Audrie & Daisy

August 23rd, 2016 — 8:19pm

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Audrie & Daisy

Every high school student and probably many preteens and their parents/grandparents and close family members should see this documentary film. The husband and wife filmmaking team of Bonnie Cohen and Jon Shenk mainly focuses on the lives of three teenage girls and their families who lived in different parts of the country but had similar experiences. This involves teenagers sending naked pictures through the internet, alcohol, parties, rape, and subsequent humiliations. In the case of one girl there was a fatal outcome. Part of the film is seen through the eyes of two of the boys who carried out the attacks on one girl who was 14 years old at the time and apparently unconscious from drinking.

It would appear that neither the parents of teenagers coming of age nor the teachers, school system, or even the criminal justice system seem adequately prepared to deal with this emerging tragic social phenomenon. It is being fueled by a changing Internet which is best understood by the young people of today some of whom end up hurt and damaged by it. Not only does the Internet provide readily available pornography but it also becomes a vehicle for girls responding to requests from boys for nude pictures of themselves, as a badge of popularity. The result and changes in sexual standards are enhanced by readily available alcohol and marijuana. This film shows caring parents who may have thought they were sophisticated about sexual issues in their children but found out that they were basically clueless.

The majority of people who were experiencing some of the tragic sexual consequences demonstrated in this film would understandably be reluctant to publicly describe their plight. Therefore it is a great accomplishment for the filmmakers that they were able to find some brave young women and their families who were willing to speak up and are motivated to action in order to prevent similar tragedies for others. We also meet the very thoughtful brother of one of the rape victims who not only reflected on how he felt but also what he is motivated to do to address this problem.

We could find some faults with the continuity of the storyline and the abrupt changes and locations. We would have also liked to have seen a better examination of the legal issues which are an important part of the story. However there is enough in this documentary film to be a “game changer” in this crucial issue concerning the destructive use of the Internet in our country. Netflix is now onboard with this film and should greatly facilitate its distribution. It opens up September 23rd in Los Angeles and New York. It should also be available soon for home screen viewing. We also understand that there is a roll-out plan for schools to use it with backup educational material. (2016)

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

Florence Foster Jenkins

August 17th, 2016 — 7:29am

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Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) was a rich woman who thought she could sing opera music well but, in reality, clearly sang poorly and off-key. St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) was her “husband” who may have originally connected with her because of her money but after 15 years appeared to truly love her and to try to protect her from the outside world that would laugh and ridicule her when she might sing in clubs or when she became a little grandiose by deciding to make a vinyl record of her singing as well as schedule a concert at Carnegie Hall. Hugh Grant is quite believable as the loving but philandering partner. Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) was a young pianist who became her accompanist. The setting is New York in the 1940s. Stephen Frears, the director, Nicholas Martin the screenwriter and the brilliance of Ms. Streep have presented Florence Foster Jenkins as a very sympathetic character who lives with a chronic illness of the time, has apparently accepted an arrangement where Bayfield has his own apartment (and his own mistress). She loves music and doesn’t have a clue about her lack of talent.

The artistic accomplishment of Ms. Streep who apparently in real life in addition to being an Academy Award-winning actress is an accomplished singer, is acting as a dreadful singer . This could be another Academy Award-winning experience for her. But the big surprise in this film is the work of Simon Helberg (well-known for his 10 seasons on the TV Show “The Big Bang Theory”). His facial expressions along with his actual accomplished piano playing as the accompanist are a major part of the film presentation. There was no dubbing of the music here; it was all done in live takes with a musical score by veteran music composer Alexandre Desplat. You come away from viewing this movie by scratching your head and saying, “Did this really happen?” The closing credits document that it really did. (2016)

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

Indignation

August 17th, 2016 — 7:13am

***

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When we think of Philip Roth whose book this movie was based upon, we think of Jewishness, some kind of sex and guilt as vividly described in Roth’s best-selling book Portnoy’s Complaint and many other of his books. Sure enough these were the main ingredients of this film directed by James Schamus who also wrote the screenplay.

Marcus (Logan Lerman), a young man from New Jersey (as was Roth) is going away to a midsized college in Ohio (Roth went to Bucknell in Pennsylvania) in the 1950s as the Korean War was getting started. At the school, women have to be back in their dormitory at 9:00 p.m., Jewish students can belong to all Jewish fraternities and there are a certain number of required attendances which are expected at the weekly chapel services. Marcus, the main character, is Jewish and an atheist, a non-frat type of a guy with no real experience with the opposite sex. The story is vintage Roth and the audience where we saw the film seemed to be of an age which grew up reading Philip Roth as we did.

Marcus, who is inflamed with his ideals, neurotic as they may be and saddled with his hang-ups, grabs our attention as he encounters the authoritative Dean of students (Tracy Letts). The movie allows us to really get inside this young man’s head and feel his pain. It also is a period piece which recalls campus life in the 1950s at a time that our country was once again at war.

One major deficit of the movie is that we do not very well understand the young woman Olivia Hutton, (Sarah Gadon) who Marcus encounters at college. She obviously has some severe emotional conflicts but there is not enough expression of them or back story to satisfy the mental health professional part of us and therefore, much of this important character comes across as quite shallow. This takes away from the overall storyline and the experience of the movie. (2016)

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

The People vs Fritz Bauer

August 12th, 2016 — 7:12am

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The People vs. Fritz Bauer

The title of this movie is ironic since Fritz Bauer (Burghart Klaussner) was an Attorney General in the 1950s in postwar Germany whose job was to prosecute war criminals on behalf of the people of Germany. He gets wind of the fact that the most notorious war criminal, Adolf Eichmann, was hiding in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This film is the story of Bauer’s determination to bring Eichmann to justice despite the resistance of many of his countrymen who were government officials and many may have been Nazis or Nazi sympathizers.

If you have traveled to Germany in modern times you know that so many of contemporary Germans have owned up to their country’s role in attempting to destroy the Jewish people in the 1940s. During our trip to Berlin, we saw many memorials including a very moving Holocaust museum. Director and screenwriter, Lars Kraume and producer, Thomas Kufus are among the many contemporary German filmmakers who are continuing to explore this subject with their work.

This film not only told an important historical story, but also provided an in-depth look at the character and personality of the two main subjects of this film. There is great drama, tension, suspense  and  human interest.  The cast is made up of well-known German actors and the German film community has bestowed numerous nominations and several of its highest film awards to them. The movie is distributed in the United States by Cohen Media Group, who have a history of selecting many outstanding foreign films to be shown in the US. The release date in NY and LA is August 19th. We highly recommend that you see this movie. (2016)

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

10 Cloverfield Lane

August 6th, 2016 — 2:42am

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On a cross country air flight, one of us (MB) usually tries to catch up on a movie that we missed and heard had good press. I thought that this movie would fit that bill especially with it being a J.J. Abrams Production. I expect to see some well-done science fiction or a horror story with some interesting twist. It is directed by Dan Trachtenberg who did Portal: No Escape with a somewhat parallel theme of a woman waking up in a testing facility with no idea how she got there.

An attractive woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) jumps in her car and is leaving her husband. She is driving on the open road and suddenly there is some kind of a crash and she finds herself in an underground house with a big somewhat scary looking man (John Goodman) hovering over her. The guy presents himself as a survivalist who has been planning for the end of the world scenario, which he says is happening. He just happened to save her and bring her into his underground well-equipped house to save her from the aliens and poison gasses, which are outside. Obviously, there are more details. First, you don’t believe him, then you do or maybe you don’t but on the other hand? Can she escape? Should she escape? Is this movie all about the meaning of abuse? What is the music, and other noises in the background telling us? Yes, on one hand it seems fairly believable, but a gasmask made from soda bottle? Come on. If anyone can make us believe a fanciful tale J.J. Abrams (Star Wars etc) should be able to do it.

In the end, I needed more. Maybe I’m not the right demographic. The film did gross $72 million, however I believe there are better films around and I suggest that you pass on this one.(2016)

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

Gleason

July 28th, 2016 — 5:10am

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Steve Gleason was a professional football player who ended his season with the New Orleans Saints. The highlight of his sports career was a blocked punt which symbolized the birth of New Orleans after being so devastated by Hurricane Katrina. A statue of him stretched out with a flying leap to accomplish this feat is present in front of the Saints’ football stadium.

A few years after Gleason retired from football at the age of 33, he developed some mild physical symptoms which turned out to be ALS-Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This is a progressive muscle paralysis which over time results in total paralysis of all muscles, requiring a wheelchair and even a tracheostomy in order to breathe and survive. There are no cognitive or intellectual deficits with this disease. The course of the illness can be gradual over a few to several years usually resulting in death and as you can imagine, it can be devastating.

Shortly after he and his wife Michel were told about his terrible diagnosis, they learned that she was pregnant. It was at that time that Gleason decided that he was going to make an ongoing video blog of his life. His purpose was for him to record his daily life which would include expressing his memories and thoughts so his unborn offspring would come to know him and also know about the bond that he felt with his child. Sometime after this process was started, Clay Tweel, a documentary film producer learned of this project and met with the Gleason’s. They trusted Tweel and agreed he would help them with the video production, with the idea that he would eventually make a documentary film.

This project in one sense has become the ultimate reality show. The viewer of it becomes a fly on the wall to the everyday interactions in the lives of this very brave couple. We see Gleason’s speech gradually become difficult, his gait unsteady, and ultimately leading to a wheelchair. We are in the delivery room when he participates in the birth of his son, Rivers. We watch Rivers gradually developing into a toddler and ride with his dad on the electric wheelchair. We see the tears in Gleason’s eyes as he looks into the camera and imagines that he’s talking to a more grownup version of his son who he hopes someday will view his video. The viewer also realizes what a remarkable woman his wife Michel has turned out to be. It is hard to imagine how she handled being a wife, mother, caretaker and also finding that she was a skilled artist. The interaction between Gleason and his father is a story onto itself. His dad is a religious Christian who believes in faith healing. This is a source of great conflict between Gleason and his dad. There is a church scene where a faith healer exhorts Gleason to be cured and run which is quite heart-wrenching.

When people with this disease begin to lose their ability to speak, they often can use computerized speech synthesizers. You probably recall seeing video clips of the famous physicist, Steven Hawkings who has ALS himself and talks with an artificial electronic voice. An even more advanced device is one which records the voice of the patient while he still can speak and then the miracle of a special computer program will talk in the person’s voice when they type or even choose letters and words with their eyes. This was particularly dramatically demonstrated during a recorded conversation of Gleason and his wife during some difficult times. Unfortunately, this marvelous machine is not available to people without financial resources or even to people on Medicare. It turns out that Gleason along with family, friends, various donors including some people from the sports world set up a foundation which provided this equipment for people who needed them. They also lobbied Congress and eventually “Gleason’s Law” was passed. So now the US Government will provide this equipment for all who need it.

On one hand, this documentary movie is a sad story but it is actually a very affirming tale. It shows one man’s determination to establish a conversation with his unborn son, the amazing support of a dedicated wife, and the fortuitous involvement of a talented filmmaker. We have here the opportunity to see a very remarkable and uplifting documentary film, which we would strongly recommend to our readers. (2016)

 

 

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

Cafe Society

July 25th, 2016 — 1:55am

***

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This movie is set in the 1930’s, which is more of the generation of Woody Allen’s parents than his own. Yet the film is in the voice of Allen who not only actually narrates the movie but also directed and produced it. The central character, Bob, played so well by Jesse Eisenberg, speaks and acts with Allen’s inflections and mannerisms.

The story opens in the Bronx (Allen’s hometown) and we see Bob is leaving to seek his fortune in Hollywood where his uncle Phil Stern (Steve Carell) is a successful movie agent for the stars and he hopes will give him a job. Stern is seemingly happily married for 25 years but he’s having an affair and falling in love with his very young secretary (Kristin Stewart) who no doubt is half his age (sounds familiar?). Complication of complications, young Bob meets Veronica and there is much chemistry between them.

As is typical for an Allen movie, there is an intriguing plot but also great character development. The action of the film shifts back and forth between Hollywood and New York and we get to know Bob’s family. We meet his mother, as you would expect, his father who is a failed jeweler, his sister and her husband who is a outspoken communist, as well as Bob’s brother who is a gangster who occasionally kills people.

Hollywood and New York of the 1930’s are vividly brought to life with clothes, cars, and people as real and true to life as they could be. The casting is wonderful (by Juliet Taylor as usual) and as would be expected, there is period music throughout the movie.

This may not be Allen’s best film but Allen aficionados will not be disappointed and everyone will be reminded about how wonderful and complicated it can be to fall in love. (2016)

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

Captain Fantastic

July 1st, 2016 — 6:18am

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Initially we thought that despite the title this is not a movie about a superhero, but perhaps on second thought it is, but not in the usual sense. It is the story of a father who is raising his six kids in the wilderness (but not quite the bush country as we saw in the setting of the previous New Zealand film that we reviewed). Ben (Viggo Mortensen) is homeschooling his children in the wilderness in the United States. He also just found out that his wife and his partner in this endeavor has tragically died. Her parents, Jack (Frank Langella) and Abigail (Ann Dowd) haven’t quite forgiven them for keeping the grandchildren in the woods and don’t want Ben to come to the funeral. Ben and the kids come anyway on a determined mission.

The film examines some very complicated issues. We are shown the depth and benefit of homeschooling with living very close to family and nature. We are also stimulated to think about the potential shortcomings of children being raised away from their peers.

This movie is the brainchild of writer/director Matt Ross and in a post screening discussion we learned how he shared his views about the subject matter with Mr. Mortensen who took on this acting role and became in sync with his ideas. He also chose and trained a very talented group of children to take on their roles. This included climbing mountains, wielding knives and making music together. These children are George Mackay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Besso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks and Charlie Shotwell. This film will stretch your imagination and the take away emotion is “feeling good”. The film is a well done accomplishment. (2016)

 

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

Hunt For The Wilderpeople

June 24th, 2016 — 11:20pm

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The chances are that if you did not read this review, you might not consider seeing this movie. This is the product of the work of director/writer, Taika Waititi, a young man from New Zealand who is of Maori-European Jewish descent and he has been involved in not very well-known, but well-received films such as Boy, Eagle vs Shark, Two Cars One Night and Tama Tu. This current film takes place mostly in the New Zealand bush country and stars Sam Neill, a well-known international actor who has starred in Jurassic Park, The Piano, Bicentennial Man, Sleeping Dogs, My Brilliant Career and many other successful film and TV projects. His co-star is Julian Dennison, a 12-year-old, somewhat chubby young boy from New Zealand who looks his age or younger. He plays Ricky Baker, a foster child who no one wants and for whom the New Zealand authorities are trying to find a home. They find Aunty Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hec Faulkner (Sam Neill), who lives in an isolated setting on the edge of the deep bush countryside. This would seem to be the last chance for Ricky to be placed with a family or he goes to “juvy.”

Due to circumstances, Hec and Ricky, who basically are two misfits, make their way into the bush country together. You might say this is a road movie, except these two strange bedfellows are trekking, hiding and interacting in a setting that is unlike any place that you have seen before. It includes bounty hunters looking for them, a giant killer pig and what seems to be half the police force of New Zealand. This film is scary at times, funny, but mainly heartwarming and poignant. All we can say is do not take a pass on this movie. We think you will like it and be touched by it and besides, it is a big hit in New Zealand.. (2016)

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

Welcome To The Men’s Group

June 6th, 2016 — 4:53am

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When Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice came out in 1969, it dealt with Encounter Groups which were part of the hip and bit generation, it became a mega hit. The team that just produced Welcome To The Men’s Group, hopes that this film will ride the crest of a growing men’s movement which is as far as we can see is not anywhere a part of the contemporary scene as were the popular Encounter Groups of the 1970’s.

The force behind this movie are the screenwriters, Scott Ben-Yashar and Joseph Culp, with the latter directing the movie. It had to be a real feat to pull together these eight accomplished actors: Phil Abrams, Mackenzie Astin, Timothy Bottoms, David Clennon, Terence Rotolo, Ali Saam, Stephen Tobolowsky and of course, Joseph Culp himself, who is also an important player in the movie. Their interaction was magnificent as the entire film takes place during a three to four-hour encounter session in one location (The actual movie time was 130 minutes – a bit on the long side). The theme that seems to stand out is that you get messed up psychologically if you don’t have good interaction with your father. The group has intense interaction and frank discussions with each other in an attempt to make for the lack of that fathering. We didn’t think the storyline was psychologically strong. There was a particularly intense monologue by Tobolowsky and another one, by Culp. However, the attempt in exploring masculinity seemed to turn into slapstick comedy. This was illustrated by an extended show of male nudity by all the characters which deteriorated into singing and dancing which didn’t seem to resonate psychologically or emotionally with us (But it could have been just us).

The entire cast who we met at our screening seems dedicated to the concept of this movie and are working to promote it. They will be working with the Men’s Group Movement in trying to use social media to connect with potential viewers of the film who are empathic to the Men’s Group concepts. They also have some thoughts about bringing the story to the stage and perhaps spinning it into a TV series. Stay tuned. (2016)

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

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