Category: 4 Stars


Merchants of Doubt

March 3rd, 2015 — 12:43am

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At the beginning of the film, we meet a magician who is performing at the Los Angeles’ venue called the Magic Castle. He relates how magicians deceive and misdirect as they perform. This, of course, is the metaphor for the work of the people we meet in this film. They work for various industries such as the Food, Tobacco and Oil Corporations. Although most of the time this fact is concealed from the public, they do deceive and misdirect in how they do it. And the fact that they do it is the amazing story of this documentary film. It is directed and produced by Robert Kenner, who also made the film Food Inc, the behind-the-scene story of the food industry. This time, Mr. Kenner mostly focuses his attention on global warming. It has become clear that the scientific community almost unanimously believes that the products of carbon dioxide create a blanket over the Earth’s environment that is causing global warming. The consequences are quite dire for the world in the next 50 years. Already, we are seeing a melting of the Arctic icecap with potential flooding of our coastal cities, colder winters and warmer summers. Before the civilized world can come together and address these serious problems, there is a group of seemingly knowledgeable spokespersons who appear to respectfully offer another viewpoint and explanation for the presence of global warming. However, these people are secretly paid by the oil industry to create uncertainty. Now is the time for action but these people are “merchants of doubt” and are highly effective in delaying, diverting and obscuring that fact and the need for action. They employ the same tactics that the cigarette industry had used to delay the recognition of the fact that nicotine is addictive and that cigarettes cause cancer. This is an amazing story, and interestingly enough, it comes from “the horse’s mouth” as much of it is directly told by the slick, well-spoken people who are operating at the bidding of the corporations who have paid them in defiance of the truth established by the scientific community. In the past when the companies in the tobacco industry were finally discovered to be deceiving the public, they were ordered by the court to inform the public of the truth about cigarettes and also to reveal that they were knowingly deceiving the public. The truth about cigarettes is now on every cigarette box and in advertisements, but we have yet to see statements from climate change deniers admitting that they have lied to the public. We can only hope that the necessity for these confessions of deceit will be forced upon those responsible for misleading the public about global warming. We also hope that a large number of people will see this film so that the truth will prevail.(2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary

Tangerines

February 12th, 2015 — 4:59pm

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 10.59.12 PMTangerines- sp Most Americans don’t know very much about the various regions of the former Soviet Union and regional wars that have occurred there over the years. For example in the 1990s there were intense battles between the Chechens and the Georgians who were fighting over land formerly lived in by people from Estonia most of whom fled back to Estonia. If these historical facts don’t mean much to you, it isn’t necessary to study maps of this area to appreciate this film. The plot is relatively simple. Ivo, an Estonian man has stayed behind to build wooden crates to help harvest a crop of tangerines, which are grown on his friend’s nearby farm. Some bloody encounters between the warring factions leave several soldiers dead and 2 injured at Ivo’s doorstep. What develops is a moving drama between these two soldiers on opposing sides and the two civilians who attempt to rescue them The story was written in two weeks by Zaza Urushadze who also eventually directed the movie after it was set up for a 30 day shoot by producer Ivo Felt. The film emerges as good of an anti-war movie that you will have ever seen. The acting is suburb with starring roles by very well known actors in their region of the world. They are: Lembit Ulfsak, Mikheil Meskhi, Giorgi Nakhashidze, Elmo Niiganen and Raivo Trass. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe and currently is one of the nominees for an Oscar as Best Foreign Film. It has English subtitles and deserves to be translated into many different languages and shown all over the world. It may be a little while until is passes through your local Art Movie theatre but it is worth tracking down and seeing it when it becomes available. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, War

Rosewater

November 16th, 2014 — 7:46pm

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Rosewater-rm Before we discuss this movie, we should try to answer the question of why would Jon Stewart, the host of the Daily Show, on the Comedy Central Network, want to make his debut as a feature film director in a movie about the 2009 Presidential election in Iran. That was the election where incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated Houssein Mousavi. This election sparked mass demonstrations in the street, which were harshly put down by the government. The defeated candidate was put on house arrest which we believe is still current and he was among many people imprisoned including a a journalist working for Newsweek magazine by the name of Maziar Behari. Behari had appeared in a clearly satirical piece for the Stewart show where it was jokingly mentioned that he could have been been a spy. Thus the connection that must have sparked Stewarts interest which ultimately led him to be a first time director of this movie for which he also wrote the screenplay. It is all about Maziar Behari who was ripped away from his mother’s house with whom he was staying while covering the election, while his pregnant wife was in London. Gael Garcia Bernal, an accomplished Mexican actor, does a great job playing Behari. The film provides an insight into the valiant but futile protests that were made of this election after the hopes of the opposition were dashed. Behari appeared to become a symbol of the masses who try to rise up when they feel they are treated unfairly especially when they are offered an election that they came to feel was fraudulent. He also reminds us of generations of young people who develop values that lead them to fight for what they believe even though it appears that they will be defeated. In this case we learn that Behari’s father and sister both were imprisoned at various times by the reigning Iranian governments and both died in jail at different times. Behari is tortured with the goal of making him confess to being a spy for the West so he can be televised making a confession. The interaction between him and his interrogator who was well played by Kim Badnia is one of the higlights of the movie. In this regard Stewart was able to work in a subtle satirical element, which mocked the prison officials who worked on Behari while still taking seriously the oppressive threat of the tyrannical government. One of us felt that the movie dragged at times but in the end we were well informed and its message was quite clear. (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, History

Force Majeure

November 8th, 2014 — 8:05am

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Force Majeure- rm- This is Swedish film with English subtitles and some English dialogue. Since it is quite clever and subtle, much of the credit should go to the Director and writer Ruben Ostlund. A couple and their two children go for a ski holiday at a French resort. They are suddenly faced with what seems to be a terrifying avalanche and how they act in a split second occupies much of this film. The film stars included Johannes Kchnke, Clara Wettegren and Kristofer Hivju. What emerges from this seven day holiday is an examination of relationships as well as the question of how comfortable are we with our self image especially when it is reflected back to us by someone we care about. The frank portrayal between the husband and the wife, another forty something man and his 20 year old girl friend as well as still another married women at the resort with a boyfriend all are viewed through a lens that is perhaps more Swedish then contemporary USA, if one can generalize. When the characters are in conflict they tell us or show us what they are feeling as well as the horns of their dilemmas. Several of the scenes, especially those with tension, seem to be drawn several beats longer that we thought were necessary. This seemed to lead us to be intellectualizing the action rather than feeling it. In any case we felt we were in the hands of a skilled filmmaker who kept us thinking about the characters and empathizing with their pain. There also was much to talk about after the credits rolled which is always the sign of a stimulating film (2014).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign

The Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

October 16th, 2014 — 9:28pm

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This movie has the ingredients to be a very well received production. Much of it is a powerful Broadway play within a movie . Specifically it is about an aging movie star Riggan who has made blockbuster movies titled The Birdman who doubts his acclaimed accomplishments and feels he has to prove himself by directing and acting in a serious dramatic play on the Broadway stage. Probably, it is not a coincidence that the star of the movie is 63 year old mega movie star Michael Keaton of Batman and Batman Returns fame among many other hits. His costar is Ed Norton who plays Mike a younger accomplished actor who is totally into the moment with his very dramatic acting in the play. There are excellent supporting roles by Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan and Zach Galifianakis. The creation of the film comes from screenwriter and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu who is best known for Babel and Biutiful. Thanks to a collaboration between Fox Searchlight Pictures and New Regency he had a 16 ½ million dollar budget. Most of the film takes place inside a Broadway theatre or within the surrounding two or three blocks in the theatre district in New York City. The scenes each last several minutes. These long takes characterize the film and the viewer is given the impression that one camera is following the actors as they move through the winding corridors, dressing rooms, balconies and the stage itself, which would appear to be the well known St James Theatre. Riggan’s inner voice is quite loud and appears external. To further keep things rolling along, the music background score is almost entirely drums. The audience at times is asked to suspend reality but the intense drama keeps us grounded. Despite the high flying antics of Mr. Keaton the most revealing moment in the film would appear to be when the NY Times theatre critic who can make or break any show seems determined to break this one because she doesn’t believe Superhero movies stars have a right to claim the Broadway stage as true actors. While the movie had a dramatic flair and an intensity, which held our attention, we felt we were watching characters tell about their stories and situations rather than identifying with them and fully experiencing their plight. We suspect this will be one of those movies that people will either love or walk away without being moved but it is worth being seen. (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Whiplash

October 10th, 2014 — 12:31am

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Whiplash –sp As we move into the last quarter of the year, we are more likely to see movies and acting that will be Oscar contenders. This film, especially the performance of J.K.Simmons (You may know him from the Farmers Insurance ads on TV) may fit that category. Simmons plays Fletcher, a fanatical high school jazz bandleader, who is determined to win the prestigious band competitions. He will curse, belittle and do almost anything to his student musicians to seemingly get the best performance out of them. Andrew (Miles Teller) is one of those talented students who responds to his teacher and tries to drive himself to his furthest limit to be a great drummer. Many people in life have been inspired and challenged by a teacher. The movie suggest that there may be a moral question whether you can push a student too far to excel even if that student becomes the next Miles Davis or Charlie Parker. In the process of examining this question the viewer gets lots of jazz and what appears to be fantastic drumming. This film is the brainchild of Damien Chazelle who wrote the screenplay and also directed it. He himself was a musician in high school and was a pretty fair drummer who admits that some of his teachers may have prodded him a little too much and thus inspired this story. He worked closely with Miles Teller who was a rock drummer in his earlier youth but was coached to convert to do jazz drumming for the film. There was a weak romance theme as Andrew briefly befriends Nicole (Melissa Benoist). Andrew also has a very loving and supportive father played by Paul Reiser. These two latter characters added little to the story. Perhaps if they had been strongly interweaved into the main plot, the film itself might have reached a more sophisticated level. Certainly as it is, there is tension, drama and “all that jazz” including a great drum solo. You will come away thinking about this film and the questions raised by it. (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Musical, Uncategorized

Last Days in Viet Nam

August 21st, 2014 — 7:00pm

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Last Days in Vietnam-sp- Even if you were around in 1975 during the U.S pullout from South Vietnam, the true story of how it went down is probably not the way you remember it. Even that iconic photograph of people climbing up a ladder into a helicopter from what you thought was the U.S Embassy was not the U.S. Embassy. Rory Kennedy, youngest daughter of the late Robert Kennedy is a documentary filmmaker who realized that there was an interesting story here to be told. Together with her co-producer Keven McAlester and their team she researched the subject, dug out archive documents and film footage, followed leads, set up interviews with former CIA agents, American soldiers, as well as Vietnamese who got out and some that didn’t. She also was able to interview one of the key surviving players who surrounded and advised President Ford during those final days. That was none other than Henry Kissinger who had been Secretary of State for both Ford and President Nixon. Nixon actually looks quite good in the view of the historical circumstances, which are presented here. It was under his watch that the peace accord of !973 was signed which was followed by the withdrawal of US Troops. We are then shown in 1975 shortly after Nixon resigned from office that the North Vietnam troops began the march towards Saigon. The implication was clearly stated that they would have been afraid to do so if Nixon were in office. We then see how President Ford was not able to get Congress to raise money to support any effort to stop this new aggression.

The real story here was the denial by U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin of the threatening attack that was underway, spilling down towards Saigon with the ultimate evacuation of all the Americans and the desperate attempt to get out bythe South Vietnamese who were connected to the Americans. Rather than use an authoritative narrator, the filmmakers chose to use the faces and the voices of the Americans and Vietnamese who lived through those harrowing days who told their own stories. The latter group knew that if they did not get out, they stood a good chance of being killed or severely punished. In fact in the final credits we learn that some of these narrators subsequently spent years in “ reeducation camps” before making their way to the United States. We learn that the final dramatic evacuation was not only by helicopter but also by sea. The helicopters flew out thousands of evacuees to a flotilla of ships led by the USS Kirk.

A good documentary often relies on some fresh views of the historical event. In this case, that was not only provided by American and Vietnamese survivors of this unusual evacuation telling their tales but also by the discovery of a box full of 8mm movie film taken by one of the sailors aboard the USS Kirk almost 40 years ago. These movies provided a vivid picture of the thousands of civilians packed aboard these ships as they attempted to get to Manila. They also showed a never to be forgotten sequence of movie scenes of a gigantic Chinook helicopter that was too large and heavy to land on the US ship. Instead the Vietnamese pilot who was trying to save his family and others had to do a remarkable maneuver where he hovered so his young children could be dropped and caught by the sailors below. He then did what experts feel was an extremely difficult task of climbing out of his pilot gear, ditching his gigantic helicopter into the sea with its spinning blades disintegrating, while he jumped out into the water and swam to safety of the nearby vessel. This amazing accomplishment was narrated by his now grown son who had been seen as one of the young children being dropped out of the Chinook.

There were several moral questions raised by this film. The big question was did the U.S. have a commitment to its ally, South Vietnam when the North Vietnamese broke the Paris Peace Accord and invaded South Vietnam. What was the meaning of the refusal of Congress to provide funds and the failure of the President to send troops back there? Did the U.S have a commitment to the many civilians and their families who had worked for the US and would be targets if they were not evacuated? Were several U.S. officers within the embassy wrong when they disobeyed orders and organized secret “ black opps” plans for evacuating civilians when the Ambassador had not authorized this to be done.? There also was a promise to all those Vietnamese who were allowed to enter the U.S. Embassy grounds for evacuation, that they would definitely be rescued. However once the Ambassador left, after most of the people were evacuated, there were 420 Vietnamese left behind who had been promised evacuation. Finally, is there any lesson here that we can glean that can be applied to the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan where the U.S. has left and now the situation is deteriorating?

When a documentary film can prevent a fresh view of history and stir up new questions, which even pertain to our current time, we have to view it as a successful endeavor that should be seen.(2014)

1 comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, History, War

May in the Summer

August 14th, 2014 — 11:48pm

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May in the Summer- sp Cherien Dabis is an award winning Palestinian American director, producer and screenwriter who does all three roles in this film in addition to taking the starring role which she handles in outstanding authentic manner. May (Dabis) is coming home from the U.S. to see her mother in modern day Jordan to prepare for her upcoming wedding. Her mother (Hiaam Abbass) and her family are Christian and May’s fiancée is Muslim so we are introduced to one of the several themes of this film. May’s two sisters Dalia (Alia Shawkat) and Yasmine (Nadine Malouf) have also come to Jordon for the event and the conflicts and bickering among the sisters is part of the evolving story further highlighted by one sister acknowledging that she lesbian although she doesn’t like that label. The sister’s father (Bill Pullman) had left the girls’ mother and married a much younger woman (Rita Singh Pande). He tries to apologize for the neglect of his children and establish a relationship with them when May and her sisters visit their Dad and his new wife as May’s wedding plans are being made. Through the discussions with May’s mom we also become aware of the limited options for a divorced woman in this society, although she clearly hasn’t given up. On top of everything May has doubts about her decision to get married. Each one of these conflicted issues is evolving as the characters interact in a very believable environment. The film does not attempt to delve into any one of these themes in depth. Each of them could have been a separate story but it is the universality of all of them allows the audience to recognize the people in this human drama and find meaningful identifications with them. That is the strength and the success of this excellent film. (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Uncategorized

The Queen

August 1st, 2014 — 6:53pm

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The Queen-nf- As Americans we never quite understood how and why the British people hold their royal family in such esteem. Also, while being full grown adult at the time of the auto accident that claimed the life of Princess Diana, who was by then divorced from Prince Charles, we never understood why there was such a big deal about her funeral. Well, this more or less docudrama focuses on both of these subjects. Thanks to the screenplay by Peter Morgan and the direction David Frears, plus the outstanding acting by Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth and Michael Sheen, as newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair, we are treated to a sophisticated exploration of inner workings of the royal court and what is purported be an accurate rendition of the complicated feeling of all the players in this drama. A fascinating story unravels, which shows the Queen and the royal family with the exception of Prince Charles, reluctant to make a big deal, a royal funeral or any public statements about the sudden tragic death of Diana. Whereas the people of Great Britain and eventually people around the world who were taken up with her life style and her many charitable good deeds were very much affected and were drawn to follow her funeral and participate in the grieving, the royal family felt that she was no longer royalty and there should be just a private funeral. Actual film clips of the large numbers of tearful people in the streets and many inundating the outside of Buckingham Palace with flowers were shown. Blair appreciates the importance to the British people to grieve this loss and realized the mistake that the Queen was making by staying in her country home, not returning to Buckingham Palace and raising the flag at half mast. At one point he even detected a growing sentiment that could lead to the British people wanting to perhaps even remove the monarchy, which they had revered for hundred of years. He tried to counsel the Queen and she responds. In another source we found information that reported that the writer Peter Morgan reconstructed the events of the week after the death of Princess Diana through extensive interviews with many unnamed sources close to the real Prime Minister and the royal family. Many of these sources were able to corroborate the accounts of others, giving Morgan enough information to imagine the intervening scenes, which were portrayed in the movie. Helen Mirren was at her best in this film and won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Actress. The film itself won the most coveted award of an Academy Award Oscar for Best Motion Picture of the Year. But perhaps the highest compliment for Ms. Mirren was the observation by the writer Mr. Morgan that, by the end of production, crewmembers who had been accustomed to slouching or relaxing when they addressed her were standing straight up and respectfully folding their hands behind their backs. She was the Queen. (2006)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

Wish I Was Here

July 26th, 2014 — 5:48pm

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Wish I Was Here —rm   It isn’t too difficult for a halfway decent movie to pull our chain and bring tears to our eyes. All you need is a likeable character who is dying and his family all around him especially if there are children and grandchildren in it. This movie did all that but took it to the next level. All the characters including the children have a depth which allows you to empathize with them even though they may not be telling your story. Aiden Bloom (Zack Braff ), Director and co writer of the screen play with his real brother Adam J. Braff and known for among other things as the star of TV show Scrubs) is a struggling actor who is trying to reach his career dream although not yet very successful . Sarah, his loving and very supportive wife (Kate Hudson), is frustrated over her husband being more interested in trying to follow his dream than support their family, leaving her to work in a data inputting job and suffer some weird harassment by a cubical partner. They have two adorable kids. Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) is the younger kid who values a wireless drill for reasons we don’t quite understand. The slightly older sister (Joey King) is beginning to try to find out what values are really important. Aiden has a brother (Josh Gad) who lives in a trailer who is also struggling with his off beat career and his alienation from their dad. Now the dad, the patriarch of the family is Gabe, a widower played by Mandy Patankin in what could be an award winning performance. He has been a tough dad who hasn’t seemed to be sympathetic to the trials and tribulations of his two sons. He now is faced with a fatal illness, which brings him and the whole family to contemplate the meaning of life and how they feel about death and dying The deep feelings of both father and sons for each other are examined in a very sensitive and real manner. It may very well make you begin to reflect on your own family relationships. The movie is a serious drama dealing with relationships and philosophical issues. But it also is a touching satiric comedy. One subject of some satire, believe it or not, is orthodox Judaism. The Bloom family is shown to be of this persuasion and one of the subplots was that Gabe was paying for his grandchildren’s private (Jewish) school until he required the money for his cancer care. There is even an old rabbi who rides on a Segway (we assume not on Shabbat) (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama

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