Category: 4 Stars


November 23rd, 2015 — 1:42am

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We don’t know if you would had to have lived through the 1950s or have been around close enough to this time period to have heard first-hand stories to appreciate the atmosphere in the United States during the time of this movie. Director Jay Roach and his team have very realistically created the look and feel of this period and the screenplay by John McNamara based on the book by Bruce Cook provides the basis of a very realistic recreation of what happened to Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) and many other people

Trumbo was a brilliant, highly paid screenwriter who was very successful. He happened to believe in communism particularly that wealth should be shared (although he was clearly much better off than most people). He identified with striking workers and in fact was not afraid to sympathize with many communist beliefs, which at the time made him the target of the House of Representatives Committee On Un-American Activities as were nine other screenwriters who were known as the Hollywood Ten. They were subpoenaed to Washington to go before the congressional committee. Members of the Committee forced them to identify themselves as communists, which they refused to do, and therefore were sent to jail on charges of contempt.

This is just a small part of the story. When Trumbo comes out of prison this brilliant film writer couldn’t sell his scripts with his name on them anymore. Nevertheless he wrote many highly successful scripts under other names, two, of them winning Oscars. The fascinating life of Trumbo, his relationship to his wife Cleo (Diane Lane) and his children is the story of this movie. It involves the interactions with many Hollywood icons including Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg), John Wayne (David James Elliott) and Louis B. Mayer (Richard Portnow). Also Trumbo’s relationship with another writer Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.) Is quite important as is that with Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) and Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) in dramatic events at the conclusion of the movie.

Every detail of this movie is extremely well done such as the blending of archival film clips with realistically created black and white scenes. Of course, the outstanding star of the story is Dalton Trumbo who deserves to be introduced to a new generation of Americans. We can’t give enough praise to Bryan Cranston who brought his character to life with thoughtfulness, subtlety and great passion. In our opinion he deserves an Oscar nomination for his work in this picture. Hollywood tends to have an affinity for stories about itself especially when they are done well, which might push this movie into becoming a big winner during the awards season this year. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Horror


November 19th, 2015 — 6:28am

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Almost 40 years ago a film about investigative reporters who exposed the Watergate break-in and brought down the Nixon presidency was nominated for eight Academy Awards including best picture. That was All the President’s Men. Jason Robards, Jr. won for best supporting actor. Now today we have Spotlight, a terrific film about an investigative reporter team of the Boston Globe, who in 2002 dug into the hidden scandal of about 90 catholic priests who were molesting children. These horrific crimes were covered up and even when some of them were exposed, the priests were not prosecuted and would just be re-assigned to churches in other cities. The reporting team persisted in their work and even exposed the fact that Cardinal Law also knew about these activities and participated in the cover-up. This ultimately led to him being re-assigned to a posh position in a prominent church in Rome. This exposé rocked the Catholic Church and has implications that extend to the present time.

It will be very difficult to choose a best actor or supporting actor from these outstanding performances, since this was truly the work of an ensemble. The real life reporters, Mike Rezendes was played by Mark Ruffalo, Sacha Pfeiffer was played by Rachel McAdams, Matt Carroll was played by Brian d’Arcy and the Spotlight team team leader, Walter “Robby” Robinson was played by Michael Keaton. There also were great performances by Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron, the newly brought in overall senior editor of the Boston Globe who happened to be Jewish. John Slattery played Ben Bradlee, Jr. the long-time editor of the Boston Globe, who was a supervisor to the Spotlight Team. Interestingly, Ben Bradlee, Jr. is the son of the famed newspaper icon, Ben Bradlee who was the editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal exposé. There were some other fine performances by familiar faces which included Stanley Tucci as one of the many lawyers in the film and Len Cariou (who plays the grandfather on Blue Bloods TV program) as Cardinal Law.

The director of this movie was Tom McCarthy who co-wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer. They made the decision not to collapse some of the characters in order to keep the team as the ensemble it was in real life. This may have somewhat diffused the potential drama of the movie. Early in the film, as each reporter went off on his and her own investigative aspects of the project, it was a little confusing as to who they were interviewing and why. This all came together as the two-hour and nine-minute film flew by with the tension mounting as the story progressed. We got the message that investigative reporting is hard, tedious work but when you see your subject in your “gun sight” and you realize you are dealing with a worthy subject, all the effort is worth it. The realism of the movie was also enhanced by some collaborative meetings by the actors with the real reporters. We understand that they held meetings with their respective characters and with some of them even watched how they performed in their workplace. The result is a movie that should not be missed. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History


November 18th, 2015 — 7:43am

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This is an excellent film that should score a touchdown on several counts. Significantly, it may put an unwavering light on the brain damage that football brings about due to the repeated slamming of the brain in its fluid container inside the skull, which is so characteristic of our highly popular American sport. The viewers of this film will take in this awareness in the course of this most dramatic presentation. The audience will also witness an outstanding sensitive performance by Will Smith who plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the true to life Pittsburgh pathologist who discovered and named Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy as a result of performing autopsies on three former professional football players who died at a young age. Their death was often preceded by memory difficulties, mood alterations which included depression and labile mood which often led to out of control behavior and even suicide.

Will Smith deserves Oscar consideration as he brought to life the persona of this brilliant Nigerian born doctor who had numerous degrees but yet was sensitive to his deceased patients and felt compelled to be sure that their true story was told. He worked in a Pittsburgh morgue under the supervision and support of famed pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht who was played very well by Albert Brooks. Wecht was portrayed as quite wise yet with a smidgen of comic undertones, which made him quite warm and believable. Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin) who was a former loyal NFL team doctor who once he appreciated the solidity of Dr. Omalu’s discovery, stood by him in his confrontations with the NFL.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw sensitively portrayed Dr. Omalu’s girlfriend, who became his wife. The film may have taken on a little too much unnecessary poetic license in at least one place by showing Dr. Omalu’s wife being harassed by some people following her while she was driving alone in her car, which led to her having a miscarriage. Director/Writer Peter Landesman in response to MB’s question admitted that this incident shown in the movie was not exactly what happened. He said, it was meant to symbolize and condense the real harassment that Dr. Omalu and his new wife had from the many football fans in his community when some of them realized that the essence of professional football was being challenged by this one unknown doctor who documented and published scientific articles backing up his findings which challenged the safety of football at all levels from the NFL down through college, high school and even at the youngest level.

We know that ultimately lawsuits were brought against the NFL and were settled for large sums of money with the caveat that the NFL does not have to acknowledge how long they knew about the possibility of brain damage in the players. Practices have since been adopted to take players out of the game who show signs of head injury. However, it has been estimated that at least one-quarter of professional football players will develop evidence of brain damage. We do not know what the full extent of these injuries will be especially in high school and college players or even at the most junior level who are playing the sport.  

The authenticity of this film is confirmed by the fact that the real Dr. Omalu and Dr. Cyril Wecht are consultants to the movie. There was one line in the film, which states that if 10% of parents hold back their children from playing football, it could destroy football as the big time multibillion-dollar sport that it is today. We don’t know if that statistic is true. We also don’t know if this film will get wide enough distribution to make this impact. The filmmakers wondered if the NFL would use their influence to stop the film from being advertised during NFL TV games. Apparently, that is not going to be the case. So the general public is going to get a chance to learn about this outstanding movie and parents as well as young people will decide if the youth of America is going to play this game knowing what they know about concussions, brain trauma and aftermath of these events. (2015)




Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, Sport


November 4th, 2015 — 8:17am

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This movie set out to describe the immigrant experience of one Irish young woman in the 1950s who leaves her mother and her her sister to come to America. The film seems to do everything right from vintage automobiles, the old country atmosphere in Ireland, the Brooklyn Brownstones, the views of the Manhattan Skyline, Coney Island including the beach with bathing suits of the time, a department store with pneumatic tubes and most of all authentic characters and their moving stories.

Producer Finola Dwyer shared with our preview audience the great efforts that were made to find the right actors for this sensitive independent movie. Although they are not well known, they all seemed perfectly casted. Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is the young woman who is choosing to leave her mother (Jane Brennan) and sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) to make a new life in America, thanks to some contacts a priest Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), known to the family, is able to make for her. Isn’t it always some contact or connection that often opens the door for the new immigrant? Eilis falls in love with Tony an Italian boy (Emory Cohen). You obviously don’t have to be Italian to play one. There also is the attractive Irish lad in the old country (Domhnall Gleeson). The courtship and love story is so 1950s tender and real.

Of course there is conflict, tension and resolution although done extremely well. Nick Hornby, an accomplished author, wrote the screenplay based on the successful novel by Colm Tóibín. The music by Michael Brook was perfect. The take away from the movie was that your home is where your true love is.

The centerpiece of the movie is young Eilis who makes the trip to the United States not knowing what awaits her. She could have been your mother or your grandmother who made that trip many years ago and built a family from where we come or she could have been one of the young immigrants in the United States or elsewhere in modern times. Each one has a different love story that ultimately will make a home for a new generation. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Romance

The Farewell Party

October 25th, 2015 — 9:16pm

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It is a fitting coincidence that just a few weeks ago, Governor Brown signed into law, California’s Right to Die law which makes it the 5th state to have such legislation. This law will give terminally ill patients in California the option to end their lives by swallowing a lethal dose of physician prescribed drugs after certain conditions are met.

This very well done Israeli film, with English subtitles, directed and written by the duo of Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit addresses this very issue. It is a sensitive but yet comedic plot which mostly takes place in a luxurious assisted living facility in Jerusalem. Yehezkel (Ze’ev Revach) and his wife, Levana (Levana Finkelstein) have good friends, Yana (Aliza Rosen) and Max (Samuel Wolfe). Max is painfully dying and wants to end his life. The doctors want to continue treating him despite his suffering and the inability to relieve his pain. His wife, wants something to be done to end his suffering and asks their friends to help. They meet another resident of the assisted living facility, Dr. Daniel (Ilan Dar) who has experience ending lives with fatal doses of drugs. He is a veterinarian who has obviously put down many animals. and he agrees to help them. Yehezkel is an inventor of sorts and designs a machine in which the patient can push a button and have the deadly drugs injected for a painless death which they do for Max. Word spreads around the assisted living facility and this team does the deed another time. Levana does not favor what her husband and the others are doing. However, she begins to reconsider when she realizes that she has a progressive dementia.

So this well-written sensitive story with some wonderful comic touches puts this important subject under the microscope. The acting by these veteran actors is magnificent. The cinematography is very well done. The film received 14 nominations for the Israeli Oscar and won for best director with Revach winning for best actor. It is not easy to walk the line between drama and comedy on a subject such as death and assisted suicide but this film negotiates it quite well.

It is interesting to note that Israel has had an assisted suicide law for about 10 years. But in these situations, the “devil is in the details” and the values of these laws has to be closely examined to determine how well they serve the terminally ill and their families. It is a movie such as this one that can stimulate meaningful discussions, which can address the concerns that are involved in these situations. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign

Woman in Gold

September 5th, 2015 — 11:53pm

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This is a movie about the Holocaust and it stars Helen Mirren and therefore it will get many people’s attention, which it l deserves. In our opinion, it doesn’t quite rank with Schindler’s List, Sophie’s Choice, or The Pianist but it does deal with a fascinating historical story. It begins begins in 1907 with a painting of an Austrian woman by the famed artist Gustav Klimt. It ends about 100 years later in 2006 when the niece of the subject of that painting was able to win the legal battle to wrest this painting from an Austrian museum and brings it to the United States where she now lives.

We follow this journey through the life of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) who grew up in a wealthy Austrian family and lived very comfortably surrounded by fine things including great works of art. She and her family were Jewish and the film dramatically shows scenes which depict the anti-semitism and the demoralizing treatment of the Austrian Jews by the Nazis in the 1940s. We see this one family, previously quite happy, torn apart overnight as a few members escape and the remainder perish in the holocaust.

Fast forward to the United States in the 1990s and an older Maria Altmann, living in Los Angeles, finds family letters which document some of the valuable works of art including the Woman in Gold now in an Austrian museum which she recalls being in her home as a child.. She connects with a young lawyer by the name of Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), grandson of the famous Austrian composer, who joins her on this great odyssey. It involves them returning to modern day Austria and battling the government there with the help of an idealistic Austrian reporter played by Daniel Bruhl. This adventure eventually takes them all the way to the United States Supreme Court and successfully ends in a contested arbitration in Austria.

Director Curtis Simon deserves credit for an outstanding job and Helen Mirren, as usual, performs what could be an award winning role. The story is predictable and uncomplicated. Occasionally, the film is in German with subtitles but the characters speak mostly in English, including times in Austria when you expect them to be speaking their native language. Most important however, this movie allows another generation to experience the tragic story of the Holocaust so it will not be forgotten. (2015)

1 comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

After Words

August 19th, 2015 — 6:21am


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Writer and director Juan Feldman and Oscar Winning Actress Marcia Gay Harden collaborate in a simple but poignant, heartwarming story. Harden plays Jane, a depressed lost soul who is a Los Angeles librarian who has been missing the joy of life and now has lost even her job. She chooses to go where she has never gone before on perhaps her last trip and that is to explore the beauty of exotic Central America. This leads her to meet Juan, a Costa Rican tourist guide who desperately needs money to send his adorable English speaking daughter (Jenna Ortega) to private school and he is willing to provide extra good service to his clients in order to get the funds he needs. You probably can guess the rest of the story.

What is quite remarkable about this movie is how well done every aspect of it is handled. Marcia Gay Harden is superb in projecting the despair that Jane has and the gradual metamorphosis that she undergoes. Oscar Jaenada, as Juan, comes across as a very believable and sincere man despite his initial presentation as a gigolo.

Juan Feldman, despite a meager budget which he had to scrape up in order to make this film, has well utilized his multiple skills as well as bringing in a very talented production team. In a most subtle manner we see the gradual emerging chemistry between the two main characters which was not only reflected by the outstanding acting but also came across through the dialogue, positioning of the actors, gradual changes in the lighting, color, sound and musical background. This should evoke in the audience a subtle evolving emotional experience, which is evidence of a very well done successful movie. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Romance

Straight Out of Compton

August 15th, 2015 — 10:22pm

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While we usually enjoy music and movies about music, we knew it from the get-go that the music in this film was not going to be our cup of tea. In fact, not only did we have trouble following the words of the rap which predominated most of the film but initially, we had some difficulty following the dialogue. It certainly was loud enough but it took awhile for us to catch most of the spoken words. It almost felt that we didn’t speak the language as we heard the audience around us laughing while we missed some of the punch lines. But as the film progressed, we seemed to get in the groove as the almost two and half hours of the running time of the movie seemed to go by quite quickly.

We witnessed the formation of the group N.W.A. which we learned did not stand for No Whites Allowed but rather means Niggas Wit Attitude. It all began as Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) originally connects with Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and they bring in Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Junior – who is actually the son of the real life Ice Cube). The film, starting with the bristling violence of the first scene, graphically depicts the unremitting brutality of the then Los Angeles police force. Their constant stereotyping and baiting of young black men was shown to demoralize and then help to provoke the simmering rage that erupted into the rap lyrics that made N.W.A. what it was.

We see the group connect with the man who was to be their manager and eventually cheat them out of lots of their money, Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti). We could not help but remember that Mr. Giamatti plays a similar role in another recent film about the music business. In that movie he was a psychologist and a manipulator of Brian Wilson in the biopic Love & Mercy which is all about the Beach Boys.

Of course, the music of this film that we are discussing is a completely different genre, better known as Gangster Rap or West Coast Hip-Hop. N.W.A.’s first album and lead song in 1988 is the title of this movie, Straight Outta Compton. Another song on that initial album was titled Fuck The Police. The film shows how this song inflamed the police and led the band to being arrested and abused by the police. That situation reminded us of an incident which occurred two years later, when a black hip-hop band by the name of 2 Live Crew was thrown in jail in Florida for singing songs with obscene words. A white rock band from New York named Too Much Joy then tested the limits by going down to Florida to see what would happen if they covered that album in a local club. They were arrested and spent the night in jail before they were acquitted in a brief trial. The lead guitarist for that band was our son, Jay.

Outta of Compton very realistically reflects the mood and the times in which this band and its music became popular. Although the Watts Riots were about 15 years earlier, N.W.A. were products of the gang infested Los Angeles streets that were still out of control. As these young men became successful musicians, we see their opulent lifestyle and the interesting but sad objectification of women that seem to be part of their lives. We followed them as they realized that they were being used by their manager, Jerry Heller, and their recording label. They had schisms and falling outs with each other but yet we also witnessed the bond between them which brought them back together. The movie also reminds us of AIDS, the great scourge of the 1980s which struck down one of the band members.

We come away from this film appreciating the importance which this music had in the lives the young men and women of the N.W.A. generation. Director F. Gary Gray appeared to translate the screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff into moving and believable cinema. The camera work, lighting, editing and the use of music were first rate. The filmmakers were assisted in the behind the scenes production by the real Ice Cube and Dr. Dre who helped to bring home the beat of this film and make it quite authentic. While this is biopic of an earlier era, sadly, part of its message resonates today in the “Black Lives Matter” movement. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Musical


August 13th, 2015 — 2:03am

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Paul Weitz, whose credits include American Pie, About a Boy, In Good Company, and Admission, has written and directed this movie which he put together with Lily Tomlin in mind. It is an independent low budget film but is high in quality with an edgy story and great acting. It all takes place in a 24-hour period and the film runs a crisp 80 minutes. It is about relationships, difficult decisions, love, and regrets, all set with a somewhat unusual cast of characters. Lily Tomlin is Elle, grandmother and a literature professor, who we meet just as she has broken up with her younger girlfriend Olivia (Judy Greer). She is then visited by her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner), who tells her that she is pregnant and needs money for an abortion which neither she nor grandma have the money.

The story unfolds as the two of them visit old friends of grandma in an attempt to get funds for the abortion. During the course of these visits, the viewer gets the life history of grandma and the trial of broken relationships that she has had which includes a long-term relationship with a now deceased Violet, a relationship that ended abruptly 40 years ago with Karl (Sam Elliott), and a more recent friendship with Deathy (Laverne Cox), a sweet tattoo artist. We also get some insights in to the contentious relationship with her nearly estranged daughter Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), mother of the granddaughter and a successful business executive who must have developed her tough exterior from her own mother, grandma. The storyline also takes us into the women’s health center or should we say abortion clinic, where we feel the subtle ambivalence that exist for women in this situation.

In certain respects, this movie is cutting edge as grandma’s sexual orientation is clearly gay from the beginning of the film. However, that has very little to do with the drama, personal conflicts, tragedies, and ambivalent relationships which the viewer experiences in this fascinating story. This is an unusual refreshing movie that should not be missed. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama


August 7th, 2015 — 12:25am

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For this Netflix viewing experience, we decided to go back 20 years to the classic 1995 Clueless which we had never seen before. The film was the brainchild of Amy Heckerling who directed the film and wrote the screenplay loosely based on Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma. Heckerling, who grew up in the Bronx, set the movie in Los Angeles where she introduces the viewers to the crowd at Beverly Hills High School. The star of the film is 19-year-old Alicia Silverstone who plays 16-year-old Cher Horowitz, a wealthy Los Angeles girl whose mother died of liposuction complications and whose father is a 500-dollar an hour attorney played by Dan Hedaya. Her best friend is Dionne (Stacy Dash) and Tai (Brittany Murphy) is a new girl at the high school. There is also an important role for a young Paul Rudd as Josh, step brother. The cast also includes veteran actor, Wallace Shawn as one of the teachers.

The movie is supposed to be a satiric look at rich kids who are living a superficial lifestyle at this wealthy high school. Underneath it all, we see the emergence of admirable caring feelings. We are reminded of the days gone by 20 years ago, not only by the 1990s cars with no GPS and people actually using map books but by the presence of portable phones that have an antenna sticking out from them and nobody is texting.

It may seem that the slang used in the movie such as, “Whatever”…”as if”…”you are the bomb”…”audi”, captured the speech of the day. However, it turns out that much of this language was created by Miss Heckerling, the writer, and then subsequently was incorporated into young people’s speech in the mid-1990s because of the success of the movie.

This film which was produced by Scott Rudin grossed more than $50 million dollars and stands as one of the iconic films of the 1990s. In its 20th anniversary, it should still have great appeal to the young people of today as well as those who came of age at the time of the movie. Even those of us movie buffs from an earlier generation appreciate how well this film was put together and enjoy the entire package as well as the behind-the-scenes bonus DVD, which was originally offered in cassette format (1995)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy

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