Category: 3 Stars


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

Marie Curie:The Courage of Knowledge

June 20th, 2017 — 7:04pm

***

Marie Curie: The Courage Of Knowledge – sp

Wonder Woman may be the box-office bombshell that has women and young girls flocking to the movies (along with the guys) because she is an unequivocal super hero who happens to be a woman. Well, there is another woman on the block and in a few weeks Marie Curie is going to be released in Los Angeles and then in the rest of the country. While this film may not quite have the excitement and actions seen in WW, but certainly, she should be as big hero and role model.

Director and screenwriter of this film, Marie Noelle, shared her thoughts from Germany via a Skype hookup projected on the big screen after our preview viewing of this movie. Marie Curie had been her hero as a child because of her scientific accomplishments. However, it was what she learned about her personal life that fueled the filmmaker’s desire to work on this project.

Marie Curie was born in Poland and studied in Paris where she conducted the pioneer research in radioactivity. She discovered radium and how this could be used to treat cancer. She won two Nobel prizes and was the first woman accepted into the French Academy of Science despite great resistance because she was a woman.

A major focus of this film however was not only the resistance to her being recognized because she was a woman, but also because it became public knowledge that she was having an affair (after her husband died) with a married scientific collaborator and actually, had been threatened by the knife-wielding slighted spouse. This obviously would have been a non-issue had she been a man.

Karolina Gruszka was superb in her portrayal of Curie. Curie’s devotion to her work and her personal and professional passion to family and to equality were crystal clear. The film was in French with subtitles and at times we felt that something was missed in the translation as they flashed by. There were many bearded men in the movie and we weren’t sure at times who was who. Albert Einstein even made an appearance, but we didn’t exactly appreciate his role in the scheme of things. The photography, scenery and the characters sweeping across the screen sometimes made us lose track of the storyline. Both men and women will benefit by seeing this film and appreciate the trials and tribulations of this extraordinary scientist. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Drama, History

Beatriz at Dinner

June 20th, 2017 — 7:27am

***

Beatiz At Dinner-rm

A very plain but beautiful, young Mexican woman (Salma Hayek) who is a spiritual masseuse who believes in the holistic approach to healing, is finishing up with her last client who is a wealthy woman (Connie Britton) living on a fancy estate in Southern California, when she finds that her car would not start to go home. She is invited to join the woman and her husband (David Warshofsky), along with two couples (Chloe Sevigny, John Lithgow, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass) who have come to visit for an evening dinner party.

In this movie, there is no mention of American politics whatsoever. However, this film becomes a clear metaphor for the current political scene in the United States. One of the men (Lithrow) is a very wealthy real estate mogul. The contrast between Beatriz and this guy is crystal clear. He feels that his destiny is to live his life to the fullest with no real regard if he tramples other people’s lives and for sport he chooses to hunt and kill a large powerful animal. She would protect people if their land was being taken away for business ventures and could even bring a goat into her house if doing this would save its life from the elements. There are clear allusions as to how some people question other people’s citizenship and would also put the outdoor environment in jeopardy just for their own pleasure. There are references to how some people collude for their own benefit and do not really care about the less affluent. In a metaphoric way, the question is raised as to how angry will the oppressed really get? So angry that they might fantasize killing the oppressor, but in the end might sadly drown into self-annihilation.

Director Miguel Arteta did a magnificent job with the story written by Mike White. You will not see this movie on the list of current thrillers, but it is a chilling contemporary satire of the modern political debate in America. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Love Actually

June 17th, 2017 — 6:01am

***

Love Actually-nf

Through the magical power of Netflix, we are able to go back in time, 14 years and view an ensemble film that we recall was well received at the time and was nominated for a Golden Globe award. You will see a number of familiar faces in this movie who turned in great performances. This includes Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Laura Linney, Allen Rickman, Billy Bob Thornton and others who we didn’t recognize but who were quite good.

The movie is the brainchild of writer-director, Richard Curtis. This setting is on the other side of the pond in London, England. The film is about couples being attracted to each other and falling in love. There are about 10 separate couples involved but the stories do interconnect. There is a British prime minister who falls for his assistant, a screenwriter who is drawn to a young Portuguese woman although they can’t speak each other’s language. There is a married CEO who is smitten by his secretary. There is even an approximately 10 to 12-year-old boy who is certain that he is in love with a girl in his class and is getting advice how to declare his love by his recently widowed dad. Contrast that scenario with two porn stars who aren’t moved by their coupling on the set but find themselves in a budding romance off screen. The movie takes place around Christmas time which adds to the joyous feel good mood which emanates from the screen. There is a great soundtrack which facilities the exciting emotions sprouting forth before us.

The title suggests that this movie is a celebration of love. We would beg to differ on this point. Just about all the characters have a relatively superficial relationship and very little knowledge of each other at the point where they believe they are falling in love. Certainly, we understand this could be a very exciting time for people experiencing this great attraction to each other. If this were real life, many of the relationships would soon cool off and unfortunately, it might even taken several years of marriage before they would go their separate ways. So while the title is Love Actually, we think it might better be called Actually Attraction. Nevertheless, it was a great film to watch. The DVD also has an interesting narration of the movie while it is playing by the director-screenwriter, Richard Curtis who discusses the film with some of the well-known actors who appear in it (2003)

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama, Romance

People, Places, Things

June 11th, 2017 — 6:05am

***

People , Places, Things -nf

A man walks in on his wife’s infidelity. The marriage is over and we follow Will Henry (Jemaine Clement), a graphic artist as he tries to get on with his life at the same time that he stays involved with his grade school aged twin daughters (Audrea and Gia Gadsby). Yes, he meets another woman (Regina Hall) and also his wife (Stephanie Allynne) does have second thoughts.

The fact that the film makers could not come up with a more meaningful title may reflect the rather superficial nature of this story. We did feel the pain of the protagonist and we can’t helping thinking that the director/screenwriter Jim Strouse was telling a story of someone he knew quite well. It also was an interesting attempt to show how comic illustrations often can help tell a story in more depth. Unfortunately we did not feel that the film achieved this to any significant degree. ( 2015)

 

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

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