Category: 3 Stars


Call Me By Your Name

November 15th, 2017 — 7:53am

***

Call Me By Your Name- sp

This is a beautiful gay coming-of-age romantic film with a screenplay by James Ivory, who has dealt with this subject in the past as a filmmaker. The story is based on a novel by Andre Aciman and brought to the screen by a very skilled Italian director, Luca Guadagnino.

The movie is set in the magnificent countryside of Northern Italy. Elio (Timothée Chalamet) a 17-year-old young man living with his parents in their summer home meets Oliver (Armie Hammer) a young man in his late 20s who is a colleague of his professor father who is studying some sunken archeological discovery of ancient statues of young men that is being raised from the coastal waters. Also being raised is Elio’s attraction to Oliver and vice versa which the viewer experiences through both their eyes. This awakening of physical chemistry and love develops into somewhat overly drawn out two hours and eleven minutes of this film which incorporates the absolutely beautiful countryside with magnificent lush hills, valleys, coves, and waterfalls which sets the tone for the overwhelming feelings that both of these young man were feeling for each other.

There is one particular scene which may very well be remembered as a classic, in which Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) shares his understanding and insight into his son’s feelings in a very tender and moving moment

This production was a very well-done in all aspects including some original songs and music by Sufjan Stevens. However, the filmmaker became too enamored of the magnificent artistic depictions of the luscious countryside and created a film that was overly long. Nevertheless, this film well deserves to become an important part of the genre of movies about the gay romantic experience. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Romance

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

November 8th, 2017 — 1:52am

***

Roman J. Israel, Esq. – sp

Denzel Washington has embraced a character from the pen (or should we say the keyboard) of screenwriter/director Dan Gilroy and turned in an outstanding, unforgettable performance. Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a somewhat socially isolated lawyer, perhaps a little on the autism spectrum side, who not only is extremely bright (can give you obscure citations from the Code of Justice) but is idealistically principled to take on cases of the poor and disadvantaged. He also has a dream and an inspiration that through case law he will ultimately make the criminal justice system fair and equal for all people. His actions and spirit inspire George Pierce (Colin Farrell), head attorney of a big firm previously only interested in making more money and Maya Alston (Carmen Ejogo) an idealistic young lawyer who is trying to find herself. Perhaps the two hours and two minutes makes the film somewhat drawn out. However, the takeaway message is that Roman J. Israel, Esq. is shown to be a human being with frailties like everyone else. We see that his spirit and idealism will live on not only in this story but in the viewer’s minds and hearts. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Uncategorized

Maudie

September 11th, 2017 — 2:40am

***

Maudie-rm

Sally Hawkins turned in one of the best acting performances of the year and in our opinion deserves Oscar consideration. Ethan Hawke also was magnificent and deserves acclaim along with Director Eisling Walsh who put together this very touching movie written by Sherry White.

The setting is a rural community in Nova Scotia, which looks like it is the 1930s but was probably more likely the 1980s. Hawkins plays Maudie, a handicapped young woman who has physical disabilities and has lived a difficult life. We meet her as her brother tells her that he has sold their deceased mother’s house and Maudie has to continue living with her aunt with whom she doesn’t seem to get along very well. While in a general store of a small community, she then sees a fisherman (Ethan Hawke) put an advertisement on a bulletin board looking for a woman to help him with chores like cleaning and making meals in his one–room cabin. She applies for the job, gets it when no one else applies and moves into his cabin.

The remainder of the film is an examination of the relationship between these two people and the small community in which they live. Maudie is a natural artist and she begins to draw on the wall and windows of her cabin. She is discovered by a wealthy tourist from New York, who gives her work some visibility. She is ultimately the subject of a TV show, which popularizes her work and she becomes a somewhat known artist. She also ultimately wears her “employer” down and convinces him to marry her. There is no evidence that she achieves any kind of wealth from her work but she clearly derives great satisfaction from what she does and even grudging respect from her husband. In the film we only see the couple as poor people living in the small cabin.

Despite the captivating performances of these two actors, the plot doesn’t expand with any interesting stories nor do the characters develop in any depth. While we were drawn to these people who seemed as real as they were different from anyone we have known. However, we felt that the movie was too drawn out and ultimately fell short. We wanted more than we were given especially since we realized at the end of the film, that the story was based on real people as we were shown a brief video clip of them . (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

California Typewriter

August 23rd, 2017 — 3:57am

***

California Typewriter-sp

If you get sentimental when you think about your old typewriter, this documented film may be for you. Director/Cinematographer/Editor/Co-producer Doug Nichol obviously felt this way as he examined the significance of the old fashion typewriter from a historical point of view as well as its emotional meaning. This movie shows how some people still believe this is the best way to create and communicate with others. These people include author David McCullough, playwright Sam Shepard, singer/songwriter John Mayer and a very enthusiastic, and thoughtful Tom Hanks.

In this movie you will learn about different typewriters throughout the ages and what they have meant and mean to their owners. One of the most articulate explanations of how people love and treasure this writing machine is one of the disappearing breed of typewriter repairman who is still holding his own in San Francisco and that is Mr. Ken Alexander. In addition, there is a good amount of time spent following Mr. Jeremy Mayer who actually destroys typewriters. Mr. Mayer is a very skilled artist who exclusively uses mostly metal parts of various sizes from typewriters to create often very large, unique, and magnificent and beautiful artistic creations resembling animals and birds as well as various designs. His work receives commissions from all over the world.

In a post film discussion about whether the typewriter will survive, Mr. Mayer, Nichol and Alexander seem to be an agreement that despite the fact that the typewriters are not being manufactured anymore, they will live on for the foreseeable future. They discussed how this machine is treasured by a certain segment of the population and that parts will be available from those typewriters that are discarded by other people and also will be available made by current and future 3D printers. They also will live on by Mr. Mayer’s unique creations.

You would think that it might be a portion of the older population which grew up with the original “QWERTY” (first line of letters) keyboard that would hang on to this remnant from the past, but we have personally seen how a very bright high school student we know treasures having this retro machine as part of her life alongside her trusty iPhone and the latest computer. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

Summer Hours

August 11th, 2017 — 10:10pm

***

Summer Days-nf

This almost 10-year-old French film (with subtitles) captures some of the beauty of the French countryside, family tradition, love of artistic paintings, beautiful furniture and even old and modern vases. It is also a sensitive depiction of three siblings who have to decide how to handle their mother’s estate of the family countryside house and its possessions. Director/writer Olivier Assayas with four great performance by Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jeremie Renier and Edith Scob does an excellent job in getting us to relate to the various family members and their mother. As we were enjoying this very realistic development of each of the characters, we kept imagining where the storyline might lead us. There were hints of a secret love affair, art objects with an unsuspected history, possible miscalculation of the value of the art and teenage children of the next generation who might undermine their whole legacy. But the film did not take us on any interesting journey. All of life doesn’t have to have an intriguing storyline. However, there are unlimited choices for a Netflix movie for our viewing pleasure so we had expected more than we felt was delivered. (2008)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign

To The Bone

July 30th, 2017 — 9:52pm

***

To the Bone-nf

This is a movie about young people who have eating disorders. The story revolves mainly around Ellen (Lily Collins), a 20-year old woman whose parents broke up when she was a young girl. She went to live with her father and his new wife (Carrie Preston) and her half-sister. Her own mother (Valerie Palincar) moved in with her new lesbian partner. Ellen developed an eating disorder and became anorexic. We never see her father in the movie and we get the impression that he is mostly an absent parent. Most of the story takes place in a house/treatment program where Ellen lives with five other girls and one young man, all with eating disorders of one type or the other. There are some staff who live with them and enforce the rules of the house as well as running group sessions. There is also the “doctor” (Keanu Reeves) who holds an individual session with the “entire family” on initial intake and then comes to the house for individual sessions.

The viewer comes to appreciate how this terrible life-threatening condition is manifested, not only in Ellen, but in each of the people living in the house and participating in the treatment program. Great credit should go to Director/Screenwriter Marti Noxon who provides insight into this very challenging medical/psychiatric condition with which so many young people struggle. Ms. Collins, in her depiction of Ellen, was superb not only in her acting, but she also deserves credit for losing the weight required for this part.

This movie and story could only  touch the surface of the psychological issues usually involved in understanding and treating this condition. No one statement by a therapist, apology from a parent or insight into a dream can suddenly turn around this illness. The filmmaker had to face this reality but yet obviously wanted to give an optimistic hope to the viewers. Certainly many people with eating disorders are able to move on and live happy productive lives. Hopefully, this film will stimulate interest in understanding eating disorders and will encourage families and those struggling with the illness to seek help and ultimately overcome it. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Fill The Void

July 29th, 2017 — 4:44am

***

Fill the Void-nf

By sheer coincidence, after we had just previewed Menashe on this blog, the next film in our Netflix queue is the 2013 Israeli film about Orthodox Hasidic Jews (in Hebrew with subtitles).

Fill the Void examines the orthodox tradition of arranged marriages. The movie centers around 18-year-old Shira (Hadas Yaron) after Esther (Renana Raz) her older sister tragically dies in childbirth. Esther is survived by her newborn son and her grieving husband Yochay (Yiftach Klein) as well as her parents and sister. Shira is now of marriageable age and is considering possible candidates provided by the matchmaker and of course is being considered by eligible men. Yochay is being “offered” a woman who might move to Belgium if he were to marry her. The idea of losing touch with their newborn grandson is horrifying to the grieving grandparents which makes them want Shira to consider Yochay.

This film is a sensitive and penetrating view of the orthodox community steeped in this tradition of prayer and customs. It also suggests the complicated perhaps guilt-ridden feelings that Shira might have as she considers becoming a substitute wife for her handsome brother-in-law to whom she is ambivalently drawn to as he is to her.

Director/writer Rama Burshtein knows well the community about which this film revolves. This allows the storyline to be developed in some depth. The setting, costuming, covered heads, flowing beards, attractive head coverings, chanting, rocking and singing prayers and the conflicted theme of this storyline are all very genuine and realistic. The photography and lighting are done particularly well. This movie does fill a void in depicting the subject matter in this setting that most people are unfamiliar. (2013)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign, Romance

Manashe

July 26th, 2017 — 5:33am

***

Menashe-sp

It is not very often that we see a film all about the Hassidic community and completely in Yiddish (with subtitles of course).

Documentary filmmaker Joshua Z. Weinstein jumped into this project with all four hats (or should we say Yamakas) as director/writer/producer and cinematographer. He was able to connect with Hassidic Jews who spoke Yiddish and were interested in acting in this movie. This is a story of Menashe (Menashe Lustig) who is a recent widower and wants to continue taking care of his 10 or 11-year-old son, Rieven (Ruben Niborski) despite the Rabbi’s (Meyer Schwartz) view that the brother-in-law (Yoel Weisshaus) and his wife would be better caretakers. Menashe is also resisting the pressure that he should make an arrangement with the matchmaker and get a new wife.

On one hand, this could be a universal theme that might be set in other cultures but it is a unique accomplishment to pull it off in the ultraorthodox Hassidic community. The real Menashe (the actor) was quite genuine as the on screen Menashe. The child actor was superb equaling his father with facial expressions, which conveyed the complicated feelings that they were portraying.

While this movie was ultimately picked up by A-24 for distribution, it was made with a low budget. However, the story came across as quite authentic and was able to use the streets of Brooklyn and a sufficient number of appropriate extras to convey a genuine realistic atmosphere. This was a special accomplishment since the director/writer was not fluent in Yiddish and this project required numerous translators to assist in all aspects of it.

When a project such as this one is so successful in bringing a unique cultural environment to the screen, it makes us want to see an even more complicated in-depth story than what was delivered. Also missing were depictions of the positive values with mutual support of this group of people especially at times of holidays and the Sabbath. Nevertheless, we believe that many viewers will find this a worthwhile cinematic experience. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Brave New Jersey

July 19th, 2017 — 5:35am

***

Brave New Jersey-sp

Most people have heard about of Orson Welles’ famous 1938 radio broadcast which simulated an invasion of the Earth by hostile aliens from Mars. The invaders were supposed to have landed in New Jersey. The broadcast was perceived by many people as real and there were stories of people fleeing their homes in panic.

This movie imagines how the people in a peaceful town appropriately named “Lullaby” might have responded. Local people were convinced that they were facing a deadly enemy, which they had to deal with themselves before any soldiers might come to their aid. Each person had to face this or her potential end of life. The local reverend, Ray (Dan Bakkedahl) had to examine his faith in God and his strength to lead his flock at such a time. Paul Davison (Sam Jaeger), the rich benefactor of the town had to deal with his own instincts to flee and leave his family at the time of a crisis. His wife Lorraine (Heather Burns) must consider if she will acknowledge what she has always known about her husband and where her true love really lies. Perhaps the person who most rises to the occasion that he never knew was inside himself was the town mayor, Clark Hill (Tony Hale from Veep fame) who among other things had to decide if he was ready declare his romantic feelings to a married woman.

As you can see there are many subthemes and while they all don’t quite flow together, director and co-writer Jody Lambert with Michael Dowling have come up with an original twist on a classical piece of radio history. They have chosen excellent actors, many of whom will be instantly recognized by their previous work. There also were wonderful performances by some of the child actors in the movie. The music background suggests a hint of a science fiction atmosphere which seems appropriate. This movie is quite unique and it may very well capture the imagination of the viewing public. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Midnight Return

June 28th, 2017 — 3:44am

***

Midnight Return-sp

Billy Hayes was a 23 year old student when he was caught trying smuggle four pounds of hashish , strapped to his body out of Turkey in 1970. He was originally sentenced to four years in a Turkish prison but then the sentence was change to a life sentence. During the course of his imprisonment he was transferred for a while to psychiatric hospital and then to another Turkish prison. In 1975 after 5 years in prison he miraculously escaped to freedom via a row boat to a nearby town and then found his way to the Greece border with money his father had clandestinely given him during a prison visit and he ultimately made it back home to the United States.

Once back in the U.S. he wrote a book on his experience, titled Midnight Express which in 1978 was made into a wildly successful movie starring Brad Davis, directed by Alan Parker, with an award winning screenplay by Oliver Stone which essentially launched the now famous movie director’s career. The unanticipated impact of this movie was to portray all Turks as bad and to basically to paint a world wide negative image of Turkey which impacted its reputation and hurt it economically especially in regards to tourism.

Sally Sussman, a successful writer who was Head Writer of the daytime television programs, Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless, became interested in the story behind the movie and found a way to meet with the various moviemakers of this film and Billy Hayes himself. She put together the team that raised the capital to make this documentary film Midnight Return and interviewed Hayes, his family, Stone, Parker as well as others who were crucial in making the film. She examined the impact of the film, how certain issues were exaggerated, gives an insight into how Turkish Americans reacted to it and most interestingly through old footage and many interviews traces the life of Billy Hayes for about the 40 years since he escaped from Turkey.

We can imagine that those who have seen the original 1978 Midnight Express and were impacted by it when it came out, will find this follow up to be especially fascinating. We did feel that this 99 minute documentary felt somewhat drawn out. It did not give us the in depth look at Mr. Hayes that we would have liked. While he did develop somewhat of an acting career later in his life and actually recently visited Turkey, it does appear that he remained single and this early trauma of his youth still dominates his life. (2017)

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

Back to top