Archive for 2013


12 Years A Slave

October 17th, 2013 — 7:38pm

*****12-years-a-slave-promo-poster-422x600

12 Years A Slave- sp  This is one of the most painful and difficult movies to watch that we have seen in a very long time.  The screenplay by John Ridley is based a little known book by Solomon Northrup, which was written in the mid 19th century. He is the main character of the film and is magnificently played by Chiwetel Ejiofor who is a very talented British actor who can express tormented feelings with his face and eyes. Northrup an upper class black gentlemen living a happy life with his wife and two children in Saratoga, New York happens to be a talented musician who agrees to go on a short tour and play in Washington DC. He was kidnapped and brought to New Orleans where he is sold into slavery. It is through his experience that we come to deeply appreciate in the inhumane, vicious treatment of slaves on the plantations of the south. The debasement of another human being by others because they felt they owned them and could do anything they wanted to them is shown in so many ways. You probably have studied the story of slavery in this country but any tendency to repress that knowledge is challenged as we experience the separation of mother and child, whippings, demanding forced labor, rape and hangings. All of this occurs as everyday events. If this were just a reenactment of the horrors of this sad piece of American history, the movie would have achieved a worthy accomplishment. However, since the character with whom we closely follow and identify was a free man living in the North who gets pulled into anyone’s worst nightmare, it brings an even greater sense of reality and immediacy to his plight which we believe is quite palpable. There are some very good actors who play some very bad people and those include Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano and Paul Giamatti. There was a heart wrenching performance by Luita Nyong’o born in Mexico, raised in Kenya and a recent Yale University School of Drama graduate who plays Patsy, one of the terribly treated young black women. Brad Pitt’s production company originally came up with the idea for this film and was one of the major producers of it. Pitt himself has a small but important role in this film. They brought in Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) as director who clearly connected with the concept and made an unforgettable film, which should not be missed. It is worth the pain that it will cause you. (2013)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Drama, History

Don Jon

October 13th, 2013 — 7:46pm

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Don Jon- rm – Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a writer, director and lead actor takes on a complicated and difficult subject and that is relationships and sexuality. He also takes a swipe at the Catholic Church and what some might say is the stereotype of New Jersey women and men. Don Jon  (certainly a name to remind us of the great lover Don Juan), played by Levitt is a 30 something guy living a single life in New Jersey. He lives near his parents (Tony Danza and Glenne Headley) and is a working guy like his dad. He has a bachelor pad where he enjoys sex with his latest girlfriend. However, he enjoys watching pornography on his computer even more. Ms. Sugaraman (Scarlett Johansson), his new girlfriend is a knockout but she has definite ideas what a man should be like and thus tries to set the bar for Don Jon. This includes, going back to school, having a maid clean his apartment rather than himself (which Don would rather do), spend time with her and her friends together and most of all enjoy seeing romantic movies with her. Don tries to do all of this but still goes back to his Porn. All the Hail Mary’s ordered by his Priest after his Confession don’t help. He meets a slightly older widow (Julianne Moore) who shows him that sex and lovemaking can even be better than porn when the two people are really into each other. Levitt makes his points with good writing and great acting (especially his and Johansson’s). However, it isn’t clear to us if he is talking about the current state of sexuality in today’s society or if he is making a statement about the coming of age of his generation or both. In either case, he made a bold creative movie that may be able stand on it’s own. We suspect that Mr. Levitt who has established himself as an actor will be on the scene as a filmmaker for some exciting new movies. Perhaps we are seeing the the new Woody Allen. (2013)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Romance

The Fifth Estate

October 11th, 2013 — 8:10am

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The Fifth Estate- sp. If the “4th Estate” is a term that refers to people who organize and report the news what is the “5th Estate” ? It is basically the subject of this movie which is the story of Julian Assange (Benedtict Cumberbatch) and his assistant Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl) who ran WikiLeaks, the controversial website which is know for reporting secret  private government documents. On the day we previewed this movie the real Julian Assange who is living in the Ecuador  Embassy in London because of legal charges against him for being with underage girls, released a letter that he had written to the actor who plays him in this movie. In it he denounced the film and said it is based on “the two most discredited books on the market.” He also stated that he felt the  film intended to depict him and his work in a negative light. At our screening we met screenwriter Josh Singer, who has a law degree from Harvard and a MBA  as well has having been a writer for the TV show West Wing for three years. He contended that he researched the topic very thoroughly and spent time with many of the subjects in the movie although he never met Assange. WikiLeaks was originated by Assange as a website in which anyone could report evidence of wrong doing and be assured anonymity as well as having their report published on the website without editing. The small team of Assange, Berg and a few others would check out the sources before they would put it up for the world to see. They attracted whistleblowers from around the world and broke some major scandals. Everything came to head when US Army Private Manning leaked thousands of top secret documents about the US war in Afganistan which were to be jointly published by WikiLeaks, The NY Times, The London Guardian and Das Spiegel (a leading German newspaper). These documents were to include information about informants who were  living in war zones whose lives could therefore be in great danger. The question with which the film struggles is whether Assange is a very creative idealist devoted to uncensored free speech who has developed a new form of journalistic expression or if he is a personally flawed individual who is insensitive to the implications of the tool which he has developed and the manner in which he tries to use it. Or perhaps he is a combination of these two characterizations. The direction by Bill Condon is fast moving and quite creative as exemplified by showing the online chat room where the main characters communicate while they are traveling all over the world as an actual large interesting physical space. We must admit that we both found several of the scenes confusing as we were not exactly sure where they were taking place and why the characters were there. However, the story line did carry us along and the conflicts which unfolded did challenge and inform us. This adds up to a very worthwhile movie. (2013)  

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

Gravity

October 5th, 2013 — 10:11pm

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Gravity rm– We saw this film in newly furbished movie theatre with very comfortable large seats that go back almost 180 degrees, a gigantic new screen and a magnificent sound system that was capable of shaking the entire building. We chose the 3D showing which was perfect for this film. The view shown of earth from space was breath taking. Director Alfonso Cuaron obviously had the money and the special effects people to make the most of this experience You probably have seen the coming attractions of this film. You can also get a pretty good feeling what it is like to float in space with only your thrusters to move you around by going to the movie web site and take their simulated space walk where you control the movement (http://gravitymovie.warnerbros.com/#/experience). So what is left?A little of George Clooney and a lot of Sandra Bullock who really carries the movie. She flips, turns, worries, frets, thinks about her daughter and really does a great one woman show. There really is no great story line.  It is a fun experience and perhaps it shows you the state of the art for making a movie “in space.”  We think many sophisticated movie goers will probably want more than this movie provides. Maybe visiting the website will be enough.. (2013)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Thriller

Captain Phillips

October 4th, 2013 — 2:11am

Captain Phillips*****

Captain Phillips sp- This movie has all the ingredients of a successful award wining, exciting and enjoyable movie experience. It starts with a true story about Captain Richard Phillips, the American commercial sea Captain whose ship is hijacked in international waters by Somali terrorists He ends up being held hostage while the US Navy and the Navy Seals try to rescue him. You add to this that Captain Phillips is played by Tom Hanks who gives one of his best performances especially in the moving closing moments of the film. On top of all this Paul Greengrass (known for The action packed Bourne UltimatumBourne Supremacy and United 93) as director  rolls out this exciting drama as if you are seeing a documentary unfold before your eyes. Greengrass knows how to bring out sizzling tension mixed with pulse throbbing suspense. He also knows how to get great performances from first time actors such as the team that plays the hijackers and even from a real life young female  navy corpsman who interacts with a distraught Captain  Phillips. The Navy Seals appeared very authentic since they also were the real guys. An added touch was the story line which gave some sympathetic insight into the plight of the hijackers. There was very little CGI on this movie most of which took place at sea.  It was a big budget film at it’s best. The clincher here is that even though you probably know how this movie ends, you will still be on the edge of your seat throughout the entire film  (2013)

 

Comment » | 5 Stars, Action, Drama, Thriller

Enough Said

September 22nd, 2013 — 1:24am

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Enough Said rm– Once you get over the fact that you are seeing the late James Gandolfini’s last performance you will find that you are watching a very insightful and touching romantic comedy. This is the story of two divorced middle age people with flaws and baggage who encounter each other and develop a romantic relationship. Eva (Julia Louis –Dreyfus), a masseuse, is as expected funny but yet poignant as she finds chemistry with her new friend Albert (Gandolfini) but yet is unsure of herself and doesn’t really appreciate what she has found. She is greatly influenced by her old friend Sarah (Toni Collette) who would rather change her furniture than consider changing her misfit husband (Ben Falcone) as well as by her new client and friend Marianne (Catherine Keener). This film also examines the interaction between parents and daughters at the point where the daughters (Tracy Fairaway and Michaela Watkins) are going off to college. Screenwriter and Director Nicole Holofcener has weaved this complicated and poignant relationship into the story as both main characters are in this situation. There are some great comedic moments, which play off the big coincidence of the story, which the audience becomes aware early on and watches the characters come to their own meaningful realization. This movie is also a showcase for Gandolfini to demonstrate his versatility in showing vulnerability as a gentle man as compared to that trait in his role as a tough guy, for which he will forever be remembered in the Sopranos. (2013)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Romance

Short Term 12

September 3rd, 2013 — 6:33pm

****Short term 12

Short Term 12- rm This  film slices into the tragic plight of children who are deprived of a decent childhood because of circumstances of poverty and /or parental abuse.  The setting is a lovely group home that houses what appears to be a dozen youth for a varying amount of time who range  from preteen to age 18 when they must move on. We meet Sammy (Alex Calloway) a wide eyed young boy who is either trying to run for freedom or  is lost in his world of toy figures, Marcus,  (Keith Stanfield)an older teen boy who is filled with anger and hurt which he expresses through rapping and Jayden, (Kaitlyn Dever) a teenage girl who holds her story inside while she makes her self bleed or has terrifying fantasies. The staff seem to be mostly 20 something young people two of whom we get to know. Grace (Brie Larson) is a very capable counselor who related extremely well to her charges and who gradually reveals her own past life, mainly that her father is  serving a 10 year jail term for deeds he did to her and will be soon released. The other staff member who we come to know is Mason (William Gallager Jr, the actor who plays the likeable young news producer on the TV series Newsroom). Mason is a grateful success story, having been raised by foster parents who recently celebrated their 30th anniversary. Outside of work he and Grace are a couple whose relationship is tested when she reveals the old and a new important event  of her life that will impact on both of them. The screenplay by director/writer Destin Cretton shows how hurt, angry mistreated young people can feel. We also see the difference it can make when someone understands, empathizes and even identifies with them. From our experience as therapists we know how youthful traumatic experiences which can disrupt personality development may bring about cutting and self destructive behavior that were shown in this film. The road to a happy ending requires time in therapy that these characters were just beginning. While this piece of reality may have been somewhat minimized in this story, the overall film experience was absorbing, insightful and very uplifting. (2013)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Witness

September 3rd, 2013 — 6:07pm

***Witness

 

Witness- nf  This is a 1985 thriller directed by Peter Weir and stars Harrison Ford as John Book a very honest Philadelphia police detective who is investigating a murder of an undercover cop. There is a witness to the crime and that is a young Pennsylvania Dutch Amish boy, dark suit and black hat, who happened to be in a men’s room stall when the crime went down.He identifies a picture of the killer who is  McFee,  a  dirty cop ( Danny Glover) involved with two other cops  wheeling and dealing narcotics big time. When they learn of the witness, they are out to get the kid and the good cop who gets injured in a shoot out with McFee. Book, along with the kid and his beautiful widowed mother Rachel Lapp (Kelly McGillis), return to Lancaster, Pennsylvania for him to recuperate from his injuries (they can’t take him to a hospital where the bad cops would find him). This is where the Amish live  in the beautiful countryside with horse drawn carriages and peaceful non- violent traditional  ways. They have their Council of Elders, prayer meetings and even a barn raising where all the men pull the frame up and begin to hammer away before taking a break for the meal prepared by the women of the community. This story allows a bringing together of two divergent cultures yet both living in the 20th century side by side. Add to this a romantic twist as the beautiful Rachel and the dashing Book are drawn to each other. You know the trio of the dirty cops are going to track them down, guns blazing and you can be sure there is going to be an exciting climax with uncertainty to the if and how  Rachel and the good detective will resolve their relationship. This is a unique premise, an unusual setting and a well done breath taking movie. Viewing the Netflix Special Feature, which includes interviews with Director Peter Weir and the various actors will add to your enjoyment. (1985) 

 

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Sabotage

September 3rd, 2013 — 5:07pm

 

Sabotage***

Sabotage-nf– (aka The Secret Agent)   We received this DVD in package of items at a charity event. Sometime later, my 9 1/2 year old grandson and I were looking for a movie to watch together and he chose this black and White  1936 Alfred Hitchcock classic. Even a  few years before the official start of World War II the British were wary of secret hostile actions towards their country by Germany. There is Mr. Veloc (Oscar Homolka), an owner of a movie theatre who is really a German spy.  He sets off a secret bomb that only temporarily disrupts the electricity in London.  His wife (Sylvia Sidney) who works in the movie theatre is completely unsuspecting of her husband’s devious role and doesn’t want to give refunds to the movie patrons saying the electricity failure was an act of God. Ted (John Loder), a  secret Scotland Yard detective, suspects foul play by Mr Veloc and goes undercover working in a fruit stand next to the movie theatre. Mr. Veloc, hiding his secret intentions, counteracts his wife and orders refunds to be given. He then plans the planting of a more sinister bomb to another movie theatre secretly hidden among movie reels to be delivered by his wife’s kid brother (Desmond Tester). This young courier has a certain amount of time to deliver the package. His curiosity in events along his journey through the bustling city means that the bomb could go off while this likeable young man is in transit. Hitchcock, of course builds up the tension showing the time and events until there is a premature explosion. The screenplay based on the  novel  The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad also allows Hitchcock to use all the tricks at his disposal to grip the audience with fear and concern as there is a murder in the story as well as a love theme. Scary music suggesting something terrible and devious is about to happen is skillfully  used by this great Director. Things never turn out as you expect.   The movie might be classified as film noir as it is mostly dark (and grainy) but it keeps you on the edge of your seat. Certainly not one of the best of the movies from the director who was known as “ The Master of Suspense “ but one which any film aficionado would probably enjoy. If you chose to seek this one out, remember that Hitchcock was known for making cameo appearances in his films. He appears at the 9 minutes mark in this one, right after the lights go back on and before the lady shuts the kiosk window. Wearing coat and hat, he walks from center screen to the (viewer’s) left, leaning back and looking upwards. That is Hitchcock ! (1936)

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Thriller

Afternoon Delight

August 27th, 2013 — 5:56pm

Afternoon Delight***

Afternoon Delight-sp-  First time movie Writer/Director Jill Soloway (known for writing and directing TV’s Six Feet Under and other shows) pulls no punches as she takes on the young modern 3rd generation post feminist  woman represented by Rachel (Kathryn  Hahn ). This character is living in a beautiful home in  Silver Lake, California with the tall Los Angeles skyline in the background. She has one small child and is married to Jeff ( Josh Radnor) , a successful app designer. Their sex life has gone stale and they try to stimulate things by going to a local strip club where Rachel has a lap dance by McKenna (Juno Temple), a 20 year old beautiful stripper, (we understand that this is not an unheard of pastime in this generation). By coincidence a few days later  Rachel meets this young woman  (self defined as a sex worker) who has lost her place to stay and being the “do-gooder” that she is, Rachel  tries to help her out by giving her a temporary room in her house. It is through the study of these two women that Soloway (who won a Best Director Award at Sundance for this film) attempts to explore what contemporary female sexuality is all about . She does this not only by examining Rachel’s marital situation but through the attitude of McKenna who seemingly is very comfortable being paid to satisfy men’s sexual needs . Rachel’s friends reveal their inner feelings while loosened up by some alcohol at a girl’s gathering. There is discussion about connection between men and women and looking into your partner’s eyes during orgasm etc. There is a hint of the ability of women to want love and sensuality from men and women. Rachel even accompanies McKenna on a visit to a client. In seems that we are supposed to conclude that people should be happy with what they have.  But how do you really come to appreciate that? The film certainly makes a valiant effort to do this by stripping away all the airs and defensiveness that people frequently show to each other. There also is  great acting by Kathryn Hahn who conveys her pain, struggle and arousal in a very real and yet at times comedic manner. Jane Lynch plays a psychiatrist who initially was providing insight to Rachel but then deteriorates into a ridiculous character that has a need to talk about her own problems which don’t seem to be related to the themes of the movie. While perhaps we are sensitive to such satire but it seemed to detract from the movie. Whether there be enough left in this film to satisfy the 30 something woman and those who want to understand her, remains to be seen.

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama, Romance

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