Category: 2 Stars


Loveless

February 8th, 2018 — 9:15am

**

Loveless

When a filmmaker decides to make a two-hour and seven minute film in Russian (with the subtitles of course), he has to have a storyline that is going to grab and hold the audience. This movie is a Russian finalist and is nominated for the Best Foreign Film of the Year. It featured Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Matvey Novikov and Marina Vasilyeva and was directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev who wrote the screenplay with Oleg Negin. It was a beautifully made movie which examined marriage and how it can fail. It remind us how a destructive marital relationship can devastate a child who may feel that he has no place to go especially when the parents don’t show the caring and love a child deserves.

Early in the movie we see the child become literally lost and the audience is taken on the long search for him. It seems that we experienced every rock that is lifted, every brush that is moved aside and every deserted building, which is explored. We are impressed that there is the mobilization of volunteers to search for the boy We are also led to believe that the parents are desperate to find the lost child, although we really don’t understand the dynamics behind why they should care when we saw how they didn’t really give a hoot about him before he became lost. Of course we understand how guilt can completely takeover in situations like this. But guilt is not love. The title and theme of this movie is “Loveless.” We are following people who had a limited capacity for love for each other and even for their next partners. We get a glimpse of the dynamics of where this might originate in one of the characters. (Would it surprise you to learn it has something to do with the mother?) In situations like this the audience usually will not like or identify with the main characters. So we’re going to need something more than beautiful photography, a skillful sound background and a little suspense. After all, 127 minutes is a good chunk of time. We felt in the end, the film didn’t deliver. (2017)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign

Film Stars Don’t DIe in Liverpool

December 20th, 2017 — 4:27am

**

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

This film is an example of really great acting by the two leads who both captured the personality of their interesting characters, but in our opinion the movie experience fell flat and did not hold our interest.

The movie is based on a true story about a well-known movie actress, Gloria Grahame, who won an Oscar for best supporting actress in 1947. She had four marriages and four children from three of her husbands. She apparently was very “young at heart” as her husbands’ tended to be on the younger side and one of them was a stepson of an ex-husband.

This movie was about Grahame’s last relationship, which was with a young actor, Peter Turner, who wrote the book upon which the screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh was based. Turner was played by Jamie Bell and Gloria Grahame was played by Annette Bening. The story encompasses the time of their relationship with flashbacks to when they met and we follow her in failing health, which we are introduced to as the film opens. (You need not be concerned, as the heroine does not die in Liverpool.) Director Paul McGuigan used period music to establish various moods of the film. Bening showed the appeal, which made us understand why the younger man was drawn to her. A supporting cast of Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham, Stephen Graham, Frances Barber, and even a brief stint by Vanessa Redgrave where as they were excellent as they should be.

The premise of the film held interesting promise. It provided some understanding of the feelings and chemistry of both characters. But in the end, we found the movie lacking and we were not sufficiently touched or moved to urge our readers to put it on your list of films to see. (2017)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama

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

The Beguiled

July 17th, 2017 — 4:56am

**

The Beguiled-rm

Three years into the Civil War, a pre-teenage Southern girl picking mushrooms in the woods stumbles upon a wounded Yankee soldier (Colin Farrell) after a battle has moved on. She brings the injured soldier to a woman’s school where she lives with eight females ranging from a teacher to two or three preteens in a large beautiful old southern mansion which housed the school.

Here is where the title of the movie becomes important. Before we looked it up, we thought the word “beguiled” has a meaning somewhere between “attracted to” and “seduced by”. The actual dictionary definition that we found in Merriam-Webster’s (online of course): is “to lead by deception… hoodwinked… to deceive by wiles…” So this movie appears to be about what this soldier living with these girls and women did to them… and what they did to him. The movie which was directed Sophia Coppolla, daughter of Francis Ford and Eleanor Coppolla is a remake of an older movie of the same name from 1973 starring Clint Eastwood with an apparent slight change in emphasis. We haven’t seen the earlier film but we believe this new version is more from a female perspective.

We were on the edge of our seats for the first half of the film but then found that it didn’t hold up. We both felt that the plot turned unbelievable. The women were played by strong actresses that included Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning, but we really didn’t come to understand any of the the character’s backstory and we felt we were left high and dry at the conclusion. (2017)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama

Wendy and Lucy

July 16th, 2017 — 7:17am

**

Wendy and Lucy-nf

We saw this 2008 film recently listed on somebody’s list in the New York Times as one of the the best 25 movies, so we gave it a try on Netflix. Michelle Williams plays Wendy, a young girl with short hair who was driving in her old car with her trusty dog, Lucy, from Indiana to Alaska when her car breaks down in a small town in Oregon. She then loses her dog who was tied up outside a grocery store when she was picked up there for shoplifting. We will leave you in suspense whether she finds her dog for that is the essence of this film.

Director Kelly Reichardt who co-wrote the screenplay with Jon Raymond keeps the focus on Michelle Williams throughout the film. She is magnetic. We feel for her and we care for her. Whether we are dog lovers or not, we know what Lucy means to her. However, we essentially do not know anything about Wendy’s background or what makes her tick. She could be an abused child, a high school dropout, an autistic genius or even a serial killer or anything else. Perhaps the film is a Rorschach ink blot test for the audience since we are barely given a clue.

This is one of those movies that doesn’t go anyplace. The question is whether the ride was worth it. We thought not. (2008)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama

The Hero

May 23rd, 2017 — 8:16pm

**

The Hero – sp

Sam Elliot is a captivating actor, tall, rugged with an unbelievable resonant voice. He plays such a character in this film which was specifically written for him by Brett Haley who is the director and screenwriter. Mr. Elliot even admits that the actor he plays in the film is somewhat like his real self, but the plot is fortunately not his story.

Lee Hayden (Elliot) is an over the hill actor in his early 70’s, long time divorced and estranged from his daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter). He once starred in a very successful cowboy film but now does mostly voice-overs. He also has a newly discovered challenging health problem at the same time he has met Charlotte, a young woman (Laura Prepon), and they share a mutual attraction to each other. Did we say young woman? She is actually in her 30’s. almost a 40 year difference. Our hero has to try to figure out this relationship while facing his own mortality and trying to make peace with his daughter. At the same time, he may have the opportunity for a great part in a new movie.

The problem with this situation and the problem with this movie is as far as we’re concerned is that we really don’t understand these characters. We don’t know the real backstory on this young woman who is attracted to this older man nor do we understand why our hero got divorced from his wife (who by the way is played by Katherine Ross, Mr. Elliot’s real life wife).

In a post-film interview with Mr. Elliot, we learned a little bit about how he has approached his own career and didn’t try to play characters that he couldn’t relate to. However, this movie we believe didn’t offer much insight into the personality of the main character and his issues. We give kudos to Mr. Elliot as a compelling actor, but we can’t recommend this film (2017)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Romance

The Wedding Plan

May 16th, 2017 — 11:52pm

**

The Wedding Plan – sp

This is an Israeli film (a comedy of sorts) written and directed by Rama Burshtein who is an Orthodox Hasidic woman. This is her second feature film and both have dealt with the subject of marriage.

In this current movie, Michal (Noa Kooler) is a young Orthodox Hasidic woman who despite the attempts of matchmakers has not been able to achieve her goal of finding a husband. In fact, she thought she was getting close and was planning her wedding when her boyfriend Gidi (Erez Drigues) told her that he really didn’t love her. This didn’t make her call off her hope to get married, in fact she told Shimi, the guy who runs the wedding hall that he should reserve the eighth day of Hanukkah as the date that she would be getting married (this is the day the miracle of Hanukkah took place where the Maccabees had run out of oil for their lamp in the synagogue but the small amount left burned for eight days) even though she didn’t have anyone to marry yet. She was putting her faith in God that in the next couple of weeks, she would find her husband-to-be. That of course was putting a lot of pressure on the matchmaker, her family and herself. She even goes on to meet Yos, a rock star (Oz Zehavi) in a holy shrine but it didn’t look that she was going to take him or anyone else to the Chuppa on the day that is set for her wedding. Her strong faith and even the faith of her mother (Irit Shelleg) and her best friend Feggie (Ronny Merhavi) that things are going to work out was very touching but truthfully, that is where the theme of the movie becomes challenging to us to say the least. It becomes difficult to identify with this very appealing and likable protagonist as well as her entourage of family and devoted girlfriends.

On one hand, we sensed that this is presented as a comedy with everything somewhat exaggerated. On the other hand, we understand that we are being given an insight into a culture and religious sect where love and marriage are very sacred, but the former probably is supposed to develop after the later. (First marriage, then love) We were not touched by the movie and in fact found the premise of the plot unbelievable. That would make the film somewhat unsuccessful in our eyes because after all, it wasn’t that funny to be a great comedy. However, if we view the story as not so much a comedy, but rather an exposition of the optimism and faith of this religious group that we occasionally encounter but don’t really understand, then perhaps the film is somewhat of a success on another level but not enough for us to recommend it.

The movie opens not only in Israel, New York and Los Angeles but all over the world and it will be interesting to see how it is received. (2017)

1 comment » | 2 Stars, Comedy, Drama, Foreign

The Circle

May 3rd, 2017 — 5:30am

**

The Circle – sp

We see on news programs accusations that politicians sometimes are not very honest. There are reports that there are deals being done behind everyone’s back which are not in the best interest of the constituents who elected them. So imagine if it were possible for a politician to decide to “go transparent” where he or she would wear a special camera 24 hours a day that would record just about everything that went on in his or her life (with some very personal exceptions) which would be accessible to everyone on the Internet who wanted to view it. In fact, imagine where other people could decide to “go transparent” and have every part of their life available to anyone who wanted to see it. Imagine also a corporation which cared so much for its employees that it would offer them world class medical care, not only to all of its employees but to their entire families including their parents. What if everyone was interconnected on the Internet so that a wanted criminal could be quickly tracked down once the details of this person with a picture were put out on the Internet. In fact, any persons’ whereabouts could be tracked down within ten minutes because everyone was so interconnected.

These possibilities and all the implications of them were part of the storyline of the novel The Circle  by Dave Eggers which was brought to the screen by James Ponsoldt who co-wrote the screen play with Mr. Eggers. Mr. Ponsoldt also directed the film and was one of the major producers. He enticed Tom Hanks, two-time Oscar winner to play Eamon Bailey who was one of the founders and leaders of this company. As usual, Mr. Hanks is very believable and somewhat reminiscent of Steve Jobs. Patton Oswalt plays another co-founder Tom Stenton who appeared a little bit more sinister.

The story revolves around Mae Holland (Emma Watson), a young woman who was thrilled to get a job at the Circle (think Google and/or Apple squared in the mathematical sense). We see her evolve from being very excited about getting a great entry job (called a guppy, remember new born teeny tropical fish) to developing into a sophisticated perhaps brainwashed worker who herself wants to go transparent. There are also meaningful supportive roles by Glenne Headly and Bill Paxton who play her parents.

We previously had read the book and liked it very much. As is often the case in such a situation, it is difficult for the movie to live up to an outstanding bpok. We tended to feel that the film was quite disjointed and superficial. The characters were not very well-developed as compared to in the book. Subplots, probably by necessity, were left out. The film served the purpose of providing a cautionary tale as did acclaimed film and book “1984” and telling us what may be in store for us in the future.

If you read the book, the film probably is not worth seeing. If you haven’t read the book, we highly recommend that it be your first choice instead of the movie. (2017)

1 comment » | 2 Stars, Drama

Wakefield

April 22nd, 2017 — 1:09am

**

Wakefield-sp

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

The Kindergarten Teacher (In Hebrew with subtitles)

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

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