December 2nd, 2015 — 12:19am
The Danish Girl
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
November 19th, 2015 — 6:28am
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
September 23rd, 2015 — 5:31am
LABYRINTH OF LIES -sp
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
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
The Little Death
Me, Earl and the Dying Girl
Girl on the Edge
The Road Within
5 to 7
Merchants of Doubt
Comment » | 4 Stars, 5 Stars, Uncategorized
March 14th, 2015 — 5:32am
Desert Dancer sp
Although Iran is known to have a repressive government, it still has one of the highest percentage of educated people in the world as well as having 60% of its 73 million people under the age of 30. Therefore, it would still seem surprising that any kind of dancing in Iran is forbidden. This movie shows the true story of a student at the University of Tehran who five years ago with the few other students began to secretly learn how to dance in order to express their emotions. They gathered at a deserted basement and studied forbidden YouTube videos. They knew that they could be beaten and even killed if discovered as had happened to many other young people who flaunted the authority of the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his paid thugs.
First time British director, Richard Raymond, read a newspaper article about Afshin Ghaffarian, who led this group of dancers as they practiced and put on a performance in the desert for a small gathering of students who were secretly brought to this hidden recital. Ghaffarian’s life was threatened and he eventually made it out of Iran to Europe where he told this story. He then received further dance training and ultimately formed his own dance company, performing throughout the world.
Thanks to this film, the true story of the suppression of art and dance in Iran is told. It is also a metaphor for what is being done to the human spirit that is being highlighted here. Mr. Raymond put together a multi national cast of actors who were then taught to dance by Okram Khan, the choreographer of the opening night of the 2012 London Olympic Games. Although their names are not known to American audiences, their dedication to this story deserves to be recognized. Afshin Ghaffarian was played by Reece Ritchie. The other actors were Nazanin Boniadi, Freida Pinto, Tom Cullen, Makram J. Khoury, Marama Corlett and Daniel Bass. You probably won’t remember their names but you will remember this film. It will touch you and remind you how sad it is when the creative expression inside of us is not allowed to come out and how glorious it can be when it becomes free. (2015)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History
February 19th, 2015 — 7:05pm
McFarland, U.S.A. – sp –
What could be more all American than a sports film staring Kevin Costner? (think Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Tip Cup, For the Love of the Game) Add to this, a New Zealand director who has established credentials in understanding cultures, not her own, by immersing herself within these places. That is Niki Caro who previously made the award winning film “Whale Rider” about an obscure Maori tribe. On top of that , Disney Studios is backing the film. McFarland, U.S.A. is certainly a United States story, but it is also an authentic depiction of first generation Mexican immigrants living in the Central California town of McFarland. The community lives by picking fruit and vegetables that will be on American tables. The kids attend school but are also employed in the fields doing the back-breaking “picking” work to add to the support of their families. Along comes a new teacher, Jim White, (Kevin Costner) who had had problems in his previous jobs and comes to McFarland as the only place which was so desperate for a teacher that he is hired. He arrives in this small, dusty, impoverished town with his wife and two daughters, none of whom is happy to be coming to this place so alien to them. He is to be the assistant football coach and teach life sciences courses. While his job as football coach soon ends, he realizes that while the kids have little going for them, some of them are incredibly fast, strong runners. The story takes off from there. On one hand you might think that you can guess the drift of the film, but this is much more than a “Chariots of Fire” lookalike. It is a moving story based on the lives of real people who you will hear about in the closing scenes and rolling credits. It will touch you, excite you and make you laugh. It will send a chill up your spine, bring a tear to your eye and you will walk out of the theater knowing you have experienced an outstanding film. (2015)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Family / Kids, Sport
February 5th, 2015 — 8:22pm
The Red Army-sp The Red Army is a film about hockey, except that it isn’t! We agreed with several people in the audience, with whom we saw this film, who stated that they had not been looking forward to this documentary about the national hockey team of the Soviet Union. However, we, like they, were entirely captivated by this incredibly well executed documentary written, directed and produced by the young filmmaker, Gabe Polsky. While much of the film showed actual footage of hockey games played by this extraordinary team, the scenes were beautifully put together between photos of early years of some of the players, magnificent interviews with a wide range of people and footage of life in the soviet union over the years. Mr. Polsky created a film that was enlightening, poignant and engaging by focusing mainly on one player, Viacheslav (Slava) Festinov and telling his story. By doing that, he told the story of the proud Russian people and their culture. He was able to explicate the determination and love of country, even in the face of adversity and lack of freedom that existed. Festinov as a young boy was like millions of other youths who wanted to play hockey and dreamt of being on his national team. Because of his skills he became part of the national hockey-training program that selects the best and vigorously trains them for several years. Through carefully constructed and interwoven interviews and film clips we come to see the total dedication to the game that these young men developed. We are introduced to the coaches who revolutionized the game by treating it on the level of complex ballet and complicated chess games, both of which the Russians had been known to be masters. We also see the unrelenting, even cruel training techniques that required total dedication and the total power that a coach with support of the government could have over the players. The film shows the fascinating years of the amazing world wide successes, then the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” in which the United States Olympic hockey team upset the Soviet Union and went on to win the Gold Medal at Lake Placid and the redoubled efforts following that loss which created a whole new “must win” era in the Soviet Union. The events that then occurred with all the twists and turns of a “must see” thriller are captured in the film keeping the viewer totally engaged. The events in Festinov’s life as well as the changes in the Soviet Union are compelling. With hockey as a platform, it is what happens in the lives of the people in this space that makes for a film that compels you to become involved. It is the best of what a good documentary does. You see, you learn and most of all you care. (2014)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary, History, Sport
January 29th, 2015 — 11:38pm
Wild Tales sp – Damiean Szifron is a young Argentinian director and playwright who had a drawer full of short screenplays all of which have an element of revenge that more or less spins out of control. He put six of them together for an anthology that ended being the Argentina entry in the Academy Awards for the best foreign films. Out of the 82 entries from all over the world, this became one of the six nominated in this category for an Oscar. By taking each storyline to a point of seeing the main character or characters losing control, Szifron also has created at times a hilarious comedy. The acting is great as apparently some of the best actors in Argentina were drawn to this project. It starts off with a airline flight where the passengers realize that everyone is in some way connected to the same guy from their past who they learn has taken over the cockpit of their plane.. The movie concludes with a wedding scene that you will never forget and may even have some elements in it with which you will identify. Although they are not all very pretty, they will have you laughing. Each of the sections of this movie, while different in content, do flow together. The editing is crisp, the camera views are thoughtful, the music appropriately carries the mood and the subtitles are very readable if you don’t understand Spanish. It is a most creative, brilliantly executed film that is well worth seeing! (2015)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Comedy, Foreign
December 20th, 2014 — 11:47pm
Selma sp- It is hard to believe that this is the first docudrama about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. who is played by David Oyelowo. The screenplay by Paul Webb and superb directing by Ava DuVernay chose to examine one specific event in the historic 13 year career of this civil rights icon and that is the March from Selma, Alabama to the state capitol in Montgomery, which took place in 1965. The first steps towards desegregation had occurred 10 years earlier when Rosa Parks was arrested for sitting in front of a bus which led to the Montgomery bus boycott, coordinated by Martin Luther King Jr. Blacks had the right to vote but were blocked by the local registrars using tactics dramatically shown when Annie Lee Cooper, magnificently played by Oprah Winfrey, attempts to register to vote. As is clearly explained in this film, this denial based on racial discrimination was not only illegal in and of itself but it was further compounded by allowing juries to be all white since proof of voter registration was required to serve on juries in the South. It also kept the biased white politicians in their leadership positions. This state of affairs led to a first futile attempt to peacefully march to the courthouse steps by King and his followers, which is brutally disbanded by the local police. There were very revealing depictions of the behind the scenes discussions of King and his associates who included Rev. Abernathy, John Lewis and many others. The film showed those favoring a more violent confrontation such as the leaders of SNCC as well as interactions between King and Malcolm X. There are also several scenes between King and President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) where Johnson expects King to delay his demonstration for a year or two so the President, elected by a landslide a year earlier, could pursue other agendas including programs within his “war on poverty.” As shown in this movie, it is not one of Johnson’s finest moments. King does not take no for an answer and we see the results as thousands of people including many whites, especially clergy in all denominations descend on Selma. The reliving the historic march from Selma to Montgomery sent chills up our spines as we were captivated by the visual effects including black and white clips of the actual event which took place almost 50 years ago. So often Martin Luther King Jr. is viewed by new generations as an almost mythical person. He has a national holiday named after him, streets have his name and it is is said in the same breath as other great Americans such as George Washington and Abe Lincoln. In this film he is shown to be a real person who at times seems anxious and scared and even has his human foibles as we see in a dramatic confrontational interaction with his wife Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo). Other very fine actors in this movie include Cuba Gooding Jr., Tim Roth and Martin Sheen. King comes alive with a tremendous performance by David Oyelowo who is a Shakespearean actor by training and an experienced film actor. Producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner who we met at our screening related how Oyelowo was drawn to his part with an almost mystical destiny. He gained 30 pounds to resemble King and his oration of King’s words knocked it out of the ball park and could not have been better. This movie took us back in time and allowed us to experience one of the great moments in American history with all the fear, pain and tragedy, yet ultimate triumph of that march from Selma to Montgomery. (2014)
1 comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Drama, History
November 14th, 2014 — 6:00am
The Imitation Game- sp The Turing Test is a method that is supposed to help determine if artificial intelligence built into a modern computer is indistinguishable from the human mind. There was only an indirect subtle reference to this test in this movie, which however, was all about the complicated yet very human mind of Alan Turing. This is a Bio-Pic with a screenplay by Graham Moore adapted from a biography by Andrew Hughes as well as other books written about this man. It is produced by Graham Moore, Nina Grossman and Teddy Schwarzman who shepherded it through a few incarnations where it was almost made by a major studio but ultimately ended up as an independent production in the hands of the Norwegian film director Morten Tyldum (known for The Headhunters) starring Benedict Cumberbatch who plays Alan Turing. The movie dramatically reminds us of horrendous threat of Nazi Germany to the world during WWII and introduces us to the team led by Turing that is working in Bletchley Park in England trying to break the German Enigma code which could give the allies the edge to win the war. One of the team members is a woman by the name of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) whose great intelligence stands out and gets the attention of the leader who becomes very close to her. Alan Turing is shown to us as a brilliant young man with a personality often shown to be associated with Asperger’s Syndrome. It turns out Turing also is homosexual which he had to keep as a deep secret as during those times because it was a crime itself punished at best with chemicals (hormonal castration). Mixed into the film is a touch of espionage where you least expected it to be. Breaking the Nazi code would mean the saving of millions of lives and the defeat of Germany. Yet it must be a gigantic secret because if it were known, the Germans might change the code. Recounting how all of this done was a great cinematic accomplishment led by a sensitive, nuanced and multilayered performance by Cumberbatch who is certain to receive an Oscar nomination for best actor. In addition to Knightley there are excellent supporting performances by Mathew Goode (who may be recognized as recently playing The Good Wife’s opposing attorney in that TV series), Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear and Charles Dance. In the end this is the story of a tragic hero who saved many millions of lives and who is probably the father or the grandfather of the modern day computer but yet was never truly appreciated during his life. This movie, which was made by a dedicated team that wanted to rectify this situation, deserves to be credited as one of the outstanding movies of the year (2014)
2 comments » | 5 Stars, Biography, Drama, History