Rob the Mob- sp- Are you ready for another good movie about “The Mafia”? But this time it is the “wise guys” meet Bonnie and Clyde. On top of this it is vintage New York 1990s and it is all based on a true story. Tommy is a young hoodlum who with his girl friend Rosie get caught robbing a flower shop. After he gets out of prison Tommy gets the bright idea that he should get an Uzi machine gun to hold up a bunch of small clubs where the gangsters hang out, since he heard they aren’t allowed to have their guns there. She will drive the getaway car. He even makes these mob guys strip down to their underwear. If you think this duo isn’t too bright, you aren’t far from the truth. But they are in love and are both funny and charming. Michael Pitt a 32 year old actor with some good movie and TV experience who comes across as a tough but naïve Clyde, alias Tommy. His Bonnie, or should we say Rosie, is inhabited by someone who reminds us of Barbara Streisand without the voice and is perfectly played by Nina Arianda who has already established herself on Broadway as well as in film. There are a bunch of very familiar looking gangsters including one played by Burt Young, who you remember as Paulie in Stallone’s Rocky and actually was in all six of those films. Ray Ramono continues to demonstrate his versatility as an actor playing the sympathetic NY Post reporter Jerry Cardoza. If there is poignancy in this film it is in the character of Big Al, the honcho of the mob, who is on the verge of being brought down by these two bumbling bandits. He is played very well with dignity by Andy Garcia, who actually makes us feel sad that the FBI is about to bag him due to unbelievable but true circumstances, which are part of this story. Credit for the success of this film in great part goes to director Raymond De Felitta who ran with the screenplay by Jonathan Fernandez and worked very closely during the editing phase with Stephen Endelman who did the music which always sets the tone in this kind of a film. Unless there is word of mouth, this independent film might not take off on the first trip around but it is worth seeing. (2014)
Category: 4 Stars
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me- If you love Elaine Stritch, dramatic actress, singer, musical comedy star and Broadway legend you will want to see this documentary. If you want to meet a remarkable 87 year old star who speaks her mind and is not afraid to tell you she that still needs the love of her audiences, you will want to see this documentary. While one might think that the filmmaker Chiemi Karasawa had always been an avid fan of the subject of this film, you will be surprised to learn that this was not the case. In fact, her interest was stimulated by their mutual hairdresser, who suggested that Stritch would be the ideal subject for a documentary. Karasawa then unearthed everything she could about this woman and ultimately convinced Ms. Stritch to let her do the film. Stritch, who never does anything half way granted the filmmaker full access to her life and embraced the project with the intensity and humor, which is so much a part of her character. The film is not a retrospective review of this amazing person, although it certainly gives you ample glimpses of her star-studded career. But rather it is the story of an elderly woman facing the challenges of life with concerns about her health and memory who nevertheless is still up for another show, another concert, another rehearsal, another review, all with energy and, yes, with great vitality. And this woman can still sing! It is exciting to see her rehearse with her music director as she prepares for her latest cabaret performance at the famed Café Carlyle as she lives in her suite at that same hotel. You can almost hear Frank Sinatra singing New York New York as she hustles down a Manhattan street. All of this is quite real as is her hospitalization at Mount Sinai Hospital for hypoglycemia related to her diabetes. The camera doesn’t miss a beat nor does Ms. Stritch. Two unforgettable moments are the look on a young Stephen Sondheim’s face as a young Elaine Stritch nails one of his songs and another moment when an older Stritch marvels how Sondheim’s words so often captured her own feelings. We come away from this film with a picture of the legend, who once turned down JFK’ s offer to join her at her apartment one evening. A woman who could never find a love to replace her 10 year marriage to John Bay actor and playwright who died in 1982 of a brain tumor and every year still send English Muffins from her husband’s family muffin business to hundreds of her friends. A woman who has been nominated for multiple Tony’s, Emmys and what have you and a woman who is now sure to be unforgettable to new and old fans thanks to this film. (2014)
In Secret-sp Emile Zola is a great French writer known for the Naturalism Literary School which depicts realism, human experience and morality or the lack of it. This film is closely based on one of his classic novels of this genre Therese Raquin. Charlie Stratton as Executive Producer, screen writer and director certainly achieved a realistic 19th century Paris setting (although filmed in Budapest) as well as a dramatic film noir atmosphere. But it was the character portrayals, which riveted the audience and allows Zola’s captivating storyline to hold them spellbound. Therese (Elizabeth Olsen) is a beautiful sex starved and obsessed young woman who is forced into a loveless marriage with her nerdy cousin Camille (Tom Felton) after her mother dies and left her in the care of her aunt, magnificently played by Jessica Lange. Laurent LeClaire (Oscar Isaac) an old artist friend of Camille appears on the scene and there is immediately intense chemistry between him and Therese, which is secretly acted out. It would not be a Zola story if jealousy and passion does not lead to murder! Things cannot be expected to be simple even at this point as there is intense grief, all kinds of strong emotional feelings, delayed gratification and tremendous guilt which seems to be on verge of destroying of what was an intense all-encompassing relationship. The movie will grip you and hold your attention as well as any great TV show but the subtle, complexities and all the dark shadows as well as the absolutely great acting and directing remind you that you have seen a first rate movie. (2014)
The Monuments Men -Guest Review
This is a guest review by Ron Turco, M.D. Dr. Turco is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst from Portalnd, Oregon. He is Chair of the Committee on Art, Culture and Creativity of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry
I read with substantial disappointment David Denby’s shallow and un-insightful review of George Clooney’s new film “The Monuments Men.” (New Yorker – Feb. 17-24, 2014).He compares this film to the old Frankenheimer movie “The Train.” There is no comparison, as the train was not historically accurate and barely mentioned in passing Rose Valland, Temporary Custodian at the Jeu de Paume whose influence was so important in the discovery of looted works in France, at the risk of her own life, that she received the French Legion of Honor and the Medal of Resistance becoming a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, making her one of the most decorated women in France. She also received a Medal of Freedom from the United States in 1948 and an Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit from the Federal Republic of Germany. It was her book “Le Front deL’Art” that was the basis of the 1965 movie “The Train”, a movie in which she was only briefly mentioned, although she had also received a commission in the French First Army.
The Monuments Men were a group of men and women from thirteen nations, most of whom volunteered for service in the newly created Monuments, Fine Arts and and Archives section (MFAA) of the military, attempting to save as much of the culture of Europe and Western Civilization as possible and were willing to fight and die for something greater than themselves. Some were killed in combat.
George Clooney has done an outstanding job with his film “The Monuments Men” and in reminding us that the story of The Holocaust must be told over and over again in different ways and at different times. He masterfully and in sometimes direct or subtle ways brings out the Nazi horror and disregard for human life. Mr Denby has missed the point entirely in his understanding of these heroes and heroines and mentions that most of the works were returned to private collectors. That is not completely true. The works were returned to the countries of origin or to the Jews from whom they were stolen. In the film George Clooney also does an excellent job in presenting the value and importance of the sacrifices of the MFAA people, a job that was endorsed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and strongly supported by Dwight D. Eisenhower. Many of these people went on, after the war, to make substantial contributions to art and culture. Private First Class Lincoln Kirstein founded the legendary New York City Ballet as one of the most important cultural figures of his generation. Second Lieutenant James J. Rorimer, who worked closely with Rose Valland, was instrumental in founding the Met’s medieval collections branch, the Cloisters. “The Monuments Men” film is very close to the facts (a few minor changes, as with all films, including “Lincoln” and “The Navajo Code Talkers”). The acting is superb and I highly recommend this film, especially to young people who may not have an understanding of the broad ramifications of The Holocaust or the history of these brave people. John Edsel’s scholarly book “The Monuments Men” should be required reading in high schools throughout our country. (2014)
At Middleton – sp- A middle-aged husband and wife (not married to each other) bring their own teenage child to a beautiful college for the perennial campus tour. He (Andy Garcia) in suit jacket and bow tie, a little awkward, is a cardiac surgeon, She (Vera Farmiga) attractive, good sense of humor, sells high-end children’s furniture. They begin to casually interact and become separated from the tour and take their own tour of the campus. Hence the premise of the film which is stated somewhere in the dialogue is revealed. What if you get your kid ready to go to college and you realize that you are not happy with the life you now have with your spouse? You come to this realization in the midst of a totally enjoyable interaction with this complete stranger with whom you are now spending a few delightful hours. The screenplay by Glenn German and Adam Rodgers (who also directed it) was co-produced by Garcia who discussed the movie in a post screening meeting. The script he said required hardly any additions or changes by the actors during the 21 days shooting. In fact, there literally were no rehearsals as most of the time they went straight to the camera with cinematography by the esteemed Emmanuel Kadosh. The music was by the famed Cuban musician Arturo Sandoval who was actually played by Andy Garcia in a 2000 HBO biographical drama. It captured the moods of the film quite well, which ranged from the pulsating excitement of new adventure to the sentimentality and sorrow of what could have been. The story was unpredictable and quite creative as it used the beautiful setting of this idyllic campus with magnificent overlook which rapidly changed to an amazing scene of the unlikely couple taking part in a college acting class where their inner most feelings were revealed. This low budget (2 ½ million dollars) independent film is worth seeing and we believe it will hold up well as new films of 2014 are released. (2014)
Her – rm This movie certainly has to rank as one of the most daring and creative movies of the year. It is founded on a somewhat outrageous premise, which if the audience does not buy into, the film would be a ridiculous flop. The man who had to sell the concept and the execution of this movie is screenwriter/director Spike Jonze who is best known for Adaptation (2002) and Being John Malklovich (1999) both of which produced award winning performances, as well as a large number of short films and many music videos. The premise of Her is that technology has now produced a computer operating system, which can think, learn and even feel as a human being. Theodore ( Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely guy who has a job writing nice romantic letters for a website program. He is going through a divorce after 8 years of marriage with Catherine (Rooney Mara) who he thought had been the love of his life but they have grown apart. He readily connects with his new computer operating system who named herself Samantha (the voice of Scarlett Johansson). She understands him, is clever, funny, warm, sexy and they even have sex together which is a successfully done cinematic accomplishment although she doesn’t have a body. With a small earpiece in his ear, a little video camera sticking out of his front shirt pocket, they are always together. They chat, she does work for him, they discuss personal things, go out to dinner and even join another couple for a social evening out together. There is also Amy (played quite well by the talented Amy Adams) who is a friend and neighbor going through her own domestic issues and has a whirl with her own new operating system. The film is set in a beautiful future Los Angeles. However, what makes this movie a success is that it is much more than a story about a funny gimmick or an advanced Siri. It is a depiction of how lonely a person can be, despite having interactions with lots of people. It also is an examination of what love is and how it can slip away when you think you have it. This is tackling some big issues and you have to be willing to accept the daunting premise of the film, which is a difficult thing to do. But if you do, you will have quite an experience. (2014)
Saving Mr. Banks -rm In order to fully appreciate and analyze this movie, you should have read the book Mary Poppins and also have seen the 1964 movie with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Not having immediate recall of either one we had to pay close attention to the story and sometimes felt that we were missing something. The outline of the plot for this film is clearly shown in the publicity for the movie. Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), who actually died two years after the Mary Poppins movie was released was determined to keep a 20 year-old promise to his two daughters and bring this famous book to the screen. To make his movie he needed the permission of the British author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) who was fearful that “disneyfying” her story would take away something very dear to her. What that something was, is the essence of this movie. After much reflection and discussion we concluded that it was her image of her father as a creative, caring and fun loving man who gave her the ability to develop a wonderful fantasy life, which is reflected in her writings. While she may have been able to paint this picture in her books, she herself was an inhibited, desiccated, uptight woman in her personal life who identified more with the father who never delivered for his family and actually died when she was a small girl. The movie directed by John Leo Hancock uses flashbacks to the author’s early childhood in Australia as we learn the full extent of the father’s life. Would an upbeat Disney musical keep alive forever the image that Travers might like to achieve? While this storyline by itself is no great shakes and most of it is obvious from the beginning, we were surprised by the emotional impact that it achieved on us. From the first breakthrough that P.L. Travers shows as she responds to a musical number by the Sherman brothers (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) who were the song writing team for the proposed Poppins movie, to the emotional response that Travers has to the movie premier which she attended, although not invited, we realized that we were identifying with her desire to preserve her loving image of her dad, Mr. Banks. Hanks and Thompson are suburb as are the rest of the cast, including Colin Farrell as the father and Paul Giamatti who plays the sympathetic limo driver who takes Travers around. Bradley Whitford does a good job as the screenwriter who is constantly arguing with Travers. There are 39 hours of audiotape of these actual heated discussions. Since the real Travers insisted that they be tape- recorded we get a sample of them as the credits roll at the end of the movie. Kudos though have to be given to the delicate screen play by Kelly Marcel along with Hancock’s direction which extracted some of the universal emotions towards beloved parents which we all can understand. The net result is a film not to be missed. (2013)
Philomena - Early in the film we learn that Martin Sixsmith (Steven Coogan), a former journalist, has lost his job as a Labor government (British) advisor and decided to meet Philomena ( Judy Dench) an elderly woman who as a teenager had an out of wedlock child at a convent and saw that xhild taken away for adoption. In her later years she unsuccessfully tried to find out what happened to him and never stopped thinking about him even after she became a mother and grandmother. She agrees to let Sixsmith help her try to find her, long lost but never forgotten, son and write a human interest story about this situation. The film is based on a non-fiction book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by the real Sixsmith which documents the journey of this unlikely pair. This movie about this human trauma was directed by Stephen Frears with a screenplay by lead actor Coogan and Jeff Pope. It takes a hard look at the attitude of the Catholic Church towards unwed mothers (at least in Ireland 50 years ago but which may not have completely changed today.) It pulls no punches in showing the cruel treatment of the unwed mothers who had to work in oppressive conditions for a few years in return for having had their child delivered and cared for by the nuns in the convent, only to see their little one sold to rich Americans who were looking to adopt a child. The details of the destiny of the children were hidden from the mothers and attempts to later trace them were covered up with lies and deception. There is an attempt at some balance by showing the contrasting lack of religious faith by the journalist compared to the almost all forgiving faith of Philomena but in the end the Church does not look very good. The movie also reminds us of the painful discrimination towards people with HIV disease which existed in the United States, especially in the 1980s. Both Coogan and Dench are excellent as they convey their subtle emotions and the grand lady of theatre and film may be up for another of her many awards. The storyline of this film also deals with a psychological topic that one of us (MB) has been interested in from a clinical point of view as well as how it has been depicted in various movies. Lost or hidden family members is the subject and the incessant drive to find that person where the emotional connection is intensely built on the biological connection even when the life experience together has been very little or even absent. Some of the recent movies which we have reviewed on this subject have been The Kids Are All Right, People Like Us, Stories We Tell, Admissions and Mother and Child. MB has also written about this with case examples in a blog titled PsychiatryTalk.com which you can click here to view. This very fine film is not only another example of this phenomena but also stands on it’s own as a compelling dramatic production, (2013)
The Fifth Estate- sp. If the “4th Estate” is a term that refers to people who organize and report the news what is the “5th Estate” ? It is basically the subject of this movie which is the story of Julian Assange (Benedtict Cumberbatch) and his assistant Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl) who ran WikiLeaks, the controversial website which is know for reporting secret private government documents. On the day we previewed this movie the real Julian Assange who is living in the Ecuador Embassy in London because of legal charges against him for being with underage girls, released a letter that he had written to the actor who plays him in this movie. In it he denounced the film and said it is based on “the two most discredited books on the market.” He also stated that he felt the film intended to depict him and his work in a negative light. At our screening we met screenwriter Josh Singer, who has a law degree from Harvard and a MBA as well has having been a writer for the TV show West Wing for three years. He contended that he researched the topic very thoroughly and spent time with many of the subjects in the movie although he never met Assange. WikiLeaks was originated by Assange as a website in which anyone could report evidence of wrong doing and be assured anonymity as well as having their report published on the website without editing. The small team of Assange, Berg and a few others would check out the sources before they would put it up for the world to see. They attracted whistleblowers from around the world and broke some major scandals. Everything came to head when US Army Private Manning leaked thousands of top secret documents about the US war in Afganistan which were to be jointly published by WikiLeaks, The NY Times, The London Guardian and Das Spiegel (a leading German newspaper). These documents were to include information about informants who were living in war zones whose lives could therefore be in great danger. The question with which the film struggles is whether Assange is a very creative idealist devoted to uncensored free speech who has developed a new form of journalistic expression or if he is a personally flawed individual who is insensitive to the implications of the tool which he has developed and the manner in which he tries to use it. Or perhaps he is a combination of these two characterizations. The direction by Bill Condon is fast moving and quite creative as exemplified by showing the online chat room where the main characters communicate while they are traveling all over the world as an actual large interesting physical space. We must admit that we both found several of the scenes confusing as we were not exactly sure where they were taking place and why the characters were there. However, the story line did carry us along and the conflicts which unfolded did challenge and inform us. This adds up to a very worthwhile movie. (2013)
Enough Said rm- Once you get over the fact that you are seeing the late James Gandolfini’s last performance you will find that you are watching a very insightful and touching romantic comedy. This is the story of two divorced middle age people with flaws and baggage who encounter each other and develop a romantic relationship. Eva (Julia Louis –Dreyfus), a masseuse, is as expected funny but yet poignant as she finds chemistry with her new friend Albert (Gandolfini) but yet is unsure of herself and doesn’t really appreciate what she has found. She is greatly influenced by her old friend Sarah (Toni Collette) who would rather change her furniture than consider changing her misfit husband (Ben Falcone) as well as by her new client and friend Marianne (Catherine Keener). This film also examines the interaction between parents and daughters at the point where the daughters (Tracy Fairaway and Michaela Watkins) are going off to college. Screenwriter and Director Nicole Holofcener has weaved this complicated and poignant relationship into the story as both main characters are in this situation. There are some great comedic moments, which play off the big coincidence of the story, which the audience becomes aware early on and watches the characters come to their own meaningful realization. This movie is also a showcase for Gandolfini to demonstrate his versatility in showing vulnerability as a gentle man as compared to that trait in his role as a tough guy, for which he will forever be remembered in the Sopranos. (2013)