Category: 4 Stars


Ma Rainy’s Black Bottom

December 29th, 2020 — 3:13am

Ma Rainy’s Black Bottom (Netflix)
****
This film is Based on the play of the same name by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson. The setting is the 1920s and a Black Jazz Group is preparing for a recording session. The film takes a deep dive into a couple of the characters. The main focus is on Levee, a black trumpet player who wants to play things his way and dreams of forming his own band rather than playing back-up to a great black singer. He is played by Chadwick Boseman in his final performance as he passed away shortly after the filming this movie. His character embodied the frustration of black men, especially talented ones who were held back by prejudices of the time. The other star of this film was Viola Davis who lived within Ma Rainey, a black superstar singer who is going to take everything her talent deserved although she clearly had to stand up and make her righteous demands. The storyline, great acting by the entire cast, directed by George C. Wolfe, provided a wonderful insight into the oppression and prejudices which emerged in this time period. The senior producer for this excellent film was Denzel Washington.

Our biggest disappointment with the film was that it ended when it did. We so much wanted to see a light at the end of the tunnel that we hoped could be there. Instead, we were shown the endless frustration and pain that has been the plight of so many black people. (2020).

Comment » | 4 Stars, History, Musical

The Undoing

December 20th, 2020 — 12:56am

The Undoing – Six Episode TV Series on HBO
****
This six-episode TV series stars Hugh Grant, Nicole Kidman, and Donald Sutherland with an excellent supporting cast, especially a young boy played by Noah Jupe. This mini-series is based on the novel “You Should Have Known” by Jean Hanff Korelitz. It is created by veteran TV producer David E. Kelley and is directed by Susanne Bier. This “whodunnit” will hold your attention and if you have any tendency to binge, you will take this one in just a few gulps. A doctor who is a caring pediatric oncologist finds himself accused of a brutal murder of a woman with whom he was having an affair. There are hints that the killer might possibly be his wife, a successful psychotherapist or perhaps the husband of the murdered woman. A couple of other suspects flash through your mind as this story unfolds. As you might expect, there are some great courtroom scenes. This is well worth the six hours of running time of this series.(2020)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Crime, Drama, Mystery

Frida

December 15th, 2020 — 4:47am

Frida- ( Netflix)
****

This is moving romantic biography about the Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo. It begins with a bus accident which severely injured her legs, in which she made a good functional recovery. She was able to pursue her artistic inclinations as a painter and then met one of Mexico’s most famous and revered artist, Diego Rivera. Much of the story is based on their tumultuous romantic relationship, which included a phase where they took in a Russian revolutionist by the name of Leon Trotsky who had fled to Mexico after Stalin was out to destroy him and his ideas.

This film, which was released in 2002, is based on a 1983 book by Hayden Herrera. The movie was directed by Julie Taymor and stars Selma Hayek who was nominated for an Academy Award for best actress in a leading role in this film. It also features Alfred Molina as Diego Rivera as well as costars Ashley Judd, Edward Norton, and Antonio Banderas. The film blended the passion of Mexican music with a sexual romantic storyline based on real well-known people. It is a worthwhile cinematic experience.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Romance

What Happened Miss Simone?

November 29th, 2020 — 12:52am

We also reviewed this film a few years ago when it came out. We suggest that you also look at that review ( What Happened, Miss Simone? )which also has a link to one her outstanding performances.

****
What Happened, Miss Simone? (Netflix)

This 2015 documentary film was directed by Liz Garbus and is nominated for best documentary film at the 88th Academy Awards. Nina Simone is a little girl who appeared to be destined to become a child prodigy classical pianist. Her natural talents as a pianist as well as a singer diverted her into performing as a jazz artist. Being a young black woman, she used her musical talent to be an important voice in the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s. She would often be singing in a musical manner what the black leaders were saying in so many ways, especially as she came forth and performed her classic song, Mississippi Goddamn! Ms. Simone’s personal life was complicated as the man whom she married and became her manager also physically abused her.

The editing of this film was magnificent as there were clips of her performing and talking as well as segments of observation by people who knew her including her husband and most important, her daughter. These were all blended together with wonderful clips of performances by this great artist.

Sadly, it turns out that Ms. Simone appeared to have had an underlying depression, which dominated her later years. She died at the age of 70, but her music will never be forgotten.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Musical

Echo In The Canyon

August 4th, 2020 — 12:13am

Echo In The Canyon (Netflix)
****

Being relative newcomers to Los Angeles and not having grown up here, we had no idea how the lovely mountain and valley area northwest of downtown Los Angeles is actually the birth place of the “California Sound.” The musicians who were drawn to this area in the early 1960s included well known groups such as The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, and The Mamas & the Papas as well as many other groups. They transformed folk music into the all familiar electric guitar sound that still resonates today. The film was directed by Andrew Slater and features Jakob Dylan, a very talented musician himself who also happens to be the son of Bob Dylan. He interviewed several of the featured musicians who were now in their senior years including Stephen Stills, Michelle Phillips, David Crosby, Graham Nash, and even Ringo Starr. Jakob Dylan is also shown performing a good deal of the time. Many of these interviews appeared to be made just for this film and there were also many archival clips. Many parts of this film were made in the famous Los Angeles recording studios.

What was it about Laurel Canyon that attracted these musicians and allowed it to be the birthplace of this beloved sound? In part, it was the presence of recording companies including the iconic MGM building that resembles a stack of records. Also, most likely, the proximity to the movie studios and the lifestyle of the rich and famous. While not highlighted in the film, this also was the time of psychedelic drugs such as LSD that were often associated with rock and roll. Whatever the attraction, it was a magical time that gave birth to the unforgettable music and the musicians that created it. This movie, whether it is a trip down memory lane or an introductory education about the music of the 60s, is a worthwhile cinematic and music experience. (2020)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Musical

I Am Not Your Negro

July 25th, 2020 — 7:00am

****
I Am Not Your Negro ( Netflix )

The well-known author James Baldwin was planning a book, in which he would discuss the lives and the assassinations of three prominent black Americans: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He only completed 30 pages of the manuscript before he died in 1987. Raoul Peck was able to take his manuscript and extended it into a full documentary film narrated by Samuel Jackson. It not only showed the reflections, thinking, and writing of Baldwin, but was able to piece together with videos and still pictures not only the 60s when these three men were in the prime of their lives and were assassinated within five years of each other, but was also able to trace and reflect the history of black people in the United States. He particularly examined the interaction and the subjugation of blacks throughout the history of this country. Although Baldwin died in 1987 and this film was released in 2016, it resonated loud and clear with today’s contemporary society in the United States, particularly with the recent death of George Floyd at the knee of a white policeman and other similar tragic events. This movie is painful and timely. Baldwin wanted people to understand the terrible subjugation of black Americans, but also the systemic oppression of them even in today’s American society (2016).

1 comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Politics

A Fortunate Man

May 22nd, 2020 — 4:35am

A Fortunate Man ****

This is a very engrossing and complicated story about a man who was anything but fortunate. The main character, Sidenius (Jens Albinus), is brought up in a religious Christian family, in which his father was the church pastor. The son does not get the blessing of the father as they have a bitter departure, as Sidenius goes off to seek his own life and fortune, which to him would mean selling his dream of giving the world his idea of a new form of energy and power through windmills and canals which could remake turn of the century Denmark. He encounters a wealthy Jewish family and is drawn to the oldest beautiful daughter (Katrine Greis-Rosenthal) who would also connect him with great wealth and the potential to make his engineering dream come true. However, the story becomes more complicated as we come to appreciate Sidenius’ rebellion from his father as he unwittingly also identifies with him. The movie allows the viewer to understand how for most of this man’s life, his self-centered personality made him insensitive to the feelings of the women in his life and even to his own children except for a final moment of insight. The story is adopted from a novel by the Danish author, Henrik Pontoppidan.

Aside from showing us the insight into the psychodynamics of a man, as we see the impact of his childhood on his subsequent life, the film also highlights several other interesting issues:

It shows the impact on a person raised in one culture (in this case a poor religious Christian culture) who suddenly finds himself surrounded by a wealthy family (in this case a Jewish culture).

It also spotlights a well-known dilemma when a creative genius with a new idea is confronted with the established society that is not quite ready to embrace his revolutionary concepts.

There is also a familiar subplot of a woman who believes she is in a committed relationship and finds herself pregnant and realizes that her partner, who does not know she is pregnant, is actually ready to move on and break up the relationship.

Finally, there is also the well known story of an estranged grown child finding out that a parent has died and now is drawn back to be a loyal child when it is really too late.

So, you can see this very well done film directed by Bille August will hold your attention and stir your emotions. It is certainly worth seeing (2020).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Romance

Crip Camp

March 28th, 2020 — 11:00pm

****

Crip Camp-nf

This film was recommended to us by someone who knew that we spent the summer after our wedding working in a camp for orthopedically handicapped adults and children. It is produced by  the production company formed by former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama in association with Netflix. The opening scene of this documentary film, although taking place several years later showed Camp Jened very much resembling our own unforgettable summer experience. The focus was mostly on teenagers, many in wheelchairs, some with severe speech impediments and others limping around, but all with the energy and joy as they clearly felt liberated and were having the time of their lives. Many spoke of how for the first time they did not feel different. Others spoke of the joy of swimming and playing baseball even if it was from a wheelchair. There was the first teenage sexual attraction and overall a most meaningful summer.

However, this documentary film was much more than the story of a wonderful great summer camp experience. The producers and editors put together the story of the historic civil rights movement of people with disabilities. It also became obvious that some of the participants in this and leaders of this movement had met each other during their glorious summer camp experiences. Now many of them were young adults and were emerging as the leader of this most important movement.

A group of them had landed in San Francisco where they began to demonstrate against Joseph Califano who was the Secretary of Health Education and Welfare and was not carrying out Federal Law section 504 and therefore not supporting equal opportunities for the handicapped. Curb cuts, so wheelchairs and their occupants could travel freely, elevators in all structures as well as other architectural accommodations to allow people with disabilities to lead a more normal life were their demands and expectations. The Black Panthers who originated in nearby Oakland, California, supported and joined them in their protests. This movement then reached a crescendo when the growing group of protesters arrived in Washington, D.C. and held sit-down demonstrations in front of Secretary Califano’s office outside the building and inside. This went on for a couple of weeks before finally Califano recognized the rights of the handicapped.

To think that much of this movement started in the early relationships of many young people who met at the remarkable summer camp a decade earlier. The filmmaker obviously dug up early footage from Camp Jened and focused on several people who became leaders in this most important movement. The viewers of the film were able to follow them as they emerged into adulthood and made the remarkable contributions to the civil rights of the disabled in this country. (2020)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, History, Politics

Burden

February 19th, 2020 — 1:40am

****

Burden

This story, set in the 1990s, is based on real events and real people. It takes us into the Deep South where a group of Ku Klux Klansmen are converting an old movie theater into a KKK Museum. As we meet our main character, Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund), he is one of the Klansmen. We see his life is about to change as he meets a poor, lovely white young woman (Andrea Riseborough) with a small son who has a different background and values than he does as she and her son are friends with black families and her kid is best friends with a black child. They fall in love and she says that he will have to choose between her and the Klan as she could not tolerate the brutality of the KKK. This unlikely threesome shortly finds that they have no place to live and they are befriended by a black congregation led by Rev. Kennedy (Forest Whitaker).

The film clearly captures the hate and brutality towards black people by the white people who identify with the prejudices and hate symbolized and characterized by the KKK. It also reminds us of the potential for change when human beings fall in love and feel very close to each other, allowing them to open up and become more empathic. Self worth can rise and insecure anger can be reduced. There is also a wonderful depiction of a black church group whose faith sustains them through a very difficult time and how important was their beliefs and the leadership of them by their spiritual leader, were in their lives.

It is easy to see how one might view this story as just a fairytale but the characters and story ring true. This belief was further reinforced when during the closing credits we were able to view the real people about whom this story was based. (2020)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

Corpus Christi

January 30th, 2020 — 4:33am

****

Corpus Christi-sp

This is Poland’s entry in the Oscar race for best foreign film and it could be a winner. A young man escapes from his violent detention in prison where he has to work in a sawmill and gets into gritty fights. While he already knew that his desire to go to seminary and become a priest could not be possible because of his prison record, he finds a way to act out his fantasy. After he escapes from his detention, he finds refuge in a church in a small town. He convinces the vicar there that he is actually a recent graduate priest who is passing through and then accepts the role to temporarily be the Church’s spiritual leader when the older man has to leave for a period of time. Not surprisingly, interesting things happen and issues of spirituality, morality and fairness are all put on the table for the viewer to contemplate along with the characters in the film. The core of the story is based on a true incident of priest impersonation, but much of the story comes from the imagination and creativity of the screenwriter, Mateusz Pacewicz, director, Jan Komasa, cinematographer, Piotr Sobociński, Jr. as well as the great acting performance by Bartosz Bielenia, along with an excellent supporting cast.(2020)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign

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