Category: 4 Stars


The Edge of Seventeen

December 5th, 2016 — 8:42am

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On The Edge Of Seventeen

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

Truth

November 27th, 2016 — 9:40pm

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****

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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)

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Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

Miss Sloane

November 16th, 2016 — 1:08am

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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

Coming Through The Rye

October 20th, 2016 — 6:17am

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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

Denial

October 11th, 2016 — 7:09am

 

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We are always drawn to a good movie that keeps alive the memory of the Holocaust so we will never forget this horrific world event. This film certainly did not disappoint us. It is a docudrama based on the true story of a libel suit brought by David Irving (Timothy Spall) a British “so-called” historian who claimed that the Holocaust never occurred. He was viciously attacked for his “Holocaust denial” by Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) a professor from Emory University. She and her publisher Penguin Books had to defend themselves in a libel suit in Great Britain because of how she excoriated Irving for his denial of the truth of the Nazi extermination of millions of Jews.

In England, the law demands that the defendants in libel suits prove their affirmation which means in this case that Ms. Lipstadt’s side not only had to prove that her assertions were totally accurate but also that the Holocaust denial by Irving were purposeful lies due to his anti-Semitism. Her defense team consisted of her behind-the-scenes “Advocate” Anthony Jewels (Andrew Scott) who had actually been Princess Diana’s divorce attorney and his associates along with her “Barrister” Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) who spoke for her in court. Agonizing decisions had to be made whether to allow Ms. Lipstadt to testify as well as various Holocaust survivors and whether to have a judge-only proceeding instead of a jury trial( no, no yes). This was a high-stakes courtroom drama, British style. Everyone was up to the task. The words flowed from the real Ms. Lipstadt’s book converted into a screenplay by David Hare directed by Film and TV veteran Mick Jackson.

We are given the impression that Ms. Lipstadt was passionately motivated in her teaching about the Holocaust and that Mr. Rampton was obviously devoted to making her case and proving Irving was a liar motivated by his anti-semitism. However, we are barely given a glimpse into the personal lives of these characters and what drove their passion. Nevertheless, we come away from this well done and very well acted movie with insight into another aspect of this never to be forgotten piece of history. (2016)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

Sully

September 18th, 2016 — 8:24pm

****

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It is always a challenge to tell an exciting story when everyone knows how it really ended. Certainly most people know the true tale of the “Miracle on the Hudson” which took place on January 15, 2009 when a U.S. Airlines pilot landed his plane on the Hudson River after a flock of birds damaged both engines of his airliner. That pilot was Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and he is very well captured by one of the great American actors, Tom Hanks, in a film directed by another great actor/director, Clint Eastwood.

This screenplay by Todd Komarnicki is based on the book titled Highest Duty by the actual pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. It not only provides all the facts and details but it recreates the tension and anxiety that everyone on board including the pilots and crew felt when it was clear that things had gone wrong. The audience could not help but identify with the passengers as they thought this was going to be a routine flight going through the usual boarding procedure as we have done hundreds of times in our life times with barely a thought that this could end up being a catastrophe that might be our last flight. We squirmed in our seats as everyone settled into their airplane seats not knowing what we knew what was in store for them.

The film also raised questions about the value of human experience in making decisions as compared to what computer simulations might tell us. In the next few years, driverless cars may very well be a choice for everyone and will take the place of human judgment in piloting our automobiles. While this is not exactly the theme of this film, these ideas reverberated in our minds as we left the theater discussing it.

Kudos deserve to be given to Mr. Eastwood and his staff for an excellent job in capturing the story, doing realistic depictions with superb editing. We had an extra bonus by watching this movie in IMAX. The supporting cast which included Aaron Eckhart who played Jeff Skiles, the co-pilot and Laura Linney as Sully’s wife were right on target. However, the standout as usual in the case when he stars in a movie, was Tom Hanks. Not only was he made up to have a very good resemblance to the real pilot and also appeared to have captured the mannerisms of his character as we saw in film clips of the real guy, but also his expressions and demeanor gave the wonderful pilot a persona that seemed to be true to life and made the story and movie quite memorable. (2016)

1 comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

Freeheld

September 7th, 2016 — 7:04am

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This is a true story that needed to be told. It is about Laurel Hester, a gay woman, Ocean County police officer in New Jersey who developed end-stage cancer and wanted to leave her pension to her domestic partner Stacy, which was not allowed by the local government. Ten years after this event, filmmaker Cynthia Wade produced an award-winning short documentary film about this moving battle. Now, producers Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher decided to make a feature film to tell this story. They teamed up with director Peter Sollett and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner. Academy Award-winning actress Julianne Moore played Laurel and Ellen Page came on board to take role of young girlfriend along with an excellent supporting cast which included Steve Carell. The result is an emotionally touching experience that not only shows clearly the discrimination that these two brave women faced but also put us inside their hopes, aspirations and most of all their feelings for each other.

The outright unfairness of these women who were being denied that which heterosexual couples would take for granted is clearly put before the viewers. The subject of this movie is still being played out in the public arena today. The State of New Jersey did go on to pass legislation allowing domestic partners to be treated the same as married couples and of course the Supreme Court now ruled that same sex marriages are legal. Unfortunately, there is still the persistence of non-acceptance of this ruling in many places. It takes a film such as this one to tell the story in an unforgettable manner that allows the viewers to have an emphatic understanding of the people and the issues involved. (2016).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Romance

The People vs Fritz Bauer

August 12th, 2016 — 7:12am

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The title of this movie is ironic since Fritz Bauer (Burghart Klaussner) was an Attorney General in the 1950s in postwar Germany whose job was to prosecute war criminals on behalf of the people of Germany. He gets wind of the fact that the most notorious war criminal, Adolf Eichmann, was hiding in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This film is the story of Bauer’s determination to bring Eichmann to justice despite the resistance of many of his countrymen who were government officials and many may have been Nazis or Nazi sympathizers.

If you have traveled to Germany in modern times you know that so many of contemporary Germans have owned up to their country’s role in attempting to destroy the Jewish people in the 1940s. During our trip to Berlin, we saw many memorials including a very moving Holocaust museum. Director and screenwriter, Lars Kraume and producer, Thomas Kufus are among the many contemporary German filmmakers who are continuing to explore this subject with their work.

This film not only told an important historical story, but also provided an in-depth look at the character and personality of the two main subjects of this film. There is great drama, tension, suspense  and  human interest.  The cast is made up of well-known German actors and the German film community has bestowed numerous nominations and several of its highest film awards to them. The movie is distributed in the United States by Cohen Media Group, who have a history of selecting many outstanding foreign films to be shown in the US. The release date in NY and LA is August 19th. We highly recommend that you see this movie. (2016)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History

Gleason

July 28th, 2016 — 5:10am

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Steve Gleason was a professional football player who ended his season with the New Orleans Saints. The highlight of his sports career was a blocked punt which symbolized the birth of New Orleans after being so devastated by Hurricane Katrina. A statue of him stretched out with a flying leap to accomplish this feat is present in front of the Saints’ football stadium.

A few years after Gleason retired from football at the age of 33, he developed some mild physical symptoms which turned out to be ALS-Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This is a progressive muscle paralysis which over time results in total paralysis of all muscles, requiring a wheelchair and even a tracheostomy in order to breathe and survive. There are no cognitive or intellectual deficits with this disease. The course of the illness can be gradual over a few to several years usually resulting in death and as you can imagine, it can be devastating.

Shortly after he and his wife Michel were told about his terrible diagnosis, they learned that she was pregnant. It was at that time that Gleason decided that he was going to make an ongoing video blog of his life. His purpose was for him to record his daily life which would include expressing his memories and thoughts so his unborn offspring would come to know him and also know about the bond that he felt with his child. Sometime after this process was started, Clay Tweel, a documentary film producer learned of this project and met with the Gleason’s. They trusted Tweel and agreed he would help them with the video production, with the idea that he would eventually make a documentary film.

This project in one sense has become the ultimate reality show. The viewer of it becomes a fly on the wall to the everyday interactions in the lives of this very brave couple. We see Gleason’s speech gradually become difficult, his gait unsteady, and ultimately leading to a wheelchair. We are in the delivery room when he participates in the birth of his son, Rivers. We watch Rivers gradually developing into a toddler and ride with his dad on the electric wheelchair. We see the tears in Gleason’s eyes as he looks into the camera and imagines that he’s talking to a more grownup version of his son who he hopes someday will view his video. The viewer also realizes what a remarkable woman his wife Michel has turned out to be. It is hard to imagine how she handled being a wife, mother, caretaker and also finding that she was a skilled artist. The interaction between Gleason and his father is a story onto itself. His dad is a religious Christian who believes in faith healing. This is a source of great conflict between Gleason and his dad. There is a church scene where a faith healer exhorts Gleason to be cured and run which is quite heart-wrenching.

When people with this disease begin to lose their ability to speak, they often can use computerized speech synthesizers. You probably recall seeing video clips of the famous physicist, Steven Hawkings who has ALS himself and talks with an artificial electronic voice. An even more advanced device is one which records the voice of the patient while he still can speak and then the miracle of a special computer program will talk in the person’s voice when they type or even choose letters and words with their eyes. This was particularly dramatically demonstrated during a recorded conversation of Gleason and his wife during some difficult times. Unfortunately, this marvelous machine is not available to people without financial resources or even to people on Medicare. It turns out that Gleason along with family, friends, various donors including some people from the sports world set up a foundation which provided this equipment for people who needed them. They also lobbied Congress and eventually “Gleason’s Law” was passed. So now the US Government will provide this equipment for all who need it.

On one hand, this documentary movie is a sad story but it is actually a very affirming tale. It shows one man’s determination to establish a conversation with his unborn son, the amazing support of a dedicated wife, and the fortuitous involvement of a talented filmmaker. We have here the opportunity to see a very remarkable and uplifting documentary film, which we would strongly recommend to our readers. (2016)

 

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary

Captain Fantastic

July 1st, 2016 — 6:18am

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Initially we thought that despite the title this is not a movie about a superhero, but perhaps on second thought it is, but not in the usual sense. It is the story of a father who is raising his six kids in the wilderness (but not quite the bush country as we saw in the setting of the previous New Zealand film that we reviewed). Ben (Viggo Mortensen) is homeschooling his children in the wilderness in the United States. He also just found out that his wife and his partner in this endeavor has tragically died. Her parents, Jack (Frank Langella) and Abigail (Ann Dowd) haven’t quite forgiven them for keeping the grandchildren in the woods and don’t want Ben to come to the funeral. Ben and the kids come anyway on a determined mission.

The film examines some very complicated issues. We are shown the depth and benefit of homeschooling with living very close to family and nature. We are also stimulated to think about the potential shortcomings of children being raised away from their peers.

This movie is the brainchild of writer/director Matt Ross and in a post screening discussion we learned how he shared his views about the subject matter with Mr. Mortensen who took on this acting role and became in sync with his ideas. He also chose and trained a very talented group of children to take on their roles. This included climbing mountains, wielding knives and making music together. These children are George Mackay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Besso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks and Charlie Shotwell. This film will stretch your imagination and the take away emotion is “feeling good”. The film is a well done accomplishment. (2016)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama, Family / Kids

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