Zoot Suit

August 1st, 2015 — 7:02pm

****Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 10.35.21 AM

Zoot Suit – nf

This 34-year-old movie reminds us of the unforgettable classic Westside Story and the more recent movie, Fruitvale Station. It is based on an actual 1940s Los Angeles murder trial. It involves a group of Mexican American young men who were tried and sentenced to San Quentin Prison for a crime they never committed. The film is directed by Luis Valdez and stars his younger brother, Daniel Valdez, as Henry Reyna, the group leader. The Valdez brothers in real life happened to come from Mexican immigrant families. Daniel also directed the great music, which is an important part of this production along with the wonderful dancing. The music of course is decidedly a Latin blend that fits in well with the intriguing dramatic story. It features an imaginary character, El Pachuco, who is in the mind of Henry Reyna. He is magnificently played as a Zoot Suit wearing devilish persona by Edward James Olmos, who proves himself to be a great dancer and singer, as well as a fine actor. There is another familiar face in the cast who you will recognize, and that is Tyne Daly who plays Alice Bloomfield, who is a young woman working with the team trying to set the innocent people free. This 1981 film about the 1940s could have been ripped from today’s headlines as we see accusations of police brutality and controversial trials. It is a refreshingly different film that is worth seeing on Netflix (1981).

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

Best of Enemies

July 30th, 2015 — 2:05am

***Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 10.48.44 AM

Best of Enemies

The 1968 democratic political convention was held in Chicago in a year filled with violence, political turmoil, and civil unrest. Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for president because of the controversy over the Vietnam for war. His Vice President Hubert Humphrey won the nomination beating anti-war spokesperson Eugene McCarthy. In the Republican Convention in Miami, Florida, former Vice President Richard Nixon beat Ronald Reagan for the nomination and went on to win the election. One of the memorable aspects of this political year was a series of 10 debates between William F. Buckley Jr., conservative spokesperson and Gore Vidal, liberal spokesperson that was aired on the ABC television network during the political convention. It is these debates that are the subject of this thought provoking and revealing documentary film produced and directed by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon. It is ironic that when ABC made the decision to inject the debates into its TV coverage of the conventions, they were number three in the ratings and were a poor number three at that. Yet, their use of these debates propelled them to the highest ratings over the other two networks who were doing gavel-to-gavel convention coverage. This is probably the beginning of the type of news coverage which we see today which is filled with pundits discussing and debating the news on many different networks.

In 1968, there was no more well known spokesperson of the conservative points of view than William F. Buckley Jr. For many years he had a popular television program “Firing Line” where he took on people with opposing views and demonstrated his brilliance. He also was a columnist for well-known conservative magazines. Gore Vidal was an equally brilliant, articulate liberal spokesperson who not only spoke “the talk” but wrote many very successful books about American history and also penned successful novels including one well-known fiction work titled Myra Breckinridge.

As we see in this 87-minute documentary film edited by Eileen Meyer and Aaron Wickenden, these 10 debates were very fascinating to watch and were watched more than for the discussion about the conflicts of ideological viewpoints. Certainly, Buckley expressed his view that people should be more self-sufficient and shouldn’t depend on government handouts. Vidal made the point that the government has responsibility to support people in need. However, the essence of this historic debate was how these brilliant men try to take apart not only each other’s arguments but each other.

We didn’t see all the raw footage of the debate, but in a post-film discussion with Mr. Neville, one, of the director producers, he shared his analysis which counted that more than three quarters of the time, these men were trying to dissect each other, rather than carrying on a rational discussion of the complicated issues of their time. One can’t help reflect how this film reminds us that this may be how we are approaching our modern day political debates as the right and left trash each other.

It of course makes great television and there have been very few more exciting moments in live widely watched television than the culminating mutual attacks on each other that occurred in the Buckley-Vidal debates. There needs to be no “spoiler alert” here since the following moments which we will describe are well-explored in this documentary. Mr. Buckley compared the anti-war protesters (who were probably demonstrating at that very moment outside the convention hall) “to be bullying fascists.” Vidal then says, “The only pro or crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself.” Buckley then uncharacteristically loses his temper and says, “Listen you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.” (The fact that Vidal turned out to be “gay” was completely irrelevant especially since he was not out at that time and Buckley had used a very disparaging word in reference to him.) Another irony is that at the very moment that Buckley threatened to punch Vidal, the police outside were probably punching the protesters. In any case this documentary film gives an inside view of the meaning of this debate using commentary of people who knew the two men at that time and later in life. We learned that Vidal’s feelings and comments about Buckley, even at the time of Buckley’s death were as angry and as bitter as ever. Similarly, Buckley’s people who knew him suggest that Buckley never got over his feelings about Vidal.

A good documentary film not only presents the facts but also tries to put them in some kind of perspective. To a certain degree, the filmmakers here may have succeeded. You may need to be a student of television and politics to fully appreciate how the debate may have been a turning point in how such debates are handled in the modern media. However, if you step back you can perhaps see that our current political discourse in 2015 over ideological differences, may be getting very personal. This film presents a worthwhile lesson in these situations of what can go wrong between “The Best of Enemies.”

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

Trainwreck

July 26th, 2015 — 8:01pm

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Trainwreck -rm

We were prepared not to like this film as we assumed it was geared for a much younger demographic than ourselves which may very well have been the case. However, we enjoyed it immensely.

The opening scene showed a father teaching his two young girls a mantra that “monogamy is not realistic” as he tells them about his pending divorce to their mother. One of the girls is Amy, played as a grown up young woman by Amy Schumer who also wrote the screenplay.

From the beginning we had the idea that Amy’s psychology was not founded on traditional family values. She had lots of boyfriends and sex seemed to be mainly an end into itself. It was also mixed with lots of drinking and smoking pot. Interestingly this was in contrast to her sister Kim (Brie Larson) who having heard the same message from her father was now married with an adorable stepson and a new pregnancy.

Amy works as a successful writer albeit with a magazine that seems to view life and sex in a manner similar to hers. With Judd Apatow (Bridesmaids) at the director’s helm we would expect Schumer’s comedic writing and her persona to provide lots of good laughs, which was certainly the case if we were to judge our own reactions and that of our theatre audience. However, the film developed much more than an extended Saturday Nite Live routine (which is where co-star Bill Hader achieved his renowned success). He plays Dr. Aaron Connors, a successful sports doctor, who Amy is assigned to interview for her magazine. The chemistry between them goes beyond the sex and they fall in love. Amy and the good doctor struggled with their differences and their attraction to each other. There are some very poignant and dramatic scenes, which Ms. Schumer carries off extremely well while staying within her character. We read somewhere that she is a classically trained actress and she certainly handled the tearful moments, angry outbursts and the comedy to perfection. The story uses satire especially in the sex scenes but also with the cameo appearances by Matthew Broderick, Marv Albert, Chris Evert, Daniel Radcliffe and some well-known professional basketball players.

We are left with a tour de force about the impact of childhood, falling in love, and growing up, which are all presented to us with a wonderful sense of humor.(2015)

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

Samba

July 21st, 2015 — 7:36pm

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Samba-sp (In French with English subtitles)

Among the political issues currently debated in the United States as well in other countries throughout the world is how to deal with illegal or undocumented immigrants. This is the main focus of this French film written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano starring Omar Sy. This trio got together to make Intouchable in 2011 which became the second biggest box office hit in French history. It also did very well in the United States

Omay Sy in the current film plays Samba, an immigrant from Senegal, who has been living in France for 10 years. He, like many other people who don’t have proper citizenship papers must live in the shadows and are susceptible to arrest and deportation. Samba is discovered and temporarily placed in a detention center where he meets Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a young executive who was trying to stabilize her life by doing volunteer work in this facility. Samba is released with the expectation that he will go back to his home country. It is at this point in the film that we see him and other people in similar situations as they struggle to get illegal identification papers, procure jobs ranging from working in restaurants, hotel kitchens, cleaning windows in high-rise buildings or even just doing day labor. We get an insight into the painful life of trying to survive in this environment often while sending money home to their families.

Although they are coming from different places in life, Samba and Alice are drawn to each other and these wonderful actors create a very real chemistry between them. Even though we felt this 118-minute film could have been shortened and tied together a little better, the result is clearly a very interesting, enjoyable and thought provoking movie. We came away from it having empathy for the determination of a long line of undocumented immigrants who struggle for years to try to stay in their chosen country and become legitimate for themselves and ultimately for their children. Obviously, there are other points of view on this complicated political and social issue. However, if this movie reaches even half the audience that the last collaboration of this writer/director and star did, it will stand a chance of significantly influencing the great debate on immigration. (2015)

 

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

Mr. Holmes

July 16th, 2015 — 12:54am

****

Mr. Holmes – spScreen Shot 2015-07-14 at 11.24.58 PM

This is a story about an older Sherlock Holmes who has returned to a country house in England where he lives with his housekeeper and her son and raises bees. The story also shows that he has early signs of forgetfulness but still has a brilliant deductive mind. The film uses flashbacks to earliler situations in his life to develop the plot. Following our viewing of the movie, we participated in a discussion with other moviegoers and a well known film critic Stephen Farber, with a special guest, Mitch Cullin, the author of the novel upon which the screenplay was written. It struck us that we talked about Mr. Holmes as if he were a real person. People recalled early stories in his life which not only came from the extensive writings of Arthur Conan Doyle but from other books, movies, and TV programs, all about this fictional character.

There is a situation presented in one flashback to an earlier time when Mr. Holmes supposedly worked on a case confronting a woman who was lying to her husband not because of an affair with another man but because she was obsessed with playing a musical instrument feeling that it would bring her closer to her two babies who had died. This woman was clearly seriously depressed and suicidal. We see Mr. Holmes years later reflecting on this woman and perhaps even pining over what could have been had they developed a romantic relationship. The depression of the woman seemed irrelevant to him. Even the depressed feelings of Mr. Holmes, as he thinks about this past situation, seem artificial. From our limited acquaintance with the extensive writings about this famed fictional detective, it seems that he usually or even always was shown as the man with a brilliant mind where logic always prevails and most of the time human feelings seem to be left out or at least are hidden. There is more sensitivity to others as he figures out that a Japanese man in the story would be better off if Sherlock tells him a lie about what his father supposedly told him. Sherlock, seems to be a grown-up person perhaps with Asperger’s syndrome who can figure everything out, but not his own feelings.

If Sherlock defended against his feelings, the emotion certainly came out to the audience watching the movie. We are touched by the interaction that he has with a young boy and we were moved by seeing Sherlock beginning to have awareness of his failing memory.

The direction by Bill Condon based on the screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher was outstanding. Ian McKellen’s performance as Sherlock deserves consideration for an Oscar. Laura Linney was excellent as Mrs. Monroe the housekeeper and child actor, Milo Parker, was an essential component to this movie and did a superb job. “It is elementary, my dear Watson,” that you should see this movie. (2015)

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

Cake

July 16th, 2015 — 12:13am

****

Cake – nfScreen Shot 2015-07-15 at 9.29.20 AM

For many years MB was a psychiatric consult to a Burn Center and worked with many patients who had to deal with severe pain. Most of the time, we found a way of controlling the pain through medication, relaxation techniques, hypnosis, guided imagery, and various forms of psychotherapy. However, it was after the patient left the hospital that they had their biggest trial. They were faced with disfiguring injuries, chronic pain, and most of all PTSD with continued grieving around the circumstances of their tragic injury.

We live and breathe this journey through the persona of Claire who is masterfully played by Jennifer Aniston. We initially meet her in a support group for people with chronic pain. We soon learned that her pain is much more than physical hurting. It goes also beyond the physical dependency that her body has for pain killers.

The screenplay by Patrick Tobin slowly unfolds as we gradually learn about a member of Claire’s support group who committed suicide (Anna Kendrick) but lives on in Claire’s mind. We see Claire slowly and painfully expand her limited circle of relationships. The one constant person in her life is Silvana, her loya; housekeeper (Adriana Barraza).

This is not the kind of role you can just step into. It required much more than this actress allowing her face to be made up as being scarred. Jenifer Aniston had to come to inhabit the heart and soul of her character. She did just that through her own efforts and with the help of the film director Daniel Barnz. She also had an excellent supporting cast which included Sam Worthington, Mamie Gummer, Felicity Huffman, William Macy, Chris Messina, and several others.

We suspect this movie will live on, not only as an excellent piece of cinema but it will be used for discussion in support groups as real people will relate to the character that Ms. Aniston and the film makers have created. (2014)

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

The End of the Tour

July 8th, 2015 — 4:14am

***Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 10.04.39 AM

The End of the Tour – sp

David Foster Wallace was a highly acclaimed author who was cited by Time Magazine as one of the hundred best English language novelists. His life was cut short by depression and suicide at the age of 48 in 2008. Several years prior to this tragic event, David Lipsky, a writer for Rolling Stone Magazine and a novelist himself, of less acclaim, convinced his editor to let him accompany Wallace on the last five days of the book tour for his latest best selling novel, Infinite Jest, in order to write an article for the magazine.. Lipsky, in 2010, wrote a book about his encounter with Wallace on this tour, which subsequently inspired David Margulies to write a screenplay for this movie and bring onboard director James Ponsoldt.

The resultant film is a fascinating study of the chemistry and interaction between these two men as depicted by Jesse Eisenberg, as Lipsky, and Jason Segel, as David Foster Wallace. This famous author is shown to be a paradox of a confident, brilliant writer but yet as someone who consistently is concerned that he will not be found to be authentic. He desperately wants to be successful with women and yet has difficulty in establishing relationships and his best friends at this point appeared to be his two dogs. He cares that Lipsky will find him interesting and relevant. Yet, he was afraid that he, himself, would become addicted to fame and what people thought about him. Lipsky admired the literary giant that he was spending time with and yet we see an evolution of his understanding of the subject of his interview. The reporter began to identify with the struggle of the subject and was drawn to him perhaps as a comrade-in-arms. They become, for a while buddies hanging out, with two women connected with the tour (Mickey Summer and Mamie Gummer). There is also comic relief provided by another woman, their book tour escort, played very well by Joan Cusack.

Most of the movie is set in the snowy Midwest which is shown to be cold, crisp, and beautiful. The director, James Ponsoldt, has blended together this unique story and magnificent acting by Eisenberg and Segel plus a musical score background put together by Danny Elfman, which will cement your interest in what is happening on the screen.

It is interesting that we know very little about the psychological history of Wallace or the nature of his fatal depression. Many of the audience also may not be familiar with his writing. However, the connection between the two main characters sustains the movie and will hold your interest.(2015)

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

Love & Mercy

July 2nd, 2015 — 2:35am

****

Love and Mercy – rmScreen Shot 2015-07-01 at 11.37.10 AM

This is a biopic about Brian Wilson, the leader of the Beach Boys. We did not know the story of how he went through a serious mental breakdown with psychotic symptoms for several years. During this period he apparently came under the influence of Dr. Eugene Landry, shown to be the evil doctor (wonderfully depicted by Paul Giamatti). Dr. Landry was said to be a psychologist in the film but was shown to be “over medicating” Wilson. What is very clear is the brilliance of Wilson. It is interesting to speculate whether or not some of his amazing creativity was related to his genius brain, which also may have been the source of his tendency to lose touch with reality. This is also a great love story (apparently true to life) between Brian Wilson and Melinda Ledbetter ( Elizabeth Banks). While it was not shown in the body of the film, she ultimately became his second wife and the mother of five of his children.

Great credit for this movie has to be given to Director Bill Pohlad. We also thought that Paul Dano was excellent as the younger Brian Wilson (he bulked up to add many pounds to his preexisting physical resemblance to the younger Wilson). We also felt that John Cusack was outstanding as the older, very troubled Brian Wilson. We can only repeat our phrase for Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamiatti in their roles. But as expected the other star of the movie is the music. The soundtrack is constantly playing the old and the newer music created by Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys which includes the title song and it adds to the authenticity of the film.

We hope you see this movie and if you’re any kind of a Beach Boys fan, we also suggest that after you view it you read about the trivia connected to the making of this film by going to the following link: CLICK HERE   You will appreciate how the filmmakers worked so hard to present the story as true to life as possible

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

Jackie & Ryan

July 2nd, 2015 — 2:21am

***Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 11.37.53 AM

Jackie & Ryan -sp

There are apparently a number of American folk singers who travel throughout the United States especially in the West by train hopping. They meet up in various cities, frequently earning their living by street singing for donations. On occasion, they play at local festivals or in clubs and some may even get a recording contract, but they are in it for the love of the music. Ami Canaan Mann, the screenwriter-director and one of the producers met one such person, Nick Hans, who became the inspiration for this movie. He also became the consultant for the music on this film.

Ben Barnes, who is a British actor (with a perfect American accent), known for this portrayal of Caspian X in the Chronicles of Narnia personifies Ryan, a train hopping musician. It is mainly through the eyes of this very likable character, who we learn, has been traveling throughout the West and living through his love of music. He gives us insight into this way of life that is alien to so many of us.

Costarring with him is Katherine Heigl, an accomplished and experienced actress, best known recently for her starring roles in The Ugly Truth, 27 Dresses and Knocked Up as well as her work in the TV drama Grey’s Anatomy. Miss Heigl plays Jackie, a former country music recording star, who has now retired to a small town to raise her daughter Lia (Emily Alyn Lind). Unfortunately, Miss Heigl’s character, Jackie, is not as well developed as that of Ryan and we don’t quite understand what makes her tick. There is obviously chemistry between Jackie and Ryan.

But the real emotion in this picture is the music. It is contagious and draws you to the singers and their love of it. The movie goer gets a wonderful musical experience through the three main characters (which include the daughter) as well as enjoying the other real train hopping musicians that are also in the film, especially a very talented violinist.

We always appreciate being exposed to part of American life that is rich, creative and enjoyable.

 

 

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

The Little Death

June 25th, 2015 — 5:56am

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 10.49.58 PM****

The Little Death

This is an extremely well-done film about a subject that is usually not addressed in today’s cinematic arts. The title is the English translation for Petite Mort which is French for orgasm. The director, screenwriter and one of the actors (known for his acting in House of Lies) is Josh Lawson. He has put together a brilliant story and production which looks at various sexual fetishes.

The subjects are mostly loving couples where one of the partners has a sexual proclivity previously unknown to his or her partner. Take for example Paul (Josh Lawson) and Maeve (Damon Herriman). They could not be more devoted to each other even though they never got around to     getting married. At the beginning of the film (spoiler alert of a very funny joke), Josh mishears Maeve after a recent sexual encounter, thinks that she is asking him to “rate” her. He complies with a very high score. Actually, she said she would like to be “raped” not “rated”. She goes on to try to deal with Josh’s consternation by explaining she has always had the fantasy to be raped by a man (who she would not know was actually Josh) but of course she would never want to have sex with anyone but Josh.

We allowed the spoiler to illustrate the subtle comedic elements that pervade this film as well as to introduce one of the sexual fetishes that is examined in this movie. The sophisticated among you may know that some variation of rape fantasies, perhaps being treated rough or even at the other extreme, are not uncommon.

So it goes, as we are introduced to other couples’ secret fetishes. One woman is very attracted to men who are very sad and cry, She is driven to try to bring about the state in her loving husband. You can find out the result of this as well as being introduced to the other couples and some of their secret fantasies as the film unfolds.

The film also brings up the not so unusual sexual situation for people who are deaf. We are introduced to this aspect of fetishes as a young deaf man Skypes a service which acts as an intermediary for deaf people who need to communicate with people of normal hearing. In this situation, the deaf young man attempts to use this service (which actually does exist) in order to call another service that provides phone sex. The intermediary is a young woman who must “sign”(communicate with her hands) to the young man and verbally convey his sexual wishes to the normal hearing phone sex lady on the other line. We will leave it to your imagination to picture the result of this situation, but like the rest of the film, it is also poignant, insightful and opens up an important part of life to the movie audience.

This film deserves the awards that it has already won at various film festivals and if it can get good distribution, should achieve wide play and perhaps establish a new movie genre. (2015)

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

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