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
December 22nd, 2016 — 5:35am
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
August 6th, 2016 — 2:42am
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
February 10th, 2016 — 7:18pm
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
January 26th, 2016 — 9:03pm
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
January 21st, 2016 — 1:59am
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
January 13th, 2016 — 6:01am
The Brand New Testament- sp
This is a French/Belgium foreign film directed and co-written by Jaco Van Dormael that was nominated for a Golden Globe Award this year. It is a full-blown irreverent satire on religion that borders on the ridiculous, but will extract some laughs from most people. It has distribution thus far in 50 countries but not yet in the United States, so you will probably have to go to Netflix, if you are inclined to see it.
In this story, God (Benoit Polevoorde) is a middle-aged guy running a computer in a special room in his middle class house where he lives with his wife who seems to be a mousy downtrodden woman. His teenage daughter (Pili Groyne), who is the sister of Jesus, at night sneaks into daddy’s office and sends an email to everyone on the planet, telling them exactly when they will die. This has lots of implications to people individually as well as for world peace. Then, for some reason, the daughter of God decides that she should have a new set of apostles perhaps because she is a little competitive with her brother. Each apostle has a different theme, the satirical implications of which we seem to have missed.
We only recognize one of the actresses in this film and that was Catherine Deneuve. Her character was having sex with a gorilla. There is not more to say about the film. Although we cannot recommend this movie, we realize your curiosity might get the best of you (2015)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Comedy, Foreign
January 4th, 2016 — 2:10am
Two Days, One Night- nf
This French film with subtitles in English has a simple premise. It is done very well and the lead actress, Marion Cotillard who plays Sandra is magnificent. The film held our interest and our emotions for 1 hour and 36 minutes.
Sandra is a Belgian housewife who works in a factory that makes solar panels. There is a divisive labor issue in her workplace.. Apparently, after Sandra was out of work for a brief time (suggestion is that it was for depression), her boss decided that the workgroup could vote whether to have her come back, but if she does come back, they could not afford to give everyone the thousand euro bonus. Due to a question raised about the voting procedure, there will be a redo vote on Monday but everyone knows that if they vote for Sandra to come back to work, they all will lose the projected thousand euro bonus.
With the urging of her husband (Fabrizio Rongione) who works as a waiter in a fast-food restaurant, Sandra tries to visit the 15 or 16 co-workers at their homes over the weekend to ask them to vote to keep her on and forego the bonus. The interchange that she has with her co-workers as she visits most of them gives us an insight into the struggles of these working people, as well as their moral character. They all desperately need the bonus but just about half of them seemed to be willing to vote for Sandra to return to work.
Then at one point when Sandra feels she has lost a key vote and will lose the election, she does something quite drastic. Then when she learns that the key vote is actually going to support her, she confesses to what she has done but now is in good spirits win or lose and is ready to take on the world. Here is where the film and the director/writers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne who are brothers, leaves us or part ways with us. We can’t accept this simplistic view of human nature and the psychological make-up that someone can turn around as quickly as this and be prepared to live happily ever after no matter what happens. As engaging as the buildup may have been, we don’t think the movie delivers. We vote for pass on it . (2015)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign
December 18th, 2015 — 7:48am
This is a movie like no other movie that you have seen. The technique used is stop-action puppets. This means that realistic puppets of human beings were utilized which were about one foot in length with movable parts to simulate walking and talking. Sets made to scale were built in which these figures would exist and interact with other puppet/people. The puppets in the environment in which they were interacting would be slightly changed for each frame (24 frames per second). it would take an animation team one day to film two and a half seconds of the film. There were about 15 animation teams working at one time with many identical puppets and several identical sets. It took many months to build the puppets and plan for each scene. The entire endeavor took about two years.
If you think this setup was unusual , the voice over approach was also quite unique. There were two separate voices for the two main characters. David Thewlis was the voice of Michael Stone, a middle-aged businessman who comes to stay at a hotel in Cincinnati in order to deliver a speech the next day. He meets a young woman by the name of Lisa, voice-over by Jennifer Jason Leigh, with whom he has an affair. All the other numerous characters which include a wife and child, an old girlfriend, numerous hotel personnel and a few other characters all have voice-over by one person, Tom Noonan!
The creative nature of this film continues as you try to figure out what exactly was the meaning of the story. You will have to wade through a dream sequence, a serious hotel love making scene, most of the voices sounding the same, and a mixed up main character who seems to be having a lot of trouble figuring out who he really loves and does he really love it all.
This is all the brain child of Charlie Kaufman who wrote the screenplay and directed and produced it with Duke Johnson. They kick-started it all by raising $400,000 (with the initial contributors getting puppets and parts of the miniature sets) and then put together a relatively low budget of a couple of million dollars more which Paramount and some others provided.
We can’t recommend this as a worthwhile cinematic experience, considering all the excellent films out there today, unless this stuff is right up your alley. However, we do admire the unusual creative effort. (2015)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Uncategorized