Category: Drama


The Mountain Between Us

October 4th, 2017 — 5:49am

****

The Mountain Between Us

This film successfully blends a survival film genre and a subtle love story. Add a very appealing dog and set the film in a deserted snow field freezing mountain range and you have a riveting movie based on a best selling novel. Seven-time Oscar nominated actress Kate Winslet may be up for her eighth nomination and perhaps her second win as she plays a professional photographer, Alex Martin, who gets shut out of her commercial flight on the way home to get married. She is paired perfectly with Idris Elba who plays Ben Bass, a neurosurgeon who shares a quickly arranged but ill-fated flight in a small private plane with Alex.

Aside from the slow burning chemistry that develops between the two main characters who inhabit the film together for most of the 111 minutes, it is the vision and creativity of director Hany Abu-Assad that makes this movie worth seeing. We had an opportunity to hear a firsthand description by the director how he put aside utilizing CGIs (computer-generated images) for most of the film and instead took his film crew high into the freezing cold beautiful mountain country and had his two actors and a dog slip and slide struggling through freezing ice cold snow. He even had his actress fall into a deep crevice of icy water.

Whether you identified with the journey of these two characters or mainly admire the skill of this film production, you will appreciate that this is a movie well worth seeing. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Romance

Maudie

September 11th, 2017 — 2:40am

***

Maudie-rm

Sally Hawkins turned in one of the best acting performances of the year and in our opinion deserves Oscar consideration. Ethan Hawke also was magnificent and deserves acclaim along with Director Eisling Walsh who put together this very touching movie written by Sherry White.

The setting is a rural community in Nova Scotia, which looks like it is the 1930s but was probably more likely the 1980s. Hawkins plays Maudie, a handicapped young woman who has physical disabilities and has lived a difficult life. We meet her as her brother tells her that he has sold their deceased mother’s house and Maudie has to continue living with her aunt with whom she doesn’t seem to get along very well. While in a general store of a small community, she then sees a fisherman (Ethan Hawke) put an advertisement on a bulletin board looking for a woman to help him with chores like cleaning and making meals in his one–room cabin. She applies for the job, gets it when no one else applies and moves into his cabin.

The remainder of the film is an examination of the relationship between these two people and the small community in which they live. Maudie is a natural artist and she begins to draw on the wall and windows of her cabin. She is discovered by a wealthy tourist from New York, who gives her work some visibility. She is ultimately the subject of a TV show, which popularizes her work and she becomes a somewhat known artist. She also ultimately wears her “employer” down and convinces him to marry her. There is no evidence that she achieves any kind of wealth from her work but she clearly derives great satisfaction from what she does and even grudging respect from her husband. In the film we only see the couple as poor people living in the small cabin.

Despite the captivating performances of these two actors, the plot doesn’t expand with any interesting stories nor do the characters develop in any depth. While we were drawn to these people who seemed as real as they were different from anyone we have known. However, we felt that the movie was too drawn out and ultimately fell short. We wanted more than we were given especially since we realized at the end of the film, that the story was based on real people as we were shown a brief video clip of them . (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Gook

August 17th, 2017 — 5:37am

****

Gook-sp

Be prepared for a powerful penetrating examination of the conflictual relationship between the Koreans and the Blacks in Los Angeles in 1992 just as the riots following the Rodney King incident exploded. This is cinema realite as this black and white film follows a handful of characters who have their own personal interactions as their city is about to burn.

The story revolves around Kamilla, a 10 or 11-year-old adorable Black girl (Simone Baker) who lives with her older brother and sister, goes to school and spends most of her spare time helping out in a shoe store run by a two Korean brothers, Eli (Justin Chon) and Daniel (David So). Kamilla’s brother, Keith (Curtiss Cook Jr.) comes into a major confrontation with the Korean brothers that is symbolic of what is about to happen in the City of Angels. This movie is written and directed by Justin Chon who plays Eli. He stated in a post-film interview that he wanted to present a balanced view of the Black and Korean conflicts at this time. We will forgive him for clearly being more sympathetic to the Koreans but nevertheless providing insight into both sides. There is a Korean store keeper, Mr. Kim (played by the director’s father, Sang Chon) who provides a sense of the previous generation who came to the United States hoping to provide a better life for their children, and then finds themselves and families engaged in a bitter conflict in a city that is erupting into an even larger polarizing battle.

The contrast between the innocence and hopefulness of Kamilla and the venomous curse words spouted out by the warring factions is as stark and bleak as is the black and white film that is shown on the screen. We cannot help but be reminded how there are contentious and polarized groups in this country today. But hopefully this movie has also shown how fruitless it can be for individuals and groups to hate each other. That is the big message of this small independent movie and it is well worth viewing. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Summer Hours

August 11th, 2017 — 10:10pm

***

Summer Days-nf

This almost 10-year-old French film (with subtitles) captures some of the beauty of the French countryside, family tradition, love of artistic paintings, beautiful furniture and even old and modern vases. It is also a sensitive depiction of three siblings who have to decide how to handle their mother’s estate of the family countryside house and its possessions. Director/writer Olivier Assayas with four great performance by Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jeremie Renier and Edith Scob does an excellent job in getting us to relate to the various family members and their mother. As we were enjoying this very realistic development of each of the characters, we kept imagining where the storyline might lead us. There were hints of a secret love affair, art objects with an unsuspected history, possible miscalculation of the value of the art and teenage children of the next generation who might undermine their whole legacy. But the film did not take us on any interesting journey. All of life doesn’t have to have an intriguing storyline. However, there are unlimited choices for a Netflix movie for our viewing pleasure so we had expected more than we felt was delivered. (2008)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign

The Only Living Boy in New York

August 2nd, 2017 — 5:19am

 ****

The Only Living Boy in New York-sp

This movie has some shades of a Woody Allen film in its character studies of people and in capturing the atmosphere of Manhattan. It examines family and sexual relationships between a husband and wife as well as extramarital love and sex. It looks at a young man’s struggle with his sexual and romantic feelings. This is a psychological drama that highlights guilt, jealousy and even an important aspect of the oedipal complex. It is complicated and heavy stuff and it all flows from the pen of screenwriter Allen Loeb, who had written several successful movies before this earlier script ultimately came to fruition. This didn’t happen until Marc Webb became attached to it as director and a terrific ensemble cast was put together which includes Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon, Kiersey Clemons and Kate Beckinsale. However, the character who ties the plot together is relative newcomer, Callum Turner, who plays Thomas, the 25-year-old son who ultimately makes deep seated discoveries about himself and each of his parents before he can move on with his life.

This Coming of Age  movie that will capture your attention and make you ponder each character’s motivation. The story has depth, poignancy and surprises which will grab hold you and won’t let go throughout the film. It certainly kept us thinking and talking as we left the theater. (2017) – Scheduled for release August 11th

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Romance

To The Bone

July 30th, 2017 — 9:52pm

***

To the Bone-nf

This is a movie about young people who have eating disorders. The story revolves mainly around Ellen (Lily Collins), a 20-year old woman whose parents broke up when she was a young girl. She went to live with her father and his new wife (Carrie Preston) and her half-sister. Her own mother (Valerie Palincar) moved in with her new lesbian partner. Ellen developed an eating disorder and became anorexic. We never see her father in the movie and we get the impression that he is mostly an absent parent. Most of the story takes place in a house/treatment program where Ellen lives with five other girls and one young man, all with eating disorders of one type or the other. There are some staff who live with them and enforce the rules of the house as well as running group sessions. There is also the “doctor” (Keanu Reeves) who holds an individual session with the “entire family” on initial intake and then comes to the house for individual sessions.

The viewer comes to appreciate how this terrible life-threatening condition is manifested, not only in Ellen, but in each of the people living in the house and participating in the treatment program. Great credit should go to Director/Screenwriter Marti Noxon who provides insight into this very challenging medical/psychiatric condition with which so many young people struggle. Ms. Collins, in her depiction of Ellen, was superb not only in her acting, but she also deserves credit for losing the weight required for this part.

This movie and story could only  touch the surface of the psychological issues usually involved in understanding and treating this condition. No one statement by a therapist, apology from a parent or insight into a dream can suddenly turn around this illness. The filmmaker had to face this reality but yet obviously wanted to give an optimistic hope to the viewers. Certainly many people with eating disorders are able to move on and live happy productive lives. Hopefully, this film will stimulate interest in understanding eating disorders and will encourage families and those struggling with the illness to seek help and ultimately overcome it. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Fill The Void

July 29th, 2017 — 4:44am

***

Fill the Void-nf

By sheer coincidence, after we had just previewed Menashe on this blog, the next film in our Netflix queue is the 2013 Israeli film about Orthodox Hasidic Jews (in Hebrew with subtitles).

Fill the Void examines the orthodox tradition of arranged marriages. The movie centers around 18-year-old Shira (Hadas Yaron) after Esther (Renana Raz) her older sister tragically dies in childbirth. Esther is survived by her newborn son and her grieving husband Yochay (Yiftach Klein) as well as her parents and sister. Shira is now of marriageable age and is considering possible candidates provided by the matchmaker and of course is being considered by eligible men. Yochay is being “offered” a woman who might move to Belgium if he were to marry her. The idea of losing touch with their newborn grandson is horrifying to the grieving grandparents which makes them want Shira to consider Yochay.

This film is a sensitive and penetrating view of the orthodox community steeped in this tradition of prayer and customs. It also suggests the complicated perhaps guilt-ridden feelings that Shira might have as she considers becoming a substitute wife for her handsome brother-in-law to whom she is ambivalently drawn to as he is to her.

Director/writer Rama Burshtein knows well the community about which this film revolves. This allows the storyline to be developed in some depth. The setting, costuming, covered heads, flowing beards, attractive head coverings, chanting, rocking and singing prayers and the conflicted theme of this storyline are all very genuine and realistic. The photography and lighting are done particularly well. This movie does fill a void in depicting the subject matter in this setting that most people are unfamiliar. (2013)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign, Romance

Manashe

July 26th, 2017 — 5:33am

***

Menashe-sp

It is not very often that we see a film all about the Hassidic community and completely in Yiddish (with subtitles of course).

Documentary filmmaker Joshua Z. Weinstein jumped into this project with all four hats (or should we say Yamakas) as director/writer/producer and cinematographer. He was able to connect with Hassidic Jews who spoke Yiddish and were interested in acting in this movie. This is a story of Menashe (Menashe Lustig) who is a recent widower and wants to continue taking care of his 10 or 11-year-old son, Rieven (Ruben Niborski) despite the Rabbi’s (Meyer Schwartz) view that the brother-in-law (Yoel Weisshaus) and his wife would be better caretakers. Menashe is also resisting the pressure that he should make an arrangement with the matchmaker and get a new wife.

On one hand, this could be a universal theme that might be set in other cultures but it is a unique accomplishment to pull it off in the ultraorthodox Hassidic community. The real Menashe (the actor) was quite genuine as the on screen Menashe. The child actor was superb equaling his father with facial expressions, which conveyed the complicated feelings that they were portraying.

While this movie was ultimately picked up by A-24 for distribution, it was made with a low budget. However, the story came across as quite authentic and was able to use the streets of Brooklyn and a sufficient number of appropriate extras to convey a genuine realistic atmosphere. This was a special accomplishment since the director/writer was not fluent in Yiddish and this project required numerous translators to assist in all aspects of it.

When a project such as this one is so successful in bringing a unique cultural environment to the screen, it makes us want to see an even more complicated in-depth story than what was delivered. Also missing were depictions of the positive values with mutual support of this group of people especially at times of holidays and the Sabbath. Nevertheless, we believe that many viewers will find this a worthwhile cinematic experience. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Brave New Jersey

July 19th, 2017 — 5:35am

***

Brave New Jersey-sp

Most people have heard about of Orson Welles’ famous 1938 radio broadcast which simulated an invasion of the Earth by hostile aliens from Mars. The invaders were supposed to have landed in New Jersey. The broadcast was perceived by many people as real and there were stories of people fleeing their homes in panic.

This movie imagines how the people in a peaceful town appropriately named “Lullaby” might have responded. Local people were convinced that they were facing a deadly enemy, which they had to deal with themselves before any soldiers might come to their aid. Each person had to face this or her potential end of life. The local reverend, Ray (Dan Bakkedahl) had to examine his faith in God and his strength to lead his flock at such a time. Paul Davison (Sam Jaeger), the rich benefactor of the town had to deal with his own instincts to flee and leave his family at the time of a crisis. His wife Lorraine (Heather Burns) must consider if she will acknowledge what she has always known about her husband and where her true love really lies. Perhaps the person who most rises to the occasion that he never knew was inside himself was the town mayor, Clark Hill (Tony Hale from Veep fame) who among other things had to decide if he was ready declare his romantic feelings to a married woman.

As you can see there are many subthemes and while they all don’t quite flow together, director and co-writer Jody Lambert with Michael Dowling have come up with an original twist on a classical piece of radio history. They have chosen excellent actors, many of whom will be instantly recognized by their previous work. There also were wonderful performances by some of the child actors in the movie. The music background suggests a hint of a science fiction atmosphere which seems appropriate. This movie is quite unique and it may very well capture the imagination of the viewing public. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

The Beguiled

July 17th, 2017 — 4:56am

**

The Beguiled-rm

Three years into the Civil War, a pre-teenage Southern girl picking mushrooms in the woods stumbles upon a wounded Yankee soldier (Colin Farrell) after a battle has moved on. She brings the injured soldier to a woman’s school where she lives with eight females ranging from a teacher to two or three preteens in a large beautiful old southern mansion which housed the school.

Here is where the title of the movie becomes important. Before we looked it up, we thought the word “beguiled” has a meaning somewhere between “attracted to” and “seduced by”. The actual dictionary definition that we found in Merriam-Webster’s (online of course): is “to lead by deception… hoodwinked… to deceive by wiles…” So this movie appears to be about what this soldier living with these girls and women did to them… and what they did to him. The movie which was directed Sophia Coppolla, daughter of Francis Ford and Eleanor Coppolla is a remake of an older movie of the same name from 1973 starring Clint Eastwood with an apparent slight change in emphasis. We haven’t seen the earlier film but we believe this new version is more from a female perspective.

We were on the edge of our seats for the first half of the film but then found that it didn’t hold up. We both felt that the plot turned unbelievable. The women were played by strong actresses that included Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning, but we really didn’t come to understand any of the the character’s backstory and we felt we were left high and dry at the conclusion. (2017)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama

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