Category: 4 Stars

Woman in Gold

September 5th, 2015 — 11:53pm

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Woman in Gold – nf

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

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

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

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

1 comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

After Words

August 19th, 2015 — 6:21am


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

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

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

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Romance

Straight Out of Compton

August 15th, 2015 — 10:22pm

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Straight Outta Compton

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Musical


August 13th, 2015 — 2:03am

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

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

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

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama


August 7th, 2015 — 12:25am

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

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

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

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

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy

Zoot Suit

August 1st, 2015 — 7:02pm

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Zoot Suit – nf

This 34-year-old movie reminds us of the unforgettable classic Westside Story and the more recent movie, Fruitvale Station. It is based on an actual 1940s Los Angeles murder trial. It involves a group of Mexican American young men who were tried and sentenced to San Quentin Prison for a crime they never committed. The film is directed by Luis Valdez and stars his younger brother, Daniel Valdez, as Henry Reyna, the group leader. The Valdez brothers in real life happened to come from Mexican immigrant families. Daniel also directed the great music, which is an important part of this production along with the wonderful dancing. The music of course is decidedly a Latin blend that fits in well with the intriguing dramatic story. It features an imaginary character, El Pachuco, who is in the mind of Henry Reyna. He is magnificently played as a Zoot Suit wearing devilish persona by Edward James Olmos, who proves himself to be a great dancer and singer, as well as a fine actor. There is another familiar face in the cast who you will recognize, and that is Tyne Daly who plays Alice Bloomfield, who is a young woman working with the team trying to set the innocent people free. This 1981 film about the 1940s could have been ripped from today’s headlines as we see accusations of police brutality and controversial trials. It is a refreshingly different film that is worth seeing on Netflix (1981).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Musical


July 26th, 2015 — 8:01pm

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Trainwreck -rm

We were prepared not to like this film as we assumed it was geared for a much younger demographic than ourselves which may very well have been the case. However, we enjoyed it immensely.

The opening scene showed a father teaching his two young girls a mantra that “monogamy is not realistic” as he tells them about his pending divorce to their mother. One of the girls is Amy, played as a grown up young woman by Amy Schumer who also wrote the screenplay.

From the beginning we had the idea that Amy’s psychology was not founded on traditional family values. She had lots of boyfriends and sex seemed to be mainly an end into itself. It was also mixed with lots of drinking and smoking pot. Interestingly this was in contrast to her sister Kim (Brie Larson) who having heard the same message from her father was now married with an adorable stepson and a new pregnancy.

Amy works as a successful writer albeit with a magazine that seems to view life and sex in a manner similar to hers. With Judd Apatow (Bridesmaids) at the director’s helm we would expect Schumer’s comedic writing and her persona to provide lots of good laughs, which was certainly the case if we were to judge our own reactions and that of our theatre audience. However, the film developed much more than an extended Saturday Nite Live routine (which is where co-star Bill Hader achieved his renowned success). He plays Dr. Aaron Connors, a successful sports doctor, who Amy is assigned to interview for her magazine. The chemistry between them goes beyond the sex and they fall in love. Amy and the good doctor struggled with their differences and their attraction to each other. There are some very poignant and dramatic scenes, which Ms. Schumer carries off extremely well while staying within her character. We read somewhere that she is a classically trained actress and she certainly handled the tearful moments, angry outbursts and the comedy to perfection. The story uses satire especially in the sex scenes but also with the cameo appearances by Matthew Broderick, Marv Albert, Chris Evert, Daniel Radcliffe and some well-known professional basketball players.

We are left with a tour de force about the impact of childhood, falling in love, and growing up, which are all presented to us with a wonderful sense of humor.(2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama, Romance


July 21st, 2015 — 7:36pm

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Samba-sp (In French with English subtitles)

Among the political issues currently debated in the United States as well in other countries throughout the world is how to deal with illegal or undocumented immigrants. This is the main focus of this French film written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano starring Omar Sy. This trio got together to make Intouchable in 2011 which became the second biggest box office hit in French history. It also did very well in the United States

Omay Sy in the current film plays Samba, an immigrant from Senegal, who has been living in France for 10 years. He, like many other people who don’t have proper citizenship papers must live in the shadows and are susceptible to arrest and deportation. Samba is discovered and temporarily placed in a detention center where he meets Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a young executive who was trying to stabilize her life by doing volunteer work in this facility. Samba is released with the expectation that he will go back to his home country. It is at this point in the film that we see him and other people in similar situations as they struggle to get illegal identification papers, procure jobs ranging from working in restaurants, hotel kitchens, cleaning windows in high-rise buildings or even just doing day labor. We get an insight into the painful life of trying to survive in this environment often while sending money home to their families.

Although they are coming from different places in life, Samba and Alice are drawn to each other and these wonderful actors create a very real chemistry between them. Even though we felt this 118-minute film could have been shortened and tied together a little better, the result is clearly a very interesting, enjoyable and thought provoking movie. We came away from it having empathy for the determination of a long line of undocumented immigrants who struggle for years to try to stay in their chosen country and become legitimate for themselves and ultimately for their children. Obviously, there are other points of view on this complicated political and social issue. However, if this movie reaches even half the audience that the last collaboration of this writer/director and star did, it will stand a chance of significantly influencing the great debate on immigration. (2015)


Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign

Mr. Holmes

July 16th, 2015 — 12:54am


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This is a story about an older Sherlock Holmes who has returned to a country house in England where he lives with his housekeeper and her son and raises bees. The story also shows that he has early signs of forgetfulness but still has a brilliant deductive mind. The film uses flashbacks to earliler situations in his life to develop the plot. Following our viewing of the movie, we participated in a discussion with other moviegoers and a well known film critic Stephen Farber, with a special guest, Mitch Cullin, the author of the novel upon which the screenplay was written. It struck us that we talked about Mr. Holmes as if he were a real person. People recalled early stories in his life which not only came from the extensive writings of Arthur Conan Doyle but from other books, movies, and TV programs, all about this fictional character.

There is a situation presented in one flashback to an earlier time when Mr. Holmes supposedly worked on a case confronting a woman who was lying to her husband not because of an affair with another man but because she was obsessed with playing a musical instrument feeling that it would bring her closer to her two babies who had died. This woman was clearly seriously depressed and suicidal. We see Mr. Holmes years later reflecting on this woman and perhaps even pining over what could have been had they developed a romantic relationship. The depression of the woman seemed irrelevant to him. Even the depressed feelings of Mr. Holmes, as he thinks about this past situation, seem artificial. From our limited acquaintance with the extensive writings about this famed fictional detective, it seems that he usually or even always was shown as the man with a brilliant mind where logic always prevails and most of the time human feelings seem to be left out or at least are hidden. There is more sensitivity to others as he figures out that a Japanese man in the story would be better off if Sherlock tells him a lie about what his father supposedly told him. Sherlock, seems to be a grown-up person perhaps with Asperger’s syndrome who can figure everything out, but not his own feelings.

If Sherlock defended against his feelings, the emotion certainly came out to the audience watching the movie. We are touched by the interaction that he has with a young boy and we were moved by seeing Sherlock beginning to have awareness of his failing memory.

The direction by Bill Condon based on the screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher was outstanding. Ian McKellen’s performance as Sherlock deserves consideration for an Oscar. Laura Linney was excellent as Mrs. Monroe the housekeeper and child actor, Milo Parker, was an essential component to this movie and did a superb job. “It is elementary, my dear Watson,” that you should see this movie. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama


July 16th, 2015 — 12:13am


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For many years MB was a psychiatric consult to a Burn Center and worked with many patients who had to deal with severe pain. Most of the time, we found a way of controlling the pain through medication, relaxation techniques, hypnosis, guided imagery, and various forms of psychotherapy. However, it was after the patient left the hospital that they had their biggest trial. They were faced with disfiguring injuries, chronic pain, and most of all PTSD with continued grieving around the circumstances of their tragic injury.

We live and breathe this journey through the persona of Claire who is masterfully played by Jennifer Aniston. We initially meet her in a support group for people with chronic pain. We soon learned that her pain is much more than physical hurting. It goes also beyond the physical dependency that her body has for pain killers.

The screenplay by Patrick Tobin slowly unfolds as we gradually learn about a member of Claire’s support group who committed suicide (Anna Kendrick) but lives on in Claire’s mind. We see Claire slowly and painfully expand her limited circle of relationships. The one constant person in her life is Silvana, her loya; housekeeper (Adriana Barraza).

This is not the kind of role you can just step into. It required much more than this actress allowing her face to be made up as being scarred. Jenifer Aniston had to come to inhabit the heart and soul of her character. She did just that through her own efforts and with the help of the film director Daniel Barnz. She also had an excellent supporting cast which included Sam Worthington, Mamie Gummer, Felicity Huffman, William Macy, Chris Messina, and several others.

We suspect this movie will live on, not only as an excellent piece of cinema but it will be used for discussion in support groups as real people will relate to the character that Ms. Aniston and the film makers have created. (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

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