Category: 3 Stars


Center Stage

December 1st, 2016 — 8:04pm

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In addition to now being a TV network, NetFlix still offers subscribers the ability to reach into the past and request a DVD of a movie or an online play which we may have missed when it came out, or is about a subject that has great appeal to us. SB has always been a lover of ballet and all dance, so she pulled the trigger on this one. We both were not disappointed with this 16-year old film about the audition process to be chosen as a dancer to a topnotch ballet company. The setting is New York City, and any New Yorker will immediately recognize the streets surrounding Lincoln Center, where the American Ballet Theatre has its home.

Ballet stars start at a young age and most of the young faces in this film may not be out of their late teens. The storyline shows each aspiring dancer, male and female, having their own personality and their individual story. Some of the conflicts may be predictable and familiar, but they held our interest and drew us closer to the characters. However, the star of this film was the great dancing of this ensemble and the outstanding choreography.

While we didn’t recognize any of the cast, we suspect that many have gone on to great careers in professional dancing around the country. One outstanding male dancer, who is well-known at the time the movie was made, was Ethan Stiefel. Also, Zoe Saldana who played a rebellious young dancer, became a well-known actress who starred in two subsequent Star Wars movies as well as other big hits. Nicolas Hytner, the veteran British director, captured the great dancing throughout the film but also kept the pace of the storyline moving along quite well. There were no big surprises in the plot, but if you signed up for a dance movie, you will not be disappointed, especially with the finale. (2000

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Musical

Lion

November 24th, 2016 — 7:47am

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This is a beautiful story based on real life that will deeply move many people and it would not surprise us if it is an award contender. Therefore we don’t want to discourage potential viewers, but we thought it could have been done much better and shorter.

It is the story of a young Indian boy living in one of many poverty-stricken areas of India who joins his older brother on a late night adventure as they set out to try to make a few rupeess doing child labor tasks. He gets lost and separated from his brother ultimately falling asleep on a train ending up a couple of thousand miles away from his mother. The plight of Saroo is poignant enough by itself but the appeal of this young child played by a young Indian boy Sunny Pawar, who was chosen for the part over thousands of children, emotionally draws in the viewer.

Saroo is ultimately adopted by a loving Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) which is the equivalent of winning the lottery. Fast forward about 25 years into the future and this now young man (Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame) is having flashbacks of his childhood which are preventing him from moving forward with his life. The problem with the movie is that there was no fast forward but rather many long drawn-out scenes often showing countryside, trains winding through mountains, maps with pins in it and attempted reconstruction by the now young man as he tries to figure out where he left his mother and brother. There are endless views of Google Earth as Saroo now tries to reconcile his childhood memories and find the place where he came from. We meet a second child adopted by the Australian parents who we really don’t get to know very much about nor do we understand Saroo’s relationship with his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara), who seems lovely but we get no insight into what makes them tick as a couple since Saroo is now preoccupied with finding his birth mother and of course doesn’t want to hurt his loving parents who raised him.

We have written about the search for biological parents among adopted children and variations of this meaningful psychological theme have been played out in many movies.(click here to read article) Perhaps we can identify with the story because we try to imagine how we might feel if we were in this situation. This movie based on a book by the real Saroo which was put into a screenplay by Luke Davies and directed by Garth Davis. At the conclusion of this 120-minute movie, as the titles were being shown, there was an actual brief film clip of the real Saroo introducing his adopted mother to his biological mother which to us was the most moving moment of the film. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Arrival

November 12th, 2016 — 7:47pm

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As the title indicates and as we learn early in the film, our planet has been visited by 12 extraterrestrial oval-shaped gigantic spaceships at various locations throughout the world. Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is an outstanding linguist who is recruited by the United States military to try to communicate with the heptatopod-shaped gigantic aliens who are behind a transparent wall on the spaceship that landed in Montana We also learned early in the story line that Louise has suffered the loss of a beloved daughter through illness (or is it that she will suffer the tragic loss of a daughter in the future). The reason for the confusion (and you will be confused) is because one of the themes of the film is that the aliens don’t experience time in a linear fashion as do we earthlings. Obviously, this is reflected in the complicated language which Dr. Banks is trying to decode. We know that other governments are also trying to figure out if the spaceship in their country is dangerous to them. Will this invasion bring the world together?

As you can imagine, the language of the aliens is very complicated and we learned in a post film discussion with Eric Heisserer, the screenwriter, that the filmmaker tried to make some logic in the visuals of the written language that was shown on the screen (although we are quite sure that no viewer could understand it). In fact part of the problem with the film, aside from the non-human way of thinking, was that the dialogue was frequently drowned out by loud special effect sounds supposedly coming from the aliens or perhaps from a weird musical soundtrack. The screenwriter Heisserer confessed to us that he at times couldn’t hear some of the dialogue also but it didn’t bother him because he knew it since he wrote it (thanks a lot). In addition, most of the movie was in the dark, not only on the spacecraft or in the US government tents and buildings surrounding it, but also outside (we seem to recall from a vacation or two out there, that part of the country does have sunshine).

The star and centerpiece of the film is Amy Adams who does her trademark wide eye, thoughtful face as well as an intensity which her role requires. She is surrounded by Oscar nominated Jeremy Renner and Oscar winner Forest Whitaker as well as veteran actor Michael Stuhlbarg, all who really have small minor roles which could have been handled by many no name actors or by people not as well known as them.

The film director Denis Villeneuve worked closely with screenwriter Eric Heisserer who said that he also stayed in close touch with Ted Chiang who wrote the story upon which the film was based. We just are not sure how many viewers will tune in to their wavelength. We know that many science fiction fans will enjoy giving this movie a try (2016).

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Infinitely Polar Bear

November 6th, 2016 — 4:38am

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The title of this film apparently is meant to capture the theme in which the main character has a “bipolar condition”. Cameron (Mark Ruffalo), despite at times being mentally out of control, is really a loving husband to his wife, Maggie (Zoe Saladana) and their two adorable girls.

While  we didn’t think that the clinical picture of bipolar was typical but of course bipolar or manic depression can be overlaid on many different types of personalities and can occur in various family configurations. We are also told that the movie is based on a true story. The setting was the mid 1970s. “Bipolar” wasn’t actually a term that was used until the 1980s as the condition was known as manic depression at that time. Lithium was the main medication used to treat it and we see in the film Cam taking this medication or not taking it and having an exacerbation of his symptoms. The new mood stabilizers that are used today were not yet developed during the time period of the film.

The story line of the film deals with other significant topics in addition to mental illness. Cam and Maggie are an interracial couple and we see that one of their children questions whether she is “black” because she resembles her white dad as compared to her sister who is more like her mother’s appearance. The simple but clear manner in which Maggie handles this child’s question was done very well. Maggie goes to New York to pursue graduate school with the plan to visit Cam and the kids in Massachusetts every weekend for a year and a half. When she completes her education and attempts to get a job with a prestigious Boston firm, it appears that they don’t offer her the job because she is a working mom who is leaving dad at home. There is also a story line which shows how unsophisticated so called established wealthy families can be, illustrated by Cam’s family not approving of the non-traditional roles that Cam and Maggie have taken on and also demonstrated how they show very little understanding of their son’s mental illness (at least in the setting in time period of this movie).

We are left with a touching movie which gives us a taste of the struggles of the family that we come to care about. Maya Forbes the writer director did a wonderful job in developing the setting and the personalities  of all the characters. We had feelings for them and we’re rooting for them. This is a sign of a good movie. It was sweet although not very complex but we suggest that you consider seeing it. (2015)

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

I Smile Back

October 28th, 2016 — 5:54am

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This film is certainly a wonderful showcase for the acting talents of the versatile Sarah Silverman who is well-recognized as an outstanding comedian, writer and producer as well as an actor. In this movie, she inhabits the character of Laney Brooks who is married to Bruce, a successful insurance agent (Josh Charles). She is the mother of two adorable children. However underneath it all she is shown to be a disturbed, philandering, cocaine sniffing, alcoholic who fails at an attempt at rehab.

The screenplay by Amy Koppelman and Paige Dylan (daughter-in-law of Bob Dylan) provides a hint of the underlying psychodynamics of this woman, as we learn that the main character’s father left Laney’s mother when she was 9 and never made attempts to contact her. At one point, we are briefly informed that Laney has also stopped taking her Lithium. This would tell us that she also has a bipolar condition which might consist of severe mood swings with deep depression or psychotic manic episodes or both. We know from our clinical experience that shaky unstable childhood relationships can lead to a troubled-adult life but when mixed with an inborn bipolar disorder it can be even more problematic. When substance abuse especially cocaine and alcohol are added to the mix, families are often destroyed, lives ruined and the results can be fatal one way or the other.

Truthfully we are not sure when the main character is actually “smiling back.” The story is a depressing one itself with no light seen at the end of tunnel. There were some moments of decent treatment interactions which were overall sadly unsuccessful. While it is not the purpose of a movie to promote mental health treatment, one of us only wishes that it could have been worked into the film in a more positive manner. While not thrilled by how the story line was carried out, we can recommend this film as an example of an acting triumph by Ms. Silverman.(2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Room

September 7th, 2016 — 6:44am

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You probably have some idea of the plot of this movie as we did when we decided to view it one evening. A young woman is abducted and held hostage in an 11-foot by 11-foot room with only a skylight facing the real world. Her abductor has the code to the steel locked door. He visits her regularly in order to rape her. After about a year, she becomes pregnant and raises her son, Jack, in this confined space. We meet them when Jack is turning five years old. His television set is his only window on the outside but he doesn’t actually believe what he sees on it is “real”. This raises an interesting thought; do we all really know what is out there in the wide universe beyond our experience on our small planet Earth. For all we know, we have a very narrow perspective on “life”. We don’t think this was the overt theme of this film but it may have stimulated more than meets the eye.

More concretely, the movie takes us through the dramatic freeing of mother and child from their prison. We struggle with Jack and his mother as they attempt to reintegrate from this experience. In this regard, We found it incongruous that a mother who is so close to her child due to these circumstances could contemplate abandoning him. So, the story is one that tries to show the “power of guilt”.

The other power of this movie is the Academy Award-winning experience of Brie Larson as the mother and the amazing performance of the very young man, Jacob Tremblay who plays the child.

Thanks to the direction of Lenny Abrahamson and the novel and screenplay by Emma Donoghue, we are treated to a highly unusual story. Despite the great acting and the unusual plot, we felt that the film was lacking in drama and could have used more depth. We are only given a glimpse on the impact on the young woman’s parents played by Joan Allen and William H. Macy who lost their daughter for seven years ago when she was 17 years old. Overall, this movie could have been done better but it will be memorable to all who see it. (2015).

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Audrie & Daisy

August 23rd, 2016 — 8:19pm

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Every high school student and probably many preteens and their parents/grandparents and close family members should see this documentary film. The husband and wife filmmaking team of Bonnie Cohen and Jon Shenk mainly focuses on the lives of three teenage girls and their families who lived in different parts of the country but had similar experiences. This involves teenagers sending naked pictures through the internet, alcohol, parties, rape, and subsequent humiliations. In the case of one girl there was a fatal outcome. Part of the film is seen through the eyes of two of the boys who carried out the attacks on one girl who was 14 years old at the time and apparently unconscious from drinking.

It would appear that neither the parents of teenagers coming of age nor the teachers, school system, or even the criminal justice system seem adequately prepared to deal with this emerging tragic social phenomenon. It is being fueled by a changing Internet which is best understood by the young people of today some of whom end up hurt and damaged by it. Not only does the Internet provide readily available pornography but it also becomes a vehicle for girls responding to requests from boys for nude pictures of themselves, as a badge of popularity. The result and changes in sexual standards are enhanced by readily available alcohol and marijuana. This film shows caring parents who may have thought they were sophisticated about sexual issues in their children but found out that they were basically clueless.

The majority of people who were experiencing some of the tragic sexual consequences demonstrated in this film would understandably be reluctant to publicly describe their plight. Therefore it is a great accomplishment for the filmmakers that they were able to find some brave young women and their families who were willing to speak up and are motivated to action in order to prevent similar tragedies for others. We also meet the very thoughtful brother of one of the rape victims who not only reflected on how he felt but also what he is motivated to do to address this problem.

We could find some faults with the continuity of the storyline and the abrupt changes and locations. We would have also liked to have seen a better examination of the legal issues which are an important part of the story. However there is enough in this documentary film to be a “game changer” in this crucial issue concerning the destructive use of the Internet in our country. Netflix is now onboard with this film and should greatly facilitate its distribution. It opens up September 23rd in Los Angeles and New York. It should also be available soon for home screen viewing. We also understand that there is a roll-out plan for schools to use it with backup educational material. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

Florence Foster Jenkins

August 17th, 2016 — 7:29am

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Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) was a rich woman who thought she could sing opera music well but, in reality, clearly sang poorly and off-key. St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) was her “husband” who may have originally connected with her because of her money but after 15 years appeared to truly love her and to try to protect her from the outside world that would laugh and ridicule her when she might sing in clubs or when she became a little grandiose by deciding to make a vinyl record of her singing as well as schedule a concert at Carnegie Hall. Hugh Grant is quite believable as the loving but philandering partner. Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) was a young pianist who became her accompanist. The setting is New York in the 1940s. Stephen Frears, the director, Nicholas Martin the screenwriter and the brilliance of Ms. Streep have presented Florence Foster Jenkins as a very sympathetic character who lives with a chronic illness of the time, has apparently accepted an arrangement where Bayfield has his own apartment (and his own mistress). She loves music and doesn’t have a clue about her lack of talent.

The artistic accomplishment of Ms. Streep who apparently in real life in addition to being an Academy Award-winning actress is an accomplished singer, is acting as a dreadful singer . This could be another Academy Award-winning experience for her. But the big surprise in this film is the work of Simon Helberg (well-known for his 10 seasons on the TV Show “The Big Bang Theory”). His facial expressions along with his actual accomplished piano playing as the accompanist are a major part of the film presentation. There was no dubbing of the music here; it was all done in live takes with a musical score by veteran music composer Alexandre Desplat. You come away from viewing this movie by scratching your head and saying, “Did this really happen?” The closing credits document that it really did. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy

Indignation

August 17th, 2016 — 7:13am

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When we think of Philip Roth whose book this movie was based upon, we think of Jewishness, some kind of sex and guilt as vividly described in Roth’s best-selling book Portnoy’s Complaint and many other of his books. Sure enough these were the main ingredients of this film directed by James Schamus who also wrote the screenplay.

Marcus (Logan Lerman), a young man from New Jersey (as was Roth) is going away to a midsized college in Ohio (Roth went to Bucknell in Pennsylvania) in the 1950s as the Korean War was getting started. At the school, women have to be back in their dormitory at 9:00 p.m., Jewish students can belong to all Jewish fraternities and there are a certain number of required attendances which are expected at the weekly chapel services. Marcus, the main character, is Jewish and an atheist, a non-frat type of a guy with no real experience with the opposite sex. The story is vintage Roth and the audience where we saw the film seemed to be of an age which grew up reading Philip Roth as we did.

Marcus, who is inflamed with his ideals, neurotic as they may be and saddled with his hang-ups, grabs our attention as he encounters the authoritative Dean of students (Tracy Letts). The movie allows us to really get inside this young man’s head and feel his pain. It also is a period piece which recalls campus life in the 1950s at a time that our country was once again at war.

One major deficit of the movie is that we do not very well understand the young woman Olivia Hutton, (Sarah Gadon) who Marcus encounters at college. She obviously has some severe emotional conflicts but there is not enough expression of them or back story to satisfy the mental health professional part of us and therefore, much of this important character comes across as quite shallow. This takes away from the overall storyline and the experience of the movie. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Cafe Society

July 25th, 2016 — 1:55am

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This movie is set in the 1930’s, which is more of the generation of Woody Allen’s parents than his own. Yet the film is in the voice of Allen who not only actually narrates the movie but also directed and produced it. The central character, Bob, played so well by Jesse Eisenberg, speaks and acts with Allen’s inflections and mannerisms.

The story opens in the Bronx (Allen’s hometown) and we see Bob is leaving to seek his fortune in Hollywood where his uncle Phil Stern (Steve Carell) is a successful movie agent for the stars and he hopes will give him a job. Stern is seemingly happily married for 25 years but he’s having an affair and falling in love with his very young secretary (Kristin Stewart) who no doubt is half his age (sounds familiar?). Complication of complications, young Bob meets Veronica and there is much chemistry between them.

As is typical for an Allen movie, there is an intriguing plot but also great character development. The action of the film shifts back and forth between Hollywood and New York and we get to know Bob’s family. We meet his mother, as you would expect, his father who is a failed jeweler, his sister and her husband who is a outspoken communist, as well as Bob’s brother who is a gangster who occasionally kills people.

Hollywood and New York of the 1930’s are vividly brought to life with clothes, cars, and people as real and true to life as they could be. The casting is wonderful (by Juliet Taylor as usual) and as would be expected, there is period music throughout the movie.

This may not be Allen’s best film but Allen aficionados will not be disappointed and everyone will be reminded about how wonderful and complicated it can be to fall in love. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama

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