Category: 4 Stars


The Game Changers

August 28th, 2019 — 6:34am

****

The Game Changers-sp

A while back, a doctor suggested to one of us that he look into a “plant-based diet” and gave him a book which he put on his reading list. Well, after this film, he moved it up and now will definitely read it with great interest.

James Wilks, an athlete and someone who has done physical training for the U.S. Marines took up this film project and was the onscreen host of the movie. He enlisted among others as executive producers James Cameron, Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Needless to say they all advocate for the thesis of this film. Under the direction of Louie Psihoyos, they have put together a documentary film that will blow you away and may very well add greatly to your health and longevity.

The game changer is that there is scientific and empirical evidence that a plant-based diet with fruits and vegetables and no meat or even fish will allow you to be a strong, muscular, athletic person and have good health and live longer. A good documentary movie needs to demonstrate things with real people and not just boring scientific facts. In this movie, we meet a host of healthy athletes who lift the heaviest weights, show the most physical endurance running races and all sorts of fighting and other physical competition. We meet football players and other athletes and are also shown scientific research facts which confirms the main point of this movie.

If you care about your health and the health of your family, you have to take this movie seriously. You will want to share it with people that you care about. In a post film discussion with Mr. Wilks, he made the point that this need not be an all or nothing project but the facts and empirical evidence are there and this is a “game changer” of a film which can change your life. (2019)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary

Brittany Runs A Marathon

August 14th, 2019 — 10:09pm

****

Brittany Runs A Marathon-sp

There is a tinge of “Rocky” in this story in that you are rooting for the protagonist to win her battle and achieve her goal and finish the glorious New York City marathon.

We meet Brittany (Jillian Bell) as a somewhat overweight young woman who drinks and eats a lot and isn’t the most pleasant person to others. We gain insight into her and begin to appreciate her struggles. Starting with the kindness of others, she becomes more reflective and develops some good friends. To one of us, it was almost as if she had entered into a psychotherapy and was working through her conflicts and hang-ups. Her old acquaintances and new friends are very meaningful to her and they are well played by Michaela Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Micah Stock, Lil Rel Howery, Alice Lee and Jennifer Dundas. The real co-star of this film is the writer and first-time director, Paul Downs Colaizzo. He drew upon his work in the theater to capture the main character’s insight and pathway for ultimate change. He was also fortunate enough to team up with Tobey Maguire who provided the major support in getting this film made. The final message of the movie is that everything doesn’t always work out exactly how you plan it but it is so often the journey that really counts. (2019)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

The Peanut Butter Falcon

July 31st, 2019 — 5:41am

****

The Peanut Butter Falcon – sp

Just as interesting as this film, is the story how it came to be made. Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz are two young filmmakers who have previously only made short films and certainly had never made a full-length feature. They met and befriended Zack Gottsagen, a young man with Down Syndrome who had a burning ambition to someday become an actor. The filmmakers decided to write a full-length movie script which would feature such a person and recruited Mr. Gottsagen to be the star. The script was intriguing enough to entice a team of producers who had the connections to bring in Dakota Johnson, Shia LaBeouf, Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal, and some other very fine actors. The setting was the banks of North Carolina but it was filmed in the marshlands of Georgia.

Zack and Tyler connect after Zack escapes from a nursing home where he was being cared for since he did not have a family. He meets Tyler who has his own back story, Eleanor who was sent by the nursing home to find Zack connects with the two of them and there is certain chemistry between her and Tyler. Circumstances lead the three of them to go on what is usually called a road trip except that this adventure occurs on some makeshift boats. The three of them make quite an interesting trio and the story allows the viewer to have empathy for these unlikely characters. The people they meet along the way are quite unique and will capture your attention. The result is a very enjoyable, interesting, and touching movie that is well worth seeing. (2019)

 

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Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Farewell

July 31st, 2019 — 5:21am

****

Farewell-rm

This film written and directed by Lulu Wang is mostly in Chinese with English subtitles. A young woman (played by Awkwafina known for her performances in Crazy Rich Asians and other films) joins her American family as they descend upon nai-nai (grandmother) who lives in China and whom they believe has a fatal diagnosis of cancer). However, the family is set on keeping the information about the deadly prognosis from grandmother because they believe it is the fear that would facilitate her demise. The American relatives join the Chinese relatives in China in what the grandmother thinks is a wedding celebration for her grandson who is supposedly getting married. But really the American family has flown over to China in order to see grandma who they understand has a fatal prognosis. The love and tenderness for grandmother is quite touching as is the extent the family will go to, to keep the fatal prognosis from her.

There is singing, as well as speeches by many family members mostly in Chinese but some in English (but all are translated into English on the screen). There is a rich depiction of Chinese culture. The respect and love for elders permeates the film and is quite touching. Time goes by quite quickly as it does in real life when we believe our time with a loved one is limited. Also, to the backdrop of this family crisis, other family issues emerged. We appreciate the underlying feelings when some family members leave their homeland to immigrate to another country while other members stay behind. Also, family issues seem more intense when we believe we are about to lose a loved family member.

The movie has a certain universality, which will appeal to many viewers and make us contemplate the importance of family and what a potential loss of a loved one would mean to each of us. It is also an opportunity to reflect how when a young person immigrates to the United States for opportunity, there is a cost of being a stranger in a strange land and not having the support of your loved ones who are left in your homeland. All and all, this film will touch your heart as well as telling you an interesting story. (2019)

 

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Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign

Late Night

June 17th, 2019 — 7:11pm

****

Late Night-sp

The premise here is that there was no Johnny Carson but rather the star of late-night television has been Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson). She is the first female host of a major late-night television show which she has hosted for 10 years. Her ratings however are now falling and the network is planning to replace her with a male comedian. Ms. Newbury has an all-white male writing staff, some of whom she has never met in person. She gets it into her head that she needs another point of view and hires Molly (Mindy Kaling) who works in a chemical planat, is a stand-up comedian and a self-proclaimed writer. She also happens to be an Indian woman of color. Although not having much experience, she speaks her mind and is able to confront, not only her new boss, but her nine male white co-writers, many of whom are played by very familiar faces and include Hugh Dancy, Reed Scott, Denis O’Hare, Max Casella, and Paul Hauser.

In this fast-moving comedic drama, many issues are confronted such as gender discrimination, ageism, and of course elitism. The co-star and screenwriter, Mindy Kaling may be drawing upon her own observations and experiences as she had been an actor in the hit tv show, “The Office” for many years, as well as producing and starring in her own show, “The Mindy Project.”

It is easy to get caught up with the story line. You are rooting for all to end well. The jokes are clever and the acting is excellent and we should add that Ms. Newbury’s husband is played a well-known actor who brings sensitivity to all his roles and that is John Lithgow.

We judged this film to be a clever, timely, funny, very well acted and directed . It was done on a low budget with only 25 days of shooting. Obviously, the movie was made for the love of the story and not for love of money but it is well worth seeing. (2019)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama

Best of Enemies

April 8th, 2019 — 7:44pm

****

Best of Enemies-rm

This is ultimately a feel good movie, but it is hard to believe whether this is a true story that went down as it is depicted in the film. Truth is stranger than fiction and the movie is based on a  story, which was confirmed at the end of the film by showing us some clips of the real people.

The setting is Durham, North Carolina in the 1970s. The Ku Klux Klan is active and we meet the local Klan leader, C. P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell). We also meet a local black activist, Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson). Both of them are about to clash after a fire makes the black grade school uninhabitable. There is great conflict as the local city council has to decide what to do since the white folks do not seem to want to share their grade school with the black children who have lost their school.

We never heard the term “charrette” before. It refers to a meeting in which the various sides of a conflict get together to resolve the conflict and work out a solution. The local city council brings in a “charrette expert”, Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay) who sets up a committee to discuss and vote a solution. The “coaches” of the committee were appointed to be the clan chief and the black activist. We get a glimpse of the back story of some of the characters especially the clan leader who has a hospitalized developmentally disabled child. We also meet a local white pharmacist who is the member of the committee and he himself has hired a black Vietnam war buddy to be his assistant manager in his pharmacy. We see that the local clan group likes to practice shooting guns and are prone to intimidate white people who are sympathetic to blacks.

You might say that the story line is somewhat predictable, but it still created a strong emotional impact on us, which was made even more powerful as we learned more about the real people upon whom these characters were based as we saw them speak during the credits.

Director, Robin Bissell certainly knew how to pull our emotional strings and Mr. Rockwell and Ms. Henson may get some award nods for their performances (2019).

 

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Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

Leaving Neverland

March 16th, 2019 — 8:54pm

****

Leaving Neverland-nf

Four-hour two-part documentary film directed by Dan Reed

Ten years ago, Michael Jackson, “King of pop”, one of the greatest entertainers of all time died at the age of 50 of a combination drug reaction and a fatal heart attack. He had been married twice, once to the daughter of Elvis Presley and had four children. He himself as a child was the youngest member of a musical group known as, The Jackson 5. Michael Jackson endured two criminal trials with allegations that he had committed child abuse and was found not guilty.

This four-hour documentary (divided into two 2-hour segments) focuses on two men probably now in their 30s who described in great detail their relationship with Michael Jackson. As young children, they had won dance contests in the style of their idol. Michael Jackson then befriended them both and their families, at different times. He brought them to his palacial home in Los Angeles known as Neverland. The boys were ages 7 and 10, when they met Jackson.

This documentary film focuses mainly on these men with camera close-ups during most of their speaking. They recounted their childhood and their relationship with Jackson and how he befriended them despite their wide age disparity, along with their families. There were also interviews with family members including the boy’s mothers, siblings and the film also had various film clips. There was a haunting musical score in the background throughout the film.

Both men clearly and unequivocally described how Jackson became their close friend and their buddy, but also frequently would sleep in his bed with them in his Neverland estate. Jackson made them feel he loved them and they loved him. This continued with various intervals between the ages of seven until they were in their mid-teenagers and even then, they kept up a relationship. The young men also described how Jackson sexually molested them from their earliest relationship which included touching, kissing, masturbation, as well as oral and anal sex. These encounters occurred while the boy’s mothers and other family members who believe Jackson was a great family friend were often in a nearby room. These relationships continued for years and included talking on the phone and traveling to various cities staying in great hotels and frequent dinner together with their families. The story is amazing. It is also heart wrenching as we see as adults both men now married with their own young children now struggling with their awareness of what they have gone through. You can imagine how devastating it became not only for them and for their mothers who realized that they had unwittingly allowed their sons to be subject to the most severe deception and molestation.

Although the film was quite convincing, it should be mentioned that there are still Jackson supporters who dispute the veracity of the accounts of these two men. The story was quite riveting and conveyed so well the joys followed by the pain of the young men and the families of those involved.

The film was well done.Perhaps at times it dragged a little, or was too repetitious. However, the viewer cannot help, but be amazed how these two boys and obviously many others were deceived, seduced, and deprived of their childhood innocence by the actions of a man who himself must have been a very damaged person.(2019)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Crime, Documentary

Icarus

February 6th, 2019 — 1:58am

**** 

Icarus-nf

 The title of this documentary film comes from Greek mythology where Icarus was the son of a man who created a huge maze under the court of King Minos of Crete where a half man half bull creature lived. While the connection to this film may be somewhat convoluted there are at least two characters in the movie who can be viewed as larger than life evil people. One being Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the man who is in charge of the anti-doping lab for Russian athletes and the other I would identify as Russian premier Vladimir Putin who supported and promoted this immoral and illegal activity.

We may have missed the exact details how and why the producer first became connected with Dr. Rodchenkov. It appears that the movie maker Bryan Fogel was an amateur competitive cyclist. He somehow learned that Dr. Rodchenkov located in Russia not only ran the Russian testing labs for Russian athletes but also knew how to have athletes inject themselves with performance enhancing drugs and not be caught when there was subsequent urine testing. We are not sure how and why the good doctor, after several Skype conversations with Bryan Fogel, agreed to teach him how to inject himself and significantly improve his competitive cycling performance.

However this amazing film then goes on to show in vivid documentary form how the Russian competitive athletes who are competing in a variety of international sports including the Olympics regularly, illegally injected themselves with performance enhancing drugs. In addition, Dr. Rodchenkov was the person who designed an elaborate testing procedure for all athletes during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The procedure as it appeared to the outside world was foolproof with several techniques to guard against illegal cheating and manipulation of urine samples. However, in fact, the set-up allowed the Russians to cheat and have their athletes test clear while they were doped up with these illegal drugs. The movie ends with Dr. Rodchenkov going into the witness protection program in the United States and Bryan Fogel producing this award winning, fascinating and very revealing documentary movie. (2017)

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Comment » | 4 Stars, Crime, Documentary, Sport

Take It Or Leave It

January 25th, 2019 — 10:55pm

****

Take It or Leave It-sp

This was the entry from Estonia for the Best International Film in the Oscar competition. The story line of the movie could probably happen in any country. A young woman delivers a newborn baby and she tells her ex-boyfriend that the baby is his, but she doesn’t want to have anything to do with the child. The young man feels obligated to take possession of the baby, whereas the girl gets out of town. The young man’s mother can help a little but to take care of the baby he is forced to quit his construction job and take small jobs where he can take the baby in a carrier with him. A few years passed and the baby is now a little girl with great affection for the most important person in her life as he carries on the role of both mother and father.

Director and screenwriter, Liina Trishkina-Vanhatalo puts the spotlight on this role reversal of the more common situation where the man walks away and leaves the woman to raise the child. However, what probably makes this movie a contender in the Oscar race is that the storyline goes one step further by providing a surprising twist in the plot of the movie.

The standout actor who plays Eric, the young man is Reimo Sagor. The mother of the child is played by, Liis Lass. Kudos also go to the infants and toddlers and the little girl who played the role of Mai, the baby that we watched grow from an infant to the little girl about ready to go to school.

Estonia is a small high-tech country that has a budding film industry. If this movie is any indication, we’re going to see some interesting cinematic productions from this country. (2019)

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Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign

Springsteen On Broadway

December 24th, 2018 — 4:02am

****

Springsteen on Broadway-nf

When you think of Bruce Springsteen entertaining an audience, you probably envision an open-air concert venue with him rocking away with his group, the E Street Band. That is not how “The Boss” chose to make his latest live appearance. The now 70-year-old music icon decided to appear at the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway in Manhattan. He provided an intimate one-man show, which had a 14-month limited run on Broadway but fortunately for many of his fans, the two-and-a-half-hour concert is now captured and available on Netflix. It is a close up of a very personal dialogue between Springsteen and the audience as he tries to tell the story of his life with his guitar, harmonica and piano and of course his voice and words.

He begins with a description of how he was impacted as an 8-year-old child by seeing a new singer on his small TV set in 1956, what for him was the beginning of rock and roll. Although not mentioning him by name, he obviously was referring to the first television appearance of Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Springsteen describes his childhood and family and we soon realize that the real working man that he was always singing and telling stories about was in fact his father. Springsteen confesses that he himself never worked nine to five and that the magical description of the Jersey Shore was an exaggerated figment of his imagination although that is where he did live during his early years and near where he lives now. But certainly, the feelings and emotions about which Springsteen was singing came from the bottom of his heart. The spirit and energy, which inspired an entire generation, were unmistakably recreated on the stage at the Walter Kerr Theater. It was poignant, thoughtful and brought you close and kept you there. Spingsteen’s use of language both in his monologues and in his songs is riveting and poetic. The pictures he paints remain in your heart and imagination.

Although this was a one-man show, he was joined for a few minutes and one song with his wife, Patti Scialfa. They sang a duet in which she did not have any solo interludes although he had several during their time together on stage.

This recorded concert is really a gift to his many fans who can now recreate at will the emotional connection that they had to a special time in their lives and to this man who inspired them to step up and find the part of themselves that was “Born to Run”. (2018)

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Comment » | 4 Stars, Musical

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