April 26th, 2017 — 1:21am
We learn at the beginning of the story that a father and his grown son have just lost a wife and mother and are about to begin the grieving process. The father is played by two time Oscar winner Kevin Kline who turns in an outstanding performance. Likewise Dean, the son, is played by Demetri Martin in a excellent break through performance. So is the director, screenwriter and producer also in the person of Demetri Martin. An important part of the story are single panel cartoons which are interspersed throughout the film and focuses the mood and irony of various situations in the movie. These drawings are also by Demetri Martin. So who is Demetri Martin? He has been a stand up comic for many years, has worked with Conan O’Brien on TV and has published a book of his own cartoons. He is obviously very talented and was able to draw upon his own experience of having lost a parent at a young age and his understanding of the universal search for love combined with a finely honed sense of humor.
Despite the initial premise of the story, this is really not a sad or tearjerker of a story, except the few times that Dean listens to a saved message on his iPhone of his late mom giving him words of encouragement. This is more a story of exploring different ways of grieving, as well as budding love of both a young and older man. It also uses two great exciting American cities that traditionally have been a backdrop for cinematic romance, New York (Brooklyn) and Los Angeles. The two respective women who have stirred the potential of deep romantic feelings in father and son at a time that they were on opposite coasts were Nicky (Gillian Jacobs) and Carol (Mary Steenburgen). Many of Dean’s buddies in the movie, are played by actors and comics who have captured the beat of his generation.
The net result of this 87 minute film is a feel good experience which reminds us that the connection between loss and new love is natural and inevitable. We highly recommend this movie. It is funny and poignant with surprising depth. (2017)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama
April 24th, 2017 — 5:17am
To Kill a Mockingbird – nf
Sometimes when you think about great classic movies which you may have seen years ago, you might wonder if they were really as good as they were supposed to have been. Every once in a while we take such a stroll down memory lane and view one of them. Certainly in this case, we were not disappointed.
The setting of this movie was during the Great Depression in Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s. This was a time when there was overt prejudice towards black Americans. In fact lynchings were occurring in the Deep South. Remember, also when this film was released in 1962, Martin Luther King was yet to make his “I Have a Dream Speech” and didn’t tragically lose his life through assassination until six years later in 1968.
Gregory Peck, in a terrific Oscar-winning performance, plays Atticus Finch, as small town lawyer who is widower and lives with his eight and six-year-old children. He is asked by the local judge to defend Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man who is unjustly accused of raping and beating a white woman. The courtroom scenes are riveting.
Of course, great credit goes to the original author, Harper Lee, who wrote the book and Horton Foote, who wrote the screenplay. We also appreciate the accomplishment of the director, Robert Mulligan, especially because the audience sees much of the meaning of this film through the eyes of Finch’s two children, six-year-old Scout (Mary Badham) and 8-year-old Jem (Phillip Alford). Their identification with the morality and sense of justice of their father is what we hope and believe comes through to succeeding generations. The supporting cast is excellent and includes Robert Duvall who plays a young man with developmental problems who reflects an additional theme of the movie. It shows how people react to someone who is “different,” with fear and the need to distance themselves. This subplot in the story is another indication of the need to put ourselves in “someone else’s shoes,” in to order to try to understand that person.
The film which is 129 minutes, is in black and white and will hold your attention as well as being an unforgettable piece of cinematic history. It is also a reminder of how people are capable of prejudice and hateful discrimination. (1962)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama
April 22nd, 2017 — 1:09am
Picture a successful suburban lawyer, married with two budding teenage daughters who one day decides not to come home as usual. Instead, he secretly hides in a storage loft of the garage of his house and observes his family as they frantically worry about him, mourn his loss, and then get on with their lives. Days and weeks pass as he secretly lives in the garage foraging in the late night for food in neighborhood garbage cans while keenly observing his family from his perch with a pair of binoculars. Is this an insecure or jealous man, or a man who is living out a not uncommon fantasy to take a break from life, or a mentally disturbed soul? Apparently, all of the above as interpreted by writer/director Robin Swicord who adapted a short story by American author E. L. Doctorow. According to her, she even had the blessing of this now deceased author with whom she consulted about this project before his death in 2015.
The centerpiece of this film is Bryan Cranston, as he inhabits Howard Wakefield and seems to be on screen 99% of the time. We observe him evolving from a sharp well-dressed family man and accomplished lawyer to a full bearded scavenger and voyeur. We also hear his voice in a continued monologue in the background, in addition to flashback scenes and dialogue between the various characters. Cranston is a tour de force with an outstanding very nuanced performance, which deserves to be recognized for award considerations. Diana, the wife and mother, is played by Jennifer Garner, although with minimal dialogue she conveys and radiates her charm and attractiveness which makes her husband’s abandonment all the more difficult to understand. There is also an interesting and touching interplay with two developmentally disabled teenagers being cared for by a psychologist neighbor. They are very well played by Pippa Bennett-Warner and Isaac Leyva.
It seemed to us that the storyline was somewhat repetitious, especially in regard to garbage being treasured as food to be eaten. The question that emerges from the plot is why did Howard Wakefield really do this? And what will his wife say if he emerges from the garage and declares, “I’m home.” Despite Cranston’s great acting with some clever writing and directing by Ms. Swicord, we are still not sure that this movie is worth the full exploration of this question. (2017)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama
April 12th, 2017 — 7:57pm
The Kindergarten Teacher (In Hebrew with English Subtitles)- nf
The premise of this film is that an Israeli kindergarten teacher (Sarit Larry) discovers that Yoav (Avi Shnaidman), one of her five-year-old students has a propensity for writing poetry that is far beyond his years. She herself is somewhat of a poet and becomes very pro-occupied with the poems that emerged from her young student. We get a glimpse of her life. She is married with two grown children, one of whom is just made an officer in the Israeli army. We detect the restlessness in this teacher and an instability in her life, as she seems uncertain of her love life, sexuality and her life in general. She is also becoming obsessed with the young poet and writes down all his poems and then even tries to have him participate in a forum for poets to recite their work. The kindergarten teacher seems to be troubled and searching and the young child seems bewildered but still able to spout the thoughtful poetry.
The whole idea of the film seems so preposterous that it became difficult for us to really understand it. We even considered that perhaps something was lost in the translation. However interestingly, after the film concluded, there was a segment on the Netflix DVD in which the screenwriter and director Nadav Lapid was interviewed about the film. He shared with the audience that he as a child that age had the same ability to come forth with adult poetry about the life around him, an ability that he lost when he got older. Obviously, being a filmmaker became his way of exploring life, its complications and vicissitudes. In the end, we concluded that the film maker found a unique way of showing us his view that the world is not a safe place for sensitive souls. (2014)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign
April 10th, 2017 — 10:23pm
Welcome To Me -nf
This movie should be on target for one of us who is a movie critic and happens to be a psychiatrist. The “Me” in the title is presented to the audience as a woman with a bipolar condition and a borderline personality. She is Alice Klieg, played by Kristen Wiig, who is an accomplished comedic actress and well known for her work on Saturday Night Live as well as many films. Although there were some laughable moments in this film, it certainly was not a comedy- quite the opposite.
We meet this very troubled young woman as she is watching TV as the winning ticket in the California lottery is being drawn. Lo and behold, she wins the $83 million jackpot. She decides that she will use her fortune to live in a luxurious Las Vegas hotel and have her own TV show, somewhat resembling Oprah’s Show, except every show will be all about herself. She will enter the set at the beginning of the program on a swan and will reenact important events in her life, such as how she was treated badly in junior high school. Her elderly parents attend each show, but we learn very little about them and their relationship with Alice. We see Alice having intense sexual encounters with various guys such as the show’s producers, a fan who visits the set, et cetera. We can clearly check off the criteria for borderline personality as we see a person with a perversive pattern of unstability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, affect, and marked impulsivity. We don’t quite see all the criteria for bipolar condition, but we would not be surprised if Alice has the turmoil of this condition. Her narcissistic needs usually make her oblivious to the feelings and concerns of others. She even thinks she is doing a good deed when she herself on TV performs graphically and sickening surgery of the neutering of dogs in close-up television views.
The film was directed by Shira Piven. The supporting cast was quite strong and included James Marsden, Linda Cardellini, Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins (who played her shrink who couldn’t handle her) and others. The screenwriter who dreamed up this tale was Elliot Laurence.
While this movie certainly presents a troubled woman who is in a great deal of psychological pain, we don’t think we will be using this film to demonstrate to students the specific problems she has purported to have. However, the movie we believe was successful in conveying the psychological pain that she was feeling . The $83 million couldn’t help her and so far therapy hadn’t made a big difference. But she was trying to overcome her bad feelings and we, watching her, did feel for her and were touched and moved by her suffering . We believe we will remember this movie and Alice Klieg. (2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama
April 7th, 2017 — 5:03am
The Fool (In Russian with English Subtitles) -nf
This very interesting and engrossing film is a terrible indictment of life in Russia under Vladimir Putin.
Dima Nikitin (Artyom Bystrov) is a plumber who works for the government. Early in the film, we learned that he, like his father is an honest man who doesn’t engage in the usual stealing, bribes, and corruption that commonly occurs in the work environment in Russia. He then finds himself called to a large apartment house in the evening because of a broken water pipe. He quickly realizes that this building is severely damaged and is on the verge of imminent collapse which could be fatal to the 800 men, women, and children who live there. Mr. Nikitin attempts to contact his absent supervisor. When he is unsuccessful in doing that he then arranges an emergency meeting with the mayor who is being celebrated at a gathering with many other city officials that evening. It becomes apparent that money which had been allotted for previous repairs and modernization of this old building was diverted to various city officials. In fact there is a web of siphoning off money for rebuilding and repairs which includes all levels of this small city government. There are no funds for repairs or for temporarily housing the 800 residents of this doomed building which is expected to collapse within 24 hours. We soon realize that we are learning how in Russia and in Russian society, government officials pass around government funds at the expense of the masses. We understand what awaits the fate for an individual with a conscience who feels that this is wrong.
Could there be corruption in some real estate projects in the United States? Of course there could be and we read about occasional government officials being tried and sent to jail for such activities. However, this movie spotlights the pervasive corrupt fabric of Russian society and government. It was interesting to read several comments and reviews of this film by Russians who affirmed the validity of the dark picture of Russia painted by this movie.
This film is an outstanding cinematic accomplishment by Yuri Bykov who is the screen writer and director. This film certainly would have deserved the consideration for being nominated as a best foreign film from Russia of that year. Needless to say the Russians bypassed this movie for that honor. (2014)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign
March 28th, 2017 — 7:09pm
In Jackson Heights-nf
Frederick Wiseman is a well-known documentary filmmaker. Jackson Heights is a well-known community in Queens, New York, which as former New Yorkers we have driven through or have been on the elevated train in that area. It is known as a multiracial/national community where 167 languages are purported to be spoken. This would seem to add up to a potentially interesting “doc.” Before viewing it, we didn’t check the duration of the film which actually was three hours and nine minutes! Although we learned a great deal and were fascinated by some parts of the film, we can’t say the time flew by very fast.
There was no narration and seemingly no particular order of the various sequences. The focus of course was on the people. There were views of the streets, the rumbling elevated train and the numerous storefronts, but mostly it zoomed in on the people.
There wasn’t any introduction to any of the scenes. Usually, you would see people speaking at various meetings often in Spanish (with English subtitles). There were discussions about holding a meeting of the Lesbian, Gay, Transgender Association or planning an LGBT Pride Parade, or a meeting about how landlords were taking advantage of storeowners and how big businesses were going to drive everyone out of the area, or a meeting about how New York City ID cards would be issued to immigrants to protect them from police action, or a discussion in the Jewish Temple about the Holocaust.
Since the filmmaker was comfortable with a three-hour plus project, there didn’t seem to be any effort to do very much editing. In one situation however, we were glad that they held off on it as we heard a woman describing in great detail her daughter’s harrowing journey to cross the border from Mexico into the United States to join her small children and family. The devil here was in the details.
It is notable that the film seemed to emphasize senior citizens a great deal, and as noted while mostly Hispanic, there were sequences involving Muslims, Jews, Catholics and others. Perhaps the overall impression of the film was how Jackson Heights in many ways is the story of the journey that so many Americans have made to coalesce into this great country, which it is today. (2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary
March 17th, 2017 — 6:30am
4.1 Miles– (short documentary film (in Greek with subtitles) –
This is the first short documentary film, which we have reviewed on this blog. Larry Hott a well-known documentary film director and movie critic and our cousin suggested that we view it and we were blown away by the impact that it had on us. It is a relatively simple 22-minute film made by Daphne Matzaraki and her team. There were no special effects or fancy camera work. In fact most of the shots seemed to be with a hand held camera , perhaps difficult because at times they took place on rolling small coast guard boat at sea.
The main subject of the film is Kyriakos Papdopoulous a dedicated coast guard captain of a boat that comes out of the small Greek island of Lesbos that is 4.1 miles away from Turkey where hundreds if not thousands of men, women and children are fleeing for their lives, mostly originally from Syria.
The movie doesn’t attempt to explain the refugee crisis, the circumstances that have killed their friends and relatives, why they aren’t welcome in Turkey or other countries. Rather it focuses on the somewhat tortured soul of this captain who with his small crew takes his shift on the open sea to save these refugees who are in their small rafts and sometimes in the rough water of the Agean Sea. We see the agony on the face of the rescuer and in the people he is trying to save. We see the fear and tears in the children and their parents as they are pulled on board the rescue boat. We get a view of the attempts to resuscitate drowned and nearly drowned children.
That is it !. Nothing more and nothing less. The net result of this 22 minute film is a slap in the face. Although nominated for an Oscar as we indicated, this is not a complicated movie that delves into the refugee crisis and gives us insight into the political intricacies of this universal issue which includes the current politics in our country. It should bring out each of our humanity which must play a role in all our actions and decisions (2016).
Click here to view film https://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000004674545/41-miles.html
Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Foreign
March 17th, 2017 — 6:19am
Jackie – nf
Jackie of course is Jacqueline Kennedy. This movie tells the story through her eyes, how she reacted to the horrific assassination of JFK who died with his head in her lap after his skull and brain was shattered by Lee Harvey Oswald’s bullet. Natalie Portman seems to have captured the former First Lady’s breathless voice and her struggle with her grief. If you were alive and conscious of your surroundings in November 1963, you must remember following every detail of this historic event including the tv and radio coverage of the assassination, the President lying in state, the procession to the church service and the burial at Arlington Cemetery. This movie certainly succeeds in awakening these memories that many of us never bury beyond instant recall with any association to the event. Aside from Jackie, the other major character who was depicted is JFK’s brother, Robert Kennedy who is played by Peter Sarsgaard. Of course Lyndon Johnson and his wife and other familiar names and faces are there also. The movie was directed by Pablo Larraín and is interspersed with some documentary footage and an appropriate musical background by Mica Levi. The film really doesn’t go beyond this brief time period. We both did feel that something specific was left out of the movie. When we recalled the President lying in state, the image that would bring about tears to both of us was Little John John, the President’s , at most 4 year old son saluting a flag-covered coffin. We missed that event in this film but we still hold on to it whenever we remember that sad day in November. (2016)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, Drama
February 24th, 2017 — 11:17pm
This movie is Australia’s entry in the Oscar race for best foreign film of the year. It made the final cut for the top five and the winner will be chosen in four days from when this is being written. It is a very well done film that would stand on its own well deserved merits. However, in a post screening discussion after we met the team that made the film and learned about the unusual manner in which they embarked on this project, we especially appreciate it as a valuable gem.
Tanna is a small island in the South Pacific, basically untainted by modern civilization. There is no electricity. The people wear their native garb made up of straw and other vegetation. They usually are bare-breasted with the men wearing “penis sheaths”. They speak their native language and are illiterate. There are several tribes on the island and they have often interacted with each other, sometimes not always in a friendly manner.
The filmmakers knew of the existence of these people and made contact with one native, JJ Nako, who must have spent time off the island as he uniquely spoke English quite well. The film crew spent four months on the island bringing solar energy for their equipment. Initially, they did not have any script and explored the lifestyle and customs of the people. They then learned about one event that occurred 30 years previously when a young woman was expected to marry a man from a nearby tribe in order to make peace about some conflicts between them. She, however, had found a young man in her own tribe that she loved and they did not want to carry out the orders of their elders and the tribe leader. The filmmakers decided that this story would be the plot of the movie and they enlisted the entire tribe to participate in this film with several members having major roles in the story. The participants spoke their native language and English subtitles were provided in the final product. The indigenous people were interested in showing the outside world about their tribe and the history. The story turned out to be another version of Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story, with all the poignancy and drama of those classics. The incident took place 30 years previously and actually led to the change in tribal customs. So now, while still living in a very traditional manner, these people do have “love marriages” because of what happened in this event.
The native music and songs are part of the film as well as an underlying appropriate score by Antony Partos. There is a very large, beautiful, bubbling volcano which is part of the makeup of the island and was used magnificently by cinematographer Bentley Dean. Credit of course goes to the directors Bentley Dean and Martin Butler who crafted and directed this unusual film.
The filmmakers obviously made a wonderful connection with the inhabitants of this island. The natives and their performance and participation in this movie demonstrated that their love of history and culture must be very intense as their acting was very believable and realistic. Whether or not it wins an Oscar for best foreign film, this movie deserves to be seen. (2017)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama, Foreign