Category: Drama


To Kill a Mockingbird

April 24th, 2017 — 5:17am

*****

To Kill a Mockingbird – nf

Sometimes when you think about great classic movies which you may have seen years ago, you might wonder if they were really as good as they were supposed to have been. Every once in a while we take such a stroll down memory lane and view one of them. Certainly in this case, we were not disappointed.

The setting of this movie was during the Great Depression in Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s. This was a time when there was overt prejudice towards black Americans. In fact lynchings were occurring in the Deep South. Remember, also when this film was released in 1962, Martin Luther King was yet to make his “I Have a Dream Speech” and didn’t tragically lose his life through assassination until six years later in 1968.

Gregory Peck, in a terrific Oscar-winning performance, plays Atticus Finch, as small town lawyer who is widower and lives with his eight and six-year-old children. He is asked by the local judge to defend Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man who is unjustly accused of raping and beating a white woman. The courtroom scenes are riveting.

Of course, great credit goes to the original author, Harper Lee, who wrote the book and Horton Foote, who wrote the screenplay. We also appreciate the accomplishment of the director, Robert Mulligan, especially because the audience sees much of the meaning of this film through the eyes of Finch’s two children, six-year-old Scout (Mary Badham) and 8-year-old Jem (Phillip Alford). Their identification with the morality and sense of justice of their father is what we hope and believe comes through to succeeding generations. The supporting cast is excellent and includes Robert Duvall who plays a young man with developmental problems who reflects an additional theme of the movie. It shows how people react to someone who is “different,” with fear and the need to distance themselves. This subplot in the story is another indication of the need to put ourselves in “someone else’s shoes,” in to order to try to understand that person.

The film which is 129 minutes, is in black and white and will hold your attention as well as being an unforgettable piece of cinematic history. It is also a reminder of how people are capable of prejudice and hateful discrimination. (1962)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

Wakefield

April 22nd, 2017 — 1:09am

**

Wakefield-sp

Picture a successful suburban lawyer, married with two budding teenage daughters who one day decides not to come home as usual. Instead, he secretly hides in a storage loft of the garage of his house and observes his family as they frantically worry about him, mourn his loss, and then get on with their lives. Days and weeks pass as he secretly lives in the garage foraging in the late night for food in neighborhood garbage cans while keenly observing his family from his perch with a pair of binoculars. Is this an insecure or jealous man, or a man who is living out a not uncommon fantasy to take a break from life, or a mentally disturbed soul? Apparently, all of the above as interpreted by writer/director Robin Swicord who adapted a short story by American author E. L. Doctorow. According to her, she even had the blessing of this now deceased author with whom she consulted about this project before his death in 2015.

The centerpiece of this film is Bryan Cranston, as he inhabits Howard Wakefield and seems to be on screen 99% of the time. We observe him evolving from a sharp well-dressed family man and accomplished lawyer to a full bearded scavenger and voyeur. We also hear his voice in a continued monologue in the background, in addition to flashback scenes and dialogue between the various characters. Cranston is a tour de force with an outstanding very nuanced performance, which deserves to be recognized for award considerations. Diana, the wife and mother, is played by Jennifer Garner, although with minimal dialogue she conveys and radiates her charm and attractiveness which makes her husband’s abandonment all the more difficult to understand. There is also an interesting and touching interplay with two developmentally disabled teenagers being cared for by a psychologist neighbor. They are very well played by Pippa Bennett-Warner and Isaac Leyva.

It seemed to us that the storyline was somewhat repetitious, especially in regard to garbage being treasured as food to be eaten. The question that emerges from the plot is why did Howard Wakefield really do this? And what will his wife say if he emerges from the garage and declares, “I’m home.” Despite Cranston’s great acting with some clever writing and directing by Ms. Swicord, we are still not sure that this movie is worth the full exploration of this question. (2017)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama

The Kindergarten Teacher (In Hebrew with subtitles)

April 12th, 2017 — 7:57pm

**

The Kindergarten Teacher (In Hebrew with English Subtitles)- nf

The premise of this film is that an Israeli kindergarten teacher (Sarit Larry) discovers that Yoav (Avi Shnaidman), one of her five-year-old students has a propensity for writing poetry that is far beyond his years. She herself is somewhat of a poet and becomes very pro-occupied with the poems that emerged from her young student. We get a glimpse of her life. She is married with two grown children, one of whom is just made an officer in the Israeli army. We detect the restlessness in this teacher and an instability in her life, as she seems uncertain of her love life, sexuality and her life in general. She is also becoming obsessed with the young poet and writes down all his poems and then even tries to have him participate in a forum for poets to recite their work. The kindergarten teacher seems to be troubled and searching and the young child seems bewildered but still able to spout the thoughtful poetry.

The whole idea of the film seems so preposterous that it became difficult for us to really understand it. We even considered that perhaps something was lost in the translation. However interestingly, after the film concluded, there was a segment on the Netflix DVD in which the screenwriter and director Nadav Lapid was interviewed about the film. He shared with the audience that he as a child that age had the same ability to come forth with adult poetry about the life around him, an ability that he lost when he got older. Obviously, being a filmmaker became his way of exploring life, its complications and vicissitudes. In the end, we concluded that the film maker found a unique way of showing us his view that the world is not a safe place for sensitive souls. (2014)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign

Welcome To Me

April 10th, 2017 — 10:23pm

***

Welcome To Me -nf

This movie should be on target for one of us who is a movie critic and happens to be a psychiatrist. The “Me” in the title is presented to the audience as a woman with a bipolar condition and a borderline personality. She is Alice Klieg, played by Kristen Wiig, who is an accomplished comedic actress and well known for her work on Saturday Night Live as well as many films. Although there were some laughable moments in this film, it certainly was not a comedy- quite the opposite.

We meet this very troubled young woman as she is watching TV as the winning ticket in the California lottery is being drawn. Lo and behold, she wins the $83 million jackpot. She decides that she will use her fortune to live in a luxurious Las Vegas hotel and have her own TV show, somewhat resembling Oprah’s Show, except every show will be all about herself. She will enter the set at the beginning of the program on a swan and will reenact important events in her life, such as how she was treated badly in junior high school. Her elderly parents attend each show, but we learn very little about them and their relationship with Alice. We see Alice having intense sexual encounters with various guys such as the show’s producers, a fan who visits the set, et cetera. We can clearly check off the criteria for borderline personality as we see a person with a perversive pattern of unstability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, affect, and marked impulsivity. We don’t quite see all the criteria for bipolar condition, but we would not be surprised if Alice has the turmoil of this condition. Her narcissistic needs usually make her oblivious to the feelings and concerns of others. She even thinks she is doing a good deed when she herself on TV performs graphically and sickening surgery of the neutering of dogs in close-up television views.

The film was directed by Shira Piven. The supporting cast was quite strong and included James Marsden, Linda Cardellini, Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins (who played her shrink who couldn’t handle her) and others. The  screenwriter who dreamed up this tale was Elliot Laurence.

While this movie certainly presents a troubled woman who is in a great deal of psychological pain, we don’t think we will be using this film to demonstrate to students the specific problems she has purported to have. However, the movie we believe was successful in conveying the psychological pain that she was feeling . The $83 million couldn’t help her and so far therapy hadn’t made a big difference. But she was trying to overcome her bad feelings and we, watching her, did feel for her and were touched and moved by her suffering . We believe we will remember this movie and Alice Klieg. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama

The Fool ( In Russian with subtitles)

April 7th, 2017 — 5:03am

****

The Fool (In Russian with English Subtitles) -nf

This very interesting and engrossing film is a terrible indictment of life in Russia under Vladimir Putin.

Dima Nikitin (Artyom Bystrov) is a plumber who works for the government. Early in the film, we learned that he, like his father is an honest man who doesn’t engage in the usual stealing, bribes, and corruption that commonly occurs in the work environment in Russia. He then finds himself called to a large apartment house in the evening because of a broken water pipe. He quickly realizes that this building is severely damaged and is on the verge of imminent collapse which could be fatal to the 800 men, women, and children who live there. Mr. Nikitin attempts to contact his absent supervisor. When he is unsuccessful in doing that he then arranges an emergency meeting with the mayor who is being celebrated at a gathering with many other city officials that evening. It becomes apparent that money which had been allotted for previous repairs and modernization of this old building was diverted to various city officials. In fact there is a web of siphoning off money for rebuilding and repairs which includes all levels of this small city government. There are no funds for repairs or for temporarily housing the 800 residents of this doomed building which is expected to collapse within 24 hours. We soon realize that we are learning how in Russia and in Russian society, government officials pass around government funds at the expense of the masses. We understand what awaits the fate for an individual with a conscience who feels that this is wrong.

Could there be corruption in some real estate projects in the United States? Of course there could be and we read about occasional government officials being tried and sent to jail for such activities. However, this movie spotlights the pervasive corrupt fabric of Russian society and government. It was interesting to read several comments and reviews of this film by Russians who affirmed the validity of the dark picture of Russia painted by this movie.

This film is an outstanding cinematic accomplishment by Yuri Bykov who is the screen writer and director. This film certainly would have deserved the consideration for being nominated as a best foreign film from Russia of that year. Needless to say the Russians bypassed this movie for that honor. (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign

Jackie

March 17th, 2017 — 6:19am

Jackie – nf

Jackie of course is Jacqueline Kennedy. This movie tells the story through her eyes, how she reacted to the horrific assassination of JFK who died with his head in her lap after his skull and brain was shattered by Lee Harvey Oswald’s bullet. Natalie Portman seems to have captured the former First Lady’s breathless voice and her struggle with her grief. If you were alive and conscious of your surroundings in November 1963, you must remember following every detail of this historic event including the tv and radio coverage of the assassination, the President lying in state, the procession to the church service and the burial at Arlington Cemetery. This movie certainly succeeds in awakening these memories that many of us never bury beyond instant recall with any association to the event. Aside from Jackie, the other major character who was depicted is JFK’s brother, Robert Kennedy who is played by Peter Sarsgaard. Of course Lyndon Johnson and his wife and other familiar names and faces are there also. The movie was directed by Pablo Larraín and is interspersed with some documentary footage and an appropriate musical background by Mica Levi. The film really doesn’t go beyond this brief time period. We both did feel that something specific was left out of the movie. When we recalled the President lying in state, the image that would bring about tears to both of us was Little John John, the President’s , at most 4 year old son  saluting a flag-covered coffin. We missed that event in this film but we still hold on to it whenever we remember that sad day in November. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, Drama

Tanna

February 24th, 2017 — 11:17pm

****

Tanna

This movie is Australia’s entry in the Oscar race for best foreign film of the year. It made the final cut for the top five and the winner will be chosen in four days from when this is being written. It is a very well done film that would stand on its own well deserved merits. However, in a post screening discussion after we met the team that made the film and learned about the unusual manner in which they embarked on this project, we especially appreciate it as a valuable gem.

Tanna is a small island in the South Pacific, basically untainted by modern civilization. There is no electricity. The people wear their native garb made up of straw and other vegetation. They usually are bare-breasted with the men wearing “penis sheaths”. They speak their native language and are illiterate. There are several tribes on the island and they have often interacted with each other, sometimes not always in a friendly manner.

The filmmakers knew of the existence of these people and made contact with one native, JJ Nako, who must have spent time off the island as he uniquely spoke English quite well. The film crew spent four months on the island bringing solar energy for their equipment. Initially, they did not have any script and explored the lifestyle and customs of the people. They then learned about one event that occurred 30 years previously when a young woman was expected to marry a man from a nearby tribe in order to make peace about some conflicts between them. She, however, had found a young man in her own tribe that she loved and they did not want to carry out the orders of their elders and the tribe leader. The filmmakers decided that this story would be the plot of the movie and they enlisted the entire tribe to participate in this film with several members having major roles in the story. The participants spoke their native language and English subtitles were provided in the final product. The indigenous people were interested in showing the outside world about their tribe and the history. The story turned out to be another version of Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story, with all the poignancy and drama of those classics. The incident took place 30 years previously and actually led to the change in tribal customs. So now, while still living in a very traditional manner, these people do have “love marriages” because of what happened in this event.

The native music and songs are part of the film as well as an underlying appropriate score by Antony Partos. There is a very large, beautiful, bubbling volcano which is part of the makeup of the island and was used magnificently by cinematographer Bentley Dean. Credit of course goes to the directors Bentley Dean and Martin Butler who crafted and directed this unusual film.

The filmmakers obviously made a wonderful connection with the inhabitants of this island. The natives and their performance and participation in this movie demonstrated that their love of history and culture must be very intense as their acting was very believable and realistic. Whether or not it wins an Oscar for best foreign film, this movie deserves to be seen. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama, Foreign

Elle

February 6th, 2017 — 11:02pm

***

Elle-rm

This is a French film with subtitles, directed by veteran Dutch film maker Paul Verhoeven and stars Isabelle Huppert who has already received a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar nomination for her outstanding performance in this movie.

The film opens with a violent rape by an intruder and the story progresses as a whodunit, combined with a study of the main character in a backdrop of modern French society where sexual affairs are part of the landscape. Ms. Huppert plays the CEO of a video game company which is in the process of producing a cartoonish, violent, sexualized game. She interacts with her ex-husband (Charles Berling) and his girlfriend. She also has an interesting discussion with her mother (Judith Magre) who seems quite botoxed and is having an affair with a younger lover. The mother wants her daughter to visit her father who is serving a life sentence for brutal murders 30 years before, which left his young daughter stained with blood as photographs show of this gruesome event. There is the good looking married neighbor (Laurent Lafitte) to whom she is strangely attracted. There is also intrigue involved with the people who work for her company and the main character’s continued pre-occupation with the horrible rape that she experienced.

As the story unfolds, the viewer cannot help but be gripped by the complicated relationships. The more than two hours it takes to set up the story went by quite quickly. However, putting together all the pieces of the puzzle and the subtle psychodynamics, leave lots of rooms for speculation. The screenplay by David Birke, based on the novel by Philip Dijan gave us a thrilling, complicated story but we needed a couple of hours over dinner with friends to try to piece everything together.(2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign, Mystery

A United Kingdom

February 1st, 2017 — 5:15am

*****

A United Kingdom-sp

When David Oyelowo, leading actor in this film, producer and the force behind the movie, spoke to our audience after screening this movie, he acknowledged that until he read the book by Susan Williams, he knew very little about the history of the small African nation now known as Botswana. But fortunately, the star of the recent hit Selma and many other excellent movies was personally moved enough to put six years of sweat and tears in order to bring one of the great love stories of the 20th century and the most inspiring story of the birth of this small African democracy, to the 21st century movie screen.

It was 1947 when Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) born of royal blood and destined to be king of a small African country, was studying in England when he fell in love with a young British white woman, Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). Their exuberant love for each other is exciting and quite palpable. Perhaps most of us today would say and feel “Why not?” But, there is great resistance from Seretse’s uncle, the reigning ruler, the neighboring apartheid South Africa and the British Colonial government. In fact, any respect that you might have for the late Winston Churchill may go down the drain after seeing this movie.

Your heartstrings will be plucked, your sense of justice will be stirred up and an important piece of history will be indelibly etched into your mind. Need we be reminded that those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it. The man who recently who brought to the screen an insight into Martin Luther King has done it again with another excellent portrayal of an heroic figure Credit also goes to director Amma Asante who did an outstanding job by keeping the focus equally on the chemistry between these lovers as well as the historic importance of the fight for ultimate fairness and democracy. The countryside was beautiful. The local native men and women were wonderful. Don’t miss this movie. (2017)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Romance

20th Century Women

January 26th, 2017 — 11:21pm

***

20th Century Women-rm

This movie is set in the 1970s and examines the relationship between a single divorced mother and her only child, a 15-year-old son. It takes place in Santa Barbara, a coastal town North of Los Angeles. While we were raising teenagers on the East Coast during these years, there was little that we could relate to other than perhaps the music of Talking Heads playing in the background and the fact that parents can never fully understand their teenage children. However, it is the latter point that becomes the essence of this movie.

Annette Bening plays Dorothea, the mother in a role which she has already been nominated for a Golden Globe Award. She has decided that she can never teach a son what he needs to know about women and life so she asks Julie (Elle Fanning), a slightly older teenage girl who is her son’s friend and Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a few years older young woman who boards in their house to develop a dialogue with Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) and teach him what she was unable to do. There is also William (Billy Crudup) another boarder in the house who typifies a 1970s young man in his 30s. Jamie for the most part seems to be doing fine but it is mom who is having trouble negotiating her stage of life. Credit goes to Director Writer Michael Mills for capturing the atmosphere of this period piece with flashes of old cars, Jimmy Carter, uninhabited coastal views, 1970’s music, chain smoking of cigarettes, and discussion about the female orgasm.

Most viewers of this movie should find some meaningful identification whether it jogs memories of the 1970s or the universal dilemmas of negotiating certain stages of life. We are not sure it is worth sitting through the entire film (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

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