Category: Drama


Inside Llewyn Davis

March 3rd, 2015 — 3:15am

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Inside Llewelyn Davis- nf  This is a story about a fictional folk singer in the 1960s played by Oscar Isaacs. The Coen brothers wrote the screenplay and also directed it. It also features Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund and Justin Timberlake. Think of a Bob Dylan who never became well known. He is obviously talented and believes in his music. We see him playing in clubs in Greenwich Village in Manhattan and struggling to be recognized and get work. He is intense and brooding. He is scarred by the trauma of the death of a former singing partner who jumped off the George Washington Bridge. He frequently crashes on the couches of people who like and believe in him. There is some very fine folk music in the film not only sung by the protagonist but also an outstanding background music track. This flows through most of the movie as we follow Llewelyn hitching long car rides across the country as he seeks gigs to establish himself. This is a very likable character and we believe the audience will be rooting for him as we were. Much of the film was shot in dark clubs or in the evening. We had to think twice to be sure the movie wasn’t in black and white. You might call it Film Noir without the mystery plot. We don’t see fame and fortune at the end, which might make some of us feel sad. But perhaps this movie is really for the young or those who identify with the generation still in their 20s and 30s when you are willing to hold on to your dream even when the “pot of gold” is not in sight.(2013)

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

McFarland, U.S.A.

February 19th, 2015 — 7:05pm

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McFarland, U.S.A. – sp -

What could be more all American than a sports film staring Kevin Costner? (think Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Tip Cup, For the Love of the Game) Add to this, a New Zealand director who has established credentials in understanding cultures, not her own, by immersing herself within these places. That is Niki Caro who previously made the award winning film “Whale Rider” about an obscure Maori tribe. On top of that , Disney Studios is backing the film. McFarland, U.S.A. is certainly a United States story, but it is also an authentic depiction of first generation Mexican immigrants living in the Central California town of McFarland. The community lives by picking fruit and vegetables that will be on American tables. The kids attend school but are also employed in the fields doing the back-breaking “picking” work to add to the support of their families. Along comes a new teacher, Jim White, (Kevin Costner) who had had problems in his previous jobs and comes to McFarland as the only place which was so desperate for a teacher that he is hired. He arrives in this small, dusty, impoverished town with his wife and two daughters, none of whom is happy to be coming to this place so alien to them. He is to be the assistant football coach and teach life sciences courses. While his job as football coach soon ends, he realizes that while the kids have little going for them, some of them are incredibly fast, strong runners. The story takes off from there. On one hand you might think that you can guess the drift of the film, but this is much more than a “Chariots of Fire” lookalike. It is a moving story based on the lives of real people who you will hear about in the closing scenes and rolling credits. It will touch you, excite you and make you laugh. It will send a chill up your spine, bring a tear to your eye and you will walk out of the theater knowing you have experienced an outstanding film. (2015)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Family / Kids, Sport

Tangerines

February 12th, 2015 — 4:59pm

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 10.59.12 PMTangerines- sp Most Americans don’t know very much about the various regions of the former Soviet Union and regional wars that have occurred there over the years. For example in the 1990s there were intense battles between the Chechens and the Georgians who were fighting over land formerly lived in by people from Estonia most of whom fled back to Estonia. If these historical facts don’t mean much to you, it isn’t necessary to study maps of this area to appreciate this film. The plot is relatively simple. Ivo, an Estonian man has stayed behind to build wooden crates to help harvest a crop of tangerines, which are grown on his friend’s nearby farm. Some bloody encounters between the warring factions leave several soldiers dead and 2 injured at Ivo’s doorstep. What develops is a moving drama between these two soldiers on opposing sides and the two civilians who attempt to rescue them The story was written in two weeks by Zaza Urushadze who also eventually directed the movie after it was set up for a 30 day shoot by producer Ivo Felt. The film emerges as good of an anti-war movie that you will have ever seen. The acting is suburb with starring roles by very well known actors in their region of the world. They are: Lembit Ulfsak, Mikheil Meskhi, Giorgi Nakhashidze, Elmo Niiganen and Raivo Trass. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe and currently is one of the nominees for an Oscar as Best Foreign Film. It has English subtitles and deserves to be translated into many different languages and shown all over the world. It may be a little while until is passes through your local Art Movie theatre but it is worth tracking down and seeing it when it becomes available. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, War

Still Alice

February 7th, 2015 — 6:52am

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Still Alice- rm We were moved to see film because of all the pre Academy Award hype about the performance of Julianne Moore. After seeing this film we agree that she did a tremendous job playing a college professor who has Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease and probably deserves an Oscar. The overall movie disappointed us. Alice Howland ( Ms. Moore) is happily married with three grown children, is a renowned linguistics professor who is forgetting words and having memory lapses. She receives a diagnosis of this relatively rare disease which inevitably has a fairly rapid downhill course. Ms. Moore’s performance is nuanced and her struggle is very painful and easy to empathize with. Her facial expressions convey what we imagine are her internal feelings. Her eyes portray her fear and then the diminished attention and intellectual ability. It is a remarkable performance. It is helped by her gradual change in makeup and hair appearance. The screenplay which was written by director Richard Glatzer is based on novel by Lisa Genova, was focused almost completely on Alice despite having an excellent cast and potential story lines that could have made this in our opinion a much better movie. We learn in this film that this is an inherited disease and once you have the gene you will inevitably get the disease. It is possible to do genetic testing and that is offered to her three children played by Kristin Stewart, Shane McRae and Hunter Parrish. One daughter declined to be tested, one son tested negative and a third daughter who was trying to become pregnant tested positive. We are not shown anything about their struggle and their decision process, which is one of the major areas of ethical discussions in the world of modern genetics. Her husband is played by Alec Baldwin, who in our opinion turns in an uncharacteristically bland performance. Perhaps again it is the choice of the screenwriter/director to keep the main focus on Ms. Moore. This may be why we don’t see the internal struggle of the husband and his remarkable decision in what would seem to be the final phase of his wife’s illness, to decide to take a job out of town. It could have been a tour de force if we could more fully appreciate what this family was going through as well as the devastation conveyed so well by Ms. Moore. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Timbuktu

February 5th, 2015 — 8:10pm

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Timbuktu sp- “Timbuktu” is widely used to describe a place extremely far away and regarded by many as a myth. In reality it’s a city in Mali, West Africa. It is situated on the southernmost edge of the Sahara Desert. This film although named Timbuktu was actually filmed in Mauritania, a country a little to the north and deemed a little safer for the French and African crew and cast that made this highly charged political film. This movie was produced and directed by Ahderrahmane Sissaki who also co-wrote the screenplay. It is the first film from Mauritania and one of the very few from Africa to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. It attempts to show how the Jihadists, who are contemporary armed Islamic fundamentalists, attempt to impose their values on other Islamic people who don’t hold their extreme beliefs. The setting is the beautiful African dessert where some animals run wild and others are herded by local people many of whom are religious but don’t hold the extreme beliefs of the Jihadists. This leads to horrific scenes, which include a young couple being stoned to death for having a sexual relationship and not being married. Others are given painful 40 lashes for singing and enjoying music. Women are also forbidden from even showing their hands and must wear gloves. The actors are quite good and very believable in their roles although most have not acted before. Some of the actors, we learned, have performed as musicians. The storyline is more a tableaux of scenes woven together to achieve the message that the filmmaker clearly wishes to make. It has relevancy to the world situation as the news is filled with stories about terrorism by various extremist Islamic groups, such as ISIS, al Qaeda and others as they spread their influence throughout the world. A movie such as this one that attempts to show extremism and oppression of people becomes even more effective than political speeches and news reports to educate the public. We understand that already the movie is showing strong box office appeal in various parts of Africa as well as in France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe. However, as an enjoyable, absorbing well done film we can’t put it near the top of our list. Granted the photography is quite beautiful and did capture the texture and ambience of the land. However there is no real storyline. There is no character development and we really know very little about the background of any of the people that we meet. Since they mostly walk around with some type of cloth around their faces (men and women), at times we didn’t even know who was who. Some of the scenes were drawn out too long in our opinion. We had the opportunity to question the filmmaker about some of the fine points of the movie that we did not comprehend. Although that helped to understand what had occurred, regular movie goers will not have that added help. The overall message was fairly clear but we found the movie which was 97 minutes, to feel much longer. In sum, the political value trumps the cinematic value. We hope it makes a difference but we can’t recommend it as a must see film.(2015)

 

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, History

American Sniper

January 31st, 2015 — 10:57pm

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American Sniper –rm   After being shut out at the box office last week because it was sold out we finally got in to see this film. It has already grossed over 217 million dollars (so they really didn’t need our money) on a budget of 59 million dollars to make it. The film has been nominated for an Oscar as best picture and Bradley Cooper as best actor as well as receiving nominations for sound, sound editing and best adapted screenplay by Jason Hall. (It was adapted from the book by the sniper himself Chris Kyle) It is directed by Clint Eastwood. We tend to side with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association who decided that this film didn’t make the grade for any Golden Globe Awards. In our opinion we just didn’t make any emotional connection with the character as depicted in the movie. Yes, we were genuinely touched at the end of the film when there were actual movie clips of the funeral tributes to this war hero who died as a civilian in 2013. (Sorry about the spoiler but you probably knew this already and it won’t take away from the movie). He had an unusual skill with a long range rifle and he cared about his buddies. Chris Kyle had more than 160 “kills” which is the most by far in the history of the United States military. He volunteered for extra tours of duty (actually having 4 tours and he had over 1000 days in a combat zone) despite the pleading of his wife (played by Sienna Miller) that she and their children needed him. He could have spent more time at home training other soldiers. Perhaps the writers and filmmakers try too hard to stick to the exact story presented to them and don’t use the poetic license that a good fictional drama can explore when they develop a character. It was interesting to us that we felt the same way about the movie Unbroken (see our review) which was another recent movie about a real life war hero which stayed close to the  facts without very much depth.. It also didn’t move us although our admiration for the man especially as shown in the book was tremendous. Compare this to what we think is one of the greatest war films to come out in a long time, The Hurt Locker (see our review). This was fictional drama perhaps based on real events, but the main character is a composite. In our opinion this allowed the writers and director to explore subtle themes and find ways of bringing about an emotional attachment with the audience. In the the American Sniper, as in most war movies today, the combat scenes were very realistic. The sound was fantastic (does deserve the potential Oscar acclaim ) and the music with a lot of drums and included one composition credited to “the man of all seasons,” the director Clint Eastwood, was quite effective. There were the requisite expensive special effects, which likely made it just like it would really be if we were there. Sometimes all the smoke made it hard to see who was shooting who and we couldn’t tell the bad guys from the good guys but maybe that is the way it is in some combat situations. But without a strong connection to the main character we can’t put this film near the top of our list. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Drama, Thriller, War

A Most Violent Year

January 5th, 2015 — 2:26am

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A Most Violent Year- sp Rather then being about a violent year, this movie is about how one man tries to be keep his moral compass in an environment where it is seems almost impossible to do so. The setting is 1981 and we meet Albert Morales (Oscar Issac), the owner of New York City Oil Delivery Company that is trying to compete with a bunch of other companies most of which are run by gangsters, He knows that even his wife’s (Jessica Chastain) family has roots in crime but he believes that honest hard work will triumph in the end. He tries to instill this in the drivers and other workers. Screenplay Writer and Director J.C, Chandler (known for Margin Call and All is Lost with Robert Redford) creates an atmosphere where the viewer feels the tension and the looming danger. This is facilitated by a good supporting cast, which includes David Oyelow (who stars in Selma this year) and veteran actor Albert Brooks. All of us moviegoers who have seen gangster films know all about the mob and what our hero is up against. As the movie progresses and we identify more closely with the main character, it begins to feel like Shakespearian drama bordering on an impending tragedy. In the end we have a complicated ethical analysis to decide how we feel about the story we have been told. We have always said if the film gets you thinking and talking, the filmmaker will have achieved a worthy goal. (2014)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Crime, Drama

Selma

December 20th, 2014 — 11:47pm

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Selma sp- It is hard to believe that this is the first docudrama about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. who is played by David Oyelowo. The screenplay by Paul Webb and superb directing by Ava DuVernay chose to examine one specific event in the historic 13 year career of this civil rights icon and that is the March from Selma, Alabama to the state capitol in Montgomery, which took place in 1965. The first steps towards desegregation had occurred 10 years earlier when Rosa Parks was arrested for sitting in front of a bus which led to the Montgomery bus boycott, coordinated by Martin Luther King Jr. Blacks had the right to vote but were blocked by the local registrars using tactics dramatically shown when Annie Lee Cooper, magnificently played by Oprah Winfrey, attempts to register to vote. As is clearly explained in this film, this denial based on racial discrimination was not only illegal in and of itself but it was further compounded by allowing juries to be all white since proof of voter registration was required to serve on juries in the South. It also kept the biased white politicians in their leadership positions. This state of affairs led to a first futile attempt to peacefully march to the courthouse steps by King and his followers, which is brutally disbanded by the local police. There were very revealing depictions of the behind the scenes discussions of King and his associates who included Rev. Abernathy, John Lewis and many others. The film showed those favoring a more violent confrontation such as the leaders of SNCC as well as interactions between King and Malcolm X. There are also several scenes between King and President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) where Johnson expects King to delay his demonstration for a year or two so the President, elected by a landslide a year earlier, could pursue other agendas including programs within his “war on poverty.” As shown in this movie, it is not one of Johnson’s finest moments. King does not take no for an answer and we see the results as thousands of people including many whites, especially clergy in all denominations descend on Selma. The reliving the historic march from Selma to Montgomery sent chills up our spines as we were captivated by the visual effects including black and white clips of the actual event which took place almost 50 years ago. So often Martin Luther King Jr. is viewed by new generations as an almost mythical person. He has a national holiday named after him, streets have his name and it is is said in the same breath as other great Americans such as George Washington and Abe Lincoln. In this film he is shown to be a real person who at times seems anxious and scared and even has his human foibles as we see in a dramatic confrontational interaction with his wife Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo). Other very fine actors in this movie include Cuba Gooding Jr., Tim Roth and Martin Sheen.   King comes alive with a tremendous performance by David Oyelowo who is a Shakespearean actor by training and an experienced film actor. Producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner who we met at our screening related how Oyelowo was drawn to his part with an almost mystical destiny. He gained 30 pounds to resemble King and his oration of King’s words knocked it out of the ball park and could not have been better. This movie took us back in time and allowed us to experience one of the great moments in American history with all the fear, pain and tragedy, yet ultimate triumph of that march from Selma to Montgomery. (2014)

 

1 comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Drama, History

Private Parts

December 9th, 2014 — 9:07pm

Private Parts- nfScreen Shot 2014-12-08 at 11.52.53 PM  Howard Stern who refers to himself as “ King of All Media,” in addition to this 1997 film and another one a few years later, has a best selling 1993 autobiography also called Private Parts, a ground breaking radio career which was topped off by a 2004 $500 million dollar contract with Sirius Radio on which he currently appears on several of their channels, has had various TV shows and is now a regular judge on the popular TV show America’s Got Talent. This movie is produced by Ivan Reitman and directed by Mary Thomas. It features Stern playing himself (except some of the brief scenes of him as a child) and it follows his life and career through college and his early radio jobs in Westchester, Hartford, Detroit, Washington and then WNBC in New York. It shows how after a few false starts, he eventually found his voice and modus operandi which was talking about himself and his private parts, his sexual fantasies and just about anything else that entered his mind. This was cutting edge at the time to the consternation of radio executives and the FCC. One of those executives was a program director at NBC, who Stern nicknamed Pig Vomit and is magnificently depicted by Paul Giamatti in this film. Today the forbidden language and the various bits that were deemed outrageous at the time would be old hat on satellite radio. The freshness of his frank language in the film seems quite dated and at times quite juvenile (it probably always was the latter) but in the story that is being told which includes some actual video clips, it is quite clear how he captured the imagination and enthusiasm of a very large numbers of listeners who became his fans and have given him ratings off the charts. This movie is a also a tender love story about Stern and his first wife Allison, played by Mary McCormack to whom he was married for 23 years with 3 children. They were separated two years after this film was made and Stern married Beth Ostrosky in 2008. Also played by themselves in the movie are Robin Quivers, Fred Norris and Jackie Martling who have been part of his radio team for many years. The now 60-year-old Stern has clearly not finished his run. This movie, which was made at a time that he was exploring how he could project his persona into still another media, now stands as a historical recounting of the beginning of a most remarkable career. It is well worth seeing as a poignant tale of a a “slightly misfit” creative and courageous man “ahead of his time.”(1997)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Drama

Reach For Me

November 24th, 2014 — 7:07am

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Reach For Me nf- If you are into Hospices and death and dying, this might be a good movie for you to see. It looks at a few people who have come to a residential hospice to die. Elderly Alvin (Seymour Cassel) has been a tough, probably a fairly self centered guy most of his life. His wife suicided on their 12th anniversary. He has a roommate who is a much younger man (Johnny Whitworth) who has a lovely girl friend (Lacey Chabert) who visits him and is very warm and tender to him. There is an understanding nurse played by Alfie Woodard and and a male nurse who provides some comic relief played LeVar Burton who directs and is the force behind this film. Alvin is seen to be much more complicated then his outward grumpy, unpleasant persona. He constantly reflects on his relationship with his departed wife at the same time that he strikes up a friendship with a dying woman at the hospice (Adrienne Barbeau) who admits that she always chooses the bad guys. The storyline and the script by Michael Adams makes the point that it is never too late to establish relationships and memories for oneself and others even at the end of life. This is conveyed in a manner that will touch your heart as we see a memorial service for the young man who has passed on. Yes, this can be a depressing movie as the viewer is forced to identify with and consider how people deal with end of life. It is simplified somewhat by the fact that in the end our main characters have all found someone to share their experience and the staff are warm and understanding. Hopefully something like this happens to dying people all the time. The acting was excellent and in a special section on the Netflix DVD you can see how each of them has thought out his or her character quite well. This Independent picture is worthy of your consideration (2008).

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

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