Ben Is Back

August 30th, 2022 — 12:21am

Ben Is Back
***(Hulu)

Julia Roberts is fantastic as the mother of her son (Lucas Hedges who is the son of the Director of the film Peter Hedges) who returns home straight out of his drug rehabilitation program. There are serious concerns whether he is ready to come back home on the part of his stepfather, siblings, as well as his mother. The theme of the movie is how horribly destructive drugs such as OxyContin can be on the lives of so many people. Having recently watched “Dopesick,” a TV series on Hulu about the Sackler family and the devastation brought about by addiction to this drug promoted by the pharmaceutical companies, we were especially sensitive and tuned in to the theme of this film. Upon reflection, the movie is quite repetitive and never gets beyond the horrors and ruination of people’s lives by such drugs. However, Ms. Roberts’ performance is riveting and on the mark and makes this film, especially worth the discomfort that goes along with it.

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

Hands on a Hardbody

August 20th, 2022 — 5:31am

Hands on a Hardbody
***

First of all, you must understand that despite title, the film is not pornographic in anyway.

This is a documentary film that tells a story of a yearly highly unusual event that takes place in a small southern town in the United States. The local auto distributor holds a contest, in which contestants put their hands on a lovely pickup truck. The person who remains standing keeping his hands on the truck the longest – in other words does not drop out, will win the truck as a prize. We do not really see how the contestants are originally chosen, but it is no doubt a very popular local event with many townspeople coming to watch.

There are periodic breaks every several hours where the contestants can go to the bathroom. Also, during the breaks, the contestants might sit in a chair, perhaps surrounded by their team (probably some family members) and would be given some food and drink and often receive leg or back massages from their supporters. We got the sense of a prolonged time of the event as we periodically are shown a digital readout of the time passed already. The contest concludes when there is only person left standing with his or her hands on the truck and he or she is declared the winner. I believe the total time was about 96 hours, which would be about four days. Obviously, the contest continued day and night.

In true documentary style, the filmmakers try to give us some of the background of the contestants, especially when the numbers whittled down to three of four remaining contestants. This is the true opportunity for the filmmakers to draw out the viewer and to identify with the contestants and root for their favorites. That did not really seem to work for us. In fact, we felt that the insight into the lives and the meaning of the contest and the prize were superficially depicted.

While the subjects and the scenes are unique and fascinating, we felt that the filming and the presentation of the film left much to be desired. The story behind each contestant, especially the finalist, should have been presented in more depth, so we could better know the contestants and what possibly winning meant to each one and their family.

The visual effects of people surrounding the truck would have been enhanced if an aerial view or at least a down shot from a high ladder were used. We also was curious how the bathroom break was handled especially at the beginning when there were large numbers of contestants.

There was concern about possible drug use that might facilitate the contestants to stay awake and stay in position, perhaps if they were using stimulants. When there were just three contestants remaining, each one would be taken away for a drug test; however, it would seem that at this point after they return from the drug test, that might be the greatest reason to have used the stimulant (if one were inclined to cheat in this pattern), so drug the testing should have been done at the conclusion of the contest.

Overall, while the story is quite unique and there is some insight into the small southern town and the people there, we felt it lacked depth and sophistication, especially in telling the back story of the contestants, which could have been done in a more creative manner.

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

Summerland

May 16th, 2022 — 12:55am

Summerland- nf
****

The setting of this story takes place in England during World War II . We meet a woman (Alice Artion) who is living in the countryside as the war and the bombings of London and other cities rages on. She is always writing her story and typing away on her period typewriter. Her village takes care of. young children who are sent to the countryside by their parents to help them survive. We meet young Frank (Lucus Bond) whose father is an air force pilot and his mother has a wartime job in London. Young Frank is assigned to live with the writer who reluctantly takes him on as little does she know how she is linked to him and his mother. While the underlying story line gets to be complicated, the beauty and the success of this film is the development of the relationship between boy and his caretaker mother figure. Screenplay writer and director Jessica Swale has produced a touching story that has depth and emotion and has brought the interesting storyline and excellent character portrayals all together for an
a most enjoyable cinematic experience

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

C’mon C’mon

April 30th, 2022 — 5:40am

C’mon C’mon ( Amazon)
***

Joaquin Phoenix plays Johnny, a radio journalist who travels around the country asking kids about their views of the world and future. The kids interviewed were not actors and it is interesting to hear the variety of children’s views about life.

Things happen, and Johnny ends up taking care of his nephew Jesse who is played by 11-year-old British child actor Woody Norman. Johnny’s mother (Gabby Hoffmann) had to travel to another city to care for her husband who has some emotional problems, so now Johnny has a partner as he travels around the country interviewing kids. They travel from Los Angeles to New York to New Orleans. The story is the brainchild of Mike Mills who wrote the screenplay and apparently worked closely with the uncle-nephew duo directing the filming as they travel around. The movie was made in black and white, which perhaps makes it seem like a newsreel of real life. We got two take-aways from the film. On one hand, it is an optimistic view of the world through the eyes of young people. It is also an examination of meaningful family relationships even when there are conflicts and difficult circumstances in early life. The brother and sister show a caring and a trust between them even if it might not have always been that way. Also, we see the uncle and nephew develop a deep-rooted caring for each other although it takes a while for it to happen on this very unique road trip.

The film is sweet and charming, even as it depicts the difficult challenges of everyday life. It is clear how hard it is to be a parent, as well as how many obstacles there are for kids to overcome. The characters, while unique, draw you in to the universality of the need for understanding and connection and the rewards of experiencing transformation.

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

House of Gucci

April 12th, 2022 — 3:23am

House of Gucci
***

Lady Gaga demonstrated that in addition to her well-known singing talent, she had great acting chops. She played the girlfriend, then wife, and a lot more of one of the Gucci heirs magnificently portrayed by Adam Driver. This is a biographical crime drama. The film is directed by Ridley Scott and is based on the 2001 book by Sara Gay Forden titled “House of Gucci: A Sensational Story Of Murder, Madness, Glamor, And Greed,” which tells it all. At times, you may lose a beat of the story line or the role of a specific character, but the overall cinematic experience is quite engrossing. The supporting cast is great and features Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek, and Al Pacino.

We found it interesting to learn that Lady Gaga took into account how her longtime friend Tony Bennett felt about Italians being represented in films in terms of crime and that she aspired to “make a real person out of her character and not a caricature.” To achieve this she studied the voice and vocal cadence as well as the attitude of the real person she was portraying and tried to be “authentic from the perspective of a woman, not an Italian American woman.” She studied for 18 months speaking in accent for nine months of this period. She also ad libbed many of her lines including the film’s iconic quote “father, son, and House of Gucci”, which went viral after the release of the film. (The above information is from Wikipedia).

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

Drive My Car

March 28th, 2022 — 9:40pm

Drive My Car-nf
****

This three-hour film may be difficult for you to handle. It is mostly in Japanese with a little English and some sign language and of course with English subtitles. The story unfolds as we meet a Japanese couple, he a theater director and she a playwright. They seemed to be very much in love although he has good reason to doubt her fidelity. Sadly, she dies of a stroke at a young age. The complicated emotions of grief and anger unfold as he is asked to put together and direct the classic theater production of Uncle Vanya. The automobile in which a good deal of the action and dialogue takes place is actually a Swedish Saab and not a Japanese brand. Most of the action takes place in the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Even more important is the relationship which the talented and grieving director develops with the young woman who was assigned to drive him around and essentially be his chauffer.

The film is written and directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi based on a short story by Haruki Murakami. Although the names of this cast may not ring a bell with American audiences, they deserve credit. They are Tōko Miura, Reika Kirishima, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Sonia Yuan, and Masaki Okada.

This film has received four Oscar nominations and it won the Oscar for best International Film. It is the first Japanese film to be nominated for best film. Other Oscar nominations were for best director and best adapted screenplay.

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

Parallel Mothers

March 22nd, 2022 — 2:42am

Parallel Mothers
****
How important is it to you to know who are your biological ancestors? If you learned that some ancestor was murdered by the Nazis or some other dictator and thrown into an unmarked grave and there was now a chance to identify him or her and take their remains and give it a proper burial, would you be intent on doing it? Since we are trying to ask some challenging questions, let us ask you some additional contemporary questions, which other films in addition to this one have brought up. If you were to get a notice from the hospital where one of your children was born that notified you that they were computerizing their records and they determined that your child was accidentally switched at birth, would you want to meet your biological child? Would you tell your grown child or children? What if you learned about this error several weeks after you took your child home from the hospital? What would you do? How would you react? In these days of modern DNA testing, true maternity and paternity can be determined. The first and latter hypotheticals are a part of the theme of this film. It is from Spain and stars Penelope Cruz and Milena Smit as the “Parallel Mothers.” It is directed by Pedro Almodóvar. The movie is very well done, and we believe will stimulate the kind of questions that we raised above. Earlier films that have dealt with variations of this theme are:

Like Father Like Son – a Japanese film where the parents learned that their child was switched at birth when the child is 6 years old.

Philomena – deals with the Catholic Church and unwed mothers and what happens to their babies.

The Kids Are All Right – grown children track down their sperm donor biological father.

People Like Us – encountering siblings that you never knew existed.

Mother And Child – yearning for a connection with biological parents that you never knew.

Parallel Mothers is a griping tale of mothers and children and even generational trauma. It is not only well worth seeing but will also stimulate discussion as have these other films that have dealt with related subjects. It is a very good contender for Best International Film for the 2022 Oscars that are coming up in a week from when this is being written.

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

The Lost Daughter

March 19th, 2022 — 5:59am

The Lost Daughter-nf
****

This is an intense film about the various dimensions of motherhood that might be best understood by a mother looking back at the pulls and pushes she has experienced. Leda is a woman in her late 40s who by herself goes to a Greek Beach Resort. She interacts with a woman and her family that she meets there who reminds her of herself when she was a younger mother of two young girls. We see her as a young academic, who translates written materials, in a marriage where her needs and wishes are subsumed by those of her husband, who takes for granted that she is always there to pick up the pieces. We see her frustration and exhaustion from the relentless demands of her children. We also watch as she goes to a professional conference where she is seduced by a well-respected professor and who values her intellect as well as being physically attracted to her. The cinematic experience allows the viewer to understand the love and devotion that she has to her children yet how she leaves them to achieve a certain degree of self-fulfillment. She returns three years later but carries the guilt of her actions as an ever-present burden

On one level, the viewer feels that we are watching bad parenting as loving children are abandoned for periods of time, but on the other hand, there is never any doubt that in her heart she loves the children but is struggling with her own conflicts.

Olivia Colman is terrific as the older middle-aged Leda and Jessie Buckley as the somewhat young Leda who not only captures her role but seems to have a strong physical resemblance to her older self. Both women are nominated for Oscars as best actress and best supporting actress respectively.

Maggie Gyllenhaal directed and wrote the screen play based on the story by Elena Ferrante and one cannot help feeling that these women have the capacity to identify with the main characters in the film. It is also impressive when a director achieves such realistic performances by the young children in the film as was done in this film.

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

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

March 6th, 2022 — 6:57am

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

****

Even if they are not our religious cup of tea, we all have heard about the famous TV evangelists such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham, Joel Osteen, and, of course, Jim Bakker and his wife Tammy Faye. This film, directed by Michael Showalter, takes a deep dive into the lives of this duo played by Andrew Garfield and Jessica Chastain. They both were fantastic in their roles and Ms. Chastain is being recognized with an Oscar nomination. She clearly was able to sing, be the voice of puppets and play the role of a wife demonstrating the complicated relationship with her husband as well as their work as a famous religious duo.

This film gives us a view of the behind the scenes evangelical politics. The storyline traces Tammy Faye’s life from being a little girl, to becoming part of this famous couple and of course her very complicated interaction with her husband. The film allows us to get some insight into the politics, corruption, infidelity, and many other fascinating aspects of their lives. Interestingly, we know very little about the two children of this couple. We see her giving birth to her children, but there is no further mention of them during the film

The movie is unique, well done, and we strongly recommend it.

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

West Side Story

March 1st, 2022 — 7:31am

West Side Story
****
One of our all time favored Broadway musicals as well as the subsequent motion picture was West Side Story. It first hit the Broadway stage in 1957, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins based on a book by Arthur Laurents and inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The music is by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. In 1961 there was the first film adaptation staring Natalie Wood, which we saw as a newly engaged couple.

There were numerous revivals on the Broadway stage as well as by many touring companies and now there is a new motion picture that had a $100,000,000 budget for this great musical production directed now by Steven Spielberg, starring Rachel Zegler as Maria and Ansel Elgort as Tony.

The storyline highlights the turf battle between the whites and the Puerto Ricans on the streets of Manhattan on the Upper West Side. It features interracial love, gang violence, and a lot more weaved into a fantastic memorable music and dance production. The film not only showed the disrespect that various ethnic groups had for each other but also showed the insensitivity of the police at that time.

While this was an excellent film, we do feel that some of the changes made did not serve to enhance the production. For example, the classic scene which took place in a gymnasium where the two groups were in conflict, which had lots of dancing seemed less ebullient than the original.The scene where the Puerto Rican girls were dancing and singing the praises of America with counterpoint by the Puerto Rican boys yearning for their former home was in memory from the original film, a perfect blend of choreography, color and longing contained on a rooftop setting. In this version, the whole number is opened up, taking place on the streets of Manhattan with a growing number of onlookers joining the dance. Somehow, it felt diluted in its new form and lost the punch of the original. Also, some of the emotional scenes were not as intense as we recall from the original. Nevertheless, we would strongly recommend this classic musical experience. The music, the lyrics, the dancing and the story can’t fail to grab you and keep you engaged. West Side Story continues to be magnificent, beautiful, painful and important.

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

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