A Five Star Life-rm – Can you picture a woman in her 40s who feels that she pretty much has things going very well in her life? She has a dream job where she travels and gets treated extremely well. Although she broke up with her boyfriend, they are best friends and frequently spend time together. She seemingly has a great relationship with her sister who is married with two kids who she sees quite a lot. She is quite attractive and she appears ready to have another relationship with a man. That is the situation with Irene Lorenzi (Margherita Buy) who has the unique job to travel to the world’s most luxurious hotels as the “mysterious guest” and evaluate and report to the management every aspect of their supposedly immaculate service for their guests. This is an Italian film directed by Maria Sole Tognazzi who also shared in the writing credits. The setting is the most beautiful parts of the world and the comfortable life style that exists for certain travelers. It shows us a view of the top of the line service that is offered in these 5 star hotels. Not only is your suitcase delivered to your room, but the bellboy will unpack it and put things away for you. For some reason you don’t even seem to tip them at least for each individual service. If you are living in such a pampered life style what would it require for you to do a self evaluation. In this case, it is a brief chance meeting with an author Kate Sherman (Leslie Manville) who is making some television appearances to talk about her views about intimacy, shortly before she departs and leaves the hotel. This limited encounter, and the circumstances surrounding it, bring about a self reassessment of the main character. If this film is successful you will question if things are always what they seem to be and even more important, is it possible to change? (2014)
May in the Summer- sp Cherien Dabis is an award winning Palestinian American director, producer and screenwriter who does all three roles in this film in addition to taking the starring role which she handles in outstanding authentic manner. May (Dabis) is coming home from the U.S. to see her mother in modern day Jordan to prepare for her upcoming wedding. Her mother (Hiaam Abbass) and her family are Christian and May’s fiancée is Muslim so we are introduced to one of the several themes of this film. May’s two sisters Dalia (Alia Shawkat) and Yasmine (Nadine Malouf) have also come to Jordon for the event and the conflicts and bickering among the sisters is part of the evolving story further highlighted by one sister acknowledging that she lesbian although she doesn’t like that label. The sister’s father (Bill Pullman) had left the girls’ mother and married a much younger woman (Rita Singh Pande). He tries to apologize for the neglect of his children and establish a relationship with them when May and her sisters visit their Dad and his new wife as May’s wedding plans are being made. Through the discussions with May’s mom we also become aware of the limited options for a divorced woman in this society, although she clearly hasn’t given up. On top of everything May has doubts about her decision to get married. Each one of these conflicted issues is evolving as the characters interact in a very believable environment. The film does not attempt to delve into any one of these themes in depth. Each of them could have been a separate story but it is the universality of all of them allows the audience to recognize the people in this human drama and find meaningful identifications with them. That is the strength and the success of this excellent film. (2014)
Get On Up –rm This is the story of a young boy from rural Georgia who was abandoned by his parents, raised by madam from a brothel, fascinated by the gospel music in the local church and ultimately became the godfather of soul music. It is about a young man who spent time in jail, who essentially only had himself to rely on and yet always had tremendous belief in himself to the point of being self-centered, egotistical or narcissistic if you will. But in this case, he had the goods. He became a music legend he of course is James Brown.
The film is the brain child of Brian Glazer who is a well known movie and television producer who combined his talent with the skills of another music legend Mick Jagger, who has acknowledged being a great fan and being influenced himself by Brown. Jagger brought his music skills to the film as producer and music director. There are at least two more essential ingredients to this biopic and that would be director Tate Taylor (The Help) and Chadwick Boseman who previously starred as Jackie Robinson in 42.and now becomes James Brown. He does this by his speaking voice, mannerisms and learning the distinctive choreography of Brown’s movements during song and everyday life. This includes his swagger as well as his splits and the special way he whipped a microphone around. There also was some very skillful lip-synching accomplished by Boseman and the actors who played his band and backup singers since the great singing in this movie was the original voice of James Brown.
In addition to Boseman there was some great acting that needs to be acknowledged. Lennie James play Brown’s tough and angry father while Viola Davis was the woman inside the mother of Brown who loved him. yet abandoned and rejected him but still tried to come back when he was a success. Octavia Spencer was the madam in the brothel who took him in and more or less had the heart of gold. Dan Aykroyd was Ben Bart the white Jewish agent who became very close to Brown throughout much of his career and was called papa by him. Neisan Ellis was Bobby Byrd one the most loyal members of the original Flames which was Brown’s first groupbefore Brown became a phenomenon by himself. Brown’s complicated relationship with Byrd reflects his self-image of seeing himself as something very special but yet having a lingering need for close friendship that he may never have found.
On one hand the film used flashbacks to effectively show the genesis of Brown’s unique character but yet they seemed to abruptly pull us away from the engrossing music and the story of how Brown was rising to the top, dealing with racial issues including the country’s response to the death of Martin Luther King as well as how Brown faltered in his personal life. There were many backup players moving in an out of Brown entourage as well as various women and children We could not always be sure who they were in his life which might be defect in the film. In addition, we and at least one other person agreed that the conversations of Brown and some others were not always understandable which could be the dialect, or an audio problem but would seem to be a flaw. The running time of the film was 2 hours and 18 minutes and while we can’t say what should have been cut, it probably could have been shorter. However,we have no complaints in re-experiencing the great music and moves of the incomparable James Brown.(2014)
The Queen-nf- As Americans we never quite understood how and why the British people hold their royal family in such esteem. Also, while being full grown adult at the time of the auto accident that claimed the life of Princess Diana, who was by then divorced from Prince Charles, we never understood why there was such a big deal about her funeral. Well, this more or less docudrama focuses on both of these subjects. Thanks to the screenplay by Peter Morgan and the direction David Frears, plus the outstanding acting by Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth and Michael Sheen, as newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair, we are treated to a sophisticated exploration of inner workings of the royal court and what is purported be an accurate rendition of the complicated feeling of all the players in this drama. A fascinating story unravels, which shows the Queen and the royal family with the exception of Prince Charles, reluctant to make a big deal, a royal funeral or any public statements about the sudden tragic death of Diana. Whereas the people of Great Britain and eventually people around the world who were taken up with her life style and her many charitable good deeds were very much affected and were drawn to follow her funeral and participate in the grieving, the royal family felt that she was no longer royalty and there should be just a private funeral. Actual film clips of the large numbers of tearful people in the streets and many inundating the outside of Buckingham Palace with flowers were shown. Blair appreciates the importance to the British people to grieve this loss and realized the mistake that the Queen was making by staying in her country home, not returning to Buckingham Palace and raising the flag at half mast. At one point he even detected a growing sentiment that could lead to the British people wanting to perhaps even remove the monarchy, which they had revered for hundred of years. He tried to counsel the Queen and she responds. In another source we found information that reported that the writer Peter Morgan reconstructed the events of the week after the death of Princess Diana through extensive interviews with many unnamed sources close to the real Prime Minister and the royal family. Many of these sources were able to corroborate the accounts of others, giving Morgan enough information to imagine the intervening scenes, which were portrayed in the movie. Helen Mirren was at her best in this film and won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Actress. The film itself won the most coveted award of an Academy Award Oscar for Best Motion Picture of the Year. But perhaps the highest compliment for Ms. Mirren was the observation by the writer Mr. Morgan that, by the end of production, crewmembers who had been accustomed to slouching or relaxing when they addressed her were standing straight up and respectfully folding their hands behind their backs. She was the Queen. (2006)
The One I Love- sp- This is another example of an Independent movie put together by a small creative team. In this case it is Mark Duplass (co-star of the movie) who co-produces with Charlie McDowell (who also directs the film) with other co-producers, brother Jay Duplass along with Mel Eslyn and of course writer Justin Lader. This is part of new wave of films which pays all the cast and crew $100/day but gives everyone a certain amount of points which will determine how they will share the profits from the film which in this case will be through a game plan involving combined theatrical releases with television, Netflix and Video on Demand. They used a detailed script that had everything but the dialogue which the actors improvised within the framework of the story. There were essentially only two actors on the screen and that was Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss (known best for Mad Men). We shouldn’t give away the storyline which has a twist. Suffice it to say that Ethan and Sophie are having trouble with their marriage and they go to see a therapist (a brief role by Ted Danson) who sends them to an isolated vacation retreat where they are supposed to find out who they really are and fix their marital relationship. They and the audience are in for a confusing surprise. The problem is that we didn’t feel it really worked. We got a few smiles out of the story but felt that the story behind the twist could have been developed much better than it was done. We appreciated the creative attempt, You may end up seeing this one night on TV but we can’t recommend it. (2014)
Wish I Was Here —rm It isn’t too difficult for a halfway decent movie to pull our chain and bring tears to our eyes. All you need is a likeable character who is dying and his family all around him especially if there are children and grandchildren in it. This movie did all that but took it to the next level. All the characters including the children have a depth which allows you to empathize with them even though they may not be telling your story. Aiden Bloom (Zack Braff ), Director and co writer of the screen play with his real brother Adam J. Braff and known for among other things as the star of TV show Scrubs) is a struggling actor who is trying to reach his career dream although not yet very successful . Sarah, his loving and very supportive wife (Kate Hudson), is frustrated over her husband being more interested in trying to follow his dream than support their family, leaving her to work in a data inputting job and suffer some weird harassment by a cubical partner. They have two adorable kids. Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) is the younger kid who values a wireless drill for reasons we don’t quite understand. The slightly older sister (Joey King) is beginning to try to find out what values are really important. Aiden has a brother (Josh Gad) who lives in a trailer who is also struggling with his off beat career and his alienation from their dad. Now the dad, the patriarch of the family is Gabe, a widower played by Mandy Patankin in what could be an award winning performance. He has been a tough dad who hasn’t seemed to be sympathetic to the trials and tribulations of his two sons. He now is faced with a fatal illness, which brings him and the whole family to contemplate the meaning of life and how they feel about death and dying The deep feelings of both father and sons for each other are examined in a very sensitive and real manner. It may very well make you begin to reflect on your own family relationships. The movie is a serious drama dealing with relationships and philosophical issues. But it also is a touching satiric comedy. One subject of some satire, believe it or not, is orthodox Judaism. The Bloom family is shown to be of this persuasion and one of the subplots was that Gabe was paying for his grandchildren’s private (Jewish) school until he required the money for his cancer care. There is even an old rabbi who rides on a Segway (we assume not on Shabbat) (2014)
A Most Wanted Man- sp- When you have Phillip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last movies (we understand there are few unreleased ones still in the can) and a John LeCarre spy story, you expect a sure hit. However, in our opinion this movie doesn’t make the grade. From the very beginning, we weren’t sure what was going on and who were the good guys. Maybe this was deliberate ambiguity but it didn’t quite work for us. We are told early on that the movie is set in Hamburg, Germany the locale where the 9/11 plot was hatched and surveillance is very high. We meet the cast of characters which included roles by William Dafoe and Robin Wright. Director Anton Corbin and cinematographer Benoit Delhomme were very creative with their dramatic shots from high above or through reflections in glass or through train windows. The cuts and the scenes are often quite short and we felt we never got a good bead on the back story of the characters. There wasn’t overwhelming action and most of the time and the spy thriller tension just wasn’t there for us. Phillip Seymour Hoffman did do a great job and carried the movie. His chain smoking, ruffled character showed the full range of emotions from a subtle intellectuality to a very believable rage. He certainly was a great actor (2014)
Boyhood-rm- If you are any kind of a movie fan you will not want to miss this film. Buy a large bag of popcorn and settle in for a 2 hour and 40 minutes historic experience. You are going to see perhaps the birth of a new genre in filmmaking. This is the story of a young boy from the age of 6 through 18. The name of the character is Mason and he is played by one actor (Ellar Coltrane) who ages before you along with his divorced parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawkes and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s own daughter). This film is the brilliant brain child of veteran film director Richard Linklater who convinced IFC Films to pony up $200,000 in 2002 which is probably the equivalent of over 2 million dollars today for a film project which would shoot Linklater’s screenplay for one week each year for 12 years. It follows the young boy and his family through his high school graduation. The mother, Oliva (Arquettte) is divorced from her first husband, a well meaning but immature Mason Senior (Hawkes). She struggles and puts herself through college while she is going through two more marriages to alcoholic husbands while trying to raise her two children. Hawkes portrays the biological father trying during his periodic visits to be a good dad and wants especially to teach his son the things he believes it is his job to pass on. It is quite dramatic to see both parents (and both actors) age and mature during the time of the film. Both Hawkes and Arquette turned in outstanding acting performances. However, the main focus of the movie is on young Mason. You have to give Linklater full credit for choosing this particular 6 year old child (Coltrane) and taking the chance that not only would he pull off the movie but that this growing child would stay with the project. It worked and we watch Mason grow to be a sensitive and in many ways a typical teenage kid growing up in Texas. We see the pain he experiences from his broken home but also the teenage angst that many in the audience of all ages will understand. The movie flows extremely well as the participants seamlessly age before our eyes. This required outstanding editing by the director and editor Sandra Adair. It would not surprise us if Linklater and this film receive several Academy Award nominations. However, we suggest that you don’t wait for Oscar season to see this outstanding film. (2014)
Happy Christmas –sp This is a Joe Swanberg independent low budget production, for which he also wrote the screenplay, directed it , played a leading role and had his under two year old son play his son in the film. The story opens as we meet Jeff (Joe Swanberg) and his wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) who seem happy enough with their young son (Jade Swanberg- who actually gives a great performance)). Kelly is a stay at home mom who is a novelist and has had a book published. Their happy abode is interrupted by a visit for a undetermined duration by Jenny, Jeff’s sister (Anna Kendrick) who just broke up with her boyfriend. She is “a piece of work” as she develops a quick sexual relationship with young neighborhood guy (Mark Webber) who sells her pot. She smokes and drinks her self repeatedly to near oblivion and almost burns down the house. In between there is lots of interesting women’s talk with her good friend Carson (Lena Dunham of Girls fame) and Kelly. In fact Kelly is convinced by Jenny in a sober moment that she should try to become financially well off by putting aside her serious attempt to write another novel and instead write a popular novel ,best seller type, based on life style information that Jenny will provide. The point would seem to be that there could be a pathway for a bright woman other than by “just being a full time housewife.” The fact is that the movie doesn’t really go anyplace and never intends to go anyplace. It is a study of these characters with a minimal story and much dialogue that we learned from a post film interview with two of the actors was improvised for much of the time and was achieved on film in one or two takes for each scene. It seems to be part of the new “Mumblecore” genre which attempts to achieve naturalistic performances, without a clear narrative structure often using a great deal of improvisation. We tried to consider if it was successful by one of us acknowledging that the action did hold one’s attention but we both agreed that we really couldn’t recommend the film to anyone to spend 78 minutes with it. Maybe the film could be used in a teaching setting to demonstrate the devastating trajectory of a young woman with a Borderline Personality although we really didn’t have very much backstory on her to fully understand her. We did get the feeling that the story did not convey the potential grave prognosis for a character such as Jenny unless she were to get some serious therapy. But that is another story. (2014)
Obvious Child-rm- If you can relate to women in their late 20s, especially New Yorkers and a situation where they might end up needing an abortion, this film will probably resonate with you. Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) is a 28-year-old single woman living in Manhattan and has a one-night stand and finds herself pregnant. By day she works in a bookstore and by night she is a standup comedian. Gillian Robespierre who directed the film and wrote the screen play based on a story by Elisabeth Holm, Anna Bean, Karen Maine and himself, skillfully used this latter occupation to share with the audience the inner thoughts of this character as her comedy shtick was truthfully talking about her life and whatever she was experiencing. In this case it was a break up with her boyfriend who had an affair with her previously good friend. She then meets Max (Jake Lacy), which leads to a wild night and the “slip up” leading to the pregnancy. The movie is really a comic drama. On one hand we see the empathic feelings of Jenny’s close friend (Gabby Hoffman), her new boy friend and her divorced parents (Polly Draper and Richard Kind). The interaction with her mother did bring out the greatest comedic moment of the film as when Jenny tells mom she has to discuss something very serious with her and then reveals her pregnancy. Mom then responds, “Oh, I was concerned you were going to tell me that you were moving to LA.” Mom however did go on to tell her about her own abortion before her marriage and before it was legal. So this movie is also a political statement that is being released as the controversy about a women’s right for health insurance to cover contraception as well as her right to an unencumbered abortion is back in the headlines. It is therefore also noteworthy that in the credits of this movie there are numerous names of individual people who financially supported this movie as part a “kickstarter” program to get it made.This might be an added incentive to support this film at the box office or on Netflix.. (2014)