Archive for 2012


Pitch Perfect

October 1st, 2012 — 2:09am

***

Pitch Perfect- sp

It is hard to believe that the script for this film was written and the deal signed for the movie before the TV Series Glee showed it’s first episode. This is the Glee kids go to college and join an a cappella  singing group, compete in the regional finals and ultimately in the big finals at Lincoln Center. (It has nothing to do with that popular TV series). But, it still  has  various types (or stereotypes) of kids in the group and the singing and dancing are great. The story line is as you would expect with no big surprises but you still root for your favorites and you are moved by their determination and energy. The humor is clever and effective and there is lots of it. The photography of the singing and dancing (all without musical accompaniment since it is a cappella) is really done well. Think of those musicals with Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers with camera work from all angles and everyone looks great. Although we were not familiar with most of the songs, the energy and moods were easily conveyed. Much of the credit for the successful translation of this musical event to the screen goes to Jason Moore who makes his movie-directing debut. Why did the powers that be trust a first time movie director with a musical extravaganza? Well, he directed the wildly successful Broadway musical Avenue Q and clearly knew what he was doing. Anna Kendrick who received an Academy Award nomination as supporting actress in Up in the Air  now shows she can dance and sing. So do a large group of young actors and actresses including Skylar Astin, Ben Platt, Brittany Snow , Anna Camp and Rebel Wilson all who we are sure we will hear more about in the future. (2012)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Musical

The Words

September 19th, 2012 — 6:14am

 

***

The Words-nf

You probably know about the controversy over whether Shakespeare wrote  the well known works attributed to him  Well imagine for a minute that William Shakespeare was a very good writer but couldn’t really get his first play published. For the sake of this argument, let us imagine that a man by the name of William Stanley writes just one story which is a  great masterpiece but he loses  the manuscript.  Shakespeare, somehow found the manuscript and  it is accepted for publication in his name. He then gets great acclaim and everyone wanted more writings. Since  in fact he really was a  good writer he produces  a lot more stuff  which is received very well although he didn’t write the first piece. In our imaginative story, Shakespeare goes on to fame and fortune and Stanley the writer of the first great piece, that opened the door for Shakespeare lives a mediocre life. The movie we are reviewing has nothing to do with Shakespeare or Stanley  but the above situation  is  the essence of the  fascinating plot of this movie.

Bradley Cooper plays Rory Jansen, a struggling young writer, who gets great praise by a literary agent for his first novel but he is told it isn’t really publishable. Dora (Zoe Saldena) is his girl friend who stands behind him and believes he will some day make it. Dennis Quaid plays the same writer at an older age maybe 10-15 years after he finally came up with that first great novel which set him on the path as a great writer. He is now on tour with his second or third novel. Jeremy Irons plays an old man who we see reaching out to this successful  writer and confronting him with some very true but bad news for him about who really wrote his first novel. Nora Amerzaler plays the girl friend of the old man when he was a young man. They had a wonderful romance in France after the War which went on the rocks when she lost his novel in a briefcase on a train when coming to visit him.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is really a story within a story. It presents the audience with the ethical dilemma of what one should do if one had chosen to publish a found manuscript in your own name and then found out who really wrote it. What would the consequences be to you, your agent, your publisher and others if you came clean with what you did years ago when you lied. What should you do now, especially if the original author isn’t demanding that you acknowledge him?

If everything seems somewhat convoluted now , it is because it really is. The screen writers and co-directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal deserve to be applauded for this  complex but feasible story. The execution of the film was difficult. While ambiguity is thought provoking, the film could have a been little clearer as it rolled out it’s complex story but in the end the film worked and we walked out of the theatre stimulated to have a lively discussion about it which lingers on in our thoughts .

The film does raise a burning question and that is whether the screen play was inspired by real events? In the film, the manuscript was found in store where it somehow was noted that Hemmingway had some connection. There are stories of this great writer having stored some unpublished manuscripts that  have never been discovered. Perhaps they have been found and published in the finder’s name.  Or maybe  this script is based on a true event about some movie idea or TV show that was credited to someone who found the idea in a “cookie jar” or overheard someone discussing it at a party. In any case it is a thought provoking plot and a good film.

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Romance

Hope Springs

July 28th, 2012 — 5:59am

****

Hope Springs- sp. This is the kind of movie that in addition to being quite entertaining, might very well stimulate discussion in married couples about what may have lost in their marriage over the years. Early in the movie we meet Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) from Omaha, Nebraska who have been married 31 years, have grown children out of the house and now sleep in separate bedrooms. Kay is not happy with this situation and she books a week of intensive couples therapy with the famous author and therapist in Maine Dr. Feld (Steve Carrell). Then the fun begins or perhaps the pain, depending how you experience this well done movie directed by David Frankel based on script by Vanessa Taylor. Producer Todd Black who spoke to the audience we were in  at the UCLA Extension Course at the Screen Writers Guild theater, noted that varying  groups previewing this movie had different reactions. The younger audiences apparently are rolling in their seats with laughter so you can’t even hear some of the lines. The older audiences laugh a lot but in different places and seem to have a different appreciation of the film. No doubt this is an entertaining movie but sometimes laughter is a cover up for anxiety that can occur when some hidden truths are exposed. Meryl Streep, we are told was one of driving forces wanting to make this movie and send a message to middle aged couples who might need some motivation to examine a marriage that has lost it’s spark. She as usual is terrific. She found a way to look and act like every woman and yet have that special desire and also show it. Tommy Lee Jones was not a bad choice for the husband that most guys wouldn’t mind identifying with as he goes about his everyday business pretending that he doesn’t miss the early days of his marriage. He comes off a little too stereotypical in this role but it works. Steve Carrell has that same bland look and tone that he conveys in the Office but his hint of a smile and his persona makes us believe that he really cares as the doctor therapist. Much of the movie is about what happens to sex in marriage. There is some practice with bananas and at least one orgasm but everybody pretty much keeps their clothes on and the movie did get a  PG 13 rating. If the star power of the movie works and the hype doesn’t scare off the guys, this should be a successful film. All the adults should be in for an enjoyable movie with the possibility of some good repercussions for many.(2012) 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama, Romance

Intouchables

July 24th, 2012 — 9:56pm

****

Intouchables:  rm– (In French with subtitles)  It may be hard to believe that you can watch a movie about Phillippe (Francois Cluzot), a quadriplegic man who can’t move his arms or legs  and come away feeling optimistic about life and his future. The story is about this but more about a relationship between a very wealthy man who became completely incapacitated in an accident and in his search for a caretaker encounters a most unlikely person, Driss (Omary Sy). They become buddies and this becomes one of the best buddy films that has been around in a long time. You get a sense of where Driss is coming from – low income overcrowded housing in some adopted family arrangement and Phillppe – a deceased wife, a big beautiful mansion and very likely old money. It would have been nice to have a little bit more back story on each of them but the universality of two people being able to understand and care about each other makes this movie work. Speaking of rising above it all, there is one such scene in the movie which is worth the price of admission. It is a  magnificent  paragliding experience  where we  join the characters as they soar above above a beautiful countryside with mountains and valleys. It is  not a only a metaphor for this story but a reminder how we often get caught up in the details and neglect the big picture. Don’t neglect this one. (2012)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign

In the Land of Blood and Honey

July 24th, 2012 — 9:37pm

***

In the Land of Blood and Honey-nf –Most people probably have some understanding that there was a very bitter civil war in the former Yugoslavia, now Bosnia and Herzegovina which took place between 1992-1995. The acclaimed actress Angelina Jolie  who has served as UN Goodwill Ambassador during her travels learned some the details of the horrors of this conflict which included attempts at ethnic cleansing mostly by the Bosnian Serbs against the Bosnian Croats many of whom have Moslem background. This led her to write this screenplay which she directed and co-produced. It is the story of Danijel (Goran Kostic), a Bosnian Serb soldier serving under his father’s command who encounters his pre-war girl friend, Ajla (Zana Marjonovic) when she is captured by his troops and forced to work as a sex slave. She has seen the able bodied men of her city rounded up and systematically executed while so many of the women are brutally raped and made to serve the captors. Yet she is drawn into this complex and conflicted relationship with Danijel. In a most painful 2 hours and 7 minutes the horrors of this war taking place in and around the city of Sarajevo which is in a state of siege are shown. There were many graphic and dramatic scenes. Using women as hostage shields as the Serbs approached their enemy who were firing from a building was quite unforgettable. Some of the dialog between the characters attempted to describe the history of this conflict but it is much too complex for it to be clearly appreciated . We are given the impression that the Serbs were the really bad people in this conflict, which was probably true. The romance between the two lovers is also shown to be quite complex and we are never sure of Ajla’s true feelings about her captor/lover. Both of the lead actors  were born in this region of the world and there were two versions of the film made, one in English and the other in their native language. It must of have been quite an accomplishment for Jolie to pull off the latter feat. It was difficult enough for us to absorb the full meaning of this terrible period of history even in English. (2011)

1 comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History, Romance, War

Robot & Frank

July 20th, 2012 — 7:07am

***1/2

Robot & Frank – sp   The setting of this movie is “some time in the near future.”  Frank(Frank Langella), an older man living alone,  who may be having some memory problems is visited by his son(James Marsden) who drops off a robot (voice by Peter Sarsgaard) to be his servant/companion. The robot cleans the house, cooks the meals and becomes a meaningful object in Frank’s life. As this very clever story begins to examine the relationship between man and machine, it also allows a look at a film load of life issues. There is the father/son thing especially when father has been away at his own doing for long periods of time and maybe wasn’t the best of dads. The searchlight is put on aging and how an old guy can get marginalized and might want to feel he still is in the game. Not only is there the question of will machines take on human personas in the future but we are reminded that we may be on a path where technology take away things like the intimacy of being able to read and share an actual paper book. All these themes and more are examined as our Don Quixote like character and his faithful Sancho Panza type robot tilt at  Frank’s windmills. The closest thing to a Dulcinea is the warm hearted librarian (Susan Sarandon) who has a good reason to have a special  spot in her heart for Frank. This is all a lot going on in a tender movie about a robot that originally started off as a short film as part of the NYU Film School  studies of C.D. Ford who expanded that project to this screen play along with his then classmate Jake Schreier who directs his first feature film.  They now have a really good movie with an award winning performance by Frank Langella. (2012)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Restrepo

July 18th, 2012 — 7:21am

 

***

Restrepo–  Most boys ( and maybe some girls these days ) while growing up play soldier and war. As kids we can recall some war movies that I thought were pretty good. Now days there are the futuristic blockbuster war movies.  In most of these films there is lots of action, soldiers are killed, there is a good cause and usually a hero with whom the viewers will identify. On the other hand there is this documentary film, the real story of small platoon of soldiers in Afghanistan as recorded by reporter Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hertherington who were embedded with this fighting unit. They were assigned to the strategic Korengal Valley and they had to establish an outpost in the midst of the Taliban. Early on in a firefight, one of their group is the first to be killed. They subsequently named this outpost after him, Restrepo. There is no glory or heroic actions (although it is fair to say that they are all heroes). You can see how the memories of their friend stays with them and lingers on as do all the effects of this experience There is constant fear, anxiety, shooting at the enemy or being shot at, having to go on frightening patrols and hanging around in their lonely little fortress which seems so vulnerable. While this gallant group seems to know what they are fighting for, the viewer is never given a very clear picture. It is somehow to let the local people build a road and be helped by the US so they won’t favor the Taliaban. We haven’t figured out if this was the right war for the US to be in and for how long and how we should have fought it. However, we do come away with the feeling that if there has to be this kind of a war, these young men were trained how to do it and were good at it. But we know, so many of them paid a heavy price by loss of life and limb as well as a continued emotional toll. One year after this movie came out and received an Oscar nomination, the co- filmmaker Tim Hertherington was killed, at  40 years of age, while covering the conflict in Libya.  (2010)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, War

The Magic of Belle isle

July 6th, 2012 — 6:50am

****

The Magic of Belle Isle –sp  Rob Reiner has brought a bit of magic to this story by Guy Thomas. There is this older curmudgeon alcoholic  (Morgan Freeman) who used to be a western novelist but doesn’t write anymore since his wife died 6 years ago. His nephew drops him off at a vacation cabin for the summer on this lovely island.  Next door is this woman (Virginia Madsen) and her three kids. You probably can guess most of the remaining outline of the plot of the story and you wouldn’t be too far off. Yes, at times it seems contrived but you won’t mind at all, as you get a feel for the characters and really like each one of them. What comes across is a real sense of how people can care for each other. Age, race, disability don’t matter. The ability of a person to see what isn’t there and imagine what could be is an important part of the story. The dialogue is wonderful from all the characters but especially the expression and wisdom coming from the 9 1/2 year old Finnegan (Emma Fuhrmann) are perfect. The story will touch you and it is definitely worth experiencing for any adult. We also can’t imagine a better film to bring along a pre-adolescent girl. (2012)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Family / Kids, Romance

People Like Us

June 30th, 2012 — 7:44pm

****
People Like Us – sp We know of several instances, from personal life as well as from our professional work, of friends and relatives encountering siblings who they never knew previously existed. Each story is different but the impact on the people involved is usually quite powerful. No matter what age this revelation occurs it has the potential to shatter one’s concept of your parents, rework your ideas of honesty and truth and lead to a reexamination of your own identity. The writing team of Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jody Lambert each had some personal experience or first hand knowledge of such events which they were able to draw upon to put together this remarkable story. They weaved the details of the story line of each character together with the emotional reveal in a manner which riveted the attention of the viewer throughout the whole process. Although most of the characters were quite likeable and the story was sprinkled with some heart warming comedy, we were still witnessing a tragic story which appeared to be doubling down on the bad luck that each character was experiencing. Sam (Chris Pine) and Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) are the family members who once they confront each other have to relive and deal with the meaning of their unhappy childhood. Michelle Pfeiffer has the role of Lilian, Sam’s mother who is hardened, bitter and looks it which in itself is a great accomplishment for this very fine and beautiful actress. Michael Hall D’Addanio is Josh, Frankie’s 11 year son in a performance which may very well be remembered after he establishes himself as an adult star. Josh’s recently deceased grandfather Gerald Harper was a music and record producer who has created all the misery on the screen as he has fathered both Sam and Frankie while neither knew of each other’s existence. Throughout most of the 115 minutes of this movie , it seemed almost impossible to imagine how any type of satisfying ending was remotely possible. Much of the success for the resolution of the story and execution of the movie should go to Alex Kurtzman who not only co-wrote the story but also directed it. In the end not only are the characters all in a better place with a new prospective on life, but the audience has the chance to reconsider our own relationships with parents and children because the movie we have just seen in one way or another is about “ people like us.” (2012)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama

The Invisible War

June 21st, 2012 — 6:30am

****

The Invisible War- sp   Usually by the time we see a documentary film on a particular subject , we already have a pretty good idea of the nature of the issue being covered and the film provides some interesting documentation. In the case of this film, most of the audience had no idea of the great travesty of justice that has been taking place where there are violent sexual assaults against women serving in our military services by fellow soldiers, the vast majority of whom are not punished. Female soldiers in combat zones are more likely to be raped by fellow soldiers than killed by the enemy. In 2010 there were 19,000 sex crimes committed in the military. Because of the much larger number of men in the military many of these were directed towards men but percentage wise the women have suffered the brunt of this terrible injustice In fact, 20 % of women serving in the military will experience some kind of a sexual assault .

This movie is not just about statistics. Rather it is a very painful series of personal stories told mostly by dedicated women who entered various services, intent on being the best they could be in the service of their country. Not only were they assaulted and raped by fellow soldiers, even more outrageous, if that is possible, when they complained to their superiors in the overwhelming number of cases they were brushed off and not taken seriously. Heading up the team that put this film together are Kirby Dick ( nominated for an Oscar for Twist of Faith )  who directed it and Amy Ziering who was one of the producers and sensitively did most of  the interviews with the several women and two men who were featured in this movie. Each personal story almost seems worse than the one before it. The traumatic impact of these assaults and in some cases the violence of them crushes these victims physically and emotionally. They go through stages where it seems there is no way out for them and therefore it is not surprising that some of them contemplate suicide. The attempts by the military to raise consciousness of the troops to this problem are almost laughable as well as deeply insulting to women. For example one such campaign exhorts soldiers to “ wait until she is sober before you ask her”

A well thought out coalition of victims attempted to sue the government but their suit failed to gain traction as the first response of a federal court in West Virginia is to turn it down and state that this is an ”occupational hazard.”

The movie offers a glimmer of hope as one week prior to the opening of this movie, it was seen by the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who takes the gigantic step forward by ruling that these assault complaints will no longer handled by the unit commander but rather will go up the ladder to higher ranking officer, presumably with less prejudice. Most probably there will not be justice until these complaints can be fairly dealt with by civilian police and courts. The film does something that many investigative documentaries don’t do well, in that it clearly provides a website (http://invisiblewarmovie.com/) and an opportunity to get involved in this cause by signing petitions and doing other things. This is the power of a documentary film and there is no better cause than the one put up the screen by this movie.(2012)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Crime, Documentary, History, Uncategorized, War

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