Category: 5 Stars


Saint Judy

February 20th, 2019 — 4:03pm

*****

Saint Judy

This is a great story. We meet Judy Wood (Michelle Monaghan), a young idealistic attorney who wants to specialize in immigration law. She is overwhelmed being assigned numerous cases by her new boss (Alfred Molina) but she still makes an all-out effort with each of her cases. At the same time, she is a single mom, recently divorced, trying to participate as much as possible in the raising of her young son (Gabriel Bateman). We see her getting fired for not bringing in the big bucks for her law firm. We follow her as she opens a storefront law office as the only attorney with a young intern as her assistant. The story then focuses on one young Afghan woman client, Asefa Ashwari (Leem Lubany) who is seeking asylum in the United States. She had rebelled against the poor treatment of young girls and women in her country by defiantly setting up a school for girls who were not allowed to have an education. She was arrested and received the most horrendous treatment imaginable in jail. She was able to escape to the United States where her plea for asylum is now being considered. If she is denied this request, she will be returned to her native country where she almost certainly will be murdered by her family for her defiant actions.

The realistic courtroom scenes, some of which are held in a small trailer in the prison where she is being detained are absolutely chilling and riveting. The logic of the U.S. law is very clear but heartbreaking.

Tremendous credit must be given to the screenwriter, Dmitry Portnoy, and director and producer, Sean Hanish, who worked hand in hand to get this film made. In fact, it was just about an impossible task to get the financial support for the film until President Trump was elected and this country became aware of the real meaning of the immigration crisis.

But the most amazing thing about this story is that it isn’t a story at all. Judy Wood is actually a real-life person whom the movie so realistically portrays. In fact, we met her at a preview screening along with the director and screenwriter.

This movie has drama, tension, emotion, surprise, great acting that may bring a tear to your eye, and perhaps inspire a young man or woman to decide to become a lawyer. The highest compliment that we can give to it, is to say that it reminded us a little bit of the classic film “To Kill a Mockingbird.” (2019)

Any thoughts or opinions are welcome in the comment section below.

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

Can You Ever Forgive Me

February 17th, 2019 — 9:42pm

****

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

When Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), a talented writer who profiled famous writers of her time was no longer able to sell her books, she turned to forgery, creating and selling letters in the style of Dorothy Parker, Fanny Brice, Noel Coward and others. She befriended an equally lonely gay man (Richard E. Grant) who for a while helped her with her con artist scheme.

This is a true story based on the memoirs of Ms. Israel with a screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty. The film was directed by Marielle Heller. Ms. McCarthy dominates the screen portraying the very sad life of Ms. Israel. Both her performance and that of Mr. Grant deserved the Oscar nominations which they received for their performances.

As the title implies, you will come away from this cinematic performance with a melancholy feeling, but you also will know you have seen an excellent movie. (2019)

 

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Comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Crime, Drama

Bohemian Rhapsody

January 22nd, 2019 — 2:50am

*****

Bohemian Rhapsody-rm

If you or your children were following the contemporary music scene in the 1970s and the 1980s, you had to be familiar with the sound of Queen and must have rocked or swayed to “We Will Rock You”. However, you may not know all the details and the ins and outs behind the scenes of this band especially the story of lead singer, Freddie Mercury.

We also suspect that the making of this film must be a fascinating story in and of itself. Originally, Sacha Baron Cohen was scheduled to play Freddie Mercury, but after he dropped out, Rami Malek was given the part. The original director, Bryan Singer apparently only completed two-thirds of the film before he was replaced by Dexter Fletcher after various conflicts which we don’t understand.

These issues aside, there is no question that Rami Malek was terrific in the lead role. He was given a dental prosthesis which gave him a physical appearance closely resembling the real Freddie Mercury. He also took singing and piano lessons as well as having an accent coach. As indicated in the final credits, a very large technical staff was able to synchronize the actual singing of Mercury,Queen and their music to the actors’ performances which had to be quite an accomplishment. The other band members were played by Ben Hardy, Joe Mazello, Gwilym Lee and Brian May. According to the photos and film clips shown of the real band members at the end of the film, the appearance of the actors were dead ringers for the real band members.

However, the success and brilliance of this movie aside from the projection of the original music was a telling of the sensitive and complicated story of Freddie Mercury. Born to Pakistani parents, he had the confidence in his music ability to become the lead singer in the band which he joined as a young man and led them to their meteoric rise. Of course, there were conflicts with managers, record companies and among themselves. However, the biggest conflict was the turmoil within Mercury himself. Engaged to his beautiful girlfriend, Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), he reluctantly had to confront the fact that he was gay (and of course this is in the age of AIDS).

The film concludes with the focus on the famous 1985 Live Aid concert for famine relief in Africa. All of the top singers in the world were there and many people felt that Queen stole the show. Their performance was recreated in a magnificent cinematic accomplishment. The actual Live Aid concert raised $125 million in famine relief for Africa. Incidentally thus far (prior to the Oscars in which this movie is likely to be a contender) this film has grossed $743 million which is five times more than the money raised in the 1985 Live Aid concert.(2019)

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Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History, Musical

Green Book

January 19th, 2019 — 5:39am

*****

Green Book-rm

This is a fresh original look at the unbridled racial prejudice that was still present in the South in the early 1960s. It is directed by Peter Farrelly, who co-wrote the movie with Nick Vallelonga and Brian Currie. It is based on the true experience of a well-known black musician known as Dr. Don Shirley (who is played by Mahershala Ali). Shirley is invited to go on tour in the South and play in various theaters and at the homes of wealthy people although he could make more money performing in the NY area. He agrees to take this tour knowing well and perhaps because of an event that happened in the mid-1950s when famed black singer Nat King Cole was racially attacked on stage during one of his tours in the South. Shirley is about to take his tour into the South with his trio and he engages a tough guy known as Leo the Lip, (played by Viggo Mortensen), a guy, with an Italian background who was on a hiatus from his job, as a bouncer at the famed New York Copacabana Nightclub to be his driver.

What emerges is a magnificent character study of both men as they go on this journey into the segregated South that clearly existed in the United States in the mid-20th century. Through their eyes and their feelings, the movie viewer gets an insight into the prejudicial society that they were encountering. While the performance of Ali as a skilled pianist was excellent, it was Mortensen’s performance and his ability to show the subtle insights that his character developed, that made this an outstanding film

Although it is no longer necessary to have a “Green Book” to find a hotel that will accept people of color, we know that prejudice towards people who are different still exists. Therefore, it is a movie such as this one that is always helpful in making us takes take stock of our own values and the bigotry around us. (2019)

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Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History

If Beale Street Could Talk

December 15th, 2018 — 8:53pm

*****

If Beale Street Could Talk -rm

This is a very moving story set in the 1970s. A young couple who have known each other since they were kids fall in love. She becomes pregnant and we see their enduring love despite a tragic situation where he must go to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. If the movie were just this, it would be an outstanding film.

However, it is much more. It is a tremendously powerful story that captures many of aspects of the black experience in our country during this time period. In this case, “Beale Street” of the title, while an actual street in New Orleans, is symbolic as the story actually takes place in New York.

The movie is brought to the screen by a great filmmaker, Barry Jenkins, who was director and screenwriter as he adapted the story by iconic novelist James Baldwin. We believe this may be the first of Baldwin’s novels to be made into a movie. Jenkins may very well be leading this outstanding movie-making team to an Oscar as he did with the movie Moonlight.

We can’t recall such a nuanced sensitive performance by an actress who is appearing in her first movie. But that is exactly what Kiki Layne did as she inhabited the role of the 19-year-old Tish, the young woman who is experiencing her first love, pregnancy and seeing her man only available behind bars. Likewise, Stephan James is outstanding as “Fonny” the handsome black man who despite his strength of character, tender love of his girlfriend and determination to realize his hopes and aspirations, sees his dreams shackled. There are also some outstanding performances that deserve mention by Regina King, Colman Domingo, Brian Henry, and Dave Franco.

The movie is riveting and painful because it is done so well and we know that it rings true. The film also had an excellent soundtrack in the background with composition by Nicholas Britell. It ends with a familiar melody which reminds us that there are many Beale Streets which are still around the corner even in our modern-day U.S.A. (2018).

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Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Romance

Boy Erased

October 19th, 2018 — 5:21am

*****

Boy Erased – sp

Conversion Therapy is a pseudoscientific practice of trying to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexuality or bisexuality to heterosexuality using psychological or spiritual interventions. There are 14 states and the district of Columbia that have banned Conversion Therapy for minors. There are also scattered counties and communities throughout the country where there is no state ban which have made laws against this practice (see map). This essentially means that in most of the United States, parents can mandate their children to stay in such a program. Since the medical and psychiatric communities have clearly established that sexual identity and orientation (straight, gay or bisexual) is determined at birth, any attempts at re-orientation are doomed to fail and have the potential to create more conflict and emotional turmoil.

This movie is based on a memoir by Garrard Conley which told his story of being the son of a Baptist pastor who is outed by his parents and then forced to attend a church conversion program with the purpose of “curing his homosexuality”. The experience that he goes through in this program is quite gripping and heart wrenching. The audience not only suffers through seeing things through his eyes but also sees the torment that some of the other attendees are going through which includes one young woman.

The three lead actors are outstanding. Lucas Hedges plays the young man. Nicole Kidman is his mother and Russell Crowe (who appears to have put on considerable weight for this role) does an excellent job as the minister who is the boy’s father. The film is directed by Joel Edgerton, who was also the screenwriter and played the role of Victor Sykes, the harsh and heavy-handed leader of the oppressive conversion program. The conflicts, psychological pain, turmoil and anger of the young man were very clear. At the same time, we saw the loving feelings, misguided but good intentions, that the father had for his son. The father-son love for each other despite their major life conflicts was depicted quite well as was the mother’s love and ultimate insight into the situation.

At the conclusion of the film, we had the opportunity to meet with Kerry Roberts, one of the producers of the film who brought the book to her production company and who told us about how the real-life family followed the story of it being brought to life. It should be very interesting to see how this film plays in most of the Unites States and the reaction and places where such so called “treatment” is allowed and can impact the lives of many young people. (2018)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Uncategorized

The Hate U Give

October 10th, 2018 — 6:15am

*****

The Hate U Give

We both read the outstanding book by Angie Thomas upon which this movie was based, and did not expect a film to make a strong impact on us especially since we were anticipating all the dramatic moments. Much to our surprise, we were totally engrossed in the film and had a meaningful emotional experience as the two hours and twelve minutes running time flew by.

The story opens with a father giving his children “the talk” which is well known to most black families. We then see their worst nightmare unfold as Starr (Amandla Stenberg) and Khalil (Algee Smith), two black teenagers who have known each other since childhood, are driving in a car when they are pulled over by a white policeman. The teenage boy who was driving was asked to get out of the car and wants to know why he is being pulled over and is quite irritated. A minute later there were gunshots. The boy is dead and the girl is about to go through a life changing experience. The audience steps into her shoes, or should we say sneakers, and identifies with her through the wonderful screenplay adaptation of Angie Thomas’ novel by Audrey Wells who unfortunately passed away shortly before the release of this movie.

The movie was directed by George Tillman Jr., an African-American film producer, screenwriter, and director, who previously directed Soul Food and Man of Honor. Stenberg is stunning as the beautiful young woman who displays a wide range of emotion and an ability to relate to the people around her as well as to the tumultuous experience that she was going through. Russell Hornsby (who we understand is an accomplished Shakespearian actor) was excellent as her father. The supporting cast, which included two siblings played by Lamar Johnson and T.J.Wright were on target as was Issa Rae who plays an activist attorney. The rest of the cast was superb as was the realistic setting that was created. We were moved to anxiety and tears. This certainly was one of the best films that we have seen this year. (2018)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

The Godfather

September 30th, 2018 — 6:02pm

*****

The Godfather

Recently my son, grandson and I got together for an evening of pizza and watching the original Godfather movie, which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1973. It also won the Oscar for Marlon Brando as Best Actor in a Leading Role and Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola won an Oscar for Best Screenplay. Coppola (who was a high school classmate of mine) was nominated for the Oscar for Best Director as were James Caan, Robert Duvall, Al Pacino for Best Supporting Actor. Also in the film were Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Ali MacGraw, Robert De Niro, Jill Clayburgh, the singer Al Martino and many other excellent actors and actresses. The movie also won the “75 years of Golden Globes Best Picture”.

The storyline, if you don’t know, is about an organized crime family in the 1950s led by Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) referred to as the “Godfather” and how they confronted the appearance of narcotics on the New York City crime scene. It is also about how the Godfather is transferring his power to his youngest son, Michael Corleone, a decorated United States Marine just returning from the war (Al Pacino). The movie depicts the lifestyle of this crime family with grandiose lovely wedding celebrations, as well as brutal murder scenes.

The fact that our viewing team of three did not notice nor mind the about three hours of running time of the film attest to the well-deserved success of the movie. In fact, it was my impression that the classic depiction of the Godfather by Marlon Brando appeared to be a much shorter role than I remembered it (although no one questioned his well-deserved acclaim). It was also interesting that his mumbled speech and the Italian accent of some of the characters led to the youngest member of our viewing team to turn on the English subtitle feature, which I didn’t even know was possible. Another feature of this movie was the recurring, haunting and memorable music theme, which was voted Best Grammy Score of a Motion Picture for that year.

If you are interested in re-experiencing a “blast from the past,” taking another pass at this great movie is highly recommended. Keep in mind  that there are two sequels also available. (1972)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Crime, Drama

Bel Canto

August 21st, 2018 — 8:22pm

*****

Bel Canto-sp

Veteran director and co-writer Paul Weitz (recently known for the award winning TV series Mozart in the Jungle) took the well-received novel by Ann Patchett which we read four years ago (see bookrap.net) and brought together an international cast to make this magnificent film. The story is based on an actual hostage situation which occurred in Peru in the 1990s. It centers around a planned dinner party featuring a performance by a well-known opera star (played by Julianne Moore with the voice over by Renee Fleming).

The setting is a beautiful private residence where the president of a South American country was supposed to be one of the guests. Also present was a Japanese industrialist (Ken Watanabe) and other international guests. The private party was invaded by some rebels, who had planned to take the president of the country hostage, in order to attempt to free some jailed political prisoners. Because the president was not there and had sent the vice-president in his place, the rebels took all of the guests hostage. The dinner party guests are now hostages being guarded by their captors. What then develops is a beautiful depiction of what psychiatrists call, the “Stockholm Syndrome” where hostages develop meaningful relationships with their captors and in this case vice versa. The situation goes on for several weeks as negotiations take place. The mood is set by the beautiful voice and music of the opera singer. The very human stories and interactions of the cast of characters is enchanting as attention builds towards the climax.

While some of the points of emphasis may be slightly different than was depicted in the book, Mr. Weitz is true to the theme and is able to match the magnificent setting and the beautiful singing to the interesting and rich characters with whom he worked. The excellent international cast includes Sebastian Koch, Christopher Lambert, Ryo Kase, Tenoch Huerta, Noe Hernandez, Maria Coroy, Elsa Zylberstein and Olek Krupa. The entire film is skillfully woven together and should not be missed. (2018)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

RBG

May 16th, 2018 — 3:48am

*****

RBG-rm

When you view an outstanding documentary film such as this one, you might wonder whether it was excellent because of the subject or was it mostly due to the work of the filmmakers. In this case it was clearly both. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a remarkable woman who came from Brooklyn with the support of family and a brilliant mind. She attended Cornell University a few years before one of us was there(SB) and was one of the increasing number of her generation who was not just going to accept the traditional role of women. She was one of the few women to be accepted to Harvard Law School. She married a great guy who encouraged her career early on and throughout their lives. They were able to jointly raise their children in a very successful marriage. She even transferred from Harvard to Columbia Law School so her husband could accept the job at a New York firm. She soon found her issue which was close to her heart and which deeply resonated within her. That was the equal rights for everyone, including women. She ultimately  became the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court. 

The filmmakers, Julie Cohen and Betsy West, didn’t just tell us about her brilliance but made it come to life with film footage, of her and others discussing court decisions in addition to painting a wonderful picture of her personal life. The movie was interspersed with familiar faces such as Gloria Steinem and Nina Totenberg who were able to reflect and put her ongoing life in perspective. The viewer could experience her life and the development of her thinking almost as if we were living with her. Great job. Great film. Great person. (2018)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary

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