Archive for 2010


The Kids Are All Right

December 30th, 2010 — 1:33am

*****

The Kids Are All Right  rm- By now you know that this movie is about two lesbian parents who are raising two teenage kids. But actually it could be about any heterosexual couple who just happened to have their two kids by artificial insemination with the use of a sperm donor. (Technology these days overcomes physical infertility) The film raises the possibility of what might happen if one of children decides to track down his or her biological father. The system allows for a grown child to meet his donor if the donor is willing, In this case the 15 year old sibling convinces his 18 year old sister to make the telephone call to the Sperm Donor agency. The donor Paul (Mark Ruffalo) says he is cool on meeting them and then the complications begin. The script by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg is well written, creative, and insightful. It deservse Oscar consideration.  Jules (Annette Benning) is one of the parents, a successful hardworking obstetrician who doesn’t quite appreciate the frustration of her stay at home wife Nic (Julianne Moore) who put her career aspirations on hold and now is trying to establish a architectural landscaping business. This new man in their life is not only her first client but emerges as a lover. This becomes an examination of how people change in a marriage and find that their needs are not being met any more. Established roles may need to be reexamined. Are partners being appreciated for who they are and how they may have evolved? When you can put all these issues into a creative story that shows that a gay marriage can be just like any other marriage- good and bad, and you have a winning film. It is directed by Cholodenko who deserves  much of the credit for the perfect balance in this film about human relationships, sexual attractions, social commentary and real life issues with which most everyone can identify. (2010)

1 comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story

December 30th, 2010 — 1:09am

****

Jews and Baseball rm-  An American Love Story- You don’t have to be Jewish or a baseball fan to get something out of this well done documentary. However, the more you fit into these categories, the more you will want to be sure that you catch up with this film. Every Jewish kid should get a DVD of this film for his or her 13th birthday. It is written by Ira Berkow, Pulitzer Prize winniing author and directed by Peter Miller. There are interviews with baseball greats and people who knew them. There are also personal comments by people such as Larry King, Ron Howard and Dustin Hoffman The emergence of Jewish baseball stars, mirrors the story of the Jewish immigrants being able to partake in the American dream. The difficulties that these baseball heroes encountered spotlight the anti-Semitism that festered in the United States. The film also makes a point of showing that the problems that these Jews had in taking their rightful place on the baseball diamond were not very different than the next group had in challenging the discrimination barrier in this game. This latter point was illustrated in an incident that happened at the tail end of Jewish icon Hank Greenberg’s baseball career during the rookie year of Jackie Robinson. Robinson was trying to beat a base hit when he collided with Greenberg who was playing first base. As the two highly competitive players brushed themselves off, Greenberg gently offered Robinson good luck in dealing with the resistances, which he knew Robinson, would experience as the first black baseball player. The film tells the stories with interviews of the pioneer Jewish ball players in the major leagues. One such player is the legendary Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodger Sandy Koufax, who will be known forever for pitching four no hitters and also skipping a crucial World Series game in order to attend Jewish high Holiday services. This movie also profiled a budding Jewish baseball player whose name we sadly don’t recall because he only had one major leagues at bat during which time on the first pitch he was hit in the head and suffered a severe concussion. After months of recovery he is still struggling in the minor leagues hoping to come back to major-league baseball with the hope of living his dream. This movie is about the baseball dream that many Jewish kids have had and a select few have realized but it is a dream that every kid understands.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Documentary, History, Sport

Nine

December 22nd, 2010 — 1:19am

***

Nine-nf- This was a movie that had previously been a Broadway show, which we saw awhile ago but don’t recall. It is movie musical about the making of  movie musical. Rob Marshall who made the movie Chicago directed it  and the main character in the movie is the director Guido Contini who is played by Daniel-Day Lewis. He is supposed to be making a movie titled Italia but he just can’t come up with the script.  Guido is in conflict. He loves his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard) but then there is mistress Carla  (Penelope Cruz) plus a few other women in his life such as Claudia      (Nicole Kidman), Stephanie (Kate Hudson), Saraghina (Stacy Ferguson or Fergie). As he struggles with his feelings and is attracted to all these beautiful women, in his mind and on screen great musical numbers are created. Penolope Cruz starts things off with a very sexy song and dance. Kate Hudson keeps up with an outstanding dance ensemble and really kicks up some dust with her footwork and her singing. Fergie doesn’t do too badly herself as she belts out her number and Marion Cottilard sings magnificently as she projects herself as the wife that Guido should be very glad to come to home to. Marshall and his staff take full use of the movie screen and it certainly is a first rate musical. There are a few added touches such as Guido has a confidant Lilli (Judy Dench) who is his wardrobe mistress and there are also flashbacks to his interactions with his mother played by Sophia Loren, looking almost as beautiful as ever. However, the storyline doesn’t grab us. There is no emotional connection.  It is a stereotyped fanciful story of the Italian married man who has trouble resisting these women who want to seduce him. We can enjoy the beauty that surrounds Guido as well as the top notch singing and dancing. But in the end, we wonder if we will forget the movie just as we didn’t recall the Broadway show.(2009)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Musical

The King’s Speech

December 12th, 2010 — 6:51pm

****

The King’s Speech-rm Whenever a new insight into history is provided by a film, it has the potential to be of great interest. If it is done well such a movie is usually a winner. This is the case with The King’s Speech where two great actors  turn in a near perfect performances with director Tom Hooper and the production staff pulling together an authentic period piece which captures pre World War II Great Britain and the royal family. Just about anyone in our generation or any student of this piece of history knows that when King George V of Great Britain died his oldest son became King Edward VIII but shortly thereafter abdicated the throne “to marry the woman I love” who was Wallis Simpson  twice divorced American, making his younger brother next in line to become the new King George VI ( Colin Firth)  just as the World War II was starting.  What you probably did not know was that the new king had a terrible stammer, which presented him with an enormous problem since he was expected to address his people and spur them on in their upcoming battle with Germany led by Adolph Hitler. His wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) even before he ascended to the throne located a somewhat unconventional speech therapist, an Australian by the name of Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).  Logue insists on a first name basis with his royal highness and includes some exploration of the king’s childhood and his emotional conflicts as part of his speech therapy. Needless to say after some twists and turns, dramatic moments, a great musical background, meeting the king’s young children (now Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret), the new king  triumphs while Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall), many others including the whole British Empire cheer him on. Knowing the ending (which you probably knew already ) will not spoil the enjoyment of this superb movie. It may have been a tad repetitious and we would have liked a little more of a psychological explanation or exposition of how  the interaction between the speech therapist and the king led to his improvement ( perhaps there was a father transference) However, it is doubtful that most viewers will find very much lacking from this movie. (2010)

2 comments » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, History

Fair Game

December 11th, 2010 — 5:47pm

****

Fair Game-rm- This movie retells the well known story of Valerie Plame and how she was exposed as a CIA agent by the Vice President’s office because her husband Joe Wilson decided to write an op-ed piece in the N.Y. Times and tell the story how during his fact finding mission for the U.S. government he found absolutely no evidence of the sale of uranium to build nuclear weapons being sold by Niger to Iraq.  The Bush administration was motivated to do this because they had decided to attack Iraq on the basis that they believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and this supposed sale was an important part of the case, which they built for the US entry into this war. They tried to discredit Wilson by claiming his wife really sent him there on a boondoggle mission, that he was unreliable and that she was just a middling CIA agent. The opposite was the truth and the criminal act of exposing her as a undercover CIA agent actually endangered many lives who were part of the overseas operations that she was conducting and ruined her career as well as nearly destroying her marriage. Naomi Watts plays Plame who on one hand lives the life of the housewife next door, taking care of young kids, having evening get-togethers with other couples and discussing current events. However, instead of going to work at her cover job with a financial management firm and taking occasional overnight trips, she is at a fairly high level in the CIA going on overnight dangerous missions. Her husband Joe Wilson, former ambassador to Niger as well as having had other State Department jobs now has his own struggling company and doubles as the housedad when his wife is out of town. He is very well played by Sean Penn, who must have especially relished the role of the guy trying to expose government lies.  Director Doug Liman achieved just the right balance in  showing us the everyday life of this housewife spy, mixed with the frightening missions which she undertook. Watts and Penn brought intensity to the outrage and the despair, which their characters experienced. The location shots were very realistic as were the all too familiar cast of characters including the politicians and the media. The film captured an important piece of history mixed with the drama and the human emotions, which were part of this story. It is not a part of history that we should be proud of but what is encouraging is that this film can be made in this country and this story can be told and talked about as much as we choose to do so.(2010)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, History

Rabbit Hole

December 11th, 2010 — 7:32am

****

Rabbit Hole –sp David Lindsey–Abaire as screenwriter for this film, based on his own Pulitzer Prize winning play, really gets into the head and the emotions of two grieving parents 8 months after the death of their five year old son who died running after his beloved dog. We never meet Danny and barely see a picture of him but we come to clearly understand the relentless pain in all it’s forms which his parents Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are feeling. Each of them are  grieving in his and her own way which despite sharing this most personal tragedy and a good previous relationship, there seems to be  no room for empathy between them. Becca’s quest to find some way to deal with her deep dark feelings leads her to establish a relationship with Jason (Miles Teller), the 18 year old high school senior who swerved his car, which he confesses to her may have been going a mile or two over the speed limit, which led to the tragedy and  now has created a bond between them. Becca’s somewhat religious mother (Diane Wiest) whose son died at age 31 , eleven years previously, provides a counterpoint from where she is coming. Nicole Kidman who saw the original play and started the ball rolling to make it into a movie chose John Cameron Mitchell to direct it. Mitchell and Lindsey Abaire who were guests at our screening acknowledged that they complemented each other as they explored the fine points of this film. The director, who had only a 4 million dollar budget, shared with us that he let the actors steep  themselves into their emotional  roles which he appeared to nimbly direct as well as spending  a great deal of time in editing the fine points. He gave a touch of humor to   a primarily a dark movie and kept us the audience observing at a slight distance from the unimaginable tragedy. We did not shed a tear for the young boy who we did not meet or really know. As mental health professionals who have worked with many grieving patients, we had the feeling that we were empathizing with people we cared about, as we might with a patient who is   involved in their own dynamics that are unfolding before us at somewhat rapid pace. The fact that the writer, director and the actors really nailed the complicated feelings and interactions without ripping apart the guts of the audience (which they could have easily done) may be judged a shortcoming of the movie by some or the height of sophistication by others.

This movie also merits comparison with four other movies which we have seen in the past year and each of which shows attempts at dealing with grief in a different manner.

A Single Man shows Colin Firth in an Oscar nominated performance as George a college professor whose lover has died in an auto accident and in his grief he is on the verge of suicide when he meets a young student who cares about him. Robin Williams does an excellent job as an unsuccessful writer in World’s Greatest Dad grieving   a teenage son who committed  suicide. The father pretends his late son has written the story of being bullied and the result is a game changer for the community and for the dad which gives some meaning to this tragic loss.  The Lovely Bones deals with the murder of a young teenager (Saoirse Ronan) who had just begun to feel the glimmers of romance which leads the audience to feel her parent’s unresolved grief despite the youngsters ethereal existence. There is a small amount of compensation as the killer is caught through the efforts of the girl’s sister.  The film, which most closely resembles the Rabbit Hole, is The Greatest which brought together a comparable great performance by Pierce Brosman and Susan Sarandon who are the grieving parents of a teenager killed in car accident while he is with his girl friend played by Carey Mulligan. The potential for the parents to live with their grief is the unborn child being carried by the young girl friend whereas  in the film which we reviewed today,   the hope for a better future is only hinted by a subtle but important gesture at it’s conclusion. We thought these two were both excellent films The  Greatest didn’t achieve the critic’s Oscar acclaim and it appears that the Rabbit Hole may get some such bids. However overall, we rated the Rabbit Hole a notch lower. We certainly do believe that  this movie is the finest example and should be used as a teaching tool and stimulus for discussion for those who are studying the grieving process as well as a movie worth seeing for anyone interested in these all too real human emotions. (2010) ****

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

The Way Back

December 11th, 2010 — 2:20am

***

The Way Back- sp- This movie has all the ingredients for an epic movie. The story is that a handful of prisoners escape from a Russian gulag in 1940  and trek across Siberia  to the Himalayas and ultimately into India more that 4000 miles. There are freezing cold temperatures, snow storms, sand storms, blistering hot desserts, gigantic mountains, starvation, lack of water. The actors include Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess and Colin Farell all who do a terrific job as does the the supporting cast, especially Saoirse Ronan a spirited 15 year old actress, under the direction of Peter Weir who had a 29 million dollar budget. The scenes are quite realistic as you can almost feel their numbness in the frigid temperatures, the pain from the blisters on their feet and their parched throats or deliciousness of an occasional oasis of water.  The story is based on popular memoir written  by Slavomit Racuwicz in the 1950s which sold 500,00 copies worldwide. It was ultimately determined that the author, while he was prisoner in the gulag for awhile, did not make this trek himself but based it on stories that he had heard about. Peter Weir and his team or writers and producers extensively researched the subject and ultimately this adventure is also based on the experiences that some real  people actually went through. Certainly it is tribute to the human spirit, the will and ability of man to survive the horrors of mankind and the harshness of nature. The problem that we had with this two hour and 13 minute movie is that the individual stories of each of the characters were not developed in a manner, which engaged us. Yes, we ultimately learned about some of them, usually through a brief conversation. We did not find that their stories came together nor did it made us care about them as individuals as much as we may have cared for them for who they symbolized. As survivors who were seeking freedom through an almost impossible (and very long) path, we rooted for them. But in the end, we don’t think we shall remember them. (2010)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Drama

127 Hours

December 11th, 2010 — 1:50am

***

127 Hours- rm- You go to this movie knowing that it is the story of the guy who was hiking and mountain climbing by himself and his arm got pinned by a boulder and he couldn’t get out so he cut his arm off. This subject matter will eliminate a number of potential movie viewers and is probably why our Friday night movie theatre was only 1/3 filled. On the other hand (if you will pardon the pun) it is co-written by Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle who directed the movie and who also who won an Academy Award for Slumdog Millionaire as well as making  Transformers. Boyle’s pacing keeps the movie moving although it is mostly focused on James Franco who does a terrific job portraying the real life  Aron Ralston. There are flashbacks which appear to be to his  childhood and parents which if you have read about him know that some of these are premonitions of his ultimate marriage and having a son. His fantasies and his wishful thinking while he is caught in this dilemma are very realistic and it is very easy to feel you are inside his head. The clips of the real life Ralston at the end of the movie with his wife and child, swimming and mountain climbing with one arm will push that emotional button for most people. If you are one of those people who knows that this is a movie that will have special appeal and  meaning to you, you will not be disappointed. (2010)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Drama, Sport

The Burning Plain

December 11th, 2010 — 1:38am

**

The Burning Plain-nf When a screen writer and first time director (Guillermo Arriaga) puts together a complicated plot with four seemingly unrelated stories, taking place in different locations, using two great actresses (Charlize Theron and Kim Bassinger) and an excellent supporting cast, you would hope that when they all come together at the end of the film, there would be an interesting, insightful ending that would make it all worthwhile. In our opinion, despite hitting his mark with a few good psychological themes, the movie fizzed out and in the end did not make the grade. Theron plays a depressed sex obsessed restaurant manager who while trying to forget her past is acting out the trauma of her teenage years (and no she wasn’t abused). Bassinger is an equally depressed mother of a bunch of kids who while trying to find sexual fulfillment after having some bad misfortune, ends up having even more tragedy. Feranda Romero and JD Pardo play teenagers each of whom is trying to deal with the affair and ultimately the horrible death of their mother and father. They themselves have created problems which go beyond the storyline of this movie. The movie is mostly set in the southwest U.S and Mexico as well as having a beautiful scene on a rocky ocean coastal cliff. In the end, the realistic depiction of the scenery and of human emotions, doesn’t make up for the shortcomings of the script.  (2008)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama

Another Year

November 22nd, 2010 — 10:00am


***

Another Year - sp -  As the title suggestions four seasons pass and nothing has really changed. Seeing this movie reminds us why we are always looking for an interesting story line or some character development where something has changed which in our opinion this film really doesn’t have. For example, Mary (played by Lelsley Manville ) is a reasonably attractive  middle aged single secretary working in a counseling center in London and she periodically visits the home of  one of her co-workers who happens to be counselor. She is clearly an alcoholic, hasn’t been able to establish a good relationship with a man and is barely being politely tolerated during these visits by her friend and her husband. Mary flirts with the couple’s son, is disappointed when she ultimately meets his future wife and even unsuccessfully tries to develop a relationship with the tacit brother of her friend’s husband while he is grieving for his recently deceased wife.  Mary is basically a pathetic person who hasn’t changed at all in the year that we observe her. That’s it! Now, the acting in this movie is fantastic. All the characters seem quite real. The married couple is warm and friendly and Manville very realistically portrays Mary the alcoholic friend, as did the other actors in their roles. In fact, Manville might even earn an Oscar nomination for her acting However, what we found interesting about this film was not what was on the screen, but rather the unique manner in which director writer Mike Leigh uses to put together this film as well as others which he has done.  Lesley Manville was the guest at our preview screening of this movie and she explained how Leigh prepares the barest outline of each character. He then meets separately with each actor for a series of meetings over 2-3 months. During this time the actors invents or develops in detail the background and the history or their character. They construct their family background, likes and dislikes, nature of relationships etc. So then when the characters meet for the scenarios, which Leigh has designed, each actor acts as if they are the character, which they have invented. Various dialogue emerge and Leigh encourages the ones, which he likes. The actors never have a script but ultimately they have agreed upon the words, which they will use when they get around to shooting the film. Seeing the results of this process may be a worthwhile experience for students and aficionados of cinema. It appears to bring out a sense of realism that comes from deep in the soul. However, we get bored and turned off by real people from time to time and we didn’t think the experience of watching these people was worth two hours of our time.(2010)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

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