American Hustle- rm The opening words on the screen states something like “Some of this actually happened”. This refers to what is known as the Abscam Scandal, which occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the FBI ran a sting operation where several members of the House of Representatives and a US Senator were offered bribes from a fake Arab sheikh. Most of the story in this movie probably didn’t actually happen but it is somewhat entertaining, has very good acting, but is arguably overdone. The wide span that the title suggests is quite fitting because just about all the characters are hustling each other in some manner. We initially meet Irving Rosenfeld (played by a slightly overweight balding Christian Bale with a glued on comb over) who is a con man who owns a bunch of dry cleaning stores and runs a scheme where he extracts a non refundable fee of about $5000 from people looking for a deal by promising to put them in touch with a way to make several times that amount of money but the deals never materialize. He also sells phony art to people eager to own what they think are originals. He meets his match in a young woman with a moniker of Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who assumes the persona of a sexy British aristocrat. Although she was a down and out American girl, she wins him over and they become a team. They were “busted” by an eager FBI agent (Bradley Cooper), who then enlisted them in running scams to catch bigger fish, in order to save their own skins. The plot thickens and the other characters complicate the situation including Rosenfeld’s unhappy sexy wife (Jennifer Lawrence), Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Remmer), a really good honest caring person who truly wants rebuild Atlantic City but gets ensnarled in the sting and there is Victor Tellegio (Robert di Niro) the most feared gangster who when he kills, he never hides the body in order to intimidate everyone else. Everybody is conning everyone else. The FBI is carrying on like a bunch of keystone cops fighting among each other. The maestro here was the director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) who co-wrote the script with Eric Singer. Yes, there were unexpected twists and turns. However, the characters and situations didn’t seem very real to us and we didn’t really care about most of them. The comedy and action may have held our attention most of the time but in the end we felt that we were hustled. (2013)
Witness- nf This is a 1985 thriller directed by Peter Weir and stars Harrison Ford as John Book a very honest Philadelphia police detective who is investigating a murder of an undercover cop. There is a witness to the crime and that is a young Pennsylvania Dutch Amish boy, dark suit and black hat, who happened to be in a men’s room stall when the crime went down.He identifies a picture of the killer who is McFee, a dirty cop ( Danny Glover) involved with two other cops wheeling and dealing narcotics big time. When they learn of the witness, they are out to get the kid and the good cop who gets injured in a shoot out with McFee. Book, along with the kid and his beautiful widowed mother Rachel Lapp (Kelly McGillis), return to Lancaster, Pennsylvania for him to recuperate from his injuries (they can’t take him to a hospital where the bad cops would find him). This is where the Amish live in the beautiful countryside with horse drawn carriages and peaceful non- violent traditional ways. They have their Council of Elders, prayer meetings and even a barn raising where all the men pull the frame up and begin to hammer away before taking a break for the meal prepared by the women of the community. This story allows a bringing together of two divergent cultures yet both living in the 20th century side by side. Add to this a romantic twist as the beautiful Rachel and the dashing Book are drawn to each other. You know the trio of the dirty cops are going to track them down, guns blazing and you can be sure there is going to be an exciting climax with uncertainty to the if and how Rachel and the good detective will resolve their relationship. This is a unique premise, an unusual setting and a well done breath taking movie. Viewing the Netflix Special Feature, which includes interviews with Director Peter Weir and the various actors will add to your enjoyment. (1985)
Double Indemnity- nf- The main thing that we can say about this classic film is that it reflects the state of the art of the time and demonstrates what would have been a thrilling mystery in the 1940s. (It is set in 1938 probably to avoid any wartime issues) Other than an historical film document, there is no way that a modern filmgoer would view this movie other than as a unsophisticated black and white film noir drama. It is hard to believe that it was co-written by the premier mystery crime writer of his time, Raymond Chandler, along with the premier filmmaker, Billy Wilder who directed it. Fred MacMurray played the slick insurance salesman, cocked hat and all, who gets drawn in by beautiful, unblinking ,sparkling eyes, glossy lips, sexy voice Barbara Stanwyck who also wore an enticing ankle bracelet. Edward G Robinson who has a voice and a tone just like everyone who has ever imitated him, plays the tough, all wise insurance adjuster who is in the process of sniffing out out the plot to kill the Stanwyck character’s husband and make it look like an accident to collect double indemnity !! The music background is as you would have expected it. The crime has to be solved without any CSI techniques. Hardly anything in the film was believable but it held our interest. This was partly because of the twists and turns of the thin plot and partly because we were thrilled to be watching the ancestors of the some of the great crime movies and TV shows that we can see today. (1944)
The Invisible War- sp Usually by the time we see a documentary film on a particular subject , we already have a pretty good idea of the nature of the issue being covered and the film provides some interesting documentation. In the case of this film, most of the audience had no idea of the great travesty of justice that has been taking place where there are violent sexual assaults against women serving in our military services by fellow soldiers, the vast majority of whom are not punished. Female soldiers in combat zones are more likely to be raped by fellow soldiers than killed by the enemy. In 2010 there were 19,000 sex crimes committed in the military. Because of the much larger number of men in the military many of these were directed towards men but percentage wise the women have suffered the brunt of this terrible injustice In fact, 20 % of women serving in the military will experience some kind of a sexual assault .
This movie is not just about statistics. Rather it is a very painful series of personal stories told mostly by dedicated women who entered various services, intent on being the best they could be in the service of their country. Not only were they assaulted and raped by fellow soldiers, even more outrageous, if that is possible, when they complained to their superiors in the overwhelming number of cases they were brushed off and not taken seriously. Heading up the team that put this film together are Kirby Dick ( nominated for an Oscar for Twist of Faith ) who directed it and Amy Ziering who was one of the producers and sensitively did most of the interviews with the several women and two men who were featured in this movie. Each personal story almost seems worse than the one before it. The traumatic impact of these assaults and in some cases the violence of them crushes these victims physically and emotionally. They go through stages where it seems there is no way out for them and therefore it is not surprising that some of them contemplate suicide. The attempts by the military to raise consciousness of the troops to this problem are almost laughable as well as deeply insulting to women. For example one such campaign exhorts soldiers to “ wait until she is sober before you ask her”
A well thought out coalition of victims attempted to sue the government but their suit failed to gain traction as the first response of a federal court in West Virginia is to turn it down and state that this is an ”occupational hazard.”
The movie offers a glimmer of hope as one week prior to the opening of this movie, it was seen by the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who takes the gigantic step forward by ruling that these assault complaints will no longer handled by the unit commander but rather will go up the ladder to higher ranking officer, presumably with less prejudice. Most probably there will not be justice until these complaints can be fairly dealt with by civilian police and courts. The film does something that many investigative documentaries don’t do well, in that it clearly provides a website (http://invisiblewarmovie.com/) and an opportunity to get involved in this cause by signing petitions and doing other things. This is the power of a documentary film and there is no better cause than the one put up the screen by this movie.(2012)
Bernie-sp This film is what you might call a dark comedy in that it is funny but about a somewhat morbid subject. It is set in a small east Texas town. The story features numerous characters from this town who like a Greek chorus comment on the main protagonist, Bernie Tiede (Jack Black). He was most beloved man to just about all the folks, even after he did something which according to any law, especially Texas law, should be unforgivable. Tiede is an assistant funeral director, comforter of those grieving, a creative employee, a talented musical director, actor and ultimately even a generous philanthropist. Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) is one of the many widows who Bernie genuinely wants to comfort. She differs from the other widows we meet in two ways. She is ultra wealthy and ultra nasty. Danny Buck (Matthew McConnaughey, somehow made to be more lanky than hunky) is the local district attorney who has the job to call it like it is, even if the town folks Greek Chorus feels otherwise. We get the feeling from the producer Judd Payne, who spoke at our screening and grew up in such an area, as did writer and director Richard Linklater, that you have to be from that kind of a small western or southern town to appreciate how authentically the average folks in the film were depicted. To us they seemed somewhat stereotyped even after we learned many of these character actors were from small towns in this area.
Black’s portrayal dominates the screen as he gets into the skin of his unusual character. it also gives him a little chance to dance and sing in addition to emoting. The end result is more than just a fun experience as you come away with some questions to ponder in analyzing the films resolution. (2012
Terribly Happy- nf- ( In Danish with English subtitles) It is not surprising that this film and cast has won numerous international awards. The direction, acting, photography, lighting is all on the mark and the story is suspenseful and gripping. This film project got started when two men who were friends in their youth growing up in rural Denmark and now were achieving success in their respective fields were able to reconnect. Dunja Greg Jensen a writer, shared a story he was writing, based on some true events in his family, with film director Henrik Rubin Genz who then collaborated with him in the screenplay for this movie. It is the story of a Copenhagen policeman Robett (Jakob Cedergren) who is reassigned to small isolated town. The people here are a tough somewhat odd group and John gets drawn into a situation with a married couple, where the man, by the name of Jorgen (Kim Bodnia) has been abusing his wife Ingerlise (Lena Maria Christensen). Ingerlise appears to have what we psychiatrists call a Borderline Personality and she succeeds in seducing our policeman Robert. Things then begin to have serious twists and turns which makes this movie a very exciting thriller. The movie succeeds in that the viewer is able to identify and feel empathy with Robert despite the fact that he works his way into some “deep shit” and does some things that are not very nice. This is not so much of a “who dunnit movie” as it is a “what is he going to do now movie” which, will keep you on the edge of your seat and give you a good ride. (2008)
The Double Hour sp- This Italian film with English subtitles is billed as a romance, a robbery and a mystery and the movie itself is given a subtitle of “nothing is what it seems” That about sums up this well done thriller. You are not sure what is real. Is it a dream? Is it the main character ‘s mind playing tricks on her or is something else going on here? This reminds us a little bit of the outstanding French film Tell No One which we saw a couple years back. Director Giuseppe Capotondi in his first full feature film initially establishes the story through the eyes of Sonia (Ksenia Rappaort) an attractive hotel chamber maid who is shown connecting with Giudo ( Filippo Timi) after a session of speed dating although you may have some doubts as to what your eyes are really seeing. In the second half of movie we realize we are seeing things from Guido’s point of view as he thinks that he understands the reality of things. While the storyline will dip into the unconscious in more than one way, it doesn’t really give us any Freudian psychodynamics. Needless to say this is the kind of a movie that you will probably understand better the second time you see it but we think once is a enough if you pay close attention. The movie was chosen for distribution by Samuel Goldwyn Films at the Toronto Film Festival by Head of Acquisitions Peter Goldwyn ( grandson of Sam ) who is betting that word of mouth will move this film around the art houses and boutique theatres that show the best of the foreign films. (2011)
Henry’s Crime-sp Henry (Keanu Reeves) is sort of a nebish, stumbling through life as a toll collector on what seemed to be the New York State Thruway, in a a loveless marriage to Debbie ( Judy Greer). He just seems to have no purpose in life. Through no fault of his own, he ends up in jail for a crime he really didn’t commit and serves a year in the clinker. He meets Max (James Caan) an old timer who was once a con or “confidence” guy who isn’t even sure he wants out on parole even if he could. Henry’s life is about to change after Julie (Vera Farmiga in a great spirited performance) an actress rehearsing for a play in Buffalo runs into him in a chance meeting. Shortly before this meeting Henry has found a goal in life as nefarious as it might be. There is a play within the movie and a Chekhov play at that, which is driven by love, emotion and suspense. At the same time the life of the characters are filled with suspense, drama, passion and the fun of a heist movie plot. Director Malcolm Venville in his second feature film and American debut, seamlessly moves back and forth between these two dimensions building to a great movie climax in which we heard out loud reactions from the audience watching the play within the movie as well as from our audience viewing this screening. Our reaction was very positive and we recommend that this movie not be missed. (2011)
Conviction sp- This is a true story of a man convicted of a bloody murder in a Boston suburb in the 1980s . There are witnesses who say that he told him he did it and there is blood typing evidence (this is before DNA analysis) which strongly suggests it was him. The only thing going for him is his sister who is sure that he didn’t do it. You have seen this relatively simple plot play out many times on television on Dateline, 20/20 or on similar programs. The only difference here is that you have another magnificent performance by Hillary Swank playing Betty Anne Waters who is going to take the next 18 years of her life completing High School, going to college and then law school in order to see if there is way to get her brother his freedom. You also have Sam Rockwell, playing the brother Kenny, in a performance that should earn him an Academy Award nomination. The screen play by Pamela Gray and the direction by Tony Goldwyn gives us pieces of their childhood which clarifies their great devotion to each other. The struggle of Betty Ann to become a lawyer and her determination to find the evidence that would be the key to saving her brother allows us to understand this person. Her interaction with Kenny similarly provides insight into his pain and bravado. The difficult lives of the people in the community where this happened and the very questionable actions of the police and district attorney Martha Coakley (who subsequently was defeated in the recent US Senate race in Massachusetts to replace Kennedy) was brought out by a stunning performance of Juliette Lewis who played one of the witnesses who recounts what really happened to make her testify against Kenny. We had the good fortune to meet at our preview screening Swank, Rockwell, Lewis, the real life Betty Anne Waters and her good friend and fellow law student Abra Rice who was well played in the movie by Minnie Driver. They confirmed that truth is stranger and at times more unbelievable than fiction. I recall reading about the well known lawyer Barry Scheck, who was depicted in this movie, and wondering about his decision to devote his career to the Innocence Project where the new science of DNA matching is applied to old crimes. It turns out that over 250 innocent people have been freed from prison due to his efforts. There is one particular line in this film stands out in this regard as Swank as Betty Ann remarks that if Massachusetts had the death penalty her brother would have been killed before she had chance to make a case for his innocence. Swank, speaking for herself at our screening told how making this movie allowed her to understand the unique life affirming experience that these people went through. Watching this film also gave the audience the opportunity to share this journey.(2010)
The Town rm- The Boston Police Department is not going to like this movie. Ben Affleck obviously dove head first into this film, being director, lead actor and co-writer. His character Doug MacRay is a home grown product of Charlestown section of Boston where there have been more bank robbers per capita than any other place in the U.S.A. He and his buddy James Coughlin played by Jeremy Renner and a bunch of other guys blast open the movie pulling off one of those heists. There is plenty of action in this movie including one of best car chase scenes that we have seen since Gene Hackman in The French Connection quite a while ago. You really get to know and understand MacRay and can’t help caring about him and rooting for his relationship with Claire Keesy (Rebecca Hall) the bank manager of the opening robbery who end up being sympathetic bed fellows. Casting Jon Hamm (of tv Mad Man fame) was a great choice as the opposing FBI agent along with Titus Welliver (the “bad” DA in The Good Wife tv series) who is his trusty assistant. The entire cast of characters is quite believable which is a tribute to their great acting, fast pace and the outstanding directing by Affleck who kept us on the edge of our seats. There also is a sensitive insight into how in some communities and families, young people get drawn into a life of crime from which it is very hard to extract themselves. The question is whether you can suspend reality and swallow the story line when the band of thieves faces down the entire Boston PD including their SWAT teams and our hero ultimately attempts to do a payback to his beloved town.(2010)