Category: 4 Stars


Trial By Fire

November 6th, 2018 — 9:12pm

****

Trial by Fire 

We see the theme of this movie played out on television all the time on shows such as Dateline or 20/20 and others. A person is accused or convicted of a murder but in many cases he or she did not do it. We recall at least two outstanding books which dealt with this subject, Just Mercy and The Ghost of the Innocent Man. We also recall an excellent film we saw several years ago on this subject titled Conviction. We know about the innocence project and the work of Barry Scheck in many states throughout the country and how scientific advances such as DNA testing have made an important impact on criminal prosecution. So, when director Edward Zwick and screenwriter Jeffrey Fletcher decided to take a prize-winning article in New Yorker Magazine by David Grann to the screen, they were not the first to put a searchlight on this important defect in our criminal justice system. Despite the fact also that we usually find any film over two hours a tad too long, they did an outstanding job which riveted us to our seats and allowed us to explore the characters involved and the message of the movie.

Jack O’Connell deserves Oscar consideration for his depiction of the nasty husband who frequently abused his wife and was home alone with his three children when a fire broke out and the kids were all killed. He claims he did not start the fire but the police, neighbors, fire inspector, a snitch who was briefly his cellmate, the district attorney, eventually his wife and the jury all say that he did it.

What follows is his nine years in jail and an insight into life in prison with much of it being in solitary confinement and then his time on death row. We also get an insight into this man’s character and how his understanding of life evolved. Another very important character is a woman played magnificently by Laura Dern who was recruited to write a letter to a prisoner in jail but ultimately meets him and becomes an advocate for him. We also get an eye-opening view of the criminal justice system in this particular state. In fact, we see that the checks and balances that are supposed to be in place are quite questionable all the way up to the office of the Governor. Did we mention that this took place in Texas? However, the injustices here are found throughout the country

When we saw this film and met the director, Edward Zwick, the film makers were having some difficulty in setting up distribution and a release date. You may have to catch this movie on TV. However, it should be seen and the message and the illumination it provides are incredibly important. (2018)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Crime, Drama, Uncategorized

55 Steps

October 24th, 2018 — 12:37am

****

55 STEPS

This film which is based on a true story, features two outstanding performances by well-known actresses who are on the screen together, probably more than 90% of the movie. Helena Bonham Carter plays Eleanor Riese, a young woman with a mental illness who is depicted as receiving potentially dangerous psychiatric medications against her will in a mental hospital. Hilary Swank plays Colette Hughes, the diligent attorney, two-year out of law school, who along with Mort Cohen, a law professor, played by Jeffrey Tambor, takes on Reise’s case and changes California State Law so that involuntary injection of medication is not allowed under certain circumstances. In the course of this moving story, the attorney and the patient become friends.

Unfortunately, one of us (MB) could not allow himself to simply enjoy this moving story and ultimate important legal battle. The reason being that I am a psychiatrist who has seen the evolution of the treatment of involuntary hospitalized patients and the role that anti-psychotic drugs have played in their care. I had to consider the context of the history of the treatment of the mentally ill in this country. Prior to the 1960s and 1907s, there were mental hospitals all over the country with more than half a million patients who were hospitalized against their will because of severe psychosis (being out of touch with reality often with hallucinations and delusions). In the 1950s, a drug named Thorazine was developed, which could put psychosis into remission. Although this drug could have significant side effects, this medication made a tremendous difference in hundreds of thousands of peoples’ lives. Between 1955 and 1994, 487,000 patients were discharged, leaving about 70,000 patients in state mental hospitals. In fact, most state mental hospitals were eventually closed. When I first stepped onto a psychiatric unit as a psychiatry resident in 1966, the newest antipsychotic drugs had not yet been developed and the drugs of choice was still Thorazine and similar medications. It would not be for another 20 years that much safer antipsychotic drugs were developed and put into use. However, the treatment with these medications was effective enough that in the 1970s, with the help of President Jimmy Carter outpatient clinics replaced most of the hospitalized psychiatric treatment in this country. With the development of new antipsychotic medications in the 1990s, there also were much safer medication treatment with many fewer side effects.

However, to this day, patients who are considered to be a danger to themselves or others (which will often include being out of touch with reality by responding to imaginary voices or to delusional ideas) can still be hospitalized against their will. We saw in this movie that the Eleanor Riese case brought about a change in the California law as the State Supreme Court ruled unanimously that patients who are involuntarily committed to health facilities for short-term crisis may refuse to take antipsychotic medication. There is an exception that allows for involuntary medication if the patient is deemed “incompetent to make such a decision by the courts.” There was also the exception for emergency medications, meaning medication that is used for patients who are “considered an eminent danger to themselves or others either physically or psychologically and refuse to take the medication freely.” Of course, you can also be hospitalized against your will on the same grounds for people who are suicidal. All this only pertains to the State of California. Other states may have slightly different laws. I apologize for the technical psychiatric details, but I know that many of the readers of this blog are related to the mental health field and would want these things clarified. There should be one more detail concerning the real character portrayed in the movie. The young woman may not have had schizophrenia. It was mentioned that when she was younger, she had a brain infection related to a shunt put in her brain and she subsequently had some intellectual deficiencies. This may have been the cause of her depicted mental abnormalities.

Returning to the film, which was done very well and was quite moving. The viewers developed a feeling of understanding and empathy as well as admiration for both of the main characters. There also is a very interesting back story about the making of the film, which we learned about in a post-film discussion with the author and producer, Mark Bruce Rosin. He originally came up with the script 25 years ago when he heard a radio program about Ms. Riese and her lawyer who was fighting for her rights to refuse medication. The movie was almost made by two different studios, but it was ultimately dropped until it eventually came to be made with the director Billie August and now will be released nationwide in the next few weeks. Despite some of unaddressed complexity of issues raided in the film, it was one that will grab you and cause to think and is well worth seeing. (2018)

 

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

Fahrenheit 11/9

September 24th, 2018 — 12:41am

****

Fahrenheit 11/9- rm

This is a documentary movie by filmmaker, Michael Moore. So, if you know anything about him, you can expect a strong political statement reflecting his views. However, we found that he took us some places we did not anticipate and we were emotionally moved by several points that were being made.

While the title (One Day After Trump’s Election) and introduction zoomed in immediately on the election of Donald Trump, which surprised most everyone, probably including Trump and his supporters. Moore did not let us forget that there was a clear majority of voters supporting Clinton and of course, the Electoral College, which allowed Trump to be elected president, is a remnant of a compromise made to appease the slave states.

As we settled in to see a further dissection of Trumpism in this country, the movie took us on a somewhat different journey than we expected. We ended up in Moore’s homeland of Flint, Michigan where we were told the story of one of the most horrendous acts of deception ever played upon American citizens. The water supply of the city was changed and then came from a new river source, which was polluted with lead and other substances that were an irreversible poison to the residents of that city, especially impacting children. The governor of Michigan, Jim Snyder, even when he knew about the facts, hid the truth from the people in order to protect corporate interests who were benefiting by the status quo. He did make some changes, so a General Motors plant would have clean water so as not to damage the cars that were being made. Apparently, even President Obama did not understand the true gravity of the situation as we see him speaking in Flint, Michigan minimizing the seriousness of this issue.

This movie also took us to West Virginia, where we met poorly-paid teachers who defied their own union and were going on strike for a 5% raise in salary for themselves, school bus drivers and kitchen workers in the schools. We saw how their brave acts of defiance were then copied by teachers in other states, giving a picture of how people can rise up for their rights.

Seen through the eyes of this documentary filmmaker, the human elements of such events can be very well conveyed. However, nothing was more moving than the depiction of the well-known story of the children of Parkland, Florida who rose up to capture the hearts of the entire country as they exposed the self-centered actions of the gun lobby in this country who have resisted changes in gun control despite the massacre of the Parkland children by a crazed killer with an assault rifle.

The ending of this film brought us back to Trump with Michael Moore’s eye-opening clear comparison of the rise of Donald Trump and the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism as seen in Germany. This documentary film pulls no punches and it will hit you in the gut, bring tears to your eyes and give you a great deal to think about. (2018)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Politics

The Children Act

August 29th, 2018 — 4:26am

****

The Children Act-sp

This is one of those films in which everything seems so well done from the story line, the mood background music and the outstanding acting. It is based on a novel by Ian McEwan, who also wrote the screenplay, with direction by veteran director Richard Eyre.

The setting is in London and the main character Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson) is a judge in the British Judicial System. When she is working, she wears the traditional judicial garb and she is referred to as “My Lady.” She is very dedicated to her work and appears to frequently handle sensitive ethical issues. Her childless marriage to her husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) is not going well as he tells her that he is planning an affair.

The film then focuses on one very delicate legal case that Judge Maye must opine upon which deals with a 17-year-old boy with leukemia who needs a blood transfusion to save his life. He and his parents are devoted Jehovah’s Witnesses where blood transfusions are forbidden and the patient and the parents are refusing that he should have one. “My Lady”, the Honorable Judge becomes ultra involved with his case as she feels she must visit him in the hospital and try to understand him.

The success of the film is not only the interesting storyline, but it is the very sensitive and well done performance by Thompson who emanates her pain and turmoil as she changes the life of the boy (who is played by newcomer Fionn Whitehead). There may not be any ultimate satisfaction at the end but you come away feeling you have been through the painful experience that the characters on the screen have been going through, and the questions raised will stay with you long after the film ends. (2018)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

The BlackKKlansman

August 13th, 2018 — 1:58am

****

The BlackkKlansman-rm

Director Spike Lee takes on a very interesting and true story of a Colorado Springs black police officer who successfully manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan Chapter and become the president of it.

He also has an encounter with David Duke. The movie stars John David Washington (an accomplished actor who is also Denzel Washington’s son) as the black police officer. Adam Driver plays his alter ego who makes the in-person appearances at the clan meetings while Washington’s character sets things up by phone and also establishes a relationship with the president of the local College Black Students Organization (Laura Harrier).

While these actual events took place in the 1970’s, Spike Lee concludes the film by making a connection to modern times as he shows clips of recent white supremacist action in Charlottesville and other places and includes a video clip of President Trump. (2018)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Uncategorized

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot

July 15th, 2018 — 6:01pm

****

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot-sp

The United States is in the midst of a horrendous addiction crisis. This movie gets to the heart of one man’s battle with alcoholism and the devastating effect that his illness had upon him. In a post-film discussion with Jack Gibson, one of the writers who wrote the book upon which this film was based, we learned that this movie has been 20 years in the making. It is based on a true story of the main character, John Callahan, who was originally going to be played by the late Robin Williams. As great a job as Williams might have done with this role, Joaquin Phoenix turned in a performance that we strongly believe deserves Oscar consideration. Thanks to his ability to inhabit his character, and what could also be an award-winning accomplishment by the director, Gus Van Sant, John Callahan vividly comes to the screen in various phases of his addiction, including being permanently paralyzed in an electric wheelchair with limited movement of his arms due to an alcohol-related accident. We gained some insight into his childhood experiences which undoubtedly led him to his addiction. We painfully shared his struggle in the AA program where he meets several people, including a young man who has inherited wealth but ends up as an addict, ultimately becoming Callahan’s AA sponsor. This role was very well played by Jonah Hill. There are also other excellent performances by Rooney Mara and Jack Black.

There are so many facets to Mr. Callahan’s battle with his disease which include his finding a way to make love, becoming a successful cartoonist, searching for his birth mother, going through the 12 steps of AA, including making amends, that we are torn between concluding that the film was too long (almost two hours) and yet at times, too superficial and that there were some very important area of his life that we wanted to see in more depth.

We believe that this film is destined for success, not only because of the bold depiction of one man’s struggle with alcoholism, but also because it should be seen and we feel will be viewed by so many people who are impacted by addiction. (2018)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama

Hearts Beat Loud

June 26th, 2018 — 10:54pm

****

Hearts Beat Loud-rm

There is something very special about a relationship between a father (Nick Offerman) and daughter (Kiersey Clemons) especially when it is a single dad who is raising his kid after the mother died at an early age. We meet such a duo just as the girl is getting ready to go away to college. There is another element which makes this relationship even more special and that is that the father and daughter make music together. They write, play, sing and edit their own songs. It is even more poignant since the deceased mom and dad were once a music duo themselves hoping to make it big. If you have ever seen the passion and joy that budding musicians have for their band even when they are just playing and it is “not a band”, you will appreciate and be moved by this film Director Brett Haley handled his cast quite well and especially brought out the musical talents of teenager Kiersey Clemons. The supporting cast was topnotch and included Ted Danson, Toni Collette, Sasha Lane, and Blythe Danner. This musical trip should appeal to teenagers as well as those of us who can remember how we felt about the music that moved us when we were young. (2018)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Uncategorized

Detroit

June 26th, 2018 — 10:47pm

****

Detroit-rm

One of our all time favorite films is The Hurt Locker, which was directed by Kathryn Bigelow for which she became the first woman director to win an Oscar. She certainly has not lost her touch. This film grabs the viewer and transports us into Detroit in 1967. Racial tensions were high and the National Guard and state police were called into the city as the riots exploded. There was an incident at a small hotel in the inner city where a several black men and two white women were held at gun point by four or five white Detroit Police Officers who believed that there was a sniper who shot at the policemen from the hotel. The prejudice and hate from the white police and how it was transformed into violence was quite dramatic and palpable. It did seem strange that there were no ranking police officers (Sergeants, Lieutenant or Captain), who were called to the scene. But this aspect he did not diminish the realistic and almost documentary feeling, which this movie conveyed. This slice of American history is very well presented with the raw emotion, which was part of it. While we hope that we have come a long way from this event, which occurred a half century ago, we obviously still are not free from prejudice that shows up in various manifestations in our society today. This is why such a film deserves our attention and should hold an important place in our memory.

This film also played homage to the Detroit Motown sound in the storyline as well as in the soundtrack. The actors were outstanding as was the setting, special effects, and editing which included film footage from Detroit in 1967. (2017)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

Book Club

May 8th, 2018 — 7:56pm

****

Book Club-sp

It is a rare phenomena that we will see four outstanding veteran actresses star in a film with each of them having roles portraying an in-depth character who has an arc of development and change.

Screen writer and first time director Bill Holderman teamed up with Erin Simms to co-write and co-produce this movie. They won over Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen to come together in this movie about relationships, love and sex in women of a certain age. The well-known male actors who joined this romantic film were Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Don Johnson, Richard Dreyfuss, Ed Begley Jr. and Wallace Shawn. In case you are curious about the name of the book the “Book Club” was reading, it was “Fifty Shades of Grey” although the film was not R rated.

We predict that in addition to being a big hit with the older demographics, word will get around that this film will have great appeal to romantics of all generations and it will be a great success. (2018)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Romance

Little Pink House

May 4th, 2018 — 6:02am

****

Little Pink House

Whether you are an on-the-ground activist, a student of law, or an activist at heart, you will be drawn to this movie. It is a docudrama that tells the true story of Susette Kelo (Catherine Keener), a woman who worked as a dedicated EMT, had just been through a second divorce and found a quaint fix-up house in New London, Connecticut on the water where she decided to settle and build her life. Needless to say, the finishing touch on her hard work of fixing up the house was to paint the exterior pink (hence the film title).

And now the plot thickness. Pfizer pharmaceutical company begins to work out a plan with the town fathers to build a new large plant in New London. This has the potential to bring new revenue and jobs to this town which could well use the infusion. The viewer then becomes introduced to the term from the United States Constitution called Eminent Domain. A group of home owners, mainly elderly, are now threatened with either being forced to sell their home or be evicted.

Ms. Keener plays her character quite well as she becomes the symbol of the embattled home owners with the support of her boyfriend, Tim (Keith Rennie) and her lawyer Scott Bullock (Giacomo Baessato) against the Director of Corporate Development (Jeanne Tripplehorn), the city attorney (Jerry Wasserman), and the governor (Aaron Douglas).

Director and writer, Courtney Moorehead Balaker, leads this band of actors to the Supreme Court of The United States where the case is settled (at least for the time being). This adventure is a worthwhile cinematic experience (2018).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama, History

Back to top