Archive for 2015


December 18th, 2015 — 7:48am

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 6.49.18 PM**


This is a movie like no other movie that you have seen. The technique used is stop-action puppets. This means that realistic puppets of human beings were utilized which were about one foot in length with movable parts to simulate walking and talking. Sets made to scale were built in which these figures would exist and interact with other puppet/people. The puppets in the environment in which they were interacting would be slightly changed for each frame (24 frames per second). it would take an animation team one day to film two and a half seconds of the film. There were about 15 animation teams working at one time with many identical puppets and several identical sets. It took many months to build the puppets and plan for each scene. The entire endeavor took about two years.

If you think this setup was unusual , the voice over approach was also quite unique. There were two separate voices for the two main characters. David Thewlis was the voice of Michael Stone, a middle-aged businessman who comes to stay at a hotel in Cincinnati in order to deliver a speech the next day. He meets a young woman by the name of Lisa, voice-over by Jennifer Jason Leigh, with whom he has an affair. All the other numerous characters which include a wife and child, an old girlfriend, numerous hotel personnel and a few other characters all have voice-over by one person, Tom Noonan!

The creative nature of this film continues as you try to figure out what exactly was the meaning of the story. You will have to wade through a dream sequence, a serious hotel love making scene, most of the voices sounding the same, and a mixed up main character who seems to be having a lot of trouble figuring out who he really loves and does he really love it all.

This is all the brain child of Charlie Kaufman who wrote the screenplay and directed and produced it with Duke Johnson. They kick-started it all by raising $400,000 (with the initial contributors getting puppets and parts of the miniature sets) and then put together a relatively low budget of a couple of million dollars more which Paramount and some others provided.

We can’t recommend this as a worthwhile cinematic experience, considering all the excellent films out there today, unless this stuff is right up your alley. However, we do admire the unusual creative effort. (2015)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Uncategorized

45 Years

December 14th, 2015 — 6:46pm

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 4.39.18 PM**

45 Years-sp

Early in this British film, the husband (Tom Courtenay) of this couple that is about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary in a few days, learned that the body of his previous girlfriend many years ago who died by falling into crevice of icy water during a mountain climbing trip, has just been discovered and was fully preserved. His now wife of nearly 45 years (Charlotte Rampling) then finds out that her husband recently secretly visited a travel agency to inquire about going to Switzerland where the discovery of his old girlfriend was made. She is already very hurt about this set of unusual circumstances. She appears to be questioning the many years of the seemingly happy but childless marriage (spoiler alert, the old girlfriend was apparently pregnant).

Andrew Haigh, the young (43-year-old) director/writer in a post-film discussion at our screening revealed his insight and seemingly his major point in writing the film was now that the wife knows this ancient story of her husband’s early love, she realizes that if certain events hadn’t happened, her whole life could have been different. “Duh” – isn’t that so true in everyone’s life? If MB hadn’t accepted the blind date with his 18-year-old now wife of many years (SB), his entire life – children, grandchildren and so many choices in life would not have happened. This movie seems to be built upon this premise. which of course is true for everyone’s life. What the movie demonstrates is under the surface anger and hurt feelings that Charlotte Rampling very well conveys with her facial expressions and demeanor.

Moviegoers today have a right to expect a richer and more complicated story then that which is presented in this film. Now, if the husband had murdered his wife all those years ago (which we both thought for a second might be the case before it became obvious that that wasn’t the situation) then we might have been drawn into the storyline.

Despite the nice photography and excellent acting, we were glad that the running time was only 95 minutes rather than a longer 2-hour film. Still, the film dragged and it felt as though there was “no there there.”(2015)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama

Ricki and the Flash

December 12th, 2015 — 7:29pm


Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 10.32.25 AMRicki and the Flash-nf

If you are a “streeper” (nickname Meryl Streep’s fans often called themselves) you are going to enjoy her in this performance. As usual Ms. Streep who is known as a perfectionist in preparing for her roles, appears to have mastered her character down to the last note.

In this case, it is as an aging rock musician who has only made one album and now spends the daytime being a grocery checkout lady and the evenings being a grooving rock musician leading her band “The Flash” playing in a local club in Tarzana, California. Her fellow guitarist Greg is played by Rick Springfield, known to be quite a successful musician in real life. Ricki left her husband and children when her kids were quite small to follow her dream as a rock musician and had very limited contact with them over the years. One of them Julie (played by Mamie Gummer , a rising actress who in real life is Ms. Streep’s real daughter) has just had a traumatic marital breakup and Ricki returns to Indianapolis to support her. Her daughter and two grown sons one of whom is about to get married are not very thrilled to see her at first. Her former husband (Kevin Kline) has married a very lovely woman (Audra McDonald) who confronts the rock musician with her failure as a mother. There is a lot of sadness in this film and also a lot of rocking music led by Ricki (alias Ms. Streep) and Greg (alias Mr. Springfield) and some very fine backup musicians.

The story by Diablo Cody and the direction by Jonathan Demme lead us on a fanciful trip but in the end it is feel good stuff. We don’t think it will lead to Ms. Streep’s 20th Oscar nomination but you never know. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Musical

The Danish GIrl

December 2nd, 2015 — 12:19am

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 2.28.25 PM*****

The Danish Girl-sp

You probably know the modern day’s story of Caitlyn Jenner. You may be familiar with the successful TV series Transparent. If you are old enough, you may remember Christine Jorgenson, who was one of the first transsexuals to have successful reassignment surgery. Certainly you are aware of the transgender community and their fight for recognition and for fair and equal treatment. But you are probably not aware of the little known love story of Einar/Lili and Gerda, circa 1920s, which culminates when Einar recognizes that he was a woman trapped in a man’s body and is going to try to do something about it .

This is a true story based on a book by David Ebershoff brought to life in the screen play by Lucinda Cox, which went back to the original diaries left by Gerda. This was a movie project carried for 15 years by producer Gail Mutrux who optioned this book over this period of time and went through over 70 potential directors and a few actors who were considering these fascinating roles including Nicole Kidman who at one point was interested in playing the transgender role. It was not until Mutrux was able to interest director Tom Hooper (Academy Award wining director of The King’s Speech) that this project that got its legs. Hooper showed the script to Eddie Redmayne (Oscar winner for the Stephen Hawking role in The Theory of Everything) who came on board. Swedish actress Alicia Vikander joined the cast and there was a chemical reaction which brings us one of the highlight films of the 2015 season.

Redmayne combined his sensitive demeanor with a soft spoken rendition of a talented painter and happily married man who becomes acutely aware of his feminine side which breaks out of its shell and could not longer be contained. His transformation from Einar to Lili is one of the acting triumphs of the season. At the same time Alicia Vikander turns in a performance which matches Redmayne with sensitivity and insight, as we see joy turn to doubt and then to disbelief but yet she maintains her unyielding love for her husband.

This is a period piece which reproduces the European setting in which it is taking place. The two main characters are artists and the paintings and drawings in the movie are very much a part of the story. We understand that these pieces, which were used in the film will live on for some worthy causes. The photography by Danny Cohen is magnificent and Alexandre Desplat does his usual great job with a musical score that you may not recall but has set the mood of the film. We know this movie will long be remembered as a representation of the real life struggle that so many transgender people are experiencing. (2015)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History, Romance


November 23rd, 2015 — 1:42am

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 5.46.37 PM****


We don’t know if you would had to have lived through the 1950s or have been around close enough to this time period to have heard first-hand stories to appreciate the atmosphere in the United States during the time of this movie. Director Jay Roach and his team have very realistically created the look and feel of this period and the screenplay by John McNamara based on the book by Bruce Cook provides the basis of a very realistic recreation of what happened to Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) and many other people

Trumbo was a brilliant, highly paid screenwriter who was very successful. He happened to believe in communism particularly that wealth should be shared (although he was clearly much better off than most people). He identified with striking workers and in fact was not afraid to sympathize with many communist beliefs, which at the time made him the target of the House of Representatives Committee On Un-American Activities as were nine other screenwriters who were known as the Hollywood Ten. They were subpoenaed to Washington to go before the congressional committee. Members of the Committee forced them to identify themselves as communists, which they refused to do, and therefore were sent to jail on charges of contempt.

This is just a small part of the story. When Trumbo comes out of prison this brilliant film writer couldn’t sell his scripts with his name on them anymore. Nevertheless he wrote many highly successful scripts under other names, two, of them winning Oscars. The fascinating life of Trumbo, his relationship to his wife Cleo (Diane Lane) and his children is the story of this movie. It involves the interactions with many Hollywood icons including Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg), John Wayne (David James Elliott) and Louis B. Mayer (Richard Portnow). Also Trumbo’s relationship with another writer Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.) Is quite important as is that with Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) and Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) in dramatic events at the conclusion of the movie.

Every detail of this movie is extremely well done such as the blending of archival film clips with realistically created black and white scenes. Of course, the outstanding star of the story is Dalton Trumbo who deserves to be introduced to a new generation of Americans. We can’t give enough praise to Bryan Cranston who brought his character to life with thoughtfulness, subtlety and great passion. In our opinion he deserves an Oscar nomination for his work in this picture. Hollywood tends to have an affinity for stories about itself especially when they are done well, which might push this movie into becoming a big winner during the awards season this year. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Horror

Skeleton Twins

November 20th, 2015 — 7:29pm

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 9.09.24 AM**

Skeleton Twins – nf

It is rare that the two authors of this blog can’t come to an agreement or a good compromise on the value of the film, which we are reviewing. This was a movie, which one of us couldn’t recommend and the other thought some people would really enjoy it.

We do agree that Kristen Wiig, who played Maggie, and Bill Hader, who played Milo, are great actors with a wonderful comedic touch. They play two grownup twins now living in different parts of the country who haven’t seen each other in 10 years and are about to kill themselves at the same moment in time (opening Scene). We see that they had pretty bad parenting. Their mother didn’t seem to be able to express any love to them and their father committed suicide when they were young kids.

They obviously don’t succeed in their attempt to kill themselves and they are now spending some time together. He is gay and was molested by Rich(Ty Burrell), his high school teacher/mentor when he was 15 years old. Now that he is back in town, he visits his old hero teacher who has his own 16-year-old son. Milo and the teacher have a sexual encounter and we are somehow led to believe that the teacher/child molester isn’t really that bad? Meanwhile, Maggie has the nicest husband that you can imagine, Lance (Luke Wilson) and they are trying to have a baby, at least that’s what he thinks. Maggie is hiding the birth control pills while she is having an affair with her scuba-diving instructor, which follows two other affairs with other instructors that she has had. As you can imagine, the only authentic relationship is that between Maggie and Milo who have shared their horrible childhood. They have at least learned to lip-sync to some songs together, which they can now do since they have reunited.

Certainly, everybody will agree that this brother and sister need therapy, although there are no signs of that in the story. We do agree there is something poignant about seeing them reunite. At least they have each other and maybe they will get help someday. (2014)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Uncategorized


November 19th, 2015 — 6:28am

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 12.07.30 PM*****


Almost 40 years ago a film about investigative reporters who exposed the Watergate break-in and brought down the Nixon presidency was nominated for eight Academy Awards including best picture. That was All the President’s Men. Jason Robards, Jr. won for best supporting actor. Now today we have Spotlight, a terrific film about an investigative reporter team of the Boston Globe, who in 2002 dug into the hidden scandal of about 90 catholic priests who were molesting children. These horrific crimes were covered up and even when some of them were exposed, the priests were not prosecuted and would just be re-assigned to churches in other cities. The reporting team persisted in their work and even exposed the fact that Cardinal Law also knew about these activities and participated in the cover-up. This ultimately led to him being re-assigned to a posh position in a prominent church in Rome. This exposé rocked the Catholic Church and has implications that extend to the present time.

It will be very difficult to choose a best actor or supporting actor from these outstanding performances, since this was truly the work of an ensemble. The real life reporters, Mike Rezendes was played by Mark Ruffalo, Sacha Pfeiffer was played by Rachel McAdams, Matt Carroll was played by Brian d’Arcy and the Spotlight team team leader, Walter “Robby” Robinson was played by Michael Keaton. There also were great performances by Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron, the newly brought in overall senior editor of the Boston Globe who happened to be Jewish. John Slattery played Ben Bradlee, Jr. the long-time editor of the Boston Globe, who was a supervisor to the Spotlight Team. Interestingly, Ben Bradlee, Jr. is the son of the famed newspaper icon, Ben Bradlee who was the editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal exposé. There were some other fine performances by familiar faces which included Stanley Tucci as one of the many lawyers in the film and Len Cariou (who plays the grandfather on Blue Bloods TV program) as Cardinal Law.

The director of this movie was Tom McCarthy who co-wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer. They made the decision not to collapse some of the characters in order to keep the team as the ensemble it was in real life. This may have somewhat diffused the potential drama of the movie. Early in the film, as each reporter went off on his and her own investigative aspects of the project, it was a little confusing as to who they were interviewing and why. This all came together as the two-hour and nine-minute film flew by with the tension mounting as the story progressed. We got the message that investigative reporting is hard, tedious work but when you see your subject in your “gun sight” and you realize you are dealing with a worthy subject, all the effort is worth it. The realism of the movie was also enhanced by some collaborative meetings by the actors with the real reporters. We understand that they held meetings with their respective characters and with some of them even watched how they performed in their workplace. The result is a movie that should not be missed or forgotten. (2015)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History


November 18th, 2015 — 7:43am

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 10.11.53 AM****


This is an excellent film that should score a touchdown on several counts. Significantly, it may put an unwavering light on the brain damage that football brings about due to the repeated slamming of the brain in its fluid container inside the skull, which is so characteristic of our highly popular American sport. The viewers of this film will take in this awareness in the course of this most dramatic presentation. The audience will also witness an outstanding sensitive performance by Will Smith who plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the true to life Pittsburgh pathologist who discovered and named Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy as a result of performing autopsies on three former professional football players who died at a young age. Their death was often preceded by memory difficulties, mood alterations which included depression and labile mood which often led to out of control behavior and even suicide.

Will Smith deserves Oscar consideration as he brought to life the persona of this brilliant Nigerian born doctor who had numerous degrees but yet was sensitive to his deceased patients and felt compelled to be sure that their true story was told. He worked in a Pittsburgh morgue under the supervision and support of famed pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht who was played very well by Albert Brooks. Wecht was portrayed as quite wise yet with a smidgen of comic undertones, which made him quite warm and believable. Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin) who was a former loyal NFL team doctor who once he appreciated the solidity of Dr. Omalu’s discovery, stood by him in his confrontations with the NFL.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw sensitively portrayed Dr. Omalu’s girlfriend, who became his wife. The film may have taken on a little too much unnecessary poetic license in at least one place by showing Dr. Omalu’s wife being harassed by some people following her while she was driving alone in her car, which led to her having a miscarriage. Director/Writer Peter Landesman in response to MB’s question admitted that this incident shown in the movie was not exactly what happened. He said, it was meant to symbolize and condense the real harassment that Dr. Omalu and his new wife had from the many football fans in his community when some of them realized that the essence of professional football was being challenged by this one unknown doctor who documented and published scientific articles backing up his findings which challenged the safety of football at all levels from the NFL down through college, high school and even at the youngest level.

We know that ultimately lawsuits were brought against the NFL and were settled for large sums of money with the caveat that the NFL does not have to acknowledge how long they knew about the possibility of brain damage in the players. Practices have since been adopted to take players out of the game who show signs of head injury. However, it has been estimated that at least one-quarter of professional football players will develop evidence of brain damage. We do not know what the full extent of these injuries will be especially in high school and college players or even at the most junior level who are playing the sport.  

The authenticity of this film is confirmed by the fact that the real Dr. Omalu and Dr. Cyril Wecht are consultants to the movie. There was one line in the film, which states that if 10% of parents hold back their children from playing football, it could destroy football as the big time multibillion-dollar sport that it is today. We don’t know if that statistic is true. We also don’t know if this film will get wide enough distribution to make this impact. The filmmakers wondered if the NFL would use their influence to stop the film from being advertised during NFL TV games. Apparently, that is not going to be the case. So the general public is going to get a chance to learn about this outstanding movie and parents as well as young people will decide if the youth of America is going to play this game knowing what they know about concussions, brain trauma and aftermath of these events. (2015)




Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, Sport


November 16th, 2015 — 7:44am


Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 5.44.48 PM**

Laggies – nf

The term Laggies, according to Director Lynn Shelton comes from an informal term used by Orange County teenagers when referring to themselves as a group such as “Come on Laggies, let’s all go to the mall.” The screenplay by Andrea Seigel was originally written to take place in Orange County, California, but the setting was moved to Seattle, Washington. However, Shelton liked the way the term Laggies sounded and kept it as the title.

The meaning of the film to us is similarly vague and hard to figure out. Granted it is about a generation far from our own, but we thought that we usually get teens and 20’s even if we are quite removed from their time to bloom.

Megan (Keira Knightley) is a 28-year-old college graduate who has a Masters in Family Counseling but hasn’t really found herself. Her best friend, Allison (Elle Kemper) is getting married and all her good friends are attending the event. Megan’s long-term boyfriend (Mark Webber) is ready to propose to her and they plan to go for a quick small wedding ceremony in Las Vegas. However, Megan meets Annika, a 15-year-old teenager (Chloe Moretz), who she encounters when she’s asked by her to buy beer and alcohol for her and her teenage buddies. Megan can relate to Annika and is comfortable hanging around with her and her friends. She tells her boyfriend that she’s going to go to a conference for a week and then they will get married. In the meantime, Megan stays in Annika’s house where she meets Craig, Annika’s single dad (Sam Rockwell) who is an attorney. Anika and Sam seem to really like each other and have a one-night sexual encounter. Incidentally, we also have learned a little earlier that Megan’s father (Jeff Garlin) was discovered by Megan to be fooling around with the mother of the bride at the wedding of Megan’s best friend, which bummed out Megan. Megan is about to fly to Las Vegas to marry her long-term boyfriend or will she?

So we conclude that the movie is about growing up and deciding which relationships are really important. However, there is no real depth to the storyline. We don’t really understand why the characters do what they do, although they do seem to be the wiser for going through these experiences. The director, Ms. Shelton knows her way around Seattle having directed her previous movies in the city. The acting was very good. Ms. Knightly was very appealing as Megan, the young woman who has to find herself. In the DVD features accompanying the film, we see her talking in her native language (British English) and we appreciate how well she has mastered the American dialect in the film. This movie was a little fun to watch but we didn’t get much out of it. We conclude that we can’t recommend it, even to the teens and 20’s looking for a good movie to kick back on. (2014)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama

The 33

November 16th, 2015 — 7:32am

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 6.13.09 PM***

The 33-sp

Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar, the story of the 2010 Chilean Mine disaster and the 33 miners trapped underground, was one of the best books we have read in a long time (see book review). So a movie following in its footsteps has big shoes to fill. Director Patricia Riggen and the producing team led by veteran producer Mike Medavoy did a pretty good job of capturing the atmosphere as well as creating the tension and interaction of the beleaguered miners. They chose to make this film in English, which took away from the realism but we understand the reasonable necessity to do this to facilitate worldwide distribution. Much of the film was deep in the dark mine and the faces of the characters were understandably in deep shadows. While good for realism, it did take awhile for the characters to be clearly distinguished as individuals.

There was one interesting issue which we wonder if it was fact or creative license. That was when Laurence Golbourne (Rodrigo Santoro), the young government official who was Minister of Mines for the Chilean government told the veteran mine rescue expert exactly how he should position the last chance drilling effort, which was the only drill to reach the miners. Just as important as the interaction of the miners with each other was the role of the families putting pressure on the various officials to make an all-out effort to save their loved ones. The emotions of these family members, friends and one mistress was highlighted by the character of Maria Segovia, sister of one of the miners, who was well-played by Juliette Binoche. Another standout was the character of Mario Sepulveda (Antonio Banderas) who assumed the leadership role of the trapped miners.

This was the last film of the late James Horner who as usual created an excellent soundtrack to capture the changing moods of the film. At the conclusion of the movie, we see a postscript telling us that none of the miners received any compensation from the mine company. In a post screening discussion, we were able to ask producer Michael Medavoy if this film is financially successful, would the miners receive any compensation. The answer was, “You bet,” but it has to come after all the backers of the film receive their upfront money back plus a reasonable profit. We thought that why should the miners not receive their compensation upfront? But that apparently is the usual Hollywood way. Despite this concern, the film itself, while not meeting the standards of the amazing book is still worthwhile and should be seen and enjoyed by many viewers. Shortly after the actual disaster occurred I also wrote two blogs  about the psychological implications of this experience  ( see blog#1   and blog #2 ) (2015)


Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History

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