Category: 4 Stars


Basmati Blues

February 1st, 2018 — 5:21am

****

Basmati Blues

Even before La La Land, which won five Oscars last season was released, the team behind Basmati Blues was planning this old fashioned musical. It was co-written and eventually directed by Danny Baron who worked with producers Monique Caufield, Jeffrey Soros and Ruedi Gerber, all experienced movie makers. Their idea was not just to make a Hollywood musical, but to come up with one that had a storyline which would take place in India and would meld that country’s culture, dance and music along with the traditional American musical. They put together a very talented casts starring Brie Larson, who won the Oscar for Best Actress in 2015 for Room. Miss Larson proves herself not only to be a talented actress but to be one who can sing and dance. She is paired with Utkarsh Ambudkar who is an All-American actor with an Indian heritage. The cast also includes Scott Bakula and Tyne Daly who are quite capable of singing and dancing along with Donald Sutherland who plays his villain type.

The storyline shows an American, very large seed manufacturing company that wants to sell its new product to the farmers of India. They send the young, brilliant, beautiful scientist (Larson) to India to convince the farmers to use this product (which did have a serious flaw). There is an Indian science guy (Ambudkar) who thought that he had a better idea. There is drama, intrigue, a little romance and of course, music, dance and song. It was a little disturbing that the people of India were being conned and weren’t as smart as they should have been. But you know (no spoiler alert here) that in the end there is a crescendo with happy, enjoyable music, dance and song in a beautiful setting. Everyone seemed to be leaving the theater with a big smile on his and her face which is the way it should be (2017).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Musical

Divine Order

January 28th, 2018 — 6:48am

****

The Divine Order

The suffrage movement, women’s rights and women’s liberation is one of the most dramatic and heartwarming stories of American history. It also resonates in a country such as Switzerland where women did not have the right to vote until the 1970s. Screenwriter and director Petra Volpe shows to focus on the particular process around a countrywide referendum whether women should have the right to vote. The story takes place in a small town in Switzerland and follows Nora (Marie Leuenberger), her husband Hans (Max Simonischek), her sister-in-law Theresa (Rachel Braunschweig), their family and mainly the women of this town. The story touches upon the changing traditional roles between men and women. It highlights generational differences and even puts the focus on women’s new awareness of their own bodies. The moving storyline about the interpersonal relationships as well as the emerging self-awareness of both men and women will push your buttons and touch your emotions. This has all the hallmarks   of a well done successful movie which is worth seeing now and preserving for future generations. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History, Politics

Wonder Woman

January 16th, 2018 — 5:11am

****

Wonder Woman – rm

You take a $149 million budget (which thus far has earned six times that amount), pull together a cast and crew with behind the screens technicians probably totaling at least a thousand people (based on the credits), put it together in at least four different countries (USA, Italy, Hungary and New Zealand) and build a story around a character who has been a heroine to at least three generations of girls and you get magnificent Wonder Woman! (Gal Gadot) She, of course, can leap buildings in a single bound (like Superman did), can stop bullets with her wristband or even catch them, has super strength and of course she has a magic lasso which will make anyone tell the truth.

We meet our heroine as a young girl as she is training to be an Amazon (all powerful women) on a secret island. It is during World War I and a British pilot (Chris Pine) on a spy mission is being chased by a flotilla of German boats with lots of German soldiers. He crashes into the water and is saved by our heroine who fights off the pursuing Germans until the other Amazon women come to help and wipe them all out. But our spy knows that the Germans have a new secret weapon that involves a deadly gas and he must, get the news back to the Allies. They’re in a tremendous battle, a confrontation with the evil of all evil men and many other things that you can imagine.

But the real heroes and heroines of this film have to be the behind the scenes technicians who produced the tremendous special effects that are throughout just about every scene with appropriate sound effects and music. This is all under the direction of Patty Jenkins with a screenplay and story by Zack Snyder and Allan Heinberg. There was an excellent supporting cast including Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, David Thewlis and many others.

We understand that most women viewers have been quite touched and even tearful at the end of this film and the female member of our duo was also moved. We don’t know if many guys felt that way and it could be a whole new discussion figuring out what this film is tapping into. But all should agree that we are seeing a classic and there will probably be a sequel (2017).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

I Am Not Your Negro

January 9th, 2018 — 9:14am

**** 

I Am Not Your Negro-sp

In 1979, the esteemed writer, James Baldwin, proposed a book to his agent which would deal with the life and death of Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King. He only got around to completing 30 pages of this book and he died eight years later in 1987. Director and Screenwriter, Raoul Peck, picked up the ball and constructed this documentary film using the beginning 30 pages plus clips of Baldwin and other important voices on the subject and brought in Samuel Jackson to do the voice over. He constructed a story that highlighted the oppression of blacks in this country dating back to slavery and moving forward to the modern civil rights movement in which Malcolm X, Evers and King made such major contributions each in his own way.

This is more than a review of history. It captures how Baldwin and others have felt as they were denied the freedoms (overt and subtle) that so many Americans take for granted. His passion comes across so clearly whether it is in viewing clips of interviews with him on the Dick Cavett Late Night Television Show or the voice of Samuel Jackson as he speaks through the written words of Baldwin and the director/writer Peck. There are appropriate film clips from classic American films which include well-known actors, as well as newsreels which show Evers, King and Malcolm X making their indelible mark on American history.

We would like to say that this is all past history. Baldwin died 30 years ago and the three subjects of his proposed book are gone even longer. While these great men and many others have brought us much closer to a time when racial discrimination would be ancient history, we are not there yet. This documentary film which was nominated for an Oscar as best documentary film last year will allow its viewers to reflect about contemporary times and consider what still has to be done. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, History

The Post

December 29th, 2017 — 7:29pm

****

The Post

This movie tells a great classic American story with outstanding lead actors a strong supporting cast and of course it has Steven Spielberg as director. We approached this film with very high expectations. After its sluggish start, where we weren’t sure who were all the characters and what exactly was going on, we soon got with the flow and we were not disappointed. We trust the filmmakers, so we believe this is a true behind-the-scene story which those of us who can recall the time and the events, did not know all the details.

If you know anything about these historical events, a government worker by the name of Daniel Ellsworth (Matthew Rhys) leaked secret documents to the New York Times and Washington Post which reveal a government study showing that the United States could not expect to win the Vietnam War. This had tremendous implications since this would mean that subsequent United States military deaths and casualties would serve no purpose.

The drama centered around Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) who inherited the ownership of the Washington Post and had to make the decision whether or not to publish these papers and Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) the heroic editor of The Post who advocated publishing the story despite possible risks to the newspaper and staff. There was an important back story as the viewer came to appreciate that Graham found herself in the unexpected role for a woman of her time and rose to the occasion. One of us was disappointed that part of the story, which involved Daniel Ellsworth’s psychiatrist, was not explored. Much of the drama in the movie involved phone calls often in the evening, which will have to be explained to any younger generation you might bring to the theater as they used “dial phones” “Princess phones” “payphones” which will be totally unknown to anyone under 40 who of course only has been familiar with cell phones (2017).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama

The Mountain Between Us

October 4th, 2017 — 5:49am

****

The Mountain Between Us-sp

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

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

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