Category: 4 Stars


Life Itself

July 13th, 2014 — 6:26pm

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Life Itself-rm- It feels somewhat strange for us amateur reviewers to be writing a review about a documentary film centered on the most esteemed movie critic of our time. But in our opinion it is an excellent film that we would guess would receive high marks from the master himself if he were still around. He died a few months before the film was ready for release. We meet Roger at point where he is battling the cancer that has already taken away his vocal speech and altered his face. His voice via his laptop is heard and is an important part of the film. In life, his voice at this point came from a computer voice synthesizer but in the film there is a voiceover by Steven Stanton who seems to capture the inflections of Ebert’s voice as we heard it at an earlier time. Director Steve James (in 1974 Director of Hoop Dreams which Ebert had named best picture of that year) skillfully weaves video clips and interviews with various people in Ebert’s life with a flashback technique in order reconstruct this remarkable story. It becomes a special treat for the viewer to meet some other great movie critics and directors as they comment on Ebert and his work throughout the film. Such people as A.O Scott from the N.Y. Times, Pauline Kael of the New Yorker, Richard Corliss of Time Magazine and Directors Weiner Herzog and Martin Scorsese. Ebert’s talent became clear in college when he proved his skill as a writer and was quickly elevated to editor at his college newspaper while at the University of Illinois as well as working for the city newspaper. He is depicted as confident, arrogant and brilliant. After college he then worked as general reporter for the Chicago Sun Times and then in 1967, 3 years after graduating from college he became the full time movie critic for the Chicago Times, a position he held for his entire career. In 1975 he teamed up with Gene Siskel, the movie critic of the other major newspaper in Chicago, in order to cohost a weekly film review television show that became immensely popular and ran until Siskel’s death in 1999. Their relationship is shown as a love-hate one where they pulled no punches on or off the air but obviously had great affection for each other. Ebert married at age 50 in 1992 to Chaz, an attorney who he met at an AA meeting. Yes, he apparently was a big drinker at the bars and saloons he hung out at early in his career. We don’t see much in the film about this aspect of his life. He stopped drinking in 1979 but apparently stayed connected with AA. He is shown to be very loving and committed to his wife, step daughter and step grandchildren. Ebert’s accomplishments as a writer and critic were heralded beyond any doubt when in 1975 he became the first movie critic to ever receive a Pulitzer Prize for his work. It would be 29 more years before such recognition was given to another film critic. In addition to this movie being about the life of Roger Ebert, it is also clearly about his dying and death. The Director Steve James started working with Ebert on this film 5 months before he died. The film shows his wife’s support as he battles his progressive disease with repeated hospitalizations. Chaz gives a very moving description of how he kept working on his film blog (obviously also this film) to the day before he died and how he finally decided to let go. In the spirit of writing this review we would have to say that we thought this pain and suffering was drawn out in the film longer than it had to be to make it’s point. But on the other hand we may feel that way because we really came to revere him and it was painful to see the end of the story. (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Documentary

Searching For Sugarman

July 10th, 2014 — 5:27pm

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Searching For Sugarman nf -In the 1970s there was a rock singer by the name “Rodriquez” much in the style of Bob Dylan who by many accounts was as good if not better than Dylan. His lyrics were right on for the times and his voice as clear (not like BD) as a bell. He was out of Detroit and a few of the music impresarios who produced many stars of Mo-town thought he was fantastic. His story is the subject of this movie directed by Malik Bendjelloul which won the 2013 Academy Award Oscar for the best Documentary Film. Rodriquez’s music which is played throughout the film will catch your attention Take a quick listen here. For some reason he didn’t catch on and his records didn’t sell. He had played in some dives in Detroit for a while and there were rumors of his death or attempted suicide on stage. (Spoiler Alert!) He didn’t die and in fact he just faded away and for the next 25 years or so, Rodriquez lived in a modest house and worked in construction and demolition. He was a quiet hard working man who had three wonderful daughters. He still enjoyed playing on the guitar now and then but he basically melted into the woodwork as a working guy living in a depressed difficult city. However on the other side of the world in South Africa unbeknownst to him and the record producers who dumped him when he didn’t sell, his records were picked up by other labels and for many years he was “Bigger than Elvis.” His words and music became the voice of the young generation of mostly whites who felt apartheid was wrong but were suppressed by the oppressive government of South Africa. 100.000s, if not perhaps millions, of his records were sold. He received no royalties and hadn’t the slightest idea that his name was a household name there. Every young person including many of the popular musicians who became of age in the 80s and early 90s in South Africa knew his music and so many felt they were greatly influenced by it. There were a handful of people in South Africa, writers and music people, who wondered why they didn’t know more about him. Two guys tried to find out what happened and how did he die – was it really on stage? Somebody set up a website reflecting the curiosity of whatever happened to him. Lo and behold one of his daughters living in the U.S. saw the website. The story of how the people in South Africa found him and how he found South Africa will be a touching moment that you will not forget. The reunion concert with thousands of fans in ecstasy singing along with him was an amazing piece of cinema. This was a great subject for a documentary film as it allowed the viewers to share this unforgettable moment and this amazing story. (2012)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Musical

Belle

June 22nd, 2014 — 5:24am

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Belle-rm- This is a complicated film which deals with slavery, race relations in England in the latter part of the 18th century, women’s dependency on men, love, relationships, a tragic event at sea and an historic legal case. Yet in the end you come away with a sense of satisfaction, that things are working out for the best. The film is based on a true story written by Misa Sagay and Amma Asante who also directed this film and showed her sensitivity to the many issues covered in this story. The story revolves around Dido (Gugu Mbaatha-Raw), an illegitimate mixed race child of a Royal Navy admiral who brings his young daughter to be raised by his aristocratic uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkerson) and his wife Lady Mansfield (Emily Watson) while he goes off to sea. The Mansfields are also raising another child Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) born to another member of the family who is not around. The two girls become very close as they grow to marriageable age. Great Uncle Mansfield also happens to be the Chief Justice of England who is about to rule on an important case concerned with the Zong Massacre. This involved a ship at sea that was transporting slaves from Africa and threw a number of them overboard to drown claiming they were out of drinking water and had to do this in order to survive and subsequently made a claim to their insurance company for their “lost cargo.” The story also shows the somewhat formal courtship of these now young women, the importance of the presence or absence of a dowry, and the view and treatment of women at this time and place. Of course the racial factor is also high lighted as there is this unique situation of a black girl being raised in the aristocratic home and now receiving a proposal of marriage from the men who come courting these women. There are tense moving interactions between the various characters as well a dramatic courtroom scene by Tom Wilkerson who we feel deserves special recognition among an outstanding cast. At the conclusion of the film we see a large completed oil painting of the two young women who are the centerpiece of the film and which was being painted earlier in the story. Then during the rolling of the credits we see another large painting of the actual women who are depicted in the story and are told where the real canvas is hanging. This reminder of the historical truth of all the themes shown in this film, makes it quite a memorable accomplishment.(2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, Romance

Strawberry and Chocolate

June 13th, 2014 — 7:45pm

****Screen Shot 2014-06-12 at 11.01.33 PM Strawberry and Chocolate-nf  (Spanish with subtitles) Prior to our first trip to Cuba several friends told us that we have to see this award winning movie. (It won the Goya Award for the best Spanish language film in 1994 and was nominated for an Academy Award for the best foreign language film that year. There was a long waiting list for it on Netflix so we couldn’t catch it before we left. While being shown around Cuba by a young Cuban guide, we were taken to dinner up a beautiful staircase in Havana, which we were told was part of the main location for this movie. He also highly recommended this film. When we finally caught up with the film, we not only appreciated the specific location in Havana, which we had visited but some of the conflicts, which the film portrayed so well. David (Vladimir Cruz) is a college student very appreciative of this communist revolutionary government, which has allowed him, from a poor family to go to college and choose to study political science. David subsequently is having chocolate ice cream in a public square and he meets Diego (Jorge Perugorria) who is symbolically having strawberry ice cream since it turns out that he is clearly gay and very attracted to David who we learn early in the movie is clearly attracted to women although rejected by one (Marilyn Solaya) who married someone else while he remains a “virgin “. Diego is not only gay but he is someone who is a free thinker in regard to art music, literature and invariably in regard to politics. He loves Cuba but can’t love the revolutionary Cuban government, which rejects all types of creativity from the non-communist world and of course completely rejects homosexuality. David’s college roommate Miguel (Francisco Gattomo) is a rigid pro government ideologue who encourages David to befriend Diego in order to spy on him and turn him in. Nancy (Mirta Ibarra) is a neighbor and friend of Diego who may be a prostitute, with a “heart of gold.” The inflexibility of some people in their views on homosexuality are used as a metaphor for rigidity of the supporters of the Cuban government to consider the contributions of other non-communist cultures and vice versa. There also is depiction of the ability of human beings to love and connect with each other that goes beyond sexual and political orientation. These are special ideas and Directors Tomas Gutierrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabio made this story with a very sensitive touch. This included many scenes of the characteristic grandiose but now decaying Spanish architecture as well as the lovely settings by the water of this historic island. (1994)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign

As High As The Sky

June 12th, 2014 — 6:39am

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As High As The Sky-sp This excellent independent low budget film will probably not have theatrical release but it is available by DVD on Amazon, Vimeo etc. and is definitely worth seeing. It is the brainchild of Nikki Braendlin who wrote the screenplay and directed the film. It stars Caroline Fogarty, a young actress and sometimes comedienne who takes on the non-comedic role of a young woman with a clear case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder whose boyfriend has recently left her and she is living alone in a beautiful contemporary California home. She is unexpectedly visited by her sister (Bonnie McNeil) who is 14 years older than she along with her 11 or 12-year-old daughter (Laurel Porter). Early in the story we learn that the younger sister was 4 years old when their parents were killed in an auto accident. Two aunts took over the childrearing. We only hear their voices on the phone (Dee Wallace and Jenny O’Hare) The older sister moved out at age 17. There is much more to the story and it beautifully unfolds revealing the family dynamics and the relationships. Ms. Braendim does a magnificent job in her directorial debut extracting from this all female cast a very sensitive performance to match her original script. (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Chef

May 24th, 2014 — 9:40pm

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Chef-rm This is an extremely well done movie about food and much more. Chef Carl Casper is played by Jon Favreau who write the screenplay, directed and coproduced the movie) is the famous chef of a well know restaurant in Los Angeles. He finds himself at odds with owner of the restaurant (Dustin Hoffman) who wants him to prepare and serve his standards rather then be newly creative on the day that famous food reviewer Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) will be visiting the restaurant. The critic pans the Chef for being unimaginative and at an expected repeat visit, Casper quits rather be then be forced to stifle his creativity once again. This ultimately leads to foodie road trip in a food truck with Casper, Percy (Emjay Anthony) his 10-year-old son and Martin, a staff cook who formerly worked for him(John Leguizamo). We see the great passion that the deposed chef has for food and it’s preparation but also see the tender father son relationship which is played out by the son wanting to learn about food and the father who really puts him to work but teaches him his love and skill of this genre. Sofia Vergara has never looked better as the beautiful but very caring ex-wife. Scarlett Johansson likewise is very appealing as the empathic hostess at his previous restaurant. The road trip starts off in Miami where the food truck is put together and we can almost taste the Cuban food, which becomes an important part of the menu of the truck. The Cuban music beat becomes the pulse of this film and the face of it is Cuban musician Jose C. Hernandez who plays the father of Casper’s ex-wife and the grandfather of the boy. His playing is a recurrent strong part of the wonderful musical background of this story. We also experience the great music and atmosphere of New Orleans which is the next stop on this trip. The food truck becomes very popular here and we are shown the familiar views of this great city while the musical beat goes on. Perhaps characterizing the chef’s relationship with his son, as he buys him the famous product from the Café Du Mundo, he says to him, “ Eat it slowly, you are never going to taste your first beignet again.” Next stop was Austin, Texas where the food truck also achieved great popularity while the music of Gary Clark Jr. played on. Final stop was back home in Los Angeles where this food truck and it’s great crew held their own against other food trucks in downtown LA. Aside from the great screenplay and very fine acting by an outstanding cast, especially Mr. Fareau who is on screen most of the time, there are three non-human stars of this movie. We have already highlighted the music. Of course there is the food and Los Angeles chef Roy Choi should be included in the kudos since he was the food consultant and there were many mouthwatering scenes of very appealing food. The third star was modern technology, particularly social media and the cell phone with constant tweeting. It was tweets that spread the word about the food critic’s views, the counter arguments of the chef and the popularity of the gallivanting food truck. Also the movie was topped off with a few weeks of one second per day video clips posted on the Internet, put all together by Percy the Chef’s young son which summed up his affection for his dad and the journey on which this movie had taken us all. (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Emoticon ;)

May 22nd, 2014 — 6:10am

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Emoticon ;)- sp Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 10.27.30 PM- It is very exciting to see a small, low budget film successfully get it’s point across in an excellent movie. In this case Livia DePaolis a young actress, co-wrote the screenplay with then film student Sarah Nerbose. Ms. Depaolis also produced and directed as well as star in it. She was able to get veteran actor Michael Cristofer to co-star with her as well as bring in Carol Kane, Sonia Braga and excellent teenage actors, Miles Chandler, Allie Gallerani, Charlie Solis, Sydney Morton and Alesandra Socah. The film examines various aspects of family relationships in a contemporary upper class New York City. It also uses the prism of modern day social media to help the viewer see everyday happenings as the characters might very well been doing. Elena is a single 33 year old graduate student who has a relationship with Walter who is a 64 year old divorced man with two adopted teenage children to whom she becomes connected. The kid’s struggle with their own identity both sexual and racial, as well as Elena relationship with them and her own examination of her feelings about having her own children are all opened up for viewing. The filmmaker appeared to be using Elena’s graduate school thesis as metaphor for this movie. It is that the wide spread use of social media is so much a part of human relationships it actually changes them. From our point of view the movie didn’t need this approach. The characters all had depth and showed complexity, growth and change. The story stood on it’s own and we felt the use of social media was almost incidental. The characters could have just as well been talking on the telephone instead of on Facebook but it was a clever and original perspective none-the-less. We look towards a very bright career for the talented Ms. DePaolis. (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Rob The Mob

March 20th, 2014 — 8:07pm

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Rob the Mob- sp- Are you ready for another good  movie about “The Mafia”? But this time it is the “wise guys” meet Bonnie and Clyde. On top of this it is vintage New York 1990s and it is all based on a true story.  Tommy is a young hoodlum who with his girl friend Rosie get caught robbing a flower shop. After he gets out of prison Tommy gets the bright idea that he should get an Uzi machine gun to hold up a bunch of  small  clubs where the gangsters hang out, since he heard they aren’t allowed to have their guns there. She will drive the getaway car. He even makes these mob guys strip down to their underwear. If you think this duo isn’t too bright, you aren’t far from the truth. But they are in love and are both funny and charming. Michael Pitt a 32 year old actor with some good movie and TV experience who  comes across as a tough but naïve Clyde, alias Tommy. His Bonnie, or should we say Rosie, is inhabited by someone who reminds us of Barbara Streisand without the voice and is perfectly played by Nina Arianda who has already established herself on Broadway as well as in film. There are a bunch of very familiar looking gangsters including one played by Burt Young, who you remember as Paulie in Stallone’s Rocky and actually was in all six of those films. Ray Ramono continues to demonstrate his versatility as an actor playing the sympathetic NY Post reporter Jerry Cardoza. If there is poignancy in this film it is in the character of Big Al, the honcho of the mob, who is on the verge of being brought down by these two bumbling bandits. He is played very well with dignity by Andy Garcia, who actually makes us feel sad that the FBI is about to bag him due to unbelievable but true circumstances, which are part of this story. Credit for the success of this film in great part goes to director Raymond De Felitta who ran with the screenplay by Jonathan Fernandez and worked very closely during the editing phase with Stephen Endelman who did the music which always sets the tone in this kind of a film. Unless there is word of mouth, this independent film might not take off on the first trip around but it is worth seeing. (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Crime, Uncategorized

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me

March 6th, 2014 — 8:06pm

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Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me- If you love Elaine Stritch, dramatic actress, singer, musical comedy star and Broadway legend you will want to see this documentary. If you want to meet a remarkable 87 year old star who speaks her mind and is not afraid to tell you she that still needs the love of her audiences, you will want to see this documentary. While one might think that the filmmaker Chiemi Karasawa had always been an avid fan of the subject of this film, you will be surprised to learn that this was not the case. In fact, her interest was stimulated by their mutual hairdresser, who suggested that Stritch would be the ideal subject for a documentary. Karasawa then unearthed everything she could about this woman and ultimately convinced Ms. Stritch to let her do the film. Stritch, who never does anything half way granted the filmmaker full access to her life and embraced the project with the intensity and humor, which is so much a part of her character. The film is not a retrospective review of this amazing person, although it certainly gives you ample glimpses of her star-studded career. But rather it is the story of an elderly woman facing the challenges of life with concerns about her health and memory who nevertheless is still up for another show, another concert, another rehearsal, another review, all with energy and, yes, with great vitality. And this woman can still sing! It is exciting to see her rehearse with her music director as she prepares for her latest cabaret performance at the famed Café Carlyle as she lives in her suite at that same hotel. You can almost hear Frank Sinatra singing New York New York as she hustles down a Manhattan street. All of this is quite real as is her hospitalization at Mount Sinai Hospital for hypoglycemia related to her diabetes. The camera doesn’t miss a beat nor does Ms. Stritch. Two unforgettable moments are the look on a young Stephen Sondheim’s face as a young Elaine Stritch nails one of his songs and another moment when an older Stritch marvels how Sondheim’s words so often captured her own feelings. We come away from this film with a picture of the legend, who once turned down JFK’ s offer to join her at her apartment one evening. A woman who could never find a love to replace her 10 year marriage to John Bay actor and playwright who died in 1982 of a brain tumor and every year still send English Muffins from her husband’s family muffin business to hundreds of her friends. A woman who has been nominated for multiple Tony’s, Emmys and what have you and a woman who is now sure to be unforgettable to new and old fans thanks to this film.  (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary

In Secret

February 20th, 2014 — 9:02pm

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In Secret-sp Emile Zola is a great French writer known for the Naturalism Literary School which depicts realism, human experience and morality or the lack of it. This film is closely based on one of his classic  novels of this genre Therese Raquin.  Charlie Stratton as Executive Producer, screen writer and director certainly achieved a realistic 19th century Paris setting (although filmed in Budapest) as well as a dramatic film noir atmosphere. But it was the character portrayals, which riveted the audience and allows Zola’s captivating storyline to hold them spellbound. Therese (Elizabeth Olsen) is a beautiful sex starved and obsessed young woman who is forced into a loveless marriage with her nerdy cousin Camille (Tom Felton) after her mother dies and left her in the care of her aunt, magnificently played by Jessica Lange. Laurent LeClaire (Oscar Isaac) an old artist friend of Camille appears on the scene and there is immediately intense chemistry between him and Therese, which is secretly acted out. It would not be a Zola story if jealousy and passion does not lead to murder! Things cannot be expected to be simple even at this point as there is intense grief, all kinds of strong emotional feelings, delayed gratification and tremendous guilt which seems to be on verge of destroying of what was an intense all-encompassing relationship. The movie will grip you and hold your attention as well as any great TV show but the subtle, complexities and all the dark shadows as well as the absolutely great acting and directing remind you that you have seen a first rate movie. (2014)

 

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Mystery

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