Category: 5 Stars


The Great Hack

September 18th, 2020 — 10:56pm

The Great Hack
*****

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 – nf
*****

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).

 

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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

Parasite

November 7th, 2019 — 8:40pm

*****

Parasite-rm

This was an elaborate production of an interesting and complicated story. The movie is set in South Korea and is in the Korean language with English subtitles. We meet a wealthy Korean family with two children who can hire a maid/cook, tutor for the kids, as well as a driver. Through some complicated manipulations, a poor family from the other side of town is able to work it out, so they are serving all of these positions although the rich family does not realize that they are actually members of one family. The disparity and yet the similarities between the rich and the poor become highlighted. There is a strange undercurrent of the film that not only takes place in the basement of the wealthy mansion but in the heart and souls of some of the characters. Credit must be given to Bong Joon-Ho, who wrote the screenplay and did a magnificent job directing the movie, which turned out to be 2 hours and 12 minutes but never feeling too long or drawn out.

The film which starts out comedically, albeit with strife and poignancy, moves into creative and surprising genres which keep the viewer engaged even after the final credits roll. While difficult to classify, it is definitely worth seeing. 

 

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Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Foreign, Horror

The Two Popes

November 7th, 2019 — 6:28am

*****

The Two Popes-sp

At our preview screening of this movie, we had the pleasure of hearing the screenwriter Anthony McCarten describe how he created his vision of the relationship between these two Popes. Mr. McCarten who also wrote the screenplays for The Darkest Hour (Winston Churchill), “Theory Of Everything” (Steven Hawking) and “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Freddie Mercury and his band Queen) built the story based on little known facts about the interactions between the current liberal Pope Francis and the previous conservative Pope Benedict. The story imagines a meeting between the two of them prior to the resignation of Pope Benedict, which may have actually taken place. Through the use of flashbacks in time, we learn about Pope Francis as a young priest in Argentina and how he dealt with the influence of Peron in his native country. During the imagined meeting between the two Popes, prior to the time that Pope Benedict steps aside, there is a suggestion that both of them have regrets in their lives. Although it is not mentioned directly, the older Pope is said to have been a member of the Hitler Youth Group in his native Germany. Certainly, both men come across as very empathic servants of God who care greatly about people and are deeply religious.

Aside from the fascinating interaction between these two historic figures, the scenes inside the Vatican, which has been recreated (no actual filming is allowed inside) are magnificent. The acting by the two great actors Jonathan Pryce (Pope Francis) and Anthony Hopkins (Pope Benedict) are quite masterful. The direction of the movie and photography led by Fernando Meirelles is outstanding. This film definitely deserves your attention.

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Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History

Harriet

November 5th, 2019 — 7:27am

*****

Harriet-rm

If you know anything about the story of Harriet Tubman, you will be expecting an exciting adventure about a woman slave who escapes to freedom and then goes on to rescue many others through the famed Underground Railroad. You will not be disappointed as British actress Cynthia Erivo does a remarkable job of inhabiting the famed heroine. The movie was directed by Kasi Lemmons, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Gregory Allen Howard.

The story begins as our heroine, who is then known as Minty, decides to escape from her owner’s son who is supposed to have freed her. She actually runs 100 miles, much of it being chased and hunted, until she reaches Philadelphia where slavery does not exist. She meets an abolitionist, (Leslie Odom, Jr.) and others. She takes on her freedom name of Harriet Tubman and returns to the South in order to rescue her family and many others. This becomes her life calling as she is active in the Underground Railroad. We experience her dangerous adventures and confrontations and see how she becomes one of the great American heroines for these actions as well as her exploits during the Civil War. The movie is highlighted by a moving musical score by Terence Blanchard.

Ms. Tubman lived to the age of 93 and we cannot help but be reminded that Harriet Tubman’s image was scheduled to replace that of Andrew Jackson on the United States $20 bill. However, it was recently announced by President Trump and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, that this plan was being delayed for several years for “technical reasons.” We wonder why?

Despite this “delay” in establishing the well-deserved honor, the film is playing now and provides a strong and moving account of a true American heroine.(2019)

 

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Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History

The Kitchen

August 7th, 2019 — 8:58pm

*****

The Kitchen-sp

Three wives of gangsters take over their husbands’ racketeering business after the men go off to prison for a couple of years. The women show that they can kick ass and clearly establish a new genre of women tough gals. There is nothing comedic about these characters but two of them are played by established comediennes, Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish. The other character is inhabited by veteran actress Elisabeth Moss.

The setting of this film is Hell’s Kitchen in New York City in the late 1970s. The story is written by Ollie Masters and is based on a comic book series by her and illustrated by Becky Cloonan and Ming Doyle. First time director Andrea Berloff who has credentials as a writer and actress definitely establishes herself as a big league director. Not only does she capture the vibes of New York City in the 70s with wonderful photography but   she infuses this movie with great action scenes of numerous murders and other violence as well as various confrontations intermixed with tension, humor and great timing with many surprises.

We believe that this movie stands a chance to become a classic gangster film with its own distinctive flavor. It certainly would be the definitive woman gangster film even surpassing Bonnie and Clyde and may very well be in the top tier of this genre. (2019)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Action, Crime, Drama

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