Category: 5 Stars


If Beale Street Could Talk

December 15th, 2018 — 8:53pm

*****

If Beale Street Could Talk 

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).

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

The Seagull

May 4th, 2018 — 6:07am

*****

The Seagull

This classic Chekhov story became fascinating movie with an excellent screenplay by Stephen Karam, very skillful directing by Michael Mayer, superb musical background Nico Muhly and Anton Sanko and of course an outstanding cast. This group of mostly veteran actors and actresses were top notch. They include Annette Bening, Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle (his first film), Corey Stoll, Elisabeth Moss, Mare Winningham, Jon Tenney, and Brian Dennehy.

Chekhov and his team, which adapted his work, examine human interaction and emotion in what could be a class for students of human behavior. In particular, Ms. Bening’s character, Irina, is a textbook example of narcissistic character where her self-love ultimately destroys herself and her son. Also, there is a fascinating and penetrating study with multiple examples of unrequited love and the pain which this almost universal experience can bring. If you like this type of a psychological study, you will find this cinematic experience to be quite captivating. (2018).

 

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Romance

Tully

April 13th, 2018 — 7:57am

Screened at 2018 San Francisco Film Festival

Opens in United States on May 4, 2018

*****

Tully

We saw this film at the San Francisco Film Festival where there was a special tribute paid to Charlize Theron for her body of work. Subsequently, this movie was shown.

In the film, we meet Marlo (Charlize Theron) as she is in the late stages of her third pregnancy while dealing with the trials and tribulations of raising two children and allowing her husband to sleep through the night and get on with his job. Her rich brother (Mark Duplass) offers to get her a night nanny to help with the new born. This nanny, Tully, (Mackenzie Davis) symbolically happens to have her maiden name, Tully, that she had when she was young and free.

Screen writer Diablo Cody collaborated with writer-director Jason Reitman who helped to provide the symbolism and synergy to show the struggle that a young woman might have in moving from a young, free as a bird, woman to a nursing, dedicated, but overwhelmed and depressed mother. The movie reminds us of the need to “let go” sometimes in order to “move on” as well as a hint of some issues involved in post partum depression. Theron leads an outstanding supportive cast, which includes a great script and a very competent director (2018).

 

1 comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

A Kid Like Jake

April 13th, 2018 — 7:55am

Screened at 2018 San Francisco Film Festival

Opens in United States June 1, 2018

*****

A Kid Like Jake

This film is not very much about Jake but is all about his parents, Alex (Claire Danes) and her husband Greg (Jim Parsons), as they begin to realize that their little boy may actually identify as being a little girl. This New York couple first came to this awareness as they were trying to make applications to a private school for their youngster. They met with the director of their son’s preschool (Octavia Spencer), who tried to suggest that their son showed “gender variant play.” Claire Danes is outstanding as she painfully resists the insight that her husband is more willing to discuss.

We saw this movie as the opening film at the San Francisco 2018 Film Festival. We met director Silas Howard who openly discussed how since he himself is transgender, it was important to him to try to show the impact on the parents since that will ultimately determine how such a child can adjust to his or her identity. The subtle implications to both parents are played out in their interactions with each other as well as with their friends, the grandmother (Alex’s mother), and the school director.

This movie did a masterful job in presenting a difficult and important subject. It has the potential to be a classic film in this area (2018).

 

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

April 13th, 2018 — 7:54am

Screened at 2018 San Francisco Film Festival

Open in the United States on June 8, 2018

*****

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Film maker Morgan Neville did an extraordinary job in delving into television archival material to reconstruct the story of Mr. Rogers. If you were a child watching television in the 1960s and 70s or thereabouts or are a parent of such a child, then you must know who is Mr. Rogers is and have very warm feelings about him. He had a unique approach to children and spoke with them on their level. He was able to convey that each person has self-worth and should be treated that way. He practiced what he preached not only because he himself had graduated from a seminary but because he truly respected children of all ages.

The film was beautifully put together to give great insight into Fred Rogers. It showed how seriously he took striving for equality and mutual understanding and how that always came across.

Viewing this film was like meeting an old beloved friend from many years ago. It will be interesting to see if millennials will be able to relate to this movie when they met Mr. Rogers for the first time.(2018)

 

 

Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary

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