Leaving Neverland

March 16th, 2019 — 8:54pm

****

Leaving Neverland-nf

Four-hour two-part documentary film directed by Dan Reed

Ten years ago, Michael Jackson, “King of pop”, one of the greatest entertainers of all time died at the age of 50 of a combination drug reaction and a fatal heart attack. He had been married twice, once to the daughter of Elvis Presley and had four children. He himself as a child was the youngest member of a musical group known as, The Jackson 5. Michael Jackson endured two criminal trials with allegations that he had committed child abuse and was found not guilty.

This four-hour documentary (divided into two 2-hour segments) focuses on two men probably now in their 30s who described in great detail their relationship with Michael Jackson. As young children, they had won dance contests in the style of their idol. Michael Jackson then befriended them both and their families, at different times. He brought them to his palacial home in Los Angeles known as Neverland. The boys were ages 7 and 10, when they met Jackson.

This documentary film focuses mainly on these men with camera close-ups during most of their speaking. They recounted their childhood and their relationship with Jackson and how he befriended them despite their wide age disparity, along with their families. There were also interviews with family members including the boy’s mothers, siblings and the film also had various film clips. There was a haunting musical score in the background throughout the film.

Both men clearly and unequivocally described how Jackson became their close friend and their buddy, but also frequently would sleep in his bed with them in his Neverland estate. Jackson made them feel he loved them and they loved him. This continued with various intervals between the ages of seven until they were in their mid-teenagers and even then, they kept up a relationship. The young men also described how Jackson sexually molested them from their earliest relationship which included touching, kissing, masturbation, as well as oral and anal sex. These encounters occurred while the boy’s mothers and other family members who believe Jackson was a great family friend were often in a nearby room. These relationships continued for years and included talking on the phone and traveling to various cities staying in great hotels and frequent dinner together with their families. The story is amazing. It is also heart wrenching as we see as adults both men now married with their own young children now struggling with their awareness of what they have gone through. You can imagine how devastating it became not only for them and for their mothers who realized that they had unwittingly allowed their sons to be subject to the most severe deception and molestation.

Although the film was quite convincing, it should be mentioned that there are still Jackson supporters who dispute the veracity of the accounts of these two men. The story was quite riveting and conveyed so well the joys followed by the pain of the young men and the families of those involved.

The film was well done.Perhaps at times it dragged a little, or was too repetitious. However, the viewer cannot help, but be amazed how these two boys and obviously many others were deceived, seduced, and deprived of their childhood innocence by the actions of a man who himself must have been a very damaged person.(2019)

 

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

Saint Judy

February 20th, 2019 — 4:03pm

*****

Saint Judy

This is a great story. We meet Judy Wood (Michelle Monaghan), a young idealistic attorney who wants to specialize in immigration law. She is overwhelmed being assigned numerous cases by her new boss (Alfred Molina) but she still makes an all-out effort with each of her cases. At the same time, she is a single mom, recently divorced, trying to participate as much as possible in the raising of her young son (Gabriel Bateman). We see her getting fired for not bringing in the big bucks for her law firm. We follow her as she opens a storefront law office as the only attorney with a young intern as her assistant. The story then focuses on one young Afghan woman client, Asefa Ashwari (Leem Lubany) who is seeking asylum in the United States. She had rebelled against the poor treatment of young girls and women in her country by defiantly setting up a school for girls who were not allowed to have an education. She was arrested and received the most horrendous treatment imaginable in jail. She was able to escape to the United States where her plea for asylum is now being considered. If she is denied this request, she will be returned to her native country where she almost certainly will be murdered by her family for her defiant actions.

The realistic courtroom scenes, some of which are held in a small trailer in the prison where she is being detained are absolutely chilling and riveting. The logic of the U.S. law is very clear but heartbreaking.

Tremendous credit must be given to the screenwriter, Dmitry Portnoy, and director and producer, Sean Hanish, who worked hand in hand to get this film made. In fact, it was just about an impossible task to get the financial support for the film until President Trump was elected and this country became aware of the real meaning of the immigration crisis.

But the most amazing thing about this story is that it isn’t a story at all. Judy Wood is actually a real-life person whom the movie so realistically portrays. In fact, we met her at a preview screening along with the director and screenwriter.

This movie has drama, tension, emotion, surprise, great acting that may bring a tear to your eye, and perhaps inspire a young man or woman to decide to become a lawyer. The highest compliment that we can give to it, is to say that it reminded us a little bit of the classic film “To Kill a Mockingbird.” (2019)

Any thoughts or opinions are welcome in the comment section below.

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - 1 comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Crime, Drama

Can You Ever Forgive Me

February 17th, 2019 — 9:42pm

****

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

When Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), a talented writer who profiled famous writers of her time was no longer able to sell her books, she turned to forgery, creating and selling letters in the style of Dorothy Parker, Fanny Brice, Noel Coward and others. She befriended an equally lonely gay man (Richard E. Grant) who for a while helped her with her con artist scheme.

This is a true story based on the memoirs of Ms. Israel with a screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty. The film was directed by Marielle Heller. Ms. McCarthy dominates the screen portraying the very sad life of Ms. Israel. Both her performance and that of Mr. Grant deserved the Oscar nominations which they received for their performances.

As the title implies, you will come away from this cinematic performance with a melancholy feeling, but you also will know you have seen an excellent movie. (2019)

 

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

Almost Adults

February 15th, 2019 — 9:57am

***

Almost Adults – nf

This is a coming of age film but not exactly in the usual way that things play out. Here we have two girls Mackenzie (Elise Bauman) and Cassie (Natasha Negovanlis) who have been friends since childhood and now roommates in their senior year of college. The big issue is that Mackenzie has just come out and told her parents that she is gay although they were not surprised. However, she has difficulty in telling her childhood friend who is straight and just had a break-up with longtime boyfriend Matthew (Mark Matechuk).

We witnessed the inner and outer struggles as each girl has to try to move on with her life. Of course, this is the time of social media and instant communication as well as in the age of Tumblr where gay people can meet up, all of which are part of the backdrop of this movie. There is also an experienced gay guy Levi, (Justin Gerhard) who tries to guide Mackenzie into the gay world.

We are sure that the film director Sarah Rotella and screenwriter Adrianna DiLonardo were not suggesting that this story is necessarily typical of young people dealing with these issues. However, they did succeed in reminding us that coming out even in the 21st Century can be a difficult time but that young people often have the resiliency to negotiate this life experience. (2016)

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

Ash Is Purest White

February 12th, 2019 — 11:25pm

***

Ash Is Purest White -sp

This movie is in Chinese with English subtitles. The director and screenwriter is Jia Zhangke who is married to Zhao Tao, the accomplished star of this film.

The movie was extremely well done with beautiful photography in part because of the French director of photography, Eric Gautier, and an excellent riveting performance by Ms. Tao.

However, in our view, the storyline did not go anyplace. Perhaps the main value of the movie was to show a glimpse into the underworld life in modern day China. There appears to be a gang culture that exists with the usual expected loyalties. The story also depicts the classic situation of unrequited love. If a film is going to take us for 2 hours and 20 minutes, it should develop a pretty tight hold on us, which was not the case here. Maybe the language barrier hindered the ability of the movie to do it for us (2019).

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

Icarus

February 6th, 2019 — 1:58am

**** 

Icarus-nf

 The title of this documentary film comes from Greek mythology where Icarus was the son of a man who created a huge maze under the court of King Minos of Crete where a half man half bull creature lived. While the connection to this film may be somewhat convoluted there are at least two characters in the movie who can be viewed as larger than life evil people. One being Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the man who is in charge of the anti-doping lab for Russian athletes and the other I would identify as Russian premier Vladimir Putin who supported and promoted this immoral and illegal activity.

We may have missed the exact details how and why the producer first became connected with Dr. Rodchenkov. It appears that the movie maker Bryan Fogel was an amateur competitive cyclist. He somehow learned that Dr. Rodchenkov located in Russia not only ran the Russian testing labs for Russian athletes but also knew how to have athletes inject themselves with performance enhancing drugs and not be caught when there was subsequent urine testing. We are not sure how and why the good doctor, after several Skype conversations with Bryan Fogel, agreed to teach him how to inject himself and significantly improve his competitive cycling performance.

However this amazing film then goes on to show in vivid documentary form how the Russian competitive athletes who are competing in a variety of international sports including the Olympics regularly, illegally injected themselves with performance enhancing drugs. In addition, Dr. Rodchenkov was the person who designed an elaborate testing procedure for all athletes during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The procedure as it appeared to the outside world was foolproof with several techniques to guard against illegal cheating and manipulation of urine samples. However, in fact, the set-up allowed the Russians to cheat and have their athletes test clear while they were doped up with these illegal drugs. The movie ends with Dr. Rodchenkov going into the witness protection program in the United States and Bryan Fogel producing this award winning, fascinating and very revealing documentary movie. (2017)

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

Everybody Knows

February 6th, 2019 — 1:56am

 

***

Everybody Knows

Veteran Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi brings together Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz (who happen to be married to each other) to this Spanish film made in Spain.

Laura (Cruz) and her husband (Ricardo Darín) come to Spain from Argentina with their two children to celebrate a family wedding. Things get complicated when their thirteen-year-old daughter is abducted and held for ransom. Why is Paco (Bardem) a close friend, wiling to sell his share of the vineyard to pay the ransom? Who are the kidnappers? The scenery, the acting and the characters are quite attractive and intriguing. In the end however, the storyline was not quite believable but it was an interesting ride. (2019

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

Take It Or Leave It

January 25th, 2019 — 10:55pm

****

Take It or Leave It-sp

This was the entry from Estonia for the Best International Film in the Oscar competition. The story line of the movie could probably happen in any country. A young woman delivers a newborn baby and she tells her ex-boyfriend that the baby is his, but she doesn’t want to have anything to do with the child. The young man feels obligated to take possession of the baby, whereas the girl gets out of town. The young man’s mother can help a little but to take care of the baby he is forced to quit his construction job and take small jobs where he can take the baby in a carrier with him. A few years passed and the baby is now a little girl with great affection for the most important person in her life as he carries on the role of both mother and father.

Director and screenwriter, Liina Trishkina-Vanhatalo puts the spotlight on this role reversal of the more common situation where the man walks away and leaves the woman to raise the child. However, what probably makes this movie a contender in the Oscar race is that the storyline goes one step further by providing a surprising twist in the plot of the movie.

The standout actor who plays Eric, the young man is Reimo Sagor. The mother of the child is played by, Liis Lass. Kudos also go to the infants and toddlers and the little girl who played the role of Mai, the baby that we watched grow from an infant to the little girl about ready to go to school.

Estonia is a small high-tech country that has a budding film industry. If this movie is any indication, we’re going to see some interesting cinematic productions from this country. (2019)

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

Bohemian Rhapsody

January 22nd, 2019 — 2:50am

*****

Bohemian Rhapsody-rm

If you or your children were following the contemporary music scene in the 1970s and the 1980s, you had to be familiar with the sound of Queen and must have rocked or swayed to “We Will Rock You”. However, you may not know all the details and the ins and outs behind the scenes of this band especially the story of lead singer, Freddie Mercury.

We also suspect that the making of this film must be a fascinating story in and of itself. Originally, Sacha Baron Cohen was scheduled to play Freddie Mercury, but after he dropped out, Rami Malek was given the part. The original director, Bryan Singer apparently only completed two-thirds of the film before he was replaced by Dexter Fletcher after various conflicts which we don’t understand.

These issues aside, there is no question that Rami Malek was terrific in the lead role. He was given a dental prosthesis which gave him a physical appearance closely resembling the real Freddie Mercury. He also took singing and piano lessons as well as having an accent coach. As indicated in the final credits, a very large technical staff was able to synchronize the actual singing of Mercury,Queen and their music to the actors’ performances which had to be quite an accomplishment. The other band members were played by Ben Hardy, Joe Mazello, Gwilym Lee and Brian May. According to the photos and film clips shown of the real band members at the end of the film, the appearance of the actors were dead ringers for the real band members.

However, the success and brilliance of this movie aside from the projection of the original music was a telling of the sensitive and complicated story of Freddie Mercury. Born to Pakistani parents, he had the confidence in his music ability to become the lead singer in the band which he joined as a young man and led them to their meteoric rise. Of course, there were conflicts with managers, record companies and among themselves. However, the biggest conflict was the turmoil within Mercury himself. Engaged to his beautiful girlfriend, Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), he reluctantly had to confront the fact that he was gay (and of course this is in the age of AIDS).

The film concludes with the focus on the famous 1985 Live Aid concert for famine relief in Africa. All of the top singers in the world were there and many people felt that Queen stole the show. Their performance was recreated in a magnificent cinematic accomplishment. The actual Live Aid concert raised $125 million in famine relief for Africa. Incidentally thus far (prior to the Oscars in which this movie is likely to be a contender) this film has grossed $743 million which is five times more than the money raised in the 1985 Live Aid concert.(2019)

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

Vice

January 20th, 2019 — 9:59pm

***

VICE-rm

If you remember Dick Cheney, you will have to agree that Christian Bale is a dead ringer for President George W. Bush’s vice-president in appearance, speech and mannerisms despite the fact that in real life Bale looks nothing like him. This is a great tribute to the actor and the film makers.

Depending on your political point of view, you will probably decide if the depiction of Cheney is true to life. He certainly is shown to be a power-hungry, manipulative, opportunist. Sam Rockwell does an excellent impersonation of President GW Bush who is shown to be somewhat weak and under the spell of his vice-president. Steve Carell plays Donald Rumsfeld who was a person involved in Cheney’s career early on as well as in his later years but we could not forget that it was Carell and we were expecting him to breakout into some comedy lines.

The movie highlights the importance of the influence of Cheneys’s wife, Lynne (Amy Adams) in his life. Perhaps the most moving and sympathetic moment in the film in regard to Cheney, was how he was able to accept his daughter’s coming out as gay whereas his wife seemed not to be able to do so. Otherwise, there is not much sympathy for this character who was shown to have led the country into the Iraq War as well as many other questionable decisions including favoring Halliburton, the company for which he had previously worked.

As realistic as the depiction of the main character was in this film, there were some distractions with flashbacks and other cinematic effects. Although well-done, we thought they took away from the flow of the movie. Also, you may recall that there was an incident where Cheney accidentally shot someone with a rifle. This event was briefly shown but there was no explanation of how it came about or who was the victim.

The movie was directed by Adam McKay who is known for the Big Short, Anchorman I and II and more recently Holmes & Watson. The producer team included Brad Pitt as well as Will Ferrell and there was a whopping 40 million dollar budget for it. One more thing, don’t leave the theater whenever you begin to see the credits come on the screen. Each time there is more to come. (2019)

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

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