Category: Drama


Jackie-nf

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 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

Manchester by the Sea

January 13th, 2017 — 7:53am

*****

Manchester by the Sea-rmScreen Shot 2017-01-12 at 9.42.35 PM

As mental health professionals, we have seen our share of tragedies and human misery, but usually perhaps because the patients are at the point of seeing us, there is usually a ray of hope for reaching to the future for a better life. There was very little optimism in this very well-done portrait of a man who is deeply and continually in psychological pain.

Kenneth Lonergan, playwright, now turned director in his previous writings (You Can Count On Me and Margaret) has mastered the writing of tragedies that may befall anyone of us.

In this film, Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler who lives a life overwhelmed with guilt for what happened to his family. He then is faced with the responsibility of caring for his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges) whose father recently died and whose mother has not been sober or on the scene for many years. The details of the story unfold with a series of well-done flashbacks which not only framed the story but also introduced bleak but atmospheric life in a New England fishing village. The classical musical score in the background defined the sad somber mood of the story. There were some somewhat lighter moments as we glimpsed at interactions of the teenage boy and his multi-girlfriends.

Casey Affleck deserves the accolades that he is getting for his performance in this movie. His facial expressions, voice and mannerism convey what his character has gone through and also the empathy that he has for his nephew. Michelle Williams as his ex-wife has a relatively small role but she is superb in her one important scene.

Perhaps we have conveyed that there is little positive hope in this film and it will be a depressing experience (which it will be) but we could not help noting there was a symbol of hope in a tangible object that is important in this village . That would be the family’s small fishing boat. We gleam a shred of optimism as we see how this small boat is resurrected as we hope will be the characters in this film. (2016)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

Hidden Figures

December 22nd, 2016 — 7:13am

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Hidden Figures-sp

Prior to John Glenn’s historic flight circling the earth as the first person in orbit, something went wrong in the planning which required new landing coordinates to be calculated. Glenn asked NASA control to “have the girl check the numbers.” He was referring to Katherine Johnson (Taraji Henson) in this fascinating movie about the little known story of the role that black women played in the space program.

The setting was the early 1960s. There were still “for colored only” bathrooms in the NASA Government facility in Virginia. A group of bright, black women mathematicians were working in a segregated office doing work, supporting the program. Another one of these women was Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) who was initially a supervisor in name only and deserved to be officially promoted to that position. Another black woman in this story was Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) who despite being a recognized mathematician in the space program had to fight to be able to take some courses to qualify in order to get an advanced degree. At the end of the film, we learned that she ultimately became one of the top engineers in the NASA program. We also learned that Katherine Johnson at the age of 96 recently received the presidential medal of freedom for all her groundbreaking work at NASA.

So much credit deserves to go to Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi co-produces, who became aware of this story due to a book by Margot Lee Shetterly of the unknown situation where black women were excluded from positions which they deserved to hold in the NASA program. Fox Studios ultimately took on the movie and Theodore Melfi directed his vision of the story which was quite on target.

The cast was magnificent. In addition to the three women mentioned above, special credit should be given to Kevin Costner who played Harrison, the guy who ran the space program and headed up all the stuff at NASA that made things fly. We recall a cigar chomping Jim Webb who most probably this character was based on. There were also excellent performances by Kirsten Dunst, Aldis Hodge, Mahershala Ali, and Jim Parsons.

This movie should be seen by everyone in order to understand this piece of American history that has been overlooked for years. Although this was not, in and of itself a great film, the stellar performances and important story it tells are not to be missed.(2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History

Fences

December 15th, 2016 — 9:45pm

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-11-09-35-pm*****

Fences-sp

August Wilson is a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright who died in 2005 at the age of 60. He originally wrote Fences for the stage. Wilson had an unusual propensity for capturing accent and dialogue in all his plays. In 1987, James Earl Jones starred in Fences on the Broadway stage where it won a Tony Award. It was more recently recreated on Broadway and received critical acclaim starring Denzel Washington, Viola Davis and much of the same cast that now appears in this movie. August Wilson wrote the screenplay for this movie, but died before it could be brought to fruition as a movie. It was Denzel Washington who persisted and connected with Scott Rudin to produce this movie which he directed and co-starred with Viola Davis, and were joined by some of the other actors who played their parts on the stage.

As is characteristic of Wilson, the dialogue in this film is breathtaking. It wonderfully captures the life circumstances, the dilemmas and the character of so many people living in this setting. In this situation, it is a struggling, mostly black people in a poor but proud Pittsburg neighborhood in the 1950s. It is no easy task to not only capture the dialogue and nuances of the written word, but to also project the character of these individuals. There is no doubt in our minds that Denzel Washington and Viola Davis should be nominated for Oscars for their work in this movie. The cast of veteran stage and movie actors who played a close family friend (Jovan Adepo) as well as  family members  were Mykelti Williamson, Stephen Henderson, Russell Hornsby and Saniyya Sidney. They were all superb. The movie is 135 minutes long, but the story and setting will envelope you and you will be caught up in this wonderful intense and poignant production. (2016)

 

 

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

Land of Mine

December 8th, 2016 — 5:14am

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Land Of Mine

We just had the opportunity to see Denmark’s entry for the Academy Award for best foreign film this year and we met the writer/director, Martin Zandvliet and one of the producers, Mikael Rieks. This is a very well-done movie, but what stands out about the film is learning a previously little-known aspect concerning World War II and the unique ethical dilemma which the film spotlights.

Towards the end of World War II, the Germans anticipated an Allied invasion of their occupation of Europe and thought it would likely occur on the shores of Denmark which would give the Allies the shortest distance to Berlin. The Germans planted hundreds of thousands of explosive mines on the beaches of Denmark. Of course, instead, the Allies successfully invaded at Normandy. Once the war was over, the Danes were faced with a dilemma of how to go about the dangerous task of removing these deadly explosive mines. They chose to use thousands of German prisoners of war, many of whom were young teenage soldiers who had beenconscripted into the German army towards the end of the war in a desperate attempt to fight off the Allies.

So now the Danes were forcing these mostly young prisoners of war to learn how to do the dangerous task of defusing the enormous number of mines on the coastline. You also may want to consider if there is  a valid question whether such forced life-threatening labor is against the treaties signed at the Geneva Convention.

So if this movie accomplished nothing else but to highlight this fascinating ethical dilemma, it would deserve to be seen. However, the production did this in a very personal and dramatic fashion. Most of the movie focused on a group of about a dozen German prisoners of war, most of whom appear to be young teenagers, perhaps as young as 15 or 16 who are under the command of a Danish soldier Sergeant Rasmussen (Roland Moller). Most viewers who appreciate the inhumane treatment to millions of people by the Nazi invaders of course might understand the initial harsh treatment by the sergeant of his captors as he trained and forced them to undertake the mine-clearing task.

However, the added dimension of this drama being played out on the screen was the viewers’ empathy for these young prisoners of war who shared dreams and aspirations of returning home to their families. Not surprising, the Danish sergeant himself, begins to understand his young prisoners and even care about them.

So our emotions are stirred up as we appreciate a great conflict and we can identify with the characters on the screen. There is drama, tension, and excellent photography by Camilla Hjelm Knudsen who is the wife of the director/screenwriter. We come away with a little more insight into history and human nature which adds up to a very good film. (2016)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign, War

The Edge of Seventeen

December 5th, 2016 — 8:42am

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On The Edge Of Seventeen-sp

This film is very effective as it smoothly slides the viewer into the mind of a 17-year-old high school girl. We appreciate her desire for friends, perhaps being sensitized by some childhood experiences of being bullied. Then there were other potential conflictual events that can happen in any teenager’s life in high school. But as much as the audience was getting a feel of this life stage and perhaps being reminded of their own individual experiences, this movie inevitably became the story of this one girl, Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), and how she had to deal growing up with a “perfect” older brother (Blake Jenner) and a far from perfect mother (Kyra Sedgwick) as well as all the events that transpired during her 17 years of life. As any therapist can tell you, there is no truly typical teenage girl. We are all a function of our family dynamics and subsequent conflicts and fantasies. We all emerge from this life stage with varying degrees of subsequent mental stability which will then influence the next generation. Sometimes an experience in therapy will help unravel the painful missteps and unpredictable events that occur as we attempt to navigate this life stage.

Miss Steinfeld, who turned in an outstanding performance, is certainly already a rising star. She received great recognition at age 14 when she was nominated for an Academy Award for her supporting role in True Grit and has made starring appearances in many subsequent films. Woody Harrelson was also excellent in this film as the thoughtful, sensitive high school teacher and Haley Lu Richardson did a great job as Krista, the girlfriend. Screenwriter and director, Kelly Fremon Craig has given us a great story and done a very good job presenting it. The photography in this movie was magnificent. While you might not pay close attention to the music during the film, there was a constant flow of it in the background influencing our unconscious. The overall experience of this movie was a powerful and enjoyable one. (2016)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

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