Category: 3 Stars

Pawn Sacrifice

September 28th, 2015 — 5:58pm

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Pawn Sacrifice

This is the story of Bobby Fischer, the American boy wonder chessmaster, who at the age of 29 in 1972 beat Russian champion chess player Boris Spassky to become the best chess player in the world. We meet young Fischer as a preteen growing up in Brooklyn where his preoccupation with chess makes him a very unusual brilliant young man. It would appear that his limited social skills matched with his total preoccupation with chess and a genius mind that could visualize and memorize numerous chess games in his head, suggests that he had Asperger’s disorder. As we follow this brilliant genius into preparation and ultimately arriving at the classic series of matches in Iceland, we see how he became preoccupied with the belief that he was being spied upon. He took apart a telephone looking for listening devices and even insisted that the venue for the match be moved to a basement setting instead of the large stage where it was to be held. He limited the number of TV cameras demanded a certain distance from him. The film does suggest that this classic famed match had great significance to both the United States and Russian governments. We even see that the CIA may have been involved in meeting Fischer’s demands for money and other requirements in order for him to participate in the match. However the film also points to the probability that Fischer’s mental functioning was much more than the political paranoia of the time. In fact, we think that a case can be made that Bobby Fischer had a schizophrenic mental disorder.

This well done film is a recounting of one of the most important and widely followed chess matches in history. It is also a sad story of a tortured soul. Tobey Maguire who plays Fischer as an adult did a fine job although it was a one dimensional view of this man as we never saw any evidence of him having any joy or meaningful relationships which we would expect even with a severe mental disorder. Liev Schreiber was quite good as the large contemplative Russian master Boris Spassky who barely said a word in the film.

Even though most of the movie audience probably knew the results of the match, seeing how it developed and went down was filled with suspense and drama. The subsequent downhill slide of Fischer which was not shown in the film and only told to us in a post-script at the end of the film, with a few newsreel clips, might have taken the movie to a more dramatic and interesting conclusion had the writers Steven Knight, Stephen Rivele and director Edward Zwick chosen to extend the film to this subject. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History

The Intern

September 28th, 2015 — 5:37am

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The Intern

Ann Hathaway plays Jules Ostin, a young attractive woman who is CEO of an Internet company that she founded from scratch that sells woman’s clothes that they guarantees they will fit. The company has blossomed to one that has more than 200 employees. The fearless leader is married to a modern bearded young man who gave up his successful job to stay at home and raise their delightful cute little girl. Robert Di Nero plays Ben Whittaker, a retired 70 year old widower, who had been a executive in a large company that sold and manufactured telephone books. Since his wife died he retired, has been looking for something to do and came across an ad for a internship program for senior citizen in the above described Internet company that was set up by one of the young executives who had the idea that maybe seniors might have some views to balance the point of view the young people running the Internet business. The Di Nero character gets assigned to the young woman CEO who seems too busy to even assign him a task as he patiently tries to find ways to be helpful. The story takes off from there.

While this could have been just a delightful comedy, it really became much more than that. The storyline examined the role of young women in today’s business world . Who should raise the children and don’t you really have to go all in if you are trying to make it in today’s competitive world with start up companies going boom or bust.? Also, is there a role for retired seniors in today’s business environment? Are they a resource that is forgotten and lost in the race to succeed?

The voice behind the production is Nancy Meyers, writer, director and frequently producer of many important movies that reflect the changing social times such as, Parent Trap, Somethings Gotta Give, Its Complicated, What Women Want. In this current film, the questions are raised but on one hand they aren’t very nuanced and yet the answers and conclusions are way too simple. However, when the stars and supporting cast which included Rene Russo, Adam DeVine, Zack Perlman, Anders Holm Nat Wolff, Linda Lavin and the little girl played by JoJo Kushner are all so superb, you can’t help having an enjoyable movie experience.(2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama

Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine

September 13th, 2015 — 10:33pm

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Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine-rm

This documentary by Alex Gibney is a very enlightening film. It relies on archival footage mainly of Steve Jobs in action throughout the years as well as talking head interviews with people who worked very closely with him. It is a look at the man, his company Apple, and the remarkable inventions that have become part of our lives. The film also challenges the viewers by holding up a mirror to us and asking why has Jobs been held in such high esteem. It also raised the question of what was this man, who was so revered and almost worshiped by many, really like?

In the biography of Jobs written not too long ago by Walter Isaacson it was certainly shown that Jobs was self-centered, preoccupied, and perhaps narcissistic. But this film really pulls no punches in showing the dark side of this man. While it took a little awhile for the negative traits (to say the least) to come out they certainly did emerge. The movie reviewed how early on when they were quite young, he and Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple with Jobs and the person who did the real technical stuff) worked on a project for Atari, a game company. Jobs handled the interface with the company although Wozniak did most of the technical design. Jobs was given a $15,000 check for the successful project that they completed but told his partner it was for an amount of $1,500 and gave him $700. When Jobs made his girlfriend pregnant he initially denied it with a court affidavit but then when genetic testing proved he was the father of the newborn little girl, he paid only $500 a month for support just after he made $200 million from Apple going public. Later in his career when an Apple prototype of a later iPhone was found in a bar left by an Apple employee it ended up in the hands of a journalist who wrote about features of this phone. He described the product on the Internet, which led Jobs to unsuccessfully take all kinds of draconian steps to hurt this man and his small company. Jobs was also behind Apple vetoing philanthropic activity that Apple had started to do. Bill Gates on the other hand continued with a foundation that supports all sorts of worthwhile projects. Jobs was also behind an illegal and unethical agreement between the major technical companies that they would not interview people from competing companies who might want to be considered for new and perhaps better jobs.

This film did show the tremendous drive that Jobs had to make his products successful. He had the ability to envision what people wanted and mobilize the genius inventors at Apple to put together these amazing devices. It remains to be seen if future generations, especially children will have less creativity and social interaction because of these devices.

This documentary film certainly shows us the legacy of Steve Jobs, who we see at the time of his death was mourned by people all over the world. He deserves a place in history because of his creative accomplishments, but this film shows us that he certainly is not be a person to be emulated (2015).

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

While We’re Young

September 12th, 2015 — 6:45am

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While We’re Young -nf

Noah Baumbach is a prolific filmmaker who is best known for the award winning movie The Squid and the Whale (2005) that he wrote and directed. It was probably semi-autobiographical as it told the story of two boys in Brooklyn dealing with the divorce of their parents.  

This current film 10 years later which was released in March of 2015 is about a middle-aged couple in their 40s, Josh and Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) who encounter a younger couple Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) who are in their mid 20s and seem to be “living in the moment” and enjoying life the way the older couple believe they did when they were that age. This leads Josh and Cornelia to do a great deal of self -reflection. Stiller’s character is a documentary filmmaker who hasn’t achieved the success that he hoped for and seemed to be stuck in the rut in many ways including being obsessively involved in one film for the past 10 years (An interesting sidebar is that the subject of this Josh’s film is a historian who is played by Peter Yarrow of the 1960s folk singer group Peter, Paul and Mary). In fact, Josh and Cornelia’s marriage also seem stuck as they ambivalently accept the plight of their not having children while all their friends are reproducing. Josh’s new friend seems to value him as a mentor, which is initially quite flattering to him. This new couple, Jamie and Darby, seem to be enjoying life and doing all the things that the couple in their 40s hasn’t been able to do. The storyline by Baumbach allows us to understand and empathize with the struggle of Josh and Cornelia. Not surprising however, things are all not what they seem to be as this film ultimately has an interesting reveal.

Each of the veteran actors mentioned above are excellent including Charles Grodin who plays Cornelia’s father who is a very successful veteran documentary filmmaker who while depicting his character’s elderly wisdom still conveys the actor’s comedic self.

Whenever there is a film about the inside working of some aspects of the moviemaking business (documentary films included), we expect that the filmmakers are giving us the inside scoop from their real life experience. That may very well be the case here but it is also a penetrating look of the struggle of many people trying to go through the process of maturing as adults. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama


August 16th, 2015 — 11:18pm

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Aviva Kempner is the daughter of a holocaust survivor and a documentary filmmaker who is interested in showing the contributions of Jews to society. Among other films that she has made were The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, which told the story about the life and career of the first Jewish baseball star in the Major Leagues. She also made a film titled Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, the story of the actress, writer and television star Gertrude Berg. This time she has taken on the story of Julius Rosenwald who died in 1932. He was the son of an immigrant peddler who never graduated from high school but became a successful businessman and ultimately the president of Sears Roebuck. He was a major philanthropist and focused his energy and his wealth on the African-American communities in the South. He was the moving force in building over 5000 schools in the early 20th Century for young black students in Jim Crow states. This film also showed the support he gave to Tuskegee University in Alabama and his relationship with one of its founders Booker T. Washington. Rosenwald was a truly remarkable man who had the Jewish ideal of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world).

Rosenwald was a living example of the historical bond which has existed between Jewish and black cultures in the United States. Much of this story is told with interviews with such people as Maya Angelou, Julian Bond, Rep. John Lewis, Gordon Parks, Cokie Roberts , various descendants of his family and many others. The fascinating subject of this film and his actions will resonant with many people and should provide an example for future generations.

The filmmaker’s enthusiasm for the implications of Rosenwald’s contributions may have led her to lose focus at times. For example, the visit of Eleanor Roosevelt to Tuskegee University to pay attribute to be Tuskegee Airmen and the ride she took in a small plane was quite interesting but moved the film further from its main theme Similarly, telling the story of Marian Anderson, the great black singer and one of the recipients of Rosenwald’s many scholarships, led the filmmaker to deviate into a long exposition about Anderson’s achievements. Some of these interesting but somewhat extraneous segments would have been better left to the bonus DVD which will accompany the film when it is purchased for personal use (although we understand that that bonus DVD in the making, is already three hours long). While not a great film, it was a unique look at a very special and not well-known person who made many contributions that changed countless lives. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, History

Best of Enemies

July 30th, 2015 — 2:05am

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Best of Enemies

The 1968 democratic political convention was held in Chicago in a year filled with violence, political turmoil, and civil unrest. Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for president because of the controversy over the Vietnam for war. His Vice President Hubert Humphrey won the nomination beating anti-war spokesperson Eugene McCarthy. In the Republican Convention in Miami, Florida, former Vice President Richard Nixon beat Ronald Reagan for the nomination and went on to win the election. One of the memorable aspects of this political year was a series of 10 debates between William F. Buckley Jr., conservative spokesperson and Gore Vidal, liberal spokesperson that was aired on the ABC television network during the political convention. It is these debates that are the subject of this thought provoking and revealing documentary film produced and directed by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon. It is ironic that when ABC made the decision to inject the debates into its TV coverage of the conventions, they were number three in the ratings and were a poor number three at that. Yet, their use of these debates propelled them to the highest ratings over the other two networks who were doing gavel-to-gavel convention coverage. This is probably the beginning of the type of news coverage which we see today which is filled with pundits discussing and debating the news on many different networks.

In 1968, there was no more well known spokesperson of the conservative points of view than William F. Buckley Jr. For many years he had a popular television program “Firing Line” where he took on people with opposing views and demonstrated his brilliance. He also was a columnist for well-known conservative magazines. Gore Vidal was an equally brilliant, articulate liberal spokesperson who not only spoke “the talk” but wrote many very successful books about American history and also penned successful novels including one well-known fiction work titled Myra Breckinridge.

As we see in this 87-minute documentary film edited by Eileen Meyer and Aaron Wickenden, these 10 debates were very fascinating to watch and were watched more than for the discussion about the conflicts of ideological viewpoints. Certainly, Buckley expressed his view that people should be more self-sufficient and shouldn’t depend on government handouts. Vidal made the point that the government has responsibility to support people in need. However, the essence of this historic debate was how these brilliant men try to take apart not only each other’s arguments but each other.

We didn’t see all the raw footage of the debate, but in a post-film discussion with Mr. Neville, one, of the director producers, he shared his analysis which counted that more than three quarters of the time, these men were trying to dissect each other, rather than carrying on a rational discussion of the complicated issues of their time. One can’t help reflect how this film reminds us that this may be how we are approaching our modern day political debates as the right and left trash each other.

It of course makes great television and there have been very few more exciting moments in live widely watched television than the culminating mutual attacks on each other that occurred in the Buckley-Vidal debates. There needs to be no “spoiler alert” here since the following moments which we will describe are well-explored in this documentary. Mr. Buckley compared the anti-war protesters (who were probably demonstrating at that very moment outside the convention hall) “to be bullying fascists.” Vidal then says, “The only pro or crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself.” Buckley then uncharacteristically loses his temper and says, “Listen you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.” (The fact that Vidal turned out to be “gay” was completely irrelevant especially since he was not out at that time and Buckley had used a very disparaging word in reference to him.) Another irony is that at the very moment that Buckley threatened to punch Vidal, the police outside were probably punching the protesters. In any case this documentary film gives an inside view of the meaning of this debate using commentary of people who knew the two men at that time and later in life. We learned that Vidal’s feelings and comments about Buckley, even at the time of Buckley’s death were as angry and as bitter as ever. Similarly, Buckley’s people who knew him suggest that Buckley never got over his feelings about Vidal.

A good documentary film not only presents the facts but also tries to put them in some kind of perspective. To a certain degree, the filmmakers here may have succeeded. You may need to be a student of television and politics to fully appreciate how the debate may have been a turning point in how such debates are handled in the modern media. However, if you step back you can perhaps see that our current political discourse in 2015 over ideological differences, may be getting very personal. This film presents a worthwhile lesson in these situations of what can go wrong between “The Best of Enemies.”

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, History

The End of the Tour

July 8th, 2015 — 4:14am

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The End of the Tour – sp

David Foster Wallace was a highly acclaimed author who was cited by Time Magazine as one of the hundred best English language novelists. His life was cut short by depression and suicide at the age of 48 in 2008. Several years prior to this tragic event, David Lipsky, a writer for Rolling Stone Magazine and a novelist himself, of less acclaim, convinced his editor to let him accompany Wallace on the last five days of the book tour for his latest best selling novel, Infinite Jest, in order to write an article for the magazine.. Lipsky, in 2010, wrote a book about his encounter with Wallace on this tour, which subsequently inspired David Margulies to write a screenplay for this movie and bring onboard director James Ponsoldt.

The resultant film is a fascinating study of the chemistry and interaction between these two men as depicted by Jesse Eisenberg, as Lipsky, and Jason Segel, as David Foster Wallace. This famous author is shown to be a paradox of a confident, brilliant writer but yet as someone who consistently is concerned that he will not be found to be authentic. He desperately wants to be successful with women and yet has difficulty in establishing relationships and his best friends at this point appeared to be his two dogs. He cares that Lipsky will find him interesting and relevant. Yet, he was afraid that he, himself, would become addicted to fame and what people thought about him. Lipsky admired the literary giant that he was spending time with and yet we see an evolution of his understanding of the subject of his interview. The reporter began to identify with the struggle of the subject and was drawn to him perhaps as a comrade-in-arms. They become, for a while buddies hanging out, with two women connected with the tour (Mickey Summer and Mamie Gummer). There is also comic relief provided by another woman, their book tour escort, played very well by Joan Cusack.

Most of the movie is set in the snowy Midwest which is shown to be cold, crisp, and beautiful. The director, James Ponsoldt, has blended together this unique story and magnificent acting by Eisenberg and Segel plus a musical score background put together by Danny Elfman, which will cement your interest in what is happening on the screen.

It is interesting that we know very little about the psychological history of Wallace or the nature of his fatal depression. Many of the audience also may not be familiar with his writing. However, the connection between the two main characters sustains the movie and will hold your interest.(2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, Drama

Jackie & Ryan

July 2nd, 2015 — 2:21am

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There are apparently a number of American folk singers who travel throughout the United States especially in the West by train hopping. They meet up in various cities, frequently earning their living by street singing for donations. On occasion, they play at local festivals or in clubs and some may even get a recording contract, but they are in it for the love of the music. Ami Canaan Mann, the screenwriter-director and one of the producers met one such person, Nick Hans, who became the inspiration for this movie. He also became the consultant for the music on this film.

Ben Barnes, who is a British actor (with a perfect American accent), known for this portrayal of Caspian X in the Chronicles of Narnia personifies Ryan, a train hopping musician. It is mainly through the eyes of this very likable character, who we learn, has been traveling throughout the West and living through his love of music. He gives us insight into this way of life that is alien to so many of us.

Costarring with him is Katherine Heigl, an accomplished and experienced actress, best known recently for her starring roles in The Ugly Truth, 27 Dresses and Knocked Up as well as her work in the TV drama Grey’s Anatomy. Miss Heigl plays Jackie, a former country music recording star, who has now retired to a small town to raise her daughter Lia (Emily Alyn Lind). Unfortunately, Miss Heigl’s character, Jackie, is not as well developed as that of Ryan and we don’t quite understand what makes her tick. There is obviously chemistry between Jackie and Ryan.

But the real emotion in this picture is the music. It is contagious and draws you to the singers and their love of it. The movie goer gets a wonderful musical experience through the three main characters (which include the daughter) as well as enjoying the other real train hopping musicians that are also in the film, especially a very talented violinist.

We always appreciate being exposed to part of American life that is rich, creative and enjoyable.



Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Musical

Inside Out

June 23rd, 2015 — 9:46pm

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Inside Out

We were  tag alongs as our children took our nine and six-year-old grandchildren to see the 3D Pixar animated film released by Walt Disney Studios titled Inside Out. Things appeared to get off a good start as the coming attractions were shown of several different animated features most in 3D. They each had interesting appealing characters, music and special effects. They showed us all the highlights and the audience was obviously delighted.

Things then settled in for the feature film. One of us used to make up a story that he told our kids when they were very young how inside of us there were numerous teeny people who looked exactly like each of us and they would run all our bodily systems. Some run our digestive system, others run our hearing and seeing senses, or heart system. There was a central control headquarters that controlled our locomotion and there was a brain central where our thinking was run. We had lots of fun with these stories. Well, more or less this is the premise of this movie. The main character is a little girl who moves with her family from Minnesota, where they had a large house and played hockey in the winter, to San Francisco where she has to go to a new school and make new friends. We see the inside workings of this little girl’s mind through various “people” who control her emotions. In this case they don’t look exactly like her but they are representations of her in a joyful state, depression, anger, fear, disgust, etc. Each of these characters is very interesting, likeable, and a really great cartoon. The inner workings of her brain are depicted including long-term memories whether they be happy or sad.  The animated graphics filled the screen as we saw memories in the form of thousands of balls rolling down various chutes. There is a dream department that creates dreams which is all very creative.

While the on-screen images and voices might hold the attention of the children some of the time, we doubt that anyone under 12 would follow the actual plot and all its nuances. It is also hard for us to believe how anyone over 20 would care about 102 minutes of this story which actually seemed much longer to us. However, in this case it seems that we are clearly in the minority here as this movie is receiving outstanding reviews and appears to be one of the top rated Pixar films that has come out in a long time. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Family / Kids

Black or White

June 20th, 2015 — 10:46pm

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Black or White – nf

Kevin Costner has his pick of many interesting roles roles. In this case, he chose to play Elliot Anderson, a successful lawyer, affectionately known as papa by his eight-year-old black granddaughter (Jillian Estell). This movie was directed by Mike Binder, who also wrote the screenplay. We learn that the young girl is the child of Anderson’s deceased daughter who was made pregnant when she was 17 years old by the father, Reggie Jeffers (Anthony Mackie) a 23-year-old crack addict. The mother, died in childbirth due to a congenital heart condition, a death which we are led to believe could have been avoided if Anderson and his wife had known that she was in labor but they had not been told. The white grandparents took on the responsibility of raising their granddaughter with occasional unwelcome visits by the father’s family led by the grandmother on that side, Rowena Jeffers (Octavia Spencer). The movie opens as Anderson has just learned that now his wife has died in an auto accident. He realizes he must inform his granddaughter of the tragedy and he will take on the responsibility of raising his granddaughter by himself, brushing her hair and driving her to school, etc. This drives him to drink. He also finds himself in a legal battle with the black side of the family that has other ideas about custody. This at times becomes a black versus white, alcoholism versus crack addict, grandfather versus father, white grandfather versus black grandmother. There are some great courtroom scenes and there is a wonderful performance by Jillian Estell who plays the eight-year-old child. She is an actress that we are going to hear from in the future. There are no big surprises in this film. There is drama to hold your attention, emotion to pull your chain, and a great performance by Costner (we said no big surprises). Many people are going to enjoy this movie. (2014)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

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