Category: 5 Stars


Desert Dancer

March 14th, 2015 — 5:32am

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Although Iran is known to have a repressive government, it still has one of the highest percentage of educated people in the world as well as having 60% of its 73 million people under the age of 30. Therefore, it would still seem surprising that any kind of dancing in Iran is forbidden. This movie shows the true story of a student at the University of Tehran who five years ago with the few other students began to secretly learn how to dance in order to express their emotions. They gathered at a deserted basement and studied forbidden YouTube videos. They knew that they could be beaten and even killed if discovered as had happened to many other young people who flaunted the authority of the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his paid thugs.

First time British director, Richard Raymond, read a newspaper article about  Afshin Ghaffarian, who led this group of dancers as they practiced and put on a performance in the desert for a small gathering of students who were secretly brought to this hidden recital. Ghaffarian’s life was threatened and he eventually made it out of Iran to Europe where he told this story. He then received further dance training and ultimately formed his own dance company, performing throughout the world.

Thanks to this film, the true story of the suppression of art and dance in Iran is told. It is also a metaphor for what is being done to the human spirit that is being highlighted here. Mr. Raymond put together a multi national cast of actors who were then taught to dance by Okram Khan, the choreographer of the opening night of the 2012 London Olympic Games. Although their names are not known to American audiences, their dedication to this story deserves to be recognized. Afshin Ghaffarian was played by Reece Ritchie. The other actors were Nazanin Boniadi, Freida Pinto, Tom Cullen, Makram J. Khoury, Marama Corlett and Daniel Bass. You probably won’t remember their names but you will remember this film. It will touch you and remind you how sad it is when the creative expression inside of us is not allowed to come out and how glorious it can be when it becomes free. (2015)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History

McFarland, U.S.A.

February 19th, 2015 — 7:05pm

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What could be more all American than a sports film staring Kevin Costner? (think Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Tip Cup, For the Love of the Game) Add to this, a New Zealand director who has established credentials in understanding cultures, not her own, by immersing herself within these places. That is Niki Caro who previously made the award winning film “Whale Rider” about an obscure Maori tribe. On top of that , Disney Studios is backing the film. McFarland, U.S.A. is certainly a United States story, but it is also an authentic depiction of first generation Mexican immigrants living in the Central California town of McFarland. The community lives by picking fruit and vegetables that will be on American tables. The kids attend school but are also employed in the fields doing the back-breaking “picking” work to add to the support of their families. Along comes a new teacher, Jim White, (Kevin Costner) who had had problems in his previous jobs and comes to McFarland as the only place which was so desperate for a teacher that he is hired. He arrives in this small, dusty, impoverished town with his wife and two daughters, none of whom is happy to be coming to this place so alien to them. He is to be the assistant football coach and teach life sciences courses. While his job as football coach soon ends, he realizes that while the kids have little going for them, some of them are incredibly fast, strong runners. The story takes off from there. On one hand you might think that you can guess the drift of the film, but this is much more than a “Chariots of Fire” lookalike. It is a moving story based on the lives of real people who you will hear about in the closing scenes and rolling credits. It will touch you, excite you and make you laugh. It will send a chill up your spine, bring a tear to your eye and you will walk out of the theater knowing you have experienced an outstanding film. (2015)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Family / Kids, Sport

Red Army

February 5th, 2015 — 8:22pm

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The Red Army-sp The Red Army is a film about hockey, except that it isn’t! We agreed with several people in the audience, with whom we saw this film, who stated that they had not been looking forward to this documentary about the national hockey team of the Soviet Union. However, we, like they, were entirely captivated by this incredibly well executed documentary written, directed and produced by the young filmmaker, Gabe Polsky. While much of the film showed actual footage of hockey games played by this extraordinary team, the scenes were beautifully put together between photos of early years of some of the players, magnificent interviews with a wide range of people and footage of life in the soviet union over the years. Mr. Polsky created a film that was enlightening, poignant and engaging by focusing mainly on one player, Viacheslav (Slava) Festinov and telling his story. By doing that, he told the story of the proud Russian people and their culture. He was able to explicate the determination and love of country, even in the face of adversity and lack of freedom that existed. Festinov as a young boy was like millions of other youths who wanted to play hockey and dreamt of being on his national team. Because of his skills he became part of the national hockey-training program that selects the best and vigorously trains them for several years. Through carefully constructed and interwoven interviews and film clips we come to see the total dedication to the game that these young men developed. We are introduced to the coaches who revolutionized the game by treating it on the level of complex ballet and complicated chess games, both of which the Russians had been known to be masters. We also see the unrelenting, even cruel training techniques that required total dedication and the total power that a coach with support of the government could have over the players. The film shows the fascinating years of the amazing world wide successes, then the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” in which the United States Olympic hockey team upset the Soviet Union and went on to win the Gold Medal at Lake Placid and the redoubled efforts following that loss which created a whole new “must win” era in the Soviet Union. The events that then occurred with all the twists and turns of a “must see” thriller are captured in the film keeping the viewer totally engaged. The events in Festinov’s life as well as the changes in the Soviet Union are compelling. With hockey as a platform, it is what happens in the lives of the people in this space that makes for a film that compels you to become involved. It is the best of what a good documentary does. You see, you learn and most of all you care. (2014)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary, History, Sport

Wild Tales

January 29th, 2015 — 11:38pm

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Wild Tales sp  – Damiean Szifron is a young Argentinian director and playwright who had a drawer full of short screenplays all of which have an element of revenge that more or less spins out of control. He put six of them together for an anthology that ended being the Argentina entry in the Academy Awards for the best foreign films. Out of the 82 entries from all over the world, this became one of the six nominated in this category for an Oscar. By taking each storyline to a point of seeing the main character or characters losing control, Szifron also has created at times a hilarious comedy. The acting is great as apparently some of the best actors in Argentina were drawn to this project. It starts off with a airline flight where the passengers realize that everyone is in some way connected to the same guy from their past who they learn has taken over the cockpit of their plane.. The movie concludes with a wedding scene that you will never forget and may even have some elements in it with which you will identify. Although they are not all very pretty, they will have you laughing. Each of the sections of this movie, while different in content, do flow together. The editing is crisp, the camera views are thoughtful, the music appropriately carries the mood and the subtitles are very readable if you don’t understand Spanish. It is a most creative, brilliantly executed film that is well worth seeing! (2015)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Comedy, Foreign

Selma

December 20th, 2014 — 11:47pm

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Selma sp- It is hard to believe that this is the first docudrama about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. who is played by David Oyelowo. The screenplay by Paul Webb and superb directing by Ava DuVernay chose to examine one specific event in the historic 13 year career of this civil rights icon and that is the March from Selma, Alabama to the state capitol in Montgomery, which took place in 1965. The first steps towards desegregation had occurred 10 years earlier when Rosa Parks was arrested for sitting in front of a bus which led to the Montgomery bus boycott, coordinated by Martin Luther King Jr. Blacks had the right to vote but were blocked by the local registrars using tactics dramatically shown when Annie Lee Cooper, magnificently played by Oprah Winfrey, attempts to register to vote. As is clearly explained in this film, this denial based on racial discrimination was not only illegal in and of itself but it was further compounded by allowing juries to be all white since proof of voter registration was required to serve on juries in the South. It also kept the biased white politicians in their leadership positions. This state of affairs led to a first futile attempt to peacefully march to the courthouse steps by King and his followers, which is brutally disbanded by the local police. There were very revealing depictions of the behind the scenes discussions of King and his associates who included Rev. Abernathy, John Lewis and many others. The film showed those favoring a more violent confrontation such as the leaders of SNCC as well as interactions between King and Malcolm X. There are also several scenes between King and President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) where Johnson expects King to delay his demonstration for a year or two so the President, elected by a landslide a year earlier, could pursue other agendas including programs within his “war on poverty.” As shown in this movie, it is not one of Johnson’s finest moments. King does not take no for an answer and we see the results as thousands of people including many whites, especially clergy in all denominations descend on Selma. The reliving the historic march from Selma to Montgomery sent chills up our spines as we were captivated by the visual effects including black and white clips of the actual event which took place almost 50 years ago. So often Martin Luther King Jr. is viewed by new generations as an almost mythical person. He has a national holiday named after him, streets have his name and it is is said in the same breath as other great Americans such as George Washington and Abe Lincoln. In this film he is shown to be a real person who at times seems anxious and scared and even has his human foibles as we see in a dramatic confrontational interaction with his wife Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo). Other very fine actors in this movie include Cuba Gooding Jr., Tim Roth and Martin Sheen.   King comes alive with a tremendous performance by David Oyelowo who is a Shakespearean actor by training and an experienced film actor. Producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner who we met at our screening related how Oyelowo was drawn to his part with an almost mystical destiny. He gained 30 pounds to resemble King and his oration of King’s words knocked it out of the ball park and could not have been better. This movie took us back in time and allowed us to experience one of the great moments in American history with all the fear, pain and tragedy, yet ultimate triumph of that march from Selma to Montgomery. (2014)

 

1 comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Drama, History

The Imitation Game

November 14th, 2014 — 6:00am

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The Imitation Game- sp The Turing Test is a method that is supposed to help determine if artificial intelligence built into a modern computer is indistinguishable from the human mind. There was only an indirect subtle reference to this test in this movie, which however, was all about the complicated yet very human mind of Alan Turing. This is a Bio-Pic with a screenplay by Graham Moore adapted from a biography by Andrew Hughes as well as other books written about this man. It is produced by Graham Moore, Nina Grossman and Teddy Schwarzman who shepherded it through a few incarnations where it was almost made by a major studio but ultimately ended up as an independent production in the hands of the Norwegian film director Morten Tyldum (known for The Headhunters) starring Benedict Cumberbatch who plays Alan Turing. The movie dramatically reminds us of horrendous threat of Nazi Germany to the world during WWII and introduces us to the team led by Turing that is working in Bletchley Park in England trying to break the German Enigma code which could give the allies the edge to win the war. One of the team members is a woman by the name of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) whose great intelligence stands out and gets the attention of the leader who becomes very close to her. Alan Turing is shown to us as a brilliant young man with a personality often shown to be associated with Asperger’s Syndrome. It turns out Turing also is homosexual which he had to keep as a deep secret as during those times because it was a crime itself punished at best with chemicals (hormonal castration). Mixed into the film is a touch of espionage where you least expected it to be. Breaking the Nazi code would mean the saving of millions of lives and the defeat of Germany. Yet it must be a gigantic secret because if it were known, the Germans might change the code. Recounting how all of this done was a great cinematic accomplishment led by a sensitive, nuanced and multilayered performance by Cumberbatch who is certain to receive an Oscar nomination for best actor. In addition to Knightley there are excellent supporting performances by Mathew Goode (who may be recognized as recently playing The Good Wife’s opposing attorney in that TV series), Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear and Charles Dance. In the end this is the story of a tragic hero who saved many millions of lives and who is probably the father or the grandfather of the modern day computer but yet was never truly appreciated during his life. This movie, which was made by a dedicated team that wanted to rectify this situation, deserves to be credited as one of the outstanding movies of the year (2014)

2 comments » | 5 Stars, Biography, Drama, History

The Theory of Everything

November 1st, 2014 — 5:00am

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The Theory of Everything –sp Most people know Stephen Hawking as a brilliant physicist confined to a wheel chair with ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. This is a progressive muscular degeneration which has taken away most of his ability to move his limbs or even breath normally. He is limited to communicate with a speech synthesizer machine, which he controls with the minimal movements that he can make. He wasn’t always this way This film traces his life from his early college days in England where he was recognized as an outstanding student and it also was the time that he fell in love with Jane who became his wife and mother of his 3 children. We see him develop his groundbreaking theories of the universe at the same time that he was developing his devastating disease. This film highlights another remarkable accomplishment and that is the almost unbelievable manner in which Eddie Redmayne has been able to inhabit Hawking as his disease was progressing. The actor gave the appearance of a man with a gradually deteriorating body with strange limb postures, facial distortions and barely understandable speech but yet had a twinkle in his eye and a finely honed sense of humor. It is an extraordinary acting accomplishment that deserves to be recognized at awards time. Felicity Jones is also excellent as his sensitive wife who displays determination, frustrations as well the understandable complicated emotions as they decide to separate after years of marriage. Credit also has to be given to James Marsh who directed this film.

     The screenplay by Anthony McCarten must be in part based on a book by Jane Hawking. We are also given at least a partial understanding of Professor Hawking’s evolving theories of the universe. The movie provides some insight into the complicated love relationship of Jane and Stephen as well as the circumstances that led them to separate and form new attachments to two very important people in their lives played by Emily (not Emma) Watson and Charlie Cox.

     Stephen Hawking has been recognized by the British Queen and by the scientific community as one of the great minds of modern times. This movie also makes the case that his character, fortitude, determination and warmth should not be forgotten. (2014)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Biography

Boyhood

July 21st, 2014 — 5:57pm

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Boyhood-rm- If you are any kind of a movie fan you will not want to miss this film. Buy a large bag of popcorn and settle in for a 2 hour and 40 minutes historic experience. You are going to see perhaps the birth of a new genre in filmmaking. This is the story of a young boy from the age of 6 through 18. The name of the character is Mason and he is played by one actor (Ellar Coltrane) who ages before you along with his divorced parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawkes and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s own daughter). This film is the brilliant brain child of veteran film director Richard Linklater who convinced IFC Films to pony up $200,000 in 2002 which is probably the equivalent of over 2 million dollars today for a film project which would shoot Linklater’s screenplay for one week each year for 12 years. It follows the young boy and his family through his high school graduation. The mother, Oliva (Arquettte) is divorced from her first husband, a well meaning but immature Mason Senior (Hawkes). She struggles and puts herself through college while she is going through two more marriages to alcoholic husbands while trying to raise her two children. Hawkes portrays the biological father trying during his periodic visits to be a good dad and wants especially to teach his son the things he believes it is his job to pass on. It is quite dramatic to see both parents (and both actors) age and mature during the time of the film. Both Hawkes and Arquette turned in outstanding acting performances. However, the main focus of the movie is on young Mason. You have to give Linklater full credit for choosing this particular 6 year old child (Coltrane) and taking the chance that not only would he pull off the movie but that this growing child would stay with the project. It worked and we watch Mason grow to be a sensitive and in many ways a typical teenage kid growing up in Texas. We see the pain he experiences from his broken home but also the teenage angst that many in the audience of all ages will understand. The movie flows extremely well as the participants seamlessly age before our eyes. This required outstanding editing by the director and editor Sandra Adair. It would not surprise us if Linklater and this film receive several Academy Award nominations. However, we suggest that you don’t wait for Oscar season to see this outstanding film. (2014)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

Lullaby

June 11th, 2014 — 6:18am

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Lullaby-sp- We gave this film our highest rating but we suggest that you think twice before you go to see it. It is about Robert Lowenstein (Richard Jenkins), a very successful wealthy man with lung cancer who has been battling his disease for 12 years and decides he is ready to die. Rachel (Ann Archer) his loving wife is at his side. Jonathan, his cigarette smoking son (Garrett Hedlund), the not so successful musician who hasn’t been around for many years finally comes to town (New York) and his bedside. As does his daughter (Jessica Brown Findlay), the Ivy League law student who soon will try to make a legal brief to convince her father why he should not agree to physician assisted suicide, which she contends is against the constitution. But early on, as soon as they all assembled at his bedside, the father announces that he has given away all his money so they won’t all become dependent on his wealth and not live out their own lives by their own abilities (including his wife). This becomes a story of a sometimes-dysfunctional family who underneath it all had great love for each other. It isn’t difficult to find some issues to identify with as the family conflicts unfold and it will be impossible not feel the emotion as you put your self in the shoes of all the characters as they appreciate the father’s pain and his need to say goodbye. If this were not enough to make this a tissue pack or damp handkerchief movie, there is another element that will tear you apart. Through a chance hospital stairwell meeting, Jonathan meets a 17-year-old girl (Jessica Barden in a perfect wonderful performance) who is dying of bone cancer baldhead and all. She confronts him with his underlying ambivalence about his father. He is drawn to visit her on the children’s ward where he sees many kids who are dying as his father, the difference being that most of then will never experience even adolescence. We don’t think this film despite our top rating is perfect. There are moments, which are played out to an almost gratuitous level to achieve every extra bit of emotion. The introduction of Jonathan’s ex-girlfriend (Amy Adams), while used to show the son’s personal growth, seems unnecessary. Despite this movie being almost 2 hours, it is sure to rivet your attention and take control of your feelings. This must be the reason why this outstanding cast, which also included Jennifer Hudson and Terrance Howard, as the nurse and doctor, as well as the stars previously mentioned, all signed on to this independent production. This film could not have had the budget, which they all usually command. Credit has to be given to Andrew Levitas, who is an established painter and sculptor, as well as a film producer. He directed and wrote this screenplay, stimulated by his experience of his father’s dying and his return home. He creatively broadened his story to encompass the potentially painful and beautiful life defining moments of the end of life. (2014)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

Inequality For All

March 11th, 2014 — 7:12am

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Inequality For All- nf  This is an amazing documentary that is all about Robert Reich who presents as clear an explanation of the economy- where it has been and where it is going, as we have ever seen. He makes it clear why there is big disparity between the 1% and the 99% in the U.S. and what that should really mean to all of us. Reich was Secretary of Labor and a key advisor to Bill Clinton. He started in polities in the Carter administration and more recently teaches at University of California at Berkley. In fact, a good part of this film is directly from his class lecture at that school. His discussion, his graphs, his examples and his logic come across crystal clear, as does his sincerity. He makes the point, with very easy to understand facts and figures, that this country has thrived when there was less disparity between the wealthy and the middle class and how when the middle class earnings flattened out and the very wealthy began to make more money than ever, the economy of the US took a nose dive (i.e. in 1929 and 2008). Reich not only spoke with articulate people in the middle class who have seen their savings erode but he also spoke with a multimillionaire who acknowledges that he and others like him invest most of their money abroad in hedge funds (not in creating new jobs in this country). We also get the views of Warren Buffet who ridicules the tax structure in this country where he pays less percentage of his income on taxes than does his secretary(13% vs 36%). Mitt Romney paid 11%.  We see how in the 1980s, women entering the job market saved the middle class by providing a second  income for middle class families, but now as globalization takes the jobs out of the US and automation limits employment, that won’t save the economy anymore. The middle class has to have disposable income to buy products in order for our economy to thrive. The rich people can only buy so many cars, pillowcases or other products. The shrinking middle class income is putting the economy of this country into deep trouble. Trickle down economics clearly doesn’t work.  On top of all this the recent Supreme Court “ Citizens United “ case now supports the wealthy to basically put unlimited funds into political campaigns which makes it even more difficult to make any change. Obviously this is heavy stuff. Perhaps the most uplifting part about this depressing picture is the commitment of Reich to tell the story and his optimism that the next generation will make the changes that are necessary. No matter what part of the political spectrum you come from you should see this film. Whether you think you agree or disagree with this guy, you will be enriched by the insight into these complicated economic issues. The movie, directed by Jacob Kornbluth is well done, with illustrative archival clips, good close-up views into the character of many of the people who appear in the film and appropriate music that moves this film along. As all good documentaries should do, it also leaves you with a good website,  Inequalityforall.com which shows you how you can get involved. (2013)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary

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