Category: 4 Stars


Viva

February 3rd, 2016 — 2:55am

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 2.38.07 PM****

Viva

(Spanish with English Subtitles)

Havana is one of the most interesting and exciting cities in which to set a movie. This is particularly so when the beat and the rhythm of Cuban music is an important part of the film. But this is not a typical musical, drama or love story. The story uses the backdrop of a subculture of gay young men, female impersonators and prostitution to tell a poignant tale of a relationship between a father and a son who reunite after years apart.

This movie is the brainchild of Irish director, Paddy Breathnach who, after a visit to Cuba, visualized how this project might work and teamed up with screenwriter, Mark O’Halloran, to bring it to fruition. This mostly Irish production team then went on to put together a wonderful cast of Cuban actors and filmed this moving story in Cuba. The fact that they received the blessing of the Cuban government shows how things have come a long way in the Pearl of the Antilles

Hector Medina plays Jesus, a young gay Cuban man, who lives in severe poverty. He begins performing at a nightclub of female impersonators. Angel (played by veteran Cuban actor Jorge Perugorria), his long-lost father recently released from jail, has found him and moved in with him in an attempt to control his life. There is a recurrent theme of people trying to find some kind of family relationships. Not only is this perceived in the relationship between Jesus and Angel, but also in the character of Mama (Luis Alberto Garcia) who exudes the strength of his character by his relationship with the female impersonators who worked for him and by his powerful singing (lip-sync of course)

In fact, it is this universal yearning for human connections that has the potential to allow so many people to relate to this film . The director, Mr. Breathnach, discussed with our screening audience how he chose not to translate the words of the songs that were sung (lip-sync) by the main characters, yet it was these powerful music renditions, which clearly touched our emotions and were the strength of this movie which we highly recommend.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign

Joy

January 11th, 2016 — 6:31pm

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 6.35.18 PM****

Joy-rm

This is movie is based on the real life of Joy Mangano who went from “rags to riches” as an inventor and entrepreneur who sells her products on the television shopping networks. Jennifer Lawrence carries this movie with an outstanding performance, as she shows a wide range of emotion and understanding of her character.

We meet Joy, a young struggling mother with a dysfunctional family who invents a mop with great features. She cobbles together the resources to make a model of it and convinces shopping network executive, Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) to consider this product to be pitched on live TV. She has to borrow money and mortgage her home to have the funds to make the inventory needed to be available. There are exciting moments about impending success but some behind-the-scenes patent and manufacturing shenanigans make it seem like bankruptcy is looming and Joy has to decide whether to give up her dream.

We have not really spoiled the film for you because it is much more than this brief outline of the plot. The essence of this story is not about the outcome because this is known since it is touted as a true story. The reason that this movie will resonate with many viewers is because it shows how important childhood relationships can make a big difference in a person’s life. We see early on in the film the dysfunctional family environment, in which Joy is living. She struggles to make ends meet working during the day as an airline reservations clerk, and then moonlights helping out with the business books for her father’s (Robert Di Niro) auto parts business. She lives with her divorced mother (Virginia Madsen) who sits around all day watching soap operas. Her ex-husband, Tony (Edgar Ramirez) is a second rate singer who lives in the basement of her small house practicing his music most of the time. Along comes her father who just broke up with a girlfriend and needs a place to live, so he moves into the basement with her ex-husband. The father has a new girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) who has her own place but mainly hangs around in Joy’s house also. There is her young daughter, Christie (played by Aundrea and Gia Gadsby) who seems to idolize Joy. One more person lives in the house and that is the grandmother (Diane Ladd) who is actually the narrator for a good part of the film.

Director/writer, David O. Russell (known for Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) along with screenwriter, Annie Mumolo (who wrote Bridesmaids and contributed to the TV series, Modern Family and Transparent) have chosen to tell the story of this determined self-made woman. But in our opinion the real story which is shown here is how Joy was molded by her grandmother who encouraged her to believe in her own creativity as a small girl. The voice of the grandmother as the narrator is the voice in Joy’s head, which allowed her to have the confidence to persist in her goals. There is also a similar identification being acted out by the next generation in the person of her daughter, Christie. We frequently see Christie’s eyes glued to her mother’s face as her mother struggles with her challenges. In one scene when Joy is desperately trying to interest people in her mop by doing a demonstration in the supermarket parking lot, we see the daughter doing the same thing in the background with a toy mop. It is the transmission of confidence to young children from a loved cherished figure that can make all the difference in the world. This can supersede poverty and hardships and lead to success in so many aspects of life. We believe that this is the underlying emotional message of this very fine movie. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Meet The Patels

January 7th, 2016 — 5:09am

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 8.30.35 PM****

Meet the Patels-nf

If ever a movie looked like a well done reality TV program, this is the one. It’s clearly  not a classical documentary film (although it won some awards for best doc) and certainly you don’t get the feeling that it is a scripted movie. This appears to be real people who are almost certainly living their real contemporary lives (at least so it seems). Ravi Patel is an actor and a film maker by profession, but this movie comes across as the story of his life. It is filmed mostly by his sister, Geeta Patel with whom he is living and is also a filmmaker. We would not be surprised if there were some redone lines or retakes and maybe even some suggested dialogue but it sure looks like captured real life.

Ravi has recently broken up with his girlfriend of two years and he has agreed to let his parents try to find him a girlfriend whom they hope he would marry. In other words, they are going to do the traditional Indian parental matchmaking approach. However, in order to do this they are going to have to work it out in the modern world. His parents who were born in India and came together with the traditional arranged marriage, now live in the United States. They speak English very well and seemed to be quite well-off. Their quest to make this match for their son begins with a trip to India. It seems that Patel is a common Indian name and there are thousands of Indian families who are somehow related at least with various similar cultural beliefs especially in regard to matchmaking. Friends and relatives (no doubt cousins, many times removed) attempt to find a suitable match of the right woman for Ravi. When things don’t work out in finding a girl for him, he then embarks on a tour of the United States to meet many of the young Indian women that have been searched out by his parents using various methods of communication including the Internet.

The cinematography appears to be cinema verite with many conversations in moving cars and during family get-togethers some of them out of focus or jerky. As this story plays out, we see the struggle of the parents and son who both love each other but yet are of two different generations. They have the same cultural values but each generation is coming from a different place.

Everybody seems quite genuine and there are times when Ravi is reflecting on his personal thoughts. These moments are important to the continuity of the film. He does this through a conversation with his sister, the cinematographer. Rather than just show a headshot of Ravi talking, they have created a simple cartoon caricature of Ravi who is shown talking while his voice is projected as coming from this figure. This technique is quite effective. In fact the entire movie is very effective. We developed great empathy for his parents and for him, as well as for the older sister who is still single herself. In the end we have the feeling that we have just binged on a full season of a great TV series. If anything, the movie seemed to end abruptly and we were ready for season two. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary

The Manchurian Candidate

January 4th, 2016 — 1:59am

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 10.54.16 AM****

The Manchurian Candidate- nf

I was on a cross country flight and I checked out the movies available that could be viewed on board. In honor of the Frank Sinatra Centennial, there was a choice of several movies in which the great singers starred. I chose the classic Manchurian Candidate. This 1962 movie deals with the subject of the Cold War and the brainwashing of American soldiers captured during the Korean conflict. Just a few minutes into the film, I realized that it had relevance to a contemporary subject in the world today. Our headlines are filled with stories about terrorist, some American born, who have been radicalized by Jihadist groups who are trying to bring about terrorism In the United States by murdering people and disrupting the life of their sworn enemy.

In this black and white movie, Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) and Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) are two of several soldiers captured by the North Koreans and flown to Manchuria where the Chinese with the help of the Russians used newly developed brainwashing techniques which include drugs and hypnosis. Marco and Shaw are part of the small group of brainwashed soldiers returned to the United States. Shaw is programmed to do the major damage. Some of the other soldiers are beginning to have bad dreams at night which makes them believe that things are not what they seemed to be. Raymond Shaw’s mother (Angela Lansbury) who is a mother from hell is now married to United States Senator Iselin (James Gregory) who is a communist sympathizer which obviously has significance to the people controlling the returning soldiers. Raymond Shaw falls in love with Jocelyn Jordan (Leslie Parrish) but his controllers don’t like that turn of events and do something about it. Marco Bennett (Sinatra) becomes the hero here and there are some very dramatic and exciting scenes.

This movie was very well received. Angela Lansbury was nominated for an Oscar. Director John Frankenheimer won a top award by the Directors Guild and Sinatra was able to put another notch in his belt for his outstanding acting to add to his status as a legendary singer.

Some day someone will make a film which might tell the story behind the headlines of how the ISIS terrorist organization brainwashes some of its victims to commit terror in the United States with lethal weapons. When the movie, The Manchurian Candidate was made in 1962 there had been U.S. pilots captured flying missions over North Korea and were shown on TV praising their captives while in a trance-like state. So if you’re ready for one of the outstanding movies of the 1960s, pull this one up on Netflix. (1962)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Thriller, War

Trumbo

November 23rd, 2015 — 1:42am

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 5.46.37 PM****

TRUMBO

We don’t know if you would had to have lived through the 1950s or have been around close enough to this time period to have heard first-hand stories to appreciate the atmosphere in the United States during the time of this movie. Director Jay Roach and his team have very realistically created the look and feel of this period and the screenplay by John McNamara based on the book by Bruce Cook provides the basis of a very realistic recreation of what happened to Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) and many other people

Trumbo was a brilliant, highly paid screenwriter who was very successful. He happened to believe in communism particularly that wealth should be shared (although he was clearly much better off than most people). He identified with striking workers and in fact was not afraid to sympathize with many communist beliefs, which at the time made him the target of the House of Representatives Committee On Un-American Activities as were nine other screenwriters who were known as the Hollywood Ten. They were subpoenaed to Washington to go before the congressional committee. Members of the Committee forced them to identify themselves as communists, which they refused to do, and therefore were sent to jail on charges of contempt.

This is just a small part of the story. When Trumbo comes out of prison this brilliant film writer couldn’t sell his scripts with his name on them anymore. Nevertheless he wrote many highly successful scripts under other names, two, of them winning Oscars. The fascinating life of Trumbo, his relationship to his wife Cleo (Diane Lane) and his children is the story of this movie. It involves the interactions with many Hollywood icons including Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg), John Wayne (David James Elliott) and Louis B. Mayer (Richard Portnow). Also Trumbo’s relationship with another writer Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.) Is quite important as is that with Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) and Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) in dramatic events at the conclusion of the movie.

Every detail of this movie is extremely well done such as the blending of archival film clips with realistically created black and white scenes. Of course, the outstanding star of the story is Dalton Trumbo who deserves to be introduced to a new generation of Americans. We can’t give enough praise to Bryan Cranston who brought his character to life with thoughtfulness, subtlety and great passion. In our opinion he deserves an Oscar nomination for his work in this picture. Hollywood tends to have an affinity for stories about itself especially when they are done well, which might push this movie into becoming a big winner during the awards season this year. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Horror

Concussion

November 18th, 2015 — 7:43am

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 10.11.53 AM****

Concussion

This is an excellent film that should score a touchdown on several counts. Significantly, it may put an unwavering light on the brain damage that football brings about due to the repeated slamming of the brain in its fluid container inside the skull, which is so characteristic of our highly popular American sport. The viewers of this film will take in this awareness in the course of this most dramatic presentation. The audience will also witness an outstanding sensitive performance by Will Smith who plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the true to life Pittsburgh pathologist who discovered and named Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy as a result of performing autopsies on three former professional football players who died at a young age. Their death was often preceded by memory difficulties, mood alterations which included depression and labile mood which often led to out of control behavior and even suicide.

Will Smith deserves Oscar consideration as he brought to life the persona of this brilliant Nigerian born doctor who had numerous degrees but yet was sensitive to his deceased patients and felt compelled to be sure that their true story was told. He worked in a Pittsburgh morgue under the supervision and support of famed pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht who was played very well by Albert Brooks. Wecht was portrayed as quite wise yet with a smidgen of comic undertones, which made him quite warm and believable. Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin) who was a former loyal NFL team doctor who once he appreciated the solidity of Dr. Omalu’s discovery, stood by him in his confrontations with the NFL.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw sensitively portrayed Dr. Omalu’s girlfriend, who became his wife. The film may have taken on a little too much unnecessary poetic license in at least one place by showing Dr. Omalu’s wife being harassed by some people following her while she was driving alone in her car, which led to her having a miscarriage. Director/Writer Peter Landesman in response to MB’s question admitted that this incident shown in the movie was not exactly what happened. He said, it was meant to symbolize and condense the real harassment that Dr. Omalu and his new wife had from the many football fans in his community when some of them realized that the essence of professional football was being challenged by this one unknown doctor who documented and published scientific articles backing up his findings which challenged the safety of football at all levels from the NFL down through college, high school and even at the youngest level.

We know that ultimately lawsuits were brought against the NFL and were settled for large sums of money with the caveat that the NFL does not have to acknowledge how long they knew about the possibility of brain damage in the players. Practices have since been adopted to take players out of the game who show signs of head injury. However, it has been estimated that at least one-quarter of professional football players will develop evidence of brain damage. We do not know what the full extent of these injuries will be especially in high school and college players or even at the most junior level who are playing the sport.  

The authenticity of this film is confirmed by the fact that the real Dr. Omalu and Dr. Cyril Wecht are consultants to the movie. There was one line in the film, which states that if 10% of parents hold back their children from playing football, it could destroy football as the big time multibillion-dollar sport that it is today. We don’t know if that statistic is true. We also don’t know if this film will get wide enough distribution to make this impact. The filmmakers wondered if the NFL would use their influence to stop the film from being advertised during NFL TV games. Apparently, that is not going to be the case. So the general public is going to get a chance to learn about this outstanding movie and parents as well as young people will decide if the youth of America is going to play this game knowing what they know about concussions, brain trauma and aftermath of these events. (2015)

 

 

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, Sport

Brooklyn

November 4th, 2015 — 8:17am

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 12.37.05 PM****

Brooklyn -sp

This movie set out to describe the immigrant experience of one Irish young woman in the 1950s who leaves her mother and her her sister to come to America. The film seems to do everything right from vintage automobiles, the old country atmosphere in Ireland, the Brooklyn Brownstones, the views of the Manhattan Skyline, Coney Island including the beach with bathing suits of the time, a department store with pneumatic tubes and most of all authentic characters and their moving stories.

Producer Finola Dwyer shared with our preview audience the great efforts that were made to find the right actors for this sensitive independent movie. Although they are not well known, they all seemed perfectly casted. Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is the young woman who is choosing to leave her mother (Jane Brennan) and sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) to make a new life in America, thanks to some contacts a priest Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), known to the family, is able to make for her. Isn’t it always some contact or connection that often opens the door for the new immigrant? Eilis falls in love with Tony an Italian boy (Emory Cohen). You obviously don’t have to be Italian to play one. There also is the attractive Irish lad in the old country (Domhnall Gleeson). The courtship and love story is so 1950s tender and real.

Of course there is conflict, tension and resolution although done extremely well. Nick Hornby, an accomplished author, wrote the screenplay based on the successful novel by Colm Tóibín. The music by Michael Brook was perfect. The take away from the movie was that your home is where your true love is.

The centerpiece of the movie is young Eilis who makes the trip to the United States not knowing what awaits her. She could have been your mother or your grandmother who made that trip many years ago and built a family from where we come or she could have been one of the young immigrants in the United States or elsewhere in modern times. Each one has a different love story that ultimately will make a home for a new generation. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Romance

The Farewell Party

October 25th, 2015 — 9:16pm

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 10.58.02 AM****

The Farewell Party -nf

It is a fitting coincidence that just a few weeks ago, Governor Brown signed into law, California’s Right to Die law which makes it the 5th state to have such legislation. This law will give terminally ill patients in California the option to end their lives by swallowing a lethal dose of physician prescribed drugs after certain conditions are met.

This very well done Israeli film, with English subtitles, directed and written by the duo of Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit addresses this very issue. It is a sensitive but yet comedic plot which mostly takes place in a luxurious assisted living facility in Jerusalem. Yehezkel (Ze’ev Revach) and his wife, Levana (Levana Finkelstein) have good friends, Yana (Aliza Rosen) and Max (Samuel Wolfe). Max is painfully dying and wants to end his life. The doctors want to continue treating him despite his suffering and the inability to relieve his pain. His wife, wants something to be done to end his suffering and asks their friends to help. They meet another resident of the assisted living facility, Dr. Daniel (Ilan Dar) who has experience ending lives with fatal doses of drugs. He is a veterinarian who has obviously put down many animals. and he agrees to help them. Yehezkel is an inventor of sorts and designs a machine in which the patient can push a button and have the deadly drugs injected for a painless death which they do for Max. Word spreads around the assisted living facility and this team does the deed another time. Levana does not favor what her husband and the others are doing. However, she begins to reconsider when she realizes that she has a progressive dementia.

So this well-written sensitive story with some wonderful comic touches puts this important subject under the microscope. The acting by these veteran actors is magnificent. The cinematography is very well done. The film received 14 nominations for the Israeli Oscar and won for best director with Revach winning for best actor. It is not easy to walk the line between drama and comedy on a subject such as death and assisted suicide but this film negotiates it quite well.

It is interesting to note that Israel has had an assisted suicide law for about 10 years. But in these situations, the “devil is in the details” and the values of these laws has to be closely examined to determine how well they serve the terminally ill and their families. It is a movie such as this one that can stimulate meaningful discussions, which can address the concerns that are involved in these situations. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign

Woman in Gold

September 5th, 2015 — 11:53pm

****Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 8.45.54 AM

Woman in Gold – nf

This is a movie about the Holocaust and it stars Helen Mirren and therefore it will get many people’s attention, which it l deserves. In our opinion, it doesn’t quite rank with Schindler’s List, Sophie’s Choice, or The Pianist but it does deal with a fascinating historical story. It begins begins in 1907 with a painting of an Austrian woman by the famed artist Gustav Klimt. It ends about 100 years later in 2006 when the niece of the subject of that painting was able to win the legal battle to wrest this painting from an Austrian museum and brings it to the United States where she now lives.

We follow this journey through the life of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) who grew up in a wealthy Austrian family and lived very comfortably surrounded by fine things including great works of art. She and her family were Jewish and the film dramatically shows scenes which depict the anti-semitism and the demoralizing treatment of the Austrian Jews by the Nazis in the 1940s. We see this one family, previously quite happy, torn apart overnight as a few members escape and the remainder perish in the holocaust.

Fast forward to the United States in the 1990s and an older Maria Altmann, living in Los Angeles, finds family letters which document some of the valuable works of art including the Woman in Gold now in an Austrian museum which she recalls being in her home as a child.. She connects with a young lawyer by the name of Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), grandson of the famous Austrian composer, who joins her on this great odyssey. It involves them returning to modern day Austria and battling the government there with the help of an idealistic Austrian reporter played by Daniel Bruhl. This adventure eventually takes them all the way to the United States Supreme Court and successfully ends in a contested arbitration in Austria.

Director Curtis Simon deserves credit for an outstanding job and Helen Mirren, as usual, performs what could be an award winning role. The story is predictable and uncomplicated. Occasionally, the film is in German with subtitles but the characters speak mostly in English, including times in Austria when you expect them to be speaking their native language. Most important however, this movie allows another generation to experience the tragic story of the Holocaust so it will not be forgotten. (2015)

1 comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

After Words

August 19th, 2015 — 6:21am

****

After WordsScreen Shot 2015-08-18 at 4.24.02 PM

Writer and director Juan Feldman and Oscar Winning Actress Marcia Gay Harden collaborate in a simple but poignant, heartwarming story. Harden plays Jane, a depressed lost soul who is a Los Angeles librarian who has been missing the joy of life and now has lost even her job. She chooses to go where she has never gone before on perhaps her last trip and that is to explore the beauty of exotic Central America. This leads her to meet Juan, a Costa Rican tourist guide who desperately needs money to send his adorable English speaking daughter (Jenna Ortega) to private school and he is willing to provide extra good service to his clients in order to get the funds he needs. You probably can guess the rest of the story.

What is quite remarkable about this movie is how well done every aspect of it is handled. Marcia Gay Harden is superb in projecting the despair that Jane has and the gradual metamorphosis that she undergoes. Oscar Jaenada, as Juan, comes across as a very believable and sincere man despite his initial presentation as a gigolo.

Juan Feldman, despite a meager budget which he had to scrape up in order to make this film, has well utilized his multiple skills as well as bringing in a very talented production team. In a most subtle manner we see the gradual emerging chemistry between the two main characters which was not only reflected by the outstanding acting but also came across through the dialogue, positioning of the actors, gradual changes in the lighting, color, sound and musical background. This should evoke in the audience a subtle evolving emotional experience, which is evidence of a very well done successful movie. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Romance

Back to top