Category: 5 Stars


A United Kingdom

February 1st, 2017 — 5:15am

*****

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When David Oyelowo, leading actor in this film, producer and the force behind the movie, spoke to our audience after screening this movie, he acknowledged that until he read the book by Susan Williams, he knew very little about the history of the small African nation now known as Botswana. But fortunately, the star of the recent hit Selma and many other excellent movies was personally moved enough to put six years of sweat and tears in order to bring one of the great love stories of the 20th century and the most inspiring story of the birth of this small African democracy, to the 21st century movie screen.

It was 1947 when Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) born of royal blood and destined to be king of a small African country, was studying in England when he fell in love with a young British white woman, Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). Their exuberant love for each other is exciting and quite palpable. Perhaps most of us today would say and feel “Why not?” But, there is great resistance from Seretse’s uncle, the reigning ruler, the neighboring apartheid South Africa and the British Colonial government. In fact, any respect that you might have for the late Winston Churchill may go down the drain after seeing this movie.

Your heartstrings will be plucked, your sense of justice will be stirred up and an important piece of history will be indelibly etched into your mind. Need we be reminded that those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it. The man who recently who brought to the screen an insight into Martin Luther King has done it again with another excellent portrayal of an heroic figure Credit also goes to director Amma Asante who did an outstanding job by keeping the focus equally on the chemistry between these lovers as well as the historic importance of the fight for ultimate fairness and democracy. The countryside was beautiful. The local native men and women were wonderful. Don’t miss this movie. (2017)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Romance

Manchester by the Sea

January 13th, 2017 — 7:53am

*****

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As mental health professionals, we have seen our share of tragedies and human misery, but usually perhaps because the patients are at the point of seeing us, there is usually a ray of hope for reaching to the future for a better life. There was very little optimism in this very well-done portrait of a man who is deeply and continually in psychological pain.

Kenneth Lonergan, playwright, now turned director in his previous writings (You Can Count On Me and Margaret) has mastered the writing of tragedies that may befall anyone of us.

In this film, Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler who lives a life overwhelmed with guilt for what happened to his family. He then is faced with the responsibility of caring for his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges) whose father recently died and whose mother has not been sober or on the scene for many years. The details of the story unfold with a series of well-done flashbacks which not only framed the story but also introduced bleak but atmospheric life in a New England fishing village. The classical musical score in the background defined the sad somber mood of the story. There were some somewhat lighter moments as we glimpsed at interactions of the teenage boy and his multi-girlfriends.

Casey Affleck deserves the accolades that he is getting for his performance in this movie. His facial expressions, voice and mannerism convey what his character has gone through and also the empathy that he has for his nephew. Michelle Williams as his ex-wife has a relatively small role but she is superb in her one important scene.

Perhaps we have conveyed that there is little positive hope in this film and it will be a depressing experience (which it will be) but we could not help noting there was a symbol of hope in a tangible object that is important in this village . That would be the family’s small fishing boat. We gleam a shred of optimism as we see how this small boat is resurrected as we hope will be the characters in this film. (2016)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

Fences

December 15th, 2016 — 9:45pm

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August Wilson is a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright who died in 2005 at the age of 60. He originally wrote Fences for the stage. Wilson had an unusual propensity for capturing accent and dialogue in all his plays. In 1987, James Earl Jones starred in Fences on the Broadway stage where it won a Tony Award. It was more recently recreated on Broadway and received critical acclaim starring Denzel Washington, Viola Davis and much of the same cast that now appears in this movie. August Wilson wrote the screenplay for this movie, but died before it could be brought to fruition as a movie. It was Denzel Washington who persisted and connected with Scott Rudin to produce this movie which he directed and co-starred with Viola Davis, and were joined by some of the other actors who played their parts on the stage.

As is characteristic of Wilson, the dialogue in this film is breathtaking. It wonderfully captures the life circumstances, the dilemmas and the character of so many people living in this setting. In this situation, it is a struggling, mostly black people in a poor but proud Pittsburg neighborhood in the 1950s. It is no easy task to not only capture the dialogue and nuances of the written word, but to also project the character of these individuals. There is no doubt in our minds that Denzel Washington and Viola Davis should be nominated for Oscars for their work in this movie. The cast of veteran stage and movie actors who played a close family friend (Jovan Adepo) as well as  family members  were Mykelti Williamson, Stephen Henderson, Russell Hornsby and Saniyya Sidney. They were all superb. The movie is 135 minutes long, but the story and setting will envelope you and you will be caught up in this wonderful intense and poignant production. (2016)

 

 

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

La La Land

December 12th, 2016 — 6:41am

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La La Land – rm

This movie makes the statement that Los Angeles is where dreams are made and are broken and yet it is the city where anything can happen. This is a movie in the tradition of Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Cyd Charisse and reflects so many great musicals of the past that have come across the silver screen.

Emma Stone is Mia, a young woman who works in a coffee shop on a big movie lot and aspires to be an actress. So many times she seems to be just one audition callback away from starting on the road to her dreams. Ryan Gosling is Sebastian, a musician who masterfully plays piano and keyboard and could be a great modern musician but he really favors old-fashioned jazz. He would prefer the music that was played in small clubs in days gone bye where each session was a creative story onto itself.

This movie is filled with  great music. The characters break into dance and song quite spontaneously and, believe it or not, there is nothing that seems unnatural as they glide or tap across the screen singing and swaying with each other. Despite some stereotypical dialogue, you will get drawn into the storyline quite easily. We can just about guarantee that while at times you may not be sure if you are watching a dream unfold, the story will touch you and probably bring tears to your eyes.

Stone and Gosling have certainly mastered the song and dance. Great credit for this movie goes to director/writer Damien Chazelle (known for his direction of the movie “Whiplash”). The photography was magnificent and very skillfully directed by cinematographer, Linus Sandgren. Credit for the songs and original score goes to Justin Hurwitz with lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Don’t miss the opening sequence. It shows LA at its best and worst, and what seemed to be one of the longest, continuous, complicated takes in movie history (there probably was some editing here but it didn’t look like it to us). This movie deserves the Oscar hype that it is getting. Don’t miss it. (2016)

 

Comment » | 5 Stars, Musical

Moonlight

October 13th, 2016 — 6:56pm

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In order for this film to be successful, it would require an insightful sensitive story by a McArthur genius award-winning writer Tarrell Alvin McCraney, interpreted by an empathic screenwriter/director Barry Jenkins who would work with his usual brilliant cinematographer James Laxton along with a haunting musical score by Nicolas Britell. There would have to be perfect casting and performances which might include an experienced actor such as Mahershala Ali who has been featured in House of Cards as well as Noemi Harris, Janelle Monae and a very talented newcomer Trevante Rhodes as well as two child actors who nailed their performances. Needless to say, all these elements were present and came together in the perfect storm. The result is a movie which empathically presented the struggle of a person who realized he might be different and tried to find himself. The story was divided into three parts as we meet Chiron first at age 10, then at age 16 and finally as an adult. In each phase, we feel and understand his search for identity. This could be any outsider who grows up and doesn’t feel readily accepted and understood by his peers who might bully him. It could be any child who yearns for an understanding parent or a parental figure. It could be anyone who is different because of their age, sex, religion or sexual orientation. It happens that this story is in an all Black setting and community and all the cast is Black. The characters are Black and the speech has a local vernacular which might mean that we occasionally miss a phrase or a nuance. The story is however universal and talented actors of any background could have performed it. We can equally assume that this talented cast could have portrayed these emotions and conflicts in any other setting. This realization and the acclaim that this production deserves to receive may be groundbreaking for the modern film industry. This is probably one of the reasons why Plan B, Brad Pitt’s innovative production company, has chosen to be part of the team bringing this important picture to life.(2016)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

Eye in the Sky

May 2nd, 2016 — 7:32pm

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Not since the Hurt Locker have we seen a film, which provides a deep emotional insight into an aspect of modern warfare in which the United States is involved. In this case it is a U.S. drone pilot ( Aaron Paul) working with Colonel (Helen Mirren) and a British Lieutenant General (Alan Rickman) across the pond, who are about to direct a drone missile strike at a group of terrorists who are strapping on explosives for a planned suicide bombing in Nairobi, Kenya. Collateral damage must be taken into account and high-level government officials in both countries are asked to weigh in on this process. What is the right thing to do? It becomes clear that firing this missile could be an extremely important event in the war against terrorism by eliminating one of the major leaders as well as saving many innocent lives from the impending terrorist attack. All of this might depend on whether a  nine-year-old girl is able to sell all her baked bread and thus leave the street outside of where the terrorists are located.

We know that modern warfare has changed forever when the commanding pilot of a strike airplane is actually taking his or her eight-hour shift in the pilot’s seat in a shed in Texas where the sophisticated controls and video screens are set up to fly a drone thousands of miles away, which is locked and loaded with deadly missiles. On top of all this, we learn that smaller drones in the form of little birds can be flown to hover over a target to get more intelligence and they can even be in the form of flying insects which can be dispersed to get a closer look. This is no longer science fiction but it is a story that could be ripped from today’s headlines.

As this film unfolds, the viewers are challenged to decide whether they would pull the trigger to kill an innocent child, who we have come to know and see, in order to save many other adults and children in the near future. Also we have to consider the propaganda implications if we kill one civilian versus if the terrorists kill many  civilians. These are the choices to be made.

When our military men and women make these types of decisions they are often doing them based on what they have experienced in real combat zones. The late Alan Rickman, in his last role, playing the veteran lieutenant general delivers a line which we believe will live on in movie history as he tells a well-meaning woman politician, “Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war.”

We are sure that Director Gavin Hood (who gave himself a small part in the film) had a very large budget for this film, which he put to good use. There are realistic special effects and we felt we were side by side with the struggles that are made by modern-day warriors. The film is carefully constructed, enlightening and thought-provoking . It will take you on an emotional roller coaster and is well worth seeing. (2016)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Action, Drama, War

The Danish GIrl

December 2nd, 2015 — 12:19am

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 2.28.25 PM*****

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You probably know the modern day’s story of Caitlyn Jenner. You may be familiar with the successful TV series Transparent. If you are old enough, you may remember Christine Jorgenson, who was one of the first transsexuals to have successful reassignment surgery. Certainly you are aware of the transgender community and their fight for recognition and for fair and equal treatment. But you are probably not aware of the little known love story of Einar/Lili and Gerda, circa 1920s, which culminates when Einar recognizes that he was a woman trapped in a man’s body and is going to try to do something about it .

This is a true story based on a book by David Ebershoff brought to life in the screen play by Lucinda Cox, which went back to the original diaries left by Gerda. This was a movie project carried for 15 years by producer Gail Mutrux who optioned this book over this period of time and went through over 70 potential directors and a few actors who were considering these fascinating roles including Nicole Kidman who at one point was interested in playing the transgender role. It was not until Mutrux was able to interest director Tom Hooper (Academy Award wining director of The King’s Speech) that this project that got its legs. Hooper showed the script to Eddie Redmayne (Oscar winner for the Stephen Hawking role in The Theory of Everything) who came on board. Swedish actress Alicia Vikander joined the cast and there was a chemical reaction which brings us one of the highlight films of the 2015 season.

Redmayne combined his sensitive demeanor with a soft spoken rendition of a talented painter and happily married man who becomes acutely aware of his feminine side which breaks out of its shell and could not longer be contained. His transformation from Einar to Lili is one of the acting triumphs of the season. At the same time Alicia Vikander turns in a performance which matches Redmayne with sensitivity and insight, as we see joy turn to doubt and then to disbelief but yet she maintains her unyielding love for her husband.

This is a period piece which reproduces the European setting in which it is taking place. The two main characters are artists and the paintings and drawings in the movie are very much a part of the story. We understand that these pieces, which were used in the film will live on for some worthy causes. The photography by Danny Cohen is magnificent and Alexandre Desplat does his usual great job with a musical score that you may not recall but has set the mood of the film. We know this movie will long be remembered as a representation of the real life struggle that so many transgender people are experiencing. (2015)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History, Romance

Spotlight

November 19th, 2015 — 6:28am

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 12.07.30 PM*****

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Almost 40 years ago a film about investigative reporters who exposed the Watergate break-in and brought down the Nixon presidency was nominated for eight Academy Awards including best picture. That was All the President’s Men. Jason Robards, Jr. won for best supporting actor. Now today we have Spotlight, a terrific film about an investigative reporter team of the Boston Globe, who in 2002 dug into the hidden scandal of about 90 catholic priests who were molesting children. These horrific crimes were covered up and even when some of them were exposed, the priests were not prosecuted and would just be re-assigned to churches in other cities. The reporting team persisted in their work and even exposed the fact that Cardinal Law also knew about these activities and participated in the cover-up. This ultimately led to him being re-assigned to a posh position in a prominent church in Rome. This exposé rocked the Catholic Church and has implications that extend to the present time.

It will be very difficult to choose a best actor or supporting actor from these outstanding performances, since this was truly the work of an ensemble. The real life reporters, Mike Rezendes was played by Mark Ruffalo, Sacha Pfeiffer was played by Rachel McAdams, Matt Carroll was played by Brian d’Arcy and the Spotlight team team leader, Walter “Robby” Robinson was played by Michael Keaton. There also were great performances by Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron, the newly brought in overall senior editor of the Boston Globe who happened to be Jewish. John Slattery played Ben Bradlee, Jr. the long-time editor of the Boston Globe, who was a supervisor to the Spotlight Team. Interestingly, Ben Bradlee, Jr. is the son of the famed newspaper icon, Ben Bradlee who was the editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal exposé. There were some other fine performances by familiar faces which included Stanley Tucci as one of the many lawyers in the film and Len Cariou (who plays the grandfather on Blue Bloods TV program) as Cardinal Law.

The director of this movie was Tom McCarthy who co-wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer. They made the decision not to collapse some of the characters in order to keep the team as the ensemble it was in real life. This may have somewhat diffused the potential drama of the movie. Early in the film, as each reporter went off on his and her own investigative aspects of the project, it was a little confusing as to who they were interviewing and why. This all came together as the two-hour and nine-minute film flew by with the tension mounting as the story progressed. We got the message that investigative reporting is hard, tedious work but when you see your subject in your “gun sight” and you realize you are dealing with a worthy subject, all the effort is worth it. The realism of the movie was also enhanced by some collaborative meetings by the actors with the real reporters. We understand that they held meetings with their respective characters and with some of them even watched how they performed in their workplace. The result is a movie that should not be missed or forgotten. (2015)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History

Labyrinth of Lies

September 23rd, 2015 — 5:31am

*****Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 2.42.58 PM

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To us, one of the most important and memorable aspects of this outstanding film is that the current generation of German filmmakers and the people related to this industry, have decided to make this movie the 2015 entry from Germany to the Oscars for best foreign film. Doing this also reflects the monumental theme of this movie, which is the responsibility of the German people for Auschwitz and the Holocaust.

The story is based on actual events and follows a young German prosecutor (Alexander Fehling) in Frankfurt, Germany in the early 1960s as he becomes aware that identifiable people now living in Germany were responsible for murder in the Auschwitz Camp during World War II. Although the Nuremberg trials, which occurred shortly after World War II nearly 20 years previously, were monumental in the prosecution of members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany who participated in the Holocaust and other war crimes, those trials were carried out by the victorious allies. In the film, which depicts a true story, we see, probably for the first time ever, a government trying to prosecute its own former soldiers. The question of who was guilty and was there any family spared having a war criminal among them is raised. As one of the characters states, the only innocent people were those who weren’t born yet or who were small children when all these events happened.

It matters very little that the main focus is on Johann Radmann who is the prosecutor played magnificently by Alexander Fehling, who was in reality a composite of three prosecutors in real life. All the characters in the movie are true to life and very believable. One of them, Fritz Bauer, played by the famous German actor, Gert Voss, has a famous legal institute now named in his honor. One of the buildings where the archival records were being searched in the film is the actual location of where the well kept records of the Nazi regime are now stored for historical examination.

Director/writer Giulio Ricciarelli has been very thoughtful in his choices, so as not to make the movie a recapitulation or a reenactment of the horrors of the Holocaust. Rather, he puts the focus on the impact on the people living in post-war Germany. One interesting point that was made very clear was that most of the German people at the time, depicted in the film, did not know about Auschwitz nor did they want to know about it.

We were reminded that our recent personal observations have shown that most contemporary Germans no longer deny their history. This was very clear to us in our recent visit to Berlin, where we saw the names of displaced Jews embedded in plaques on the sidewalks in front of their former houses. We also visited the very complete and well-done Holocaust museum as well as many other points of remembrance. This film clearly created an honest reflection of German history, which was not known to most of us. It was a powerful and beautifully done work of fact, emotion and importance. (2015)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History, Uncategorized

14 Films To See Over the Summer

June 23rd, 2015 — 11:33pm

People often ask us for recommendations of films to see. Soon Oscar season will be upon us and we will want to see the newest films which will be contenders for the Academy Awards.

In the meantime, we have put together a list of 14 excellent movies which we have reviewed  between January and June and which we suggest that you consider viewing this summer. Most of them will be out by July and probably all can be found on Netflix.

The top four were 5 star movies in our opinion and others were excellent 4 star movies. You can click and see our reviews for each one. As always your comments at the end of each review are welcome.

 

Michael and Susan Blumenfield

 

Desert Dancer

Wild Tales

McFarland USA

Red Army

 

 

The Little Death

Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

Girl on the Edge

The Road Within

Danny Colllins

Potiche

The Forger

5 to 7

Merchants of Doubt

Tangerines

Comment » | 4 Stars, 5 Stars, Uncategorized

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