April 7th, 2017 — 5:03am
The Fool (In Russian with English Subtitles) -nf
This very interesting and engrossing film is a terrible indictment of life in Russia under Vladimir Putin.
Dima Nikitin (Artyom Bystrov) is a plumber who works for the government. Early in the film, we learned that he, like his father is an honest man who doesn’t engage in the usual stealing, bribes, and corruption that commonly occurs in the work environment in Russia. He then finds himself called to a large apartment house in the evening because of a broken water pipe. He quickly realizes that this building is severely damaged and is on the verge of imminent collapse which could be fatal to the 800 men, women, and children who live there. Mr. Nikitin attempts to contact his absent supervisor. When he is unsuccessful in doing that he then arranges an emergency meeting with the mayor who is being celebrated at a gathering with many other city officials that evening. It becomes apparent that money which had been allotted for previous repairs and modernization of this old building was diverted to various city officials. In fact there is a web of siphoning off money for rebuilding and repairs which includes all levels of this small city government. There are no funds for repairs or for temporarily housing the 800 residents of this doomed building which is expected to collapse within 24 hours. We soon realize that we are learning how in Russia and in Russian society, government officials pass around government funds at the expense of the masses. We understand what awaits the fate for an individual with a conscience who feels that this is wrong.
Could there be corruption in some real estate projects in the United States? Of course there could be and we read about occasional government officials being tried and sent to jail for such activities. However, this movie spotlights the pervasive corrupt fabric of Russian society and government. It was interesting to read several comments and reviews of this film by Russians who affirmed the validity of the dark picture of Russia painted by this movie.
This film is an outstanding cinematic accomplishment by Yuri Bykov who is the screen writer and director. This film certainly would have deserved the consideration for being nominated as a best foreign film from Russia of that year. Needless to say the Russians bypassed this movie for that honor. (2014)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign
March 17th, 2017 — 6:30am
4.1 Miles– (short documentary film (in Greek with subtitles) –
This is the first short documentary film, which we have reviewed on this blog. Larry Hott a well-known documentary film director and movie critic and our cousin suggested that we view it and we were blown away by the impact that it had on us. It is a relatively simple 22-minute film made by Daphne Matzaraki and her team. There were no special effects or fancy camera work. In fact most of the shots seemed to be with a hand held camera , perhaps difficult because at times they took place on rolling small coast guard boat at sea.
The main subject of the film is Kyriakos Papdopoulous a dedicated coast guard captain of a boat that comes out of the small Greek island of Lesbos that is 4.1 miles away from Turkey where hundreds if not thousands of men, women and children are fleeing for their lives, mostly originally from Syria.
The movie doesn’t attempt to explain the refugee crisis, the circumstances that have killed their friends and relatives, why they aren’t welcome in Turkey or other countries. Rather it focuses on the somewhat tortured soul of this captain who with his small crew takes his shift on the open sea to save these refugees who are in their small rafts and sometimes in the rough water of the Agean Sea. We see the agony on the face of the rescuer and in the people he is trying to save. We see the fear and tears in the children and their parents as they are pulled on board the rescue boat. We get a view of the attempts to resuscitate drowned and nearly drowned children.
That is it !. Nothing more and nothing less. The net result of this 22 minute film is a slap in the face. Although nominated for an Oscar as we indicated, this is not a complicated movie that delves into the refugee crisis and gives us insight into the political intricacies of this universal issue which includes the current politics in our country. It should bring out each of our humanity which must play a role in all our actions and decisions (2016).
Click here to view film https://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000004674545/41-miles.html
Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Foreign
February 24th, 2017 — 11:17pm
This movie is Australia’s entry in the Oscar race for best foreign film of the year. It made the final cut for the top five and the winner will be chosen in four days from when this is being written. It is a very well done film that would stand on its own well deserved merits. However, in a post screening discussion after we met the team that made the film and learned about the unusual manner in which they embarked on this project, we especially appreciate it as a valuable gem.
Tanna is a small island in the South Pacific, basically untainted by modern civilization. There is no electricity. The people wear their native garb made up of straw and other vegetation. They usually are bare-breasted with the men wearing “penis sheaths”. They speak their native language and are illiterate. There are several tribes on the island and they have often interacted with each other, sometimes not always in a friendly manner.
The filmmakers knew of the existence of these people and made contact with one native, JJ Nako, who must have spent time off the island as he uniquely spoke English quite well. The film crew spent four months on the island bringing solar energy for their equipment. Initially, they did not have any script and explored the lifestyle and customs of the people. They then learned about one event that occurred 30 years previously when a young woman was expected to marry a man from a nearby tribe in order to make peace about some conflicts between them. She, however, had found a young man in her own tribe that she loved and they did not want to carry out the orders of their elders and the tribe leader. The filmmakers decided that this story would be the plot of the movie and they enlisted the entire tribe to participate in this film with several members having major roles in the story. The participants spoke their native language and English subtitles were provided in the final product. The indigenous people were interested in showing the outside world about their tribe and the history. The story turned out to be another version of Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story, with all the poignancy and drama of those classics. The incident took place 30 years previously and actually led to the change in tribal customs. So now, while still living in a very traditional manner, these people do have “love marriages” because of what happened in this event.
The native music and songs are part of the film as well as an underlying appropriate score by Antony Partos. There is a very large, beautiful, bubbling volcano which is part of the makeup of the island and was used magnificently by cinematographer Bentley Dean. Credit of course goes to the directors Bentley Dean and Martin Butler who crafted and directed this unusual film.
The filmmakers obviously made a wonderful connection with the inhabitants of this island. The natives and their performance and participation in this movie demonstrated that their love of history and culture must be very intense as their acting was very believable and realistic. Whether or not it wins an Oscar for best foreign film, this movie deserves to be seen. (2017)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama, Foreign
February 16th, 2017 — 5:23am
Everybody Loves Somebody
This movie would probably belong in the romantic-comedy genre. However, it is much more, as it is a delightful and thoughtful look at relationships and love.
Clara (Karla Souza), a single Los Angeles obstetrician, is planning to attend her parent’s 40th anniversary of being together who are celebrating it, by getting married! At the wedding Clara reconnects with Daniel (Jose Maria Yazpik) a former boyfriend of years ago who drops by after being away with Doctors Without Borders. Their old chemistry seems ignited but so are memories of his inability to make a commitment. Then there is Asher (Ben O’Toole), an Australian born new friend of Clara’s who is a pediatrician and knows something about commitment as he was married nine years until he became a widower. The complex feelings between all these couples including Clara’s sister and her husband are quite intense, palpable and interesting.
Writer director Catalina Aguilar Mastretta has magnificently captured these universal conflicts, emotions and attractions. Therapists and non-therapists alike will appreciate these psychological and real-life issues depicted in this film.
However, there is another aspect of this movie which gives it important significance, especially in today’s political and social climate. The film is bilingual and bicultural! Clara’s parents are Mexican and live in Ensenada. Clara, her parents and her sister as well as Daniel speaks Spanish as their first language and Asher although from Australia is able to speak it also. They also all speak perfect English. The storyline moves seamlessly back and forth across the border between Ensenada and Los Angeles. All the characters comfortably speak Spanish and English at various times throughout the movie and subtitles are provided as needed. The appropriate set of titles will be furnished depending on which side of the border the film is being shown. We suspect that this movie has the potential to be a big hit in both English and Spanish speaking locations throughout the world. (2017)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Foreign, Romance
February 9th, 2017 — 6:31pm
Mr. Gaga- A True Story of Love and Dance -sp
If you are a fan and lover of cutting-edge modern dance, you will be mesmerized by this foreign documentary film( in English) of the story of Israeli choreographer and dancer, Odar Naharin. His passion and dedication to dance, and his travels from Israel to New York and back to Israel, as well as the development of the special “Gaga” movement that he originated is a fascinating story. In a post-screening discussion, Director Tomer Heymann, who produced the film with his brother, Barak Heymann and Diana Holtzman, shared the several year adventure that he took to make this movie. He told how he tracked down childhood footage of Naharin, along with interviews of some of the icons in modern dance.
A reflection of the uniqueness and originality of Naharin is not only demonstrated in the design and movement of his work, but also in the journey that he has taken during his 64 years. His interest in movement dates back to his youth and also his time in the Israeli army during the Yom Kippur War (a leg injury prevented him from directly being in combat).
Naharin came to New York and studied simultaneously at the Julliard and the American Ballet Theater (an unheard of accomplishment). He was then accepted by Martha Graham into the most prestigious modern dance company in the world. Actual video footage of Graham talking about this young protégé is shown. Despite this tremendous opportunity and the recognition of his skills, he did not feel comfortable continuing to study in the United States and decided he wanted to form his own ballet company in Israel. By that time, he had met his wife-to-be, a beautiful Asian dancer, Mari Kajiwara, with whom he fell in love at first sight and arranged a meeting with her. She was the first non-black dancer accepted into the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. They came to Israel to direct the Batsheva Dance Company.
There are many more trials and tribulations, happy moments and great sadness, some of which are shared with us in this film. At the time of Israel’s 50th anniversary, when his dance company was to be one of the featured cultural events, there erupted a controversy about the various simple costumes of Israeli army undergarments that his dancers were to wear.
As riveting as is the unusual storyline about this unusual man, the real attraction of this film is the dance that explodes on the screen. Mixed with some very interesting footage of a young Naharin, most of the movie shows beautifully photographed dancers from all different angles doing the amazing movements that this man has pioneered during his lifetime. The film opens in Los Angeles this week at the Laemmle Monica Theater and at Lincoln Center in New York City. Hopefully, the showing will expand to other theatres so many more people can enjoy this unique story and dance experience. (2017)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Foreign
December 8th, 2016 — 5:14am
Land Of Mine
We just had the opportunity to see Denmark’s entry for the Academy Award for best foreign film this year and we met the writer/director, Martin Zandvliet and one of the producers, Mikael Rieks. This is a very well-done movie, but what stands out about the film is learning a previously little-known aspect concerning World War II and the unique ethical dilemma which the film spotlights.
Towards the end of World War II, the Germans anticipated an Allied invasion of their occupation of Europe and thought it would likely occur on the shores of Denmark which would give the Allies the shortest distance to Berlin. The Germans planted hundreds of thousands of explosive mines on the beaches of Denmark. Of course, instead, the Allies successfully invaded at Normandy. Once the war was over, the Danes were faced with a dilemma of how to go about the dangerous task of removing these deadly explosive mines. They chose to use thousands of German prisoners of war, many of whom were young teenage soldiers who had beenconscripted into the German army towards the end of the war in a desperate attempt to fight off the Allies.
So now the Danes were forcing these mostly young prisoners of war to learn how to do the dangerous task of defusing the enormous number of mines on the coastline. You also may want to consider if there is a valid question whether such forced life-threatening labor is against the treaties signed at the Geneva Convention.
So if this movie accomplished nothing else but to highlight this fascinating ethical dilemma, it would deserve to be seen. However, the production did this in a very personal and dramatic fashion. Most of the movie focused on a group of about a dozen German prisoners of war, most of whom appear to be young teenagers, perhaps as young as 15 or 16 who are under the command of a Danish soldier Sergeant Rasmussen (Roland Moller). Most viewers who appreciate the inhumane treatment to millions of people by the Nazi invaders of course might understand the initial harsh treatment by the sergeant of his captors as he trained and forced them to undertake the mine-clearing task.
However, the added dimension of this drama being played out on the screen was the viewers’ empathy for these young prisoners of war who shared dreams and aspirations of returning home to their families. Not surprising, the Danish sergeant himself, begins to understand his young prisoners and even care about them.
So our emotions are stirred up as we appreciate a great conflict and we can identify with the characters on the screen. There is drama, tension, and excellent photography by Camilla Hjelm Knudsen who is the wife of the director/screenwriter. We come away with a little more insight into history and human nature which adds up to a very good film. (2016)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign, War
December 5th, 2016 — 8:42am
On The Edge Of Seventeen-sp
This film is very effective as it smoothly slides the viewer into the mind of a 17-year-old high school girl. We appreciate her desire for friends, perhaps being sensitized by some childhood experiences of being bullied. Then there were other potential conflictual events that can happen in any teenager’s life in high school. But as much as the audience was getting a feel of this life stage and perhaps being reminded of their own individual experiences, this movie inevitably became the story of this one girl, Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), and how she had to deal growing up with a “perfect” older brother (Blake Jenner) and a far from perfect mother (Kyra Sedgwick) as well as all the events that transpired during her 17 years of life. As any therapist can tell you, there is no truly typical teenage girl. We are all a function of our family dynamics and subsequent conflicts and fantasies. We all emerge from this life stage with varying degrees of subsequent mental stability which will then influence the next generation. Sometimes an experience in therapy will help unravel the painful missteps and unpredictable events that occur as we attempt to navigate this life stage.
Miss Steinfeld, who turned in an outstanding performance, is certainly already a rising star. She received great recognition at age 14 when she was nominated for an Academy Award for her supporting role in True Grit and has made starring appearances in many subsequent films. Woody Harrelson was also excellent in this film as the thoughtful, sensitive high school teacher and Haley Lu Richardson did a great job as Krista, the girlfriend. Screenwriter and director, Kelly Fremon Craig has given us a great story and done a very good job presenting it. The photography in this movie was magnificent. While you might not pay close attention to the music during the film, there was a constant flow of it in the background influencing our unconscious. The overall experience of this movie was a powerful and enjoyable one. (2016)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama
November 27th, 2016 — 9:40pm
In 1974, Robert Redford portrayed Bob Woodward, a journalist in the movie All the President’s Men who along with another journalist Carl Bernstein exposed the Watergate scandal which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Now forty years later, Redford takes on the role of famed TV journalist, 60 Minutes host and CBS anchor Dan Rather in a movie that tells a story of an expose about President Bush that led to “hot water” for Dan Rather and his hotshot producer, Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett).
Both films show the inside exciting, pulse throbbing workings of a top grade news team in pursuit of a major news story that has the potential to destroy a United States President. The title Truth says it all. Rather and his team not only have to find the truth, but they have to be prepared to prove that it is the truth. The opposing side who cross-examined them turns out to be the other TV networks who are eager to bring down the prestigious famed CBS news team. Also on their backs are CBS top executives themselves who feel they can’t take any chances with a story unless all the facts are perfect. The term “beyond a doubt” was never used in this movie, but really this is what it was all about.
The screenplay writer and the first time director is James Vanderbilt. The story is based on a book by Mary Mapes, the award winning lead investigative reporter and producer for the famed 60 Minutes TV show. Her portrayal by Blanchett is riveting and there are excellent supporting roles by Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss, Topher Grace, Stacy Keach and Bruce Greenwood.
You may not follow every last detail of the story unfolding before you, but the film will hold you on the edge of your seat. It is certainly a must-see for history, political and news buffs. (2016)
Your comments are welcome on any review published in this blog and will be posted after a brief time lag.
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History
November 16th, 2016 — 1:08am
This is an exciting and engrossing drama about the dark world of government lobbying. Just as James Bond is not based on a real-life character, it is possible that some version of Mr. Bond or Ms. Sloane’s story might really have occurred. In the case of this movie, we are given a view of what could happen when high-powered lobbying firms are hired to battle over pending government legislation on gun control. Would it surprise you to learn that perhaps in such a situation “anything goes”? We meet a very determined, perhaps brilliant woman, Madeline Sloane (Jessica Chastain) who not only desperately wants to see her client triumph with winning legislation but will do just about anything to get the United States Senate votes needed to accomplish her goal.
As is the case with any good movie, there are twists and turns that you will not see coming but which will add to your appreciation of the film. There are some excellent performances by Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alison Pill, Michael Stuhlbarg, Sam Waterston and John Lithgow. However, the main focus is on Jessica Chastain and she certainly does deliver. We heard that this actress met with a dozen female lobbyists in preparation for this part and picked their brains to master this role. She also copied their black nail polish that several of them did use. We were certainly mesmerized by this character but being students of psychic determinism, we would have liked more insight into the background that made Ms. Sloane tick.
The story behind the making of this movie is quite intriguing. We met the screen writer who created the story. This is Jonathan Perera who graduated law school in England and after working for a few years as an attorney to pay his school debts, he took a job teaching English in China and then in Korea for a total of two years. It was in this somewhat isolated setting on his own, he conceived and wrote this, his first script which was picked up and set up to be made into this major movie directed by veteran filmmaker, John Madden. This is a remarkable accomplishment and we expect to see many more films by this talented writer. The film is two hours and 12 minutes but time will fly which is the sign of a very good movie, (2016).
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama
October 20th, 2016 — 6:17am
Coming Through the Rye-sp
If J.D. Salinger’s novel Catcher in the Rye was part of your coming of age, this movie will connect with you. James Sadwith, writer, director and producer of this film has recreated his actual personal true encounter with the legendary author which occurred in the 1960s when he was attending a private prep school on the east coast.
The story develops as we meet the main character, Jamie Schwartz (Alex Wolff) who is obsessed with Holden Caulfield, the hero of the Salinger novel. Schwartz decides that for his senior school project, he wants to produce and direct a play recreating the Salinger novel. He is told by the school faculty that he must obtain permission from J.D. Salinger ( Chris Cooper) himself who is known to be quite a recluse. Jamie and his new girlfriend Deedee (Stephania Owen) track down Salinger in New Hampshire and have two visits with him before and after he produced the school play, recreating the famed novel.
In a post-screening interview, Sadwith told how the story is 90% accurate and that he based the script on his tape recorded notes of his exact dialogue with local New Hampshire folks who with whom he spoke during his search to find the author and the exact words he had in his interaction with Salinger when he finally met him. The protagonist, Jamie Schwartz, was played in a very nuanced and sensitive manner and actually had a physical appearance and mannerisms, which reminded us of a young Bob Dylan. Ms. Owen was very appealing as the teenage young woman who clearly is sympatico with Jamie. Their “road trip” shows the tenderness and awkwardness of a near first sexual encounter that many people of that generation may very well understand.
Just as it was rare for a novel to capture the imagination of a generation that perhaps endured for over 20 years, it is rare for a movie to recreate these feelings without adapting the specific novel itself for the film. There is also a segment in the film which puts the focus on “bullying” at school. in this case, it is at a private prep school in 1960s but it could be in any modern setting. We see here a strong response and support of the victim by the faculty which we hope would occur any time this happens.
Although a low budget film, this was very well done. The photography captured the atmosphere and the music matched the time and setting quite well. We have no doubt that this film will resonate with those who still have their treasured copy of Catcher in the Rye. It will be interesting to see how it will be received by the millennials, although we suspect that there is a universality in the story that will be able to connect across generations.(2016)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama