June 20th, 2015 — 10:57pm
Me, Earl and the Dying Girl – rm
High school senior, Greg (Thomas Mann), is asked by his mom (Connie Britton) to be friendly with a girl, who is a classmate, and has just been diagnosed with leukemia. There are probably many ways that this opening gambit might be handled. The success of this film, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, with a screenplay and novel by Jesse Andrews which won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, is how the personality of this young man is developed for the audience. He is presented as a guy who didn’t get very involved with other students and their complicated relationships. He hangs mostly with his buddy, Earl (R.J. Cyler), and they made parodies of movies based on the titles of well-known films, which they don’t show to anyone. Despite some very interesting reassurances by the plot, the audience is drawn along into this heart-wrenching plot. This tender story provides a window into the minds of these teenagers, which include the girl with leukemia, Rachel (Olivia Cooke). This is a very thoughtful screenplay which not only touches the audiences’ emotions but through these young people it teaches us about life and death. The musical score by Brian Eno and Nico Muhly plays a very important role in achieving the effect of this excellent film. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama
June 20th, 2015 — 10:46pm
Black or White – nf
Kevin Costner has his pick of many interesting roles roles. In this case, he chose to play Elliot Anderson, a successful lawyer, affectionately known as papa by his eight-year-old black granddaughter (Jillian Estell). This movie was directed by Mike Binder, who also wrote the screenplay. We learn that the young girl is the child of Anderson’s deceased daughter who was made pregnant when she was 17 years old by the father, Reggie Jeffers (Anthony Mackie) a 23-year-old crack addict. The mother, died in childbirth due to a congenital heart condition, a death which we are led to believe could have been avoided if Anderson and his wife had known that she was in labor but they had not been told. The white grandparents took on the responsibility of raising their granddaughter with occasional unwelcome visits by the father’s family led by the grandmother on that side, Rowena Jeffers (Octavia Spencer). The movie opens as Anderson has just learned that now his wife has died in an auto accident. He realizes he must inform his granddaughter of the tragedy and he will take on the responsibility of raising his granddaughter by himself, brushing her hair and driving her to school, etc. This drives him to drink. He also finds himself in a legal battle with the black side of the family that has other ideas about custody. This at times becomes a black versus white, alcoholism versus crack addict, grandfather versus father, white grandfather versus black grandmother. There are some great courtroom scenes and there is a wonderful performance by Jillian Estell who plays the eight-year-old child. She is an actress that we are going to hear from in the future. There are no big surprises in this film. There is drama to hold your attention, emotion to pull your chain, and a great performance by Costner (we said no big surprises). Many people are going to enjoy this movie. (2014)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama
June 18th, 2015 — 6:22pm
Jimmy’s Hall – sp
This is a touching film made by veteran director, Ken Loach who is mostly known for his acclaimed work in Europe, with a screenplay by Paul Laverty. It deals with an important part of Irish history with which most Americans are not very familar. It is based on a real character, Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) who was an idealistic Irish leader whose main claim to fame, was running Jimmy’s Hall in an obscure Irish town, first in the 1920s and then 10 years later, in the 1930s. In this hall, (which was really a home or a cabin) men, women and children would gather to sing the popular music of the time and likewise do the popular dances, children would also sing and dance and learn history and some of the older boys would learn how to box. There would be lively discussions and a good time would be had by all. So what is wrong with this? Where is the conflict and where is the story? While we are not intimately familiar with Irish history and the film does not spell everything out to be crystal clear, we do know there was great turmoil in Ireland during this time period. In particular, the Catholic Church vividly depicted by Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) did not like the idea that people would dance and sing or even learn outside the auspices of the church. There was also a great economic and social upheaval notably between Ireland and Great Britain during this time as well as class warfare between the prosperous landowners and the workers. There was great dislike by many for socialism and of course for communism when that became an important issue. Jimmy was an idealist who spoke his mind which led to him being deported from Ireland without a trial or even any hearing. There is a sad love element as when Jimmy first returned, he is reunited with his old girlfriend, Oonagh (Simone Kirby) who is now happily married with children but still shares her simmering love for her old boyfriend. That is really the theme of the movie – so many unhappy people who are dealing with political and social issues which were much bigger than all of them. This is a well-done film but it never really breaks out. (2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History
June 12th, 2015 — 10:36pm
The Young Kieslowski – sp
This is a very well done film by screenwriter and Director Kerem Sanga which examines a universal issue for young people. Brian (Ryan Malgarini) is a somewhat naïve, still a virgin college student. He meets Leslie (Haley Lu Richardson) at a party. She is drunk and a little flirtatious. They have consensual sex as she is sobering up and he is having a few drinks. Despite the fact that they used a condom, she becomes pregnant (apparently, that can happen 2% of the time)…with twins…and she decides that she wants to carry the pregnancy to term and keep the babies. We meet her father, Walter (James Le Gros) who is a tough as nails writer who has written bestsellers about war. We also meet Brian’s parents. His Dad is a warm, very supportive guy (Joshua Malina) who is very devoted to his wife (Melora Walters) who is dying of cancer although she still gets around quite well.
The story is seen through the eyes of Brian who is really lying most of the time when he says, he wants the babies and goes along with the plan of his girl friend We are also able to see that he is very conflicted because he wants to do the right thing. On the other hand, we never really understand why Leslie from the beginning wants to go forth with the pregnancy with all the implications that it has for her life. The insight into Brian is achieved by a voiceover of what he is thinking with some film scenes of his fantasies.The attraction of the film is the likeability of all the characters and the insight that we get into the struggle of both of these young people and their parents.
I suppose the Pro Life people might jump on this film as supporting their point of view although the story made it clear that Leslie was not driven by religious Christian views.
This is another one of these low budget independent films that has a great cast, superb writing, and directing which will hold your interest and attention, stimulate questions, and discussions as well as being an enjoyable experience. It should be in local theaters by July24th. (2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama
June 8th, 2015 — 6:16am
Entourage – rm
You probably need to have been a fan of the HBO TV series by the same name to appreciate this movie which was directed by Doug Ellin who also wrote the screen play of the movie and the TV series. It is the story of five very likeable guys who are living the stereotypical Hollywood life style. There is Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) handsome movie star who is very generous and caring to his buddies, Johnny Drama Chase (Kevin Dale) Vincent’s brother who is a wannabe actor but never quite achieves star quality despite sounding like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky, Eric Murphy (Kevin Connolly) good looking member of the group who is Vincent’s manager, Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) tag along buddy of the group, who tends to be the driver when they go wheeling around town and last but certainly not the least Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) who is Vincent’s agent and in this movie has become the head of the movie studio but is still the main supporter of the movie that will star Vincent with a supporting role for his brother. The plot has some complications as the son of a big time Texas backer of the above film, for variety of reasons doesn’t think that the movie should get the extra money that it needs to finish production.
As likeable as this entourage may be, they are living an exaggerated kind of Hollywood style where they are having sex with multiple beautiful girls whether or not they are their girlfriend and at least one pregnancy does occur. The movie is also fun as we get fleeting small roles and cameos by the likes of Warren Buffet, Pharrell Williams, Billy Joel, Piers Morgan, Mark Cuban, David Arquette, David Busey, Bob Saget, Andrew Dice Clay, Mike Tyson, Liam Neeson, Kelsey Grammer, Alyssa Miller, Martin Landau, Matt Lauer, George Takei, and Mark Wahlberg, who is also one of the producers of the film. There are all these beautiful people, many of them driving hot cars all in the midst of the lovely Los Angeles scenery. Yet, there is something very sweet and touching as the entourage is very loyal to and caring about to each other. This somehow neutralized the negativity that we might feel about their decadent lifestyle and makes us feel very warm and fuzzy towards this pack of buddies. But otherwise it is just another episode, a little longer than than their usual tv series. (2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama
May 31st, 2015 — 11:38pm
We did not choose to go to see this thousand mile trek when it was in the movie theatres but we thought we would give it a try at home via Netflix. What we saw was an admirable performance by Reese Witherspoon, who occupies the screen for just about the entire 1 hour and 55 minutes as her character walks a thousand miles over the entire Pacific Crest Trail by herself from Mexico to Canada. She does this with having little experience in hiking. We see her have some brief encounters with people she meets along the way but she mainly has short flashbacks of her past. She is taking this trip to clear her head of her mother’s death and her own addiction and depression as well as her breakup with her husband because of her promiscuity. It is heart wrenching as she recalls her closeness to her mother as a child and her mother’s dying days of cancer. There is great beauty as we see the magnificent scenery through which she travels. The cinematography of this film is outstanding. It is even more amazing that this is a true story actually lived by a woman by the name of Cheryl Strayed, who wrote about her journey in a very successful book that is the source of this movie. There is no complicated plot with a resolution. “It is what it is.” You can decide if this three month journey sounds like it is worth nearly two hours of your time. (2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama
May 29th, 2015 — 6:04am
Girl on the Edge-sp
This is an independent film based on Director Jay Silverman’s real life experience with his daughter. It is very well done with an excellent screen play by Joey Curtis with the help of Jay Silverman and writer Joe Gamache. There is an outstanding acting job by Taylor Spreitler. Although over 18 years old, she did get into the shoes of the 14-year-old main character that she played. Likewise, Gil Bellows was superb as the father ,who once he woke up to what was happening to his daughter, became appropriately angry and frustrated. Amy Price-Francis did a very believable job as the stepmother. Kudos are also given to the late Elizabeth Pena for her sensitive performance as one of the staff people at the rehabilitation center who understood the role that horses could play in therapy for young people. Peter Coyote could not have been better as the understanding empathic director of the rehabilitation program to which the young girl was sent.
This movie really presents us with two aspects of what this 14-year-old girl had to face. The first is that we could see what could happen to a young girl who begins to experiment with alcohol, perhaps with drugs and sex, and gets slipped a date rape drug where she doesn’t remember what happened to her. That is until she sees naked pictures of herself on the Internet and the terrible consequences in her life after such widespread exposure.
The other part of the story is about what a treatment program away from her loving family might be like. In this case, it was with a sensitive caring staff as well as interaction with other girls in the treatment program. It showed how horticulture therapy (teaching the young people to appreciate the value of growing plants and food) could be therapeutic as well as learning to interact with horses. The scenes of the equine therapy were quite moving. Watching the horse that the girl connected with, as it mirrored her actions, was quite amazing.
In a post-film discussion with the movie director, Jay Silverman, most of the audience acknowledged that they had a close relative or friend who had experienced similar issues and problems to that of the main character of the film. While most people might not be able to afford the kind of rehabilitation treatment that this girl did have, the emotions engendered are universal. This movie has been winning various awards at film festivals throughout the country and internationally. We believe it is a worthwhile experience to see this movie in theaters as well as at home with family . It also should be shown in middle schools and high schools to young people and should be a stimulus for discussion with teachers, counselors, and parents. It probably won’t be available until later in the year but keep it on your list of movies to see. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama
May 24th, 2015 — 4:36am
The Master – nf
Despite having two great stars, Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his last films before his untimely death, we could find very little to recommend this movie.
Freddie Quell (Phoenix) is a World War II veteran and an alcoholic. He wanders on to a boat going on a cruise where Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) is leading his cult, which believes in past lives and a programming-kind of hypnosis with various nonsensical interactions. Freddie gets drawn into this group perhaps because of his need for family and a father figure. We get the impression that Dodd, the leader, is making up on the spot all his ministrations. He is, with some fanfare, coming out with his second book of his ideas, which do not make any discernable sense. This is satire here of cults, perhaps of Ron Hubbard and Scientology and maybe Paul Thomas Anderson, the director and screenwriter is also making fun of psychotherapy which to the uninformed may look like the “gobbledygook” being depicted in this movie. Yes, we see the poor mixed up soldier yearning for his young girlfriend who he knew before the war. We even see at the end the father figure cult leader expressing a yearning for his young follower. But nothing ties together which probably is the point they are making.
Even though there is great acting, beautiful scenery and very good cinematography, we advise a pass on this movie. (2014)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama
May 11th, 2015 — 6:53am
5 Flights Up – rm
This movie played to a full theater on a Saturday evening at 5:40 PM, with a full crowd lined up to come in for the next showing. Most were senior citizens.. This is not surprising as Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton play a senior couple.
He is an artist and works at home and she is a retired schoolteacher. They have no children but their dog has just been brought to the vet because she couldn’t walk and appeared to be in pain. By coincidence Morgan Freeman’s character is having trouble walking up the five flights of stairs of the couple’s apartment. They decide that it’s time to sell their Brooklyn apartment and find an apartment with an elevator in Manhattan. Going through this experience with their niece (Cynthia Nixon) who is the real estate agent , became an emotional one which allowed flashbacks to earlier courtship years and among other things the reaction of her mother when they decided to marry. We see the trials and tribulations as people view their apartment and they check out possibilities for a future apartment for themselves. There are repetitive bids and counter bids as their anxiety and ambivalence comes to a crescendo.
The storyline is quite contrived and not very realistic . There also is an extremely negative characterization of the real estate agent. But in the end, most of those moviegoers lining up to see this picture will not be disappointed. They will see a loving couple who are facing life’s challenges with continued affection for each other and will walk away having seen a “feel good movie.” (2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Romance
May 11th, 2015 — 6:11am
I’ll See You in My Dreams – sp
Brett Haley wrote this screenplay at age 29 with Marc Basch. They initially kick-started the funding of this independent film. Two years later, Mr. Haley brought this story to the screen as director and then film editor. This young man was able to empathize with senior citizens who realize that it isn’t over until it’s over. In this all star cast led by Blythe Danner, we experienced the universal human desire to have meaningful relationships at any age. Carol Peterson’s (Danner) interactions with an older man (Sam Elliott) and with a younger pool guy (Martin Starr) are touching and quite believable. When topnotch actors and actresses sign on to a low budget film, you know that they see something quite special in the material. That must have been the case as Malin Akerman, June Squibb, Rhea Perlman, and Mary Kay Place rounded out this outstanding cast. The storyline allowed one scene to take place in a karaoke bar where Ms. Danner was able to provide a special treat by singing “Cry Me a River.” It should also be said that the film will probably also allow you to shed a few tears.(2015)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Romance