Category: 4 Stars


Beirut

March 27th, 2018 — 11:23pm

****

Beriut

Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm), a mid-east expert who is called back to Beirut where he hasn’t been for ten or so years to negotiate a high profile kidnapping case which he has some personal connections and past relationships. Rosamund Pike is an American agent who fearlessly assist Skiles with his mission.

The other stars of the film in addition to the Director Brad Anderson and writer Tony Gilroy are the producers, director of photography and production designers etc. who recreated Beirut of 1982, as a city in shambles with bombed out houses and realistic and scary-warring factions all over the place. We understand that they used Tangiers and Morocco as the locations to recreate Beirut. But, however they did it, the viewer could not help feeling that we were in a dangerous place with an exciting story unfolding before us. Occasionally we lost the beat and we weren’t sure who was who and what side they may be on. No matter, because the main focus was on Hamm’s character, who held our attention, and should hold yours, if you get a chance to see this film. (2018)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Action, Drama

On Borrowed Time

March 1st, 2018 — 9:23pm

****

On Borrowed Time

Four older men in an assisted living home in Dubai seemed to be losing interest in life when one of them gets a notice that he has inherited lots of money. This leaves them to begin a foray outside their living arrangement. The story ends up being an uplifting film which deserves to be seen not only by the Arab speaking world but also by others who will use subtitles (which could be slightly improved).

The movie gives an insight into contemporary life in an Arab country along with several seeming paradoxes, which intrigued us. The older folks wore traditional garb while the younger people were in modern western dress and went to nightclubs. The living facility was all men – not co-ed although the capable physician was a young attractive woman in western dress. We were surprised to see these vibrant men ending up in this facility when we know of the strong Arab tradition of families caring for their elderly. But perhaps that is what made the story so interesting and drove the plot. The theme of living life to its fullest at all ages is universal.

The acting was top-of-the-line and superb. Kudos should go to Saad Al Faraj, Mansour Al Feeli, Salloum Haddad, Marei Al Halliam, Fouad Ali and Layla Abdullah. The writer-director Yasir Al Yasiri did an excellent job. The film was based on a short story by Karim Al Iraqi. One of the producers, an American, Caleb Wilson was at our screening and shared with us that this film is one of many coming down the pike that was made in the Arab world but should have great appeal to Western audiences. This movie might not be available in your local theater but you should be able to find it on Netflix or the like. If you are a student of film, it wouldn’t surprise us if this one might end up being an important movie in reflecting the changing scene of international film making from the Arab world. (2018)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

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

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