Archive for 2019


The Irishman

December 26th, 2019 — 5:31am

***

The Irishman

Despite the fact that this film is directed by Martin Scorsese, and stars Robert De Niro, as Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran and features Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa along with other great actors such as, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Anna Paquin, and others, we suggest that you think twice before committing yourself to this three and a half hour movie. The story is based on an excellent book, “I Heard You Paint Houses,” by Charles Brandt, which MB reviewed more than seven years ago (click here to see the review).

At the beginning of the film we meet an older Frank Sheeran as he is reflecting how he turned into a gangster and a ruthless murderer. There is not any clear explanation how a seemingly sensitive man who cared about his family could emerge as this serial killer. There is a suggestion that his experience in World War II might have primed him for this way of life.

The screenplay, based on the book by Charles Brandt, is written by Steven Zaillian, who previously wrote the story for Schindler’s List, which may account for how he is able to suggest emotional turmoil, although it is often not fully explained. The movie features flashbacks where the actors are skillfully “de-aged” as we encounter earlier events in the lives of their characters. One of the central themes is an insight and explanation into the death of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, who was an important character in this movie and whose body in real life was never found after he was eliminated. Unfortunately, the inordinate length of this film only underscored its inability to help the viewer really understand any of the characters

If you are drawn to gangster movies and enjoy the work of this cast of actors and the renowned director, you might find this collection of unending “rub-outs” of interest but be sure you have lots of popcorn or your favorite snack to help you persevere (2019).

Your comments are welcome below:

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Crime, Drama

Just Mercy

December 17th, 2019 — 6:55am

*****

Just Mercy

This is an amazing true story of Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a black attorney who is fresh out of Harvard Law School and travels to Alabama with the purpose of trying to save the lives of falsely incarcerated prisoners who are on death-row awaiting execution. He teams up with Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), a woman with a similar dedication who becomes the operations director of their newly formed Law Center For Equal Justice. Stevenson begins visiting Alabama’s death-row and meeting prisoners scheduled for execution. The main focus of the film was on his interaction with Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who was sentenced to die for a crime, it became clear he did not commit. His case was based on the testimony of a man who was providing false information in order to avoid charges for another crime of which he was accused. In addition, the testimony of many friends and family of Stevenson who were at a party with the accused at the time of the murder were not considered worthy evidence to exonerate the condemned man. While the main focus is on one case, we also meet other prisoners on death-row and witness a very painful scene of an execution. It became clear that the unfair cruel treatment of prisoners was a residual of slavery and continued prejudice in this country.

The movie is based on a memoir of the same title by Bryan Stevenson, which was an outstanding book (click here for book review). This book was transformed into this excellent movie by Andrew Lanham and Destin Daniel Cretton, who also directed the film. It is a riveting heartbreaking cinematic experience, which we highly recommend (2019).

 

Your comments are welcome below

 

Comment » | 5 Stars, Crime, Drama

Little Women

November 27th, 2019 — 1:41am

****

Little Women-sp

We have no memory of the story or the impact of reading the novel “Little Women” in our youth. We do know that there have been several film versions of this classic novel by Louisa May Alcott. We also know that Greta Gerwig (best known for her her acclaimed directorship of Lady Bird) was intent on having the opportunity to write the screenplay and direct this project. This film also attracted an all-star cast of Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Laura Dern, Timothee Chalamet, as well as several other excellent actors including Meryl Streep who had a small but significant role as the elderly aunt.

The setting of the film was during the Civil War and the focus is on a family of four sisters and their mother while the dad is away at war. Through some nonlinear flashback scenes, we see the girls come of age in a time which women’s value was usually determined by the success and wealth of their husbands. The main focus is on Jo (Ronan) who is a would-be writer trying to tell her story but the publisher to whom she is speaking only wants a novel where in the end the young woman gets married. Although it is a different time and a different place, the insightful writing, great acting and very truthful directing ultimately captures the modern-day audience who will surely relate to this film and once again this classic story will find meaning in a new generation. (2019)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Song of Names

November 21st, 2019 — 5:52am

***

The Song of Names – sp

The title of this movie refers to an imaginary song that consists of the names of hundreds of thousands of Jews killed at the Treblinka Nazi Extermination Camp in Poland during World War II. The screenplay by Jeffrey Caine is based on a novel by Norman Lebrecht, introduces us to a young boy, Dovidl, who happens to be a violin prodigy and is being left at the home of a British family during the early days of the turmoil in Europe in the 1940s. The rest of the boy’s family is returning to Poland not realizing the fate that awaits them there. The story progresses through flashbacks of different phases in the life of Dovidl, who is played by Luke Doyle (ages 9 to 13), Jonah Hauer-King (ages 17 to 23), and Tim Roth as a middle aged man. Martin, the young boy who is in the British family becomes more or less Dovidl’s brother and interacts with him during the various stages of their lives. Martin is played by Misha Handley (ages 9-13), Gerran Howell (ages 17 through 21) and by Clive Owen as a middle aged man.

The flashbacks may at first be a little confusing as they occur but the emotional theme of the story will be quite clear. It is expressed not only in the cold facts of history, but through the beautiful emotional violin music, which reflects the storyline of everlasting grief and the mourning, which go with it.Francois Girard, 2019

The producers who put together this international production along with director, Francois Girard were apparently the first fictional movie team granted permission to film inside the Treblinka Memorial. Not only is the music haunting and unforgettable, but so is this creative story (2019).

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Marriage story

November 18th, 2019 — 9:46pm

*****

Marriage Story

This film is the brainchild of the very talented screenwriter Noah Baumbach who has previously written about family, divorce, and it did frequently seem as some of his greatest pieces have been semiautobiographical. He was director and writer of this movie as he was for the Squid And The Whale, The Meyerowitz Stories, and many other great films. Not surprisingly, his main characters in this movie are a theatre director and playwright Charlie (Adam Driver) and his wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) who is an actress currently featured in her husband’s latest Off-Broadway play.

The story opens as this couple are each reading a piece about the great qualities of their spouse. We quickly learned that despite all this acclaim and wonderful characteristics that they each described, the purpose of this exercise is part of the mediation process for a pending divorce. Despite a seemingly perfect marriage, which included a young son Henry (Azhy Robertson), the tensions of trying to lead a bicoastal life contributed to Nicole’s desire to institute what turns out to be very contentious divorce proceedings. This aspect of the story also allowed for a short exposition of the contrasts between living in New York and living in Los Angeles.

The Baumbach’s script highlighted Driver and Johansson’s talent in some very intense and dramatic monologues as well as interactive dialogues. Included was an opportunity for Driver to show his talent as a singer in one particular scene. There is definitely Oscar material in the performance of these two stars.

While the movie is a clear vehicle for the great talents of Johansson and Driver, there are also some excellent supporting roles by very familiar people. Laura Dern plays a hard-nosed Los Angeles divorce lawyer. Other divorce attorneys are played by Alan Alda and Ray Liotta. Also in supporting roles are Merritt Wever, Wallace Shawn, and Julie Hagerty, but the main focus is on Driver and Johansson who along with Baumbach have a good shot at being on the awards stage in the near future (2019).

 

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

One Child Nation

November 17th, 2019 — 10:57pm

 

***

One Child Nation-  amazon

In 1979, the Chinese government came to the conclusion that if they did not make some radical changes, the next generation’s population would grow enormously. 

They believed that the population would be in the billions and would lead to widespread starvation and be very difficult to manage. Therefore the Chinese government instituted a mandatory one child policy, which was widely publicized and became the “patriotic approach” expected from every Chinese family. Those who disobeyed this dictum and had a second child would be severely punished sometimes by having their home destroyed. Midwives not only performed numerous sterilization procedures and abortions but also at times had to kill newborns who were second children. This policy continued for 25 years before it was finally changed allowing a second child.

Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang directed this documentary film. Much of it was in Chinese with subtitles. It captures and personalizes the impact of this all encompassing social policy. Through interviews with various Chinese people, the viewer can appreciate the very personal meaning of being deprived of the ability to have a second child if one wanted one. Family dynamics are examined especially in some settings where there might be a desire to have a boy and the first child was a girl. The newborn and the very young were abandoned in the streets. There was human trafficking where children were sold to adoption agencies. Many of these children were internationally adopted and ended up in American homes where the adopted parents were not told the true story of their newly adopted child. There also is the story of the search by adopted Chinese children growing up in America who might be interested in finding their birth families.

This film deals with these complicated issues, which have political, social, as well as emotional implications. You come away from this documentary film educated and also moved by the human implications of what you have seen and experienced. (2019)

 

As always your comments are welcome below:

 

 

1 comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, Foreign, Politics

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

November 15th, 2019 — 6:33am

****

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood-sp

For a generation that grew up with Mr. Rogers as their friend, comforter, and beacon of honesty and truth, it must be very gratifying to see Tom Hanks embody their childhood hero. This movie has been 10 years in the making by screenwriters, Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, who worked very closely with producer Youree Henley and his associates and ultimately involved Marielle Heller as the director of the movie. They approached the story by focusing on a reporter, in reality Tom Junod, who is named Lloyd Vogel in the film and played by Matthew Rhys, who wrote an article for Esquire Magazine built around his interviews with Mr. Rogers. The reporter brought to the table his own personal story of alienation from his father, which came up during his interactions with Mr. Rogers. They developed a personal relationship, which was very meaningful to the reporter and literally changed his life. In a sense, the story is a parable for a successful psychotherapy where insight and change ultimately happen. However, in this case, it was Rogers’ sensitivity and empathy for his interviewer over a period of time which made a big difference in the life of this reporter. This movie is very well done using the background and TV set where the actual Mr. Rogers’ show took place in Pittsburgh. However, the real success of the movie is Tom Hanks, who not only captured the style and mannerisms of Fred Rogers but also radiated his warmth and empathy. (2019).

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama

Last Christmas

November 15th, 2019 — 6:09am

***

Last Christmas-rm

This is one of the first Christmas films of this season. It takes place in London, which looks quite beautiful during holiday time. The story is the brainchild of Emma Thompson, who plays the mother of Katie (Emila Clarke) who would like to make it as a singer, but at the moment works dressed up as an elf salesgirl selling Christmas items. There is romance all around as the owner of the store where she works (Michelle Yeoh) is smitten with a handsome customer. Katie’s sister (Lydia Leonard) is in a relationship with a woman that her parents are not ready to accept. Katie appears to have found a wonderful guy (Henry Golding), but it turns out that there is something mystical about him.

Thompson’s story and screenplay, which are co-written by Greg Wise and Bryoni Kimmings, attempts to meld together the joy of Christmas which includes charity, forgiveness, and of course, romance all with a spiritual flavor. Credit should also be given to director Paul Feig who had to blend everything in the right proportions. There is also a strong music background, which not only sets the Christmas mood but highlights the other moving themes of this film. The predominant voice is the written music and performance of the late George Michaels. If you are looking for a Christmas movie, you cannot go wrong with this one (2019).

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Romance

The Warrior Tradition

November 14th, 2019 — 8:03am

****

The Warrior Tradition (PBS)

The Warrior Tradition is a one-hour documentary film about the proud connection and tradition of native Americans and the United States Military. It is produced by Florentine Films, Lawrence Hott, producer. Early in the film, the question is asked by someone as to why would the people who were almost wiped out defending their homeland would want to join the very military that they had fought against? The question was eloquently answered by an American veteran, who stated they join the military “so our land cannot be taken away again.” The words of so many warriors both in native dress and in the United States Military uniform tell the story of the proud service to our country that has been done in the highest percentage of any other group. We see through pictures and clips from the earliest wars fought by the United States, the contribution made by native Americans. Of particular note was the role of Code Talkers during the World War II, when native Americans took over radio communications for a time when their language was the only “code” that the Japanese could not break. This documentary film captures the numerous contributions as well as the emotional connections of both the young and the old native Americans to their warrior tradition and to the United States Military. (2019)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary

Parasite

November 7th, 2019 — 8:40pm

*****

Parasite-rm

This was an elaborate production of an interesting and complicated story. The movie is set in South Korea and is in the Korean language with English subtitles. We meet a wealthy Korean family with two children who can hire a maid/cook, tutor for the kids, as well as a driver. Through some complicated manipulations, a poor family from the other side of town is able to work it out, so they are serving all of these positions although the rich family does not realize that they are actually members of one family. The disparity and yet the similarities between the rich and the poor become highlighted. There is a strange undercurrent of the film that not only takes place in the basement of the wealthy mansion but in the heart and souls of some of the characters. Credit must be given to Bong Joon-Ho, who wrote the screenplay and did a magnificent job directing the movie, which turned out to be 2 hours and 12 minutes but never feeling too long or drawn out.

The film which starts out comedically, albeit with strife and poignancy, moves into creative and surprising genres which keep the viewer engaged even after the final credits roll. While difficult to classify, it is definitely worth seeing. 

 

Please leave your comments below:

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Foreign, Horror

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