Category: 4 Stars


Zoot Suit

August 1st, 2015 — 7:02pm

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Zoot Suit – nf

This 34-year-old movie reminds us of the unforgettable classic Westside Story and the more recent movie, Fruitvale Station. It is based on an actual 1940s Los Angeles murder trial. It involves a group of Mexican American young men who were tried and sentenced to San Quentin Prison for a crime they never committed. The film is directed by Luis Valdez and stars his younger brother, Daniel Valdez, as Henry Reyna, the group leader. The Valdez brothers in real life happened to come from Mexican immigrant families. Daniel also directed the great music, which is an important part of this production along with the wonderful dancing. The music of course is decidedly a Latin blend that fits in well with the intriguing dramatic story. It features an imaginary character, El Pachuco, who is in the mind of Henry Reyna. He is magnificently played as a Zoot Suit wearing devilish persona by Edward James Olmos, who proves himself to be a great dancer and singer, as well as a fine actor. There is another familiar face in the cast who you will recognize, and that is Tyne Daly who plays Alice Bloomfield, who is a young woman working with the team trying to set the innocent people free. This 1981 film about the 1940s could have been ripped from today’s headlines as we see accusations of police brutality and controversial trials. It is a refreshingly different film that is worth seeing on Netflix (1981).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Musical

Trainwreck

July 26th, 2015 — 8:01pm

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Trainwreck -rm

We were prepared not to like this film as we assumed it was geared for a much younger demographic than ourselves which may very well have been the case. However, we enjoyed it immensely.

The opening scene showed a father teaching his two young girls a mantra that “monogamy is not realistic” as he tells them about his pending divorce to their mother. One of the girls is Amy, played as a grown up young woman by Amy Schumer who also wrote the screenplay.

From the beginning we had the idea that Amy’s psychology was not founded on traditional family values. She had lots of boyfriends and sex seemed to be mainly an end into itself. It was also mixed with lots of drinking and smoking pot. Interestingly this was in contrast to her sister Kim (Brie Larson) who having heard the same message from her father was now married with an adorable stepson and a new pregnancy.

Amy works as a successful writer albeit with a magazine that seems to view life and sex in a manner similar to hers. With Judd Apatow (Bridesmaids) at the director’s helm we would expect Schumer’s comedic writing and her persona to provide lots of good laughs, which was certainly the case if we were to judge our own reactions and that of our theatre audience. However, the film developed much more than an extended Saturday Nite Live routine (which is where co-star Bill Hader achieved his renowned success). He plays Dr. Aaron Connors, a successful sports doctor, who Amy is assigned to interview for her magazine. The chemistry between them goes beyond the sex and they fall in love. Amy and the good doctor struggled with their differences and their attraction to each other. There are some very poignant and dramatic scenes, which Ms. Schumer carries off extremely well while staying within her character. We read somewhere that she is a classically trained actress and she certainly handled the tearful moments, angry outbursts and the comedy to perfection. The story uses satire especially in the sex scenes but also with the cameo appearances by Matthew Broderick, Marv Albert, Chris Evert, Daniel Radcliffe and some well-known professional basketball players.

We are left with a tour de force about the impact of childhood, falling in love, and growing up, which are all presented to us with a wonderful sense of humor.(2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama, Romance

Samba

July 21st, 2015 — 7:36pm

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Samba-sp (In French with English subtitles)

Among the political issues currently debated in the United States as well in other countries throughout the world is how to deal with illegal or undocumented immigrants. This is the main focus of this French film written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano starring Omar Sy. This trio got together to make Intouchable in 2011 which became the second biggest box office hit in French history. It also did very well in the United States

Omay Sy in the current film plays Samba, an immigrant from Senegal, who has been living in France for 10 years. He, like many other people who don’t have proper citizenship papers must live in the shadows and are susceptible to arrest and deportation. Samba is discovered and temporarily placed in a detention center where he meets Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a young executive who was trying to stabilize her life by doing volunteer work in this facility. Samba is released with the expectation that he will go back to his home country. It is at this point in the film that we see him and other people in similar situations as they struggle to get illegal identification papers, procure jobs ranging from working in restaurants, hotel kitchens, cleaning windows in high-rise buildings or even just doing day labor. We get an insight into the painful life of trying to survive in this environment often while sending money home to their families.

Although they are coming from different places in life, Samba and Alice are drawn to each other and these wonderful actors create a very real chemistry between them. Even though we felt this 118-minute film could have been shortened and tied together a little better, the result is clearly a very interesting, enjoyable and thought provoking movie. We came away from it having empathy for the determination of a long line of undocumented immigrants who struggle for years to try to stay in their chosen country and become legitimate for themselves and ultimately for their children. Obviously, there are other points of view on this complicated political and social issue. However, if this movie reaches even half the audience that the last collaboration of this writer/director and star did, it will stand a chance of significantly influencing the great debate on immigration. (2015)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign

Mr. Holmes

July 16th, 2015 — 12:54am

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This is a story about an older Sherlock Holmes who has returned to a country house in England where he lives with his housekeeper and her son and raises bees. The story also shows that he has early signs of forgetfulness but still has a brilliant deductive mind. The film uses flashbacks to earliler situations in his life to develop the plot. Following our viewing of the movie, we participated in a discussion with other moviegoers and a well known film critic Stephen Farber, with a special guest, Mitch Cullin, the author of the novel upon which the screenplay was written. It struck us that we talked about Mr. Holmes as if he were a real person. People recalled early stories in his life which not only came from the extensive writings of Arthur Conan Doyle but from other books, movies, and TV programs, all about this fictional character.

There is a situation presented in one flashback to an earlier time when Mr. Holmes supposedly worked on a case confronting a woman who was lying to her husband not because of an affair with another man but because she was obsessed with playing a musical instrument feeling that it would bring her closer to her two babies who had died. This woman was clearly seriously depressed and suicidal. We see Mr. Holmes years later reflecting on this woman and perhaps even pining over what could have been had they developed a romantic relationship. The depression of the woman seemed irrelevant to him. Even the depressed feelings of Mr. Holmes, as he thinks about this past situation, seem artificial. From our limited acquaintance with the extensive writings about this famed fictional detective, it seems that he usually or even always was shown as the man with a brilliant mind where logic always prevails and most of the time human feelings seem to be left out or at least are hidden. There is more sensitivity to others as he figures out that a Japanese man in the story would be better off if Sherlock tells him a lie about what his father supposedly told him. Sherlock, seems to be a grown-up person perhaps with Asperger’s syndrome who can figure everything out, but not his own feelings.

If Sherlock defended against his feelings, the emotion certainly came out to the audience watching the movie. We are touched by the interaction that he has with a young boy and we were moved by seeing Sherlock beginning to have awareness of his failing memory.

The direction by Bill Condon based on the screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher was outstanding. Ian McKellen’s performance as Sherlock deserves consideration for an Oscar. Laura Linney was excellent as Mrs. Monroe the housekeeper and child actor, Milo Parker, was an essential component to this movie and did a superb job. “It is elementary, my dear Watson,” that you should see this movie. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Cake

July 16th, 2015 — 12:13am

****

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For many years MB was a psychiatric consult to a Burn Center and worked with many patients who had to deal with severe pain. Most of the time, we found a way of controlling the pain through medication, relaxation techniques, hypnosis, guided imagery, and various forms of psychotherapy. However, it was after the patient left the hospital that they had their biggest trial. They were faced with disfiguring injuries, chronic pain, and most of all PTSD with continued grieving around the circumstances of their tragic injury.

We live and breathe this journey through the persona of Claire who is masterfully played by Jennifer Aniston. We initially meet her in a support group for people with chronic pain. We soon learned that her pain is much more than physical hurting. It goes also beyond the physical dependency that her body has for pain killers.

The screenplay by Patrick Tobin slowly unfolds as we gradually learn about a member of Claire’s support group who committed suicide (Anna Kendrick) but lives on in Claire’s mind. We see Claire slowly and painfully expand her limited circle of relationships. The one constant person in her life is Silvana, her loya; housekeeper (Adriana Barraza).

This is not the kind of role you can just step into. It required much more than this actress allowing her face to be made up as being scarred. Jenifer Aniston had to come to inhabit the heart and soul of her character. She did just that through her own efforts and with the help of the film director Daniel Barnz. She also had an excellent supporting cast which included Sam Worthington, Mamie Gummer, Felicity Huffman, William Macy, Chris Messina, and several others.

We suspect this movie will live on, not only as an excellent piece of cinema but it will be used for discussion in support groups as real people will relate to the character that Ms. Aniston and the film makers have created. (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Love & Mercy

July 2nd, 2015 — 2:35am

****

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This is a biopic about Brian Wilson, the leader of the Beach Boys. We did not know the story of how he went through a serious mental breakdown with psychotic symptoms for several years. During this period he apparently came under the influence of Dr. Eugene Landry, shown to be the evil doctor (wonderfully depicted by Paul Giamatti). Dr. Landry was said to be a psychologist in the film but was shown to be “over medicating” Wilson. What is very clear is the brilliance of Wilson. It is interesting to speculate whether or not some of his amazing creativity was related to his genius brain, which also may have been the source of his tendency to lose touch with reality. This is also a great love story (apparently true to life) between Brian Wilson and Melinda Ledbetter ( Elizabeth Banks). While it was not shown in the body of the film, she ultimately became his second wife and the mother of five of his children.

Great credit for this movie has to be given to Director Bill Pohlad. We also thought that Paul Dano was excellent as the younger Brian Wilson (he bulked up to add many pounds to his preexisting physical resemblance to the younger Wilson). We also felt that John Cusack was outstanding as the older, very troubled Brian Wilson. We can only repeat our phrase for Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamiatti in their roles. But as expected the other star of the movie is the music. The soundtrack is constantly playing the old and the newer music created by Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys which includes the title song and it adds to the authenticity of the film.

We hope you see this movie and if you’re any kind of a Beach Boys fan, we also suggest that after you view it you read about the trivia connected to the making of this film by going to the following link: CLICK HERE   You will appreciate how the filmmakers worked so hard to present the story as true to life as possible

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama, Musical, Uncategorized

The Little Death

June 25th, 2015 — 5:56am

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The Little Death

This is an extremely well-done film about a subject that is usually not addressed in today’s cinematic arts. The title is the English translation for Petite Mort which is French for orgasm. The director, screenwriter and one of the actors (known for his acting in House of Lies) is Josh Lawson. He has put together a brilliant story and production which looks at various sexual fetishes.

The subjects are mostly loving couples where one of the partners has a sexual proclivity previously unknown to his or her partner. Take for example Paul (Josh Lawson) and Maeve (Damon Herriman). They could not be more devoted to each other even though they never got around to     getting married. At the beginning of the film (spoiler alert of a very funny joke), Josh mishears Maeve after a recent sexual encounter, thinks that she is asking him to “rate” her. He complies with a very high score. Actually, she said she would like to be “raped” not “rated”. She goes on to try to deal with Josh’s consternation by explaining she has always had the fantasy to be raped by a man (who she would not know was actually Josh) but of course she would never want to have sex with anyone but Josh.

We allowed the spoiler to illustrate the subtle comedic elements that pervade this film as well as to introduce one of the sexual fetishes that is examined in this movie. The sophisticated among you may know that some variation of rape fantasies, perhaps being treated rough or even at the other extreme, are not uncommon.

So it goes, as we are introduced to other couples’ secret fetishes. One woman is very attracted to men who are very sad and cry, She is driven to try to bring about the state in her loving husband. You can find out the result of this as well as being introduced to the other couples and some of their secret fantasies as the film unfolds.

The film also brings up the not so unusual sexual situation for people who are deaf. We are introduced to this aspect of fetishes as a young deaf man Skypes a service which acts as an intermediary for deaf people who need to communicate with people of normal hearing. In this situation, the deaf young man attempts to use this service (which actually does exist) in order to call another service that provides phone sex. The intermediary is a young woman who must “sign”(communicate with her hands) to the young man and verbally convey his sexual wishes to the normal hearing phone sex lady on the other line. We will leave it to your imagination to picture the result of this situation, but like the rest of the film, it is also poignant, insightful and opens up an important part of life to the movie audience.

This film deserves the awards that it has already won at various film festivals and if it can get good distribution, should achieve wide play and perhaps establish a new movie genre. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Uncategorized

14 Films To See Over the Summer

June 23rd, 2015 — 11:33pm

People often ask us for recommendations of films to see. Soon Oscar season will be upon us and we will want to see the newest films which will be contenders for the Academy Awards.

In the meantime, we have put together a list of 14 excellent movies which we have reviewed  between January and June and which we suggest that you consider viewing this summer. Most of them will be out by July and probably all can be found on Netflix.

The top four were 5 star movies in our opinion and others were excellent 4 star movies. You can click and see our reviews for each one. As always your comments at the end of each review are welcome.

 

Michael and Susan Blumenfield

 

Desert Dancer

Wild Tales

McFarland USA

Red Army

 

 

The Little Death

Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

Girl on the Edge

The Road Within

Danny Colllins

Potiche

The Forger

5 to 7

Merchants of Doubt

Tangerines

Comment » | 4 Stars, 5 Stars, Uncategorized

Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

June 20th, 2015 — 10:57pm

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Me, Earl and the Dying Girl – rm

High school senior, Greg (Thomas Mann), is asked by his mom (Connie Britton) to be friendly with a girl, who is a classmate, and has just been diagnosed with leukemia. There are probably many ways that this opening gambit might be handled. The success of this film, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, with a screenplay and novel by Jesse Andrews which won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, is how the personality of this young man is developed for the audience. He is presented as a guy who didn’t get very involved with other students and their complicated relationships. He hangs mostly with his buddy, Earl (R.J. Cyler), and they made parodies of movies based on the titles of well-known films, which they don’t show to anyone. Despite some very interesting reassurances by the plot, the audience is drawn along into this heart-wrenching plot. This tender story provides a window into the minds of these teenagers, which include the girl with leukemia, Rachel (Olivia Cooke). This is a very thoughtful screenplay which not only touches the audiences’ emotions but through these young people it teaches us about life and death. The musical score by Brian Eno and Nico Muhly plays a very important role in achieving the effect of this excellent film. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

GIrl On the Edge

May 29th, 2015 — 6:04am

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This is an independent film based on Director Jay Silverman’s real life experience with his daughter. It is very well done with an excellent screen play by Joey Curtis with the help of Jay Silverman and writer Joe Gamache. There is an outstanding acting job by Taylor Spreitler. Although over 18 years old, she did get into the shoes of the 14-year-old main character that she played. Likewise, Gil Bellows was superb as the father ,who once he woke up to what was happening to his daughter, became appropriately angry and frustrated. Amy Price-Francis did a very believable job as the stepmother. Kudos are also given to the late Elizabeth Pena for her sensitive performance as one of the staff people at the rehabilitation center who understood the role that horses could play in therapy for young people. Peter Coyote could not have been better as the understanding empathic director of the rehabilitation program to which the young girl was sent.

This movie really presents us with two aspects of what this 14-year-old girl had to face. The first is that we could see what could happen to a young girl who begins to experiment with alcohol, perhaps with drugs and sex, and gets slipped a date rape drug where she doesn’t remember what happened to her. That is until she sees naked pictures of herself on the Internet and the terrible consequences in her life after such widespread exposure.

The other part of the story is about what a treatment program away from her loving family might be like. In this case, it was with a sensitive caring staff as well as interaction with other girls in the treatment program. It showed how horticulture therapy (teaching the young people to appreciate the value of growing plants and food) could be therapeutic as well as learning to interact with horses. The scenes of the equine therapy were quite moving. Watching the horse that the girl connected with, as it mirrored her actions, was quite amazing.

In a post-film discussion with the movie director, Jay Silverman, most of the audience acknowledged that they had a close relative or friend who had experienced similar issues and problems to that of the main character of the film. While most people might not be able to afford the kind of rehabilitation treatment that this girl did have, the emotions engendered are universal. This movie has been winning various awards at film festivals throughout the country and internationally. We believe it is a worthwhile experience to see this movie in theaters as well as at home with family . It also should be shown in middle schools and high schools to young people and should be a stimulus for discussion with teachers, counselors, and parents. It probably won’t be available until later in the year but keep it on your list of movies to see. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

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