Category: Drama


Viva

February 3rd, 2016 — 2:55am

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 2.38.07 PM****

Viva

(Spanish with English Subtitles)

Havana is one of the most interesting and exciting cities in which to set a movie. This is particularly so when the beat and the rhythm of Cuban music is an important part of the film. But this is not a typical musical, drama or love story. The story uses the backdrop of a subculture of gay young men, female impersonators and prostitution to tell a poignant tale of a relationship between a father and a son who reunite after years apart.

This movie is the brainchild of Irish director, Paddy Breathnach who, after a visit to Cuba, visualized how this project might work and teamed up with screenwriter, Mark O’Halloran, to bring it to fruition. This mostly Irish production team then went on to put together a wonderful cast of Cuban actors and filmed this moving story in Cuba. The fact that they received the blessing of the Cuban government shows how things have come a long way in the Pearl of the Antilles

Hector Medina plays Jesus, a young gay Cuban man, who lives in severe poverty. He begins performing at a nightclub of female impersonators. Angel (played by veteran Cuban actor Jorge Perugorria), his long-lost father recently released from jail, has found him and moved in with him in an attempt to control his life. There is a recurrent theme of people trying to find some kind of family relationships. Not only is this perceived in the relationship between Jesus and Angel, but also in the character of Mama (Luis Alberto Garcia) who exudes the strength of his character by his relationship with the female impersonators who worked for him and by his powerful singing (lip-sync of course)

In fact, it is this universal yearning for human connections that has the potential to allow so many people to relate to this film . The director, Mr. Breathnach, discussed with our screening audience how he chose not to translate the words of the songs that were sung (lip-sync) by the main characters, yet it was these powerful music renditions, which clearly touched our emotions and were the strength of this movie which we highly recommend.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign

In The Shadow of Women

January 26th, 2016 — 9:03pm

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 11.44.27 AM**

In the Shadow of Women-sp

(French with English subtitles)

You probably will not see this movie unless perhaps you are taking a course about French films. We also don’t think you are missing anything. It is directed by Philippe Garrel who we were told by two experts in this genre has a following among such afficiandos.

The movie is in black and white as is the story. The theme is infidelity. Pierre (Stanislas Merhar) and Manon (Clotilde Courau) are seemingly a happily married couple, although Pierre really doesn’t seem happy about anything. They are filmmakers and are making a documentary in which they are interviewing a supposed hero of the French resistance who is reviewing all his heroic acts during World War II. However, it turns out that he is lying and deceiving the filmmakers. He really turned in all his friends to the Nazis. Pierre is also doing a bit of deceiving as he is having an affair with Elisabeth (Lena Paugam). This would seem to be very unfair to his wife, Manon, as she seems to be very dedicated to the marriage. However, despite this initial impression Manon is having a secret liaison with her lover. When circumstances lead both Pierre and Manon to confess to each other, they both become furious and split up. They meet sometime later at the funeral of the subject of their documentary film and quickly end up passionately in each other’s arms.

We obviously have not avoided providing spoilers since we doubt most of our readers will see this movie. As we ponded the meaning or message of the film, we saw very few clues to the background of the characters. We appreciated the echo of deception in the subject of Pierre and Manon’s documentary film and the deception in their lives. Was this a morality story? We think not. One of the native French movie experts discussing this film at our screening stated that in France as compared to America “Infidelity is not a moral issue.” She agreed however that this doesn’t mean that the participants might not have personal emotional responses. We saw a very little of such responses and certainly, as we stated, there was no understanding of the meaning of the infidelity to each of the characters.

The title of the film suggests that there is something more meaningful in infidelity to women than to men. This is an interesting point but certainly was not developed in the movie. We understand that the screenwriters Jean-Claude Carriere, Caroline Deruas and Arlette Langmann have a very fine reputation in France as does the director. Mr. Garrel is a master of black and white and the filming of the streets and the alleys kept a consistent atmosphere and mood of the film. The third party voice-over helped to fill in some of the details of the story. However, one of us felt they should have edited in about a half hour more to the 73 minutes running time in order to develop some insight into the characters. But the other one of us felt the best part of the film was that it was short! (2015)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign

Joy

January 11th, 2016 — 6:31pm

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 6.35.18 PM****

Joy-rm

This is movie is based on the real life of Joy Mangano who went from “rags to riches” as an inventor and entrepreneur who sells her products on the television shopping networks. Jennifer Lawrence carries this movie with an outstanding performance, as she shows a wide range of emotion and understanding of her character.

We meet Joy, a young struggling mother with a dysfunctional family who invents a mop with great features. She cobbles together the resources to make a model of it and convinces shopping network executive, Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) to consider this product to be pitched on live TV. She has to borrow money and mortgage her home to have the funds to make the inventory needed to be available. There are exciting moments about impending success but some behind-the-scenes patent and manufacturing shenanigans make it seem like bankruptcy is looming and Joy has to decide whether to give up her dream.

We have not really spoiled the film for you because it is much more than this brief outline of the plot. The essence of this story is not about the outcome because this is known since it is touted as a true story. The reason that this movie will resonate with many viewers is because it shows how important childhood relationships can make a big difference in a person’s life. We see early on in the film the dysfunctional family environment, in which Joy is living. She struggles to make ends meet working during the day as an airline reservations clerk, and then moonlights helping out with the business books for her father’s (Robert Di Niro) auto parts business. She lives with her divorced mother (Virginia Madsen) who sits around all day watching soap operas. Her ex-husband, Tony (Edgar Ramirez) is a second rate singer who lives in the basement of her small house practicing his music most of the time. Along comes her father who just broke up with a girlfriend and needs a place to live, so he moves into the basement with her ex-husband. The father has a new girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) who has her own place but mainly hangs around in Joy’s house also. There is her young daughter, Christie (played by Aundrea and Gia Gadsby) who seems to idolize Joy. One more person lives in the house and that is the grandmother (Diane Ladd) who is actually the narrator for a good part of the film.

Director/writer, David O. Russell (known for Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) along with screenwriter, Annie Mumolo (who wrote Bridesmaids and contributed to the TV series, Modern Family and Transparent) have chosen to tell the story of this determined self-made woman. But in our opinion the real story which is shown here is how Joy was molded by her grandmother who encouraged her to believe in her own creativity as a small girl. The voice of the grandmother as the narrator is the voice in Joy’s head, which allowed her to have the confidence to persist in her goals. There is also a similar identification being acted out by the next generation in the person of her daughter, Christie. We frequently see Christie’s eyes glued to her mother’s face as her mother struggles with her challenges. In one scene when Joy is desperately trying to interest people in her mop by doing a demonstration in the supermarket parking lot, we see the daughter doing the same thing in the background with a toy mop. It is the transmission of confidence to young children from a loved cherished figure that can make all the difference in the world. This can supersede poverty and hardships and lead to success in so many aspects of life. We believe that this is the underlying emotional message of this very fine movie. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

The Big Short

January 4th, 2016 — 4:03am

***

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 4.26.28 PMThe Big Short-rm

You probably know that this movie is not about pants or the measurement of peoples’ height. It is about one of the largest financial meltdowns in this country’s history and how much of it was because of some behind-the-scenes financial trickery carried on by Wall Street insiders. It is based on a book by Michael Lewis which we have not read, although M.B. did read and recommend another book by him, Flash Boys which is about a different type of financial manipulation carried by some Wall Street people

In The Big Short, Christian Bale plays Michael Burry, a real person who is a brilliant, somewhat peculiar guy, maybe Asperger type. He actually was a physician who ended up as a chief of a large financial fund. He studies numbers very carefully and concludes that the mortgage market which has always been thought to be reliable and dependable, is on the verge of collapse. The reason for this (now this is the tricky part) is because hundreds or maybe thousands of mortgages have been lumped together in mortgage bond funds that people buy and trade for the high interest rates that they generate. These funds include AAA mortgages, BB and C mortgages, the latter groups being known as subprime mortgages.

Nobody seemed to have noticed how fragile and vulnerable these mortgage funds are and that this house of cards was on the verge of collapse. That is except this one strange guy and a few other financial wheeler dealers who get wind of what’s going down. Once such team is led by a character played by Steve Carell, who continues to demonstrate his acting chops in serious roles. There are the usual excellent depictions of various key players by Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling.

There are some riveting dramatic moments as the movie goer can get caught up in the impending crash. You may not fully understand exactly what is happening but don’t feel badly since most people didn’t either as it was really happening. When the dust cleared, this cost our economy over a billion dollars (this movie only cost $28 million). We hope that people who run and regulate our economy learned some lessons from this story, but that probably is not the case. Many people, though, will find this movie quite enjoyable although it may make you uncomfortable about the future. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama

Two Days, One Night ( Deux Jours, Une Nuit)

January 4th, 2016 — 2:10am

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 11.29.56 AM**

Two Days, One Night- nf

This French film with subtitles in English has a simple premise. It is done very well and the lead actress, Marion Cotillard who plays Sandra is magnificent. The film held our interest and our emotions for 1 hour and 36 minutes.

Sandra is a Belgian housewife who works in a factory that makes solar panels. There is a divisive labor issue in her workplace.. Apparently, after Sandra was out of work for a brief time (suggestion is that it was for depression), her boss decided that the workgroup could vote whether to have her come back, but if she does come back, they could not afford to give everyone the thousand euro bonus. Due to a question raised about the voting procedure, there will be a redo vote on Monday but everyone knows that if they vote for Sandra to come back to work, they all will lose the projected thousand euro bonus.

With the urging of her husband (Fabrizio Rongione) who works as a waiter in a fast-food restaurant, Sandra tries to visit the 15 or 16 co-workers at their homes over the weekend to ask them to vote to keep her on and forego the bonus. The interchange that she has with her co-workers as she visits most of them gives us an insight into the struggles of these working people, as well as their moral character. They all desperately need the bonus but just about half of them seemed to be willing to vote for Sandra to return to work.

Then at one point when Sandra feels she has lost a key vote and will lose the election, she does something quite drastic. Then when she learns that the key vote is actually going to support her, she confesses to what she has done but now is in good spirits win or lose and is ready to take on the world. Here is where the film and the director/writers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne who are brothers, leaves us or part ways with us. We can’t accept this simplistic view of human nature and the psychological make-up that someone can turn around as quickly as this and be prepared to live happily ever after no matter what happens. As engaging as the buildup may have been, we don’t think the movie delivers. We vote for pass on it . (2015)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign

The Manchurian Candidate

January 4th, 2016 — 1:59am

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 10.54.16 AM****

The Manchurian Candidate- nf

I was on a cross country flight and I checked out the movies available that could be viewed on board. In honor of the Frank Sinatra Centennial, there was a choice of several movies in which the great singers starred. I chose the classic Manchurian Candidate. This 1962 movie deals with the subject of the Cold War and the brainwashing of American soldiers captured during the Korean conflict. Just a few minutes into the film, I realized that it had relevance to a contemporary subject in the world today. Our headlines are filled with stories about terrorist, some American born, who have been radicalized by Jihadist groups who are trying to bring about terrorism In the United States by murdering people and disrupting the life of their sworn enemy.

In this black and white movie, Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) and Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) are two of several soldiers captured by the North Koreans and flown to Manchuria where the Chinese with the help of the Russians used newly developed brainwashing techniques which include drugs and hypnosis. Marco and Shaw are part of the small group of brainwashed soldiers returned to the United States. Shaw is programmed to do the major damage. Some of the other soldiers are beginning to have bad dreams at night which makes them believe that things are not what they seemed to be. Raymond Shaw’s mother (Angela Lansbury) who is a mother from hell is now married to United States Senator Iselin (James Gregory) who is a communist sympathizer which obviously has significance to the people controlling the returning soldiers. Raymond Shaw falls in love with Jocelyn Jordan (Leslie Parrish) but his controllers don’t like that turn of events and do something about it. Marco Bennett (Sinatra) becomes the hero here and there are some very dramatic and exciting scenes.

This movie was very well received. Angela Lansbury was nominated for an Oscar. Director John Frankenheimer won a top award by the Directors Guild and Sinatra was able to put another notch in his belt for his outstanding acting to add to his status as a legendary singer.

Some day someone will make a film which might tell the story behind the headlines of how the ISIS terrorist organization brainwashes some of its victims to commit terror in the United States with lethal weapons. When the movie, The Manchurian Candidate was made in 1962 there had been U.S. pilots captured flying missions over North Korea and were shown on TV praising their captives while in a trance-like state. So if you’re ready for one of the outstanding movies of the 1960s, pull this one up on Netflix. (1962)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Thriller, War

Anomalisa

December 18th, 2015 — 7:48am

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 6.49.18 PM**

Anomalisa

This is a movie like no other movie that you have seen. The technique used is stop-action puppets. This means that realistic puppets of human beings were utilized which were about one foot in length with movable parts to simulate walking and talking. Sets made to scale were built in which these figures would exist and interact with other puppet/people. The puppets in the environment in which they were interacting would be slightly changed for each frame (24 frames per second). it would take an animation team one day to film two and a half seconds of the film. There were about 15 animation teams working at one time with many identical puppets and several identical sets. It took many months to build the puppets and plan for each scene. The entire endeavor took about two years.

If you think this setup was unusual , the voice over approach was also quite unique. There were two separate voices for the two main characters. David Thewlis was the voice of Michael Stone, a middle-aged businessman who comes to stay at a hotel in Cincinnati in order to deliver a speech the next day. He meets a young woman by the name of Lisa, voice-over by Jennifer Jason Leigh, with whom he has an affair. All the other numerous characters which include a wife and child, an old girlfriend, numerous hotel personnel and a few other characters all have voice-over by one person, Tom Noonan!

The creative nature of this film continues as you try to figure out what exactly was the meaning of the story. You will have to wade through a dream sequence, a serious hotel love making scene, most of the voices sounding the same, and a mixed up main character who seems to be having a lot of trouble figuring out who he really loves and does he really love it all.

This is all the brain child of Charlie Kaufman who wrote the screenplay and directed and produced it with Duke Johnson. They kick-started it all by raising $400,000 (with the initial contributors getting puppets and parts of the miniature sets) and then put together a relatively low budget of a couple of million dollars more which Paramount and some others provided.

We can’t recommend this as a worthwhile cinematic experience, considering all the excellent films out there today, unless this stuff is right up your alley. However, we do admire the unusual creative effort. (2015)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Uncategorized

45 Years

December 14th, 2015 — 6:46pm

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 4.39.18 PM**

45 Years

Early in this British film, the husband (Tom Courtenay) of this couple that is about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary in a few days, learned that the body of his previous girlfriend many years ago who died by falling into crevice of icy water during a mountain climbing trip, has just been discovered and was fully preserved. His now wife of nearly 45 years (Charlotte Rampling) then finds out that her husband recently secretly visited a travel agency to inquire about going to Switzerland where the discovery of his old girlfriend was made. She is already very hurt about this set of unusual circumstances. She appears to be questioning the many years of the seemingly happy but childless marriage (spoiler alert, the old girlfriend was apparently pregnant).

Andrew Haigh, the young (43-year-old) director/writer in a post-film discussion at our screening revealed his insight and seemingly his major point in writing the film was now that the wife knows this ancient story of her husband’s early love, she realizes that if certain events hadn’t happened, her whole life could have been different. “Duh” – isn’t that so true in everyone’s life? If MB hadn’t accepted the blind date with his 18-year-old now wife of many years (SB), his entire life – children, grandchildren and so many choices in life would not have happened. This movie seems to be built upon this premise. which of course is true for everyone’s life. What the movie demonstrates is under the surface anger and hurt feelings that Charlotte Rampling very well conveys with her facial expressions and demeanor.

Moviegoers today have a right to expect a richer and more complicated story then that which is presented in this film. Now, if the husband had murdered his wife all those years ago (which we both thought for a second might be the case before it became obvious that that wasn’t the situation) then we might have been drawn into the storyline.

Despite the nice photography and excellent acting, we were glad that the running time was only 95 minutes rather than a longer 2-hour film. Still, the film dragged and it felt as though there was “no there there.”(2015)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama

Ricki and the Flash

December 12th, 2015 — 7:29pm

***

Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 10.32.25 AMRicki and the Flash

If you are a “streeper” (nickname Meryl Streep’s fans often called themselves) you are going to enjoy her in this performance. As usual Ms. Streep who is known as a perfectionist in preparing for her roles, appears to have mastered her character down to the last note.

In this case, it is as an aging rock musician who has only made one album and now spends the daytime being a grocery checkout lady and the evenings being a grooving rock musician leading her band “The Flash” playing in a local club in Tarzana, California. Her fellow guitarist Greg is played by Rick Springfield, known to be quite a successful musician in real life. Ricki left her husband and children when her kids were quite small to follow her dream as a rock musician and had very limited contact with them over the years. One of them Julie (played by Mamie Gummer , a rising actress who in real life is Ms. Streep’s real daughter) has just had a traumatic marital breakup and Ricki returns to Indianapolis to support her. Her daughter and two grown sons one of whom is about to get married are not very thrilled to see her at first. Her former husband (Kevin Kline) has married a very lovely woman (Audra McDonald) who confronts the rock musician with her failure as a mother. There is a lot of sadness in this film and also a lot of rocking music led by Ricki (alias Ms. Streep) and Greg (alias Mr. Springfield) and some very fine backup musicians.

The story by Diablo Cody and the direction by Jonathan Demme lead us on a fanciful trip but in the end it is feel good stuff. We don’t think it will lead to Ms. Streep’s 20th Oscar nomination but you never know. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Musical

The Danish GIrl

December 2nd, 2015 — 12:19am

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 2.28.25 PM*****

The Danish Girl

You probably know the modern day’s story of Caitlyn Jenner. You may be familiar with the successful TV series Transparent. If you are old enough, you may remember Christine Jorgenson, who was one of the first transsexuals to have successful reassignment surgery. Certainly you are aware of the transgender community and their fight for recognition and for fair and equal treatment. But you are probably not aware of the little known love story of Einar/Lili and Gerda, circa 1920s, which culminates when Einar recognizes that he was a woman trapped in a man’s body and is going to try to do something about it .

This is a true story based on a book by David Ebershoff brought to life in the screen play by Lucinda Cox, which went back to the original diaries left by Gerda. This was a movie project carried for 15 years by producer Gail Mutrux who optioned this book over this period of time and went through over 70 potential directors and a few actors who were considering these fascinating roles including Nicole Kidman who at one point was interested in playing the transgender role. It was not until Mutrux was able to interest director Tom Hooper (Academy Award wining director of The King’s Speech) that this project that got its legs. Hooper showed the script to Eddie Redmayne (Oscar winner for the Stephen Hawking role in The Theory of Everything) who came on board. Swedish actress Alicia Vikander joined the cast and there was a chemical reaction which brings us one of the highlight films of the 2015 season.

Redmayne combined his sensitive demeanor with a soft spoken rendition of a talented painter and happily married man who becomes acutely aware of his feminine side which breaks out of its shell and could not longer be contained. His transformation from Einar to Lili is one of the acting triumphs of the season. At the same time Alicia Vikander turns in a performance which matches Redmayne with sensitivity and insight, as we see joy turn to doubt and then to disbelief but yet she maintains her unyielding love for her husband.

This is a period piece which reproduces the European setting in which it is taking place. The two main characters are artists and the paintings and drawings in the movie are very much a part of the story. We understand that these pieces, which were used in the film will live on for some worthy causes. The photography by Danny Cohen is magnificent and Alexandre Desplat does his usual great job with a musical score that you may not recall but has set the mood of the film. We know this movie will long be remembered as a representation of the real life struggle that so many transgender people are experiencing. (2015)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History, Romance

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