Category: 3 Stars


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March 17th, 2017 — 6:19am

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Jackie of course is Jacqueline Kennedy. This movie tells the story through her eyes, how she reacted to the horrific assassination of JFK who died with his head in her lap after his skull and brain was shattered by Lee Harvey Oswald’s bullet. Natalie Portman seems to have captured the former First Lady’s breathless voice and her struggle with her grief. If you were alive and conscious of your surroundings in November 1963, you must remember following every detail of this historic event including the tv and radio coverage of the assassination, the President lying in state, the procession to the church service and the burial at Arlington Cemetery. This movie certainly succeeds in awakening these memories that many of us never bury beyond instant recall with any association to the event. Aside from Jackie, the other major character who was depicted is JFK’s brother, Robert Kennedy who is played by Peter Sarsgaard. Of course Lyndon Johnson and his wife and other familiar names and faces are there also. The movie was directed by Pablo Larraín and is interspersed with some documentary footage and an appropriate musical background by Mica Levi. The film really doesn’t go beyond this brief time period. We both did feel that something specific was left out of the movie. When we recalled the President lying in state, the image that would bring about tears to both of was Little John John, the President’s , at most 4 year old son  saluting a flag-covered coffin. We missed that event in this film but we still hold on to it whenever we remember that sad day in November. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, Drama

Elle

February 6th, 2017 — 11:02pm

***

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This is a French film with subtitles, directed by veteran Dutch film maker Paul Verhoeven and stars Isabelle Huppert who has already received a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar nomination for her outstanding performance in this movie.

The film opens with a violent rape by an intruder and the story progresses as a whodunit, combined with a study of the main character in a backdrop of modern French society where sexual affairs are part of the landscape. Ms. Huppert plays the CEO of a video game company which is in the process of producing a cartoonish, violent, sexualized game. She interacts with her ex-husband (Charles Berling) and his girlfriend. She also has an interesting discussion with her mother (Judith Magre) who seems quite botoxed and is having an affair with a younger lover. The mother wants her daughter to visit her father who is serving a life sentence for brutal murders 30 years before, which left his young daughter stained with blood as photographs show of this gruesome event. There is the good looking married neighbor (Laurent Lafitte) to whom she is strangely attracted. There is also intrigue involved with the people who work for her company and the main character’s continued pre-occupation with the horrible rape that she experienced.

As the story unfolds, the viewer cannot help but be gripped by the complicated relationships. The more than two hours it takes to set up the story went by quite quickly. However, putting together all the pieces of the puzzle and the subtle psychodynamics, leave lots of rooms for speculation. The screenplay by David Birke, based on the novel by Philip Dijan gave us a thrilling, complicated story but we needed a couple of hours over dinner with friends to try to piece everything together.(2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign, Mystery

20th Century Women

January 26th, 2017 — 11:21pm

***

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This movie is set in the 1970s and examines the relationship between a single divorced mother and her only child, a 15-year-old son. It takes place in Santa Barbara, a coastal town North of Los Angeles. While we were raising teenagers on the East Coast during these years, there was little that we could relate to other than perhaps the music of Talking Heads playing in the background and the fact that parents can never fully understand their teenage children. However, it is the latter point that becomes the essence of this movie.

Annette Bening plays Dorothea, the mother in a role which she has already been nominated for a Golden Globe Award. She has decided that she can never teach a son what he needs to know about women and life so she asks Julie (Elle Fanning), a slightly older teenage girl who is her son’s friend and Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a few years older young woman who boards in their house to develop a dialogue with Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) and teach him what she was unable to do. There is also William (Billy Crudup) another boarder in the house who typifies a 1970s young man in his 30s. Jamie for the most part seems to be doing fine but it is mom who is having trouble negotiating her stage of life. Credit goes to Director Writer Michael Mills for capturing the atmosphere of this period piece with flashes of old cars, Jimmy Carter, uninhabited coastal views, 1970’s music, chain smoking of cigarettes, and discussion about the female orgasm.

Most viewers of this movie should find some meaningful identification whether it jogs memories of the 1970s or the universal dilemmas of negotiating certain stages of life. We are not sure it is worth sitting through the entire film (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Hidden Figures

December 22nd, 2016 — 7:13am

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Prior to John Glenn’s historic flight circling the earth as the first person in orbit, something went wrong in the planning which required new landing coordinates to be calculated. Glenn asked NASA control to “have the girl check the numbers.” He was referring to Katherine Johnson (Taraji Henson) in this fascinating movie about the little known story of the role that black women played in the space program.

The setting was the early 1960s. There were still “for colored only” bathrooms in the NASA Government facility in Virginia. A group of bright, black women mathematicians were working in a segregated office doing work, supporting the program. Another one of these women was Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) who was initially a supervisor in name only and deserved to be officially promoted to that position. Another black woman in this story was Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) who despite being a recognized mathematician in the space program had to fight to be able to take some courses to qualify in order to get an advanced degree. At the end of the film, we learned that she ultimately became one of the top engineers in the NASA program. We also learned that Katherine Johnson at the age of 96 recently received the presidential medal of freedom for all her groundbreaking work at NASA.

So much credit deserves to go to Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi co-produces, who became aware of this story due to a book by Margot Lee Shetterly of the unknown situation where black women were excluded from positions which they deserved to hold in the NASA program. Fox Studios ultimately took on the movie and Theodore Melfi directed his vision of the story which was quite on target.

The cast was magnificent. In addition to the three women mentioned above, special credit should be given to Kevin Costner who played Harrison, the guy who ran the space program and headed up all the stuff at NASA that made things fly. We recall a cigar chomping Jim Webb who most probably this character was based on. There were also excellent performances by Kirsten Dunst, Aldis Hodge, Mahershala Ali, and Jim Parsons.

This movie should be seen by everyone in order to understand this piece of American history that has been overlooked for years. Although this was not, in and of itself a great film, the stellar performances and important story it tells are not to be missed.(2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History

Center Stage

December 1st, 2016 — 8:04pm

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***

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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

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 5.05.52 PM***

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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

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