Category: 2 Stars


The Brand New Testament

January 13th, 2016 — 6:01am

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 12.26.13 AM**

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

Two Days, One Night ( Deux Jours, Une Nuit)

January 4th, 2016 — 2:10am

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 11.29.56 AM**

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

Anomalisa

December 18th, 2015 — 7:48am

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 6.49.18 PM**

Anomalisa-sp

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

45 Years

December 14th, 2015 — 6:46pm

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 4.39.18 PM**

45 Years-sp

Early in this British film, the husband (Tom Courtenay) of this couple that is about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary in a few days, learned that the body of his previous girlfriend many years ago who died by falling into crevice of icy water during a mountain climbing trip, has just been discovered and was fully preserved. His now wife of nearly 45 years (Charlotte Rampling) then finds out that her husband recently secretly visited a travel agency to inquire about going to Switzerland where the discovery of his old girlfriend was made. She is already very hurt about this set of unusual circumstances. She appears to be questioning the many years of the seemingly happy but childless marriage (spoiler alert, the old girlfriend was apparently pregnant).

Andrew Haigh, the young (43-year-old) director/writer in a post-film discussion at our screening revealed his insight and seemingly his major point in writing the film was now that the wife knows this ancient story of her husband’s early love, she realizes that if certain events hadn’t happened, her whole life could have been different. “Duh” – isn’t that so true in everyone’s life? If MB hadn’t accepted the blind date with his 18-year-old now wife of many years (SB), his entire life – children, grandchildren and so many choices in life would not have happened. This movie seems to be built upon this premise. which of course is true for everyone’s life. What the movie demonstrates is under the surface anger and hurt feelings that Charlotte Rampling very well conveys with her facial expressions and demeanor.

Moviegoers today have a right to expect a richer and more complicated story then that which is presented in this film. Now, if the husband had murdered his wife all those years ago (which we both thought for a second might be the case before it became obvious that that wasn’t the situation) then we might have been drawn into the storyline.

Despite the nice photography and excellent acting, we were glad that the running time was only 95 minutes rather than a longer 2-hour film. Still, the film dragged and it felt as though there was “no there there.”(2015)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama

Skeleton Twins

November 20th, 2015 — 7:29pm

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 9.09.24 AM**

Skeleton Twins – nf

It is rare that the two authors of this blog can’t come to an agreement or a good compromise on the value of the film, which we are reviewing. This was a movie, which one of us couldn’t recommend and the other thought some people would really enjoy it.

We do agree that Kristen Wiig, who played Maggie, and Bill Hader, who played Milo, are great actors with a wonderful comedic touch. They play two grownup twins now living in different parts of the country who haven’t seen each other in 10 years and are about to kill themselves at the same moment in time (opening Scene). We see that they had pretty bad parenting. Their mother didn’t seem to be able to express any love to them and their father committed suicide when they were young kids.

They obviously don’t succeed in their attempt to kill themselves and they are now spending some time together. He is gay and was molested by Rich(Ty Burrell), his high school teacher/mentor when he was 15 years old. Now that he is back in town, he visits his old hero teacher who has his own 16-year-old son. Milo and the teacher have a sexual encounter and we are somehow led to believe that the teacher/child molester isn’t really that bad? Meanwhile, Maggie has the nicest husband that you can imagine, Lance (Luke Wilson) and they are trying to have a baby, at least that’s what he thinks. Maggie is hiding the birth control pills while she is having an affair with her scuba-diving instructor, which follows two other affairs with other instructors that she has had. As you can imagine, the only authentic relationship is that between Maggie and Milo who have shared their horrible childhood. They have at least learned to lip-sync to some songs together, which they can now do since they have reunited.

Certainly, everybody will agree that this brother and sister need therapy, although there are no signs of that in the story. We do agree there is something poignant about seeing them reunite. At least they have each other and maybe they will get help someday. (2014)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Uncategorized

Laggies

November 16th, 2015 — 7:44am

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 5.44.48 PM**

Laggies – nf

The term Laggies, according to Director Lynn Shelton comes from an informal term used by Orange County teenagers when referring to themselves as a group such as “Come on Laggies, let’s all go to the mall.” The screenplay by Andrea Seigel was originally written to take place in Orange County, California, but the setting was moved to Seattle, Washington. However, Shelton liked the way the term Laggies sounded and kept it as the title.

The meaning of the film to us is similarly vague and hard to figure out. Granted it is about a generation far from our own, but we thought that we usually get teens and 20’s even if we are quite removed from their time to bloom.

Megan (Keira Knightley) is a 28-year-old college graduate who has a Masters in Family Counseling but hasn’t really found herself. Her best friend, Allison (Elle Kemper) is getting married and all her good friends are attending the event. Megan’s long-term boyfriend (Mark Webber) is ready to propose to her and they plan to go for a quick small wedding ceremony in Las Vegas. However, Megan meets Annika, a 15-year-old teenager (Chloe Moretz), who she encounters when she’s asked by her to buy beer and alcohol for her and her teenage buddies. Megan can relate to Annika and is comfortable hanging around with her and her friends. She tells her boyfriend that she’s going to go to a conference for a week and then they will get married. In the meantime, Megan stays in Annika’s house where she meets Craig, Annika’s single dad (Sam Rockwell) who is an attorney. Anika and Sam seem to really like each other and have a one-night sexual encounter. Incidentally, we also have learned a little earlier that Megan’s father (Jeff Garlin) was discovered by Megan to be fooling around with the mother of the bride at the wedding of Megan’s best friend, which bummed out Megan. Megan is about to fly to Las Vegas to marry her long-term boyfriend or will she?

So we conclude that the movie is about growing up and deciding which relationships are really important. However, there is no real depth to the storyline. We don’t really understand why the characters do what they do, although they do seem to be the wiser for going through these experiences. The director, Ms. Shelton knows her way around Seattle having directed her previous movies in the city. The acting was very good. Ms. Knightly was very appealing as Megan, the young woman who has to find herself. In the DVD features accompanying the film, we see her talking in her native language (British English) and we appreciate how well she has mastered the American dialect in the film. This movie was a little fun to watch but we didn’t get much out of it. We conclude that we can’t recommend it, even to the teens and 20’s looking for a good movie to kick back on. (2014)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama

Legend

September 30th, 2015 — 10:41pm

**Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 10.38.14 AM

Legend – sp

Most Americans have probably never heard of the Kray Brothers, Reggie and Ron. They were legendary gangsters active in the 1940s who were well known in England as were gangsters, John Dillinger, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Bonnie and Clyde in the U.S. and immortalized by books and movies. After studying the Kray twin brothers and their criminal exploits, American writer/director, Brian Helgeland decided to undertake this film project. He brought to the table considerable experience among which included L.A. Confidential for which he won the Oscar for the best-adapted screen play and 42, The Story of Jackie Robinson on which he was also the writer/director.

Helgeland connected with British actor Tom Hardy and they decided that Hardy would play both identical twin brothers although their appearance, demeanor and personalities were quite different. Hardy had previously received a great deal of acclaim for his work on both sides of the pond. However this role had to be a challenge for the director and the actor, which would require the use of body doubles, skillful editing and all sorts of special techniques. The result was quite realistic. Both guys were tough as nails and each with a distinct personality. Ron was openly “homosexual” and it was clearly stated that he takes the active role not only at sex but in violence. He also is depicted as somewhat mentally unbalanced. Reggie, perhaps the better looking brother, but just as tough, also falls in love with Francis (Emily Browning). She is a slightly built but very attractive, sweet, not at all like a gangster moll but hopelessly wanting Reggie to go straight. It is her voice that narrates the film a la Sunset Boulevard. While we could develop empathy for her, the tragic heroine, we felt very little feelings for the gangster brothers.

So not caring about the main characters and not very good enough reasons to sit through a lot of violence, we had one more additional problem with the film. This British movie was made for the Brits and we could not understand at least third of the heavily accented British or Cockney speech. We knew what was going on but it was almost like we had to use our weak high school training in a foreign language to get the gist of much of the dialogue. So the only possible reason for us to recommend that you see this film if you don’t speak this language, would be to see the amazing accomplishment of Tom Hardy taking on these two infamous British criminals. However, our conclusion is that you should pass on it. (2015)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Crime, Drama, Foreign

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

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 12.27.17 AM**

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

**Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 11.14.13 PM

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

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