Category: 5 Stars


An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

August 13th, 2017 — 12:30am

*****

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power-rm

What makes a great documentary film? Does it show its subject matter clearly and in an interesting dramatic manner? (Check) Is it about an important subject that has worldwide significance? (Check) Is there a person in the film who is very knowledgeable, likeable, empathic and has great passion for the subject of the film? (Check) Are there some conflicting issues shown in the film that need to be overcome? (Check) Is there a sense of urgency about the subject? (Check) Finally, at the conclusion of the movie, do you find yourself talking about the film and even moved to action? (Check and double check)

Ever since Al Gore lost the presidential election by a Supreme Court vote (and even before that time), he has been a passionate spokesperson about the reality and the danger of climate change, as well as what can be done about it. Eleven years ago, the first version of this film won an Oscar for Best Documentary Film. Many people believed it was a major factor in the recognition of climate change throughout the world. This sequel documentary has become necessary, as it has clearly been shown that the battle for clean energy has not been won and in some areas, including some close to home, it is not only at a standstill but even going backwards. The unbelievable action of President Trump in withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Accord of 2015 has become a call to action for everyone concerned about climate change. Al Gore is an inspiration for Americans of all ages to become involved in this movement. His behind the scenes negotiations with far reaching parties to allow India to get financial backing to build sustainable energy in their country, namely by developing solar and wind energy and to scrap plans to keep their country dependent on fossil fuels, was well-documented in this movie.

One of the most important accomplishments for Mr. Gore has been his training programs for advocates from all over the world, who want to learn about fighting climate change. As a viewer of this film, we cannot help but leave the theater wanting to support these people and address this very clear inconvenient truth. (2017)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary

Strange Weather

July 12th, 2017 — 4:07am

*****

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Holly Hunter gives a knockout performance as Darcy a grieving mom, who has kept her sorrow pretty much to herself for five or six years until she learns some new information about the death of her son. She then embarks upon a road trip in an old Ford Pickup Truck with her friend Byrd (Carrie Coon) through the deep rural south in order to track down Mark Wright (Shane Jacobsen) her son’s friend who was the last person with him before he died.

The deep twang of the guitar plus the haunting soundtrack put together by Sharon Van Etten adds an emotional beat to this movie. As Darcy penetrates deeper into the south and visits her old now mute ex-husband, there is a buildup of the gut-wrenching emotion that Hunter brings to her role and which reaches the climax when she confronts the now very successful Mr. Wright.

Director-screenwriter Katherine Dieckmann uses her written dialogue and her camera to closely examine the raw and at times beautiful feminine nature of these characters. Underlying the painful theme of this story is an uplifting message which makes the emotional rollercoaster ride that it provides to be quite worthwhile.

We expect to see many awards bestowed upon this film and especially Ms. Hunter. (2017)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

To Kill a Mockingbird

April 24th, 2017 — 5:17am

*****

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Sometimes when you think about great classic movies which you may have seen years ago, you might wonder if they were really as good as they were supposed to have been. Every once in a while we take such a stroll down memory lane and view one of them. Certainly in this case, we were not disappointed.

The setting of this movie was during the Great Depression in Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s. This was a time when there was overt prejudice towards black Americans. In fact lynchings were occurring in the Deep South. Remember, also when this film was released in 1962, Martin Luther King was yet to make his “I Have a Dream Speech” and didn’t tragically lose his life through assassination until six years later in 1968.

Gregory Peck, in a terrific Oscar-winning performance, plays Atticus Finch, as small town lawyer who is widower and lives with his eight and six-year-old children. He is asked by the local judge to defend Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man who is unjustly accused of raping and beating a white woman. The courtroom scenes are riveting.

Of course, great credit goes to the original author, Harper Lee, who wrote the book and Horton Foote, who wrote the screenplay. We also appreciate the accomplishment of the director, Robert Mulligan, especially because the audience sees much of the meaning of this film through the eyes of Finch’s two children, six-year-old Scout (Mary Badham) and 8-year-old Jem (Phillip Alford). Their identification with the morality and sense of justice of their father is what we hope and believe comes through to succeeding generations. The supporting cast is excellent and includes Robert Duvall who plays a young man with developmental problems who reflects an additional theme of the movie. It shows how people react to someone who is “different,” with fear and the need to distance themselves. This subplot in the story is another indication of the need to put ourselves in “someone else’s shoes,” in to order to try to understand that person.

The film which is 129 minutes, is in black and white and will hold your attention as well as being an unforgettable piece of cinematic history. It is also a reminder of how people are capable of prejudice and hateful discrimination. (1962)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

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)

1 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

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 8.55.01 AM*****

Eye in the Sky-rm

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*****

The Danish Girl-sp

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

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