Still Alice- rm We were moved to see film because of all the pre Academy Award hype about the performance of Julianne Moore. After seeing this film we agree that she did a tremendous job playing a college professor who has Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease and probably deserves an Oscar. The overall movie disappointed us. Alice Howland ( Ms. Moore) is happily married with three grown children, is a renowned linguistics professor who is forgetting words and having memory lapses. She receives a diagnosis of this relatively rare disease which inevitably has a fairly rapid downhill course. Ms. Moore’s performance is nuanced and her struggle is very painful and easy to empathize with. Her facial expressions convey what we imagine are her internal feelings. Her eyes portray her fear and then the diminished attention and intellectual ability. It is a remarkable performance. It is helped by her gradual change in makeup and hair appearance. The screenplay which was written by director Richard Glatzer is based on novel by Lisa Genova, was focused almost completely on Alice despite having an excellent cast and potential story lines that could have made this in our opinion a much better movie. We learn in this film that this is an inherited disease and once you have the gene you will inevitably get the disease. It is possible to do genetic testing and that is offered to her three children played by Kristin Stewart, Shane McRae and Hunter Parrish. One daughter declined to be tested, one son tested negative and a third daughter who was trying to become pregnant tested positive. We are not shown anything about their struggle and their decision process, which is one of the major areas of ethical discussions in the world of modern genetics. Her husband is played by Alec Baldwin, who in our opinion turns in an uncharacteristically bland performance. Perhaps again it is the choice of the screenwriter/director to keep the main focus on Ms. Moore. This may be why we don’t see the internal struggle of the husband and his remarkable decision in what would seem to be the final phase of his wife’s illness, to decide to take a job out of town. It could have been a tour de force if we could more fully appreciate what this family was going through as well as the devastation conveyed so well by Ms. Moore. (2015)
Category: 3 Stars
American Sniper –rm After being shut out at the box office last week because it was sold out we finally got in to see this film. It has already grossed over 217 million dollars (so they really didn’t need our money) on a budget of 59 million dollars to make it. The film has been nominated for an Oscar as best picture and Bradley Cooper as best actor as well as receiving nominations for sound, sound editing and best adapted screenplay by Jason Hall. (It was adapted from the book by the sniper himself Chris Kyle) It is directed by Clint Eastwood. We tend to side with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association who decided that this film didn’t make the grade for any Golden Globe Awards. In our opinion we just didn’t make any emotional connection with the character as depicted in the movie. Yes, we were genuinely touched at the end of the film when there were actual movie clips of the funeral tributes to this war hero who died as a civilian in 2013. (Sorry about the spoiler but you probably knew this already and it won’t take away from the movie). He had an unusual skill with a long range rifle and he cared about his buddies. Chris Kyle had more than 160 “kills” which is the most by far in the history of the United States military. He volunteered for extra tours of duty (actually having 4 tours and he had over 1000 days in a combat zone) despite the pleading of his wife (played by Sienna Miller) that she and their children needed him. He could have spent more time at home training other soldiers. Perhaps the writers and filmmakers try too hard to stick to the exact story presented to them and don’t use the poetic license that a good fictional drama can explore when they develop a character. It was interesting to us that we felt the same way about the movie Unbroken (see our review) which was another recent movie about a real life war hero which stayed close to the facts without very much depth.. It also didn’t move us although our admiration for the man especially as shown in the book was tremendous. Compare this to what we think is one of the greatest war films to come out in a long time, The Hurt Locker (see our review). This was fictional drama perhaps based on real events, but the main character is a composite. In our opinion this allowed the writers and director to explore subtle themes and find ways of bringing about an emotional attachment with the audience. In the the American Sniper, as in most war movies today, the combat scenes were very realistic. The sound was fantastic (does deserve the potential Oscar acclaim ) and the music with a lot of drums and included one composition credited to “the man of all seasons,” the director Clint Eastwood, was quite effective. There were the requisite expensive special effects, which likely made it just like it would really be if we were there. Sometimes all the smoke made it hard to see who was shooting who and we couldn’t tell the bad guys from the good guys but maybe that is the way it is in some combat situations. But without a strongconnection to the main character we can’t put his film near the top of our list. (2015)
A Most Violent Year- sp Rather then being about a violent year, this movie is about how one man tries to be keep his moral compass in an environment where it is seems almost impossible to do so. The setting is 1981 and we meet Albert Morales (Oscar Issac), the owner of New York City Oil Delivery Company that is trying to compete with a bunch of other companies most of which are run by gangsters, He knows that even his wife’s (Jessica Chastain) family has roots in crime but he believes that honest hard work will triumph in the end. He tries to instill this in the drivers and other workers. Screenplay Writer and Director J.C, Chandler (known for Margin Call and All is Lost with Robert Redford) creates an atmosphere where the viewer feels the tension and the looming danger. This is facilitated by a good supporting cast, which includes David Oyelow (who stars in Selma this year) and veteran actor Albert Brooks. All of us moviegoers who have seen gangster films know all about the mob and what our hero is up against. As the movie progresses and we identify more closely with the main character, it begins to feel like Shakespearian drama bordering on an impending tragedy. In the end we have a complicated ethical analysis to decide how we feel about the story we have been told. We have always said if the film gets you thinking and talking, the filmmaker will have achieved a worthy goal. (2014)
Private Parts- nf- Howard Stern who refers to himself as “ King of All Media,” in addition to this 1997 film and another one a few years later, has a best selling 1993 autobiography also called Private Parts, a ground breaking radio career which was topped off by a 2004 $500 million dollar contract with Sirius Radio on which he currently appears on several of their channels, has had various TV shows and is now a regular judge on the popular TV show America’s Got Talent. This movie is produced by Ivan Reitman and directed by Mary Thomas. It features Stern playing himself (except some of the brief scenes of him as a child) and it follows his life and career through college and his early radio jobs in Westchester, Hartford, Detroit, Washington and then WNBC in New York. It shows how after a few false starts, he eventually found his voice and modus operandi which was talking about himself and his private parts, his sexual fantasies and just about anything else that entered his mind. This was cutting edge at the time to the consternation of radio executives and the FCC. One of those executives was a program director at NBC, who Stern nicknamed Pig Vomit and is magnificently depicted by Paul Giamatti in this film. Today the forbidden language and the various bits that were deemed outrageous at the time would be old hat on satellite radio. The freshness of his frank language in the film seems quite dated and at times quite juvenile (it probably always was the latter) but in the story that is being told which includes some actual video clips, it is quite clear how he captured the imagination and enthusiasm of a very large numbers of listeners who became his fans and have given him ratings off the charts. This movie is a also a tender love story about Stern and his first wife Allison, played by Mary McCormack to whom he was married for 23 years with 3 children. They were separated two years after this film was made and Stern married Beth Ostrosky in 2008. Also played by themselves in the movie are Robin Quivers, Fred Norris and Jackie Martling who have been part of his radio team for many years. The now 60-year-old Stern has clearly not finished his run. This movie, which was made at a time that he was exploring how he could project his persona into still another media, now stands as a historical recounting of the beginning of a most remarkable career. It is well worth seeing as a poignant tale of a a “slightly misfit” creative and courageous man “ahead of his time.”(1997)
Reach For Me nf- If you are into Hospices and death and dying, this might be a good movie for you to see. It looks at a few people who have come to a residential hospice to die. Elderly Alvin (Seymour Cassel) has been a tough, probably a fairly self centered guy most of his life. His wife suicided on their 12th anniversary. He has a roommate who is a much younger man (Johnny Whitworth) who has a lovely girl friend (Lacey Chabert) who visits him and is very warm and tender to him. There is an understanding nurse played by Alfie Woodard and and a male nurse who provides some comic relief played LeVar Burton who directs and is the force behind this film. Alvin is seen to be much more complicated then his outward grumpy, unpleasant persona. He constantly reflects on his relationship with his departed wife at the same time that he strikes up a friendship with a dying woman at the hospice (Adrienne Barbeau) who admits that she always chooses the bad guys. The storyline and the script by Michael Adams makes the point that it is never too late to establish relationships and memories for oneself and others even at the end of life. This is conveyed in a manner that will touch your heart as we see a memorial service for the young man who has passed on. Yes, this can be a depressing movie as the viewer is forced to identify with and consider how people deal with end of life. It is simplified somewhat by the fact that in the end our main characters have all found someone to share their experience and the staff are warm and understanding. Hopefully something like this happens to dying people all the time. The acting was excellent and in a special section on the Netflix DVD you can see how each of them has thought out his or her character quite well. This Independent picture is worthy of your consideration (2008).
Foxcatcher rm- Steve Carell establishes himself as a serious actor as he plays John Dupont, one of the wealthy children of the Dupont family. He seems filled with his own narcissism but yet insecure and desperate to prove to his mother and the world that he is a wonderful, worthwhile person. He is going to try to do this by investing in his great passion and that is wrestling. He envisions himself as a wrestling coach and father figure to what he hopes will be the US championship team of the 1988 Olympics. This film is based on a true story with a screenplay by Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye and is directed by Bennett Miller. It is mainly about three characters, Dupont, Mark Schultz ( Channing Tatum) and David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) The latter two are brothers who have already won Olympic Gold Medals in wrestling. Mark comes across as quite introverted, islolated pliable and almost too wooden as he quickly agrees to move to the the Dupont estate and train for the next Olympics. It is hard to say if his rather blunted personality is what was intended by the story or perhaps it is some underacting by Tatum. David, the older brother and already a family man with a wife and two kids is also in a coaching mode, exudes warmth and relatedness, all of which is projected quite well by Ruffalo. He ultimately decides to bring his wife (Sienna Miller) and two kids to join the US wrestling team on the Dupont estate under the irrational auspicious of John Dupont. The ambivalent relationship and tension between the two brothers is subtle and interesting to ponder. Vanessa Redgrave has a brief role as the Dupont mother who loves valuable horses and doesn’t think very highly of wrestling much to the despair of her son John. If you were into high school or college wrestling you may appreciate all the wrestling moves in the various scenes on the mats. The plot is also interesting to grapple with in this sad but very interesting story. (2014)
The Homesman sp Life was not easy on the Nebraska frontier in the 1850s, especially for women. It took Hilary Swank to show us how difficult it could be with some help from Tommy Lee Jones who co-starred with her, directed the movie and was a co-writer of the screenplay. The story is based on a novel by Glendon Swarthout . It presents us with three women who have had nervous breakdowns due to the hardships of frontier life including losing three young children to diphtheria and being sexually abused. These three are all acting in a somewhat stereotyped manner where they never speak, roll their eyes and at least one acts like an animal. Swank’s character Mary Bee Cuddy agrees to take them back east across the bleak frontier land in a rickety horse and wagon since their men won’t do it. Her dedication, determination, frontier skills and compassion make her an unforgettable if not a somewhat tragic figure. She coerces George Brigg (Tommy Lee Jones), a claim jumper who was about to be hanged until she saved him, to accompany her on this mission to return the “out of it” women to a minister in Iowa. Except perhaps for the mental patients everything and everybody seemed quite authentic from “ Indians” encountered along the way, Ms. Swanks weather beaten face and her plowing the field for her crops, the desert, Mr. Jones weather beaten face, the inn that wouldn’t let them stay there for the night and what subsequently happened to it . The two stars were outstanding as were brief character roles by James Spader, John Lithgow and Meryl Streep whose daughter Grace Gummer did a very good job as one of the silent mentally ill women. The message of the film was clear and well done but we are not sure it was worth the two hours. (2014)
The Big Lebowski nf – There is nothing like a cross-country plane ride to find an old film that you missed and think you might like. In this case for us it turned out to be The Big Lebowski starring Jeff Bridges and John Goodman. This movie is often affectionately referenced in various settings and we were curious to watch it. Bridges plays “The Dude” who might be described as a good old boy with a heart of gold who is usually content to mind his own business and hang out with his buddies at the bowling alley. He dresses as if he is walking around in his underwear, with a bathrobe thrown over him. He is, of course, very likeable. The biggest event in his life would seem to be the latest bowling tournament. That is until The Dude gets mistaken for some rich guy called The Big Lebowski and gets drawn into an apparent kidnapping and ransom scheme of The Big Lebowski’s wife. The Dude’s good friend Walter (John Goodman) gets involved. He sees himself as a tough guy who knows how to handle difficult situations but usually he makes things worse. But that doesn’t stop him from trying to help the Dude with some new twist that develops. These guys are the charm of the film. The more the Dude tries to work his way out of trouble, the deeper he gets into it. In fact, he gets punched out several times and there is always a very creative depiction of his journey being unconscious. The movie really doesn’t go any place. The Coen Brother who wrote and directed the film put together a supporting cast that includes Julianne Moore, Steve Bucemia, Ben Gazzara, John Turturro and others. In the end we see that life goes on. The Dude carries on his life. Perhaps we all know this guy in a small way or he is someone we think we know or maybe on some level he is us. (1998)
This Is Where I Leave You- rm This movie recreates the novel by Jonathan Tropper who also wrote the screenplay for this film. He is true to the characters he created but the difference is that they are now inhabited by an ensemble of some very talented actors. The story line is that the patriarch of the Altman family has died and the wife (Jane Fonda) calls back her grown children to return to the family home and sit Shiva for a week, which she says was the father’s request. In the course of this expedition we learn about each of them and their relationships and also see how they feel about each other. The main focus and is on Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) who early in the film walks in on his wife having sex with his boss (Dax Shepard who is well know to Parenthood fans as Crosby Braverman). In a sensitive performance Judd not only must reevaluate his relationship with his wife (Abigail Spencer) who has a little surprise up her uhh “ sleeve” but also deal with his reawakened feelings for his old hometown girl friend Penny (Rose Byrne) who is even more appealing than he remembered her as she spins around the old ice skating rink. The youngest brother in the Altman family, Phillip, is played by Adam Driver (known as one of the guys on Girls). He is more or less the unsuccessful playboy type. He comes home in a Ferrari bought by his latest older but beautiful and successful girl friend, Tracy (Connie Britton) who accompanies him. Driver’s performance provides the gathering of the clan with energy and humor. The opposite is shown by Paul Altman (Corey Stoll) the older brother who had stayed with his late dad to run the family store. He is in a thus far unfruitful marriage with Alice (Kathryn Hahn) who injects some humor as the very desperate but devoted wife who would even try to get Judd who has enough troubles on his own, to help her make a baby. There is not much humor coming from the sister Wendy Altman (played by usually hilarious Tina Fey). Wendy has two small kids and a husband who is preoccupied with his phone and business. She tries to buck up other family members while reflecting on the past on seeing her old neighbor Horry (Timothy Olyphant) who had been her boyfriend until he had suffered a head injury in car accident while she was with him. So these are the four siblings who return home for the Shiva which by the way is more or less supervised by the local rabbi (Ben Schwartz) who happens to be a childhood friend of the sibs and they keep referring to him by his youthful nickname “boner“ so labeled because he always had one. We should mention that Hillary Altman (Jane Fonda), the widow and matriarch of the family is played as a tough but caring woman who is a therapist and had written a well received book now having a 25th anniversary edition, which used the family members childhood and adolescent secrets as examples in her text. Needless to say they haven’t been very happy about this, nor do they appreciate her frank talk about sex and the causal and open way she will display her breasts. (This must somehow be related in some way to Ms. Fonda’s well-known bout with breast cancer and plastic surgery. “Credit” here must be given to director Terry Stacey. In the end we are left with a movie that introduces us to a bunch of family members all of whom are having problems. They do seem to mostly care about each other but don’t really know where they are going, nor do we. As one of us said when we reviewed the book: In the future when the author comes up with an intriguing story line and adds his uncanny ability to capture inner feelings and thoughts, I believe he will bring his writing to a new award winning level. Any future film based on such a book will stand a chance to rise to the to the top. Not this one.
Draft Day- rm You have to give credit to a movie that comes up with an original theme about which millions of Americans will feel great passion. The subject is football and one of the most important, if not crucial days of the football season, which is the NFL Draft Day. In this fictional story, leading up to this day, Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner), the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, trades away his team’s number one draft pick, for three years of future number one picks. Which player he chooses with that pick, who he doesn’t choose and the drama behind all the deals and horse trading that does go down, is the essence of this movie. Costner is supported by Jennifer Garner who plays his girl friend. She is a football executive with the Browns in charge of keeping track of the “cap” (football fans will know what this means). Dennis Leary plays the coach of the Browns with the Super Bowl ring and a million dollar salary, who is supposed to lead next year’s team to that very Super Bowl. Only he is not so sure that he likes Weaver’s intended draft picks. Speaking of million dollar salaries, Roger Godell the real Commissioner of the NFL, who is known to have a multi-million dollar salary, plays himself in the movie (obviously not for the money). By coincidence, the day that we saw this film on a cross-country air flight, the NFL is in the headlines as Roy Rice, an NFL star, has been suspended for punching out his fianceé, which was caught in an elevator video. There is a somewhat related theme in this movie, as the question is raised of how should the character of the potential draftee influence whether he is chosen as a high draft choice as compared to being chosen solely on the basis of his athletic accomplishments. You can guess which one wins out. The film is directed and co-produced by Ivan Reitman (Ghostbuster I and II and other mainly comedies). This movie won’t be at the top of our ‘picks” and we rate it a notch below Moneyball, which dealt with a related theme in professional baseball. However, we know that football fans will eat it up and there are lots of them out there. (2014)