Category: 4 Stars


Lady Bird

November 4th, 2017 — 7:48am

****

Lady Bird

This film has nothing to with LBJ’s wife and the movie previously reviewed. It does have a great deal to do with the accomplished actress and writer 33-year-old Greta Gerwig (Francis Ha, Greenberg and many other films) who is making her directorial debut in this film for which she is also the screenwriter. It appears that Ms. Gerwig has drawn upon her experience growing up in Sacramento, California and having attended a Catholic High School around the year 2002. We won’t speculate how much of the rest of the film is autobiographical nor is it important. However, this talented writer/ director has captured the painful and glorious experience of a high school girl coming of age. This young woman Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) tries to break through what is expected of her and finds and shows her individuality. Ms. Saoirse is near perfect in realistically bringing this character alive with the words and direction of Ms. Gerwig. There is equally well-written character portrayed in an outstanding performance by Laurie Metcalf as Lady Bird’s mother who is a nurse (as was Ms. Gerwig’s mother). The friction and interaction between mother and daughter will be familiar to many. The father is sensitively played by actor-play writer Tracy Letts.

One major conflict that is played out very well and may reverberate with many viewers is Lady Bird’s desire to go to an expensive East Coast College with a plan that is rejected by her mother. Will she be accepted and will her parents support this dream? This conflict along with typical ups and downs of friendships among girls and the problems of negotiating her own sexuality and her relationship with boys are universal and will reverberate with the audience. In the end, we believe this film will stand out and be well-remembered. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

The Mountain Between Us

October 4th, 2017 — 5:49am

****

The Mountain Between Us

This film successfully blends a survival film genre and a subtle love story. Add a very appealing dog and set the film in a deserted snow field freezing mountain range and you have a riveting movie based on a best selling novel. Seven-time Oscar nominated actress Kate Winslet may be up for her eighth nomination and perhaps her second win as she plays a professional photographer, Alex Martin, who gets shut out of her commercial flight on the way home to get married. She is paired perfectly with Idris Elba who plays Ben Bass, a neurosurgeon who shares a quickly arranged but ill-fated flight in a small private plane with Alex.

Aside from the slow burning chemistry that develops between the two main characters who inhabit the film together for most of the 111 minutes, it is the vision and creativity of director Hany Abu-Assad that makes this movie worth seeing. We had an opportunity to hear a firsthand description by the director how he put aside utilizing CGIs (computer-generated images) for most of the film and instead took his film crew high into the freezing cold beautiful mountain country and had his two actors and a dog slip and slide struggling through freezing ice cold snow. He even had his actress fall into a deep crevice of icy water.

Whether you identified with the journey of these two characters or mainly admire the skill of this film production, you will appreciate that this is a movie well worth seeing. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Romance

Gook

August 17th, 2017 — 5:37am

****

Gook-sp

Be prepared for a powerful penetrating examination of the conflictual relationship between the Koreans and the Blacks in Los Angeles in 1992 just as the riots following the Rodney King incident exploded. This is cinema realite as this black and white film follows a handful of characters who have their own personal interactions as their city is about to burn.

The story revolves around Kamilla, a 10 or 11-year-old adorable Black girl (Simone Baker) who lives with her older brother and sister, goes to school and spends most of her spare time helping out in a shoe store run by a two Korean brothers, Eli (Justin Chon) and Daniel (David So). Kamilla’s brother, Keith (Curtiss Cook Jr.) comes into a major confrontation with the Korean brothers that is symbolic of what is about to happen in the City of Angels. This movie is written and directed by Justin Chon who plays Eli. He stated in a post-film interview that he wanted to present a balanced view of the Black and Korean conflicts at this time. We will forgive him for clearly being more sympathetic to the Koreans but nevertheless providing insight into both sides. There is a Korean store keeper, Mr. Kim (played by the director’s father, Sang Chon) who provides a sense of the previous generation who came to the United States hoping to provide a better life for their children, and then finds themselves and families engaged in a bitter conflict in a city that is erupting into an even larger polarizing battle.

The contrast between the innocence and hopefulness of Kamilla and the venomous curse words spouted out by the warring factions is as stark and bleak as is the black and white film that is shown on the screen. We cannot help but be reminded how there are contentious and polarized groups in this country today. But hopefully this movie has also shown how fruitless it can be for individuals and groups to hate each other. That is the big message of this small independent movie and it is well worth viewing. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

The Only Living Boy in New York

August 2nd, 2017 — 5:19am

 ****

The Only Living Boy in New York-sp

This movie has some shades of a Woody Allen film in its character studies of people and in capturing the atmosphere of Manhattan. It examines family and sexual relationships between a husband and wife as well as extramarital love and sex. It looks at a young man’s struggle with his sexual and romantic feelings. This is a psychological drama that highlights guilt, jealousy and even an important aspect of the oedipal complex. It is complicated and heavy stuff and it all flows from the pen of screenwriter Allen Loeb, who had written several successful movies before this earlier script ultimately came to fruition. This didn’t happen until Marc Webb became attached to it as director and a terrific ensemble cast was put together which includes Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon, Kiersey Clemons and Kate Beckinsale. However, the character who ties the plot together is relative newcomer, Callum Turner, who plays Thomas, the 25-year-old son who ultimately makes deep seated discoveries about himself and each of his parents before he can move on with his life.

This Coming of Age  movie that will capture your attention and make you ponder each character’s motivation. The story has depth, poignancy and surprises which will grab hold you and won’t let go throughout the film. It certainly kept us thinking and talking as we left the theater. (2017) – Scheduled for release August 11th

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Romance

The Big Sick

July 7th, 2017 — 5:27am

****

The Big Sick-rm

Kumail Nanjiani is a comic actor who is one of the stars of the TV series Silicon Valley. This movie is based on Nanjiani’s real life. It is co-produced by Judd Apatow who is known for two great comedy classics Bridesmaid and Trainwreck. Nanjiani comes from a traditional Pakistan family who emigrated from Pakistan to Los Angeles. They expected their son to marry a Pakistani girl which they would be glad to arrange for this to happen. They also would prefer that he become a lawyer rather than work in the world of comedy which he was doing as a struggling standup comedian. Emily (Zoe Kazan) meets Nanjiani when she makes some comments during his standup act at a comedy club. She is from Chicago but is living in Los Angeles. There is obviously a chemistry between these two as the story develops.

Stop here and read no further if you don’t like spoilers! Since there has been a great deal of press about this movie, you may know what develops in the film. One of us (SB) knew the story but still loved the movie. One of us (MB) also loved the movie but preferred not to know any spoiler events and viewed the film without knowledge of the background of the characters until he saw the movie.

So now, welcome to those who are just continuing with this review or perhaps are returning after you have seen the film. This movie was actually co-written by Kumail Nanjiani and his real life wife Emily V. Gordon. They recount how despite that they were very compatible sexually and otherwise, Kumail needed to please his parents and therefore broke off their budding romance.

The big event that changed everything was “The Big Sick” and that was a life threatening infection, which led Emily to be hospitalized and then put into a medical coma. This event brought her parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano) to Los Angeles where they meet and ultimately connected with Kumail. Hunter is terrific as the energetic and emotional mom. It is hard to forget Romano as anyone but “Raymond” of his classic TV series but he is still a likable character and could very well be the caring dad that he portrays. However, it is Nanjiani’s facial expressions that convey his emotional caring while his words express sincerity, irony, and comedy. These words, as well as the words added by all the actors were co-written by Nanjiani and his real life wife Emily V. Gordon. The comedic lines throughout this movie drew out loud laughter from our movie audience, which is something we often don’t see. Obviously, the continued existence of the co-writers of this film reveals a recovery and a happy ending of this movie and for this talented couple. The film is worth seeing whether you know the story or not. It is smart, funny, poignant and full of life, despite the “near death” experiences of the characters and their relationship! (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Romance

Get Me Roger Stone

June 29th, 2017 — 6:52pm

The following is a guest review  by Larry Hott,  a prominent film maker and movie critic with whom we are very close. (see his bio and link to radio interviews about this film at the end of this review)

****

Get Me Roger Stone -nf

Review by Larry Hott

Have you heard stories about a political operative who has a picture of Richard Nixon’s face tattooed on his back? Roger Stone is that guy. He’s the protagonist of the new Netlfix documentary that’s out in theaters right now and online on Netlfix.

Some reviewers say you’ll feel the need to take a long hot cleansing shower after watching this snake and I couldn’t agree more. The filmmakers, (three are named directors – Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme) let you know that they think Stone is responsible for the rise of Trump and virtually every evil that’s happened in American politics since the age of Goldwater.

Stone, who is this weird looking guy who kind of reminds me of Julian Assange (in fact there’s a Julian Assange connection) gets his start by befriending the infamous Roy Cohn, the chief counsel to Joe McCarthy and also, by no coincidence, an advisor to Trump.   Stone helped run the Reagan campaign, was instrumental in defeating Gore in Florida during the 2000 recount, and has been involved deeply and malevolently in the Trump campaign from the start. “The New Republic” called him “The State of the Art Washington Sleazeball.”

This movie has amazing interviews, including a sit down with Trump that almost makes him, Trump, seem like a reasonable person. Maybe it’s by comparison to Stone, who keeps spouting his personal rules, which include “The Past is F-ing Prologue,” and “Hate is a more powerful motivator than love.” Trump loves this guy and owes him a lot. It’s not clear if Stone really believes in anything but himself and winning and making a ton of money. This is a guy who got caught advertising sex parties with his wife and him online and then denied it, then admitted it, and thinks now that it serves his brand. He’s in deep with Alex Jones, the delusional Info Wars conspiracy theorist and that’s all you really need to know about his mentality.

It’s fun to watch this film if you’re both a political junky and a masochist. It’s weird to see Trump talk about someone other than himself, to see Paul Manafort spill the beans on their strategy and then have every move picked apart by the extremely articulate writers Jane Mayer and Jeffrey Toobin, who should be given the documentary award of merit for demonstrating some sense of decency and honesty around these cynical and hateful political manipulators.

If you need a primer on the last election, the film will do nicely, but it’s also very up-to-date, with a mention of Stone connection to Julian Assange and the possible Russian collusion with both of them to release documents about Hillary Clinton’s emails. (WikiLeaks published emails related to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign that intelligence agencies say were hacked by Russian intelligence.)

As a documentary it’s not perfection by a long shot. You have to know the characters and there’s no scorecard. It’s a bit like switching channels from Fox News to MSNBC to CNN and PBS News Hour back and forth for 90 minutes. Like Laura Poitra’s Julian Assange documentary “Risk,” however, you do get to know the personalities and you’ll be a better informed political junky if you watch it through the painful recap of the 2016 election. As a filmmaker there is fun recurring bit – Roger Stone, who seems to enjoy being on camera more than screwing his enemies, introduces the film crew to everyone they meet as a bunch of liberal, commie pinko filmmakers. It’s nice to be in such good company.

One more thing, there is a piece of music the filmmakers use that is eerily similar to Errol Morris’s soundtrack in the classic film “Fog of War,” the portrait of Robert McNamara. McNamara comes off as a saint compared to Stone, who is Machiavelli’s love child, no doubt.(2017)

Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey began work­ing together in 1978, as members of the Florentine Films consortium.  They formed Florentine Films/Hott Productions in 1981. Since then they have produced two dozen films for national PBS broadcast as well as several productions for web and educational distribution. Their awards include an Emmy, two Academy Award nominations, a duPont -Columbia Journalism Award, the Erik Barnouw History Award, the George Foster Peabody Award, five American Film Festival Blue Ribbons, and 14 CINE Golden Eagles.  Their films have been broadcast internationally and Hott and Garey have presented their documentaries in special programs in Canada, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Algeria, Great Britain and Vietnam.

You can hear two Larry Hott interviews about this film on WHMP Radio at http://whmp.com/podcasts/vaya-con-munoz-6-17-17/ and http://whmp.com/podcasts/who-framed-roger-stone/

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Politics

Dean

April 26th, 2017 — 1:21am

****
Dean -sp

We learn at the beginning of the story that a father and his grown son have just lost a wife and mother and are about to begin the grieving process. The father is played by two time Oscar winner Kevin Kline who turns in an outstanding performance. Likewise Dean, the son, is played by Demetri Martin in a excellent break through performance. So is the director, screenwriter and producer also in the person of Demetri Martin. An important part of the story are single panel cartoons which are interspersed throughout the film and focuses the mood and irony of various situations in the movie. These drawings are also by Demetri Martin. So who is Demetri Martin? He has been a stand up comic for many years, has worked with Conan O’Brien on TV and has published a book of his own cartoons. He is obviously very talented and was able to draw upon his own experience of having lost a parent at a young age and his understanding of the universal search for love combined with a finely honed sense of humor.

Despite the initial premise of the story, this is really not a sad or tearjerker of a story, except the few times that Dean listens to a saved message on his iPhone of his late mom giving him words of encouragement. This is more a story of exploring different ways of grieving, as well as budding love of both a young and older man. It also uses two great exciting American cities that traditionally have been a backdrop for cinematic romance, New York (Brooklyn) and Los Angeles. The two respective women who have stirred the potential of deep romantic feelings in father and son at a time that they were on opposite coasts were Nicky (Gillian Jacobs) and Carol (Mary Steenburgen). Many of Dean’s buddies in the movie, are played by actors and comics who have captured the beat of his generation.

The net result of this 87 minute film is a feel good experience which reminds us that the connection between loss and new love is natural and inevitable. We highly recommend this movie. It is funny and poignant with surprising depth. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama

The Fool ( In Russian with subtitles)

April 7th, 2017 — 5:03am

****

The Fool (In Russian with English Subtitles) -nf

This very interesting and engrossing film is a terrible indictment of life in Russia under Vladimir Putin.

Dima Nikitin (Artyom Bystrov) is a plumber who works for the government. Early in the film, we learned that he, like his father is an honest man who doesn’t engage in the usual stealing, bribes, and corruption that commonly occurs in the work environment in Russia. He then finds himself called to a large apartment house in the evening because of a broken water pipe. He quickly realizes that this building is severely damaged and is on the verge of imminent collapse which could be fatal to the 800 men, women, and children who live there. Mr. Nikitin attempts to contact his absent supervisor. When he is unsuccessful in doing that he then arranges an emergency meeting with the mayor who is being celebrated at a gathering with many other city officials that evening. It becomes apparent that money which had been allotted for previous repairs and modernization of this old building was diverted to various city officials. In fact there is a web of siphoning off money for rebuilding and repairs which includes all levels of this small city government. There are no funds for repairs or for temporarily housing the 800 residents of this doomed building which is expected to collapse within 24 hours. We soon realize that we are learning how in Russia and in Russian society, government officials pass around government funds at the expense of the masses. We understand what awaits the fate for an individual with a conscience who feels that this is wrong.

Could there be corruption in some real estate projects in the United States? Of course there could be and we read about occasional government officials being tried and sent to jail for such activities. However, this movie spotlights the pervasive corrupt fabric of Russian society and government. It was interesting to read several comments and reviews of this film by Russians who affirmed the validity of the dark picture of Russia painted by this movie.

This film is an outstanding cinematic accomplishment by Yuri Bykov who is the screen writer and director. This film certainly would have deserved the consideration for being nominated as a best foreign film from Russia of that year. Needless to say the Russians bypassed this movie for that honor. (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign

4.1 Miles ( short documentary film in Greek with subtitles)

March 17th, 2017 — 6:30am

****

4.1 Miles– (short documentary film (in Greek with subtitles) –

This is the first short documentary film, which we have reviewed on this blog. Larry Hott a well-known documentary film director and movie critic and our cousin suggested that we view it and we were blown away by the impact that it had on us. It is a relatively simple 22-minute film made by Daphne Matzaraki and her team. There were no special effects or fancy camera work. In fact most of the shots seemed to be with a hand held camera , perhaps difficult because at times they took place on rolling small coast guard boat at sea.

The main subject of the film is Kyriakos Papdopoulous a dedicated coast guard captain of a boat that comes out of the small Greek island of Lesbos that is 4.1 miles away from Turkey where hundreds if not thousands of men, women and children are fleeing for their lives, mostly originally from Syria.

The movie doesn’t attempt to explain the refugee crisis, the circumstances that have killed their friends and relatives, why they aren’t welcome in Turkey or other countries. Rather it focuses on the somewhat tortured soul of this captain who with his small crew takes his shift on the open sea to save these refugees who are in their small rafts and sometimes in the rough water of the Agean Sea. We see the agony on the face of the rescuer and in the people he is trying to save. We see the fear and tears in the children and their parents as they are pulled on board the rescue boat. We get a view of the attempts to resuscitate drowned and nearly drowned children.

That is it !. Nothing more and nothing less. The net result of this 22 minute film is a slap in the face. Although nominated for an Oscar as we indicated, this is not a complicated movie that delves into the refugee crisis and gives us insight into the political intricacies of this universal issue which includes the current politics in our country. It should bring out each of our humanity which must play a role in all our actions and decisions (2016).

Click here to view film https://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000004674545/41-miles.html

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Foreign

Tanna

February 24th, 2017 — 11:17pm

****

Tanna

This movie is Australia’s entry in the Oscar race for best foreign film of the year. It made the final cut for the top five and the winner will be chosen in four days from when this is being written. It is a very well done film that would stand on its own well deserved merits. However, in a post screening discussion after we met the team that made the film and learned about the unusual manner in which they embarked on this project, we especially appreciate it as a valuable gem.

Tanna is a small island in the South Pacific, basically untainted by modern civilization. There is no electricity. The people wear their native garb made up of straw and other vegetation. They usually are bare-breasted with the men wearing “penis sheaths”. They speak their native language and are illiterate. There are several tribes on the island and they have often interacted with each other, sometimes not always in a friendly manner.

The filmmakers knew of the existence of these people and made contact with one native, JJ Nako, who must have spent time off the island as he uniquely spoke English quite well. The film crew spent four months on the island bringing solar energy for their equipment. Initially, they did not have any script and explored the lifestyle and customs of the people. They then learned about one event that occurred 30 years previously when a young woman was expected to marry a man from a nearby tribe in order to make peace about some conflicts between them. She, however, had found a young man in her own tribe that she loved and they did not want to carry out the orders of their elders and the tribe leader. The filmmakers decided that this story would be the plot of the movie and they enlisted the entire tribe to participate in this film with several members having major roles in the story. The participants spoke their native language and English subtitles were provided in the final product. The indigenous people were interested in showing the outside world about their tribe and the history. The story turned out to be another version of Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story, with all the poignancy and drama of those classics. The incident took place 30 years previously and actually led to the change in tribal customs. So now, while still living in a very traditional manner, these people do have “love marriages” because of what happened in this event.

The native music and songs are part of the film as well as an underlying appropriate score by Antony Partos. There is a very large, beautiful, bubbling volcano which is part of the makeup of the island and was used magnificently by cinematographer Bentley Dean. Credit of course goes to the directors Bentley Dean and Martin Butler who crafted and directed this unusual film.

The filmmakers obviously made a wonderful connection with the inhabitants of this island. The natives and their performance and participation in this movie demonstrated that their love of history and culture must be very intense as their acting was very believable and realistic. Whether or not it wins an Oscar for best foreign film, this movie deserves to be seen. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama, Foreign

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