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)
Category: 5 Stars
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)
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)
Facing Fear-sp We doubt very much that most of the readers of this blog will see this short documentary film (20 minutes) that has been nominated for an Academy Award. However, when it turns up on TV you should take the time to see it and if you are involved with educating people about bullying, overcoming prejudice and similar issues, you will want a copy of this DVD when it comes out.
As a 13 year-old, Mathew Boger was literally thrown out of his house when he told his mother that he was gay. He ended up spending most of the next few years living in the street of Los Angeles. Tim Zale grew up part of neo-Nazi Skinhead gang with a large tomahawk hair cut on his mostly shaven head. He and his buddies would cruise the streets of Los Angeles getting into fights and bullying some of the homeless people they encountered. This was to be the case late one night in front of a well- known LA hamburger place where Zale and his pals encountered Boger alone in the street. They beat him up and while he was on the ground Zale delivered kicks to head and face with a boot that had a razor in the toe. They left him believing he was dead.
Boger survived, but the hate and persistent anger at his attackers was part of his fantasy life for many years. Both young men moved on with their lives. Zale went to school, ultimately received a Masters Degree and had a family. His thinking began to change when he saw some of his hate and prejudice towards various groups being verbalized by his own son. Boger established a long-term relationship and eventually got a job as an administrator in charge of tours at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. By coincidence, Zale began to volunteer to give tours and lectures to the public at this iconic museum, which is best known for graphic depiction and personal stories of the horrors caused by Nazis during the Holocaust. During his time there Zale would share how his thinking had evolved over the years. One day they both were lecturing a group together and by the details Zale was describing of his youth, Boger realized that Zale was part of the group that almost killed him. They began to have private discussions and both immediately knew that it was Zale who delivered the nearly fatal blow to his new colleague at the museum and left him for dead twenty-five years before.
Director and Producer Jason Cohen very skillfully weaved the narrative told by both men with very effective images of the streets of Los Angeles. There were some photographs of Zale and his buddies in their earlier days as skin-heads but there were no photos available of Bogart as the homeless street kid. Miraculously, Bogart’s sister had some old films of him as an infant and a small child with his very attractive mother. Credit should also be give to Director of Photography Svetlana Cvetko, who won an Academy Award for Inside Job and veteran Editor and Co-Producer Tom Christopher who has worked in the past with George Lucas and others.
The tremendous value of this film is to watch up close the ruminations of Bogart and Zale as they examine their feelings about each other and what happened in the past. Bogart’s incredible journey to forgive not only Zale but also his mother is quite remarkable. Zale’s task to face Boger and ask for forgiveness and then also to forgive himself is also quite dramatic as well.
We cannot think of a better teaching tool to show to students as well as victims and perpetrators of prejudice. It can only be a wonderful instrument to stimulate discussion, self-reflection and insight. The filmmakers, having received this unexpected recognition of an Academy Award nomination, plan to have their work available to those who want to see it and use it for these purposes. For more information about the film you can go to their website: http://www.facingfearmovie.com/ (2014)
August: Osage County sp- Meryl Streep has done it again as she turns in what has to be a sure thing for another Oscar nomination as best actress and we wouldn’t be surprised if Julia Roberts snags one for her supporting role. These two are part of the most dysfunctional family configurations that you can imagine as they gather in the matriarch’s (Meryl Streep) house after the patriarch(Sam Shepherd) has just killed himself. The setting is bleak but beautiful (if that is possible) Osage County in Oklahoma. The three daughters who come home, are played by Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson. A husband and boyfriend are played by Ewan McGregor and Dermot Mulroney. Margo Martindale is great as the almost equally mean sister of Steep’s character and her grown son is inhabited by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch. Her husband is wonderfully acted by Chris Cooper. The Director is John Wells who is best known for his television work on ER, West Wing, Shameless, Southland and many other shows. He certainly found the right touch to work with this all star cast as the interaction which develops over the post funeral dinner is spellbinding as are the subplots with the various family members. The screenplay is written by Tracy Letts who originally wrote it as a highly successful Broadway play which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Wells, in a post screening discussion, stated that he hoped the audience will find a little of their own families in this depiction which we believe is a stretch as much of the family interrelationships were horrendous although fascinating. Streep’s character is anyone’s worst nightmare as a shrew, cruel insensitive pill popping mother about whom we can only gain insight and understanding when we hear her talk about her own mother. Is it ever possible to get away from such a bad piece of luck as to be born into this family? In one sense the movie is a study of how family members might be able to escape from such a toxic environment. We can only imagine how this witch-like matriarch might feel if she is finally abandoned and left alone with her native American housekeeper (perfectly played by Misty Upham). (2013)
The Book Thief- sp- This is an extremely moving film which captures still another aspect of the inhumane, cruel and evil impact of Hitler and his Nazi followers on the German people. It does this through the eyes of a young girl Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse) who is 12 years old when we meet her as she is separated from her family and comes to live with a German couple in a small town just before the start of World War II. Her new mother Rosa Huberman (Emily Watson) is tough and strict on the outside but we come to see her tenderness and love as the story develops. Her new father Hans (Geoffrey Rush in what could be an Oscar nomination performance) shows his tenderness, love, pain and identification with his new daughter in many complex ways. It is their love of words and books, which they share, which brings them together and helps to convey the story that is being told. Whenever you have a child actress who is carrying the story and the emotion of a film, mainly with few words, the credit for this accomplishment has to be shared with the director, which in this case was Brian Percival. Kudos also for the birth of this film deserves to be given to Fox 2000 a major studio led by Elizabeth Gabler which also brought Life of Pi to the screen. This movie, which is narrated by the voice of death, is a fast moving two hours and five minutes and there is nothing that we would suggest should be cut from it. Although we both very much enjoyed the world wide best selling book upon which it based, one of us (MB) had some reservations about the book and the motivations of the author (see http://www.bookrap.net/?s=Book+thief) We both agreed the screen play by Michael Petroni was true to the book by Markus Zusak and the few changes were inconsequential. The music score, which captures the mood, and emotion, which exists throughout the film, was done by veteran award winning composer John Williams. When you think about it, our understanding of important historical events such as the rise of Hitler, Nazism and the Holocaust often comes from the great films on these subjects, which become imprinted in our minds. The Book Thief will be one of the films, which will play this role with the moviegoers of today. (2013)
12 Years A Slave- sp This is one of the most painful and difficult movies to watch that we have seen in a very long time. The screenplay by John Ridley is based a little known book by Solomon Northrup, which was written in the mid 19th century. He is the main character of the film and is magnificently played by Chiwetel Ejiofor who is a very talented British actor who can express tormented feelings with his face and eyes. Northrup an upper class black gentlemen living a happy life with his wife and two children in Saratoga, New York happens to be a talented musician who agrees to go on a short tour and play in Washington DC. He was kidnapped and brought to New Orleans where he is sold into slavery. It is through his experience that we come to deeply appreciate in the inhumane, vicious treatment of slaves on the plantations of the south. The debasement of another human being by others because they felt they owned them and could do anything they wanted to them is shown in so many ways. You probably have studied the story of slavery in this country but any tendency to repress that knowledge is challenged as we experience the separation of mother and child, whippings, demanding forced labor, rape and hangings. All of this occurs as everyday events. If this were just a reenactment of the horrors of this sad piece of American history, the movie would have achieved a worthy accomplishment. However, since the character with whom we closely follow and identify was a free man living in the North who gets pulled into anyone’s worst nightmare, it brings an even greater sense of reality and immediacy to his plight which we believe is quite palpable. There are some very good actors who play some very bad people and those include Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano and Paul Giamatti. There was a heart wrenching performance by Luita Nyong’o born in Mexico, raised in Kenya and a recent Yale University School of Drama graduate who plays Patsy, one of the terribly treated young black women. Brad Pitt’s production company originally came up with the idea for this film and was one of the major producers of it. Pitt himself has a small but important role in this film. They brought in Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) as director who clearly connected with the concept and made an unforgettable film, which should not be missed. It is worth the pain that it will cause you. (2013)
Captain Phillips sp- This movie has all the ingredients of a successful award wining, exciting and enjoyable movie experience. It starts with a true story about Captain Richard Phillips, the American commercial sea Captain whose ship is hijacked in international waters by Somali terrorists He ends up being held hostage while the US Navy and the Navy Seals try to rescue him. You add to this that Captain Phillips is played by Tom Hanks who gives one of his best performances especially in the moving closing moments of the film. On top of all this Paul Greengrass (known for The action packed Bourne Ultimatum, Bourne Supremacy and United 93) as director rolls out this exciting drama as if you are seeing a documentary unfold before your eyes. Greengrass knows how to bring out sizzling tension mixed with pulse throbbing suspense. He also knows how to get great performances from first time actors such as the team that plays the hijackers and even from a real life young female navy corpsman who interacts with a distraught Captain Phillips. The Navy Seals appeared very authentic since they also were the real guys. An added touch was the story line which gave some sympathetic insight into the plight of the hijackers. There was very little CGI on this movie most of which took place at sea. It was a big budget film at it’s best. The clincher here is that even though you probably know how this movie ends, you will still be on the edge of your seat throughout the entire film (2013)
The Butler – rm This is much more than the story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) who served as a butler in the White House for United States Presidents from Eisenhower through Reagan. It is a moving depiction of the civil rights movement in the United States from the maltreatment of blacks in the south in the 1930s through the dramatic integration of schools in Little Rock, to Sit-Ins to integrate diners in the south , to the brave Freedom Bus Riders, the civil rights legislation, the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King and the continued demonstrations which followed in the years to come. The viewers are taken on a very personal journey to experience these events and others, as the Butler’s grown son Louis (David Oyelowo) participates in them while his father views the role of the United States President in shaping and responding to them. The movie is based on a newspaper article by Wil Haygood about a real person who served United States presidents as a White House butler for this large span of years and lived long enough to vote for Barack Obama. Even if screenwriter Danny Strong and Director Lee Daniels may have taken poetic license by having the older son Louis being present at all of the major events in the Civil Rights Movement shown in the film, it allows us to emotionally go through these milestones in a first hand manner. They are brought to life as if they were ripped from the pages of history. The friction between father and son emphasizes the differences in generational thinking not only of this one black family but would also reflect some of the changes in thinking which many of us have seen in this country during our life time. Forest Whitaker is magnificent as the Butler as he captures the soul and dignity of his character. Oprah Winfrey is outstanding as the sensitive wife who struggles with the frequent absence of her husband due to his long hours at the White House and the pain which the lives of her sons brings her. We don’t know if the words attributed to each U.S. President are known quotes but the character of them and the significant events that were shown during their presidencies all ring true. The mannerisms of each them were handled quite well by Robin Williams as Eisenhower, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as LBJ and Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan along with Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan. There were many other very fine supporting roles. In addition, the movie is bookended quite well by a most dramatic and traumatic turn of events from the young Cecil Gaines as a youth working in the cotton fields in the south to him being an aged man walking in to meet the first black President of the United States. The sense of the historic chain of events which this encompassed will send chills up your spine and probably bring tears to your eyes. (2013)
Fruitvale Station-sp This is one of the most realistic, gripping and yet personal depictions of a tragic event that we have seen in a long time. It is well known to residents of the Bay Area and many other people that a few years ago there was a shooting of a 22 year old black man by the name of Oscar Grant by the BART (transit) police. This event was vividly captured by numerous cell phone videos on that day and was shown in the opening of this movie. Ryan Coogler, a black film student of the same age, was very much impacted by this event, as he felt it could have been him. Nina Yang Bongiovi, movie producing partner of the well known actor/director Forest Whitaker, in their quest to support young filmmakers, connected with Coogler and were impressed by his student work and his motivation to make this film. Bongiovi in our post screening discussion related how once Coogler was chosen to direct this film, he wrote the screenplay in 4 weeks and along with the producers convinced Michael B. Jordan to play the role of Oscar Grant. Melanie Diaz then signed on to play the girlfriend and veteran actress Octavia Spencer took on the all-important role of the mother. Both were magnificent in their sensitive emotional roles of these devastated women. Jordan who has acknowledged that he also felt quite related to his character handled the multifaceted parts of him quite well. It is the presentation of the persona of Grant that raises this movie to the five star level we believe it deserves. He is shown to be a caring young man who loves his daughter, girl friend and mother and is quite capable of extending his sensitivity to others in many ways. At the same time he is not totally honest with himself or others. He is troubled, and angry. He has a temper which can lead him to provoke as well as respond to temptations to fight and lash out. It may be argued that he may have become a symbol of the persistent racial tensions in the Bay Area and now to a worldwide movie audience. However the insight shown into him may also be able to allow both sides of the divide to identify with him and his aspirations which raises the possibility that this understanding will help to defuse these racial tensions which are still with us. Once the story begins to develop, it is very fast moving aided by the hand held camera work by Rachel Morrison who brought her reality TV experience to this movie. In the end, the great effort from both sides of the camera gave us a first rate movie that has the potential to make a big difference in how we understand ourselves and others. (2013)