Category: 4 Stars


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)

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

Hunt For The Wilderpeople

June 24th, 2016 — 11:20pm

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The chances are that if you did not read this review, you might not consider seeing this movie. This is the product of the work of director/writer, Taika Waititi, a young man from New Zealand who is of Maori-European Jewish descent and he has been involved in not very well-known, but well-received films such as Boy, Eagle vs Shark, Two Cars One Night and Tama Tu. This current film takes place mostly in the New Zealand bush country and stars Sam Neill, a well-known international actor who has starred in Jurassic Park, The Piano, Bicentennial Man, Sleeping Dogs, My Brilliant Career and many other successful film and TV projects. His co-star is Julian Dennison, a 12-year-old, somewhat chubby young boy from New Zealand who looks his age or younger. He plays Ricky Baker, a foster child who no one wants and for whom the New Zealand authorities are trying to find a home. They find Aunty Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hec Faulkner (Sam Neill), who lives in an isolated setting on the edge of the deep bush countryside. This would seem to be the last chance for Ricky to be placed with a family or he goes to “juvy.”

Due to circumstances, Hec and Ricky, who basically are two misfits, make their way into the bush country together. You might say this is a road movie, except these two strange bedfellows are trekking, hiding and interacting in a setting that is unlike any place that you have seen before. It includes bounty hunters looking for them, a giant killer pig and what seems to be half the police force of New Zealand. This film is scary at times, funny, but mainly heartwarming and poignant. All we can say is do not take a pass on this movie. We think you will like it and be touched by it and besides, it is a big hit in New Zealand.. (2016)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama

It Might Get Loud – Guest review by Leo Blumenfield – Age 12

May 8th, 2016 — 8:04pm

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            This 2009 documentary, directed by Davis Guggenheim, tells how three amazing guitarists, Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White, all from different backgrounds and times can really connect and tell their own story. Jimmy Page comes from London, England, The Edge comes from Dublin, Ireland, and Jack White is from Detroit, Michigan. I thought this was a interesting documentary because of the way you can see the history of guitar and rock-and-roll from these three different perspectives. It is very inspiring, showing how these unique guitarists got their start from playing in a small garage to performing in front of thousands of people. All three of these guitarists have strange and different styles of music and attitude that is so fascinating. 

            I highly recommend this documentary because whether you are a musician or not, this movie really tells you a story that you will never forget. You can also see in this movie what beautiful sounds can come out of some of the greatest musicians when they jam together. Jack White, The Edge, and Jimmy Page talk about some of their favorite songs and musicians and how that inspired their music and their style. They talk about how blues, rock, and soul influences lead them to where they are now.

            Overall, It Might Get Loud is a very fascinating documentary because it shows that wherever you are from, music can always bring you together, and you can bond over something that is so special to you. (2009)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Musical

Papa: Hemingway in Cuba

April 29th, 2016 — 11:39pm

****

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Ernest Hemingway is the iconic writer who is forever linked to Cuba where he spent much of his life. Denne Bart Petitclerc was a reporter for the Miami Globe in the 1950s and for very personal reasons idolized the great writer and wrote him a letter telling him so. This led to a correspondence and then a friendship with “Papa” Hemingway and his wife, Mary Hemingway.” Petitclerc visited Cuba several times and subsequently wrote about his relationship with Hemingway, which is the subject of this outstanding docudrama. This movie offers a sensitive insight into this brilliant writer, driven, complicated man who was an alcoholic, had severe depression and possibly a bipolar disorder as well as a complicated love life. In addition, he was drawn into the Castro Communist revolution and was also in conflict with the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover.

While this all makes a fascinating story, the attraction and success of this movie is the portrayal of Papa Hemingway by Adrian Sparks. This veteran award winning actor has played Hemingway in one-man-shows on the stage for several years in addition to his other stage and film accomplishments. He was the natural choice for this role. Giovanni Ribisi is excellent as Petitclerc and he is called Ed Myers in the film. The movie also stars Joely Richardson as Mary Hemingway and Minka Kelly as Myers’ girlfriend.

Director and producer, Bob Yari also scored an amazing accomplishment in that he received permission to film this movie in Cuba. After much negotiating he was able to do this because the movie is portrayed as a docudrama rather than a commercial film. However, the movie will hold the audience’s attention as well as any good drama. In fact, if you have had any occasion to be a tourist in Cuba in the past several years as we have, you will appreciate the familiar sights. We were particularly pleased to see Hemingway’s house, which is now a treasured museum but was used in the film. In fact, in a post screening discussion, we were told the real items in the house were substituted with props but at the last moment, Cuban officials allowed Hemingway’s actual typewriter to be used in the movie. Knowing this lends a special realism when we see him typing on it in the film. Enlightening, moving and totally engaging, this movie is well worth seeing. (2016)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama

The Meddler

April 13th, 2016 — 7:28am

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Writer-director, Lorene Scafaria has put together a dramedy (drama plus comedy) with which both young and old will identify. In a post-screening discussion with Ms. Scafaria, we learned that the story is a very close, realistic depiction of the writer’s own mother, who moved out to Los Angeles from the east coast after her husband died. The mother, Marnie (Susan Sarandon) who is on the screen for almost the entire film meddles or tries meddle in just about every aspect of her single daughter’s life, as well as in the lives of just about everyone else who she meets. Lori, the daughter (Rose Byrne) not surprisingly is a budding film maker, who as much as she tries, can’t get away from her mother’s love and over-attention, which of course she really needs. On one hand, we keep thinking that this mother character is exaggerated and way over the top. However, why then did she captivate our attention? The answer is that the film has captured the universal need and wish of most mothers to do just about everything and anything for their children at any age.

The dialogue and Sarandon’s characterization is near perfect. The screenwriter, who of course is really the daughter telling the story of her mom, has also added a romantic twist, which she acknowledges is her fantasy wish for her mother. This brings in a potential boyfriend for her mother in the person of a dashing, handsome, senior guy who rides a Harley Davidson motorcycle and raises chickens as pets. Unbelievable you say – just wait until you see Oscar winner J.K. Simmons take on this role.

This independent low-budget film has a lot going for it with a great script, two outstanding stars, a fine supporting cast and great execution by this young woman director. It also should have special appeal here in Los Angeles, where most of the film takes place from the scenes at the Grove, to glimpses of the entertainment industry in action and the beautiful west coast shoreline, as well as many characters who will remind you of people that you know.

This movie opens later this month across the country. We highly recommend it. (2016)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

April 7th, 2016 — 6:22pm

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On one hand this very well done film gets into the head and feelings of this 15-year-old girl as she has her first sexual experience. We can imagine that so many teenagers will identify with the excitement, bewilderment and glorious feelings that she relates into her tape recorder as she tries to preserve the special moments. As well done as this depiction and as universal as these feelings may be, her particular situation was certainly nowhere typical. The setting was San Francisco in the 1970s and her first lover is her mother’s boyfriend. What follows is more and more sex, parties, drugs and some same-sex sex.

One would hope that all of this will not reflect the typical teenage experience. However, we would be naïve not to believe that the modern teenager may very well know some version of the scene. It is ironic that most teenagers could not be admitted to this R-rated movie. The star of this film is Bel Powley, an experienced actress who was in her early 20s when she portrays 15-year-old Minnie. Her immature party mom is played by Kristen Wiig and the boyfriend who was more of a period piece than an outright cad was played by Alexander Skaarsgard.

Credit for the success of this movie is first time director Marielle Heller, who also wrote the screenplay based on a novel by Phoebe Gloeckner. To give you an idea of her accomplishments, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, in addition to  nominating Ms. Heller for Best Woman Director and Best Woman Screenwriter, also nominated this film for Best Depiction of Nudity, Sexuality or Seduction – a well-deserved award.

This movie goes beyond these accomplishments and captures the complicated universal joy and wonder of sexual awakening. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

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