September 30th, 2015 — 10:41pm
Most Americans have probably never heard of the Kray Brothers, Reggie and Ron. They were legendary gangsters active in the 1940s who were well known in England as were gangsters, John Dillinger, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Bonnie and Clyde in the U.S. and immortalized by books and movies. After studying the Kray twin brothers and their criminal exploits, American writer/director, Brian Helgeland decided to undertake this film project. He brought to the table considerable experience among which included L.A. Confidential for which he won the Oscar for the best-adapted screen play and 42, The Story of Jackie Robinson on which he was also the writer/director.
Helgeland connected with British actor Tom Hardy and they decided that Hardy would play both identical twin brothers although their appearance, demeanor and personalities were quite different. Hardy had previously received a great deal of acclaim for his work on both sides of the pond. However this role had to be a challenge for the director and the actor, which would require the use of body doubles, skillful editing and all sorts of special techniques. The result was quite realistic. Both guys were tough as nails and each with a distinct personality. Ron was openly “homosexual” and it was clearly stated that he takes the active role not only at sex but in violence. He also is depicted as somewhat mentally unbalanced. Reggie, perhaps the better looking brother, but just as tough, also falls in love with Francis (Emily Browning). She is a slightly built but very attractive, sweet, not at all like a gangster moll but hopelessly wanting Reggie to go straight. It is her voice that narrates the film a la Sunset Boulevard. While we could develop empathy for her, the tragic heroine, we felt very little feelings for the gangster brothers.
So not caring about the main characters and not very good enough reasons to sit through a lot of violence, we had one more additional problem with the film. This British movie was made for the Brits and we could not understand at least third of the heavily accented British or Cockney speech. We knew what was going on but it was almost like we had to use our weak high school training in a foreign language to get the gist of much of the dialogue. So the only possible reason for us to recommend that you see this film if you don’t speak this language, would be to see the amazing accomplishment of Tom Hardy taking on these two infamous British criminals. However, our conclusion is that you should pass on it. (2015)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Crime, Drama, Foreign
September 28th, 2015 — 5:58pm
This is the story of Bobby Fischer, the American boy wonder chessmaster, who at the age of 29 in 1972 beat Russian champion chess player Boris Spassky to become the best chess player in the world. We meet young Fischer as a preteen growing up in Brooklyn where his preoccupation with chess makes him a very unusual brilliant young man. It would appear that his limited social skills matched with his total preoccupation with chess and a genius mind that could visualize and memorize numerous chess games in his head, suggests that he had Asperger’s disorder. As we follow this brilliant genius into preparation and ultimately arriving at the classic series of matches in Iceland, we see how he became preoccupied with the belief that he was being spied upon. He took apart a telephone looking for listening devices and even insisted that the venue for the match be moved to a basement setting instead of the large stage where it was to be held. He limited the number of TV cameras demanded a certain distance from him. The film does suggest that this classic famed match had great significance to both the United States and Russian governments. We even see that the CIA may have been involved in meeting Fischer’s demands for money and other requirements in order for him to participate in the match. However the film also points to the probability that Fischer’s mental functioning was much more than the political paranoia of the time. In fact, we think that a case can be made that Bobby Fischer had a schizophrenic mental disorder.
This well done film is a recounting of one of the most important and widely followed chess matches in history. It is also a sad story of a tortured soul. Tobey Maguire who plays Fischer as an adult did a fine job although it was a one dimensional view of this man as we never saw any evidence of him having any joy or meaningful relationships which we would expect even with a severe mental disorder. Liev Schreiber was quite good as the large contemplative Russian master Boris Spassky who barely said a word in the film.
Even though most of the movie audience probably knew the results of the match, seeing how it developed and went down was filled with suspense and drama. The subsequent downhill slide of Fischer which was not shown in the film and only told to us in a post-script at the end of the film, with a few newsreel clips, might have taken the movie to a more dramatic and interesting conclusion had the writers Steven Knight, Stephen Rivele and director Edward Zwick chosen to extend the film to this subject. (2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History
September 28th, 2015 — 5:37am
Ann Hathaway plays Jules Ostin, a young attractive woman who is CEO of an Internet company that she founded from scratch that sells woman’s clothes that they guarantees they will fit. The company has blossomed to one that has more than 200 employees. The fearless leader is married to a modern bearded young man who gave up his successful job to stay at home and raise their delightful cute little girl. Robert Di Nero plays Ben Whittaker, a retired 70 year old widower, who had been a executive in a large company that sold and manufactured telephone books. Since his wife died he retired, has been looking for something to do and came across an ad for a internship program for senior citizen in the above described Internet company that was set up by one of the young executives who had the idea that maybe seniors might have some views to balance the point of view the young people running the Internet business. The Di Nero character gets assigned to the young woman CEO who seems too busy to even assign him a task as he patiently tries to find ways to be helpful. The story takes off from there.
While this could have been just a delightful comedy, it really became much more than that. The storyline examined the role of young women in today’s business world . Who should raise the children and don’t you really have to go all in if you are trying to make it in today’s competitive world with start up companies going boom or bust.? Also, is there a role for retired seniors in today’s business environment? Are they a resource that is forgotten and lost in the race to succeed?
The voice behind the production is Nancy Meyers, writer, director and frequently producer of many important movies that reflect the changing social times such as, Parent Trap, Somethings Gotta Give, Its Complicated, What Women Want. In this current film, the questions are raised but on one hand they aren’t very nuanced and yet the answers and conclusions are way too simple. However, when the stars and supporting cast which included Rene Russo, Adam DeVine, Zack Perlman, Anders Holm Nat Wolff, Linda Lavin and the little girl played by JoJo Kushner are all so superb, you can’t help having an enjoyable movie experience.(2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama
September 23rd, 2015 — 5:31am
LABYRINTH OF LIES
To us, one of the most important and memorable aspects of this outstanding film is that the current generation of German filmmakers and the people related to this industry, have decided to make this movie the 2015 entry from Germany to the Oscars for best foreign film. Doing this also reflects the monumental theme of this movie, which is the responsibility of the German people for Auschwitz and the Holocaust.
The story is based on actual events and follows a young German prosecutor (Alexander Fehling) in Frankfurt, Germany in the early 1960s as he becomes aware that identifiable people now living in Germany were responsible for murder in the Auschwitz Camp during World War II. Although the Nuremberg trials, which occurred shortly after World War II nearly 20 years previously, were monumental in the prosecution of members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany who participated in the Holocaust and other war crimes, those trials were carried out by the victorious allies. In the film, which depicts a true story, we see, probably for the first time ever, a government trying to prosecute its own former soldiers. The question of who was guilty and was there any family spared having a war criminal among them is raised. As one of the characters states, the only innocent people were those who weren’t born yet or who were small children when all these events happened.
It matters very little that the main focus is on Johann Radmann who is the prosecutor played magnificently by Alexander Fehling, who was in reality a composite of three prosecutors in real life. All the characters in the movie are true to life and very believable. One of them, Fritz Bauer, played by the famous German actor, Gert Voss, has a famous legal institute now named in his honor. One of the buildings where the archival records were being searched in the film is the actual location of where the well kept records of the Nazi regime are now stored for historical examination.
Director/writer Giulio Ricciarelli has been very thoughtful in his choices, so as not to make the movie a recapitulation or a reenactment of the horrors of the Holocaust. Rather, he puts the focus on the impact on the people living in post-war Germany. One interesting point that was made very clear was that most of the German people at the time, depicted in the film, did not know about Auschwitz nor did they want to know about it.
We were reminded that our recent personal observations have shown that most contemporary Germans no longer deny their history. This was very clear to us in our recent visit to Berlin, where we saw the names of displaced Jews embedded in plaques on the sidewalks in front of their former houses. We also visited the very complete and well-done Holocaust museum as well as many other points of remembrance. This film clearly created an honest reflection of German history, which was not known to most of us. It was a powerful and beautifully done work of fact, emotion and importance. (2015)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History, Uncategorized
September 12th, 2015 — 6:45am
While We’re Young -nf
Noah Baumbach is a prolific filmmaker who is best known for the award winning movie The Squid and the Whale (2005) that he wrote and directed. It was probably semi-autobiographical as it told the story of two boys in Brooklyn dealing with the divorce of their parents.
This current film 10 years later which was released in March of 2015 is about a middle-aged couple in their 40s, Josh and Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) who encounter a younger couple Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) who are in their mid 20s and seem to be “living in the moment” and enjoying life the way the older couple believe they did when they were that age. This leads Josh and Cornelia to do a great deal of self -reflection. Stiller’s character is a documentary filmmaker who hasn’t achieved the success that he hoped for and seemed to be stuck in the rut in many ways including being obsessively involved in one film for the past 10 years (An interesting sidebar is that the subject of this Josh’s film is a historian who is played by Peter Yarrow of the 1960s folk singer group Peter, Paul and Mary). In fact, Josh and Cornelia’s marriage also seem stuck as they ambivalently accept the plight of their not having children while all their friends are reproducing. Josh’s new friend seems to value him as a mentor, which is initially quite flattering to him. This new couple, Jamie and Darby, seem to be enjoying life and doing all the things that the couple in their 40s hasn’t been able to do. The storyline by Baumbach allows us to understand and empathize with the struggle of Josh and Cornelia. Not surprising however, things are all not what they seem to be as this film ultimately has an interesting reveal.
Each of the veteran actors mentioned above are excellent including Charles Grodin who plays Cornelia’s father who is a very successful veteran documentary filmmaker who while depicting his character’s elderly wisdom still conveys the actor’s comedic self.
Whenever there is a film about the inside working of some aspects of the moviemaking business (documentary films included), we expect that the filmmakers are giving us the inside scoop from their real life experience. That may very well be the case here but it is also a penetrating look of the struggle of many people trying to go through the process of maturing as adults. (2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama
September 5th, 2015 — 11:53pm
Woman in Gold – nf
This is a movie about the Holocaust and it stars Helen Mirren and therefore it will get many people’s attention, which it l deserves. In our opinion, it doesn’t quite rank with Schindler’s List, Sophie’s Choice, or The Pianist but it does deal with a fascinating historical story. It begins begins in 1907 with a painting of an Austrian woman by the famed artist Gustav Klimt. It ends about 100 years later in 2006 when the niece of the subject of that painting was able to win the legal battle to wrest this painting from an Austrian museum and brings it to the United States where she now lives.
We follow this journey through the life of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) who grew up in a wealthy Austrian family and lived very comfortably surrounded by fine things including great works of art. She and her family were Jewish and the film dramatically shows scenes which depict the anti-semitism and the demoralizing treatment of the Austrian Jews by the Nazis in the 1940s. We see this one family, previously quite happy, torn apart overnight as a few members escape and the remainder perish in the holocaust.
Fast forward to the United States in the 1990s and an older Maria Altmann, living in Los Angeles, finds family letters which document some of the valuable works of art including the Woman in Gold now in an Austrian museum which she recalls being in her home as a child.. She connects with a young lawyer by the name of Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), grandson of the famous Austrian composer, who joins her on this great odyssey. It involves them returning to modern day Austria and battling the government there with the help of an idealistic Austrian reporter played by Daniel Bruhl. This adventure eventually takes them all the way to the United States Supreme Court and successfully ends in a contested arbitration in Austria.
Director Curtis Simon deserves credit for an outstanding job and Helen Mirren, as usual, performs what could be an award winning role. The story is predictable and uncomplicated. Occasionally, the film is in German with subtitles but the characters speak mostly in English, including times in Austria when you expect them to be speaking their native language. Most important however, this movie allows another generation to experience the tragic story of the Holocaust so it will not be forgotten. (2015)
1 comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History
August 19th, 2015 — 6:21am
Writer and director Juan Feldman and Oscar Winning Actress Marcia Gay Harden collaborate in a simple but poignant, heartwarming story. Harden plays Jane, a depressed lost soul who is a Los Angeles librarian who has been missing the joy of life and now has lost even her job. She chooses to go where she has never gone before on perhaps her last trip and that is to explore the beauty of exotic Central America. This leads her to meet Juan, a Costa Rican tourist guide who desperately needs money to send his adorable English speaking daughter (Jenna Ortega) to private school and he is willing to provide extra good service to his clients in order to get the funds he needs. You probably can guess the rest of the story.
What is quite remarkable about this movie is how well done every aspect of it is handled. Marcia Gay Harden is superb in projecting the despair that Jane has and the gradual metamorphosis that she undergoes. Oscar Jaenada, as Juan, comes across as a very believable and sincere man despite his initial presentation as a gigolo.
Juan Feldman, despite a meager budget which he had to scrape up in order to make this film, has well utilized his multiple skills as well as bringing in a very talented production team. In a most subtle manner we see the gradual emerging chemistry between the two main characters which was not only reflected by the outstanding acting but also came across through the dialogue, positioning of the actors, gradual changes in the lighting, color, sound and musical background. This should evoke in the audience a subtle evolving emotional experience, which is evidence of a very well done successful movie. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Romance
August 15th, 2015 — 10:22pm
Straight Outta Compton
While we usually enjoy music and movies about music, we knew it from the get-go that the music in this film was not going to be our cup of tea. In fact, not only did we have trouble following the words of the rap which predominated most of the film but initially, we had some difficulty following the dialogue. It certainly was loud enough but it took awhile for us to catch most of the spoken words. It almost felt that we didn’t speak the language as we heard the audience around us laughing while we missed some of the punch lines. But as the film progressed, we seemed to get in the groove as the almost two and half hours of the running time of the movie seemed to go by quite quickly.
We witnessed the formation of the group N.W.A. which we learned did not stand for No Whites Allowed but rather means Niggas Wit Attitude. It all began as Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) originally connects with Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and they bring in Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Junior – who is actually the son of the real life Ice Cube). The film, starting with the bristling violence of the first scene, graphically depicts the unremitting brutality of the then Los Angeles police force. Their constant stereotyping and baiting of young black men was shown to demoralize and then help to provoke the simmering rage that erupted into the rap lyrics that made N.W.A. what it was.
We see the group connect with the man who was to be their manager and eventually cheat them out of lots of their money, Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti). We could not help but remember that Mr. Giamatti plays a similar role in another recent film about the music business. In that movie he was a psychologist and a manipulator of Brian Wilson in the biopic Love & Mercy which is all about the Beach Boys.
Of course, the music of this film that we are discussing is a completely different genre, better known as Gangster Rap or West Coast Hip-Hop. N.W.A.’s first album and lead song in 1988 is the title of this movie, Straight Outta Compton. Another song on that initial album was titled Fuck The Police. The film shows how this song inflamed the police and led the band to being arrested and abused by the police. That situation reminded us of an incident which occurred two years later, when a black hip-hop band by the name of 2 Live Crew was thrown in jail in Florida for singing songs with obscene words. A white rock band from New York named Too Much Joy then tested the limits by going down to Florida to see what would happen if they covered that album in a local club. They were arrested and spent the night in jail before they were acquitted in a brief trial. The lead guitarist for that band was our son, Jay.
Outta of Compton very realistically reflects the mood and the times in which this band and its music became popular. Although the Watts Riots were about 15 years earlier, N.W.A. were products of the gang infested Los Angeles streets that were still out of control. As these young men became successful musicians, we see their opulent lifestyle and the interesting but sad objectification of women that seem to be part of their lives. We followed them as they realized that they were being used by their manager, Jerry Heller, and their recording label. They had schisms and falling outs with each other but yet we also witnessed the bond between them which brought them back together. The movie also reminds us of AIDS, the great scourge of the 1980s which struck down one of the band members.
We come away from this film appreciating the importance which this music had in the lives the young men and women of the N.W.A. generation. Director F. Gary Gray appeared to translate the screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff into moving and believable cinema. The camera work, lighting, editing and the use of music were first rate. The filmmakers were assisted in the behind the scenes production by the real Ice Cube and Dr. Dre who helped to bring home the beat of this film and make it quite authentic. While this is biopic of an earlier era, sadly, part of its message resonates today in the “Black Lives Matter” movement. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Musical
August 13th, 2015 — 2:03am
Paul Weitz, whose credits include American Pie, About a Boy, In Good Company, and Admission, has written and directed this movie which he put together with Lily Tomlin in mind. It is an independent low budget film but is high in quality with an edgy story and great acting. It all takes place in a 24-hour period and the film runs a crisp 80 minutes. It is about relationships, difficult decisions, love, and regrets, all set with a somewhat unusual cast of characters. Lily Tomlin is Elle, grandmother and a literature professor, who we meet just as she has broken up with her younger girlfriend Olivia (Judy Greer). She is then visited by her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner), who tells her that she is pregnant and needs money for an abortion which neither she nor grandma have the money.
The story unfolds as the two of them visit old friends of grandma in an attempt to get funds for the abortion. During the course of these visits, the viewer gets the life history of grandma and the trial of broken relationships that she has had which includes a long-term relationship with a now deceased Violet, a relationship that ended abruptly 40 years ago with Karl (Sam Elliott), and a more recent friendship with Deathy (Laverne Cox), a sweet tattoo artist. We also get some insights in to the contentious relationship with her nearly estranged daughter Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), mother of the granddaughter and a successful business executive who must have developed her tough exterior from her own mother, grandma. The storyline also takes us into the women’s health center or should we say abortion clinic, where we feel the subtle ambivalence that exist for women in this situation.
In certain respects, this movie is cutting edge as grandma’s sexual orientation is clearly gay from the beginning of the film. However, that has very little to do with the drama, personal conflicts, tragedies, and ambivalent relationships which the viewer experiences in this fascinating story. This is an unusual refreshing movie that should not be missed. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Drama
August 1st, 2015 — 7:02pm
Zoot Suit – nf
This 34-year-old movie reminds us of the unforgettable classic Westside Story and the more recent movie, Fruitvale Station. It is based on an actual 1940s Los Angeles murder trial. It involves a group of Mexican American young men who were tried and sentenced to San Quentin Prison for a crime they never committed. The film is directed by Luis Valdez and stars his younger brother, Daniel Valdez, as Henry Reyna, the group leader. The Valdez brothers in real life happened to come from Mexican immigrant families. Daniel also directed the great music, which is an important part of this production along with the wonderful dancing. The music of course is decidedly a Latin blend that fits in well with the intriguing dramatic story. It features an imaginary character, El Pachuco, who is in the mind of Henry Reyna. He is magnificently played as a Zoot Suit wearing devilish persona by Edward James Olmos, who proves himself to be a great dancer and singer, as well as a fine actor. There is another familiar face in the cast who you will recognize, and that is Tyne Daly who plays Alice Bloomfield, who is a young woman working with the team trying to set the innocent people free. This 1981 film about the 1940s could have been ripped from today’s headlines as we see accusations of police brutality and controversial trials. It is a refreshingly different film that is worth seeing on Netflix (1981).
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Musical