This Is Where I Leave You- rm This movie recreates the novel by Jonathan Tropper who also wrote the screenplay for this film. He is true to the characters he created but the difference is that they are now inhabited by an ensemble of some very talented actors. The story line is that the patriarch of the Altman family has died and the wife (Jane Fonda) calls back her grown children to return to the family home and sit Shiva for a week, which she says was the father’s request. In the course of this expedition we learn about each of them and their relationships and also see how they feel about each other. The main focus and is on Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) who early in the film walks in on his wife having sex with his boss (Dax Shepard who is well know to Parenthood fans as Crosby Braverman). In a sensitive performance Judd not only must reevaluate his relationship with his wife (Abigail Spencer) who has a little surprise up her uhh “ sleeve” but also deal with his reawakened feelings for his old hometown girl friend Penny (Rose Byrne) who is even more appealing than he remembered her as she spins around the old ice skating rink. The youngest brother in the Altman family, Phillip, is played by Adam Driver (known as one of the guys on Girls). He is more or less the unsuccessful playboy type. He comes home in a Ferrari bought by his latest older but beautiful and successful girl friend, Tracy (Connie Britton) who accompanies him. Driver’s performance provides the gathering of the clan with energy and humor. The opposite is shown by Paul Altman (Corey Stoll) the older brother who had stayed with his late dad to run the family store. He is in a thus far unfruitful marriage with Alice (Kathryn Hahn) who injects some humor as the very desperate but devoted wife who would even try to get Judd who has enough troubles on his own, to help her make a baby. There is not much humor coming from the sister Wendy Altman (played by usually hilarious Tina Fey). Wendy has two small kids and a husband who is preoccupied with his phone and business. She tries to buck up other family members while reflecting on the past on seeing her old neighbor Horry (Timothy Olyphant) who had been her boyfriend until he had suffered a head injury in car accident while she was with him. So these are the four siblings who return home for the Shiva which by the way is more or less supervised by the local rabbi (Ben Schwartz) who happens to be a childhood friend of the sibs and they keep referring to him by his youthful nickname “boner“ so labeled because he always had one. We should mention that Hillary Altman (Jane Fonda), the widow and matriarch of the family is played as a tough but caring woman who is a therapist and had written a well received book now having a 25th anniversary edition, which used the family members childhood and adolescent secrets as examples in her text. Needless to say they haven’t been very happy about this, nor do they appreciate her frank talk about sex and the causal and open way she will display her breasts. (This must somehow be related in some way to Ms. Fonda’s well-known bout with breast cancer and plastic surgery. “Credit” here must be given to director Terry Stacey. In the end we are left with a movie that introduces us to a bunch of family members all of whom are having problems. They do seem to mostly care about each other but don’t really know where they are going, nor do we. As one of us said when we reviewed the book: In the future when the author comes up with an intriguing story line and adds his uncanny ability to capture inner feelings and thoughts, I believe he will bring his writing to a new award winning level. Any future film based on such a book will stand a chance to rise to the to the top. Not this one.
Draft Day- rm You have to give credit to a movie that comes up with an original theme about which millions of Americans will feel great passion. The subject is football and one of the most important, if not crucial days of the football season, which is the NFL Draft Day. In this fictional story, leading up to this day, Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner), the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, trades away his team’s number one draft pick, for three years of future number one picks. Which player he chooses with that pick, who he doesn’t choose and the drama behind all the deals and horse trading that does go down, is the essence of this movie. Costner is supported by Jennifer Garner who plays his girl friend. She is a football executive with the Browns in charge of keeping track of the “cap” (football fans will know what this means). Dennis Leary plays the coach of the Browns with the Super Bowl ring and a million dollar salary, who is supposed to lead next year’s team to that very Super Bowl. Only he is not so sure that he likes Weaver’s intended draft picks. Speaking of million dollar salaries, Roger Godell the real Commissioner of the NFL, who is known to have a multi-million dollar salary, plays himself in the movie (obviously not for the money). By coincidence, the day that we saw this film on a cross-country air flight, the NFL is in the headlines as Roy Rice, an NFL star, has been suspended for punching out his fianceé, which was caught in an elevator video. There is a somewhat related theme in this movie, as the question is raised of how should the character of the potential draftee influence whether he is chosen as a high draft choice as compared to being chosen solely on the basis of his athletic accomplishments. You can guess which one wins out. The film is directed and co-produced by Ivan Reitman (Ghostbuster I and II and other mainly comedies). This movie won’t be at the top of our ‘picks” and we rate it a notch below Moneyball, which dealt with a related theme in professional baseball. However, we know that football fans will eat it up and there are lots of them out there. (2014)
A Five Star Life-rm – Can you picture a woman in her 40s who feels that she pretty much has things going very well in her life? She has a dream job where she travels and gets treated extremely well. Although she broke up with her boyfriend, they are best friends and frequently spend time together. She seemingly has a great relationship with her sister who is married with two kids who she sees quite a lot. She is quite attractive and she appears ready to have another relationship with a man. That is the situation with Irene Lorenzi (Margherita Buy) who has the unique job to travel to the world’s most luxurious hotels as the “mysterious guest” and evaluate and report to the management every aspect of their supposedly immaculate service for their guests. This is an Italian film directed by Maria Sole Tognazzi who also shared in the writing credits. The setting is the most beautiful parts of the world and the comfortable life style that exists for certain travelers. It shows us a view of the top of the line service that is offered in these 5 star hotels. Not only is your suitcase delivered to your room, but the bellboy will unpack it and put things away for you. For some reason you don’t even seem to tip them at least for each individual service. If you are living in such a pampered life style what would it require for you to do a self evaluation. In this case, it is a brief chance meeting with an author Kate Sherman (Leslie Manville) who is making some television appearances to talk about her views about intimacy, shortly before she departs and leaves the hotel. This limited encounter, and the circumstances surrounding it, bring about a self reassessment of the main character. If this film is successful you will question if things are always what they seem to be and even more important, is it possible to change? (2014)
May in the Summer- sp Cherien Dabis is an award winning Palestinian American director, producer and screenwriter who does all three roles in this film in addition to taking the starring role which she handles in outstanding authentic manner. May (Dabis) is coming home from the U.S. to see her mother in modern day Jordan to prepare for her upcoming wedding. Her mother (Hiaam Abbass) and her family are Christian and May’s fiancée is Muslim so we are introduced to one of the several themes of this film. May’s two sisters Dalia (Alia Shawkat) and Yasmine (Nadine Malouf) have also come to Jordon for the event and the conflicts and bickering among the sisters is part of the evolving story further highlighted by one sister acknowledging that she lesbian although she doesn’t like that label. The sister’s father (Bill Pullman) had left the girls’ mother and married a much younger woman (Rita Singh Pande). He tries to apologize for the neglect of his children and establish a relationship with them when May and her sisters visit their Dad and his new wife as May’s wedding plans are being made. Through the discussions with May’s mom we also become aware of the limited options for a divorced woman in this society, although she clearly hasn’t given up. On top of everything May has doubts about her decision to get married. Each one of these conflicted issues is evolving as the characters interact in a very believable environment. The film does not attempt to delve into any one of these themes in depth. Each of them could have been a separate story but it is the universality of all of them allows the audience to recognize the people in this human drama and find meaningful identifications with them. That is the strength and the success of this excellent film. (2014)
Get On Up –rm This is the story of a young boy from rural Georgia who was abandoned by his parents, raised by madam from a brothel, fascinated by the gospel music in the local church and ultimately became the godfather of soul music. It is about a young man who spent time in jail, who essentially only had himself to rely on and yet always had tremendous belief in himself to the point of being self-centered, egotistical or narcissistic if you will. But in this case, he had the goods. He became a music legend he of course is James Brown.
The film is the brain child of Brian Glazer who is a well known movie and television producer who combined his talent with the skills of another music legend Mick Jagger, who has acknowledged being a great fan and being influenced himself by Brown. Jagger brought his music skills to the film as producer and music director. There are at least two more essential ingredients to this biopic and that would be director Tate Taylor (The Help) and Chadwick Boseman who previously starred as Jackie Robinson in 42.and now becomes James Brown. He does this by his speaking voice, mannerisms and learning the distinctive choreography of Brown’s movements during song and everyday life. This includes his swagger as well as his splits and the special way he whipped a microphone around. There also was some very skillful lip-synching accomplished by Boseman and the actors who played his band and backup singers since the great singing in this movie was the original voice of James Brown.
In addition to Boseman there was some great acting that needs to be acknowledged. Lennie James play Brown’s tough and angry father while Viola Davis was the woman inside the mother of Brown who loved him. yet abandoned and rejected him but still tried to come back when he was a success. Octavia Spencer was the madam in the brothel who took him in and more or less had the heart of gold. Dan Aykroyd was Ben Bart the white Jewish agent who became very close to Brown throughout much of his career and was called papa by him. Neisan Ellis was Bobby Byrd one the most loyal members of the original Flames which was Brown’s first groupbefore Brown became a phenomenon by himself. Brown’s complicated relationship with Byrd reflects his self-image of seeing himself as something very special but yet having a lingering need for close friendship that he may never have found.
On one hand the film used flashbacks to effectively show the genesis of Brown’s unique character but yet they seemed to abruptly pull us away from the engrossing music and the story of how Brown was rising to the top, dealing with racial issues including the country’s response to the death of Martin Luther King as well as how Brown faltered in his personal life. There were many backup players moving in an out of Brown entourage as well as various women and children We could not always be sure who they were in his life which might be defect in the film. In addition, we and at least one other person agreed that the conversations of Brown and some others were not always understandable which could be the dialect, or an audio problem but would seem to be a flaw. The running time of the film was 2 hours and 18 minutes and while we can’t say what should have been cut, it probably could have been shorter. However,we have no complaints in re-experiencing the great music and moves of the incomparable James Brown.(2014)
The Queen-nf- As Americans we never quite understood how and why the British people hold their royal family in such esteem. Also, while being full grown adult at the time of the auto accident that claimed the life of Princess Diana, who was by then divorced from Prince Charles, we never understood why there was such a big deal about her funeral. Well, this more or less docudrama focuses on both of these subjects. Thanks to the screenplay by Peter Morgan and the direction David Frears, plus the outstanding acting by Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth and Michael Sheen, as newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair, we are treated to a sophisticated exploration of inner workings of the royal court and what is purported be an accurate rendition of the complicated feeling of all the players in this drama. A fascinating story unravels, which shows the Queen and the royal family with the exception of Prince Charles, reluctant to make a big deal, a royal funeral or any public statements about the sudden tragic death of Diana. Whereas the people of Great Britain and eventually people around the world who were taken up with her life style and her many charitable good deeds were very much affected and were drawn to follow her funeral and participate in the grieving, the royal family felt that she was no longer royalty and there should be just a private funeral. Actual film clips of the large numbers of tearful people in the streets and many inundating the outside of Buckingham Palace with flowers were shown. Blair appreciates the importance to the British people to grieve this loss and realized the mistake that the Queen was making by staying in her country home, not returning to Buckingham Palace and raising the flag at half mast. At one point he even detected a growing sentiment that could lead to the British people wanting to perhaps even remove the monarchy, which they had revered for hundred of years. He tried to counsel the Queen and she responds. In another source we found information that reported that the writer Peter Morgan reconstructed the events of the week after the death of Princess Diana through extensive interviews with many unnamed sources close to the real Prime Minister and the royal family. Many of these sources were able to corroborate the accounts of others, giving Morgan enough information to imagine the intervening scenes, which were portrayed in the movie. Helen Mirren was at her best in this film and won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Actress. The film itself won the most coveted award of an Academy Award Oscar for Best Motion Picture of the Year. But perhaps the highest compliment for Ms. Mirren was the observation by the writer Mr. Morgan that, by the end of production, crewmembers who had been accustomed to slouching or relaxing when they addressed her were standing straight up and respectfully folding their hands behind their backs. She was the Queen. (2006)
The One I Love- sp- This is another example of an Independent movie put together by a small creative team. In this case it is Mark Duplass (co-star of the movie) who co-produces with Charlie McDowell (who also directs the film) with other co-producers, brother Jay Duplass along with Mel Eslyn and of course writer Justin Lader. This is part of new wave of films which pays all the cast and crew $100/day but gives everyone a certain amount of points which will determine how they will share the profits from the film which in this case will be through a game plan involving combined theatrical releases with television, Netflix and Video on Demand. They used a detailed script that had everything but the dialogue which the actors improvised within the framework of the story. There were essentially only two actors on the screen and that was Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss (known best for Mad Men). We shouldn’t give away the storyline which has a twist. Suffice it to say that Ethan and Sophie are having trouble with their marriage and they go to see a therapist (a brief role by Ted Danson) who sends them to an isolated vacation retreat where they are supposed to find out who they really are and fix their marital relationship. They and the audience are in for a confusing surprise. The problem is that we didn’t feel it really worked. We got a few smiles out of the story but felt that the story behind the twist could have been developed much better than it was done. We appreciated the creative attempt, You may end up seeing this one night on TV but we can’t recommend it. (2014)
Wish I Was Here —rm It isn’t too difficult for a halfway decent movie to pull our chain and bring tears to our eyes. All you need is a likeable character who is dying and his family all around him especially if there are children and grandchildren in it. This movie did all that but took it to the next level. All the characters including the children have a depth which allows you to empathize with them even though they may not be telling your story. Aiden Bloom (Zack Braff ), Director and co writer of the screen play with his real brother Adam J. Braff and known for among other things as the star of TV show Scrubs) is a struggling actor who is trying to reach his career dream although not yet very successful . Sarah, his loving and very supportive wife (Kate Hudson), is frustrated over her husband being more interested in trying to follow his dream than support their family, leaving her to work in a data inputting job and suffer some weird harassment by a cubical partner. They have two adorable kids. Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) is the younger kid who values a wireless drill for reasons we don’t quite understand. The slightly older sister (Joey King) is beginning to try to find out what values are really important. Aiden has a brother (Josh Gad) who lives in a trailer who is also struggling with his off beat career and his alienation from their dad. Now the dad, the patriarch of the family is Gabe, a widower played by Mandy Patankin in what could be an award winning performance. He has been a tough dad who hasn’t seemed to be sympathetic to the trials and tribulations of his two sons. He now is faced with a fatal illness, which brings him and the whole family to contemplate the meaning of life and how they feel about death and dying The deep feelings of both father and sons for each other are examined in a very sensitive and real manner. It may very well make you begin to reflect on your own family relationships. The movie is a serious drama dealing with relationships and philosophical issues. But it also is a touching satiric comedy. One subject of some satire, believe it or not, is orthodox Judaism. The Bloom family is shown to be of this persuasion and one of the subplots was that Gabe was paying for his grandchildren’s private (Jewish) school until he required the money for his cancer care. There is even an old rabbi who rides on a Segway (we assume not on Shabbat) (2014)
A Most Wanted Man- sp- When you have Phillip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last movies (we understand there are few unreleased ones still in the can) and a John LeCarre spy story, you expect a sure hit. However, in our opinion this movie doesn’t make the grade. From the very beginning, we weren’t sure what was going on and who were the good guys. Maybe this was deliberate ambiguity but it didn’t quite work for us. We are told early on that the movie is set in Hamburg, Germany the locale where the 9/11 plot was hatched and surveillance is very high. We meet the cast of characters which included roles by William Dafoe and Robin Wright. Director Anton Corbin and cinematographer Benoit Delhomme were very creative with their dramatic shots from high above or through reflections in glass or through train windows. The cuts and the scenes are often quite short and we felt we never got a good bead on the back story of the characters. There wasn’t overwhelming action and most of the time and the spy thriller tension just wasn’t there for us. Phillip Seymour Hoffman did do a great job and carried the movie. His chain smoking, ruffled character showed the full range of emotions from a subtle intellectuality to a very believable rage. He certainly was a great actor (2014)
Boyhood-rm- If you are any kind of a movie fan you will not want to miss this film. Buy a large bag of popcorn and settle in for a 2 hour and 40 minutes historic experience. You are going to see perhaps the birth of a new genre in filmmaking. This is the story of a young boy from the age of 6 through 18. The name of the character is Mason and he is played by one actor (Ellar Coltrane) who ages before you along with his divorced parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawkes and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s own daughter). This film is the brilliant brain child of veteran film director Richard Linklater who convinced IFC Films to pony up $200,000 in 2002 which is probably the equivalent of over 2 million dollars today for a film project which would shoot Linklater’s screenplay for one week each year for 12 years. It follows the young boy and his family through his high school graduation. The mother, Oliva (Arquettte) is divorced from her first husband, a well meaning but immature Mason Senior (Hawkes). She struggles and puts herself through college while she is going through two more marriages to alcoholic husbands while trying to raise her two children. Hawkes portrays the biological father trying during his periodic visits to be a good dad and wants especially to teach his son the things he believes it is his job to pass on. It is quite dramatic to see both parents (and both actors) age and mature during the time of the film. Both Hawkes and Arquette turned in outstanding acting performances. However, the main focus of the movie is on young Mason. You have to give Linklater full credit for choosing this particular 6 year old child (Coltrane) and taking the chance that not only would he pull off the movie but that this growing child would stay with the project. It worked and we watch Mason grow to be a sensitive and in many ways a typical teenage kid growing up in Texas. We see the pain he experiences from his broken home but also the teenage angst that many in the audience of all ages will understand. The movie flows extremely well as the participants seamlessly age before our eyes. This required outstanding editing by the director and editor Sandra Adair. It would not surprise us if Linklater and this film receive several Academy Award nominations. However, we suggest that you don’t wait for Oscar season to see this outstanding film. (2014)