Category: Drama


Papa: Hemingway in Cuba

April 29th, 2016 — 11:39pm

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Ernest Hemingway is the iconic writer who is forever linked to Cuba where he spent much of his life. Denne Bart Petitclerc was a reporter for the Miami Globe in the 1950s and for very personal reasons idolized the great writer and wrote him a letter telling him so. This led to a correspondence and then a friendship with “Papa” Hemingway and his wife, Mary Hemingway.” Petitclerc visited Cuba several times and subsequently wrote about his relationship with Hemingway, which is the subject of this outstanding docudrama. This movie offers a sensitive insight into this brilliant writer, driven, complicated man who was an alcoholic, had severe depression and possibly a bipolar disorder as well as a complicated love life. In addition, he was drawn into the Castro Communist revolution and was also in conflict with the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover.

While this all makes a fascinating story, the attraction and success of this movie is the portrayal of Papa Hemingway by Adrian Sparks. This veteran award winning actor has played Hemingway in one-man-shows on the stage for several years in addition to his other stage and film accomplishments. He was the natural choice for this role. Giovanni Ribisi is excellent as Petitclerc and he is called Ed Myers in the film. The movie also stars Joely Richardson as Mary Hemingway and Minka Kelly as Myers’ girlfriend.

Director and producer, Bob Yari also scored an amazing accomplishment in that he received permission to film this movie in Cuba. After much negotiating he was able to do this because the movie is portrayed as a docudrama rather than a commercial film. However, the movie will hold the audience’s attention as well as any good drama. In fact, if you have had any occasion to be a tourist in Cuba in the past several years as we have, you will appreciate the familiar sights. We were particularly pleased to see Hemingway’s house, which is now a treasured museum but was used in the film. In fact, in a post screening discussion, we were told the real items in the house were substituted with props but at the last moment, Cuban officials allowed Hemingway’s actual typewriter to be used in the movie. Knowing this lends a special realism when we see him typing on it in the film. Enlightening, moving and totally engaging, this movie is well worth seeing. (2016)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama

The Meddler

April 13th, 2016 — 7:28am

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The Meddler

Writer-director, Lorene Scafaria has put together a dramedy (drama plus comedy) with which both young and old will identify. In a post-screening discussion with Ms. Scafaria, we learned that the story is a very close, realistic depiction of the writer’s own mother, who moved out to Los Angeles from the east coast after her husband died. The mother, Marnie (Susan Sarandon) who is on the screen for almost the entire film meddles or tries meddle in just about every aspect of her single daughter’s life, as well as in the lives of just about everyone else who she meets. Lori, the daughter (Rose Byrne) not surprisingly is a budding film maker, who as much as she tries, can’t get away from her mother’s love and over-attention, which of course she really needs. On one hand, we keep thinking that this mother character is exaggerated and way over the top. However, why then did she captivate our attention? The answer is that the film has captured the universal need and wish of most mothers to do just about everything and anything for their children at any age.

The dialogue and Sarandon’s characterization is near perfect. The screenwriter, who of course is really the daughter telling the story of her mom, has also added a romantic twist, which she acknowledges is her fantasy wish for her mother. This brings in a potential boyfriend for her mother in the person of a dashing, handsome, senior guy who rides a Harley Davidson motorcycle and raises chickens as pets. Unbelievable you say – just wait until you see Oscar winner J.K. Simmons take on this role.

This independent low-budget film has a lot going for it with a great script, two outstanding stars, a fine supporting cast and great execution by this young woman director. It also should have special appeal here in Los Angeles, where most of the film takes place from the scenes at the Grove, to glimpses of the entertainment industry in action and the beautiful west coast shoreline, as well as many characters who will remind you of people that you know.

This movie opens later this month across the country. We highly recommend it. (2016)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

April 7th, 2016 — 6:22pm

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The Diary of a Teenage Girl – nf

On one hand this very well done film gets into the head and feelings of this 15-year-old girl as she has her first sexual experience. We can imagine that so many teenagers will identify with the excitement, bewilderment and glorious feelings that she relates into her tape recorder as she tries to preserve the special moments. As well done as this depiction and as universal as these feelings may be, her particular situation was certainly nowhere typical. The setting was San Francisco in the 1970s and her first lover is her mother’s boyfriend. What follows is more and more sex, parties, drugs and some same-sex sex.

One would hope that all of this will not reflect the typical teenage experience. However, we would be naïve not to believe that the modern teenager may very well know some version of the scene. It is ironic that most teenagers could not be admitted to this R-rated movie. The star of this film is Bel Powley, an experienced actress who was in her early 20s when she portrays 15-year-old Minnie. Her immature party mom is played by Kristen Wiig and the boyfriend who was more of a period piece than an outright cad was played by Alexander Skaarsgard.

Credit for the success of this movie is first time director Marielle Heller, who also wrote the screenplay based on a novel by Phoebe Gloeckner. To give you an idea of her accomplishments, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, in addition to  nominating Ms. Heller for Best Woman Director and Best Woman Screenwriter, also nominated this film for Best Depiction of Nudity, Sexuality or Seduction – a well-deserved award.

This movie goes beyond these accomplishments and captures the complicated universal joy and wonder of sexual awakening. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Miles Ahead

March 31st, 2016 — 8:40pm

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Miles Ahead

To best appreciate this review click here and listen to Miles Davis as you read the review

This is not your typical biopic that simply traces the life story of an important person. It is rather a cinematic representation of the powerful, free flowing, unpredictable, abstract and arresting sound of the music of Miles Davis. It tumbles on to the screen as his music emerges from his trumpet. We absorb a sense of this man and his music rather than understand a chronological progression that has growth and coherency.

Don Cheadle, actor, director and screen writer of this movie has chosen to use as his point of departure the approximate five-year period in the mid 1970s where this productive jazz artist ceased to produce any music. We meet Miles Davis (Don Cheadle) when a reporter who says he is from Rolling Stone Magazine (Ewan McGregor) visits him with the hope of interviewing him and finding out why he is no longer on the music scene. This leads to flashbacks and flashforwards, cocaine binges, car chases, the search for a tape of a recent personal recorded session by Davis as well as a glimpse of the personality of Davis and his relationship with Francis Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi) a beautiful woman and dancer who was his wife for ten years. We see that Davis at least in his early life was a somewhat self-centered, arrogant man who loved his woman and also abused her. Of course he was a musical genius who came of age in the mid-1950s and ‘60s and we also were shown examples of the impact of the ugly sector of racism as he was arrested for standing on the street in front of the night club where he was the headline performer and put in jail for the night.

We are introduced to a young musician called Junior (Lakeith Lee Stanfield) who is intertwined in the plot as Davis tries to find himself during his five-year unproductive period. This young musician could be symbolic of the many young musicians that Davis has helped on the way up, including Wynston Marsalis. He also could represent the very young Davis himself who pushes the now middle aged Davis to pick up the mantle where he put it down half a decade ago.

As mentioned earlier you will not take away a coherent story from this one hour and forty-minute movie experience. You will hear much of Davis’ great music in the background frequently played quite softly. You will see Don Cheadle skillfully appear to inhabit Davis with convincing mannerisms as well as the way he handled his musical instrument. The photography is magnificent (director of photography was Roberto Schaefer). There are many evening scenes and snatches of semi-dark rooms with white smoke trailing upward surrounding the cast of characters. Miles Davis’ music is always there. This will probably not be a blockbuster movie but may very well get the attention of film critics and demonstrate the genius of Miles Davis who won nine Grammy awards and perhaps the potential Oscar worthiness for the second Oscar nomination for Don Cheadle. (2016)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Musical

The Confirmation

March 17th, 2016 — 9:04pm

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The Confirmation

First-time director, Bob Nelson, who was Oscar-nominated for his screenplay Nebraska, has written and directed this very sensitive story about the relationship between a separated father and his young  son. There is clear chemistry between the father (Clive Owen) and his son (Jaeden Lieberher).

The setting is small town blue-collar America. Dad, who has had a drinking problem and is experiencing some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is out of work, has the opportunity for a carpentry job but his tools have been stolen. This all happens on the weekend where his son is staying with him and by the way, he is also locked out of his small rented house with an eviction notice. We get sucked into this story and feel and empathize for the dad, and we realize so does his young son! We want to give credit to Bob Nelson, the director, and veteran actor, Clive Owen, for how they have worked with this child actor and brought out such an outstanding performance. However, in our screening where we met these gentlemen, they were unanimous that young Mr. Lieberher is an outstanding actor and deserves all the credit for his ability to understand his character and magnificently carry out this sensitive and subtle role. The supporting cast is excellent but special praise should go to comedian, Patton Oswalt, who plays, with a comedic touch, an out-of-work well meaning but somewhat inept guy who uses meth and is trying to use his “contacts” to help the father and son recover the stolen tools.

This movie was a poignant portrayal of the difficulties, exacerbated by poverty, which befall so many in our society. The working class small town was depicted with depth and authenticity and you can so easily identify with the struggles of everyday families.

The title of the film came from the Catholic ritual of coming of age, as it is also a gentle satire of religion. Instead of providing a moral compass for the young boy, the church and its rituals are seen as only a counterpoint to real life. The film is rated PG-13 “for some mature thematic elements,” but we would imagine that many kids who are mature beyond their years can relate to it. (2016)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Tangerine

March 13th, 2016 — 3:33am

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Tangerine- nf

The force behind this micro financed independent film is the young accomplished director, Sean Baker who co-wrote the screenplay with Chris Bergoch. They took on the task of providing a window on the difficult struggling lives of transgender prostitutes who live and work at night on the streets of Hollywood, centered on Santa Monica Boulevard and Highland Avenue in Los Angeles.

The transgender stars of this movie are two talented actresses who are working in their first big film. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez played Sin-Dee (Cinderella) a very fast talking hooker who has just been released from a 30-day stint in jail and Mya Taylor who is her friend Alexandra. In this lead role the later actress not only showed her acting talent but also performed quite well as a singer.

The story lines provides insight into the character’s lives, relationships and despair and also brings in the Armenian family of a taxi driver who is one of the customers. This sub plot introduces several talented actors and actresses, some of who are very well known in Armenian. (By coincidence there is another movie that came out early last year called Tangerines (with an s- click to see our review)completely unrelated to this story but is about nearby Estonia). Mr. Baker’s film is experienced as very authentic whether it is the two transgender friends, the other people of the street or the Armenian family that spoke their language with English subtitles on the screen.

A very interesting aspect of this movie is that it is filmed totally with iPhones, which had special adapters on them. This method was chosen because of the low budget available, but it also allowed the professional film crew led by cinematographer, Radium Cheung to work on the streets of Los Angeles without arousing too much commotion by bystanders. It also appears to give the film an appropriate realistic vibe. This movie adds up to be to be a well done engrossing story that we recommend that you see. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

The Wave

February 24th, 2016 — 6:34am

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The Wave- sp

This film was the entry from Norway for the Best Foreign Film for the Academy Awards. It shows a beautiful community with magnificent fjords, mountains surrounding a body of water. It looks like a lovely place to live or visit. But much like Southern California, they have had natural disasters in the past which eventually can happen again. In this case, instead of an eventual earthquake, it can be an avalanche of a crumbling mountain, which would fill the water and create the inevitable rising up of a tremendous mountain of water or a tsunami. The possibility of such a disaster is constantly monitored so people can be warned if it should be about to happen. This is the setting for this film and the dramatic build-up of tension as we meet some of the people who are monitoring the possibility of a tsunami and we will also meet the family of one of them. This part of the film could not have been done better.

The movie is directed by Roar Uthaug, who participated in writing the story and the screenplay with Martin Sundland, and John Kare Raake. The main character is Kristian who is played by Kristoffer Joner.

You are on the edge of your seat even though you are pretty sure what is going to happen. You just don’t know exactly how it’s going to go down and how it will impact the characters that you have met. When things eventually break loose, the special effects are outstanding. We have a combination of horrific things happening and in the midst of it, among the many frightened people, are the characters that we care about.

So far so good, but then we realized that the plot is becoming thin and unbelievable. No matter how good and realistic the special effects may be, when the story becomes a “fairy tale” the movie loses a great deal of its credibility and becomes almost laughable. In retrospect, the characters were stereotypical with very little complexity. Yes, it is scary and we live in earthquake country so it reminded us that you never know if the next disaster is around the corner. But that is really all the movie was able to do. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign, Thriller

The Martian

February 20th, 2016 — 11:52pm

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The Martian-nf

We were late in catching up with this highly acclaimed film and decided to watch it on television at home “on demand?” As we were starting to view it, SB commented, “Isn’t it going to be boring watching an entire movie of a guy stranded alone on Mars.” It is a fair question but you obviously know the answer since as of this moment the film has won golden globe awards for best picture and best actor for Matt Damon and then seven Academy Award nominations.

Veteran director Ridley Scott worked with a very skillful production team that used special effects, green screen, and reproduced Mars in a studio in Budapest and in the desert in Jordan. The screenplay by Drew Goddard was based on a first novel by Andy Weir. Anyone with a knowledge of the outer space exploration would have heard of the Goddard Space Center named after Robert H. Goddard the father of rocketry. We haven’t been able to find out if Mr. Drew Goddard is connected in any way to the space pioneer although we see he grew up in Los Alamos which is known for nuclear research as well as space research. Maybe there is an unconscious connection.

Of course the star of the film is Matt Damon who plays the stranded astronaut Mark Watney who is left behind on Mars because his crew thought he was killed in a big Martian storm. He becomes our hero. We root for him. You will get caught in his plight and the 2-hour and 24-minute movie will fly by. You will see lots of familiar faces who do a great job in their respective supporting roles. These includes Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor (remember him from 12 Years A Slave) and many other fine actors. It is of note that we hear barely one sentence about who the lost astronaut is connected to back on earth and who he yearns to see if he makes it back home.

The underlying attraction of this very well done film is that it captures the human spirit. It is summed up in the song played at the end of the film by Gloria Gaynor recorded in 1978. Listen to it , catch the line at the beginning about being back from outer space, buy the song on iTunes and go see the film. Click here to hear the song – and then click the first video screen(2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

The Lady In The Van

February 14th, 2016 — 4:57am

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The Lady In The Van-rm

Dame Maggie Smith, who is one of the most distinguished and famous actresses in the United States and England, plays a woman close to her actual age but quite the opposite of how she would ever be seen in-person. In this film she is Ms. Shepherd, a homeless, raggedy old woman with a hidden past that is slowly revealed. We meet her as she lives in a van in a community which could be in a suburb of London. Although she is a blight to the neighborhood, she becomes well-known to the local people. She wrangles permission to keep her van in the driveway of a playwright, Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings). The real Alan Bennett is an actual playwright and wrote the screenplay for this movie. This film directed by Nicholas Hytner uses an interesting mechanism to examine the character of Bennett. He is shown as two personas, the one who sits and writes at his typewriter gathering ideas from his life and the other, a person who actually lives the life to get the ideas for his writing self. Mr. Jennings plays both parts of him and they frequently are shown on the screen together talking, “to each other.” There is also a small role for James Corden, TV host of the Late Late show who blends in with local Brits.

Maggie Smith of course is outstanding as the cranky old woman with a past. Mr. Bennett’s deep-seeded motivation seems to be related to his own relationship with his mother (Deborah Findlay) who we get to meet in the movie and observe as they are interacting.

This is a somewhat touching story with great acting, especially by Ms. Smith who gained a Golden Globe nomination for it. We are told at the start of the movie that it is based on a “mostly true story.” We found it interesting that in the award category, this movie was considered to be a comedy. There were some funny lines but it was the poignancy that carried the film in our opinion. However, we didn’t feel it moved quite fast enough for our taste and left something to be desired for the viewer. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama

Embrace of the Serpent

February 10th, 2016 — 7:18pm

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Embrace of the Serpent-sp

(In native language and in Spanish and Portuguese with English subtitles)

This movie was out of our comfort zone and for the most part out of our understanding zone. The purpose of this 2 hours and five minute film was to provide insight into the thinking of native people living in the Amazon region at the turn of the 20th Century, which probably reflected much of the way things have been for hundreds of years in the past. We also understand that there are still isolated groups of people living in this area today who think, speak, and believe in the metaphoric mysticism, which was conveyed in this film.

We did meet the filmmakers, director, and screenwriter, Ciro Guerra and his wife who was a producer of the film, Cristina Gallego. On the basis of seeing this film and hearing them speak, we appreciate that they are obviously very knowledgeable and thoughtful about film making and about the people and culture they are depicting in this movie. We should add that they shared with us that in order to protect the film crew and actors that they brought into the Amazon, they obtained standard film insurance but also hired a Shaman to provide protection for everyone.

The movie is based on the true story of two European explorers who travelled decades apart down the Amazon River, which is bordered by the territory the size of the United States, which includes parts of several South American countries. In this fictionalized account, each of them was shown to have the same native guide. The details of the story are not as important as it is to appreciate the way of thinking of the natives which are spiritual, mystical, close to nature, and rooted in the characteristics of the jungle. It was also a clear statement about the damage that the white man has done to their culture in the quest to exploit the trees that produce rubber, as well as in the attempt to convert the indigenous people to Christianity.

This film is the Colombian foreign film entry for the Academy Awards and was chosen as one of the five finalists. Despite this acknowledgment from the Academy, we found it overly long and not well constructed. We cannot recommend that you spend your time watching it (2015)

 

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History

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