Category: 3 Stars


Arrival

November 12th, 2016 — 7:47pm

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As the title indicates and as we learn early in the film, our planet has been visited by 12 extraterrestrial oval-shaped gigantic spaceships at various locations throughout the world. Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is an outstanding linguist who is recruited by the United States military to try to communicate with the heptatopod-shaped gigantic aliens who are behind a transparent wall on the spaceship that landed in Montana We also learned early in the story line that Louise has suffered the loss of a beloved daughter through illness (or is it that she will suffer the tragic loss of a daughter in the future). The reason for the confusion (and you will be confused) is because one of the themes of the film is that the aliens don’t experience time in a linear fashion as do we earthlings. Obviously, this is reflected in the complicated language which Dr. Banks is trying to decode. We know that other governments are also trying to figure out if the spaceship in their country is dangerous to them. Will this invasion bring the world together?

As you can imagine, the language of the aliens is very complicated and we learned in a post film discussion with Eric Heisserer, the screenwriter, that the filmmaker tried to make some logic in the visuals of the written language that was shown on the screen (although we are quite sure that no viewer could understand it). In fact part of the problem with the film, aside from the non-human way of thinking, was that the dialogue was frequently drowned out by loud special effect sounds supposedly coming from the aliens or perhaps from a weird musical soundtrack. The screenwriter Heisserer confessed to us that he at times couldn’t hear some of the dialogue also but it didn’t bother him because he knew it since he wrote it (thanks a lot). In addition, most of the movie was in the dark, not only on the spacecraft or in the US government tents and buildings surrounding it, but also outside (we seem to recall from a vacation or two out there, that part of the country does have sunshine).

The star and centerpiece of the film is Amy Adams who does her trademark wide eye, thoughtful face as well as an intensity which her role requires. She is surrounded by Oscar nominated Jeremy Renner and Oscar winner Forest Whitaker as well as veteran actor Michael Stuhlbarg, all who really have small minor roles which could have been handled by many no name actors or by people not as well known as them.

The film director Denis Villeneuve worked closely with screenwriter Eric Heisserer who said that he also stayed in close touch with Ted Chiang who wrote the story upon which the film was based. We just are not sure how many viewers will tune in to their wavelength. We know that many science fiction fans will enjoy giving this movie a try (2016).

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Infinitely Polar Bear

November 6th, 2016 — 4:38am

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The title of this film apparently is meant to capture the theme in which the main character has a “bipolar condition”. Cameron (Mark Ruffalo), despite at times being mentally out of control, is really a loving husband to his wife, Maggie (Zoe Saladana) and their two adorable girls.

While  we didn’t think that the clinical picture of bipolar was typical but of course bipolar or manic depression can be overlaid on many different types of personalities and can occur in various family configurations. We are also told that the movie is based on a true story. The setting was the mid 1970s. “Bipolar” wasn’t actually a term that was used until the 1980s as the condition was known as manic depression at that time. Lithium was the main medication used to treat it and we see in the film Cam taking this medication or not taking it and having an exacerbation of his symptoms. The new mood stabilizers that are used today were not yet developed during the time period of the film.

The story line of the film deals with other significant topics in addition to mental illness. Cam and Maggie are an interracial couple and we see that one of their children questions whether she is “black” because she resembles her white dad as compared to her sister who is more like her mother’s appearance. The simple but clear manner in which Maggie handles this child’s question was done very well. Maggie goes to New York to pursue graduate school with the plan to visit Cam and the kids in Massachusetts every weekend for a year and a half. When she completes her education and attempts to get a job with a prestigious Boston firm, it appears that they don’t offer her the job because she is a working mom who is leaving dad at home. There is also a story line which shows how unsophisticated so called established wealthy families can be, illustrated by Cam’s family not approving of the non-traditional roles that Cam and Maggie have taken on and also demonstrated how they show very little understanding of their son’s mental illness (at least in the setting in time period of this movie).

We are left with a touching movie which gives us a taste of the struggles of the family that we come to care about. Maya Forbes the writer director did a wonderful job in developing the setting and the personalities  of all the characters. We had feelings for them and we’re rooting for them. This is a sign of a good movie. It was sweet although not very complex but we suggest that you consider seeing it. (2015)

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

I Smile Back

October 28th, 2016 — 5:54am

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This film is certainly a wonderful showcase for the acting talents of the versatile Sarah Silverman who is well-recognized as an outstanding comedian, writer and producer as well as an actor. In this movie, she inhabits the character of Laney Brooks who is married to Bruce, a successful insurance agent (Josh Charles). She is the mother of two adorable children. However underneath it all she is shown to be a disturbed, philandering, cocaine sniffing, alcoholic who fails at an attempt at rehab.

The screenplay by Amy Koppelman and Paige Dylan (daughter-in-law of Bob Dylan) provides a hint of the underlying psychodynamics of this woman, as we learn that the main character’s father left Laney’s mother when she was 9 and never made attempts to contact her. At one point, we are briefly informed that Laney has also stopped taking her Lithium. This would tell us that she also has a bipolar condition which might consist of severe mood swings with deep depression or psychotic manic episodes or both. We know from our clinical experience that shaky unstable childhood relationships can lead to a troubled-adult life but when mixed with an inborn bipolar disorder it can be even more problematic. When substance abuse especially cocaine and alcohol are added to the mix, families are often destroyed, lives ruined and the results can be fatal one way or the other.

Truthfully we are not sure when the main character is actually “smiling back.” The story is a depressing one itself with no light seen at the end of tunnel. There were some moments of decent treatment interactions which were overall sadly unsuccessful. While it is not the purpose of a movie to promote mental health treatment, one of us only wishes that it could have been worked into the film in a more positive manner. While not thrilled by how the story line was carried out, we can recommend this film as an example of an acting triumph by Ms. Silverman.(2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Room

September 7th, 2016 — 6:44am

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You probably have some idea of the plot of this movie as we did when we decided to view it one evening. A young woman is abducted and held hostage in an 11-foot by 11-foot room with only a skylight facing the real world. Her abductor has the code to the steel locked door. He visits her regularly in order to rape her. After about a year, she becomes pregnant and raises her son, Jack, in this confined space. We meet them when Jack is turning five years old. His television set is his only window on the outside but he doesn’t actually believe what he sees on it is “real”. This raises an interesting thought; do we all really know what is out there in the wide universe beyond our experience on our small planet Earth. For all we know, we have a very narrow perspective on “life”. We don’t think this was the overt theme of this film but it may have stimulated more than meets the eye.

More concretely, the movie takes us through the dramatic freeing of mother and child from their prison. We struggle with Jack and his mother as they attempt to reintegrate from this experience. In this regard, We found it incongruous that a mother who is so close to her child due to these circumstances could contemplate abandoning him. So, the story is one that tries to show the “power of guilt”.

The other power of this movie is the Academy Award-winning experience of Brie Larson as the mother and the amazing performance of the very young man, Jacob Tremblay who plays the child.

Thanks to the direction of Lenny Abrahamson and the novel and screenplay by Emma Donoghue, we are treated to a highly unusual story. Despite the great acting and the unusual plot, we felt that the film was lacking in drama and could have used more depth. We are only given a glimpse on the impact on the young woman’s parents played by Joan Allen and William H. Macy who lost their daughter for seven years ago when she was 17 years old. Overall, this movie could have been done better but it will be memorable to all who see it. (2015).

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Audrie & Daisy

August 23rd, 2016 — 8:19pm

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Every high school student and probably many preteens and their parents/grandparents and close family members should see this documentary film. The husband and wife filmmaking team of Bonnie Cohen and Jon Shenk mainly focuses on the lives of three teenage girls and their families who lived in different parts of the country but had similar experiences. This involves teenagers sending naked pictures through the internet, alcohol, parties, rape, and subsequent humiliations. In the case of one girl there was a fatal outcome. Part of the film is seen through the eyes of two of the boys who carried out the attacks on one girl who was 14 years old at the time and apparently unconscious from drinking.

It would appear that neither the parents of teenagers coming of age nor the teachers, school system, or even the criminal justice system seem adequately prepared to deal with this emerging tragic social phenomenon. It is being fueled by a changing Internet which is best understood by the young people of today some of whom end up hurt and damaged by it. Not only does the Internet provide readily available pornography but it also becomes a vehicle for girls responding to requests from boys for nude pictures of themselves, as a badge of popularity. The result and changes in sexual standards are enhanced by readily available alcohol and marijuana. This film shows caring parents who may have thought they were sophisticated about sexual issues in their children but found out that they were basically clueless.

The majority of people who were experiencing some of the tragic sexual consequences demonstrated in this film would understandably be reluctant to publicly describe their plight. Therefore it is a great accomplishment for the filmmakers that they were able to find some brave young women and their families who were willing to speak up and are motivated to action in order to prevent similar tragedies for others. We also meet the very thoughtful brother of one of the rape victims who not only reflected on how he felt but also what he is motivated to do to address this problem.

We could find some faults with the continuity of the storyline and the abrupt changes and locations. We would have also liked to have seen a better examination of the legal issues which are an important part of the story. However there is enough in this documentary film to be a “game changer” in this crucial issue concerning the destructive use of the Internet in our country. Netflix is now onboard with this film and should greatly facilitate its distribution. It opens up September 23rd in Los Angeles and New York. It should also be available soon for home screen viewing. We also understand that there is a roll-out plan for schools to use it with backup educational material. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

Florence Foster Jenkins

August 17th, 2016 — 7:29am

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Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) was a rich woman who thought she could sing opera music well but, in reality, clearly sang poorly and off-key. St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) was her “husband” who may have originally connected with her because of her money but after 15 years appeared to truly love her and to try to protect her from the outside world that would laugh and ridicule her when she might sing in clubs or when she became a little grandiose by deciding to make a vinyl record of her singing as well as schedule a concert at Carnegie Hall. Hugh Grant is quite believable as the loving but philandering partner. Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) was a young pianist who became her accompanist. The setting is New York in the 1940s. Stephen Frears, the director, Nicholas Martin the screenwriter and the brilliance of Ms. Streep have presented Florence Foster Jenkins as a very sympathetic character who lives with a chronic illness of the time, has apparently accepted an arrangement where Bayfield has his own apartment (and his own mistress). She loves music and doesn’t have a clue about her lack of talent.

The artistic accomplishment of Ms. Streep who apparently in real life in addition to being an Academy Award-winning actress is an accomplished singer, is acting as a dreadful singer . This could be another Academy Award-winning experience for her. But the big surprise in this film is the work of Simon Helberg (well-known for his 10 seasons on the TV Show “The Big Bang Theory”). His facial expressions along with his actual accomplished piano playing as the accompanist are a major part of the film presentation. There was no dubbing of the music here; it was all done in live takes with a musical score by veteran music composer Alexandre Desplat. You come away from viewing this movie by scratching your head and saying, “Did this really happen?” The closing credits document that it really did. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy

Indignation

August 17th, 2016 — 7:13am

***

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When we think of Philip Roth whose book this movie was based upon, we think of Jewishness, some kind of sex and guilt as vividly described in Roth’s best-selling book Portnoy’s Complaint and many other of his books. Sure enough these were the main ingredients of this film directed by James Schamus who also wrote the screenplay.

Marcus (Logan Lerman), a young man from New Jersey (as was Roth) is going away to a midsized college in Ohio (Roth went to Bucknell in Pennsylvania) in the 1950s as the Korean War was getting started. At the school, women have to be back in their dormitory at 9:00 p.m., Jewish students can belong to all Jewish fraternities and there are a certain number of required attendances which are expected at the weekly chapel services. Marcus, the main character, is Jewish and an atheist, a non-frat type of a guy with no real experience with the opposite sex. The story is vintage Roth and the audience where we saw the film seemed to be of an age which grew up reading Philip Roth as we did.

Marcus, who is inflamed with his ideals, neurotic as they may be and saddled with his hang-ups, grabs our attention as he encounters the authoritative Dean of students (Tracy Letts). The movie allows us to really get inside this young man’s head and feel his pain. It also is a period piece which recalls campus life in the 1950s at a time that our country was once again at war.

One major deficit of the movie is that we do not very well understand the young woman Olivia Hutton, (Sarah Gadon) who Marcus encounters at college. She obviously has some severe emotional conflicts but there is not enough expression of them or back story to satisfy the mental health professional part of us and therefore, much of this important character comes across as quite shallow. This takes away from the overall storyline and the experience of the movie. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Cafe Society

July 25th, 2016 — 1:55am

***

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This movie is set in the 1930’s, which is more of the generation of Woody Allen’s parents than his own. Yet the film is in the voice of Allen who not only actually narrates the movie but also directed and produced it. The central character, Bob, played so well by Jesse Eisenberg, speaks and acts with Allen’s inflections and mannerisms.

The story opens in the Bronx (Allen’s hometown) and we see Bob is leaving to seek his fortune in Hollywood where his uncle Phil Stern (Steve Carell) is a successful movie agent for the stars and he hopes will give him a job. Stern is seemingly happily married for 25 years but he’s having an affair and falling in love with his very young secretary (Kristin Stewart) who no doubt is half his age (sounds familiar?). Complication of complications, young Bob meets Veronica and there is much chemistry between them.

As is typical for an Allen movie, there is an intriguing plot but also great character development. The action of the film shifts back and forth between Hollywood and New York and we get to know Bob’s family. We meet his mother, as you would expect, his father who is a failed jeweler, his sister and her husband who is a outspoken communist, as well as Bob’s brother who is a gangster who occasionally kills people.

Hollywood and New York of the 1930’s are vividly brought to life with clothes, cars, and people as real and true to life as they could be. The casting is wonderful (by Juliet Taylor as usual) and as would be expected, there is period music throughout the movie.

This may not be Allen’s best film but Allen aficionados will not be disappointed and everyone will be reminded about how wonderful and complicated it can be to fall in love. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama

Welcome To The Men’s Group

June 6th, 2016 — 4:53am

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When Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice came out in 1969, it dealt with Encounter Groups which were part of the hip and bit generation, it became a mega hit. The team that just produced Welcome To The Men’s Group, hopes that this film will ride the crest of a growing men’s movement which is as far as we can see is not anywhere a part of the contemporary scene as were the popular Encounter Groups of the 1970’s.

The force behind this movie are the screenwriters, Scott Ben-Yashar and Joseph Culp, with the latter directing the movie. It had to be a real feat to pull together these eight accomplished actors: Phil Abrams, Mackenzie Astin, Timothy Bottoms, David Clennon, Terence Rotolo, Ali Saam, Stephen Tobolowsky and of course, Joseph Culp himself, who is also an important player in the movie. Their interaction was magnificent as the entire film takes place during a three to four-hour encounter session in one location (The actual movie time was 130 minutes – a bit on the long side). The theme that seems to stand out is that you get messed up psychologically if you don’t have good interaction with your father. The group has intense interaction and frank discussions with each other in an attempt to make for the lack of that fathering. We didn’t think the storyline was psychologically strong. There was a particularly intense monologue by Tobolowsky and another one, by Culp. However, the attempt in exploring masculinity seemed to turn into slapstick comedy. This was illustrated by an extended show of male nudity by all the characters which deteriorated into singing and dancing which didn’t seem to resonate psychologically or emotionally with us (But it could have been just us).

The entire cast who we met at our screening seems dedicated to the concept of this movie and are working to promote it. They will be working with the Men’s Group Movement in trying to use social media to connect with potential viewers of the film who are empathic to the Men’s Group concepts. They also have some thoughts about bringing the story to the stage and perhaps spinning it into a TV series. Stay tuned. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama

Money Monster

June 5th, 2016 — 6:22pm

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George Clooney and Julia Roberts are a combination that usually would be a must see movie for us. We weren’t disappointed this time but the plot is a stretch to make this a great movie.

A disgruntled young man (Jack O’Connell) is quite upset that he lost his $60,000 listening to the advice of TV money guru, Lee Gates (George Clooney). He breaks on to the TV set and puts the money man into a bomb jacket with his thumb on the detonator. Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) is the TV director behind the scenes talking into the earpiece in Gates’ ear. The plot involves a company led by a shady CEO by the name of Walt Camby (Dominic West) who claims it was a computer glitch that caused his company to lose $800,000. All of this is taking place “on air” with the New York City Police responding to this dramatic event. This theme could have ripped from the current headlines. After all, one of the presidential contenders is warning us about the unsavory deals of all the Wall Street guys.

Director Jodie Foster is pulling the strings behind this movie and does a pretty good job. She may have missed one detail as one of us thought that the Dow Jones average shown on the screen that was at the bottom of the TV screen as the action was taking place on camera never changed, so that must have been a slip up.

In the end, we are left with the idea that the financial markets are subject to the behind-the-scenes activities of unsavory people, and you better be careful listening to them. That probably is a bad rap about most of them (at least we hope so). (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

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