Category: 5 Stars


I, Tonya

March 2nd, 2018 — 9:40pm

*****

I, Tonya

This is a fascinating well-done but very sad movie. If you were on the planet in 1994 and vaguely aware of current events, you would have some idea of who Tonya Harding is and how she is linked to another ice skater by the name of Nancy Kerrigan. The story, which unfolds in this movie, presents an in-depth understanding of the character and the development of Ms. Harding from childhood to the present. Tonya is played by Margot Robbie. There are some younger versions of Ms. Harding also shown as well as some footage of what must have been the real Ms. Harding doing her jumps and twists. A key player in this movie is the “mother from hell” magnificently portrayed by Allison Janney who is up for an Oscar for her performance. While it is possible to generate a touch of sympathy for this horrific mother, we wouldn’t wish her on anyone. But we have to grant that her unflinching determination with no sympathy for her daughter’s feelings is what made Tonya a magnificent skater who was the first to land a triple axle jump in American Figure Skating competition.

There is also Jeff Gillooly (Stan Sebastian) who is Tonya’s boyfriend, then husband and then ex-husband. He is depicted as a violent lover of Tonya who ultimately wanted to scare Tonya’s Olympic opponent but supposedly didn’t really want to hurt her. There is also Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) the “brains” behind the plan to do damage to Ms. Kerrigan” but really is depicted as not very bright. This film also raises the underlying question of what was the role of Tonya in the terrible deed. Perhaps as it was shown, she didn’t know about the plan but alas she didn’t say anything about it when she found out after it had occurred. In any case, Tonya was the big loser in court and essentially in life. She lost her skating career.

While we can’t say if the script got it exactly right, but in this movie we certainly come to understand Tonya and what made her Tonya. We also have insight to how the “big incident” may have gone down and would say a pretty good feeling for the struggle that people go through when they try to become the best in a sport from no matter where they may start.

Director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers and screenwriter Steven Rogers deserve the credit of putting together a complicated and intriguing story that still is as fascinating as it was when the real event took place more than 20 years ago. (2018)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History, Sport

The Shape of Water

December 19th, 2017 — 7:35am

*****

The Shape of Water

This is an unusual conglomeration of a movie set in the 60s, combining a science fiction and fantasy genre with a classical cinematic musical, mixed with a cold war spy thriller. Much of the story takes place in some kind of a government facility where Eliza (Sally Hawkins) a mute cleaning woman works. She happens in on a government research project where a gentle monster of an amphibian man (Doug Jones – not the politician) is being housed. They communicate with silent gestures as two kindred souls. Meanwhile in the background there is a tough government official (Michael Shannon) who seems to be against everyone who is not patriotic. There is the spy but really a good person (Michael Stuhlbarg), a sympathetic fellow cleaning lady (Octavia Spencer) and a lonely neighbor artist (David Hewlett). We get the feeling that perhaps this is a satire, which is confronting a political climate where people who are different are marginalized. (Sound Familiar?)

This unusual story is written by Guillermo del Toro, who directed the film and also co-wrote the screenplay with Vanessa Taylor. Sally Hawkins did a knockout job despite playing a mute woman (she did appear to sign quite proficiently and actually had a chance to do a spot of singing and dancing quite beautifully in a fantasy scene). The story will pull you in and touch your emotions with its content and with the period music. It goes to show you that despite the unlimited choice of entertainment on television, movies are still better than ever. (2017)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

Wonder

December 6th, 2017 — 7:18am

*****

Wonder-rm

 

It might not be too difficult to remember your feelings or your children’s anxiety at the time of the first day of school. In this case it is magnified exponentially as we see the situation through the eyes of a young boy who has facial deformities since birth. In addition he has been home schooled by his mother (Julia Roberts) until he is now starting fifth grade. This movie is based on a bestselling novel by R.J. Palacio, which has been extremely popular with both parents and children.( See Book review – Age 10 in 2014) In fact after Ms. Roberts read this story to her children and heard that the movie was being made, she wanted to play the mother.

The storyline follows the experience of this young boy Augie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), as he encounters his new classmates. We also appreciate the complicated reactions of other kids both boys and girls in this New York City Prep School. In addition, we gain insight into his oldest sister (Isabella Vidovic), who has been growing up with a brother she loves, but yet whose circumstances have indelibly shaped her relationship with her parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson). We see how not only does Augie and his family have to deal with the challenges of the boy’s life circumstances but so do his teachers, the school principal (Mandy Potankin), classmates and some of their parents.

Accolades have to be given to Jacob Tremblay, the star of this movie who was ten years old when the film was made. In his young career he has been in several well-received movies including The Room for which he received critical acclaim. Director Stephen Chbowsky also deserves recognition not only because that should be the case whenever a young child actor stands out but also because he co-wrote the screenplay and directed a very complicated emotional story.

We both felt  that we were not only experiencing a very well done movie that was examining children and adults’ complex understanding in responses to one of the sad and unusual variations of the human condition but we also were deeply and visceral touched and brought to tears by how the story was played out on the screen. (2017)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Family / Kids

Loving Vincent

November 21st, 2017 — 7:43pm

*****

Loving Vincent-sp

This animated film is beautiful and original with a special approach that we have never before seen on the screen. The husband and wife team of Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, director and screenwriters as well as co-producers have focused on the life (also particularly the death) and the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh. They filmed their intriguing story using an excellent cast starring Douglas Booth, Robert Gulaczyk, Eleanor Tomlinson, Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan and a very good supporting cast who acted out the entire story. Yet, none of the actual film of the actors were shown. Instead, a team of over 100 oil painting artists were recruited to paint over the film with the beautiful colors and the style of Van Gogh. That is 12 paintings for each second and thus for the 94 minute film they were well over 60,000 paintings made by this team of talented artists. Then using animation techniques, the movie was put together. The result is that we are watching a very interesting story about Van Gogh in an animated movie at the same time that we are seeing the familiar images of Van Gogh’s paintings move before us in a coherent story presented to us in living color. They were even some sequences done in black and white to show flashbacks in Van Gogh’s life.

While the artistic effect of this movie is mind blowing, the actual story is also quite fascinating. It is of course based on historical facts which included a possibility that the well-known reported suicide of Vincent Van Gogh at the age of 36 was actually a murder.

We have here an extremely well done story presented in a unique cinematic fashion which matches the content of the story. The result is not only ground-breaking but a beautiful experience which we highly recommend. (2017)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Uncategorized

Lady Bird

November 4th, 2017 — 7:48am

*****

Lady Bird-sp

This film has nothing to with LBJ’s wife and the movie previously reviewed. It does have a great deal to do with the accomplished actress and writer 33-year-old Greta Gerwig (Francis Ha, Greenberg and many other films) who is making her directorial debut in this film for which she is also the screenwriter. It appears that Ms. Gerwig has drawn upon her experience growing up in Sacramento, California and having attended a Catholic High School around the year 2002. We won’t speculate how much of the rest of the film is autobiographical nor is it important. However, this talented writer/ director has captured the painful and glorious experience of a high school girl coming of age. This young woman Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) tries to break through what is expected of her and finds and shows her individuality. Ms. Saoirse is near perfect in realistically bringing this character alive with the words and direction of Ms. Gerwig. There is equally well-written character portrayed in an outstanding performance by Laurie Metcalf as Lady Bird’s mother who is a nurse (as was Ms. Gerwig’s mother). The friction and interaction between mother and daughter will be familiar to many. The father is sensitively played by actor-play writer Tracy Letts.

One major conflict that is played out very well and may reverberate with many viewers is Lady Bird’s desire to go to an expensive East Coast College with a plan that is rejected by her mother. Will she be accepted and will her parents support this dream? This conflict along with typical ups and downs of friendships among girls and the problems of negotiating her own sexuality and her relationship with boys are universal and will reverberate with the audience. In the end, we believe this film will stand out and be well-remembered. (2017)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

LBJ

October 26th, 2017 — 3:30am

*****

LBJ-sp

If you are of a certain age or a student of history and can remember Lyndon Johnson’s presidency. this movie should grab you, fascinate you and hold your attention. Johnson (magnificently played by Woody Harrelson) was a seven term United States senator from Texas who was for many years, majority leader of the U.S. Senate and was chosen by JFK to be his vice presidential candidate. He rode to victory with Kennedy in 1960. Rob Reiner, who directed this movie with the use of very realistic flashbacks, builds up the tension leading to those fateful days in Dallas in 1963 when Johnson assumed the presidency.

Much to the surprise of his former southern Democratic colleagues in the Senate, Johnson did not support their views on segregation and discrimination. This movie written by Joey Hartstone deals mainly with how LBJ pushed through JFK’s cutting-edge Civil Rights Legislation.

Harrelson is fantastic in capturing the essence of LBJ, his mannerisms, facial expressions, and speech inflections. Along with the script by Joey Hartstone and direction by Rob Reiner, in our opinion, this is one of the best pictures of the year. There also are some very fine performances by Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lady Bird, Richard Jenkins as Senator Richard Russell and Michael Stahl-David who plays Bobby Kennedy.

Much of Johnson’s presidential legacy is often tainted by his failure to end the Vietnam War which this movie did not focus on. However, the realistic depiction of Johnson’s domestic accomplishments which not only included civil rights legislation but also welfare reform and Medicare and Medicaid is often forgotten. This movie gives him the well deserved recognition and appreciation for his contribution to our country. Likewise we believe this film should receive great accolades for being a very well done and engrossing cinematic accomplishment. (2017)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Politics

The Meyerowitz Stories

October 23rd, 2017 — 7:05am

*****

The Meyerowitz Stories-sp

As we eased ourselves into this movie and we meet Harold (Dustin Hoffman), the not quite successful New York sculptor in his senior years, we could not help but remind ourselves how we and this wonderful actor have come a long way since he played the young man who was so enamored by the older Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. This time, Hoffman is playing a very self-centered man who has had four marriages and three wives (he married one of them twice), as well as three children.

Screenwriter and director, Noah Baumbach provides a magnificent insight into the feelings of these three grown children and how their inner emotional life has been impacted by their father who clearly shows how he cares more about his narcissistic needs than the feelings of his children. Adam Sandler turns in what we believe could be an award winning performance as Danny, newly divorced, who despite how he suffered growing up by the lack of love and recognition by his father, appears to have raised an accomplished daughter (Grace Van Patten) who is entering into a film study program at Bard College (although her film work is interestingly bizarre). An almost equally fine performance was given by Ben Stiller who plays the successful son Matthew who lives on the other coast in Los Angeles as a financial manager to the stars but appears to be also damaged by his early relationship with his father. We see that he also hasn’t achieved a good marriage but is trying to be a good father to his five-year-old son. The interaction between the two grown sons is riveting and range from fierce physical fighting to showing insight into each other’s feelings.

The supporting cast of this movie is quite strong with several well-known and recognized actors. This includes Emma Thompson as Harold’s alcoholic current wife, Elizabeth Marvel as Harold’s third grown child, Candice Bergen as Matthew’s mother and one of Harold’s ex-wives, and Judd Hirsch, a friend and a more successful artist.

If this movie achieves the recognition we believe it deserves, it will not only be because of this great ensemble of actors, but it will be due to the talent of director/writer Noah Baumbach who also was involved in writing some of the very appropriate music heard in the background of this film. We certainly put this movie on the do-not-miss list. (2017)

 

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

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

*****

Strange Weather- sp

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

The Big Sick

July 7th, 2017 — 5:27am

*****

The Big Sick-rm

Kumail Nanjiani is a comic actor who is one of the stars of the TV series Silicon Valley. This movie is based on Nanjiani’s real life. It is co-produced by Judd Apatow who is known for two great comedy classics Bridesmaid and Trainwreck. Nanjiani comes from a traditional Pakistan family who emigrated from Pakistan to Los Angeles. They expected their son to marry a Pakistani girl which they would be glad to arrange for this to happen. They also would prefer that he become a lawyer rather than work in the world of comedy which he was doing as a struggling standup comedian. Emily (Zoe Kazan) meets Nanjiani when she makes some comments during his standup act at a comedy club. She is from Chicago but is living in Los Angeles. There is obviously a chemistry between these two as the story develops.

Stop here and read no further if you don’t like spoilers! Since there has been a great deal of press about this movie, you may know what develops in the film. One of us (SB) knew the story but still loved the movie. One of us (MB) also loved the movie but preferred not to know any spoiler events and viewed the film without knowledge of the background of the characters until he saw the movie.

So now, welcome to those who are just continuing with this review or perhaps are returning after you have seen the film. This movie was actually co-written by Kumail Nanjiani and his real life wife Emily V. Gordon. They recount how despite that they were very compatible sexually and otherwise, Kumail needed to please his parents and therefore broke off their budding romance.

The big event that changed everything was “The Big Sick” and that was a life threatening infection, which led Emily to be hospitalized and then put into a medical coma. This event brought her parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano) to Los Angeles where they meet and ultimately connected with Kumail. Hunter is terrific as the energetic and emotional mom. It is hard to forget Romano as anyone but “Raymond” of his classic TV series but he is still a likable character and could very well be the caring dad that he portrays. However, it is Nanjiani’s facial expressions that convey his emotional caring while his words express sincerity, irony, and comedy. These words, as well as the words added by all the actors were co-written by Nanjiani and his real life wife Emily V. Gordon. The comedic lines throughout this movie drew out loud laughter from our movie audience, which is something we often don’t see. Obviously, the continued existence of the co-writers of this film reveals a recovery and a happy ending of this movie and for this talented couple. The film is worth seeing whether you know the story or not. It is smart, funny, poignant and full of life, despite the “near death” experiences of the characters and their relationship! (2017)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Comedy, Romance

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