April 29th, 2016 — 11:39pm
Ernest Hemingway is the iconic writer who is forever linked to Cuba where he spent much of his life. Denne Bart Petitclerc was a reporter for the Miami Globe in the 1950s and for very personal reasons idolized the great writer and wrote him a letter telling him so. This led to a correspondence and then a friendship with “Papa” Hemingway and his wife, Mary Hemingway.” Petitclerc visited Cuba several times and subsequently wrote about his relationship with Hemingway, which is the subject of this outstanding docudrama. This movie offers a sensitive insight into this brilliant writer, driven, complicated man who was an alcoholic, had severe depression and possibly a bipolar disorder as well as a complicated love life. In addition, he was drawn into the Castro Communist revolution and was also in conflict with the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover.
While this all makes a fascinating story, the attraction and success of this movie is the portrayal of Papa Hemingway by Adrian Sparks. This veteran award winning actor has played Hemingway in one-man-shows on the stage for several years in addition to his other stage and film accomplishments. He was the natural choice for this role. Giovanni Ribisi is excellent as Petitclerc and he is called Ed Myers in the film. The movie also stars Joely Richardson as Mary Hemingway and Minka Kelly as Myers’ girlfriend.
Director and producer, Bob Yari also scored an amazing accomplishment in that he received permission to film this movie in Cuba. After much negotiating he was able to do this because the movie is portrayed as a docudrama rather than a commercial film. However, the movie will hold the audience’s attention as well as any good drama. In fact, if you have had any occasion to be a tourist in Cuba in the past several years as we have, you will appreciate the familiar sights. We were particularly pleased to see Hemingway’s house, which is now a treasured museum but was used in the film. In fact, in a post screening discussion, we were told the real items in the house were substituted with props but at the last moment, Cuban officials allowed Hemingway’s actual typewriter to be used in the movie. Knowing this lends a special realism when we see him typing on it in the film. Enlightening, moving and totally engaging, this movie is well worth seeing. (2016)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama
April 13th, 2016 — 7:28am
Writer-director, Lorene Scafaria has put together a dramedy (drama plus comedy) with which both young and old will identify. In a post-screening discussion with Ms. Scafaria, we learned that the story is a very close, realistic depiction of the writer’s own mother, who moved out to Los Angeles from the east coast after her husband died. The mother, Marnie (Susan Sarandon) who is on the screen for almost the entire film meddles or tries meddle in just about every aspect of her single daughter’s life, as well as in the lives of just about everyone else who she meets. Lori, the daughter (Rose Byrne) not surprisingly is a budding film maker, who as much as she tries, can’t get away from her mother’s love and over-attention, which of course she really needs. On one hand, we keep thinking that this mother character is exaggerated and way over the top. However, why then did she captivate our attention? The answer is that the film has captured the universal need and wish of most mothers to do just about everything and anything for their children at any age.
The dialogue and Sarandon’s characterization is near perfect. The screenwriter, who of course is really the daughter telling the story of her mom, has also added a romantic twist, which she acknowledges is her fantasy wish for her mother. This brings in a potential boyfriend for her mother in the person of a dashing, handsome, senior guy who rides a Harley Davidson motorcycle and raises chickens as pets. Unbelievable you say – just wait until you see Oscar winner J.K. Simmons take on this role.
This independent low-budget film has a lot going for it with a great script, two outstanding stars, a fine supporting cast and great execution by this young woman director. It also should have special appeal here in Los Angeles, where most of the film takes place from the scenes at the Grove, to glimpses of the entertainment industry in action and the beautiful west coast shoreline, as well as many characters who will remind you of people that you know.
This movie opens later this month across the country. We highly recommend it. (2016)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama
April 7th, 2016 — 6:22pm
The Diary of a Teenage Girl – nf
On one hand this very well done film gets into the head and feelings of this 15-year-old girl as she has her first sexual experience. We can imagine that so many teenagers will identify with the excitement, bewilderment and glorious feelings that she relates into her tape recorder as she tries to preserve the special moments. As well done as this depiction and as universal as these feelings may be, her particular situation was certainly nowhere typical. The setting was San Francisco in the 1970s and her first lover is her mother’s boyfriend. What follows is more and more sex, parties, drugs and some same-sex sex.
One would hope that all of this will not reflect the typical teenage experience. However, we would be naïve not to believe that the modern teenager may very well know some version of the scene. It is ironic that most teenagers could not be admitted to this R-rated movie. The star of this film is Bel Powley, an experienced actress who was in her early 20s when she portrays 15-year-old Minnie. Her immature party mom is played by Kristen Wiig and the boyfriend who was more of a period piece than an outright cad was played by Alexander Skaarsgard.
Credit for the success of this movie is first time director Marielle Heller, who also wrote the screenplay based on a novel by Phoebe Gloeckner. To give you an idea of her accomplishments, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, in addition to nominating Ms. Heller for Best Woman Director and Best Woman Screenwriter, also nominated this film for Best Depiction of Nudity, Sexuality or Seduction – a well-deserved award.
This movie goes beyond these accomplishments and captures the complicated universal joy and wonder of sexual awakening. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama
March 31st, 2016 — 8:40pm
To best appreciate this review click here and listen to Miles Davis as you read the review
This is not your typical biopic that simply traces the life story of an important person. It is rather a cinematic representation of the powerful, free flowing, unpredictable, abstract and arresting sound of the music of Miles Davis. It tumbles on to the screen as his music emerges from his trumpet. We absorb a sense of this man and his music rather than understand a chronological progression that has growth and coherency.
Don Cheadle, actor, director and screen writer of this movie has chosen to use as his point of departure the approximate five-year period in the mid 1970s where this productive jazz artist ceased to produce any music. We meet Miles Davis (Don Cheadle) when a reporter who says he is from Rolling Stone Magazine (Ewan McGregor) visits him with the hope of interviewing him and finding out why he is no longer on the music scene. This leads to flashbacks and flashforwards, cocaine binges, car chases, the search for a tape of a recent personal recorded session by Davis as well as a glimpse of the personality of Davis and his relationship with Francis Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi) a beautiful woman and dancer who was his wife for ten years. We see that Davis at least in his early life was a somewhat self-centered, arrogant man who loved his woman and also abused her. Of course he was a musical genius who came of age in the mid-1950s and ‘60s and we also were shown examples of the impact of the ugly sector of racism as he was arrested for standing on the street in front of the night club where he was the headline performer and put in jail for the night.
We are introduced to a young musician called Junior (Lakeith Lee Stanfield) who is intertwined in the plot as Davis tries to find himself during his five-year unproductive period. This young musician could be symbolic of the many young musicians that Davis has helped on the way up, including Wynston Marsalis. He also could represent the very young Davis himself who pushes the now middle aged Davis to pick up the mantle where he put it down half a decade ago.
As mentioned earlier you will not take away a coherent story from this one hour and forty-minute movie experience. You will hear much of Davis’ great music in the background frequently played quite softly. You will see Don Cheadle skillfully appear to inhabit Davis with convincing mannerisms as well as the way he handled his musical instrument. The photography is magnificent (director of photography was Roberto Schaefer). There are many evening scenes and snatches of semi-dark rooms with white smoke trailing upward surrounding the cast of characters. Miles Davis’ music is always there. This will probably not be a blockbuster movie but may very well get the attention of film critics and demonstrate the genius of Miles Davis who won nine Grammy awards and perhaps the potential Oscar worthiness for the second Oscar nomination for Don Cheadle. (2016)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Musical
March 17th, 2016 — 9:04pm
First-time director, Bob Nelson, who was Oscar-nominated for his screenplay Nebraska, has written and directed this very sensitive story about the relationship between a separated father and his young son. There is clear chemistry between the father (Clive Owen) and his son (Jaeden Lieberher).
The setting is small town blue-collar America. Dad, who has had a drinking problem and is experiencing some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is out of work, has the opportunity for a carpentry job but his tools have been stolen. This all happens on the weekend where his son is staying with him and by the way, he is also locked out of his small rented house with an eviction notice. We get sucked into this story and feel and empathize for the dad, and we realize so does his young son! We want to give credit to Bob Nelson, the director, and veteran actor, Clive Owen, for how they have worked with this child actor and brought out such an outstanding performance. However, in our screening where we met these gentlemen, they were unanimous that young Mr. Lieberher is an outstanding actor and deserves all the credit for his ability to understand his character and magnificently carry out this sensitive and subtle role. The supporting cast is excellent but special praise should go to comedian, Patton Oswalt, who plays, with a comedic touch, an out-of-work well meaning but somewhat inept guy who uses meth and is trying to use his “contacts” to help the father and son recover the stolen tools.
This movie was a poignant portrayal of the difficulties, exacerbated by poverty, which befall so many in our society. The working class small town was depicted with depth and authenticity and you can so easily identify with the struggles of everyday families.
The title of the film came from the Catholic ritual of coming of age, as it is also a gentle satire of religion. Instead of providing a moral compass for the young boy, the church and its rituals are seen as only a counterpoint to real life. The film is rated PG-13 “for some mature thematic elements,” but we would imagine that many kids who are mature beyond their years can relate to it. (2016)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama
March 13th, 2016 — 9:37pm
What Happened, Miss Simone? -nf
This Oscar nominated documentary biography will grab you and hold your attention and your emotions. You will re-experience the meaning that the Civil Rights Movement may have had to you and how you understand its significance in this country. Music as it always does, creates and brings out deep-rooted feelings and the haunting music and lyrics of this gifted singer and musician will do just that. You will come to understand who Nina Simone was and where she came from and what she was trying to do. But this film will also raise questions about Miss Simone, as a wife, mother, and troubled soul that will remain unanswered although undoubtedly you will share our admiration for her.
Nina Simone grew up as the preacher’s daughter in North Carolina. She was noted to have musical talent and as a young girl she played the piano in church. She went on to get formal music lessons and she had a lifelong unfulfilled wish to be the first black classical concert pianist. She also , clearly, experienced the pain of the Jim Crow South and multiple occasions of blatant discrimination because she was black.
This film documents what she did become and that is a widely acclaimed blues singer with a very distinctive style. When the Civil Rights Movement burst upon the scene, her music and words became part of its anthem alongside of Martin Luther King and others. This was symbolized by the controversial song “Mississippi Goddamn”( click to hear this great song) which was embraced by the movement but apparently ultimately marginalized Miss Simone’s ability to work in the musical industry.
The details of Miss Simone’s journey were very well documented with film clips and interviews with people who were very close to her including lifelong friends, fellow musicians, her husband, and her now grown daughter. One of the most fascinating and convincing parts of this documentary film was the showing of the handwritten pages of her own diary. These scribbled words with printed subtitles at the bottom of the screen, documented her love and dependency on her husband, a former New York City policeman who guided a good part of her successful career but also apparently viciously beat her according to her own words. We do not really understand why and how she tolerated him so long before divorcing him. Nor do we understand how she could suddenly leave her loved only young daughter with her good friend and abruptly go off to Europe to try to revive her career.
Her own diary also documents her bouts of suicidal thoughts during this period. As a psychiatrist, one of us (MB) knows we can never properly make a diagnosis or understand the clinical issues in someone we have never seen in our consulting room. However, it should be stated that in her late years, we clearly see a very depressed woman. We are told in the words of her grown daughter and others that she had a diagnosis made of manic-depression and was prescribed “Trilafon” (a second generation antipsychotic medication – not usually the medicine of choice for this condition). We are also told that the medication helped her a little bit. It is also stated that she subsequently had certain symptoms of stiffness and twitching of her lip which are common side effects of this medication that was given to her. While we certainly don’t know all the details we can’t help wondering if she had the best treatment
Miss Simone died at the age of 70 and we do not know too much about her last few years. We have come away from this well-done documentary film by director and producer Liz Garbus with an appreciation how this talented woman was able to find her destiny at the same time that she was able to touch the emotions and express the voice of so many people during the Civil Rights Movement in this country. Through this film and her music, there is the opportunity for her work reach future generations. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Documentary
February 20th, 2016 — 11:52pm
We were late in catching up with this highly acclaimed film and decided to watch it on television at home “on demand?” As we were starting to view it, SB commented, “Isn’t it going to be boring watching an entire movie of a guy stranded alone on Mars.” It is a fair question but you obviously know the answer since as of this moment the film has won golden globe awards for best picture and best actor for Matt Damon and then seven Academy Award nominations.
Veteran director Ridley Scott worked with a very skillful production team that used special effects, green screen, and reproduced Mars in a studio in Budapest and in the desert in Jordan. The screenplay by Drew Goddard was based on a first novel by Andy Weir. Anyone with a knowledge of the outer space exploration would have heard of the Goddard Space Center named after Robert H. Goddard the father of rocketry. We haven’t been able to find out if Mr. Drew Goddard is connected in any way to the space pioneer although we see he grew up in Los Alamos which is known for nuclear research as well as space research. Maybe there is an unconscious connection.
Of course the star of the film is Matt Damon who plays the stranded astronaut Mark Watney who is left behind on Mars because his crew thought he was killed in a big Martian storm. He becomes our hero. We root for him. You will get caught in his plight and the 2-hour and 24-minute movie will fly by. You will see lots of familiar faces who do a great job in their respective supporting roles. These includes Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor (remember him from 12 Years A Slave) and many other fine actors. It is of note that we hear barely one sentence about who the lost astronaut is connected to back on earth and who he yearns to see if he makes it back home.
The underlying attraction of this very well done film is that it captures the human spirit. It is summed up in the song played at the end of the film by Gloria Gaynor recorded in 1978. Listen to it , catch the line at the beginning about being back from outer space, buy the song on iTunes and go see the film. Click here to hear the song – and then click the first video screen(2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama
February 3rd, 2016 — 2:55am
(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
January 11th, 2016 — 6:31pm
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
January 7th, 2016 — 5:09am
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