Category: 2 Stars


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)

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

Amy

December 22nd, 2016 — 5:35am

**screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-25-32-pm

Amy – nf

As you may know, Amy Winehouse came from a Jewish middle class family in England and became a world famous singer. She died of alcohol and drug use at the age of 27. This documentary film directed by Asif Kapala uses archival film and narrations by people who knew her. We see her as a four or five-year-old girl seemingly independent with a mind of her own which was characteristic of her as she got older. She was confident in her singing as well as in her writing lyrics and she brought to life the words that she wrote which described her life and world around her.

We really were not shown enough to understand her family dynamics. Her parents divorced when she was 10 years old and her father was shown trying to control her career and her mother seemed to be a loving woman in the background. While her music was meaningful to a very large audience, her personal relationships seemed quite troubled. Blake, her boyfriend, then husband and then ex-husband who also spent a few years in jail, brought her deeper into drugs as she got older. Amy was an interesting young woman who had a meteoric rise and then fall. However, we are not really provided with in-depth interviews of the significant players in her life. Perhaps some future biography will provide this. The film, of course, was mostly in a foreign language (British English). Subtitles were frequently provided especially when she sang but not all the time. So occasionally, we would not know what was being said on the screen.

The highlight of the movie was a video segment showing Amy and Tony Bennett working in the studio to produce a recording of their duet by them. Bennett said that he thought Amy Winehouse was one of the greatest jazz singers of all time alongside of Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. (2015)

 

Comment » | 2 Stars, Documentary, Musical

10 Cloverfield Lane

August 6th, 2016 — 2:42am

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 12.49.22 PM**

10 Cloverfield Lane-rm

On a cross country air flight, one of us (MB) usually tries to catch up on a movie that we missed and heard had good press. I thought that this movie would fit that bill especially with it being a J.J. Abrams Production. I expect to see some well-done science fiction or a horror story with some interesting twist. It is directed by Dan Trachtenberg who did Portal: No Escape with a somewhat parallel theme of a woman waking up in a testing facility with no idea how she got there.

An attractive woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) jumps in her car and is leaving her husband. She is driving on the open road and suddenly there is some kind of a crash and she finds herself in an underground house with a big somewhat scary looking man (John Goodman) hovering over her. The guy presents himself as a survivalist who has been planning for the end of the world scenario, which he says is happening. He just happened to save her and bring her into his underground well-equipped house to save her from the aliens and poison gasses, which are outside. Obviously, there are more details. First, you don’t believe him, then you do or maybe you don’t but on the other hand? Can she escape? Should she escape? Is this movie all about the meaning of abuse? What is the music, and other noises in the background telling us? Yes, on one hand it seems fairly believable, but a gasmask made from soda bottle? Come on. If anyone can make us believe a fanciful tale J.J. Abrams (Star Wars etc) should be able to do it.

In the end, I needed more. Maybe I’m not the right demographic. The film did gross $72 million, however I believe there are better films around and I suggest that you pass on this one.(2016)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Horror, Thriller

Embrace of the Serpent

February 10th, 2016 — 7:18pm

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 2.47.33 PM**

Embrace of the Serpent-sp

(In native language and in Spanish and Portuguese with English subtitles)

This movie was out of our comfort zone and for the most part out of our understanding zone. The purpose of this 2 hours and five minute film was to provide insight into the thinking of native people living in the Amazon region at the turn of the 20th Century, which probably reflected much of the way things have been for hundreds of years in the past. We also understand that there are still isolated groups of people living in this area today who think, speak, and believe in the metaphoric mysticism, which was conveyed in this film.

We did meet the filmmakers, director, and screenwriter, Ciro Guerra and his wife who was a producer of the film, Cristina Gallego. On the basis of seeing this film and hearing them speak, we appreciate that they are obviously very knowledgeable and thoughtful about film making and about the people and culture they are depicting in this movie. We should add that they shared with us that in order to protect the film crew and actors that they brought into the Amazon, they obtained standard film insurance but also hired a Shaman to provide protection for everyone.

The movie is based on the true story of two European explorers who travelled decades apart down the Amazon River, which is bordered by the territory the size of the United States, which includes parts of several South American countries. In this fictionalized account, each of them was shown to have the same native guide. The details of the story are not as important as it is to appreciate the way of thinking of the natives which are spiritual, mystical, close to nature, and rooted in the characteristics of the jungle. It was also a clear statement about the damage that the white man has done to their culture in the quest to exploit the trees that produce rubber, as well as in the attempt to convert the indigenous people to Christianity.

This film is the Colombian foreign film entry for the Academy Awards and was chosen as one of the five finalists. Despite this acknowledgment from the Academy, we found it overly long and not well constructed. We cannot recommend that you spend your time watching it (2015)

 

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History

In The Shadow of Women

January 26th, 2016 — 9:03pm

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 11.44.27 AM**

In the Shadow of Women-sp

(French with English subtitles)

You probably will not see this movie unless perhaps you are taking a course about French films. We also don’t think you are missing anything. It is directed by Philippe Garrel who we were told by two experts in this genre has a following among such afficiandos.

The movie is in black and white as is the story. The theme is infidelity. Pierre (Stanislas Merhar) and Manon (Clotilde Courau) are seemingly a happily married couple, although Pierre really doesn’t seem happy about anything. They are filmmakers and are making a documentary in which they are interviewing a supposed hero of the French resistance who is reviewing all his heroic acts during World War II. However, it turns out that he is lying and deceiving the filmmakers. He really turned in all his friends to the Nazis. Pierre is also doing a bit of deceiving as he is having an affair with Elisabeth (Lena Paugam). This would seem to be very unfair to his wife, Manon, as she seems to be very dedicated to the marriage. However, despite this initial impression Manon is having a secret liaison with her lover. When circumstances lead both Pierre and Manon to confess to each other, they both become furious and split up. They meet sometime later at the funeral of the subject of their documentary film and quickly end up passionately in each other’s arms.

We obviously have not avoided providing spoilers since we doubt most of our readers will see this movie. As we ponded the meaning or message of the film, we saw very few clues to the background of the characters. We appreciated the echo of deception in the subject of Pierre and Manon’s documentary film and the deception in their lives. Was this a morality story? We think not. One of the native French movie experts discussing this film at our screening stated that in France as compared to America “Infidelity is not a moral issue.” She agreed however that this doesn’t mean that the participants might not have personal emotional responses. We saw a very little of such responses and certainly, as we stated, there was no understanding of the meaning of the infidelity to each of the characters.

The title of the film suggests that there is something more meaningful in infidelity to women than to men. This is an interesting point but certainly was not developed in the movie. We understand that the screenwriters Jean-Claude Carriere, Caroline Deruas and Arlette Langmann have a very fine reputation in France as does the director. Mr. Garrel is a master of black and white and the filming of the streets and the alleys kept a consistent atmosphere and mood of the film. The third party voice-over helped to fill in some of the details of the story. However, one of us felt they should have edited in about a half hour more to the 73 minutes running time in order to develop some insight into the characters. But the other one of us felt the best part of the film was that it was short! (2015)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign

Rams

January 21st, 2016 — 1:59am

 Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 5.57.46 PM**

RAMS (Icelandic with English subtitles)-sp

This was the Icelandic film entry for best picture in the Oscar foreign film category. It did not make the final cut for nomination. It is written and directed by Grimur Hakornason and stars two experienced Icelandic actors Sigurdur Sigurjonsson and Theodor Juliosson who play two brothers. The film is set in the mountains of rural Iceland in a small sheep farming community. This is definitely not a familiar setting for American film goers. What is familiar is that we are presented with a story of a sibling conflict. There are two brothers with adjacent sheep farms who have not spoken to each other in more than 40 years. An outbreak of sheep disease (scrapies) is dramatically discovered which requires the slaughtering of everyone’s sheep in this small community, which would take away their livelihood for at least the next two years. It would also mean the wiping out of the stock of animals that has been in these two brother’s family for many generations.

There are lots of moments of drama and tension in this movie. Certainly, the filmmaker, who we met at our screening, knew this setting quite well. He mastered the depiction of man and sheep in the beautiful countryside and the deadly snowstorms that can occur. He injected a subtle sense of humor into the various serious dilemmas, which the characters are facing.

Of course, the main theme of this story is the antagonism between these two brothers. As mental health professionals, we know that this universal theme can be one of the most painful conflicts of the human condition and often plays out with many heartbreaking, heartwarming and fascinating variations. By taking on this issue, the filmmaker had the opportunity to provide not only new insights into this universal story, but also to enrich it by highlighting the cultural layers from the Icelandic setting.

We are sorry to say, in our opinion this movie did not live up to the potential possibilities we envisioned for it. We know nothing about the brother’s family, childhood or any insight whatsoever into the nature of their conflicts that led to 40 years of not talking to each other despite living within sight of each other’s houses. There are no other family members in this story. The two older main characters are seemingly single with no spouses or children. In fact, there are no significant friends in the movie although we see the townspeople occasionally interacting with them. The film while trying to show us a poignant ending, still gave us no insight into the characters who are doing the emoting. The direction, acting, photography, editing were of high quality. We understand that this movie was well received in Iceland. We can only imagine how well it would have gone if there had been more of a story. (2015)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Foreign

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