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)
Category: 2 Stars
Unbroken- 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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Double Indemnity- nf- The main thing that we can say about this classic film is that it reflects the state of the art of the time and demonstrates what would have been a thrilling mystery in the 1940s. (It is set in 1938 probably to avoid any wartime issues) Other than an historical film document, there is no way that a modern filmgoer would view this movie other than as a unsophisticated black and white film noir drama. It is hard to believe that it was co-written by the premier mystery crime writer of his time, Raymond Chandler, along with the premier filmmaker, Billy Wilder who directed it. Fred MacMurray played the slick insurance salesman, cocked hat and all, who gets drawn in by beautiful, unblinking ,sparkling eyes, glossy lips, sexy voice Barbara Stanwyck who also wore an enticing ankle bracelet. Edward G Robinson who has a voice and a tone just like everyone who has ever imitated him, plays the tough, all wise insurance adjuster who is in the process of sniffing out out the plot to kill the Stanwyck character’s husband and make it look like an accident to collect double indemnity !! The music background is as you would have expected it. The crime has to be solved without any CSI techniques. Hardly anything in the film was believable but it held our interest. This was partly because of the twists and turns of the thin plot and partly because we were thrilled to be watching the ancestors of the some of the great crime movies and TV shows that we can see today. (1944)
Now You See Me- rm – The opening scene is a great magic trick which you in the movie audience can participate if you pick a card, any card from the deck being shown to you. It is the first 40 seconds of this trailer for the movie- after the commercial . What comes next is a thriller caper with lots of magic. The first trick was people at a gigantic Las Vegas show robbing a bank in Paris . Everything seemed to get more grandiose from there. The screenplay by Ed Solomon and Boaz Yakin and directed by Louis Leterer built one preposterous gimmick after another. The key magicians Jesse Eisneberg, Isla Fischer and Woody Harrelson seemed to be one step ahead of the FBI and Interpol led by Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent. What might have been a great car chase through Manhattan’s highways and bridges was known to anyone from New York as unrealistic as the cops never weave in and out of traffic dangerously risking innocent people’s lives – especially just to catch a potential money thief. Michael Caine of course is always great as some rich guy entwined with tricky magicians seemingly getting away with lots of money. Morgan Freeman is intriguing as usual, this time as the ex-magician who exposes other magicians (perhaps based on the real life “ Randy, the Magician ”). Do we have very clever magicians, an inside job, get rich quick artists or a bunch of robin hoods?? In the end there is a good chance you are not going to care that much. Now that we have seen it, you don’t have to. (2013)
Stories We Tell rm- What if you found out that the man you thought was your father was really not your father? This is part of the complicated journey that Sarah Polley experiences as she uncovers the secrets of her family. Being a filmmaker, an Academy Award nominated one (Away From Her) Ms Polley decides to make this documentary film so all characters in her family story can tell their version of the truth. All that is except the central and most interesting player, her mother who has died of cancer when Ms. Polley was still a young girl. Her siblings, other relatives and friends add to the picture that is mainly painted by the two main men in her mother’s life both of whom have been writers/producers/actors, so they express themselves quite vividly. There is something fascinating in seeing hidden family secrets being unearthed and being laid out before us. One of us has explored this very theme in the blog PsychiatryTalk.com and it has remained the most visited entry in the almost four year history of this blog. One of the main ideas highlighted in this film, that a father would still love a child even if he found out when she was a grown young woman that he did not plant the seed, seems not to be a great revelation. In fact, the interviews and the emerging insights were quite repetitive which should not be surprising when the filmmaker who is a central object of the film had to have directed the editing. However the film was not without it’s redeeming moments, one of which included a foreshadowing movie clip of the mother as a young woman performing the song “Ain’t Misbehaving.” Another memorable snippet was when one of siblings seems to have an epiphany that perhaps the fact that three children became divorced shortly after learning of their mother’s unfaithfulness to their father, might be significant. This movie has to have been cathartic for the filmmaker and some of her family. It may even live on as an example of how to use the in depth interview as a search for the truth of hidden family secrets. We don’t think it makes the grade as top notch entertainment for the rest of us. (2013)