Category: Biography


Rocketman

June 5th, 2019 — 4:23am

*****

Rocketman

The recent movie, Bohemian Rhapsody, is turning out to be one of the most popular films of last year and we expect that this film will achieve equal acclaim. Although the current movie is a different kind of musical, the director, Dexter Fletcher, also worked on last year’s great hit. In Rocketman, the story of Elton John is told in a fashion of great film musicals with a wonderful ensemble dancing and singing. Elton John is inhabited by Taron Egerton who does all of Elton John’s singing in great voice, which captures the energy and beauty of Rocketman himself.

The story of course is true to life as it traces the great singer’s life from his talent appearing in early childhood, his painful interaction with his parents and his emergence on the musical scene. The story pulls back the curtain and helps the viewer understand how John struggled with his sexuality and with alcohol and drugs, which nearly destroyed him. Particularly poignant is the meaningful relationship he had with his friend and lyricist, Bernie Taupin, magnificently played by Jaimie Bell. Through it all, the main character emerges and can say and gloriously sing, “I’m still standing.” The movie and story feels real and authentic. It is not surprising that the real Elton John is the film’s executive producer. This movie has to be added to your Do Not Miss List. (2019)

 

Comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Musical

Saint Judy

February 20th, 2019 — 4:03pm

*****

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This is a great story. We meet Judy Wood (Michelle Monaghan), a young idealistic attorney who wants to specialize in immigration law. She is overwhelmed being assigned numerous cases by her new boss (Alfred Molina) but she still makes an all-out effort with each of her cases. At the same time, she is a single mom, recently divorced, trying to participate as much as possible in the raising of her young son (Gabriel Bateman). We see her getting fired for not bringing in the big bucks for her law firm. We follow her as she opens a storefront law office as the only attorney with a young intern as her assistant. The story then focuses on one young Afghan woman client, Asefa Ashwari (Leem Lubany) who is seeking asylum in the United States. She had rebelled against the poor treatment of young girls and women in her country by defiantly setting up a school for girls who were not allowed to have an education. She was arrested and received the most horrendous treatment imaginable in jail. She was able to escape to the United States where her plea for asylum is now being considered. If she is denied this request, she will be returned to her native country where she almost certainly will be murdered by her family for her defiant actions.

The realistic courtroom scenes, some of which are held in a small trailer in the prison where she is being detained are absolutely chilling and riveting. The logic of the U.S. law is very clear but heartbreaking.

Tremendous credit must be given to the screenwriter, Dmitry Portnoy, and director and producer, Sean Hanish, who worked hand in hand to get this film made. In fact, it was just about an impossible task to get the financial support for the film until President Trump was elected and this country became aware of the real meaning of the immigration crisis.

But the most amazing thing about this story is that it isn’t a story at all. Judy Wood is actually a real-life person whom the movie so realistically portrays. In fact, we met her at a preview screening along with the director and screenwriter.

This movie has drama, tension, emotion, surprise, great acting that may bring a tear to your eye, and perhaps inspire a young man or woman to decide to become a lawyer. The highest compliment that we can give to it, is to say that it reminded us a little bit of the classic film “To Kill a Mockingbird.” (2019)

Any thoughts or opinions are welcome in the comment section below.

1 comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Crime, Drama

Can You Ever Forgive Me

February 17th, 2019 — 9:42pm

*****

Can You Ever Forgive Me?-sp

When Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), a talented writer who profiled famous writers of her time was no longer able to sell her books, she turned to forgery, creating and selling letters in the style of Dorothy Parker, Fanny Brice, Noel Coward and others. She befriended an equally lonely gay man (Richard E. Grant) who for a while helped her with her con artist scheme.

This is a true story based on the memoirs of Ms. Israel with a screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty. The film was directed by Marielle Heller. Ms. McCarthy dominates the screen portraying the very sad life of Ms. Israel. Both her performance and that of Mr. Grant deserved the Oscar nominations which they received for their performances.

As the title implies, you will come away from this cinematic performance with a melancholy feeling, but you also will know you have seen an excellent movie. (2019)

 

Please consider putting any of your comments about the movie or the review just below

Comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Crime, Drama

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot

July 15th, 2018 — 6:01pm

****

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The United States is in the midst of a horrendous addiction crisis. This movie gets to the heart of one man’s battle with alcoholism and the devastating effect that his illness had upon him. In a post-film discussion with Jack Gibson, one of the writers who wrote the book upon which this film was based, we learned that this movie has been 20 years in the making. It is based on a true story of the main character, John Callahan, who was originally going to be played by the late Robin Williams. As great a job as Williams might have done with this role, Joaquin Phoenix turned in a performance that we strongly believe deserves Oscar consideration. Thanks to his ability to inhabit his character, and what could also be an award-winning accomplishment by the director, Gus Van Sant, John Callahan vividly comes to the screen in various phases of his addiction, including being permanently paralyzed in an electric wheelchair with limited movement of his arms due to an alcohol-related accident. We gained some insight into his childhood experiences which undoubtedly led him to his addiction. We painfully shared his struggle in the AA program where he meets several people, including a young man who has inherited wealth but ends up as an addict, ultimately becoming Callahan’s AA sponsor. This role was very well played by Jonah Hill. There are also other excellent performances by Rooney Mara and Jack Black.

There are so many facets to Mr. Callahan’s battle with his disease which include his finding a way to make love, becoming a successful cartoonist, searching for his birth mother, going through the 12 steps of AA, including making amends, that we are torn between concluding that the film was too long (almost two hours) and yet at times, too superficial and that there were some very important area of his life that we wanted to see in more depth.

We believe that this film is destined for success, not only because of the bold depiction of one man’s struggle with alcoholism, but also because it should be seen and we feel will be viewed by so many people who are impacted by addiction. (2018)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama

Marie Curie:The Courage of Knowledge

June 20th, 2017 — 7:04pm

***

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Wonder Woman may be the box-office bombshell that has women and young girls flocking to the movies (along with the guys) because she is an unequivocal super hero who happens to be a woman. Well, there is another woman on the block and in a few weeks Marie Curie is going to be released in Los Angeles and then in the rest of the country. While this film may not quite have the excitement and actions seen in WW, but certainly, she should be as big hero and role model.

Director and screenwriter of this film, Marie Noelle, shared her thoughts from Germany via a Skype hookup projected on the big screen after our preview viewing of this movie. Marie Curie had been her hero as a child because of her scientific accomplishments. However, it was what she learned about her personal life that fueled the filmmaker’s desire to work on this project.

Marie Curie was born in Poland and studied in Paris where she conducted the pioneer research in radioactivity. She discovered radium and how this could be used to treat cancer. She won two Nobel prizes and was the first woman accepted into the French Academy of Science despite great resistance because she was a woman.

A major focus of this film however was not only the resistance to her being recognized because she was a woman, but also because it became public knowledge that she was having an affair (after her husband died) with a married scientific collaborator and actually, had been threatened by the knife-wielding slighted spouse. This obviously would have been a non-issue had she been a man.

Karolina Gruszka was superb in her portrayal of Curie. Curie’s devotion to her work and her personal and professional passion to family and to equality were crystal clear. The film was in French with subtitles and at times we felt that something was missed in the translation as they flashed by. There were many bearded men in the movie and we weren’t sure at times who was who. Albert Einstein even made an appearance, but we didn’t exactly appreciate his role in the scheme of things. The photography, scenery and the characters sweeping across the screen sometimes made us lose track of the storyline. Both men and women will benefit by seeing this film and appreciate the trials and tribulations of this extraordinary scientist. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Drama, History

A Classy Broad

April 21st, 2016 — 4:48am

***

Marcia Nasatir

   Marcia Nasatir

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It is ironic that this documentary film about one of the pioneer film producers who often was the key person in getting a film green-lighted has just been completed and is now looking for distribution. Marcia Nasatir, who is about to turn 90 years of age is the subject of this movie. She was the first female vice president of production of a major movie studio (United Artists). The director producer of “A Classy Broad” is Anne Goursaud, an accomplished film editor who is hoping that this movie will be her breakthrough film. It is is all about inside Hollywood.

Ms. Nasatir, the centerpiece of this documentary, is well-known, well-liked, and well respected by many legendary movie insiders some of whom appear in this film. Prominent among this group was Mike Medavoy, former Chairman of Tristar and United Artists, and co-founder of Orion Pictures. Others include screenwriters and directors such as Lawrence Kasdan, Tony Bill, Lucy Fisher, Rob Cohen, Robert Towne and the late Lorenzo Semple, Jr. We also hear numerous stories about Ms. Nasatir’s role in many successful movies, such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Sting, Hamburger Hill, Coming Home, Rocky The Big Chill and many others. Also appearing in the documentary is actress Glenn Close, who is one of the stars of The Big Chill. Ms. Nasatir’s career was “rocky” itself as she was sometimes passed over for promotion, no doubt because women were not just moved into these leadership positions in the film industry during the 1970s and ‘80s.

If there is anything lacking in this movie, it would be not having more of the personal life of Ms. Nasatir. We know very little about her childhood, education, marriage, divorce and her two children. While these details all might make the type of a story that Ms. Nasatir might look for in an interesting feature film, they are certainly not necessary or essential to appreciate this documentary film about this “Classy Broad” and her very successful career in the movie business. (2016)

1 comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Documentary

Miles Ahead

March 31st, 2016 — 8:40pm

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Miles Ahead- sp

To best appreciate this review click here and listen to Miles Davis as you read the review

This is not your typical biopic that simply traces the life story of an important person. It is rather a cinematic representation of the powerful, free flowing, unpredictable, abstract and arresting sound of the music of Miles Davis. It tumbles on to the screen as his music emerges from his trumpet. We absorb a sense of this man and his music rather than understand a chronological progression that has growth and coherency.

Don Cheadle, actor, director and screen writer of this movie has chosen to use as his point of departure the approximate five-year period in the mid 1970s where this productive jazz artist ceased to produce any music. We meet Miles Davis (Don Cheadle) when a reporter who says he is from Rolling Stone Magazine (Ewan McGregor) visits him with the hope of interviewing him and finding out why he is no longer on the music scene. This leads to flashbacks and flashforwards, cocaine binges, car chases, the search for a tape of a recent personal recorded session by Davis as well as a glimpse of the personality of Davis and his relationship with Francis Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi) a beautiful woman and dancer who was his wife for ten years. We see that Davis at least in his early life was a somewhat self-centered, arrogant man who loved his woman and also abused her. Of course he was a musical genius who came of age in the mid-1950s and ‘60s and we also were shown examples of the impact of the ugly sector of racism as he was arrested for standing on the street in front of the night club where he was the headline performer and put in jail for the night.

We are introduced to a young musician called Junior (Lakeith Lee Stanfield) who is intertwined in the plot as Davis tries to find himself during his five-year unproductive period. This young musician could be symbolic of the many young musicians that Davis has helped on the way up, including Wynston Marsalis. He also could represent the very young Davis himself who pushes the now middle aged Davis to pick up the mantle where he put it down half a decade ago.

As mentioned earlier you will not take away a coherent story from this one hour and forty-minute movie experience. You will hear much of Davis’ great music in the background frequently played quite softly. You will see Don Cheadle skillfully appear to inhabit Davis with convincing mannerisms as well as the way he handled his musical instrument. The photography is magnificent (director of photography was Roberto Schaefer). There are many evening scenes and snatches of semi-dark rooms with white smoke trailing upward surrounding the cast of characters. Miles Davis’ music is always there. This will probably not be a blockbuster movie but may very well get the attention of film critics and demonstrate the genius of Miles Davis who won nine Grammy awards and perhaps the potential Oscar worthiness for the second Oscar nomination for Don Cheadle. (2016)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Musical

What Happened, Miss Simone?

March 13th, 2016 — 9:37pm

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What Happened, Miss Simone? -nf

This Oscar nominated documentary biography will grab you and hold your attention and your emotions. You will re-experience the meaning that the Civil Rights Movement may have had to you and how you understand its significance in this country. Music as it always does, creates and brings out deep-rooted feelings and the haunting music and lyrics of this gifted singer and musician will do just that. You will come to understand who Nina Simone was and where she came from and what she was trying to do. But this film will also raise questions about Miss Simone, as a wife, mother, and troubled soul that will remain unanswered although undoubtedly you will share our admiration for her.

Nina Simone grew up as the preacher’s daughter in North Carolina. She was noted to have musical talent and as a young girl she played the piano in church. She went on to get formal music lessons and she had a lifelong unfulfilled wish to be the first black classical concert pianist. She also , clearly, experienced the pain of the Jim Crow South and multiple occasions of blatant discrimination because she was black.

This film documents what she did become and that is a widely acclaimed blues singer with a very distinctive style. When the Civil Rights Movement burst upon the scene, her music and words became part of its anthem alongside of Martin Luther King and others. This was symbolized by the controversial song Mississippi Goddamn”( click to hear this great song) which was embraced by the movement but apparently ultimately marginalized Miss Simone’s ability to work in the musical industry.

The details of Miss Simone’s journey were very well documented with film clips and interviews with people who were very close to her including lifelong friends, fellow musicians, her husband, and her now grown daughter. One of the most fascinating and convincing parts of this documentary film was the showing of the handwritten pages of her own diary. These scribbled words with printed subtitles at the bottom of the screen, documented her love and dependency on her husband, a former New York City policeman who guided a good part of her successful career but also apparently viciously beat her according to her own words. We do not really understand why and how she tolerated him so long before divorcing him. Nor do we understand how she could suddenly leave her loved only young daughter with her good friend and abruptly go off to Europe to try to revive her career.

Her own diary also documents her bouts of suicidal thoughts during this period. As a psychiatrist, one of us (MB) knows we can never properly make a diagnosis or understand the clinical issues in someone we have never seen in our consulting room. However, it should be stated that in her late years, we clearly see a very depressed woman. We are told in the words of her grown daughter and others that she had a diagnosis made of manic-depression and was prescribed “Trilafon” (a second generation antipsychotic medication – not usually the medicine of choice for this condition). We are also told that the medication helped her a little bit. It is also stated that she subsequently had certain symptoms of stiffness and twitching of her lip which are common side effects of this medication that was given to her. While we certainly don’t know all the details we can’t help wondering if she had the best treatment

Miss Simone died at the age of 70 and we do not know too much about her last few years. We have come away from this well-done documentary film by director and producer Liz Garbus with an appreciation how this talented woman was able to find her destiny at the same time that she was able to touch the emotions and express the voice of so many people during the Civil Rights Movement in this country. Through this film and her music, there is the opportunity for her work reach future generations. (2015)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Documentary

Trumbo

November 23rd, 2015 — 1:42am

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We don’t know if you would had to have lived through the 1950s or have been around close enough to this time period to have heard first-hand stories to appreciate the atmosphere in the United States during the time of this movie. Director Jay Roach and his team have very realistically created the look and feel of this period and the screenplay by John McNamara based on the book by Bruce Cook provides the basis of a very realistic recreation of what happened to Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) and many other people

Trumbo was a brilliant, highly paid screenwriter who was very successful. He happened to believe in communism particularly that wealth should be shared (although he was clearly much better off than most people). He identified with striking workers and in fact was not afraid to sympathize with many communist beliefs, which at the time made him the target of the House of Representatives Committee On Un-American Activities as were nine other screenwriters who were known as the Hollywood Ten. They were subpoenaed to Washington to go before the congressional committee. Members of the Committee forced them to identify themselves as communists, which they refused to do, and therefore were sent to jail on charges of contempt.

This is just a small part of the story. When Trumbo comes out of prison this brilliant film writer couldn’t sell his scripts with his name on them anymore. Nevertheless he wrote many highly successful scripts under other names, two, of them winning Oscars. The fascinating life of Trumbo, his relationship to his wife Cleo (Diane Lane) and his children is the story of this movie. It involves the interactions with many Hollywood icons including Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg), John Wayne (David James Elliott) and Louis B. Mayer (Richard Portnow). Also Trumbo’s relationship with another writer Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.) Is quite important as is that with Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) and Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) in dramatic events at the conclusion of the movie.

Every detail of this movie is extremely well done such as the blending of archival film clips with realistically created black and white scenes. Of course, the outstanding star of the story is Dalton Trumbo who deserves to be introduced to a new generation of Americans. We can’t give enough praise to Bryan Cranston who brought his character to life with thoughtfulness, subtlety and great passion. In our opinion he deserves an Oscar nomination for his work in this picture. Hollywood tends to have an affinity for stories about itself especially when they are done well, which might push this movie into becoming a big winner during the awards season this year. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Horror

Straight Out of Compton

August 15th, 2015 — 10:22pm

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Straight Outta Compton

While we usually enjoy music and movies about music, we knew it from the get-go that the music in this film was not going to be our cup of tea. In fact, not only did we have trouble following the words of the rap which predominated most of the film but initially, we had some difficulty following the dialogue. It certainly was loud enough but it took awhile for us to catch most of the spoken words. It almost felt that we didn’t speak the language as we heard the audience around us laughing while we missed some of the punch lines. But as the film progressed, we seemed to get in the groove as the almost two and half hours of the running time of the movie seemed to go by quite quickly.

We witnessed the formation of the group N.W.A. which we learned did not stand for No Whites Allowed but rather means Niggas Wit Attitude. It all began as Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) originally connects with Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and they bring in Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Junior – who is actually the son of the real life Ice Cube). The film, starting with the bristling violence of the first scene, graphically depicts the unremitting brutality of the then Los Angeles police force. Their constant stereotyping and baiting of young black men was shown to demoralize and then help to provoke the simmering rage that erupted into the rap lyrics that made N.W.A. what it was.

We see the group connect with the man who was to be their manager and eventually cheat them out of lots of their money, Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti). We could not help but remember that Mr. Giamatti plays a similar role in another recent film about the music business. In that movie he was a psychologist and a manipulator of Brian Wilson in the biopic Love & Mercy which is all about the Beach Boys.

Of course, the music of this film that we are discussing is a completely different genre, better known as Gangster Rap or West Coast Hip-Hop. N.W.A.’s first album and lead song in 1988 is the title of this movie, Straight Outta Compton. Another song on that initial album was titled Fuck The Police. The film shows how this song inflamed the police and led the band to being arrested and abused by the police. That situation reminded us of an incident which occurred two years later, when a black hip-hop band by the name of 2 Live Crew was thrown in jail in Florida for singing songs with obscene words. A white rock band from New York named Too Much Joy then tested the limits by going down to Florida to see what would happen if they covered that album in a local club. They were arrested and spent the night in jail before they were acquitted in a brief trial. The lead guitarist for that band was our son, Jay.

Outta of Compton very realistically reflects the mood and the times in which this band and its music became popular. Although the Watts Riots were about 15 years earlier, N.W.A. were products of the gang infested Los Angeles streets that were still out of control. As these young men became successful musicians, we see their opulent lifestyle and the interesting but sad objectification of women that seem to be part of their lives. We followed them as they realized that they were being used by their manager, Jerry Heller, and their recording label. They had schisms and falling outs with each other but yet we also witnessed the bond between them which brought them back together. The movie also reminds us of AIDS, the great scourge of the 1980s which struck down one of the band members.

We come away from this film appreciating the importance which this music had in the lives the young men and women of the N.W.A. generation. Director F. Gary Gray appeared to translate the screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff into moving and believable cinema. The camera work, lighting, editing and the use of music were first rate. The filmmakers were assisted in the behind the scenes production by the real Ice Cube and Dr. Dre who helped to bring home the beat of this film and make it quite authentic. While this is biopic of an earlier era, sadly, part of its message resonates today in the “Black Lives Matter” movement. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Musical

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