November 23rd, 2015 — 1:42am
We don’t know if you would had to have lived through the 1950s or have been around close enough to this time period to have heard first-hand stories to appreciate the atmosphere in the United States during the time of this movie. Director Jay Roach and his team have very realistically created the look and feel of this period and the screenplay by John McNamara based on the book by Bruce Cook provides the basis of a very realistic recreation of what happened to Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) and many other people
Trumbo was a brilliant, highly paid screenwriter who was very successful. He happened to believe in communism particularly that wealth should be shared (although he was clearly much better off than most people). He identified with striking workers and in fact was not afraid to sympathize with many communist beliefs, which at the time made him the target of the House of Representatives Committee On Un-American Activities as were nine other screenwriters who were known as the Hollywood Ten. They were subpoenaed to Washington to go before the congressional committee. Members of the Committee forced them to identify themselves as communists, which they refused to do, and therefore were sent to jail on charges of contempt.
This is just a small part of the story. When Trumbo comes out of prison this brilliant film writer couldn’t sell his scripts with his name on them anymore. Nevertheless he wrote many highly successful scripts under other names, two, of them winning Oscars. The fascinating life of Trumbo, his relationship to his wife Cleo (Diane Lane) and his children is the story of this movie. It involves the interactions with many Hollywood icons including Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg), John Wayne (David James Elliott) and Louis B. Mayer (Richard Portnow). Also Trumbo’s relationship with another writer Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.) Is quite important as is that with Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) and Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) in dramatic events at the conclusion of the movie.
Every detail of this movie is extremely well done such as the blending of archival film clips with realistically created black and white scenes. Of course, the outstanding star of the story is Dalton Trumbo who deserves to be introduced to a new generation of Americans. We can’t give enough praise to Bryan Cranston who brought his character to life with thoughtfulness, subtlety and great passion. In our opinion he deserves an Oscar nomination for his work in this picture. Hollywood tends to have an affinity for stories about itself especially when they are done well, which might push this movie into becoming a big winner during the awards season this year. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Horror
November 20th, 2015 — 7:29pm
Skeleton Twins – nf
It is rare that the two authors of this blog can’t come to an agreement or a good compromise on the value of the film, which we are reviewing. This was a movie, which one of us couldn’t recommend and the other thought some people would really enjoy it.
We do agree that Kristen Wiig, who played Maggie, and Bill Hader, who played Milo, are great actors with a wonderful comedic touch. They play two grownup twins now living in different parts of the country who haven’t seen each other in 10 years and are about to kill themselves at the same moment in time (opening Scene). We see that they had pretty bad parenting. Their mother didn’t seem to be able to express any love to them and their father committed suicide when they were young kids.
They obviously don’t succeed in their attempt to kill themselves and they are now spending some time together. He is gay and was molested by Rich(Ty Burrell), his high school teacher/mentor when he was 15 years old. Now that he is back in town, he visits his old hero teacher who has his own 16-year-old son. Milo and the teacher have a sexual encounter and we are somehow led to believe that the teacher/child molester isn’t really that bad? Meanwhile, Maggie has the nicest husband that you can imagine, Lance (Luke Wilson) and they are trying to have a baby, at least that’s what he thinks. Maggie is hiding the birth control pills while she is having an affair with her scuba-diving instructor, which follows two other affairs with other instructors that she has had. As you can imagine, the only authentic relationship is that between Maggie and Milo who have shared their horrible childhood. They have at least learned to lip-sync to some songs together, which they can now do since they have reunited.
Certainly, everybody will agree that this brother and sister need therapy, although there are no signs of that in the story. We do agree there is something poignant about seeing them reunite. At least they have each other and maybe they will get help someday. (2014)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Uncategorized
November 19th, 2015 — 6:28am
Almost 40 years ago a film about investigative reporters who exposed the Watergate break-in and brought down the Nixon presidency was nominated for eight Academy Awards including best picture. That was All the President’s Men. Jason Robards, Jr. won for best supporting actor. Now today we have Spotlight, a terrific film about an investigative reporter team of the Boston Globe, who in 2002 dug into the hidden scandal of about 90 catholic priests who were molesting children. These horrific crimes were covered up and even when some of them were exposed, the priests were not prosecuted and would just be re-assigned to churches in other cities. The reporting team persisted in their work and even exposed the fact that Cardinal Law also knew about these activities and participated in the cover-up. This ultimately led to him being re-assigned to a posh position in a prominent church in Rome. This exposé rocked the Catholic Church and has implications that extend to the present time.
It will be very difficult to choose a best actor or supporting actor from these outstanding performances, since this was truly the work of an ensemble. The real life reporters, Mike Rezendes was played by Mark Ruffalo, Sacha Pfeiffer was played by Rachel McAdams, Matt Carroll was played by Brian d’Arcy and the Spotlight team team leader, Walter “Robby” Robinson was played by Michael Keaton. There also were great performances by Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron, the newly brought in overall senior editor of the Boston Globe who happened to be Jewish. John Slattery played Ben Bradlee, Jr. the long-time editor of the Boston Globe, who was a supervisor to the Spotlight Team. Interestingly, Ben Bradlee, Jr. is the son of the famed newspaper icon, Ben Bradlee who was the editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal exposé. There were some other fine performances by familiar faces which included Stanley Tucci as one of the many lawyers in the film and Len Cariou (who plays the grandfather on Blue Bloods TV program) as Cardinal Law.
The director of this movie was Tom McCarthy who co-wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer. They made the decision not to collapse some of the characters in order to keep the team as the ensemble it was in real life. This may have somewhat diffused the potential drama of the movie. Early in the film, as each reporter went off on his and her own investigative aspects of the project, it was a little confusing as to who they were interviewing and why. This all came together as the two-hour and nine-minute film flew by with the tension mounting as the story progressed. We got the message that investigative reporting is hard, tedious work but when you see your subject in your “gun sight” and you realize you are dealing with a worthy subject, all the effort is worth it. The realism of the movie was also enhanced by some collaborative meetings by the actors with the real reporters. We understand that they held meetings with their respective characters and with some of them even watched how they performed in their workplace. The result is a movie that should not be missed. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History
November 18th, 2015 — 7:43am
This is an excellent film that should score a touchdown on several counts. Significantly, it may put an unwavering light on the brain damage that football brings about due to the repeated slamming of the brain in its fluid container inside the skull, which is so characteristic of our highly popular American sport. The viewers of this film will take in this awareness in the course of this most dramatic presentation. The audience will also witness an outstanding sensitive performance by Will Smith who plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the true to life Pittsburgh pathologist who discovered and named Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy as a result of performing autopsies on three former professional football players who died at a young age. Their death was often preceded by memory difficulties, mood alterations which included depression and labile mood which often led to out of control behavior and even suicide.
Will Smith deserves Oscar consideration as he brought to life the persona of this brilliant Nigerian born doctor who had numerous degrees but yet was sensitive to his deceased patients and felt compelled to be sure that their true story was told. He worked in a Pittsburgh morgue under the supervision and support of famed pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht who was played very well by Albert Brooks. Wecht was portrayed as quite wise yet with a smidgen of comic undertones, which made him quite warm and believable. Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin) who was a former loyal NFL team doctor who once he appreciated the solidity of Dr. Omalu’s discovery, stood by him in his confrontations with the NFL.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw sensitively portrayed Dr. Omalu’s girlfriend, who became his wife. The film may have taken on a little too much unnecessary poetic license in at least one place by showing Dr. Omalu’s wife being harassed by some people following her while she was driving alone in her car, which led to her having a miscarriage. Director/Writer Peter Landesman in response to MB’s question admitted that this incident shown in the movie was not exactly what happened. He said, it was meant to symbolize and condense the real harassment that Dr. Omalu and his new wife had from the many football fans in his community when some of them realized that the essence of professional football was being challenged by this one unknown doctor who documented and published scientific articles backing up his findings which challenged the safety of football at all levels from the NFL down through college, high school and even at the youngest level.
We know that ultimately lawsuits were brought against the NFL and were settled for large sums of money with the caveat that the NFL does not have to acknowledge how long they knew about the possibility of brain damage in the players. Practices have since been adopted to take players out of the game who show signs of head injury. However, it has been estimated that at least one-quarter of professional football players will develop evidence of brain damage. We do not know what the full extent of these injuries will be especially in high school and college players or even at the most junior level who are playing the sport.
The authenticity of this film is confirmed by the fact that the real Dr. Omalu and Dr. Cyril Wecht are consultants to the movie. There was one line in the film, which states that if 10% of parents hold back their children from playing football, it could destroy football as the big time multibillion-dollar sport that it is today. We don’t know if that statistic is true. We also don’t know if this film will get wide enough distribution to make this impact. The filmmakers wondered if the NFL would use their influence to stop the film from being advertised during NFL TV games. Apparently, that is not going to be the case. So the general public is going to get a chance to learn about this outstanding movie and parents as well as young people will decide if the youth of America is going to play this game knowing what they know about concussions, brain trauma and aftermath of these events. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, Sport
November 16th, 2015 — 7:44am
Laggies – nf
The term Laggies, according to Director Lynn Shelton comes from an informal term used by Orange County teenagers when referring to themselves as a group such as “Come on Laggies, let’s all go to the mall.” The screenplay by Andrea Seigel was originally written to take place in Orange County, California, but the setting was moved to Seattle, Washington. However, Shelton liked the way the term Laggies sounded and kept it as the title.
The meaning of the film to us is similarly vague and hard to figure out. Granted it is about a generation far from our own, but we thought that we usually get teens and 20’s even if we are quite removed from their time to bloom.
Megan (Keira Knightley) is a 28-year-old college graduate who has a Masters in Family Counseling but hasn’t really found herself. Her best friend, Allison (Elle Kemper) is getting married and all her good friends are attending the event. Megan’s long-term boyfriend (Mark Webber) is ready to propose to her and they plan to go for a quick small wedding ceremony in Las Vegas. However, Megan meets Annika, a 15-year-old teenager (Chloe Moretz), who she encounters when she’s asked by her to buy beer and alcohol for her and her teenage buddies. Megan can relate to Annika and is comfortable hanging around with her and her friends. She tells her boyfriend that she’s going to go to a conference for a week and then they will get married. In the meantime, Megan stays in Annika’s house where she meets Craig, Annika’s single dad (Sam Rockwell) who is an attorney. Anika and Sam seem to really like each other and have a one-night sexual encounter. Incidentally, we also have learned a little earlier that Megan’s father (Jeff Garlin) was discovered by Megan to be fooling around with the mother of the bride at the wedding of Megan’s best friend, which bummed out Megan. Megan is about to fly to Las Vegas to marry her long-term boyfriend or will she?
So we conclude that the movie is about growing up and deciding which relationships are really important. However, there is no real depth to the storyline. We don’t really understand why the characters do what they do, although they do seem to be the wiser for going through these experiences. The director, Ms. Shelton knows her way around Seattle having directed her previous movies in the city. The acting was very good. Ms. Knightly was very appealing as Megan, the young woman who has to find herself. In the DVD features accompanying the film, we see her talking in her native language (British English) and we appreciate how well she has mastered the American dialect in the film. This movie was a little fun to watch but we didn’t get much out of it. We conclude that we can’t recommend it, even to the teens and 20’s looking for a good movie to kick back on. (2014)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama
November 16th, 2015 — 7:32am
Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar, the story of the 2010 Chilean Mine disaster and the 33 miners trapped underground, was one of the best books we have read in a long time (see book review). So a movie following in its footsteps has big shoes to fill. Director Patricia Riggen and the producing team led by veteran producer Mike Medavoy did a pretty good job of capturing the atmosphere as well as creating the tension and interaction of the beleaguered miners. They chose to make this film in English, which took away from the realism but we understand the reasonable necessity to do this to facilitate worldwide distribution. Much of the film was deep in the dark mine and the faces of the characters were understandably in deep shadows. While good for realism, it did take awhile for the characters to be clearly distinguished as individuals.
There was one interesting issue which we wonder if it was fact or creative license. That was when Laurence Golbourne (Rodrigo Santoro), the young government official who was Minister of Mines for the Chilean government told the veteran mine rescue expert exactly how he should position the last chance drilling effort, which was the only drill to reach the miners. Just as important as the interaction of the miners with each other was the role of the families putting pressure on the various officials to make an all-out effort to save their loved ones. The emotions of these family members, friends and one mistress was highlighted by the character of Maria Segovia, sister of one of the miners, who was well-played by Juliette Binoche. Another standout was the character of Mario Sepulveda (Antonio Banderas) who assumed the leadership role of the trapped miners.
This was the last film of the late James Horner who as usual created an excellent soundtrack to capture the changing moods of the film. At the conclusion of the movie, we see a postscript telling us that none of the miners received any compensation from the mine company. In a post screening discussion, we were able to ask producer Michael Medavoy if this film is financially successful, would the miners receive any compensation. The answer was, “You bet,” but it has to come after all the backers of the film receive their upfront money back plus a reasonable profit. We thought that why should the miners not receive their compensation upfront? But that apparently is the usual Hollywood way. Despite this concern, the film itself, while not meeting the standards of the amazing book is still worthwhile and should be seen and enjoyed by many viewers. Shortly after the actual disaster occurred I also wrote two blogs about the psychological implications of this experience ( see blog#1 and blog #2 ) (2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History
November 11th, 2015 — 7:10am
Two great actresses, Cate Blanchett (two academy awards for The Aviator and Blue Jasmine) and Rooney Mara (known for two recent outstanding performances in The Social Network and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) are matched in a subtle, low-key romance that takes places in the early 1950s in New York. Carol Aird (Blanchett) is a wealthy married woman with a 5-year-old daughter who finds herself drawn to Therese Belivet (Mara), a younger woman working as a department store clerk with a boyfriend who is getting ready to propose to her. Therese shares the attraction to Carol and the two spend time together and go away together on a road trip.
The screenplay by Phyllis Nagy is based on a novel by the famed author Patricia Highsmith. Director Todd Haynes worked with a veteran recognized staff which included costume designer, Sandy Powell, Director of Photography Ed Lachman, Film Editor Alfonso Goncalves and the music being done by Carter Burwell. Each of these artists creates a very realistic sensitive environment in which the attraction and love between these two women blossoms. Taking place in the mid-20th century period makes the plot more poignant, as the internal struggle with homoerotic feelings obviously did not have the acceptance, overt support and understanding that it has today. Perhaps, this is the very reason that modern movie goers might share our feeling that despite being extremely well-done, we expected more of a storyline. We are left feeling that we have witnessed a simple fairy tale. We wish this talented movie team could have delivered much more. (2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Romance
November 4th, 2015 — 8:17am
This movie set out to describe the immigrant experience of one Irish young woman in the 1950s who leaves her mother and her her sister to come to America. The film seems to do everything right from vintage automobiles, the old country atmosphere in Ireland, the Brooklyn Brownstones, the views of the Manhattan Skyline, Coney Island including the beach with bathing suits of the time, a department store with pneumatic tubes and most of all authentic characters and their moving stories.
Producer Finola Dwyer shared with our preview audience the great efforts that were made to find the right actors for this sensitive independent movie. Although they are not well known, they all seemed perfectly casted. Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is the young woman who is choosing to leave her mother (Jane Brennan) and sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) to make a new life in America, thanks to some contacts a priest Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), known to the family, is able to make for her. Isn’t it always some contact or connection that often opens the door for the new immigrant? Eilis falls in love with Tony an Italian boy (Emory Cohen). You obviously don’t have to be Italian to play one. There also is the attractive Irish lad in the old country (Domhnall Gleeson). The courtship and love story is so 1950s tender and real.
Of course there is conflict, tension and resolution although done extremely well. Nick Hornby, an accomplished author, wrote the screenplay based on the successful novel by Colm Tóibín. The music by Michael Brook was perfect. The take away from the movie was that your home is where your true love is.
The centerpiece of the movie is young Eilis who makes the trip to the United States not knowing what awaits her. She could have been your mother or your grandmother who made that trip many years ago and built a family from where we come or she could have been one of the young immigrants in the United States or elsewhere in modern times. Each one has a different love story that ultimately will make a home for a new generation. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Romance
October 25th, 2015 — 9:16pm
The Farewell Party -nf
It is a fitting coincidence that just a few weeks ago, Governor Brown signed into law, California’s Right to Die law which makes it the 5th state to have such legislation. This law will give terminally ill patients in California the option to end their lives by swallowing a lethal dose of physician prescribed drugs after certain conditions are met.
This very well done Israeli film, with English subtitles, directed and written by the duo of Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit addresses this very issue. It is a sensitive but yet comedic plot which mostly takes place in a luxurious assisted living facility in Jerusalem. Yehezkel (Ze’ev Revach) and his wife, Levana (Levana Finkelstein) have good friends, Yana (Aliza Rosen) and Max (Samuel Wolfe). Max is painfully dying and wants to end his life. The doctors want to continue treating him despite his suffering and the inability to relieve his pain. His wife, wants something to be done to end his suffering and asks their friends to help. They meet another resident of the assisted living facility, Dr. Daniel (Ilan Dar) who has experience ending lives with fatal doses of drugs. He is a veterinarian who has obviously put down many animals. and he agrees to help them. Yehezkel is an inventor of sorts and designs a machine in which the patient can push a button and have the deadly drugs injected for a painless death which they do for Max. Word spreads around the assisted living facility and this team does the deed another time. Levana does not favor what her husband and the others are doing. However, she begins to reconsider when she realizes that she has a progressive dementia.
So this well-written sensitive story with some wonderful comic touches puts this important subject under the microscope. The acting by these veteran actors is magnificent. The cinematography is very well done. The film received 14 nominations for the Israeli Oscar and won for best director with Revach winning for best actor. It is not easy to walk the line between drama and comedy on a subject such as death and assisted suicide but this film negotiates it quite well.
It is interesting to note that Israel has had an assisted suicide law for about 10 years. But in these situations, the “devil is in the details” and the values of these laws has to be closely examined to determine how well they serve the terminally ill and their families. It is a movie such as this one that can stimulate meaningful discussions, which can address the concerns that are involved in these situations. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign
October 25th, 2015 — 2:17am
Steve Jobs- rm
We came to this version of Steve Jobs’ story, Apple’s iconic founder, having seen the recent documentary film of Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine and also having read Walter Issaacson’s 2011 biography of Jobs. We are not so sure that we would have appreciated the nuances and the depths of how the relationships were depicted in this current movie, had we not experienced the two previous pieces. For example, we see a recurrent theme, which defines Jobs’ relationship with Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) as he pleads with Jobs to give him and the Apple-2-team credit during the new Apple launches. Jobs refuses because he says he wants to emphasize the future. In fact, Jobs has treated his friend Wozniak, the real inventor of the first Apple computer, very poorly. They had been friends working in Jobs’ garage when they were in their 20s. While not shown in this film, it has been previously documented that one of the first projects that they worked together was designing a game for Atari where Wozniak did all the work and Jobs dealt with the interface with Atari but grossly short-changed Wozniak when they were paid for their work, a pattern they apparently continued later in life. .
Perhaps the most important and revealing relationship shown in this film and well described in the previous book and movie is the one with his daughter Lisa. Early on Jobs consistently denied his paternity of Lisa. When it was eventually proven by genetic test, he reluctantly paid minimal support for the struggling mother and child despite the fact that at that time he was worth at least $440 million. We see Jobs wrestling with his feelings about Lisa in this film and his ambivalence towards her and her mother.
The dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin was typical of his fast-moving style in both the words and the physical movement of the characters. The film did not attempt to be a biography of Steve Jobs. Instead, the storyline showcased three specific product launches of the Apple computer. It revealed the behind-the-scenes interactions of Jobs and other important people, particularly with his daughter Lisa played very well by three different actresses, Mackenzie Moss when she was five, Ripley Sobo when she was nine and most significantly by Perla Haney-Jardine when Lisa was 19. Lisa’s mother was played Katherine Waterston.
There was one very interesting foray in trying to show some psychological insight of the origin of Jobs’ self-centered personality. This occurred when Jobs was interacting with John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) the Apple CEO who was originally hired by Jobs and then participated in firing Jobs at a later point in time. The discussion was about how Jobs was treating his daughter and how it might be related to his own childhood relationships. Jobs related how he was adopted as an infant but his new mother wasn’t sure that she would be allowed to keep him for certain complicated reasons, so she withheld her love during his first year so she would not become too attached to him. If that were true, it might explain Jobs’ apparent defective ability to relate to others despite his genius, unusual vision and talent in bringing his products to the world.
Credit has to be given to Michael Fassbender in his role as Jobs and to director Danny Boyle. A key role was also well done by Kate Winslet who played Joanna Hoffman an important member of the Mac team. The film will give the moviegoers the experience that they are transported back in time, and are seeing this iconic figure up close during some of his historic moments in the birth of the Apple computer. (2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History