December 9th, 2012 — 10:27pm
The Deep- sp
It is easy to see why this movie is currently the #1 film in Iceland and is that country’s entry for the best foreign film. It is a fairly authentic depiction of the frigid North Atlantic Ocean and a man’s survival in it for 6 freezing hours. This true story is well known to inhabitants of this country and especially those from the off shore island from where this ill fated fishing trawler departed. It is here that we meet the small crew the night before as they get ready to leave their friends, families and, for some, the usual night out on the town. The viewer is lulled into the boring routine of another fishing excursion in the brutal cold water trawling the nets for fish. Without warning we are thrown into the water with Gulli (Olafur Darri Olafsson) as he creates with the help of director Baltasar Kormakur the journey which defied medical science. Kormakur did not have CGI effects or a large bathtub to film this picture and actually used the real sea, huge waves and all. Credit should go to this team for the realism which they achieved (even though we felt that it looked like the hero was treading water most of the time rather than swimming a distance which was documented (although his rescuers and doctors said they could not believe was true.) Nevertheless, the overall effect was quite dramatic and knowing that it was a true story, we shared the awe that the doctors had after extensively examining this man after this feat. ( 2012)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History
November 18th, 2012 — 9:37pm
A Late Quartet-rm
A famous successful string quartet makes great music together for twenty five years but their individual lives are now on the verge of producing some very bad notes. We are introduced to this group as we learn that Peter Mitchell (Christopher Walken) the older, most mature and stable member of the group learns that he has the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease and will probably have to step down from the group. The possibility of change and perhaps a new member of the group creates a window for Writer /Director Yaron Zilberman to show the audience the vulnerabilities and weaknesses of the other 3 characters. Robert (played magnificently as usual by Phiilip Seymore Hoffman) decides he doesn’t want to play 2nd fiddle anymore and wants to in the future alternate first violin with Daniel (Mark Ivenir) who now has that role. Robert is devastated when his wife Juliette (Catherine Keener) also a member of the quartet doesn’t agree and has actually talked it over with Daniel. He of course, doesn’t want to share the role of top banana with Robert. In fact Daniel who probably has been a repressed musical genius has an affair with Robert and Catherine’s daughter Alexandra (Imogene Potts) to whom he has been giving violin lessons and who had been flirting with him. He seems devastated when she ultimately rejects him. In the course of this situation her mother comes down hard on Alexandra’s poor judgment which leads Alexandra to vehemently respond what a failure Juliette has been as a mother especially since she and her father were not around 7 months of the year, always being on tour. We are led to believe if they can really get into the music especially Beethoven’s opus 131, all be ok. It almost works because the music really carries the movie. When you see them play together (the actors were taught to move their fingers in the correct manner) you believe that everything is going to be back in balance with a new equilibrium. That is the power of music and some very good acting. (2012)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Musical
October 1st, 2012 — 2:09am
Pitch Perfect- sp
It is hard to believe that the script for this film was written and the deal signed for the movie before the TV Series Glee showed it’s first episode. This is the Glee kids go to college and join an a cappella singing group, compete in the regional finals and ultimately in the big finals at Lincoln Center. (It has nothing to do with that popular TV series). But, it still has various types (or stereotypes) of kids in the group and the singing and dancing are great. The story line is as you would expect with no big surprises but you still root for your favorites and you are moved by their determination and energy. The humor is clever and effective and there is lots of it. The photography of the singing and dancing (all without musical accompaniment since it is a cappella) is really done well. Think of those musicals with Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers with camera work from all angles and everyone looks great. Although we were not familiar with most of the songs, the energy and moods were easily conveyed. Much of the credit for the successful translation of this musical event to the screen goes to Jason Moore who makes his movie-directing debut. Why did the powers that be trust a first time movie director with a musical extravaganza? Well, he directed the wildly successful Broadway musical Avenue Q and clearly knew what he was doing. Anna Kendrick who received an Academy Award nomination as supporting actress in Up in the Air now shows she can dance and sing. So do a large group of young actors and actresses including Skylar Astin, Ben Platt, Brittany Snow , Anna Camp and Rebel Wilson all who we are sure we will hear more about in the future. (2012)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Musical
September 19th, 2012 — 6:14am
You probably know about the controversy over whether Shakespeare wrote the well known works attributed to him Well imagine for a minute that William Shakespeare was a very good writer but couldn’t really get his first play published. For the sake of this argument, let us imagine that a man by the name of William Stanley writes just one story which is a great masterpiece but he loses the manuscript. Shakespeare, somehow found the manuscript and it is accepted for publication in his name. He then gets great acclaim and everyone wanted more writings. Since in fact he really was a good writer he produces a lot more stuff which is received very well although he didn’t write the first piece. In our imaginative story, Shakespeare goes on to fame and fortune and Stanley the writer of the first great piece, that opened the door for Shakespeare lives a mediocre life. The movie we are reviewing has nothing to do with Shakespeare or Stanley but the above situation is the essence of the fascinating plot of this movie.
Bradley Cooper plays Rory Jansen, a struggling young writer, who gets great praise by a literary agent for his first novel but he is told it isn’t really publishable. Dora (Zoe Saldena) is his girl friend who stands behind him and believes he will some day make it. Dennis Quaid plays the same writer at an older age maybe 10-15 years after he finally came up with that first great novel which set him on the path as a great writer. He is now on tour with his second or third novel. Jeremy Irons plays an old man who we see reaching out to this successful writer and confronting him with some very true but bad news for him about who really wrote his first novel. Nora Amerzaler plays the girl friend of the old man when he was a young man. They had a wonderful romance in France after the War which went on the rocks when she lost his novel in a briefcase on a train when coming to visit him.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is really a story within a story. It presents the audience with the ethical dilemma of what one should do if one had chosen to publish a found manuscript in your own name and then found out who really wrote it. What would the consequences be to you, your agent, your publisher and others if you came clean with what you did years ago when you lied. What should you do now, especially if the original author isn’t demanding that you acknowledge him?
If everything seems somewhat convoluted now , it is because it really is. The screen writers and co-directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal deserve to be applauded for this complex but feasible story. The execution of the film was difficult. While ambiguity is thought provoking, the film could have a been little clearer as it rolled out it’s complex story but in the end the film worked and we walked out of the theatre stimulated to have a lively discussion about it which lingers on in our thoughts .
The film does raise a burning question and that is whether the screen play was inspired by real events? In the film, the manuscript was found in store where it somehow was noted that Hemmingway had some connection. There are stories of this great writer having stored some unpublished manuscripts that have never been discovered. Perhaps they have been found and published in the finder’s name. Or maybe this script is based on a true event about some movie idea or TV show that was credited to someone who found the idea in a “cookie jar” or overheard someone discussing it at a party. In any case it is a thought provoking plot and a good film.
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Romance
July 24th, 2012 — 9:37pm
In the Land of Blood and Honey-nf –Most people probably have some understanding that there was a very bitter civil war in the former Yugoslavia, now Bosnia and Herzegovina which took place between 1992-1995. The acclaimed actress Angelina Jolie who has served as UN Goodwill Ambassador during her travels learned some the details of the horrors of this conflict which included attempts at ethnic cleansing mostly by the Bosnian Serbs against the Bosnian Croats many of whom have Moslem background. This led her to write this screenplay which she directed and co-produced. It is the story of Danijel (Goran Kostic), a Bosnian Serb soldier serving under his father’s command who encounters his pre-war girl friend, Ajla (Zana Marjonovic) when she is captured by his troops and forced to work as a sex slave. She has seen the able bodied men of her city rounded up and systematically executed while so many of the women are brutally raped and made to serve the captors. Yet she is drawn into this complex and conflicted relationship with Danijel. In a most painful 2 hours and 7 minutes the horrors of this war taking place in and around the city of Sarajevo which is in a state of siege are shown. There were many graphic and dramatic scenes. Using women as hostage shields as the Serbs approached their enemy who were firing from a building was quite unforgettable. Some of the dialog between the characters attempted to describe the history of this conflict but it is much too complex for it to be clearly appreciated . We are given the impression that the Serbs were the really bad people in this conflict, which was probably true. The romance between the two lovers is also shown to be quite complex and we are never sure of Ajla’s true feelings about her captor/lover. Both of the lead actors were born in this region of the world and there were two versions of the film made, one in English and the other in their native language. It must of have been quite an accomplishment for Jolie to pull off the latter feat. It was difficult enough for us to absorb the full meaning of this terrible period of history even in English. (2011)
1 comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History, Romance, War
July 20th, 2012 — 7:07am
Robot & Frank – sp The setting of this movie is “some time in the near future.” Frank(Frank Langella), an older man living alone, who may be having some memory problems is visited by his son(James Marsden) who drops off a robot (voice by Peter Sarsgaard) to be his servant/companion. The robot cleans the house, cooks the meals and becomes a meaningful object in Frank’s life. As this very clever story begins to examine the relationship between man and machine, it also allows a look at a film load of life issues. There is the father/son thing especially when father has been away at his own doing for long periods of time and maybe wasn’t the best of dads. The searchlight is put on aging and how an old guy can get marginalized and might want to feel he still is in the game. Not only is there the question of will machines take on human personas in the future but we are reminded that we may be on a path where technology take away things like the intimacy of being able to read and share an actual paper book. All these themes and more are examined as our Don Quixote like character and his faithful Sancho Panza type robot tilt at Frank’s windmills. The closest thing to a Dulcinea is the warm hearted librarian (Susan Sarandon) who has a good reason to have a special spot in her heart for Frank. This is all a lot going on in a tender movie about a robot that originally started off as a short film as part of the NYU Film School studies of C.D. Ford who expanded that project to this screen play along with his then classmate Jake Schreier who directs his first feature film. They now have a really good movie with an award winning performance by Frank Langella. (2012)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama
July 18th, 2012 — 7:21am
Restrepo- Most boys ( and maybe some girls these days ) while growing up play soldier and war. As kids we can recall some war movies that I thought were pretty good. Now days there are the futuristic blockbuster war movies. In most of these films there is lots of action, soldiers are killed, there is a good cause and usually a hero with whom the viewers will identify. On the other hand there is this documentary film, the real story of small platoon of soldiers in Afghanistan as recorded by reporter Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hertherington who were embedded with this fighting unit. They were assigned to the strategic Korengal Valley and they had to establish an outpost in the midst of the Taliban. Early on in a firefight, one of their group is the first to be killed. They subsequently named this outpost after him, Restrepo. There is no glory or heroic actions (although it is fair to say that they are all heroes). You can see how the memories of their friend stays with them and lingers on as do all the effects of this experience There is constant fear, anxiety, shooting at the enemy or being shot at, having to go on frightening patrols and hanging around in their lonely little fortress which seems so vulnerable. While this gallant group seems to know what they are fighting for, the viewer is never given a very clear picture. It is somehow to let the local people build a road and be helped by the US so they won’t favor the Taliaban. We haven’t figured out if this was the right war for the US to be in and for how long and how we should have fought it. However, we do come away with the feeling that if there has to be this kind of a war, these young men were trained how to do it and were good at it. But we know, so many of them paid a heavy price by loss of life and limb as well as a continued emotional toll. One year after this movie came out and received an Oscar nomination, the co- filmmaker Tim Hertherington was killed, at 40 years of age, while covering the conflict in Libya. (2010)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, War
June 15th, 2012 — 1:51am
Paul Williams Still Alive- sp Filmmaker Stephen Kessler grew up and came of age in the 1970s and 80s and was a big fan of the music and of the personality of Paul Williams. He had thought that Williams had faded from the scene. Therefore he was quite surprised when a few years ago he found out that his music hero was alive and well. He read that Williams was still writing and performing music. He tracked down 65-year-old Williams at a concert in Winnipeg, Canada where he was playing to an enthusiastic but older crowd. Kessler proposed that he would make a documentary film about the career of Williams. His proposal was politely turned down but Kessler persisted and ultimately made the film with William’s agreement. In an unorthodox documentary style, the film chronicles how Kessler gradually won over Williams to allow him to make this loving tribute. He used flashbacks, mainly in the form of film clips and videotapes of Williams and many others performing his songs. Early music such as the Carpenters singing We have Just Begun and Rainy Days and Mondays as well as many others such as Cried Like a Baby and Talk It Over In the Morning. He co wrote many songs including the music sung by Jim Hensen as Kermet the Frog. He wrote for TV shows such as Happy Days and wrote and sang the music for the TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble that starred John Travolta. Williams was nominated for multiple Academy Awards for writing the best music in a motion picture and won the Oscar for Evergreen in the movie A Star is Born which was co-written and performed by Barbra Streisand. Williams’ status as a pop icon was confirmed by the fact that he was a guest 50 times on the Johnny Carson show. Although 5’2” he was giant in the music industry. Williams himself admits that his fame went to his head and he seemed embarrassed when Kessler showed him some of his old tapes. He came across in them as a self-centered person who was caught up with his own fame and success. Drugs and alcohol became a mainstay of his life. He subsequently had treatment and now has been sober for over 20 years. His wife Marianna is frequently shown at his side in the movie and it is obvious that she and his two children are very meaningful to him. He has evolved to where he clearly cares about people and is deeply passionate about music, not only his own but the music of other composers. He is now President of ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, which is a very powerful organization fighting for the rights of all songwriters. Paul Williams has come a long way and as the title states is “still alive” in every sense of the word.(2012)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Documentary, Musical
May 17th, 2012 — 4:52am
Where Do We Go Now? sp—It could have been New York City and the gang war between the Jets and the Sharks as seen in Westside Story. Or perhaps it could be the Bloods and the Crypts who in reality have an uneasy truce in Los Angeles which usually prevents them from killing each other. However this movie takes us to small village in Lebanon (although the name of the country is never mentioned to suggest a certain universality to the theme). In this case there are two factions Muslims and Christians with their respective houses of worship being literally facing each other. They live side by side in this small village but all too often friction occurs and the men are at each other and young men die. It is not this way with the women of this village who are friends and share their mourning and grief as they periodically bury their men. Second time Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki who wrote, directed and starred in this movie was inspired to create this movie shortly after she had her first child and was in anguish over a political rift in her country during which men were fighting in the street. She was moved to consider how horrible it must be to raise your son in this environment. She wrote a screenplay of what might happen if the women of this village were to get together and conspire to stop this senseless killing of the boys and men. The result is a poignant and comedic fable, which reminds us what women can do when they work together to try to protect their families. Ms. Labaki is not only inspired but is very talented. She created this movie using mostly non-actors, who often worked from the concept of a scene rather than following a tight script. Nevertheless there were some particularly authentic dramatic moments, which were done quite well. It did take a little while for us to get completely oriented to the storyline and the 100 minutes running time could have been edited more tightly. The theme partially echoes an Albanian film The Forgiveness of Blood where ancient traditions of mediation are used to try to prevent the feuds but in the current film Ms Labaki‘s instincts clearly focuses on the power of women. (2012)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign
May 16th, 2012 — 7:18am
Last Call at the Oasis- sp – People kill for it and we all are dependent on it. This documentary is all about it and it is “water”. It may not be a total surprise to you but the global water crisis will be the central issue facing our world this century. This film puts a human face on the struggle around the impact of global warming in areas such as the Central Valley in California which is drying up. You can look into the eyes of people from various communities in Texas, the Midwest and elsewhere. You can see how industrial chemicals are doing their damage to people through our water supply. You see an illustration in one locality where you could actually get a flash flame by putting a match to water coming from the faucet. You meet the real Erin Brockovitch (made famous by her film portrayal by Julia Roberts) who is still fighting for people suffering the effects of contaminated water. You also meet an everyday Midwestern housewife who achieved well deserved recognition when she went on a campaign to measure and demonstrate the impurity of the water in her community. The film doesn’t offer simple solutions. It makes the case for conservation of water and the urgent need to rethink agricultural techniques and urban water use. One of the many things that can be done is the recycling of our waste water which technology allows us to do but too many people are reluctant to consider. The film is directed and produced by Jessica Yu with major support from Participation Media which has supported many social action films such as Waiting for Superman, Inconvenient Truth, Darfur Now, The Help and many others. You will come away from this movie much better informed and most likely inspired to do something about one of the major global problems areas of your lifetime. However, you may, in fact feel frustrated and overwhelmed. At the conclusion of the film in very small print for a brief moment there are some websites which are listed which should have been shown in bold type across the entire screen. One of these sites is Takepart.com/lastcall. On it you will learn 10 easy ways you can conserve water as well as interesting facts such as that in poor parts of the world people live on 2.5 gallons of water /day, a 60 watt light bulb requires 5 gallons of water for every hour it is left on, toilets can use as much as 7 gallons/flush, the average household uses 350 gallons of water/day. There is also a story of one accident which spilled 3 million gallons of manure into the Black River in NY causing an unimaginable amount of water pollution. You can all learn how to sign the Water Bill of Rights or get the National Geographic water calculator to test your true water footprint. This is the potential of this film to inform you and move you to action.
Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary