Category: 4 Stars


Confetti

August 20th, 2021 — 7:43pm

Confetti

****

We would not have expected this film to grab and hold our attention as it did throughout the entire cinematic experience. It is the story of a young school age Chinese girl who was diagnosed by a visiting American teacher as having dyslexia, which means difficulty in reading. Her mother is determined to get help for her child so she can learn to read. When there appears to be no place in China where she can get the assistance that she needs, she learns that there is a specialized school in the United States. The girl and her mother, both of whom only speak a few words of English, take the assistance of the American teacher to stay with his wheelchair-bound mother in New York while they seek a specialized school in order for her to learn how to read. This very cute little girl and her attractive mother capture the screen as they encounter various roadblocks and rejections along the way. This is the essence of this movie and there were no big surprises. As we recount the plot, it does not seem to be particularly intriguing, but yet it held us spellbound as one of the best films we have seen this season. The movie was filmed in both China and in United States (New York). The filmmaker put together a cross-cultural team that carried off this remarkable accomplishment.

One of us (MB) has worked with Tierra del Sol, which is an organization for developmentally disabled and helps youngsters and young adults with variations of this handicap succeed in school, work, and in artistic endeavors. We know that it requires a dedicated team of professionals, supportive family and persistent fund raising to help these handicapped people have meaningful lives. So perhaps the story of this film is misleading or oversimplified or maybe it is a metaphor for what can be done for youngsters who come to the world at a disadvantage, which they can overcome. Kudos to the director and screen writer, Ann Hu and the America/Chinese team that made this film and, of course, the outstanding actors Zhu Zhu, Yanan Li, and American veteran actress, Amy Irving as well as the entire outstanding Chinese and American cast and the film team that brought this to life.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Swan Song

August 8th, 2021 — 9:00pm

Swan Song

****

We initially meet Pat Pitsenbarger in a senior living facility where he appears to be in the final stages of his life. It appears that this is going to be a character study of this elderly man, but we soon realize that the journey we are about to undertake with the main character is going to be a much more complicated. It provides insight into the struggle of a gay man and the vibrant life of this man in the gay community that existed in the small mid-western town of Sandusky, Ohio. Pat Pitsenbarger was a real person who was a hairdresser in this town and he also performed at the gay night club that existed here. We soon begin to realize how his life touched so many others through his skill as a hairdresser as well as his sensitivity and caring for others. He did not realize it, but he was a role model for many other people.

In a discussion with the filmmaker, Todd Stephens, we are told that the story is based on a real person who lived in the town where the filmmaker grew up. This film is a moving, insightful examination of this character and his lifestyle. It is done extremely well. It will touch your emotions and provide an understanding of this man and his lifestyle, as well as being quite entertaining and enlightening. Many universal themes are on display and explored including love, loyalty, tolerance, understanding and forgiveness. It feels genuine and draws you in. This also adds up to an excellent cinematic experience and a highly recommended film.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama

The Comeback Trail

July 23rd, 2021 — 7:37pm

The Comeback Trail
****

This is a comedy based on a film that was made in 1982 by the same name that was made by the late Harry Hurwitz. This remake is written and directed by George Gallo. One of the producers of this film is the wife of the late Harry Hurwitz. She and Mr. Gallo were at the preview we attended run by Steven Farber in his series titled Reel Films.

The storyline and this well executed film really gives the viewer a sense of involvement and role of the producers in making a movie come into being, albeit this one being quite exaggerated and comedic. In this case, it is a story about an old country movie star who is brought out retirement from a retirement home for people in the film industry, to star in an exciting Cowboy and Indian film. Mixed into the storyline is a subplot about possibly murdering the comeback movie star so the producers can collect on a large insurance policy on the aging star. we did not mention that this movie stars Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones, Morgan Freeman, and Zach Braff. How can a film miss with such a cast?

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama, Western

In The Heights

June 23rd, 2021 — 1:20am

In The Heights
****

This musical may very well live on for future generations and enter the category of great productions such as Westside Story and Hamilton. The latter also had the lyrics and music by Lin-Manuel Miranda as he did In The Heights. This is the movie version of the Broadway musical which opened in New York in 2008 and which we had enjoyed then.

The story takes place in Washington Heights in the Northern tip of Manhattan in New York City. We meet a young man who hopes to return to native country of Dominican Republic. There are interesting subplots, which include a beloved grandmother who reminisces about her childhood in Cuba, a young woman who comes back to the neighborhood after her first year of college at Stanford University and is torn apart by conflicts concerning how to fit in and, of course, there is passionate romance. We may have missed a couple of beats and some of the subplots; however, we do not think this matters very much because we are overwhelmed with the music, singing, and absolutely terrific choreography to the backdrop of this very realistic depiction of life in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. There is among many scenes of sensational movie magic, where two lovers are seen dancing on the side of the buildings, just to highlight the creativity of the production.

We originally planned to watch this movie in two to three parts since we knew it was 2 hours and 22 minutes; however, we could not resist watching the entire film in one sitting.

The cast, while mostly not known to us, were extremely talented in song and dance as well as in the development of their characters. We did recognize Jimmy Smits in one character role, and a small but interesting role which Miranda did cast himself.

This is certainly a movie to see for its sweet stories, pluck and exuberance, joyous musical style and fantastic production numbers. It is a happy opening up following the months of pandemic isolation. and if you have the chance to see it live, we are sure that the stage production is a knockout.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Musical

Nowhere In Africa

June 19th, 2021 — 4:00am

Nowhere in Africa
****

This is a 2001 German film which was written and directed by Caroline Link. It is based on an autobiographical novel by Stefanie Zweig.

We thought that we had seen every aspect of Holocaust books and films, yet this subtle, touching, thoughtful story tells a poignant tale that reflects the deep-seated impact as much as the classic well known literary and cinematic productions have done on this subject. It tells the story of a German Jewish family; father, mother, and young daughter, who fled Germany “to the middle of nowhere in Africa” which is actually in Kenya.

Perhaps this story is best reflected through the eyes of a young girl as she grows into early adolescence during what must have been a seven or eight year period. She is accepted into the native culture. Her parents have their struggles and conflicts. Their pain in missing their relatives and learning of their fate is a well-known part of history. The viewers must put themselves into the shoes of this threesome as they ultimately must decide whether to stay or leave and where to go once the war is over.

The skill of the filmmaker is reflected in the fact that we forget that we are seeing a foreign film with subtitles. The setting is quite real as are the characters and their in-depth portrayal.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History

Steal A Pencil For Me

May 22nd, 2021 — 1:00am

Steal A Pencil For Me-nf
****

As have so many stories about the holocaust, this film produced by Michel Ohayon has touched our hearts. It tells a true story about a man Jac Polak and woman Ina Soepwho met in Holland shortly before the Nazis took over. He was infatuated with her although he was married to someone else. When their time came and they were deported to a concentration camp, they kept in touch with each other through clandestine letters and notes (hence the movie title). Through this continued relationship (along with film clips of various cattle cars whisking the Jews away and pictures and clips of the horrors that went on during those terrible years), we ultimately learned that this unusual couple never lost hope that they might reunite. Sure enough after liberation, they found each other and have had more than 60 years of marriage. It is no surprise that this is a moving story that not only tells about enduring love, but reminds us about history that we must never forget.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, History, Romance

The Father

May 5th, 2021 — 6:48am

The Father
****

It is easy to see why Anthony Hopkins was recently awarded this year’s Academy Award for Best Actor. He is magnificent as an old man with a fading memory in this film. The movie is presented in a manner that the viewers experiences the memory lapses and subsequent episodes of confusion as if it were happening to us. Hopkins’ facial expressions, voice, movements, and interactions with the other characters are near perfect. He moves easily between anger and fury to softness and sadness.

The film was written and directed by Florian Zeller who has adapted his prize-winning French play of the same name along with Christopher Hampton. Interestingly, the main character’s first name is “Anthony”. His daughter is played by Olivia Colman who also turned in an outstanding performance. To make things even more interesting, Anthony’s daughter is also played at a different age by Olivia Williams who physically resembles Ms. Coleman. There were several clever manipulations of the setting all adding up to a somewhat unique cinematic experience.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

The White Tiger

March 17th, 2021 — 6:09am

The White Tiger
****

Unfortunately, we do not clearly remember the book upon which this film was made, which we read about 12 years ago and one of us wrote up in his book blog. We also had to see it again for the story to clearly register with us although we first saw it several weeks ago. It is obviously a well-done film, which holds your interest as the story develops. We are watching a young man from a very poor lower class caste in India attempt to put himself up to a slightly higher level by manipulating things so he can become the main driver for a wealthy Indian family. As we view his journey, we come to appreciate the contrast between the very rich and the very poor and the near impossible odds against any upward mobility.

Baked into the plot at the beginning and at the end of the film is the contrast between India, a so-called democracy, and China, a so called socialist regime (obviously Communist). This is accomplished by hearing the letter that one of the Indian main characters is writing to the premier of China. There is also an apt analogy to a rooster coop where in this case people are borne into servitude and cannot usually even contemplate another way of living. There is always the possibility of someone being a “White Tiger,” an unusual form of the animal that appears possibly once in a generation. In the film this seem to be the metaphor for a person who is able to break out of his expected destiny.

In addition to the political messages that are being given, we are also experiencing a well-done drama with suspense and unexpected twists and turns and a deep dive into the various characters.

The film was released more than 10 years after the book came out. It stars Adarsh Gourav as Balram, the driver and also features excellent performances by Rajkummar Rao and Priyanka Chopra. It is directed by Ramin Bahrani who wrote the screenplay based on the book by Aravind Adiga. It was Oscar nominated as the best adapted screenplay.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Politics

Juddas and the Black Messiah

February 21st, 2021 — 8:43am

Judas and the Black Messiah – HBOMAX
****
This is a very powerful film, which examined the rise of the Black Panthers in Chicago and the underlying story of a double agent black man who is recruited as an informant for the FBI after he was caught committing a crime and chose being “Judas” rather than going to jail. The story provides insights into the men and women who developed and coalesced into the Black Panthers mostly from several black groups centering in Chicago. LaKeith Stanfield plays the Judas and there are outstanding performances by many of the stars, but of particular note was Daniel Kaluuya who played Fred Hampton, the Black Panther leader, and his girlfriend Deborah Johnson played by Dominque Fishback. Of note also was the performance of Martin Sheen who plays J. Edgar Hoover in a relatively small but quite effective role.

There is violence, suspense, and murder throughout the film. The movie captures the anger and revolutionary nature of a coalescing black power movement. The storyline reminds us that it was not a single black group that demanded the equality which they deserved, but several rival groups and gangs, the Crowns, Young Lords, and the Patriots that all came together in an uneasy truce to face the violent oppression, which they encountered daily.

The film showed the work of the Black Panther organization as being mostly about self-help for the community. They created breakfast programs as well as working to set up a medical clinic. Most important to the group was bringing together all the varied factions within the community who had felt unheard, discriminated against and marginalized. The film showed how important it was for the Panthers to be able to defend themselves from the constant, unprovoked assaults by the police and the ongoing attempts to crush them completely by J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I.

The plot was intriguing and the historical truth was revealing. The acting was great and the directing by Shaka King and the outstanding production was deserving of the many awards that are now being discussed for this movie. (2021).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

One Night in Miami

February 1st, 2021 — 10:29pm

One Night in Miami (Amazon)
****

This imaginative story of the fictional meeting of four black icons caught us by surprise. The film is supposed to have taken place in 1964 when we were in our 20s and while very much aware of the civil rights movement but we were not intimately cognizant of the role that each of these well-known persons were playing at that time.

Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), the great heavy weight boxer, had just become the world heavy weight champion by knocking out Sonny Liston. He was probably the youngest man in the foursome and was about to become a follower of the Nation of Islam and become a follower of its leader Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir). However, Malcolm X was about part ways with this organization and make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Jim Brown (Adis Hodge) was a great football player who seemed to be the least developed character in this film. We most enjoyed the character of Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.). We had a fond memory of his feel good music and the change that was developing and black awareness in this character as well as in the entire country was reflected in his interchanges with Malcolm X.

The film was directed by Regina King with the screenplay by Kemp Powers based on his book.

The movie ends with a note that Malcolm X would be assassinated shortly after this story was to have taken place reminding us that this was just beginning of the ongoing Civil Rights and Black Lives Matter movement. It is rare that such a totally imaginative interchange between relative contemporary figures can capture the essence of their historical significance. It is also painful to know that over fifty years later, the fight for equality and justice needs to continue to be waged. (2020).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, Politics

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