Category: 3 Stars


Cafe Society

July 25th, 2016 — 1:55am

***

Café SocietyScreen Shot 2016-07-24 at 11.26.52 AM

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

Welcome To The Men’s Group

June 6th, 2016 — 4:53am

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Welcome To The Men’s Group

When Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice came out in 1969, it dealt with Encounter Groups which were part of the hip and bit generation, it became a mega hit. The team that just produced Welcome To The Men’s Group, hopes that this film will ride the crest of a growing men’s movement which is as far as we can see is not anywhere a part of the contemporary scene as were the popular Encounter Groups of the 1970’s.

The force behind this movie are the screenwriters, Scott Ben-Yashar and Joseph Culp, with the latter directing the movie. It had to be a real feat to pull together these eight accomplished actors: Phil Abrams, Mackenzie Astin, Timothy Bottoms, David Clennon, Terence Rotolo, Ali Saam, Stephen Tobolowsky and of course, Joseph Culp himself, who is also an important player in the movie. Their interaction was magnificent as the entire film takes place during a three to four-hour encounter session in one location (The actual movie time was 130 minutes – a bit on the long side). The theme that seems to stand out is that you get messed up psychologically if you don’t have good interaction with your father. The group has intense interaction and frank discussions with each other in an attempt to make for the lack of that fathering. We didn’t think the storyline was psychologically strong. There was a particularly intense monologue by Tobolowsky and another one, by Culp. However, the attempt in exploring masculinity seemed to turn into slapstick comedy. This was illustrated by an extended show of male nudity by all the characters which deteriorated into singing and dancing which didn’t seem to resonate psychologically or emotionally with us (But it could have been just us).

The entire cast who we met at our screening seems dedicated to the concept of this movie and are working to promote it. They will be working with the Men’s Group Movement in trying to use social media to connect with potential viewers of the film who are empathic to the Men’s Group concepts. They also have some thoughts about bringing the story to the stage and perhaps spinning it into a TV series. Stay tuned. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama

Money Monster

June 5th, 2016 — 6:22pm

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Money Monster

George Clooney and Julia Roberts are a combination that usually would be a must see movie for us. We weren’t disappointed this time but the plot is a stretch to make this a great movie.

A disgruntled young man (Jack O’Connell) is quite upset that he lost his $60,000 listening to the advice of TV money guru, Lee Gates (George Clooney). He breaks on to the TV set and puts the money man into a bomb jacket with his thumb on the detonator. Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) is the TV director behind the scenes talking into the earpiece in Gates’ ear. The plot involves a company led by a shady CEO by the name of Walt Camby (Dominic West) who claims it was a computer glitch that caused his company to lose $800,000. All of this is taking place “on air” with the New York City Police responding to this dramatic event. This theme could have ripped from the current headlines. After all, one of the presidential contenders is warning us about the unsavory deals of all the Wall Street guys.

Director Jodie Foster is pulling the strings behind this movie and does a pretty good job. She may have missed one detail as one of us thought that the Dow Jones average shown on the screen that was at the bottom of the TV screen as the action was taking place on camera never changed, so that must have been a slip up.

In the end, we are left with the idea that the financial markets are subject to the behind-the-scenes activities of unsavory people, and you better be careful listening to them. That probably is a bad rap about most of them (at least we hope so). (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Presenting Princess Shaw

May 4th, 2016 — 1:20am

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Presenting Princess Shaw

The appeal of this documentary film is that it introduced the viewer to a phenomenon that many of us did not fully appreciate is happening on the Internet. Samantha Montgomery is a black woman probably in her late 20’s or early 30’s who works as an aide in a nursing home in New Orleans. We learned later in the film that she had an unhappy childhood and that she was sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend despite her protests to her mother. As she got older, she had few emotional supports and became one of many people who reported her daily life activities on the internet. She also likes to make up songs and sing her latest creations acapella. She had aspirations to become recognized as a singer and would sing at open microphone nights in local clubs, frequently with just a few patrons in the audience. One time she went to an audition with hundreds of other aspiring singers to try out for the famous TV show “The Voice” but never made it to the stage to be seen by the judges.

Film director Ido Haar and film producer Liran Atzmor had the idea to do a documentary film about the phenomena of people singing their own songs on the internet. They contacted Ms. Montgomery who used the stage name on the internet as Princess Shaw, as one of many who might be the subject of their film. However, the film producers apparently learned something very interesting that Princess Shaw did not know and made the documentary duo decide to focus only on her.

Unbeknownst to Princess Shaw an Israeli music producer by the name of Ophir Kutiel who is known as Kutiman was downloading her singing on Youtube and was inviting Youtube musicians around the world to arrange various musical accompaniments to the singing that Princess Shaw was putting out on her Youtube channel. Through skillful editing, Kutiman used the talents of several musicians who never knew each other or sat in the same room to put together a terrific arrangement of Princess Shaw singing a haunting song titled Give It Up. The documentary filmmaker, who was following her around with one hand held camera was able to capture the tearful surprise and emotion when she first heard the professional arrangement with the various musicians from around the world. Soon this song had over one million hits on the internet. Princess Shaw was then invited to come to Israel to meet Kutiman and appear in a concert in a very large venue. She now has a record contract and travels around the United States promoting this documentary film where we met her in a screening of this movie which opens in Los Angeles and other major cities at the end of May.

So there you have it, a unique story of our modern times. The documentary film is an amalgam of Youtube clips and handheld videos as the main subject was attentively followed around in her various activities. It was an interesting idea for a documentary film and we are glad that we saw it. For a sample of Kutiman’s production of Princess Shaw singing Give it Up on YouTube with musicians from around the world that now has over 2 ½ million hits, click here (2016).

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

A Classy Broad

April 21st, 2016 — 4:48am

***

Marcia Nasatir

   Marcia Nasatir

A Classy Broad

It is ironic that this documentary film about one of the pioneer film producers who often was the key person in getting a film green-lighted has just been completed and is now looking for distribution. Marcia Nasatir, who is about to turn 90 years of age is the subject of this movie. She was the first female vice president of production of a major movie studio (United Artists). The director producer of “A Classy Broad” is Anne Goursaud, an accomplished film editor who is hoping that this movie will be her breakthrough film. It is is all about inside Hollywood.

Ms. Nasatir, the centerpiece of this documentary, is well-known, well-liked, and well respected by many legendary movie insiders some of whom appear in this film. Prominent among this group was Mike Medavoy, former Chairman of Tristar and United Artists, and co-founder of Orion Pictures. Others include screenwriters and directors such as Lawrence Kasdan, Tony Bill, Lucy Fisher, Rob Cohen, Robert Towne and the late Lorenzo Semple, Jr. We also hear numerous stories about Ms. Nasatir’s role in many successful movies, such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Sting, Hamburger Hill, Coming Home, Rocky The Big Chill and many others. Also appearing in the documentary is actress Glenn Close, who is one of the stars of The Big Chill. Ms. Nasatir’s career was “rocky” itself as she was sometimes passed over for promotion, no doubt because women were not just moved into these leadership positions in the film industry during the 1970s and ‘80s.

If there is anything lacking in this movie, it would be not having more of the personal life of Ms. Nasatir. We know very little about her childhood, education, marriage, divorce and her two children. While these details all might make the type of a story that Ms. Nasatir might look for in an interesting feature film, they are certainly not necessary or essential to appreciate this documentary film about this “Classy Broad” and her very successful career in the movie business. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Documentary

Tangerine

March 13th, 2016 — 3:33am

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 5.47.17 PM ***

Tangerine- nf

The force behind this micro financed independent film is the young accomplished director, Sean Baker who co-wrote the screenplay with Chris Bergoch. They took on the task of providing a window on the difficult struggling lives of transgender prostitutes who live and work at night on the streets of Hollywood, centered on Santa Monica Boulevard and Highland Avenue in Los Angeles.

The transgender stars of this movie are two talented actresses who are working in their first big film. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez played Sin-Dee (Cinderella) a very fast talking hooker who has just been released from a 30-day stint in jail and Mya Taylor who is her friend Alexandra. In this lead role the later actress not only showed her acting talent but also performed quite well as a singer.

The story lines provides insight into the character’s lives, relationships and despair and also brings in the Armenian family of a taxi driver who is one of the customers. This sub plot introduces several talented actors and actresses, some of who are very well known in Armenian. (By coincidence there is another movie that came out early last year called Tangerines (with an s- click to see our review)completely unrelated to this story but is about nearby Estonia). Mr. Baker’s film is experienced as very authentic whether it is the two transgender friends, the other people of the street or the Armenian family that spoke their language with English subtitles on the screen.

A very interesting aspect of this movie is that it is filmed totally with iPhones, which had special adapters on them. This method was chosen because of the low budget available, but it also allowed the professional film crew led by cinematographer, Radium Cheung to work on the streets of Los Angeles without arousing too much commotion by bystanders. It also appears to give the film an appropriate realistic vibe. This movie adds up to be to be a well done engrossing story that we recommend that you see. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

The Wave

February 24th, 2016 — 6:34am

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The Wave- sp

This film was the entry from Norway for the Best Foreign Film for the Academy Awards. It shows a beautiful community with magnificent fjords, mountains surrounding a body of water. It looks like a lovely place to live or visit. But much like Southern California, they have had natural disasters in the past which eventually can happen again. In this case, instead of an eventual earthquake, it can be an avalanche of a crumbling mountain, which would fill the water and create the inevitable rising up of a tremendous mountain of water or a tsunami. The possibility of such a disaster is constantly monitored so people can be warned if it should be about to happen. This is the setting for this film and the dramatic build-up of tension as we meet some of the people who are monitoring the possibility of a tsunami and we will also meet the family of one of them. This part of the film could not have been done better.

The movie is directed by Roar Uthaug, who participated in writing the story and the screenplay with Martin Sundland, and John Kare Raake. The main character is Kristian who is played by Kristoffer Joner.

You are on the edge of your seat even though you are pretty sure what is going to happen. You just don’t know exactly how it’s going to go down and how it will impact the characters that you have met. When things eventually break loose, the special effects are outstanding. We have a combination of horrific things happening and in the midst of it, among the many frightened people, are the characters that we care about.

So far so good, but then we realized that the plot is becoming thin and unbelievable. No matter how good and realistic the special effects may be, when the story becomes a “fairy tale” the movie loses a great deal of its credibility and becomes almost laughable. In retrospect, the characters were stereotypical with very little complexity. Yes, it is scary and we live in earthquake country so it reminded us that you never know if the next disaster is around the corner. But that is really all the movie was able to do. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign, Thriller

The Lady In The Van

February 14th, 2016 — 4:57am

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The Lady In The Van-rm

Dame Maggie Smith, who is one of the most distinguished and famous actresses in the United States and England, plays a woman close to her actual age but quite the opposite of how she would ever be seen in-person. In this film she is Ms. Shepherd, a homeless, raggedy old woman with a hidden past that is slowly revealed. We meet her as she lives in a van in a community which could be in a suburb of London. Although she is a blight to the neighborhood, she becomes well-known to the local people. She wrangles permission to keep her van in the driveway of a playwright, Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings). The real Alan Bennett is an actual playwright and wrote the screenplay for this movie. This film directed by Nicholas Hytner uses an interesting mechanism to examine the character of Bennett. He is shown as two personas, the one who sits and writes at his typewriter gathering ideas from his life and the other, a person who actually lives the life to get the ideas for his writing self. Mr. Jennings plays both parts of him and they frequently are shown on the screen together talking, “to each other.” There is also a small role for James Corden, TV host of the Late Late show who blends in with local Brits.

Maggie Smith of course is outstanding as the cranky old woman with a past. Mr. Bennett’s deep-seeded motivation seems to be related to his own relationship with his mother (Deborah Findlay) who we get to meet in the movie and observe as they are interacting.

This is a somewhat touching story with great acting, especially by Ms. Smith who gained a Golden Globe nomination for it. We are told at the start of the movie that it is based on a “mostly true story.” We found it interesting that in the award category, this movie was considered to be a comedy. There were some funny lines but it was the poignancy that carried the film in our opinion. However, we didn’t feel it moved quite fast enough for our taste and left something to be desired for the viewer. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama

The Big Short

January 4th, 2016 — 4:03am

***

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 4.26.28 PMThe Big Short-rm

You probably know that this movie is not about pants or the measurement of peoples’ height. It is about one of the largest financial meltdowns in this country’s history and how much of it was because of some behind-the-scenes financial trickery carried on by Wall Street insiders. It is based on a book by Michael Lewis which we have not read, although M.B. did read and recommend another book by him, Flash Boys which is about a different type of financial manipulation carried by some Wall Street people

In The Big Short, Christian Bale plays Michael Burry, a real person who is a brilliant, somewhat peculiar guy, maybe Asperger type. He actually was a physician who ended up as a chief of a large financial fund. He studies numbers very carefully and concludes that the mortgage market which has always been thought to be reliable and dependable, is on the verge of collapse. The reason for this (now this is the tricky part) is because hundreds or maybe thousands of mortgages have been lumped together in mortgage bond funds that people buy and trade for the high interest rates that they generate. These funds include AAA mortgages, BB and C mortgages, the latter groups being known as subprime mortgages.

Nobody seemed to have noticed how fragile and vulnerable these mortgage funds are and that this house of cards was on the verge of collapse. That is except this one strange guy and a few other financial wheeler dealers who get wind of what’s going down. Once such team is led by a character played by Steve Carell, who continues to demonstrate his acting chops in serious roles. There are the usual excellent depictions of various key players by Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling.

There are some riveting dramatic moments as the movie goer can get caught up in the impending crash. You may not fully understand exactly what is happening but don’t feel badly since most people didn’t either as it was really happening. When the dust cleared, this cost our economy over a billion dollars (this movie only cost $28 million). We hope that people who run and regulate our economy learned some lessons from this story, but that probably is not the case. Many people, though, will find this movie quite enjoyable although it may make you uncomfortable about the future. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Ricki and the Flash

December 12th, 2015 — 7:29pm

***

Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 10.32.25 AMRicki and the Flash-nf

If you are a “streeper” (nickname Meryl Streep’s fans often called themselves) you are going to enjoy her in this performance. As usual Ms. Streep who is known as a perfectionist in preparing for her roles, appears to have mastered her character down to the last note.

In this case, it is as an aging rock musician who has only made one album and now spends the daytime being a grocery checkout lady and the evenings being a grooving rock musician leading her band “The Flash” playing in a local club in Tarzana, California. Her fellow guitarist Greg is played by Rick Springfield, known to be quite a successful musician in real life. Ricki left her husband and children when her kids were quite small to follow her dream as a rock musician and had very limited contact with them over the years. One of them Julie (played by Mamie Gummer , a rising actress who in real life is Ms. Streep’s real daughter) has just had a traumatic marital breakup and Ricki returns to Indianapolis to support her. Her daughter and two grown sons one of whom is about to get married are not very thrilled to see her at first. Her former husband (Kevin Kline) has married a very lovely woman (Audra McDonald) who confronts the rock musician with her failure as a mother. There is a lot of sadness in this film and also a lot of rocking music led by Ricki (alias Ms. Streep) and Greg (alias Mr. Springfield) and some very fine backup musicians.

The story by Diablo Cody and the direction by Jonathan Demme lead us on a fanciful trip but in the end it is feel good stuff. We don’t think it will lead to Ms. Streep’s 20th Oscar nomination but you never know. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Musical

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