Archive for 2017


Wonder

December 6th, 2017 — 7:18am

****

Wonder-rm

 

It might not be too difficult to remember your feelings or your children’s anxiety at the time of the first day of school. In this case it is magnified exponentially as we see the situation through the eyes of a young boy who has facial deformities since birth. In addition he has been home schooled by his mother (Julia Roberts) until he is now starting fifth grade. This movie is based on a bestselling novel by R.J. Palacio, which has been extremely popular with both parents and children.( See Book review by Leo Blumenfield  Age 10 in 2014) In fact after Ms. Roberts read this story to her children and heard that the movie was being made, she wanted to play the mother.

The storyline follows the experience of this young boy Augie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), as he encounters his new classmates. We also appreciate the complicated reactions of other kids both boys and girls in this New York City Prep School. In addition, we gain insight into his oldest sister (Isabella Vidovic), who has been growing up with a brother she loves, but yet whose circumstances have indelibly shaped her relationship with her parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson). We see how not only does Augie and his family have to deal with the challenges of the boy’s life circumstances but so do his teachers, the school principal (Mandy Potankin), classmates and some of their parents.

Accolades have to be given to Jacob Tremblay, the star of this movie who was ten years old when the film was made. In his young career he has been in several well-received movies including The Room for which he received critical acclaim. Director Stephen Chbowsky also deserves recognition not only because that should be the case whenever a young child actor stands out but also because he co-wrote the screenplay and directed a very complicated emotional story.

We both felt  that we were not only experiencing a very well done movie that was examining children and adults’ complex understanding in responses to one of the sad and unusual variations of the human condition but we also were deeply and visceral touched and brought to tears by how the story was played out on the screen. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Family / Kids

Just Getting Started

November 28th, 2017 — 11:54pm

**

Just Getting Started-sp

Director/Screenwriter, Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, Tin Cup, White Men Can’t Jump, Cobb, Blaze) in a post-screening discussion stated that he made this film for the over 50 crowd. He probably means even 10 years older but didn’t want to limit his audience. Even so, while we fit that demographic we couldn’t relate very well to the film. It is supposed to be a feel-good Christmas movie although Christmas is not the main theme.

It would seem that you are supposed to come away from the movie feeling that one should always be having a good time now and in the future. Duke, played by Morgan Freeman, who always is great in any role that he takes on, is the director of a wealthy retirement community in Palm Springs, California. He has lots of women who are certainly good for sex and you get the feeling that a good time is had by all. There is a new “sheriff” in town by the name of Leo, played by Tommy Lee Jones and we’re not quite sure exactly why he is in town but he is trouble for Duke. So is Suzie (Rene Russo) who is sent by the hotel owner with a job to do but of course gets caught up with the cast of characters.

There is a plot with some twists and turns and even a surprise or two but frankly we didn’t care much although it was mildly pleasant to watch. The supporting casts included familiar faces such as Glenne Headly(sadly in her last performance), Joe Pantoliano, Elizabeth Ashley, Sheryl Lee Ralph and singer Johnny Mathis, who is now in his 80s and plays himself and sings almost as well as ever.

With so many great movies out there today we can’t recommend this one, even for a holiday interlude. (2017

Comment » | 2 Stars, Comedy, Uncategorized

Loving Vincent

November 21st, 2017 — 7:43pm

*****

Loving Vincent-sp

This animated film is beautiful and original with a special approach that we have never before seen on the screen. The husband and wife team of Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, director and screenwriters as well as co-producers have focused on the life (also particularly the death) and the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh. They filmed their intriguing story using an excellent cast starring Douglas Booth, Robert Gulaczyk, Eleanor Tomlinson, Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan and a very good supporting cast who acted out the entire story. Yet, none of the actual film of the actors were shown. Instead, a team of over 100 oil painting artists were recruited to paint over the film with the beautiful colors and the style of Van Gogh. That is 12 paintings for each second and thus for the 94 minute film they were well over 60,000 paintings made by this team of talented artists. Then using animation techniques, the movie was put together. The result is that we are watching a very interesting story about Van Gogh in an animated movie at the same time that we are seeing the familiar images of Van Gogh’s paintings move before us in a coherent story presented to us in living color. They were even some sequences done in black and white to show flashbacks in Van Gogh’s life.

While the artistic effect of this movie is mind blowing, the actual story is also quite fascinating. It is of course based on historical facts which included a possibility that the well-known reported suicide of Vincent Van Gogh at the age of 36 was actually a murder.

We have here an extremely well done story presented in a unique cinematic fashion which matches the content of the story. The result is not only ground-breaking but a beautiful experience which we highly recommend. (2017)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Uncategorized

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

November 20th, 2017 — 7:26am

****

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri – rm

“Hate begets hate” is one line in this film which summarized this very well-acted, quite intense drama. The production is the creative work of Martin McDonagh who wrote the screenplay and was a very skillful director.

Frances McDormand stars as a mother who challenges a local police chief to solve the murder of her daughter who she blatantly states was raped while she was dying. She does this by putting up the above-mentioned provocative three billboards just on the outside of town. This is the second film that we have seen in the past couple of weeks which featured Woody Harrelson. (see review of LBJ).    He does an excellent portrayal as the local police chief. Two other familiar faces who appear are veteran Sam Rockwell, and relatively new comer but excellent actor Lucas Hedges.

We believe that a high quality of a movie can be judged when there is development with growth and change of the various characters which is what we see in the people we meet in this small town. The storyline is different and not predictable. The acting is superb. This movie definitely rates your attention. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Uncategorized

Call Me By Your Name

November 15th, 2017 — 7:53am

***

Call Me By Your Name- sp

This is a beautiful gay coming-of-age romantic film with a screenplay by James Ivory, who has dealt with this subject in the past as a filmmaker. The story is based on a novel by Andre Aciman and brought to the screen by a very skilled Italian director, Luca Guadagnino.

The movie is set in the magnificent countryside of Northern Italy. Elio (Timothée Chalamet) a 17-year-old young man living with his parents in their summer home meets Oliver (Armie Hammer) a young man in his late 20s who is a colleague of his professor father who is studying some sunken archeological discovery of ancient statues of young men that is being raised from the coastal waters. Also being raised is Elio’s attraction to Oliver and vice versa which the viewer experiences through both their eyes. This awakening of physical chemistry and love develops into somewhat overly drawn out two hours and eleven minutes of this film which incorporates the absolutely beautiful countryside with magnificent lush hills, valleys, coves, and waterfalls which sets the tone for the overwhelming feelings that both of these young man were feeling for each other.

There is one particular scene which may very well be remembered as a classic, in which Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) shares his understanding and insight into his son’s feelings in a very tender and moving moment

This production was a very well-done in all aspects including some original songs and music by Sufjan Stevens. However, the filmmaker became too enamored of the magnificent artistic depictions of the luscious countryside and created a film that was overly long. Nevertheless, this film well deserves to become an important part of the genre of movies about the gay romantic experience. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Romance

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

November 8th, 2017 — 1:52am

***

Roman J. Israel, Esq. – sp

Denzel Washington has embraced a character from the pen (or should we say the keyboard) of screenwriter/director Dan Gilroy and turned in an outstanding, unforgettable performance. Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a somewhat socially isolated lawyer, perhaps a little on the autism spectrum side, who not only is extremely bright (can give you obscure citations from the Code of Justice) but is idealistically principled to take on cases of the poor and disadvantaged. He also has a dream and an inspiration that through case law he will ultimately make the criminal justice system fair and equal for all people. His actions and spirit inspire George Pierce (Colin Farrell), head attorney of a big firm previously only interested in making more money and Maya Alston (Carmen Ejogo) an idealistic young lawyer who is trying to find herself. Perhaps the two hours and two minutes makes the film somewhat drawn out. However, the takeaway message is that Roman J. Israel, Esq. is shown to be a human being with frailties like everyone else. We see that his spirit and idealism will live on not only in this story but in the viewer’s minds and hearts. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Uncategorized

Lady Bird

November 4th, 2017 — 7:48am

****

Lady Bird-sp

This film has nothing to with LBJ’s wife and the movie previously reviewed. It does have a great deal to do with the accomplished actress and writer 33-year-old Greta Gerwig (Francis Ha, Greenberg and many other films) who is making her directorial debut in this film for which she is also the screenwriter. It appears that Ms. Gerwig has drawn upon her experience growing up in Sacramento, California and having attended a Catholic High School around the year 2002. We won’t speculate how much of the rest of the film is autobiographical nor is it important. However, this talented writer/ director has captured the painful and glorious experience of a high school girl coming of age. This young woman Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) tries to break through what is expected of her and finds and shows her individuality. Ms. Saoirse is near perfect in realistically bringing this character alive with the words and direction of Ms. Gerwig. There is equally well-written character portrayed in an outstanding performance by Laurie Metcalf as Lady Bird’s mother who is a nurse (as was Ms. Gerwig’s mother). The friction and interaction between mother and daughter will be familiar to many. The father is sensitively played by actor-play writer Tracy Letts.

One major conflict that is played out very well and may reverberate with many viewers is Lady Bird’s desire to go to an expensive East Coast College with a plan that is rejected by her mother. Will she be accepted and will her parents support this dream? This conflict along with typical ups and downs of friendships among girls and the problems of negotiating her own sexuality and her relationship with boys are universal and will reverberate with the audience. In the end, we believe this film will stand out and be well-remembered. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

LBJ

October 26th, 2017 — 3:30am

*****

LBJ-sp

If you are of a certain age or a student of history and can remember Lyndon Johnson’s presidency. this movie should grab you, fascinate you and hold your attention. Johnson (magnificently played by Woody Harrelson) was a seven term United States senator from Texas who was for many years, majority leader of the U.S. Senate and was chosen by JFK to be his vice presidential candidate. He rode to victory with Kennedy in 1960. Rob Reiner, who directed this movie with the use of very realistic flashbacks, builds up the tension leading to those fateful days in Dallas in 1963 when Johnson assumed the presidency.

Much to the surprise of his former southern Democratic colleagues in the Senate, Johnson did not support their views on segregation and discrimination. This movie written by Joey Hartstone deals mainly with how LBJ pushed through JFK’s cutting-edge Civil Rights Legislation.

Harrelson is fantastic in capturing the essence of LBJ, his mannerisms, facial expressions, and speech inflections. Along with the script by Joey Hartstone and direction by Rob Reiner, in our opinion, this is one of the best pictures of the year. There also are some very fine performances by Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lady Bird, Richard Jenkins as Senator Richard Russell and Michael Stahl-David who plays Bobby Kennedy.

Much of Johnson’s presidential legacy is often tainted by his failure to end the Vietnam War which this movie did not focus on. However, the realistic depiction of Johnson’s domestic accomplishments which not only included civil rights legislation but also welfare reform and Medicare and Medicaid is often forgotten. This movie gives him the well deserved recognition and appreciation for his contribution to our country. Likewise we believe this film should receive great accolades for being a very well done and engrossing cinematic accomplishment. (2017)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Politics

The Meyerowitz Stories

October 23rd, 2017 — 7:05am

*****

The Meyerowitz Stories-sp

As we eased ourselves into this movie and we meet Harold (Dustin Hoffman), the not quite successful New York sculptor in his senior years, we could not help but remind ourselves how we and this wonderful actor have come a long way since he played the young man who was so enamored by the older Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. This time, Hoffman is playing a very self-centered man who has had four marriages and three wives (he married one of them twice), as well as three children.

Screenwriter and director, Noah Baumbach provides a magnificent insight into the feelings of these three grown children and how their inner emotional life has been impacted by their father who clearly shows how he cares more about his narcissistic needs than the feelings of his children. Adam Sandler turns in what we believe could be an award winning performance as Danny, newly divorced, who despite how he suffered growing up by the lack of love and recognition by his father, appears to have raised an accomplished daughter (Grace Van Patten) who is entering into a film study program at Bard College (although her film work is interestingly bizarre). An almost equally fine performance was given by Ben Stiller who plays the successful son Matthew who lives on the other coast in Los Angeles as a financial manager to the stars but appears to be also damaged by his early relationship with his father. We see that he also hasn’t achieved a good marriage but is trying to be a good father to his five-year-old son. The interaction between the two grown sons is riveting and range from fierce physical fighting to showing insight into each other’s feelings.

The supporting cast of this movie is quite strong with several well-known and recognized actors. This includes Emma Thompson as Harold’s alcoholic current wife, Elizabeth Marvel as Harold’s third grown child, Candice Bergen as Matthew’s mother and one of Harold’s ex-wives, and Judd Hirsch, a friend and a more successful artist.

If this movie achieves the recognition we believe it deserves, it will not only be because of this great ensemble of actors, but it will be due to the talent of director/writer Noah Baumbach who also was involved in writing some of the very appropriate music heard in the background of this film. We certainly put this movie on the do-not-miss list. (2017)

 

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

The Mountain Between Us

October 4th, 2017 — 5:49am

****

The Mountain Between Us-sp

This film successfully blends a survival film genre and a subtle love story. Add a very appealing dog and set the film in a deserted snow field freezing mountain range and you have a riveting movie based on a best selling novel. Seven-time Oscar nominated actress Kate Winslet may be up for her eighth nomination and perhaps her second win as she plays a professional photographer, Alex Martin, who gets shut out of her commercial flight on the way home to get married. She is paired perfectly with Idris Elba who plays Ben Bass, a neurosurgeon who shares a quickly arranged but ill-fated flight in a small private plane with Alex.

Aside from the slow burning chemistry that develops between the two main characters who inhabit the film together for most of the 111 minutes, it is the vision and creativity of director Hany Abu-Assad that makes this movie worth seeing. We had an opportunity to hear a firsthand description by the director how he put aside utilizing CGIs (computer-generated images) for most of the film and instead took his film crew high into the freezing cold beautiful mountain country and had his two actors and a dog slip and slide struggling through freezing ice cold snow. He even had his actress fall into a deep crevice of icy water.

Whether you identified with the journey of these two characters or mainly admire the skill of this film production, you will appreciate that this is a movie well worth seeing. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Romance

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