Category: Drama


Manchester by the Sea

January 13th, 2017 — 7:53am

*****

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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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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

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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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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

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