Category: Drama


Green Book

January 19th, 2019 — 5:39am

*****

Green Book

This is a fresh original look at the unbridled racial prejudice that was still present in the South in the early 1960s. It is directed by Peter Farrelly, who co-wrote the movie with Nick Vallelonga and Brian Currie. It is based on the true experience of a well-known black musician known as Dr. Don Shirley (who is played by Mahershala Ali). Shirley is invited to go on tour in the South and play in various theaters and at the homes of wealthy people although he could make more money performing in the NY area. He agrees to take this tour knowing well and perhaps because of an event that happened in the mid-1950s when famed black singer Nat King Cole was racially attacked on stage during one of his tours in the South. Shirley is about to take his tour into the South with his trio and he engages a tough guy known as Leo the Lip, (played by Viggo Mortensen), a guy, with an Italian background who was on a hiatus from his job, as a bouncer at the famed New York Copacabana Nightclub to be his driver.

What emerges is a magnificent character study of both men as they go on this journey into the segregated South that clearly existed in the United States in the mid-20th century. Through their eyes and their feelings, the movie viewer gets an insight into the prejudicial society that they were encountering. While the performance of Ali as a skilled pianist was excellent, it was Mortensen’s performance and his ability to show the subtle insights that his character developed, that made this an outstanding film

Although it is no longer necessary to have a “Green Book” to find a hotel that will accept people of color, we know that prejudice towards people who are different still exists. Therefore, it is a movie such as this one that is always helpful in making us takes take stock of our own values and the bigotry around us. (2019)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History

Ayka

January 15th, 2019 — 8:20pm

**

Ayka

This is the Kazakhstan international entry for the Oscars and it is in the top nine entries being considered for best picture. It is directed by Sergey Dvortsevoy who also is the main screenwriter and producer. It stars Samal Yeslyamova who is on the screen 99% of the time and has already won the Cannes Film Festival award for best actress. It took six years to make and the film was extremely realistic as it shows the main character in the snowy streets of Moscow suffering as she tries to survive as an illegal immigrant in Russia.

Having said all this, we cannot really recommend that you spend the 100 minutes of running time to watch this film. It is basically about the full-time misery of this young woman which we get is her plight and that of many others. There is no delving into how this all came about, any options or variations or even any significant back-story of the main character. We admire the skills of the filmmaker and the talent of the actress but we need more of a storyline in regard to relationships, background and message to make this film worthwhile, in our opinion. (2018)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign

Sorry To Bother You

December 18th, 2018 — 8:27pm

***

Sorry to Bother You – nf

It is very difficult to describe or categorize this movie. Certainly, it was not a comedy although somewhere it was advertised as such. We suppose it was a satire. It also was science fiction of sorts but more likely of the horror genre. The movie certainly was taking on racial issues as well as worker exploitation and it also has elements of a love story. In the end it was a serious movie trying to make a statement.

The setting is Oakland, California. Cassius Green is a black, newly hired telemarketer who gets advice that he could be successful in this type of work if he uses a “white voice.” He quickly moves to the next level in his work where he has to deal with a future world of a trending corporation which has a labor policy which offers extra benefits to workers while secretly enslaving them. This is not exactly a typical plot especially when Mr. Green is introduced to a cocaine-like substance which when snorting it can turn you into a half horse, half human creature, but “only for five years” or so our character was told.

This is an unusual story and a weird film that might catch your attention. The director is Boots Riley. The producers include Forest Whitaker. A few of the featured casts are Lakeith Stanfield (as Mr. Green), Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, Michael X. Sommers and Danny Glover.

Be prepared for an offbeat different type of a film which will be thought-provoking. (2018)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

If Beale Street Could Talk

December 15th, 2018 — 8:53pm

*****

If Beale Street Could Talk -rm

This is a very moving story set in the 1970s. A young couple who have known each other since they were kids fall in love. She becomes pregnant and we see their enduring love despite a tragic situation where he must go to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. If the movie were just this, it would be an outstanding film.

However, it is much more. It is a tremendously powerful story that captures many of aspects of the black experience in our country during this time period. In this case, “Beale Street” of the title, while an actual street in New Orleans, is symbolic as the story actually takes place in New York.

The movie is brought to the screen by a great filmmaker, Barry Jenkins, who was director and screenwriter as he adapted the story by iconic novelist James Baldwin. We believe this may be the first of Baldwin’s novels to be made into a movie. Jenkins may very well be leading this outstanding movie-making team to an Oscar as he did with the movie Moonlight.

We can’t recall such a nuanced sensitive performance by an actress who is appearing in her first movie. But that is exactly what Kiki Layne did as she inhabited the role of the 19-year-old Tish, the young woman who is experiencing her first love, pregnancy and seeing her man only available behind bars. Likewise, Stephan James is outstanding as “Fonny” the handsome black man who despite his strength of character, tender love of his girlfriend and determination to realize his hopes and aspirations, sees his dreams shackled. There are also some outstanding performances that deserve mention by Regina King, Colman Domingo, Brian Henry, and Dave Franco.

The movie is riveting and painful because it is done so well and we know that it rings true. The film also had an excellent soundtrack in the background with composition by Nicholas Britell. It ends with a familiar melody which reminds us that there are many Beale Streets which are still around the corner even in our modern-day U.S.A. (2018).

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Romance

A Star Is Born

December 14th, 2018 — 2:18am

****

A Star Is Born

Bradley Cooper demonstrates his acting, performing, writing and directing talent as he co-stars with Lady Gaga in the 2018 version of A Star Is Born. The storyline will be no surprise to today’s moviegoers. Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a famous musician who performs before thousands at open-air concerts. He stumbles across Ally (Lady Gaga) an unknown singer who he sees on stage at a small club. He comes to recognize her musical talent and also falls in love with her. We are able to appreciate the chemistry between them and also watch Ally blossom forth with all her musical talent.

The music scenes are terrific as they performed in outdoor concert venues and, of course, Lady Gaga puts her magnificent singing talent into her character. Cooper, not known as a musician, has studied hard and gives his character very believable skills as a singer and guitar player. There was a great deal of depth to these two performances, as well as, from the supporting roles provided by Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Anthony Ramos, Shangela Laquifa Wadley and several others.

This is the fourth cinematic version of A Star Is Born. While the story is similar in all of them, there are different points of emphasis particularly in the characters played by Janet Gaynor (1937), Judy Garland (1954) and Barbra Streisand (1976). There is an excellent YouTube video (click on previous three words) comparing them.

The fate of Cooper’s character is particularly relevant in the 2018 contemporary scene in regard to alcoholism and opioid use. This problem is spiraling out of control today with a terrifying mortality rate particularly in young and middle-aged people. The emotional depiction of this problem in this film makes it especially relevant for today’s movie audiences. (2018).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Musical

The Black Panther

December 11th, 2018 — 5:48am

***

Black Panther

This story is founded on the premise that hidden in deepest Africa is the Kingdom of Wakanda which due to the existence of a special magical powerful substance, the people secretly live there with very advanced technology that is hidden from the rest of the world. They are ruled by a king who is challenged by a cousin who wants to rule the kingdom in order to use the special powers to help other black people throughout the world. It is customary that when someone challenges the king, there is a mortal physical combat to determine who shall rule the kingdom.

The cast of many are all black except for one villain and one CIA agent moderately involved in the storyline. The stars of the movie are Chadwick Boseman who plays the Black Panther and Michael B. Jordan who challenges him, as well as Lupita Nyongo, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman. The real stars or at least the co-stars are the cast of what seems to be a thousand people listed in the credits at the end of the film. This is because this is a movie with some very special effects, animation that is intertwined with the human actors who are in elaborate costumes which seems to blend ancient African garb with fancy, shinny jewelry, face masks along with science fiction garb that emanates from Star Trek and beyond.

At times, the stories which appear to animate the human action into shooting with special guns and slicing with large knives and swords reminds one of the action videos that we see our grandson watching and playing on his iPhone.

The movie is directed by Ryan Coogler and is written by Coogler, Joe Cole, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Lee, of course is known for also creating Spiderman, the X-Men, Mighty Thor, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, the Ant-Man and many more characters. He died this past month at the age of 94.

It is interesting to see that in this modern-day movie, the women in the film are depicted often with shaved heads being good fighters and possessing great power but all subservient to the king. Still it is the women who create the possibility for change. The movie is also special because it is a kind of parable about the world today and the choices between isolation and helping others. The ending brings hope in the film and just possibly in the real world

It is not surprising to see that the budget for this movie was over $200 million and the box-office thus far has been $1.3 billion and that’s not counting the Blu-ray and DVDs which are approaching another billion dollars. This movie and the main character, the Black Panther for sure will live in the hearts and memories of this current generation of moviegoers especially in the minds of the kids. It is worth the ride. (2018)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Action, Drama

Mary Queen of Scots

December 5th, 2018 — 6:02am

**

Mary Queen of Scots

Unless you are an Anglophile, and deeply understand British history, do not even think about this movie. Even if you do think you know enough to be interested in the story, we doubt you will be able to follow it. It did appear that Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie were really into their roles as Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I, but we could not distinguish the mostly bearded men who were around them, nor figure out exactly what was their point of view. The intense confrontation scene towards the end of the film between the two women monarchs is probably the highlight of the film, although apparently some historians say they never actually met in person and thus it is poetic license, which is acceptable but in our opinion does not save the movie (2018).

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, History

On The Basis of Sex

November 29th, 2018 — 6:46am

****

On the Basis Of Sex

This film follows on the heels of “RBG”, a very well-received documentary film about the iconic Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg. However, this movie is a dramatization of the early life of Judge Ginsburg starting with her entry into Harvard Law School and following her as she married her lawyer husband Martin, had her two children, battled prejudice and discrimination as she tried to get her first job and then ultimately took on a game-changing case in which she established the modern legal basis for equal rights for women and foiled attempts at discrimination based on sex.

Felicity Jones is excellent as RBG as is Armie Hammer as her husband and Justin Theroux as Mel Wolf, head of the ACLU. Mimi Leder, a veteran TV director, returns to film directing which she did earlier in her career. This movie not only provides superb entertainment and an opportunity for discussion but it also gives us insight into relevant contemporary social issues. (2018)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, Politics

Roma

November 15th, 2018 — 8:28am

***

Roma

When this veteran filmmaker decided he would tell a very personal story, he made sure to take on major roles in the aspect of making this movie. Alfonso Cuaron was not only the director and screenwriter, but he also was the cinematographer and editor. Afterall, it was a story about Cleo who was his maid/servant had helped to raise him in his upper-class home which was probably in Mexico City in the 1980s.

After a slow start (be prepared for lots of water and a viewing of what seem to be every credit for this film at the beginning of the movie). The movie then drills down to an in-depth sensitive portrait of this obviously beloved woman who played a significant role in raising Mr. Cuaron. It is interesting and probably revealing that the director/screenwriter bypassed his choice of many experienced actresses and chose an unknown, non-actress school teacher from his hometown to ultimately play the starring role in this movie. Yalitza Aparicio, no doubt with the assistance of the director, did an excellent job of conveying the genuine, sensitive caring of her character. In contrast, the other co-star was a veteran actress, Marina De Tavira who also turned in an outstanding performance as the mother of the four children and the wife who is realizing the true state of her marriage.

In many ways this movie, although it is a man’s tale of his childhood, he really is providing insight into the feelings and emotions only of the women. Men are not portrayed as very nice people. Notably also, there is a small piece of gratuitous nudity that really isn’t necessary for the story and it is a scene of a naked man approaching his sexual partner in the bed. There also is a notable undercurrent of the human rights and civic action which occurred in the 1970s in Mexico City which is depicted very realistically in this movie.

This is a very well-done film that will resonate well with many moviegoers. (2018)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign

Trial By Fire

November 6th, 2018 — 9:12pm

****

Trial by Fire -sp

We see the theme of this movie played out on television all the time on shows such as Dateline or 20/20 and others. A person is accused or convicted of a murder but in many cases he or she did not do it. We recall at least two outstanding books which dealt with this subject, Just Mercy and The Ghost of the Innocent Man. We also recall an excellent film we saw several years ago on this subject titled Conviction. We know about the innocence project and the work of Barry Scheck in many states throughout the country and how scientific advances such as DNA testing have made an important impact on criminal prosecution. So, when director Edward Zwick and screenwriter Jeffrey Fletcher decided to take a prize-winning article in New Yorker Magazine by David Grann to the screen, they were not the first to put a searchlight on this important defect in our criminal justice system. Despite the fact also that we usually find any film over two hours a tad too long, they did an outstanding job which riveted us to our seats and allowed us to explore the characters involved and the message of the movie.

Jack O’Connell deserves Oscar consideration for his depiction of the nasty husband who frequently abused his wife and was home alone with his three children when a fire broke out and the kids were all killed. He claims he did not start the fire but the police, neighbors, fire inspector, a snitch who was briefly his cellmate, the district attorney, eventually his wife and the jury all say that he did it.

What follows is his nine years in jail and an insight into life in prison with much of it being in solitary confinement and then his time on death row. We also get an insight into this man’s character and how his understanding of life evolved. Another very important character is a woman played magnificently by Laura Dern who was recruited to write a letter to a prisoner in jail but ultimately meets him and becomes an advocate for him. We also get an eye-opening view of the criminal justice system in this particular state. In fact, we see that the checks and balances that are supposed to be in place are quite questionable all the way up to the office of the Governor. Did we mention that this took place in Texas? However, the injustices here are found throughout the country

When we saw this film and met the director, Edward Zwick, the film makers were having some difficulty in setting up distribution and a release date. You may have to catch this movie on TV. However, it should be seen and the message and the illumination it provides are incredibly important. (2018)

1 comment » | 4 Stars, Crime, Drama, Uncategorized

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