Last Days in Viet Nam

August 21st, 2014 — 7:00pm

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Last Days in Vietnam-sp- Even if you were around in 1975 during the U.S pullout from South Vietnam, the true story of how it went down is probably not the way you remember it. Even that iconic photograph of people climbing up a ladder into a helicopter from what you thought was the U.S Embassy was not the U.S. Embassy. Rory Kennedy, youngest daughter of the late Robert Kennedy is a documentary filmmaker who realized that there was an interesting story here to be told. Together with her co-producer Keven McAlester and their team she researched the subject, dug out archive documents and film footage, followed leads, set up interviews with former CIA agents, American soldiers, as well as Vietnamese who got out and some that didn’t. She also was able to interview one of the key surviving players who surrounded and advised President Ford during those final days. That was none other than Henry Kissinger who had been Secretary of State for both Ford and President Nixon. Nixon actually looks quite good in the view of the historical circumstances, which are presented here. It was under his watch that the peace accord of !973 was signed which was followed by the withdrawal of US Troops. We are then shown in 1975 shortly after Nixon resigned from office that the North Vietnam troops began the march towards Saigon. The implication was clearly stated that they would have been afraid to do so if Nixon were in office. We then see how President Ford was not able to get Congress to raise money to support any effort to stop this new aggression.

The real story here was the denial by U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin of the threatening attack that was underway, spilling down towards Saigon with the ultimate evacuation of all the Americans and the desperate attempt to get out bythe South Vietnamese who were connected to the Americans. Rather than use an authoritative narrator, the filmmakers chose to use the faces and the voices of the Americans and Vietnamese who lived through those harrowing days who told their own stories. The latter group knew that if they did not get out, they stood a good chance of being killed or severely punished. In fact in the final credits we learn that some of these narrators subsequently spent years in “ reeducation camps” before making their way to the United States. We learn that the final dramatic evacuation was not only by helicopter but also by sea. The helicopters flew out thousands of evacuees to a flotilla of ships led by the USS Kirk.

A good documentary often relies on some fresh views of the historical event. In this case, that was not only provided by American and Vietnamese survivors of this unusual evacuation telling their tales but also by the discovery of a box full of 8mm movie film taken by one of the sailors aboard the USS Kirk almost 40 years ago. These movies provided a vivid picture of the thousands of civilians packed aboard these ships as they attempted to get to Manila. They also showed a never to be forgotten sequence of movie scenes of a gigantic Chinook helicopter that was too large and heavy to land on the US ship. Instead the Vietnamese pilot who was trying to save his family and others had to do a remarkable maneuver where he hovered so his young children could be dropped and caught by the sailors below. He then did what experts feel was an extremely difficult task of climbing out of his pilot gear, ditching his gigantic helicopter into the sea with its spinning blades disintegrating, while he jumped out into the water and swam to safety of the nearby vessel. This amazing accomplishment was narrated by his now grown son who had been seen as one of the young children being dropped out of the Chinook.

There were several moral questions raised by this film. The big question was did the U.S. have a commitment to its ally, South Vietnam when the North Vietnamese broke the Paris Peace Accord and invaded South Vietnam. What was the meaning of the refusal of Congress to provide funds and the failure of the President to send troops back there? Did the U.S have a commitment to the many civilians and their families who had worked for the US and would be targets if they were not evacuated? Were several U.S. officers within the embassy wrong when they disobeyed orders and organized secret “ black opps” plans for evacuating civilians when the Ambassador had not authorized this to be done.? There also was a promise to all those Vietnamese who were allowed to enter the U.S. Embassy grounds for evacuation, that they would definitely be rescued. However once the Ambassador left, after most of the people were evacuated, there were 420 Vietnamese left behind who had been promised evacuation. Finally, is there any lesson here that we can glean that can be applied to the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan where the U.S. has left and now the situation is deteriorating?

When a documentary film can prevent a fresh view of history and stir up new questions, which even pertain to our current time, we have to view it as a successful endeavor that should be seen.(2014)

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

A Five Star Life

August 17th, 2014 — 6:54pm

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A Five Star Life-rm   – Can you picture a woman in her 40s who feels that she pretty much has things going very well in her life? She has a dream job where she travels and gets treated extremely well. Although she broke up with her boyfriend, they are best friends and frequently spend time together. She seemingly has a great relationship with her sister who is married with two kids who she sees quite a lot. She is quite attractive and she appears ready to have another relationship with a man. That is the situation with Irene Lorenzi (Margherita Buy) who has the unique job to travel to the world’s most luxurious hotels as the “mysterious guest” and evaluate and report to the management every aspect of their supposedly immaculate service for their guests. This is an Italian film directed by Maria Sole Tognazzi who also shared in the writing credits. The setting is the most beautiful parts of the world and the comfortable life style that exists for certain travelers. It shows us a view of the top of the line service that is offered in these 5 star hotels. Not only is your suitcase delivered to your room, but the bellboy will unpack it and put things away for you. For some reason you don’t even seem to tip them at least for each individual service. If you are living in such a pampered life style what would it require for you to do a self evaluation. In this case, it is a brief chance meeting with an author Kate Sherman (Leslie Manville) who is making some television appearances to talk about her views about intimacy, shortly before she departs and leaves the hotel. This limited encounter, and the circumstances surrounding it, bring about a self reassessment of the main character. If this film is successful you will question if things are always what they seem to be and even more important, is it possible to change? (2014)

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

Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America

August 16th, 2014 — 5:20pm

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Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America -sp  If you were looking for an exciting documentary film to watch one evening, you probably would not come up with this film. You might choose one about whales, some aspect of war, the Holocaust, something related to sports or politics. Maybe you would choose Robert Reich’s Inequality for All but chances are you would not think of a film about the man who designed Central Park in New York City and a lot more. However, this very well done film by Emmy nominated husband and wife team documentary film makers Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey has the potential to give you an unforgettable perspective on the beauty and living spaces of your city as well as many other places throughout American and the world. As former New Yorkers, we have spent time over the years enjoying the beauty and comfortable space of Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. We assumed it was simply the original natural beauty that was preserved by our fore fathers. In actuality it was the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted who not only worked on and designed these parks with his colleague Albert Vaux but who fought to convert and build spaces into the magnificent parks with roadways, bridges, water, greenery and a backdrop of one of some of the most magnificent skylines in the world. Similarly Olmsted was also the driving force in setting up a series of parks and wonderfully designed open spaces in Buffalo, New York, which became a model for similar designs throughout the world. The setting, which encompasses Niagara Falls, was converted from a shoddy commercial exploitation to what is rightfully called one of the wonders of the world, thanks again to the work of this man. He became the planner of Boston’s “ Emerald Necklace” of green space and the creator of park systems in many other cities. He helped to make Yosemite the attractive place of beauty that millions of people have visited throughout the years. He played a major role in designing the now beautiful setting that surrounds the U. S. Capitol. He also was the site planner for the “Great White City” of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This unusual story is told with fascinating old photos and breathtaking very well photographed stills and video clips. Being California people now, we especially appreciated the rich autumn colors in many of the locations that were shown. The personal history of this man and his family some of whom carried on his work is another part of the film. Showing this film in schools will not only inform young people about this subject but may also inspire some creative ones to study landscape design and perhaps carry on the tradition which is so well documented in this movie. (2014)

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

Killer Mermaid

August 15th, 2014 — 6:07am

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Killer Mermaid-sp – As readers of this blog well know, we have not previously reviewed movies of the  monster genre. However, when circumstances provided us with a preview DVD of such a film, we decided to go for it. This is a Serbian movie in English. It is filmed in Montenegro, Serbia with an experienced director,  Milari Todorovic (Apocalypse of the Dead) and starring a veteran actor, Franco Nero (Django) and a group of young actors who have already established themselves in this genre: Kristina Klebe (Rob Zombie’s Halloween), Natalie Burn (The Expendables 3) and Dragon Micanovic (Rocknrolla). The setting could not be more intriguing as a beautiful seaside town with a mysterious island off shore with an old stone prison, where during World War II the Nazis were said to have done some nasty business. Two attractive young women come to visit their old college friend who is at this seaside town with his beautiful fiancee. They meet another young man and decide to explore this island named “Marmula.” The story line will grab your attention and keep your anxiety level high. The script is well constructed and qualities of the characters play out in what is soon to be developed. There is vicious murder, blood and guts, suspense, scary music, surprises, twists and turns, hypnotic enchantment and of course a killer mermaid. She is a combination of outstanding natural beauty and is also about as horrific as you will want to see, all due to a combination of CGI, some very skillful make up and state of the art mask construction. It is well done and deserves to join the growing number of well-received horror films. It will stand out because as best we understand, it is one of the first to use the deep sea and fantasies of living mermaids. As the movie concludes we see a clear set up for a sequel. The film and future follow-ups will stand a very good chance of high success since it has the backing of Epic Pictures which has an outstanding track record of frightening people around the world with some great horror flicks. (2014)

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

May in the Summer

August 14th, 2014 — 11:48pm

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May in the Summer- sp Cherien Dabis is an award winning Palestinian American director, producer and screenwriter who does all three roles in this film in addition to taking the starring role which she handles in outstanding authentic manner. May (Dabis) is coming home from the U.S. to see her mother in modern day Jordan to prepare for her upcoming wedding. Her mother (Hiaam Abbass) and her family are Christian and May’s fiancée is Muslim so we are introduced to one of the several themes of this film. May’s two sisters Dalia (Alia Shawkat) and Yasmine (Nadine Malouf) have also come to Jordon for the event and the conflicts and bickering among the sisters is part of the evolving story further highlighted by one sister acknowledging that she lesbian although she doesn’t like that label. The sister’s father (Bill Pullman) had left the girls’ mother and married a much younger woman (Rita Singh Pande). He tries to apologize for the neglect of his children and establish a relationship with them when May and her sisters visit their Dad and his new wife as May’s wedding plans are being made. Through the discussions with May’s mom we also become aware of the limited options for a divorced woman in this society, although she clearly hasn’t given up. On top of everything May has doubts about her decision to get married. Each one of these conflicted issues is evolving as the characters interact in a very believable environment. The film does not attempt to delve into any one of these themes in depth. Each of them could have been a separate story but it is the universality of all of them allows the audience to recognize the people in this human drama and find meaningful identifications with them. That is the strength and the success of this excellent film. (2014)

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

Celeste & Jesse Forever

August 12th, 2014 — 6:52am

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Celeste and Jesse Forever nf-   Young couples that start as a high school romance may have tremendous chemistry and compatibility but one or both may not be mature enough to stick it out and allow the couple to develop into a long term relationship. They may breakup early on or split after a couple of years of marriage. They may move on never to forget each other and what could have been. That is life . It also is the essence of this very thoughtful and touching film. Jesse is played by Adam Samberg (of SNL fame but comes across as a serious, sometimes silly but very likeable guy) and Celeste is the successful half of the couple but with still room to grow (played by Rashida Jones who had to have understood this character quite well as she co-wrote the screenplay with Will McCormick who also played a role as a friend). The movie is directed by Lee Toland Krieger, who is under 30, as would seem to be most of the characters in the film. The setting is current day Los Angeles where we see how young people party, drink and smoke weed. It is also where we are led to believe there is opportunity for success if you have talent and you hustle, or find the absence of it, if you don’t make the big effort. This would seem to be in job success as well as romance. This is a light modern romantic comedy that will touch a lot of people. No matter what your age, unless you were born a mature adult, you will probably find something in this movie that could have been you. (2012)

 

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

Get On Up

August 8th, 2014 — 10:31pm

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Get On Up –rm This is the story of a young boy from rural Georgia who was abandoned by his parents, raised by madam from a brothel, fascinated by the gospel music in the local church and ultimately became the godfather of soul music. It is about a young man who spent time in jail, who essentially only had himself to rely on and yet always had tremendous belief in himself to the point of being self-centered, egotistical or narcissistic if you will. But in this case, he had the goods. He became a music legend he of course is James Brown.

The film is the brain child of Brian Glazer who is a well known movie and television producer who combined his talent with the skills of another music legend Mick Jagger, who has acknowledged being a great fan and being influenced himself by Brown. Jagger brought his music skills to the film as producer and music director. There are at least two more essential ingredients to this biopic and that would be director Tate Taylor (The Help) and Chadwick Boseman who previously starred as Jackie Robinson in 42.and now becomes James Brown. He does this by his speaking voice, mannerisms and learning the distinctive choreography of Brown’s movements during song and everyday life. This includes his swagger as well as his splits and the special way he whipped a microphone around. There also was some very skillful lip-synching accomplished by Boseman and the actors who played his band and backup singers since the great singing in this movie was the original voice of James Brown.

In addition to Boseman there was some great acting that needs to be acknowledged. Lennie James play Brown’s tough and angry father while Viola Davis was the woman inside the mother of Brown who loved him. yet abandoned and rejected him but still tried to come back when he was a success. Octavia Spencer was the madam in the brothel who took him in and more or less had the heart of gold. Dan Aykroyd was Ben Bart the white Jewish agent who became very close to Brown throughout much of his career and was called papa by him. Neisan Ellis was Bobby Byrd one the most loyal members of the original Flames which was Brown’s first groupbefore Brown became a phenomenon by himself. Brown’s complicated relationship with Byrd reflects his self-image of seeing himself as something very special but yet having a lingering need for close friendship that he may never have found.

On one hand the film used flashbacks to effectively show the genesis of Brown’s unique character but yet they seemed to abruptly pull us away from the engrossing music and the story of how Brown was rising to the top, dealing with racial issues including the country’s response to the death of Martin Luther King as well as how Brown faltered in his personal life. There were many backup players moving in an out of Brown entourage as well as various women and children We could not always be sure who they were in his life which might be defect in the film. In addition, we and at least one other person agreed that the conversations of Brown and some others were not always understandable which could be the dialect, or an audio problem but would seem to be a flaw. The running time of the film was 2 hours and 18 minutes and while we can’t say what should have been cut, it probably could have been shorter. However,we have no complaints in re-experiencing the great music and moves of the incomparable James Brown.(2014)

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

Mission Blue

August 8th, 2014 — 10:30pm

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Mission Blue-sp. Dr. Sylvia Earle is truly an amazing woman. For more than 50 years she has been diving in oceans all over the world . She has been a Chief Scientist at NOAA National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration. This documentary film by Fisher Stevens (known for the award winning film The Cove) and Robert Nixon is about her but it is also about her mission in life which is to restore and save the oceans of the world along with marine life which we see is being seriously destroyed in recent years.

Unfortunately, from our point of view the focus of the film is not clear. We see breathtaking footage of life near the bottom of the ocean as underwater explorations by people like Dr. Earle and James Cameron go to record-breaking depths. We view video of Dr. Earle as a young girl and then as a young scientist evolving into a woman in her 70s who still does these dives. We briefly meet her three husbands and had an even a briefer introduction to one of her three children as a young woman. We certainly are curious to know more about her personal life which we learned in a post screening meeting with the filmmaker was also his desire to show but was not the wish of Dr. Earle.

The film clearly makes the point that a great deal of the marine life in the oceans of the world has been destroyed in recent years, apparently by over fishing, a desire by some for shark fins, and oil spills. We see what was once beautiful coral life in at least one place, is now debris. There is a dire warning that if something isn’t changed, the oxygen supply of our planet, which mainly comes from the ocean will be depleted and we might end up like Mars (which we all know is uninhabitable by humans). We are not sure what we are supposed to do. It isn’t clear if one of the messages might be not to eat too much fish. There is a plan to make “ Hope Zones” throughout the world which would be agreed upon areas of the ocean that there would be no fishing or any other activity that would disrupt life in that area of the ocean. This brain child of Dr. Earle we are told at the end of the film is making some progress. In conclusion the beautiful scenes shown are somewhat overdone and the interesting life of Dr. Earle is underdone. We are given a website at the end of the film, missionblue.org, which we hope will clarify exactly what was the mission of this movie. The film is scheduled for a brief theatrical release and then will be available on Netflix August 15th. (2014)

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

The Queen

August 1st, 2014 — 6:53pm

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The Queen-nf- As Americans we never quite understood how and why the British people hold their royal family in such esteem. Also, while being full grown adult at the time of the auto accident that claimed the life of Princess Diana, who was by then divorced from Prince Charles, we never understood why there was such a big deal about her funeral. Well, this more or less docudrama focuses on both of these subjects. Thanks to the screenplay by Peter Morgan and the direction David Frears, plus the outstanding acting by Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth and Michael Sheen, as newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair, we are treated to a sophisticated exploration of inner workings of the royal court and what is purported be an accurate rendition of the complicated feeling of all the players in this drama. A fascinating story unravels, which shows the Queen and the royal family with the exception of Prince Charles, reluctant to make a big deal, a royal funeral or any public statements about the sudden tragic death of Diana. Whereas the people of Great Britain and eventually people around the world who were taken up with her life style and her many charitable good deeds were very much affected and were drawn to follow her funeral and participate in the grieving, the royal family felt that she was no longer royalty and there should be just a private funeral. Actual film clips of the large numbers of tearful people in the streets and many inundating the outside of Buckingham Palace with flowers were shown. Blair appreciates the importance to the British people to grieve this loss and realized the mistake that the Queen was making by staying in her country home, not returning to Buckingham Palace and raising the flag at half mast. At one point he even detected a growing sentiment that could lead to the British people wanting to perhaps even remove the monarchy, which they had revered for hundred of years. He tried to counsel the Queen and she responds. In another source we found information that reported that the writer Peter Morgan reconstructed the events of the week after the death of Princess Diana through extensive interviews with many unnamed sources close to the real Prime Minister and the royal family. Many of these sources were able to corroborate the accounts of others, giving Morgan enough information to imagine the intervening scenes, which were portrayed in the movie. Helen Mirren was at her best in this film and won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Actress. The film itself won the most coveted award of an Academy Award Oscar for Best Motion Picture of the Year. But perhaps the highest compliment for Ms. Mirren was the observation by the writer Mr. Morgan that, by the end of production, crewmembers who had been accustomed to slouching or relaxing when they addressed her were standing straight up and respectfully folding their hands behind their backs. She was the Queen. (2006)

 

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

The One I Love

July 31st, 2014 — 7:22am

 

 

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The One I Love- sp- This is another example of an Independent movie put together by a small creative team. In this case it is Mark Duplass (co-star of the movie)  who co-produces with Charlie McDowell (who also directs the film) with other co-producers, brother Jay Duplass along with Mel Eslyn and of course writer Justin Lader. This is part of new wave of films which pays all the cast and crew $100/day but gives everyone a certain amount of points which will determine how they will share the profits from the film which in this case will be through a game plan involving combined theatrical releases with television, Netflix and Video on Demand. They used a detailed script that had everything but the dialogue which the actors improvised within the framework of the story. There were essentially only two actors on the screen and that was Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss (known best for Mad Men). We shouldn’t give away the storyline which has a twist. Suffice it to say that Ethan and Sophie are having trouble with their marriage and they go to see a therapist (a brief role by Ted Danson) who sends them to an isolated vacation retreat where they are supposed to find out who they really are and fix their marital relationship. They and the audience are in for a confusing surprise. The problem is that we didn’t feel it really worked. We got a few smiles out of the story but felt that the story behind the twist could have been developed much better than it was done. We appreciated the creative attempt, You may end up seeing this one night on TV but we can’t recommend it. (2014)

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

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