Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America -sp If you were looking for an exciting documentary film to watch one evening, you probably would not come up with this film. You might choose one about whales, some aspect of war, the Holocaust, something related to sports or politics. Maybe you would choose Robert Reich’s Inequality for All but chances are you would not think of a film about the man who designed Central Park in New York City and a lot more. However, this very well done film by Emmy nominated husband and wife team documentary film makers Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey has the potential to give you an unforgettable perspective on the beauty and living spaces of your city as well as many other places throughout American and the world. As former New Yorkers, we have spent time over the years enjoying the beauty and comfortable space of Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. We assumed it was simply the original natural beauty that was preserved by our fore fathers. In actuality it was the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted who not only worked on and designed these parks with his colleague Albert Vaux but who fought to convert and build spaces into the magnificent parks with roadways, bridges, water, greenery and a backdrop of one of some of the most magnificent skylines in the world. Similarly Olmsted was also the driving force in setting up a series of parks and wonderfully designed open spaces in Buffalo, New York, which became a model for similar designs throughout the world. The setting, which encompasses Niagara Falls, was converted from a shoddy commercial exploitation to what is rightfully called one of the wonders of the world, thanks again to the work of this man. He became the planner of Boston’s “ Emerald Necklace” of green space and the creator of park systems in many other cities. He helped to make Yosemite the attractive place of beauty that millions of people have visited throughout the years. He played a major role in designing the now beautiful setting that surrounds the U. S. Capitol. He also was the site planner for the “Great White City” of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This unusual story is told with fascinating old photos and breathtaking very well photographed stills and video clips. Being California people now, we especially appreciated the rich autumn colors in many of the locations that were shown. The personal history of this man and his family some of whom carried on his work is another part of the film. Showing this film in schools will not only inform young people about this subject but may also inspire some creative ones to study landscape design and perhaps carry on the tradition which is so well documented in this movie. (2014)
Category: 3 Stars
Killer Mermaid-sp – As readers of this blog well know, we have not previously reviewed movies of the monster genre. However, when circumstances provided us with a preview DVD of such a film, we decided to go for it. This is a Serbian movie in English. It is filmed in Montenegro, Serbia with an experienced director, Milari Todorovic (Apocalypse of the Dead) and starring a veteran actor, Franco Nero (Django) and a group of young actors who have already established themselves in this genre: Kristina Klebe (Rob Zombie’s Halloween), Natalie Burn (The Expendables 3) and Dragon Micanovic (Rocknrolla). The setting could not be more intriguing as a beautiful seaside town with a mysterious island off shore with an old stone prison, where during World War II the Nazis were said to have done some nasty business. Two attractive young women come to visit their old college friend who is at this seaside town with his beautiful fiancee. They meet another young man and decide to explore this island named “Marmula.” The story line will grab your attention and keep your anxiety level high. The script is well constructed and qualities of the characters play out in what is soon to be developed. There is vicious murder, blood and guts, suspense, scary music, surprises, twists and turns, hypnotic enchantment and of course a killer mermaid. She is a combination of outstanding natural beauty and is also about as horrific as you will want to see, all due to a combination of CGI, some very skillful make up and state of the art mask construction. It is well done and deserves to join the growing number of well-received horror films. It will stand out because as best we understand, it is one of the first to use the deep sea and fantasies of living mermaids. As the movie concludes we see a clear set up for a sequel. The film and future follow-ups will stand a very good chance of high success since it has the backing of Epic Pictures which has an outstanding track record of frightening people around the world with some great horror flicks. (2014)
Celeste and Jesse Forever nf- Young couples that start as a high school romance may have tremendous chemistry and compatibility but one or both may not be mature enough to stick it out and allow the couple to develop into a long term relationship. They may breakup early on or split after a couple of years of marriage. They may move on never to forget each other and what could have been. That is life . It also is the essence of this very thoughtful and touching film. Jesse is played by Adam Samberg (of SNL fame but comes across as a serious, sometimes silly but very likeable guy) and Celeste is the successful half of the couple but with still room to grow (played by Rashida Jones who had to have understood this character quite well as she co-wrote the screenplay with Will McCormick who also played a role as a friend). The movie is directed by Lee Toland Krieger, who is under 30, as would seem to be most of the characters in the film. The setting is current day Los Angeles where we see how young people party, drink and smoke weed. It is also where we are led to believe there is opportunity for success if you have talent and you hustle, or find the absence of it, if you don’t make the big effort. This would seem to be in job success as well as romance. This is a light modern romantic comedy that will touch a lot of people. No matter what your age, unless you were born a mature adult, you will probably find something in this movie that could have been you. (2012)
Get On Up –rm This is the story of a young boy from rural Georgia who was abandoned by his parents, raised by madam from a brothel, fascinated by the gospel music in the local church and ultimately became the godfather of soul music. It is about a young man who spent time in jail, who essentially only had himself to rely on and yet always had tremendous belief in himself to the point of being self-centered, egotistical or narcissistic if you will. But in this case, he had the goods. He became a music legend he of course is James Brown.
The film is the brain child of Brian Glazer who is a well known movie and television producer who combined his talent with the skills of another music legend Mick Jagger, who has acknowledged being a great fan and being influenced himself by Brown. Jagger brought his music skills to the film as producer and music director. There are at least two more essential ingredients to this biopic and that would be director Tate Taylor (The Help) and Chadwick Boseman who previously starred as Jackie Robinson in 42.and now becomes James Brown. He does this by his speaking voice, mannerisms and learning the distinctive choreography of Brown’s movements during song and everyday life. This includes his swagger as well as his splits and the special way he whipped a microphone around. There also was some very skillful lip-synching accomplished by Boseman and the actors who played his band and backup singers since the great singing in this movie was the original voice of James Brown.
In addition to Boseman there was some great acting that needs to be acknowledged. Lennie James play Brown’s tough and angry father while Viola Davis was the woman inside the mother of Brown who loved him. yet abandoned and rejected him but still tried to come back when he was a success. Octavia Spencer was the madam in the brothel who took him in and more or less had the heart of gold. Dan Aykroyd was Ben Bart the white Jewish agent who became very close to Brown throughout much of his career and was called papa by him. Neisan Ellis was Bobby Byrd one the most loyal members of the original Flames which was Brown’s first groupbefore Brown became a phenomenon by himself. Brown’s complicated relationship with Byrd reflects his self-image of seeing himself as something very special but yet having a lingering need for close friendship that he may never have found.
On one hand the film used flashbacks to effectively show the genesis of Brown’s unique character but yet they seemed to abruptly pull us away from the engrossing music and the story of how Brown was rising to the top, dealing with racial issues including the country’s response to the death of Martin Luther King as well as how Brown faltered in his personal life. There were many backup players moving in an out of Brown entourage as well as various women and children We could not always be sure who they were in his life which might be defect in the film. In addition, we and at least one other person agreed that the conversations of Brown and some others were not always understandable which could be the dialect, or an audio problem but would seem to be a flaw. The running time of the film was 2 hours and 18 minutes and while we can’t say what should have been cut, it probably could have been shorter. However,we have no complaints in re-experiencing the great music and moves of the incomparable James Brown.(2014)
Obvious Child-rm- If you can relate to women in their late 20s, especially New Yorkers and a situation where they might end up needing an abortion, this film will probably resonate with you. Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) is a 28-year-old single woman living in Manhattan and has a one-night stand and finds herself pregnant. By day she works in a bookstore and by night she is a standup comedian. Gillian Robespierre who directed the film and wrote the screen play based on a story by Elisabeth Holm, Anna Bean, Karen Maine and himself, skillfully used this latter occupation to share with the audience the inner thoughts of this character as her comedy shtick was truthfully talking about her life and whatever she was experiencing. In this case it was a break up with her boyfriend who had an affair with her previously good friend. She then meets Max (Jake Lacy), which leads to a wild night and the “slip up” leading to the pregnancy. The movie is really a comic drama. On one hand we see the empathic feelings of Jenny’s close friend (Gabby Hoffman), her new boy friend and her divorced parents (Polly Draper and Richard Kind). The interaction with her mother did bring out the greatest comedic moment of the film as when Jenny tells mom she has to discuss something very serious with her and then reveals her pregnancy. Mom then responds, “Oh, I was concerned you were going to tell me that you were moving to LA.” Mom however did go on to tell her about her own abortion before her marriage and before it was legal. So this movie is also a political statement that is being released as the controversy about a women’s right for health insurance to cover contraception as well as her right to an unencumbered abortion is back in the headlines. It is therefore also noteworthy that in the credits of this movie there are numerous names of individual people who financially supported this movie as part a “kickstarter” program to get it made.This might be an added incentive to support this film at the box office or on Netflix.. (2014)
Oranges and Sunshine-nf This film is a good example of how we might rate a film 3/5 and yet highly recommend it as one that should be seen by anyone who cares about social injustice. There are many better examples of dramatic films with unforgettable performances by talented actors and directors, which will win Academy Award nominations. But this Australian film directed by Jim Loach with a screenplay by Rona Munro plods along but rivets our attention because it tells the true story of a historical event that we and we are sure many other people had no idea had occurred. It is about a British social worker by the name of Margaret Humphreys who in the 1980s stumbles upon the situation that in the 1940s and 50s the British government deported to Australia young children born to troubled poor mothers who couldn’t care for their kids. The mothers were often told that the children were being adopted in England by various couples although if they did make efforts they would not be able to track them down. The truth was that they lived in various orphanages in Australia in very dire circumstances, were treated very badly and many were abused. During this blight on British history there were 130,000 children who went through this pipeline to Australia. They never had a chance to find out who their mothers were and whether they were still alive. Margaret Humphreys (played by Emily Watson) at first took on the task of trying to help some of these now adults find their mothers. She then devoted herself to exposing this great injustice in addition to reuniting these adults with their mothers when possible. We see how she set up a program in Australia where most of these orphans lived and held some reunions with each other. We also see a scene in a monastery, which may have been the site of some of the stories of abuse. There was a scary episode where an intruder who seems to be warning her to cease her efforts, threatens Ms. Humphreys at night. It is a weakness of the film that we never learn more about the nature of these threats. Ms. Humphrey made efforts to publicize the story of these mass deportations in the media and to get the government to help in her endeavors. She spent an increasing amount of time in Australia, away from her own family. Some of the horrors that the children went through are related in excellent performances by Hugo Weaving and David Wenham. We learn during the credits at the end of the film that it was not until 2010 that the British government acknowledged its mistake and the Prime Minister apologized. It was at that point that we learned of the tremendous number of children that had gone through this disruption of their lives with all its repercussions. As a sidebar we are reminded of the large number of films that we have seen as well as some true life stories that we have heard, which in some way recount the desire to reunite with one’s biological parents. Of course in the situations recounted in this film, these people did not have parents who adopted them. Some discussion of this topic can be found in MB’s blog http://www.psychiatrytalk.com/2014/04/the-search-for-a-persons-biological-identity/ (2011)
Jersey Boys- rm- If you are of a certain age and when you hear the high pitched voice of Frankie Valli singing “Sherry” in full harmony with the rest of the Four Seasons, you want move around and do some dancing, then this film will be a most enjoyable experience for you. We suspect many other generations will also enjoy the musical re-creation of this 50s group. Director and Producer Clint Eastwood has chosen to take this story and the music to the silver screen after a version of it was a successful Broadway Show. This is certainly more of a musical accomplishment than dramatic achievement. Each member of the group was quite distinctive in their personality and story. Frankie Castellucio alias Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) was shown to evolve from a naïve young man to the star he became. Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) was originally the brains behind the group and the one who first recognized Valli’s star potential but didn’t have the know how or the integrity to financially help them thrive and survive as a group. Nick Mass (Michael Lomenda) by dropping out prematurely allowed Valli to complete his career without the intact Four Season. Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) was the last to join the group and was the talented songwriter who probably provided the key ingredient, which allowed Valli and the group to shine so bright. Not only is the music captivating but also there is excellent choreography. There is also some very well done subtle aging of these guys as they grow into mature men. Gangsters and the mob were an important part of the scene in the upbringing of these young men and in their rise to the top. The leading gangster kingpin is well played by Christopher Walken. This is a story about boys growing into men and ultimately loyalty among men is a theme which Director and Producer Eastwood knows well and has brought to the screen many times. The women in their lives are downplayed and almost presented as incidental characters. However there is some attempt to show the meaning of a lost family life. But what will not be lost will be the history of this legendary early rock and roll band and a most enjoyable musical experience.(2014)
Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon – Various definitions would define this Yiddish word as meaning an honest, upstanding person having admirable characteristics of integrity and responsibility (and probably much more especially if you add the “super” to the word). Mike Myers, the director and producer of this film, obviously feels that way about Shep Gordon as do a great deal of other celebrities who have crossed paths with him. Early in the film we meet him as a 22 year old kid who chooses to stay in the Hollywood Motel where he has a chance encounter with Alice Cooper, Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix. He begins to manage Cooper and is shown to skillfully manipulate his career to gigantic proportions. They ultimately become lifelong friends. The movie unfolds with narration by a very long list of famous people such as Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Arnold, Anne Murray and many, many more, all who speak about him with great affection. There are numerous film clips of Gordon interacting with this endless A list even including Groucho Marx. His early years of sex, drugs and rock and roll was documented as well as his moving relationship with Teddy Pendergrass after he became paraplegic in a car wreck and yet was brought back to sing in a full stadium by Gordon. He was also depicted as the man who established the concept of celebrity chefs and brought these culinary experts such as Emeril Lagasse and many others to have the opportunity to reap the fame and fortune that they deserved. The supermensch was shown to be just that because he apparently had a philosophy of being loyal to his friends and sharing his great success with others. The film touched upon his upbringing and gave a hint that Gordon was developing a warm caring extended family with so many of the well known entertainers that he met perhaps because he didn’t have a very supportive family especially not his mother and his older brother. Meyers, who is well known for his comedic expertise tried to bring out the emotional underpinnings of his subject in his directorial debut. He skillfully blended in some very realistic enactments, which gave a visual flow to some of the narration. The film was fast moving and the 84 minutes did fly by as a great deal of inside show business was revealed to the viewer. The latter part of the film focused on the price that the Supermensch paid from his doing so much for others. We get the sense that despite an endless group of caring appreciative friends, he was holding in a sadness over the fact that he never had his own family. (2014)
Promised Land-nf This was a Matt Damon film that was not a blockbuster movie but it certainly makes an important statement about a controversial socio-economic issue of our time and that is fracking. We suspect that is why Damon chose to produce and star in this film. It is directed by Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting , Milk). Two sales pros Steve Butler (Matt Damon) and Sue Thompson (Frances McDormand) from a gigantic corporation named Global come to a small farming town to buy the drilling rights from the residents who have been hard hit by bad economic times. Can you imagine such a farming family turning down what seems like a lot of money which might go a long way to helping their kids get a good education or for some other very desired endeavor? Everyone knows that home grown natural gas is cleaner and less expensive than imported oil so wouldn’t this be a good thing all around? But is the process that is necessary to bring it out of the ground 100% safe? Could this process, fracking, be an ultimate horror? Might it harm or even destroy their livestock and be dangerous to people’s health? Would a billion dollar corporation manipulate the facts and convince the local folks to buy into their plan ? Is the risk really infinitesimal? To what extent would big business go to in order to buy these rights? Can a local science teacher (Hal Holbrook) who happens to know a little more than he was expected to know, make a difference in this debate? It is clear that Damon and company were out to raise serious questions about fracking. After you see this film, what will you think? (2012)
Ida – sp We are pleased to report that for some unknown reason there are a number of readers of this blog who are from Poland. So we hope we will get some comments at the end of this review from them. This movie won The Eagle, which is the Polish equivalent of the American Oscar. It is in Polish with English subtitles. We understand it is also dubbed with the local language rather than using subtitles in many European countries, as it was in France, where is was a big hit. The setting is Poland in the 1960s. A young woman who is studying to be Nun in a convent is told by the Mother Superior that before she takes her vows she must go and meet her aunt, her only known family member (previously unknown to her) since she was brought to the convent as a baby during the war. She travels to the city where her aunt is located and finds out that she is Jewish. The two of them set off on a haunting road trip to find out what happened to her parents and where they are buried. The aunt, played by veteran Polish actress Aguta Lulesza, is tough as nails on the outside but has her own secret pain which is ripping her apart. Ida the novitiate, also known as Sister Anna Ida, and now with a last name Lebenstein, is played by a first time actress who was discovered in a coffee shop by the director. Her name is Agata Trzebuchowska. She is beautiful, and now burdened with a dilemma of what to do with her new insight into her origin. She also has to decide whether to go forward and take her vows, which of course includes chastity. It should be mentioned that on her road trip she does meet a handsome musician (David Ogrodnik) and we do detect some chemistry between them. The ambience of this film befits the subject matter. It is in black and white using a 4×3 format (almost square) with many close-ups. The locations are old bleak buildings, churches, a cemetery, and old roads with a lot of snow. The dialogue, although in Polish with subs, is sparse. There is a Polish 60s musical background that is mostly ambient rather than with a soundtrack. There are reminders of the role of communist rule in post war Poland. Everything is not spelled out for the viewer but there is little doubt about the story and the internal pain that our characters are feeling. It will awaken feelings about atrocities in WW II, which are still not far from the surface in many people, some now two generations removed from it. Although director and screenwriter Pawel Pawlikowski in a post film discussion said he had no doubt about how this 80 minutes film should end, there is another point of view on this subject. Finally, this movie is one of many films that have a theme which shows the immense struggle that people have to connect with a biological parent or vice versa. A discussion and summary of this issue can be found at http://www.psychiatrytalk.com/2014/04/the-search-for-a-persons-biological-identity/ (2014)