Category: 2 Stars


The Master

May 24th, 2015 — 4:36am

**Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 4.29.43 PM

The Master – nf

Despite having two great stars, Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his last films before his untimely death, we could find very little to recommend this movie.

Freddie Quell (Phoenix) is a World War II veteran and an alcoholic. He wanders on to a boat going on a cruise where Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) is leading his cult, which believes in past lives and a programming-kind of hypnosis with various nonsensical interactions. Freddie gets drawn into this group perhaps because of his need for family and a father figure. We get the impression that Dodd, the leader, is making up on the spot all his ministrations. He is, with some fanfare, coming out with his second book of his ideas, which do not make any discernable sense. This is satire here of cults, perhaps of Ron Hubbard and Scientology and maybe Paul Thomas Anderson, the director and screenwriter is also making fun of psychotherapy which to the uninformed may look like the “gobbledygook” being depicted in this movie. Yes, we see the poor mixed up soldier yearning for his young girlfriend who he knew before the war. We even see at the end the father figure cult leader expressing a yearning for his young follower. But nothing ties together which probably is the point they are making.

Even though there is great acting, beautiful scenery and very good cinematography, we advise a pass on this movie. (2014)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama

Felix and Meira

April 24th, 2015 — 7:29am

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Felix and Meira – sp

You may have a negative impression of the Hassidic community, as a cloisted male-dominated sect where the woman’s role is to take care of the children and serve the men while they sing their songs, do their dancing and prayers. If that is the case, this movie will not change your mind and will confirm your thinking. Meira (Hadas Yaron) is such a wife living in a Hassidic community located in Montreal who has one child so far but uncharacteristically does not want anymore and does not like the role that is expected of her. She has a chance meeting with Felix (Martin Dubreuil) who is a single man who is not part of her community. We see that she is drawn to him and sees her way out of the life that has been fated for her. This is much to the consternation of her husband, Shulem (Luzer Twersky) who realizes what is happening but can only demand that she should do what he feels she is supposed to do and that is follow the rules of her community. If we were expected to develop an understanding and insight into all these characters, our opinion is that the film was unsuccessful. We know essentially nothing about them as individuals, perhaps with the exception of Felix who we know had a father who never showed any love to him although it seems irrelevant to the plot. Certainly, we do not know the back story of the other main characters. We find them all two-dimensional. The acting and the setting seemed quite genuine. This is a French film directed by Maxime Giroux who also wrote the screenplay, It seamlessly moves back and forth from English and Yiddish with subtitles as needed. However, what we needed here was a story with more depth to it. (2015)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign

Timbuktu

February 5th, 2015 — 8:10pm

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Timbuktu sp- “Timbuktu” is widely used to describe a place extremely far away and regarded by many as a myth. In reality it’s a city in Mali, West Africa. It is situated on the southernmost edge of the Sahara Desert. This film although named Timbuktu was actually filmed in Mauritania, a country a little to the north and deemed a little safer for the French and African crew and cast that made this highly charged political film. This movie was produced and directed by Ahderrahmane Sissaki who also co-wrote the screenplay. It is the first film from Mauritania and one of the very few from Africa to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. It attempts to show how the Jihadists, who are contemporary armed Islamic fundamentalists, attempt to impose their values on other Islamic people who don’t hold their extreme beliefs. The setting is the beautiful African dessert where some animals run wild and others are herded by local people many of whom are religious but don’t hold the extreme beliefs of the Jihadists. This leads to horrific scenes, which include a young couple being stoned to death for having a sexual relationship and not being married. Others are given painful 40 lashes for singing and enjoying music. Women are also forbidden from even showing their hands and must wear gloves. The actors are quite good and very believable in their roles although most have not acted before. Some of the actors, we learned, have performed as musicians. The storyline is more a tableaux of scenes woven together to achieve the message that the filmmaker clearly wishes to make. It has relevancy to the world situation as the news is filled with stories about terrorism by various extremist Islamic groups, such as ISIS, al Qaeda and others as they spread their influence throughout the world. A movie such as this one that attempts to show extremism and oppression of people becomes even more effective than political speeches and news reports to educate the public. We understand that already the movie is showing strong box office appeal in various parts of Africa as well as in France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe. However, as an enjoyable, absorbing well done film we can’t put it near the top of our list. Granted the photography is quite beautiful and did capture the texture and ambience of the land. However there is no real storyline. There is no character development and we really know very little about the background of any of the people that we meet. Since they mostly walk around with some type of cloth around their faces (men and women), at times we didn’t even know who was who. Some of the scenes were drawn out too long in our opinion. We had the opportunity to question the filmmaker about some of the fine points of the movie that we did not comprehend. Although that helped to understand what had occurred, regular movie goers will not have that added help. The overall message was fairly clear but we found the movie which was 97 minutes, to feel much longer. In sum, the political value trumps the cinematic value. We hope it makes a difference but we can’t recommend it as a must see film.(2015)

 

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, History

The Queen of Versailles

January 5th, 2015 — 2:44am

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The Queen of Versailles – nf  Mrs. American, a Florida beauty pageant winner marries 2nd husband David Siegel, one the richest men in the country thanks to his success selling time-shares. He is 30 years her senior and they go on to have eight children. Although they live in a mansion with nannies and other help, they set about to build the largest house under one roof in the United States. They fashion it after the Palace of Versailles and it will have more than 90,000 square feet. Their life style includes limousines, extravagant furnishings and clothes, as well as everything for their children. If there ever were a family to which the term “ life styles of the rich and famous” would apply, it would be to this one. Mr. Siegel even takes credit for election of George W. Bush by carrying Florida because of his great financial support of him (which he even acknowledges might have been a little illegal.) He owns one of the largest buildings in Las Vegas, which he turns into a time-share operation. Mr. Siegel’s timeshare selling team won’t take no for an answer and they have a time-share for every budget. Filmmaker Lauren Greenfield realizes that this couple would be a fascinating subject for a documentary film and they agree to the project. If this were the entire story, it would probably be an interesting film which would provide insight into how people with essentially unlimited money live their lives. However, this project was started a little before 2008 when the US was hit with a gigantic stock market and real estate crash. Too many Americans had “sub-prime “mortgages, meaning they held mortgages, on which they could no longer make their payments once the economy, went bad. This not only impacted the little guy, or even the average family but it affected big time, timeshare mogul David Siegel who suddenly found that he could not pay his loans. His financial world came crashing down around him. The film became the story of how this family began to deal with the sudden completely unexpected change of events for them. They had to put their unfinished dream house up on the market with nary a buyer in sight. They had to radically cut back on all their help, stop their extravagant spending and even started to have arguments about keeping unnecessary lights on in their house. Even if this is not exactly rags to riches and back to rags, it is a lesson in how people often don’t appreciate what they have and when they have it want more. While the message may have long lasting meaning, the nuances of the economy problems seem somewhat dated, the movie also feels that way. Hopefully new regulations put in place will at least protect the little guy in the future. The big boys usually fend for themselves. We did a search to find out how the folks in the film were doing today which revealed that in 2014, the filmmaker and the Siegels were suing each other for issues related to the movie. (2012)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Documentary

Unbroken

January 4th, 2015 — 1:45am

**

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 11.32.49 PMUnbroken- sp This movie is about the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Italian –American who grew up in a poor family in Torrance, California and became a champion track star and member of the US 1936 Olympic team in Berlin. He subsequently signed up with the US Air Force and became a bombardier during World war II. He and another crewmember survived a crash at sea and drifted in the Pacific Ocean for 2000 miles in 47 days dealing with starvation, dehydration, shark attacks and strafing from Japanese planes. He was then captured and spent most of the war as POW where he was brutally treated in part because he was recognized as a US Olympic runner. Most of the movie is spent recounting this experience. It is based a book by Laura Hillenbrand, a screen play by the Coen brothers and a few others. Angelina Jolie directed this film. Jack O’Connell, a 24 year old British actor plays Zamperini and he certainly does a adequate job although a more riveting actor such as a young Sean Penn might have helped to give this film some depth and that something special that seemed to be missing in our opinion. It didn’t help that we were struck by how the main characters mustache and goatee was fairly well groomed throughout the 47 days at sea and that he was pretty well clean shaven during prison time and also how most of the prisoners had clean military caps or hats. (It may have been that they were issued razors during imprisonment instead of decent nourishment, which they were surely not given.) We got the message that his brother gave him early on in his life that he should not give up but there was not much more in depth understanding of this important heroic person- other then he could stare his captors in the eye and was able to take a beating. Having read the book by Hildenbrand, (click here to see book review) one of us was disappointed that Zamperini’s bout with PTSD and alcoholism after he was freed was not shown nor was the story of his recovery with the help of the evangelist Billy Graham depicted. Some of the drifting and beatings could have traded for some more story with better insight into his psychological make up.. Another character that had great potential for a supporting role was Zamperini’s main nemesis among his captors and that was the Prison Commander known as “the Bird.” He is played in a somewhat bland manner by Miyavi (who is actually known best as a Japanese singer, writer, guitarist). He is supposed to be quite a mean cruel prison commandant but there is no attempt to show something about his character, which was developed in more depth in the book. Nevertheless the movie certainly stands as a tribute to Louis Zamperini, American hero who died at age 98 a few weeks before the release of the film, although he apparently saw the final version before he died. We don’t recommend that you do so. (2014)

2 comments » | 2 Stars, Biography, War

Mission Blue

August 8th, 2014 — 10:30pm

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Mission Blue-sp. Dr. Sylvia Earle is truly an amazing woman. For more than 50 years she has been diving in oceans all over the world . She has been a Chief Scientist at NOAA National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration. This documentary film by Fisher Stevens (known for the award winning film The Cove) and Robert Nixon is about her but it is also about her mission in life which is to restore and save the oceans of the world along with marine life which we see is being seriously destroyed in recent years.

Unfortunately, from our point of view the focus of the film is not clear. We see breathtaking footage of life near the bottom of the ocean as underwater explorations by people like Dr. Earle and James Cameron go to record-breaking depths. We view video of Dr. Earle as a young girl and then as a young scientist evolving into a woman in her 70s who still does these dives. We briefly meet her three husbands and had an even a briefer introduction to one of her three children as a young woman. We certainly are curious to know more about her personal life which we learned in a post screening meeting with the filmmaker was also his desire to show but was not the wish of Dr. Earle.

The film clearly makes the point that a great deal of the marine life in the oceans of the world has been destroyed in recent years, apparently by over fishing, a desire by some for shark fins, and oil spills. We see what was once beautiful coral life in at least one place, is now debris. There is a dire warning that if something isn’t changed, the oxygen supply of our planet, which mainly comes from the ocean will be depleted and we might end up like Mars (which we all know is uninhabitable by humans). We are not sure what we are supposed to do. It isn’t clear if one of the messages might be not to eat too much fish. There is a plan to make “ Hope Zones” throughout the world which would be agreed upon areas of the ocean that there would be no fishing or any other activity that would disrupt life in that area of the ocean. This brain child of Dr. Earle we are told at the end of the film is making some progress. In conclusion the beautiful scenes shown are somewhat overdone and the interesting life of Dr. Earle is underdone. We are given a website at the end of the film, missionblue.org, which we hope will clarify exactly what was the mission of this movie. The film is scheduled for a brief theatrical release and then will be available on Netflix August 15th. (2014)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Documentary

The One I Love

July 31st, 2014 — 7:22am

 

 

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The One I Love- sp- This is another example of an Independent movie put together by a small creative team. In this case it is Mark Duplass (co-star of the movie)  who co-produces with Charlie McDowell (who also directs the film) with other co-producers, brother Jay Duplass along with Mel Eslyn and of course writer Justin Lader. This is part of new wave of films which pays all the cast and crew $100/day but gives everyone a certain amount of points which will determine how they will share the profits from the film which in this case will be through a game plan involving combined theatrical releases with television, Netflix and Video on Demand. They used a detailed script that had everything but the dialogue which the actors improvised within the framework of the story. There were essentially only two actors on the screen and that was Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss (known best for Mad Men). We shouldn’t give away the storyline which has a twist. Suffice it to say that Ethan and Sophie are having trouble with their marriage and they go to see a therapist (a brief role by Ted Danson) who sends them to an isolated vacation retreat where they are supposed to find out who they really are and fix their marital relationship. They and the audience are in for a confusing surprise. The problem is that we didn’t feel it really worked. We got a few smiles out of the story but felt that the story behind the twist could have been developed much better than it was done. We appreciated the creative attempt, You may end up seeing this one night on TV but we can’t recommend it. (2014)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Comedy, Drama

A Most Wanted Man

July 24th, 2014 — 6:30am

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A Most Wanted Man- sp- When you have Phillip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last movies (we understand there are few unreleased ones still in the can) and a John LeCarre spy story, you expect a sure hit. However, in our opinion this movie doesn’t make the grade. From the very beginning, we weren’t sure what was going on and who were the good guys. Maybe this was deliberate ambiguity but it didn’t quite work for us. We are told early on that the movie is set in Hamburg, Germany the locale where the 9/11 plot was hatched and surveillance is very high. We meet the cast of characters which included roles by William Dafoe and Robin Wright. Director Anton Corbin and cinematographer Benoit Delhomme were very creative with their dramatic shots from high above or through reflections in glass or through train windows. The cuts and the scenes are often quite short and we felt we never got a good bead on the back story of the characters. There wasn’t overwhelming action and most of the time and the spy thriller tension just wasn’t there for us. Phillip Seymour Hoffman did do a great job and carried the movie. His chain smoking, ruffled character showed the full range of emotions from a subtle intellectuality to a very believable rage. He certainly was a great actor (2014)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Thriller

Happy Christmas

July 18th, 2014 — 7:43am

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**

Happy Christmas –sp This is a Joe Swanberg independent low budget production, for which he also wrote the screenplay, directed it , played a leading role and had his under two year old son play his son in the film. The story opens as we meet Jeff (Joe Swanberg) and his wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) who seem happy enough with their young son (Jade Swanberg- who actually gives a great performance)). Kelly is a stay at home mom who is a novelist and has had a book published. Their happy abode is interrupted by a visit for a undetermined duration by Jenny, Jeff’s sister (Anna Kendrick) who just broke up with her boyfriend. She is “a piece of work” as she develops a quick sexual relationship with young neighborhood guy (Mark Webber) who sells her pot. She smokes and drinks her self repeatedly to near oblivion and almost burns down the house. In between there is lots of interesting women’s talk with her good friend Carson (Lena Dunham of Girls fame) and Kelly. In fact Kelly is convinced by Jenny in a sober moment that she should try to become financially well off by putting aside her serious attempt to write another novel and instead write a popular novel ,best seller type, based on life style information that Jenny will provide. The point would seem to be that there could be a pathway for a bright woman other than by “just being a full time housewife.” The fact is that the movie doesn’t really go anyplace and never intends to go anyplace. It is a study of these characters with a minimal story and much dialogue that we learned from a post film interview with two of the actors was improvised for much of the time and was achieved on film in one or two takes for each scene. It seems to be part of the new “Mumblecore” genre which attempts to achieve naturalistic performances, without a clear narrative structure often using a great deal of improvisation. We tried to consider if it was successful by one of us acknowledging that the action did hold one’s attention but we both agreed that we really couldn’t recommend the film to anyone to spend 78 minutes with it. Maybe the film could be used in a teaching setting to demonstrate the devastating trajectory of a young woman with a Borderline Personality although we really didn’t have very much backstory on her to fully understand her. We did get the feeling that the story did not convey the potential grave prognosis for a character such as Jenny unless she were to get some serious therapy. But that is another story. (2014)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama

The Galapagos Affair

April 11th, 2014 — 6:07am

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The Galapagos Affair- sp- This documentary film takes place on the Galapagos Islands which are a group of 19 small islands in the Pacific Ocean about 600 miles from the coast of Ecuador. In the early 1930s a handful of people decided they wanted to get away from civilization and live on one of most deserted and smaller islands of this group named Floreana Island. The first couple to settle there was a young physician from Berlin, Friedrick Ritter who was a student of the writings of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He was accompanied by his girlfriend Dore Strauch who had multiple sclerosis but seemed quite fit as they both worked the land. They were joined on the island by Margaret and Heinz Wittmer who raised a family there. The other important people  that we see on the island are the so-called Baroness Eloise von Wagner who is flamboyant woman who settles there with her two lovers with the plan to build a hotel. All of the inhabitants are mostly off to themselves but occasionally interact as for example when Dr. Ritter delivers one of the Wittmer’s children. There are occasional brief visits by various ships, which included scientists and naturalists who studied the beautiful natural vegetation and wildlife on the island. Although not discussed in the film one of these visitors was Captain Alan Hancock, a wealthy philanthropist who financed research expeditions to the Galapagos Islands. He also was an early user of 8mm movie film and he photographed the inhabitants of the island doing various activities over a period of a few years. He also photographed a fictionalized short silent film starring the Baroness titled the Empress of Floreana. It was the availability of these archived movie footage that allowed filmmakers Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine  to put together this documentary film. They chose to present this film as an unsolved mystery since there were two unexplained disappearances and one death under unusual circumstances. It appeared that most of the people on the island were writers of sorts and many recorded their day-to-day observations and feelings Therefore the screenplay written by Geller and Goldfine included dialogue written by the various inhabitants. This was read by actors and actress while we mostly watched the old movies that have been dug out from the archives and skillfully weaved to match the dialogue or vice versa. This included the voices of   Cate Blanchett as Dore Strauch, Thomas Kretschmann as Dr. Ritter, Sebastain Koch as Mr. Wittmer, Diane Kruger as Margret Wittmer and Connie Nielsen as the Baroness. Josh Radnor and Gustav Skarsgard were the voices of the two men in the Baroness’ life. There were too many details put out for us to digest and not enough focus on the individual characters for us to care very much about them. There were also too many additional contemporary interviews with the children and relatives as well as with some surviving main characters. We never got a good feel for the murder mystery, which they were trying to unfold.  This was despite taking two hours to play out the movie. Perhaps this is a film that you might want to see prior to a tourist trip to these islands but it is not one we can recommend for your movie entertainment. (2014)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Documentary, Mystery

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