August 17th, 2016 — 7:29am
Florence Foster Jenkins
Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) was a rich woman who thought she could sing opera music well but, in reality, clearly sang poorly and off-key. St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) was her “husband” who may have originally connected with her because of her money but after 15 years appeared to truly love her and to try to protect her from the outside world that would laugh and ridicule her when she might sing in clubs or when she became a little grandiose by deciding to make a vinyl record of her singing as well as schedule a concert at Carnegie Hall. Hugh Grant is quite believable as the loving but philandering partner. Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) was a young pianist who became her accompanist. The setting is New York in the 1940s. Stephen Frears, the director, Nicholas Martin the screenwriter and the brilliance of Ms. Streep have presented Florence Foster Jenkins as a very sympathetic character who lives with a chronic illness of the time, has apparently accepted an arrangement where Bayfield has his own apartment (and his own mistress). She loves music and doesn’t have a clue about her lack of talent.
The artistic accomplishment of Ms. Streep who apparently in real life in addition to being an Academy Award-winning actress is an accomplished singer, is acting as a dreadful singer . This could be another Academy Award-winning experience for her. But the big surprise in this film is the work of Simon Helberg (well-known for his 10 seasons on the TV Show “The Big Bang Theory”). His facial expressions along with his actual accomplished piano playing as the accompanist are a major part of the film presentation. There was no dubbing of the music here; it was all done in live takes with a musical score by veteran music composer Alexandre Desplat. You come away from viewing this movie by scratching your head and saying, “Did this really happen?” The closing credits document that it really did. (2016)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy
July 25th, 2016 — 1:55am
This movie is set in the 1930’s, which is more of the generation of Woody Allen’s parents than his own. Yet the film is in the voice of Allen who not only actually narrates the movie but also directed and produced it. The central character, Bob, played so well by Jesse Eisenberg, speaks and acts with Allen’s inflections and mannerisms.
The story opens in the Bronx (Allen’s hometown) and we see Bob is leaving to seek his fortune in Hollywood where his uncle Phil Stern (Steve Carell) is a successful movie agent for the stars and he hopes will give him a job. Stern is seemingly happily married for 25 years but he’s having an affair and falling in love with his very young secretary (Kristin Stewart) who no doubt is half his age (sounds familiar?). Complication of complications, young Bob meets Veronica and there is much chemistry between them.
As is typical for an Allen movie, there is an intriguing plot but also great character development. The action of the film shifts back and forth between Hollywood and New York and we get to know Bob’s family. We meet his mother, as you would expect, his father who is a failed jeweler, his sister and her husband who is a outspoken communist, as well as Bob’s brother who is a gangster who occasionally kills people.
Hollywood and New York of the 1930’s are vividly brought to life with clothes, cars, and people as real and true to life as they could be. The casting is wonderful (by Juliet Taylor as usual) and as would be expected, there is period music throughout the movie.
This may not be Allen’s best film but Allen aficionados will not be disappointed and everyone will be reminded about how wonderful and complicated it can be to fall in love. (2016)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama
July 1st, 2016 — 6:18am
Initially we thought that despite the title this is not a movie about a superhero, but perhaps on second thought it is, but not in the usual sense. It is the story of a father who is raising his six kids in the wilderness (but not quite the bush country as we saw in the setting of the previous New Zealand film that we reviewed). Ben (Viggo Mortensen) is homeschooling his children in the wilderness in the United States. He also just found out that his wife and his partner in this endeavor has tragically died. Her parents, Jack (Frank Langella) and Abigail (Ann Dowd) haven’t quite forgiven them for keeping the grandchildren in the woods and don’t want Ben to come to the funeral. Ben and the kids come anyway on a determined mission.
The film examines some very complicated issues. We are shown the depth and benefit of homeschooling with living very close to family and nature. We are also stimulated to think about the potential shortcomings of children being raised away from their peers.
This movie is the brainchild of writer/director Matt Ross and in a post screening discussion we learned how he shared his views about the subject matter with Mr. Mortensen who took on this acting role and became in sync with his ideas. He also chose and trained a very talented group of children to take on their roles. This included climbing mountains, wielding knives and making music together. These children are George Mackay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Besso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks and Charlie Shotwell. This film will stretch your imagination and the take away emotion is “feeling good”. The film is a well done accomplishment. (2016)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama, Family / Kids
June 24th, 2016 — 11:20pm
Hunt for The Wilderpeople-sp
The chances are that if you did not read this review, you might not consider seeing this movie. This is the product of the work of director/writer, Taika Waititi, a young man from New Zealand who is of Maori-European Jewish descent and he has been involved in not very well-known, but well-received films such as Boy, Eagle vs Shark, Two Cars One Night and Tama Tu. This current film takes place mostly in the New Zealand bush country and stars Sam Neill, a well-known international actor who has starred in Jurassic Park, The Piano, Bicentennial Man, Sleeping Dogs, My Brilliant Career and many other successful film and TV projects. His co-star is Julian Dennison, a 12-year-old, somewhat chubby young boy from New Zealand who looks his age or younger. He plays Ricky Baker, a foster child who no one wants and for whom the New Zealand authorities are trying to find a home. They find Aunty Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hec Faulkner (Sam Neill), who lives in an isolated setting on the edge of the deep bush countryside. This would seem to be the last chance for Ricky to be placed with a family or he goes to “juvy.”
Due to circumstances, Hec and Ricky, who basically are two misfits, make their way into the bush country together. You might say this is a road movie, except these two strange bedfellows are trekking, hiding and interacting in a setting that is unlike any place that you have seen before. It includes bounty hunters looking for them, a giant killer pig and what seems to be half the police force of New Zealand. This film is scary at times, funny, but mainly heartwarming and poignant. All we can say is do not take a pass on this movie. We think you will like it and be touched by it and besides, it is a big hit in New Zealand.. (2016)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama
June 6th, 2016 — 4:53am
Welcome To The Men’s Group-sp
When Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice came out in 1969, it dealt with Encounter Groups which were part of the hip and bit generation, it became a mega hit. The team that just produced Welcome To The Men’s Group, hopes that this film will ride the crest of a growing men’s movement which is as far as we can see is not anywhere a part of the contemporary scene as were the popular Encounter Groups of the 1970’s.
The force behind this movie are the screenwriters, Scott Ben-Yashar and Joseph Culp, with the latter directing the movie. It had to be a real feat to pull together these eight accomplished actors: Phil Abrams, Mackenzie Astin, Timothy Bottoms, David Clennon, Terence Rotolo, Ali Saam, Stephen Tobolowsky and of course, Joseph Culp himself, who is also an important player in the movie. Their interaction was magnificent as the entire film takes place during a three to four-hour encounter session in one location (The actual movie time was 130 minutes – a bit on the long side). The theme that seems to stand out is that you get messed up psychologically if you don’t have good interaction with your father. The group has intense interaction and frank discussions with each other in an attempt to make for the lack of that fathering. We didn’t think the storyline was psychologically strong. There was a particularly intense monologue by Tobolowsky and another one, by Culp. However, the attempt in exploring masculinity seemed to turn into slapstick comedy. This was illustrated by an extended show of male nudity by all the characters which deteriorated into singing and dancing which didn’t seem to resonate psychologically or emotionally with us (But it could have been just us).
The entire cast who we met at our screening seems dedicated to the concept of this movie and are working to promote it. They will be working with the Men’s Group Movement in trying to use social media to connect with potential viewers of the film who are empathic to the Men’s Group concepts. They also have some thoughts about bringing the story to the stage and perhaps spinning it into a TV series. Stay tuned. (2016)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama
April 13th, 2016 — 7:28am
The Meddler -sp
Writer-director, Lorene Scafaria has put together a dramedy (drama plus comedy) with which both young and old will identify. In a post-screening discussion with Ms. Scafaria, we learned that the story is a very close, realistic depiction of the writer’s own mother, who moved out to Los Angeles from the east coast after her husband died. The mother, Marnie (Susan Sarandon) who is on the screen for almost the entire film meddles or tries meddle in just about every aspect of her single daughter’s life, as well as in the lives of just about everyone else who she meets. Lori, the daughter (Rose Byrne) not surprisingly is a budding film maker, who as much as she tries, can’t get away from her mother’s love and over-attention, which of course she really needs. On one hand, we keep thinking that this mother character is exaggerated and way over the top. However, why then did she captivate our attention? The answer is that the film has captured the universal need and wish of most mothers to do just about everything and anything for their children at any age.
The dialogue and Sarandon’s characterization is near perfect. The screenwriter, who of course is really the daughter telling the story of her mom, has also added a romantic twist, which she acknowledges is her fantasy wish for her mother. This brings in a potential boyfriend for her mother in the person of a dashing, handsome, senior guy who rides a Harley Davidson motorcycle and raises chickens as pets. Unbelievable you say – just wait until you see Oscar winner J.K. Simmons take on this role.
This independent low-budget film has a lot going for it with a great script, two outstanding stars, a fine supporting cast and great execution by this young woman director. It also should have special appeal here in Los Angeles, where most of the film takes place from the scenes at the Grove, to glimpses of the entertainment industry in action and the beautiful west coast shoreline, as well as many characters who will remind you of people that you know.
This movie opens later this month across the country. We highly recommend it. (2016)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama
February 14th, 2016 — 4:57am
The Lady In The Van-rm
Dame Maggie Smith, who is one of the most distinguished and famous actresses in the United States and England, plays a woman close to her actual age but quite the opposite of how she would ever be seen in-person. In this film she is Ms. Shepherd, a homeless, raggedy old woman with a hidden past that is slowly revealed. We meet her as she lives in a van in a community which could be in a suburb of London. Although she is a blight to the neighborhood, she becomes well-known to the local people. She wrangles permission to keep her van in the driveway of a playwright, Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings). The real Alan Bennett is an actual playwright and wrote the screenplay for this movie. This film directed by Nicholas Hytner uses an interesting mechanism to examine the character of Bennett. He is shown as two personas, the one who sits and writes at his typewriter gathering ideas from his life and the other, a person who actually lives the life to get the ideas for his writing self. Mr. Jennings plays both parts of him and they frequently are shown on the screen together talking, “to each other.” There is also a small role for James Corden, TV host of the Late Late show who blends in with local Brits.
Maggie Smith of course is outstanding as the cranky old woman with a past. Mr. Bennett’s deep-seeded motivation seems to be related to his own relationship with his mother (Deborah Findlay) who we get to meet in the movie and observe as they are interacting.
This is a somewhat touching story with great acting, especially by Ms. Smith who gained a Golden Globe nomination for it. We are told at the start of the movie that it is based on a “mostly true story.” We found it interesting that in the award category, this movie was considered to be a comedy. There were some funny lines but it was the poignancy that carried the film in our opinion. However, we didn’t feel it moved quite fast enough for our taste and left something to be desired for the viewer. (2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama
January 13th, 2016 — 6:01am
The Brand New Testament- sp
This is a French/Belgium foreign film directed and co-written by Jaco Van Dormael that was nominated for a Golden Globe Award this year. It is a full-blown irreverent satire on religion that borders on the ridiculous, but will extract some laughs from most people. It has distribution thus far in 50 countries but not yet in the United States, so you will probably have to go to Netflix, if you are inclined to see it.
In this story, God (Benoit Polevoorde) is a middle-aged guy running a computer in a special room in his middle class house where he lives with his wife who seems to be a mousy downtrodden woman. His teenage daughter (Pili Groyne), who is the sister of Jesus, at night sneaks into daddy’s office and sends an email to everyone on the planet, telling them exactly when they will die. This has lots of implications to people individually as well as for world peace. Then, for some reason, the daughter of God decides that she should have a new set of apostles perhaps because she is a little competitive with her brother. Each apostle has a different theme, the satirical implications of which we seem to have missed.
We only recognize one of the actresses in this film and that was Catherine Deneuve. Her character was having sex with a gorilla. There is not more to say about the film. Although we cannot recommend this movie, we realize your curiosity might get the best of you (2015)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Comedy, Foreign
September 28th, 2015 — 5:37am
The Intern -rm
Ann Hathaway plays Jules Ostin, a young attractive woman who is CEO of an Internet company that she founded from scratch that sells woman’s clothes that they guarantees they will fit. The company has blossomed to one that has more than 200 employees. The fearless leader is married to a modern bearded young man who gave up his successful job to stay at home and raise their delightful cute little girl. Robert Di Nero plays Ben Whittaker, a retired 70 year old widower, who had been a executive in a large company that sold and manufactured telephone books. Since his wife died he retired, has been looking for something to do and came across an ad for a internship program for senior citizen in the above described Internet company that was set up by one of the young executives who had the idea that maybe seniors might have some views to balance the point of view the young people running the Internet business. The Di Nero character gets assigned to the young woman CEO who seems too busy to even assign him a task as he patiently tries to find ways to be helpful. The story takes off from there.
While this could have been just a delightful comedy, it really became much more than that. The storyline examined the role of young women in today’s business world . Who should raise the children and don’t you really have to go all in if you are trying to make it in today’s competitive world with start up companies going boom or bust.? Also, is there a role for retired seniors in today’s business environment? Are they a resource that is forgotten and lost in the race to succeed?
The voice behind the production is Nancy Meyers, writer, director and frequently producer of many important movies that reflect the changing social times such as, Parent Trap, Somethings Gotta Give, Its Complicated, What Women Want. In this current film, the questions are raised but on one hand they aren’t very nuanced and yet the answers and conclusions are way too simple. However, when the stars and supporting cast which included Rene Russo, Adam DeVine, Zack Perlman, Anders Holm Nat Wolff, Linda Lavin and the little girl played by JoJo Kushner are all so superb, you can’t help having an enjoyable movie experience.(2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama
September 12th, 2015 — 6:45am
While We’re Young -nf
Noah Baumbach is a prolific filmmaker who is best known for the award winning movie The Squid and the Whale (2005) that he wrote and directed. It was probably semi-autobiographical as it told the story of two boys in Brooklyn dealing with the divorce of their parents.
This current film 10 years later which was released in March of 2015 is about a middle-aged couple in their 40s, Josh and Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) who encounter a younger couple Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) who are in their mid 20s and seem to be “living in the moment” and enjoying life the way the older couple believe they did when they were that age. This leads Josh and Cornelia to do a great deal of self -reflection. Stiller’s character is a documentary filmmaker who hasn’t achieved the success that he hoped for and seemed to be stuck in the rut in many ways including being obsessively involved in one film for the past 10 years (An interesting sidebar is that the subject of this Josh’s film is a historian who is played by Peter Yarrow of the 1960s folk singer group Peter, Paul and Mary). In fact, Josh and Cornelia’s marriage also seem stuck as they ambivalently accept the plight of their not having children while all their friends are reproducing. Josh’s new friend seems to value him as a mentor, which is initially quite flattering to him. This new couple, Jamie and Darby, seem to be enjoying life and doing all the things that the couple in their 40s hasn’t been able to do. The storyline by Baumbach allows us to understand and empathize with the struggle of Josh and Cornelia. Not surprising however, things are all not what they seem to be as this film ultimately has an interesting reveal.
Each of the veteran actors mentioned above are excellent including Charles Grodin who plays Cornelia’s father who is a very successful veteran documentary filmmaker who while depicting his character’s elderly wisdom still conveys the actor’s comedic self.
Whenever there is a film about the inside working of some aspects of the moviemaking business (documentary films included), we expect that the filmmakers are giving us the inside scoop from their real life experience. That may very well be the case here but it is also a penetrating look of the struggle of many people trying to go through the process of maturing as adults. (2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama