Category: 3 Stars


Afternoon of a Faun

April 12th, 2014 — 10:44pm

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Afternoon of the Faun : Tanaquil Le Clercq rm- If you love ballet and are familiar with the great artists and choreographers  as well as the history of ballet you probably will very much enjoy this documentary film It is about a young girl who at age 14 was a talented student studying at a school run by the great Balanchine . Four years later she not only was dancing with him but soon after was married to him, although he was nearly 25 years her senior. Tanquil Le Clercq, known as “Tanny” had a long , lovely and distinctive physique. Her dancing not only inspired Balanchine but she was also said to be a muse for Jerome Robbins who created his famous Afternoon of a Faun for Tanny. She was one of the most famous dancers of her time until at the age of 27 she was struck down by polio, which was the plague of its time. This was a disease that unexpectedly would make its appearance and would especially  paralyze children and young adults. It could even be fatal. Salk’s amazing vaccine came on the scene a short time later. Tanny was forced to be in an “iron lung” which would help her breathe and then over several years graduated to a wheel chair from which she became a teacher of ballet. The film consists mostly of beautiful film clips of Tanny dancing with Balanchine and others. There are clips of people talking about this unusual woman and her life. Not only is there Balanchine and  Jerome Robbins, who was very close to her, but others such as Jacque D’Ambroise, Arthur Mitchell and a women who for many years was Balanchine’s secretary and assistant. Her insights, particularly into the thinking of her boss, captured some of the conflict that he must have had for loving and caring about Tanny, but pursuing his own career as he worked with other ballerinas, eventually leaving Tanny to marry another dancer. It is unfortunate that we never hear a meaningful interview with the main star of this film We come to care about her through the old movies of her performing her magnificent dancing and the glimpses of her beauty even in the later years. We also learn about her strength, intelligence and humor from excerpts of letters she wrote, which were read by an unseen actress in the film..  This all takes place  with the rich and melodic music of the ballet, which accompanies not only the dancing but also this moving story. If you don’t have a special relationship to ballet and dance this documentary film will probably not move you very much. But if you do, be prepared to be swept off your feet and be caught up in the true tale  of this beautiful and tragic person.(2014)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

The Grand Budapest Hotel

April 5th, 2014 — 6:25am

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The Grand Budapest Hotel- rm-  This movie is a mixture of a fairytale, a romp with the keystone cops and a sophisticated mystery.  We are introduced to the Grand Budapest Hotel somewhere in Europe in modern times during an off-season. It is clear that the hotel has an interesting history, as does the one of main characters who we meet. That is an older Mr. Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham) now the owner of this Grand Lady of a Hotel that still is magnificent.  He takes us back to what are probably the 1930;s when he was a young lobby boy of the hotel known as Zero (Tony Revolori). He became a protégé of Mr. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) the legendary concierge of the hotel with whom he is about embark upon a great adventure.  Gustave is the perfect gentleman who befriends the wealthy men and women who come to hotel. One in particular Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) leaves a valuable painting to him, which he discovers when he travels to pay his respects after she is murdered. His young faithful companion accompanies him. Their adventure leads to confrontation with police, soldiers, and time in jail with an escape, a bad villain and a fanciful tale. It all probably should viewed as an allegory for the good times of pre World War II in Europe that were turned into death and destruction with precious memories by those who survived. The director and screen writer Wes Anderson is known for bringing imaginative story lines to the screen such as Moonrise Kingdom, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore and many others. In this case he based the story on writings of Stephen Zweig. The dialogue is fitting the upper crust that is being served by the likes of Gustave and his lobby boy but then periodically breaks down into paradoxical comments that bring out a good laugh and reminds you that there is satire going on here. The setting is old Europe and it was filmed in Germany where Anderson and his crew found or created not only the Grand Hotel but also magnificent castle like mansions, prisons and even escape tunnels. The cast was excellent which included Jude Law, Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Owen Wilson, Jason Swartzman, William DeFoe, Adrian Brody, Bob Balahan and others. Some had very small parts but all were on the mark to give a realistic performance in a fantasy movie. (2014)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama, Mystery

Breathe In

March 28th, 2014 — 3:53am

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Breathe In – sp We come away from this movie believing that all four of the main characters really need therapy. Keith Reynolds (Guy Pearce) is not so happily married, with a soon to be 18 year old daughter. He is a musician who is stuck teaching high school music classes, substituting as cello player in the symphony orchestra, wishing that he never moved out to the New York suburbs and had instead followed his creative dreams. His wife Megan (Amy Ryan) is living a life of denial, collecting cookie jars, refusing to recognize her husband’s unhappiness or her daughter’s tumultuous teenage life. Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) the daughter drives and drinks too much and becomes terribly traumatized by what is to come. What is to come is an eighteen-year-old British exchange student (Felicity Jones) who is to live in the Reynolds household for one semester. Her mother died at an early age and her father couldn’t handle taking care of her so he gave her up to an uncle who pushed her to learn how to play the piano at an early age. So now she is fantastic pianist but is not certain that is what really makes her happy. Lo and behold, there is a simpatico between this attractive girl and the frustrated father. She represents where he was 18 years ago. With the build up of tension, sexual and otherwise and a musical score led by a simple piano theme  (music by Dustin O’Halloran) we become caught up with what is going to happen. Director and co-screenwriter Drake Doremus is short on dialogue but he allows us to think we know what is going on in each character’s head. Although in a post screening discussion that we attended not everyone seemed to agree. We can’t say that we liked any one of these characters but we certainly cared about what was happening to them. (2014)

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Face of Love

March 26th, 2014 — 8:23pm

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Face of Love- rm- This movie stands out because of it’s very unique storyline. Niki’s  (Annette Bening) deeply loved husband (Ed Harris) drowns while they are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary in a lovely resort in Mexico.  5 years later the long grieving wife sees a man, Tom (also Ed Harris of course) who looks exactly like her husband and manages to meet him and develop a relationship. To her, it is reuniting with her deceased husband but to him it is an opportunity to fall in love which he has not felt since his wife left him 10 years before. The mood of this film written by Matthew McDuffie and Director Arie Posin  hovers between a spooky supernatural tale and a story of crazed woman holding on to her fantasy. Bening does a magnificent job of the conflicted wife torn apart by her struggle with reality. The potential of art and painting to convey emotion and the symbolic nature of water as being deadly but also eternal are the backdrops of the plot. Will the widowed neighbor (Robin Williams) who has a crush on the widow next door recognize the appearance of her new boyfriend ? What will happen when the daughter returns from college and confronts the spitting image of her deceased father? A haunting musical score by Marcelo Zarvos carries the film and has the potential to bring out those primitive emotions in the audience as we try to imagine the resolution of the story. (2014)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Bad Words

March 13th, 2014 — 6:37pm

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Bad Words-sp  This is  Jason Bateman’s directorial debut starring Jason Bateman. It can be described as a mean or subversive comedy. The main character says and does cruel things to other people including a bunch of preteen kids which although they are “funny” they are not very nice.We meet Guy Trilby (Bateman) as a 40 year old guy who is entering the national spelling bee contest which he is determined to win and claims the right to be in it since he meets the criteria of never completing the 8th grade.He is accompanied by a reporter (Kathryn Hahn)  doing a story about his endeavor for a web site. He overcomes the objections of Dr. Bernice Deagan  (Allison Janney), one of the administrators, and confronts the founder of the contest, Dr. Bowman(Phillip Baker Hall), who are both furious at him, as are all the parents of the young other contestants. Trilby plays distracting mean tricks on some of the kids to get them eliminated from the competition. He does befriend one of the kids, 10 year old Indian boy Chaitanya Chopra with whom there is a hint that he identifies with him. We see terrific chemistry between the two and a great acting job by a young boy by the name of Rohan Chand. And now for an announcement SPOILER ALERT which is necessary although we probably knew the secret for 1/5 of the film and still enjoyed it. The question, of course, is why would a 40 year old man undertake this mission? The answer has something to do with the fact that we learn that the founder of the contest, Dr. Bowman, actually once as a traveling salesman met Philby’s  mother and became his biological father but never stayed around and of course does not know this fact. Philby had found this out recently just before  his mother died and now is on the mission to screw up the good doctor’s prestigious spelling contest. In the end this makes for an interesting, funny and ultimately a feel good movie that many people will enjoy seeing.  But his film fascinated once of us (MB)  because we have observed some variation of this theme is numerous movies played out in different ways, as well as having seen it in several real life situations. But in each case the motivation and the actions of the person searching for his or her biological parent or child is different. It certainly is not always vindictive as in this story and sometimes it is to establish a meaningful connection. Here are some films and our reviews where this was the main theme:

Philomena -Elderly British woman who had child out of wedlock in convent goes to US to find out what happened to him. Stars Oscar nominated Judy Dench

The Kids Are All Right- Two lesbian parents are raising two teenage kids who decide to search out their sperm donor biological dad. Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo

People Like Us – A man and woman never realized they were from the same parent Elizabeth Banks , Chris Pine and Michelle Pfeiffer

Stories We Tell – Documentary by a woman  who uncovers secrets of her family and that she was not her father’s child. Sarah Polley

Admission- Assistant Dean of Admissions realizes an applicant is her child given up at birth- Tina Fey, Lily Tomlin and Pail Rudd

Mother and Child   Mother child relationships . Children given up for adoption and fantasies of children who want  to reunite with their mother. Annette Bening and Noemi Watts

I have also written about three cases from real life in my PsychiatryTalk.com blog  (http://www.psychiatrytalk.com/2012/07/discussion-of-the-phenomena-of-unknown-family-members/)       (2014)

 

 

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy

Tim’s Vermeer

February 17th, 2014 — 3:40am

 

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Tim’s Vermeer- rm- Johannes Vermeer is a Dutch painter who lived 350 years ago. He is known for his magnificent paintings of mostly indoor scenes with exquisite photo like detail capturing shadows and variations in light as good if not better than any of the master painters of that time. Tim Jenison is a successful businessman and inventor who develops the idea that Vermeer may have been using a little ”magic” in creating his paintings. He did this by using some tricky optics with a mirror and a variation of camera obscura. Jenison postulated that Vermeer was reflecting the light from the subject through a small hole on to a mirror and then to the canvas where he could perfectly match the color paint over the reflection, which resulted in the unusual realism which the painter achieved. Jenison’s best friend is Penn Jilette the well know magician showman who collaborates with Jenison along with Penn’s performing partner Teller who directs the film as they team up to make this documentary. Jension, only using the technology of the painter’s time period, not only constructs the optic device that he believes Vermeer must have used but he recreates the studio where he painted in the exact dimensions as possible. He then builds a setup to copy and reconstruct the detailed background including the costumes of the subjects in Vermeer’s classic painting The Music Lesson using models to pose as they were in the painting. Now here is the amazing part, Mr. Jenison, who notes that he is not an artist, but using brushes and paints that were around 350 years ago meticulously matches the exact colors and paints them on the images being reflected on his canvas. It takes him over 4 months of almost continuous painstaking work but this non artist creates a painting which seems to very closely resemble Vermeer’s masterpiece and his unusual realistic style. The entire procedure was documented by a film crew, with Penn narrating and Teller directing the movie. They also bring in the well known British painter David Hockney who acknowledges that on the basis of the picture which Tim Jenison has created, he has made the case that he has discovered the secret to Vermeer’s success. This in one sense would seem to discredit this master although he should be credited at least for his composition. There is no known record of the artist being familiar or experimenting with optical devices that were available at the time. Apparently there are also no known writings about any other artist at that time or subsequently who use this technique, which makes this all more remarkable. To further support this theory, Jenison discovered a very faint blue outline on some object in the Vermeer painting which would have no reason to be there but could have been created by a chromatic abnormality of the mirror. We would imagine that if the nobles of the time had discovered that an artist could paint such realistic perfect reproductions, they might be in quite demand (although maybe an artist who produces more creatively flattering portraits would be chosen). We know that some artists today will paint over photographs but we believe that x-ray techniques would uncover the underlying picture if they claimed them to be original paintings. We wonder if a devious contemporary would-be artist might be able promote himself as a master when he was only secretly using this technique? In conclusion, perhaps it is fitting and perhaps ironic that the magician showmen Penn and Teller have produced a documentary film, which may have discovered an important magic trick that has gone undiscovered for more than 3 centuries! It took them 80 minutes to demonstrate how they believe Vermeer pulled it off.  Perhaps they could have done it with a short twenty-minute documentary but nevertheless it is sure to make big ripples in the art world. (2014)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

Like Father, Like Son

January 24th, 2014 — 6:03am

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Like Father, Like Son- sp  This Japanese film with subtitles was an extremely successful in Japan earning so far more than 30 million dollars and is about to be released in the United States. It won a major award at the Cannes Film Festival where Steven Spielberg was the Chair of the committee that gave the award. Spielberg then optioned the rights to it and plans to make an English version. What is it about this movie that seems so captivating? In Japan it helps that the male lead is played by one of most popular singers and actors currently in Japan and that is Fukuyama Masahuro. Just as important is the screenplay written by the director Kore-Eda Hirokazu which presents a fascinating human dilemma which rarely happens in modern times but one to which just about everyone can relate. Early in the film, a young married couple with a six year old son, who is a bright, very delightful boy, learn that their son was switched at birth with another child born in the same hospital on the same day. They meet the other family and the differences between them, especially the fathers become very apparent. They must decide what will they do (in addition to suing the hospital). Will they switch children and how will they come to this decision? As we try to relate to the dilemma and see how the parents and children react to this situation, we get the impression that some of the responses seem to be culture bound. Of particular note was the depiction of the passivity of the women and the obedience of the 6 year-olds. In a post film discussion, we learned that in the 1970s when hospital practices in Japan in labeling newborn children were not as exacting as they are today, there were incidences such as the one depicted in the movie. Interestingly, we were told that 100% of the children were returned to the biological parent even in cases of 6 year olds! Director Hirokazu did a sensitive job of showing us the evolution in the thinking of one of the fathers as he leads us to the ultimate outcome of this dilemma. He also brought to the screen two delightful children who played the kids who were switched at birth.

The theme of this movie is a variation of the successful 2013 film Philomenaas well as other movies which we have reviewed and discussed this interesting psychological variable . These include The Kids Are All Right, People Like Us Stories We TellAdmissions, and Mother and Child. One of us (MB)has also discussed this elsewhere with real life case examples (Psychiatrytalk.com). Each of these movie reviews and the psychiatry blog can be reached directly by clicking the words in this paragraph. (2013)

 

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign

The Invisible Woman

January 20th, 2014 — 12:02am

***large_INvisPOSTER The Invisible Woman- rm.  The poster for this movie tries to summarize the story as follows:  Charles Dickens was the most famous writer in the world. His greatest story was the one he could never tell.  This is a story of Nelly, an 18 year old actress (Felicity Jones) who is in love with everything Dickens has ever written, produced and acted in and becomes completely smitten with this brilliant and charming man himself. Charles Dickens (played by Ralph Fiennes who also directed the movie), the renowned, author, actor who is married with 10 children and is 2 ½ times the age of the young actress and has a son who is at least her age. He is drawn to the young woman seemingly because she is so into him and his work. The setting is Victorian England so apparently Dickens would never want to besmirch the young woman’s reputation with whom he is now having an affair even after he announces in the newspaper that he has separated from his wife and denies all rumors that Nelly is his love. She is expected to live in the outskirts of the city, alone, content with visits from the great author. The story obviously is based on fact from a book by Claire Tomain and was made into a screenplay by Abi Morgan. It is attractively filmed, showing the magnificent countryside of Margate, England, the period dress of the main characters and the actors and actresses of the time who are shown acting in Dickens’ plays, the expressive face of Fiennes as Dickens with a subtly graying beard with time and the close-ups of the sensitive beautiful face of his young lover. We are being shown a socially minded Mr. Dickens who on one hand was devoted to trying to help the downtrodden social class of his time by raising money for a children’s hospital and we know also how he exposed the inequities and poverty in his writings. But on the other hand we see a narcissistic man who cared mostly about his own writing and seemed to be quite insensitive to the most important women in his life.  It has to be a special accomplishment when the star of the movie is also the director, which was the case here. However, that might account for not editing the 111 minutes little tighter, as the lingering facial studies may have lingered longer than necessary for effect. (2014)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Drama

Hitchcock

January 14th, 2014 — 7:02am

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Hitchcock- nf   As we anticipate this year’s Academy Awards nite, we were in the mood for a movie about making movies. We chose to view this   biopic about the great Alfred Hitchcock. We can’t imagine two better choices for the stars than fellow Brits Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock and Helen Mirin as his wife, Alma. While Hopkins seems to channel Hitchcock in appearance and mannerism, director Sacha Gervasi added to the impersonation by showing the iconic director’s profile numerous times. This is the story of a crisis in the life of the “Master of Suspense” as he is wondering if he is past his prime and won’t ever be able to match his last success North by Northwest. Perhaps driven by some demons in his own head he decides that he wants to make a movie of a book he has just read titled, Psycho. Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg) head of Paramount Studios, where Hitchcock has a contract doesn’t think it will go over with the public and won’t provide the funding. Hitch makes a deal with them to do it if he provides the finances, which he does by mortgaging his own house. The screenplay by John J McLaughlin based on a book by Stephen Rebello shows us a man who realizes that he is at a crucial point in his life and with his marriage. He seems to have the confidence to make a great movie but he has to reach much deeper to try to save his marriage. As a movie fan it is fun to see a depiction of the making of Psycho. In this case it is Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins and Jessica Biel as Vera Miles who we see might have been the “other woman” in the grand master’s life. While there is some attempt   to remind us of the magic of a Hitchcock film, in the end it is just a snapshot of a one of film-lovers great heroes. (2012)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Drama

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

January 3rd, 2014 — 8:10pm

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There is a little bit of Walter Mitty in all of us. Who hasn’t had a daydream of being a hero, flying in a plane or a helicopter on some mission, jumping through some dangerous obstacle, defeating the villain and winning over the object of your affection? This ability to fantasize at any time, any place, can carry us out of any mundane situation and temporarily put us on top of the world. It is the universality of this state of mind, which made the skillfully penned short story by James Thurber written in 1939, endure and become one of the most frequently anthologized stories in American literature. The derivative word “Mittyesque “ lives on in the English language meaning an ineffectual person who spends time in heroic daydreams rather than dealing with reality. The first Walter Mitty movie, which didn’t follow the plot of the Thurber short story, starred Danny Kaye and came out in 1947. Nor does the current movie with the screenplay by Steve Conrad, although the theme does befit Walter Mitty. In this story Life Magazine is closing and  converting to an all online media. Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a behind the scenes negative analyst (meaning he analyzes and fixes up negatives of photographs of pictures, which appear in this iconic publication.) There is to be one last issue of the magazine before it closes and Mitty has taken on the responsibility of tracking down a lost negative sent in by a great photojournalist (Sean Penn) who travels the world to capture magnificent pictures. Mitty has a secret crush on co-worker Cheryl Melhoff  (Kristen Wiig) with whom he timidly interacts with in real life and of course is quite dashing in his secret daydreams. In his quest of the missing negative  Mitty travels the world, ends up in Greenland and then Iceland, takes dangerous helicopter rides, climbs gigantic magnificent mountains and skateboards down them, faces man made dangers well as the perils of nature including a shark. At times it may be a little disconcerting as a there is a blur between whether we are seeing the real actions of Mitty or his fantasy life. This is not a movie about another superhero. The attempt here is to make Mitty possibly be anyone or everyone. Stiller’s face, his acting along with his outstanding directing, with a full, well thought out sound track, a 90 million dollar budget including shooting in Iceland as well as generous very effective CGIs, achieves this goal. An added bonus is Shirley MacLaine as Walter’s mother. In the end, we are moved and touched by the film so it is probably worth the budget and what may be the longest end of movie credits that we have seen in a long time (2014)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy

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