Category: 3 Stars


Presenting Princess Shaw

May 4th, 2016 — 1:20am

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 10.07.58 AM***

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

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 10.43.40 AM***

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

The 33

November 16th, 2015 — 7:32am

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 6.13.09 PM***

The 33-sp

Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar, the story of the 2010 Chilean Mine disaster and the 33 miners trapped underground, was one of the best books we have read in a long time (see book review). So a movie following in its footsteps has big shoes to fill. Director Patricia Riggen and the producing team led by veteran producer Mike Medavoy did a pretty good job of capturing the atmosphere as well as creating the tension and interaction of the beleaguered miners. They chose to make this film in English, which took away from the realism but we understand the reasonable necessity to do this to facilitate worldwide distribution. Much of the film was deep in the dark mine and the faces of the characters were understandably in deep shadows. While good for realism, it did take awhile for the characters to be clearly distinguished as individuals.

There was one interesting issue which we wonder if it was fact or creative license. That was when Laurence Golbourne (Rodrigo Santoro), the young government official who was Minister of Mines for the Chilean government told the veteran mine rescue expert exactly how he should position the last chance drilling effort, which was the only drill to reach the miners. Just as important as the interaction of the miners with each other was the role of the families putting pressure on the various officials to make an all-out effort to save their loved ones. The emotions of these family members, friends and one mistress was highlighted by the character of Maria Segovia, sister of one of the miners, who was well-played by Juliette Binoche. Another standout was the character of Mario Sepulveda (Antonio Banderas) who assumed the leadership role of the trapped miners.

This was the last film of the late James Horner who as usual created an excellent soundtrack to capture the changing moods of the film. At the conclusion of the movie, we see a postscript telling us that none of the miners received any compensation from the mine company. In a post screening discussion, we were able to ask producer Michael Medavoy if this film is financially successful, would the miners receive any compensation. The answer was, “You bet,” but it has to come after all the backers of the film receive their upfront money back plus a reasonable profit. We thought that why should the miners not receive their compensation upfront? But that apparently is the usual Hollywood way. Despite this concern, the film itself, while not meeting the standards of the amazing book is still worthwhile and should be seen and enjoyed by many viewers. Shortly after the actual disaster occurred I also wrote two blogs  about the psychological implications of this experience  ( see blog#1   and blog #2 ) (2015)

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History

Carol

November 11th, 2015 — 7:10am

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 9.48.53 AM***

Carol-sp

Two great actresses, Cate Blanchett (two academy awards for The Aviator and Blue Jasmine) and Rooney Mara (known for two recent outstanding performances in The Social Network and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) are matched in a subtle, low-key romance that takes places in the early 1950s in New York. Carol Aird (Blanchett) is a wealthy married woman with a 5-year-old daughter who finds herself drawn to Therese Belivet (Mara), a younger woman working as a department store clerk with a boyfriend who is getting ready to propose to her. Therese shares the attraction to Carol and the two spend time together and go away together on a road trip.

The screenplay by Phyllis Nagy is based on a novel by the famed author Patricia Highsmith. Director Todd Haynes worked with a veteran recognized staff which included costume designer, Sandy Powell, Director of Photography Ed Lachman, Film Editor Alfonso Goncalves and the music being done by Carter Burwell. Each of these artists creates a very realistic sensitive environment in which the attraction and love between these two women blossoms. Taking place in the mid-20th century period makes the plot more poignant, as the internal struggle with homoerotic feelings obviously did not have the acceptance, overt support and understanding that it has today. Perhaps, this is the very reason that modern movie goers might share our feeling that despite being extremely well-done, we expected more of a storyline. We are left feeling that we have witnessed a simple fairy tale. We wish this talented movie team could have delivered much more. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Romance

Steve Jobs

October 25th, 2015 — 2:17am

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 10.25.41 AM***

Steve Jobs- rm

We came to this version of Steve Jobs’ story, Apple’s iconic founder, having seen the recent documentary film of Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine and also having read Walter Issaacson’s 2011 biography of Jobs. We are not so sure that we would have appreciated the nuances and the depths of how the relationships were depicted in this current movie, had we not experienced the two previous pieces. For example, we see a recurrent theme, which defines Jobs’ relationship with Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) as he pleads with Jobs to give him and the Apple-2-team credit during the new Apple launches. Jobs refuses because he says he wants to emphasize the future. In fact, Jobs has treated his friend Wozniak, the real inventor of the first Apple computer, very poorly. They had been friends working in Jobs’ garage when they were in their 20s. While not shown in this film, it has been previously documented that one of the first projects that they worked together was designing a game for Atari where Wozniak did all the work and Jobs dealt with the interface with Atari but grossly short-changed Wozniak when they were paid for their work, a pattern they apparently continued later in life. .

Perhaps the most important and revealing relationship shown in this film and well described in the previous book and movie is the one with his daughter Lisa. Early on Jobs consistently denied his paternity of Lisa. When it was eventually proven by genetic test, he reluctantly paid minimal support for the struggling mother and child despite the fact that at that time he was worth at least $440 million. We see Jobs wrestling with his feelings about Lisa in this film and his ambivalence towards her and her mother.

The dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin was typical of his fast-moving style in both the words and the physical movement of the characters. The film did not attempt to be a biography of Steve Jobs. Instead, the storyline showcased three specific product launches of the Apple computer. It revealed the behind-the-scenes interactions of Jobs and other important people, particularly with his daughter Lisa played very well by three different actresses, Mackenzie Moss when she was five, Ripley Sobo when she was nine and most significantly by Perla Haney-Jardine when Lisa was 19. Lisa’s mother was played Katherine Waterston.

There was one very interesting foray in trying to show some psychological insight of the origin of Jobs’ self-centered personality. This occurred when Jobs was interacting with John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) the Apple CEO who was originally hired by Jobs and then participated in firing Jobs at a later point in time. The discussion was about how Jobs was treating his daughter and how it might be related to his own childhood relationships. Jobs related how he was adopted as an infant but his new mother wasn’t sure that she would be allowed to keep him for certain complicated reasons, so she withheld her love during his first year so she would not become too attached to him. If that were true, it might explain Jobs’ apparent defective ability to relate to others despite his genius, unusual vision and talent in bringing his products to the world.

Credit has to be given to Michael Fassbender in his role as Jobs and to director Danny Boyle. A key role was also well done by Kate Winslet who played Joanna Hoffman an important member of the Mac team. The film will give the  moviegoers the experience  that they are transported back in time, and are seeing this iconic figure up close during some of his historic moments in the birth of the Apple computer. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History

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