Category: 5 Stars


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).

 

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

Chappaquiddick

April 4th, 2018 — 12:28am

*****

Chappaquiddick

If you were around in July 1969 when Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon, you may or may not remember another big news story that took place at the same time. Senator Edward Kennedy, youngest brother of John and Robert Kennedy accidentally drove his car off a small bridge in Chappaquiddick, which resulted in the death of a young woman by the name of Mary Jo Kopechne. Up until that moment, many people felt that the younger Kennedy was destined to become President of the United States. The actions of Edward Kennedy on that evening and in the subsequent week are a fascinating study of a man at the crossroads of his life where his honesty and integrity were truly tested and his human frailties were exposed.

This was a very well done script, which was written by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan who were too young to have remembered or experienced this event as it unfolded in this country. They apparently reconstructed the story mainly from the voluminous record of the inquest of the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.

Jason Clarke was outstanding as Edward Kennedy and the supporting cast was excellent including Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne and a superb performance by Ed Helms who played Kennedy’s cousin who was a key player in the aftermath of this tragedy. Credit must also go to director Joe Curran for recreating a very realistic depiction of the events of this tragedy as well as an in depth character study. The story also shows an insight into the dominant role that the patriarch Joe Kennedy (Bruce Dern) had on his family even in the later years ,of his life.

We had the pleasure of meeting two of the producers of this film, Mark Ciardi and Campbell McInnes who tried very hard to bring to the screen this even-handed view of the events of this major news story and historic event. It appears that they may have gotten very close to the truth, but we probably will never know for sure.

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History, Politics

I, Tonya

March 2nd, 2018 — 9:40pm

*****

I, Tonya

This is a fascinating well-done but very sad movie. If you were on the planet in 1994 and vaguely aware of current events, you would have some idea of who Tonya Harding is and how she is linked to another ice skater by the name of Nancy Kerrigan. The story, which unfolds in this movie, presents an in-depth understanding of the character and the development of Ms. Harding from childhood to the present. Tonya is played by Margot Robbie. There are some younger versions of Ms. Harding also shown as well as some footage of what must have been the real Ms. Harding doing her jumps and twists. A key player in this movie is the “mother from hell” magnificently portrayed by Allison Janney who is up for an Oscar for her performance. While it is possible to generate a touch of sympathy for this horrific mother, we wouldn’t wish her on anyone. But we have to grant that her unflinching determination with no sympathy for her daughter’s feelings is what made Tonya a magnificent skater who was the first to land a triple axle jump in American Figure Skating competition.

There is also Jeff Gillooly (Stan Sebastian) who is Tonya’s boyfriend, then husband and then ex-husband. He is depicted as a violent lover of Tonya who ultimately wanted to scare Tonya’s Olympic opponent but supposedly didn’t really want to hurt her. There is also Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) the “brains” behind the plan to do damage to Ms. Kerrigan” but really is depicted as not very bright. This film also raises the underlying question of what was the role of Tonya in the terrible deed. Perhaps as it was shown, she didn’t know about the plan but alas she didn’t say anything about it when she found out after it had occurred. In any case, Tonya was the big loser in court and essentially in life. She lost her skating career.

While we can’t say if the script got it exactly right, but in this movie we certainly come to understand Tonya and what made her Tonya. We also have insight to how the “big incident” may have gone down and would say a pretty good feeling for the struggle that people go through when they try to become the best in a sport from no matter where they may start.

Director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers and screenwriter Steven Rogers deserve the credit of putting together a complicated and intriguing story that still is as fascinating as it was when the real event took place more than 20 years ago. (2018)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History, Sport

The Shape of Water

December 19th, 2017 — 7:35am

*****

The Shape of Water

This is an unusual conglomeration of a movie set in the 60s, combining a science fiction and fantasy genre with a classical cinematic musical, mixed with a cold war spy thriller. Much of the story takes place in some kind of a government facility where Eliza (Sally Hawkins) a mute cleaning woman works. She happens in on a government research project where a gentle monster of an amphibian man (Doug Jones – not the politician) is being housed. They communicate with silent gestures as two kindred souls. Meanwhile in the background there is a tough government official (Michael Shannon) who seems to be against everyone who is not patriotic. There is the spy but really a good person (Michael Stuhlbarg), a sympathetic fellow cleaning lady (Octavia Spencer) and a lonely neighbor artist (David Hewlett). We get the feeling that perhaps this is a satire, which is confronting a political climate where people who are different are marginalized. (Sound Familiar?)

This unusual story is written by Guillermo del Toro, who directed the film and also co-wrote the screenplay with Vanessa Taylor. Sally Hawkins did a knockout job despite playing a mute woman (she did appear to sign quite proficiently and actually had a chance to do a spot of singing and dancing quite beautifully in a fantasy scene). The story will pull you in and touch your emotions with its content and with the period music. It goes to show you that despite the unlimited choice of entertainment on television, movies are still better than ever. (2017)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

Wonder

December 6th, 2017 — 7:18am

*****

Wonder-rm

 

It might not be too difficult to remember your feelings or your children’s anxiety at the time of the first day of school. In this case it is magnified exponentially as we see the situation through the eyes of a young boy who has facial deformities since birth. In addition he has been home schooled by his mother (Julia Roberts) until he is now starting fifth grade. This movie is based on a bestselling novel by R.J. Palacio, which has been extremely popular with both parents and children.( See Book review by Leo Blumenfield  Age 10 in 2014) In fact after Ms. Roberts read this story to her children and heard that the movie was being made, she wanted to play the mother.

The storyline follows the experience of this young boy Augie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), as he encounters his new classmates. We also appreciate the complicated reactions of other kids both boys and girls in this New York City Prep School. In addition, we gain insight into his oldest sister (Isabella Vidovic), who has been growing up with a brother she loves, but yet whose circumstances have indelibly shaped her relationship with her parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson). We see how not only does Augie and his family have to deal with the challenges of the boy’s life circumstances but so do his teachers, the school principal (Mandy Potankin), classmates and some of their parents.

Accolades have to be given to Jacob Tremblay, the star of this movie who was ten years old when the film was made. In his young career he has been in several well-received movies including The Room for which he received critical acclaim. Director Stephen Chbowsky also deserves recognition not only because that should be the case whenever a young child actor stands out but also because he co-wrote the screenplay and directed a very complicated emotional story.

We both felt  that we were not only experiencing a very well done movie that was examining children and adults’ complex understanding in responses to one of the sad and unusual variations of the human condition but we also were deeply and visceral touched and brought to tears by how the story was played out on the screen. (2017)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Family / Kids

Loving Vincent

November 21st, 2017 — 7:43pm

*****

Loving Vincent-sp

This animated film is beautiful and original with a special approach that we have never before seen on the screen. The husband and wife team of Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, director and screenwriters as well as co-producers have focused on the life (also particularly the death) and the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh. They filmed their intriguing story using an excellent cast starring Douglas Booth, Robert Gulaczyk, Eleanor Tomlinson, Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan and a very good supporting cast who acted out the entire story. Yet, none of the actual film of the actors were shown. Instead, a team of over 100 oil painting artists were recruited to paint over the film with the beautiful colors and the style of Van Gogh. That is 12 paintings for each second and thus for the 94 minute film they were well over 60,000 paintings made by this team of talented artists. Then using animation techniques, the movie was put together. The result is that we are watching a very interesting story about Van Gogh in an animated movie at the same time that we are seeing the familiar images of Van Gogh’s paintings move before us in a coherent story presented to us in living color. They were even some sequences done in black and white to show flashbacks in Van Gogh’s life.

While the artistic effect of this movie is mind blowing, the actual story is also quite fascinating. It is of course based on historical facts which included a possibility that the well-known reported suicide of Vincent Van Gogh at the age of 36 was actually a murder.

We have here an extremely well done story presented in a unique cinematic fashion which matches the content of the story. The result is not only ground-breaking but a beautiful experience which we highly recommend. (2017)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Uncategorized

Lady Bird

November 4th, 2017 — 7:48am

*****

Lady Bird-sp

This film has nothing to with LBJ’s wife and the movie previously reviewed. It does have a great deal to do with the accomplished actress and writer 33-year-old Greta Gerwig (Francis Ha, Greenberg and many other films) who is making her directorial debut in this film for which she is also the screenwriter. It appears that Ms. Gerwig has drawn upon her experience growing up in Sacramento, California and having attended a Catholic High School around the year 2002. We won’t speculate how much of the rest of the film is autobiographical nor is it important. However, this talented writer/ director has captured the painful and glorious experience of a high school girl coming of age. This young woman Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) tries to break through what is expected of her and finds and shows her individuality. Ms. Saoirse is near perfect in realistically bringing this character alive with the words and direction of Ms. Gerwig. There is equally well-written character portrayed in an outstanding performance by Laurie Metcalf as Lady Bird’s mother who is a nurse (as was Ms. Gerwig’s mother). The friction and interaction between mother and daughter will be familiar to many. The father is sensitively played by actor-play writer Tracy Letts.

One major conflict that is played out very well and may reverberate with many viewers is Lady Bird’s desire to go to an expensive East Coast College with a plan that is rejected by her mother. Will she be accepted and will her parents support this dream? This conflict along with typical ups and downs of friendships among girls and the problems of negotiating her own sexuality and her relationship with boys are universal and will reverberate with the audience. In the end, we believe this film will stand out and be well-remembered. (2017)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

LBJ

October 26th, 2017 — 3:30am

*****

LBJ-sp

If you are of a certain age or a student of history and can remember Lyndon Johnson’s presidency. this movie should grab you, fascinate you and hold your attention. Johnson (magnificently played by Woody Harrelson) was a seven term United States senator from Texas who was for many years, majority leader of the U.S. Senate and was chosen by JFK to be his vice presidential candidate. He rode to victory with Kennedy in 1960. Rob Reiner, who directed this movie with the use of very realistic flashbacks, builds up the tension leading to those fateful days in Dallas in 1963 when Johnson assumed the presidency.

Much to the surprise of his former southern Democratic colleagues in the Senate, Johnson did not support their views on segregation and discrimination. This movie written by Joey Hartstone deals mainly with how LBJ pushed through JFK’s cutting-edge Civil Rights Legislation.

Harrelson is fantastic in capturing the essence of LBJ, his mannerisms, facial expressions, and speech inflections. Along with the script by Joey Hartstone and direction by Rob Reiner, in our opinion, this is one of the best pictures of the year. There also are some very fine performances by Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lady Bird, Richard Jenkins as Senator Richard Russell and Michael Stahl-David who plays Bobby Kennedy.

Much of Johnson’s presidential legacy is often tainted by his failure to end the Vietnam War which this movie did not focus on. However, the realistic depiction of Johnson’s domestic accomplishments which not only included civil rights legislation but also welfare reform and Medicare and Medicaid is often forgotten. This movie gives him the well deserved recognition and appreciation for his contribution to our country. Likewise we believe this film should receive great accolades for being a very well done and engrossing cinematic accomplishment. (2017)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Politics

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