Category: 3 Stars


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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Jackie & Ryan -sp

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

Jimmy’s Hall

June 18th, 2015 — 6:22pm

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Jimmy’s Hall – sp

This is a touching film made by veteran director, Ken Loach who is mostly known for his acclaimed work in Europe, with a screenplay by Paul Laverty. It deals with an important part of Irish history with which most Americans are not very familar. It is based on a real character, Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) who was an idealistic Irish leader whose main claim to fame, was running Jimmy’s Hall in an obscure Irish  town, first in the 1920s and then 10 years later, in the 1930s. In this hall, (which was really a home or a cabin) men, women and children would gather to sing the popular music of the time and likewise do the popular dances, children would also sing and dance and learn history and some of the older boys would learn how to box. There would be lively discussions and a good time would be had by all. So what is wrong with this? Where is the conflict and where is the story? While we are not intimately familiar with Irish history and the film does not spell everything out to be crystal clear, we do know there was great turmoil in Ireland during this time period. In particular, the Catholic Church vividly depicted by Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) did not like the idea that people would dance and sing or even learn outside the auspices of the church. There was also a great economic and social upheaval notably between Ireland and Great Britain during this time as well as class warfare between the prosperous landowners and the workers. There was great dislike by many for socialism and of course for communism when that became an important issue. Jimmy was an idealist who spoke his mind which led to him being deported from Ireland without a trial or even any hearing. There is a sad love element as when Jimmy first returned, he is reunited with his old girlfriend, Oonagh (Simone Kirby) who is now happily married with children but still shares her simmering love for her old boyfriend. That is really the theme of the movie – so many unhappy people who are dealing with political and social issues which were much bigger than all of them. This is a well-done film but it never really breaks out. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History

The Young Kieslowskik

June 12th, 2015 — 10:36pm

***

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 11.27.18 PMThe Young Kieslowski – sp

This is a very well done film by screenwriter and Director Kerem Sanga which examines a universal issue for young people. Brian (Ryan Malgarini) is a somewhat naïve, still a virgin college student. He meets Leslie (Haley Lu Richardson) at a party. She is drunk and a little flirtatious. They have consensual sex as she is sobering up and he is having a few drinks. Despite the fact that they used a condom, she becomes pregnant (apparently, that can happen 2% of the time)…with twins…and she decides that she wants to carry the pregnancy to term and keep the babies. We meet her father, Walter (James Le Gros) who is a tough as nails writer who has written bestsellers about war. We also meet Brian’s parents. His Dad is a warm, very supportive guy (Joshua Malina) who is very devoted to his wife (Melora Walters) who is dying of cancer although she still gets around quite well.

The story is seen through the eyes of Brian who is really lying most of the time when he says, he wants the babies and goes along with the plan of his girl friend We are also able to see that he is very conflicted because he wants to do the right thing. On the other hand, we never really understand why Leslie from the beginning wants to go forth with the pregnancy with all the implications that it has for her life. The insight into Brian is achieved by a voiceover of what he is thinking with some film scenes of his fantasies.The attraction of the film is the likeability of all the characters and the insight that we get into the struggle of both of these young people and their parents.

I suppose the Pro Life people might jump on this film as supporting their point of view although the story made it clear that Leslie was not driven by religious Christian views.

This is another one of these low budget independent films that has a great cast, superb writing, and directing which will hold your interest and attention, stimulate questions, and discussions as well as being an enjoyable experience. It should be in local theaters by July24th. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Entourage

June 8th, 2015 — 6:16am

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Entourage – rm

You probably need to have been a fan of the HBO TV series by the same name to appreciate this movie which was directed by Doug Ellin who also wrote the screen play of the movie and the TV series. It is the story of five very likeable guys who are living the stereotypical Hollywood life style. There is Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) handsome movie star who is very generous and caring to his buddies, Johnny Drama Chase (Kevin Dale) Vincent’s brother who is a wannabe actor but never quite achieves star quality despite sounding like Sylvester Stallone in  Rocky, Eric Murphy (Kevin Connolly) good looking member of the group who is Vincent’s manager, Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) tag along buddy of the group,  who tends to be the driver when they go wheeling around town and last but certainly not the least Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) who is Vincent’s agent and in this movie has become the head of the movie studio but is still the main supporter of the movie that will star Vincent with a supporting role for his brother. The plot has some complications as the son of a big time Texas backer of the above film, for variety of reasons doesn’t think that the movie should get the extra money that it needs to finish production.

As likeable as this entourage may be, they are living an exaggerated kind of Hollywood style where they are having sex with multiple beautiful girls whether or not they are their girlfriend and at least one pregnancy does occur. The movie is also fun as we get fleeting small roles and cameos by the likes of Warren Buffet, Pharrell Williams, Billy Joel, Piers Morgan, Mark Cuban, David Arquette, David Busey, Bob Saget, Andrew Dice Clay, Mike Tyson, Liam Neeson, Kelsey Grammer, Alyssa Miller, Martin Landau, Matt Lauer, George Takei, and Mark Wahlberg, who is also one of the producers of the film. There are all these beautiful people, many of them driving hot cars all in the midst of the lovely Los Angeles scenery. Yet, there is something very sweet and touching as the entourage is very loyal to and caring about to each other. This somehow neutralized the negativity that we might feel about their decadent lifestyle and makes us feel very warm and fuzzy towards this pack of buddies. But otherwise it is just another episode, a little longer than than their usual tv series. (2015)

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama

Wild

May 31st, 2015 — 11:38pm

Wild -nfScreen Shot 2015-05-31 at 1.42.04 PM

***

We did not choose to go to see this thousand mile trek when it was in the movie theatres but we thought we would give it a try at home via Netflix. What we saw was an admirable performance by Reese Witherspoon, who occupies the screen for just about the entire 1 hour and 55 minutes as her character walks a thousand miles over the entire Pacific Crest Trail by herself from Mexico to Canada. She does this with having little experience in hiking. We see her have some brief encounters with people she meets along the way but she mainly has short flashbacks of her past. She is taking this trip to clear her head of her mother’s death and her own addiction and depression as well as her breakup with her husband because of her promiscuity. It is heart wrenching as she recalls her closeness to her mother as a child and her mother’s dying days of cancer. There is great beauty as we see the magnificent scenery through which she travels. The cinematography of this film is outstanding. It is even more amazing that this is a true story actually lived by a woman by the name of Cheryl Strayed, who wrote about her journey in a very successful book that is the source of this movie. There is no complicated plot with a resolution. “It is what it is.” You can decide if this three month journey sounds like it is worth nearly two hours of your time. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

5 Flights Up

May 11th, 2015 — 6:53am

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5 Flights Up – rm

This movie played to a full theater on a Saturday evening at 5:40 PM, with a full crowd lined up to come in for the next showing. Most were senior citizens.. This is not surprising as Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton play a senior couple.

He is an artist and works at home and she is a retired schoolteacher. They have no children but their dog has just been brought to the vet because she couldn’t walk and appeared to be in pain. By coincidence Morgan Freeman’s character is having trouble walking up the five flights of stairs of the couple’s apartment. They decide that it’s time to sell their Brooklyn apartment and find an apartment with an elevator in Manhattan. Going through this experience with their niece (Cynthia Nixon) who is the real estate agent , became an emotional one which allowed flashbacks to earlier courtship years and among other things the reaction of her mother when they decided to marry. We see the trials and tribulations as people view their apartment and they check out possibilities for a future apartment for themselves. There are repetitive bids and counter bids as their anxiety and ambivalence comes to a crescendo.

The storyline is quite contrived and not very realistic . There also is an extremely negative characterization of the real estate agent. But in the end, most of those moviegoers lining up to see this picture will not be disappointed. They will see a loving couple who are facing life’s challenges with continued affection for each other and will walk away having seen a “feel good movie.” (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Romance

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