that is far beyond his years. She herself is somewhat of a poet and becomes very pro-occupied with the poems that emerged from her young student. We get a glimpse of her life. She is married with two grown children, one of whom is just made an officer in the Israeli army. We detect the restlessness in this teacher and an instability in her life, as she seems uncertain of her love life, sexuality and her life in general. She is also becoming obsessed with the young poet and writes down all his poems and then even tries to have him participate in a forum for poets to recite their work. The kindergarten teacher seems to be troubled and searching and the young child seems bewildered but still able to spout the thoughtful poetry.

The whole idea of the film seems so preposterous that it became difficult for us to really understand it. We even considered that perhaps something was lost in the translation. However interestingly, after the film concluded, there was a segment on the Netflix DVD in which the screenwriter and director Nadav Lapid was interviewed about the film. He shared with the audience that he as a child that age had the same ability to come forth with adult poetry about the life around him, an ability that he lost when he got older. Obviously, being a filmmaker became his way of exploring life, its complications and vicissitudes. In the end, we concluded that the film maker found a unique way of showing us his view that the world is not a safe place for sensitive souls. (2014)

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

Welcome To Me

April 10th, 2017 — 10:23pm

***

Welcome To Me -nf

This movie should be on target for one of us who is a movie critic and happens to be a psychiatrist. The “Me” in the title is presented to the audience as a woman with a bipolar condition and a borderline personality. She is Alice Klieg, played by Kristen Wiig, who is an accomplished comedic actress and well known for her work on Saturday Night Live as well as many films. Although there were some laughable moments in this film, it certainly was not a comedy- quite the opposite.

We meet this very troubled young woman as she is watching TV as the winning ticket in the California lottery is being drawn. Lo and behold, she wins the $83 million jackpot. She decides that she will use her fortune to live in a luxurious Las Vegas hotel and have her own TV show, somewhat resembling Oprah’s Show, except every show will be all about herself. She will enter the set at the beginning of the program on a swan and will reenact important events in her life, such as how she was treated badly in junior high school. Her elderly parents attend each show, but we learn very little about them and their relationship with Alice. We see Alice having intense sexual encounters with various guys such as the show’s producers, a fan who visits the set, et cetera. We can clearly check off the criteria for borderline personality as we see a person with a perversive pattern of unstability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, affect, and marked impulsivity. We don’t quite see all the criteria for bipolar condition, but we would not be surprised if Alice has the turmoil of this condition. Her narcissistic needs usually make her oblivious to the feelings and concerns of others. She even thinks she is doing a good deed when she herself on TV performs graphically and sickening surgery of the neutering of dogs in close-up television views.

The film was directed by Shira Piven. The supporting cast was quite strong and included James Marsden, Linda Cardellini, Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins (who played her shrink who couldn’t handle her) and others. The  screenwriter who dreamed up this tale was Elliot Laurence.

While this movie certainly presents a troubled woman who is in a great deal of psychological pain, we don’t think we will be using this film to demonstrate to students the specific problems she has purported to have. However, the movie we believe was successful in conveying the psychological pain that she was feeling . The $83 million couldn’t help her and so far therapy hadn’t made a big difference. But she was trying to overcome her bad feelings and we, watching her, did feel for her and were touched and moved by her suffering . We believe we will remember this movie and Alice Klieg. (2015)

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

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