Category: 5 Stars


Giving Voice

January 26th, 2021 — 4:42am

Giving Voice – nf
*****

This is a documentary film released in 2020, which pays tribute to the late, revered playwright, August Wilson and to the devoted talented young students who compete in a yearly national acting competition. The film follows the lives of six such students from all over the country as they prepared their monologue and vie to be the finalist in the August Wilson competition, which will take place on Broadway in New York City. The audience gets a meaningful insight into how the words of this great playwright resonate with these young actors who were chosen among a thousand entries. Not only does the film give us a glimpse into the lives of each of these talented young finalists, but we are also able to appreciate the relevancy of Wilson’s words to the contemporary black experience in America. We found the performances of these young people to be riveting. It was complemented by appearances by Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, and Gerardo Navarro. There was also an opportunity to see and appreciate the late great playwright, August Wilson in archival footage, being interviewed and also giving a graduation speech. The words of Wilson remain quite relevant today and seeing these young people enthusiastically embrace them was a wonderful cinematic experience. Kudos of course of the director Fernando Villena and Jamie Stern and also to Viola Davis, John Legend, and several other executive producers.

Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary

The Prom

December 26th, 2020 — 8:37am

The Prom ( Netflix)
*****

The cast of a Broadway Musical has hopes and expectations for a great review on opening night. However, much to their disappointment and despair, the reviews are just the opposite, and their show is doomed to close.The cast tries to find something that will put them back in the limelight and come upon a story about a High School in Indiana that is trying to deny a young lesbain couple the right to attend their prom together. They decide that this is their opporutity for relevance and they travel to Indiana where they meet the couple as well as the high school principal and other important players in this drama and participate in shaking up stronlgy held beliefs and biases.

Enough with the outline of the plot. What makes this a sensational movie is that it stars Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Ariana Grande, Michael Key Keegan, Kerry Washington, Tracey Ullman, and many other great performers. It is directed by Ryan Murphy. We did not previously quite appreciate the musical talents of this great cast, but if anything, they are over the top. As the plot develops in the small town with all the complications of this gay couple challenging the set ways of the Midwesterners, the Broadway interlopers break into song and dance. You may not have known that these great actors can really belt out musical pieces. The choreography was also fantastic. The storyline will push all your buttons. The result is a movie worthy of the best on the Broadway stage and full of lofty ideals and great fun!

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Musical

The Life Ahead

December 23rd, 2020 — 6:52am

The Life Ahead (Netflix)
*****

This is an Italian movie, based on a novel by Romain Gary, starring the great actress Sophia Loren who is now in her mid 80s. She does a great job as an aging woman who is a Holocaust survivor and takes care of young children of prostitutes. There are two other outstanding stars in this film. One is the young black boy who plays Momo and appears to be between 12 and 14 and is taken in by Ms. Loren’s character. He is played magnificently by Ibrahima Gueye. The other outstanding star is the director of the film, Eduardo Ponti. Mr. Ponti, who is Sophia Loren’s son, did an absolutely fantastic job directing Mr. Gueye as Momo. Speech (although in Italian) appeared to have perfect intonation and the young boy’s expressions and emotional reactions were unbelievable. We see Momo come into a completely new living environment for him, but he adapts very well. On one hand, he becomes a drug messenger to make money. He relates well to the other children and is tender and caring for Ms. Loren’s character. It is this amazing emotional performance created by Mr. Ponti and his young actor that makes this film unforgettable.

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Foreign

The Queen’s Gambit

December 20th, 2020 — 12:38am

The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
****
The Queen’s Gambit-seven-episode television series on Netflix

All previous reviews in this blog have been movies that originally appeared in the theater. However, during this pandemic, we have been watching a great deal of television and were particularly impressed by this seven-episode series based on a 1983 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis.

Beth Harmon is an 8-year-old orphan who has lost her mother in an auto accident and is living in an orphanage. She encounters a janitor in the basement who is preoccupied studying a chessboard. She convinces him to teach her the game and she turns out to have a terrific aptitude for visualizing the chessboard and becoming an outstanding chess player. She is invited to compete in a local high school chess tournament, which she wins and goes on to the Kentucky State Chess Championship. This leads her to the US Championship and ultimately competing for the World Championship in Russia.

As Ms. Harmon matures, there are boys and young men who become part of her life as do drugs and alcohol. The story seamlessly comes together and captivates the audience.

As well done is the story with the excellent acting, it is the realism that is created in every aspect of the series that is a major part of its success. Whether it is the basement of the orphanage or the grandeur of the world chess tournament in Russia, the audience is completely drawn into the story. The street scenes especially in Europe as well as the local scenes in Kentucky are all magnificently portrayed and reproduced. The well done music background adds to the various moods of the characters and the storyline. As much as this is a story of one amazing person, it also suggests that “it takes a village” as we see how many people come together in support of the main character.

Kudos to Isla Johnston (young Beth), Anya Taylor Joy (Beth as a young woman), and the wonderful cast, which includes Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Harry Melling, Marielle Heller, Bill Camp, and many others. The series was written and directed by Scott Frank who created the series with Allan Scott. They were executive producers along with William Horberg. You may also be interested to learn that various chess experts including former world champion and grandmaster Garry Kasparov were consultants for this wonderful series.

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Sport

The Great Hack

September 18th, 2020 — 10:56pm

The Great Hack (Netflix)
*****

As the internet and Facebook have become a part of our everyday life, most of us have no idea how much information about each of us is being saved and potentially available. It happens that a political consulting company based in England named Cambridge Analytica whose CEO is Alexander Nix has been accumulating such data. This information was used to influence BREXIT (the vote allowing Great Britain to leave the European Union).

It turns out that Cambridge Analytica was also providing data to influence the US elections. They apparently have 5000 points of data on every American voter. Initially, they were using this information to target voters and support the reelection of United States Senator Ted Cruz of Florida. Subsequently, this information was put to use to influence the 2016 election in favor of Donald Trump.

Various journalists discovered these activities and began to report on them. Special note was the work of Carole Cadwalladr who reported for The Guardian and The Observer. Some of the other heroes featured in this film include Professor David Carroll who tried to legally obtain the data that Cambridge Analytica had about him. There are also whistleblowers Christopher Wylie and Brittany Kaiser, a former director at Cambridge Analytica. These people and others cooperated with the filmmakers in this very well done documentary as they followed them around all over the world including their testimony before the US Congress. There is also a piece showing Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder) testifying in front of a special Congressional Committee.

This documentary film was put together by directors Karim Amer, Jehane Noujaim and they produced and wrote it along with Geralyn White Dreyfous, Judy Korin, and Pedro Kos. This movie was released in the United States in July 2019 and has been nominated for an Emmy to be announced next week (September 20).

This is a very engrossing documentary film, which deserves the attention of every American. As the documentary unfolds, you have the feeling that you are watching the reveal of a very important event.The Great Hack!(2020)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary

Rising Phoenix

September 15th, 2020 — 1:50am

Rising Phoenix – (Netflix)
*****

This is a truly amazing documentary film about a group of remarkable athletes who have participated in the Paralympic Games. In it we meet athletes some without legs or arms and some without both. We get a chance to learn about their personal stories. Some were born without limbs or suffered the loss as children. We see how each person faced his or handicap with the support of parents, sometimes adopted parents, their coaches and eventually with the support of a stadium filled with screaming fans. This was a beautifully done documentary which grips both the viewer’s mind and heart.

This Netflix documentary film was directed by Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui. Included among the featured athletes was Tatyana McFadden who spent the first six years of her life in a Russian orphanage with not even a wheelchair. She was paralyzed from the waist down and with no other way to move. She learned to walk with her hands to keep up with other children. Subsequently, competing in a wheelchair, she has won 17 Paralympic medals in multiple Summer Paralympic Games. There was Jonnie Peacock who at the age of 5 contracted meningitis resulting in the disease killing tissues in his right leg, which was then amputated just below the knee. He eventually received a prosthetic leg and won gold medals at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Paralympic Games representing Great Britain. There was also Bebe Maria Vio who at the age of 11 contracted a severe form of meningitis, which caused her the loss of both arms and legs and severe facial and body scars. After months of intense rehab treatment and thanks to a special prosthesis, she could return to the love of her life, which was fencing, a discipline that she had been practicing since she was five years old. She won a gold medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games.These athletes and others narrated much of this film, which also included a narration by Prince Harry of Great Britain, which added authenticity as well as his warmth.

The film also takes us into the history of the Paralympic Games and how they have come to occur in the same year as the regular Olympic Games and in the same city with one exception. In 1980, we learned that when a Soviet official was asked whether or not the Paralympic Games would occur in his country, he said “There are no invalids in the USSR.” That attitude has changed considerably in modern times as athletes from that country have actively participated in the Paralympics.

The authors particularly appreciated this film since it happens that during the summer after we were married, we were camp counselors at Camp Oakhurst, a camp for orthopedically handicapped youngsters and young adults and we came to appreciate how the love of sports can transcend physical handicaps. We also over the years have had the opportunity to attend five summer Olympic Games throughout the world, although none were the Paralympic Games, which we now are inspired to consider visiting in the future.

Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary, Sport

Da Five Bloods

July 8th, 2020 — 6:27am

*****
Da Five Bloods Continue reading »

1 comment » | 5 Stars, Action, Drama, History, War

Standing Up, Falling Down

February 12th, 2020 — 5:42am

*****

Standing Up, Falling Down-sp

Although Ben Schwartz plays a wannabe comedian and Billy Crystal plays his dermatologist buddy who was twice his age, don’t come to this movie with a mindset  to see a hilarious comedy. To the contrary, it is a very thoughtful story about the big regrets that people might have in life. A romance that breaks apart so a career can be pursued, a parent who is sorry that he wasn’t there for hs child and now the grown child is not there for him, are two such examples. Director/Producer, Matt Ratner, became attached to the screenplay by Peter Hoare and not only pulled together the two stars, but also brought in a very solid supporting cast which included Grace Gummer, Eloise Mumford, Nate Corddry, Kevin Dunn, Debra Monk and a few others. Although the film was on an independent budget, the settings were realistic and the story will touch your emotions. You will laugh out loud, shed some tears and end up with a lot to think about. We highly recommend that you see this movie. (2020)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Comedy, Drama

Just Mercy

December 17th, 2019 — 6:55am

*****

Just Mercy- rm

This is an amazing true story of Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a black attorney who is fresh out of Harvard Law School and travels to Alabama with the purpose of trying to save the lives of falsely incarcerated prisoners who are on death-row awaiting execution. He teams up with Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), a woman with a similar dedication who becomes the operations director of their newly formed Law Center For Equal Justice. Stevenson begins visiting Alabama’s death-row and meeting prisoners scheduled for execution. The main focus of the film was on his interaction with Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who was sentenced to die for a crime, it became clear he did not commit. His case was based on the testimony of a man who was providing false information in order to avoid charges for another crime of which he was accused. In addition, the testimony of many friends and family of Stevenson who were at a party with the accused at the time of the murder were not considered worthy evidence to exonerate the condemned man. While the main focus is on one case, we also meet other prisoners on death-row and witness a very painful scene of an execution. It became clear that the unfair cruel treatment of prisoners was a residual of slavery and continued prejudice in this country.

The movie is based on a memoir of the same title by Bryan Stevenson, which was an outstanding book (click here for book review). This book was transformed into this excellent movie by Andrew Lanham and Destin Daniel Cretton, who also directed the film. It is a riveting heartbreaking cinematic experience, which we highly recommend (2019).

 

Your comments are welcome below

 

Comment » | 5 Stars, Crime, Drama

Marriage story

November 18th, 2019 — 9:46pm

*****

Marriage Story

This film is the brainchild of the very talented screenwriter Noah Baumbach who has previously written about family, divorce, and it did frequently seem as some of his greatest pieces have been semiautobiographical. He was director and writer of this movie as he was for the Squid And The Whale, The Meyerowitz Stories, and many other great films. Not surprisingly, his main characters in this movie are a theatre director and playwright Charlie (Adam Driver) and his wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) who is an actress currently featured in her husband’s latest Off-Broadway play.

The story opens as this couple are each reading a piece about the great qualities of their spouse. We quickly learned that despite all this acclaim and wonderful characteristics that they each described, the purpose of this exercise is part of the mediation process for a pending divorce. Despite a seemingly perfect marriage, which included a young son Henry (Azhy Robertson), the tensions of trying to lead a bicoastal life contributed to Nicole’s desire to institute what turns out to be very contentious divorce proceedings. This aspect of the story also allowed for a short exposition of the contrasts between living in New York and living in Los Angeles.

The Baumbach’s script highlighted Driver and Johansson’s talent in some very intense and dramatic monologues as well as interactive dialogues. Included was an opportunity for Driver to show his talent as a singer in one particular scene. There is definitely Oscar material in the performance of these two stars.

While the movie is a clear vehicle for the great talents of Johansson and Driver, there are also some excellent supporting roles by very familiar people. Laura Dern plays a hard-nosed Los Angeles divorce lawyer. Other divorce attorneys are played by Alan Alda and Ray Liotta. Also in supporting roles are Merritt Wever, Wallace Shawn, and Julie Hagerty, but the main focus is on Driver and Johansson who along with Baumbach have a good shot at being on the awards stage in the near future (2019).

 

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

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