Category: Drama


The Edge of Seventeen

December 5th, 2016 — 8:42am

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On The Edge Of Seventeen

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

Center Stage

December 1st, 2016 — 8:04pm

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***

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In addition to now being a TV network, NetFlix still offers subscribers the ability to reach into the past and request a DVD of a movie or an online play which we may have missed when it came out, or is about a subject that has great appeal to us. SB has always been a lover of ballet and all dance, so she pulled the trigger on this one. We both were not disappointed with this 16-year old film about the audition process to be chosen as a dancer to a topnotch ballet company. The setting is New York City, and any New Yorker will immediately recognize the streets surrounding Lincoln Center, where the American Ballet Theatre has its home.

Ballet stars start at a young age and most of the young faces in this film may not be out of their late teens. The storyline shows each aspiring dancer, male and female, having their own personality and their individual story. Some of the conflicts may be predictable and familiar, but they held our interest and drew us closer to the characters. However, the star of this film was the great dancing of this ensemble and the outstanding choreography.

While we didn’t recognize any of the cast, we suspect that many have gone on to great careers in professional dancing around the country. One outstanding male dancer, who is well-known at the time the movie was made, was Ethan Stiefel. Also, Zoe Saldana who played a rebellious young dancer, became a well-known actress who starred in two subsequent Star Wars movies as well as other big hits. Nicolas Hytner, the veteran British director, captured the great dancing throughout the film but also kept the pace of the storyline moving along quite well. There were no big surprises in the plot, but if you signed up for a dance movie, you will not be disappointed, especially with the finale. (2000

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Musical

Truth

November 27th, 2016 — 9:40pm

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****

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In 1974, Robert Redford portrayed Bob Woodward, a journalist in the movie All the President’s Men who along with another journalist Carl Bernstein exposed the Watergate scandal which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Now forty years later, Redford takes on the role of famed TV journalist, 60 Minutes host and CBS anchor Dan Rather in a movie that tells a story of an expose about President Bush that led to “hot water” for Dan Rather and his hotshot producer, Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett).

Both films show the inside exciting, pulse throbbing workings of a top grade news team in pursuit of a major news story that has the potential to destroy a United States President. The title Truth says it all. Rather and his team not only have to find the truth, but they have to be prepared to prove that it is the truth. The opposing side who cross-examined them turns out to be the other TV networks who are eager to bring down the prestigious famed CBS news team. Also on their backs are CBS top executives themselves who feel they can’t take any chances with a story unless all the facts are perfect. The term “beyond a doubt” was never used in this movie, but really this is what it was all about.

The screenplay writer and the first time director is James Vanderbilt. The story is based on a book by Mary Mapes, the award winning lead investigative reporter and producer for the famed 60 Minutes TV show. Her portrayal by Blanchett is riveting and there are excellent supporting roles by Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss, Topher Grace, Stacy Keach and Bruce Greenwood.

You may not follow every last detail of the story unfolding before you, but the film will hold you on the edge of your seat. It is certainly a must-see for history, political and news buffs. (2016)

Your comments are welcome on any review published in this blog and will be posted after a brief time lag.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

Lion

November 24th, 2016 — 7:47am

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This is a beautiful story based on real life that will deeply move many people and it would not surprise us if it is an award contender. Therefore we don’t want to discourage potential viewers, but we thought it could have been done much better and shorter.

It is the story of a young Indian boy living in one of many poverty-stricken areas of India who joins his older brother on a late night adventure as they set out to try to make a few rupeess doing child labor tasks. He gets lost and separated from his brother ultimately falling asleep on a train ending up a couple of thousand miles away from his mother. The plight of Saroo is poignant enough by itself but the appeal of this young child played by a young Indian boy Sunny Pawar, who was chosen for the part over thousands of children, emotionally draws in the viewer.

Saroo is ultimately adopted by a loving Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) which is the equivalent of winning the lottery. Fast forward about 25 years into the future and this now young man (Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame) is having flashbacks of his childhood which are preventing him from moving forward with his life. The problem with the movie is that there was no fast forward but rather many long drawn-out scenes often showing countryside, trains winding through mountains, maps with pins in it and attempted reconstruction by the now young man as he tries to figure out where he left his mother and brother. There are endless views of Google Earth as Saroo now tries to reconcile his childhood memories and find the place where he came from. We meet a second child adopted by the Australian parents who we really don’t get to know very much about nor do we understand Saroo’s relationship with his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara), who seems lovely but we get no insight into what makes them tick as a couple since Saroo is now preoccupied with finding his birth mother and of course doesn’t want to hurt his loving parents who raised him.

We have written about the search for biological parents among adopted children and variations of this meaningful psychological theme have been played out in many movies.(click here to read article) Perhaps we can identify with the story because we try to imagine how we might feel if we were in this situation. This movie based on a book by the real Saroo which was put into a screenplay by Luke Davies and directed by Garth Davis. At the conclusion of this 120-minute movie, as the titles were being shown, there was an actual brief film clip of the real Saroo introducing his adopted mother to his biological mother which to us was the most moving moment of the film. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Miss Sloane

November 16th, 2016 — 1:08am

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This is an exciting and engrossing drama about the dark world of government lobbying. Just as James Bond is not based on a real-life character, it is possible that some version of Mr. Bond or Ms. Sloane’s story might really have occurred. In the case of this movie, we are given a view of what could happen when high-powered lobbying firms are hired to battle over pending government legislation on gun control. Would it surprise you to learn that perhaps in such a situation “anything goes”? We meet a very determined, perhaps brilliant woman, Madeline Sloane (Jessica Chastain) who not only desperately wants to see her client triumph with winning legislation but will do just about anything to get the United States Senate votes needed to accomplish her goal.

As is the case with any good movie, there are twists and turns that you will not see coming but which will add to your appreciation of the film. There are some excellent performances by Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alison Pill, Michael Stuhlbarg, Sam Waterston and John Lithgow. However, the main focus is on Jessica Chastain and she certainly does deliver. We heard that this actress met with a dozen female lobbyists in preparation for this part and picked their brains to master this role. She also copied their black nail polish that several of them did use. We were certainly mesmerized by this character but being students of psychic determinism, we would have liked more insight into the background that made Ms. Sloane tick.

The story behind the making of this movie is quite intriguing. We met the screen writer who created the story. This is Jonathan Perera who graduated law school in England and after working for a few years as an attorney to pay his school debts, he took a job teaching English in China and then in Korea for a total of two years. It was in this somewhat isolated setting on his own, he conceived and wrote this, his first script which was picked up and set up to be made into this major movie directed by veteran filmmaker, John Madden. This is a remarkable accomplishment and we expect to see many more films by this talented writer. The film is two hours and 12 minutes but time will fly which is the sign of a very good movie, (2016).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Arrival

November 12th, 2016 — 7:47pm

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As the title indicates and as we learn early in the film, our planet has been visited by 12 extraterrestrial oval-shaped gigantic spaceships at various locations throughout the world. Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is an outstanding linguist who is recruited by the United States military to try to communicate with the heptatopod-shaped gigantic aliens who are behind a transparent wall on the spaceship that landed in Montana We also learned early in the story line that Louise has suffered the loss of a beloved daughter through illness (or is it that she will suffer the tragic loss of a daughter in the future). The reason for the confusion (and you will be confused) is because one of the themes of the film is that the aliens don’t experience time in a linear fashion as do we earthlings. Obviously, this is reflected in the complicated language which Dr. Banks is trying to decode. We know that other governments are also trying to figure out if the spaceship in their country is dangerous to them. Will this invasion bring the world together?

As you can imagine, the language of the aliens is very complicated and we learned in a post film discussion with Eric Heisserer, the screenwriter, that the filmmaker tried to make some logic in the visuals of the written language that was shown on the screen (although we are quite sure that no viewer could understand it). In fact part of the problem with the film, aside from the non-human way of thinking, was that the dialogue was frequently drowned out by loud special effect sounds supposedly coming from the aliens or perhaps from a weird musical soundtrack. The screenwriter Heisserer confessed to us that he at times couldn’t hear some of the dialogue also but it didn’t bother him because he knew it since he wrote it (thanks a lot). In addition, most of the movie was in the dark, not only on the spacecraft or in the US government tents and buildings surrounding it, but also outside (we seem to recall from a vacation or two out there, that part of the country does have sunshine).

The star and centerpiece of the film is Amy Adams who does her trademark wide eye, thoughtful face as well as an intensity which her role requires. She is surrounded by Oscar nominated Jeremy Renner and Oscar winner Forest Whitaker as well as veteran actor Michael Stuhlbarg, all who really have small minor roles which could have been handled by many no name actors or by people not as well known as them.

The film director Denis Villeneuve worked closely with screenwriter Eric Heisserer who said that he also stayed in close touch with Ted Chiang who wrote the story upon which the film was based. We just are not sure how many viewers will tune in to their wavelength. We know that many science fiction fans will enjoy giving this movie a try (2016).

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Infinitely Polar Bear

November 6th, 2016 — 4:38am

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The title of this film apparently is meant to capture the theme in which the main character has a “bipolar condition”. Cameron (Mark Ruffalo), despite at times being mentally out of control, is really a loving husband to his wife, Maggie (Zoe Saladana) and their two adorable girls.

While  we didn’t think that the clinical picture of bipolar was typical but of course bipolar or manic depression can be overlaid on many different types of personalities and can occur in various family configurations. We are also told that the movie is based on a true story. The setting was the mid 1970s. “Bipolar” wasn’t actually a term that was used until the 1980s as the condition was known as manic depression at that time. Lithium was the main medication used to treat it and we see in the film Cam taking this medication or not taking it and having an exacerbation of his symptoms. The new mood stabilizers that are used today were not yet developed during the time period of the film.

The story line of the film deals with other significant topics in addition to mental illness. Cam and Maggie are an interracial couple and we see that one of their children questions whether she is “black” because she resembles her white dad as compared to her sister who is more like her mother’s appearance. The simple but clear manner in which Maggie handles this child’s question was done very well. Maggie goes to New York to pursue graduate school with the plan to visit Cam and the kids in Massachusetts every weekend for a year and a half. When she completes her education and attempts to get a job with a prestigious Boston firm, it appears that they don’t offer her the job because she is a working mom who is leaving dad at home. There is also a story line which shows how unsophisticated so called established wealthy families can be, illustrated by Cam’s family not approving of the non-traditional roles that Cam and Maggie have taken on and also demonstrated how they show very little understanding of their son’s mental illness (at least in the setting in time period of this movie).

We are left with a touching movie which gives us a taste of the struggles of the family that we come to care about. Maya Forbes the writer director did a wonderful job in developing the setting and the personalities  of all the characters. We had feelings for them and we’re rooting for them. This is a sign of a good movie. It was sweet although not very complex but we suggest that you consider seeing it. (2015)

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

I Smile Back

October 28th, 2016 — 5:54am

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This film is certainly a wonderful showcase for the acting talents of the versatile Sarah Silverman who is well-recognized as an outstanding comedian, writer and producer as well as an actor. In this movie, she inhabits the character of Laney Brooks who is married to Bruce, a successful insurance agent (Josh Charles). She is the mother of two adorable children. However underneath it all she is shown to be a disturbed, philandering, cocaine sniffing, alcoholic who fails at an attempt at rehab.

The screenplay by Amy Koppelman and Paige Dylan (daughter-in-law of Bob Dylan) provides a hint of the underlying psychodynamics of this woman, as we learn that the main character’s father left Laney’s mother when she was 9 and never made attempts to contact her. At one point, we are briefly informed that Laney has also stopped taking her Lithium. This would tell us that she also has a bipolar condition which might consist of severe mood swings with deep depression or psychotic manic episodes or both. We know from our clinical experience that shaky unstable childhood relationships can lead to a troubled-adult life but when mixed with an inborn bipolar disorder it can be even more problematic. When substance abuse especially cocaine and alcohol are added to the mix, families are often destroyed, lives ruined and the results can be fatal one way or the other.

Truthfully we are not sure when the main character is actually “smiling back.” The story is a depressing one itself with no light seen at the end of tunnel. There were some moments of decent treatment interactions which were overall sadly unsuccessful. While it is not the purpose of a movie to promote mental health treatment, one of us only wishes that it could have been worked into the film in a more positive manner. While not thrilled by how the story line was carried out, we can recommend this film as an example of an acting triumph by Ms. Silverman.(2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Coming Through The Rye

October 20th, 2016 — 6:17am

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If J.D. Salinger’s novel  Catcher in the Rye was part of your coming of age, this movie will connect with you. James Sadwith, writer, director and producer of this film has recreated his actual personal true encounter with the legendary author which occurred in the 1960s when he was attending a private prep school on the east coast.

The story develops as we meet the main character, Jamie Schwartz (Alex Wolff) who is obsessed with  Holden Caulfield, the hero of the Salinger novel. Schwartz decides that for his senior school project, he wants to produce and direct a play recreating the Salinger novel. He is told by the school faculty that he must obtain permission from J.D. Salinger ( Chris Cooper) himself who is known to be quite a recluse. Jamie and his new girlfriend Deedee (Stephania Owen) track down Salinger in New Hampshire and have two visits with him before and after he produced the school play, recreating the famed novel.

In a post-screening interview, Sadwith told how the story is 90% accurate and that he based the script on his tape recorded notes of his exact dialogue with local New Hampshire folks who with whom he spoke during his search to find the author and the exact words he had in his interaction with Salinger when he finally met him. The protagonist, Jamie Schwartz, was played in a very nuanced and sensitive manner and actually had a physical appearance and mannerisms, which reminded us of a young Bob Dylan. Ms. Owen was very appealing as the teenage young woman who clearly is sympatico with Jamie. Their “road trip” shows the tenderness and awkwardness of a near first sexual encounter that many people of that generation may very well understand.

Just as it was rare for a novel to capture the imagination of a generation that perhaps endured for over 20 years, it is rare for a movie to recreate these feelings without adapting the specific novel itself for the film. There is also a segment in the film which puts the focus on “bullying” at school. in this case, it is at a private prep school in 1960s but it could be in any modern setting. We see here a strong response and support of the victim by the faculty which we hope would occur any time this happens.

Although a low budget film, this was very well done. The photography captured the atmosphere and the music matched the time and setting quite well. We have no doubt that this film will resonate with those who still have their treasured copy of Catcher in the Rye. It will be interesting to see how it will be received by the millennials, although we suspect that there is a universality in the story that will be able to connect across generations.(2016)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Moonlight

October 13th, 2016 — 6:56pm

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In order for this film to be successful, it would require an insightful sensitive story by a McArthur genius award-winning writer Tarrell Alvin McCraney, interpreted by an empathic screenwriter/director Barry Jenkins who would work with his usual brilliant cinematographer James Laxton along with a haunting musical score by Nicolas Britell. There would have to be perfect casting and performances which might include an experienced actor such as Mahershala Ali who has been featured in House of Cards as well as Noemi Harris, Janelle Monae and a very talented newcomer Trevante Rhodes as well as two child actors who nailed their performances. Needless to say, all these elements were present and came together in the perfect storm. The result is a movie which empathically presented the struggle of a person who realized he might be different and tried to find himself. The story was divided into three parts as we meet Chiron first at age 10, then at age 16 and finally as an adult. In each phase, we feel and understand his search for identity. This could be any outsider who grows up and doesn’t feel readily accepted and understood by his peers who might bully him. It could be any child who yearns for an understanding parent or a parental figure. It could be anyone who is different because of their age, sex, religion or sexual orientation. It happens that this story is in an all Black setting and community and all the cast is Black. The characters are Black and the speech has a local vernacular which might mean that we occasionally miss a phrase or a nuance. The story is however universal and talented actors of any background could have performed it. We can equally assume that this talented cast could have portrayed these emotions and conflicts in any other setting. This realization and the acclaim that this production deserves to receive may be groundbreaking for the modern film industry. This is probably one of the reasons why Plan B, Brad Pitt’s innovative production company, has chosen to be part of the team bringing this important picture to life.(2016)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama

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